Your Greatest Weakness

If you have ever spent any significant amount of time interviewing for jobs, you’ve probably had someone ask you, “What do you think is your greatest weakness?” Most people don’t spend any effort on seriously considering that question, and often it’s just a wankfest of trying to come up with something that also sounds like a strength. “I work too hard.” “I do too much unpaid overtime.” “I sacrifice my social life for work.” Personally, I’ve never liked that, and whenever I’ve been a part of the interview process from the other side and heard a prospect give one of those answers, I’ll either write them off as being useless or if they’ve shown real promise before that get them to answer again, with a little truth this time. If I’ve bothered to ask you that question, it’s because I want to know that you are capable of not seeing yourself as perfect and understanding that you can improve. I certainly don’t want to hear how even your flaws are assets, because if it is an asset, a strength, it’s not a weakness.

For me, my answer has often been that I’m better at fixing or finishing than I am at starting. When asked to explain, I do so by telling them about issues I have with narrowing decisions. For example, I am told to build a webpage. In what language? The choice of language will dictate, down the road, what you can do. Some languages are great at some things and weak at others, and so at the beginning stages of a project I will often spent an incredibly large amount of time trying to think of and map out every possible feature we could want in the site in an attempt to make sure I’m choosing the best language, the best approach. If instead of being told “build a webpage” I was told “build a webpage in PHP” we can eliminate a lot of time and effort. I end by saying that while it is my greatest weakness, it can be greatly tempered with information and direction, and lessens over time as I become more comfortable with my working environment.

I’ve gotten better at that over the years, both through knowledge and speed of research, and by gaining confidence in my decision-making by having decisions I’ve made work out well. And so now my answer has changed.

My greatest weakness these days is that I expect other people to do their jobs. My job is software development with a little support thrown in (small company, everyone does lots of jobs). When I’m asked to write software or if I’m handed a support call, I do it. And when doing my job requires me asking someone to do their job, I ask them and expect it to be done. Too many times, it isn’t done quickly, which holds up my ability to do work. The delays lengthen and eventually I’m missing deadlines.

In my opinion, I shouldn’t have to yell at people to do the job they are being paid to do. They should just do it, as I do in my own job. Instead, I often find that part of my job becomes checking up on other people at other companies to make sure stuff gets done.

I call in and report a problem. I’m not asking for new service, I’m reporting that my existing service is broken. When people call me for things like that, I drop what I’m doing and work on the problem, because a customer who cannot use my service now is infinitely more important than that feature I’m working on that no one is using yet. So, I’ve reported the problem and am told someone will be calling me shortly. Two hours later, I haven’t heard from anyone. I call in to get a status update and find that no one has been assigned the call yet. I am assured the call will be assigned and someone will call me within a couple of minutes. Thirty minutes later I’m calling back in again because no one has called me. They transfer me to the guy who was assigned the call, he tells me he needs to read the problem. He does, we talk, he says it needs to go to another department, and they’ll call me back. This keeps repeating, over and over.

In the end, it takes three days to fix a problem that should have taken a couple of hours at most. Probably because they are dealing with the same stuff I am when they have to call someone about part of my issue. And I know, because I used to have their job.

My weakness boils down to this: I don’t like to yell at people because I shouldn’t have to yell at people.

I know this blog isn’t read by many people, but perhaps just putting thoughts out into the universe can make them heard. Do your job, as well and as fast as you can, because if people are waiting on you, just imagine how you feel when you are waiting on other people. Unfortunately this is one of those “Pay It Forward” types of things where you may never benefit directly, only if it loops around and the people you have to wait on decide not to make you wait. But it’s worth doing, at the very least you can be completely justified in your ire at having to wait on other people since you don’t make people wait.

Dragon*Con is coming…

It’s August and that means it’s time to start the final prep work for Dragon*Con.  I’ll be working staff again this year.  If you are going, drop by the MMO Track (we own the Sheraton and can always be found in the Savannah room, but at other times will be in the various ballrooms of that hotel) and say “Hi!”

Speaking of the MMO Track, one of about a dozen reasons I haven’t been posting here lately is because I’ve been working on a series of posts for the track website all about what we have in store for the big weekend.  The first post is up, six more will follow.

Going along with my last post, I was reminded that the Atlanta Radio Theater Company performs at the con each year.  I’ve been having lots of fun listening to other radio shows recently, so I think I’m going to make an effort to see them.

