June 18, 2017

A Man of All Markets

I’m almost done listening to an audiobook A Man for All Markets read by its author and I’m fascinated by two things. First, the parallels between risk, casino, gambling and the stock market. Second, the fact that the author was innovating and constantly moving forward into areas which are still not saturated and still unproved away from techniques and areas which became more competitive and mainstream. Natural curiosity and data-driven non-emotional approach helped the author a lot! These are my notes about the book which I highly recommend reading, so if next time someone tells you that the casino always wins, your can refer them to this book which proved otherwise.

June 03, 2017

10 Easy Tips to Create More Time in Your Life

Being busy has became a badge of honor. For me, it’s just plain stupid. I do a lot of things but I’m not busy. In fact, one of the questions people ask me a lot is “How do you find time?”

First of all, you cannot find it. It’s not a pair of sun glasses which you left at a beach. You can’t find time or lose it… but you can spend it on stupid things or lasting valuable good things.

Let me give some examples of stupid thing that I generally avoid doing and some time tips:

  1. Avoid texting with friends - just freaking call or talk in person when you want talk, and use text is only for scheduling hangouts
  2. Use activities which do not require focus like folding laundry, washing dishes or writing HTML to listen to audio books and good podcasts. That’s how I was able to consume over 200 books in the last three years.
  3. Avoid reading Facebook timeline or looking at Instagram news feed. Only post, don’t consume.
  4. Avoid checking Twitter feed and when you do only subscribe to a handful of people, no more than 200 people and look into “In case you missed it”
  5. Watch movie trailers instead of full movies. I only watch movies trailers in planes that’s enough to see all the good scenes and in 80% of the cases understand the plot… but even that makes me want to puke either because modern movies are so brain-dead or full of loser-oriented propaganda (e.g., Hangover)
  6. Pretend TV and cable do not exist and skip commercials by getting Netflix or Amazon Prime if you want some dumb entertainment
  7. Ignore surveys or providing feedback beyond stars or thumbs on hotels, flights, books, apps, services
  8. Avoid writing reviews unless I really want for my own notes/thinking as I did with Managing Humans or Antifragile
  9. Avoid being tired because when you are tired you want to take a break, a long weekend or a vacation. Don’t get tired in the first place! To do so, eat property, exercise and have a good sleep every night.
  10. Avoid reading popular magazines, Medium, blog posts, news—ignorance is a bliss in these cases

Don’t confuse activity with results. Being busy is not equates with achieving a lot. Observe what things are wasteful and not productive. Just the act of observing will help you to gain more time to be more productive while spending less time and being less busy and tired!

May 27, 2017

Success Formula

Before I wrote that success is boring. It still sounds true to me now, but I noticed a simple yet powerful formula for success. It works in almost all cases as far as I know based on dozens of biographies and autobiographies I’ve read and heard.

Success is talent plus hard work plus luck.

Talent is about up-brining and genes. It’s related to luck but the luck formula component itself is more about present and future than predetermined past of early childhood, country of origin, language or culture.

The luck in the formula could be generated by more hard work (more activity leads to more opportunity), but it’s not a guaranteed linear relationship because statistically numbers could be low for the cause and effect to play out.

Hard work is self explanatory. More talent can require less hard work and vice versa if you are less talented you could compensate to a certain degree with hard work.

So three components are related and might affect one another but as a general direction this formula clear and universal. It makes going for success in any area straightforward.

April 08, 2017

How to Use Social Media Right for Much Benefit and to Stay Sane and Productive

Most people use social media wrong. They scroll through what seems to be a never ending timeline…down, down, down. They come back in half an hour and scroll again to see something new. Down, down, down… and when they see the posts they’ve already seen earlier in the day, they switch to another app: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Vine, Snapchat, WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Skype. When they’ve checked everything they have installed and signed up for… it’s time to repeat the cycle.

People check social media on their phone, but then they are on their laptops or desktop computers. It’s time to check everything again because, you know, something new might have happened or after all, Facebook website and Facebook mobile app are so different from each other! 😏

Wrong, wrong, wrong. You are just consuming low quality content for a thrill of dopamine released by your novelty seeking lizard brain (Amygdala) 🐲. You are a gambling addict, a slot machine junking pulling the lever down, down, down. You are wasting time, getting full of ads, and losing your brain cycles (where the focus goes energy flows).

