Fruitful Friday – Week 5 ’19

I may not take 5 a day… but I can do 5 a week!

I have decided to make a weekly summary of what I’ve learnt from what I am reading. There are many books that I have devoured too fast! Forcing myself to come with a one-or-two liner lesson sounds like a good practice. Also, inspired by Marcus’ 5 share, I have decided to also include other items that made me grow that week. Things like something that made me laugh, or something I need to share. What a simple way to better start my Fridays!  Now I can feel my baby-step growth, and share a bunch of silly things!

Read of the week: Improv Nation: How We Made a Great American Art – Sam Wasson.

I love learning the origins of Improv Comedy. I enjoy understanding the history of my hobbies, and I’m getting more involved with improv by the day. But let’s try to keep the improv content to a minimum! Let’s talk about something else that the book made me think of: how many North Americans think the world is about them.

It can be summarised on the quote: “and all of it as American as Democracy”. Sure. As democracy. A big part of the book talks about how Improv Comedy started in the States. It explains why it is a completely different art compared with its roots, like Commedia dell’arte. But when I heard him making that statement, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Of course, as American as Democracy.

This situation had happened before while talking with some North American friends. I don’t think it’s something unique to them, tho. Living in Denmark, I have heard comments on the lines of: “well, we don’t have that problem in Scandinavia, we would never act like that”. So I am pretty sure everyone has their own quirks!

Personally, I find it quite amusing. It makes me think of my dad! At home, we are all Spaniards but him (Italian). So, many times, he tries to convince us that Romans were the firsts doing (insert blank). Sure, there are many things that modern society should thank Romans for, but this argument usually escalates to the absurd very fast.

Quote that moved me: “A worried champ is more interesting than an overconfident champ”. It comes from Del Close class’ notes, unable to avoid the Improv theme. I see it as embracing ourselves, without using the “I have everything under control” mask. I fake confidence many times because I think that will help me. But, actually, seeing someone being honest (and worried) is always more interesting, intimate and powerful.

Toy I have started playing with: hosting a static page blog on GitHub. This blog is hosted on WordPress, but after restarting my writing habits I wondered if it is the best option. I also wanted another place to put my improv ideas, and maybe a new space to build some kind of resume.

Having a static page on GitHub sounded like an interesting idea! It requires minimum maintenance, it’s more affordable and some of the parts are open source. And I personally like the geekier feeling of using those tools.

What I have sunk my time on: getting comfortable with Lightworks. Learning the basics of video editing is almost becoming a mandatory skill. We have so much footage from Improv… It is a shame no one is doing anything with it! So I am using some of those clips as a playing ground.

This was also inspired by the chapter about editing in Essentialism. I am even thinking of writing about this on one of my future posts! Until then, let’s leave it on “To attain knowledge add things every day. To attain wisdom subtract things every day”. (Lao-tzu)

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5 Audiobooks to start listening to right now!

If I had to choose the habit that made the biggest impact in my life during 2018, it was for sure listening to Audiobooks. This allows me to enjoy my commute and training time more, adding up to more than 10 hours of “reading” a week! That is the main reason why I could beat my challenge reading 29 books on the last year! And I even have four books under my belt so far on 2019.

One of the reasons why I decided to listen to audiobooks is because I am obsessed with efficiency. It is actually a treat that I am working to improve, as it also affects my ability to find joy, but I think the impact this is having in my life is invaluable. It also made my commute more enjoyable, encouraging me to walk and be active more often! This is not even counting all the hours I have listened to amazing podcasts, such as the Backline (a didactical podcast about Improvisation) or Tim Ferris’ Podcast (inspirational interviews with different “Titans”).

Trust me on this one! Give this a try. Find a moment when you could focus on what you are listening to and pick an audiobook to start learning from! Nowadays it is extremely easy, especially using Audible. You can sign up freely (like using this referral link) and pick two books right now. Oh, you can’t think of any interesting book to listen to right now? I have you covered! Here there are some of my recommendations!

Five amazing audiobooks that you can start learning from right now!

Mating in Captivity – Esther Perel

I fell in love with Esther Perel after listening to her interview by Tim Ferris, and last year I decided to read two of her books. In this book, Esther explores the complexities of sustaining desire through many case studies. The stories hooked me while also making me rethink my previous relationships, as well as gave me the tools to build a stronger connection in my current one.

You can also listen for free to the first episode of Where Should We Begin?, a podcast where she shares some of her counseling sessions. It is such an intimate experience!

Essentialism – Greg McKeown

Greg McKeown explains his definition of essentialism: “less but better”. It shows a way of thinking about productivity and business, helping you find which is the biggest impact you can make and the importance of focusing on that (and reducing the noise). He shares numerous examples and techniques, like asking yourself “how much would I pay to get this if I didn’t own it already?” to discern what do you value the most.

