Defining badassity down


I’ve been thinking about something that occasionally happens to me after a bike ride in the rain, or the cold, or pulling my daughter in the bike trailer, or any type of cycling other than the flat, short, sunny kind you see in REI catalogs.

I’ll get where I’m going and a well-meaning person will say something like “that’s hardcore” or “you’re a badass” and it’s hard to resist the rush that comes with getting complimented on one’s fortitude. So I’ll say “thank you” and that’ll be the end of it.

But what happens in these situations is this: by accepting the compliment without following up, I’m perpetuating the stereotype that cycling is difficult, or only for the fit athlete, inaccessible to the flabby masses. That I somehow deserve a reward for riding a bike under less-than-ideal conditions.

Getting where you want to go by bike is NOT badass. It’s not extreme or special or difficult, especially in Seattle. It’s something almost anyone with two legs* can do. So by letting cycling have an unchecked aura of unapproachability, I’m actually hurting the chances that the other person (or anyone else in earshot) will try it some day.

Riding a bike (even in the rain, or pulling cargo) isn’t “badass.” It’s what you do when you want to save money, save time, stay safe, help the planet, etc. That’s called “normal”. Driving a car short distances is what you do when you want to stay broke, sick, and sad. That’s not normal. And if your commute is so long you “have” to go by car, that’s just crazy.

Know what’s badass? My friend and co-worker Lindsey started a nonprofit to teach robotics to prison inmates, to reduce recidivism rates. That’s badass.

My close friend Abby was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, fought the cancer off, got a clean bill of health, and when the cancer sadly came back, she started treatment again THE NEXT DAY. That’s really badass.

So keep riding your bike, and also find some real badasses who deserve the title. Then, when you mistakenly get a “badass” comment for riding, you can say “thank you! Speaking of badasses, you should meet my friend…”

* Actually, I once got passed on the Burke-Gilman Trail by a cyclist with ONE LEG. So I take back the “two legs” thing.

Update on Time-perspectives

Even though I’ve been quiet on the blog, I mostly followed-through with my goal of meditating daily throughout 2015. I fell off the wagon this year but meditation has become a welcome addition to my morning routine.

The plan was to meditate for a year and see how that changed my time-perspectives (more on this from last year’s post). Here’s a summary of my new 2016 numbers compared to my 2015 numbers and the “ideal” numbers:

Time Perspective 2016 2015 Ideal
Past Negative 2.7 2.9 2.1
Past Positive 4.1 4.1 3.7
Present Fatalism 1.9 1.7 1.7
Present Hedonism 3.3 3.1 4.3
Future 3.8 3.8 3.7
Transcendental Future 2.9 2.2 3.4

Meditation was supposed to increase my “Present Hedonism” and “Transcendental Future” perspectives, which it did, though not by  much.

Reminds me of this cartoon:


Meditation has many benefits, so I’m glad I stuck with it.

So I called out a stranger for being sexist on the internet today

Memorial for women who fought and aided in the Vietnam War
Memorial for women who fought–and aided others–in the Vietnam War

I’ve been learning a lot about low-level sexism in the workplace. I don’t think any of us men in the tech sector wake up in the morning and say “I’m gonna be misogynistic at work today!” Yet sexism still continues in such a pervasive manner that it’s almost impossible to root out of tech culture unless you’re actively searching for it.

My eyes have been opened up to this over the past year or two, from teaching and working with students and graduates from Ada Developers Academy. For all the mentoring, onboarding, and skills-development I do for my team, I think it’s fair to say that the my team has taught me more than I’ve taught them.

For instance, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I heard about the concept of “microaggressions“, little sexist things that people do/say without thinking about them and certainly without intending any harm. Things that individually are meaningless, but in aggregate determine the culture of a group.

Here’s a list of a few of them…recognize anything you do?

