What I am learning this year about: Living through historical moments

For years the Big question for people was “where were you on September 11th?”

That was the defining moment, the axle spin that took us all from Point A to an unexpected, uncertain, unplanned-for Point B.

And we could all pretty much describe in great detail – those of us old enough to remember – where we were, at that moment. What we were doing. What we were thinking. How we were feeling. The days that followed, too, are often cast in stark relief against more mundane times of our collective history.

No one woke up that day (well, of those of us not directly responsible) thinking “today is a day that will change the world, or at the very least, change my world and the worlds of many other people.”

But we all knew, as we watched the day pass by, that we were watching and/or experiencing something that would be in history books.

So here we are, feeling that same sensation again. Change – monumental and unsure – is already here; we are living it.

It can be unsettling. Perhaps frightening, but I prefer the term unsettling because I feel it better encapsulates the length of time that we deal with it. A fright is a sudden thing for me, but that uneasiness, the lack of confidence in one’s footing – that is being unsettled. It’s like sitting on a couch or a chair and being completely unable to get comfortable for any real amount of time.

That’s where we are.

It sucks, right?

It’s easier to look back at things, to read about them from the safe distance of time, fantasize about how we would have done things differently, how we wouldn’t make the same mistakes. When secretly what we’re thinking is “thank the universe that isn’t me.” Even if we’re not conscious of it, there is a part of us that is grateful to have been spared the terrible events of the past.

There is a part of us that hopes we will never have to experience such events ourselves.

I have thought about this a lot, in fact. This idea that sometimes we have to go through to get out, and in those moments that through seemed absolutely impossible, I’ve always come back to the same place.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring

I’ve relied on it so heavily that a few years ago, I got part of it tattooed on my arm, my daily, sometimes hourly, reminder that all I can do is what I can do. This situation sucks. But this situation is what it is. We cannot close our eyes and make it disappear. We cannot be born in some other time. We are here. Now. And we must go through.

allwehavetodecide

What I reminisced about this week: TTRPG

Monday Eric sent me a text with a meme from a DnD group on Facebook (I think it was Facebook) with a cat sitting in front of a character sheet. The DM is saying that the adventurers have encountered a wizard, who has placed a chalice of some bubbling, smoking liquid on the table. And of course the cat says “I knock it over.”

Obviously I laughed about that for a half hour.

And then I got a little fixated on something: the character sheet in the picture. It was not a DnD character sheet. It was a White Wolf character sheet (or World of Darkness, I suppose – look, I can barely keep up).

This led to a day of hyper-fixating on WHAT FREAKING GAME IS THIS FROM.

It’s been YEARS, I mean over a decade, since I played any White Wolf game that wasn’t VtMB.

Things I remembered very vividly, right off the bat:

  • The different games had different borders – Vampire had a sort of gothic, wrought-iron looking border; Mage had a sort of geometric fade-out thing with the various symbols associated with the types of magic floating around; Werewolf was a relatively simple border with slashes through it.
  • Mr. Gone’s website was THE resource for character sheets
  • The character sheets and systems changed after I stopped playing
  • Every detail of some of my longest-played characters, playing their stories in my head like a movie,
  • Dr. Pepper
  • Faygo for a while there
  • The Combat Mix
  • Some other things that I’m not about to unpack for a bunch of people on the internet

Could not remember the specifics of this sheet, however. So I let it go.

For a couple of hours, during which I was still chugging the waters of Mnemosyne.

Obviously I love video games, and that love springs from my origins with pen, paper, and ten-sided dice. I love stories – hearing them, watching them, reading them, telling them – and it doesn’t get much better than building a story with friends.

What I liked (and still like) about the White Wolf World of Darkness games was that they always felt so character-driven to me. It was ridiculously easy to play a game with only one storyteller and one player or a very small group. The stakes always felt personal in some way, or if they weren’t, there was usually (with a good storyteller anyway) a very compelling, personal reason that your character was in the midst of whatever was happening.

DnD lacks some of that to me.

DnD also lacks the epic dice rolls. Listen, I like the simplicity of the D20. But there was something about putting points into my attributes and abilities and then rolling some crazy number of D10s that was just very satisfying. It’s like playing Warhammer and getting like 15 attacks and just chucking dice all over the table while laughing maniacally. It just feels good.

I spent years playing White Wolf, collecting lore about my characters, carefully taking notes, and organizing all of the matériel that came with lovingly playing those roles.

And it took me years before I was able to really start playing again. I play DnD now on Monday nights with a small group; we play online, and we have two people who are new to the game, and I find that the, let’s call it practice, that I got all those years ago comes in handy.

I still miss White Wolf sometimes. I still miss some of my old game group. But like anything else in life, I find that change is good, and while the mechanics may have changed, and the faces around the table, the core of it is still there, and that’s what matters.

It was an Exalted character sheet – a White Wolf system I never played, but boy was it fun to fall into the rabbit hole because of something so familiar.

And to solidify this as a week of thinkin’ ’bout old times, I later saw an internet friend post a picture of their OWN Exalted character sheet just before starting a game.

It all comes full circle. Play on, friends.

What I learned this week about: heavy cotton

There are some things we learn that feel like a well-earned, long journey. So much of what I know about Salesforce feels like that; it’s a lot of small steps that feel insignificant at the time, and then I look back, and I realize just how far I’ve come.

