Agile Moderation

I read a lot of advice – on any social media platform it’s hard not to. Everyone spouts endlessly about hustle, self care, the grind, being the best you, on and on forever. There are memes and videos and heartfelt shout outs to gurus and coaches.

All of that advice is fine, but it always leaves me cold. It all feels so extreme and if you fall down one rabbit hole of advice or another, it will probably lead to a lot of unhealthy behavior.

I’m a developer. I’m incredibly hard on myself. I work with people who are also incredibly hard on themselves. They all seem to feel worse about themselves than I do, and I’ve been trying to figure out why – and what I do or what experience I have that tells me when to let up on the self-criticism.

It’s taken a while but I think I’ve figured it out.

I’ve been doing some form of agile development for a very long time. More than a decade but less than two. It’s fine and I’m not going to go into details about it because it doesn’t matter.

My favorite part of that process, though, is the retrospective. It’s where the entire team gets together every two weeks and answers three questions:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What are we going to do differently next time?

It’s a chance for the team to refine their process, learn how to work better with each other and improve personally. The best part is that my teams always write everything down so we have a record of our retrospectives over time so we can see our growth over time.

It’s so effective that I now use it on myself. And this is where the moderation from the title comes in. Every time something goes wrong or I’m under stress, I go through those three questions. It’s calming, and a chance to reflect and commit to doing better.

But, it’s not open ended. I can’t spent forever on how badly I messed up or on how great I did, and I always have to finish with how I’m going to improve.

That process allows me to continue to be self critical, continue to hustle and not just love through the grind of startup life, but to love it, take care of myself and be aware of what I still need to work on.

The goal of agile isn’t perfection; it’s constant, sustainable, incremental improvement. That’s a goal I can get behind for myself too.

Observing Humans Under Stress in the Airport

Being stuck in the airport is a great chance to watch people deal with disappointment and things outside of their control. Observed today:

  • The Grumbler: Vents aimlessly to anyone in earshot but not loudly or with any attempt to do anything to fix it.
  • The Busybody: Has to find something to do that’s demonstrably “doing something” about the situation because there’s nothing they can really do. Can usually be seen leaning againsr a column, gesturing wildly to someone on the other end of a phone call… who of course can’t see them. But we can. We can.
  • The Demander: must go up to the gate desk every ten minutes for an update. The more trips to the desk, the more red they are in the face and the longer their stride.
  • The Cheerleader: They’re just happy to be there and will loudly proclaim how wonderful everyone is being. Constantly fetching things for other members of their party. I have a feeling the cheerleader is the busybody when traveling solo.
  • The Relaxer/Fatalist: this is me. Weighs the situation. Decides they can’t do anything. Sits there reading and waiting for updates and silently wishing the grumbler had a better conspiracy theory and the busybody would express their distaste a little quieter.

And then there are the shell-shocked parents trying to wrangle angry toddlers who’ve had their routines even more disrupted than they would have been without a delay. These are really the only group I feel bad for. They all look so desperate for relief. Hang in there, parents. It gets easier.

Did I miss any? Who are you?

Susie King Taylor Community School

I’m on the governing board of Susie King Taylor Community School, and it’s been amazing to watch the progress the school’s made even since I joined in December. It’s a different model for Savannah, and one that I hope works well enough that it pulls the rest of the school system forward.

If you’re a business in Savannah and want to get involved with the school, teachers are always looking for people to come speak to their class, get involved with a lesson, or let a gaggle of young learners come check out businesses and see how things work. If you’ve got money to spare, we gladly accept donations. If you want to help, but don’t know how, you can reach out and get involved.

Who’s In Your Pantheon?

I haven’t finished the whole piece yet, but Pauli Murray lived an amazing life and blazed a lot of the trails people better-remembered walked.

Learning about Pauli, Susie King Taylor, Fannie Lou Hamer, Lucy Craft Laney and others… we need to expand our pantheon of heroes we learn about in school.

Think about the people in your history books from school. How many of them are men? How many are white? How many do we now know aren’t as heroic as we were taught?

It’s time to expand the pantheon to include people history tried to erase, the trailblazers who made the path others followed, and spoke truth to power when the consequences were life and death.

And maybe it’s time to retire some of those other statues that never belonged there in the first place.

Kevin’s Musical Year in Review for 2017

I’ve written these for a few years now (I could have sworn I wrote one last year, but I guess I didn’t), and I think this is the first year that it’s been harder to pick out albums than some great songs. I think Spotify may have finally broken me of my “listen to the whole album” rule since it’s easier to just fire up a playlist or daily mix than go find an album to listen to.

