Your Pipeline is Broken

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend of mine who is smart and talented enough to have gotten an internship at Apple and is planning to go out there for a permanent position at the end of the school year.

We were catching up about all the stuff we have been doing over the last few months and I can’t remember how this topic came up, but she mentioned to me that a company in town was desperately anxious to hire every mobile developer our school produced.

She is not the first person to tell me this. I am very puzzled and confused by this information because it does not correlate with my own experiences.

I started in the mobile development program two years ago. I was at school as a mobile development student for three semesters. Each semester we have an IT Job Fair where local employers supposedly send representatives to connect with students looking for jobs or internship.

I noticed that every semester I went to this job fair it got progressively worse and worse. At the first job fair people would actually talk to you and answer questions. The second one people would avoid eye contact with you and were incredibly unhelpful.

I went to the last one purely out of spite. I simply wanted to see just how bad it had gotten over the last year. I was not disappointed.

Each booth has a sign on it saying what they are looking for. I found one company looking for a mobile developer. Every other company that was looking for developers was looking for someone who knew VB.Net. VB.Net was eliminated from our curriculum around the time I went back to school full time. No one there had ever even taken a class in it. There was also a shocking amount of people looking for COBOL programmers even though I have no idea how long ago that language was eliminated from the curriculum.

The only people even looking for Java, which I had assumed was a pretty safe language to learn, were recruiters. Yes, there were recruiters at the job fair. I guess they really don’t want to miss an opportunity to capture someone before they know better than to hand over their soul, I mean, resume.

So, back to this company that is supposedly desperate to hire people. They have a booth at the job fair. Back when I was just starting out I talked to people there about what I should study if I want to work for their company. They handed out data sheets and seemed happy to talk to me. At this last one there were two women at the booth gossiping. I was feeling like a troll, so I went over to talk to them. They ignored me. Having nothing better to do and being curious about what was going to happen, I stood there and watched them while they tried to pretend I wasn’t there.

When it became obvious that I wasn’t going to leave, one of them sighed and snapped at me, “What do you want?”

I told her I was looking for a job. She sighed again and rolled her eyes at her friend. She said, “Yeah, we don’t hire people. If you want to work here, go over there and talk to Robert Half and leave us alone because we are busy.” She then went back to ignoring me and picking up her conversation with her friend.

Aw, isn't that cute. She wants a job. Doesn't she know she has to fill out form BZ/ST/486/C and defeat the Minotaur to get a phone screen?

Aw, isn’t that cute. She wants a job. Doesn’t she know she has to fill out form BZ/ST/486/C and defeat the Minotaur to get a phone screen?


Yeah, I am not talking to Robert Half. Robert Half is evil and incompetent. Actually, I could replace their name with any number of other recruiters in Madison and it would still be true.

I have spoken to recruiters (back when I didn’t know any better) and I have been told that no one in town wants entry level developers. No one wants to hire someone who just got done with school. I was told that no jobs ever came up, but if in the unlikely chance they ever did, I needed to sign an exclusivity contract with one of the recruiters to even have a shot at it. I was speaking to about five recruiters as part of my unemployment obligations back before I decided to go back to school full time and each recruiter was only interested in getting dirt on what the other recruiters were talking to me about.

I stopped looking for jobs on job sites because every job posted is a fake job created by a recruiter to trick someone into sending them a resume so they can fulfill some quota. I have seen the same job posted over and over again, but it someone miraculously never gets filled.

I have tried applying for a job directly at this company. I have applied for jobs that I fit perfectly and I have never made it past the HR screening criteria to even receive an email written by an actual human being.

I found it was easier to get tech conference talks accepted, get a book deal, and find a job at a weird esoteric small company that builds fluid printing robots that is run by one of the best programmers in the world than it was to even get to first base with this company in town that is supposedly desperate for developers.

I thought that maybe things had changed since last year. Things in tech change very rapidly and it was possible that this company had gotten their heads out of their asses and actually fixed their problems.

I asked a current student if he went, and he verified my tale that no one there was actively seeking out mobile developers. He saw lots of people looking for COBOL, but no iOS or Android.

I am actively telling people attending school not to bother with this company because it is too hard to perforate the layers of bureaucracy protecting it from ever actually hiring a competent person for work they supposedly need done.

People, your pipeline is broken. I believe that it is possible that the executives talking to our school actually want to hire some of our students, but they are setting up impossible obstacles to prevent us from ever actually getting there. Sending representatives from your company to a job fair to basically tell anyone who wants to work for you to fuck off is not going to convince anyone that they really want to work for your company.

I guess I should thank these guys for making it so hard for me to get in. When I went back to school in 2010 I wanted to work there and have a nice, stable, mundane existence. I think if I had done that I would be bored to tears. Things worked out fine for me. I guess maybe they were doing something right by trying to keep people like me out. I will see what I can do to help the other people like me avoid being trapped by the endless recruiter bureaucracy.

My plea to the current students studying programming: Don’t fall into this trap! This leads to misery and despair. Build a portfolio. Reach out to experts in your field. Go to conferences. Do things that don’t pay you a lot of money immediately but build your skills and establish your credibility. Push yourself to do things that are hard and be comfortable with feeling that you are stupid. Be willing to learn better ways to do things. For the love of God, do not give your resume to a recruiter! They will hound you to the grave with four month contracts in Boise, Idaho programming in a language that died ten years ago. Choose your own adventure.

Doctor Who: Series One- The End of the World

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine...

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine…

Everything has its time and everything dies.

I had forgotten how many things this episode introduced us to. We got Lady Cassandra O’Brian, The Face of Barrowman, er, I mean, Boe, and we find out for the first time that The Doctor is the last of the Timelords.

The Doctor being responsible for wiping out the Timelords and the Daleks is such an ingrained part of the new series’ mythology that it is difficult to remember there was a time when discovered this information instead of just knowing it. We don’t discover The Doctor’s complicity in this episode yet, but we are introduced to the Lonely God, the Last of His Kind that will haunt the rest of the series from here on out.

It is strangely appropriate that the second episode of the new series is about the end of the world. The second episode of each season tends to be a disappointment because it’s hard to figure out where to go after the premiere. I am not saying this episode is a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it really does help set the tone for what the series is and what it could be. By introducing the fact that The Doctor had, offscreen, lost his entire race and showing Rose that everything she knows will end one day, it really does emphasize how small we are compared to everything in the Universe. It really puts our place in perspective.

Mum, you're breaking up! I only have one bar out here at the end of world!

Mum, you’re breaking up! I only have one bar out here at the end of world!

