What I learned: TDX19

We’re just going to leave the elephant in the room right where it is, so…make peace with that.

I had the great pleasure to attend TrailheaDX last week, Salesforce’s smaller developer conference, in San Francisco. It was my first TDX, but I certainly hope it won’t be my last.

For those who have never been, it is WAY smaller than Dreamforce. Dreamforce spans over blocks and blocks, from Moscone to local hotels, and it’s not unheard of to walk close to a mile just to get from one session to another. TrailheaDX is not like that. It takes place entirely in Moscone West – granted, all three floors, but comparatively, it’s easy.

It also is repetitive. That has some negative connotations, I realize, but hear me out.

Dreamforce takes place over what I’m confident is half of the city, and very few sessions are alike. If you miss a session because you’re on one end of the event, and the session is on the other, then that’s it. You can hopefully catch a recording later.

TDX had some – not all – but some sessions repeated in the theaters, so if you missed it one time, you might be able to catch it again. Not all of the sessions worked that way, but enough of them that I was able to safely select one session over another because I knew I’d get a second chance later during the event.

There was still all of the energy and good vibes of the community; I still got to see a lot of my friends and coworkers.

And this was the first time in years that I simply attended the event. I didn’t volunteer or serve on a panel or do anything but go to sessions and try to absorb, and I’m glad I did. I learned quite a bit while I was there, and I came away energized enough to sit down and write this. Which is no small feat.

I had a bit of an epiphany, as well, that I’d like to share now.

As a self-proclaimed polymath, I have struggled with how best to run this blog. I wrote about it already, but I still never answered my own question.

So I’m going to unshackle myself a bit. Moving forward, I’ll be sharing things I learn – random, and untethered to a single category. Because that’s what’s interesting to me. Sometimes it’ll be Salesforce related, or technology related, or project management related, or…whatever I learned.

That’s what I’m taking away from TDX19, and I’m already looking forward to next year.

Morning Routines

I was just looking at my basic Twitter feed, and amidst the Salesforce and Mass Effect and election posts, there was a Promoted Tweet from the Wall Street Journal –

(I’m sure you’ve all seen the article in the journal, but I want to stress that it’s all conjecture. 

My feelings journal?

Michael, he means the Wall Street Journal.

Oh. The Wall.)

– interviewing the CEO of Slack, and the first question they asked was “What is the first thing you do in the morning?”

It just got me thinking about causality, causation, correlation, all of those fun C words that are similar but different. (Connotatively speaking, but also concretely.)

I seem to see a lot of things like this. People want to measure success by common threads of habits, and while there is likely something to that – successful people tend to work hard, sure – it also contributes to imbalance of power.

Because here is the thing.

I work hard. Absolutely. I don’t even have time to update this blog so often anymore because my job keeps me busy. But I ALSO worked hard when I worked at Geek Squad, and most people would not want to interview me when I was in that job to capture the things that made me successful. Strictly speaking, at that point in time, most people would not have seen me as successful. The way people spoke to me when I had that job definitely made that clear.

I am not even close to being the first person to point this out, and I won’t be the last. But asking a white guy what he does in the morning, and correlating that to his success in the tech industry, just isn’t meaningful.

I honestly don’t know how he answered because I really didn’t care. Most of the answers are irrelevant. Because what they do in the morning isn’t what makes them successful.

A working single mother who isn’t leading a Fortune 500 company probably has more on her plate in the morning. If she made enough money, sure, she might meditate or read the paper or whatever, but she doesn’t. Her morning probably starts just as early, and maybe she makes lunch for her kids, and then she gets them ready for school, sees them off, and then goes to work. Or maybe she has to be at work so early that she can’t do those things for her kids.

Asking an already successful person who started life on Easy mode is like asking a native language speaker how they managed to get those pesky verb conjugations right. Sure they had to practice and learn, they probably made mistakes, but since most everyone around them was speaking the same language, it made it easier.

