Run Through First Base

Mon, Dec 4, 2017


In baseball, first base is different from second and third. You can touch first, run past it, and still be safe. This rule means that once you hit the ball, your only objective is to run as fast as you can all the way through first base.

Everybody stretch: run through first base
Paul L Dineen

If your hit went right to an infielder, it’s tempting to give up and jog. Even if you’re certain you’re safe, it’s natural to slow down as you approach your destination. But that means running to, not running through.

It seems like the year is almost over, but as my friend Heitor tweeted, there is 8% of the year left. If 2017 is the 90 feet between home and first, there are more than seven feet remaining.

I’m going to run through December 31.

Continue reading...

Rhymes With Happier

Mon, Oct 24, 2016


Recently I was telling a friend about a new career opportunity. As I explained the company and the role, he started laughing. That wasn’t really the reaction I was after, so I stopped talking.

“What?” I asked?

“It’s just that this sounds like exactly the perfect place for you,” he said.

I’ve been a Zapier fanboy for some time. Now I’m stoked to be the first at the company devoted to “developer marketing” (in quotes because developer marketing doesn’t exist). While Zapier customers are primarily non-developers, partner companies connect their APIs to Zapier. I’m helping those technical people make better integrations so everyone can be happier.

Ooo! Zapier rhymes with happier. It’s like they planned it that way.

Bryan Helmig, Mike Knoop, Wade Foster (Zapier founders)

Three and a half years ago, I met Wade (far right) at the Small Business Web Summit. I had organized the API track, and Wade came to talk about Webhooks, sometimes called a “reverse API.” While it’s a bit techy, the things that they make possible are very cool. Services that incorporate Webhooks can alert other services as soon as something changes.

Zapier allows you to connect 700+ applications (Google Sheets, Trello, Slack, etc.) together and automate your workflow. Do you want a text message when you receive certain survey responses? That’s the sort of stuff Zapier does. “We’re just some humans who think computers should do more work,” reads the Zapier about page, which now includes my smiling mug.

In early 2014, I gave a workshop at SXSW about “Un-Programming.” Zapier figured heavily in the curriculum and I’ve continued to use it for my own ever-expanding list of automations.

I also kept in touch with Wade, who eventually introduced me to others on the team. The people (100% remote all over the world) are great, I was already a fan of the product, and the company had a position that made a ton of sense given my background.

I’m really, super excited about the work ahead.

Want to follow along? The best way is to subscribe to the Zapier engineering blog.

Continue reading...

The Side Project Lifecycle

Sat, May 7, 2016


I love side projects. It’s fun to dive into an idea, make it happen, then share it with the world. I also love the term side project because it sets reachable expectations. It also means there is room for more than one. Yet, there is not unlimited room. At some point a side project needs to move on, away from its creators care.

Side Project Lifecycle

The majority of a side project’s life is spent in either maintenance or decline. All the fun of a project is in the early half of the lifecycle. That’s where the creative energy is bursting, propelling through to MVP (remember when to buy the domain name). Sometimes that activity carries on through the improvements part of the cycle. Rarely, you can extend that section, if you really have a lot of interest.

Most commonly, side projects enter maintenance or decline. No matter which it is, they don’t have the same vigor as the earlier stages. Maintenance and decline take time or energy (usually both) from the new projects you want to build.

Compare APIs with my Newest Side Project

Ever since I left ProgrammableWeb, I’ve wanted to dive deep into just the subset of public APIs that every developer needs to know. These are the APIs that fulfill a purpose beyond supporting an application or service. The API is the service.

EveryDeveloper comparisons

EveryDeveloper launched in early March, gaining a lot of interest. I’ve been keeping the fire stoked (improvements stage) since, exploring related topics on its blog and on Medium.

Making Room for More Side Projects

I have written about several side projects on this blog over the years. One that got a lot of attention was a site to help find WiFi in coffee shops and other public spaces. WifiPDX launched in 2004, when there were only 54 spots in Portland to find WiFi. Now, of course, it’s practically ubiquitous.

Though I relaunched in 2012 that was basically the last time I made any improvements to the site.

WifiPDX designs: 2004-2012
WifiPDX: Portland's wireless internet connection, 2004-2016

I did little maintenance over the last four years, but not for lack of need. Spam listings and reviews littered every page. The design wasn’t responsive, which made it very difficult to use on mobile devices (which is now likely the primary use case). Most importantly, I’m no longer interested in taking it on as a project.

