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Reflections on technology, business, and life

Cool Stuff I Like

I thought I’d share some cool things I’m a fan of, in case anyone on the internet is interested:

Thing Notes Price
 Product Details It’s go great to get a 5 minute news updates, and we listen to so much more music now thanks to the Echo.  If you have some nice speakers laying around, buy the little Echo Puck and plug them in  $50
Aqua Notes Water Proof Note Pad This might sound ridiculous, but I love being able to jot down ideas and to-do’s while in the shower  $8
Jabra Freeway Bluetooth In-Car Speakerphone (U.S. Retail Packaging) Without this visor-mounted Bluetooth speakerphone, I probably would have already upgraded my car — so it’s saving me a car payment every month — thanks Jabra!  $100
Primula Cold Brew Glass Coffee Maker – Borosilicate Glass Carafe and Stainless Steel Mesh Core – Dishwasher Safe – 50 oz. [1.5 qt.] – Smokey Grey I enjoy cold-brewed, iced coffee year round, so I’m a huge fan of this pitcher that lets me make a few cups of strong cold-brew right in the fridge (they say I’m supposed to dilute the result with water, but that’s just less caffeine)  $25
TaoTronics Bluetooth Headphones, Wireless 4.1 Magnetic Earbuds aptX Stereo Earphones, IPX5 Splash Proof Secure Fit for Sports with Built-in Mic [Upgraded Version]  I’m a fan of these reasonably priced Bluetooth earphones for exercising/running — they’re super-stable in my ears and easy to use  $38
 airpods.PNG  I got some Air Pods as a gift, and I wasn’t sure I would like them.  But they came at a perfect time in my life — I’ve been really enjoying them as I catch up on audiobooks and podcasts while rocking my newborn daughter, and they’re great for long conference calls  $160
Black  Mission Belts are great — I saw them on Shark Tank, and I’ve been a fan since.  They’re easy to resize (you can cut the leather by the belt clip with scissors to resize them) and you’re never in-between sizes because it used a latch (like roller blades) instead of holes   $40
This book has saved us so much money — it’s like Consumer Reports for baby stuff, but cuts to the chase by telling you the premium recommendation and the best value recommendation right away (reminds me of TheWireCutter.com‘s approach to reviewing everything else)  $12
All-New Fire HD 8 Tablet with Alexa, 8 The Kindle Fire isn’t as slick as an iPad, but it’s great for reading Kindle books with color figures/graphics; and it’s a decent movie watching, email checking, web surfing tablet. It’s worth the upgrade from the 7″ one to the 8″ one.  $80 ($50 if you catch it on Prime Day)
 Adjustable Height Desk Kangaroo Elite in the standing position Yes, this is ludicrously expensive.  But it’s an amazing standing desk (and thank you WireCutter for the great review referral!) $600 (I know it’s crazy)
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What Should I Do When I Grow Up? Make a Flower!

If you’re trying to figure out how to pick what type of job to do next, whether you’re starting your career or making an change during your career, Richard Bolles’ “What Color is Your Parachute?” book are a great resource.  They’ve been updated and printed annually every year for many years.  You can pick up a copy from your local library or on Amazon.  Thanks to my great friend Mark for recommending this exercise to me — it’s been incredibly valuable for me.

There’s lots of great career planning/getting your first or next job advice in there, but my favorite part of the book by far is the “Flower Exercise” in the middle of the book.  He defines a flower with 7 parts to help you  better identify types of jobs you’d want to pursue — separating the different parts of jobs/career paths into.  The list of the parts of the flower are below — the exercise is to brainstorm items for each section, then prioritize them into a top 5-6 things in order.  Then you’ll have a one-page summary of the types of jobs that you would be great fit for you.

Center of Flower: Skills I Enjoy and am Good at (Transferable Skills)
  • To identify these, you can use various lists of skills (the book provides some)
  • You can write down stories of times you did something in your life you’re proud of (e.g. planning a big family vacation, leading a big project at work), and then pulling out all the various skills that you used from that story
Petal 1:  Fields of Fascination
  • It’s important to separate the ideas of roles (which are composed of multiple skills) and industries (or fields) — people often forget to separate these.  You can be a project manager, graphic artist, software engineer, data analyst, etc. in many different fields (e.g. Hollywood movie industry, Automobile/Car Racing companies,
Petal 2:  Preferred Places to Live
  • Identify the characteristics (e.g. close to bike trails) of the places you might live, before thinking of specific cities/areas; so you can avoid limiting places you might enjoy
Petal 3: My Preferred Kinds of People to Work With
  • A great thing to consider in career brainstorming/selection is the kind of people you want to surround yourself with in your career.  You’ll spend a lot of time with people in your career path.  The Flower Exercise recommends thinking about that by identifying the top 3, prioritized in order, types of people using Holland Codes, that you enjoy spending time with
Petal 4: My Values
  • Think about the core values that are important to you — people value all kinds of different things.  This reminds of me Jim Collins’ great point in “Good to Great“, where he makes the point that great organizations all have an opinionated culture about something — even though they’re all different.  Pepsi, BMW, and Walmart value in people and organizational culture very different things; but great companies can come out of a wide variety of cultures.  Think about what those values are for you.
Petal 5:  My Favorite Working Conditions
  • Think about the working conditions you enjoy (reflect back on previous conditions that you’ve enjoyed or disliked).  A few examples:  Do you enjoy a collaborative environment? Do you want to be left alone to solve tough problems?  Do you want a loud, fun bunch of people who socialize after work?  Or quiet, professionals?
Petal 6:  Preferred Level of Responsibility / Salary
  • Think about how much money you need to make, and how much you want to make (which should be very different amounts).  Some people have a much higher minimum or target salaries than others, and that certainly should affect picking a career path
  • Also, think about the level of responsibility you aspire to — that responsibility could be if you want to manage people, how many people you’d want to manage, how much responsibility you’d want in your actions at work (e.g. a surgeon has much more impact/responsibility than some other jobs), etc.

