Thursday, June 27, 2013

On Deadlines

It's been pretty busy with one of my current clients. The deadline looms for a release, issues are being uncovered, worked on, resolved... The development manager's facial expressions are changing faster than Melbourne's weather, and the project manager is scurrying around like a Corgi that found it's owner's Ecstasy stash. Just the other day the PM came up to me and asked "Steve, how can you be so calm?" Everything in the project is tracking well, the users were happy with the previews, it was just pre-release jitters. I didn't really have an answer for him, so it was just a bit of humorous banter to lighten the mood. It's not something I've really thought about much as it just seems natural by now, but after thinking about it I thought it might help others deal with stress, deadlines, and potential confrontations in the workplace.

My secret to staying calm is that I don't over-care. Over-caring is when you try to take the world onto your shoulders, give 110% and then some, do whatever it takes! Rather, I invest in the projects I work on. I allocate a reasonable amount of my energy into the project, and can choose to invest a bit extra to push through difficult spots. If I didn't believe in a project then I wouldn't be working on it. In the end, there is always the possibility that the project won't succeed, but if it fails, I can remain confident that it won't be due to something within my control. Also, by being conscious of what I invest in the project (and where) I don't have to get overly distracted by "taking ownership" for a project, which leads to conflicts, time wasting meetings, and frustration.

This is in-line with my general philosophy of life. I live by a policy of Truth, and with a focus of doing what I feel is the right thing, even if it isn't always the most popular thing. This allows one to be supported by their convictions. When you don't waste energy trying to mislead people or mislead yourself it is much easier to view things around you in a more objective fashion. You see opportunities you would otherwise miss if your thoughts are clouded by wondering where you'll get the extra energy to maintain any deception during an inevitable crisis.

Some key points people will notice while I work:
1. I am paid for what I do, not how long I sit at my workstation. Does sitting over your keyboard staring at misbehaving code help you figure out what's going wrong? I doubt it does. I'll browse for ideas, catch up on news, go to the bathroom, knock some balls around on the pool table, see if there's someone else's problem I can help out with around the office or on StackOverflow. When I worked for a company that wrote software to manage a postal print house I'd often spend a few minutes from time to time reloading printers and helping out with the manual mail inserting. It kept me in-touch with the guys that would be using my software plus frees up my thought processes. The context shift lets me spot a new idea when it sneaks up. In the end, all my client needs to decide is whether the amount of value I deliver to the project matches the fee I charge them.

2. I focus on memorizing as little as possible. Preconception is a productivity killer. Convincing yourself that you "know" things leads to arrogance and making assumptions that can easily waste your time plus lead to confrontation within a team. There are people that can just soak in information and retrieve it on demand, and provided that they do it accurately without falling into arrogance it can certainly be an asset. "Googling" or checking out something on StackOverflow should never be viewed as an admission that you're somehow a sub-par software developer. Knowing how to find useful information, absorb, and apply it is a very useful skill.

3. I judge things by what I see people do, not what they say. Before I engage anyone in a discussion about an approach I prepare or select examples outlining my thoughts. I expect the same before I'm convinced of an alternative. There is no build up or stand-off beforehand turning it into a big debate of principles or best practices, just show me code and I'll show you mine. Often by comparing two ideas we come up with a completely new approach that captures the best of both. Other times I'm convinced or doing the convincing and both of us come away knowing more than when we went in.

In general this avoids conflict and confrontation in the workplace, keeps my mind free to spot opportunities, and avoids stress build-up. When I maintain myself in a relatively relaxed state of mind it is very easy to switch into a high-gear to clearly see a problem for what it is and solve it. If I allowed myself to be burning high-octane by default there would be nothing left for the inevitable crisis, and running hot would most certainly lead to mistakes and fuel for those crisis'.

Finally some sci-fi quotes to live by: (What kind of programming geek would I be without them!)

"Understanding is a three edged sword: your side, their side, and the truth." - J. Michael Straczynski

"I've been around long enough to know how ignorant I am. I don't assume the universe obeys my preconceptions. Hah! But I know a frelling fact when it hits me in the face." - Christopher Wheeler (Spoken by Rygel from "I Shrink Therefore I Am")

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