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DaedTech Digest: The Long Road Home

In late September, I started a little digest series with this post about packing for a slow travel stint.  From there, we got settled, hiked, battled US border patrol, rolled with the punches, and packed to go.  So I should probably book-end things with our glorious return home.

What’s a Return from Slow Travel Like?

So you’ve been on the road for a month or three.  What’s it like to go home?  (Or, in the case of Amanda and me, back to a lake house that functions as our primary legal residence)?

In this case, it was… tiring.

We left Vermont on a Wednesday at about noon, drove through two days of driving rain, and arrived in Michigan Thursday night after spending Wednesday night in Buffalo, New York.  I did all of that driving, so I was pretty wiped out.

But, when we come home from extended car travel, I don’t like to leave a car full of stuff for the next day.  Hauling cats around for a couple of days is dirty business, and I like to clean everything out of the Jeep and try to make it a normal car again.  So a 9 PM arrival time is usually followed, first and foremost, by unpacking the top loader, carrying everything in, and cleaning out the back.

For me, I also then tend to unpack almost immediately.  Everything out of its suitcase and back to where it belongs.  My desktop rig set up, the Amazon echoes plugged back in, and everything somewhere familiar, so that I can wake up the next day to normalcy.  I believe this is a habit I acquired in all of my years of management consulting, always wanting to create some semblance of normal in a hotel before I woke up the next day.

Settling Back in… Or Not

So that was Thursday night.  8 hours of driving, followed by several hours of unpacking.  You also do other things, like turn the water heater back on, wonder why the hot water smells strange, sweep to see if strange bugs or other things have infested your house in the last month, make sure everything works, etc.  And, strangely, if you’re anything like me, you completely forget where all the silverware goes.

And then you settle back in.  Or, at least you would, if you didn’t have to leave again 36 hours later.

As it turned out, our Michigan-time was short lived.  There was fun to have in Chicago, where we had some overdue family plans to attend to.  So not 36 hours removed from a month on the road, Amanda and I packed weekend bags and got back in the Jeep to head to Chicago.

And we had some fun, including going with my mom to see Hamilton and then to have dinner looking out at the Chicago river.  Pictured here is Amanda, enjoying a swanky adaptation on the corn dog — a lobster dog.  The lobster dog is something you’d have assumed we’d encounter out East, but, no, we had to come to Chicago to find it.

Just goes to show you, if you never stop moving, you never stop experiencing fascinating things.

Picks

  • I sometimes make pretty corporate picks, and this will be one of those times.  I’m picking Chase Bank, particularly for business.  As Hit Subscribe grows, we’re moving our banking over to Chase, and getting set up with them was insanely easy.
  • As I was re-promoting old blog posts this week, I discovered one I’d written in favor of SemanticMerge, which has only gotten cooler since I wrote about it.  If you want a tool that understands your code well enough not to destroy your diff when you move a method around in a class, this is the tool for you.
  • And finally, I really enjoyed Hamilton.  It’s a play that swaps the traditional show tunes for hip hop numbers while chronicling the life of founding father and federalist, Alexander Hamilton.  And if that seems an odd juxtaposition, it is — in all of the best imaginable ways.

The Digest

This is a pretty thin digest.  Between traveling from Vermont to Michigan to Chicago to Michigan, I’ve kind of not produced much content.  Don’t worry, though.  I’ve got several more things coming out in the next few weeks.  In the interim, though, here are some videos:

  • In this Facebook live, Amanda and I talk about a day in the life of a location-independent, remote business owner.
  • And in another Facebook live, one of Hit Subscribe’s authors, Casey, and I, were on a business trip in San Francisco.  I interviewed Casey.

And, as always, have a good weekend.

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You Should Change the Reason People Pay You

Quick — what’s the reason people pay you?  Don’t ponder.  Just freeze the first thing that comes into your mind.

It’s probably something like this, especially if you’re a salaried programmer.

I have a valuable skill that’s in high demand: programming.

On a surface level, I can’t really argue with that.  Recruiters pester you constantly, and companies regale you with the superficial perks that can be yours if you just jump ship and come work for them.

But your skill and the demand for it aren’t the whole story.  In fact, I’d argue, they’re not even precisely the right story.

Why Do People Give Programmers Money?

Let’s tweak your prognosis slightly, without changing the economics around it.  You think of yourself as a knowledge worker that has a skill in high demand.  But your employer views you as a commodity in short supply.

What’s the difference?  Isn’t this semantic quibbling?

Not at all.  Inadequate supply can create excessive demand (or vice versa).  But they are not the same thing.  To understand what I mean, think of runs on grocery stores for canned goods before major storms come through.  Cans of baked beans are budget, commodity goods that nobody would generally call “valuable.”

But that all changes when a hurricane appears on the horizon and people hoard canned goods for the aftermath.  Gougers can charge way more for canned baked beans because it’s a commodity in short supply.

