January 01, 2017

Shaming is Good

Shaming is good because it’s a strong motivator to change. If you have a trouble with the word itself due to negative bias, then substitute it with peer pressure or environment.

Humans as tribal creatures evolved to conform, for the most part, to our environment. It’s done via shaming. Let’s take an accent for example. Most people will adapt to the accent of their region to fit in. They do it automatically, both adults and children. Children do it faster, because there’s more shaming from other children. Thus, there’s a stronger motivator.

To expand on accents, when I worked on the East Coast in the IT industry as an app developer, I was surrounded by other foreigners and native English speakers. But neither of them who would correct pronunciation or point out. The foreigners didn’t care or knew and native speaker were polite to correct such trivialities (which are not trivial at all). As a result, there was very little motivation and even awareness to not just to change an accent, but event to pronounce words correctly. It seemed like no one cared… and of course adults and professionals just more tolerant and mature to laugh (form of shaming) at other adults’ pronunciation.

Lack of shaming could be one of the reason why despite being dumber kids learn accents faster than adults do. The latter just coast in their blissful ignorance once they acquire the minimum functional level. I’m sure you can find other examples of good shaming like switching to macOS from Windows, picking up a new programming language because PHP is not cool anymore, finding a better job or to dumping that crazy girlfriend. :)

Shaming is an important fail check that prevent individuals to fall below a certain level. Of course, too much shaming like too much of almost anything is bad… however, no shaming at all can lead to no personal or career growth at all.

December 28, 2016

What I Learned Reading 200 Books 📚

I’m not a huge fan of reading. In fact, I don’t like reading. But I love getting better, finding out something new and useful.

You can talk only to few interesting people in-person. The limit is in time, location or just that they won’t talk with you. Books are a transferable information. Good info can change career, life, relationships… everything!

So three years ago I start reading and logging books I read or listened to in a spreadsheet. Also, I was writing number of page or hours along with brief book summaries. I reached 200 with this breakdown:

  • 2014: 33 books
  • 2015: 67 books with 26 audio and 41 digital or print
  • 2016: 101 books with 75 audio and 26 in digital or print

Just the audio books for 2016 amount to over 400 hours of content. That’s 50 days of 8-hour listening per day. Almost all of the books were non-fiction. So here’s what I learned:

  • Books are not created equal: So books are junk or should be 50 not 350 pages because they don’t have than much substance. Most modern non-fiction books are junk.
  • Listening on 1.5x and speed reading rocks.
  • I really don’t like printed books. Kindle is a way to go!
  • Successful people have different rules, habits, approaches which often contradict other successful people. Thus, don’t listen to their advices. It’s not what brought them success. (Icons and Idiots by Bob Lutz).
  • History and biographies (especially auto biographies) tend to be the better books.
  • Eat my frogs first to get things done.
  • Black Swans can be good and bad. To benefit from good black swans, you have to take risk and action.
  • Writing books is more fun than reading books. I should write a non-technical book next.
  • Monopoly is good if you are the monopoly (Zero to One)
  • Wheat, bread, and GMO are evil. I knew it before but it’s good to be reminded.
  • Why steak houses make you eat in darkness (Mindless Eating).
  • Less is more (The Paradox of Choice).

That’s more or less all. It’s extremely hard to summarize books. The way they work, is that they take you on a journey and influence your subconscious. In the end you might have new ideas or perspective without realizing it’s from a book.

Bonus! My top 5 list:

  1. Antifragile
  2. Deep Work
  3. The Next 100 Years
  4. Made in America
  5. Grain Brain

December 23, 2016

Check vs. Process Emails

I stopped saying “I’m checking my email”, because I almost never check them. That’s true. I stopped checking my emails a few years ago, and it brought more focus, fun and productivity to my life.

Instead of checking my emails, I process them. What is the difference? Checking is looking at the inbox, fishing for urgent, filtering non-urgent and plain spam but answering only to urgent. This will make you seem like a very responsive person to senders, but most of the times they can wait a few hours or even a few days. If they are your clients or employees, then they’ll learn to batch items and not treat email like an IM, or write only as the last resort after they took a stub at or googled a question they want to ask.

