Small Business

Burn Out

Disclaimer

I wanted to write this post to share my honest and personal experiences with burn out in the software and startup scene. I’m hoping that my experiences with getting to a stage of burn out can help someone identify if they’re going through the same thing. Hopefully someone will be able to take preventative actions before things get too serious, like I’ve been able to do. I’d also like to point out that I absolutely love my job (you’ll be reminded of that in my post) so my experience might be biased in some ways because of that. If I didn’t love what I do, I’d be finding another job where I did.

What is Burn Out?

In my earlier days at the company I work for, I remember my HR manager talking to me about burning out. It’s not unusual to pull all-nighters to work on something at a startup, and after hearing about this a few times, she mentioned to me that I need to be careful about this. She said I need to be careful that I don’t make a habit of doing things like that all the time or else I’ll “burn out”.

Now I had heard this phrase before, but never really spoke to anyone who had burnt out from too much work. From going to the University of Waterloo for co-op, I had heard about lucrative opportunities for some co-ops going out to The Valley to get jobs where they could work crazy overtime and make a killing. The idea was that on a co-op it was okay because after only four months you wouldn’t “burn out” too badly. Four months of 60-80 hour work weeks would be really intense and draining… But it couldn’t REALLY have that big of an impact on your life, right?

So that was really all I knew about burning out. 60-80 hour work-weeks for an extended period of time would result in burn out. And that meant… What? What did it mean to burn out? All I could think of was that you would become disinterested in your job and not want to work there any longer. You’d start to be tired all the time and resent going to work. You’d be an old cranky person in a potentially younger person body. Yeah, that sounds like it sucks. Is that far-off from what burning out actually is? Maybe not. But is there more to it?

Wikipedia (and yeah I’m referencing Wikipedia… deal with it) defines burning out as:

“a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work. Burnout has been assumed to result from chronic occupational stress (e.g., work overload)”

And that looks like it chalks up to what my initial definition of burn out used to be. It also mentions this though:

“The symptoms of burnout are similar to those of clinical depression”

So that one is a bit more extreme than the symptoms I had in my mind, previously. If you keep reading the Wikipedia article on burn out, you’ll get some spoilers for what I want to continue to talk about… The point is that burn out is actually pretty serious business and it’s a little bit more than being cranky and not liking your job.

My Early(ier) Startup Days

I had (and still have) my first job out of university at a company that was super small and appeared to have a really exciting future. A blossoming startup. In the really early days things were always moving incredibly fast. We’d turn out feature after feature in our software, triage critical bugs into the wee hours of the morning, ensure any customer we talked to was 100% pleased in every facet of the business, and we’d be doing all of this around the clock. It was exciting, and it still is exciting to be able to take pride in doing all of those things (although, there’s less fixing of critical bugs because… we’re like… perfect… or something). Having a really fast paced environment, a team of people you love to work with, an awesome product, and an incredible mission, it was easy to get sucked right into work.

I was still a 9 o’clocker. I hated (and I still dread) mornings. I’d like to sleep until noon every day if I could. I’d get into the office around 9 and head home at 5:30-6:00ish. It might mean I pick up the odd little thing at home or do a quick investigation into a bug if I heard something in an email, but otherwise those were my core hours. This worked out really well for me when I wanted to pull a really late night to work on something cool because I could still get enough rest to come into work.

I can think back to days (and I’m only talking about a couple of years ago, not like I’m some wise old man, so take that for what it’s worth) where I’d head into the office to triage bugs that we’d consider huge blockers until two or three in the morning. I didn’t have my bosses hounding me to do this, and whether they knew it or not, I didn’t care. I had pride in what we were making so I wanted to be part of ensuring that it was of the highest quality. I’d find myself trying to churn out some extra code on weekends in my spare time when I thought of something cool related to our product or business, or just to get us a little bit more ahead.

Between hitting the gym, hanging with my friends at bars/parties, playing video games, programming my own stuff for fun, or just relaxing at home, I’d find time every now and then to program stuff for work. Again, not because anyone forced me to… but because I wanted to. I wouldn’t let my gym/nutrition schedule slide during our hectic releases, and I know we had co-op students that can recall me popping out of the office for a couple of hours during crazy releases to ensure that was the case. I’ll make sacrifices into my other personal time, but ensuring I can get my gym time in is sacred to how I choose to live my life. I was still keeping in touch with my friends from university even though most of them moved away right after school, and I’d of course always have time for my close high school friends. Weekends were a great time to drive out (aside from having an old crappy car that was always overheating) to visit friends or have them drop in.