As a salaried programmer, you’re a can of baked beans.  Don’t confuse short supply with intrinsic value.  The world is starving for efficiency, and it anticipates even more starving later.  Employing you is a hedge.

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DaedTech Digest: Up and Leaving

For the last few weeks, I’ve paused with my normal Q&A about slow travel, in favor of writing about actual adventures.  I’ll do that one last time here today.  I’m sitting in Michigan right now, fresh off of a month in Vermont.  But we only just got in this evening, having left Wednesday morning.

And that made me think about the subject of leaving.  Nobody has asked, so it’s not Q&A.  But I figure, while it’s fresh in my mind, it’s worth talking about the end of a slow travel stint.

What happens when it’s time to go?  How do we prepare to leave?

Leaving from a slow travel stint tends to be easier than getting ready for one.  Amanda typically sets about packing a few days ahead, but I mostly stick to “night before and morning of” in some combination.  Packing is pretty easy, since it just involves rounding up everything that’s yours and leaving everything that isn’t.  For us, that’s mostly clothes and electronics.

But packing is only one part of the equation.

There’s also concluding any local business.  For us, this usually means going and closing out with a place like FedEx Office, where we’ve opened a local mailbox for forwarding.  But it might also mean wrapping up other things, like a local gym that Amanda has temporarily joined.

We stay in AirBNBs or VRBOs, which means we’re staying in individual people’s properties.  Sure, they’re optimized for vacations or stays, but they’re still other people’s places.  And unlike staying there for a few days, stuff goes wrong or weird when you stay places for months.

For instance, we accidentally cracked a bowl the other day.  So we bought the owner a new set of bowls at a local store, hoping that this would make up for the trouble.  We also re-stocked his carousel with K-cups, since he was nice enough to leave it stocked for us.  Getting ready to depart generally involves this sort of courtesy accounting.

Here’s another consideration.  As I’ve mentioned before, we take our pets with us.  And, as any pet owner knows, they’re messy.  So there’s always a pass to see if the cats have been doing anything horrible while we’ve been there, and remediating any issues we find in this sense.  They’re generally fine, but if they’ve puked on the hardwood somewhere or whatever, best not to leave that for anyone else.

What about having fun?

And then, finally, on the fun side, there’s last hurrahs.  You go to your favorite food spot one last time, take one last stroll through town, do one last jog… you get the idea.  For our last weekend in Vermont, we wanted to do some serious outdoors-y stuff, but the weather didn’t really cooperate.  So, instead, we did a lot of driving, ranging out into New Hampshire and Maine.  It wasn’t plan A, but it did yield some lovely views from the car, like this one.

Picks

  • Amanda and I listened to most of the book “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work” on the drive from Buffalo to Michigan today.  It’s sliced into a lot of bite sized chunks and has some good wisdom in there.  If you like a lot of what I have to say about the corporate condition, you’ll like this book.
  • We don’t watch much TV these days, but we had an awful lot of rain in 35 degree weather over the last week.  So we binge watched Ozark on Netflix.  It’s about a money launderer who — look, it’s hard to describe.  But it’s pretty interesting and engaging, so give it a watch if you’re looking for something.
  • Here’s where we stayed in Vermont.  It was a great place, for anyone finding themselves with reason to be in far northern Vermont.  You could go for the lake in the summer, the leaves in the fall, or ice fishing/skiing in the winter.

The Digest

And, as always, have yourselves a great weekend.

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Are There Actually Companies out There That Write Good Code?

Let’s do a reader question post today.  It’s been a while, huh?  I’m now answering different questions in different forums, so it can be hard to keep track of.  But this one fits squarely in the realm of the DaedTech blog.  So let’s do it.

This particular reader question is quite detailed, so I’m just going to post in verbatim without adding context.  It doesn’t really need it, in all of its detailed, semi-depressing glory.

Are Good Teams Writing Good Code a Myth?

The short version. Where are these mythical companies where people write code like you read about in blogs?

I’m in an odd place. While I’m no rock star I feel reasonably skilled. I left a soul-crushing Fortune 100 company for a consulting company a year ago and I’ve found that in one engagement after another I can quickly get up to speed and be productive. I write decent, unit-tested code that works, and it usually takes less time than I expect.

But, to put it bluntly, more often than not I find myself working on crap. Either the code rotted years ago and no one wants to improve it, or it’s in an early state of decay. Our Scrum is flaccid. I can still do some good work and occasionally enjoy it, but most days I sense a huge gap between what I do and what I can do. (I don’t think I’m Dunning-Kruger delusional. But who does?)

Sometimes I spend more time reading and practicing, but after a while I realize that I’ve become two developers: the one who works forty hours a week and the one whose hobby is practicing for nothing. I enjoy it, but not quite enough to do it just for the sake of doing it.

Are high-velocity agile teams who write great code nonexistent like unicorns or the real man Esquire tells me I’m supposed to be, or just needles in a haystack? Is there a different city I should move to?

