Accountabili-Buddies

Remember when you were a little kid and you went on school field trips to the zoo or museum? Each person was assigned a buddy, someone to keep track off so that no single person wondered off, got lost or left behind. You could be sure that you didn’t miss the bus, unless of course you both decided to bunk off and make your own adventure. But even then, at least you wouldn’t get into trouble alone.

As an adult, I often find myself getting lost or getting behind in the passion/side projects that I’d really like to see move forward. Even armed with a plan and productivity software, like Trello, it’s still easy to lose you way. I realized that what I lacked was a companion, like I had on the trips of my youth. It’s for this reason that I started making “Accountabili-Buddies”, people who come along the journey.

MyBuddy
The kind of buddy you want

How Does It Work?

Schedule a periodic meeting (no more than 30 minutes) in which the two of you can review your progress. You can do this in person or over the internet depending on your location. During the session, each person will state what they have done and what they plan to do before the next planned session. You can also use this time to demo something that you’ve been working own and get feedback or talk through challenges. If you’re familiar with Agile practices, this may sound a bit like a standup or sprint review. It’s quite similar, albeit a bit less formal and one-on-one. I prefer this to having a larger meeting such as a mastermind group as it allows each person to be more completely involved and not get “lost in the sauce” of a larger group.

Does it have to be someone in my field?

Not necessarily. You don’t work in the same industry nor have the same goals. At the museum or zoo, my buddy and I weren’t always interested in the same thing. I may be into butterflies or Impressionism but my buddy isn’t. It doesn’t matter. The point is that we’re there to support each other. You can work out what to see (review) during the sessions. That may ebb and flow based on what each person is working on at the time. I’ve found that getting a different perspective is helpful in how I am viewing my work. For example, I used to have a weekly session in Medellin with a friend with a project management/design background. He helped pull me out of a “feature-based” approach by challenging with questions about the “story” behind each screen. It was a nice reminder that even though I was the first user of the app, I wasn’t the only one and that I was bringing assumptions into the user experience that I needed to question.

Where Can I Find A Buddy?

Reach out to people in your social or work circle and ask if they are interested. It could be someone whose work you admire or who’s opinion you value (regardless of domain). It could even be a friend that you’d like to communicate with more often. Having an Accountabili-Buddy is great way to keep communication lines open with people you value. Be creative in thinking of people that may work as well as the projects that you bring into sessions. You’ll be surprised. I’ve had 5 different buddies in the last 3 years, each starting with different goals and rooted in various projects.. I still meet weekly with two of them via Google Hangout/Skype/Zoom. With one of them, we have each worked on 3 separate projects this year alone.

Respect the Calendar and the Clock

Make a point to respect the meeting time and each other. When I place this time on my schedule, I don’t move it unless it’s absolutely necessary. It reinforces in my mind the value that each session brings. That being said, it’s important to be understanding when things come up. Everyone has their respective responsibilities that require attention. It’s not lost on me that I have the luxury of a more flexible schedule than most and am able to reschedule when needed. Sometimes, you may just have cancel a session and that’s OK too. Just don’t make it a habit. If a timer frequency isn’t working, simply adjust it. It’s more important to be consistent than dogmatic about how you started.

Honesty is Critical

The most important ingredient to successful sessions is honesty. We need to hold each other’s hand but also hold each other’s feet to the fire. Just remember that the purpose is in support of our goals. We all need it, even when it doesn’t appear that way externally. Challenge your buddy to keep moving forward but balance it with encouragement along the way. Nudge, don’t push. If a project isn’t working, suss out if the problem is you need to move on or simply to “push through the dips”. A supportive and objective ear is valuable in discerning the difference. Don’t be afraid to express your opinions. I’ve gone back to the drawing board after I was told that a particular implementation was hard to understand or just “ugly” (my buddy didn’t use that word but I could tell from the delivery). I appreciated it because it saved me from shipping something that wouldn’t have been as well received. Don’t let your buddy go out in a ridiculous looking outfit. These sessions should be a sounding board, not an echo chamber.

ChuckyDoll
Don’t be this kind of buddy

Periodically Reevaluate

Life happens and there’s no point in having another meeting that brings stress or comprises your valuable time. You probably have enough of that at work/home. These sessions should be things that you look forward to. If you find that they aren’t providing value, joy and/or satisfaction, don’t be afraid to stop doing them. Being honest with your buddy, especially if this is a friend IRL, is far more important. You can always find another buddy or pickup sessions again at another point in the future.
Give Accountabili-Buddies a try and see if it helps you move toward completing something that you’ve been wanting to accomplish.

