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A pilgramage to NY headquarters

Posted by on Jan 16, 2012 in Blog, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I’ve been in a rather dark, pressure-filled place in my journey the past couple of weeks.  You can tell, more posts here about my feelings, rather than code.  Less posting on Twitter about anything work-related, or anything at all during the work week.  The usual “How are you?” is greeted with an exasperated sigh, rather than my usual “Life is awesome!”

It’s something to do with another level I’m trying to attain in my career, a lack of balance, a frustration with not being able to do what I wish I could.  Many have tried to help me out of this funk, and just as I start to feel better, another monkey wrench is thrown my way.  My medical problems — I can deal with.  High blood pressure, take a pill. Leaking protein – take some chemo.  Fine.  But this general discomfort is hard. I don’t know the end goal, nor the path.  I’m horrible at hiding my emotions, so I say things I shouldn’t, things I don’t truly mean.  I hope the team knows that.

I enjoy working out of Washington, DC, and have long said that choosing between working with my colleagues by format or by subject matter, would lead me to choose working in person with my colleagues by subject matter.  I love the “Washingtonness” of AP.  But sometimes, the people I talk to on the phone need to be just a little bit more.  I come back from three working days in NY feeling…better.  I love seeing them in person, but miss my DC colleagues.  In DC, I miss the people in NY.  But I’ve always lived in an intersection.  After my recent trip, it would be a lie to say my ennui is fixed, but I’m starting to see a path.

I thought I would share some clarifying quotes from my colleagues, who put a bit of a skip back in my step.  I think they may be helpful to anyone learning a new skill, in any field.

“At some point, it’s not enough for me to believe you can do it.  You must believe you can do it.”

“Perhaps you are frustrated because your potential is not yet matched by your skills.”

“Asking questions about how every line works is an excellent trait for a technologist. But sometimes it’s enough to grasp the big picture, and let the rest come.”

“Are you afraid of failing? Because you haven’t yet.”

“Think of this like school. It just happens to take place in a large global news organization.” (#nobigdeal)

“I have never known you not to find a solution to a problem.”

“If you want to work on the weekend, go ahead.  If you want to do something else, do that. You have nothing to feel guilty about for not working outside of work.”

“Side projects are supposed to be fun. If it isn’t, why are you doing it?”

“Why do you refer to learning as struggling? It’s part of the process, no different than before.”

“I know that you don’t see programming as the point, but a means to an end.  But you know what? The journey is pretty fun, too.”

“At first, you will just feel like you are copying down code. But it will make more sense.”

Eventually, me:

“It’s just so hard. (later) I never really learned to code with music, it was just so, so difficult I had to concentrate…wait a minute…like it’s hard now…oh wait, I think I just had a moment of clarity–this is no worse than when I started learning Python!  I can do this! Too.”

And my favorite question:

“Do you understand this enough yet that you see how the structure can help you dream up new interactives?”

Not yet.  But that day sounds pretty darn awesome. That quote’s going on my desk.

My task last week?  Learn enough about Backbone (a Web framework that helps organize JavaScript, the language I use most often) that I could execute a major project in it due at the end of the month.  Wednesday: I had a pounding headache, and laid down my desk, almost in tears.  Thursday: I made changes to a file, and modified features. Friday: I added features of my own, with barely any supervision.  I nearly broke my face with a wide grin as a click made a shape change from one color to another.

And for the first time in years, on Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t touch a line of code. I gave myself permission to rest.  I visited with relatives. I entered a world where my biggest problem was turning down the apple turnover being pushed on me after breakfast.  I gabbed with college friends over pickles and corned beef at a NY deli. I rode back to DC, just…thinking.  The Capitol building glowed at me as I exited Union Station. I was home, but with a renewed perspective.  And it was…liberating.

I’m still in a dark place.  I don’t know where all this will lead.  I don’t know when I’ll come out of my current funk.  I hope that passing on what I do know, inside and outside my organization, may help me feel better. I don’t know how I’m going to meet my own expectations, which I’ve learned, are even higher than those of my workplace. Which is ridiculous — I’m doing well enough for AP, but not for myself. I always have been my own worst critic.

There is no wrap-up conclusion at the end of this post.  Just this: I’m in a better place now than I was on Tuesday, before I went up to NY.  And maybe for today, that’s enough. Tomorrow? That’s a question I’m not ready to address quite yet.

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At peace with where I am » »
  • http://twitter.com/gsamek Geoff Samek

    I’ve been in a funk like you described, scared of code and depressed at my rate of learning. Often I feel there is an overwhelming amount to learn (and I have a CS degree!). And my first job out of school felt like that a bit. In school everything I learned was theoretical and but in the work place not many people were asking me for the Big O notation for an algorithm’s speed, or asking me to write a sorting method from scratch. Version control? Integrated Development Environments? For christ sake I didn’t even know how to run an application server like Tomcat or even Apache!

    Of all the comments you got from people I tend to think the following is the best:

    “Asking questions about how every line works is an excellent trait for a technologist. But sometimes it’s enough to grasp the big picture, and let the rest come.”

    I think you can say it more succinctly, sometimes you can just plow forward without knowing something. It’s tempting to go deep on a subject when it actually makes more sense to learn a little about a lot of stuff and deepen your knowledge over time. Reminds me of seeing a novice musician perform, instead of gracefully flowing over their mistakes they get stuck and repeat a phrase until they get it right. If they had just let it go, likely they would have been the only one that noticed.

    One other thought, tackle a side project that is tiny but very useful and complete it. People need to complete stuff. Are you doing a search and replace a lot? Learn how to use a command line tool like sed/awk/grep/perl to make it faster/easier. When you have 5 half finished projects it’s stressful. When you have one 2 hour project that you see through to the finish, you feel happy. If it’s useful to you, you feel good everyday and you feel like a real hacker.


  • http://twitter.com/dancow Dan Nguyen

    It’s natural to feel inadequate…the Internet makes it easy to come in touch with people much better than you…but you have to use that to your advantage…let those people inspire, and copy where possible. Moreover, you’ll find there are just as many people who are being impressed by you. Feeling inadequate can be a good thing, if it helps you stop being complacent, but don’t let it hamper you. Easy words to say, I know…

    I also just started dinking around in Backbone. I had set a goal to make a quick photo app this week (http://so.danwin.com/bigfaces/) and it has almost none of the features I wanted, but I learned a lot through trial and error. Frameworks are complex enough systems that sometimes it’s just best to crank out a minimal product and circle back feeling refreshed.

    Keep on trucking!