Processing on the other hand is dealing with all emails from first to last. It’s inbox 0, but I take it to extreme. In the productivity method called Get Things Done (GTD), the author of the method recommends to respond to an email if it’s less that 2 minutes. I process an email which I estimate would take under 30 minutes right away. The reason is that I don’t want to star an email or move it to my todo list. I’ll be harder to come back to it. I’m already in the context by reading it, so I will benefit from not having a context switch. I take care of the email and the task right there.

A few words about mobile email processing. Sorry, but it’s not possible in most cases. Okay, maybe your work and life is different. Maybe all you need is your brain and a few sentences of reply in most of the cases. My work and life require me to have at my disposal developer tools, writing and publishing apps, calendar, word processor, etc. Therefore, I never process emails on my phone. Yes, I still do have the app to get some useful information like a travel itinerary but that’s it. Whatever time is gained by me filtering out quick responses and dealing with them at a Starbucks line is lost by the cognitive load of task switching and open loops of myriads of unfinished tasks marked by stars, flags and (worse) unread to move it back to inbox.

Human brains are wired for novelty so we see the thrill of new urgent emails and avoid non-urgent or boring. Casinos exploit this trait in their slot machines. Email apps and slot machine even have the same motion downwards: scroll down the inbox and pull down a lever.

It take longer to process emails than to check them once. However, processing is faster than checking emails over and over, and then one more time when you doing the task asked in the email. That’s what usually happens. All those unclosed loops overwhelm us. Argh.

Liberate yourself. Start processing instead of checking. I process my personal emails only once a day or ever every other day when I’m traveling. I love it.

December 16, 2016

Barbel Theory Applied to a Career in Tech

After reading Nassim Taleb’s great book Antifragile, I saw how one can apply the barbell theory, which he described in the book, to building a career in tech:

  • Focus 80-90% of fundamentals like algorithms, data structures, specifications (W3C), standards (ECMAScript), etc.: These concepts are less prone to changes.
  • Focus 10-20% on riskier but more promising new things which haven’t even been discovered by early adopters let alone the early majority.
  • Focus 0 on stuff in the middle

If your bet on 20% of the riskier stuff is correct, you’ll be ahead of the Rogers’ bell curve. If not, then you are still safe with your 80% in the fundamentals. Maybe you even learned something like a special pattern which can be applied to another concept or language in the future. For example, functional programming.

In my career, I followed the Barbell Theory without knowing about it. I got bachelors and masters degrees, the safest bet one can make. Then I focused on web development which is NOT very exciting but very ubiquitous and always in demand. That’s my 80%.

Then, I branched out into Node.js which was very controversial in 2011-2012. Node.js is mainstream now. Also, I started writing books which is one of the most riskier activities to do (high chance of failure).

In his book Quitter, Jon Acuff starts the narrative with advice NOT to quit a job. I agree with him 150%. It’s way better and easier to take long-term riskier and more impactful bets when you have your steady base. Your 80%. I did my writing while still holding a full-time job. That’s barbell again. Moreover, teaching in-person and online, working full-time job, and writing fed one of another. Writing and teaching made me a better developer and vice versa.

So start a project on a weekend. Pick up a new language and read learn it over the holidays. If there’s a book on the language or framework—it’s too late. IGNORE the stuff in the middle. Ignore the noise, but know about the trends, and see a big one you can jump on while still standing on a solid ground. That’s the barbell theory in action.

December 13, 2016

Escapism: Stop Wasting Time and Distracting Yourself with Traveling

A lot of people are brainwashed into spending their hard-earned money into enduring stresses of traveling and adjusting to new places for subpar experiences. They even say: Work hard, play hard. Why?! Because resorts need to make money. Seriously, most people prefer the escapism and procrastination. Is it really worth it?

