Posts Tagged ‘Soft Skills’

My bout with Shyness

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

I am shy. I am very lucky that it is not crippling. But it is bad enough that it has and is keeping me from doing what I really want to be doing. For example It was keeping me from being active in the development community. I would like to be able to introduce my self to people I want to meet when I see them. Mainly I would like to stop being anxious when I meet new people.

It is weird because I have not been able to figure out if I am an introvert or extrovert. I have traits from both sides. I love talking in groups of people I know but also love the times I off doing things on my own. Communications is one of my top 5 strengths from Strengthsfinder. I don’t know if it is possible but I feel that I am both but on different days.

Now my shyness is really around people I don’t know or don’t know well. If I don’t know you, I am not comfortable around you. I can not just walk up and start a conversation. It causes me large amount anxiety. I would go to meetups and conferences and talk to no one while I was there. It bugged me a lot. That is until I decided enough was enough and that it was time to do something about it.

3 years ago, I attended the first That Conference. I love learning, it was inexpensive, and close by. I knew exactly 1 other person that was attending. I was excited. That was until morning of day 1.

Day 1 started with Clark Sell standing in front of the attendees and issuing a challenge. He stated that That Conference was designed to be a social conference. Yes the session are awesome but the organizers put ample time between sessions and had after hours events to foster socialization among the attendees. His challenge was to take these opportunities to meet new people.

Pretty much after that moment, I was freaked out. I was thinking I can’t do this. I am going to be that guy sitting in the corner by himself for 3 days. For the most part of day 1 that was true. Thankfully the 1 other person I knew is more outgoing than I am and found a group of people to hang out with on night 1. If it wasn’t for that 1 person, I would have been hiding in a corner for all 3 days.

To be clear, I love That Conference. I love, now, that it is setup to be social. And this challenge was exactly what I needed but I didn’t know it at the time.

After the conference was over, I was inspired to do awesome things. During the following months, I decided it was time to get over my shyness or at least deal with it. I didn’t really have a plan yet but I had an idea of what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be the person in the corner anymore. I started off by attending more meetups. At the very least I was getting more comfortable with being around people I didn’t know.

About a month before the 2nd That Conference, I got it in my head that was going to do an open spaces with the topic of developers with disabilities. I am dyslexic, this was my in. After the 3 days, I ended up chickening out. Fear sucks. The whole drive home, I regretted not doing it. The feeling sucked even more than the fear.

All was not lost, one amazing thing happened during the conference. During the time between the 1st and 2nd year, I became a bit more active on Twitter. While at That Conference, Clark Sell sort of called me out for not saying hi. I was hiding behind twitter and he basically said stop it. This sort of forced me into doing something I am not comfortable with. That was getting out of my chair and saying hi. I did it. It was a small victory. It was a step toward the realisation that getting over this is possible.

At this point it is August 2013 and it was time to get serious. I set 2 goal that I wanted to complete. Become active in development community and host an open spaces at That Conference 2014.

About this time, I learned that Milwaukee’s development community had an IRC channel (#devmke on freenode). I jumped in and idled. Even with just text between me and others I had anxiety about joining in the conversations. Over time, I learned who was who and started to join in. Slowly. Because of Twitter and IRC, I got to follow and interact a bit with people that organized some of the meetups in Milwaukee.

In early 2014, the organizers of MKEJS were talking in IRC about the need for a topic/speaker for that month. I suggested that they do a Node School workshop. I am not sure how but my suggestion turned into me facilitating the workshop. Node School workshops are a set of self guided lessons that use node to teach you node and other aspects of JavaScript. My job facilitator would be to get people started, show them how to use it, and help them if they get stuck. On top of this, this was looking to be the most popular MKEJS meetup yet.

Facilitating this workshop was an great step forward. They say facing your fears is a good way to get over them. Well public speaking to a group of people I don’t know. What could possibly go wrong? I faced them head on and everything went really well and gave me the confidence to do more. Shortly after, I was asked to help co-organize the MKEJS meetup which I accepted and at roughly the same time joined the Content Advisory Board for That Conference.

This August was the 3rd That Conference. So far I have reached one of my goals and have become more active in the development community. Now it was time to complete goal number 2 and do an open spaces. Before the conference, I told a few people my plan and asked them to help me make sure I do it. Since I didn’t went to let them or myself down I completed the goal. Here I am 3rd in line to tell my topic to roughly 1000 other developers, most I have never met. Yes I was nervous. Yes, stumbled a bit but I did it.

