Monday, December 29, 2014

It's Not My Raid

Some people like to dress up in special clothes, get together with like-minded individuals, and then spend 90+ minutes running back and forth over a hundred-meter rectangle of grass. Others like to wear scarves and yell at the first people. I confess to not being fit enough to do the first thing nor dedicated enough to do the second, but as I said before, Some People Juggle Geese.

What I do for fun, a couple of times a week, is to sit at my computer and coordinate with between 15 and 20 other people for three hours trying to make certain pixels last longer than other pixels on the screen. This is called "World of Warcraft Raiding" and it is not terribly common as a pastime, but it's something that my partner and I enjoy doing together with a number of our friends across the world. My partner actually has her own raid group that she leads, and I'm lucky enough to have a spot on that team, but that group is currently on hiatus for various reasons, so we have been participating in another, different group doing what's known as "progression raiding", which mostly involves the very endgame, very hardest content of the World of Warcraft videogame. Of the ten million or so people who have active subscriptions to WoW, only about 1% have even attempted playing in the current raid content, which works out to around a hundred thousand or so people worldwide. I currently play regularly with 20 or so of them. 

One of the things that I've been doing besides trying to get better at my particular role in the raid is doing a lot of reading on how other raids and other raid leaders prioritize choices, make decisions, and in general just run raids, as a precursor to helping my partner bring her raid team back together. Now, believe it or not, raid leading is actually pretty hard: finding a group of people who are not just interested in hanging out together but are interested in hanging out together and doing something with a 99% failure rate as their idea of fun. And that's what progression raiding is: failing, over and over and over again, attempting to find strategies and methods that allow for successful coordination of a disparate group of people with distinct abilities and roles in order to overcome challenges and work together to become greater than the sum of their individual parts. 

This sounds a lot like team management, doesn't it? I see you've figured out my Bad Metaphor for the entry. Stick with me to the end, though. 

There are lots and lots (and lots) of blogs, articles, entries, and opinions on what makes a "successful" raid and how raid leadership "should" be done. But a big chunk of the advice and suggestions from these blogs, articles, and entries seem not just uninteresting or inapplicable to our current experience, but actively anathema to how I am interested in playing the game. 

BUT! Harkening back to the "Some People Juggle Geese" model of things, it's important to understand that, while that doesn't sound like fun to me, there are plenty of people out there who think it is fun to play that way. It's not my Raid, and consequently it's not my place to say or do something that could be construed as critical or otherwise negative. In fact, while my partner regularly asks for my input about the thinking, decisions, and standards and practices of their own raid team, asking for my input does not make me a co-leader, or even an officer of control; it makes me at best a consigliere, and more often a simple sounding board. It's Not My Raid, it's my partner's raid. I just play there. I don't have ownership

However, in another sense, it is my raid, in that it's the raid that I am participating in and working with to have fun and accomplish goals and hang out and tell jokes with and all of that other stuff that happens when two dozen adults get together to do something. I have input and identification in the raid (both the one I'm currently in and the one I'm hoping to be a part of). And part of that input and identification is the trust that if things are being done differently than I would do them, there are reasons for those different choices and that if I don't like or trust them, I shouldn't be hanging out with them, let alone doing something for fun with them. I am not the end-all and be-all of intelligence, resource management, personnel management, or strategic and tactical planning and execution. I'm part of a team. 

In Ops Life (see, I told you I'd get there), there's a difference between the team you're on and the team you lead. They're both Your Team, but often the former is much more common than the latter. That doesn't mean that thinking about the latter isn't fruitful, though. It's not wrong to disagree with the choices that other leaders make about how and why they lead. It is important to understand, however, that the hows and whys of any given decision may involve information to which you are not privy, and so disputing those decisions may not be the best way to keep your team from falling apart. Sometimes, you have to say "It's Not My Raid" and do your job the best you can, and let the team leaders handle the rest. 

Now, that's also not to say that you should always shut up and do what you're told; sometimes there's things that are obviously wrong, or objectionable, or things about which one feels strongly enough that it's imperative to stand up and say "hold on a second". And, of course, there's always the possibility that the direction a group, or a company, or a team is going diverges so much with your own positions that you have to say "that's enough" and go somewhere else. But much more often the solution to aggravation both in fun and in work is to say "It's Not My Raid", dig into the problem in front of you, and do the best you can. Sometimes, it's enough to get the team over the hump to success; sometimes, it's enough to highlight the path or process that's failing. Sometimes, you just have to be part of the team. And then you have to remember the lessons you're learning so that one day, when you're leading the team, you'll be able to fail in entirely different ways than before, and some other poor sucker will just have to remind themselves that It's Not Their Raid.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wash Speaks For Me

"Some People Juggle Geese."