After reading that article, I vowed to stop doing #13 on the list: Staying quiet when other men do these things. Today I was put to the test in an online forum I visit, filled with tech industry leaders. It went a little like this:

tim*: we use for some light videoconferencing

joe: That’s a sexist product name

tim: they are a bunch of dudes

joe: They can be dudes, girls, or goldfish. And as individuals, I bet they’re not sexist people. Doesn’t change the fact that the product name is sexist.

tim: I dunno. It’s not the most enlightened name, but it’s not actively discriminating either.

joe: Tim, are we talking about the same thing? “Hi Guys” is discriminating in its very name. Might want to brush up on “microaggressions”

tim: If I’m reading that right, it needs to be unintentional to be a microaggression, right? i.e. Don Draper’s aggressions aren’t terribly “micro” (I’d like to state for the record that I’m not approving of the name)

joe: First off, I have to admit that I’m way out of my league at this point in the discussion. I’m pretty new to the “women in tech” issue and just trying to do my part (e.g. by following guideline #13 in that article). I think that doing something sexist doesn’t make you a sexist person, but it still makes what you did a sexist thing. So it’s a microaggression regardless of intent.

tim: joe, so it sounds like we agree on quite a bit, from my perspective, this is a rather minor semantics discussion (and therefore utterly unproductive)

joe: Tim, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, b/c I think this gets to the core of the issue: having an inclusive culture so you can hire the best talent. Earlier, I noticed you asked “How do I avoid making female candidates feel excluded/unwelcome?” Perhaps you’re a bit closer to the answer now, if you stop to think about it.

* Totally Tim’s real name because fuck you Tim! Just kidding, not his real name and the transcript was cleaned up for concision and to remove anything identifying.

I would NEVER have done that a year ago. I would have either chuckled at the product name; thought to myself “that’s gonna turn some people off but the free-market will decide”; or thought “I hope someone else calls him on that.”

Ironically, its my dominant position in the industry that gives me the freedom to go out on a limb for others like this. I’m a white male with a great job, a huge professional network, and over a decade of industry experience. I’m practically drowning in my own privilege.

BTW, I don’t consider myself a hero. In 2012, I took issue with how long Obama waited to make a public stance in support of gay marriage. He literally waited until the day after 50% of the voting public approved of it in political polling. Now I did something similar by going most of my career without speaking up for what I think is right. I can only apologize for my past cowardice, and use my ungodly levels of privilege to keep on following Rule #13.


Ada Developers Academy is now accepting applications for their Fall class. Please pass this on to every woman you know. In talking to current and former Ada students, the one thing I hear over and over is “I was always interested in technology but when I was growing up, nobody ever told me that I could be an engineer.” And these are super-intelligent people with grit and an aptitude for learning. So even if you don’t pass the news along to anybody, please do me one small favor. Find a girl in your life that you love and say this to her: “Know what? You can be an engineer or scientist if you want to!” Imagine how many more engineers we’ll have in 10 years, inventing the technology that will power the future.

How to run a great Sprint Demo

What: Once a sprint, we have a company-wide Sprint Demo, where engineers can show off the work they’ve done in the previous sprint. It’s pretty casual. No powerpoints or vaporware allowed, just live demos of working product (which could be new user-facing functionality, or a command-line tool for internal usage).

Just as sprints deliver small iterations of work, there’s no feature too small to demo. We’ve had engineers show off everything from “I got a new server up… see, you can hit this URL and it gives you a Welcome page!” to “We finally put the finishing touches on this huge multi-month project”…and both receive the same thunderous applause and kudos from the company.

Who: Invite the entire company. It’s essential for Senior Management to attend and participate, to show that this is a valuable use of everyone’s time (which it is… See “Why” below). Our CEO has a running bit where he says “This is awesome!! When can we fucking sell this?” at least once per sprint.

