Image of wishes worshippers write wishes on small wooden plaques, called Ema, and hang them for the spirits to receive.

On always assuming best intentions

The title of this post is a phrase often repeated in the onboarding process at my current company (and probably many others too). It sounds like a pretty straight forward thing doesn’t it? What kind of person would not automatically do this? I am afraid I’m one such person, and there is a reason why.

Once in my career I was bullied at work in a very subtle way for a long period of time. It was not obvious and I did not realize its effects on me until I was in pretty bad shape. The road to recovery was long and I think I won’t get completely over it. There are still times when my instincts kick in and I go into “protection mode” by some comment or a certain behavior. I have learned to recognize these feelings for what they are: ghosts from the past. However these things still affect me to this day.

What does my scars from bullying have to do with the initial quote: “always assume best intentions”. As I see it this statement comes from a place of privilege, by people who probably haven’t gone through similar things as I described earlier. My bully did not set out to bully me specifically (I think), having “no bad intentions” did not prevent this person from causing harm. 

The statement “assume best intentions” is a bit similar to “don’t be an asshole” when it comes to how to codes of conduct on how behave in certain spaces. The problem with this statement, is that it ignores the unintentional assholes which cause a lot of issues. The same thing happens when some people use the phrase “assume best intentions” as an excuse to blurb out whatever they like without really taking into consideration the recipients or the current context. You can only expect people to assume best intentions if you have put in the work to build the trust and that trust has been built up over time. 

I come prepared

Photo by Harry Grout on Unsplash

Even in a welcoming and friendly environment where I trust people, I can still have those flash backs to past experiences.I react to comments or feedback in a way I don’t like and I get those old feelings back. In order to cope with this, I try to be vigilant when I react to comments. I pause, step back and try to see if this is “that old feeling” from a bad period causing my reaction. If it is, I acknowledge it and move on. 

Certain things spark these feelings to occur more than others. Programming sessions with many people is a stressful event and does bring back those feelings of uncertainty. It used to feel like a battlefield or a test where I felt I was destined to fail. When I go into such sessions today I prepare myself mentally on the fact that I will have to deal with these emotions and know that I have to put to the side.

The road ahead

I am able to assume best intentions, but it’s only through working with these difficult feelings I can do it. It’s not always easy, but it’s part of me and I can use this knowledge to perhaps help others. Having had to deal with workplace bullying has broadened my horizon.

Being open and transparent about this is also important. By being open I can put words on feelings that others are experiencing, helping them realize they are not in a healthy work environment. This is the positive side of working through my own bullying experience: helping others.

Photo by DLKR on Unsplash

Relax, it’ll be alright

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/39877441@N05/6247115482/

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/39877441@N05/6247115482/

I was incredibly fed up waiting for the chance to make a living writing code. Since I was very young, I’d wanted to program computers for a living. The years it took me to get there felt like an endless wait of learning things I didn’t care for. Looking back though, the learning I didn’t care for was perhaps the most valuable. Anyways….
When I finally was given a job as a programmer I was living the dream, my dream. I was the guitarist who got a hit record with his band, the soccer player who signed his first professional contract, etc. In other words: it felt pretty damn good!

As a person starting a career in programming it is easy to feel you’re coming up short. Especially these days when news, ideas and The Next Thing is only a social media post away from you. We measure our own lives and achievements against those portrayed in the media. Needless to say, almost everyone of us falls short in such a match-up. It’s not because we lack dedication or passion.

Why aren’t you making the next killer app?

I get this question every now and then. People who aren’t deeply involved in our industry ask me this. A perfectly reasonable question in their mind. However it’s kind of like asking the janitor at a hospital why he’s not curing cancer. After all he works in the health industry. OK, I’m exaggerating just a tad here. But, it’s questions like these many end up measuring themselves against. Why aren’t I a multi-billionaire? Why didn’t any of my startup adventures work out with me sitting on Caribbean island drinking from a coconut? Why haven’t I written The Framework which the Web relies on and everyone loves? Having never been even close to accomplishing any of these things, does that mean I am a failure?

You should redefine success

I have made a living being a programmer since I was in my early twenties. Fortune has it that I’ve started a family during these years. I live in a nice place where many of my neighbors are now my friends. It is close to the forest and the outdoors, which are both important to me. At work I can be who I am and it has many interesting challenges. I have two healthy children and an amazing wife. Is this success? For me, this is the most success I can hope for. I’m not going to create any killer apps or businesses that generate gazillions of cash. Success to me is to do what I love and be happy with what I have right now.

Being average is being normal

I’m never going to be a superstar coder who’s renown for my brilliant libraries, framework or thoughts about programming theory. My coding skills are average and I try to make up for that by having stamina and determination to never give up. You know what? Most in this industry are average just like me. It’s perfectly fine to be average, mediocre and one of the herd. You don’t have to be the Next Big Thing before you’re twenty five. Settle into a stride which suits you, take your time and enjoy your work. Don’t freak out because “everyone else is being amazing and I’m not”. The idols and stars we worship are exceptions, not the rule.

