AVDI: I feel like our discussion with you, Leon, about augmenting your reality would go down different routes than it would with most technologists.
LEON: That’s probably true. [Laughs] I’ll own that.
AVDI: [Coughing] LSD.
JESSICA: Really? I thought of it as augmenting your reality with the reality of other people.
AVDI: Have you seen his talks?
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CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 220 of the Ruby Rogues Podcast. This week on our panel, we have Jessica Kerr.
JESSICA: Good morning.
CHUCK: Avdi Grimm.
AVDI: Hello from Tennessee.
CHUCK: I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.TV. A quick little reminder to go check out RailsClips and also to go check out Angular Remote Conf, if that’s your thing. We also have a special guest this week and that’s Leon Gersing.
LEON: Howdy. How’s it going now?
CHUCK: Are you coming to us from Texas or something?
LEON: [Laughs] No, I come from all over. So maybe a little Texas in there but mostly my upbringing was in Florida so that’s where I got all my y’alls and twang from.
CHUCK: I was in Texas yesterday.
LEON: Oh, where about?
CHUCK: Fort Worth.
LEON: Ah, okay.
JESSICA: Where are you now, Leon?
LEON: Right now, I am in Chicago. I’m Director over here at Dev Bootcamp now. So I’m helping people augment their realities.
CHUCK: Yeah, that’s what we have on the talk that I talked to you about. I’m still not completely clear what that means.
LEON: Nobody knows.
JESSICA: Who invited this guy anyway?
LEON: It is probably at some bar. I was told of [inaudible]. Here I am.
CHUCK: [Laughs] Push the Skype buttons.
LEON: That’s it. I just answered the call. You guys called me, you know.
CHUCK: Is that always your excuse?
LEON: Typically, yeah. That’s how I usually get employed. I’d say, “Oh, no. I don’t know why I’m here, you called me.”
CHUCK: [Laughs] Nice.
AVDI: That is a really good strategy. Just walk in.
AVDI: In one of your talks, you talked about just getting up and moving on to another desk. You just move on to another desk in another building and be like, “Hey, you called me.”
LEON: Absolutely. I have this philosophy that wherever you are is where you belong. So if you don’t feel like you belong where you are, move on somewhere else. Totally fine.
JESSICA: And you can get those two things in sync again.
JESSICA: Hey, Leon, you sound like someone who appreciates the opportunities that appear in front of you.
LEON: I think we do a lot of looking past them. Part of introspection, part of thinking about who you are as a person is about paying attention to the stimulus around you and not necessarily getting overloaded and overwhelmed at the infinite abyss that it is your own reflection.
So yeah, I mean, if you feel like you’re trapped and the world in front of you is not the world you believe you should exist in, then there are bajillion other little universes around you that you could simply participate in.
JESSICA: Such that there is a reality right in front of you and you can augment the one in your brain by looking more closely at your surroundings?
LEON: Sure. Looking more closely at your given surroundings and listening to people’s voices you haven’t listened to in the past, taking time to hear rather than being next to talk, absolutely.
All of this new information can allow you to augment how you see the world, how you participate in it, figure out what your actual goals are as a human being.
AVDI: I was just trying to do that this morning.
CHUCK: How did that work out for you?
AVDI: It is surprisingly difficult to kneel down, I got to say.
JESSICA: That’s interesting about the goals because I see having specific goals as in conflict with grasping the opportunities that are right in front of me.
LEON: I think they can be if you’re obtused to new stimuli. I think sometimes people are craftical and they think that the path is crystalline in their mind and then they don’t react when new variables enter the game. But seeing what’s around and deciding how you want to navigate through it is perfectly acceptable. I would assume that people would like to plan at least in the moment for how to get from across the room, right? There’s planning and then there’s a plan. I prefer planning over a grand plan.
CHUCK: Yeah, I tend to approach things along the lines of, “Okay, where do I want to wind up? Where do I want to be heading?” But then it’ll set that in stone. People ask, “Where do you want to be three to five years?” And I don’t think anybody really is going to have a great answer for that because it’s just hard to know. But life’s circumstances are going to be then.
But at the same time, it’s like, “Okay well, if things are kind of the way they are now in five years, where do I want to have advanced to? What do I want to be doing? How does that line up with what I value?” And I’m constantly reassessing that.
But then when I break that down into, “Okay, so where do I need to be in a year? Where do I need to be in three months?” Then it’s like, “Okay, I can kind of see a path forward from here. It’s going to get me where I want to go.” Then I just don’t. I commit to the where I want to be further down the line but I’m totally willing to change that on the map.”
LEON: How often does your journey take right turns emotionally?
CHUCK: Complete right turns?
LEON: In the sense that a lot of people will take a complete right turn on say, a job, a technology, a platform, a framework, just something like that. But the end-goal is still maybe the same, like the emotional goal may still be the same.
Like how often do you find – and this for any of you really is, how often do you find your emotional goals aren’t quite aligned with what you’re doing? Then how do you change those?
JESSICA: What’s an example of an emotional goal, Leon, because I don’t think that’s the kind of goal that most people ask us for but maybe it should be?
LEON: So for me, a lot of my conversations tend to be somebody says like, “I feel lost,” or, “I feel alone,” or, “I feel separated,” or, “I’m not part of the group.” So they have an emotional goal of finding their place not feeling like they’re swimming upstream.
There are lots of different ways you can approach those. That’s just so conceptual, highly conceptual goals that it’s tough to actually narrow them down and isolate on like a path to achieving that. Like if I’m socially let’s say more introverted, I’m on the introverted spectrum, it’s very difficult to say, “Well, I’d like to expand my network,” or, “I’d like to feel part of the group,” without tools that get you there. So that’s what I mean by emotional goal.
