Apr 14

Less Than Perfect Is Failure?

Recently I was working with a Sales Representative who informed me of an incoming survey on which he needed to be rated as 5 out of 5 stars or it would be considered failure. After sharing this information, came a question that greatly irritates me. A question I’ve heard numerous times, worded slightly differently, but the same basic question none-the-less. “What can I do to get a 5 star rating?”

To start, I take great offense at the idea that an individual’s performance can only fall into two categories, perfection (or near perfection) or failure. In what world should we consider the best possible rating the only possible success? For me, a scale of 1 to 5 means a 3 should be fine. When I say fine, I mean I have no complaints; service was fast, courteous and effective. I would argue that probably 75% of interactions should be 3 stars. That’s not a bad thing, in some cases, 4 star type of service is actually getting in my way.

To get a 4, you’re going to have to do something extra, maybe spend extra time understanding my situation so you can make a really effective recommendation, but you better have the knowledge to back it up otherwise you’re better off sticking with fast, courteous and effective. Service that tries to be extra helpful without the knowledge to actually help is worse than not trying.

Getting a 5 out of 5? Now that’s exceptional, something really special. Getting that score from me is incredibly difficult to attain. You need to anticipate things I haven’t even considered. You have to catch me off guard with your attention to detail, your knowledge, your follow-up, etc. If you’re asking me what can be done to achieve a 5 star rating, you’re almost certainly not going to get one. That kind of rating should be reserved for rare cases of excellence. Even a highly capable individual shouldn’t expect to get 5 stars on a regular basis.

I apologize now to future individuals who are looking for 5 star ratings from me. I’m sorry that your company is shortsighted enough to believe that 5 stars is the only acceptable response. I’m sorry that I’m too principled about this to just give you 5 stars since that’s what’s supposed to happen.

Maybe eventually American culture will no longer stigmatize the idea of being “average”. When that day comes, I suspect we’ll finally see the end of grade inflation too.

Mar 14

My Experience With Brain Workouts

This week when the NY Times published an article about the murky science behind brain workouts I wasn’t surprised with the conclusions and, in fact, I generally agree. Though I do brain workouts, enjoy them and have encouraged friends to try it; I am not under the illusion that they are making me any smarter; mostly, I just think they’re fun.

I started my Lumosity subscription under a few basic tenets:

  1. I enjoy the games
  2. I like the challenge
  3. I actively try to keep myself mentally on edge

I do the Lumosity recommended workouts with fair regularity. I find it to be a nice way to start my day. I don’t particularly like waking up early in the morning, yet due to my bizarre sleeping habits I find myself awake and working on the typical day before 6 a.m. What that also means though is that I feel a bit foggy early on and I feel that playing a few rounds of some rather challenging but simple in scope games helps me mentally wake up.

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Feb 14

The Hard Way

I’ve been told to “work smarter not harder” many times in my life. For a long time, I accepted this as essentially correct and unquestionable, but in recent years I’ve come to see that it may not always be as clear cut as it seems. The core idiom is true, but the question I think is what does it mean to “work smarter”? Sometimes I think the answer is a bit counter-intuitive.

As a software engineer, I spend a lot of time retreading old ground. In the world of software, though the exact program you’re building may be new, the core problems you’re solving probably aren’t. Even when you think of some of the new challenges of the internet and the issues with scale and distribution; these are new-ish, but a lot of the base problems have been recognized and considered in computer science since its inception.

So, when a new situation comes up and I have identified a problem to solve. I have a few options:

  • Use an existing library
  • Find someone who has solved it and copy some code (a blog, stackoverflow, etc.)
  • Try to write it on my own

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Aug 13

Graphic Design Anyone?

Apparently, I’m a graphic designer, again.

For some history, I used to do some graphic design work about 8 years ago, when I worked for e-autobusiness. In fact, the website still has some traces of my design touch lingering, though it all feels rather confused now years of updates and I think a merger, but that’s sort of par for the course. I have a tolerable eye for composition and color but my very minimalist style (as you can see from the theme I’ve chosen for my blog) doesn’t tend to exist well in the typical business environment. Maybe I should have tried working for a Scandinavian company, my minimalism probably would have fit better there.

I was never more than a solid average or so but that was good enough to get some work and help me find my footing in a world where a broad skill set can keep work coming. Its been years since I’ve done any graphic design though. I found that as I focused more on being a software engineer I lost my eye for design more and more. Then a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine contacted me to help out with something for his job. He’s a pilot on the 757 for Allegiant Airlines and has been working on educating people on some new complex laws that if I’m honest I don’t really understand.

He was working on a training book and wanted the effort to be successful. He hoped to make sure the book felt properly branded and that it was organized in a way that’s easy to read and nice to see. I agreed to help him with it pro bono. I haven’t done much in the way of graphic design in a while and so the change of pace was nice.

25 or so hours of work and I really realized how out of practice I was but fortunately the people at his company were thrilled with the deliverable and so the goals were met on all sides. I got a chance to do something different and give my brain a break from the engineering thought process and he made a splash at his job.

I guess once you develop a skill it never goes away entirely, but I’m very glad I don’t work as a designer anymore. Even though creating a design is fairly interesting, implementing it can be pretty tedious.

Jun 11

Time for Change

I’ve been working at ASSA ABLOY for almost four years. After years of good opportunity to learn and grow I’ve been given the opportunity to continue to grow within the company. HID Global, a sister company, has offered me the chance to come work with their R&D Engineering team on smart card readers.

For me, this is very exciting work. I’ll get the chance to make use of my existing skill-set to help out the team with implementing a number of tools to assist with testing. The team right now is primarily Electrical Engineers and they are missing the skills for OO programming. That happens to be my expertise right now. But what makes this great is that it puts me in a prime spot to start learning and expanding my skills to work in embedded software. Which is my goal for the not too distant future.

I just don’t really get excited about web development anymore. It’s given me a great chance to learn, but when it comes down to it, how many forms over data can I really build and have it be interesting? That’s not to say there isn’t innovation to be made or that there isn’t some really cool stuff happening on the web. Just that it turns out not to be exciting to me.

I’m grateful for the opportunity and glad to have a change of pace. I’ll be moving to the Denver, Colorado area which is beautiful and, if I have to move from Charlotte, it’s a pretty good option.