Live coding on Twitch

After migrating my blog from WordPress to Jekyll (which was long overdue), I’m going to pick up writing again. This first new post is easy, because I’ve already written it for my company blog. It’s about my live coding stream on Twitch that I’ve been doing for a while now. It’s called “Full Stack Live”, a fitting name (I think) for a stream that covers all kinds of DevOps topics from Rails coding to operating Kubernetes (coming soon!).

If you’re interested in why I’m taking my daily work to the digital stage, you can read all about it in my article “Turning ‘Working Out Loud’ to 11: Live coding on Twitch”.

So, if you’re interested in DevOps topics and/or would like to watch me struggle and (sometimes) succeed, hop on over on Twitch and follow my channel! When I’m back from my holidays in late July, I’m going to be live coding again every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.

Assembling the plane on the way down

Managing people is an ability that requires practice and learning, just as any other. As the German proverb goes, "No master ever just fell from the sky."

Regardless of how much you've thought about the topic, how much you've read about it or even taken courses, it's a fact that no amount of theory can compensate a lack of management practice. As Jason Fried says in "On being a bad manager":

"Sure, you’ve listened to music for decades. But your first day on guitar sucks. Just like you may have watched people be managed — and you were likely managed yourself. That doesn’t prepare you to pick up the management instrument and strum a beautiful melody."

People are messy. That's why leading people is messy, too.

The problem with getting better at management is that there's no --dry-run option. It's like learning the guitar on stage. You'll get better over time but it comes with screwing things up in public, getting critical (or even devastating) feedback, and leaving the place feeling ashamed for not meeting your own expectations.

Getting better as a manager is like assembling the plane after you've already jumped off the cliff. You might land as a master. Or crash spectacularly.

There are people who are willing and able to deal with this kind of challenge. They're the right candidates for switching from being an individual contributor to a management position. For all the others (probably the majority), we'll have to provide other avenues for growth.

Friendly, stretchy, prescient

Ms. Marvel is awesome.

I say we should reach higher

In "Who can blame Melania for resisting her Easter egg role?", the Irish Times suggests using the vacant East Wing of the White House to install a First Shrink. I suggest launching a Center for Megalomaniac Studies. He did promise lots of new jobs, didn't he?

Computer science to be Leaving Cert option

The Irish Times reports that computer science gets an upgrade in secondary education. That's very good news.

Simon Sinek on the game of empathy

I have a man crush on Simon Sinek. I consider his book "Start with Why" essential reading for every entrepreneur and leader. I also did his Why Course and found out amazing things about what drives me.

He's even better in person. Go watch his talk "Understanding the Game We're Playing" at Creative Mornings and get some inspiration to practice empathy:


Here's the follow-up Q&A, too:

Keyboard One

Marco Arment:

“What I hadn’t considered was that even though I had common tasks that could fit within the MacBook’s limited specs — email, writing, chat — all of them required a lot of typing. Oops.”

That’s one of the reasons why I decided to go for a Macbook Pro 13" as replacement of my old MacBook Air 11", despite of the weight. All my work has to do with typing, be it in a browser, a terminal or even in Word.

These podcast thingies seem to be all the rage

In recent weeks, I've seen articles about how podcasting is the new radio popping up everywhere. What has happened? It’s been years since I’ve unsubscribed from Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code after years of listening to it. Over time, I’ve spent my children's college fund on buying every new podcatching app I could get my hands on. Has podcasting really been that obscure that mainstream publications now regard it as a new sensation? 

Mindful breaks

Supported by the little BreakTime app, I’ve been breaking up my work into chunks for a long time now. I’ve started with the common Pomodoro intervals of 25 minutes of work followed by a 5 minute break.

Recently, I’ve switched to a 50/15 rhythm. This gives me longer time to focus on what I’m doing and I get more options for what to do during my breaks. For example, I can now move around the house a bit (sitting kills, as we know), make myself some tea and chat with my family.

Today, I’ve started to do short mindfulness exercises during my breaks, too. I got the idea while testing the Calm.com iPhone app. When I meditate in the morning, I use a wooden meditation bench on the living room floow. But while listening to the “7 steps of Calm” intro sessions, I realised that if a chair is okay, why not a desk chair, too?

