Fathering beyond ‘Normal’

I’ve been reflecting recently on my father’s life and what he taught me. My father was great (though certainly not perfect), and I keep appreciating more and more how different he was from the ‘average father’ in many ways.  Many of these storied reminded me of great values I hope I can pass on well to my children.

When I was in elementary school, I loved competing in a local paper airplane contest.  A ‘normal’ father may have said encouraging things, or bought me a book about paper airplanes, but my my father patiently took me to his schools’ gym (he was a school teacher) where for hours and hours on many nights and weekends, he would patiently hang out while I threw so many different types of paper airplanes trying to identify the best one.

In addition to paper airplanes, I also really enjoyed real airplanes as a kid.  A ‘normal’ dad may have rented a movie about airplanes, but my father look me down to the local (small) airport and knocked on the door at the air traffic tower, and asked a very confused man if we could come up and see the air traffic control tower from the inside.  The man was very confused, asking if my dad was a controller, or a pilot, or if he worked for the FAA.  My father explained that no, but his son wanted to see the inside, the and confused man welcomed us up and explained all the screens/lights up in the tower.

Growing up, when we saw someone stranded on the side of the road, my father didn’t just drive by or think to call the police after we got home (this was pre-cell phone era) — instead, he would pull over to the side of the road, get the reflective vest and flashlight wand he randomly kept in his trunk, and ask my mom to drive us home, so he could direct traffic or help them change a tire.  Inevitably, a police officer or other helpful person would drop my dad off at home later that day.

When I was transitioning from playing T-ball to ‘real baseball’, I struggled with timing my swing.  My father could have just encouraged me to keep practicing.  Or asked the coach for some additional attention.  But instead, he recruited one of his friends to come to the baseball field with us some random Saturday and video tape me swinging so we could go home and watch my baseball swing in slow-motion.  We quickly diagnosed the problem.

My father’s hobby was investing in other people’s lives — whenever he would talk to someone else, he’d pepper them with questions with a real curiosity on learning more about their life and what was important to them, often finding areas where he could help them.

He worked long hours, often juggling teaching and other side jobs, but he was always showing my sister and I with his time that we were very important to us.  He was hours early to every play or dance recital, ensuring he had great seats for him (and any family that came at a reasonable time to find the seats he saved) and he was at every baseball game.

He taught my sister and I a real focus on living well below/within our means and saving our pennies for a rainy day — it’s amazing to realize how powerful this is in, once you connect this value with some understanding of things like simple investing, 401(k), IRA accounts, etc. — it’s so powerful to transition from youth to adult by getting used to saving early.  And so hard to make that transition later.

He was constantly serving people — he and my mom were always volunteering around our church when we were growing up, which looking back on, I am so impressed with, because it’s hard just getting young kids to church and home.

Work hard and be proud of your work — he loved to say that “There’s no such thing as extra credit in this house”, meaning that any opportunity to get extra credit in a class wasn’t optional — it was expected we’d take every opportunity we were given to succeed.

He had great little nuggets of wisdom to share all the time, like:

  • Slow down when you’re doing public speaking — people often get nervous and talk way too fast
  • Be respectful to everyone, not just people with important job titles or in positions to help you
  • Take the time to learn people’s names and learn about them — he loved to remind people of how people took good care of him when he’d go get his car oil changed because he knew the people who worked there, and would write letters to their boss when they did a good job.  And because of this, people would constantly be chatting with him and offering him discounts.  As an aside, I’m often struck by how rude people are when they go somewhere to buy a sandwich — it doesn’t cost anything to be pleasant with the people serving you!
  • Ask people about themselves — both because it’s good to be genuinely interested in the lives of other people, and because people like to share about themselves, so they often think (without realizing it) that the best conversations are the ones where people asked them to talk about themselves for most of the conversation
  • Don’t make big-money decisions quickly — my father used to take my sister or I car shopping randomly, years before we’d need a new year, both to help us understand how to talk to salespeople and negotiate, and so that when a car ever died on him, he long-ago knew what type of car they wanted to buy
  • Make sure your tie isn’t showing when you fold your collar down around it (the back of your dress shirt)
  • When you commit to something (like signing up to play T-Ball for a season), you were expecting to finish it — he loved to connect it to the concept of ‘following through’ when you swing a baseball bat.  You don’t stop half-way — you finish what you started.

I look back on so many things my father taught me over the years, and I am so thankful that he was my dad!

Email 101: Avoid the Bystander Effect

There’s a fundamental pyschology concept called “Bystander Effect“, where a group of people are less likely to help someone in need than when a single person is present.  Everyone in the group thinks someone else will/should help the victim, instead of them.

Think about this when you send an email — I recommend you clearly articulate who you want to do what, and ideally only put 1 person in the To: line of the email (even if you have a few people in the CC: line).

Baby Advice

I’m no expert, but here’s some baby advice for anyone about to have a child:

  1. Read the book “Baby Bargains” — it will pay for itself many times over with saving you money on what to register for and what to buy (it keeps it simple with a value recommendation and a luxury recommendation in each category
  2. What “Happiest Baby” DVD, because it will save you countless hours of sleep when you have a newborn, and no one with a newborn has the time to actually read the book
  3. The Baby Owner’s Manual book looks little silly, but it’s funny and has some great content — I really love how they explain bottle feeding for the dad
  4. You should know — newborn diapers have a stripe that changes color from yellow to blue or green to show when they have a wet diaper
  5. Take one of those 2-4 hour classes at your local hospital on how to diaper and other essentials (unless you’re already a baby expert)
  6. Ask other parents for suggestions on baby registry — there are so many things people register for that you don’t actually need
  7. Have someone professional trained double-check your baby seat installation — I hope you never have a car crash with a baby in the car, but if you do; you want to make sure it’s correct.  Most local police or fire departments offer this service scheduled every month or so
  8. As you get closer to your due date, don’t wait too long to have your home setup and your “go bag” packed and by the front door — we’ve had several fronts whose babies have come very early (1-2 months), so you don’t want to wait until the last minute
  9. Don’t buy used cribs or car seats — the safety of a new, modern item is well worth the cost of those new
  10. Sleep Sacks are so amazing — it’s good to learn how to swaddle your baby like a tiny burrito, but as they get bigger, sleep sacks save so much stress

Products I Love

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)

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

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

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).

Buy a Sandwich and Support Christian Student Athletes

I’m excited that, for the first time, the eight Jersey Mike’s Subs shops in Northern Virginia have selected NOVA Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) to partner with for the month of March, as part of their annual Month of Giving.  Every year, Jersey Mike’s stores pick local charities to partner with for the month.

Every day in March, everyone who buys something from a participating Jersey Mike’s store will have the opportunity to add a dollar or more to their order, to donate to FCA.  While that’s exciting, the big day is Wednesday, March 30 — on that day, 100% of the day’s sales (every single dollar) will be donated to FCA from these 8 stores.  So if you’re a fan of FCA’s mission of ministering to student athletes and coaches, please put in some big catering orders or bring all your friends on Mar 30!

Buy some tasty sandwiches from these Jersey Mike’s stores this month to support FCA’s great mission to invest in student athletes and coaches across the NOVA region:

(And if you’re excited to find other ways to support FCA, please ask me about their Fellowship Dinner, coming up on Sunday, April 24 in Falls Church.  It’s a great every year to hear how God has blessed students and coaches connected to FCA.)