The right usage of media about harnessing the power of social media to your benefit, here are some of the examples:

  • Message, video, chat with friends and organize in-person meetings. Connecting has never been so cheap and easy.
  • It’s not what you know, it’s whom you know so keep your contacts saved for future interactions (your rolodex), both business (Twitter, LinkedIn) and personal (Facebook, WhatsApp)
  • Post valuable, useful and interesting updates. Sorry but what you ate for breakfast or what is the view form of your window does NOT count unless you are a celebrity (they are forgiven).

I check my social media accounts just once a week. I almost never look at the timeline and never for a long period of time. I proactively reach out to people, search topics and hashtags, and then message and comment. I check my notifications and reply to the ones that need replies. I deleted all the social media apps from my phone and don’t miss them. It helps me to focus on important matters and act instead of reacting. 😇

Use social media to your advantage and don’t let social media consume you!

April 01, 2017

How to Create an Online Course in Five Simple Steps

Create an online course to learn something yourself, to promote one of your other products, to help others and to make millions. Here are the five simple steps.

First, pick a topic. To create an online course, you are NOT required to have expertise in a topic. Although having it will speed up the process from a few weeks, or even months, to a few day, or even hours. Seriously. It took me 0 time to create my first online course on Node. I just invited a friend to record my workshop. I already knew the material. The course has close to 20,000 students now.

Then, create an outline. Give it to someone who is not your lover or close friend because they are NOT likely to give you an honest feedback. Even better, ask someone to pay you for the course based on the outline. It’s called MVP and pre-sales. It’s the best way to test an idea.

Third, create slides. I use Deckset but you can use Powerpoint or Keynotes. Whatever you already know or the fastest to learn. Google presentation is the best choice after Markdown.

Fourth, find a quiet place, and then record voice overs. If you’re on macOS, then you can just use QuickTime. I use Screenflow which is just $100. You might need to re-record a few times before you get it right. It’s normal. No pressure. No one will see your failures.

Fifth, upload videos somewhere. You can use simplistic YouTube or Vimeo, or more advanced Teachable or Thinkific. It doesn’t matter at this point too much, so don’t spend hour upon hours on research. The goal is to find at least 10 customers for your course and get their feedback. After that you can always update slides, re-record videos or change platforms.

To summarize,

  1. Pick a topic
  2. Create an outline
  3. Create slides
  4. Record voice over videos (slides + audio)
  5. Upload videos

What are you waiting for? Your students need you. Go and create a course!

PS: If you are interested in hearing my full story on how I transitioned from writing coding books to being an online course creator, then I wrote a book about it. Check it out. It’s called ProgWriter 2.

March 11, 2017

Idiocy of Open Offices

I’ve been doing software engineering for over 15 years now, and I always had to sit in an open office space. Sometimes like at FDIC or NIH, I had a short wall to form a noise barrier- sort of a cubicle. The walls are only shoulder length so they are still a galaxy away from being sound proof. Especially when the desk is in the hallway like how mine was at FDIC, or near a chatty NIH colleague who spends hours everyday talking with someone on the phone in loud Cantonese. Argh. Human voice is very distracting even when you don’t understand it.

However, that set up is luxury compared to the idiocy of open offices practiced by startup and large corporations on the West Coast. There are rows upon rows of narrow tables with 50 or 100+ people in giant rooms. Tables to tables. Rows and rows. This is a 21st analog of an industrial age factory.

But in this information age, the metrics are not tangible goods. They are harder to measure, and this is what fools senior leadership, office designers, founders and CEOs/COOs. Activity is not “result”. Do they put everyone in the open to reduce slacking because they can’t effectively measure results? (Slack and IM are constant distractions too but that’s a different story. At least you can turn them off!)

In fancy San Francisco unicorn “startups” or giant Silicon Valley corporations, you can be next to a ping pong, foosball or a product manager. With all this noise and distractions, people can’t work. They tire quickly because they go to chat with co-workers, laugh, and play another stupid game which should be banned from any office, which only adds to the noise even more. Catch 22.

Since there’s little work that can be done between 9-5pm, people come early or stay late… or work from home to get at least something done. When they are in the office from 9 to 5, only shallow work gets done. Deep work is almost impossible in an open office. That, and distractions in the form of useless meetings, social media, email arguments, long lunch breaks sprinkled with lots of coffee breaks and gossiping- just anything to kill the time.

And no, noise cancelling headphones are not a solution because the music is a distraction itself and none of it will help from a nerf dart being shot at you (as often happened at DocuSign and was source of constant(something is missing here)).

