Newcomers and Latecomers

Every single week at Code for Boston we do two things for the new people that show up. The first is we have an introductory slide show with project pitches so that the new members know what is going on. The second is we hold an orientation session to familiarize them with Code for America and Code for Boston. These two things work very well, but not for the latecomers.

Sitting in my orientation session it inevitably happens about half way through. After everyone has introduced themselves and I have explained what we do another leadership team member walks into orientation with a group of stragglers. Each time it happens it is different. It might be one person. It might be a group of five. Either way the late arrivals have launched a nuclear bomb into all the hard work we put in to make sure they have a good first experience. I have yet to figure out a great strategy for handling them.

The two options I see are the continuation and the reboot. In the continuation the new people show up, I let them introduce themselves, and then they simply miss all the content they were not here for. They are likely less clear about what is happening. I am not even sure they will want to return. If I reboot and start anew, it is both boring for me to have to repeat what I said and disrespectful to all the folk that showed up on time. It does not feel like there is a winning choice here.

If you click this post title there is in fact a comments section where you can share your ideas for how to tackle this, and I would appreciate those ideas.

Chasing Ghosts

One of the most annoying type of technology problems to battle are the ghosts. Ghosts are problems that appear, are easily fixed for a specific situation, and then later re-appear. Ghosts are persistent and they haunt you. It is incredibly challenging to debug ghosts because their trigger is usually unknown. My first step to handling ghosts is to list them.

For most of my ghosts I have a formula that fixes them. The majority of the time this formula involves a device reboot. For sufficiently infrequent problems this remedy is not a big deal. Once or twice a week is fine. Some issues recur daily or even multiple times a day. These are the ones that are the most painful.

A few things I try to deduce are whether the issues are related to hardware or software. If I suspect it’s a hardware issue then I try to go through device support to get the unit replaced if it is under warranty, or I give in and purchase a new device. Software is more challenging. A new device is not likely to fix it. I need to report the issue to the manufacturer through their support channel. Sometimes they have ideas on how to fix it. Other times I am just trying to get their engineers enough information about the issue to debug it for a software update.

Unfortunately most of the time I just decide to live with the issue. The time to debug it ends up being longer than the amount of annoyance to deal with each individual occurrence. I wish I had more time to fix some of these issues, but ultimately life is too short to keep chasing ghosts.

Media Friday - Casey Neistat on Vergecast

I really enjoyed this interview with Casey Neistat by Nilay Patel. It is rare for an entrepreneur to be so open with sharing the challenges around something that did not work out. In Casey’s case he talks about how his former company, Beme, was acquired by CNN. After a while the organization was absorbed into CNN proper and Casey and his chief technology officer parted ways with CNN. While I enjoy Casey Neistat’s video blogs for their optimism, the realism of discussing failure makes him a more relatable person.

Appreciating Art

Yesterday I attended Art in the Age of the Internet at the ICA in Seaport. They held an event for the technology community in Boston and the fun part was that in addition to the regular exhibit they had some pop-up VR demos and offered talks to contextualize the work. Art has two components: the work itself and then the story behind it. Getting that story can help you understand and interpret the art itself.

One of the biggest challenges with art and art museums to me has been accessibility. Folks who are into art seemed to already know and understand how to view and appreciate it. I did not. When I was at Berkman Klein I had the privilege of having some artists as colleagues and began to better understand it. The ICA, by contextualizing art through talks and facilitated conversations in addition to the written descriptions, has taken the initiative to make art accessible to everyone.

Muscle Memory

I have spent a lot of my life building new organizations and teams. When I was in college I started WPI’s chapter of the College Democrats. I spent a summer going into my sophomore year helping build the canvass team for now Gov. Malloy’s primary campaign against John Destefano. After I graduated law school I was a campaign manager for a mayoral race in New Haven. All these roles involved helping organizations build muscle memory.

Muscle memory is the difference between the first and hundred and first time you do something. You get on a bicycle the first time. It feels weird. You fall down. You get back on. You move forward a little. You fall down again. You get back on. You go farther. Eventually you stop falling down. Your brain and your body know what to do. The tension melts away. The thing changes from stressful to easy. You go farther than you ever imagined.

There are two types of situations I encounter: no muscle memory and bad muscle memory. No muscle memory is easy. You notice a lack of process. You apply some thought. You pick a process. You implement it and improve. Bad muscle memory is hard. You try something new. You have to identify and stop yourself from applying your old habit. The unfamiliar fights the familiar. Everyone else engages in behavior that encourages the old habit.

If you try to build too much muscle memory at once you will get overwhelmed. No person nor organization has the mental bandwidth and capacity to change everything at the same time. You have to prioritize a singular thing and build the muscle memory around that. Then once that has been mastered you can move on to the next thing.

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