Monthly Archives: January 2013

Oh, you think meritocracy exists? Tell me more about how you’re always overlooked.

So you want to talk about meritocracy, and how hard work will pay off, and justice will come your way someday? Cool story, bro.

My turn, let me start with a little story that’s slightly less crazy than your imaginary meritocracy pipe dream – something ridiculous about growing up religious.

I grew up being an ungrateful little shit, coming from a long line of ungrateful little shits, growing up religious in Texas.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have to be an ungrateful little shit – after all, I was born a white male, in America. A lot of my first-world-problems complaints in life have never really amounted to more than this:

Religious in the South should be qualified, because down here religion can sometimes (or sadly, often..) be different than religion may be in other, more sane, areas of the world. Our god was the god of perpetual disappointment, the god of lifelong imaginary toil and punishment, always teaching us some lesson or another through some perverse self-deluded belief that things not always going your way was god’s way of saying you’re not good enough.

In many ways, our god was the “God of America”, that is, the god of the american dream – the god behind all those oddballs out there thinking if they stick to the rat race long enough, work hard, pray, and get along more often than not, they’ll win the lottery and be rich. – the very same oddballs who vote republican against their own self-interest and the interest of their country and brothers, because if they win that lottery, a high tax rate for the betterment of others sounds like it’s really going to hurt. In other words, our god was the god of irony, never you mind the bits of scripture about helping your fellow man, let’s get rich!

If you can’t tell by this point, our god was the southern baptist god, the god against fun, and, basically – against everyone, it seemed. Generally speaking, life under our god was a struggle, for no good reason. Even when things were amazing, enjoying anything, ever, felt like some sort of sin. When you lost, god was punishing you, and when you won, it was because god did it, there was no such thing as personal achievement – it was weird.

To put it lightly, I learned some really wacky belief and faith systems early on in life.

It’s wasn’t all bad, not at all. Growing up religious meant I learned a whole lot about having structure in life, and to think about the big picture, a lot. When your god is the god of keeping score, you think a whole lot about every little misdeed, and wonder if the last will be the one to do you in for good.

Another positive: my parents and religious friends were not only religious, they, like me, were also human! That means they weren’t perfect, which means they slipped up from time to time.

Fortunately, and, paradoxically, the god of brimstone and hellfire and eternal punishment is also conveniently eternally forgiving whenever you feel like he should be. Convenience god for the win!

You just say a little prayer at night, asking god to help you be better next time, and because he’s in charge of you and everything ever, you dont really have to actually put in the effort to change yourself for the better tomorrow, because whatever happens is god’s plan, right?

Instead of putting in the effort, you say your part, chant your dogmatic little bit for the millionth time, brush the feeling of guilt off your shoulders, and wake up with a smile the next day, ready to point your finger of blame and play the church version of keeping up with the jones’ another day.

Back then, life was, seriously, quite easy. Especially with such a nice little loophole as a corner stone to our wacky warped little way of seeing the world. You chew your charcoal teeth, judging everyone else’s pearly whites, and continue the cycle until the reckoning (day of final judgement, which you’ve been practicing for for your entire life..) comes. All the while, so happy to be in the exclusive hip little club of ungrateful judgmental white people on god’s side.

At some point, the hypocritical paradox of religion in ‘Merica began to bother me, and, I discovered rock and roll. True story.

I found the rock and roll tunes more relatable and honest than a thousand pages of whatever-you’d-like-them-to-mean/revised-by-imperialistic-kings parables. The tunes’ lyrics seemed to come from an ironically cleaner, purer, and truer place of wisdom – this make sense in retrospect, because, you know, every band’s really good stuff is the stuff that comes from a place of honesty, before they make it big.

The heavily-revised modern version of the bible is alot like those other tunes, you know, the ones written by committee and evaluated for chart metrics. In other words, discovering rock and roll for me was a lot like spending your whole life listening to Nickelback, and then discovering Tool.

Some really great rock tunes planted the seed – and in time a great inner turmoil sprouted – believing in a cowards’ god was easy. If life sucked, we blamed god and were oh-so-helpless to change anything about our lot in life, because, gosh, god just wanted things to always be the way they were. But, when I thought about it quite a bit, believing in a god of convenience was easy, but it was a cop-out, and false.

Our god was the god of shifting the blame.

Our god was the god of shifting the responsibility.

Our god was the god of cowardice, the god of a spineless fool, too scared to ever try and be something or make something happen.

Sound familiar?

From that point onward, it was the same old boring story you’ve seen a million times before. I started asking a whole lot of “why?”, and bickering with my friends and family about our god getting ten thousand prayers about the football game on sunday, but a smaller percentage about world hunger.

Eventually, I was born again.. again. To anyone who’s been through something of the same, I highly recommend just about anything MJK has ever done, you’ll enjoy it, because his personal story is the same as yours.

I decided to ditch my parent’s twisted merit-based belief system from hell, and decided to embrace the random chaotic universe – and find another way of looking at things.

Starting a long journey towards a different personal belief system that worked better for me was not easy. There was a whole lot of “if there’s a god, why would he do such and such, so there must not be one”, then as I grew older, I learned that sometimes beauty is hidden in tragedy, and that there’s a lot more to life than everything always going perfectly. Without a rainy day, you’d never notice the sun.

.. So maybe there’s a god, or gods, after all? – I just, personally, don’t really care for any of them if this is the divine design. I’ve seen software written better than this.

In time, I settled into a live-and-let-live style belief system. Identifying as agnostic to some extent- that is, I don’t really care who’s right or wrong, or if there is or isn’t a god or gods.

To me, everyone has a right to their own personal belief system, even if it does them more bad than good – every man’s story is his own journey, and you’re free to find your own way and happiness in this existence, I think. If you want to believe in the rat race and that hard work with minimal fun & enjoyment pays off in the end because you get a gold star sticker from god for being better than everyone, knock yourself out, doesn’t bother me. If you want to actually follow the teachings of your christ, or the buddha, or whoever, or whatever – cool.

Turning a corner in terms of personal belief did not automatically make me a better person, hell, I’d argue I became a worse person, for a good long while. I, like any good christian, or former-christian, took the parts that worked for me right along to my ‘new life’, and left out a lot of the harder parts.

I found the lifestyle choice of being a pessimistic self-involved little asshole easier than putting the thought time in to *why* I was so pessimistic, so I brought that right along with me. Calling myself, cutely, a “realist”, and rejecting silly optimists as silly.

Another thing I brought along with me from before was that more often than not, I rode proudly onward on a bullshit high horse of self-delusional judgement and holier-than-thou. I had everything in life figured out, and was kicking ass and taking names. I knew the politics game, and had seen the other side of dogma. I knew ALL ABOUT life (right?..), and that being a good person, or at least better than others, was, truly, just telling a good story – just marketing.

The self-marketing lifestyle worked really well for me, and still does, more or less. I learned early on that, sadly, life can be a lot more about spin, than truth or hard work. You can run with this, and learn from this bitter truth, or spend a whole lot of time decrying it and being upset over it – and find yourself in the same place in the end. Spin works wonders for you, as long as its grounded, to some degree, in truth – until someone calls your shit.

Growing up white male american, with nothing more than first world problems, I didn’t really understand what it was to truly want something. Not just want something, but want to truly DESERVE what you want.

I didn’t know what ‘want’ was.

I had good-enough grades, I got into college, I skidded along, and landed a really amazing job in the big bad corporate world of big-brand software. My biggest fear in life, ever, was having to make it on my own if my ever-disappointed parents ever made good on any of their good-christian promises to disown me for this grade or that.

Then, I met my wife.