CHUCK: Yeah, it’s hard to really look at those goals and like you said, know the path forward because it’s not something that you can really measure. It’s not something you can really say, “Now, I have 10 more happiness points or whatever.
CHUCK: Because I do this, I look at where I’m at and I’m like, “Yeah, I’d like to be more involved in these kinds of things,” or, “I’d like to make more friends or spend more time around people.” But I have to quantify it down to something. The thing is that from there, I usually do pick a path. I look at something that is likely to yield the results that I want.
I read a lot of books. I talk to a lot of people. I listen to a lot of podcasts. So I get a ton of ideas. And so I’ll pick one that seems likely and I’ll put that one out there on the horizon so that I can march toward it. And then after a few months, because that’s usually how long it takes me to figure out if that’s really taking me where I want to go. After a few months, if it’s not the path, then I’ll try something else.
JESSICA: So you’re iterating.
CHUCK: Yeah, I don’t see any other way to know that unless I can know the future and I can’t do that. So I have to make the best guess I can with the information I have. Then I recognize that down the line, I’m going to have more information. This isn’t the way. I’m really liking these aspects of the path I’ve chosen but maybe I need to veer left a little bit because I’m not giving this with this out of it that I wanted or I’m learning. That point on the horizon that I thought I wanted to head toward, it turns out that that emotional thing that I wanted, that emotional pay-off is not as important to me as this other thing.
JESSICA: It’s the same as in software.
JESSICA: You think you know what you want to write but you really discover it along the way.
CHUCK: Yep, but at the same time, I find it really difficult to get what I want unless I’m actually deliberately heading toward it. And so, I kind of have to operate the way that I do.
LEON: I think it’s an interesting notion trying to quantify the qualitative data. I think emotionally that those qualifiers are things that you can actually measure, like you made a joke about having 10 love points. But over time, doesn’t mean we’ve called these things like burnout, right?
LEON: You know daily like, “Oh, I don’t have enough in the tank.” It goes down further and further and further until you have to make a choice, a real pivoting choice.
Is going to the job that is bringing me diminishing return emotionally actually helping me achieve the goal of happiness, if that’s the goal. If the goal is complete another misery, maybe you’re right on track. I don’t know.
CHUCK: Yeah, but if you get up against a wall, then those are, a lot of times, the most painful decisions to make.
CHUCK: Where it’s like, “I can’t take this job anymore so I’m leaving behind co-workers. Maybe there are aspects to this job that are going to get me something that I do want. My wife’s comfortable. My kids are comfortable, blah, blah, blah, blah. What if I have to move?” So there’s all this other stuff that comes along with it. Sometimes you don’t have a choice but sometimes if you can find some compromise on the choice before you get to that point, it’s less painful.
JESSICA: Right, that point of being at the dead end emotionally isn’t usually the best point from which to make the choice of where to go next.
I agree with Leon. I think you can quantify these happiness and stuff. As long as it’s you quantifying it for your purposes, you know what your metrics mean and you’re not going to gain them because nobody else is looking at them. It’s all for you.
LEON: We hope that you’re not going to gain them. Dialing in emotionally is very, very important. And having the ability to do introspections and know if you’re actually lying to yourself, it’s tantamount to actually solving somebody’s emotional issues.
JESSICA: Good point. There’s a book written by Dusty Phillips who’s a Python developer. He’s written at least one Python book. It’s called Hacking Happy, I believe, where he talks exactly about this. He pulled himself out of depression very gradually using techniques he learned from programming about measuring and having retrospectives with themselves. He did that because you often forget.
It’s one of the reasons that year-end reviews are so useless because you’ve really only remembered the last few weeks. And having data that you, past you has provided to present you because past you could actually remember what they did today whereas present you doesn’t remember accurately four months ago. That data could actually help tell you, “Oh, wait. I’m really sliding downward. Maybe I should stop before I drive myself into a wall.”
LEON: Absolutely. Monitoring your behavior and then getting feedback on that specific part of it will go right into your emotional health and the trajectory and the arc of your emotional health.
But feedback just as you pointed out is only relevant in a time [inaudible] and it has to be about behavior. It has to be about the things that we’re seeing or experiencing or doing and not ego attacks or even speak for ego attacks on the self. So like doing this one thing, like going to this job causes certain amount of pain. Going to that user group, where they make fun of me and they other me and they don’t allow me to speak and I feel like I’m not heard is detrimental to the cause of trying to be more included. So at that point it’s like yeah, you might drive the right approach but you might have to pick a different route. You might have to go find or start one or start a different route.
CHUCK: So when you were talking about how you can kind of quantify the unquantifiable on your own scale, it made me think of when you go to the doctor and they ask you on a scale of one to 10, how bad is your pain?
CHUCK: Because there’s no real pain points or whatever. It’s in your experience, is this the worst you had or the least worst you had? How is that working for you in whatever you’re doing? How is that working for you? Or whatever scales you’re looking at, are they getting better or worse?
LEON: For me personally, keeping mindful about it is making it easier to understand when I’m approaching crisis. So between therapy and some of the things we do here at Dev Bootcamp and just like my personal relationships, I try to have, maybe it’s not a one to ten, but I have this weird scale of from mud to unicorns.
LEON: Like, “Where am I?” [Laughs]
CHUCK: Oh, right.
LEON: Yeah, I mean, it’s measured in pixie dusts and sandwiches. I want to know not together, right? They’re correlated.
LEON: I need to know basically on a day to day like am I in the range? Am I going in the direction that I like and am I feeling safe? Am I feeling supported? And can I do my most creative and innovative work today?” If I’m going in the opposite direction, I should know that daily. I should know that even hourly. And then when I have that indication, it’s time for me to react to the feedback.
