A Product Management Conference in Cleveland? Who’d a Thought.

A Product Management Conference in Cleveland? Who’d a Thought.

Why would you attend a product management conference, when your time might be better spent learning technical skills or studying some new open source project? Well, the short answer is because there are aspects of product management in almost all jobs now. With the cloud and service based thinking, we all have to think about consumption, pricing & packaging (chargeback), lifecycle, and where we are going to provide value in the marketplace – even if it’s private marketplace, aka private cloud. Or, because the world loves hyperbole, I sometimes say – “we are all encouraged to think like product managers.” But, what does that mean?

It means we need to think beyond just the implementation and along the axes (yes, this is the plural of axis) of time and value. Time is hardest thing to do for primates to visualize, let alone other mammals. Value is another abstract concept that we aren’t very good at measuring without dollars. Both take training and practice. Product Management (PM) has been a profession for a long time. Both Pragmatic Marketing and Serius Decisions have been building and delivering product management training for a long time. As an aside, I have taken a good bit of the Pragmatic Marketing training, and it is quite good. They have modules like Focus, Build, Launch, Market, Price, etc.

In pursuit of personal growth as a Product Manager, I spent a few days in Cleveland, Ohio attending a product management conference called INDUSTRY Cleveland. I live in Akron, so it wasn’t far. There were some some really good talks. Here’s a list of some of the ones I found interesting with a bit of commentary:

So, if you are a senior architect, developer or even a sysadmin, I would suggest spending a little time to get a product mindset. It will really help with your interactions with customers and product management. It will also help you serve your peers better when you are building internal tools. And, who knows, you might find another avenue for your career growth…

 

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Explaining Race Conditions to Non Programmers

Explaining Race Conditions to Non Programmers

A few weeks ago, I was down in Columbus at a coffee shop. This place happened to have a bathroom which needed a key to use. I went to the counter to ask for the key because mother nature called, but the key was nowhere to be found. Somebody was already in the bathroom and had the key with them.

No problem, I stood outside the bathroom door and soon enough, a gentleman appeared. In a knowing manner, he offered me the key. In moment of self admiration for my wit, I declined the key. I grabbed the door before it shut. We both smiled, both knowing that I was fine getting in the bathroom without the key.

I felt proud of my efficiency. I didn’t need to hold up use of the key. As a sat down – “things were put into motion which could not be undone” as Gandolf would say. But, it was only then that I realized this bathroom didn’t have stalls. I was exposed.

This was a race condition waiting to happen….

At any minute, somebody could walk in and I was trapped. The key was now happily laying on counter with the Baristas. Any unknowing customer could grab key and head toward the bathroom.

This had all the making of a classic race condition in programming – self admiring wit, gloating thoughts of efficiency, and a lack of foresight.

So, the next time you use a public bathroom which needs a key, remember to take the key. For those of you that do program, remember to do proper file locking, or lock management in a distributed system.

Remember the bathroom rule!!!

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The Willpower it Takes to Be Homeless

The Willpower it Takes to Be Homeless

Often, I think we are desensitized to how difficult it is to be homeless – to have very little control over our day to day life. We take for granted that we get to pick what shirt to wear, when to take a shower, when to have our first cup of coffee. Recently, this became apparent to me.

Yesterday, I ran into this homeless guy I have been friends with for about 10 years. I first met him when he offered to help me paint a house I was working on, in what people commonly refer to as “the ghetto.” While his painting services were suboptimal, we nonetheless stayed acquaintances – at first, not by my choice. Alas, ten years later, I kind of like running into him randomly and hearing about how he’s doing. It makes Akron feel like home.

I was coming out of Angel Falls coffee after working most of the afternoon there and he saw me. He quickly launched into telling me how he is in remission from cancer – the last time I ran into him, he thought he was going to die. He also mentioned he was off of drugs – another positive. Then, he mentioned that he is going to get disability next month. With pride, he said, “I am going to get my own place, my own clothes…”

I thought about that for about 24 hours, and it hit me. This is a big deal. When you have spent so much time on the street with so little control over your own life, it must feel good to be able to buy a shirt that “you” want – to decide where “you” are going to live.