In the middle of the episode we get Rose talking to her mother on the phone. Jackie is still in her unawakened state where she doesn’t really think about the fact that everything is going to end. Rose has had her perspective completely altered and her talking to her mom underscores the whole fact that she has been changed by her experiences, even as early in the series as it is.

There is a great part towards the beginning of the episode where Rose assumes that The Doctor is going to step in at the last minute and save the Earth. He tells her he won’t because its time is up. This is something we see less and less frequently in Doctor Who. We rarely see The Doctor refuse to step in and meddle with things. He will still occasionally say that something is a fixed point in time, like the destruction of Pompeii, but we have seen him jump through a multitude of hoops to avoid any real consequences of anything actually dying or being destroyed. Just look at the number of times Rory comes back from the dead.

Please start dancing and saying "I am Groot!"

Please start dancing and saying “I am Groot!”

It is nice that Doctor Who makes some token attempt to explain why every alien we encounter in the future is humanoid. By saying that humans left the Earth and interbred with various other species, we can at least have a logical explanation of why every species is bipedal and looks like human being in make-up. I know it is easier to just do make-up on actors in sci-fi, but I always like it when they at least attempt to explain why everyone looks like a person and speaks English.

One thing that I think is cool about having a working class companion is that we see interactions with a lot of people you might not see interactions with. The scene where Rose is chatting with the plumber is really cool. Yes, there are all of these important dignitaries there to watch the Earth die, but every time you have a function like that, there are a lot of nameless, faceless people who are working behind the scenes to make sure that things come off without a hitch. As cool as it is to see The Doctor hang out with various Prime Ministers, it is also really neat to take time to talk to Mitt Romney’s 47%. I don’t know if it is a function of Russell T. Davies being a member of an underrepresent minority, but his dedication to racial and gender diversity, along with showing people whose stories don’t normally get told is commendable.

This Tainted Love is kind of Toxic.

This Tainted Love is kind of Toxic.

One aspect of this series that delights me to no end is watching Christopher Eccleston being goofy. In this episode when they haul out the “iPod” and play the classical music tune “Tainted Love” watching Eccleston dancing to the music is all kinds of awesome. There are so many terribly cheesy or just plain bad things in the this season that only work because Eccleston has the gravitas to pull it off. Eccleston has been in a lot of terrible blockbuster action movies where he has been absolutely wasted. It is painful watching a movie like “Thor: The Dark World” where his character could have been played by anyone and it would not have mattered.

The conversation between Rose and The Doctor where she tries to get him to tell her about himself and his people is very well crafted. The Doctor is going through the painful process of coming to grips with what has happened. Healing is not a linear process of slowly feeling better. Generally speaking, when you go through a trauma, parts of you shut down. The Doctor wants to take his new companion on a nice, fun adventure. He doesn’t want to think about or deal with the fact that he is responsible for the destruction of his people. Rose pressing him for straight answers begins to awaken uncomfortable feelings for The Doctor and you can see him trying to retreat back into his comfortable numbness, but he just can’t. The dragon has awakened and you can’t put it back to sleep.

Denial of Reality.

Denial of Reality.

You can run, but you can't hide...

You can run, but you can’t hide…

Seeing The Doctor go from dancing and being goofy to having to talk about the painful reality of being the last of his kind is a pivot that not a lot of actors could do. His work in the scene where he is confronted about being the last of the Timelords is painfully subtle. Eccleston conveys so much with his stillness and his silence.

I still maintain that Eccleston and Piper have the best chemistry of all the Doctor/Companion pairs. This is only their second episode but they have such sparky energy with one another when he is modifying her phone so she can call her mother. I am a highly sensitive person and I get all gushy inside watching the two of them interact. It makes me all kinds of happy. Watching this its hard to believe that these people have not been together for years. Their banter and comfort with one another is just so natural that it absolutely drives me insane that we only have a baker’s dozen episodes of the two of them.

I find the theme of this episode to be highly ironic. The episode deals with the inevitable end of everything, yet everyone involved in this episode has unnaturally extended the time they have been allotted. Lady Cassandra has morphed and mutated herself in a doomed attempt to avert and cheat death. The Earth has been artificially prevented from ending at its natural time. We don’t know it yet, but The Face of Boe is the immortal Captain Jack who was altered accidentally and is an abomination that the TARDIS will flee to the end of the Universe to try to escape. The Doctor himself is an immortal god.

Everything has its time and everything dies.

This episode spends so much time talking about so many people who have unnaturally extended their time in this existence. Life is precious because we have a finite amount of it.

The end of all things.

The end of all things.


The idea that trying to unnaturally extend your life is evil is a very common theme in sci-fi and fantasy. Vampires are cursed because they try to cheat death and they are marked by their curse. In the Harry Potter series Voldomort is physically maimed by his attempts to cheat death by breaking his soul into pieces and scattering them to the four corners of the globe. In Lord of the Rings, the wearers of the rings of power are granted unnaturally long life at the expense of their soul. Death is to be feared, but far more scary is the terrible cost at trying to avoid the inevitable.

Each and every moment we are given is precious. I sometimes feel like I don’t have enough time to do the things I want to do. I push myself very hard and make myself sick trying to make up for time I squandered when time felt limitless. I forget that sometimes it is important to just take a day or two to stop and look around at the wonder that exists all around us.

I went to Greenville, SC for a conference a few weeks ago. I got there half a day early and I spent the entire time just walking around a park in a place I have never been and might not ever see again. It recharged my soul to get away from all my worries and responsibilities and just exist for a few hours.

It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

Sometimes you just have to accept that everything is going to end one day and take time to stop and smell the chips.

Everything ends and everyone dies. Let's eat chips!

Everything ends and everyone dies. Let’s eat chips!

Doctor Who: Series One- Rose

I have complained here about how I don’t like the current iteration of The Doctor in Doctor Who. Recently I have been thinking back to a lot of stuff from the earlier parts of New Who and I am going to write a series of posts about each episode in at least the first series. I am doing this as a recovering English major who thinks that the first series was a very well written set of episodes and tells a very concise story about a pair of dynamic characters who change and are changed by one another.

Rose, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Rose, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

It is interesting to go back and look at “Rose” from the perspective of knowing just how huge Doctor Who would get in the ten years after the show premiered. I will confess to being rather late to to Doctor Who bandwagon. I believe I began watching the show in real time in either Series 5 or 6. I tried, like most people, to get into the series by watching “Rose.”

“Rose” isn’t a bad episode, per se, it is just very weird for someone who has no idea what to expect from Doctor Who. I was expecting Doctor Who to be kind of like a cross between “Lost” and “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” I was not expecting how dark it would get. Even though Mickey comes back from the dead, you have a scene where he basically gets murdered by a plastic mannequin and you see this really bad special effect/makeup job on the actor wandering around saying “Pizza!”