I personally agree with the pursuit of “living by design, not by default”. This is a read that I highly recommend to anyone managing people, as it contains many lessons I wish my managers would share. And it’s less than 6 hours!

Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson

If you enjoy fantasy, give yourself the treat of enjoying this masterpiece. It might even be your gateway to the incredible work that Sanderson is doing. He has become my favorite epic-fantasy writer, and his world-building work is more impressive every step you take down the rabbit hole.

I personally get caught on making “the most out of my days”, and sometimes I forget the importance of play and joy. His work has been my drug of choice. I personally find it deliciously immersive, and I can easily enjoy it through my day (in opposition to watching Netflix when I get home!).

Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans – Sarah McBride

Sarah is a leading activist on the National Press Secretary at the Human Rights Campaign. Her book explains (with depth and brutal honesty) some of her struggles with gender identity and finding her way as a political person. It is a powerful tale of confusion, pain, empowerment and lost; all while keeping a stoically positive view and fighting for what it is right.

I didn’t know anything about Sara McBride prior to reading this book (even worse, I barely knew anything about Trans struggles in North America), and reading this book broadened my view. I am extremely inspired by her work, and I’m sure you’ll find it as enlightening as I did.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lammot

Writing is an integral part of our interactions in this digital era, and the understanding of how to deliver a story is one of the skills I am actively working on. Anne empowers a beginner writer with many insights, tips, and tools; while keeping it entertaining. She is actually hilarious!

I am spending more and more time writing on my social media, so learning some basics of writing is already having an immense impact on my interactions. Being a non-native English speaker feels already like a disadvantage to me, so the more (good) lessons I can enjoy, the merrier!

And you, what are you listening to?

I am constantly looking for new books to listen to, as I am listening to more than 10 hours a week! Is there any book that you have loved recently? Is there any podcast that has changed your life? Which are the habits which impact you the most? I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

The book of the five rings: Why

I’m enjoying The book of the five rings (Miyamoto Mushashi) way more than what I thought. It’s not only teaching m about martial arts and war but all the lessons are easily applicable to professional and personal situations. Even if I wish to never have to apply this knowledge about sword mastering in my real life (although with my passion of role games, I know they’re going to be handy!), revisiting some experiences in my head as they were a duel, running through all the points Mushashi explain in this amazing book.

What hooked me to continue reading (on top of my inner nerd feeling like a ninja!) was how surprisingly relatable were the lessons and statements to my career. And we’re talking about a half a century old manuscript about surviving duels to the death.

For instance, Mr Mushashi talks about how a bad rhythm can kill you. Moving too fast in a fight is as bad as being slow, as you might make a mistake. That’s why he always keep a steady pace: fighting, walking and living. It allows you to study your opponent and plan a strategy.

He also says that repeating a technique that previously failed will kill you. You might be tempted thinking that the failure was because a bad performance, but the chance of another failure is really high. If you tried it and manage to survive, your adversary will be ready for the third time. And you’ll die.

He stays the importance of your environment. Every one of its details might be an advantage, and you have to avoid that they become an adversity. You should also have expertise with a large variety of weapons, not just mastering a few of them like other duelling schools. Adaptability is required if you plan to keep duelling and survive. People will bring new weapons and tools, and they’ll focus on countering the common techniques.

As he says: no technique is invalid if it makes you survive. I want to end talking about the book with some if its quotes:

“Do nothing that is of no use”

“It is difficult to understand the universe if you only study one planet”

“You can only fight the way you practice”

“You must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain”

― Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

May the force be with you,

Gino

Efficiency obsession: Power Reading

My biggest quirk is this stupid obsession with efficiency. I’ve spoiled every aspect of my life because of this, and the saddest part is that I enjoy it. When I have a new toy the joy of discovering it ends pretty fast, and I just want to learn how to get the most out of it afterwards. Most of the times, I don’t even need to apply that knowledge; just learning, discussing and testing it is more than enough.

I do it with almost every aspect of my life. When a get a new video game and I enjoy the mechanics, I start learning and theorising how to min max it. How to get the most spending the least time, how to break its virtual economy with handmade cost-related spreadsheets, etc. When I walk, I always think the fastest way to get somewhere, even when there’s no hurry. When I have several episodes of a TV show pending, I watch them at 1.5x. Daenerys listing her titles improves at 1.5, believe me.

