Scott Hanselman

Lonely Coding

September 30, '16 Comments [15] Posted in Musings
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It's official. I'm a better programmer when I'm pairing with someone. Pair Programming (two people, one keyboard) has been around for at least 20+ years, if not much longer. Usually one person types while another person (paces around and) thinks. It is kind of a "driver and navigator" model.

Everyone is different, to be clear, so it's very possible that you are the kind of person who can disappear into a closet for 8 hours and emerge with code, triumphant. I've done this before. Some of my best projects have involved me coding alone and that's fine.

However, just has we know that "diverse teams make for better projects," the same is true in my experience when coding on specific problems. Diversity isn't just color and gender, etc, it's as much background, age, personal history, work experience, expertise, programming language of choice, heck, it's even google-ability, and more!

How many times have you banged your head against a wall while coding only to have a friend or co-worker find the answer on their first web search?

Good pair programming is like that. Those ah-ha moments happen more often and you'll feel more than twice as productive in a pair.

In fact, I'm trying to pair for an hour every week remotely. Mark Downie and I have been pairing on DasBlog on and off for a year or so now in fits and starts. It's great. Just last week he and I were trying to crack one problem using regular expressions (yes, then we had two problems) and because there were two of us looking at the code it was solved!

Why is pair programming better?

Here's a few reasons why I think Pair Programming is very often better.

  • Focus and Discipline - We set aside specific times and we sprint. We don't chat, we don't delete email, we code. And we also code with a specific goal or endpoint in mind.
  • Collective ownership - I feel like we own the code together. I feel less ego about the code. Our hacks are our hacks, and our successes are shared.
  • Personal growth - We mentor each other. We learn and we watch how the other moves around the code. I've learned new techniques, new hotkeys, and new algorithms.

Let's talk about the remote aspect of things. I'm remote. I also like to poke around on non-work-related tech on the side, as do many of us. Can I pair program remotely as well? Absolutely. I start with Skype, but I also use Google Hangouts, Join.me, TeamViewer, whatever works that day.

If you're a remote person on a larger team, consider remote pair programming. If you're an consultant  or perhaps you've left a big corporate job to strike off on your own, you might be lonely. Seriously, ask yourself that hard question. It's no fun to realize or have to declare you're a lonely coder, but I am and I will. I love my job and I love my team but if I go a day or two without seeing another human or spending some serious time on Skype I get really tense. Remote pair programming can really reduce that feeling of lonely coding.

I was at a small tech get together in Atlanta a few days ago and I knew that one person there was a singular coder at their small business while another at the table was an emerging college student with an emerging talent. I made a gentle suggestion that maybe they consider pairing up on some side projects and they both lit up.

Consider your networks. Are there people you've met at conferences or at local user groups or meetups that might be good remote pairing partners? This might be the missing link for you. It was for me!

Do you pair? Do you pair remotely? Let us all know in the comments.

* Stock photo purchased from ColorStock - Your customers are diverse, why aren't your stock photos?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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How to deal with Technology Burnout - Maybe it's life's cycles

September 6, '16 Comments [38] Posted in Musings
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Burnout photo by Michael Himbeault used under cc

Sarah Mei had a great series of tweets last week. She's a Founder of RailsBridge, Director of Ruby Central, and the Chief Consultant of DevMynd so she's experienced with work both "on the job" and "on the side." Like me, she organizes OSS projects, conferences, but she also has a life, as do I.

If you're reading this blog, it's likely that you have gone to a User Group or Conference, or in some way did some "on the side" tech activity. It could be that you have a blog, or you tweet, or you do videos, or you volunteer at a school.

With Sarah's permission, I want to take a moment and call out some of these tweets and share my thoughts about them. I think this is an important conversation to have.

This is vital. Life is cyclical. You aren't required or expected to be ON 130 hours a week your entire working life. It's unreasonable to expect that of yourself. Many of you have emailed me about this in the past. "How do you do _____, Scott?" How do you deal with balance, hang with your kids, do your work, do videos, etc.

I don't.

Sometimes I just chill. Sometimes I play video games. Last week I was in bed before 10pm two nights. I totally didn't answer email that night either. Balls were dropped and the world kept spinning.

Sometimes you need to be told it's OK to stop, Dear Reader. Slow down, breathe. Take a knee. Hell, take a day.

Here's where it gets really real. We hear a lot about "burnout." Are you REALLY burnt? Maybe you just need to chill. Maybe going to three User Groups a month (or a week!) is too much? Maybe you're just not that into the tech today/this week/this month. Sometimes I'm so amped on 3D printing and sometimes I'm just...not.