So if the feedback is external, let’s say someone’s treating me poorly then it’s time to find a way to communicate with that human being so that we’re both able to help one another move forward emotionally.
But sitting on it waiting, thinking it’s going to get better, it’s like not writing [inaudible]. It’s never going to happen. You’re going to have to confront that error message sooner. Got to get to it.
CHUCK: So when do you know that you need to react? I’ll give you an example. Around everyday about 2:30-ish, I hit a wall. It happens everyday. I’m just tired so I kind of coped with it in different ways. So do I just need to know that I need to compensate at 2:30 every day? Or do I need to react and make a bigger change in life to make that go away?
LEON: So you have now a control. The control is at 2:30, I feel low energy. I feel lethargic. I feel like I cannot produce at my most creative, so don’t try. Try to do something else. What would then serve as your emotional needs at that time? It may be your physical needs? If you spend most of your days sitting down perhaps, which a lot of us do, then maybe 2:30 is your time to go walk down the street and chat with a hotdog vendor, or to meet the people that are in businesses on your floor or whatever that happens to be even if it’s just commune with nature.
I think anything to get your mind back into the part of being with humans and less about compartmentalizing the task that “have to be done” for someone else. Well, inform both masters, if you will.
JESSICA: That’s also an example of accepting the reality that’s right in front of you. Instead of insisting that you should be working at 2:30, you should be productive at that time, recognize that you’re not and ask, “What can I get done or what can I do that has some benefit that I’m capable of doing at 2:30?”
LEON: Absolutely. Like trying to see the reality versus the simulation is paramount in understanding your own metric. If you cannot see the real world for what it is giving you and you’re living in this simulation or this dual reality, then all of your metrics will be spewed. Then your pain meter may always be at a 10.
Then unfortunately we often wait too long before we even do the introspection. Before we do the work we’re trying to say, “Oh, I’m trapped. I only have these two directions in which to go. Oh, wait a minute I’m not trapped at all. I could easily just not do this work and get off from my desk and take five minutes off and then come back and maybe I’ll feel different.”
CHUCK: I want to ask about another scenario and this one is a little bit, I guess, across a larger term than just a day, right? We all kind of go through seasons in life. Sometimes some periods of life are better than others. So how do you know if it’s just the general ebb and flow of life versus that this really is an upward or downward trend?
LEON: So for me that largely comes to even patterns in a larger scale. So let’s say people experience even like a biological seasonal depression and may find ways through either technology, medication, support to manage the expectations of that kind of cyclical experience. And then that’s something that can just be simply managed.
Now, if it’s just every month I tend to get really restless, then I would work that into my schedule. I would work that into my life. Now if you can’t predict it and just comes out of nowhere, you still have to confront it. I’d still believe you have to deal with it. And in that case, try something radically different. Try changing the way you get to work. Try anything, really. If you’ve seen any of my talks, you’d be going from changing your job or changing a different book that you write to mind altering substances like caffeine, whatever you need to change your experience.
I think that provides you a nice juxtaposition for the current path you’re on. Humans love to systemize things. They love rituals. They love the ability to predict how their day is going to go. And they really do a poor job when that ritual’s effectively augmented by something they couldn’t control. The expectation alone causes that kind of anxiety. I think being able to free yourself through mindfulness, through practice, through observation and introspection of the expectation allows for greater growth possibility.
AVDI: What are the good ways of becoming aware of those trends? Is journaling something that you recommend? How do you become aware of that stuff?
LEON: Journaling is a powerful tool to understand your conscious mind’s thoughts at a given time. Journaling without going back and maybe looking at it can be very difficult. Be a bit moot. It’s data. So if you’re collecting the data, that’s good. But it’s difficult.
So for when I’m journaling, I also like to try and say, “Today, here is something normal that happened. Got coffee, hang out with Mike up front. I was in a really bad mood and I didn’t know why.” Then maybe talk about everything else so that when I come back to refer to it, that metadata exists about that day.
But besides journaling, meditation is a really good way to present in mindfulness as well as interacting and listening to those around you. A lot of times especially in American culture, we’re constantly seeking to entertain one another with our dialogue rather than actually letting it be organic and happen naturally. Simply just listening, not having this. Letting listening and mindfulness be part of the conversation and not something we’re constantly trying to avoid. It doesn’t necessarily make a great podcast.
JESSICA: That’s really interesting. You point out that entertainment is an avoiding mechanism for mindfulness. It does feel like we spend a great deal of effort avoiding being alone with our own thoughts in this culture.
LEON: Absolutely. I think we spend a great amount of time avoiding being alone with our own thoughts but we also spend a great amount of time taking the silence out of even group communication. There isn’t a whole lot of just friends hanging out and sitting. Well, unless you count dinners that they go to with everybody on their phone. Maybe that’s the quietest they become. But then we’re not mindful of the present. We’re looking off to the future or to some other FOMO that we’re dealing with in that context of our current social situation.
JESSICA: You used the word FOMO.
CHUCK: Fear of missing out.
AVDI: Now, that’s interesting. I’d never heard that one.
JESSICA: Yeah, I heard it the first time only yesterday.
JESSICA: I had to look it up.
CHUCK: You are missing out.
LEON: You have FOMO FOMO.
CHUCK: That’s right.
JESSICA: I have totally had to let go of that because there are so many opportunities in the world.
AVDI: That is so true.
JESSICA: And so much potential. And realizing any of them is to allow the others to collapse. Just got to get over it.