I don’t begrudge the guy his success. And I’m not implying he doesn’t work hard. I AM saying that morning routines mean less than I think people give them credit for, and I’m also saying that I am just really tired of seeing those things come up on my Twitter dashboard.

Live from Dreamforce

It’s Wednesday – halfway through Dreamforce, and I’m returning from a day and evening of volunteering, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and having dinner with some of my absolute favorite people.

I look back on my first Dreamforce, and I look at where I am today, and I still can’t believe it. How is this my life? How did I get so lucky?

Not to say that it comes for free. I work hard, and I work a lot, but I enjoy my work, and part of my career is experiencing this event (and others like it) every year.

One of the first things I was asked to do this year was fill out a gratitude card – what am I grateful for?

This. All of it. I’m just grateful.

Travel as a metaphor

I got back into Michigan from New York on Saturday afternoon, only about 13 hours after my originally scheduled time. Other at Arkus were far more delayed than I.

It was all of the storms – crazy thunderstorms and a few tornado watches all along the Eastern coast that had flights coming in cancelled, which means no planes to carry us all home. I was holed up in the Delta Sky Lounge, courtesy of Coworker, when my phone buzzed with the cancellation notice.

Cut to about an hour in line, with a lot of other tired non-passengers, hoping to get something other than a three leg journey through Syracuse, then Atlanta, and then home just shy of Sunday morning.

These kinds of things are exhausting and anxiety-inducing to me, but they’re not something that makes me mad. The poor saps behind the counter can’t do anything about Mother Nature’s wrath against her ignorant children, so I’m not about to scream at them.

“If weather could be controlled, Delta would have bought it by now,” was my favorite line from the helpful attendant who patiently refreshed his screen to see if he could get me to Atlanta (impromptu family visit?) or Minneapolis (daily flights back to Michigan).

The wait (and my volunteering to sort some info cards for them while I did so) was worth it. I got on a flight to Minneapolis that night, stayed with Coworker for free, and hopped back on a plane the next morning to come home. Cue celebratory Electric Hero sandwiches, cocktails, and blessed sleep.

Travel, man, am I right?

Sam, you haven’t posted in months, and now you’re going on about travel, and you mentioned a metaphor, but…?

Allow me to use your question as a convenient transition and take you back in time about 4 months.

Another Coworker made the decision to move on to other things after some life changes, and so I took on a few extra projects that needed to be closed out. I also got a promotion – not sure I’ve mentioned that? Anyway, yeah. So I had the experience of onboarding an employee.

Things were kind of crazy. A lot of pressure systems moving around, as you can imagine, and accordingly, a lot of things were delayed, some things were cancelled. But during that time I learned a lot – got hands on with some new things, got creative with some other things, and also just did a lot of work.

Skies have cleared. I got a lot of things off my plate, and not a moment too soon, as we enter Dreamforce season (already?) and very soon after that, holiday season. I still have some behemoths hanging around, major projects that are ramping up, but it’s so good to just breathe. I feel in control again – finally, after months of feeling like I was on a loop, digging and digging and digging but never seeing the surface.

And isn’t that the thing that’s so frustrating about travel issues?

 

 

GTD: One Year Later

I wrote, just over a year ago, about discovering GTD…that’s a misnomer. I didn’t discover it. It was required reading. But…I mean, it’s kind of discovering?

Not the point.

A year ago I wrote about being new to the concept, new to the practice, and now, with little time to write these days and even less capacity for new ideas for this blog, I am reviewing my last year in GTD. In my typical fashion, no less.

First, my confession. I royally sucked at All The Things for most of the last year. It’s a hard thing to learn. Especially for someone who has random thoughts throughout the day, some of which might be worth capturing, but the vast majority of them not really…tangible or worth making not of. I swung wildly between extremes. I wrote everything down, but then I would exhaust myself going through all the stuff. So then I scaled back, but I scaled back too far. And frankly, after Zoe passed, there was about a month of me just trying to stay above water at all.

