CTO Weeknote 2022.8: Small wins, my Linux battlestation, working outside, and when to suit up!

Hello DevOps people!

This is my journal for week #8, 2022. For reasons that I’ll outline in a second, it took me a few days more than expected to get it finished. And since it looks like producing a weeknote video every single week won’t be sustainable at my current workload, I’ve decided to make that optional and, if I don’t find the time, just send a text-based newsletter. Therefore, if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter yet, subscribe on opsitive.com!

Success begets success

Despite the fact that I had taken the last week off, I started this week low on energy. And it had to get worse before it got better.

As I mentioned in my previous weeknote, I wasn’t able to switch off mentally during my holidays. The upside was that I had pretty good clarity on which tasks required my time and focus. They were tasks that I hadn’t been able to finish successfully for a few weeks now. My code didn’t error out, but it didn’t yield the expected results either, regardless of what I tried. Somehow, and frustratingly, the changes it was supposed to make in our infrastructure didn’t happen. This was supposed to be a minor task that shouldn’t have taken weeks to get across the finish line.

Early Monday afternoon, I mentioned my plans on our start-of-the-week team call. But by the evening, I still hadn’t even started working on them. Same on Tuesday. In our weekly planning call in the morning, I officially assigned my high-priority projects to myself. They would provide good stuff to do on my live coding stream. However, when its scheduled time came around at 4pm, I felt too drained to sit in front of the camera, and I just called it a day. On Wednesday, I started poking at my tasks a bit, but didn’t make any significant progress. To be fair, there were also some unexpected technical issues with our CI system. And the stream of concerning news from the Ukraine certainly didn’t lift my spirits either.

On Thursday morning, I resumed my desperate attempts to get stuff working, but I just could not shake off the weariness. And then, just when I was about to give up and go back to bed for a nap, I finally discovered what caused the issue. The nap never happened. Instead, I was able to continue the work that had been blocked for so long, and went into the weekend happy.

This experience reminded me of a quote from the book “Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed“:

“The most powerful source of active optimism appears to be the experience of success itself. Success begets success. The more successes you have, the better you’ll understand what it takes to be successful—which will generate more successes—and the more you will tend to expect success. This also sets the stage for the emergence of self-fulfilling prophecy, which promotes active optimism even further.”

This is what Bruce Hoverd in his book “Powering Through Pressure” calls the Positive Belief Cycle. What crippled my productivity was the opposite, the Negative Belief Cycle. I fell into a loop of expecting failure and seeing my expectations confirmed again and again. Discovering the bug broke this cycle. When I realized that the cause of my pain was just a silly naming mistake, not some huge problem exceeding my skill level, it immediately rekindled my joy of coding. It was like opening a window and letting fresh air in after a long time of working in a stuffy room.

While I’m not sure about the effects of positive self-talk, this experience showed me that you can actually talk yourself out of being able to solve a problem, even though you’re perfectly equipped to do so.

When you find yourself in a slump, I recommend that you take some time to check what exactly is sucking the joy out of what you’re doing. And if you can’t identify any specific cause, maybe you’re in a Negative Belief Cycle in which small setbacks are compounding to a constant energy drain. In that case, you might be just a small win away from a breakthrough! It’s worth a try to make that win happen and break the cycle of negative self-talk.

More screens than brains?

I had been a macOS user for many years before I decided to give Windows a try in 2021. I wanted to have first-class support for current software and hardware as well as try the Windows Subsystem for Linux. The switch reduced the friction in my varied work tasks from coding over back office work to live-streaming. Being able to click “Buy” everywhere on Steam was also a nice change. However, WSL didn’t support all my DevOps tasks, especially those that required virtual machines for automated testing. So I purchased something I didn’t have for a long time: a dedicated Linux machine. And the more experiments I ran to find out what’s possible with modern Linux, the more amazed I got. Apart from nerdy curiosity, I was also motivated by how much less noise the desktop computer running Manjaro Linux made than my high-powered Windows laptop. Fast-forward to today, and I’m doing more than 90% of my work on Linux. Work and gaming, actually, because thanks to the progress software like Proton and Lutris has made, I can now play Final Fantasy on Linux in all its glory.

First, I connected only my main monitor, an Alienware AW3240 ultra-wide, to the Linux box. 34 inches is quite a bit of screen real estate, after all. Then I added the tiny monitor below my camera that acts as a teleprompter and Zoom display. Before the switch, driving these two displays on top of its built-in screen was the limit of what my Windows laptop was able to do. But then I discovered that the NVidia 1650 in my Linux box has three display outputs, and I still had the 22-inch monitor I used as a secondary display with my 27-inch iMac. Now it provides me with auxiliary information and YouTube videos from the left of my desk.

I’m not 100% sure if I’ll keep it in the long run, but for the time being, I’m going to live the battle station life!

Big evil yellow thing

With spring arriving in Ireland and increasing the sunny time between nights and rain showers, I’m getting drawn outside again. Now, taking a walk, even if it’s just for fetching groceries and a coffee, isn’t the problem. My difficulty is finding a place where I can work comfortably and safely that isn’t my office. Even though it’s pretty much equipped perfectly by now, I don’t feel like spending most of my waking day only in here, especially when the sun is beaming through the blinds. Back in the good old times, our local Starbucks was my second office. For the price of a Venti Chai Tea Latte and a piece of cake, I could rent a table for one or two hours, socialize a little by chatting with the baristas, and see life happen outside the big windows. That I can’t do that safely any more is the worst impact the pandemic had on my life. Of course, I’m very fortunate in the grand scheme of things. But still, for two years now, I have to make do with sitting on a bench in the park or in my own camping chair when I want to work elsewhere. And as if catching a few consecutive warm and dry hours here in Ireland wasn’t hard enough, I also have to find a place where the sun doesn’t glare in my eyes or on my screen. It’s frustrating.

I think I need a different approach. If the outdoor environment doesn’t allow the same kind of work, I should pick work that suits the environment. It doesn’t have to be “coding in the forest”. For example, I could prepare a list of things to think through on longer walks. I could take my iPad to the park and check off a few articles from my reading list. I could even dictate text to my phone, but that would probably make me an even bigger weirdo.

I’d’ love to read about your thoughts on working outside your normal workplace. What are your strategies to shake things up a bit, to get a change of scenery? Please share your experience on Twitter (don’t forget to tag me) or on the Opsitive community website!

Time to suit up

For the reasons I shared with you earlier, I didn’t get to read much this week. However, there’s one article that I’d like to highlight here. In the InfoQ article “Talking like a suit–Communicating the importance of engineering work in business terms​”, David van Couvering gives great advice for changing your perspective when you as an engineer are making your case.

In order to get buy-in, you have to help the person you’re dealing with to identify with your cause. That’s easy if they’re a peer. However, when you’re talking to someone outside your team like a product manager, or even outside your organisation, such as a customer, you have to apply more empathy. Before they’ll see things from your perspective, you have to look at the issue from their angle–the business angle. In other words, you have to mentally “suit up”. David describes how you can use storytelling techniques and data points to get your business partner on board.

Regardless if you’re an individual contributor or a manager, his article is well worth a read. If you’d like to get deeper into this topic, check out the books “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive” by Chip Heath, “Building a Story Brand” by Donald Miller, and “Accelerate: Building and Scaling High Performance Technology Organizations” by DevOps luminaries Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble and Gene Kim.

That’s my weeknote for last week! I hope it was interesting and useful. Any constructive feedback is appreciated.

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Until next time, take care!

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