During my 15 minute breaks, I can now do a short mindfulness exercise to regain my focus and still have time to lift my ass around the house.

A Simple Place to Live

“I can be at home anywhere because feeling content and safe and loved has nothing to do with the stuff that surrounds me.”

What Courtney Carver describes as “A Simple Place to Live” resonates quite a bit with me.

The Ireland of the land and the people

“Having seen quite a bit of the country in the past three years, we agree with those who say you don’t have to leave this island to know Ireland boasts one of the world’s most stunning ensembles of landscapes. And all of it decorated in an eye-soothing colour that is the Irish green.”

”But what really makes you feel you will never leave Ireland is the Irish people. In the course of our three years here we had numerous visitors who took trips throughout the country. All returned with very fond memories of the Irish they had met. And they had met many!”

It's nice to see two of the main reasons why I moved to Ireland shared by Eckhard Lübkemeier, departing German ambassador to Ireland. Read his full farewell message in the Irish Times.

It's Movember!

Up until this year, I’ve never paid much attention to the Movember movement. People growing facial hair in a way that should have been banned since the 80s, what’s that all about? But this year, it dawned on me that I really should look into the issue the Movember movement tries to shed more light on: Men are getting cancer. And with cancer victims in both our families, that topic is far from irrelevant to me.

When I saw a friend’s Facebook post about him taking part in Movember, I spontaneously decided that I’ll join the fun, grow a mustache and finally learn about the health issues I may need to face as I grow older.

Speaking of face, here’s my progress so far:

Photo on 15-11-2013 at 10.07

What do you think? Leave me a comment below!

It looks like fall puts me in a spontaneous mood because, a week ago, I also decided on a whim to participate in the Dublin Mo Run this Saturday. In that context, it’s important to know that I stopped running in November last year due to tendonitis in both of my legs and that I haven’t done a round since then. I registered myself for the Mo Run regardless and did two test runs this week to see how I do. Surprisingly, I managed to run the 5k without major problems. It must be the two children that keep me on my feet day and night. ;-) And that I’ve lost 10kg since June probably also helped a bit.

So, the geewiz family will head out to Dublin early morning tomorrow to see a lot of people carrying furry animals on their upper lip across Phoenix Park. My start number will be 26.

May I ask you, my dear reader, for a favor? Support Movember by making a donation. In Ireland, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men; each year 1 in 8 men is diagnosed with prostate cancer. Movember is a fun way to lower these numbers. Simply go to my Mo Bro page and help fight a terrible disease!

I believe in working remotely, too.

We've now been living at our new house in Bray for almost two months now and we're happily settling in. The move to Ireland has had almost no impact on my work because I've built freistil IT as a virtual company from the get-go. It really doesn't matter where our team members do their work; it only matters that they do a great job.

Being able to freely move to another place is only one of the advantages we have as a distributed team. In his post on the Stack Exchange blog, David Fullerton lists several more reasons “Why We (Still) Believe in Working Remotely”:

  • It lets you hire good people who can’t move. Maybe they've just bought a house or they need to take care of a family member. Not being able to hire people who've made a commitment doesn't make any sense to me.
  • You don’t lose people to silly things like their significant other going to medical school. Or like fulfilling their wish of moving to another country…
  • When done right, it makes people extremely productive. We've built freistilbox, our platform for Managed Drupal Hosting and Managed WordPress Hosting with a team of three doing everything from IT architecture to payment processing and accounting. The flexibility of our work environment helped us not getting burnt out despite many challenges.
  • It makes you focus on more than butts in chairs. Big companies like Yahoo! and HP recently called their remote workers back into offices with the explanation that this will make their teams more effective. I think that's nonsense. “Going into office” doesn't equal good work and “counting butts in chairs” doesn't equal good management.

David goes on with giving some insight into their learnings and how they collaborate. I highly recommend reading the whole post.