Early startup days were exciting and insanely busy. It was hard work but we always made sure we were having fun along the way.

… As Time Went On…

This trend kept up for a while… which was awesome for our company. We’ve received so many accolades for our success and it’s great to share a responsibility in that. We’d hear back from our clients about how we were making a difference in the world, and that was more fuel to keep doing such an amazing job. I knew by then that I loved where I worked and I loved what I was doing. I had received more responsibilities in my job by this point too, so I was not only programming but I became a people manager (which was an entirely new experience for me). There was more (and very different) work being introduced for my day-to-day activities, but it continued to be an exciting journey.

There were fewer late nights to triage bugs because we adapted to have much better systems in place. There were more people that knew different parts of our code base so I could rely on other people to help out. It was reassuring to know the right people were being brought on in our company to help out with all of the different pieces. Even though I felt like I had more work to do, the responsibilities were shared on some of the big pieces that I didn’t want to be entirely responsible for. That was a bit of a relief. The difference was that now I had to know the status of more things, which added pressure.

I started to be a little bit more distant with my friends. I think it’s a natural thing to happen after university (just like it was with high school) where some of your closer friends start to go off in different directions. It’s part of life. You can keep your close friends close, but you always know that you can catch up with your for-life friends even if you’re apart for long periods of time. Okay, let’s not get all emotional on the friend-front. I noticed that I was starting to put off visiting friends for certain work things at this point though. For example, if I had a big release I might skip someone’s birthday because I knew I had a stressful weekend coming up, and of course it didn’t help that we had a milestone with some project that was following right after too. I was trying to find ways to make it up to my friends for missing things because I felt bad about it.

My hobbies started to narrow a bit by this point. I’m still an avid gym goer, and I was during this time frame as well. I was going every single day like I had planned… even during those hectic releases. I was playing video games less because they weren’t really something that was productive. If I noticed I was spending a lot of time on video games, I could often convince myself that there was work to do that would have a positive impact if I could deliver it. Do I need to level up my digital wizard character again in some fantasy land that doesn’t mean anything, or could I knock off another feature from our roadmap? It’s not that hard to change your mind when you like what your building, so the choice would often come down to “what’s more productive”? This is also coming from a person who doesn’t watch TV ever because it doesn’t feel productive, so maybe I’m just weird.

After a couple of years of startup life, I was still loving it. Certain parts of my life were changing (less time for friends and hobbies… more and varied responsibilities at work), but the positives still outweighed the negatives. Besides, it feels really good to be productive.

And Now…

It’s been a few years now, and yes, I still absolutely still love my job, what we make, who I make it with, our customers, and all of the crazy things we go through. If you talk to anyone on my team, they’ll let you know I’m a morning person now. Except that I’m really not. I actually hate waking up early, but rolling out of bed at 7 to get to work for 7:30-7:45 means that I get some extra time in the morning to work. My team would also let you know that I work late too, so if you needed to pop into the office because you forgot something, you could come by my desk and chat with me. My core hours aren’t 9-5 anymore, but they’ve evolved to be about 8 to 6. If I’m not at the office by 8, some of the early risers actually get worried about where I’m at. If I’m out of the office before 6, people will ask me what’s wrong because if I’m leaving “early”, then something must be up. I don’t really take vacation now either. I’ve been bothered (for what I believe to be all of the right reasons) by my HR manager to take more vacation than I do. And yeah, this is the same HR manager that mentioned the burn out thing to me. I don’t really take vacation now because it chews into my work time. Work often carries over into the weekends too. I’m working those Valley hours now trying to get as much productivity as I can in my 24×7 window.

My job responsibilities? They’ve shifted to encompass more things, which feels great. It feels good to put in time and be able to take on more responsibilities. However, with more responsibilities comes more accountability for things (obviously) which can mean pressure build ups when certain things align. For example, instead of being responsible for a single project or deliverable, I might be responsible for two to four of these things. If they happen to line up in a short period of time, it can mean an immense amount of stress. It can also mean that I don’t feel comfortable taking vacation during those heavy periods. Unfortunately, the more prolonged that goes, the more I need vacation and the more I feel like I can’t take it.

My hobbies are really narrow now. I hit the gym every day still. I’m still adamant about this. However, my nutrition has been starting to slack. I enjoy eating healthy, preparing food, and knowing what I’m putting in my body. The latest thing to give way is food preparation  because it takes time, and it’s easy to get food in other ways. I’m not really proud of this or happy with this. Video games? I’ll take a day every now and then and binge on them to blow off some steam. Hobby programming? Not a chance. Blogging? Look at the frequency of my posts as of late to get an idea… It’s trailed off.  My current frame of mind seems to revolve around the idea of “if it’s not work, I probably shouldn’t be doing it”.