The bottom line is that open office employees become dumber because all they can do is shallow work. Also some of them will become:

  • More negative: Social media, procrastination and late night works at home to catch up
  • Dissatisfied: Deep work is very rewarding
  • Fatter: All the stress, and the extra snack (typically free), and coffee breaks will increase your chances of survival if you ever will be marooned on a deserted island

Companies waste money because they are paying for unproductive time. Yes. Companies save on real estate, but if there are more remote workers there would be virtually zero demand for office space for them.

I’ve noticed, most of my best work happens in early mornings or late evenings when I’m at alone at the office or at home and the neighbors’ twin toddlers are not crying. I hate open offices. They are just a bit better than working from a cafe or an airplane. At least in a cafe you are surrounded by strangers and not obligated to talk to them.

People are in the open office trap. Some escaped it by working only remotely. Good for them, but for the rest of us it’s a vicious circle of frustration, stress, dissatisfaction and becoming dumber due to inability to perform at peak level and do deep work.

Let’s come up with a solution. How about having library rule in an office like what BaseCamp has? No games, no nerf guns, no talking on the freaking phone (even if you’re a product manager). And the community areas and kitchens can have all the collaboration, chat and noise they want. :)

PS: Michael Lopp in his top-seller book Managing Humans, which I highly recommend reading, refers to collaboration as “a word used to convince you to work with people you’d rather avoid.”

March 04, 2017

Why Goals Are for Losers, How to Generate Luck and to be Promoted for Being Unqualified

Last week, I finished reading Scott Adam’s How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. Scott is the creator of the Dilbert cartoon series. He is also a hypnotist and a master of the mindset. I highly recommend his book. Here are the three nuggets:

Goals are for losers. Use routines instead. Routines will make you have progress without constantly focusing on how far your goal is. So keep your goals but don’t obsess over them being too far. Instead build routines and system to make progress towards your goals daily or at least weekly.

Luck can be generated. It’s a product of your skills. The more relevant skills you have, the better. Learning skills like public speaking, hypnosis, writing, programming, or second language (or third like I am doing right now) - all will increase your chances and luck.

Promotion could be given for being unqualified. This is how Scott was promoted in not one but two big companies. His job wasn’t what he was supposed to do but finding and interviewing for the next job. Think about it. Interviewing and day job are often two very separate things and skill sets. This is very true in tech and IT field! My own experience of frustration over tech interviewing is described in I will puke if I hear array search interview question again.

Scott has many other gems in his book. He is also funny, but not too funny since the book is actually on a serious topic of success, career and the proper mindset. Get your own copy and read it!

February 04, 2017

How to Find Time: Stop Finding and Start Creating It

When people hear that I published 14 books and several online courses while speaking at 17 conferences in 2016 and working full time at Capital One on hands-on projects, they ask one question: “How do you find time?”. Simple answer is I don’t.

I never lost time to find it. Every day each of us gets 24 hour. Not more and not less. Generally it’s not a lack of time but a lack of energy. Have you ever come from work and felt tired, then had dinner and vegetated on a sofa watching yet another TV show? I use this time to write books, blogs, and courses.

I also create time. People like to watch movies while flying. I write this blog post right now as I’m 10000s feet up in the air. People like to play games on their iPhones and Android while in a subway commuting to work (I hope not while driving!). I listen to books and podcasts to educate myself and stay on top of current technologies and events. People spend time looking at social media to become negative because they can’t keep up with the Jones. I get my relevant news from digests and newsletters while automating social media postings.

In the end, time is not the problem and often times you can create more time. Having enough energy is more important, and flow and paleo helps me with that.

January 22, 2017

Flow

Flow is a blissful state of activity in which time is distorted and reality is ignored. Programming, writing, painting are all examples of a flow.

Distractions kill flow. Emails, IMs, noise are examples of such flow killers. Each distraction not only robs you of your amazing flow time, but it also taxes the mental capacity to get back into the flow. So a 5-minute detour typically cost 15-20 minutes because it takes time to remember the last step, focus and remove residual thinking. That 30-minute call actually ate 1-1.5 hours because you stopped the flow 15 minutes prior the call at a stopping point so you are not in the middle and have plenty of time to dial in. Then you had to get back into the flow after the call which took at lest 15 minutes more. That’s a 3-4x increase which don’t account for. But that’s not the only problem with work fragmentation.

It is more exhaustive to multitask (which is a form of constant switching) than to be in the flow. Most of us had a tiresome day when we can’t name a thing we accomplished because there were meetings, calls, conversations, urgent things, emails and IMs. I feel more tired when I try (and fail) to multitask in a meeting by checking emails or taking notes.

