Like a Boss part 2

So I’ve had 3 distinct jobs as a manager for a total of about 5 years of experience with the roll, and of course I’ve had many more working under various people with various aptitudes for directing others which is good learning material as well.

I think my best attribute as a manager is that I genuinely like people. Not every last person but most of them. I can accept a lot of flaws and mostly see the bright points. I don’t think as a manager I am more important than the people I lead. I do get to make decisions when push comes to shove but I trust my folks to know what needs to be done far more often than not.

As a manager I have two main objectives: getting the work done, and doing right by my team. I see it as my duty to try and advance the career of my employees while we are serving the needs of the business. I’m rarely more proud when someone on my team gets promoted, something I’ve succeeded with many times now.

I endeavor to treat my employees with respect. My first manager job taught me that respect also means being honest when people are not fulfilling their responsibilities. Avoiding telling someone they are failing is damaging to their careers in many ways and hurts the rest of the team. You have to be fair and direct, give them a chance to improve, and if they don’t, let them go with as much dignity as possible. A moment I’m proud of was being given a sincere thanks by someone I fired. I’ve seen too many horror stories where bosses use passive aggressive tactics to try and force people to quit so they don’t have to be the “bad guy.”

Trust is also a key concept. You want to work with people you can trust. If you can’t trust someone or quickly build to a level where you trust them, then you shouldn’t have them on your team. A manager should always be seeking higher levels of trust, and an employee should be working to build trust with their manager. New relationships require extra time and communication to build this relationship on both sides.

Sometimes to my detriment, I often care more about the relationship between my employees and me than my boss and myself. Being middle management is a challenge in that you should be minding both sides of the equation equally. Of course if you in turn have a good manager, they will be working to make sure you haven’t neglected it.

Next time, horror stories of my time as a theater manager, things not to do!

Like a Boss

I’m not so much like a boss, because I am a boss. And honestly I rather like it that way.

My first manager job was at 18 as an assistant manager at a movie theater. Its not exactly prestigious and the qualifications are pretty much that you are work harder than the average minimum wage person and show some tendency to being responsible. In many ways its not a lot different than what I do these days, leading a small team with a specific mission; running auditoriums, concessions, box office or sometimes all 3.

At 19 through some twists of fate I actually go my own theater and was a general manager. It was a run down theater on the verge of closing, it was pretty much just for a few months, and the place was small as multiplexes go (a 3 screener with one big auditorium) bit it was mine! I actually got it pretty cleaned up in that time. I also made some real rookie errors as a manager and learned a lot in a short time. I’ve always been proud of it and I have some great silly stories from those days.

My next stint as a manager was many years later was when after about 10 years as a developer at Mammography Reporting Systems my boss left the company and I wrangled myself a job as Program Manager. At first it was a glorious ascent, I was told I shipped more products in six months that we had in 4 years and was lauded as a guy who could wear a lot of hats at once and wear them well. Unfortunately things started to go sour on that. I clashed with my bosses (the CEO mostly) about how software should get made and lost the argument. I inited in rivals and one of them really did me in turning my disagreements into demotion until he had about shoved me into the lowest run of the department at which point I left.

Finally my current job at Trupanion where I currently manage a small team of developers in a slightly larger cross functional team. I started as a somewhat senior developer. For a very brief time I managed all the developers there, but it was due to some chaos where there just wasn’t anyone else to handle it. As we grew I scaled back a bit to managing the cross functional teams but try to keep a hand in larger strategy when I can.

There is a lot to say about being a boss, lots I’ve learned from mistakes and successes but I’ll save that for the next post. So stay tuned for words of limited wisdom on the topic of leadership. :)

Balance

Balance is a virtue that I’ve become more and more a fan of as I get older. It may only be that age tempers passions and extremes are just too much work to maintain, but I’d still put my money on balance being all in a good ideal to strive for.

