Part 1: If My Coworkers Were “Magic: The Gathering” Cards

(2.5 minute read) A game is like a project, the creatures are like my team and other spells are like processes/curveballs that cause it all to pivot.

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One of my favorite parts of my job is it’s like I’m constantly solving puzzles. They’re not the same as they were back in my development days, much more complex and abstract now. I often have to figure out how we’re going to put the team together and how we’re going to tackle a given project. It doesn’t always work. But, if I monitor things closely and shift my strategy accordingly, this yields the best chances for success.

One day, this got me thinking of a parallel in the game of Magic: The Gathering (aka MTG). A game is like a project, the creatures are like my team and other spells are like processes/curveballs that cause it all to pivot. Land cards are obviously the setting (e.g. working from home, open office, dim-lit loft, etc.). Yes, I’m a geek. Shove it.

So this post, the 12th post of the year, the post during the holiday stretch from Thanksgiving to the New Year, the only post I’m a day late on this year because I was busy studying for the JLPT (I will likely write a post on that some day), this post is going to be simply for geeky, nonsensical fun. It is certainly part of my craft to have some fun along the way too. Over the past few years, I’ve thought up “what if so-and-so was a MTG card?” and jotted it down in my notes. And so that’s exactly what I did.

Enjoy.

Disclaimer: images were found on the internet. I used the site I found them on in the “artist” section of each card.

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apathetic analytics engineer.png

articulate sr. tpm.png

cautious program manager.png

costly contract developer.png

daily standup.png

devout iphone developer.png

elon musk.png

jr. developer.png

race condition.png

subtle scope creep.png

tireless vp of tech.png

It’s been a fun year writing these posts. I’d love to hear your thoughts on subject matters I can dig into next year. Here’s a random selection of topics I have written down:

  • X Benefits of Inspiring People
  • How to talk to clients like they’re people
  • Getting over the fear of asking the stupid question
  • Managing depression
  • That moment when you lose control
  • Jumping on to a sinking ship

See you in 2018!

Part 2 of this series will come out at a later date…

The Garbage Man Stan Complex

(3 minute read) – The Garbage Man Stan complex is that moment when you’ve crossed the point of no return and failure is imminent. You have to be aware of your own limits and make the right decisions to avoid getting trapped into that situation.

There are times when you have to disconnect mentally just to handle all the things in front of you to keep them from blowing up. Eventually this becomes a game that you will inevitably lose. I call this the Garbage Man Stan Complex.

Garbage Man Stan?
I’ve participated in a handful of game jams (i.e. developing a game from scratch over a small set of hours) in my past. I don’t get too as often since career, family and side projects dominate my life now. But, every once in a while, I make a concerted effort to join a community of indie developers and create something tangible, maybe even presentable, within an impossible timeframe. The sense of accomplishment of turning something in within time is rewarding enough considering my side projects take years to complete. For more reasons why, Martijn says it best in his post, The Many Benefits of Speedhacking.

There’s one game that I made during TINS 2007 (yes, an exact decade ago) that I’m particularly proud of. It was called, you guessed it, Garbage Man Stan. Marvel at its next gen level graphics:

gms

The randomly generated rules (it’s a game development competition…are you surprised?) called for a theme about garbage, using current news events and utilizing smoke and flame effects. I started with the following synopsis:

The player, playing the part of Garbage Man Stan, will maximize their revenue by incinerating a steadily increasing flow of delivered garbage for as long as possible until one burner inevitably overflows thus ending the game.

The most exciting game ever, right? That is quite literally THE game. Everything else I did beyond that point was to add a factor of fun or make it more of a novelty. The trucks bounced like they came straight out of a 1930’s cartoon classic. Side note, who’s playing Cuphead right now? Anyway, proud to say I placed in the top three in Technical, Genre and Artistical in a group of 20-ish people with this game.