Another thing I find interesting about “Rose” is the actual introduction of the companion. We see Rose wake up, go to work, eat lunch with her boyfriend, and basically have a typical, lower-middle class existence. Her life is perfectly serviceable, if somewhat boring. She works in a shop and has a boyfriend. She probably does not expect to have a lot of upward social mobility and she doesn’t seem particularly interested in trying to get any further than she actually is. She doesn’t seem to be aware of it and it doesn’t really bother her. She is like the main character from “Flowers for Algernon” who isn’t really viscerally aware of the fact that there is more to life than what he knows. Ignorance is bliss.

Compare that to the other series where you are introduced to the companion. Most of those stories are about The Doctor. As the show has progressed, The Doctor has become more and more the focus of the show. The companion is chosen now because the companion is somehow special. Amy Pond with her crack in the universe in her wall. Clara, whose iterations show up over and over again. The Impossible Girl.

Rose is not an impossible girl. Rose is a common girl. Except she isn’t.

runningIf we look as Series One as a whole, we are at the beginning of The Hero’s Journey. We are in “The Ordinary World.” Rose is Bilbo Baggins, snug and safe in her hobbit hole with no aspirations to go on any sort of adventures.

When we meet The Doctor for the first time, it is an exhilarating experience. She, as well as us, are curious about him. She goes and tries to research him on the Internet. She wants to know more about him. She is actively discouraged by her family from trying to find out more about The Doctor. When she goes to talk to the guy from the Internet, Mickey insists on taking her there to keep an eye on her because he thinks she is going to be murdered by an insane internet lunatic. It’s clear from their behavior that neither Mickey nor Jackie thinks Rose can make her own choices or take care of herself. They mean well, but they treat her like a child.

These changes mark the beginning of a metamorphosis that will transform Rose by the end of the series. Had Rose only met The Doctor once, she might not have changed. She would have thought it was weird, but then ultimately would have moved on and forgot. The speech where The Doctor tells her he can feel the Earth hurtling through space, you know Rose will never be the same again. There is a part of her that awakens to the possibility that exists in the Universe.

A happier Doctor by the end of the episode.

A happier Doctor by the end of the episode.

So far I have only spoken about Rose. It is equally important to mention The Doctor. He is recently regenerated, as we can tell when he looks at his reflection and comments on the ears. The Doctor is badly damaged at this point in time due to his decision to destroy the Timelords and the Daleks.

It is hard to determine how The Doctor feels at this point in time. The Doctor picks up companions because he is lonely. He is even more lonely at this point in time because he just destroyed his entire race. (Yes, I know this was retconned.) The Doctor needs a companion to avoid losing touch with the people he has dedicated himself to saving, but he is a broken man. He brings death and destruction everywhere he goes and he is reluctant to bring another person along and place them in danger.

The biggest thing that sells their relationship in this episode is the chemistry between Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston. Eccleston, one of the greatest living thespians we have, does an excellent job of selling us on why someone would be fascinated by him. Piper, however, has the harder job of selling us on why The Doctor would invite her to travel the Universe with him. Even though we see initially that Rose is a rather ordinary and common person, there is potential within her. She has a spark of curiosity and imagination missing from everyone else we meet in the pilot.

The moment of epiphany is a glorious moment.

The moment of epiphany is a glorious moment.

One of the great, defining moments in the pilot is the part where Rose realizes that the London Eye is the transmitter and The Doctor figures it out. There are so many times in life when you are looking at things from the wrong angle and you need a change of perspective. It was this moment when The Doctor realized that he needed Rose, or someone like her.

The moment when Rose realizes that she can be more than she is is slightly later, when The Doctor needs to be saved. We get the great line from Rose:

I’ve got no A-Levels, no job, no future… but I tell ya what I have got – Jericho Street Junior School – Under Sevens Gymnastic Team – I got the Bronze!

This is the point where Rose reaches “The Call to Adventure.” She has somewhat reached rock bottom. She realizes consciously for the first time that she is asleep. Her normal, comfortable life has been turned upside down and she is painfully aware that she has no hope of doing anything better than she is doing now. This realization galvanizes her to strive to be more than she was.

Both Rose and The Doctor are changed by their encounters with one another. The Doctor has recovered enough from his damage by his encounter with Rose that he feels comfortable inviting her to come with him. He realizes on a fundamental level that he needs her to recover from what happened with the Time Lords. He also recognizes the potential in her to be more than she is.

You can contrast her reaction to The Doctor with Mickey’s. Mickey also had an encounter with the strange and unknown. His reaction was entirely different. The unknown frightened him. It pushed him further into his small world view.

Look at the invitation the Doctor extends to Rose, but not to Mickey:

ROSE: You were useless in there. You’d be dead if it wasn’t for me.

DOCTOR: Yes, I would. Thank you. Right then, I’ll be off, unless, er, I don’t know, you could come with me. This box isn’t just a London hopper, you know. It goes anywhere in the universe free of charge. 

MICKEY: Don’t. He’s an alien. He’s a thing.

DOCTOR: He’s not invited. What do you think? You could stay here, fill your life with work and food and sleep, or you could go anywhere.

You can hold her all you want to Mickey, but she's already gone.

You can hold her all you want to Mickey, but she’s already gone.

At this point, we see Rose reach “The Refusal of the Call” point in the Hero’s Journey. Changing your life is scary. Going on an adventure with The Doctor will fundamentally change who she is. She won’t be happy doing the same things she did at the beginning of the episode. She will evolve into another kind of person, leaving Mickey and Jackie behind her. Hell, when she gets invited, Mickey throws his arms around her and clings to her like grim death to keep her from going. That is a scary thing. It is hard to leave people behind that you outgrow. But if you are going to be more than you are, you must do so. She isn’t quite ready to say goodbye to the person she was to become the person she is going to be, so she turns him down.
The look on her face watching the TARDIS disappear is heartbreaking. She knows that this was a chance that she will probably never get again to be more than she is. She gave it up to stay with the people she loved. She resigns herself to going back to the way things were. Then the TARDIS comes back. She won’t make that mistake again.

ROSE: Thanks.

MICKEY: Thanks for what? 

ROSE: Exactly.

I do find it rather interesting that later in the show they do explore what happens to another prospective companion who turns The Doctor down and regrets it. We meet Donna Noble in a Christmas special. She turns down The Doctor, and we get a season of Martha Jones. A year later we see that even though Donna did not take The Doctor up on his invitation, she could not avoid being changed by him.

