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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.

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How to Become a Management Consultant

Last week, fate (via Hacker News) sent a lot of people to this post, about becoming a software consultant.  This actually resulted in a lot of new readers and followers.  So, first of all, hi to all of the new readers and followers.  But secondly, I’m about due for another consulting post.  So let’s talk today about how to become a management consultant.

This is going to be a guide to charting a course for yourself from working as an individual contributor to a management consultant.  And it doesn’t involve dues-paying or working your way through any degrees or even any other jobs.  It’s a lot more direct than that.

First of All, What Is Management Consulting?  It’s Not as Pretentious as it Sounds

First things first, let’s get to definitions.  I’ve often referred to myself as a management consultant.  (If you want a more detailed history of my consulting, you can find that here.)  Sometimes I call myself a strategy consultant or perhaps an executive consultant.  In a sense, this is all kinda the same thing.

So let’s define that thing.  What is a management consultant?

You could probably find all sorts of definitions out there of varying complexity.  Let’s go with a simple one, though.  First of all, as I’ve explained before consulting is when people pay for your expertise and opinions.  (Not your labor.)  Management consulting is thus a narrower variant of general consulting, with the following two caveats.

  1. You are specifically offering advice to organizational leadership (i.e. “management”).
  2. The advice you offer is related to leadership’s main charter: making organizational decisions and running the business.

That’s really it.  You give advice to organizational management about how best to execute their leadership duties and oversee their organizations.  Naturally, there are a lot of different kinds of advice that you could give, but I’ll get to that a little later.

Should You Become a Management Consultant?

If you’re reading my blog, you’re probably a software developer or at least software-developer-adjacent.  So given the post title and introductory section, you might be looking behind you and wondering if I’m not talking to someone else.  You might just want to write code, either for a company or as a freelancer.

Is this advice really for you?

Yes, it is.  I’ve previously advocated that every software developer become a consultant.  So it’s not much of a reach that I think, if you’re going to become a consultant, you might as well become a management consultant.  Developer Hegemony, aside from being a book, is the crazy idea that software developers should be in charge of software development.  And if we’re going to be in charge of our own industry, it stands to reason that we should know how to run it well enough to offer advice about the same.

So yes, you should become a management consultant.  It’s an excellent way to establish a practice, credibility, industry contacts, and authority.  And the pay isn’t bad, either.

You don’t have to live out of hotels or wear slacks everywhere, or adopt an insufferable vocabulary, either.  Heck, you might not even need to leave fulltime employment, if you get creative.  You just need to establish yourself as an expert in some facet of leadership in the software world.

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DaedTech Digest: The Time Our Slow Travel Lifestyle Broke US Customs

If you follow the DaedTech digst/slow-travel chronicles, you’ve probably noticed a theme.  I answer questions about slow travel and I offer general snippets into our life and what it’s like.

Usually, this probably makes it seem glamorous, or at least interesting.  We go cool places and do cool things.  But there are also aspects of it that can be weird, awkward, tiring, or even altogether negative.  I probably don’t talk about that enough, so let’s change that today with a little story.

A Day Trip to Montreal

We’re spending a month in a town called Newport, Vermont.  If you follow that maps link, you can see that we’re close enough to Canada that we could walk.  Seriously.  It’d be a pretty decent hike, but if we bundled up and made a day of it, we could walk to Canada.

So, naturally, we decided while we were here to visit Canada.  But, walking across the border wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.  So we headed to Montreal, a 2 hour drive, for a long day trip.  And we had a great time the whole day, from morning to late at night when we were driving home after midnight.

At least, we had a great time until we arrived at the US-Canada border and had to go through TSA, driving edition, at the border.

Usually, Border Crossing is a Non-Event For Me

Let me say at this point that I don’t know for sure why the customs guy treated us like we were smuggling black market textiles or whatever.  But I think it happened because our slow travel lifestyle blew his mental stack, which flipped him over into suspicious mode.

Now, I’m not exactly a cross-border commuter.  But I’ve driven across both US land borders enough to have a sense of how it goes for me, normally.  It ranges somewhere between “two halfhearted questions about where I went and why” to “wave indicating not to bother rolling down the window.”

