Many scientists believe that the creative process springs as much from the subconscious as it does from a conscious thought process. Most often, creative solutions are not wrestled from your mind through sheer force of will.
Being able to concentrate on a problem is a wonderful thing. The idea that you can have some peace and quiet and really get your head around a problem is, to me, a blessing.
So why do many organizations screw this up? Joel Splosky is the CEO of Stack Overflow. For those unaware of Stack Overflow, it is a very popular site for developers to go to get answers to questions. It is the site to go to. If they don’t have the answer than you have a very unique problem or you need to use different keywords when searching. Joel doen’t like the concept of the open office. His anecdotal evidence indicates that developers don’t like it either. Continue reading “Concentration Is Not Overrated”
A few days ago I received an interesting email, it was from the New Mexico Medical Center welcoming me to the Patient Portal. I was a little confused as I don’t live in New Mexico, have never been to New Mexico and, to the best of my knowledge, have no know relatives in New Mexico. A little curious I opened up the first email and started reading:
Dear DANIEL JESSOP,
We are pleased to inform you that online access to your electronic health record is now available through New Mexico Medical`s Patient Portal. The Patient Portal is a secure website that allows you to communicate with your health care provider and to view parts of your electronic health record. This tool will help you better manage your care and enhance your partnership with your health care team.
OK, so obviously someone put in the wrong email address (mine) instead of theirs and I got sent the welcoming email. I was happy that they didn’t actually provide any confidential information in the email as that would have been … awkward. The part I liked was :
For security reasons, the activation code will be sent to you separately.
So the New Mexico Medical Center was going to send me an activation code that I would need to activate my account. Cool, so they will send it to the correct mailing address and I don’t have to worry about it. I pop out of this email and … oh, oh. Sitting in my inbox is the Patient Portal Activation Code. Well, this sucks. Daniel Jessop created a userID with the name of “djessop1”. (Wait, there is another djessop other than Daniel in New Mexico?) I now have the link to activate his account and the activation code necessary.
What do I do? I can now active Daniel Jessop’s account with his health care provider and pull out all of the information about him.
Well, I’m a sucker. I thought that I would be nice. The note says that if there are any problems with setting things up to give them a call. So I proceeded to do that. Multiple times, across multiple days. In fact, I checked time zones to make sure that I was calling at the correct time. No one answered the helpline. I didn’t even get a recorded message saying that they were busy. I didn’t get voice mail. I got diddly.
So there are some interesting lessons to be learned here:
If you are setting up an account for someone, make sure that they can actually access the email account that they enter. They may have made a mistake and you need to take that into account. Something like time limiting the activation to xx minutes, but you need to do something.
There is no use at all of sending a welcoming email and an email with an activation code. Either put them into one email or send the activation code via another method, but two emails to the same account? Completely amateur.
If you have a help number for people to call, you darn well better staff it or at least let the phone go to voicemail. No response is not adequate, particularly since you are dealing with someones electronic health record.
Clean up your website. (OK, I dissected the link a bit.) If I go to the root of the activation link I get the default IIS web page. I now know which operating system and version of IIS they are using. I know that it is an ASPX page hosted by a third party and that third party has not kept up with security patches. If you are going to host patient data you better harden your website.
In essence, if you are ever in New Mexico, avoid the Eastern New Mexico Medical Center as your data could end up in Canada.
You can’t be Agile if you don’t use the right test data
Developers often copy subsets of production data, sometimes anonymizing it but not always and rarely considering whether the test data contains sufficient diversity to exercise all important edge cases. And those are the more mature dev shops!
The quotes come from two different Forrester articles but are representative of dozens of articles about testing and quality assurance. But this is not just representative of Forrester, it is representative of the IT industry as a whole. Let’s dissect each piece and see what we come up with. Continue reading “Test Data”
I can’t lay claim to the name, it comes from mathbabe.org. Her subtitle is “How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”. You would think, based on that subtitle, that she doesn’t like Big Data. On the contrary, she likes it, but it needs to be used effectively. Continue reading “Weapons of Math Destruction”
A culture where problems are fixed as they appear is one of the most fundamental traits of successful projects. – Abraham Marin-Perez
How many times do we come across a pile of … wrongness . and don’t fix it? (While this can refer to almost anything in your life I am going to restrict my discussion to projects and IT. Feel free to extrapolate to encompass your whole life.) Have you ever walked into a kitchen, wanting to bake something but found that nothing was in its spot and the entire kitchen was a mess? Yeah, neither have I but that’s because I’ve never really had a desire to bake. Except for these wonderful chocolate chip cookies that we got from a recipe on the Internet. Anyway, back to the story. Continue reading “Keeping Code Clean”
So, your changing context every 10 minutes or so (see yesterday’s note) what impact does that have?
Professor Mark talked about how it inhibits innovation. Does it? Or is innovation, creativity, more of an accident than something cultivated and worked on? Scott Berkun is of the opinion that “Creativity Is Not An Accident“. He talks about how the stories of people “accidentally” discovering something aren’t really them just stumbling along and – BAM – something hits them from out of the blue. Instead, their discovery is based on the work that they had been doing to discover something else. The “accident” was that they discovered something that they weren’t searching for, but they were already searching for something.