Let’s be honest, if you are a tourist, it’s harder to find good (price/value) food, gym, entertainment comparing to when you are local. There are even guide on how to travel like a local because traveling like a tourist gives people subpar and overpriced experiences. Also, traveling is a dangerous, time consuming stressful hassle.

To sum up:

  1. You waste time waiting in lines and for transportation (procrastination!)
  2. You risk germs, terrorist attacks, malfunctions, criminals
  3. You spend more on worst food/lodging/etc.
  4. You have to use slower internet
  5. You risk comparing and keeping up with the Joneses (distractions!)

Travel for business is okay, but only if any other means like Skype won’t cut it. Most of the times, video and voice calls will do it! Think clearly if this urge is an urge to escape the difficulties instead of facing them. Procrastinating instead of solving problems. If you need some rest, then consider a staycation—you won’t need to pay extra and risk a bad experience. You can find more piece and calm closer to you. Maybe go to a spa or on a hike. No need to fly to Cancun or Las Vegas and end up even more tired.

December 13, 2016

Why Liking to Travel and Enjoying the Journey is Stupid

Every time someone says: “I like traveling”, I know they are lying. Typically these people don’t travel much, or they foolishly think living in a foreign country for more than few weeks is traveling (hint: it’s called living in a country, if you stay there more than 3-4 weeks)… or they are plain simple masochists.

“Enjoy the journey, not the destination” is a bunch of crap. People who say enjoy the journey and the destination are CONFUSED. I want the destination. I like the destination. I need the destination. I like to have a walk the streets of Paris, or a cup of coffee in Plaza Vieja in Habana, or soak in blue lagoon in Reykjavik or eat pig knuckle in Prague. Why should I enjoy the commute to the airport, going thru security lines, sitting in closed spaced with stranger and all other troubles of traveling?

Let’s call things properly. Traveling is not being at a place and experiencing good things. Screw the journey. Enjoy the destination!

December 02, 2016

Small Stuff

Are you worried about small stuff and losing the big picture? Some people worry about whether they should cut down on coffee, walk more, eat less carbs, get more Starbucks reward and credit card miles, watch the latest TV show, or who said what on social media. All this B.S. Just thinking about these things makes me tired. Most of the time they worry about small stuff. That’s a great way to lose focus.

Why do they do it? To stay in the comfortable, but average mediocrity. To procrastinate. To avoid doing the big scary stuff.

Keep your eyes on the big goal. Put reminders everywhere. Stay laser focused. Do the most important scary thing first in the day, and the small stuff won’t matter that much.

November 08, 2016

How to Fight Perfectionism

Most of us intuitively understand that better products and services is better for you as an employee or business owner. They can attract more customers and propel you to success, whatever that is for you. Some of us know the inspiring stories of obsessed entrepreneurs who drove the product to perfection amidst delays and budget overruns (e.g., Steve Jobs). Common sense tells us that the less flaws there is, the better. It could be due to our experience as a consumer of goods. It could be because we learned it in schools where we avoided errors in our homework and tests.

However, things are not as easy in life and business as in school. On the other side of the spectrum is the analysis paralysis and procrastination, never published manuscripts and never deployed code. Sometimes it pays off to do half-baked experiments and fail once in a while. There’s a whole methodology around it called Lean Startups. Unfortunately, almost none of us hear about myriads of other entrepreneurs who didn’t make it.

There’s time to polish and improve, and there’s time to call it’s done even when it’s not perfect. After all, done is better than perfect undone. Here’s a quick list of things you can do to fight perfectionism:

  • Take more projects: This will force you to finish the current projects faster. Commit and then decide how to deliver!
  • Set deadlines and share them with important people like clients, bosses, co-workers
  • Don’t sleep enough for three nights or work at nights: I noticed that my perfectionism goes down when I am tired and just want to finish a project
  • Outsource: Hiring is like buying time. It’s like cheat codes in video games only it’s better for everyone (you, your client and the person you are hiring)
  • Remember your WHYs: Why are you doing this?
  • Divide products and features into two categories: incremental improvement (perfectionism is the key) and ground-breaking (first-to-release is the key).