If you don't know the reference, it's from Firefly, the Joss Whedon show back in the early Oughts that spawned some pretty hardcore fans. Wash, the series hero and my personal favourite character, is trying to explain to his wife and some of the other crewmembers of their spaceship that sometimes, people do things for fun that don't sound like fun to you. And that is OK.

It's become a shorthand for me, a reminder that my tastes are not universal and my idea of fun is not the ideal against which all others should be measured. And that is OK. It applies to a bunch of other things, too, things not about fictional entertainment modes in short-lived science fiction TV shows.

For instance, the iOS/Android divide? The particular tribalism that crops up in both camps that insists a position of superiority simply due to the brand and operating system of a pocket computer used? That's a position I don't understand. There are things about both ecologies that recommend themselves to certain people, and that's OK. I personally use an N5, but I've got friends who are committed to the iOS platform. That argument? "Some People Juggle Geese."

American Football is another one. I'm a football kinda guy, mostly MLS and UK Premier League, but I follow the World Cup, too. I love the game most americans call soccer. And I find american football (or "handegg") nearly unwatchable. BUT! "Some People Juggle Geese." I have many friends who wears player jerseys and watches games every Sunday, and that's OK.

Dungeons and Dragons has several different iterations, known as "editions", and there are virulent defenders of every version, some of whom have nothing but scorn for any other edition or anyone who plays that edition. "Some People Juggle Geese."

You can make this argument for a lot of things in the IT world, too. Python versus java? Agile versus Waterfall? DevOps versus Operations/Engineering? They all have positive and negative traits, and they all have significant backers and detractors. And that's OK. Remember: "Some People Juggle Geese."

"Some People Juggle Geese" is a reminder that the people you're working for and with have ideas and viewpoints that may be different from your own, but that doesn't make them inferior. It might even make them superior in their role and their work, even if their ideas don't work for you, and that's OK.

Make it a mantra. Or, don't, really; Some People Juggle Geese.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Do you know what today is?

Today is a Monday, and that means it's time to do something new.

Mondays get a lot of guff, much of it entirely reasonable guff; going back to work or starting a new week can often be difficult, especially if you're looking at another week of 'more of the same' of whatever it was that had you looking so longingly towards Friday last week. Mondays are when things seem to loom before you, when the work seems grindy and the leisure time seems very, very far away.

But Mondays are also a chance to shake things up; to plan the rest of the week and break everything down and divide and conquer. They're the strategy day, the day when you find out what happened last week while everyone was racing for Friday. Mondays are when stuff gets planned (and if you're doing your planning on Sundays, shame on you and more importantly shame on your boss, because it's hurting your productivity if you're working on weekends). Mondays are when teams can assess their load and distribution. Monday is the pre-flight checklist day of the week. Don't really expect to get anything done on Monday. Maybe you push the release that was doing automated testing over the weekend, or maybe there's a hotfix that you can push for something that dropped on Friday, but really, Monday is planning-and-strategy day. Mondays are the day when you get geared up for the rest of the week.

Monday is your Plan. Monday is for something new. Look forward to Monday.

You should now feel free to throw your coffee mugs at me.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Antici...

There's a really tough part to the grind of being unemployed: the waiting.

The UI department doesn't care that it's Thanksgiving. It doesn't care that I've had a couple of phone interviews with a place, or that I'm waiting on a callback. It doesn't care that my stomach is tied up in knots and I'm having trouble sleeping.

It only cares that I've looked for work, and that I haven't yet been hired.

In a way, it's been really good training for working on issues and getting myself used to the idea of managing my time better, and good practice at applying Kanban in places other than the workplace, and how organizing myself makes things easier (significantly easier, as I get older). I have had trouble in the past with writing things down, on the belief that I could just "remember" things, despite never, ever being able to remember anything at all. I once forgot my own name. So practicing the process is good.

The set goals and determined timeline also has been great practice for getting myself to think short-term, which is something I'm often terrible with. And hard deadlines are a balm to my procrastinator soul; I frequently do most of my work in a huge rush right before a deadline, and getting broken of that habit may be one of the best things that's come out of my stint as an unemployed person.

But, even then, it's the waiting.

Being on the hook for a really interesting, really engaging job at a really cool place is awful. Because I still have hope, but I've been in this place before, and been disappointed every time (if I hadn't, I wouldn't still be unemployed). And while rejection sucks, the not knowing is often stomach-churning.

So while I'm waiting for the results to come back from my latest venture, the customer UI doesn't care. So I do the work (which right now, is hunting for more work).

Obligatory Rocky Horror Picture Show Link