Coding By Train: Leg 2 (Washington, DC to Chicago)

After a snack in Union Station, I  boarded the train for Chicago. There was an option to make reservations for dinner in the dining car. Seating was limited and community seating is used, providing an opportunity for you to meet new people. I opted to skip dinner in lieu of hanging out in the observation section with few beers (shocker!). This time the only decent offering was a Sierra Nevada IPA. I spent most of the early evening looking at the beautiful trees, which had started changing colors and reinstalling Xcode. I made the mistake of not checking for compatibility of Yosemite with older versions (which I use to support legacy apps). Without wi-fi on this segment, I was forced to consume 1.6 GB my precious data plan’s monthly allocation. Note: Xcode 4.6 still does not run on Yosemite.

The most interesting part of the trip after sunset was listening to a One Direction look-alike try to chat up a young lady traveling solo. All was going swimmingly until his dad came over and started making jokes. I closed out the evening with some light reading (Marcus Zarra’s Core Data). I didn’t get much actual coding done this day but still felt productive.

As the first overnight portion of my trip, the lingering question was “Did I make a mistake in not getting a sleeper?” While the coach seats are roomier than anything I encountered on planes or buses, the reclined position was not optimal for sleeping but I managed to make do. In the future, I’ll have to invest in a neck pillow. Having no idea how far we traveled, I awoke thinking we reached Cleveland but kept thinking “this looks too nice. Why do they call this the Mistake By the Lake?”. After checking my map, I realized we were in Pittsburgh and it was only midnight.

For breakfast, I opted for scrambled eggs and grits, a brave choice considering I was no longer in the South. My fears were unfounded though, as whoever is in the kitchen knows their hominy. Perfect balance between thick and thin and paired well with the eggs. I was seated with a nice couple from England and a young man from Chicago. It was a nice conversation, mostly swapping travel stories and sharing options for exploring Chicago prior to my next departure.

Coding by Train: Leg 1 (Wilson, NC to Washington, DC)

For the next week and a half, I am experiencing a new form of travel. Rail. Rather than take my normal flight from RDU to DEN for one of our company meetings, I’ve decided to take the scenic route via an Amtrak train. The first leg of the trip is the Palmetto line from Wilson, NC to Washington, DC.

Cost

The cost of a ticket from Wilson, NC to Washington, DC is pretty reasonable at $51 each way. It’s a 4.5 hour ride and allows me to travel without dealing with the traffic issues that has aggravated me in the past.

Seating

The seats in the coach class are comparable to those on an airliner. The main difference being that if you aren’t comfortable, yo are free to get up and move about, I spent about half of the trip in the dining car. The food selections are bit limited but not without some variety. They ran out hot dogs pretty quickly but had pizza, sandwiches and tons of snacks. The beer selection was about all I could expect.  Lots of American standards with the only “real” choices being Heineken, Dog Fish and Sam Adams (my choice). Hoping for a better selection on the next leg as I am all about that barley life.

Connectivity

Internet is free on Amtrak and works well enough for pushing commits and general usage (email, Facebook). The connection is a bit spotty, particularly between Rocky Mount and Richmond, VA. While testing an app, I got tons of errors when calling remote services. I didn’t have to resort to using my phone’s data plan, though, which has allowed me to save my precious bytes.

Ride

People on the train have been very courteous and I had no worries about leaving my carry-on in the coach cabin while I went to the dining car (unless you have a sexy underwear fetish, why would you want my bag anyway?). The train does jostle a bit at times, reminding me of some of the more turbulent flights I’ve experienced but for most of the ride it’s pretty easy to read/write/type without trouble. If you are prone to motion sickness, it might be a bit difficult in spots. I was unable to fall asleep but that may have been due more to my excitement at starting the trip.

Lessons learned so far

I really enjoy not driving. And not having to sit still for hours on a plane. And not having to take my shoes off. And not going through metal detectors.

Bring an ample supply of snacks that you like. You are also not allowed to consume your private stock of alcohol outside of your sleeper cabin. With the price of the available sleeper at $1100, I’ll settle for Sam Adams.

My first thought upon arriving in DC was “why didn’t I do this sooner”. It took only a few minutes walking from Union Station to remind me why I loved working here years ago. There will be a lot more train rides to DC (an possibly points north) in the future.