If I am succeeding in one area of my life, I am failing in another

I wrote about this year’s Dartmouth commencement speech over on the old professional blog today. I focused on the “how to be happy and successful at work” portion of the speech over there.

The other part of the speech that really resonated in the Payne household was “Lesson Three” from the speech. We’ve got two working professionals in this house. We both are ambitious and hard working. And the modern world allows both of us to be that way. We have challenging work. We have wonderful kids. We seemingly “have it all.”

Shonda Rhimes the commencement speaker, addresses this in her speech at the 16 minute mark:

Rhimes says:

Shonda, how do you do it all?

The answer is this: I don’t.

Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life.

If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I’m probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby’s first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter’s debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh’s last scene ever being filmed at Grey’s Anatomy. If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel a hundred percent OK

This is the best verbalization of how me and (especially) Marni feel about our constant juggling act.

And Rhimes brings it home with why we do it:

In their world, mothers run companies. In their world, mothers own Thursday nights. In their world, mothers work. And I am a better mother for it

And I am a better father.

It deserves to be better understood by everyone. But especially the young folks who fixate on “having it all.” Because you can’t. You can have more of some things that you never could be for. Or less of other things. You have more choices. But you can’t have it all. No one can.

And that’s ok.

Louis CK, the scientist

So I’m doing some reading on the concept of context collapse and social media the other day for my work at Fulfilled.  And I hit this quote:

Social psychologists argue that we come to know ourselves by seeing what we do and how others react to us, and that through interaction, actors seek to maintain the identity meanings associated with each role.

This kind of stopped me in my tracks because it reminded me of this Louis CK clip:

The most relevant segment starts at the 1:25 mark. From Conan’s helpful transcript, when talking about kids and their mobile phones:

Louis C.K.: You know, I think these things are toxic, especially for kids. It’s this thing. It’s bad. They don’t look at people when they talk to them. They don’t build the empathy. Kids are mean and it’s because they’re trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, you’re fat. Then they see the kid’s face scrunch up and say ooh, that doesn’t feel good. But when they write they’re fat, they go, hmm, that was fun.

CONAN: That tasted good.

Louis C.K.: The thing is you need build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something that’s what the phones are taking

The parallel between Louis CK talking about kids “trying it out” and the social psychologists talking about how we “come to know ourselves by seeing what we do and how others react to us” seemed like too much of a coincidence.

Either Louis CK is pretty well read on social psychology or he simply stumbled into this particular grain of truth when telling his jokes (like most good comedy). Given the forethought and planning that the best comedians put into their routines, I like to think it is the former.

Chilly Half-Marathon Review – 2012

Last weekend I ran my third half-marathon — the Chilly Half-Marathon in Newton, MA.

This is the second time I’ve run this half-marathon. The 2011 edition was the first half-marathon I had ever tried.

In terms of the race, it is essentially unchanged from last year. It was again run in the early morning, starting from Newton South High. The course did not change. The course itself is pretty hilly, especially in the mid-section where there are some steep hills and we get to descend Heartbreak Hill from the Boston Marathon course.

This year, the weather was a bit warmer. Though the race was in the shade for much of the time, by the home stretch, the sun was shining and I felt the warmth of the sun for the last couple hundred meters.

Rather than (useless) medals, the finishers got running gloves. I liked it.

The race itself is recommended.

My performance

I was pleasantly surprised by my personal performance at this race.

I had battled shin splints most of the summer and took 6 weeks off from running from July through mid-August. I got healthy enough to squeeze in enough training to ramp up to two 12 mile training runs in late October. But because of the lay-off, the caution I exhibited in not training too hard coming off the injury, and the hilly nature of the course, I didn’t expect to improve upon my time from last May at the half-marathon in Gloucester.

I ended up running the race in 1:41, or a 7:45/mile pace. This is 13 seconds per mile faster than my previous half-marathon. I dropped my time by 4 minutes or so.

I attribute my much better performance here not to better training, but to better racing. My general MO in road races has historically been to take it easy in the early stages and then gradually build up my pace. In each of my half-marathons prior to this one, I had a lot of kick left in my for the last two miles and came in faster than the others on the course with me, passing lots of folks.

This time, I had a better feel for my capabilities and ran the first half of the race at an 8 minute/mile pace. I forgot to bring my GPS watch, but a fellow runner gave me the data data point of 39:30 at the 5 mile mark. I basically ran the entire race with people at my ability.

In this race, I didn’t pass many folks in the second-half of the race, and was passed by a few. I was still able to pass folks on the hills, but many fewer and some would pass me back on the down hills.

