Monthly Archives: August 2009

Buy somebody lunch

There’s a guy I worked with four years ago who always bought me lunch. It was a large brokerage firm, and I was on and off-site for about a year. I probably saw him 30 or 40 times, and we went out to eat about a dozen times.

I never wanted him to buy me lunch, that’s just the way he was. Wherever we were — buying coffee, eating lunch, picking up a pack of gum — he always insisted on paying for it.

I was thinking about him when I read this article on money and happiness.

money can buy us some happiness, but only if we spend our money properly. Instead of buying things, we should buy memories…Money spent on experiences – vacations or theater tickets or meals out – makes you happier than money spent on material goods…Why? For one thing, Van Boven and Gilovich argue, experiences are inherently more social – when we vacation or eat out or go to the movies it’s usually with other people, and we’re liable also to relive the experience when we see those people again. And past experiences can work as a sort of social adhesive even with people who didn’t participate with us, providing stories and conversational fodder in a way that a new watch or speedboat rarely can.

Funny thing is, I still remember that guy. Think the world of him. He probably spent a hundred bucks on me over the course of a year — god knows how much he spends on people in general because he’s that way with everybody — and for that hundred bucks he has a friend for life.

And we had a good time!

Years later, I still remember him fondly, and remember our lunches fondly. Everybody that I run into that knows this guy likes him and thinks the world of him. His friends are almost like a fan club.

That’s a good lesson for me today: whenever I can, buy somebody lunch.

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Coaching Coaching Teams

If you work IT long enough, you go meta. That is, at some point you’re not doing the thing, you’re doing the thing about the thing.

Here’s an example I shared with my audience today about what happens when you coach teams that coach.

Many times, the coaching team is brought in under a Statement of Work, or SOW. The whole purpose of a SOW is to describe exactly what the team will be doing. And most every time you will have a contact that will prioritize work and define “done”. So you have a backlog, a budget, a Product Owner, and a highly-skilled team (after all, this is a coaching team — these guys know what the heck they’re doing!) What could go wrong?

I think people think that having a great team means having really smart people work on a clear list of things with somebody telling them when they’re “done enough” is all they need — but that’s not true. For instance, lots of startups who are funded by VCs do a lot of activity and yet get nothing done. Activity does not equal progress! You can have structural problems with your list of things to do that can’t be overcome by any degree of technology or smarts.

Activity does not equal value.

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Conference Fun

Daniel Markham and David Fox sitting at a restaurant smiling
It’s good to see people you haven’t seen in a while

One of the most interesting parts of conferences are the social aspects of them. I’ve always been an autodidact — I learn things on my own. So I read voraciously. Conferences never made much sense to me, mainly because I’d rather read exhaustively what thought leaders had to say rather than hearing them for an hour. Plus there’s a certain gateway process that happens with publishing: most editors are going to give authors a really good once over before publishing. The bar for speaking at conferences is not as high.

But what I didn’t expect was the awesome social nature of conferences. People go to meet each other and make friends and talk about similar problems they have. I don’t know that many people, but I must have seen a dozen people today that I knew. It was a great feeling seeing everybody! I have missed that by not going to conferences over the years — and it was unexpected.

David Fox and I went out for drinks and dinner this evening to a place called “Dick’s Last Resort” in Chicago. The waiters there abuse you and call you names. So it’s just like being at home except you pay for it.

We had a blast.

But there were a couple of sessions that didn’t work out so great for me today.

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Continuous Project Planning?

We’ve all heard of continuous integration — where the code is checked in and builds constantly. There is no time in which you don’t have a compiling, running system.

C.I. sounds strange to folks who have never used it, but once you try it you’re hooked.

Today I heard something that sounds even stranger: Continuous Project Planning.

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Agile Project Management: Estimating Project Size Part 2

Estimating Projects give people the fits. On one hand, you have to know when things are going to get done and how much they are going to cost. On the other hand, estimating projects looks a lot like magic from the outside.

I’ve been successfully estimating and teaching people how to estimate projects for a long time, and if you’ve read part 1 in this series, you’re ready for some tips and tricks of estimating.

