Introversion is something I've wanted to write about publicly for a few years now. Essentially ever since I began to understand it a bit–and understand that I'm pretty damn introverted. It's a complex subject, something hard to understand, even for those people who consider themselves introverts. It's also hard to explain. It's also not a black and white thing. Some people are more introverted than others, some times interactions with others come easy, etc.
Every time I've sat down to write something, I can't seem to find the words to describe what I want to say about it. That's why I was so excited when I saw this piece from Chris Coyier today. He's put to words something I've not been able to.
Give it a read. Then, if you want, come back for my story, culled from a draft post that's been sitting here for well over a year.
Introversion: My Story
For years I would have considered myself sort of shy, but never introverted. I mean, I like people. I like being around people. If you were to meet me with my batteries all charged up, you'd probably never consider me to be introverted. But I am. I really enjoy, and require, alone time. I'm classically introverted: interaction with people drains me. Even talking intently to one person drains me. I need to prepare for being social; even the comfortable social time I enjoy with good friends and co-workers. I actually enjoy big parties with lots of people, because it's easier to limit my social interactions. I can kind of blend in and it's easier to duck out. Irish goodbye FTW!
Introversion is very often associated with laziness. Which just goes to show how little people understand about it.
When I was in high school, I had a friend of mine call me lazy quite often, referring to my desire to stay home, in my room and hang out with myself. In his mind I was probably sleeping. Far, far from the truth. I was reading, drawing, learning to DJ, playing with computers, writing, etc. I just preferred to do this on my own, and I still do. That's not to say I don't enjoy collaboration or social time, I just get recharged and powered up for that by my time to myself. It is true, when I was younger I preferred to be truly alone.
As I get older I find that I'm much more comfortable being alone with others. I can co-work to great productivity and enjoy the presence of others (as long as there's no talking.) I really enjoy going to shows, having a drink and a good read in a bar, or walking around town taking photos by myself. It's really the interaction that drains me, not the presence of others.
Alone time means a lot to me, and when I look back at it, it's been instrumental in shaping me as an adult, both in my personal and professional lives. I've always thought it was kind of strange, my desire to be alone, but as the years went by as I learned more and encountered people even more introverted than I am, I began to realize that it's not all that strange, and that there is great benefit in this time. I'm sure it's hard for socially driven folks to understand, and it seems like our society is geared towards an extroverted life style, but that's ok. I've found it's not all that difficult to surround myself with people who understand and accept that I need time to myself.
More importantly, I think, I've come to realize that it's this desire to be alone, to get to know myself and to have time to tinker, read, learn, write and explore all on my own has been a big part of what makes me who I am.
I spent some time digging into the whole Pycon Incident and found it really disturbing. I normally don't talk about this kind of thing, but the way it went down really struck me. As well, I'm not sure I wouldn't have seen as much of this, if not for some new friends and co-workers, and wanted to make sure people knew this stuff was happening in our industry. I know I've learned a lot, and much of it very disturbing.
I'm not going to recap the specifics. If you want those, you'll need to search and keep digging. I'll warn you, there is a lot of opinion and reaction you'll need to sort through to understand what happened. I wish there was a good, unbiased wrap up to send you to, but I couldn't find one. (Update: I found a pretty good one here.) I will, however, give my take having figured out a lot of the specifics.
The short version: Adria Richards, a developer evangelist, was sitting in a Pycon session when she overheard two guys telling a dirty joke. She snapped a photo of it and posted it on Twitter, calling them out. There was a fairly calm, smart and measured reaction from the conference, but one of the guys was fired and a pretty massive Internet blow up over the whole thing. Most of which was direct squarely, and harshly, at Adria. (Update: turns out Adria was fired as well.)
Before I go on, I just want to make it clear that this is my take, based on what I know which might be slightly incomplete. I mean, I wasn't there, etc. I'm also not as educated as I now know I should be on women's issues in tech, not that I think you need to be to get to the bottom of this one.
So, here's how I see it:
Was it ok for these guys to have this conversation? Very debatable, but yes. It wasn't a smart move to have it in a public place, and doubly so in a professional setting, but what two people talk about should be their own business most of the time.
Was the joke offensive? Going to go with no, based on the definition of offense. The point being, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they didn't intend any offense, with the caveat that anyone overhearing is certainly within their rights to feel uncomfortable over hearing it.
Was Adria's response to post their photo on Twitter appropriate? No. This was clearly not the best way to approach the situation, as I'm sure, in hindsight, she'd admit. Handling it in person, either face to face or via Pycon people, without escalating to the Internet, would have been the proper approach in my opinion. But, I don't see anything horribly wrong with it either, it's no worse an act than these guys telling dirty jokes in a public, professional setting.
