Randy Pausch on Time Management

This lecture on time management is full of great advice:

A Set of Values

As I think about my own philosophy towards software development I think it is useful to consider it in the context of values. When trying to make decisions what are the yard sticks that are used to measure them? Here are some of the values I have and use in making my decisions:

  1. Open is better than closed. All things being equal it is preferable to give a client and/or the public a view into the work and its process. Code and prototypes do a better job of communicating the current state of things and how I see a project than any other form of communication. Clients can elect to engage as much or as little as they want.
  2. The well worn path is better than new. All things being equal if something can be done with a battle tested technology it is preferable to use that than something that is brand new.
  3. Adoption matters. All things being equal the more people that use something, the more likely bugs are to be found and documentation is more likely to be available to help resolve challenges with a product.
  4. Stay in your stack. All things being equal you are better off coding something in the technology stack that you and your team have experience with than trying something new.
  5. Avoid premature optimization. As Sandi Metz has noted, there is no perfect code, just code that works for the needs of today. Whether it is code or in other things, there are lots of ideas that seem like good ideas on their own merits but are not yet necessary for today. When your application struggles to get users then security (unless you are storing sensitive information) matters less than marketing. Servers can be rebuilt, passwords can be reset. Apps can be updated or redeployed. It can feel good to secure your apps and spend time making your code even better but ultimately you need to ship your product and not go crazy. The good news is as you get experience you can build optimizations into your muscle memory. They get cheaper as they become habit. That is why people pay more for more seasoned developers.

Begun the Campaign Season Has

This past weekend was the Connecticut Democratic State Convention in Hartford. When I was younger I attended the state convention all the time and even had the opportunity to go on the floor as a delegate once. Now that I live in Cambridge I have to watch this through the eyes of others. It was a surprising challenge.

On the Internet the convention felt like 2006 all over again. Ned Lamont, who ran for senate in 2006, was nominated for governor. A few of the bloggers from the 2006 Connecticut political sphere returned and were tweeting. I enjoyed seeing some tweets from CTBob and CTBlogger. Unfortunately despite the rise of Eva Bermudez-Zimmerman and theme of new voices, the online conversation did not seem to include many new voices. The land of steady habits remains steady.

The one upside is the folks at CTNewsJunkie did yeoman’s work in getting news out. Besides tweeting, Christine Stewart was live-streaming from the floor. Despite their smaller team, they felt like they had a larger presence than the larger media outlets in the state. I am of course a bit biased because I work with Doug and Christine, but looking at the hashtag on twitter and my general Facebook feed, I did not see other news outlets pushing nearly as much from the convention. They clearly won covering this.

Sometimes the Struggle is Bad Writing

After years of learning new things in fields like business, law, and software I have learned that the biggest variable in understanding something is the quality of writing and communication. Communicating well is hard and in technical fields not enough value is placed on good writing. Communities like Ruby are lucky to have folks like Michael Hartl and Sandi Metz that are gifted with the written word. All things being equal I will typically choose a tool or programming language that is better documented than one that is new and shiny.

When I was faced with some legacy code bases at MAPC that felt bad I struggled to articulate what was bad about them. It took more than a few hours of Googling to discover Martin Fowler’s concept of code smells. These code smells provided a menu of issues that might exist in a code base along with recipes for refactoring away these issues. If you do not have the right vocabulary you will struggle to communicate. If your audience consists of experts you can assume a shared vocabulary and knowledge base, but if your audience is not then you need to start from the basic concepts before explaining the more complex things.

If you are a beginning software developer the best two things you can do are to find good writing about software, and to try and teach what you have learned to others. By getting experience in communicating new concepts to other software developers you can see where your ideas and metaphors fail. You can also better articulate the reasons for why you do things in your programming language. Communicating what you are doing well not only helps you write better code, it helps you identify good writing yourself which makes learning new things easier.

The Backlog

The other day one of my co-workers mentioned that she feels like she has a lot of free time in her life. This is one feeling that I struggle to relate to lately. I have been working to try and liberate time where I can. Despite doing this I can tell I am still a bit behind on the basics. My email inbox still needs to be tended. I blog a few times a week instead of every day. I am not able to do everything I want and it is tough.

The two big items in my life are my day job at MAPC and Code for Boston. Next to that is my training for a half marathon. Once I have carved out time for those things I also need to make sure I am still talking to my friends and family. I have a backlog of games on Nintendo Switch that I am working through, most recently Super Mario Odyssey. I am reading a couple books including the latest Dan Brown novel and an introduction to the Swift Programming language. This is to say nothing of the Arduino kit sitting in my drawer and books I have not started yet.

One way I have liberated time is to get an Instacart subscription. By removing the need to travel to the grocery store every week I save about two hours which I can then use towards doing other things I prefer. Even when I’m waiting at home that time can at least be more useful than wandering the aisles of the grocery store.

Time is our most precious resource so I try and think of ways to better spend it doing the things I like to do instead of the things I need to do. It is challenging to fit everything in, but the main thing I have learned is you do not find time, you usually end up making it. Each decision to do something is a decision to not do a bunch of other stuff. By doing the right things you can later liberate more of your time.

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