I went into meeting my wife pretty confident and arrogantly – still riding my high-horse of convenience, constantly feeling a hot-shot for this or that. I was still a software engineer, of course, so, predictably, I wasn’t really a hot shot with the ladies, but I felt like one anyway.

Here’s how it happened: I wrote up some random missive for the Nth time on craigslist, utilizing my gift of spin. Dudes, let me tell you, if you have a heart, a brain, and can write, craigslist is a guaranteed-win – it’s like shooting fish in a barrel when every other post on there is just aiming at the predictable cliches. The problem is, there aren’t a lot of winners out there – so you go on some dates with some of these people and your mighty steed, that high horse, gets bigger and bigger. By the time I met Amanda, I felt like god’s gift. By that point I had convinced myself I was ready for the real big leagues, no more N-year girlfriends, no more half-in/half-out bullshit, just ready for something real.

Then I met her.

You’ll never understand what I mean here until it happens to you, and man, I hope this has or will happen to you – I’m just like you, and everyone else, all I really want is to love, and to be loved. I fall in love easily, and just like every true american, I’m the best thing ever – so who the fuck is so and so to say my shit stinks, right? Then you meet a real, genuine, responsible, honest person – and, if you have any goddamn wits about you at all, you feel like you hit a brick wall at highway speeds – who the fuck am I? Right? Right.

Before I met my wife, I had *never*, never met anyone worth a damn. I say that with absolute honesty, and let me tell you, I am fortunate enough to have more than a few amazing people as life-long friends, *all* worth more than a damn – but this kid was in another league. Before her, I had told myself I was ready for something real, ready for “the one”, and then, on the very first date, I met “the one” – and immediately had an unexpected reality check.

Never before her had I had this primal fear in the pit of my stomach, this sickening understanding of how false, fake, shallow, and immature I truly was. And, here’s the thing – Amanda, my wife, is the sweetest person in the world – she didn’t say a damn thing to make me feel that way, and, well, that’s kind of the point. I’d done the longterm he-said/she-said girlfriends before where you’re both judgy mcjudgerson and too prideful to truly give a shit – I’d had the girl who checks your shit all the time to make herself feel better, and really, that’s okay, because you know you do it to her too – it just feels good in this really horrible way, right? Right. Amanda wasn’t that.

Amanda and I didn’t meet to become husband and wife, in fact, she was convinced we weren’t each other’s types – it was just a casual coffee, and after that very first date I went home with my head aflame in paranoid fear. Here was someone worth hanging on to, someone worth a damn – and immediately the self-delusional spin and hype of ‘being ready’ for something like that collapsed. Suddenly I knew what desire truly was, what it was to not just want something, but deserve it. Suddenly, instead of being the sure-of-himself yet-another-asshole – I was the guy who needed to grow up real fucking fast, and do my damned best to ever be 10% of what a woman like that deserved.

I’m still trying, and failing all the time, nearly 5 years of marriage later 🙂 Fooled her!

Meeting Amanda felt like losing my religion, all over again. It was immediately clear that I needed to be next-level, and leave the asshole-me behind.

A few weeks after meeting Amanda, I met her parents. My future father-in-law, Dennis, was this really funny and awesome guy. He’s the kind of guy that when he tells you something, you have this feeling it’s 90% bullshit, but somehow, deep down, you completely believe him and every little story he tells. I can promise you that I truly believed him, very deeply, when the first thing he mentioned to me upon meeting me was that Amanda grew up in the desert in California, and that there’s a whole lot of desert out there. He told me that I needed to go see it sometime, so I could understand just how much there really is – he said people go missing out there all the time, and that, if I ever mistreated his daughter, I would really understand just how that happens. Then, he winked at me, and laughed.

The thing about my father in law is, he’s just like his daughter, he’s the nicest guy in the entire world, and there’s just something about him, and his kin, that when they say something, or you meet them – you just get this primal intuition that they’re the real thing, in all ways. Whether it be being the most amazing woman in the world, or the not-bullshitting-you-at-all-about-that-desert-thing father of that woman, these people are legit. You look at these people and you see right down into their soul – there’s a real honesty there – to a terrifying degree, in more than one way.

Almost immediately, Dennis and I became good friends, both having this super-serious on-edge slightly-off-the-rocker intensity, and the gift of telling stories, the gift of spin. He was this really great, genuine, down to earth blue-collar guy – and I loved that about him, but I was also confused.

When I met Dennis, he was a bus driver. He didn’t have any goals or aspirations it seemed, and that seemed good enough for him. Coming from a long line of overachievers with constant guilt and disappointment in one’s self as a way of life, I was extremely interested in how Dennis, the bus driver, was so happy in life, when all the white collar american-dream sell-outs I knew, and was, weren’t.

How could one look at one’s self in the mirror, as a bus driver, and be happy? Impossible.

As time wore on, I spent a lot of time chatting with Dennis, and I learned that in actuality, he’s seen it all, he’s been there and back – and to my great fortune, he tripped into my life early enough to tell me all about it.

Dennis didn’t go to college, and he married himself a polish wife who could cook. His wife was one of 12 children in a catholic household in the truest sense. To his wife, religion isn’t something you shove in everyone else’s face and one-up everyone with, it’s a personal, private thing that’s really quite beautiful – had I been her son instead, I probably would have had the very same genuine, sincere, honest, and kind demeanor that both of her kids have. Having 11 siblings, several who die as a matter of statistical probability, teaches one early on in life the difference between ‘Merican “want”, and reality.

Somehow, somewhere, Dennis picked this same understanding up along the way – though I’m not sure where.

He may have picked up his kind and gentle understanding of the way things are when he was doing EMS for a number of years around southern California, rushing babies to the hospital to be born, and scraping some unfortunate soul off the highway after a horrendous accident the very same day. Driving EMS, he saw it all, truly, all of it. That first real career opportunity opened his eyes, at a very young age, to the reality that the world is both beautiful, and tragic, all at once. I can’t say for sure, but I’d wager those experiences also taught him early on that life is what you make of it.

A few years later, Dennis started his own small business, repairing and customizing wheelchairs – also a humbling experience, working with and improving the lives of the less fortunate. Dennis was rewarded, well, for his entrepreneurial spirit, for taking the risks you have to take to go make something from scratch. Years, later, at the height of his career he was making several hundred thousand dollars a year, as a primary vendor for several prominent southern California hospitals. His risk, and enduring kindness was paying off in big ways – until it didn’t. Sometimes someone bigger moves in with an inferior product, but has the right political muscle, or price, or chinese knock-off supplier, or whatever – and capitalism rains on another parade.

For a time, Dennis had it all, then he didn’t. And I’m sure that stung like a motherfucker, but when I met him, years and years later after the fact – he’d learned a really hard lesson from his rise and fall from fame – life is, truly, what you make of it. Being there and back, Dennis doesn’t give a shit what you think about the fact that he drives a bus now. He has a part time gig, not a whole lot of money to his name, and he lives a happier life than a whole lot of other people I’ve known. Dennis made his mark on the world, and improved thousands of lives in the process, and he’s put in his dues. Nobody can take that from him, the sense of making something from nothing, doing a whole hell lot of a good with it, and being okay with it all when the spotlight moves on.

In recent years, I’ve been a bit of a risk-taker myself career-wise, again setting out on a journey into the unknown to figure out what’s just right for me, when what I fell into before wasn’t working out quite right. In many ways I’ve been quite successful myself, thanks, in part, to hard work, but more-so, thanks to dumb luck. There have been ups and downs in my own personal story, and a stupid amount of time invested in thinking on what success is or isn’t, until I came to the conclusion this past summer that success, for me, is making the world a better place than it would have been without me.