Social Media Envy, But for Careers

Let’s get this out of the way up front.  Social media envy is the phenomenon where everyone puts a rosy spin on their lives for public consumption.  You see pictures of them at the Leaning Tower of Pisa or doing WTF-ever “hot yoga” is on a beach somewhere with 12 hard-bodied BFFs.  And then you look at the Cheetos crumbs on your shirt and on the couch from your day of binge-watching Married with Children reruns, and you wonder where you went so wrong.

This is the classic parallel to the discussion here, I suppose.  But I actually prefer a different one.  One that’s more career-focused, and right in my lane as a business owner.

Go listen to entrepreneurial podcasts.  And you hear endless success stories.  “Oh, yeah, here’s how I grew my T-shirt side hustle into an 8 figure business in 6 weeks.”  They’re cool to listen to, but it tends to be some of the most intentional survivorship bias imaginable, coupled with the same “best foot forward” attitude you see on social media.

As a business owner, this creates a sense that I’m constantly doing something badly wrong.  Why did I just work a 90 hour week and we’re somehow on track for less revenue than last month?  That doesn’t happen in the podcast, so there must be something deeply wrong with me.

All of this is to say that these good teams writing this good software probably have skeletons that you don’t perceive.  You are seeing, to some extent, unicorns and lantern jawed Esquire models.

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DaedTech Digest: Fear and Loathing at the Ben & Jerry’s Factory

We’ve had a good run in Northern Vermont (and a little in Canada), but we’re going to be wrapping up soon and heading back to Michigan.  (Well, actually, to Chicago-land, but that’s a different and sort of boring story.)  So we’re trying to sneak in all of the site-seeing while we can.

This led us, last weekend, to put on our best tourist hats.  And, if you’re a tourist in northern Vermont, especially on a day with rain in the forecast, you kind of have to tour the Ben & Jerry’s factory.  We looked on the site, thought it seemed fun, and noticed they took no reservations.  So we headed out for a 40 minute drive there to watch them make ice cream and then eat it.

Bedlam at the Ice Cream Factory Led to an Accidentally Awesome Day

It was a solid plan, but it all went terribly wrong.  I’m an introvert that prefers a massive bubble of personal space, and who doesn’t much care for touching strangers or being touched by them.  I loathe dense crowds.

We walked into the Ben & Jerry’s plant, and it appeared that the entire population of Vermont was in the lobby. There was yelling, jostling, pushing and crowding.  The air had to be 10 degrees warmer than anyone would have selected on a thermostat.  It was like elbowing through the crowd at the Louvre straining to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, but instead of the Mona Lisa, there was Funky Monkey.  Someone almost knocked Amanda over trying to get to the ticketing window.

And so, with no ill will toward Ben or Jerry, we bid a hasty retreat.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Leave them at Ben & Jerry’s and Let Them Make Lemon Ice Cream

This was a pretty big bummer because we found ourselves with no plans for the day at about noon.  But it actually worked out great.  We meandered over in our car to nearby Montpelier, where we discovered a mountain/forest preserve in the middle of the town.  We spent about 2 hours hiking around, and then decided to drive to Peacham, Vermont because it had a good view, or so Yelp or something said.

Peacham did have a good view.  Spectacular, in fact.  But there was really nothing there and nowhere to park, so we drove through it and just kept driving.  We found ourselves in a town called Littleton, right across the New Hampshire border.

Littleton was a really scenic town with a long river walk, shops and restaurants stretching out a long ways, and even a brewery restaurant and tasting house overlooking the river.  We passed delighted hours at a place neither of us had ever heard of that morning.

The moral of the story?  One of the beautiful things about slow travel is that it lets you turn busted tourist plans into unstructured days where you discover views like this one.

Picks

  • This week, I purchased a LinkedIn premium subscription (er, well, Hit Subscribe did).  I’m not exactly throwing it an endorsement, but it is interesting.  I think it sort of escalates anything you share as a priority, and it gives you a lot of extra data about companies and people and whatnot.  It’s free for a month, so, if you’re curious, you can always satisfy that curiosity.
  • I’m going to throw a nod to Amazon’s KDP interface for publishers of books.  Historically, one of my biggest gripes was how disjoint the metrics tracking experience is for publishers, but Amazon has been taking noticeable steps to improve this.
  • If you want Alexa on your Windows desktop, you can do it.  It’s not as easy as it seems like it should be, but you can make it happen nonetheless.

The Digest

  • Here’s another Hit Subscribe Facebook live video, in which we describe what it’s like to write for Hit Subscribe.
  • We’d been a little remiss in publishing new episodes of the Freelancers show, but we remedy that this week.  Here’s one where we talk about what to do when your clients are wrong about something that they want your help with.
  • On the new Make Me a Programmer Blog, I weigh in about why I think title differences like “software engineer” and “software developer” have no actual impact on what the jobs entail.

As always, have yourselves an excellent weekend.