This led me to a secondary realization – it takes tremendous amount of willpower to go on living when you have no control over anything. The dream of getting his disability next month really seemed to inspire him to keep going and get to the next step. We are all just trying to survive to make it to the next step…

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The Many Versions of You – Comparing Yourself to Others in a Healthier Way

The Many Versions of You – Comparing Yourself to Others in a Healthier Way

“Should you compare yourself to others when attempting self improvement?”

That’s what we debated this morning at the local coffee shop. It started because a young guy said, “I try not to compare myself to other people” – his intention was to imply that you are somehow a better person if you don’t. It was some sort of pop-culture, Buddhist-like reaction. It’s common wisdom right?

When, I heard him say this, I thought silently to myself, that’s interesting, because I don’t even know how to make that delineation anymore. I think comparison is fundamental to self improvement. Whether it’s working out, learning a new subject or just attempting to become a better person (Buddhism anyone?). Here’s why…

A long time ago, I realized that the old me and the current me are not the same person. This sounds completely obvious at first, but a bit crazy when put it into action. It all started when I was documenting things for work early in my career. I would write something down, and then months or years later, I would read it again because the task needed done again. As soon as I’d look at it, I’d say to myself, “Who the heck wrote this? It doesn’t give any of the detail necessary to complete this task, much less modify the task for a new situation with any sort of confidence.” My first reaction was to be annoyed by the utter lack of foresight that “old me” had when he wrote it. I remember thinking, that guy was selfish, lazy, and didn’t write it all down. But, that guy was me, so I only had me to blame.

Then I realized, okay, I have to actually come up with a technique to help the future me who won’t be able to remember all of the things that I remember right now. I need to write to the future me and fill in the gaps so that when he reads it, he says “oh, this is pretty easy to do. I see all the backstory. I see why, I see how. I see how this other piece works that interacts with it.” I wanted future me to say to himself, “old me, you were pretty damn good!” 🙂

This thinking technique gives future you the warm and fuzzy feeling. Future you is very similar to a completely different person because you’re not going to be current you in two years when you read that documentation. This also serves as a good foundation for writing to others – though, I have found it’s always easier to write to future me because I have learned how my own brain forgets things. I have gotten to know future me pretty well, really well.

So, this led to the epiphany this morning while debating, that you’re really only ever you for a moment. The duration of “current you” is seconds at best. Ever forget what you were in the middle of doing? The old you is not the same as the current you. The current you is not the same as the future you. The only real you is the current you, so living in the present, as Buddhists say, is really the only thing that’s real – and also, quite logical.

So when you think about self improvement, you need a frame of reference – current you – you’re really comparing “current you” to a potential “future you.” The goal of self improvement is to ensure “future you” becomes something better. Basically, “current you” and “future you” are two different people. For any self improvement to happen, you’re really always comparing yourself to somebody else.

So, I don’t know how to separate future me, and past me from other people – logically, it’s similar.

Fine, then it’s OK to compare yourself to other people, but we all know there’s a healthy way and an unhealthy way. Well, first off, don’t take it to the extreme – to where you feel bad about how you’re performing now because of how the old person used to perform. Also, don’t feel bad because you want to perform better in the future and you can’t do it now. That’s the same as looking at some other guy at the gym who’s lifting more weight than you, and feeling bad about it. Don’t do that.

Conversely, don’t look over at a guy that’s not picking up as much weight and feel better than him, because that’s an unhealthy comparison because you’re only “current you” for a moment. Today, tomorrow or next month you could be injured, paralyzed, or find out you have cancer. Being competitive to the point of feeling superior will burn you, here’s why…

You’re really a summation of all of those past versions of you – you quite possibly will become the future you when you’re 70 and you won’t be able to do it anymore. Too young, too old, it has happened and will happen to all of us. Period. Let that sink in. Prepare for it. Really, just remember that the present you is composed of all these other yous that are in the past and future.