Making a better widget is fulfilling which in turn is important. But when you do so beyond a reason, ask yourself a question: Am I afraid of success? Is this a self-sabotage? Procrastination? If yes, then kill the perfectionism excuse and finish the project. In this case, perfection is a burden and an obstacle.

October 15, 2016

Ego is the Friend: Review on Ego Is the Enemy

Recent Ryan’s book is another popular junk-read which have 0 substance and not only waste time but actually distract.

Contrary to the title of another popular junk-read Ego Is the Enemy, I should say that ego is the friend if you want to change or achieve anything in life. Every time you think I’m a good software developer you will have to back it up with action. If you decide to lose weight, it’s far more useful to say to yourself “every day in every way, I’m getting leaner and healthier” than to stick to your old ego of a person who has bad genes, heavy bones or stress full life.

The examples in the book are terrible. They are not accurate and distorted to support the author’s point of view. His choice to consider two Union generals and 0 Confederate generals while most historians agree that Confederates had better generals is biased.

Most of all, the author never proves that ego is bad or is the enemy. He tell anecdotes without any studies. Why a person became successful? It could be because he identified himself with success and had big ego. Yes, maybe he failed later because he stopped delivering great results but that doesn’t support the hypothesis that ego is bad. Correlation does not equal causation.

Bottom line: avoid this book.. and maybe this one as well and all other Tim Ferriss related junk-reads.

October 13, 2016

Bad Long Weekends: 6-Day Workweek Manifesto

Weekend Office

Weekends are too long… waaaay too loooong. Two full days! We should switch to 6-day workweeks.

You might think I’m crazy, because recently some companies started to experiment with 4-day workweeks instead of normal 5, not 6. Even some countries toyed with the idea to make it a law. Also, books like 4-hour Workweek became the best seller because people want to work less.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Believe me. I thought it all through. People need to work more, not less to achieve satisfaction. We need more workdays. Here are my reasons to work 6 days (if not for the entire country then just for you):

  • Same total number of hours: People can spend in deep work only up to 4 hours per day. So leave earlier than typical 5pm during the week, hit the gym, and come to work on Saturday. And according to studies, people on average actually work only 4 hours anyway. The rest is Facebook, chatting with co-workers and breaks.
  • Increased productivity: Open office is a detriment to productivity. You are less distracted on Saturdays so you can get more done.
  • Increased income: If you don’t work then you are more likely to spend money on “relaxing” or entertainment such as eating out, trips, shopping, etc. This is a double whammy because you are not just spending more but you are earning less. For example, your weekend getaway didn’t cost $400 for hotel and $200 for food, but $1,400 ($600 PLUS $800 which you could have made during the leisure time).
  • Increased satisfaction: You can get ahead on your projects faster be it for work or side gigs. It will create momentum, motivation and move you ahead even faster.
  • Increased learning: After two days of not working on a thing I often forget what I needed to do. Loss of context is waste. By working on a project everyday I can stay focused.
  • Bible says so: Even if you are not a religious person, you can learn a thing or two from a 2000-year best seller which says to rest only ONE day.
  • Litmus test for a job change: If you can’t make yourself think of working on your primary job for one extra day per week. If just think about it makes you wanna puke back your organic smoothie, then maybe it’s time to find yourself a better one.

I’ve been working 6 days per week on either my main full time job, side-projects or taking classes for more than a decade. I feel weird if I have to take two days off in a week. There’s nothing to do by the second day. All the rest is done. All the errands are done. You start coming up with stupid activities like “Oh, let’s go to the beach!” or “I should buy a motorcycle!”… which most of the time only make you exhausted by Monday instead of helping you to recharge.

Researched proved that human brains relax when they switch tasks not when they have nothing to do. Replenish your energy by switching tasks and picking a creative side-project in which you have a lot of control like building your own app or contributing to open source. My thing is writing books and recording video courses. Also, Saturdays are great for reading, learning, thinking, reflecting, goal setting and budgeting.

With so many benefits, working 6 days per week is a non-brainer. Be smart and work hard at the same time!