Even through the struggle and the sucking really bad at following the really clear directions provided, I adopted small things that worked really well for me. Organizing ideas, to-do’s, etc. by project? Super helpful. In a way that I thought would be overblown, but it made it clear just how dis-organized my prior organization had been. What is a project? Anything that is more than one task. Well that makes it really simple to identify a way to categorize projects. That and…you know…managing projects as my job.

I tried not to beat myself up about it too much because, from conversations with others who had started out with GTD brand new, there’s often a time of off and on again.

 

But I did beat myself up about it. A lot. And frequently. Like anything else, it’s something that I knew I needed to devote more time to, devote more energy to, and so I would try, but when I failed, I failed hard. Or at least I thought. I was trying to mimic, in every way, other people’s processes.

And then in November things kind of clicked into place. I wish I could say there was a sudden shift or some specific thing that happened that made it all clear, but there wasn’t. I just realized that I couldn’t do things exactly like other people. Even the book makes it clear that there are levels and different ways of doing things – the concepts are what matter, not the tactics.

So I gave myself one goal. Every day I needed to review OmniFocus. I put no restrictions on myself in terms of when that happens or in what context, but each day, I need to review OmniFocus.

What a difference that made. Instead of trying to force myself to do X, Y, and Z, I just said “do this one thing.” The rest sort of fell into place.

Because I knew I would be checking OmniFocus, I started entering important things there. Sometimes as a generic capture-to-inbox thing, and sometimes as a go-to-the-project-and-spell-it-out thing. No pressure. And if I was in between back-to-back things and didn’t put it in immediately, that’s ok because I’ll be checking it later, anyway, and I can add all of those little extra things then.

That’s really the point. It’s not about following the “rules” or step-by-step instructions. It’s about freeing yourself of having to remember all the things. I don’t have to remember all the things. I just have one goal, every day, and if I’m consistent with that, the rest falls into place.

Still not perfect. Still forget some days. But it’s better, and I think that’s all we can ever ask for.

Online Proctoring: My Horror Story

I enjoy my creature comforts. I like working from my couch some days, with blankets all bundled around me, feet propped up, and a cup of coffee nearby. Most importantly I like all of those things in my own house. If offered an opportunity to get coffee at a fancy coffeeshop or make myself a cup of Chock Full O’ Nuts at home, I’m going to pick home. Every time.

So when I learned that certification could be done from home, those many years ago, I signed up immediately. The first online proctored exam I took was not actually for Salesforce. It was my Marketo Certified Expert exam, and I took it in December after signing up for a training course that came with a voucher. I figured it couldn’t hurt. And given that December is prime time for crap weather, I was excited, despite the “it’s not awesome” warnings available online. How bad could it be?

Well…

First my webcam just stopped working. It had been fine, doing its thing, and literally just before it was time for me to sit down and show my stuff, it stopped.

Kryterion was super chill. Their support team rescheduled my exam for an hour later, and I ran out to get a new webcam. Done.

Fun fact: new webcams are better than old webcams. The resolution on my new one was too good, in that it couldn’t match my face because the old picture I had on file for facial recognition didn’t have as high a resolution.

No worries. Super awesome support team reset that. Face recognized. Typing recognized. It was time to take the test. Aced it.

When it came time to take my first Salesforce exam, I figured I had worked out the kinks and could handle anything.

Well…

I just couldn’t log in! After about three or four attempts, calling support, and still not being able to access my exam, we discovered there was a server error on their side. They told me they would reschedule my exam (for free, again, thank you super awesome support team!) and call me when I would be able to log in.

I made myself a drink and watched an episode of the Office. I was halfway through my vodka-cran when they called and said I could get started. Aced it.

I took a few onsite exams after that. Switching it up, I guess. But the testing location was not a huge step up from the headaches I’d had at home, so it was back to online for me.