Now take it to another level, when you look over at the person at the gym next to you. Realize that they are… their past, current and future them. Don’t compare your current you to their current them because both of you are so much more than that. There’s no point taking the comparison to an unhealthy place where you’re thinking you’re better or worse than them. Think about it, they were a past them at some point and they weren’t able to pick up that weight, run as far, and didn’t know as much. Or if you feel better than them, just remember someday they might get better, and they might be able to kick your butt.

So, today, I tell you to break two Buddhist rules – live in the past, present, and future as well as feel free to compare yourself to other people – just do it in a healthy way. Think with more dimensions, this is a gift that, as far as we know, only Homo Sapiens has – use it. You will go through periods in your own life when you can and can’t do certain things, whether it’s learning, strength training, running or just walking. Accept that and live in the current you. Once you start thinking about it dimensionally, thinking about all the versions of you and them, the comparisons become a lot more healthy.

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Body Hacking – Most Business Travelers Are Body Builders, They Just Don’t Know it

Body Hacking – Most Business Travelers Are Body Builders, They Just Don’t Know it

If you are a road warrior, you have probably never thought of yourself as a body builder. But, if you have ever wanted loose weight, you probably are body builder and just don’t know it. For a long, long time, I hated the idea. I loathed it . Eventually, I I learned to embrace it because body builders know how to loose weight better than anyone. Here’s why. Physical fitness and looks are two separate things. One is mostly governed by how hard you work out, the other by diet. One is mostly governed by training program, the other by social perception. Mostly….

Sure, they are related statistically, but any individual can have a completely different physical relationship between the two. You could be the big guy with a belly roll, and still out sprint a smaller guy. You could have better cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, strength, explosive power, and speed – and, still have a deposit of fat around your midsection. Statistically, high body fat relates to health problems and lower performance, but specific individuals, who train really hard, but still eat like crazy, can crush performance and be healthy. On the other hand, you could have a very good diet, look very healthy, barely work out, be weak, slow, and have barely any endurance. That’s because fitness and looks are two completely different aspects to general health and general fitness.

They are related, but not 100%..

To get to the elite levels of fitness (competitive sport level) or elite levels of body shape (body building) you absolutely have to do both. But, as a regular business person with a sedentary job, you can surely have a decent, healthy combination of both. So, if you weigh 260 lbs and want to weigh 180 lbs or weigh 160 lbs and want to weigh 130 lbs, you will have to adopt the methods of a bodybuilder. You will have to count calories, you will have to “cut” as they say in body building. Trust me, they know how to do this, they have been doing it since the 1950s. If your goal is to lose weight, you have to cut. Cutting is a technique which focuses on reducing body fat. The goal of reducing body fat is primarily to change how you look and feel, not how you perform. Your performance may increase, it may not. You might lose strength, but you might get faster because you’re lighter. It will all depend.

Decide what your goals are. Do you want to look “better” (your perception, or the world’s perception?) or do you want to perform better? Embrace your goals, don’t feel bad about yourself. Don’t underestimate yourself. If you do let yourself feel bad or underestimate yourself, you will just waste precious time in life – waffling. So, grab your belly roll if you got one and and tell yourself, “this is just for looks” – if you care about looks, adopt the art of the body builder. If you don’t care, embrace it. If you want to build muscle and have fun, lift weights. If you want to run faster, practice sprinting. If you want to run further, build up distance in practice If your goal is medical health, it will take a combination of nutrition and exercise.

Fitness, looks, and health are all different things. They are different physical goals. At he elite levels, they are particularly related, but at normal human levels there is a lot of leeway. So, the next time you look at some bigger guy or girl walking down the street, try not to judge them, they just might kick your butt in a sprint or out run you in a distance race. Never judge physical fitness by their physique.