But, I still have my favorite songs of the year list (I’ve embedded it below) and though it’s a little smaller than previous years, there’s still over 12 hours of music in it that came out this year.

Before I get to the albums, the song of the year for me is definitely Goldfrapp’s Anymore. No, really, it’s amazing. So sexy and fun and danceable. You should listen to it a million times.

There’s been a trend for a few years now of releasing a bunch of singles to streaming services before the album gets released, and some of my favorites this years were really just EPs, so I think they should have their own section.

EPs

  • Serengeti: Kaleidoscope – Reminds me of The Submarines in the best possible way. Groovy, fun, and ripe for multiple listens. Bonus points for some lovely muted trumpet on Is It Too Late.
  • Her: Her Tape #2 – Weighing in at 17 whole minutes, they pack a whole album worth of goodness into it. This one kind of snuck up on me, with several songs showing up in various daily mixes until I listened to the whole thing. It’s beautiful, especially Swim, which will make you dance.

Albums

  • Ghostpoet: Dark Days + Canapés – Another great down tempo album from Ghostpoet. It’s like the best of Massive Attack with some modern hip hop.
  • Hurray for the Riff Raff: The Navigator – Folksy, old school, clever, silly and a lot of fun… all without being cloying or annoying. It’s just… good.
  • New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions – I don’t know how they do it, but this band feels like it gets bigger with every album. I keep thinking their sound will get old or stale, and it absolutely doesn’t. One of my all-time faves that just keeps getting better.
  • Big Thief: Capacity – Kind of like if Beach House, Luna and Emma Pollock teamed up for a really sad and lovely country album. Gorgeous songs and amazing lyrics.
  • The Dears: Times Infinity Volume Two – The Dears should be bigger. Everyone should love The Dears. You need to listen to them. A little TV on the Radio, a little of a lot of other things, always good.
  • Widowspeak: Expect the Best – Dreamy, fuzzy, and ethereal. I love this band unconditionally and they can do no wrong. This album is as good as all their others, and that’s saying a lot.
  • Said the Whale: As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide – Is it wrong to love pop? No. No it isn’t, especially when it’s this good. Also, it’s even less wrong when the band is Canadian for some reason. So, yeah, just listen. You’ll like it.
  • Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile: Lotta Sea Lice – This is way more grown up than her last album, and that’s alright, I guess, though I absolutely loved Sometimes I Sit and Thing, and Sometimes I Just Sit. I’m alright with growing up, I guess.
  • The War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding – Mostly for the song Holding On which feels like a huge 70’s rock callback, but is also just a great song. The rest of the album is fine too, really.

Musical Discoveries

  • St. Paul and the Broken Bones: I’d heard of them, but never listened until they were coming to Savannah for a show and a bunch of my friends gushed about them. Now I’m sad I missed the show, because this band is great. I listen to them in the kitchen (unapologetic revival soul is perfect baking music).
  • Big Sam’s Funky Nation: Another concert-related discovery. These guys played Revival Fest this year and blew the doors off. Their albums are good, but their live show is insanely great. If you ever get the chance to join Funky Nation, you should rush to renounce whatever citizenship you need to in order to get in.
  • Flunk: I should have heard of this band before this year, because they’re in my wheelhouse. They’re a perfect trip hop throwback, a little like Portishead, and I could listen to them all day at work.

There you go, my musical 2017. Enjoy the playlist below, and here’s to an acoustically pleasing 2018!

On Uncomfortable Topics: Rules and Sexual Harassment

I realized I’ve never written these down, so… here are the rules I try to follow, and that I’ve given my kids in some form or another over the years. I haven’t always followed them, because I honestly didn’t know they were a problem, and needed to be rules. Some of them are a lot easier to follow because I’m married. Some of them still require work, because I’ll hopefully never be done getting better.

There are a lot of reasons we need to stamp out sexual harassment. The first being that women are human beings and deserve to be allowed to not be threatened, abused, molested or coerced… ever, anywhere. I’d hope that would go without saying, but, it apparently needs to be said… a lot.

If we make our communities, workplaces, families, churches, etc, places where people feel threatened, uncomfortable or violated, then they’re not going to be productive. We’re missing out on their ideas, their contributions, their genius, because some of us can’t control our urges. The benefits of creating inclusive, diverse and welcoming places is that we get to benefit from everyone’s contributions. If we’re doing something that decreases someone’s ability to participate, then we should stop. That sounds stupid when we’re talking about sexual harassment, but if you can’t be convinced to treat women as equal humans, then maybe a productivity argument is what you need?