Of course balancing the scales doesn’t always just mean some kind of 50/50 arrangement. Sometimes it only takes a little salt to balance a dish, only a little harshness to balance praise, or a little kindness to balance a lot of suffering. I find the far extremes almost always warn you in small ways of the dangers of too much. You can feel the wrongness, the time for a shift.

I think someone recently condemned the mushy middle of politics. Personally I rather like the mushy middle of many things though by no means does that equate to sameness. I like my rough edges and paradoxes and orchestrating them into something of a harmony of meaning, at least for a time. In the middle you can go in any direction you need to, it’s a great place to start things.

Of course its not for everyone, and in my balancing way I’m glad there are folks living extremes, pushing the limits and going for broke. Often with folks like that going in all directions it helps me see the middle ground, places I’d not known of in the intellectual landscape. When radicals go to far they can often be used to counteract one another and in the aftermath create something that takes the wisdom from both.

Various Updates

Ugh, kind of fell of the blogging wagon there, but fear not, the blog never dies, just gets kind of sleepy. Today, just a series of small what’s happenings.

Work
Still really busy here, but finally we have no grand projects lined up in the immediate future and can do some much needed work to improve the quality of systems that had to be rushed into production. When it comes to software development I prefer the slow and steady approach. Velocity comes through a good foundation allowing fast revision and addition but you have to take time with that foundation to get this effect.

Live Gaming
I’m running Horror on the Orient Express a Call of Cthulhu adventure that weighs some 10lbs. We in the second episode, about to start our 4th session. So far so good, its a well written adventure and has had plenty of opportunity for mayhem and madness. I’ve got some quibbles with its narrative structure but that is something as a Keeper I can manipulate to my liking.

Computer Gaming
Lots of that lately. Still cranking away on Hearthstone but slowing a bit. On the phone there is Puzzles and Dragons which is mildly amusing for a few moments each day. Dragon Age Inquisition was a hard core pleasure of the first order. A truly grand RPG and one where the story fit in with my character nicely (though my first character idea not so well and started over quickly). I played the heck out of that. Now its on to Legend of Grimrock (a nice modest puzzled dungeon game) and Pillars of Eternity (like baldurs gate but newer) which started slow for me but is picking up momentum as the story unfolds.

Health
I only stuck on my diet for about 6 weeks. I enjoyed it but decided I would enjoy eating out with friends more. Just got over nasty allergies and being sick so I think I may move back on the diet but not certain. The only lasting diet affect at this point is all the canned fish I’ve been eating. Generally good for me that.

Forever Spock

So Leonard Nimoy passed away. A great man by most accounts and for me most importantly the face of Spock, one of my fictional heroes. Of course Spock himself can’t really die. The character exists independently of the actor to a degree, but likewise as the character is immortal to a degree so is the memory and spirit of those who gave him life, and foremost Mr Nimoy. Not having known him personally in a sense he can’t die for me, I will go on enjoying his work so long as I too live. For his family of course it is a different matter and all the best to them.

Star Trek was important to me as a kid. It really defined much of my moral compass and sense of friendship, leadership, and teamwork. As a kid I really most identified with Spock. The over-wrought emotions of others always seemed wasteful and pointless while I admired his smarts and ability. I felt if more people were like Spock, the world would be a much better place.

As I grew older the ways of Kirk became clearer to me. I think you have to get past puberty and have some experience as a leader to appreciate Kirk. At least I did. You find life can’t all be calculated and finding your way with instinct and intuition can be vital. And most of all understanding the emotions of others is key to leadership and friendship.

Between the two of them I find the answers to most of life’s challenges. Trusting your heart and your mind, but most of all being good to your friends and fair to your foes. Its a wonderful thing that the spirit of such characters can mean so much to so many and the spirit of the actors and writers live on in all of us.

I’m not one for ghosts or lives beyond death, but there is no doubt that all we do ripples out in a web of cause and effect that gives meaning to all we do well beyond our own lives.

Live Long and Prosper!