I think, in a lot of ways, that’s Dennis’ personal metric of success as well. The banks may not give much of a shit about Dennis’ retirement account, and if he gave a shit about keeping up with the jones’, he’d have a struggle, but, that’s the thing – he doesn’t. He’s already lapped the rest of us, so self-deluded in our score-keeping game like our popular vengeful god – Dennis has seen the other side, kicked ass, taken names, and, I’d argue, done the world more good with his own short-lived career than the whole of any church I attended as a child.

I’ve found, one of the finer points in life, is being able to look at yourself, and your accomplishments, with pride. This sounds easier than it is. Finding a point of pride can be *incredibly* difficult when you believe in some false god equation of merit equaling success. If you limit yourself to an overly strict, and detrimental, belief system that hinges on merit with some big pay-off at the end- you’re going to be let down, over, and over, and over again.

Often times we are taught pride is a ‘sin’, or bad thing. Indeed, growing up in a religious household, I felt fairly often that one should be kind, and humble in all things, always – and never prideful. But, in time, that was one bit about our religious views that really bothered me – there was never room to celebrate an achievement – because acknowledgement of an achievement was to turn from the one-true vengeful god. Our reward was, always, waiting, in heaven – or so I’m told.

Insane, right? Waiting on a silly achievement trophy, never taking a breath to appreciate or celebrate personal success. Madness – and yet, some variant of this sickness is in so many of us that we don’t even think it odd. Many people downplay their personal achievements, rather than celebrate them – because they never got the credit they were due, because their version of ‘reward in heaven’ didn’t play out the way they thought it would.

If you’re waiting for a reward, you’re wasting your life.

So many coders I’ve met have these weird hang-ups about the one that got away – the one time they were right about some big project decision, and were unheard, and then vindicated in the end – without credit. Sometimes the story ends there, sometimes it’s even more perverse, with a massively successful product going well, with a whole bunch of credit-takers (or, perhaps, people with a sense of pride?) putting their name in the blank for who deserves the credit. These guys without the pat-on-the-back they always wanted can never see themselves as worthwhile, or take pride in their personal accomplishments and contributions, because they’re waiting on a gold-star-sticker to come down that they’ve always been told will come.

I’ve seen it over and over again, it’s always some guy with jaw-dropping talent and amazing personal achievements, who can never be convinced his efforts are good enough. Nevermind convincing him that his achievements are more than good enough, they’re usually better than good, they’re fantastic – but, it’s impossible to get through. Someone always took the credit, or someone had the idea, or someone worked harder, or was in the right place at the right time, there’s a thousand reasons, and they all boil down to one simple common coder fault:

Coders *love* the idea of a meritocracy, that is, hard work equates good fortune.

Hard work does not equal good fortune.

Trapping yourself in a self-limiting belief system of meritocracy is only going to disappoint you, regularly. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a great manager, or friend, who will see achievement and let you know about it, but no amount of praise from those who count will be heard if all you care about is receiving that pat-on-the-back from the assholes who don’t acknowledge you.

Never grabbing a hold of your own life, and achieving your true potential, because you’re waiting for your pat-on-the-back from some credit-taking scumbag is just about as crazy, and certainly as lazy, as believing in a coward’s cruel god.

When the credit-takers increase, and your 2 man project turns into a 5 man project with a dozen other management-types billing the same account, and you don’t get credit – it’s time to reward yourself – it’s times like those when you need to sit back for a minute, and think about where you came from, the good fortune you’ve had, take great pride in your achievements (or failures!), and plan where you’re going next.

(above photo by Morgan Elizabeth)

Sure, it feels great to tell yourself that you deserve better, and whine about how you’re always overlooked for the promotion because you don’t kiss the right asses. That stuff feels great – but it’s a disservice to yourself, your team, and your company. Instead, I suggest you drop the false god of shifting the blame, your false god of convenience, and grow a pair.

When you’re ready, you’ll need to spend some time thinking about yourself, and what you want, and find a little place in the world that matches those goals. You’ll have to endure conflict and the reality that when you face conflict, sometimes you lose, but remember, you’re likely a white male american, who sits in an air conditioned building, with great computer equipment, reading hacker news all day – your company’s political “conflicts” are a joke, and weathering a few of them rather than shying away like a coward with the blame-finger will strengthen your character.

Having a hard time growing a pair? I understand, I was an lazy asshole on a high horse too – until I learned the difference between wanting something and deserving it. Do you want a better life story, or, do you deserve it?

Dennis has this great piece of advice that he calls ‘the five second rule’. It’s not the five second rule you know – Dennis five second rule: “your whole life can change in 5 seconds, that’s all it takes.”.

My corollary/addendum to Dennis’ rule is this: “Some things happen because they will, and some things happen because you make them happen.” You can let life come at you, passive-aggressively complaining all the while, blaming some god or silly idea of merit when things don’t work out the way you wanted, or you can make your life your own.

Leave the meritocracy that may, or may not, exist behind, take a breath and celebrate your personal achievements as well as those of your friends and family. Don’t wait up or waste your life worrying about some lifetime achievement reward that may or may not come for your poor little white male american soul with so much suffering – make your story your own, and make a dent.

Music: Puscifer – The Humbling River

A Trillion Dollars & E.T.

Music: Blonde Redhead – 23 (the song)

This is one of those fun, or, perhaps, overwhelming number games. It’s going to be like the drake equation, where we’re throwing numbers around, stacking assumption on assumption on assumption, and surely several assumptions will be wrong, and the number of zeros will get quite insane, but in the end the point will be: there’s life out there.

The other day I was at a concert with my wife, for this phenomenal one-man-country-blues-band called ‘Shakey Graves‘. This guy’s amazing to see live, super intense, and supremely talented. He left his guitar behind at the last show a town or three over, so he had to rent some equipment that night. Naturally, his rental equipment popped a string or two during the very first song, so he took some down time between songs to fix the situation.

While he was switching instruments, I took a look around the venue (The parish, aka the best sounding venue in Austin, ever). The place was packed, probably 500 people, easy. Lots of people for the amount of space.

I got to thinking about how different people might look at a crowd of 500. I wondered what an economist would think of this situation, and that’s where our story really begins.

An economist might try to guesstimate the total net worth or yearly income of such a crowd, I thought. Not everyone works, sometimes someone’s a stay-at-home-spouse, sometimes someone’s unemployed, and so on, but what if, on average, each of our 500 people made $50K a year. How much yearly income would we be tossing around for the crowd?

$50K * 500 = $25 million dollars, per year.

Not everyone earns 50K per year, for example, poor Bill Gates only makes 25 million dollars every 3 days or so. Certainly many people earn more or less than $50K per year, but we’ll just call 50K a decent average.

$25 million dollars, for 500 people, per year, every year. If we do the math, assuming a 40 year consistent career, this crowd of 500 people with zero unemployment or non-working fathers or children in the headcount would collectively earn $1 billion dollars over the span of 40 years.

A billion dollars of total lifetime net worth, in that little room of 500 people. Think about that for a moment.

Of course, Bill will earn this much in about 120 days – 20,000 man years of decent-wage income in 120 days, not bad.

Still, even with all of his massive wealth, Bill couldn’t buy New York City, with our idealized ballpark math, 10 million New Yorkers bring in $500 billion per year in personal income, more than 10x Bill’s total worth – every year. Throw in Los Angeles and we’re at $1 trillion dollars per year in income, for two cities, 20 million hard-working citizens.

The math sounds all wrong because we’re not accounting for unemployment, or families with one income, and so on, but remember, the United States has about 300 million people. In an ideal simple math 50K per head world with 100% of the population working, thats 15 trillion dollars a year in personal income.