In any event, last year I was sort of a deer in headlights.  While I had gone to con for many years, however my first year working it I had lots of fun but I felt like I was always hyper-vigilant, trying extra hard to make sure I didn’t screw up too badly.  This year, I know what to expect, so I can relax a little bit.  I’m also incredibly excited about our line up.  The Darkmoon Faire looks to be awesome, and we’ve got a couple of panels for The Guild (and a marathon viewing of all 4 -maybe 5- seasons).  I can hardly wait!

Deny First, Resolve Later

One thing that has been increasingly difficult over the years as there has become more focus on metrics for measuring call center success is actually getting help.  Too many companies appear to have a policy of denying responsibility first, pushing the problem off on someone else, and only later doing any work once someone else has definitively proven that the problem is theirs to solve.

In my current job, I deal with a lot of phone companies.  From AT&T all the way down to podunk local cable companies branching out into VOIP.  Our company is an answering service, and whenever someone calls us with a problem, we take ownership of it, work out all the details in an effort to either a) find and resolve the problem, or b) conclusively prove that the problem isn’t our problem and direct our customers to the right place to resolve their issue.  As an answering service, the one thing we fundamentally depend on is calls being forwarded from our customer’s location to our servers.  Once we get the call, we can do our magic and answer the phone properly and perform all the duties they pay us for.  If we are getting the call and something isn’t going right, we work to resolve the problem.  If we aren’t getting the call… well, there is only so much we can do.

What we don’t do is just shove people off, tell them to call someone else, and leave it at that.  No.  Even when we are certain that the problem isn’t ours, we walk the customer through some simple tests and see what results we get.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred (probably more, but I don’t want to get into large numbers or fractions) the problem is with their phone company.  (Half of the remaining times the problem is with their physical phones and the other half it is with us or our phone service provider.)  Either the phone company isn’t forwarding to us, they are forwarding to the wrong number, or they are forwarding to us but their service lacks the basic call data that most “real” phone companies send us and we are unable to process the call properly.  For the third option, we have a simple solution, takes 5 minutes on our end to resolve and then it’s up to their phone company to change the forwarding number – which should be another 5 minutes, but can often take 3 business days.  The first two options, however, is where the fight begins.

We do our job, then we say, “The problem is [insert exact problem here]. Please call your phone company and tell them [insert solution here]. You can have them conference with us if they don’t understand and we can get it sorted out.”  They thank us and then call their phone company who more often than not tell them, “Our stuff works fine, call your answering service and have them fix it.”  It usually takes about five rounds of this before the customer starts yelling at us.  Why us?  Because for some reason people trust the phone company.  Even when it’s a podunk operation serving the people of Greater Backwater with their fine assortment of tin cans and string, they trust the phone company as a utility and distrust us as some sort of money-grubbing for profit evil business.

Eventually, we get a conference call going and I get to explain to the phone company tech how to do his job.  The worst part is, when I’m doing this, I can hear the contempt in their voice.  They know how to do this, they don’t need me to explain it, but they don’t want to do it.  They want someone else to fix it without involving them.

And the phone companies aren’t alone here.  I run into it everywhere.

It really irritates me because I would never run a business that way.  Never.  Your customers pay for service, you should give them the best service and support you can give.  Of course, the scary though being that perhaps this half-assed responsibility shirking service is the best they can give…

A Week of Tweets on 2011-05-15

  • Is it safe? #
  • @Majiesto Finaler Destination. in reply to Majiesto #
  • Rolled out a new feature at work today. Nothing exploded. It was a good day. #
  • Stake Land needs to come to a theater near me. #
  • "That new show.. on HBO.. Musical Chairs." "Game of Thrones?" "That's what I said!" #
  • Is it Friday yet? I want to go to the concert already. #
  • Yesterday my blog had a huge spike in traffic… someone linked to my Urban Dead post on Something Awful. #
  • Internet Explorer 9 is out… you can stop using IE 6 now. Please. I'm begging you. At least go to 7, or 8, or Firefox, or Chrome… #
  • "Be the strange you want to see in the world." #
  • The problem with the heat in Atlanta is that there is no beach to enjoy it on. #
  • Tonight I will be seeing my favorite band in the world. #bte #
  • Exclusive features in a game by platform or by retailer probably make some people happy. None of those people are gamers. #
  • Well, there's a feeling in the air, just like a Friday afternoon. Yeah, you can go there if you want, though it fades too soon. #
  • Squeeeeeeeee…. #
  • Concert was incredible. It's so much fun watching people do what they love. #
  • It's party time. #

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Insanity 2: Electric Boogaloo

Second week complete.  See the first week’s post here.