My friends? I feel like I only have my closest friends still and my colleagues (and I love my colleagues like family, so that’s not a bad thing). I’ve done a really poor job of keeping in touch with everyone else because I’m not making any time for them. I’ve been doing a pretty bad job of keeping in touch with m y immediate family too. I didn’t even realize it until my parents started pointing it out, which is obviously a problem.

So What’s Going On?

Right now I’d say thing in my life probably aren’t what I would consider great, despite the fact that I’m living to all of the goals that I’ve set for myself. I’ve graduated from university with a degree studying computer engineering. I have a full time job that I love and work hard at. I have a car that I like. I have a condo that I love. Why aren’t things great?

I’ll direct us back to Wikipedia for this interesting little list they have. They’ve actually defined a list of the stages of burning out, and I can speak to a lot of them in the order that they present them:

  • The Compulsion to Prove Oneself: New to the workforce. New to the job. New to the team. I saw great potential in the company, and I wanted to prove that I could be a driver in getting it to where it could be. I needed to prove to someone (myself? I don’t even know) that I could be that driving change. Could it be done without me? I’m sure my team could have gotten to where they are without me because they’re all talented people, and I didn’t bring anything to the table that they couldn’t have made up for. But I wanted people to look back and think that I was a primary driver in all of this.
  • Working Harder: You can likely see it in the transitions I described above. I’m not a morning person, but now I wake up early to get more time for work. I stay up later to get more time in for work. I trade out my hobbies so that I can make time for work. I have tried to find any way I can to increase the amount of work I can get done.
  • Neglecting Their Needs: I’ve probably been in denial on this one for a long time. I try to be as healthy as I can… But I’m neglecting my need to sleep sufficiently. I’m neglecting my need to spend time with friends and family. I often look at my “needs” as biological (good food and exercise) and my ability to keep a roof over my head. I’ve been neglecting the other pieces.
  • Displacement of Conflicts: This is apparently the stage when people first start to realize something is wrong. Is that why I’m writing this post in the first place? Am I only at this early stage of burn out? I feel like I’m showing traits of some of the following steps though.
  • Revision of Values: When reflecting on my current state compared to how I viewed myself at the end of university, I know things have changed. My highest valued trait is my ability to do work. If I don’t work as much or as hard, I value myself less. I’ve certainly become more emotionally blunt as well. Over the past few years, I’ve been referred to as robotic more and more frequently. Other people are noticing this too, so it’t not just me.
  • Denial of Emerging Problems: My personality type tends to ride the line between introvert and extrovert on certain things. I can tell that my ability to be extroverted has become extremely demanding on me mentally/emotionally and that often means that I’d choose to be alone versus with a group of people. The article also states increased amounts of aggression and sarcasm are present. For anyone that knows me well, sarcasm is my middle name… And when I’m irritated, sarcasm becomes my weapon of choice (which is really unfortunate). I also blame all of this on the amount of work that I have and pressure that I believe I’m under. I don’t blame any of this on how I’ve changed my value systems over the past couple years, which isn’t fair.
  • Withdrawal: I’m not quite sure if I’ve totally hit this step, but this really just refers to an increased level of wanting to be removed from social interactions.
  • Obvious Behavioral Changes: I suppose this is for other people to observe. I’ve picked up a few cues that other people are noticing I behave differently. An example is my reduced emotional intelligence and tolerance for certain things I don’t find logical at face value. I generally get irritated by this kind of thing and then turn to sarcasm.
  • Depersonalization: This point was interesting. While I don’t think that I’ve devalued myself or others necessarily, I do think that I view my life as a series of mechanical functions. It’s a rather boring way to look at life, but I’ll admit I look at things as a regular process and I look for ways to optimize my time to get more work done. The amount of work I can get done is how I determine my efficiency, and my life currently revolves around being more efficient.
  • Inner Emptiness: I think I’ve arrived close to this point, personally. As I mentioned above… I’ve set a few personal goals in my life: education, good job, car, and place to live. I feel that I’ve achieved those things, and I’m always working to improve in those areas. I still feel completely empty in terms of achievement though.
  • Depression: Next up? Depression. The great news is that I don’t feel depressed. At all. There’s a history of depression in both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family, so this is a fear of mine. I’m worried about falling into a depression, but I don’t believe I’m there yet. I actually think I’m a long way off from it. I think as far along into burning out that I might be, I can take the necessary steps to avoid getting to a depressed state.
  • Burnout Syndrome: This is the final stage that involves collapsing physically and emotionally. While I do have a feeling of emptiness, I’m still quite physically healthy and I think I have the right frame of mind for how I’m looking at my state of burn out. With that said, I’m quite confident that I’m not at this stage.