Up All Night

One of my bad habits is staying up later than I should. I’m something of a night person by nature I think. I find darkness kind of exciting and intriguing so rather than settling me down it kind of focuses me on things I want to do.

What I want to do most of the time is play some video games! :)  I have a rather insatiable appetite for them, have had since I was first aware they existed. Mind you, there are others far more rabid about them than I. I can get my fill, at least briefly, and after a good bout of gaming I’m good for getting other things done.

Dark has never meant sleep for me. Growing up in Alaska the day/night cycle shifts pretty dramatically between summer (light all the time) and winter (dark all the time). It drives some folks mad but I grew up simply ignoring it as a cue. I tend to not want to go to bed, and not want to get out of it once I’m there. On occasion when unemployed and single, my life would take on a 25-26 hour cadence with waking and sleeping advancing 2 hours each day.

The plus side of that is for the most part I can sleep nearly any time and nearly anywhere. I’ve never had trouble sleeping. I don’t stay up because I can’t sleep but because I don’t want to stop being awake. There is always so much to do and experience.

Of course these days life is fairly regular. Married and with a regular job I have to keep my schedule pretty normalized. Generally I get up around 8:30 and go to bed around 1am, but typically any given week I short change myself and stay up very late, and one weekend morning I stay in bed until noon or so. And once or twice a year I do an all nighter, though that never really works out too well.

Tonight I think I will not be staying up especially late but you never know for sure. :)

Diet Update: Still going pretty strong on the willpower and have not broken any of my rules yet. Down about 10lb or so after two weeks which is typical. The best part though is I feel pretty good, less heavy and bloated, and the tummy is a lot less temperamental.

Dieting Again

Every so often I feel a bit old and fat and decide to get my diet on and trim down a bit. Getting started is always a little tough. Frankly I love good food and especially sharing it with friends, including my best friend and wife Anne. The worst difficulty of dieting for me is the awkwardness of eating out or with friends while dieting.

Mind you the diet that works best for me is especially challenging at times. I go for a low carb diet with lots of meat approach. Think Atkins but a bit more free form on the carb counting so long as its whole food and not predominantly starch or sugar. I always have a lot of success with it and find it easy to maintain except for the social eating challenge.

My first attempt at Atkins was wildly successful and I lost some 50lb over a year’s time. Not only do I get smaller, but I always feel all around healthier. You have to watch out for dehydration and the first week is kind of tough as your body basically goes through a fasting like experience as it moves from burning easy carbs to fiber and protein. Once you get through that appetite really slacks off and I get a very steady level of energy at all times. It is quite pleasant.

The first go round I got myself checked out by my doctor to make sure no damage was being done. Aside from dehydration (easily solved by simply drinking more water) my vitals were all greatly improved on the diet. Plus I think that if I feel better chances are I am better.

The real down side is its not as much fun to eat since the repertuar is greatly reduced. Most of my favorite foods are still on the menu mind you, but its a lot more work to make tasty meat than meals primarily based on grains. Being handy in the spice cabinet and on the grill is a must if you want to go at it long haul. One trap that’s easy to fall into is all the sugar free this and that but its a road that tends to lead to leaving the diet as you get a taste for the sweet and grainy foods they simulate.

Starting morning weight as of 02/03/2015:  325.4lb  (note that you almost always weigh a few pounds less in the morning which interestingly is lost primarily through breathing)

Eric Seablade

Eric Seablade was the name of one of the default characters in one of my first computer role playing games. That game was Tunnels of Doom for the TI-994A. The default characters were all named for the color of their sprite. Eric was blue and was the warrior character. The game was really fun, and perhaps a little ahead of its time. Today you might call it a rogue-like with a 4 person adventuring party and turn based combat.

At any rate the character name stuck with me for some reason and I used it a lot as my BBS handle back in the days of dial up modems and wildcat BBSs. These were strange pre-internet days and the first time you could kind of reach out with your computer and talk/play with others. I don’t use a handle much these days but at the time I though it was pretty cool.