And obviously, it also affects my career. I won’t talk about its implications for my daily work now, but how it changes how I face my continuous learning. I’m in the first steps in my career and have plenty of free time, so I usually try to spend a fair amount of it trying new technologies, reading about last trends, doing courses and reading. It’s not always related to my field (like The game or The Book of Five Rings), but instead of reading fantasy literature (which I love doing), I’m focusing on amazing papers that teach me something.

But how is my stupid efficiency obsession affecting my reading? I don’t know how familiar are you with power reading techniques, but lately, I’ve been following this one. I’ve always been a fast reader, although my speed is heavily hammered with technical English-written books. That’s why lately I’ve been trying some of these techniques, to get better comprehension and faster assimilation of the concepts.

I know, the main concern is: you should be enjoying the reading, not rushing it! And that’s completely fair. But as I said, the main reason for reading these books is to increase my expertise in an area, expanding my knowledge, learning new approaches, and summarising the best ideas of it. Power reading achieves all these purposes, along with training a very useful skill in my opinion: reading a really long text and assimilating its key concepts.

“But reading fast is really easy, you only have to skip some paragraphs and voilà!”. I’ve also been there. I remember my tedious maths reads, and how I tried to skip everything that didn’t seem enough important. But this time, I have another powerful tool: this blog. For every of this book that I read, I force myself to think about a lesson learnt post, and I start writing a bullet point list of the main subjects and the things I enjoyed the most. Even if I don’t polish and publish the post, it forces me to understand and pay attention to the read!

May the force be with you,

Gino

Lessons learnt from Clean Coder

Previously I talked about Clean Code, I want to focus this entry on how Clean Coder:A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers (Robert C. Martin) made me evolve professionally. This book focuses on the professional aspect of a developer: the interactions with the rest of the team, the responsibilities of the roles, etc. I don’t know how to keep things short so let’s start with it!

How to manage estimations and its importance. Now you always have to work as a team, and in order to manage projects you need some time of estimation, and its the responsibility of the programmer to be as accurate as possible (and to research and train the technique).

How to interact with other roles in the Software Industry. Skills like managing expectations with the stakeholders, getting the best out of your QA, understanding the differences between a development manager and a developer manager, etc. A professional programmer is not only a good coder but an amazing team player. So take so time to learn everyone’s role!

The professional also carries the responsibility of saying no when the situation requires so. Everyone can say yes to anything and then deliver a shitty result, but you have to raise your hand when a situation will undermine your craftsmanship and end with a compromise in the Quality. Things like repeatedly doing overtime will end with some buggy and unmaintainable code, so saying no when there is no plan be, or the plan is to stay in that situation for longer than it should, it’s your responsibility.

Managing your time and schedule is also a really important skill everyone should learn. Uncle Bob talks about Pomodoro and other techniques, and it was the first time I realised about these amazing approaches. This has been a subject I’ve been working on for so long that you can see some of my latest results here.

He also made a controversial statement which I share. The Zone, even if you feel productive while staying on it, should be avoided and only used when the situation requires to. Entering that mind state will make you drop some of the best practices and induce you to decisions really hard to tackle and fix. That’s why he recommends not to listen to music while programming (making it harder to enter The Zone), and activities like pair programming or taking breaks from time to time (Pomodoro).

As said during the Clean Code summary, he considers Unit test as one of the main sources for code quality. If something doesn’t show how it works in a test, then you can trust its code.

A good professional is responsible for his art, so you have to allocate some time to train and improve your craft. Part of that time should be given by the employer, but you have to invest some of yours to stay always on top of your game.

He also recommends techniques like code katas to interiorize new languages, frameworks and tools; as they allow the practitioner to focus on the changes (as the problem is already known and mastered). He encourages as well to warm up with a coding kata before starting the working day, helping with all the bugs and failures that get introduced while you’re still getting into the programming mindset.

Personally, I found this book even more interesting than his Clean Code brother. This was the first time I start thinking about the surroundings of my career and how to become a better professional dealing with them, instead of just focusing on improving the code itself. A highly recommended read!

May the force be with you,

Gino

Lessons learnt from Clean Code

Before start talking about how Clean Code:A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship by Robert C. Martin (Uncle Bob) affected me, I want to start recommending this book. It’s well known inside the Software Development industry and, even if you don’t see eye to eye with Uncle Bob, it has really good reflexion about how to structure your code. I was lucky that during my career I joined a company where reading this book was part of your first-year commitments, and we use it a lot while code reviewing as a common ground for arguments. But now, let’s focus on what I learnt reading this book!

Being able to solve complex problems is not what defines a professional software developer. It’s absolutely a good skill and, at some point, you’re going to need analytical thinking and problem-solving abilities but a professional developer also focuses on the readability of the code as well and building scalable, maintainable and simple solutions.