The Complex
Getting back to the day-to-day, it often feels like stuff is being dumped on my plate faster and faster and it is up to me to address it before it overflows and I lose the game, so to speak. I am not talking just work or life, but everything, the “a billion and one things” conundrum. I’m sure most can relate. I know my strengths and I am better at depth than breadth. I prefer to focus in, consume all the data and think deeply about what something means and what should be done about it. I am also happier when this is what I get to do. Nonetheless, life for me currently is more about how well I can package up chaos and make it look beautiful. It’s taken a while to adapt to this, but discovering I can do this, and do it well, has been very rewarding in itself.

The Garbage Man Stan complex is that moment when you’ve crossed the point of no return and failure is imminent. You have to be aware of your own limits and make the right decisions to avoid getting trapped into that situation. Failure to do so can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, mistakes and/or poor project outcomes. Not to mention the overflow is just that: a negative impact to others’ lives.

While we’re on the theme of games, consider the Sims. A Sim has needs that are constantly depleting at different rates based on the Sim’s personality. This is true of work too, but at a more abstract level. How long have you sat on that email? How long have you been ignoring that co-worker? How long have you let a bug live in production? Even though you’re hitting the highest priority items as fast as you can, inaction on another can also cause you to lose the game.

Summary
If you’re in an impossible situation and there’s too much to do, the best you can do is all you can offer. Even if you end up in checkmate, the good thing about life is that it does go on. Expel the feelings of defeat, learn from what went wrong and go on as a better version of yourself. That’s called experience. You’re going to be just fine, but you have to keep going.

Speaking of game competitions, I’m participating in TINS 2017 coming up on October 20th! If you’re a developer, whether you’ve done any game development or not, you should consider joining! The last competition I did was in 2015, so I’m a bit rusty. And my time to “just code” has also taken a significant hit recently. I’m excited to see if I’ve still got it. Follow me on twitter @supersilvey and cheer me on!

How to Take PTO Like a Boss

I spent some time thinking how I can improve my approach to PTO to avoid vacation guilt. So I jotted down some thoughts and tried to consciously apply them during my recent vacay at the beach. Let’s take a look at how it went…

It’s July. Summer is in full effect. Tomorrow is Freedom Day. Yay for summer living!

I have a much different perspective on time off now, both as a manager and a father of two boys. As a developer, my job was to take documented inputs and create desired outputs. As a manager, my goal is to take lots of chaos and hopefully generate…less chaos. Rarely is there no chaos. This makes me a bit apprehensive about leaving for extended times.

The goal, of course, is to grow in my career and take on more responsibility. But balance is important and I don’t want to sacrifice time off that I earned like so many Americans do. I spent some time thinking how I can improve my approach to PTO to avoid vacation guilt. So I jotted down some thoughts and tried to consciously apply them during my recent vacay at the beach. Let’s take a look at how it went…

Before I Left

  • Treat preparation like a deliverable

    As PTO nears, it’s easy to get lost trying to just simply accomplish the day-to-day tasks. They tend to pile up and I start to feel uncomfortable leaving things in unfinished states. But neglecting to clearly layout the plan would likely haunt me on my return.  I delegated where I could and made sure I checked off my full PTO Coverage checklist.

  • Create a PTO Coverage Document

    Building a document helps me think through the expectations for my team. This also helps me ride out into the sunset knowing that I have at least put it down in a format that my team can reference if they start to forget what I’ve said. My document covered escalation paths, milestones and who’s doing what as well as potential risks that may arise during my absence. I made sure to meet with the whole team to walk through this document to reinforce it further. And, to give credit where credit is due, I totally stole this idea from my counterpart on most of my projects.  🙂

  • Don’t forget to configure tools accordingly

    Anything that pulls you back into reality is disruptive during vacation. I canceled/declined all calendar meetings/events, turned off email and set clear direction/explanation in my Out of Office auto-message. Never hop on a meeting when you are out. Ever.  Trust me, people want you to be fully undisturbed during your break because they want you to recharge and they don’t want the same expectation to apply to them when they’re out.