To make room for EveryDeveloper, and whatever else I may do next, now has a simple epitaph on the home page. And all pages redirect to it.

This side project has completed the entire lifecycle. The prospect of making this decision was sad, but making it was exhilarating. I felt the energy release, no longer held by WifiPDX’s needs.

After 12 years, it’s time to make room for something else.

What do you need to let go?

Continue reading...

I’m Spending More Time With My Family

Tue, Jan 6, 2015


No, this isn’t a post about a New Year’s resolution, though what I say here will significantly impact this upcoming year.

No, despite the typical career transition sentiment of my headline, I am not leaving Orchestrate, the awesome company where I have worked since May to make developers more productive and creative.

This will be a personal post on what is still, according to the domain name, a personal website.

This is Hard for Me to Write

Seven and one-half years ago, I made a commitment to you.

I made a commitment to my country.

At a time when most were announcing two years in advance of inauguration day, I put my name on the line. On July 4, 2007, I started my campaign for president of the United States. For 2016.

Adam in 2016

A lot has changed since then. Most of the social networks on my campaign website are out of business or shadows of their formal selves.

A lot has also changed with me, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at this site, which again purports to be a personal website.

A Blog Divided Shall Not Stand

In 2008, I decided to stop programming and start writing about programming. In essence, I became a professional blogger.

And I’ve been one ever since.

Webmonkey, Wired, and ProgrammableWeb were all clearly blogging gigs. My last two roles, at SendGrid and now Orchestrate, there’s a lot more to it… but the blog has factored in pretty heavily.

Blog Posts Per Year

It used to be I would write blog posts on this site with care. Sometimes I would include hand-crafted charts, like above. I would write about personal news and not just insights that fit the Simplicity Rules® theme.

Professional blogging and personal blogging are about as similar as cheddar cheese and head cheese.

Rambling into Revelations

In ignoring the personal side of this personal site, I have let major life developments go without coverage.

I got married. In 2009.

I am a father. We had twins, but they’re over two years old now.

I am impressed by my good friend Jacob, who blogged a two word entry about his son well before Gibson’s first birthday. The post headline begins, “a couple months ago,” which is itself commentary on today’s social web.

The personal website, whose death I lamented way back in 2007, still owns a warm place in my heart. Yet, now it has a companion in the hereafter that goes by the name “personal blog.”

I can’t completely bring them back, but I can do my best to honor them by announcing some personal news to this site:

As the headline suggests, I am going to spend more time with my family. For politicians, this typically means leaving office. For me, I won’t ever get there: I am suspending my campaign for president of the United States.

I am so thankful to have incredible support from my family: my wife Jenny, son Evan, daughter Alana and the new baby I am extremely excited to meet in June.

What? You didn’t think I was just going to post that on Facebook, did you?

By the way, to get back to the non-personal topics for which this blog is known, this post is an excellent example of burying the lead.

Continue reading...

Practice Subtraction

Mon, Aug 4, 2014


Constraints can make you more creative. When constrained, you consider different possibilities and end up with more and better output. I’ve shared time boxing techniques before, but time is only one kind of constraint. Those in creative industries know this well. Visual artists might choose a restrictive medium. Actors often gather for improvisation, with no storyline determined until it’s selected at random. They narrow their focus, subtracting enough of the possibilities

Creativity is subtraction

Austin Kleon writes that all creativity is subtraction in his book Steal Like an Artist:

“Don’t make excuses for not working—make things with the time, space, and materials you have, right now. The right constraints can lead to your very best work. My favorite example? Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat with only 236 different words, so his editor bet him he couldn’t write a book with only 50 words. Dr. Seuss came back and won the bet with Green Eggs and Ham, one of the bestselling children’s books of all time.”

Kleon has used subtraction—literally—in his own art. He wrote a book and maintains a website with poetry based on newspapers redacted, much like the image above. Using a black Sharpie, he subtracts the words he doesn’t want, uncovering a poem that was always there, unseen.

Similarly, the Laws of Simplicity boil down to subtraction. What can you take away from your work and still have it feel complete? What can you take away from your process that inspires entirely new types of work?

Continue reading...