AVDI: It’s funny I get to watch that FOMO in action everyday because that’s exactly what’s going on with our younger children when they don’t want to go to sleep. They look at each other desperately tired and just rubbing their eyes and miserable but they’re terrified of missing something.
LEON: Absolutely. That’s effectively us on our phones.
LEON: We stop caring about the here and now and we just think, “Oh, there is a better conversation that could be had somewhere else,” or, “If I was at that other place that I wanted to be, if I’m not at that conference dealing with those people, if I’m not at that job with those friends, I’m not on the path.” That misses the entire point. I think that misses out on … you should fear of missing out on those in front of you.
JESSICA: So FOMO causes missing out?
JESSICA: We’re back to …
CHUCK: That’s ironic.
JESSICA: Yeah, we’re back to …
AVDI: I think we’ve monetized distraction to a greater level than ever before. I think a lot of social software these days has realized the monetary potential in distraction and in image crafting. So this whole idea of your Instagram or whatever, building the image of who you are and of what you’re doing and of what you’re eating and who you’re talking to and where you are. It’s very attractive this idea of building an image of what you are and you spend more time building that image than interacting with at least more real stuff in front of you.
LEON: If you’re building up the image of who you are instead of becoming who you want to be then one will always be solved and the other will always be neglected.
AVDI: I got to say I finally returned to a daily meditation practice in the last couple of weeks. It was surprising how big a hump there was to get back into it. It seems like the sort of thing — I’ve always enjoyed it and I’ve always felt good for doing it and it seems like the sort of thing, good things feel good so why wouldn’t I do it?
But it turned out that there was an enormous hump of anxiety to get over because I’ve been pushing. It’s like pushing this ball of concerns and thoughts sort of ahead of me constantly with all this distraction that I’ve been practicing.
So mindfulness became steadily more and more threatening as that ball got bigger and bigger because I knew that the moment that I actually sat down and started the mindfulness practice again, I’d have to work through that ball of anxieties. And what am I not doing and what’s the next thing and et cetera, et cetera.
LEON: I think of one way to kind of curve that is just remember that that experience is simply you being aware of it, that you’re effectively the rock in the stream. You’re just letting the stream — sometimes it comes by in torrents and sometimes it’s just a trickle. That’s fine. They just happen. Just let them come up. Let them be there. Let them have their minute. React to them emotionally and then let those things go. I think to try to compartmentalize them and overcome them like they’re giant obstacles that we have to face and slay like demons. Like we have to have perfectly crafted plans on the avenue and road to happiness or enlightenment or whatever word is that that an individual is searching for.
But human mind just sometimes needs a minute to just sit in it, just to let it come, let it go over, not be in control of it. We spend a lot of time crafting reality and suffer. We spend a lot of time having control over all of the knobs and dials but that’s not very human ways to live our lives. Organically, we want to just let it happen, be a part of it, co-mingle, interact. And then what we do in technology a lot of time is remove ourselves from. We stand above. We are the ones playing rule maker, game master for everything.
AVDI: Yeah, that’s very true and something has been on my mind a lot lately is that conflict between the mindset that we typically bring to software. I won’t say that we always do but mindset the way to delivering to software versus the mindset that’s I guess healthier for life outside of it. I have some feelings that the mindset that’s healthier for life is probably actually healthier for dealing with software too.
LEON: I would agree with that as well. I think we need to become far more organic in our approach. I think we have to interface with the qualitative at the same time as the quantitative and stop looking at software as purely a pragmatic exercise. There’s certainly a level of pragmatism and planning and dexterity and skill that goes into it but negating the creative element, the spontaneous element, the interactive element means that we largely live outbalanced. I’d like to see these things work in concert with one another.
AVDI: Do you some thoughts on engaging with those elements more frequently?
LEON: I think team should play more. I think that there are lots and lots of ways that we can introduce more just, I don’t know, juvenile fun for lack of a better term. More in the sense of like a child place. So when I was a child, at least. Now, all the kids basically played in and they want play dates. They weren’t regimented times where people got together. It was like, “Leon, get out of the house and come back when it’s dark.” So the boys, the girls of all shapes, race, colors and sizes were just in the neighborhood and they just goofed off and they just played and they just came up with who games and just dealt with the reality around them to interact with one another and see their lives through someone else’s lens.
I would like to see more teens doing things like that rather than staying eight to five, you’re locked into this desk or in this chair and that’s all you’re going to do. If you’re pairing, for instance, you’ve got two people. Make a game out of it. Play with it like how can we play with this particular feature? Thirty minutes of playing could easily lead to a mountain of productivity and pragmatic work that [inaudible]. So certainly play is definitely at the top of my list on that.
Also expanding the network of people that you play with. So if everybody in the room is starting to sound and look the same, maybe even not look the same, maybe the ideas are all just looking the same and sounding the same, it’s time to infuse some new ideas. Maybe take the group out, like go out as a developer and see how other developers and other disciplines are doing it. You may not totally agree. You may not like it. But you might see something really cool or something completely different that you hadn’t even considered.
All those things can help jog that creative, that innovative spirit rather than looking at it in another checklist and saying, “Oh, if I do this checklist then I’m perfect.”
JESSICA: Yeah, checklists are definitely the enemy. I’ve been struggling with that at work. If you have a list of goals for a project and not success, then you can never succeed any further than that.
JESSICA: Leon, do you think we should maybe encourage more Easter eggs?
LEON: Oh, God, yes.
LEON: Yes, I want Konami Codes and everything like, let’s do this. No, I think there should be lots of ways for us to discover what we’re trying to do. If you’re somebody that’s creatively trying to lay a path for somebody, yeah, put an Easter egg in there. Let somebody discover and hunt it. And then reward them and celebrate the fact that they found it. That’s a lot of fun.