This book made me realise that wording, naming and modularizing the code are more important than I thought to start my career. I started to spend some time finding the best variable, method and class names, for example.

Learn how to better use hierarchy. I’ve been working with object oriented languages during the majority of my professional life, and learning how to master this powerful tool makes a huge difference.

Refactoring to achieve readable code usually takes longer than coding the solution itself. It’s a good practice to just focus on getting the job done, and then start iteratively refactoring until the code is readable enough.

Always leave the campground cleaner than you found it.

Having a guideline during code reviews make them less harsh. When a clash happens, you can use the book to specify why a change should be done, instead of just using your “I know better than you” argument.

Professional programmers care about testing. Mr. Martin thinks that TDD is the only way for a professional programmer because no code is complete without enough testing verifying that it works.

I should not abuse commenting. During my degree, teachers told me that I have to comment as much as possible to achieve a readable code. Then, you discover that no one updates the comments when refactoring, so it ends like a misleading piece of information. Instead, if you focus on a readable code per se, and you forbid yourself to comment; you’ll build an understandable solution that doesn’t require them. And, for documentation, nothing explains better than an extensive testing suite. And if you don’t update them… they’ll break!

Programming literature can teach me more than I thought. I assumed that every you have to learn from coding is online, and books are outdated and useless by definition. How wrong I was. After reading this, I picked books about Testing, Programming, and Design patterns. And, without any doubt, my code got better after doing so!

Here was the first time I heard about principles like Don’t repeat yourself, Keep it simple stupid, You aren’t gotta need it. And I realised how little I was following them!

Those are some of the lessons I learnt reading this enlightening book. In a future post, I’d love to talk about what I learnt from Clean Coder:A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers (Robert C. Martin), part of the same series but focusing on the relationships between software professionals.

May the force be with you,

Gino

How The Game improved the relationship with my colleagues

“Any action or experience contain a lesson” is one of the mottos that rules my life. I truly believe it. It’s probably due to spending too much time thinking about anything, but I can extract a lesson from any of my experiences, as well as most of the games I’ve played, books I’ve read or movies I’ve enjoyed. That doesn’t mean that every lesson has the same value, as it varies dramatically depending on my context at that moment. But that’s why I try to always meet new people (from their stories is really easy to learn something), consume a variety of media and read from a diverse book pool. One of the examples is described here.

And that’s why I ended reading The Game. The book talks about a pickup artist society and how much the life of the writer changed after learning how to seduce a woman (that’s a really vague summary). I love learning about human behaviour, particularly when it focuses on the subliminal realm, so this book gave me loads of insight about how people react to certain patterns, as well as formalising in words some thoughts I already had (which helps a lot, knowing something and being able to express it are different levels of understanding a subject).

But we’re here to discuss what The Game taught me that was applicable in my life, not talking about the cheesy pickup techniques that are probably outdated and culturally dependent. I really think it helped me stepping up my workplace relationships. And no, I’m not saying I started flirting with me colleagues.

Your working environment is ruled by human relationships, that’s a fact. Even if you’re working on a high technical field where people try to encapsulate themselves to get into “the zone”; teams are the one achieving amazing projects, not bright individuals. So, if the way you talk with your colleagues, you set expectations with your manager, you manage some problems and you react to some interruptions are going to drastically change the moral and energy of your team; every single lesson that teaches me how to understand and optimise this interaction makes me a better professional.

With optimising iterations I’m not meaning trying to pursue and lie someone so things are going the path you want because that collides with my “do not be evil” motto. Optimising for me is being able to identify those “naughty tricks” some professionals use to reach their goals, learning when to express admiration, size when to take the leadership and how can show them your value. The Game gives you examples of situations where saying something completely changed the outcome, either ruining the game or delivering success. And, being honest, if you know how to overcome yourself and keep trying in the game, you’ll be way more prepared for any awkward situation. It also focuses on realising your environment and find the best technique for each context.

Being more specific, I’m going to share some quotes that have been helpful in my life. not all of them are from Neil Strauss but, for me, they related to what I learnt from the book.

What you look like doesn’t matter. But how you present yourself does.

You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take

The cat string theory is the most accurate theory of all time: As humans, we don’t appreciate things that just fall into our laps. We find more value when we have to bust through personal boundaries, overcome obstacles, and do things we originally thought we could not.

Be a closer: Most people are not closers and never finish what they start. I’m definitely guilty of this on occasion, I get overly excited, commit to everything, and often never finish projects I start.

Some of you may even sabotage your own progress because you’re afraid you won’t find what you seek. I don’t know about you but I’d rather find adventure in the quest than finding comfort in sitting idle.

Everything you do matters: In the end it all counts, it’s cumulative, LIVE!

May the force be with you,

Gino