Am I burned out? Nah. Just taking in a break.

Whatever you're working on, likely it will be there later. Will you?

Is your software saving babies? If so, kudos, and please, keep doing whatever you're doing! If not, remember that. Breathe and remember that while the tech is important, so are you and those around you. Take care of yourself and those around you. You all work hard, but are you paying yourself first?

You're no good to us dead.

I realize that not everyone with children in their lives can get/afford a sitter but I do also want to point out that if you can, REST. RESET. My wife and I have Date Night. Not once a month, not occasionally. Every week. As we tell our kids: We were here before you and we'll be here after you leave, so this is our time to talk to each other. See ya!

Thank you, Sarah, for sharing this important reminder with us. Cycles happen.

Related Reading

* Burnout photo by Michael Himbeault used under CC

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Psychic Weight - Dealing with the things that press on your mind

August 24, '16 Comments [45] Posted in Musings
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Close up view of man on his phone 

I was really stressed out ten years ago. I felt that familiar pressure between my eyes and felt like all the things that remained undone were pressing on me. I called it "psychic weight." I have since then collected my Productivity Tips and written extensively on the topic of productivity and getting things done. I'm going to continue to remind YOU that Self-Care Matters in between my technical and coding topics. The essence of what I learned was to let go.

The Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Everyone has stress and everyone has pressure. There's no magic fix or silver bullet for stress, but I have found that some stressors have a common root cause. Things that stress me are things I think I need to do, handle, watch, take care of, worry about, sweat, deal with, or manage. These things press on me - right between my eyes - and the resulting feeling is what I call psychic weight.

For example: When the DVR (Digital Video Recorder) came out it was a gift from on high. What? A smart VCR that would just tape and hold all the TV Shows that I love? I don't have to watch shows when the time and day the shows come on? Sign me up. What a time saver!

Fast forward a few years and the magical DVR is now an infinite todo list of TV shows. It's a guilt pile. A failure queue. I still haven't watched The Wire. (I know.) It presses on me. I've actually had conversations with my wife like "ok, if we bang out the first season by staying up tonight until 4am, we should be all ready when Season 2 drops next week." Seriously. Yes, I know, Unwatched TV is a silly example. But you've binge-watched Netflix when you should have been working/reading/working out so you can likely relate.

But I'm letting go. I'll watch The Wire another time. I'll delete it from my DVR. I'm never going to watch the second season of Empire. (Sorry, Cookie. I love you Taraji!) I'm not going to read that pile of technical books on my desk. So I'm going to declare that to the universe and I'm going to remove the pile of books that's staring at me. This book stack, this failure pile is no more. And I'm not even mad. I'm OK with it.

Every deletion like this from your life opens up your time - and your mind -for the more important things you need to focus on.

What are your goals? What can you delete from your list (and I mean, DROP, not just postpone) that will free up your internal resources so you can focus on your goal?

Delete those emails. Declare email bankruptcy. They'll likely email you again. Delete a few seasons of shows you won't watch. Delete Pokemon Go. Make that stack of technical books on your desk shorter. Now, what positive thing will you fill those gaps with?

You deserve it. Remove psychic weight and lighten up. Then sound off in the comments!

* Image Copyright Shea Parikh / used under license from getcolorstock.com


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Making YouTube videos look sharp and professional on a budget

July 22, '16 Comments [26] Posted in Musings
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My team is doing some videos to show off some features in Visual Studio. Most of my videos or YouTubes are screencasts so the video quality of the people parts aren't a huge deal. I REALLY try to make my audio sound good but I've been somewhat lax on the video side, usually just using a webcam. While the Logitech 930e is amazing as webcams go, it's not really "pro." It looks good but it still looks and feels like a webcam in both field of view and depth of field.

image

I went looking for videos that had the look and feel I wanted and asked those folks that I admired how they did it.

I always love the way my friend Chescaleigh's YouTube videos look. They are clear and in focus, with amazing lighting and the background is "blown." That means there is a shallow depth of field with just Franchesca in focus and the background is a somewhat blurry.

Franchesca's videos are very professional

Franchesca pointed me to the Canon T3i DSLR HD camera. This is not just a nice still camera but also a very competent HD Video Camera that puts out fantastic 1080p video directly to an SD Card along with the ability to use alternate lenses. It also has options you can add on later like a remote control for focusing and starting/stopping recording.