Should this guy have been fired? No. Seems like a knee-jerk over-reaction to me. Having said that, I don't feel too bad for him. He should have known better, and people are fired for less all the time. And his reputation? That's an easy one. If this had happened to me, I'd have personally and publicly apologized to Adria, made it clear that while no offense was intended, I fully understand why she might have been upset, taken my lumps and moved on. People make mistakes, and this was clearly a small one followed by a bunch of over-reactions. I think smart folks recognize that. (Update: looks like he'd posted an apology and I just hadn't seen it, probably because it was buried with over-reactions and bullshit. And, in case it wasn't clear, I don't think he did anything actually deserving to be fired.)
Update: Should Adria have been fired? Clearly no. Nobody should have been fired over this. I thought maybe the guy involved might have a case, but this clearly seems like something with legal implications. I'm no lawyer, so I don't know. Regardless, my guess is had there been no firing of anyone, this whole thing might have settled down.
The Internet's response.
And now we come to the heart of the matter, the reaction of the Internet to all of this. And, in my mind, there is no question to ask.
In no way, shape or form does Adria Richards deserve any of the poor treatment she's getting. And if you dig around, some pretty frightening stuff is out there.
This is the real problem here. It's not about the joke or her reaction to it. It's about how many people in this industry reacted to all this, and that, in my opinion, really needs to change. Sure, she didn't react appropriately, but that doesn't excuse anything, it wasn't THAT much of an over-reaction and those guys should have known better.
I can't help but wonder if the gender roles were reversed here. Would this even be an issue? I mean, there are many cases of women being disparaged through photos, without any valid cause whatsoever, and while there is a bit of outrage, there is nothing remotely like this.
These men are being defended for making a mistake, and she's being threatened and abused for it?
Doesn't that seem backwards to you? Doesn't it seem strange that the focus here is on Adria and what she did? Where are the people calling these dudes out for being stupid? Forget offensive for the moment, what they did was dumb, clearly against professional codes of conduct (and Pycon's) and as such, what's so wrong with her calling them out? Seriously, had this been me calling them out, would it have caused the same reaction? I highly doubt it.
We've got a problem here. I'm not sure how to solve it, but clearly this kind of thing cannot be allowed to continue. I guess the first step for me is to pay more attention.
Update and final addendum: It's been a little less than a day since I initially wrote this and quite a few things have come to light. I can't say I'd change my stance based on what I knew at the time, and honestly, had I known now what I new then, I'm not sure it'd change much either. I might be a bit harder on Adria going public, as I think about that more, it was a really bad move. I guess I just started thinking about all the horrible photos out there and thought, “what's the big deal, it's a stupid joke and now they've been outed.” Which would have been the case if one of them hadn't have been fired. Which was, just…stupid.
What I can say is that I was very nervous to post something like this on a sensitive issue. The reason I did was because I saw so much hate floating around, and here it was coming from an industry I love and I'm fiercely passionate about. It made me sad, but I wasn't sure what to think. So I read and I wrote and it started to become clear. In the end this isn't about a dick joke, or an attention seeker, it's about an immature industry's inability to handle something like this. It's about a fundamental lack of respect. And it's about a world where, at any moment, we can publish whatever the hell we want to whomever we want and more often than not, don't have to worry about being held accountable for it. Many of us don't choose to do so, for a variety of reasons. Many more do so responsibly, again for a variety of reasons. Some, like Adria, publish without thinking through the consequences. Some publish hidden behind masks without fear of simple questioning, let alone consequence. They can always just fade away.
We live in an always connected world. Our industry enables that, so we know how to take advantage of it. Most days this is awesome. But some days, some days it's downright scary.
I posted this because I felt like I hadn't seen any even-handed reaction aside from the short post from Pycon itself. Both parties were at fault for causing it, but the over-reaction that happened, frankly, could have and should have been avoided and it's a fucking shame that it wasn't. With all this power and intellect we've got, we can't seem to handle something like this? Sad. I still feel this way and that was the primary point I was trying to make.
But back to me being nervous. I'm pretty far removed from this. I don't hold very much emotional stake in this particular game. I could have easily ignored it, and almost did. (Or so I thought, wow, it really blew up today.) Regardless of their opinion I have to give it up for those people who did speak out and for whom an issue like this hits close to home. For those who didn't, well, I've learned why you might not want to. Part of me feels like I should have just written this out and kept it to myself and let those who really feel this speak.
But then I'm reminded of how this was handled. Of the companies and the firings and the flame wars, finger pointing and threats and hate and all the other bullshit. Clearly this industry needs help. We can do better. And, fuck it, I'm a part of this industry too, and I'm here to help how I can.