Flower Exercise

FYI: Splitting up my Blog

I’m splitting my (inconsistent, infrequent) blogging into 2 separate blogs — mikehking.com will be for personal thoughts (e.g. reflections on life, parenting lessons learned) while designinggreatorganizations.com will be focused on more professional thoughts about designing and growing organizations.

Using JIRA to Scale your Business

I recently spoke at the 2017 Capability Counts conference, put on by the CMMI Institute. David Anderson Keynote 2017.PNG It’s an interesting event that isn’t focused just on CMMI maturity models — instead it’s a conference where a few hundred people get together to discuss process improvement, Agile, software engineering processes, and a variety of other related topics.

The keynote (shown in the picture above) is David Anderson of LeanKanban University talking about the core concepts of Kanban, which go far beyond most people’s understanding of 3 column boards.

I spoke on using Atlassian’s JIRA product to help an organize scale — sharing some best practices/recommendations on how to use a tool like JIRA to get information out of email, hallway conversations, and meetings and into a system where work can be clarified, prioritized and tracked.

Finally Found a great Podcast App

I finally found the iOS podcast app I’ve been looking for, for months (certainly not a life-threatening problem to complain about) — thanks to a great recommendation from Tom Cagley.  I figured I should ask him, as he’s an accomplished podcast host (focused on how technology companies can get better at everything important), and I only listen to podcasts.

I’ve used the iPhone’s default Podcast app, I’ve tried Overcast, and I read about a few others; but I wanted an app that would give me better control of my podcast list.  I have enough things to juggle these days — I don’t want to think about podcast prioritization (again, sorry for whining about something to trivial).  need my podcast app to stress me out.  I wanted to be able to manage my podcasts like a backlog of stories in JIRA (where I feel like I can actually be in control) and not like a torrent of “here’s 1,000 podcasts you haven’t listened to yet, in some order that isn’t based on your preferences.”

I have enough things to juggle these days — I don’t want to think about podcast prioritization…

Anyway, Castro 2 is awesome — it does exactly what I want:  It queues up my podcasts, and lets me prioritize whether they should go to the top of my reading queue, the bottom, or nowhere; and then it lets me move things around on the queue; so I always have something good to listen to.

Thanks Supertop for making a great app, and thanks Tom for a great recommendation.

If only I could find an app to manage queuing up all my media, across various apps (e.g. iBooks for iTunes-based audiobooks, Blinkist, Udemy, podcasts, Audible, YouTube).

Unsolicited Blinkist App Suggestions

(Blinkist is a service that summarizes books into short text and audio (15 minute) summaries — they’re great, and I thought I’d offer them some unsolicited product management feedback)

Hey Blinkist,

I’ve been loving my subscription, and I wanted to share some of my ideas/wish list for features for you to add to your iPhone app/service:

  1. I can’t find a way to go back to whatever I was listening last, when I open the app — I can go to the home screen and filter based on progress; but that doesn’t necessarily show me what I was listening to — could that be where the app loads initially, when I reopen it?  Or maybe a new icon in the top-right corner of the app’s home page?
    • img_2725  img_2727
  2. I love that you added reading list (Blink Backlog) to the app, but it’s super-hard to find (I can only seem to get to it, while listening to a book, and then right-swiping — the metaphor here doesn’t make much sense to me.  I’d love for you to add a button at the bottom of the home page for “Reading List” (it  looks like there is room at the bottom for a 4th icon)
    • img_2725  img_2728
  3. The “Library” icon (bottom-center) of the home page isn’t a very intuitive icon — maybe that could look more like a row of shelves, and the “Reading List” icon could be more of a todo list
  4. When I’m scrolling through my Reading List, I’d love there to be a faster way to move items around — maybe instead of only being able to drag using the hamburger (3 horizontal lines), you could offer an “Up Arrow” icon that would send the book to the top of the reading list; and a “Down Arrow” to send it to the bottom of the list
    • img_2729
  5. I can’t find my Reading List on the web app (when I use my laptop to check out my account) — could you add the Reading List functionality to that interface?
  6. I never read the non-audio summaries, so in addition to being able to favorite a whole book summary; I’d love to be able to favorite a specific Blink (e.g. Blink 3 of 10 from a specific book) — maybe as a Star instead of  Heart; so I could go back to those
    • img_2726
  7. I’d love it if you made it easier to share that I enjoyed a book summary, when I finished it, sharing it to Twitter or Facebook at the end of the summary
  8. It’d be great if there a was a convenient place in the app to submit books I’d love to have you summarize

Thanks for all the great summaries Blinkist!