So, I said there were rules. Here they are. This list isn’t complete, but it’s a start:

  1. Don’t touch people unless you ask them first, AND THEY SAY YES. If someone is asleep, they can’t say yes. If someone is passed out, they can’t say yes.
  2. You never have to hug or touch anyone you don’t want to. If you’re a man, don’t initiate a hug unless you’ve been hugged by that person before.
  3. Do not, or attempt to, date people you have power or influence over. If you’re in management, don’t ever attempt to date anyone at work.
  4. Don’t stare. You can conquer “the male gaze”. It makes people really uncomfortable, is objectifying, and is just a bad habit – so break it.
  5. Don’t talk about, or comment on, other peoples’ bodies.
  6. Be kind. Be gentle. Be someone people can feel comfortable and safe around.

I honestly have no idea if I’ve ever harassed anyone, but I’m sure I’ve made people uncomfortable, and I’m sorry. Hopefully, I’m better now than I was, and I’ll be better tomorrow than I am today.

I appreciate the women who do speak up, and especially the women over the years who were brave enough to tell me their harassment stories, and take the time to educate me, and point me in the right direction.

This isn’t fun to talk about, but we have to stop forcing women to run the gauntlet of abuse it takes to report harassment and abuse. Men, this is OUR problem to solve, because we’re the perpetrators. If you work with harassers, pull them aside, talk to them. Report them. We have to police ourselves, and be better.

Coding is a Social Activity

You’ve probably heard about that manifesto that some techbro at Google wrote. This is the response I wish I would have written.

A couple things to highlight and emphasize:

  • Writing software is about understanding problems, and to understand problems, you have to not only know how to solve them with code, but know the root cause of the problem. That requires building empathy. Without it, you’ll never be great.

  • There’s no such thing as “male” or “female” skills. They’re just skills. That people put them in buckets says more about the broken rigid gender roles in our society than the quality or value of those skills. Empathy is much harder to develop than learning how to code.

  • The dude should have talked to some non-bro humans before publishing that crap. They would have, hopefully, gently slapped him around intellectually and convinced him not to be stupid in such a public way.

  • Guys, every single woman you know who’s ever had a job or worked in any situation where men are present has dealt with things you can’t even imagine. Not most. ALL of them. If they haven’t told you about any of them, you probably have a lot of work to do on empathy, because they don’t think you can handle it, or you’re kind of a jerk.

This isn’t totally related, but it’s related enough and I wanted to write about it, so here it goes.

Sara Soueidan tweeted yesterday about other peoples’ productivity tweets, and it got me thinking about how I keep myself motivated and keep myself from feeling too down about feeling stuck. I replied with a couple of things, and I thought I’d share them, because especially early on in my career, they were extremely helpful in keeping me going when I didn’t really have a way to measure my progress.

  • Document your progress, because it’s easy to forget. I’ve kept a work journal in various forms for the last 15 years or so, just a little record of problems I’ve solved, things I’ve worked on, etc.. Why? Because progress is easy to forget and time erases our victories. It’s easy to feel like we’re not getting anywhere when we’re only looking at the last week or so.

  • Whenever I feel down or stuck, I go back 6 months to a year and just randomly pick a day from the journal to remind myself what I was working on. It’s almost always a pretty immediate reminder of how far I’ve come. If I still feel down or stuck, I just go farther back.

In agile development, my favorite part is always the retrospective. It’s a meeting you have every 2-4 weeks where the entire team answers the following questions:

  • What went well?

  • What didn’t go well?

  • What are we going to do differently next time?

Answering those questions is a way to celebrate successes, build accountability by honestly and constructively figure out what didn’t go well and why, and then come up with a couple things to work on for the next time.

That same set of questions works really well for personal stuff too, so I have personal retrospectives all the time after stressful experiences or times I reacted to something in a way I shouldn’t have or, for me especially, when I overreacted to something.

I don’t have personal retrospectives to beat myself up. They’re not pity parties or self-destructive. They’re hopefully the same as a good team retrospective – they exist only to make sure everyone knows the part they play in the team’s success, and so everyone improves.

And that’s where the productivity tweets, and the harmfulness of judging yourself by others’ public projection of themselves, come in. Those public projections are meaningless to me. I might be able to learn some new tactics from them or a new thing to try, but trying to copy someone’s success only by observing the outward result is a recipe for disappointment.