Coming back down toward reality, there’s a whole lot of people who aren’t working: children, elderly, disabled, stay-at-home-hobbyists, and so on. Some families have 4 children, some have none, and such. For 2011, an estimated 150 million taxable households existed, with 70 million paying no income taxes that year, if we say each of those households had our 50K estimate that’s 7.5 trillion dollars of income per year, or 300 trillion dollars over a collective 40 year career.

With a flat 20% tax rate (if only..) for that 300 trillion, the United States would have 60 trillion dollars to work with over 40 years, or $1.5 trillion per year, which is, about right.

$300 trillion dollars in lifetime income, with 1/300,000th (or, $1 billion) of that income represented by a sardine-tin venue packed with only 500 people.

The world is sometimes both very large and very small, all at once. I think Drake was right, there’s a lot of life out there.

Waking With The Sun

Music: Blink 182 – Pretty Little Girl

.. It’s time to switch from our designer’s credit card to the LLC’s, because, we’re lucky enough to have enough income that our LLC credit card can cover that no-longer-free Amazon VM.

Adam tries his best to convert non-straight-forward AWS pricing structures into toddler level english, so idiot peer, me, can understand what the hell we’re looking at. He repeats himself 3 or 4 times, switching back and forth between 3 tables that might as well read ‘lorem ipsum..’ on them – it’s all greek to me, when he switches to hard numbers from our past month’s hosting to translate gigabytes to dollars – we both stop talking.

That’s not right, 90 gigabytes in transfer last month?

What the hell. We’re being hacked, or trolled somehow, I’m sure.

Adam’s smarter than I, so he starts poking at something more realistic – that damn hip mongo db instance we have running for another side project – the hip shit always goes out of control when it matters, doesn’t it? I ask him, “remind me again how we convert hipster cred cool points from two years ago into actual cash to pay for this POS going out of control on us?”

He kills mongo, and brings it back up, does some unix kung-fu that makes me look like a toddler, in 3 seconds he’s determined it isn’t mongo, but something is pushing 60+gbits per second somewhere, what the hell is going on?

I’m out of my league, I dont even understand what magic command Adam just used to ascertain XYZ bandwidth is going somewhere, so I open up chrome and start poking around at websites. Damn, our website, the one for the pretty picture viewer for iPad and iPhone, has a lot of pictures on it, in PNG, and is a 1.1MB splash page – that can’t be it.

Our designer hears this and picks up on something she can fix – converting to JPG because perhaps, for the first time in our personal hobby careers, that matters. Adam and I tell her thanks, but shrug her off, because we’re smart developers and already know its more than that 1.1MB splash page. Thanks anyway, silly designer.

Adam pokes more, odd that there’s a constant 60gbps flow going over imaginary pipes. He does some mental math, wait a minute, 60gbps would translate to a monthly usage of terabytes upon terabytes. Wait, what?

Turns out Adam’s not as immaculate as he seems, we were accidentally looking at localhost traffic, imaginary bits moving really REALLY fast from one file to another on our box, consistently. This is weird, but not what translates to a transmission usage bill at AWS, so that’s not it.

We do some math on spotlight’s shortcut for calculators, fighting with each other over putting more parenthesis into the equation so we dont have to worry about operator precedence (I want more, he wants less).

Meanwhile, the designer’s cut the big graphic down to 1/4 the size without any visual quality loss, thanks much designer, we’re busy doing real work here, leave us be!

We poke more, tail the apache log, sorry, not apache, Adam’s got that hip nginx in there. I think of another hipster cred one liner here but keep it to myself, opting instead to be marginally helpful. We tail it, and watch – we don’t see anything funny, after a couple of minutes all we see is 4 hits on our webpage. 4 MB out that way, mongo’s down, what is going on here?

Two senior software engineers are stumped. We poke at ‘top’ for a minute or so, nothing crazy on the usage – where is this 90 gigs of traffic coming from?

Now we’re both getting to the paranoid point, throwing grand/insane/impractical theories around – most of these assuming someone gives a shit enough to try to hack our little webserver with nothing of value on it.

The designer pitches in, the website splash page size is down by half, in, what, 5 minutes? That’s good news, I guess.

Then it hits us, wait a minute. We’re clocking 3K hits a day now, thats 90K a month, 90K at a megabyte a hit, that’s right around 90 gig.. isn’t it?

Adam and I catch our breath, well, we figured that one out, didn’t we? Classic too-smart-for-any-good engineering, blaming all kinds of weird super technical imaginary beasts for something we’re sure can’t be right.

Suddenly I realize how software gets the way it gets, in ten minutes the designer has done something super useful, and the two senior software engineers have mentally engineered half a dozen highly complex and completely wrong solutions to a non-problem.

We laugh at ourselves, and thank our designer for actually doing something useful – which was more than we had done, clearly.

Later, we spend less time scheming our next month’s work than we did worrying about imaginary hackers – we’re a well-oiled, highly performant little machine at this point.

We show the designer the elaborate fancy software tricks we’ve pulled off in the next little product, and she’s unimpressed – immediately pointing out half a dozen idiot-level flaws in the usability of our immaculate designs.

We all immediately agree on every point she makes, not because she’s hard to work with or anything like that, because she’s the best designer on the damn planet – it’s not her fault she’s always right – it’s just a shame she has to work with peanut gallery morons like us, with our fancy software degrees and enterprise experience and so on.

If designers could code, well, it’s like if women could create babies without men. It’s exactly like that, actually.

We finish up and I drive home, thinking how it’s funny, this is another first, the first time any optimization made to my own personal software actually makes a difference. A dozen failed self-published software experiments before, and generally acceptable performance built in as a standard, but never has success grown so large that any of us have had the choice of “hey, we could save half our hosting cost by optimizing some jpgs” – this is cool.

It reminds me of the time we stayed up all night in July, just after releasing the app on iPhone, free for the first week.

We hit the app store release button, and immediately all three of us were glued to our phones, searching “tumbleon”, and for more than an hour receiving an app store default response of “did you mean tumble?” – for some reason this cracked us up.

All three of us, we were so excited to launch this thing, sure we’d be insta-success, just like we were sure the time before and the time before that, and not to mention the one other time – we were beside ourselves, almost delirious. It was probably 8pm.

An hour or so later, the auto-synch script somewhere on the app store servers kicked over and the word “tumbleon” started meaning something on iPhones. Adam logs onto the server, curious to see if any one gives a shit.

“Jason, you should look at this.”

.. The logs are rolling with activations. Every 30 seconds someone’s downloading our baby and discovering something amazing – at this point delerium has given way to pure insanity.

At this point marketing, if marketing existed, would be telling us to shut the computers off and race downtown for a celebratory night of drinking – we don’t have marketing, and do things our own way when we party:

I (the not-amazing-unix part of the amazing duo) put together a small bash mess to remotely tail access logs and automatically play a super mario “power up” sound when an activation hit, and play the chorus to that “party rock” tune when a paid activation hit. Every few minutes something’d hit and our skype conf call would echo cyclicly as each of our computers caught the hit and made us smile.

I can’t remember how many years I’d thought of having a moment to actually write and appreciate a script like that, but for years and years I’ve secretly wanted to have that moment, and that night, we did.

That was also the night we discovered Google Analytic’s neat real time feature. For the first time ever, something we put out was tracking enough traffic that we could almost always see 5 people on the site from different areas around the world.

We stayed up through the night, or at least Adam and I did – I’d waited too long for this day to come, and I knew, in my gut, this may very well be a once-in-a-lifetime moment that would not come again. Skyping beyond the delirious hours, into patent insanity territory – and somehow, Adam, the machine, was still cranking code on something or another – I was just proud of myself for making something (the sound script) kick over at all while being so excited – so I stopped there, and soaked in the glow.