Mike

CIO 101 for Entrepreneurs

This morning I got to share IT infrastructure, business strategy, and business
architecture tips and recommendations with some local current and future entrepreneurs at The Capitol Post in Old Town Alexandria.  Capitol Post is a great organization focused on inspiring Veteran entrepreneurs to find professional clarity and scale those visions.  They offer several great things, including  a cool co-working space right in North Old Town Alexandria, classes, and a startup accelerator program.

img_9850

Here are the slides and strategy template I went through with the group this morning, helping entrepreneurs deal with IT.   We talked about:

We talked about how IT for non-technical entrepreneurs can be like personal finance for non-financial people — it’s very important, but it’s hard to motivate yourself to invest the time you need to understand it, make some solid plans, automate it, and then move on to creating value.

It’s been a year since I last taught at Capitol Post (https://mikehking.com/2015/09/11/talking-technology-bunker-labs/), and it’s great to see how much they’ve grown (the office is beautiful and their getting ready for their next cohort to go through the Bunker Labs DC accelerator.

I Draw on a Whiteboard for a Living

While it’s a gross oversimplification to say that I draw (I use the term “draw” loosely) on a whiteboard for a living, it’s amazing to reflect on how much of my time is spent using a whiteboard for all kinds of things (most of which are incredibly valuable to the work I’m doing).  I can tell I’m spending a majority of my time on the whiteboard while at work, because my smartphone pictures are about 25% whiteboard pictures and 75% pictures of my adorable son (and beautiful wife).

As a Chief Technology Officer, I end up using the whiteboard for all kinds of things, like:

  • Facilitating solution architecture discussions and development with subject matter experts (technical experts) and people who understand the needs of our customers, creating things like Concepts of Operation (ConOps), system architectures, and  unifying proposal roadmap figures
  • Outline and storyboarding proposals before we start digging into these (This is key — just like software engineering, you need a plan/architecture before anyone writes any code)
  • Creating product backlogs and release plans, where I sometimes throw in some painter’s tape and sticky notes so I don’t have to keep rewriting the user stories when I move them between releases/sprints
  • Creating user interface wireframes (whiteboards are great for this, because they force you to focus on the big picture — just like using a Sharpie to sketch these on paper, instead of a pen)
  • Creating process map and flowcharts with process owners, trying to define current and to-be business processes (and sometimes trying to map the value of different steps while refining)
  • Sketching out tables to validate content structure before going off to create them in a tool like Microsoft Office or Confluence

That said, I want to be clear that the pictures of my wife and son are much cuter than my whiteboard pictures.

 

Engineer Grandpas are Pretty Cool

My grandfather, a NASA engineer who worked on telecommunications systems for many of the Apollo missions was always coming up with things I never saw anyone else doing.  Some of that came from having engineering education and skills, but much of it came from a willingness to learn new things — he was never intimidated to do something new.

2010_07_04_11_29_090001He loved telling the story of his father wanting to keep squirrels off his grape vines, so he
ran electrical wire through the trellis the vines were on, and put a button by his back door.  When he pressed the button, it would give the squirrels a zap and they didn’t come back to try new grapes.  (Apparently you could tell which squirrels were new to the neighborhood, because each squirrel tried to eat his grapes exactly once.)
When my father was in college, his 1960’s VW Beetle was having significant engine 2010_07_04_11_50_000003problems.  My grandfather didn’t want my dad worrying about the car when he should be focused on school, so my grandfather bought a mechanic’s book on the VW bug and over a weekend he rebuilt the entire engine in his garage and brought it back to my dad.  I heard this story while helping my grandfather adjust the spark plug timing on an old 1970’s Plymouth in his driveway — it was a fun afternoon learning how engines run.
My grandfather came over to our house when I was a kid to help us hang a bird feeder in our backyard.  Instead of some more boring options, he came over with a bow and arrow (pretty cool way to show up at your son’s house), fired an arrow over a tall branch with a rope attached, and used the line to hang the birdfeeder with an anti-squirrel dome over it, far enough from the tree that the squirrels couldn’t jump from the ground, tree, or branch to get to the food.  We had that birdfeeder for at least 15 years, and a squirrel never managed to get on it.
My grandfather installed counterbalancing weights on strings and pulleys for all his sliding screen and glass doors, so you could open and close them with a tiny touch — it wasn’t necessary, but it was a constant touch reminder that with a little effort, creativity, and patience, you can do some cool stuff (and this was long before you could Google, YouTube, or Quora search something).

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