100 Day Goals for Team Productivity

Sun, Jun 1, 2014


100 Day goalsI’m a fan of time-boxing techniques for creating constraints that encourage me to get things done. The POWER HOUR, for example, has been in my arsenal since 2005, though I don’t use it every day. That’s great for personal productivity, but what about when it comes to motivating toward the same end?

Jason Freedman shared the 100 day goals that have kept his company moving without burning out the team:

“Setting deadlines first and then choosing ambitious goals is the key.  The deadline becomes a forcing function that wipes away distractions.  There’s simply no time for extraneous features.  Failed experiments end much earlier.  Hacked together solutions get tested much faster because there’s no time to build the scalable version.”

Now I’m going to try something similar, but with my growing developer relations team at Orchestrate. This week we’ll be on an all-company retreat, where among the outcomes I want is a plan for the next 100 days. Using Freedman’s approach the deadline comes first. Whatever the developer relations team will accomplish during this timeframe will happen by September 9.

Determining what fits into those 100 days is the hard part. And we’ll be using some of those precious days to figure it out, likely walking back and forth on the two simplicity paths until we find the right balance.

As Freedman suggests: be ambitious, but do away with wouldn’t-it-be-cool-ifs. Then we’ll start again.

What are your 100 day goals?

Continue reading...

Orchestrating the Next Chapter in My Story

Tue, May 27, 2014

1 Comment


Our own personal stories tend to make sense in retrospect. There may be plot twists that at the time cause a little confusion, but then it all sorts out into a tale that seems predictable in hindsight. That’s how I feel today as I join Orchestrate to start a developer relations team.

It was tough to leave SendGrid, a fast-growing developer-focused company that I’ve respected since my days as an API journalist. I had a good year working across multiple teams and learned a lot. Most of all I’ll miss the great people, but I know I made a lot of lifelong friends there. Plus, this world of developer relations is not very big and there still aren’t very many “B2D” (business to developer) companies, so I expect our paths to cross often.

About half of Orchestrate’s small team is based in Portland, so I’ll have an office in town for the first time in more than a decade. I was lucky to have a handful of news organizations cover my career move:

And this post marks the third time I’ve written about this new job. On the Orchestrate blog I explained why I’m joining and at PIE (an incubator where I first met the founders) I talk about my earlier mentorship role in the company.

From the plot twist of 2008, when I moved from programming to writing about programming, each additional career move seems to have led to this role. Even this site, started in 2004, feels like part of the story–Orchestrate simplifies databases so developers can focus on what separates their story from everyone else.

There’s a lot of work to be completed on this next chapter, but it’s a draft I’m excited to write.

Continue reading...

Don’t Bury the Lead

Mon, May 19, 2014


I’m an accidental marketer. Before that I was an accidental journalist. One of my most important life lessons that has served me in both of these fields is to not bury the lead (or lede). It comes from a Nora Ephron book, though I first saw it when I read Made to Stick in 2007:

My high school journalism teacher, whose name is Charles O. Simms, is teaching us to write a lead–the first sentence or paragraph of a newspaper story. He writes the words “Who What Where When Why and How” on the blackboard. Then he dictates a set of facts to us that goes something like this: “Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the faculty of the high school will travel to Sacramento on Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Speaking there will be anthropologist Margaret Mead and Robert Maynard Hutchins, the present of the University of Chicago.” We all sit at our typewriters and write a lead, most of us inverting the set of facts so that they read something like this, “Anthropologist Margaret Mead and University of Chicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the faculty Thursday in Sacramento at a colloquium on new teaching methods, the principal of the high school Kenneth L. Peters announced today.” We turn in our leads. We’re very proud. Mr. Simms looks at what we’ve done and then tosses everything into the garbage. He says: “The lead to the story is ‘There will be no school Thursday.'”

This clearly had an impact on Ephron. You can see her tell the story and how she realized journalism “is about the point.”

After reading thousands of bad press releases, I realized I wanted to help get to that point. When I joined SendGrid, I preached developer communicators need to share knowledge, not features. It’s not what you’re announcing but what someone can do with it that matters.

Get to the point. Get to what matters. Don’t bury the lead.

Continue reading...