The whole process of innovation, creativity, discovery, is based on time. Not just five minutes here and five minutes there, but contiguous time. When you have the opportunity to sit down and really think about a problem it takes time for your mind to get in gear, but when it does you are so much more creative than when you try squeezing things in on the side. For instance, these long diatribes? Carefully planned out. OK, not really, but they are almost always written in one session, one continuous session. And even though I can type like a madman it takes time to write these notes because I am thinking about what I want to say, how I want to say it and whether or not it even makes sense. (Sometimes it doesn’t, even to me.) And that also explains why I may be talking about one subject at the beginning but deviate part way through and come to a completely different conclusion: I had time to think.
The ability to set aside time to think is precious and needs to be hoarded and zealously guarded. Book a meeting with yourself and leave your desk, go to a meeting room by yourself, visit the library, a coffee shop, a place where you will not be interrupted and simply think about a problem. Innovative ideas are not normally found in a meeting situation. They may gain visibility in such a setting but the germ of the idea, the genesis of the solution, was normally done while having some quiet time.
There is the false assumption that creativity occurs in big waves. One minute everything is normal and the next minute there is a tsunami of creativity and life changes so fast that the pants you put on in the morning go out of style by noon.
So I completed a little quiz on how “burned out” I was in my position. According to the quiz I should be seeking professional help quickly. Of the three different areas covered I was at the extreme end of the scale on all three.
So, thinking that this was an anomaly I completed four additional tests on whether I was burning out. (Oh, the lengths I go to in order to write one of these morning notes.) I was pleased to learn that only two of the five tests said that I should be seeking professional help while the other three pegged me as “moderately” burned out. That kind of made my day.
Although each test I took was different there were some common threads that seem to be woven through them that were indicators of whether or not you were susceptible to burnout or in a role that was susceptible to burnout. Guess what? My role, indeed the role of my team, was a prime candidate for burnout. If you are in an operational role, responsible for the operations of almost anything on a day to day basis you are in a role that is more susceptible to burnout. That is simply just the nature of the work that we are in.
So, what can you/we do to reduce the risk of burnout?
Reduce the number of interruptions you experience throughout the day. Interruptions include text messages, email, phone calls, instant messaging, drop by visits, etc. The more interruptions the less likely you are to feel that you are accomplishing something.
If possible, plan your day out to the hour. If you are in a position where it is possible to plan your day on an hour by hour basis, do so as soon as you can. The feeling of order and accomplishment is magnified by the fact that you were able to successfully complete your schedule. You may be in a position where this is impossible and if you are, don’t even try this route as it may exacerbate the problem.
Take a walk at lunch and while you are on your walk listen to music or an audiobook. Take you mind away from your work so that it has time to relax.
Reduce the number of “work in progress” items you have going on.
Do something different. Sometimes routine is what contributes to the burnout. Do something different like going to a convention or write a novel. Do something different with the intent of experiencing something new.
Talk to someone. It is amazing how much talking to someone can actually reduce stress.
Or, if you’re like me, you read and read a lot. Starting in July I was aiming to read a book a week until Christmas. I finished reading my 25th book on Sunday, almost four months ahead of schedule and I am reading all sorts of books. I’m doing something different and it feels pretty good.
Last year my family went on a cruise of the Eastern Caribbean. Since we were already in Florida we thought we would spend a week at DisneyWorld as well. While we we there my oldest daughter bought a largeStitch plush. It was so large that in order to bring it back with us she had to stuff it in a large carry on bag. Needless to say, Homeland Security had a good time searching the bag for other contraband.
Why does she like Stitch so much? I’m not sure. The thing that really sticks out for me, however, is the following quote from the Lilo and Stitch movie:
Ohana means family, family means nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten.
In one quote the writers managed to sum up part of what it means to be human. Collectively we are all part of a giant tribe of people. When someone goes missing there are people out searching for that individual and even though they don’t know them they feel compelled to help search. When a building collapses there is a tremendous amount of effort into searching for survivors and then recovering the bodies. There is a “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” located in many countries around the world. There is an interconnectedness between people that extends beyond familial, cultural or national boundaries. We cheer on our heroes because they are an extension of ourselves. Their success is our success. Their failures are ours. We encourage those who reach for the stars because we know that we ourselves would like to be doing just that.
There is a dark side, however, in that this same attitude can be twisted for harm. While the vision of angry villagers swarming Dr. Frankensteins castle in order to kill the monster seem laughable, they are not far from the truth. The same desire to help can be twisted into the desire for vengeance. The passion for helping can easily be turned into a passion for revenge.
But that is what it means to be human: we experience the ups and downs of life and move through them. Sometimes we do it alone, but often we do it in the company of others.
I am very happy and proud to say that the group of people that I am moving through life with are a great group of people: my family, my friends, my co-workers. You are all part of my tribe and I thank you.