I am not “Silicon Valley material”

These days I don’t make it a priority to attend meet-up’s, I do however attend my kids soccer practice no matter what. This year I won’t attend a single conference, but I try to be at all school gatherings. I don’t think I’ve read more than a handful of programming related posts this year. If it hadn’t been for the fact I update a website on Github, my punch card would probably be empty. Does this make me a bad programmer? Surely I wouldn’t stand a chance in what is seen as the Mecca of software development, Silicon Valley. I don’t stop doing some of these things because it’s impossible for me to do it all, I just choose not to. If you’re able to all of this, great! If not, that’s also great. It means you’re being conscious about how you spend your time.

“Kill” your idols

In our industry we don’t worship people who live my kind of life. Our ideals are framed, still, by the idea of meritocracy. You should live, breath and shit coding every living second on this planet. Any spare time should be spent learning a new language, or better, write a new language. Not only that, but you should give talks and do a video blog. At a minimum you should host a meet-up, but better is to put on a conference.
Needless to say, very few of us measure up to these high expectations of what a good developer is. If you do all these things, you are amazing! If you don’t, you’re still amazing!

OK, listen up

If you’re starting out as a programmer, please don’t rate yourself according to the rules of meritocracy. You are so much more than the green squares on your Github punch card. The number of talks on speakerdeck.com. Success can be very different for you than what is portrayed in the media. Make it a priority to define what success is for you in your own context, it will help you find your own path.

Most importantly, just relax. Breath and take it easy. You don’t have to do all the things at once your first years in the industry. It’s perfectly fine to take things in your own pace. You’re a valuable programmer even though you aren’t running yourself to the ground. Everything doesn’t have to materialize itself within your first ten years of working. Everyone is different, we all learn and grow in our own pace. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t measure up to the idols and ninja-super-rock-star-people. Those idols don’t actually exists, it’s mythical stories told bye people who need to exploit passionate people. Having a slick online presence and a killer rep in the business are superficial and very temporary.

Remeber, breath and relax

Focus on things that matter in the long run, and slow things down. It’ll be fine in the end, I hope. These things I’ve talked about are really existential questions more intelligent people have discussed at length before I wrote this. Finding happiness in the moment right her and now can be a hard. I struggle with it constantly and need to remind myself of what matters to me the most.

To read and learn more about many of these things I find reading The Book of Life website really interesting and it triggers me to think and evaluate my own perspectives.

Remember, breath and relax.

Thanks to Alexandra Leisse for input and inspiration.
Originaly posted on Medium.

Accept Or Evacuate

Too many people try to change their surroundings and feel miserable while doing it. If you’re not happy with something, either suck it up or move on! There’s nothing in the human rights about the right to always feel great at work. If you’re not, it is up to you to change your situation. The chances that something will make you feel different in a while are slim. Nobody is going to look at your situation and sort things out. If your miserable, it’s because you choose to be.

I’ve switched jobs a couple of times for different reasons. What I would consider good advice is that if you’re feeling frustrated or that you’re not getting to utilize your skills and knowledge.

This was the original post I wrote before Web Rebels. Then at the conference Robert Nyman held a brilliant keynote, basically summing up what I’ve been trying to say!

You should leave when you feel like your talent isn’t being utilized or you’re in a situation which makes you feel miserable. There is little chance in this being a crucial mistake.

I know that this is something that is easy to say when you are financially in a good place and new jobs are easy to find. It is much harder to just quit when that means you’ll be without a place to live if you don’t land a new job in a couple of weeks. My perspective is on Norway where I love and work where jobs are easy to find and very few in our industry struggle to find work.

Gallery

On work

The first record of me interacting with a computer was a picture of me when I was three years old playing the game Pyton on a Tiki 100. I have always known what I wanted to do in life, I wanted to be a programmer and create things using computers. School was just an endless wait before I finally got to do what I wanted at the age of 19. That was when I finally got to Molde College where I could learn to program.

I am very much blessed to be able to make a living doing something I would do as a hobby if it wasn’t my job. I love what I do. However that doesn’t translate into loving my job. My job is the thing at a point in time that pays the bills and enables me to provide for my family. It is a business relationship where both parties benefit. My love is for what I do, which is being a programmer. 

The creator of the Solid Snake game, Hideo Kojima, said something I can relate to which was something like “I dislike all the work needed to create something” (not an exact quote and I can not find the original post as it was some ten+ years ago). That is exactly how I feel, that sometimes there is an enormous amount of work required just to get to create something :)

Original: http://www.flickr.com/photos/truthtodare/6916904929/

Quote

I’ve come to realize, however, that while technology may make it more convenient to communicate, it doesn’t improve our ability to get a point across

This is a quote from John Maeda‘s book Redesigning Leadership. I think it captures the essence of the problem we have today with communication. We have all these amazing tools which enables just about anyone to potentially communicate with millions of people around the globe. 

What these amazing tools doesn’t provide is the means to help you get your actual point across. This is what our facial expressions and body language is so good at doing.  Even tools like video conferencing doesn’t solve this problem. You can see the person and what he is doing, but the fact that he or she isn’t right there with you makes it more difficult to actually get your point across. 

You might argue that some people are more comfortable writing than talking face to face. I would argue that while writing might feel more comfortable, I doubt that it makes it easier to get their point across. Even though face to face communication might seem scary and you feel that it lacks the depth you get from written communication I think it still makes understanding easier.

I find understanding the meaning of a written harder than something said face to face. Anyways…. back to reality