Ok, I'm done. Here's a picture of some cuddle buddies:
I've recently been working on a small side project at Heroku to gather up and post my favorite design-related texts, videos, etc. I was calling it, for lack of a better title, “The Design Culture List”. Essentially take the design-centered works from my text playlist and share them. My intended audience is primarily other designers, but I think it might be fun and interesting for everyone.
In doing an audit of the content I wanted to share, I realized that while it was all of interest to designers, it wasn't really all that design-focused. Of course, design is a passion of mine, but it's the act of making things that I really enjoy. This is a passion that extends well beyond design, and that was showing up in the stuff I wanted to share.
The best designers are multi-disicplined problem solvers who take craft seriously. I've always called myself a designer, but where the real passion in my work lies is in my ability to pull things together to make something new.
This same way of being applies to great engineers, and make no mistake, engineers are designers. Coding, for example, is a skill that requires a decent amount of craft, or art. Systems are designed. But it goes even further than that. Engineers and developers are UX people. In fact, I'd assert that engineers have as much (or in many cases more) impact on the user's experience of digital products as anyone.
What do all of these people have in common? They are makers. They share a creative spark to bring something new into the world. Instead of division, I say we embrace it and figure out ways we can better mix people together.
I've seen a few rumblings out there that seem to underscore this point. Heroku, for all that it's primarily seen as an engineering-focused culture also calls itself a Do-ocracy and if the recent Waza conference was any evidence, craft is clearly seen as something culturally important to engineers. I love that.
Let's set aside “design culture” and “engineering culture” and maybe try something like craft or maker culture. Why focus on what's different when the is so much common ground?
One of my goals this year is to connect people. I'm hoping projects like this help me to do more of that.
Smarties hailing from different backgrounds (and/or with different ways of thinking) working together is much more effective than separated, homogenous groups of smarties in almost every way. After all, there are many different kinds of smart and mixing them up results in amazing things.
You've probably read how small, cross-functional teams are much more effective than your typical silo-ed team approach. I believe that to be true. But there is more to it than that. Cross-function is one part, but it's also important to create diversity within a particular function. Not all designers are alike, not all engineers think the same way, etc. When you find a group of smart people that share a vision, but offer up different ideas on how to get there, that's when the magic really happens.
I'm calling this “Collaborative Diversity” and I think it's a great way to work.
Look at a company like Google. They would not be where they are today without bringing the best minds—from a very wide variety of backgrounds all over the world—together. Their employes have shared values and a clear mission: to organize and make accessible the worlds information. They also clearly value diversity and collaboration. If you look around at those doing amazing things, you'll usually see this. I love this bit pulled from their culture page:
It’s really the people that make Google the kind of company it is. We hire people who are smart and determined, and we favor ability over experience. Although Googlers share common goals and visions for the company, we hail from all walks of life and speak dozens of languages, reflecting the global audience that we serve.
More often you'll see culture clash producing mediocrity or failure. Especially when there are large groups with little diversity or, just as common, diverse teams not working together with intent, or unifying under shared values.
Or worse, working against each other. Congress might be a good example of that, as Vint Cerf illustrates in this great episode of DecodeDC. I suppose you could argue that Congress doesn't have much diversity, but I think what they're really lacking is collaboration, vision and unified intent. My guess, in general, they do share common values, but who knows? It's politics and things are a bit murky.
It's important to note that this kind of collaboration doesn't come without conflict. It's ok to clash, as long as your united in vision and purpose and use those differing points of view to move forward towards a goal.
“The problem-centered person sees a problem as a statement about a situation, from which something has been left out. In other words, there is in this situation a relationship or consequence that has not been stated and that must be found.
"But most children in school are answer-centred rather than problem-centered. They see a problem as a kind of announcement that, far off in some mysterious Answerland, there is an answer, which they are supposed to go out and find.”
I can totally relate to this. In fact, I had something like this come up at work this week.
When people ask me questions, often regardless of how it's phrased, my first instinct is to find the right answer to their question. To me the answer has always been the solution to the problem, and if I can find it, I win. When I can't, which is very often, I tend to get flustered and, feel, well, inadequate. As you might guess, this isn't a very good approach. A “right answer” isn't what people are usually looking for when they ask a question or pose a problem. And that's just the beginning of the problems with this way of doing this.
Of course, it's pretty clear when you think about it.
Sometimes the question is just a question and the answer, if there is one, lies somewhere within the problem, waiting to be found. Not somewhere in the back of my brain.
Problems are meant to be explored. When it comes to work and relationships they're also meant to be explored together. An answer isn't always a solution.