Sometimes in life events force you to change. You might want to cling to the person that you were, but that person is essentially gone. Lewis Carroll has a wonderful quote: “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”

I have, in the course of my life, encountered a lot of people who absolutely do not like change. Change frightens them. They bury their heads in the sand and try to avoid dealing with the fact that everything is constantly changing. Your cells replace your organs every few years. We have change built into the structure of our DNA. It is unavoidable, yet people run and hide from things that are inevitable.

One reason I am focusing on this season is because I find it fascinating that the writers generated these characters where you have one dynamic character surrounded by static ones. One issue I have with the newer seasons of Who in the Moffatt era is that none of the characters really grow or evolve. Amy Pond was kidnapped, held hostage, and had her only child stolen from her, yet it never seems to affect her in any meaningful way. She is temporarily affected because it means she and Rory can’t have children, so she leaves him so he can have them with someone else, which is complete and total bullshit.

I identify with Rose very much. I have had several transformative experiences over the last two years and watching this season resonates with me a great deal. I hope that my analysis of these episodes is somewhat interesting or entertaining. If not, I promise to talk more about programming soon.

Mono No Aware

Over the last year we in the iOS community have had a mass exodus of our best people back to the Mothership. There was a period for a while on Twitter where like once a day I would see someone tweet “I have an announcement to make. I just made a really tough decision, but I have accepted a job at Apple.” My favorite response to this phenomenon that I saw was from Jeff LaMarche, who tweeted: “Last one to go work for Apple turn the lights off, okay?”

One day a few months ago I go on Twitter and see a tweet from Jonathan Penn. “I have an announcement to make.” Oh no. “I just made a really tough decision…” Oh please, dear god, don’t let this be what I think it is. “…but I have accepted a job at Apple.” NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

The Breakpoint Formerly Known as Jonathan Penn

The Breakpoint Formerly Known as Jonathan Penn

I honestly can’t tell you why losing Jonathan Penn to Apple affected me so profoundly. I met Jonathan back at my first CocoaConf in Chicago 2013. It wasn’t like I was as close to him as I eventually got to Chris Adamson. We weren’t best pals or anything. I don’t think I had a closer relationship to him than anyone else did and I actually think I probably wasn’t as close to him as other people were. And yet.

I think Jonathan has a biological mutation that causes him to secrete nitrous oxide because whenever you are around him, you can’t help but feel happy. I don’t think I have a picture of Jonathan without a big goofy grin on his face. Watching him crack up during the CocoaConf game show was a joy to experience. Additionally, Jonathan is wicked smart. I would go to his talks and feel like the village idiot because I would be blown away by his rapid fire delivery of concepts that sailed right over my head.

I guess I got used to the idea that he was always going to be here. I figured when I go to CocoaConf there are certain things that are always there. There will always be an amazing keynote by Daniel Steinberg. There will always be a Breakpoints Jam concert. I guess I thought there would always be a Jonathan Penn.

Back when I had my life changing trip to Boston, I started thinking about what kind of a person I want to be. I wanted to be Jonathan Penn. His passion and his energy were absolutely amazing. He is such a warm and giving person. He adds so much to the iOS development community. I wanted to be like Jonathan Penn.

I am being slammed this year with a lot of instances of impermanence. We got a new programming language from Apple. Many prominent actors and comedians who I grew up with passed away. I feel change happening around me everywhere I turn. The phrase I have as the title of this post, mono no aware is a Japanese phrase that talks about the ephemeral nature of existence. Everything we do has meaning because nothing lasts forever. Life is precious because we have a limited amount of it. Each and every moment we have will never come again and no matter how lousy it might seem at the time, it is special because it is transitory.

Everything in life is transitory. As a member of the generation that came during the internet boom and the Great Recession, that is painfully obvious. People don’t work for the same company for forty years anyone or have the same job their entire career. This is doubly so for computer programming. I have only been programming for the last two years and I am already gearing up to switch from imperative programming to functional programming. Before I left for my conference on iOS programming I got a bunch of help from my boss setting up iHaskell notebook to learn Haskell. I can already feel the ground shifting under me and I am trying to adapt before it is too late or too difficult.

Jonathan going to Apple felt very much like he had died. We can’t talk to him about what he is doing anymore. He is too busy to waste a bunch of time on Twitter. I don’t reliably have an event ten times a year where I can go and absorb all of the joy he radiates. He’s still here, but he is now sharing that joy with other people.

I guess I was also very upset when Jonathan left because I didn’t know that the last time I saw him might literally be the last time I saw him. Had I known that he would be moving on to another stage of his life I would have savored the time with him more. We always feel regret when it is too late to do anything about it.

Jonathan leaving makes me think about the fact that I am going to leave someday. Right now we have this amazing community in iOS, but this is ephemeral. Something else that is going to be really cool is going to come along. All the top people are going to get tired of what we are doing and are going to move on to the next thing.

Yuri Nakamura is my spirit animal

Yuri Nakamura is my spirit animal

I worry about my ability to let this thing go. I don’t want to be the person who graduates from high school and keeps hanging around because they can’t move on. There is an anime series, ”Angel Beats!” about a group of teenagers who had terrible lives and died young who spend time in an afterlife that looks very much like a normal Japanese high school. The point of this afterlife is to get the people in this afterlife to resolve the unresolved issues they brought with them in their previous lives and to help them move on, which in this series is called “graduating.” (My twitter avatar is of me dressed as one of the main characters from Angel Beats, not Sailor Moon.)

Sometimes it is hard to move on. You have a snapshot in your brain of this fixed point in time where things were really great or terrible. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Captain Sisco is trying to explain linear time to the wormhole aliens. The aliens point out to him that he has frozen his linear existence. His life was trapped in amber at the exact moment when he lost his wife. He can’t figure out how to live his life after this tragedy happened.

Life doesn’t stop just because you want it to or because you have been so incredibly damaged that you can’t figure out how to cope with your new paradigm.

Imagine my surprise and delight to actually have a chance to rectify all of this, Jonathan made a cameo at CocoaConf Las Vegas this weekend. Jonathan’s parents live right outside of Vegas and he brought his whole family to CocoaConf to watch him rock out at the Breakpoint Jam.

Thanks to Solomon Klein for making me look thin in this picture with Jonathan.

Thanks to Solomon Klein for making me look thin in this picture with Jonathan.

Having the chance to sit in the audience one last time with Jonathan being a Breakpoint was a fantastic gift. James Dempsey asked me how the concert was and I told him it was the best one. He thought I was pandering to him, but I wasn’t. Jonathan brings this energy to the performances and being able to sit there and enjoy this performance knowing that it would be the last one was truly meaningful to me. The crowd was a smaller, more intimate crowd. The concert wasn’t a super rousing concert, but it felt more like hanging out with your friends goofing around, which was really nice to have.