Adam was using the excitement as fuel for his next big whatever, and I just sat back, distracting adam with random hilarious whatevers and watching two windows on my second screen – google analytics, and the logs, rolling.

6 or 7am hit and we finally called it – that was it, one of those rare moments you’ve dreamed of for years – and when it hits it’s just as good as you imagined – you just soak it in and let it unfold, as if in slow motion, for hours.

A week later, the sale was over. Some 2,000 people downloaded the app, and the logs and google analytics died, predictably. That was it, our moment, our delirious insane ‘this is it!’ moment – just like that it was gone.

A few crummy, grumpy weeks later, we’re coming out the backside of yet another of our cycles – at heart we’re optimists, even the king of grumpy grumps, my good friend Adam, is really a dreamer at heart. We theorize something new and give it another go, this way or that, rinse wash repeat and teach ourselves to appreciate the good fortune we’ve already experienced. We are so lucky – and we realize that.

And yet, human nature kicks in from time to time, and we’re wanting more and more – and despite our dirty little contemptuous/greedy hearts, it just keeps on coming.

A few months later we’re posting that 100 million photos have been viewed in the app in 6 months, up from about 100K a day in early jan.

A few days later out little ticker hits another milestone – one million photos viewed in a day, the same day the budget cuts hit and I’m laid off.

Again with the delirium – it had been that part of the cycle, we didnt know our next move and when the layoff news came I couldnt think of even 20 hours to drain into TumbleOn version next.

I text my friend Adam: “we hit a million today, and also, I got laid off, let’s go do coffee.”

We do coffee, and Adam’s a good friend, he’s not into it anymore, just like I’m not – but the layoff sucks and the upside is extra time to do something useful, so he tries to help distract me. He pitches me for the millionth time on the next big idea that I’m always shutting him down on, but this time I say let’s do it. The day started with < 20 hours on the docket, and ended with months of scheduled hobby time we're still eating at to this day. --- I fly to Seattle, I visit my friend, and I tell myself I can be an independent little worker bee for a few weeks, and for a few weeks I am - until I'm not and the reality sets in - the app is no substitute for a steady paycheck - and even if it were, we had one month of ideas, not a year. That's part of it, but the other part of it is that my friend in Seattle had this kid. Man, I hate kids. This three year old terror could scream happily at the top of his lungs for hours on end, and could NOT understand why I spent so much time being frustrated looking in front of my laptop rather than playing the one level of castle crashers he loves to play for hours (the weapon select warehouse area). Peaceful, it was not. While out there, my buddy tells me he's halfway interested in doing some apps and we have some really good times those first few days talking about almost anything other than the layoff situation. Two days later, I'm sitting there, grumping at my computer, up early - because when I'm messed up, I'm waking up before 10am - and I hear the sweetest sound in the world. Wait, context, here's the thing, my friend - he's an optimist at heart, a really great guy, but there's a certain sadness about him. I'm not sure what it is, but forever he's been one of those guys - he's so kind, loving, and basically - fucking amazing - but something's missing there - you just feel it, most everyone does. This is a grade A amazing person, and yet, there's some hole. Back to the sound, Mom's up and around, and my buddy is dead asleep. The three year old terror's up with mom and he runs and jumps into his dad's bed, rolling and jumping around until he wakes. At this point, I'm already rubbing my temples, grumping at my computer screen. This goes on and on, and I feel for my friend with this tornado waking him this way - and then I hear it... My friend wakes to the day with a smile. I can't see him - but you hear it the timbre of his voice, his eyes aren't even open and the love oscillating through his home and permeating every cubic inch of air is lifting him from slumber to some higher plain I had completely forgotten existed. God, I think, how many years have I been grumping at this fucking screen? how many million moments have I missed the love and life oscillating in the air, the simple presence of being and seeing the sun rise once more? My buddy drives me to his work, to drop me at a coffee shop nearby and I watch him as he drives, to him the job isn't it, the job is temporary - a reprieve at times from three year old lungs, but mostly, a waste of time - my buddy with the 'certain sadness' is someone else now - my buddy has his direction, and place in life, and there is nothing, NOTHING more important than waking up to a new sunrise filled with three year old giggles and screams. The sadness is gone. It takes me a long while to digest the thing I witnessed that morning. The sound. --- A few weeks later, I'm back home, and bored out of my mind - realizing I don't have what it takes to stick with any project of my own that isn't paying salary+ rates for my time. Hobby time, sure, but it was time - time to get back to getting a job - a great job. The job was important, but God, the moment I noticed my buddy was whole and had a house bursting at the seems so full of love - the job wasn't going to be enough this time around, that's what I kept thinking. Thanksgiving hits, and we put TumbleOn on sale, there's a moderate amount of coverage (which for us, is 2 articles a month..) - 35,000 users download it in two days - incredible, and yet, it doesn't matter. Adam, our designer, and I are all with our respective families and the sale is a ploy - we're winging it, seeing if getting the word out more will lift sales afterward. It doesn't, and it doesn't matter - because we're all spending the holiday in our own little version of my friend in Seattle's world - those two or three holiday days where the adults all put the calendars down and take the time to actually live and soak it all in. A few days later, I've got a new great job, and Adam's just finished up at his. At this point, Adam had elaborate plans that I laughed at, like the asshole friend that I am. He's going to spend 6 months really trying to make something happen. Self-involved me failed at that dream after about 2 weeks, so I couldnt' see how he'd do any better. Christmas rolls through, Tumblr iPad is release, cutting our sales in half or so - worst christmas present ever? We feel sorry for ourselves for a number of days, until the optimistic cycle kicks over again. We post our new year post - 100 million in those first 6 months, another 200 million in the 2 or 3 months since - it's growing, what are we doing feeling sorry for ourselves? And we come full circle, confused by 90 gigabytes of transfer, ignoring our google analytics altogether, which regularly clocks 10 visitors on the site any given time of any day - and the fun little mario sound script, that stupid thing is useless now, b/c we'll be adding thousands of users a day when our ad-supported version hits in a few weeks - had we had the thing on during our free experiment back when, we would have been scrambling to turn our speakers off, because, you know, 20K users in a day is about 13 chimes a minute.. --- Before I went out the door to drive home, I asked Adam- 'how much are you working on your 6 month dream?' He opens this funny little insane-person's plugin on his browser, he clocked 56 hours last week, for fun. Damn, maybe Adam's not me after all, maybe this kid's got it - I really hope he does, he deserves the damn world. I drive home and think on my friend from Seattle, the guy with perpetual loving sunrises, maybe he's not me either, maybe he's got it too, he, too, deserves the world. Maybe we all have a little flame inside ourselves, some little switch that's going to flip over - some little moment or series of moments that's going to catalyze the next great chapter, our truly golden years. For some of us, that may be a three year old noise box to wake us with the sun, for others, our ambition, drive, dedication, and the big pay-off. I'm not sure what my little flame is, but I know this. For so many years I wanted to write that script and hear mario singing my success - I just wanted to hear that little cash register sound, heralding my 15 minutes. For all of those years I had completely forgotten about those sounds that truly mattered, the sound of a three year old thrashing his father to conciousness with all of his little might. Once you empty your so-important little bucket list, hit your number, your dollar amount, whatever, there's still a whole lot of life to live - I think for my next trick I'll figure out how to wake with the sun.

Life & Career Lessons – 2012

Music: Angels and Airwaves – Diary

I’m always a little late on the 2012 lists, stick with me, this’ll be worth it.