Testing with a Mac is different. Testing with the new MacBook Pro (with its nearly universally despised Thunderbolt 3 ONLY connections) is actually impossible. Literally. If your external webcam (which you have to use) is connected via a dongle (which is has to be), the feed won’t go through.

For my Pardot exam, it took us about 2 hours to troubleshoot. If not for the super awesome support team at Kryterion, I would still be in the fetal position upstairs. I ended up needing to use the gaming computer to take my exam. Sweet graphics, anyway. I still had to stop like five times to adjust where the camera was or the microphone volume, or whatever.

I’m really not trying to scare you off. Legitimately not my purpose here. But I want you to KNOW what you’re getting into, if you go the online route.

First of all, your test may go way smoother. I had at least two that went off without a hitch. But just in case, keep these things in mind:

  1. If you have a brand new MacBook Pro, just plan on taking the exam onsite or with a cheap-o PC you pick up at Best Buy for like $200.
  2. When they say that you should buy their specific webcam…consider it. I didn’t. I had to buy one last minute, and I just wasn’t going to reschedule. But they have one that works, so you might as well.
  3. Download Sentinel and do your “biometric scan” in advance but not TOO in advance. Like two or three days beforehand is fine. But if you sign up for the exam in June to take in November, just wait.
  4. Be prepared to spend some time getting INTO the exam.
  5. Be prepared to be interrupted DURING the exam to fix something.
  6. Lean heavily on the support staff there. They really are awesome, really patient, and they have the answers.
  7. Be NICE to the support staff. Their job sucks. They just watch a bunch of under-dressed, maybe showered, work-from-home people take exams and get mad all day. And they can help.
  8. Maybe make a drink beforehand?
  9. Definitely eat beforehand – it might be HOURS before you get another chance.
  10. Be prepared to retake the exam. After fighting with computers and getting interrupted and feeling like NOTHING YOU DO IS WORKING, you might not be in the best place to take an exam…so be patient with yourself, too.

Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’ll probably continue doing the online proctored exams. That is how much I hate driving in snow.

 

DnDF17 Episode 3: To the smithy

Previously on DnDF…AKA better late than never

Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 8.37.57 AM

The temple district was in disarray, but the members of Bacon Ipsum had to continue their work. Dwarves were moving out of the streets, and while the team wanted to know their destination, Trailblazer had a bad feeling about the growing glow near her former mentor’s blacksmith forge. They were, of course, not in the same direction.

“There’s some work to be done tonight, and I think it’s on us to stop the invasion. I don’t see anybody else,” Datatello began, “maybe we should move to the fight? That’s what we do – as Bacon Ipsum!”

Kriv sighed, “So you’re saying…for free? You want us to resist for free?”

“Not for free! For the experience!”

“I can’t spend experience-”

“It’s more valuable! It’s invaluable…kind of like infamous. More famous. More than.”

“Resisting for free is futile,” the wizard argued.

Trailblazer watched the argument for a while. She tapped on the wrist device that they had received, putting her ear to it, hoping for something. No sounds came.

Datatello stared down at his new medallion, then thoughtfully at Kriv, “Hey that reminds me! Kriv, let’s do one of your funny jokes. I need an owner’s manual for this cool medallion that Erikuhl gave me.”

“An…owner’s manual? For the medallion?”

“Well, yeah. Documentation should exist for anything with a specific use, right?”

With a sigh, Kriv reached into his beleaguered cloak and pulled out a brown pile of rubber. He dropped it, rolling his eyes, then waved the half-orc closer, so he could study the medallion. It was old – older than any existing civilization, back to pre-history.

“It’s old. Ancient.”

It was a puzzle medallion, the magic reliant upon the shape of the puzzle, but more than that he couldn’t quite put together.

Hearing the conversation, Bakaryu looked over, and something about Kriv’s remarks sparked a memory. She recognized the shape, the icon itself, and from what she knew of the Nameless Generation, this was a symbol of their royalty, of a great deed. She shared her memories with the duo.