Jonathan, if you are reading this, I hope you are not creeped out by my writing a whole post about you. I hope I didn’t bother you by hugging you a few times. I wish you the best of luck at Apple. I will try to stop talking about you like you are dead, but I make no promises.

Culmination of a Dream

Two years ago, I didn’t know Chris Adamson existed. I was taking my first semester of the iOS development degree at Madison College when I first found out about him. I was taking the Objective-C class mostly because I needed to have a full load in order to continue to collect unemployment benefits. I was planning to follow the Java track, get a job for a health insurance company, and lead a normal mundane existence. That all changed when I heard two words that would change the course of my life: Core Audio.

In my previous life, I went to school for audio engineering. I learned Pro Tools and Logic. One of my teachers was talking about the extreme guys who programmed those pieces of software and they fascinated me. I had no idea how anyone would program a digital audio workstation, so I kind of forgot about it.

When my teacher Eric Knapp mentioned Core Audio, he said it was one of the hardest things to learn in the Apple development environment. It was a toss-up between Core Audio and OpenGL. Me being the good little masochist that I am, I decided I would learn both of them. (Having tried my hand at both of them, I am awarding Core Audio with the trophy for being harder to learn.)

Trying to read "Learning Core Audio" while cruising and enjoying the ocean.

Trying to read “Learning Core Audio” while cruising and enjoying the ocean.

I bought Chris’s book on Core Audio and made the incredibly stupid decision to take it on vacation with me for beach reading. After seeing the unfamiliar and deprecated “NSPool” object, I freaked out and realized I had to work a lot harder in order to learn enough to understand what the hell is going on.

In February 2013 Eric told me that Chris would be speaking at a conference in Chicago. The conference was in two weeks. I was a poor, unemployed college student, so I had to scrape together enough money to be able to go down and attend this conference so that I could meet Chris.

I saw him around the conference, but he was a big important author and I didn’t really know what to say, so I didn’t approach him. On the last day of the conference, Chris did a talk on audio on iOS. I sat in one of the front rows and peppered him with a lot of impertinent questions about audio programming on non-iOS platforms. Having been on the receiving end of questions like this in my own talks, I commend Chris for his patience and restraint at not shoving my Ravenclaw scarf down my throat.

Kyubey and I grokking AV Foundation video.

Kyubey and I grokking AV Foundation video.

We wound up talking after his talk and having lunch together. He was one of the first people I have encountered that I felt completely in synch talking to. I wore a Doctor Who shirt trying to bait someone into talking to me about it. Chris saw it and commented that he would ask about it, but everyone and their brother was into Doctor Who. I pulled out my phone and showed him a picture of my pug, Delia Derbyshire. When I said her name, his face lit up and he got really excited. He was the first person I met who knew who Delia was without me having to explain it. Eric asked who Delia was and we were talking over one another explaining who she was. I was so happy. I was grateful to him for hanging out with me and talking about my stupid geeky audio stuff.

Several months later I got to attend CocoaConf Boston and spend a whole day with Chris doing Core Audio. That day was one of the best days of my life. I was having a lot of problems at that point in time and I felt like my life was falling apart. Spending the summer working through the Core Audio book knowing I would get to do this workshop in the fall gave me focus when I needed something to get me through my life.

Chris giving his penultimate Core Audio workshop at CocoaConf Boston 2013.

Chris giving his penultimate Core Audio workshop at CocoaConf Boston 2013.

Chris and I were able to work our way through our initial awkwardness due to both of us having some social anxiety issues to become friends. I stopped worrying that I was bothering him by commenting on his tweets and I began to feel comfortable asking him for advice.

Earlier this year I was again trying to figure out what I was doing with my life. I had a contract job that was ending in a few weeks and I had to figure out what I wanted to do. I applied for a QA position at a company in town whose employees I knew and liked a lot. Something in my gut told me that I didn’t want to do this job. I knew I needed a steady paycheck, but I just had a gut feeling that I wasn’t supposed to take this job.

I went to Chris and explained my situation. He patiently read through my long rambling email and responded back, “I should tell you to take the stable job with the decent paycheck and the nice coworkers, but I have an ulterior motive. I need a coauthor for my book and I would need you to start after your contract is over.” I immediately wrote back to the company and told them I was no longer available.

Like all recovering journalism and English majors, I always wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write books and stories. I have absolutely no idea why I wanted to be a writer. I don’t remember if I actually liked writing or I just liked the idea of being a writer. I sort of gave up on the idea of being a writer in high school when I realized everything I wrote was crap. I realized if I wanted to be a writer I needed to have some actual experiences. I had to get out of my comfort zone and change my perspective of the world. Sometime in college I just sort of decided not to think about writing for a decade to give myself a chance to actually find something to write about.

The Boston Breakpoints

The Boston Breakpoints

I began writing again last year around the same time I met Chris. I had another developer recommend starting a blog and I have written at least one blog post a month since I started my blog. I know a lot of people do podcasts because they are “easier”, but I have always found that writing really helps me get my thoughts out of my head.

Back in March at CocoaConf Daniel Steinberg had a session called “Book Chat.” It was for anyone who had written or wanted to write a book. The only other person there besides Daniel and I was Chris. Many people over the last year have tried to talk me out of writing a book. I heard the usual arguments that books take a long time and they don’t generate any money. Daniel asked me what I wanted to get out of a book. I told him I wanted to be able to type my name into Amazon and have a result pop up. I also wanted to take the cover of my book, frame it, and put it on my wall. That was all.

Today marks the culmination of a dream for me. I have a book I wrote being published. We are on a public beta and there is still more work for me to do on the book. But it is real. It is happening.

OMG! I got a shout-out in Chris's "Stupid Video Tricks" talk in Chicago!

OMG! I got a shout-out in Chris’s “Stupid Video Tricks” talk in Chicago!

I am thinking about where I was a year ago. I had weathered several failures and I felt broken. I had no idea what the following year would bring. I had the single-minded determination that I had to finish the Core Audio book and go to Boston. I didn’t know how or why, but I knew that it was a turning point in my life and I threw everything I had at that.

Going to Boston changed my life. It changed my perspective of who I could be. I was pitched by several companies there that I didn’t imagine would even be interested in me. None of those leads worked out because I was just too messed up to take advantage of them, but they made me realize what kind of person I could be if I wanted to. Josh Smith had me talk to Dave Klein about speaking in Chicago this year. I didn’t think I could be a speaker until that happened. I applied for another talk that happened a few weeks before CocoaConf Chicago, which wound up being my first tech talk, but that would never have happened without Josh Smith.

Mad props to Mark D for throwing Greek and trombone playing at us at 8:00 in the morning.