Executive Summary of 2012:

I started 2012 by taking a bit of a risk careerwise, where before I had been the enterprise huge-company guy, I ventured into mid-sized startupish culture, pushing myself out of my personal comfort zone in terms of commute and direction. I was getting into mobile (IOS) development in my spare time, but still wanted to fill in some experience gaps I’d missed in previous opportunities. I had a good 10 month run at a great ‘startup’ in downtown Austin, was laid off, felt my world was upside down for a little while there, and came out of the tailspin – righted myself and found myself with a really great career path/opportunity for 2013.

2012 wasn’t all career & code, but it was certainly too much of it, and it shows. We’ll get to the finer points on that angle as we get through the list.

So, here’s what I learned:

I learned to take risks.

When I quit my job at PayPal a few years ago, I had interviewed around a bit, but didn’t find anything quite perfect. Meanwhile, I was steadily growing more and more disenchanted with code and slow moving big companies. At some point I decided to just quit, taking the risk to take a little time off to take a break, and fall back in love with code in the process.

The day I quit, I was scared to tell my wife what I’d done, and I was shocked when she gave me one of the best hugs of my life and simply told me “What took you so long?”. – Only days later she would not stop telling me that there was an immediate change in my mood, my sense of peace, and my happiness.

The thing that happened when I quit PayPal was, I took my destiny into my own hands. I decided firmly that PayPal wasn’t it for me, and that the next great thing was out there somewhere.

I spent that next year consulting on a cloud infrastructure product at Dell, making some really great friends in the process, and learning all about datacenter innards that I’d never had a chance to learn about back at PayPal.

When the Dell gig was up a year later, I interviewed around again, and found myself pushing my personal envelope of comfort and safety even further – trying a startup-like mid-size company with an open-atmosphere office layout and 90% all-star employees. I wasn’t a cultural fit for the new place, but I was surprised to find myself very comfortable in my own skin – despite philisophical clashes with the culture at large.

The point is, the downside to risk is the unknown, but the upside, if you can handle it, is also the unknown. Each time I switched jobs I learned a little more about what’s always the same in software, and what can be, and should be different. Each time I jumped from one ship to the next, I accepted a little bit more risk and discomfort, and learned a lot about myself, because the opportunity ahead of me always offered 1,000 new variables.

While I was at that ‘startup’ with the all-stars, I learned quite a few valuable lessons, such as:

I learned that sales guys really matter.

As a hot-shot self-involved software engineer/coder, I’ve always had trouble understanding what it is that the sales guys actually *do* at a company. It always seemed the sales guys were the guys selling more than we could deliver, and generally mucking things up – this may still be a fair assessment for a giant cant-do-wrong company such as a PayPal or Dell where the money is pouring in the doors no matter what happens. … It would not be unfair to say I had contempt and disdain for the marketing guys.

Then I worked at a startup.

When you personally meet the 3 or 4 guys who have those sales calls week to week to keep the 3 or 4 big clients sending the checks in, the contempt fades. When you hear the war stories of those 3 guys working in a shitty little closet of an office, and see a team of 20+ engineers around you in a posh downtown office making great salaries 3 years later – the disdain goes too.

Seeing and hearing those sales guys in action was, I think, *critical* to my understanding of how the world works. And let me tell you, Mr. Hotshot Engineer or Designer, the part you do, doesn’t mean shit. The world of money goes around based on relationships and a little bit of luck. The guy in your office who’s non-replacable is the guy who looks and acts like a walking parody out of a ralph lauren ad – so long as he can sell.

When you see VP so and so from client X lose their shit for some random reason and threaten your company’s bottom line on a whim, then see your sales guy have that same VP offering more money next month after a 5 minute phone conversation, that’s when the light bulb clicks on, and you realize that really, the code matters a little, but not very much.

I learned that assholes matter.

The thing about jerks is, they run their mouths. The thing about the right kind of asshole is, they’ve got charisma, and backbone. There are certainly standard run-of-the-mill wannabe jerks who don’t have the right, and I’d argue we could all stand being nicer to one another day to day in general, but man, assholes make the world actually move.

Working in the big company, you’ll see an executive here or there who wasn’t the original big idea guy or gal, and wasnt the nepotism stick-it-out-long-enough ladder climber – frankly, this odd executive is the asshole. And, like it or not, you and I need these people.

When you work in the smaller company, and see the next engineering VP hired cold off the street, along with half a dozen other hires – you’ll know which one he is. He’s going to run his mouth. He’s going to be friendly to everyone, but trash talk everyone too. He’s cunning, he’s smart as a whip, and if he’s rude, he’ll get you if you cross him. Most everyone will agree that this new guy is going to ruin the company, except.. he doesn’t, he does the exact opposite. It’s the nice polite guys who are too scared to risk their necks who ruin the company.

The thing about the asshole is, he gets shit done, he has drive. He has a fault of running his mouth, and along with that comes a life full of lessons of how to get himself out of the jams his mouth gets him in over and over – that means, this guy has a spine, this guy can make tough decisions, and this guy will deliver when it counts.

I’m not advocating ladder climbers, I’m not advocating jerks being jerks for the sake of jerktitude, I’m just saying, they have a place, and when you find the right asshole, they’re going to deliver and kick ass while doing it. The delicious irony will be, 5 years from now when your midsize is larger than midsize, the asshole who everyone hates will be the only executive of the lot who arguably deserves his merit badge title. Think on that.

I learned the value of having lunch with others.

One of the perks at my job last year was paid lunches. This is a really great thing for developers, because developers are idiots in many ways. First, they’re anti-social, and secondly, they’re cheap. So, if they can pretend to be a robot and work 8 hours straight with a hotpocket “meal” in the middle, they will, like idiots.

The downside to this is that it takes your developers a year to make the friendships your marketing team will make with each other in a week. The solution to this problem is to get your developers to go have lunch together.

After having lunch with my new peers for only a few weeks, it became immediately obvious to me how stupid I’d been in my career until that point. Previously I’d always opted for a 15 minute or 30 minute lunch, microwaving something, and getting back to it. In only a few weeks with the new group, I knew more about several of those guys than I did people I’d worked beside for 3+ years at PayPal.

Lunch matters, take it, and have lunch with friends and colleagues, often. Happy hours, too.

I learned that open environments can work for coders, within reason.

Open environment offices are an in-thing. Facebook did it, so everyone else must now do this too.

I disagree with the open environment if it’s done the wrong way. Doing it the wrong way includes: forbidding telecommuting; having more than ten people in any one open space; having sales guys in the same open office as the coders; not providing quiet spaces (couches, little closet hotel cubes) for people to go to to talk or work; and test-piloting your open-space idea on an executive sales team, then mandating it for the world (PayPal..).

Doing it the right way means doing the opposite of everything above, and providing nice noise cancelling headphones for your employees.

Coders need quiet, and time to think, and noise-cancelling headphones are not enough. The place I worked this past year had a great open-environment layout and telecommuting policy, but even still there were more than a few days where I had unending headaches caused by the choice of music or office chatter.

I learned that telecommuting is really awesome, within reason.

Let’s see, this past year I accomplished many things while telecommuting, I watched the entire 5 seasons of the wire (amazing, perception altering show, btw), many movies, did a lot of laundry, took my dog on many walks, and was more productive than I’ve ever been at any job in the meantime.

Telecommuting isn’t for everyone, you’ve got to be driven, on-task, and have a list to constantly feed on when you finish the task before. But, for coders, who need the quiet, the peace, and the space to play This Will Destroy You at deafening volumes from time to time, telecommuting is great.

The thing to remember about telecommuting is that it’s lost face time with your colleagues and boss, and you’ve got to make time while in the office to make up for that lost time.