I should say a couple of things at this point.

  1. I realize that there is a lot of “Caucasian male driving a Grand Cherokee” privilege baked into this being my normal experience.
  2. I’m not complaining about the experience I’m about to relate — just musing about why it was different.

And it was certainly different.

At about 1 AM, at the border crossing to Derby Line, Vermont, let’s just say that there isn’t a steady stream of traffic.  In fact, of the 20 minutes or so we spent being grilled by the border guy, the only other car that pulled up was right at the end (and might have been responsible for the merciful end to this bit of geographic bureaucracy).

So it’s a quiet scene.  An out of the way two lane highway giving way to 3 customs-toll-booth things only.

Fear and Loathing at the Border

At first, it seemed mostly unremarkable.  He asked that we roll down the back window, but it was the standard “where did you go and for how long?”

But then things got weird.

I quickly felt like I was in a procedural crime drama, and he was playing the part of Detective Goren.  I realized that he was asking syncopated questions to try to poke holes in my story.  He must have been a Criminal Intent fan also.

“Why did you go to Montreal?”

“Take out your car registration, please.”

“Where did you eat dinner in Montreal?”

“What’s the name of your street at home?”

“Turn off the car, please.”

“What’s the name of your business?”

“What did you say was the reason for going to Montreal?”

“Show me the confirmation for your AirBNB.”

It went on like this for 20 minutes while he popped our back hatch, searched the spare tire compartment, and alternated between three streams of interrogation.  I was on the tired side of 4 hours of roundtrip driving and a full day of walking around and exploring a city.  So I was not at the top of my game, and had a great deal of trouble by the end not making exasperated wisecracks about whether he wanted me to put my liquids in a separate plastic bag.

Why Did This Happen?  I Have a Guess

So, what gives?  As I said, I don’t know for sure.  It could be that he has a randomizer in his booth that alternates between “wave ’em through” and “do your best Porfiry immitation.”

But I think it was my answers to the initial stock questions.

We live in Michigan, theoretically.  And yet, here we were crossing the Canadian border in some remote location in Vermont.  We’d crossed from there for only a day trip, and told him that we were staying in Newport which is, apparently, a tiny town that attracts few visitors.  (The border agent even asked us dubiously, “what made you pick Newport” with a familiarity-breeds-contempt sneer for his surroundings.)

When he asked if were were in Newport for vacation, we exchanged a look and said, “sort of.”  When he asked how long we were there, and we told him a month, he scowled.  And then the syncopated interrogation began.

So, in the end, I think we found ourselves subjected to a protracted grilling and search because our life did not compute to this guy.  This happens in plenty of other contexts.  Heck, it takes this entire blog to explain how our life works.  But it doesn’t all that frequently happen in a context where someone has the ability to turn their own lack of understanding into a mildly threatening problem for us.

Live and learn, I suppose.  Not all slow travel stories are fun or glamorous.  But was it worth it?  It sure was.  Check out this view of Montreal from Mount Royal.

Picks

Usually these posts are fun and upbeat, but this one was a little different.  So let’s pick the positive energy back up with some picks.

  • You can’t go to Montreal without having some poutine, which we did.  At a restaurant dedicated to it, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
  • The next day, we wandered down to Burlington, Vermont, where the University of Vermont is.  We ate at a restuarant called Shanty on the Shore, overlooking Lake Champlain.  Lobster rolls and lobster made for a pretty New England-tastic dinner.
  • And, finally, I need to do something internet related, I suppose.  Someone in the Hit Subscribe Slack pointed out Gif Keyboard as a better alternative to Giphy.

The Digest

And, finally, the digest.

  • Here’s another video in our Facebook live series.  This one features a basic and a more advanced description of Hit Subscribe’s business model.
  • This week, we helped Sonatype live blog sessions from All Day DevOps.  Scroll through and you’ll find 4 of them from me, where I listen to the talks, synthesize, and summarize the messages as I understood them.
  • And, finally, I continued to solider on with our site for people to learn about the programming profession.  This is one about the education (or lack thereof) you need to become a programmer.

With that, as always, have yourselves a great weekend.