JESSICA: Or even just while you’re making a UI. At work on Hack Friday when we’re allowed to work on what we think is important rather than what’s on the checklist, one of our people put a pony. He made a UI for this app and when you click the big red button, if it works, a pony flies across the screen.
JESSICA: And there’s so much joy in that. And yes, some people make fun of it but because it was done on Hack Friday, they don’t criticize him for wasting time on it. But at the same time, he’s exploring the UI framework, he’s learning more about filament. Everyone is happy and now we enjoy pressing the big red button. Yeah!
LEON: Yeah, and now you’re expecting that somebody else will surprise you at some point. That is your new normal. So instead of, “Oh, here we have another Hack Friday, what are we going to do? I have no idea.” I’ve seen a lot of Hack Fridays and I’ve been a part of companies that had had days like 80-20 rules where their 20% largely became about nothing. It became about doing nothing because they didn’t want to have to explain to the rest of the crew who are embarrassed or I couldn’t find something interesting or creative to do.
That usually just reeks of I was afraid of being judged. I was afraid of really exploring it. I was afraid of taking a risk. But that’s where creativity lies. It lies in the risk. The thing that we want to find out, it lies in exploration. So leaving bread crumbs, leaving behind artifacts, letting others experience the joy of the thing that you made, isn’t that why we’re all doing this anyway? It doesn’t have to be all one or the other.
AVDI: That’s interesting. I was just reading something about how the image and following bread crumbs made me think of something I was reading where in cognitive studies about how people learn. They learn by following trails. You have a trail that you walk down and then if you can call somebody else, not force them but call somebody else to walk down that same trail then they learn something. If you just smack them with a map, they don’t learn anything.
AVDI: So learning is always about sort of causing somebody else to reiterate a path that you walked down in their own minds. And reiterate a series of discoveries, a series of surprises like that.
LEON: Absolutely. The more we’re rewarded for walking down new paths, the more excited we are to change the ones that we’re currently on.
AVDI: It’s sort of in that same vein of surprises, happy surprises. A lot of people have talked about the Ruby community as being about joy and about happiness. But the more I thought about it, the more I’ve realized that I think it’s a bit more specific than that. I think a lot of programmer communities are interested in programmer happiness. But Ruby, what’s interesting about Ruby is the whimsy that it started on. Do you see that as well?
LEON: Oh God, yes! Absolutely.
AVDI: Is that a specifically interesting aspect of it to you?
LEON: It was the reason that I was most curious to join Ruby as a community. I’ve been a part of several communities and still am and Ruby is probably the one that I am going back home to. A lot of it is because of that whimsy.
I don’t necessarily think it’s isolated in Ruby land at all. There’s certainly a large amount of whimsy in the Python community as well. But yeah, I do think that a lot of our whimsy comes from the fact that a lot of our tools, programs, libraries, et cetera, are home grown by people who didn’t necessarily have to do it for a paycheck. They did it because it was something they wanted to explore that allowed them to tease out the reality of what they were doing now and come away with a little different kind of artifact.
One of our seminal books in Ruby, ‘why’s (poignant) guide’ is just madness. And it’s brilliant madness. I haven’t seen a poignant guide just so sharp although I would love to see somebody do it. I think that would be really good fun. Or maybe there are new forms to whimsy that I’m totally missing out on.
JESSICA: Yeah, that’s interesting. Lately I’m playing around with ALM and ALM is a language that is [inaudible] for the UI and I’m not meant to be a UI developer.
But that’s a great outlet for whimsy for me because I don’t usually enjoy that. It’s actually being fun. And yet, ALM is a lot like Haskell. If we could add whimsy to a language that’s a lot like Haskell, that would be amazing.
LEON: Well, ‘Learn You Some Erlang for Great Good’ and ‘Learn You a Haskell for Great Good’ brought a lot of whimsy to those particular materials.
JESSICA: That’s true.
LEON: And I really enjoyed those two things and in fact it made it easier for me to comprehend various functional programming tenets. Just because somebody was talking to me like a human. They were talking to me like a child who wanted to play with the language. It didn’t have to be this thing that follows the same 26 chapter, learn X in 24-hours format that has become the norm in programming.
JESSICA: That’s a good point. I often remarked that Learn You a Haskell doesn’t teach you how to print to standard out until chapter 13.
JESSICA: But the whimsy in Haskell is not in printing to standard out unlike many languages.
LEON: [Laughs] Totally. It’s really good example.
AVDI: I was thinking about this recently and I decided that we have a moral imperative to be whimsical.
LEON: Amen. I’m into this.
AVDI: Well because much of what we do is creating realities, we call it modeling reality but really what we’re doing is we’re creating realities. Same things humans do all the time. I think the reason it’s so important that we hold on to whimsy is because we can’t risk taking ourselves too seriously.
LEON: Oh God, yes.
AVDI: These realities that we model, these models that we come up with whether it’s a whole paradigm of programming or whether it’s a model of a domain or something. I think that something that as programmers, we’re particularly in danger of is deciding that the map is the territory.
JESSICA: Oh, yeah. You mentioned something earlier Leon that as developers we tend to think of ourselves in the game master role to being in charge of this reality that we’re creating. My reaction was, “Man! That sounds like a lot of responsibility.”
LEON: Yeah, no wonder we’re so stressed out.
JESSICA: Then if we think we have all that responsibility and we’re being very serious then we start to think we’re right all the time whereas if we introduce the whimsy, we’re remembering that we’re making this up.
JESSICA: And so we continue to make it up.