Bristled, either from not knowing more or just his natural impatience, Kriv grumbled, “Just wear the thing and let’s go.”

Trailblazer, for her part, was still concerned about her mentor – was he still there? Had he been turned into one of those…things? After confirming that there was no further support coming, the party set out, moving swiftly toward the smith’s shop.

The streets were empty, smoke hanging low in the air, as they made their way toward the water. Their journey went uninterrupted, though the heat became oppressive.

The forge itself was not on fire, the stone of the building naturally absorbing heat, but the buildings nearby were likely close to collapsing, not to mention the blacksmith’s home itself.

As they approached, a figure came into view, prone on the ground. Checking her concern and speed, the dwarf moved forward to investigate the figure. He twitched, an arm moving to push itself up. When his hand contacted the floor, the stone beneath was absorbed into his skin, moving and breaking up to cover pieces of himself. His other hand landed on a nearby anvil for support, the metal then melting away and similarly slithering up his hand. Stone or metal that he touched simply became him.

Datatello grunted in concern, “Trailblazer, maybe you should get away.”

At his suggestion, the dwarf backed away, calling out uncertainly, “Jarl?”

The blacksmith cocked his head, then turned, one eye now replaced with the angry red of a ruby. The eye that remained was glassy, almost unfocused, as it landed on her, “Can fix you.”

At those words, his blacksmith’s apron shifted, then opened on his back; a series of metallic arms extended, four in total, each with blacksmith tools or weapons at the end.

Cloudy panicked at the sight and ran forward, head down to ram into their attacker. One of the arms swung out to bat her away, making Trailblazer grunt in anger.

Datatello then rushed forward, striking out with his bo staff. Two of the arms lashed out to block the blows, as Jarl’s attention focused intently on Trailblazer. The half-orc struck out with his hand, at that point. He landed a solid blow, but with the metal and stone covering him, it did little to the dwarf.

Bakaryu was hot on the monk’s heals, raising her hand in the air. As she did, vines erupted from the ground around Jarl, wrapping tight around him and his arms. While the sight was impressive, Brunhilde’s eyes were pulled repeatedly to his worktable, where a beautifully crafted short bow was sitting. What was it doing there?

She sprinted toward the table and grabbed the strange item. It felt….right, like an extension of herself, as though it had been made for her. She knew the name of it immediately. Thunder. It was powerful in a way she couldn’t pinpoint yet.

She was closer than she’d like, but she took the shot. The arrow vibrated, almost shook, against her hand. Despite the strange vibration, the arrow soared straight, hitting its intended target. Jarl clearly recognized the bow because he visibly steeled himself, bracing for impact. A resonating BOOM followed the release of the arrow, and for a moment, his eye cleared, “Brunhilde?”

It was a short-lived return to normalcy.

Two bladed arms swung out at Datatello, each of them slashing him. A third, vice-like arm, reached down to grab Brunhilde, pinching her elbow in a way that set her nerves on fire. She gasped in pain and dropped back, unable to move.

Watching all of this was Kriv, becoming increasingly agitated. He muttered to his cloak, “I know this isn’t how it works, but we have to stop this dwarf. We have to do something.”

He reached into his robe and removed a strange, metallic wand of some sort. It was a cylinder, with wrappings on one end that may have been a handle. Unsure what else to do, he pointed the end of the wand at Jarl, and they all watched a beam of light erupt from the point. The light burned through two of the arms, as well as the wall beyond it. The wand drooped, and smoke began to pour out of the cloak. But damage had been done.

Cloudy saw her own opportunity, as the metal arms fell away. She cried out and bolted forward, head down, and pummeled into the dwarf’s side. Jarl grunted and fell, all of the metal arms going limp.

After a moment, Brunhilde moved forward. She deftly grabbed the needles that sprang out to infect her, and Cloudy bit them clean through. She turned him over, relieved to see that his eye was clear.