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DGE Review 4: Jesus, Interrupted, by Bart D. Ehrman

(This is the fourth in my “Does God Exist” series of reviews. There will be six or seven books on whether God exists or not. I’ll read them for you, give a recap here, and then try to draw it all into some conclusions at the end. This is not meant as a religious discussion, more of an examination of the way smart people argue about really tough subjects.)

What would the Bible, the Christian’s holy book, look like if it were dissected by critical historians? That’s the question Bart Ehrman asks in his book “Jesus Interrupted”

It’s not a flattering sight.

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Facebook Morals

Ever since I wrote the article comparing technology to heroin, I’ve been been thinking about mind and body-altering things and how morals, standards, and mores build up around them to contain the damage and maximize the benefits to society. As we get more and more integrated with technology, I’m waiting for some new standards to emerge about what is acceptable or not — I think this is a vital next step to maintain some kind of vigor in the species.

Since nobody else is doing anything else along these lines that I can see, I thought I’d create a few standards or morals for myself. A “standard” is just a better way of doing things: standards change over time. A “moral” is something that I personally do not do because I find it harms myself or others. You create standards and you discover morals. I apply the simple rule of discovering morals by asking “If I made this moral a universal law, would more people be helped than harmed by it?”

So let’s get with it.

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DGE Review 3: Atheist Delusions, by David Bentley Hart

(This is the third in my “Does God Exist” series of reviews. There will be six or seven books on whether God exists or not. I’ll read them for you, give a recap here, and then try to draw it all into some conclusions at the end. This is not meant as a religious discussion, more of an examination of the way smart people argue about really tough subjects.)

“The problem with those Christians,” my friend told me one night, “is that they want to run all of our lives. I’m gay, and they even want to tell me I can’t get married!”

I’ve had this discussion, or ones like it, many times before. There’s usually some initial charge that involves current politics, like opposition to gay marriage, or abortion. Then “the list” comes out. We all know “the list” by now: the crusades, burning of the Pagan temples, the Thirty Year’s War, trials for witchcraft and sorcery, and my favorite, The Inquisition (which Mel Brooks made into a wonderful musical, by the way)


This video is much too silly for this article,
but the song is stuck in my head. Now it can be stuck in yours!

The conclusion is then “Christianity brings out the worst in people” or better yet “religion is a meme”. It seems very fashionable among modern authors to go down the list, often at great length, in order to draw the conclusion that all religion is a sort of evolutionary hangover that mankind suffers from. Once we completely free ourselves from such superstitious silliness, only then will we able to move forward together.

David Bentley Hart is having none of it.

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Dear Senators Warner and Webb: Do I look like astroturf to you?

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I’ve been listening to an excellent tape series on how the United States Constitution was ratified. There was a large debate about having a national legislative body, because people feared that legislators would become too far removed from the average citizen. I couldn’t help but think of that great debate when looking at current events on the web.

I usually try not to do political articles here — seems like they just tick everybody off.

However I think politics is an interesting way to talk about problem-solving in large organizations. So I think it’s applicable to technology management. This is the reason why the politics category exists on my blog.

And that brings me to my current beef: why the sudden rush to shut down debate on health care legislation?

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Local Technology Councils Have Tough Work

Ever think about starting a business? There’s a lot involved. How about learning a new technology skill? Not so easy either. Now imagine if your job was to grow technology and new businesses across an entire section of a state.

There are dozens if not hundreds of organizations that are trying to do just that.

Yesterday I had lunch with Cory Donovan, the Executive Director for our local Technology Council. (The NewVa Technology Council, or NCTC) If you’ve ever heard of Virginia Tech (yes, that Virginia Tech) Cory’s council covers the general area of Tech and nearby Roanoke.

There’s some cool stuff going happening near Virginia Tech, and nearby Roanoke is beginning to shine dimly as well, but the problems facing technology councils are legion. Since everybody wants to grow technology companies, and since everybody seems to be trying, I thought it would be good to share my lunch experience and go over the problems they’re facing. Maybe one of my readers can help come up with some solutions.

Here’s the way I see the problem of growing a technology sector in a place like Southwest Virginia.

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