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Body Hacking – While Being a Road Warrior

Body Hacking – While Being a Road Warrior

I recently read Road Warriors – Healthy Tips for Staying ‘On Plan’ by Steve Katasi and thought it was really good. We have developed a lot of the same strategies. I wanted to point people towards it and add a few additions:

  • 1.1: Snacks: there are a TON of good options for protein bars, and powders. Also, many gas stations have Muscle Milk or other protein drinks. Just pay attention to nutrition labels. A lot of them are more junk than food. Remember macros, macros, macros.
  • 2.2: Make Hotel Gym a Must Have Criteria: Calisthenics can be done at any gym. There are progressive overload techniques for calisthenics, so for a day or two trip, this can work.
  • 2.3: Better Still – Access to Commercial Gym: I would go a step further than Steve does. Not only are external gyms better equipped, they can be destinations in and of themselves. I love working out in other countries. Japan, Belgium, and Czech Republic have all been extremely interesting – each country has it’s own gym culture. Also, many major cities have amazing old school gyms. In Dallas once, I went to Doug’s Gym (see picture) – it was an old gym opened in the 70s after the owner won the lottery. It reminded me of Rocky I. Find an awesome gym, it’s totally motivational.
  • 2.4: Lower Workout Expectations: I don’t completely agree on this one. Generally, I find having a keel to your workout programming helps keep you on track. For me, that is Wendler 5/3/1. I also have days for conditioning, Yoga, running, and other accessory work. I prefer to program the flexibility into my routine. Then, when traveling it makes it easier to stay on the program. Even a 20-30 minute run mixed in can help, bu that’s part of my program. I don’t recommend lowering your expectation, I recommend having harder and lighter days. Count the travel days as lighter days in the program.
  • 5.4 Avoid Crappy Sandwiches: I COMPLETELY disagree with this point. Food is Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat. While, I can absolutely feel it when I eat high glycemic index foods (I can feel the hunger strike harder), this is nothing more than an optimization. Also, when you eat a sandwich, just drink a protein shake, and maybe a high fiber bar (there are plenty). As long as you mix a high protein source and some fiber (which is a carb), you will feel fine and be totally fine. Also, there is NO evidence that Gluten is universally inflammatory. In fact, it’s recommended that you should eat gluten, unless you are sensitive to it. Read more here and here.
  • 5.4: Good Protein – Rich Breakfast: Again, a mix of science and fact. I absolutely agree that breakfast is the meal to get things going in the right direction and in fact, it’s the best one to start with a strong protein macro count. That said, there is NO factual evidence that skipping it matters for calorie control. That is a myth. In fact, the latest science basically says that meal timing is irrelevant. Three medium sized meals, five, small meals, 47 tiny snacks. It all works. See more here and here.

My few disagreements aside, I think his article has some really great tips and tricks…. Good luck, and keep hacking…

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Netflix – Technology Wizards or Good Content?

I love the content they produce like Orange is the New Black, Narcos, Stranger Things, and House of Cards. But, remember back to before Netflix produced this content? They were struggling with subscribers, under attack from cable companies, and their future looked very, very uncertain. So, how did they turn the ship around?

They started producing their own content. And, let’s be clear – software engineering at Netflix did not make that decision. This is a quintessential “business decision.” This was a decision to create value for their market – people who watch content through the Internet. They were a content distributor and they decided to enter an adjacent market – content creation.

Yet, time and time again Netflix is referenced as some kind of technology wizards, contributing the OSS Stack, moving to the cloud for almost everything, hiring only the best and the brightest.

They are held in high regard for “disrupting” the cable industry – but, for the wrong reasons. It’s not their technology that is their differentiated value proposition to the market. It is their cunning move to create content akin to HBO. At the same time, this places them in a stronger position to negotiate better contracts for their distribution business.

I would argue that they have succeeded, not because of their technology, but despite it. Their end user experience is rather lacking, yet they keep attracting and retaining subscribers. Here’s a few examples.

1. They finally, just recently added the ability to download movies and watch them offline. Even now, not all content can be downloaded, even some they produced, which makes no sense to me. Google Play and Amazon Prime have had this since almost the beginning of their service, yet nobody hails them as some great innovators.

2. It takes forever when you rewind or fast-forward. Again, Google Play and Amazon Prime both have smoother, better experiences.

3. Subtitles get blocked when the video is paused. Something thst is just really annoying when the reason that you paused it is so that you can read it slower.

So, the next time you hear somebody call Netflix a technology company, just quote their own CEO:

We spend money more like a media company than a tech company

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