Things to remember whenever reading any personal account of success:

  • The author is an unreliable narrator and will almost always downplay other peoples’ contributions to their success or that luck played a much larger role than they mention.

  • They’re not you. You’re not starting from the same place. You don’t have the same resources. You have different talents and skills. Do not judge yourself relative to someone else’s position because you don’t know where they started.

I was the first web developer in my group when I moved to Virginia to work in the “main office” at AOL. I had no one to measure myself against because no one else did what I did (my manager used to say, “I don’t know what you do, but everyone loves it, so… keep it up!”). I was young, and dumb, and ambitious, and… had no idea what I was doing, but I wanted to be the best I could be at it.

I’m a big fan of the Golden Rule for teams. I try (and fail) to work so the other people on the team have an easier time of things. I fail at this more often than I succeed, but that’s the goal.

After my first couple of projects, I realized that I also have to practice the Golden Rule on myself. So, now, I really only compete against what I call Past Me, and I try to do my work so Future Me doesn’t think Present Me is a jerk.

This framework has worked out pretty well for work over the last almost-twenty-years. I just recently realized that it’s equally applicable to life outside of work too, and am trying to apply it to my health choices too.

I hope this is helpful to someone. Life is hard. Make it as easy as you can on yourself and others.

#YallDoGood: Shout Out Your Community’s Unsung Heroes

There are people in your community doing great things completely unnoticed, except maybe by you.

So, this weekend, maybe take a minute between the latest outrage and trying to ignore the latest outrage to give your local unsung do-gooder a high five, or buy them coffee, or a big shout out on social media to tell the world how awesome they are, so people can see that there’s good stuff happening.

Let’s call it… #YallDoGood

Cool? Get to it, y’all.

Constantly Late and Begging for Applause

Kind of tired of watching big organizations (political parties, churches, etc, etc, etc) look for a standing ovation when they finally come around on an issue (doesn’t matter what it is, pick your favorite).

No, sorry, you don’t get credit for being a late follower. If you project an air of infallibility and want everyone to believe that you’re on the side of truth and justice and love and all that other good stuff you say you believe – YOU’D HAVE BEEN EARLY TO THE PARTY. You should have helped organize it.

You don’t get to show up at the last minute after people have spent decades fighting your lies and pretend that this is some great thing you’re doing. You’re LATE. You were on the wrong side the whole time and don’t even have the courage to admit it other than a couple of trite press releases written by your lawyers and a couple of donations to charities that helped all the people you hurt.

You get no credit. Screw you.

Welcome to the party, but we were just wrapping up. There might be a couple crackers left. Sorry, but all the dip’s been eaten and we’re out of wine. Feel free to make your own.

Stories from the March: Impressions from the Front Row

I had a front row seat for a miracle Sunday night. I went to the Trinity Methodist Church and heard from two dozen women of all ages, colors and backgrounds who marched in DC and Savannah the day after the inauguration. It was inspiring. I cried several times, laughed twice as many times, and came away feeling recharged and exhausted at the same time.

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The stories weren’t all focused on the march – they were as much about why these women marched, which ran the gamut and some of the stories are too sacred and personal to even attempt to restate here. If you can carve three hours out of your day, I highly recommend watching the video. I hope it captures some of the spirit of the event and what we felt in the room.

It felt like the beginning of something much larger than a trip to a protest. And to explain why, I think I need to take a step back and explain Savannah, at least my understanding of Savannah, a little bit. Savannah is a city of silos that have been built up over almost 300 years. They’re well guarded and imposing, but invisible to the casual observer. They keep us separated by race, class and industry without most of us even knowing they exist.

But, in and around those silos exist a lot of energetic, creative, passionate people doing good important work in the community… and until the march, I think a lot of them were unaware of each others’ presence or their common cause. The march brought them together and introduced a lot of them to each other for the first time, and then the energy grew.

Sunday night, all those powerful nasty women came together again to show us the power of those new connections and share that energy with all of us. I wish you could have been there. It was electric. It was positive and full of love. Even when an unplanned speaker said very unplanned things, the audience was respectful and quiet (and uncomfortable). And when it was clear she was unwell and something needed to be done, a woman near the rear of the chapel stood up and started singing Amazing Grace. We all joined in. She was gently led away from the podium and off the pulpit and then wrapped in loving embrace by some of the very people she’d just insulted.

It was something I’ll never forget, that energy of being around committed women of conviction and energy, surrounded by art and the sacred (and just enough of the profane to make it interesting).

But.