Here are a few more reasons why we, too, think that the benefits of working remotely outweigh its disadvantages:

  • It makes expenses more effective. Instead of paying for more and more office space, we rather put money into the tools that make us more flexible and productive (powerful laptops, mobile internet access, collaboration software, coffee machines).
  • It makes teamwork multi-threaded. It's like parallel processes in an operating system: Once you have the “inter-process communication”, i.e. collaboration tools and processes, in place, each team member can work independently without relying on everyone being readily available at the opposite desk.
  • It makes choosing the right things easier. My family is the most important thing in my life. Back when I was working in an office, I could not go home just to babysit for half an hour while my precious had a haircut. Today, a haircut can be an opportunity for both of us to take a break from our usual responsibilities.

I'm the first one to admit that running a distributed team has its challenges. And there are ways to master them. If you'd like to know more, please leave your question in the comments!

Want to make more awesome from whereever you're the most happy? Join our team!

It's simpler than I thought.

One thing to help you be a great dad.
Appreciate your child’s love for you.
Do this every day, whenever you see your child, and even when they’re not around.

(via Zen Habits)

Just say "Hi"

For many introverts, it’s incredibly difficult to start a conversation with people they don’t already know. Paul Campbell recently wrote about this inner conflict in his blog post “Hi, I’m Obie”. I can relate very much because I feel the same when I’m at conferences, especially with people who I admire and would really love to get to know better. I remember so many occasions when I tried to join a group conversation, stood there for a while not knowing what to say and finally backed away, slightly embarrassed and disappointed about myself.

Paul then describes a watershed moment:

He put out his hand to shake my hand, looked me in the eye, and said “Hi, I’m Obie”. “Hi, I’m Paul.” I had never felt so loved.

In this moment, Paul had an epiphany: You don’t need to do extraordinary stuff to get in touch with people. Just say “Hi”.

Introducing yourself by name at a conference might not seem like a huge deal, but for me, it was just the recipe I needed to break the ice, to avoid the “what do I say now?” question.

I had the same insight start of last year, after reading a great ebook. It made a big change about which I wrote in “How to survive and succeed at conferences as an introvert”.

As IT guys, we’re familiar with the principle of breaking big tasks down into small parts that are easier to handle. The thing is, we can apply the “divide et impera” principle to the conversation problem, too: Instead of trying to tackle a whole group at once, just pick a person, stick out your hand and say “Hi, I’m $NAME.” I can assure you, noone will answer with “Yes? And?”

Except maybe if there’s such a thing as professional asshole conferences. But then again, you might not want to attend these anyway.

A new home

We've finally moved into our new house in Bray!

When we saw the property ad, still back in Germany, we immediately liked the house and didn't expect at all that it would still be available when we'd arrive in Ireland. But after landing in Dublin on August 3rd and patiently waiting until the weekend and following bank holiday had passed, we actually got a viewing appointment. The house was still occupied by a Chinese family and we felt it was a great home for our family, too. When we left, the property agent, James McMahon, suggested we go up the street where we found a lovely little park and discussed our options. We decided to apply for the lease and went to see the local beach, excited what would happen now. What happened was that, after about an hour or so, James called me, saying "You can relax now, you got a home." I was almost speechless. We still needed to provide a reference from our previous landlord but it looked as if everything was going great!

Of course, the current tenants needed to move out first, so even as we had landed a hit at first try, we still had to spend some time at the Dublin International Youth Hostel where we had booked a private family room. We had a good stay and put the time to good use by visiting interesting places like the Dublin Zoo.

During these two weeks, I found a great coworking space in Dublin named TCube where I spent some hours trying to get into working mode again (with moderate success). I'm certainly going to pop in again when I get to Dublin. I even got to experience the amazing networking effects that make coworking spaces so awesome: When I told him that I thought about forming an Irish business, Barry, who's running the place, immediately suggested to introduce me to an accountant who is a regular visitor himself. After a few rounds of email, Richard is now preparing the paperwork for freistil IT Ltd.

We could get our hostel room only until Friday of the second week because it had already been fully booked out for the weekend after. Since James needed a few extra days to have cleaning and repairs taken care of, we had to find interim accommodation. We checked the other An Oige hostels in Ireland and found that Glendalough International Hostel had a room. We took the St. Kevin's bus (everything around Glendalough has "Kevin" in its name) down to the Wicklow Mountains and found the hostel nicely located just off the historic monastery site. There weren't nearly as many people at the hostel as in Dublin but those we learned to know were more than lovely. All four of us had so much fun! The hostel owner even offered to drive us to Bray with her car, gave us a few bedsheets for the first nights and a lot of good tips. Kind people like Trish are one of the reasons we're moving to Ireland.