Once I hit mile 12 or so, I was passed by a woman in a pink running top. I figured it was time to turn on my usual end of race kick and pass her back. But when I tried to turn it up and leave nothing on the course, I didn’t find any more speed. I couldn’t catch her for the last mile or so. I tailed her and finally passed her in the home stretch when I sprinted.

What’s next?

Probably more half-marathons. I figure I’ll need to do some more speed work to continue my trend of half-marathon improvement. I also think I need to figure out how to run the downhills with less effort and more speed.

I’ll look for more to do either this winter or the spring. Open to recommendations for local races. Any ideas?

Recursive Images

And now, for something completely different . . .

Every day at HubSpot, I have a ‘standup’ meeting with my scrum team. We have a team member in Egypt so we typically do it over Skype, video and all. Nothing amuses me more than projecting my colleague in Egypt’s image on the screen and pointing the camera at the screen so that the Skype’s view-finder window shows our colleague recursively, i.e. a picture of my colleague shows a picture of my colleague which shows a picture of my colleague which . . . . I don’t know why, but I find this hilarious.

I was reminded of this today when I read xkcd.com today:

Which reminded me of my favorite post from deadspin.com (before I stopped reading it) and the image of Juan Rivera from the LA Angels looking at himself recursively:

I love the Rivera’s body language there.

Some simple googling led me to learn that this effect is commonly known as the Droste Effect, named after an advertisement from 1903 that employed it:

My earliest recollection of my fascination with this phenomena was with a cookie box from McDonald’s. It showed a picture of Ronald and friends, with Ronald holding a box of cookies which showed a picture of Ronald and friends, with Ronald holding a box of cookies . . . my 7 year old brain was totally fascinated. Unfortunately I couldn’t find an image on the interwebs (shocking, I know!).

Anyone else have a favorite example of this (non MC Escher division)?

Edit: From reddit today: 

Toy Suggestions for a 4 Year Old Boy

Lincoln Log House by a 4 Year OldRecently, Eddie from my office asked me for suggestions for a birthday present for his 4 year old nephew. Rather than simply responding in an email so Eddie can benefit, I figured I’d post here what I wrote so others might benefit too. (Yes, totally off topic from my usual writings. Don’t worry, I’ve got another a few software posts percolating in me).

Here’s an edited version of what I emailed Eddie (edited in that I don’t use my kids’ names or image in social media typically):

Having observed my 4 year old play all day Friday (and having been a 4 year old once), if you want to get new toys for your nephew, here are my suggestions:

1) Hot Wheels cars and tracks. I got my 4 year old a complete Hot Wheels track set from Toys R Us for Hanukah this year and it always pleases when we pull it out. He can play with the cars on his own, he can set up tracks and shoot the cars down the tracks, etc. It kept him busy for 1 hr+ on Friday when we were stuck inside during the snow day. I got him this combo set from Toys R Us in store. And then bought a bunch of cars and some extra lengths of track. I used to have something similar as a kid 30+ years ago.

Why did I get him this present? With my dad hat on, I basically resolved to buy him a present that only requires an understanding of Newtonian physics. No integrated circuits allowed 😉 All his aunts and uncles buy him “cool” toys that require batteries and do all sorts of crazy things. I figured I could go retro simple and he’d use his imagination a whole lot more. I shied away from the “monster” car sets or the other hot wheels stuff that puts the classic toy on steroids.

Plus the cars (on their own) only cost ~$1, each. So its easy to show up as the cool uncle with a new car.

Other ideas:
2) He loves to play with Lincoln Logs. Those are a good building toy for this age. He just spent his “nap” time playing with them happily for an hour while I wrote this email/post.

3) You could take him to a Lego store at the mall — they basically have a buffet of legos where you can just buy whatever individual pieces you want. Don’t buy him one of the “cool” Star Wars lego sets — that’s basically a project for you or his father. Trust me, I built the coolest Darth Vader Tie Fighter in December. I just want my kids to have a big bucket of generic legos that they can build cool stuff with using their imagination, not some ridiculous set of directions with custom molded pieces.

4) Magna-Tiles are also an awesome building toy. They break my “Newtonian” Physics rule, but its still high school physics when you’re doing magnets. That’s what we got our nephew for Hanukah this year.

Obsessed with the Product (How I Became a Product Manager)

Former IBM colleague Badri gets the gold star for responding to my call to action and recommending topics for future blog posts. Seeing as this is a full service blog, I’m happy to oblige.

Badri asked how I came to my current role as a product manager at a software company. Its a good question, for which there are probably many correct answers. There are many different paths to product management, as elaborated by a book I recently read on software product management, by Marty Cagan entitled Inspired: How to Make Products Customers Love.

Given that there’s no one path, I’ll give recount my professional journey and some of the key turning points.