Mad props to Mark D for throwing Greek and trombone playing at us at 8:00 in the morning.

I love this community. I love that I came here from a really crappy background and that I found people who were willing to accept me for who I am. I am happy that I haven’t been discarded because I am damaged. My damage could even be considered an asset because I bring uniqueness and experience with it.

All of these people keep talking about the importance of teaching young girls to code, like somehow my generation of women is too old to learn new things and we are a lost cause. Meeting someone like Chris whose experience was so like my own and knowing that I could have another chance at life gave me hope, which gave me the tenacity to endure all of my various disappointments. He gave me strength to accept all the broken, dirty pieces of myself and accept that they are part of who I am. He woke me up and made me think about all the parts of myself that I had numbed because they were too painful to deal with.

I went from a world of “No” to a world where anything is possible with enough work and tenacity. These last two years has been a miracle.

“iOS 8 SDK Development” is my first book. I hope there will be many more where this one came from. I treasure this book because it represents something I didn’t think I would ever have. It is also a project I got to work on with a great friend whose presence has enriched my life.

I wish I could go back two years and tell the earlier me that I would meet these people who would change my life. But I can’t. Spoilers, sweetie.

Approaching the Speakers at the Tech Conference Zoo

I am traveling to CocoaConf Las Vegas tomorrow. This is my second CocoaConf of the “season.” The first CocoaConf of the season was in Columbus, OH.

Since I am a member of Eric Knapp’s gang of iOS disciples, I was able to car pool with some of the other members of that group. On the way home, one guy in the car asked me if I had spoken to a certain person at the conference. I had not. I didn’t know this person.

I was told that this guy really wanted to talk to me but he was intimidated by me because I was speaking at the conference.

This made me feel really bad.

"No, I never thought about working at Apple. Why are you asking?"

“No, I never thought about working at Apple. Why are you asking?”

I am in this weird transitory state at the moment. When I first started going to conferences I really wanted to meet all the speakers, so I would aggressively and strategically make sure I was sitting next to them for meals. I made a lot of great friends and found a lot of advocates for myself this way. I would not be where I am today if I had not done that.

Now that I am a speaker, I don’t really know how to act. I don’t want to aggressively sit next to all my fellow “speakers” and make people feel bad because somehow we are an exclusive group of people because we really aren’t.

I feel bad about CocoaConf Columbus because I basically spent the entire trip hanging out with Chris Adamson. He’s my friend and coauthor, but I felt like I really should have made an effort to meet other people. It was kind of hard for me because I had no opening line to start a conversation with a stranger. That was one great thing about talking to speakers at programming conferences. There was a way to start a conversation. You could read their bio and ask about their job. You could ask them about their talk. I used to tweet people during their talks and come up to them later and explain who I was.

I am asking anyone who wants to meet me at a programming conference to please just come up and say hi to me. Tweet at me so when you introduce yourself I have an idea about who you are. Believe it or not, I am a somewhat socially awkward person and it is a lot easier for me to talk to people if I have some idea about what to talk about.

Unless a person is really putting off “stay the heck away from me” vibes, most of us are really approachable. We like to geek out about technology. That’s why we are here talking about it. If you want to geek out with us, just pull up a chair and say hi.

Hope to see a few people do this in Las Vegas. Looking forward to meeting you.

Don’t Tread On Me

I booked my flight for 360|iDev Min. I know if you read my last blog post you’d be under the impression that I had an epic road trip planned. I did. I don’t get to go on it.

Once again, I was pressured by my family to not drive my car. I was told it was too long. I was told my car was not reliable. I was told that it wouldn’t be cost effective.

If it were just this one incident, that would be fine. I found a reasonable flight and the impulse was probably a stupid one anyway. I am just annoyed that I am constantly being pressured to do things I don’t want to do by people who bear no consequences of the decision.

When I decided to go back to school for programming, my father was adamantly against it. He had a bad experience with a computer science class twenty-five years ago, so he hates programming. He pressured me very strongly to go to law school. He told me that I would never find a programming job and that I would suck at it.

My programming degree was a hundred bucks a credit. A law degree sets you back six figures. I paid for my programming degree. If I had caved to pressure from my dad, I would be six figures in debt and probably wouldn’t have a job. Or if I did, I would barely make enough to cover the student loan payments.

Why do people feel like they need to impose their world view on me? If I had done what my father wanted and fallen on my face, he wouldn’t bear any of the consequences of that action. I would. I would be the one holding the bag for the debt. I would be the one who wasted three years of my life that I could have spent doing something else.

Now that I am beginning to see my labors bear fruit he is more than happy to take credit for my success even though he fought me every step of the way.

Back in 2008 I realized that I had to take control of my life. I let my parents and other people talk me into doing things because it was easier to just go along with what other people wanted than it was to not only fight them for the right to do what I wanted, but to also then have to accomplish it on my own. After limping along like that for nearly a decade of my adult life, I realized I couldn’t do that anymore.

I am so tired of fighting my parents and my husband to be able to do the things I know I need to do. I despair that this is ever going to end. I am sick of being treated like a child who is somehow incapable of knowing what I want or how my world works. There is more than one way to live your life and just because I want to live my life differently doesn’t mean my way is wrong. I don’t think I will ever get to a point where I will be treated with respect or have any of my accomplishments acknowledged by my family. But you know what, that’s okay. I am not doing this for them. I am doing it for me. If I was doing this for them, I would be an underemployed lawyer right now instead of a moderately successful software engineer.

Carefree Highway

I was asked today to do a talk in South Carolina next month. I got so excited about doing the talk that I really didn’t think about how to get there.

I like to avoid flying when possible. When I went to Denver last month I took the train. That turned out to be a terrible idea, but it was an interesting experience.

South Carolina is about 900 miles away. When I was a kid we used to drive to Nashville. Driving seems doable.

The reason for this post is I want to talk about my car.

Two for the road.

Two for the road.

I have owned one car my whole life. I got a brand new Subaru Impreza back in 1998. I have had this car for half of my life.

This car has been through hell. I crashed it three times in the first few years I owned it. It had a nice respite for a while, but I crashed it again back in January. Since the car was sixteen years old, my husband decided it wasn’t worth getting the body fixed.

I have been pressured by my family to replace my car. I am being told it is no longer reliable and that it is going to be hard, but I need to let it go.

My car has been absolutely reliable for sixteen years. I feel bad for not treating my car better when I was first learning to drive. I am a superstitious person and I am afraid if I replace it before it dies that I will have bad karma. (Pun intended.)

I am willing to accept that I need to replace the old girl, but I would really like to have one last adventure with her. I would like to drive her to this conference in October.