Sunday wasn’t the end of something. Sunday felt like the beginning of something larger than a single march. I sat next to a woman I’ve known for years, but had no idea she’s involved in an organization that works to get women elected to local and state office (and, fingers crossed, national). I sat in front of the first African American woman to be elected mayor of Savannah, and got to listen to her affirm what the speakers said with a simple “Alright” or “That’s right.” This is a woman who’s seen some things, who’s been through more than most of us will ever understand. The way she said it was so loving, so full of understanding. I’ve never heard anyone utter single word and have it feel more solid or understood.

Where do we, where do I, go from here? For a long time, I’ve felt what I can only call a calling to run for public office. After Sunday, I came to a realization – in order to make our representative democracy actually representative of all of its citizens, it needs to look more like America. White men make up 30% of the US, but make up over 60% of Congress. It doesn’t need another white guy, not even one as handsome as me. It needs more powerful women and people of color. So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to work with organizations like Georgia’s WIN List to get more women elected. I’m going to continue the work of breaking down, or at least infiltrating, Savannah’s silos and cause as much #goodtrouble as I can.

There’s good work being done. We don’t need to start something brand new, but join efforts led by women and people of color already in progress and lend a hand. We need to change our perceptions of leadership. Men, white men especially, don’t need to lead everything. There are more, and more effective, ways to lead an organization than the way we’ve done it in the past, and the way we’re watching our new President do it in the White House.

Last topic, and it feels unrelated, but it’s not. I talked to a wise friend yesterday about Sunday night and tried to make sense of my feelings and what to do next. He mentioned to me that the pastor of the church that hosted us put himself on the line. He asked if I’d be willing to join, and do more than just show up on Sunday, because those churches can’t survive to do good work if no one’s in the pews on Sunday or filling the collection plate.

I left my church in 2008 over California’s Prop 8 because they asked me to do something I felt went against the core tenets of our faith. I think a lot of people my age and younger have drifted away from religion as their churches became less about loving our neighbors and more about what our neighbors do behind closed doors. I never imagined I’d consider going back, but what if there’s a place for progressive worship? What does that look like?

My friend asked me to think about it, and I am. If the church can feel like it felt on Sunday night – a place of love, inclusion and action, then I could see actually putting on a tie and showing up.

Religion has done a lot of harm, and I don’t want to minimize the pain its caused, but it can also be a place of refuge. Throughout history, churches have sheltered the weak, weary and afraid from the angry mob. They’ve also been places communities have rallied around to change the world for the better.

I can’t think of a combination more needed today than that.

Savannah’s own First African Baptist was a stop on the Underground Railroad and a place where civil rights leaders and their allies could meet and plan: one of the first truly desegregated places in Savannah.

Parishioners like Bob and Philippa Paddison and many others at the local Unitarian Universalist congregation were pivotal in the early days of Savannah’s civil rights movement.

First Presbyterian Church on Washington Avenue has harbored and hosted refugees for decades. Their story is one of quiet steady persistence. The Catholic and Jewish communities of Savannah each have stories of welcoming people forced from their homelands by prejudice and injustice.

That effort isn’t free, and can only be undertaken with the consent and financial support of the congregation. It was risky dangerous work, undertaken with the full understanding of the potential consequences.

There are pastors willing to take those kinds of risks for justice today – but if their congregations aren’t on board, they can’t.

I’m not sure where my heart is right now on this, but it’s worth thinking about. If we can build a worship that’s more Beatitudes than brimstone, and more Samaritan than Pharisee? Is that worth giving up all my anger and joining? What can we accomplish working within the body of the church that we can’t working outside of it, or against it?

I know that’s a lot of questions. I don’t have the answers – but it feels like finding them is vital to making progress.

To wrap up, here’s a list of ideas of things to do to get some energy and make some progress. It’s not comprehensive. It’s just a start, but it’s better than nothing.

  • Get involved with organizations that are working to elect women and people of color to local, state and national office. The League of Women Voters is a great place to start. For me, I’m going to ship an email to the local head of Georgia’s WIN List as soon as I finish up here.
  • Pick one or two things you really care about and find an organization that works on those things. Join the fight. If we all pick one or two things and put in the work, we can collective work on all of the things. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the undertaking, but if we can all collectively make progress by each picking those one or two things, we make progress on everything.
  • Go be around passionate people. I’m an introvert, and even I felt completely energized by the event on Sunday.
  • Be kind to yourself. No one can do this alone, and no one expects you to. Bring a friend. Bring lots of friends.

I’ll leave the last word for Annie Dillard, who is more eloquent than I’ll ever be:

Make connections; let rip; and dance where you can.