When 2012 started, I thought telecommuting was something you do on a day without real work, in a startup-like mid-size, those days don’t exist – and that’s a good thing, because by the end of 2012 I can safely say telecommuting days are the days you take to really go heads down (even with This Will Destroy You or The Wire blaring in the background) and get shit done. Asking for a telecommuting day no longer carries a guilty connotation with me, and as a person who consistently delivers, I actually *need* the freedom to just go do the right thing from time to time.

I learned to track myself better.

I’ve always been a list maker, and from time to time I burn myself out with the lists. There’s a balance between the lists and actually letting life just happen, and I suck at that balance.

It turns out, I had a fatal flaw in the way I managed lists. That is, I deleted items after I finished them.

Don’t delete items after you finish them, grey them out, in place, and make a new list each week.

When you grey the items out, you start to get a feel for how much you actually accomplish.

Going into 2012 I was constantly feeling stressed out that I was never on top of my list, and that the list was constantly growing.

After a year of greying items out I feel worlds different, I now have great pride in how much I accomplish, and yet I also finally understand about how many items I can truly knock out per week. I also, for better or for worse, realize what a shitty friend and flake of a person I can be sometimes, because the lists show me these things where before the giant list that never ends with deleted items did not.

I learned that tracking myself does not matter.

One thing I’ve always done with my lists of tasks at work is track what I did each day, because I thought I could cover my ass with the paper trail. It turns out, that matters somewhat, but .. well, not really ..

I learned to be fired (and, when to quit).

I wasn’t fired, I was layed off, budgets got tight, last in first out, etc, but really – I was fired. I was on the top of the boss’ list to axe for a while, and I knew it. I wasn’t a great cultural fit, and had fundamental philosophical differences with prioritization and feel-good-about-ourselves-rewriting-endlessly-for-the-hell-of-it wankery.

When I started working at the place, it was an uncomfortable risk in several ways, and at first I gave myself 6 months to decide if I liked it – at some point that changed to a year mark, and a little after that it turned into a “2 or 3 years, I guess..” kind of thing from my side. I was into it, having fun, but cultural friction was perpetually upsetting. Nothing quite like being 1 of 5 “platform” engineers never invited to the endless feel-good-about-ourselves wankery standards meetings that never went anywhere, perhaps the fact that it was wankery in my mind had something to do with it 🙂

To the point about covering your ass with your paper trail, the thing there is, that doesn’t matter. If someone has a target on your back for whatever reason, the paper trail won’t help you. What will help you is spending more time getting to know people and working things out by communicating more, if anything.

Communication helps, but also, life is short, if you’re unhappy with your lot in life, even a little bit, consider changing your lot. For me, I had to be laid off to have the wakeup call that I was settling in several ways to work at the place. I had convinced myself that the settling was part of the discomfort/risk experiment, and honestly I’d probably still be working there today had I not had the not-so-gentle push out that I needed.

Saying I “Learned to be fired” sounds funny, but truly, learning to not compromise 100%, have a little backbone, and be myself mostly was worthwhile. Had I not been myself, I would have hated myself for capitulating to philosophical differences I couldn’t get behind, and I probably still would have been first on the list to go. There’s a stigma to the thought of being fired, especially if you’re someone who’s fired for really bad reasons – such as not actually doing your job. In my case, I did my job to the best of my ability, and kicked ass while doing it, all without compromising my character or beliefs in the process. Being let go for philosophical differences is a lot like being that hard-won asshole VP – being let go b/c you give a damn, and stood up for something, but fell on the wrong side of the dice. (In this case, I just gave a different Damn than the rest of the team.. :))

I’m not advocating getting fired, but truly, politely contributing to the cause without making a scene of your philosophical differences too often, is worth it, even if you’re fired over it. I suppose a secondary lesson to learning that assholes are needed is that you can’t be everyone’s friend. You win some, and you lose some. That’s really all there is to it.

No slight to the people I worked with or for, to each his own, truly – I wasn’t a cultural fit at the place, end of story, and that’s one of the beautiful things about software – there’s a dozen or more overarching cultural styles you’ll encounter depending on the shop – if you don’t fit at one place, you’ll fit at another.

I learned to communicate with my spouse, regularly.

The layoff could have been a lot worse, had I not been able to communicate openly and work through the topsy-turvy tailspin with my wife by my side.

Earlier in the year my wife and I had gone to some couples therapy together. As a non-religious person who values reason and actually doing something to change yourself for the better, I highly recommend therapy when the time is right.

We skipped marriage counseling, luckily having enough wits about ourselves to already talk about and understand each other’s thoughts on money, babies, family, etc before actually tying the knot. I’m glad we skipped marriage counseling b/c honestly we wouldn’t have enjoyed it or been ready for it – we were on a high that didnt really dip from the day we met until late 2011 – the counseling would have caused needless turmoil, or been wasted on deaf ears.

So we had communication breakdown, and went to speak with a counselor, a great one.

It’s funny how even the greatest relationships still have amazing amounts of built-in fear and reservation. There were so many downright silly and stupid things that my wife and I were so scared to talk about with each other, nitpicks on character or even habits and whatnot that didnt matter in the big scheme of things. The thing is, the nitpicks build into a mountain at somepoint and will kill you if you can’t talk about them. Having a third party intermediary person there to listen to us and encourage us to talk about the scary things really helped.

At first, there were many tears and deep breaths while we vocalized things that were bothering us, and sometimes voices were raised, but the counselor kept draining reason into our ears and showing us how to handle these communications on our own. A few weeks later, even the most intimate fears or new worries were voiced easily without any fear at all – we didn’t even need the counselor anymore. That’s how you can tell you’ve got a great counselor, when there’s an end game and you can see yourself clearly in a better place of understanding than before.

Another tidbit the counselor gave us was a really great, if corny sounding tool: relationship talks.

A relationship talk is a weekly meeting (no shit, like a business meeting) that lasts 20 minutes. Spouse A has ten minutes to talk, uninterrupted, if time is left at the end of their ten minutes, Q&A can happen. Then Spouse B takes a turn. That’s it, the end. Next week, you switch who goes first. After the meeting, you do something fun together, which in our case usually wound up being a walk around the neighborhood b/c we’d find there was so much stuff to talk about that the relationship talk would open up. You do the relationship talk *every* week, no exceptions. Sometimes the talk’s a tear jerker, most times it’s boring, but doing it every week is essential.

The relationship talk keeps the communication lines open. When they’re wide open and you’re humming along happily, the talks may be a bit bland, but even then they’ll suprise you with news you had no idea of, and when the comm lines are shut down or atrophying, the relationship talk will save you. I promise.

We also started doing ‘Wonderful Wednesdays’, which, more or less, is date night. No computers, no tv, something wholesome and fulfilling and rejuvinating, together, no exceptions. In practice, it’s sometimes a ‘Wonderful Tuesday’ because something really can’t budge, but making time in your life, together, to chill the fuck out is important.

I learned to read myself, and trust my gut.

I am what, and who I am. I’m driven, impatient at times, overly dramatic, and extremely emotional when everything’s just right.

Otherwise, like most of this last year, I’m dead inside.

Early on at the startup, my boss informed me that he didn’t like the way I communicate, I’m too wordy, imprecise, yatta yatta. – It was a fair assessment in part, but I took it all the wrong way and used it as a vice rather than a tool to grow with. Long story short, it fucked me up.

My natural style is to be transparent, open, and accomodating, so hearing that I was expected to be more precise and careful with my words sounded a lot like I’d have to be someone different while I worked at the place if I was going to cut it. In the end, I probably WOULD have had to be a different person to jive well there longterm, but the point my boss was making wasnt that I should shut down and be a different person, he was saying I should strive to be slightly less sloppy.