A lot of those steps don’t even feel like steps when they are taken. It’s just something that happens, and you realize some time later that that knowledge is in your bones now.

This isn’t one of those times.

What I learned about heavy cotton is a lesson learned that will stick with me because it was inconvenient.

I’ve been thinking, this whole series, or whatever it is, could actually be further broken down: what I learned (yay!) and lessons learned (wow, Sam, seriously?).

What I learned:

  • A new fun thing
  • Wow, that was really tough, but I got through it
  • Other people may be as interested in this as I am (and maybe not, but I posted it anyway)
  • This is a New and Fascinating thing
  • I didn’t know this even WAS a thing

Lessons learned:

  • Oh, there is a single tag missing on email templates that make it NOT responsive
  • Turns out I DO need a loop step in this flow
  • I should have asked these questions before starting this work
  • Make sure your friend isn’t squeamish before surprising them with tickets to the Bodies exhibit
  • Come up with a list of dumb things you’ve done BEFORE you start a blog post about it

About this time no one except me is saying “Sam, dummy, you have literally already done this. You had your guide to failure. You have a tag – literally a tag – called Lessons Learned. You are not fooling anyone.”

Cool. I’m right.

So this is really more a “lesson learned” then. That was the point.

Heavy cotton – think a heavy weave, stiff fabric that doesn’t fold so much as bend. Sure you can wash it. You can maybe even dry it, unless you’re trying to keep it from shrinking.

But here’s the thing.

It takes a long time to dry. Like a ridiculously long time. (Side note: My computer is telling me that I used to wrong ‘to’ in that first sentence, and I am just disproportionately angry about that. No, Apple or WordPress or whoever. It should NOT be time too dry. THAT MAKES NO SENSE. YOU SHOULD WRITE A LESSON LEARNED ABOUT BASIC GRAMMAR.)

If you wash your heavy garment at, say, 11pm the night before and dry it for a little while but then leave it out to air dry, don’t expect it to be done before 11pm about two days later. Definitely don’t plan on using it unless you like the feeling of heavy, damp fabric on your shoulders.

I don’t.

Sam, you might be saying now, this is ridiculous. No one cares about your heavy cotton blend. What does this have to do with anything?

Nothing. It’s just been one of those weeks. One lesson turns into frustration, turns into mistakes that really I should know better about, and here it is Friday morning, and I was Done with this week on Tuesday.

I don’t like to talk about my problems or frustrations with people, so when the little things add up, I find that my options are to either implode or write it out. Vaguely. Probably somewhat incoherently. But written nonetheless.

So yeah. I learned a lesson this week (a few). I’ll learn more lessons in future weeks.

But I definitely will not wash heavy cotton the day before I need it. That 100% will not happen again.

 

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.

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?

 

 

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.

 

Time flies etc.

I have had a few people lately approach me to ask about what it’s like being a consultant. I’m always a little surprised by that because I think “why would they ask me? I haven’t been at it very long.”

I looked at the calendar recently. It’s already almost September. 2017. What the actual…anyway, that means that I’ve been a consultant for over a year now. And being the annoyingly introspective person that I am, that led me to hours and hours of thinking about that question and my answer.

I still don’t feel like I’m the right person to ask. There are still days where I haven’t quite gotten my feet underneath me. The treadmill is still just a tad too fast sometimes, and I stumble. Being human means that I focus a lot on those stumbles and less on the increasing number of successful steps.

Here’s how I’ve been answering that question.

Becoming a consultant is like any other major change in life. Day to day, nothing changes. I get emails from clients – sometimes I know the answer off-hand, and sometimes I have to do some research. I build things in Salesforce, and then I test those things and rebuild them. I provide insight into what the platform can and cannot do, what it can do natively vs. custom, what might be better left to a third party app, etc. I encourage admins to learn, and somewhere in all of that, I manage to occasionally put on a virtual meeting for the West Michigan WIT group.

But then I look back over the past 3 months, and I realize I have learned quite a bit. Over the past 6 months, 9 months…a year. I see things that I did early on that I would do differently now. Not that I was wrong then, but I’d be better prepared for them now.

There are little things, too. I speak more confidently about some things than I used to. I recognize patterns that I hadn’t noticed before. Gradually, I’m getting faster with some things.

Even I keep waiting for something to click. Some obvious and clear sign that says “You are now a Consultant.” But that’s not going to come. My business cards and job description say that. What I do on a daily basis says that.

That’s been the biggest lesson for me. I’ve learned in every job I’ve ever had – that’s what we do. This time it just feels more intangible. I can’t say “I now know how to complete an OSHA 300 and 300A form.” It’s more things like…”I now know that I can use Talend for data transfers and transformations.” But that encompasses so many things, not just a single task or ability.

As one of the least patient people I know, this kind of slow adaptation and realization of what I’ve learned has been both the most difficult and most rewarding part of the transition for me.

I don’t know if that’s the kind of answer people are looking for when they ask. Being a consultant varies depending on where you work, on what kind of team you’re working with. Just like being an admin at one place will be different than being an admin at another. But that’s the best answer I can give.

Regardless I’ve appreciated the questions because they forced me to take that long look and give myself some credit for how far I’ve come. And it’s made me really excited for whatever will come next. What will I know 3 months from now? 6 months, 9 months, a year?

If nothing else, I can safely say that being a consultant is never dull, and that’s probably the most important advice I can offer.