This is something I struggle with at times. This is something I really need to remember.
Design isn't only about solving problems, it's about finding good problems to solve. Research and data are key to finding out where you should be putting your energy, but are they also key in solving problems? Or should that be left to the intuition of your professionals?
I'd assert that you can't rely upon data or metrics alone to tell you what problems to solve, let alone how to solve them. For that you need human input. Having said that, data is key to making informed decisions, validating them, and getting them pushed forward.
We talk a lot about the balance between intuition and data, and how that plays into making design decisions. I think they're both needed. You might say there is a balance to be struck here.
But these things go beyond hand-in-hand; they don't really need “balancing” exactly. Intuition is just another form of data, and it can be learned and made more effective over time (and with more data.) Intuition from experience should very much be weighed as heavily as any other data.
You need data to help you find problems to solve. And you need intuition, or human reasoning, to decide what to address and how to go about it. Once you've got some solutions to experiment with, you need to go back to the data to verify that you've in fact solved the problems.
I'd add that relying on metrics alone is probably not a good idea. You should be coupling your numbers with user testing and the like. I'm a big proponent of getting infront of users. Not only do you build up empathy for them, you can gain added insight into your metrics; validating your numbers, etc. and, often lend new perspective to your solutions.
What really matters here is what you do with the data, regardless of the source. The worst thing you can do is let that data stifle you. Get out there and experiment, try things out and learn, gather more data, find more problems. Rinse. Repeat. Just don't be afraid to go for the long ball or try a big, wacky, hard-to-measure idea. Being able to quickly verify your assumptions will sometimes put you off on trying big things, be sure to keep that in mind and ignore the move quickly/break things/fail fast mantra. It doesn't always make sense and intuition and inspiration can lead you amazing places.
You certainly can use data to help bake inspiration and intuition into a product. You can take that crazy idea you had, try it out and if it succeeds get it past any sort of committee roadblocking that might be holding you back, thus getting more buy-in on risk taking.
Data is not meant to replace intuition or good product design sense. It's there to give you the ability to experiment, validate and bring your ideas to consensus. Consensus with out data is probably bad, but being proved by solid data? Totally awesome! :)
I'm a big fan of New Years… stuff. In years past I've come up with many goals, plans and resolutions, which I've also kept (!!!) to varying degrees.
This year I wanted to do something a bit different. I wanted to come up with something I could do on an ongoing basis that kept me engaged, learning and thinking about ways to be better. I started making a list of some “guiding principles” I wanted to keep in mind, not only for 2013, but daily. I looked at this and thought about it for a long time, trying to figure out something actionable I could do with it.
I came up with a project that, as of right now, doesn't really have a name. (Maybe I'll call it “365”.) I've been hosting it over at dangerismyfirstname.com (that domain is to awesome to waste) and been working on it pretty much daily for the last month.
The idea is to share one interesting thing every day. Of course, that alone would be pretty boring, so I wanted to add a bit of a twist. So I turned it into a daily design exercise where I'd design a new, fun and unique way to present these interesting things every day. This gives me the variety to do lots of different things, but also a narrow enough scope to keep manageable. Simple, yet infinitely complex.
In a way I'm making slides and publishing to the web every day. For 365 days.
I decided to use a service, Nubook, that provides hundreds of simple yet customizable templates. I'm hoping this saves me some time in production, but it also presents some interesting problems. It's working with templates, after all. Then again, these limitations and constraints are part of the challenge, I have to think around them, and that gets my mind working.
But the real trick is simply coming up with something to publish every day and keep it fun and interesting all year long. Especially on those days when my energy is low or time is tight. I really want to try and do this every single day, but I'm not holding myself to that. I'm more worried about keeping the streak alive than I am about the daily exercise.
It's been harder than I'd thought, but so far, so good. I've been trying to do this daily, and every once in awhile do an extra or two to fill in for days I'm just not feeling it.
It takes a bit of discipline, but my hope is that it'll turn into a habit. You know that one good habit will turn into more, right? Regardless, it's been a great way to get me in a mindset for work, creating and learning. And a bit of fun as well.
Give it a look. I hope you find something interesting there, and by all means, let me know what you think. :)
It's been a bit of a crazy last few months. Thus the lack of frequent writing here. Hopefully I'll be able to change that soon, as I've got a lot of good things to talk to y'all about. :)
About a month ago I left my position at Desk.com. It was a great gig and I'll miss 'em. But I've moved on and I've just finished up my first week at a new job.