How/Where: Ours are in the lunchroom right after lunch (we have free catered lunch every day…and we’re hiring). If we weren’t already getting fed, I’d bring some snacks or drinks. Any common area where the entire company can gather, with a monitor large enough for all to see what’s going on. It’ll depend on the size of your company. We’ve needed to add more A/V as we’ve grown: larger monitor, Hangouts for remote folks, wireless microphones for participants to ask questions, etc. But it started with just a few people around a monitor, so don’t let A/V scare you off.

Why: It’s really about recognizing the hard work that the dev team puts in, sprint after sprint. One downside of iterative development is that it’s rare when a huge chunk of work is pulled out of the oven, unlike in sales where they go dark for months and then land a huge deal with champagne and liquid shrimp. When devs present their work, they can show off what they’ve accomplished and get recognized by the rest of the team. It’s so simple and light-weight that few people realize it’s a fortnightly venue for dev recognition! Also, it’s a low-pressure way for devs to practice public-speaking skills (see below).

More general best-practices:

Here are a few other things I’ve learned that will make the demo run more smoothly…

  • Create a sign up sheet accessible to all, and have folks sign up ahead of time. Then you’ll know the agenda.
  • Coach your teammates on how to prepare for giving a demo (especially the introverts). A lot of this is public-speaking best-practices, but few devs have exposure to these skills…
    • Have them practice the demo
    • Have URLs ready so they can walk up to the demo laptop and type them in
    • If applicable, get on the Google Hangout (if presenting remotely or from their own computer)
    • Increase their font size, until it seems ridiculous
    • Speak up
    • Repeat audience questions to make sure everyone heard them
    • Before going into the demo itself, address the Whys: “Why was this built?”, “What customer (or internal) pain-point does this solve?”
  • The person giving the demo has the floor, so as MC it’s your job to maintain order. It rarely happens, but sometimes audience members are really excited to jump in with a question/anecdote/etc.
  • Other best-practices for meetings apply too: take longer discussions offline, keep things positive and constructive, etc.


Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any questions. It’s a great investment of one hour per sprint, and a fun tradition.

Here’s how (and why) to meditate

Orthodox Jews meditating before a wedding

The first of the Twelve Paths to Happiness is Meditation. Meditation can mean a lot of different things, and there are lots of ways to meditate. In general, the practice of meditation usually involves sitting still and focusing on breathing, a positive message, or whatever comes to mind, with the aim of being non-judgemental, patient, and open.

There’s some stigma in our busy society about the benefits of “sitting around and thinking about nothing”, but evidence of the benefits of meditation is solid, and based on years of empirical research.*

Meditation has been shown to improve physical health, cognitive abilities, and of course to increase happiness and other positive emotions (or we wouldn’t even be discussing it). The cynic in me thinks that the only reason we’re not all meditating daily is that nobody has figured out how to get rich peddling meditation.

Or have they? While researching easy ways to get a mediation habit to stick, I found this great website/app called Headspace. It’s an on-demand meditation guide, starting with a 10-minute daily session, and increasing from there. Like many online services, it’s free to start, and you pay to access the more advanced lessons.

I started using it a few days before New Years, and I’ve been really happy with the results. I feel calmer, and more in touch with the small details of what’s going on around me. My goal is to continue 5 days a week, either with Headspace or on my own. (I’m not getting a kickback from Headspace for promoting them, I just think it’s an awesome idea: “the gym membership for your mind”)

* Here are some Google Scholar search results for the skeptic. You’ll find scores of controlled investigations into the effects of meditation. Here are some factoids that are presented in an easy-on-the eye format, with references available when you click “find out more”

Twelve paths to happiness, pick one

2014-12-12 11.32.52
Your author, deviating for a day

If you’ve been playing along at home, you’ve found that it’s possible (and even fun) to make big changes in your life. And you’ve taken a little quiz that will help you figure out your unique view of time.

Now we’re going to get down to business. The creators of that quiz worked together with a colleague (author of The How Of Happiness) to group specific happiness-inducing activities into the different time-perspectives.