At both hostels, we did mostly self-catering which was quite time-consuming but also far more affordable than eating out all the time. It's also more wholesome but I'll freely admit that we had our share of white bread and jam, chips and candy. I was afraid that I'd gain back quite a few of those 12 kilos I had lost since June. Having now unpacked my scale, it turns out that I've actually lost some more grams!

Our new home is a lovely little house with 3 bedrooms. The smallest has become my home office and the other one belongs to the children. We have a spacious kitchen with dining area and a nice living room. Additional to the main bathroom, there's a shower next to our bedroom and a guest WC under the stairs. In the back, we've also got a small garden. It's certainly a great improvement over our shoebox in Freiburg. Boy, is it weird how many steps I have to take to get a cup of tea from the kitchen and back to my desk upstairs. There is an "upstairs" to begin with!

The house is located in a nice and quiet neighborhood and I guess there's quite a number of kids around that Amalia will get acquainted with.

Moving in has not been all rosy, though, because the previous tenants left quite a mess behind, especially in the kitchen. But so far, James helped us get everything sorted out.

Tomorrow, Amalia will start school and she's already pretty excited to be a big girl now. We're curious how quickly she'll learn the language as soon as she's properly motivated by meeting other kids her age.

So, we've arrived and we're happy. Hello Ireland, nice to meet you!

Ireland, here we come!

How exciting! Later today, we'll board our Air Lingus flight to Dublin. With one-way tickets. Besides our children, we're bringing with us just two big backpacks and a bit of carry-on with the most essential things. Everything else waits packed in boxes at our parents for the day when we have our own Irish address.

Until we find a new home, we'll be staying at the Dublin International Hostel. We'll see how long it will take us to find a decent house in Bray. I'm a bit nervous about that particular task, but since all of the Irish people I've talked to were quite optimistic, I'm confident as well. And, honestly, a bit of uncertainty is part of the adventure!

For up-to-date news on our journey, follow me on this blog, on FourSquare and on Facebook!

Leaving Freiburg

Our days in Freiburg are running out. Over the weekend, we're going to move our remaining belongings to our parents, renovate the flat and hand over the keys. We'll spend the rest of the month at our parents' and prepare for our arrival in Ireland.

It's been seven great years here in southwest Germany, with the amenities of a bigger city and the awesome nature of the Black Forest. We've become a family here, growing from two people loving each other to four (without the love spreading thin at all). Many happy moments connect us with Freiburg and we'll be missing this place.

At this occasion, I'd like to say "good bye" to everyone I've spent a few of these happy moments here, and "thank you". I'm grateful to have met you and wish you all the best!

How to unsuck meetings

Nowadays, everyone seems to hate meetings. And, very much like a broken relationship, we keep having them all the same. Obviously, we can't get rid of meetings, so I think it's a good thing to see how we can make them worth the effort.

Kate Matsudeira hates meetings, too. As a leader, she spends a lot of time in meetings, and she wants that time to return as much value as possible.

"Thankfully wasteful meetings don’t have to be the course du jour. No matter what kind of meetings you’re involved in, you can do a lot to make that time more productive.  In fact as you can make everyone’s time more useful by simply being prepared."

Kate finds that there are two main causes for bad meetings:

  • They lack structure or purpose
  • Leaders come to them with unrealistic expectations

Both causes have their roots in communication. And she offers really good advice that I know to work from my own experience. Recommended reading!

Shotgun!

This short post is not about weapons but about how to correctly claim the front seat of the car next to the driver. Please note that, in order to avoid any conflicts, there are clearly defined Shotgun Rules and Regulations.

Never leave the playground

On Presentation Zen, a blog I've been following for years to improve my conference sessions, I found a post about Stephen Jepson. He's 72 years old, a retired college professor, and he claims that to keep being playful and moving "is the single most important thing to do to be physically healthier and smarter, regardless of age."

His story is very inspiring, so go on and read the article and watch the video clips!