I told myself I was becoming a respectable little adult by shutting down and towing the line, and when I was finally laid off a good while later – it all came pouring out. My writing became prolific again, as did my creative whims. I was staying up through the night one or two nights per month, I was even honest-to-god crying fairly often at even the littlest beautiful or horrible things – I was me, again.

Perhaps I’m both of these people, the emotional creative dreamer, and the tight-ass conservative who’s dead inside, but I prefer the dreamer.

Time and time again I’ve noticed these moments where everything synchronizes into this chaotic yet perfectly ordered moment where some huge chapter in life immediately makes sense – as if my subconscious has been working on it all the while, for months. The backside of those events is always the same – I’m writing, I’m loving my life, I’m creating all sorts of crazy little mementos, I’m taking it easy more often, and I’m, yes, occasionally crying at the immense overcoming beauty and tragedy of it all.

2012 gave me metrics, if I’m not blogging for the fuck of it at 5am on a work night once or twice a month, something’s off. If I’m not occasionally trading sleep for another one-night shot at something great, something’s wrong – and it’s time to really assess what my gut is telling me.

I learned to be brave, and patient.

Life is funny. Often the most important stories and lessons of your life are ticking right along, slowly, very slowly, in the background – completely hidden by silly shit you tell yourself matters more. Here’s what I mean, when I was pulling photos from the past 3 years out of my archives for the Freddie Book, I had to scroll past thousands, literally thousands of photos of my dog. I’m a dog guy, not a cat guy, and though I think my dog’s pretty fucking amazing, the story to tell for recent years is not hers, it’s the cat’s.

Here’s a picture of the awesome dog anyway:

Anyway, after being laid off, I took time off, again like after PayPal, because I could, and because I knew I needed to. TumbleOn seemed to be taking off, so I distracted myself with dreams about that for a while, and I visited my good friend in Seattle for a bit, and so on. After the predictable this-is-going-nowhere burnout phase that followed shortly, I was finally at ease for a moment or two. This was one of those moments where the chaos distilled into clarity.

One morning I woke up, and decided to write the story of Freddie. There are perhaps 3 days in the past year like the day I wrote that story, but Freddie’s story was the best of the three, easily.

Freddie came through me like they say the Bible did the prophets, it just flowed, as if from somewhere else. I didnt plan it 3 days previous, I didnt even know what the damn point of the thing was as I was writing it, and yet, as the story flowed out it turned into this really incredible, amazing thing – an allegory for my own personal story of 2012 – of learning to take larger and larger risks, be brave, and welcome change – all while giving credit to the one person who deserves all the credit for any betterment in my life ever, my wife.

I won’t bother you with the details of Freddie’s story here, you can go read the book yourself (online, for free).

I learned that success is not what capitalism says it is.

Working at the ‘startup’ this past year was really a great experience to be walking through while simultaneously seeing our personal side project, TumbleOn, grow.

Until you’ve worked at a startup, or a ‘startup’ that’s really a decently-funded mid-size pretending to be a ‘startup’, you don’t really ‘get’ what success is. Success, arguably, in American or capitalistic terms, is striking it rich. But, frankly, striking it rich is a stroke of luck, whether you win the lottery or win the right-time-right-place lottery like Bill gates.

This past year redefined my personal measure of success. Success is not a certain amount of money, or a title, success is being one of those initial three guys in a closet-sized office, seeing 20 well-salaried employees loving life 3 years later. Success is making something great that brings joy to other people’s lives.

Would I like TumbleOn to make me and my friends independently wealthy? Sure, but to me, TumbleOn is already the largest personal success of my short little career, and the sweet and sad fact is, it may be the largest success of my long term career as well. In my own little corner of the world, I’ve been a part of a small team who made something really amazing that thousands of people use regularly, viewing more than 300 million photos in 2012, and more than a billion in 2013.. laughing, gasping, giggling, and being inspired along the way.

To me, as I said earlier this year, success is not the money, success is making something bigger than myself, that makes the world just a little bit better than it would be without me.

I learned to take detours.

A stronger relationship between my wife and I resulted in a bolder wife, who’s more uppity lately, in all the right ways. This year she really put the time in to repeat the message to me that I should live life a bit more rather than plan so much.

For example, I immediately thought to take a long-planned-anyway trip to Seattle after being laid off, but kept the thought secret and was ashamed – it seemed extravagant given the circumstances. A few days after the layoff, my wife independently suggested and insisted that I go to Seattle. I hemmed and hawwed about it, listing the cons of the idea (money), and she wouldn’t have it. She knew what was good for me, and sitting at home in the familiar, moping, driving myself crazy wasn’t it.

Months later, I was visiting some friends, absent mindedly returning from lunch with a good buddy, when I got lost.

I wasn’t lost lost, but I was way off the beaten path. My coder brain immediately detoured me to the most efficient route home – still a different route than that intended, but efficient – when all of the sudden half way home I slammed on my brakes and nearly caused a wreck – swerving into the drive way of this great botanical gardens in Fort Worth. I’d completely forgotten the place was there, and decided that for once I would take my wife’s advice, and take the detour, throwing efficiency out the window.

On my way into the Japanese Gardens, the ticket clerk asked how my day was going, I told him “it was going alright, but it’s about to get a whole lot better”. The clerk laughed. I took a few steps inside and something primal overtook me. I felt as if I were outside myself, floating through this long-familiar place, truly soaking in the beauty and moment at hand – it was a feeling I really don’t have often.

As I walked past the zen garden I was congratulating myself on taking a detour, excited to tell my wife, sure that she’d be so proud of me for actually experiencing something rather than running the numbers beforehand.

I walked and savored the moment, being outside myself as in a dream, and conscious of it all the while. As I continued on, I saw something amazing, or I thought it was.

There was this crane, sunning himself, wings spread wide to wholly accept the sun. He too, was savoring the moment, and he just stood there, zen-like in this serene scene for a full 10 minutes, motionless. For a while I was convinced he was some poetic statue painted convincingly real, and then he blinked.

Seeing that crane, on my floating detour, was one of those weird things I don’t think I’ll ever forget for the rest of my life. Now, two months later, I can barely recall many of the particulars of that visit to Fort Worth at all, but that moment in the sun, watching that crane fully accepting the simultaneous chaos, beauty, and fragility of life – that scene and moment will stick with me for life.

Thank you, wife, for telling me to take detours.

I learned that time is precious.

The flipside to living a happy and full life is that there isn’t enough time in life.

There’s something they call “FU Money”, or, “Fuck You Money”. Loosely, this is the amount of money it would take for you to quit working and start living your life the way you want, and deserve, to live it.

Something flipped in Steve Jobs’ brain one day, and he realized the best way he could live his life was to live every day as if it were his last.

This year, I learned to set my “Fuck You Money” value to $0. I’m no zen master like Jobs, but for the first time since college I can honestly say that I’m working at a place where even if I were independently wealthy, I’d still be showing up for work the very next day.

That is what I, and you, and everyone, deserves.

You deserve to work with kick ass people who both inspire you and celebrate with you. You deserve to take time on wednesdays to be with your family and turn the computers and calendars off. You deserve to take time in the middle of the night to forego sleep in favor of some crazy undending blog rant (like this) or new project idea. You deserve to take vacation, and you deserve a wake-up call from time to time.

There’s this great White Stripes documentary of their last tour. There’s a segment in there where Jack White is talking about living on the edge, manufacturing wake-up calls. He says that when he goes on stage, he measures the comfortable distance to set the mic stand so he can easily grab his next guitar pick. Then, he moves the mic stand a few feet further, so he has to really jump and make himself get that pick in time. Sometimes he misses, sometimes he knocks the damn stand over, but every time he gaurantees he’s living – because he’s pushing his own personal envelope of comfort in even the silliest esoteric ways – and, he says, it works.