While I Was Out

  • Make memories

    Family vacations can be…chaotic. I’m still a parent, apparently, so I have to parent when all I want to say is “I can’t parent anymore.” But…this time is equally precious. Work can dominate our lives and sap our energy when we do have that bit of family time. I knew the time would fly by, so I took as many mental snapshots as I could, remembering the way the sand felt beneath my toes and what made my kids laugh. The more I was actively in the moment, the slower time felt.

  • Meditate and disconnect

    I wanted to make sure I found some time for me and only me. I made sure to give my wife some time as well.  She’s amazing, by the way. Anyway, during this time, I tried to not think and rest my weary soul. I was lucky enough to have a little private back porch connected to our room, perfect for sipping on iced tea whilst successfully accomplishing nothing at all.

  • Dream about your future

    As I enjoyed time with the family and time for myself, I found myself capable of imagining the future. I try to walk each day to think ahead, but oftentimes there’s just too many other things bouncing around in my head that prevent me from really dreaming of the future. I remember my trip to Hawaii a few years ago. I left there feeling very confident about growing my family and nearly a year later, we introduced our second boy to the world.

    And I still have my childhood dreams.  I continue to pursue them and trips like these help reinvigorate those passions.

  • Capture in a journal

    As slow as I try to make it go, vacation is but a blip on the radar of time. It’s very easy to look at it as not enough time. So I wrote everything I could remember, both small observations and memorable events, in a journal (aka, Google Drive document). Re-reading it, I felt pretty accomplished in all we got to do. And this journal can spark those memories again later on when I need to think back, reliving some moments that pictures can’t quite do as well.

  • Prepare for your return

    The worst thing that can happen is feeling burnt out quickly after having a chance to recharge. Whenever I go to vacation, I try to tack on a mini-staycation at the end. I want to mentally shift gears from vacation-mode back to the day-to-day mode. This also allows me to knock off a few side projects that I’ve been stalling on as well. The day before I went back to work, I took an hour to scan through emails to get a feel for what could potentially be the hot item on my return.

On My Return

  • Be glad to be back

    You just got to have a vacation, ideally you should be appreciative and recharged. When you’re gone for a while, people notice and will likely ask, “how was your trip?” I didn’t want to say “not long enough” or “back to the grind”, I made a conscious effort to say a quick summary and cap it with “I’m glad to be back!” The truth is, I do love my job and I’m glad to do it, but just to make sure to squash any subconsciously lingering feelings of not readiness, stating this simple phrase helped me feel excited to take on the challenges already heading my way.

  • Catch up with coworkers

    While I knew there was undoubtedly chaos that I needed to assess, I wanted to make sure I spent time just talking with my coworkers about non-work related stuff. I often get stuck in professional mode that I forget to touch on the human side of my coworkers. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed just chatting about trivial subjects with people I hadn’t seen in a couple weeks.

  • Work a normal day

    The worst thing you can do is take on too much upon your return. You want the “stress-free you” to remain as long as possible. There’s going to be a bit of a backlog to go through. It’s okay if it takes a few days to truly get caught up. I got in at a normal time and I left at a normal time and as I wrote this post, I still feel like my soul is in a good place and ready to handle the next few projects coming down the pipe.

Summary

Doing the above helped me appreciate my time off. It helped me maximize the effects of vacation without having me stress about maximizing the effects of my vacation. Maybe that sounds silly, but sometimes when life gives us lemons we try to make a Corporate Empire selling them. “Just do it” and “you only live once” are great tag lines, but I like to treat time off like “do and don’t do, both intended for you.” I should patent that. But whatever you do, make sure to take your hard-earned time off. If that comes back on you negatively in any way, it’s probably time to consider making a life change.

Happy 4th of July, readers! Let me know if you got any tips and/or tricks you do to make the most of your vacations/staycations in the comments section below!