The amazing adventures of Doug Hughes

Archive for October, 2012

Office Hours -or- I'm Unafraid of Making a Fool of Myself in Public

A couple of weeks ago I was honored to speak at the very excellent NCDevCon. While there I had a very interesting conversation with a guy by the name of Phillip Senn. Phillip expressed that he was looking for a mentor, someone who would push him towards better development practices and help him get unstuck when he encountered a problem he couldn’t get past. For example, he needs a bit of a push to get started with Git. He’d like to see how people setup their development environments, etc.

While I don’t really have the time or inclination to be a traditional mentor, the request got me thinking. I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about programming, but over the years I’ve gotten really good at learning new things quickly. I feel comfortable being thrown (or throwing myself) into new technical situations. I recognize patterns and can Google with the best of ’em.

So, Phillip and Iconceivedof what he dubbed “Office Hours”. The plan (at least for now) is for me to have a scheduled time to do a screencast where I help someone get started with or learn something new for free. I will be doing this in a Google+ hangout and streaming it live to my YouTube channel. I also plan to make archived sessions availableonline.

The first Office Hours will be this Friday, November 2nd from 3 to 5pm EST. Right before the office hours is set to begin I’ll publish the Office Hours Google+ Hangout URL, the live stream video, and any other relevant information. Those who are interested (up to 8 additional people) can join in the hangout and help out or follow along. Anyone else will be able to watch the video in real time.

For this first I will beworking with Phillip to help him get started with Git. Truth be told, while I use Git, I’m no Git guru. My intention, however, is to help him get it installed, create a new repo, commit code, branch, merge, etc. Basically, to give him a tour of as much of it as I can. I imagine this will be rather organic with a few false starts and dead ends before we really get anywhere. To me, part of what makes Office Hours interesting is that I’ll be learning while I do it too.

I want to make Office Hours a weekly event. I also want you to feel free to email me with your requests and suggestions. For example, perhaps you want help getting started with Node.js (or anything else). Just send me an email and, if I choose your topic, we’ll schedule a time for your Office Hours. I would request that you not limit your questions to what you expect me to know. If the topic is new to me I’ll work ahead and be ready to hit the ground running in our Office Hours session.

So, do you have any thoughts or suggestions? I’d love your feedback on the concept.



Change, Fear, Life After Death

Back in 2009 my company, Alagad, had what I think of as The Big Layoff.  We went from about 13 employees and contractors down to three people in a matter of a fifteen minute phone call.  This wasn’t the first round of layoffs I’ve had to do, but it was the hardest.  I loved the people who worked with me.  I cared about them and their families and I felt as though I had personally failed them. Frankly, I did.  I’m sure that I could have done more to protect them, their jobs, and their families.  That said, they’ve all gone on to bigger and better things and I’m extremely happy for them.

In the year or so leading up to these layoffs I was constantly assaulted with panic attacks. My chest would seise, I’d get tunnel vision, my mind would shut down everything except worry.  White hot worry. I worried about the people who worked for me and the overwhelming responsibility I had to them.  I worried about paying my bills.  I worried about my family.  Through the support of my family, the remaining employees, and the miracle of modern pharmacology I somehow made it through that period.

Sometimes I wonder if I didn’t completely fry my nerves. I wonder this because I am again tearing Alagad down.  Three weeks ago we were faced with the very real fact that we would likely go out of business.  Both my personal and business accounts were overdrawn and we couldn’t make payroll.  Again.  We had to leave the PEO that provided our health benefits and payroll service.  The walls were coming down.

So I held a call with all four of us, three family members and one employee who may as well be family at this point.  We talked about shutting down and what that would mean.  Throughout this experience I felt calm.  Not happy, but calm, collected.  Worried too, but not like in 2009.  I sincerely felt as though I had done everything I could and that, if we failed, no one could blame me for not trying.

What’s interesting to me is that I don’t feel the same panic I did in 2009.  I don’t feel like a hole is being burrowed in my chest.  I can breath and sleep. I’m not entirely sure why.

I imagine that when death is imminent – when you are terminally ill – that a certain peace and calmness comes from that knowledge.  I imagine that you release your desperate grip on everything that holds you to the physical world. Nothing can harm you now.  There are no more consequences. You transcend fear.

That’s where I am. Nothing can hurt me now. And strangely, because of this, I am free.  I can do anything I want.  I can take tremendous risks without fear.  I am like the terminally ill patient who decides to live each day as if it were their last, because it might be.

Much to my surprise, out of that phone meeting was born an entirely new strategy we’re calling Alagad 2.0.  I’ve detailed it on an all-new website and will spare you the details here.  Suffice it to say it’s not the traditional way of running a software company.

I feel like the terminally ill patent who is given experimental treatment.  It might save their life, but might just kill them even faster.  There’s only one way to find out and I’m comfortable with this.

I can’t lie and say that I’m entirely at peace.  I still worry.  We don’t currently have health insurance and we depend on our prescriptions for our mental well being.  Many have criticized our new approach saying that we don’t understand the business.  But others have suggested it’s might actually be a good idea.

Maybe I’m just delaying the inevitable, but I’m ok with that. The picture that has emerged to me is that there is in fact life after death.  It’s a rebirth of some sort – a renaissance.  A new start. I look forward to it with an open and calm mind.

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