Running with Champions

Tomorrow is the BAA 10K, the second in the BAA Distance Medley. I am excited as the weather is supposed to be nice and my friend Marco is coming up from Connecticut to run it with me. It is also one of the fastest 10K courses in the country. So I should be able to make a good time on it. My hope is that I will beat the time that I made in my Salem 10K last summer. Given that this race occurs earlier in the season that may be tough, however.

As a part of this race series the BAA held a pre-race clinic at their Boston Marathon Runbase. It was a great experience to see Boston Marathon winners Meb and Des. The thing I love so much about this sport is that we are running in the same exact race as the most elite athletes in the world. I probably won’t be hitting the basketball court with Michael Jordan or play baseball against Big Papi or football with Tom Brady, but in running we all get to be in the same race.

Behind the Scenes of Des Linden’s Boston Marathon Win

The best piece of writing on the 2018 Boston Marathon I have read:

A deluge of icy rain drenching the 26.2-mile route to Copley Square, the relentless 25-mph headwinds, and the temperatures hovering in the high 30s had already made the 122nd running of the prestigious road race historic. It was clear that 2018’s Boston had a late entrant to field: Mother Nature.

What unfolded during the next two hours, 39 minutes, and 54 seconds wasn’t what Linden—or anyone else—expected. On her sixth try, haunted by the memory of losing this race by two seconds in 2011, the 34-year-old woman ran with doubt, in fear, and ultimately with unbreakable resolve down Boylston Street to become the 2018 Boston Marathon champion.

On Fridays We Demo

One of the ideas I picked up from our colleagues at the NYC Planning Labs while we were at the Code for America conference was to build a ritual of spending one day a week where we show off our work. The idea behind this ritual is to give us something to strive toward. We want others to understand our work better so we are planning to open up our Friday demos to the rest of our department after we have done them a couple times. Instead of having big deadlines at the end of a project we can now triangulate our work towards these smaller goals.

The other upside of this ritual is it enforces some accountability. In order to demo we need to have software that is up and working on a staging server. So we no longer are putting off the deployment step until later in the software development cycle. It also gives us a gentle nudge to consider some user facing features and changes instead of focusing merely on technical improvements. No longer will we wonder what our co-workers have done all week.

The Monthly Core Team Meeting

As part of being on the core team at Code for Boston we have a monthly meeting. The core team meeting happens on a Thursday night. This regularity enforces structure and accountability in moving things forward. We share a Google document that allows any member of core team to propose an agenda item for the meeting. We enforce a meeting time limit of 90 minutes because any meeting that goes longer than that will suffer from lack of attention. We have a time keeper that enforces sticking to our agenda and a note taker that records next steps. This meeting is not brunch, we get together to focus on important things and we get them done.

The structure and rigidity of this meeting feels more helpful than hurtful. If a topic takes too long for this meeting it forces us to recognize the fact that it has earned its own meeting and give it the attention it deserves. We often reserve a balance of time (20 minutes) for discussions that go longer than we expect. We rotate the person who facilitates and the person who keeps time and notes. The absence of a single member does not hinder the ability of the team to get things done. Everyone knows the structure and keeps each other accountable.

Tonight is our monthly core team meeting and I am excited for all the new ideas and things we will get done. It is nice to have time to sit down with the rest of the core team and make decisions. It is also helpful to get from the others the download on what is happening in the areas of the organization they are focusing on and the feedback they are getting. The meeting may be real work, but it is rewarding.

The Benefits and Confusion of Slack

I do not remember when I became a user of Slack but it has been one of the more transformative applications I have used. The setup and design of Slack is sticky. Technical and non-technical folks generally do not struggle to onboard to Slack. It keeps things separated and has lots of tools for keeping track of conversations. Slack is not perfect but it seems to be the least worst solution to email and communication overload. However there are some Slack things I struggle to understand.

The first issue is private message overload. One of the promises of Slack is that conversations are more transparent. You can create channels (for free) that are titled with whatever they are about and invite people to these channels. However despite this handy organizational mechanism I find people often choose to simply direct message me (or each other) about things. This leads to conversations being lost in the DM ether. It also has the annoying side effect of firing off notifications for non-urgent matters. Surely the folks at Slack can let folks receive DMs but then only notify folks on the other end if someone @ mentions you in the DM. However this has not yet occurred.

The second issue is aggressive notifying. A huge value for slack is you can see what topic channels have been active or lit up and dip into them when you are ready to explore and work on that topic area. However Slack offers you the option to mention someone or send a notification to an entire channel if something is urgent or important. Unfortunately people are generally bad at figuring out if it is one of those things. The norms around notifications and mentions do not seem to be established yet and everyone has their own ideas about them.

The third challenge is channel overload. Once a slack team gets sufficiently large some users will protest if people have long (or slightly off-topic) conversations in a channel. The completionists feel honor bound to read the entire scroll back. I am not sure what most people think, but when I am working on Slack I usually try to read the entire channel only for my active projects. In general, unless a channel designates itself as important I treat them as mostly ephemeral.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.