“Brunhilde,” he coughed, “you came back.”

“Of course! Of course I did. So…what’s going on?” Her guilt leaked out as awkward nonchalance.

“Oh, you know, just…”

“Oh, um, one second. Bakaryu, can you do that…thing…again?”

The dragonborn smiled and stepped forward, again channeling the power of her deity and cleansing the foulness from the dwarf. The metal and stone did not disappear, but his color returned, and with it, clarity. He reached out to grab Brunhilde’s shoulder, “Your father. Your father came.”

“Oh?” she frowned, “About?”

“He did this. I don’t know…what’s compelled him, but he came, and he was commanding the others.”

“Where did he go?”

“When I refused to answer, to give him your whereabouts, he did this to me. I did not see where he went. He did say something about a distraction.”

“Are you…will you be ok?”

“I will…make it.”

After a moment’s consideration, Brunhilde looked to Bakaryu and Datatello, “Can you help me? We can get him to the temple district.”

The paladin and monk helped the dwarf up, holding some of his weight, as they made their way through the abandoned streets. Jarl and Brunhilde continued their conversation about her father, as they went. He wasn’t himself. He was using big words. None of it sounded right.

At the temple, they got Jarl settled and got themselves healed.

“Be careful,” Jarl offered before they set out again, “I can feel the call still. Whatever it is…it’s powerful.”

Brunhilde smiled, “It’s alright. We’ve got some great magic users in this group.”

She pointedly ignored Kriv’s desperately shaking the still-spent wand and burning his foot with a randomly spouted flame. They had great magic users. Thinking it enough would make it true.

“We need a plan,” she sighed.

As if on cue, the bracer on her arm lit up. She looked down, then waved to her companions, “Hey! We have contact.”

Garbled sound came through for a moment. After a couple of a seconds, a clearer, “Who’s  there? Is anyone there?” came through.

The ranger blinked and started poking at the bracer, hoping to respond. At contact with the bracer, it began to vibrate, and she leaned in, “Bacon Ipsum is here, reporting in.”

“This is Captain Wolverton. Who is this?”

“It’s Trailblazer! Bacon Ipsum. Datatello, Kriv, Bakaryu, Flash-”

“Oh. Oh yes,” the captain responded, though her enthusiasm seemed diminished.

“We happen to know what’s going on,” Brunhilde muttered, as others checked in.

Wolverton gave her own update – fires were centered on the Exchange, and everyone was to report there.

“So…this is the distraction, right?” Trailblazer turned to her own crew.

Bakaryu nodded, ‘The dwarves were heading in the opposite direction.”

“We have to convince them.”

All eyes turned to the dragonborn, who had proven time and again to be the most persuasive of all them, and Trailblazer and held her arm up as high as she could to capture her words.

“Listen,” Bakaryu started, “we know what’s going on. We’ve had intelligence in the field; we have an insider who knows what’s going on with the dwarves, that there is a distraction. This seems like a big distraction. We saw dwarves going the other way. This is obviously a trap.”

“Who is this?”

“Bakaryu.”

“Who?”

“Bacon Impsum!” Trailblazer shouted.

“I am a paladin of noble birth.”

“And where do you suggest we go?”

“In the direction of the dwarves.”

“And where is that? Are they traveling South for the winter?”

Brunhilde frowned, unamused.

“Toward the Scrum.” It was a guess, but it was the only major landmark in that direction.

After a pause, “Ok. All forces except for Bacon Ipsum, head to the Exchange. Bacon Ipsum, I will meet you there.”

Kriv near sprinted toward Trailblazer, shouting at her bracer, “Will we be paid?”

But the line was dead.

“Don’t worry,” Brunhilde reassured, “we’re going to a dwarven structure. There’s going to be so much loot.”

With nothing more to do except go, the party headed in the direction of the Scrum.