So how did it go?  This is probably the most cardio work I’ve done in a very long time.  There was a moment, more than a decade ago, where I joined a gym and went every day and ran about 5 miles per day.  That might have been more than the Insanity workout, but I don’t remember it being this exhausting.

The one thing I like most about this workout is that while I am very tired at the end of the workout, after a little rest, some water and food, I feel good.  I don’t feel wiped out.  I don’t hurt for days.

I’m still behind the experts.  I have to rest more often than the people on the DVD, and I’m seriously considering altering the program to repeat month 1 twice and then do month 2 twice in other to give myself more opportunity to progress, but I’ve got a couple of weeks before I need to make that decision.  For now, I just feel great that I’m able to complete it each day.

I will be running the Peachtree Road Race again this year, and one of the goals of all this is to beat my time from last year of 1:41:31.  Just for frame of reference for my time, the Peachtree is a 10k, or 6.2 miles, and the Boston Marathon is 26 miles.  The guy who won the Boston Marathon this year ran it in 2:03:02.  He ran an average of a 4.7 minute mile.  I ran a 16.37 minute mile.  I don’t expect to ever be quite that fast, but I’d obviously love to bring my time down a bit.  One day, I might even consider running a marathon, but not yet.

Onward to week three…

A Week of Tweets on 2011-04-24

  • Insanity, day 5: feeling the burn… #
  • What wicked week waits before us, stalking us through the tall grass, the pounce inevitable, so let us not turn our backs. #
  • Insanity, day 6: I only had to take twice as many breaks as the guys in the video. #
  • Snicker-snack! #
  • "That doesn't work on all browsers. It's Microsoft specific code." "Can't you make them all obey Microsoft?" #
  • Luke Perry's Goodnight for Justice is unsurprising yet pleasant. DVD reviewed for @Shakefire #
  • Insanity, day 8: I forgot day 7 because it was a rest day. Today was easier than day 1. #
  • If you run or work for a charity, send email whenever you can. Spending money to send mailers to ask me for money makes no sense. #
  • Oh boy! This looks nifty! #
  • Insanity, day 9: Pure Cardio makes my heart want to explode out of my chest. #
  • Yael Naim's She Was A Boy was a delight to listen to from the first track to the last. @Shakefire #
  • Insanity, day 10: Am I supposed to sweat this much? #
  • Insanity, day 11: Stretching it out… oh yeah… #
  • Anyone seen rising from the dead today should be considered a possible threat and not the foundation of a religion. #zombies #

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The last time I wrote in the Getting Fit category was back in October when I ran a 5k.  So here it is, almost 6 months later… what have I been up to?

Throughout the winter I (mostly) kept up with a simple workout.  100 push ups, 100 sit ups, 100 squats, 100 dips, 100 reverse sit ups.  Not all of them every just, just one per day, a 5 day program.  And occasionally I’d run for 30 minutes to an hour on the elliptical machine.  This has worked well for me.  I’ve built up a decent bit of strength in all those areas, but it was time to do something else.

Shaun T and the Insanity BunchEnter Insanity.

Now, before people go all off on commenting about how I should be careful and not hurt myself, allow me to state emphatically, I am not an idiot.  I am fully aware that I have only one body (until science advances far enough) and I have to take care of it (which, coincidently, is why I am exercising), and this is actually why I chose Insanity over other workouts (I actually watch the videos with a critical eye prior to ever attempting the exercises myself).  And throughout, while Shaun T is screaming things like “Work!”, “Faster!”, “Push it!” and all the other things instructors say to make you move, he’s also constantly saying “Know your limits.”, “You don’t have to keep up with me.”, “Take a break whenever you need to.” and this makes all the difference.  In other workouts that I’ve tried, they always made me feel like a failure when I couldn’t do their programs to their level, but here, I always feel like I’m doing my best, and my goal is to make my best better over time, and not to meet some arbitrary goal set by a guy who already has a perfect body.

Right now, my best is pretty pitiful.  Each day when I do it, I am winded and exhausted by the end of the warm up, and it is a struggle to get through the rest of the day’s program.  I attempt each exercise, do what I can, and then take a break.  However, after just the first week, I feel better.

I also know I’ve picked the right workout because doing it is hard work, but after I stop, shower and relax a little, I don’t feel like I’ve been dragged through the street behind a car.  A workout should work you out, not devastate you.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind later.  I’m only one week into the program, but right now I feel great.