So flow feels good, it’s more productive and produces a higher quality results (Deep Work). Good. Then why the multitasking habit is so prevalent in our day and age? I’ll blame the internet.

You see, the Internet is a network built on server client architecture. Clients, a.k.a. as browsers, make requests to remote servers to fetch information or to send it. There’s delay. The delay was way worse a decade ago. That’s why there are tabs in a browser. I noticed that I tend to open multiple webpages using “Open in a New Tab”, then start with the first while others are loading. It was saving me minutes a decade ago but now the time saved is negligible. However, I’m distracted by jumping from the content of one task to another.

For programmers, compilation time is something they utilize by multitasking. So tempting to check IM messanger while my Webpack is transpiling JavaScript! Or Maven and Java for you, Java devs. Engineers are great of optimizing after all. They try to optimize their time too… at a cost of breaking the flow. They are also very curious (as noted in Managing Humans) which makes them good at learning but prone to losing focus.

The solution is to resist to optimize the waiting time. Use the waiting time to continue to work on the same task… or just sit and stare at that rotating loading icon. I despise SMS/text messages for this because you can drag a 5-minute call into a multi-day correspondence. If you send me anything other than an address, phone number, price or your SSN, I’ll ignore you.

To add to the habit of optimizing the waiting time, there’s over-reliance on external resources like online search, documentation, colleagues and forums. Every time you need to look up something, you risk of going down the rabbit hole, getting distracted by unrelated content. If I can write a book without a research, I can do it in a few day. (In fact, I wrote ProgWriter in a day while on a internet-less train ride from Portland, Oregon to Oakland, California.)

The solution is to get all you need offline. Some email clients like Outlook allow you to switch to offline mode. The programming library APIs can be remembered after you use them a few times. Offline docs like man command, reading source code in node_modules, or Dash app are other options. If not feasible to remember something, then just leave a TK or TODO and batch up the search for a later time.

Finally, the third type of distraction is the distractions are the easiest to eliminate because they are external. Things like noise, email notifications, etc. Sitting near a ping pong table, foosball or sales team is the worst! Solution: turn do not disturb mode ON, stop working in cafes and/or office, download music without words (Spotify has music from video games), process emails instead of checking them, and let people know that you respond only once a day or even better once a week.

It might be hard to adjust at first. You might feel good about being in the flow for an hour or two. Maybe three. But then feel an urge to peek into email or news or social media. What is someone needs you? What if something important happened? Resist. It’ll go away. Take a walk in the park or around the office if needed, and get back into the flow of your task. I read somewhere that humans can only spend two to four (2-4) hours per day in an intense focus. You are a human, right? The do the important things first while your brain is still fresh and will power the strongest.

PS: I remember I was able to have a TV in the background and still work (and play) on my computer when I was younger. I am sure that I wasn’t doing as much focused and advanced work back then. My guess is that over the years of programming and meditation practice, I developed the ability to focus deeper on my work by using flow. Conclusion? The deeper your work (which requires flow) the more sensitive and damaging the distractions are.

January 04, 2017

I Don't Need Your Feedback

I was at a conference and some guy told me after a quick chat “I’ll give you my feedback on Node University”. No, I don’t need your feedback. I don’t even know if you are my target audience. 👊

Sometimes we assume all feedback is good. The more the better. Bring it on! This is especially true if you’ve been feedback starved which usually means you didn’t have enough users or no one really cared. Ugh.

Let’s put aside Lean Startup, most of feedback is garbage because the person who is giving it:

  • Not a customer 💰: They are NOT paying you money and most likely never will, therefore they are NOT your target audience. Of course, first you must have a paid product or a service. You can replace paying with actively engaging.
  • Not a majority 💯: Minority which means you should NOT cater to their needs — use 80/20 rule.
  • Not an expert 🎓: They don’t know what’s best. It’s your job to be on the cutting-edge of innovation and bring the goodies to the user. It’s not the user’s job to know about the new stuff. (Think Ford and horses.)

The downsides of listening to too much wrong feedback is a feature creep, fashion-driven development and lack of innovation. For example, most of my negative reviews on Amazon are written by people who never read the books’ introductions and most of them never finished reading the books either. Ignore.

Feedback is proliferating. Uber ride? Leave your feedback. Hotel stay? Fill out a survey. Meal in a restaurant? Comment on Yelp. Listened to a conference talk? Fill a survey. Watched an online course? Leave stars. Read a book? Write a review… But we know so little about the background of those reviewers! Be careful who you are listening to, because you are missing on other opportunities… use some feedback filter like the one I listed above.