LEON: Absolutely. Being right is an illusion as well. Knowing all the answers is an illusion, even if it’s your world even if you’ve created it. Like this notion that you just can’t be wrong or that something spontaneous can happen that you’ve never seen before. In the minute that you’ve locked down and say, “No, I know what’s right. This is it.” That’s the minute that you stop painting outside of those lines. That’s it. You’ve trapped yourself into being right. Congratulations! Now, you’re right forever.
JESSICA: Now the best you can do is check the boxes on the list.
LEON: That’s it. And ultimately that sounds like something I’m not interested in. That sounds like a world that ends immediately where it begins. I want to keep exploring it.
AVDI: But it’s so tempting at least to some of us because we like to systematize things.
LEON: Sure. Sure.
AVDI: We get a charge out of systematizing things in the program and then we want to systematize things outside of the program.
LEON: Sure. I mean look at the cities that we’ve built, right? We’ve built these big monuments that have no basis in organic life. They’re complete simulation of life itself. And then they have silly rules where you can and can’t walk; what you can and can’t do. Then there’s somebody that we pay to stand in a uniform and tell other people for us what they can and can’t do. The rules are important to maintaining order in the system. They have to always have them and that’s the way it is.
I think that kind of thinking traps us. It doesn’t allow us to see past it. It doesn’t even allow us to see the truth that this was all built by another person, just by another human being or just thought it was a good idea and got a bunch of other human beings together to do it.
So we can change it. Everything that we see in front of us, everything that we can imagine, that can be changed. You just have to simply be willing to participate.
AVDI: Yeah, I think you have to own the idea that you are an author of reality, right? You’re not just living in this world, you are also manufacturing it.
LEON: That’s right. And that doesn’t just mean manufacturing content for other people to read on their social networks.
AVDI: Right. It’s almost like the VM inside the VM inside the VM.
LEON: Of course. Right now, we are the ghost in the machine.
JESSICA: And everything we do and especially everything we build either reinforces these social norms or invites questions.
JESSICA: And whimsy invites questions.
AVDI: And play.
JESSICA: Yeah, play is the safety to question. One thing I notice about my kids when they play with each other especially when they’re in bed supposed to be sleeping but they’re talking, talking, talking, talking, talking, they’re practicing conversations. They’re practicing life.
JESSICA: And they’re exploring.
LEON: They do it with like they have boundaries and rules as well. Children are really good at that. They’re really good at just coming up with whatever the boundaries are right now and not marrying themselves to it. It’s like, “Okay, in this play ,you’re the sales guy and I’m the person who’s buying stuff. Let’s do it.”
JESSICA: Oh, yeah. Yeah, they’ll spend half an hour arguing over which superhero each of them is and which powers they have and then the game actually lasts two minutes.
JESSICA: It was just establishing that mutual shared alternate reality. That was the real game.
LEON: That’s it.
AVDI: Which when you look back at some of the stuff that people [inaudible] and some of the small talkers in XP types, they really said like that’s how we should be planning software to bring us around the software again is this little playful sessions of putting ourselves in the position in the perspective of notional objects in the system. Not necessarily software objects but just notional actors in the system and play acting.
LEON: Yeah. Look, I’m a child of XP as well. I actually love these ideas. I love the notion of just creating your dollhouse and putting all your dolls in it and just having fun. Like, “Oh, okay, I need a chair,” so that they can have a conversation about something. “Oh, sweet, I’ll go and make a tea set.” Of course, why wouldn’t we do that? Why wouldn’t we just play with it? Why does it always have to be following some constantly normative idiomatic process for developing software? It should be a lot more fun.
JESSICA: What if inside our teams, we each had designated superpowers and you’re the person who knows where that stupid programming is finding its configuration variables?
JESSICA: Yeah sure, I can do that. I’m strong and can lift this car but it’ll be easier if I ask you to help me because that’s your power. We could define our reality within our team the way kids do.
LEON: Absolutely. I think we should try it. This should just be fun.
LEON: Give it a shot. See what happens.
JESSICA: What’s your superpower this week?
LEON: Dealing with the clients.
CHUCK: Ooohh, that is a superpower.
JESSICA: You can have that one.
AVDI: Leon, you said you are at the bootcamp now, right?
LEON: That is correct. As of last May.
AVDI: What kind of things are you trying to instill in your students?
LEON: A lot of what we’re talking about were effectively when they’re here, they got nine weeks to go from very little understanding of [inaudible] somebody you could hire as a junior and apprentice into your teams. And a lot of them are coming from different disciplines – completely different trades, completely different backgrounds and programs, something that they’ve always wanted to try and then they come in and try it.
So they’re effectively having to redo all of their instrumentation for gathering feedback on how they’re progressing, how they’re proceeding as a human being. So a lot of things that I’m trying to instill are that the minute you’re writing software, you’re a software developer. You may be at the beginning of your journey but you are now a software developer. And that means you can ask as many questions as you want. And you will ask them over and over again.
I try to defeat the ideas that there is a hierarchy to this process; that there are these immaculate seniors who happen to know everything that you have to get permission from in order to do creative things. That’s not the case. That we have wisdom; that we have a community of people who want to help.
But really it’s on each individual to understand what they’re trying to bring to this world and to go out there and do it. My idea is hopefully that everybody leaves this group empowered. That they feel that they are now a member of our community, that they are here to help others and to make the world of software a better place. That they’re not outside of it, that they are part of it.
JESSICA: You mentioned senior developers as having wisdom not authority.
JESSICA: I like that. I want that in a leader.
LEON: There’s a stark difference between the two. Our best ideas in software tend to be just given away, tend to be the things that we share. Things that they experiences that we have we either give away and free materials or paid materials but we largely want them out. We want them somewhere else.