I plan to do whatever I need to do to make sure the car is reliable and won’t break down in the middle of nowhere. I plan to make arrangements to make sure I know what to do if the car breaks down on the side of the road.

I know this is an incredibly stupid thing to do, but I love my car and I want to have this time to remember my time with her and to let her go.

I will have the car looked over before I go. If there is any question of the car’s reliability, I will not take it.

I know I am being overly sensitive about an inanimate object, but I would really like to be able to control how I let my car go. I accept that it needs to be replaced, but I want to be able to have a say in how I spend the last of my time with it.

And now, the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and ev’ry highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Ten Episodes- All Good Things…

This is the final entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

The End

I know it is something of a cliche to include either the pilot or the final episode of a series in a top ten list, but this episode did such a great job that I had to include it.

Q_PicardEnding a long-running series is tricky. There is a multitude of nerd rage over shows that did not end in a satisfying manner. “The Sopranos” is the most prominent example, but there are plenty of other shows that have dropped the ball at the end.

It is tremendously difficult to strike a good balance between giving closure to the fans and going too far in the other direction and pandering to what you think the fans want to see. “Breaking Bad” recently wrapped up their series and it was the third-to-last episode that really packed the emotional punch for the series. The last few episodes wrapping things up but it wasn’t nearly as emotionally satisfying as that almost last episode was.

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” was from an earlier time before the mass serialization of TV became the norm. TNG had a few recurring characters and several plot threads that popped up over the years, but beyond a few two-part episodes there was not a lot of continuity from episode to episode.

One of those characters and plot threads was the omnipotent, ever-present Q. Q made his appearance in the pilot to put humanity on trial. That was a rather ballsy move to make in the pilot and it pays off in the finale because the writers could call back that scene to provide a nice bookend for the show.

Gul Dukat, the face of pure evil.

Gul Dukat, the face of pure evil.

The only other Trek series to do anything like this was Deep Space Nine. DS9 had the awesome moment in the pilot where Gul Dukat strolls onto the station and you are immediately struck by what a menacing presence he has. DS9 at its core was a battle royale between the forces of good in the form of Benjamin Sisco and the forces of darkness in the form of Gul Dukat for control of the wormhole and its inhabitants.

If Gul Dukat or Q had been poorly cast, neither of these callbacks would have happened. In spite of the fact that TNG and DS9 were syndicated, relatively low budget shows, they got incredibly lucky with a lot of their casting. Getting an actor who could stand toe-to-toe with Patrick Stewart who was genuinely menacing was awesome, which is why the writers kept bringing Q back over and over again. It’s difficult to remember that Q only appeared in just over a half dozen episodes of the series since his presence is such a vital part of its DNA.

Structure

Wait, how long has this camera been here?! I didn't realize the NSA still exists in the future!

Wait, how long has this camera been here?! I didn’t realize the NSA still exists in the future!

One benefit of having the plot driven by an omnipotent super being is that you can bring characters back from the dead without things seeming forced. Being able to send Picard through time and space without having to worry about the mechanics is a gift.

The best time travel episodes of Trek don’t bother to worry about how their heroes go back and forth through time. Look at “The City at the Edge of Forever.” Our heroes jump through a large rock and wind up back in time. They never talk about how they get back to the future because it doesn’t matter. Kirk fell in love with a woman who he had to let die to allow time to proceed as it should.

(Side note: I would give anything to see a cold open for Doctor Who where the TARDIS shows up on the Enterprise bridge, they talk to Patrick Stewart, fly off, and you see that they are in the middle of shooting an episode. Seriously Moffat, make it so!)

There have been a few moments in Star Trek where Picard has been tortured with the idea that he remembers things that are not real. Between “The Inner Light”, “The Chain of Command”, and “The Best of Both Worlds” I am shocked that he doesn’t have some terrible psychological trauma. I guess they have found a cure for PTSD in the future. One would hope at least.

It was kind of nice to see that at some point Picard and Beverly Crusher hook up, it just would have been nice to see it happen while the show was still going. I am surprised they never picked that thread up in any of the movies. The actors clearly had chemistry and the writers kind of flirt around with the idea without actually going there. If they were going to hook Worf and Troi up for the last few episodes of the series, couldn’t they have at least done the same thing for the two characters who actually made sense?

Alas, poor Tasha! I knew her, Horatio!

Alas, poor Tasha! I knew her, Horatio!

Oh yeah, one of the low points of the finale is that in the future Worf and Riker hate one another because they both loved Troi and she mysteriously dies to fuel their irrational conflict. ”Women in Refrigerators” trope for the win!

It’s kind of nice to see how the writers were able to use the death of Tasha Yar so many times in the series to show that things were wonky without overusing it terribly. Each time they brought Tasha back it was in a great episode and she was used respectfully. I am glad that Denise Crosby was classy enough to come back the number of times she did for the fans of the show.

Paradox

The primary reason I am including this on my list is the central paradox in the episode.

The beginnings of life on Earth.

The beginnings of life on Earth.

As I have written about a lot, I started programming rather later than most people did. I had a period of several years where I terribly abused my brain. I would come home from school and just stare off at a corner for half an hour because I couldn’t think enough to be able to know I had to take off my coat and my shoes.

I have stretched, broken, and healed my brain so many times that I think I might be addicted to the pain. Watching Picard go through the episode trying to piece the paradox together spoke to me on a fundamental level that a lot of Star Trek didn’t.

There was one quote in particular that really speaks to me. It happens at the end of the episode when Picard has saved the universe and is speaking to Q about his displeasure at being put on trial:

Capt. Picard: I sincerely hope that this is the last time that I find myself here.

Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.

Capt. Picard: When I realized the paradox.

Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. *That* is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

You know no matter how hard you try you'll never know everything, right?

You know no matter how hard you try you’ll never know everything, right?

Last year I was determined to learn Core Audio. I spent two months working my way through Chris Adamson’s Core Audio book. He was doing an all-day workshop on it at CocoaConf Boston and I moved heaven and earth to be able to go there. When I got there, I was incredibly worried about my future. I felt beaten down and broken by trying to get through programming. That was a really dark time for me. I used to feel joy when I learned and figured things out that had all but disappeared from my life. I was in a despair that I would never feel it again.

Going to that workshop changed my life. It was like a lot of concepts were floating around in my brain like iron filings and someone turned a magnet on and suddenly everything snapped into place. I couldn’t explain to anyone about what I realized, but for a brief moment everything clicked into place. I nearly cried because all of these things I couldn’t figure out suddenly came into focus. I could see how they fit together. I was so buzzed by this revelation that I didn’t sleep for a week.

