career

recent blog posts related to software careers, and career advice

Writing tip: Just say what you mean alvin May 22, 2017 - 8:21am

Somewhere around the year 2006, my writing style was influenced by the CIO of a company I was working with. When trying to get a new project started, a project manager gave me a very vague description of what he wanted, and as a result, the cost estimate and Statement of Work I wrote (so I would get paid) was vague as well.

The CIO called me to her office, and then told me that I didn’t have to write anything fancy, I just had to “say what I mean.” Since then, that simple approach has been a key to my writing style.

Stay focused and keep your head down

DeMarcus Ware is one of my favorite football players, by all accounts a real leader and team player. Here’s a nice quote from him in this article:

“I told myself, ‘Don’t get caught up. Stay focused and keep your head down and everything will be all right,’ ” he says. “That’s always been my motto: If you don’t get caught up in the hype, you can do something great.”

On asking a waitress a stupid question alvin March 21, 2017 - 11:11pm

Back in 2005 I used to walk over to a bar that was across the street from my apartment. One night I was talking to a waitress and wondered out loud whether I would be happier working a job that I enjoyed that might only pay $30K to $40K per year — as opposed to my current job, which paid a lot more but definitely wasn’t making me happy.

She wisely said, “Don’t look at me honey, I don’t make that kind of money,” then turned and walked away.

Albert Einstein: No special talent, only passionately curious alvin March 8, 2017 - 11:47am

“I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious.”

~ Albert Einstein

It’s important to distinguish opinions from facts alvin March 6, 2017 - 9:57am

It’s important to remember that even when successful people say things, they’re often just opinions, not facts. Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz once told Jeff Bezos of Amazon, “You have no physical presence. That is going to hold you back.” The reality was that not having a physical presence at that time is what propelled Amazon forward.

I’ve cow-towed to a culture of sensitivity alvin February 25, 2017 - 12:48pm

A quote from the founder of Buddhist Geeks: “I’ve cow-towed to a culture of sensitivity, whose aim has been to avoid offending others over having difficult conversations.”

This made me think of two things. First, many years ago my company worked as a consultant with a large church, and any time there was conflict about something on the project, all productivity came to a screeching halt. People there all felt the need to be nice to each other above all else, and as a result the tough decisions couldn’t be made, and they were our slowest-moving client of ever.

Second, as I learned from Zen, being your true self doesn’t mean “being nice above all else” all the time. That’s just faking it. There will always be disagreements, and the philosophy I try to follow is, “The best idea wins.”

I learned part of that philosophy — and how to handle conflict — from this article by Bill Parcells, The tough work of turning around a team.

My best teachers were not the ones who had all the answers alvin February 16, 2017 - 12:26pm

“My best teachers were not the ones who had all the answers. They were the ones deeply excited by questions they couldn’t answer.”

“Keep Grinding” alvin February 5, 2017 - 10:22pm

“It just tells you how tough this team is. Down 25 points, we just keep grinding and we finish on top again.”

~ Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

IQ is not EQ

One of the things you have to remember when working with human beings is that IQ is not the same as EQ, and they’re rarely equal. Some people have a horrible temper. One guy I know is smart, but he remains the biggest jerk I’ve ever met.

I remember hearing one time that when people are hurt in their childhood or teen years they stop developing emotionally at that point. So if they are somehow hurt when they are twelve years old, they can be thirty years old physically but only twelve emotionally. I don’t know if that’s 100% true, but it seems like it in some cases I know. (And the hard thing is that these people don’t know that they have these problems.)

A bad day can be the best thing to happen to you alvin December 4, 2016 - 7:39pm

About five years ago, when my thyroid was first failing, I went through something known as Hashimoto’s disease. What happened was that at some times I would become hyperthyroid (and therefore hyperactive), but most of the time I was hypothyroid, meaning that my brain and body were slow and sluggish.

Nine times out of ten I was sluggish, so one day when I had a job interview I decided to drink some Red Bull. I had one drink an hour before the interview, and drank the second one just before the interview.

Sadly, on this occasion my body decided to have that “1 out of 10” day and be hyperactive. Combined with the two Red Bull drinks I couldn’t sit still or think. I’m sure the people conducting the interview thought I was on speed, and more than once they told me I could relax. I wanted to tell them, “No, I can’t. I really can’t.” By the end of that miserable interview I was just glad my heart didn’t explode.

At the time this seemed like a really bad event in my life. I didn’t know what to do about my thyroid, and I felt miserable. I was at a real low point, especially in my professional life.

Fortunately one of the next things I did was to send an email to the O’Reilly folks asking if they needed someone to write the Scala Cookbook. They said yes, and the rest is history.

Looking back on that interview, I now think that if I had done well that day I might have been forced to work with Java for the next few years. Instead, I’ve been able to work with Scala ever since that day. I got to write the Scala Cookbook, and now I’m working on a book about Scala and functional programming. With the mast cell disease stuff I just went through I would have never been able to work at a “normal” job, so all of this turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Moral: One some days things in your life can look bad, really bad. But if you keep your chin up and keep working hard, good things can still happen, and in the end that bad day can be the best thing that ever happened to you.