The trick with the T3i is that it's a little older and you can find them for as little as $200-$250 on Craigslist. I've seen them cheap on Amazon as well. That makes them reasonable for a budget but again, the results look AMAZING.

I also love this video by Rachel Weil doing an overview Visual Studio Code. She steps it up with an interesting background and razor sharp focus. Her audio is also fantastic.

Rachel adds this Canon EF 50mm lens to her Canon DSLR to get a really tight focus. I haven't bought this lens yet but it's on my Amazon wishlist for the future.

Rachel's video is top notch

Good audio is so important. I tried cheap lavaliere microphones but I find I get the best results with a condenser mic held just out of frame. I like the Samson C01U but you can get decent USB Mics for <$50. Record your video and audio in separate files, and before you start talking *CLAP* very loud to make a spike in your audio, then you can line up your audio and video/audio files in your editor like iMovie or Movie Maker. Then mute the audio in your main audio/video file so you'll be hearing the high quality audio from your good mic and the high quality video from your camera.

Lining up video and audio

Finally, you need GOOD LIGHTING. ZOMG it matters so much. Even if you ignore all these tips and just use a webcam, get a nice light. Maria from my team recommended this CowboyStudio Dual Mount Brackets to let me mount a mic and lights to my camera, then I picked up this FANTASTIC 160 LED Power Panel. It's perfect because it's dimmable and includes color filters for getting different color temperatures or a diffuse effect.

image

I feel like the result is very close to the look I wanted and looks much more professional given a reasonable budget. Again, if you keep your equipment module (mic, camera, lenses, stands, lights, etc) you can improve your setup, as I have, as you have the cash.

image

How do YOU make videos that look sharp? Let me know in the comments.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Self-care matters: Pay yourself first

July 14, '16 Comments [42] Posted in Musings
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My sonI was meeting with a mentee today and she was commenting how stressed out she was. Overwhelmed with work, email, home, life, dinners, the news, finances...you know. LIFE. I am too. You likely are as well.

We spent about on the phone talking about how to make it better and it all came down to self-care. Sometimes we all need to be reminded that we matter. It's OK to take a moment and be selfish. You are the center of your universe and it's important to take time for yourself - to appreciate your value.

Depending on your personality type, you may give so much of yourself to your family, your work, your family and friends that you forget what's at the core! You! If you don't take care of yourself then how will you take care of everyone else?

This may seem obvious to you. If it does, that's cool. Click away. But sometimes obvious things need to be said and for my mentee and I, today, we needed to hear this and we needed a plan.

Here's some of our ideas.

  • Cancel a meeting.
    • Maybe cancel two. If you look at your day with absolute dread, is there a ball that you can drop safely? Perhaps ask a coworker if they can handle it for you?
  • Pay yourself first
    • Finances are a stressor for everyone. My wife and I used to argue about little $5 debit card things because they not only added up but they filled up the register, were hard to track, and generally distracted us from important stuff like the rent. Now we get an allowance. I don't use a credit card, I have a certain amount of cash each week (we get the same amount). I can buy Amazon Gift Cards or iTunes cards, I can eat at Chipotle whenever, or buy an Xbox game. Now when an Xbox game shows up she is interested in hearing about the game, not sweating how it was purchased. Pay yourself first.
  • Setup Formal Me-Time
    • Once a week my wife and I have a day off. From each other, from the family, just...off. I leave at 5pm and come back late. She does the same. Sometimes I see a movie, sometimes I walk around the mall, sometimes I code or play Xbox. The point is that it's MY TIME and it's formal. It's boxed and it's mine. And her time is hers. You shouldn't have to steal an hour when you're super stressed. PAY yourself an hour, up front.
    • We also do a weekly date night. Always. Gotta prioritize. I hate hearing "we haven't seen a movie or had a dinner in years...you know, kids." Nonsense. Get a sitter from the local uni and pay yourself first with TIME.
  • Self-care
    • Schedule a massage. Have your nails done (everyone should do their nails at least once). Get a haircut. Dance. Clean your office. Sleep. Do whatever it is that feeds your spirit.
  • Say no
    • Sometimes "No. I just can't right now." is enough to stop an email thread or a something when you feel you just can't. Drop the ball. Life is somewhat fault tolerant. Use your judgment of course, but truly, unless your software is saving babies, maybe take a break. Even an hour or a "mental health day" helps me no burn out.

Do you pay yourself first? Do you need to be reminded that you deserve health and happiness? Let me know in the comments.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.