I felt like I had made a pilgrimage through the desert with no hope that anything would be at the other end to discover that a paradise existed. I felt like my will and my tenacity had been tested and that I passed the test. I knew that anything else I tried to do would not be as difficult as the last year had been. I knew that I would be okay. I knew I would not fail.

Engage

I guess the main theme of this episode is talking about what Star Trek is really about. J.J. Abrams doesn’t fundamentally understand why people like Star Trek. It seems like this dated, wimpy show about a bunch of unrealistic peaceniks who have this stupid utopian view of the way the world should be. Those qualities are exactly what make Star Trek special.

It is superficially about exploring space and meeting weird exotic aliens, but it is about far more than that. It is about exploring what it means to be human. We encounter aspects of ourselves in the various species encountered by the Enterprise crew. The show is a hope for the future where we can bypass the issues we have now to work together for a better future.

We need this, now more than ever. We have a deeply divided country where half of us want to move backwards and half want to move forward. We have a group of people deeply suspicious of scientists warning us that if we aren’t careful we will make this planet uninhabitable. We have become terrified of bogeymen in headscarves that we are afraid will blow up our buildings, so we let our government treat all of us like criminals. We have militarized police turning their weapons on the people they are supposed to protect.

I believed in you. I thought you had potential. But apparently I was wrong. May whatever god you believe in have mercy on your soul. This court stands adjourned.

I believed in you. I thought you had potential. But apparently I was wrong. May whatever god you believe in have mercy on your soul. This court stands adjourned.

I need to believe we can transcend this period of our history. When Star Trek originally came out, we were at a similar precipice, except the bogeyman was nuclear war and had a Russian accent. Star Trek came at a time we needed to believe that it was possible that we could do better. We need that now, more than ever.

Our great challenge as a species isn’t to make it to the stars, it is to push ourselves to do better than we thought we could. That is the ultimate message of both this specific episode and of all of Star Trek. That is why this series has endured for nearly fifty years.

I want to finish up this post, and this series, with a quote from the pilot that I feel sums up my feelings about what Star Trek means to me. I want to thank you for reading my posts and I hope that they were not too terribly boring.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Some problem, Riker?

Commander William T. Riker: Just hoping this isn’t the usual way our missions will go, sir.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Oh, no, Number One. I’m sure most will be much more interesting. – Let’s see what’s out there. Engage!

Advice to Conference Speakers When Things Go Wrong

While I was attending 360|iDev this past week, I saw a speaker have a bad talk. I saw this speaker do this talk a few months ago and he knocked it out of the park. This time, several things went wrong and the talk went a little off the rails.

My heart went out to this speaker because earlier this month I had my own first encounter with a talk going off the rails.

My Conference Talk Failure

I spoke at CocoaConf Columbus. I was doing two talks. One talk was on GPU Programming and the other talk was on Debugging. I spent the vast majority of my time on the first talk. The subject matter was far more difficult and I was trying to do something rather ambitious with it. I didn’t really give the Debugging talk the love it deserved.

I knew when I woke up the morning of my talk that it was going to go badly. I spent a bunch of time in the morning refactoring it up until the few minutes before the talk began. I was rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

I'll just be over here drowning myself in my own tears.

I’ll just be over here drowning myself in my own tears.

When I began the talk, I included a really stupid inside joke that went on for far too long and things just got worse from there. I got flustered and none of my code demos worked properly. I also included way too many of them and all of the demos were based on the same project, so I became confused as to which demo went with which concept.

As I panicked, I spent more and more time looking to my coauthor for help like a kid looking to the teacher for the next line in the school play. I knew I was doing this and I couldn’t help it. I felt like the world was collapsing in on me and I was trapped up there for one terrible hour until I could escape and find a nice corner to cry in.

The Bad News

Here is the bad news. If you are going to be a conference speaker, you are going to have talks that go wrong. It is just going to happen. You are going to have a few that go well, you are going to get complacent and figure you have it all sorted out, or it might even be your first one and you didn’t prepare as much as you should have.

The good news is that you can learn from the experience. Human beings have the unfortunate habit of learning best when we fail at something. Emotional failure stings and it physically hurts us. We learn very quickly not to touch a hot stove because it hurts. We also learn not to go before an audience unprepared because that hurts too.

It is vitally important to not just give up on speaking when you have a bad experience. That is the opportunity you have to learn the most if you can shake off the pain and learn what you did wrong.

Advice

Here is my personal advice for anyone who has either had a bad experience or is just starting out and is worried about having their first bad experience.

  • Figure out if your talk is recoverable. I read a memoir by a gymnast who said that when she would get to practice in the morning she would immediately know if it was going to be an on day or an off day the moment she stepped on the balance beam. Sometimes you start the day off on the wrong foot and you just have to keep chugging along. If you can’t recover from your talk, try not to worry about it. The more you try to recover from it, the more panicked you will be, and the worse it will get. You just have to get through it as best you can. Don’t run away. Just finish as best you can.
  • LetItGo

  • If you think you can recover, take a few seconds to close your eyes and gather your thoughts. It might seem like a long time to you, but there is a temporal shift between how you feel time and how your audience feels time. It might seem like an eternity to you, but to them it isn’t that long.
  • Try to shake it off. Believe me, you are going to feel terrible. People will try to make you feel better by telling you it wasn’t that bad. They are trying to help. Try to be gracious to the nice people who feel terrible for you and want to make you feel better even though you really want to wallow in your own misery for a while. Let yourself feel bad, but not for too long. Have a good cry, then let it go. Don’t let this spook you out of ever doing this again.
  • Learn from what you did wrong. In my case, I didn’t practice my talk enough and my demos were confusing. I will not make those mistakes again. I am currently working on another talk to replace this one and I am trying to be very careful to do the talk that I can do, which might be less ambitious than doing the talk I want and envision. If you are a beginner, you are going to make mistakes and you will know that you could have done better. You will do better next time.
  • Remember that everyone in the audience is rooting for you to do well. No one came to your talk hoping to see you crash and burn. Everyone out there is empathizing with you. Most people find public speaking to be terrifying and if you are having a bad talk, you are living their nightmare. There will always be some asshole who will leave you a comment on your card that you weren’t prepared or some other negative thing. It is going to hurt. Fortunately, those people are usually the minority. Try to remember all the nice things people said and all the people who tried to make you feel better when things went wrong. Our community wants you to succeed.

Moving Forward

As painful as my Debugging talk was, I probably learned more from it than I did from the other talks that I did that went well. I know that the speaker I saw at 360|iDev is going to take that talk and refactor the hell out of it and the next time he does it he will knock it out of the park.

We learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. Failure is painful, but necessary for us to grow and learn and to do better. We are all going to fail at some point. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Just grow, learn, and do awesome stuff.