If I have any quibble about the Insanity program, it’s the same one I have for almost every workout program: perfect people.  They have a group of a dozen people doing the exercises, but none of the guys have guts or love handles and none of the women have hips or chests.  But that is minor and common, so it really isn’t worth being bothered by it.

One week down, seven to go.


The weather begins to warm up and that means yard work.  Last year we plowed up a large chunk of the back yard and planted grass since previous actions had ruined most of it.  (Pro tip: putting a large tarp on a section of your yard for a couple of weeks actually kills all the grass under it.)  The grass has done very well and I look forward to doing a bit of reseeding to fill in the few patches here and there that exist.  With the chunk of grass out of the way, the next phase begins, which is tree removal.

Now, I like trees.  I hate pine trees and sweetgum trees.  The reasons I hate those two sorts of trees is as follows.  Pine trees are very tall, provide no useful shade, and shed pine straw and pine cones, neither of which I want in my yard.  Leaves are fairly easy to clean up with a rake or a blower.  Pine straw is a pain in the ass to clean up, which is probably why people use it for ground cover, since it sticks to the ground so well.  Sweetgums, on the other hand, have these little tiny smaller-than-a-golf-ball sized pine cones which I prefer to think of as booby traps.  They drop off the tree, hide in the grass, waiting for you to come along barefoot and cripple you.  These nefarious trees bring us to our topic: chainsaws.

Cutting down trees with a chainsaw is awesome… as long as you judge the height of the tree properly and you don’t destroy your fence.  I haven’t destroyed my fence yet, and don’t plan to, but I am fully aware that it could happen.  Eventually I’ll have to pay someone to come get the big pines because I’m not about to scale a hundred foot or taller tree and begin taking it down in sections.  For now though, I’m taking down all the little ones.  But I’ve come to realize that despite being in decent shape and actually working out daily, managing a chainsaw requires a completely different set of muscles than pretty much everything else in my live.  After a short period of cutting, my arms feel like jello from the strain and vibration.  The yard is getting clear, however, so the price is worth it.

I can’t wait to borrow the neighbor’s chipper to cut up all these branches.  Also, since we’ll have so much wood we can’t chip, I’m thinking we’ll need to have a whole bunch of bonfire parties.

A Musical Interlude

It’s Friday, the end of the work week.  Enjoy this crop of music from various bands.

First up, a little ditty from No More Kings, a cover of Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True”:

Next, from 2006, an acoustic cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” by Mat Weddle:

And finally, saving the best for last, and thanks to Karnatos for pointing me in the right direction, I give you “Ace of Spades”… the slow version:

Have a good Friday, and a good weekend.

Dealing with your designer

Design in business tends to be a collaborative effort.  Mainly this is because nine times out of ten the person with the idea doesn’t have the ability, and the people with the ability aren’t often focused enough to have the ideas.  Not to offend either set, but creativity and business sense appear to be, in most people, diametrically opposed.  That means the more of one you have the less of the other you have.

So, if you are the idea guy, you take your thoughts to someone else.  You’ve laid out the parameters and explained what you wanted.  The designer has gone off and done what you asked and is showing it to you.

The first thing to remember when entering a design process is that until you’ve actually released, you can change anything.  Even after you release you can probably still change things.  So when your designer brings you the first pass at implementing your idea, the first thing out of your mouth shouldn’t be pointing out how they totally screwed it up.  This is a first draft, this is the collaboration part where the designer is trying to understand what you want, in his medium, and you help him.  Until you learn to literally project your thoughts into someone else’s head, you have to realize that what you dreamed up and what you put on paper as specifications are not remotely identical, and the translation from your brain to paper and then from paper to the designer’s brain is going to cause variation.  That’s why the two of you need to work together.

Don’t put your designer on the defensive and lead with criticism.  Look at the work and begin by talking about what you like.  What elements appear to be going in the right direction.  And then, when you are done, begin being critical, however, remain constructive.  If you don’t like the format of something, don’t just say, “I hate that. It’s ugly.”  Try instead something like, “The words are right like I specified, but I’m not loving the font you chose. Can you show me a few others?”  If you don’t understand something, ask — the designer is likely happy to explain where he started and how he got there, and if he’s off the mark you should correct the error in his path and help him get to where you want.  Of course, that doesn’t mean you sit in the designer’s work space and tell him how to do his job.

Just keep in mind how you would react if someone came along and told you how stupid your idea was versus them telling you it’s a good idea, promising, but there are these one or two details you might want to reconsider before you get in too deep.  In other words, the Golden Rule.