The conference went amazingly. I was able to meet many people I know from IRC and twitter in person for the first time. I was uneasy about approaching complete strangers but did so on a few occasions to recruit speakers for MKEJS.

Since That Conference this year, I had a new goal of giving a talk. This goal was completed in September when I gave a talk Titled “Rocking with Web Audio API” to MKEJS.  The next goal is to give a talk at That Conference next year.

I am still a bit shy and still have problems approaching people but I am going to continue to work at it. It has been a slow process and I think it had to be for me. I had to be ready for the change to happen and that takes time.

As I was writing this, I realised that a lot of my anxiety stemmed from not having confidence in myself. The reason this took time is that I needed to build up my confidence before I could do the next thing. Now to work on that talk for That Conference 2015.

 

Stop chasing carrots

Friday, September 19th, 2014

My first job out of college was working for a large printer of magazines.  There was a good number of developers and for the first few years things were good. The company had some interesting abilities outside of print that I thought were really interesting and I stayed longer than I should have because the potential to get bigger was there.

Then 2008 happened. We all felt the crunch. Print is not really a growing industry and the recession did not help. Yet, I stayed. I stayed even after new projects required over time from day one. I stayed even though perks and benefits of working for this company disappeared because they needed to make the bottom line look better. I stayed for another 3 years. Why? Because I was chasing the what could be. The metaphoric carrot  if you will. I believed the promises. I was a fool.

During those years, I was consistently underpaid when compared to market average. The work environment went from happy to hostal. Time lines went from reasonable to this needs to be done yesterday.

One day the carrot was removed. The CEO stood in front of the company and said they were going all in on print which mean the interesting abilities outside of print were being sidelined for projects that pushed print. I was done. I stopped working overtime. My work suffered. It didn’t take long before I left.  I couldn’t chase a carrot I didn’t believe in.

This experience taught me a major lesson:

Stop chasing carrots

This is not an original idea. This is an idea that is supported by science and research. When a task requires even the slightest cognitive processing, carrots no longer work. In fact they tend to be more harmful than helpful. Dan Pink’s TED talk The Puzzle of Motivation sums this up very well.

In Dan’s talk he suggest that people who work in creative fields require different motivators. Motivators that you have right now, not that you may get at some point in the feature. Dan suggests 3 different items:

  • Autonomy – Can you do the work in a manner that works for you?
  • Mastery – Do you have a chance to learn and grow?
  • Purpose – Does the work affect the world in even the slightest bit?

There are many other factors but these 3 are important. Looking back on my relatively short career, I have to agree. My biggest issues were doing things I did not believe in and doing them in a way that didn’t work for me. Going back to my story above, I left that job because I no longer had a purpose I believed it. It made me sad that the focus of the company switched because those areas outside of print had purpose and were awesome.

Whatever you are doing are doing for a job, make sure you are getting something from it. If you are working 80 hours a week because you may get a raise, you are doing it wrong. It is very likely that you will not get anything and soon this type of effort will become expected from you. If you are working 80 hours a week because you love what you are doing and you are making that choice then I am not going to tell you not too.

 

Why having an open door isn’t enough

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Recently Jason Fried wrote an article titled “Is Your door Really Always Open?” In it, he suggests that having an open door policy is great but also a cop-out. And I agree with him. So much so that I would like to go a little deeper as to why this is a problem.

I am an introvert and a bit shy. because of those traits, it is going to take a lot for me to go into my bosses office and talk. I am not going to do this unless I absolutely have to or I know it is likely that my point will be made. Recently I came across some videos called “The Power of Introverts” that suggests that this is a trait of introverts as a whole. They tend to be more calculated when they speak up and wont do so unless they know they will be heard.

What this means to a manager is that having an open door isn’t enough. It means that many of the employees a managers has are not just going randomly walk into your office and talk.

The other problem that I have seen with open door policies is that employees only use them to bring up problems or things they want to change.

If an employee is to honest to often they get labeled. Labels are bad. It is hard to remove labels. Labels keep employee opening up because they don’t want the label.

As an employee, these are the main two things that keep me from bursting into my bosses office and being honest. As an employee, the easiest way to fix these problems is to do what Jason Fried suggested in his article. That is, as a manager/boss, you need to be the one to open the communication. You need to go out and actively communicate with your employees. Once they get comfortable, they will be honest and more willing to come to you about anything. This has the added bonus of hearing more than just the negative things going on in the office.