I'm now a product designer on the web applications team at Heroku. If you're not familiar, here's a little blurb about what we do:
Heroku (pronounced her-OH-koo) is a cloud application platform – a new way of building and deploying web apps. Our service lets app developers spend 100% of their time on their application code, not managing servers, deployment, ongoing operations, or scaling.
Developer productivity is our battle cry, at the core of everything we do.
Why require 3 steps when 1 will do? Why require any action at all when zero steps will do?
A deployment platform’s workflow and experience should be designed. Every decision – from what HTTP cache to use, to the order of command-line flags, to the color of the buttons – has been made with a maniacal focus on developer productivity.
Aside from the news itself, I wanted to talk a bit about why I made the decision to go work for Heroku and why I'm so excited to be doing so. Don't worry, I'll keep it short and sweet.
Essentially it boils down to two things:
Heroku's culture and values align very well with my own. They're makers and do-er's. They value getting things done over process. They work hard, but realize working too hard can be a problem. They want to change the world for the better and they're looking for people to help them do it.
The position itself is a very good fit. They can benefit from the skills I bring to the table and they have a whole lot they can teach me. Adding real value and leveling up is pretty much the sweet-spot as far as I'm concerned.
In my initial talks with them I was impressed by the vision and mission of the company and even more impressed with how they've interwoven that vision into the culture of the company. Here is a company that walks the walk!
To give you an idea of their values, here are a few tidbits from the culture-related docs I read this week. The on-boarding, something usually tedious, was inspiring and I can't expressed how impressed I've been with their commitment to this stuff:
Balance intuition-driven with data-driven. Yes! Something I believe firmly and talk about quite often.
Divide and conquer. Big, hard problems become easy if you cut them into small pieces.
Throw things away. Don't be afraid to start over if that's the right thing to do.
Results, not politics.
Decision-making via ownership.
Running applications should be easy; making coffee should be hard.
Heroku is all about enabling people to ship awesome software.
Attention to detail.
Respect for users.
Do fewer things, but do them as well as possible.
They also actively embrace things like The 5 Whys and 12 Factor App, if that give you an idea. To sum it up, they're very opinionated, very smart and their values are more than just pithy statements.
While I'm used to working in more engineering-diven cultures, I truly believe Heroku values design and recognize that the diverse ideas someone like me can bring can make them better. In a sense, Heroku is really poised to undertake a true melding of design and engineering and I hope to be right in the center of it. It's about making and doing more than it is how you make and do. I'm a maker after all, though my tools and techniques might be different, we've got a lot of common ground as far as attitude goes.
I've already learned a ton, had a bunch of fun and I can't really express how excited I am to be a newly minted Herokai.
Expect exciting things! And if you're interested in talking about Heroku–product, design, or whatever–track me down (if you add my user name to my employers domain, you'll probably be able to get me) and let's do that. I'd really love to talk to people who use Heroku. :)
A big part of Lean methodologies, taken, I think, directly from The Toyota Way, is the idea that you should gear your processes to eliminate waste whenever possible. In principle, this is a good idea, in practice? Well, I have to admit, it does fall apart a bit. Any solid process is going to produce a certain amount of unused work, or waste. And I think that's ok. But let's not focus on that, I don't think Lean shouldn't be about process at all. The gist of Lean, in my opinion, is that you should focus on working on what matters.
For projects and products.
I've harped on this before but it bears repeating; it's hard to do great work when you're not focused. When I think of of Lean principles and reducing waste, I look at it like this: anything that keeps you from being focused on doing good, valuable work can be considered “waste”. In most cases this boils down to things like excessive meetings, constant task/context switching, large course adjustments, lack of direction, zombie projects, working on the wrong things, poor process, etc. This is why research, learning, measuring and validation are so valuable. You spend a little time making sure you're not wasting a lot of time working on the wrong things.
Having said that, there is more to it than just figuring out what to work on. People need time to focus, to think and to get knee deep into their work.
For me, personally, this means setting boundaries, saying “no” and setting aside solid time blocks for work. It means adding things to my don't list and, sometimes regrettably, killing off projects. I can handle working on a few projects at one time, with the right setup, but I've tested and proven to myself many times that I can't multitask or context switch well. I think this holds true for most people, whether they want to admit it or not.
Context switching and distraction, unfortunately, are part and parcel of modern working. Multitasking, however, is something I think many of us can do much better with. The idea that you can do several things at once and be more productive is, in a nutshell, ridiculous. I'd much rather spend a good solid week, four hours a day, heads down working on one project then try to tackle a few different things each day. I'm happier, I get more done and my work is of a higher quality.
Lean should be all about nailing down your focus so you can get to work on something meaningful. Part of that is figuring out what to work on but the meat is all about creating a work style and environment that allows for focused work.