Way back in the olden days . . . I got an electrical engineering degree and continued on for a “Masters of Engineering Management” before I entered the real world. I got that Masters degree because I kind of knew that I wasn’t going to be interested in being a working electrical engineer. I liked how the engineering discipline had helped me develop problem solving skills and I knew I wanted to be involved in technology at some level, but I didn’t get jazzed by the prospect of designing circuits. So I entered the job market at just about the perfect time for a partially confused, recent grad — 1998 — and got myself a job at a software company: Kenan Systems.

At Kenan, I joined the consulting group. We were charged with deploying a UNIX-based billing product at telecommunications carriers. This was a booming market given the deregulation at the time (in addition to the internet bubble). We were growing rapidly and doing great business. By early 1999, I was a project manager in the consulting practice, and by late 1999 I was leading a huge project at a large long distance carrier in Rio de Janeiro. I was way over my head. It was great. I was 25 and presenting to the CIO and CFO of one of the biggest companies in Brazil.

After three years of traveling and working with customers, I moved into a different role at Kenan (which had been purchased by Lucent by this time). I leveraged my hands on experience with the product and at customers into a project management/release management role inside the development organization at Kenan/Lucent. Rather than working with customers, I was scoping and project managing the releases of that same product. I did this for another 3 years. The key to my smooth transition into this new role was my intuition for our customers’ expectation and my deep understanding of the products’ capabilities. My first mentor at Kenan had gotten his start there in the quality assurance group. He set an example of basing his continued success at the company through understanding the technology we provided. Though this mentor was at the Director level and rarely at a customer site for more than a day at a time, he continued to tinker with the software and maintain deep familiarity with it.

6 years total at essentially the same company (Lucent sold us off to CSG), provided me with a foundation of skills. I understood that a key to my successes had been becoming a deep expert in our product. I understood the product development process after working with a good set of predominantly MIT trained, Kendall Square developers. I knew I could push back on their technical arguments, even if I wasn’t a hacker myself. I understood the basics of project management, though I knew tinkering with Gantt charts made me want to scream.

But after 6 years at Kenan/Lucent/CSG, I saw that the trajectory of the company had leveled off and was heading in the wrong direction. Whereas in 1999, I was being given too much responsibility too quickly (which was great), by ’04 I had no clear growth path. My personal trajectory had leveled off. I knew I didn’t want to be a project manager forever.

In response, I found a new job at a new company. I took a bit of a sideways step, taking a project management role in consulting services at a small enterprise software firm — iPhrase Technologies. The strategy was to join a growing, more flexible company where I’d be able to find a new gap that would strike my interest.

After about 9 months at iPhrase, I started a dialog with the VP of Marketing. I didn’t really know what they did in marketing, but they seemed to work on interesting stuff from where I sat. They gave demos (cool!), they worked on sales calls (exciting!), they collaborated with the development team (hey, I used to do that!), they gave webinars (neat!)  and just generally seemed to get to work on decisions that helped steer the company. I told him I’d like to move into his team, having spent 9 months learning the product and the market space and generally gaining the trust of folks with whom I interacted.

To his credit (and my gratitude), he was immediately receptive and supportive. He asked me whether I was more interested in Product Management (doing things like defining product requirements) or Product Marketing (more strategic tasks). I hadn’t thought through the question ahead of time but I immediately responded “Product Marketing”, reasoning that it was further out from my comfort zone and would be the better learning experience. That was probably the best split-second decisions I’ve ever made. The reasoning turned out to be sound and it meant that he hooked me up with one of his reports (Roy Rodenstein) who was a great mentor.

Roy parceled off some ‘nights and weekend’ projects for me. He helped me through the projects, teaching me how to give a compelling demo and generally teaching me the basics of the software “product” business. I was still doing my day job at iPhrase with customers, but they got some good work out of me. I got some crucial experience in a new functional role. I was able to effectively execute these tasks because I had remained grounded in the product. I had been “obsessed with the product“. No matter that the functional tasks I was starting to be asked to execute were unfamiliar, I was able to power my way through these new problems because I was completely grounded in the core ‘facts’ of the business — the products.

So when IBM purchased iPhrase, Roy and his product marketing cohorts relatively quickly left the iPhrase business behind, creating a vacuum in product marketing. This was the opportunity I had been waiting for — and was able to quickly backfill the position as someone who had been groomed for the role. No one knew at IBM that I hadn’t been in a product marketing role at iPhrase and with the confidence born of knowing how the product worked, I was able to muddle my way through my first year in product marketing: doing my first competitive analysis, my first messaging work, my first product development prioritization.

So Badri, how’d I get into product management? I focused on the product, I pushed for my own development and I found great mentors (to both emulate, learn from and to champion me when the time was right).

I loved my job at IBM and love my new one at HubSpot (so far so good!). How have you found your way to a job you loved?