Our seniors are people who have experience in the form of wisdom. They’ve solved a lot of problems. And one thing that we sometimes often forget is that you can be a senior and you can be a junior at the exact same time. It’s not just one permanent role that after certain amount of years that you suddenly fill.
All of my greatest mentors were people who loved to dance in both that kind of senior wise camp but also dial right back down into the I’m new and I’m playing modality like I’m just experimenting. I’m just having a good time. I just want to see the world again with fresh eyes.
I think those are the kinds of people that I’m hoping continue to be at our community. We honor that kind of playful wisdom exchange rather than ‘oh, that person’s been here for 20 years’. Clearly they are the best. Clearly their ideas are the ones that I should make my ideas. I think we have a lot of ideas. Then we’re at the beginning of this. Software’s new. Software’s fresh. Fifty years in, right? Largely. So how can we say that we have anybody who knows exactly what’s going on? We’re still figuring it out. We’re still building it.
AVDI: Amen to that.
CHUCK: Hmn, hmn.
JESSICA: Yeah. The best we can do is iterate.
LEON: That’s it. That’s it. And I hope that we will continue to encourage those coming in to our community to take those chances and take those risks because a lot of times the more we get, the more set in our ways and patterns we could become. We just don’t want to look outside of the box. We want them to know that our way is the only way. And I think that’s a trap. So I encourage people to continue to push up against that boundary and push the edge.
AVDI: You mentioned mentors and I know I can’t swipe your mentors from you.
AVDI: We all have just different people that we meet throughout life. I’m curious though if there are some books that you particularly recommend and that you found a lot of wisdom in?
LEON: Well, anything by Huxley has driven a lot of my social wisdom. And The Perennial Philosophy is probably one in particular that I revisit from time to time as far as the wisdom of ancient text of long time text. I have been a fan of philosophy for very long time. So there are plenty of books along the way, things that we’re talking about.
And this one French postmodernist, Jean Baudrillard is probably really hot like dialed in to this particular topic that we’ve had today especially around reality and simulations. So maybe his books America, Simulation, Simulacra, would probably be good reads as well along those lines.
But right now, I can’t think of a contemporary book that has got me going on that. But I do have some other ones. They’re not necessarily in mentorship exactly. But one that I’ve just picked up that’s really taking my noodle is this book called Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. It’s talking largely about some other concepts that we’re talking about here about engaging with others and how we can tap into those things that we want to unlock within ourselves just by simply getting back to the organic notion of play; of exercising our minds and physical bodies. It’s fun.
As far going out and getting mentors, to me that’s something that’s best done in real life. It’s best like going out seeing people who are walking past that you’re interested in walking and having a conversation with them. They may not have time for you. They may not be willing to mentor. They may not even see themselves in that place. But just connecting with them, taking them out for lunch, just take them and go out to the park, shooting the breeze, can really inform the path that you’re on. And make understanding your sign posts and guide posts much clear.
CHUCK: Very cool.
JESSICA: Maybe that gets back to our goals of the future. If you see someone who is where you think you want to be and you just go talk to them, you may learn whether that’s where you want to be and also some ideas of how to get there.
CHUCK: All right. Well, I’m going to push us into picks. Before we get to picks, I want to take some time to thank our Silver Sponsor.
CHUCK: Why don’t we have Avdi go first with picks?
AVDI: I don’t have any technical picks today. One of my picks is a place. If you ever find yourself in Eastern Tennessee with children and time on your hands, for instance if you’re staying in the Smoky Mountains, I highly recommend Dollywood’s Splash Country. It is the newer and wetter half of Dollywood, the famous Dolly Parton theme park. We took the kids there the other day and it was fantastic. And kind of getting back to one of the things we talked about in the episode, one of the things that I loved about it, like many water parks, it has plenty of rides, interesting slides and water roller coasters and rapid rides and whatnot that you can stand in line for. But like fully half of the park is just free form play areas like giant pools with interesting waterfalls and grottos and things to play on and this vast tower of fountains and slides and other water amusements that kids can just sort of climb around on.
I loved that about it because it was a remarkably meltdown free day. We had four kids there and they could just run around and play and not stand in line for hours. And yeah, very cool. I wish more amusement parks focused more on free-form play and less on the rides. So that’s a pick.
The other pick is really more of a concept – the concept of normality. As some listeners may be aware, at the beginning of the year, I basically achieved all of the goals that I’ve been working towards for the previous 15 years of my life which kind of culminated in our move to Eastern Tennessee. And I did a lot of thinking about what that meant for me around that time and some writing about that which is on my journal that’s up on the web. One of the things that I was thinking about is that I didn’t want the sense of emergency and the sense of struggle that had sort of pervaded the previous 15 years. I didn’t want that to just carry on. I didn’t want to be living in emergency indefinitely even though I’ve achieved the point that I’ve been working towards in all those years of feeling rushed.
I actually set a date for myself. I set a date that I called normality day. It was like the Monday after my birthday or something like that. That was going to be the day that I would force myself to be normal, to have normality rather than living in that sense of urgency even if there were still boxes around; even if there’s stuff left unpacked.
I totally blew it off. I totally blew that day off just because I felt like, “Oh, there’s all this stuff going on. I’ve got this travel that’s going on. I’m freaking out and I don’t have enough time.” At the time, I sort of comforted myself. My wife helped comfort me with the thought that I just couldn’t achieve normality that soon after a move. But I realized shortly after that event that, that was the wrong move to make I made a mistake there because here’s what I realized about urgency and about overtime. If you think you’re in crunch mode then you tell yourself that, “Well, I can always work until seven and then go have a quick dinner and then put the kids down and then I can always go back to work. I can always work until 4:00 A.M. tonight. And the funny thing about that is that sometimes that means you get less done because you have this permission to work late and so you can actually procrastinate because you have this permission to work overtime all the time.