Foremost however its one of the names I use fairly often in roleplaying games and is thus one of my goto characters. Unlike many of them however I don’t exactly have a personality of backstory for Seablade, instead he’s more an ingenue type character, the stand in hero. Due to the name I often give him some kind of pirate background, a guy who sort of got out on the wrong track but has had a redemptive moment.

The first time I used it for a D&D character poor Seablade died in his second outing. Not only died but had his soul permanently removed by of all things a piece of statuary he touched. (Saving throw failed!) From there I invented an afterlife for him where he was bound to serve a lord of hell as a sort of immortal paladin; a good guy working for the bad guys against other bad guys. He’s shown up as an NPC from time to time but I never actually played that version of him in a game.

Most recently I decided to play Assassins Creed: Black Flag and since its a pirate game I trotted him out when prompted for a character name. It turns out you don’t have much choice but to be a vicious and greedy pirate so I’m not sure he’s in character with the name as I see it, but its a fine pirate name none the less.

Identity and Debate

When debating, there is often an invisible wall you can run into when the topic you are discussing is part of a debaters self defined identity. Religion is one of the most common of these topics. Often when an Atheist and Christian argue both are people who strongly identify themselves as being “A Christian” or “An Atheist.” When it comes time to defending an argument that could undermine said identity, there is a kind of impassable barrier that enters the conversation.

The harder you press that topic a kind of fight or flight response takes over. Either the point is entirely avoided, or it provokes an emotional and aggressive response. In both cases the argument simply isn’t going to progress in any useful fashion. I find the best course is to steer the debate into more comfortable territory or try to place it in a more hypothetical context.

Sometimes people are aware of this, but I find often they are not. I’ve had debates where a point of mine simply goes unresponded to no matter how often I bring it up and if I press hard enough they will claim never to have heard it. Its like trying to get a straight answer from a political candidate to a pointed question but the evasion seems to be happening instinctual rather than being crafted.

As a result I’ve learned to mostly avoid such debates. If I am going at it on a strong identity topic I tray simply not to bring up the direct challenges. Its often better to ask a lot of direct questions about what someone thinks or to direct them to sources they can read about some expert opinion on the topic at hand. Of course you can’t expect this tactic will change minds, but that simply isn’t on the table during the discussion.

What can and sometimes does happen is you plant seeds of thought, then sometime later in life, circumstances will arise that may lead them to want to change their identity either thematically or subtly and your ideas will be there available for them to use as their own. When it comes from within, its is not a threat. People forced to change their identity rebel violently, but people often change their identity themselves.

Football Fantasy

I’m not a sports fan. I just don’t feel an ownership or investment in cheering for other people competing. I’d much rather compete myself or cheer personal friends. That said, I can appreciate competition and the joy that others feel as well as the comradery sports engender.

Last Sunday I had what will probably be my lifetime sports pinnacle moment. My long time and good friend Dennis, who is a Seahawks fan extraordinaire and man of great generosity, bought tickets for Anne and I to the NFC championship game. It was Anne’s first live football game and my second.

You really couldn’t ask for a more excited and unified crowd and Anne and I played our part by dressing up in hawks regalia and honestly cheering for the team with gusto. In case you didn’t see it, this was a rough game where the Seahawks were getting whooped on for most of the game only to make a spirited comeback regarded by many as one of the most dramatic in playoff history.  I’ve ever been hugged by so many complete strangers in my life. The spirit of the crowd was fantastic and infectious.

Of all the sports American Football is definitely my favorite and this game had some of the elements I like best; trick plays and desperate but calculated gambits. I like that football has a lot of specialization and room for players with different abilities and roles. It also has a great deal of strategy and variety of events that take place during the game. All in all it is the most “strategy game” like of all popular sports not to mention the most warlike. It is the only sport I get much pleasure in watching, though true fandom will likely forever eludes me.

I feel privileged to have such a kind friend and to have had such a great sports experience. Life doesn’t get a lot sweeter than that.