My children have brought me back onto the playground and in teaching me how to have fun playing, they make me a very happy man.

The Happiness Advantage

This highly entertaining and densely packed TEDx talk explains why it's so important to have fun at work (which we certainly have at freistil IT):

God Made a SysAdmin

Read how Matt Simmons created this parody of a speech titled "God made a farmer" over on his blog.

You're a senior engineer. Now what?

It's a widespread practice to give sysadmins and developers that have accrued a few years of experience a new prefix to their job title: "senior". So they suddenly become Senior System Administrator, Senior Ruby Developer and so on.

So, senior something. What does that even mean?

The very senior John Allspaw shared his thoughts on this topic a few months ago on his blog under the title "On Being A Senior Engineer".

John cites Theo Schlossnagle who asked what might come next:

After five more years will you not have accrued more invaluable experience? What then? “Super engineer”? Five more years? “Super-duper engineer.”

When you get promoted to a "senior", you haven't actually become someone else over night. It's not an event of metamorphosis, neither of enlightenment. John chose to find another adjective that has more meaning:

I expect a “senior” engineer to be a mature engineer.

And he lists these main characteristics of a mature engineer:

  • Mature engineers seek out constructive criticism of their designs.
  • Mature engineers understand the non-technical areas of how they are perceived.
  • Mature engineers do not shy away from making estimates, and are always trying to get better at it.
  • Mature engineers have an innate sense of anticipation, even if they don’t know they do.
  • Mature engineers understand that not all of their projects are filled with rockstar-on-stage work.
  • Mature engineers lift the skills and expertise of those around them.
  • Mature engineers make their trade-offs explicit when making judgements and decisions.
  • Mature engineers don’t practice CYAE (“Cover Your Ass Engineering”)
  • Mature engineers are empathetic.
  • They don’t make empty complaints.
  • Mature engineers are aware of cognitive biases.

He explains each characteristic in depth, so don't miss reading his post!

So, can you tick all the boxes of the mature engineer for the seniors in your team, for yourself? Yes? Then there's one last aspect.

After listing "The Ten Commandments of Egoless Programming", John adds another essential requirement that I was missing in quite a few senior sysadmins I have been working with over time:

Dirty secret: mature engineers know the importance of (sometimes irrational) feelings people have. (gasp!)

When you'd like to become a senior, or better, a mature engineer, then first and foremost become a mature person.

Email is not dead

After trying collaboration tools like Yammer for a while, email had a renaissance at freistil IT. Our decision of giving the dreaded mailbox another chance was triggered by a post about how the team at Stripe practices email transparency. We've adopted their system and it works well; we still need to get more used to it, though.

This is how it works: Every team and project by default has three or four mailing lists (like Stripe, we're using Google Groups for Business):

  • A conversation mailing list ("marketing") for the communication within the team. Everyone in the team (and maybe beyond) subscribes to this list.
  • A low-traffic announcement mailing list ("marketing-announce") that reaches many or even all coworkers.
  • A "bacn" mailing list ("marketing-bots") that receives automatically generated emails, for example from social networks and external services. Everyone that manages or uses such a service subscribes to this list.
  • An archive mailing list ("marketing-archive") that is mainly used to preserve emails that don't concern anyone at the moment. Very few people will subscribe to this list, but it makes it easy to share emails instead of hiding them in personal mailboxes.

The effect of this approach is not only easy written communication but, just as important, transparency:

"As we’ve grown, the experiment has become about both efficiency and philosophy. We don’t just want Stripe to be a successful product and company. We also want to try to optimize the experience of working here. As as we’ve grown, we’ve come to realize that open email can help."

By sorting the daily email influx into many mailing lists (Stripe has more than 100) to which only these people subscribe that have the need, the amount of email anyone has to deal with stays on a managable level.

At freistil IT, we still need to get better at adhering to the addressing rules described in Greg's post. Too much email still only reaches personal mailboxes without being shared in a group visible to the team. I think I'll start by copying the rules into our Company Runbook and from there get them into people's heads (mine included).

But apart from that, it's an interesting experience. As I wrote in a previous post, email can be very disruptive to my daily work. At the same time, being able to at any time tap into exactly these email streams that I'm interested in is engaging and efficient.