Category Archives: Life

You know it, you love it, you live it.


At The Risk of Stating the Obvious

I am going to drop some exceedingly basic knowledge on you.  It’s so basic that 6 months ago, I would not have considered this worth writing.  But given the funhouse mirror of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it feels to me like some simple ideas are worth reiterating.  One of those ideas is that white folks as a class of people in the United States do not have a reason to claim victimhood on account of their race.  In other words, the claim that there is systematic oppression of white folks in the U.S. is delusional.  This seems obvious to me, but I think to some folks for whom the whole alt-right schtick holds an appeal, this message has gone lost.

I will argue from my own experience.  I’m a white guy in my middle 40s who has lived all over the US, with long stretches in the South, the Midwest, the East Coast and the West Coast.  I’ve lived in small towns, suburbia, and big cities.  I’ve lived in neighborhoods that were predominantly white and neighborhoods that were predominantly black.  I’ve caught crawdads in the creek, worked in the “knowledge economy”, and gotten mugged on a street corner at night. There are many realities that I haven’t experienced, but I’ve gotten a decent sample.

I’ve also had the pleasure of working with people whose backgrounds ranged from Anglo-American to Zimbabwean immigrant.   More than a few of the managers that I’ve worked under have come from very different backgrounds than my own.   In fact, the most pivotal early career advice I received was from a fellow from Senegal who was one of the chefs at the restaurant where I waited tables in college, though he also had a degree in electrical engineering.  He told me back in 1996 that Java was the programming language I should learn, and that tip basically gave me a head start on the next 20 years of my career.

All of this is not to say that I can generalize with 100% certainty from my experience, but experience does count for something.  And I’ve lived to middle age as a white guy in America with a fair bit of contact with all the other types of folks that share this country.  I have never had the experience that my ethnicity was preventing me from an opportunity that I wanted.   I have encountered opportunities that I wasn’t ready for, for a variety of reasons.   And I have encountered people here and there that disliked me because I was white.  I also encountered a line cook named Neftali from El Salvador, who told me that white guys don’t know how to please a woman.  Whatever, Neftali!  But I have encountered no real opportunities that were denied to me because of the color of my skin, whether the hiring manager looked like me or not.  If you’re non-white, you might think of this as “white privilege”.  I sincerely hope that one day that is just the norm for everyone in this country.

I do believe people when they say they are hurting economically.  I know there are areas of the country and whole sectors of the economy where the opportunities are scarce and the situation looks grim.  But I have a difficult time believing that white folks who find themselves in that situation are there because they’re white.  And I think that if you’re going to spend your time worrying at that problem, you are wasting precious time that ought to be spent on other aspects of your situation: where you live, what industry you work in, what education might be needed for a change in career, or what else needs to change in society to open up those opportunities.

I don’t mean to sound callous to people’s economic suffering.  The tech industry where I work can be turbulent too, with a whole panoply of economic stresses — ranging from outsourcing to automation to just the vagaries of start-up life.   So I don’t pretend to have everything all figured out in life.  I’m always looking over my shoulder for my new robot master.  But I’m pretty certain that the worst thing in a bad situation is to delude yourself about the problems that you’re facing.  And likewise, I’m certain that being born a white US citizen should not be counted as one of your problems in 2017.  If that’s the chip on your shoulder, you need to brush it off.




Life Software Engineering

Engineering Parenthood

Parenthood and software engineering share at least a couple of similarities. Most software engineers can relate to the experience of a project that seemingly has no end, with problems for which you cannot see the solution at the outset but which you nevertheless must solve. But when you are a new parent it is suddenly like you have two jobs with twice the demands. You cannot shortchange your child with regards to time, effort or inspiration and neither can you simply phone it in at work. Putting in the minimum effort is not why anyone sane gets into the business of writing software — we want to produce high-tech, shiny, cutting edge, cool stuff.

So therein lies the challenge: how does one keep the edges sharp when you’re sleep-deprived, juggling seriously conflicting priorities and pressed for time on all sides? I’m facing this situation now, but I don’t have an easy answer. I can only offer my guesses.

Time Management

One part of the solution is obviously time management. Maybe your time management practices are already ninja-level, but I’ve found that I need to tighten up my time management practices as much as possible, because I can no longer rely on burning the midnight oil to get me through difficult spots. That means automating as much as can be automated. It means allocating small, scheduled windows for distractions like reading random tech news on the Internet. It also means really prioritizing work and banging tasks out like a waiter in a restaurant — knowing what can be kept waiting briefly and what must be done NOW. There are all sorts of time management philosophies one can follow and tools you can use, but probably the most important thing to do is pick some method that works for you, and use it.


Improving your time management practices should help with handling the current set of tasks, but holding a line in the sand is never good enough with software. You must stay on top of emerging technologies, improve your skill set, experiment with different techniques, etc. In software engineering, as in many endeavors, to stand still is to become a fossil. Naturally, having a child puts your woodshedding discipline to a serious test.

If you’re lucky, the child will be a consistent sleeper and you can sneak in an hour here or there at night to get things done. You should exploit those opportunities when you can, but ultimately, you’re going to need the cooperation of your partner to make sure that you can get a chunk of time on some sort of semi-regular basis to do your extra-curricular coding. Undoubtedly you’ll need to reciprocate in kind. It is well worth it to work something out, because though one can get some things done in fits and starts, there’s no substitute for a several hour chunk of time when it comes to writing software and you’re not going to get that time without help.

Elbow Grease

The third point that I think is important is: have an extra-curricular project to work on. The main reason for this is that you need some focal point for your woodshedding efforts. You WILL have weeks when you get nothing done, when you have to put aside any extracurricular learning and development, and having a project will help you pick up the pieces when you regain some time. After all, you are a finisher by nature and you don’t like to leave projects undone (right?), so your instincts in that regard should help you follow through.

The project might revolve around some new technology you’re interested in, or a new problem domain you want to explore, or just an itch (a la Eric Raymond) that you need to scratch. Taking some training course that you can get your employer to foot the bill for is not a bad idea either. Pick something very manageable, because inevitably it will become a bigger deal than you think, and what you need now is a confidence builder, not a Herculean challenge.

The Blind Leading the Blind

So there you have it, those are my “secrets” to success. Quite obviously I’m new at this game. Perhaps I am naive and overly optimistic to think that I or anyone else can keep up the pace, but as the saying goes, shoot for the moon and maybe you’ll end up on a cloud.