So all you need to do is look at the following chart, find the time-perspectives you want to work on, and do the corresponding activities. I’ll write a post highlighting each, though I recommend you only pick two or three to work on, and no more than one at a time. (See below for more tips).

Time Perspective
Past Present Future Transcendental Future
Activity Express gratitude Practice acts of kindness Cultivate optimism Practice religion or cultivate spirituality
Avoid overthinking & rumination Nurture relationships Develop coping strategies
Learn to forgive Increase “flow” experiences Set and pursue life goals
Savor live’s joys Take care of your body (exercise/diet)

Those are the twelve (+1, if you include the Transcendental Future) paths to happiness.

I’m going to begin with Meditation in my next post. Why mediate? How to get started?

A note on starting a new habit.

frog and toad willpower

Why is starting a new habit so easy when it’s a bad habit, but hard when it’s a good one? I’m not sure, but I do know a few things about getting good habits to stick.

After training for–and completing–a half-marathon, I realized that running the race was the easy part. It was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, for a couple hours. The hard part was the months of training: turning down late-night social events so I could get up in the morning to run, etc.

I did some research on how to set myself up for success (including reading this great book about habits) and found that making changes requires willpower. Willpower is like a muscle, you can make it stronger by exercising it. Also, you use your willpower muscle throughout the day (e.g. by going to work instead of the park, avoiding a second dessert after dinner). By the end of the day it’s worn out! It’s strongest in the morning, so that’s the best time to put a new activity into your routine. (Also, a habit needs a trigger, and “I just got out of bed” is a pretty solid one)

I set up a “motivation station” right next to my bed. It had…

  1. a monthly calendar of each run I was going to do. I could see the previous days’ runs crossed off. (Read up on dopamine to learn why this is such a powerful motivator)
  2. everything I needed to start my run (so I could roll out of bed and not scramble for stuff in the dark)

You can use this pattern “trigger + motivation + preparation” for pretty much any new habit. Also, most habits take about 2 months to stick, so don’t give up!

Catch you on the flipside in 2015, when we’ll start getting happier!

2015 Happiness Project: Step 2


Welcome back to the 2015 Happiness Project. How was your Deviate for a Day? Let me know in the comments. Today is Step 2, and hopefully it’ll be fun and very enlightening. All you need to do for this step is take an online survey that’s going to change your life.

In my last post, I mentioned The Time Paradox. The thrust of the book is that there are 5* major dimensions of looking at time. 3 are healthy and 2 are unhealthy:

  1. Past Negative: dwelling on how things in the past went wrong, and how you could have done things differently.
  2. Past Positive: fondly recalling wonderful memories of the past, and keeping family traditions alive.
  3. Present Fatalism: the feeling that nothing you do matters because your life is determined by fate, not by your personal choices.
  4. Present Hedonism: stopping to smell the roses, getting together with friends, being impulsive. Despite the name, this one’s actually healthy to have in the right dosage.
  5. Future: planning, goal-setting, delaying gratification, health/fitness. Typical Type-A stuff.

The following survey (created by the authors) will help you figure out how dominant each time perspective is for you personally. Here’s the survey:

Here are my results:

  1. Past Negative: 2.9 (slightly high)
  2. Past Positive: 4.1 (ideal)
  3. Present Fatalism: 1.7 (ideal)
  4. Present Hedonism: 3.1 (too low)
  5. Future: 3.8 (ideal)
  6. Transcendental Future: 2.2 (too low)

Here are the ideal results (according to the authors), along with percentile distributions:

As you can see, I have to work on living in the present, and also on reinterpreting past life events in a more positive way.

Next post we’ll look at some concrete steps you can take to improve your happiness, no matter what your scores are.

* There’s also a 6th, but it’s uncommon among Westerners: Transcendental Future, or a future beyond the lifespan of our current physical body. You can take a separate quiz to determine your score on this dimension.