Stop Fishing at the Popular Spots

Fri, Mar 21, 2014


I’m not much of a fisherman, but I go out with my friend Steve every couple years. We usually walk along the river, looking for the bends, where the water gets calm. The first couple spots are usually taken by others casting their flies. The next couple of spots Steve often walks right by, because they’ve likely been fished by others too lazy to hike in a little farther.

Fishermen at sunset

Even if you don’t fish, this likely makes some sense to you. As a Portlander who likes breakfast, I know going to a less crowded restaurant gives me a greater chance of having a seat for my salmon hash.

Another story of a fisherman takes a less obvious approach to choosing the less popular spots. It’s not about where you get the fish, but what you do with it afterward:

After his first few hauls of fish, John did something quite significant. He bucked an industry trend that had lasted for decades. Instead of doing what all the other fishermen did, which was to sell his fish to a distributor, John went direct to the biggest fish buyers in town: the tourist-packed seafood restaurants on the Cape’s famous Atlantic Seaboard.

After knocking on a few doors, John quickly realized that the restaurant owners were only too pleased to hear from him. After 50 years of being at the mercy of the centralized resellers, John’s service – fresh fish, straight off the boat – was exactly what they’d been waiting for.

I love this story, Fresh Fish, from the eBook Do Ideas. It simply questions an assumption that all other fishermen are making.

What’s the equivalent of the distributor for you in this story? What if that were not as important as you think?

Photo by Mohamed Malik

Continue reading...

How to Show Just Enough Data

Mon, Feb 10, 2014

1 Comment

I love tracking my activity. I’ve been using a pedometer of some sort for almost five years. I even created units for distances I had measured in steps. Now that wearable computing is an accepted trend, I’m excited for our future. There’s one potential downside to devices collecting and presenting data to us—it’s easy to try to show too much. As a result of that downside, it’s tempting to show absolutely no data as an overreaction. This post is about one device that is showing just enough.

There are at least two personal use cases to retrieving data from a tracking device. One is to immerse myself in my own data. That is the navel-gazing use case and for that I should have as much data as possible. The promise of tracking devices is that they change habits. For that, you need data that inspires action. Much less data is needed for that use case.

Fitbit flexOver the years I have tried several different Fitbit tracking devices. I loved the original Fitbit that could clip on to things, but I lost a couple of them because they could also clip off of things. The Fitbit Flex has become my everyday tracker now. It’s a wristband with a clear slot window on the top. The actual device slips into the wristband and displays five LEDs through the window as the entire interface.

I thought I would miss being able to check in on my exact step count and other data throughout the day. In truth, it greatly has simplified my experience with tracking. Here’s how the LEDs work:

  • Your step goal is split into five segments
  • Tap twice on the device to see your progress
  • The number of solid LEDs are the segments you have completed
  • The blinking LED represents the segment you are currently working toward

If you’re gunning for 10,000 steps per day, the math here is pretty simple. Each segment represents 2,000 steps. If you have a different goal, it’s harder to translate into a step count.

But here’s the kicker: I have learned that is okay.

Knowing my exact step count is not nearly as important as knowing approximately how close I am to my goal. For example: if it’s into the afternoon and the fourth LED is neither solid nor blinking, I probably should go for a short walk. It’s showing me just enough data to make a decision.

Fitbit provides a way to get at that additional information, through syncing with my smartphone or computer. But that’s more for navel-gazing than taking action.

Syncing for Data, More or Less

There are devices with more—and less—data feedback on the device. The Fitbit Force now has a step count (and a watch, but I hear it’s bulky). I expect that we’ll see some attempts at wearables that give us way too much data. And there will be devices that rely entirely on syncing with another device to show feedback. That has its own set of problems.

My friend Aaron Parecki wrote a post about the wearable tracker syncing problem. There are many different methods that devices with varied displays use. There seems to be some kind of drawback for each, along with a healthy dose of bugginess. The tradeoffs of battery power (of the tracking device and the syncing device), frequency and required user intervention all impact how well syncing performs on today’s devices.

The sync is likely the long-term solution, especially with semi-permanent displays like Google Glass. But even then there’s a need to prioritize certain data for the action-oriented use case. When I’m navel-gazing, I want as much data as possible. When I’m checking in throughout the day, I want to see my progress. In this case, I believe devices should show just enough to get a feel for how I’m doing.

It turns out, five LEDs can suffice. What would you do with a few good constraints?

Continue reading...
Older Entries