The Outer Loop, Issue #1

Hi there! This new weekly series, published on Thursdays, will summarize what I’ve been up to each week and also (sometimes) feature interesting quotes, links, book recommendations, etc. It’s basically a newsletter, in blog form. 🙂

So let’s get right to it. A couple weeks ago, I announced an extended Twitter break, with the goal of improving my focus and communicating in a deeper and more meaningful way. That break has morphed somewhat into a softened form, but overall… I feel very good not using Twitter how I used to use it.

Up until two weeks ago, I was following close to 1500 people on Twitter. I carefully built the list over a period of two years, paying attention diversity and inclusion so that my timeline was a truly inspiring mashup of people and ideas. It opened my mind greatly to read the thoughts of all these people each day–bringing me far outside my own comfort zone and allowing me to make all sorts of interesting connections.

When I was writing my book, this was exactly the kind of connection with the world I needed… something that stretched me, something that challenged me, and something that let me piece together a sense of the whole from the many.

But after a while what I thought of as my home on the web didn’t feel like a home at all. It felt like a huge conference, or a crowded restaurant. I loved the place, but also felt always a bit on edge, because you never know who you’ll bump into, who will hear what you’re saying, etc. It felt in a sense like every day I was starting all over again, building connections from scratch without context. This exhausted me, and it also left me feeling like I was depending too much on my social mirror, and not enough on my internal compass.

With all this in mind, I went inwards. I unfollowed everyone on Twitter, and started blogging here. I started sharing personal reflections, like how to start on a project you aren’t really ready to start on, and why building it wrong first is often the way to go.

I spent more time in my private Slack group, where conversations tend to be deeper than what I get into on Twitter, and where I feel like I’ve really gotten to know the people who hang out there. I participated in things like the #CodeNewbie chats but did so via blog posts, leaving me more room to fully share a story without feeling rushed or distracted.

I also finally started to piece together things around my work, which I need to do a better job of promoting if I want to survive as a solo business owner. I put up a public pricing page for my services, a summary of the kinds of things I’m working on now, and started to release excerpts from my book.

Because I really do still want to be in contact with anyone who might be curious about my perspective on various problems in software development, I’ve been encouraging people to either email me, or to use my Ask Me Anything repository on Github.

My responses have been slower than what I might have been able to provide on Twitter, but much more detailed and hopefully more thoughtful. For example, here’s my response about something I wish I knew at the start of my career.

As I look up at the things I’ve discussed in this “summary” post… I realize it still feels scattershot, it still feels like I’m not quite to the point where all the pieces naturally come together into a unified story.

But the simple act of writing long form by default and leaving tweets for announcements or quick exchanges around specific questions… it’s shifting my brain towards the direction of finding the common thread. I imagine if I do ten of these weekly updates, by #10 some sort of structured narrative will emerge.

This is my rat’s nest of tangled wires revealing themselves. A necessary first step in rewiring.

What I’m Reading

I just finished Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (*).

It is a handy tool belt of communications patterns that I feel would help any software developer who needs to communicate with others on their team, with clients, with customers, etc. This means pretty much everyone!

It’s central formula is that an idea that sticks is typically a Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional Story. If you add an extra S to the end of that set you get SUCCESS, which is a very cheesy acronym, but it has caused me to be able to recall their list of qualities from memory from the first time I saw it, so I guess the technique works. 😛

For each of the major traits, the authors hammer home example after example after example of patterns and anti-patterns to look for in communication.

I am halfway through Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (*).

I put off reading this book for years and years because I have a bit of an innate bias against things that seem to be universally popular.

But I’m glad to have put those reservations aside for this one… because the book is absolutely outstanding. I’ve come to realize to what extent so many other books on management and leadership are rooted in Covey’s ideas, and because I always encourage people to trace concepts back to their roots, I’d suggest doing the same if this topic remotely interests you.

I don’t need to squint hard to realize how every essay I’ve written for O’Reilly Ideas is related to something that Stephen Covey covered in 7 Habits in one way or another.

I’ll do a more thorough review when I finish reading this book, but I have a similar feeling now as I did when I read Thinking, Fast and Slow (*). and realized it captured the heart of nearly every pop psychology book I had read in the last decade.

Today I found a fascinating website, Big Thinking.

Big Thinking publishes essays on systems thinking and how it is applied in practical settings. Since this is a huge focus area of mine, I’m excited to dig in and read more soon!

Closing Quote

“Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.” — Stephen Covey

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(*) Links to books on this blog are Amazon affiliate links. If you buy something via these links I get a small commission but you don’t pay anything extra. I will only ever use affiliate links for products that I’ve bought with my own money and wholeheartedly recommend.