I’d encourage you to actually check out the article on this because it’s pretty interesting; especially if you think that you’re on your way to being burn out.

I haven’t been totally oblivious to what’s been happening over time. Here’s my own list of the things I’ve picked up on:

  • My emotional intelligence has been slipping and I’m always thinking in a more logical manner, often neglecting the feelings of others. I’ve had a few instances come up where I’ve said the wrong thing because I wasn’t really offering support for a friend, but instead telling them what I thought based on my more robotic personality.
  • Being around people is draining. I hate to admit this one, but I find spending time around other people is draining. Spending time around people I don’t know for a night might mean that I don’t feel like hanging out with anyone for a week or more.
  • I’m becoming socially challenged. When I need to meet new people, I don’t really know what to say anymore. I don’t have all that much to talk about now. I’d rather just be alone. Sure, I might be a programmer so people expect that my social skills aren’t up to average, but I’m actually noticing that I don’t know how to interact with new people now. It’s scary. You might not observe it if you meet me, which just means I’m doing a really good job of hiding it because that’s how I feel about it.
  • I have one hobby, and it’s lifting weights. Unfortunately, I happened to pick one hobby that not a ton of people find that exciting. I don’t make time for creating music anymore. I don’t hobby program that often. I rarely play video games. I don’t feel like I have time or interest to go pick up anything new.

The Silver Lining

If you’ve made it this far without clicking away, falling asleep, or both, then it probably sounds like a pretty lame post about my life. That’s not the goal of it though, and that’s certainly not how I feel about my situation. I’m actually just trying to understand all that’s going on with regards to going through burn out. With that said, I think there’s a handful of really positive things I’ve picked up on over the past few years with respect to this:

  • I’ve learned how I work most efficiently. I’ve had to work in a variety of scenarios on a variety of different projects. I know that I like working mostly in isolation or if I’m part of a team, then working around just those individuals. I like having distractions of my other responsibilities removed (which for my career, is often tricky given that I interface with many different people). I know that I like having some music going and being able to crank out code without interruption. I like to stay well caffeinated, and I like working in the evening more than I like working in the morning. I’m a typical programmer.
  • I’ve learned that I love working with the people at my office. Call it corny, but I have my work family, and I love to work with them. They have a high level of trust in me, and I’m able to trust them. It’s a great dynamic and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many great people.
  • I know that given enough time, I can work through most problems no matter how difficult they seem. I’ve had to come up with some really unique solutions to problems I originally thought near impossible.
  • I consider myself the hardest working individual that I know. I pride myself in this, but… perhaps that’s the whole problem here 🙂

What’s Next?

That’s the big question here. I’ve identified that I’m well on my way to burning out… So what’s next for me? If you’re going through something similar… What’s next for you?

  • Spend more time with friends. Hands down. Number one priority. I’m going to start making more time for friends.  If they’re out of town, I’m going to start offering to drive out to visit them more often if they don’t feel like making the journey here. Same goes for family. I’m getting regular Skype sessions set up with my family so we can stay in touch between visits. Friends and family are one of my needs that I’m neglecting, and I’m going to remedy that first.
  • Vacation. I used to believe I lived the work-hard-play-hard lifestyle, but it’s just the work hard lifestyle now. It’s time to take some vacation and acknowledge that I need it in order to actually stay sharp and operate at the best of my ability. Taking vacations and having time for yourself (and/or your friends/family) is hugely beneficial. Just because it doesn’t let me turn out more lines of code doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.
  • Tell my HR manager she’s been right for a long time. And this will be my first step in seeking some external help. The first step is admitting the problem… and the next step is getting help for it 🙂

I’m keeping my list of goals pretty short for now. I need to start making changes in how I operate and then reassess how these changes are affecting my life. I’m expecting positive changes, but I’m not sure how fast.

If you think you’re on the way to potentially burning out, I think the most important thing you can do is be aware of it. I still don’t believe there’s anything wrong with working hard and pouring your heart into something you love doing. But like anything, the more time you dedicate to something and take away time from other places, you’ll find that it starts to change the person that you are. Pay attention to it. Be aware of it. It’s all that you can do to prevent yourself from getting to a state where you feel like it’s too late for you to make a change.