It was killing me. My spending too much time on social media was playing into that. I realized I was actually procrastinating as a result of that sense of urgency. So I went back to my original idea and I have been doing this crazy thing where I try to work 8-hour days. I’m actually working more or less a 9 to 5.
I line up how much stuff I want to get done. I try to work approximately 68 hours’ worth of work and I estimate my work and I try to work approximately a day’s worth of work. But then at 5:00, 5:30, I go up and I hang out with my family. And I don’t go back to work. I think it’s good. I think it’s been good for me. It’s certainly a different mode of living.
I can’t say that it’s for everyone. I can’t say that everyone should just live in normality because honestly, it was those 15 years of struggle that got me to the point that I could do that. But I think it’s good at some point say, “Okay, I’m going to draw the line here.” And everything after this, I start to take in stride rather than treating every single thing as an emergency. Sorry, that was so long but that’s my pick.
CHUCK: Cool, very cool. Definitely something to think about. Jessica, what are your picks?
JESSICA: That was pretty deep, Avdi. I’m so [inaudible] about that one.
AVDI: I just blogged a blogpost on Ruby Rogues.
CHUCK: I know.
JESSICA: You opened your mouth and a post came out. I’m going to cheat and pick my own talk.
CHUCK: That’s first.
JESSICA: When I was at PolyConf last month I did a talk, a lightning talk. It was an impromptu. Just that morning I decided, “Hey, I could give a lightning talk this afternoon since my talk is over,” and I did. And it was on meritocracy and how if you ever think you’ve achieved it, that’s terrible and you’re doing it wrong. But yeah, you can aim for it. And it’s four minutes. I’ll link to the video in the show notes. That’s it.
CHUCK: Nice. I’m going to throw a few picks in here. I just spent the weekend in Fort Worth, Texas. It was kind of a fun little town. But I really want to just do a quick shout out to the bunch of programmers that I had dinner with on Thursday. It was just a lot of fun and it’s nice to be able to connect with people and especially people who know that you know that you have something in common with.
So John and Procter pulled that together and it was just a lot of fun. Just to see where people are at, what they’re struggling with, and sometimes how we help with Ruby Rogues and some of the ways that we could help in the future with Ruby Rogues. So I’m just going to pick that. If you have any feedback, if you want to get in touch with me and talk about it, I’m actually working on something where I can connect with people who listen to the show just because I want to see what people are doing. I want to see what Ruby Rogues means to you. So keep an eye out for that.
I’m also going to pick Periscope. Periscope is a video broadcasting that works through Twitter. So if you follow me on Twitter, you might want to follow me on Periscope because I plan on posting some things or talking about some things on Periscope here over the next few weeks.
Then I met a whole bunch of people at Podcast Movement and that was a lot of fun. One of them was Jaime Tardy who has a podcast called The Eventual Millionaire and she interviews millionaires. That’s really cool. So I’m going to pick that one as well. I’m just really enjoying the topics that come up and the way that these successful people approach life.
So finally my last pick, if you don’t know, I have a master in my group that we record the calls and we post them as a podcast every week called Entreprogrammers and we’re putting together a retreat. We figured out about what it would cost and that’s what we’re charging you. So if you are interested in coming and hanging out with myself, Derick Bailey, who was on a week or two ago, John Sonmez, we were at Soft Skills, he’s also been on the show and Josh Earl, who’s another friend of ours. We’re going to be out there. We’re going to be talking business and code and stuff. So if you want to come be part of that for a few days, this is in the middle of October. I think it’s like the 14th through the 16th, but don’t quote me on that. You can go find out more if you go to entreprogrammers.com/retreat2015. We’re also taking a few days, just the four of us to do kind of a more in-depth retreat with each other but we want to help other people who are trying to do business or do codes. So if you’re interested in that, go check it out. There are only10 spots. So if you want to come, you got to go and sign up pretty fast. So yes, those are my picks. Leon, what are your picks?
LEON: So my picks, I’m going narrow them down to be into your picks as well and to the three of your picks.
So on the meritocracy thing, something that I think is interesting, the book called Quiet by Susan Cain, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. It talks about the hidden superpowers inside of introverts and ways to identify and help ingratiate their ideas and contributions into an extroverted world.
So now the meritocracy thing to me is a very interesting correlation where if you don’t actually have a way to give everyone an equal voice then what you have is the same hierarchical non-sense that looks like you call it meritocracy but you still have the same hierarchy problems. So I highly recommend that book by Susan Cain, Quiet.
I mentioned it earlier, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Of course that rolls right into the Dollywood Splash Park. I mean come on, free-form, good times.
A little musical thing, we’re talking Shel Silverstein earlier before the show. So I wanted to make mention of an album that maybe some folks would like to go check out. That’s Freakin at the Freakers Ball by Shel. That’s always a good time to throw into your iPod or whatever listening device you got.
And then last but not least, a work of fiction called The Circle by Dave Eggers – a dystopian future, very, very reminiscent of the futures that Huxley liked to imagine back in the 40’s and 50’s. This one’s the reimagining for the modern world that could be often our future. Real fun read I think that a lot of you listeners would enjoy.
That’s it. I got like 15 more. I mean if you want, really you can have them.
CHUCK: Well, that’s awesome. All right. Well, thank you for coming, Leon. It was a really, really interesting discussion.
LEON: Oh, thanks for having me, it was a real pleasure to be here.
JESSICA: Yeah, thank you.
AVDI: Thank you very much.
CHUCK: We’ll wrap up the show. We’ll catch you all next week.
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