Archive | May, 2012

“The greatest geek”

15 May

An ode to “the greatest geek who ever lived” was posted today on the Oatmeal. It’s more than a tribute to Tesla, though. It’s a tribute to all tinkerers, to all developers, to all geeks. It’s a tribute to all people with a passion for development.

It’s this passion that makes me not only proud to call myself a geek, but proud to work with geeks, be friends with geeks, and learn from geeks.

Seek not to be rich and great, seek to be driven by your ideas instead.


What’s your principle?

12 May

I came across this brilliant talk by Brett Victor via Vinod’s blog and, like Vinod, I waited about a month to watch it. There were always to reasons to put it off, the primary one being that it’s just under an hour long, and I needed to find enough time to first stream it, and then watch it. Finally, after going back through my archaic list of things to do, I saw this and thought “ah, what the hell, I’ll never get it off my list if I don’t give it a go.” My one advice after watching it? Watch it. Watch it now. It’s amazingly worth it.

The talk touches on a range of principles, including but not limited to software development, engineering, artistic and problem solving. More than that though, it’s focuses on finding the right principle to guide your life.

So what’s your principle? More importantly (to me), what’s mine?

When I look back on all I’ve done, the roles I’ve played in life, and the driving factors of my decisions, my initial reaction is to say “oh, well I must like to solve problems”. Then I think of how I’ve never actually solved a rubiks cube – I’ve definitely tried, and I know there are plenty of sources to help me understand how to do it, but I tend to just give up instead. It just doesn’t interest me.
“Oh, so maybe it’s because it’s been solved before, maybe I like to solve new problems?”. Then again, I do find important lessons in reinventing the wheel – I think it’s cool to be able to understand something, and then share it with other people.
“Ahh, people! I’ve always loved working with people but … only those who are open to learning”. Yes, I think now I’m onto something. I think my principle is to enable others to grow their own ideas. I’m not focused just on helping others learn, not really. What I am interested in helping people question themselves, their ideas, and inspire them to develop those ideas further.

So now that I’ve reflected on that, I think it’s safe to say that hearing about your principle is more important (to me), after all.

Lessons for the Interviewer

10 May

Last weekend I had the opportunity to partake in some interviews for ThoughtWorks’ STEP programme – a really cool initiative here in India offering education coupled with internship experiences.

Don’t you already have a job? I do, I was *dundundun* the interviewer.
And this was … on the weekend? Yeah, I was in the office for most of the weekend.
What about sleeping in? Nonsense, no rest for the wicked! I was in the office from 8.30 in the a.m.
But … why? I saw it as an opportunity to explore alternative skill sets, to help out ThoughtWorks, and to potentially change a candidate’s life. So really, why not?

This was my first time being an interviewer, not an interviewee, and I was surprised to learn a number of things:

  • Interviewers get nervous too.
  • We actually do want candidates to do their best, and will go out of our way to make questions easier (like maths challenges).
  • However, trying to make things more simple often confuses interviewee and interviewers alike.
  • Everyone here knows far too much about cricket.
  • First impressions were wrong more often than not.
  • Post interview decisions are tough. Very tough.

Unfortunately there’s not much more that I can say without breaching some form of assumed-privacy-agreement.
Although, I can happily confirm that it was a fun learning experience, and that being able to assess someone’s passion, expertise and capabilities is definitely something I will aim to build upon, as I foresee it has applications beyond that of recruiting – in particular, being able to assess someone’s passions, along with their capabilities for learning, is most definitely useful when working within a team and when mentoring – as it can aid in determining the best way to help someone else 🙂

Retrospective Revelations #1

7 May

So recently I ran a retrospective for a small team, with a number of goals in mind:

  • to facilitate collective learning and knowledge sharing for the team
  • to improve my own knowledge of retrospectives
  • to determine which approach is best for a smaller team

So the question is, did I achieve these goals? Well, yes and no. I was able to facilitate the experience for my team, and judging by the list of actions, that resulted in collective learning. Yet I feel like I’ve taken a step back in the basics of retrospectives. I became rather engrossed in the overview of my plan – determining how each phase fit together, aiming for a smooth flow – that I forget some of the basics. Below are my own learnings from this recent experience.

What I endeavour to change next time

  • Create a list of materials to be prepared beforehand. Just listing “sticky notes” isn’t really enough
    …Whilst I was aware that I wanted a whiteboard (check), post it notes (check) and writing materials (check), I want my list of materials to accommodate colour coding (of sticky notes, pens, etc)
  • Anticipate a method of grouping ideas/notes
  • Remember to time box the retrospective to a certain work period (i.e. last two months)
  • I didn’t do a safety check
    …I know it’s a common practice, but I wanted to how it would impact me as the facilitator to not know how comfortable each person is. I admit it did in turn make me more concerned about whether or not to prompt individuals to speak out, and have since been advised that the safety check is definitely useful for larger teams particularly with new joinees. I’ve taken a note of this, but on the whole feel that the safety check is not just about ensuring the team members are comfortable, it makes the facilitator more comfortable too, so I will keep
  • Facilitate for geographically distanced team members
    …This is something I was quite stumped on. I’m aware of some methods of running a retrospective for non co-located teams, but feel that there is something quite awkward in the overall process, as it risks introducing an “us versus them” mentality for local subsections of the team. But now, with thanks to my awesome coworkers, I am aware of this really cool tool which I anticipate to use for the next retrospective – help me try it out by giving me feedback on my blog.

What I’m still pondering

  • Presenting the “prime directive” whilst the team had closed eyes
    …I’m not certain it was delivered well, I think that I had not prepared questions with enough flow – it did promote a more sombre attitude for the retrospective, but I am keen to try this again before evaluating further
  • The need for ground rules
    …The only ground rule I set was focused on “not pointing out blame” – I feel this was okay, but I wonder if other rules are essential?

All in all, my key take away from this experience is to pay more attention to the details, and not stress so much about the overall flow.