It’s never too late for you to work your way back from burning out.


Hack The North

Hack The North

Hack The North… What The Hack Is That?

Hack The North is Canada’s largest international hackathon. It’s big. It’s bad. It’s awesome. Okay, but what does that even mean?

The idea is that 1000 people get together from all over the world in an event where they’re given 36 hours to create amazing technology hacks. There’s a lack of sleep but no lack of amazing ideas and hacked together proof of concepts that show incredible innovation. Sponsors are present to hand out prizes for best usage of their product or API to competitors as well as mentor them and provide help with problem solving. This year, Hack The North was hosted at The University of Waterloo.

Bro, Do You Even Hack?!

This was my first time ever at a hackathon. I’ve participated in the Ontario Engineering Competition (OEC) which is much smaller scale event with a similar structure–A bunch of students get together and have to come up with a design to solve a problem. I even ran OEC in 2010 with some schoolmates (you might know them at Thalmic Labs) which was a blast. However, this weekend I was sitting on the other side of the table.

I got to hang out with a group of my colleagues at Hack The North at the Magnet Forensics booth. We had a great time representing our company and meeting tons of incredible students from all over the world. We provided assistance where we could with some of the challenges that students were facing, and spoke to them about the important role that our software plays in the life of a forensic examiner/investigator.

What’d You See There?

When I first showed up at Hack The North, it was around 9:00 on Friday night. I got there just in time for the opening ceremonies, which I thought were great. They had live Q&A with a former Facebook employee who has “made it” in the software industry and intros from some of the major sponsors at the event.

Hack The North - Opening Ceremonies

Everyone getting settled for the opening ceremonies at Hack The North.

From that point on, I spent the rest of the time hanging around the Magnet booth… But that doesn’t mean I didn’t see anything awesome. We had people from all over the place coming by to talk to us and pick up some Magnet swag. We handed out an incredible amount of stress balls and couldn’t seem to keep a sufficient supply of them coming. We had our stickers showing up on everything from fuzzy viking hats to laptops to shirts to megaphones. You name it, our stickers made it onto it.

Hack The North - Magnet Viking

Akshay Joshi decorated his hat with Magnet stickers!

Hack The North - Magnet Megaphone

One of the Hack The North organizers was sporting a Magnet sticker on his megaphone.

On the last day of Hack The North, we had participants coming up to our booth to demonstrate some of their awesome hacks. We got to see how Thalmic’s Myo was being incorporated or how other vendors’ APIs were being leveraged to do some really awesome things. We were really impressed with some of the things we saw.

What’s Next?

I think even after the first night of being at Hack The North I was trying to think of what we could do next time or if we even wanted to come back… The answer to the latter was quickly an “absolutely yes!”, so I’m pretty confident we’ll be making an appearance at Hack The North again. There were so many great people at this even that we spoke with that it would be silly not to go back.

I think next year we’d like to participate even more. We learned a lot about the different ways that we could get involved, so things like speaking sessions or workshops would be awesome to get people involved with. We’ll definitely have more stress balls and unique giveaways to please the masses!

Thanks to everyone who made it out to Hack The North. Stay in touch with us! We’d love to hear more from you.

Hack The North - Kelly and Nick

Kelly and I with our #Truth T-shirts and other Magnet gear on at our booth!


Continuous Improvement – One on One Tweaks (Pt. 2)

Continuous Improvement - One on One Tweaks (Pt. 2)

Continuing With Continuous Improvement

I wrote about continuous improvement before and how I’ve been trying to tie that into my leadership role through changes to my one on one process. To recap, at our organization we try to roll continuous improvement into most things that we do. We’re well aware that we’re not going to get things perfect the first time, so as long as we have a process in place to learn, reflect, and adapt, then we can make changes to better our situation. It’s something that’s ongoing and it doesn’t really have an end. So long as your organization is growing and changing over time, or the environment in which your organization is changing over time, having continuous improvement baked into your culture is key to success.

Previously, I mentioned that at Magnet Forensics I hold regular one on ones with my team members. I made a tweak to them that included summarizing notes before holding the one on ones and saw a great improvement. I felt that for now this would be a positive change that I’d like to continue on with. I’ll keep reflecting on whether or not this makes sense over time.

What’s next, then?

Recognition

Recognition is something that I think is fundamental to keeping people engaged, but it looks different for everyone. When I comment on things or share things on social media, I often reflect on how recognition is incredibly important. It’s been a goal of mine to try and do a better job at recognizing my team members for the hard work they’re always putting in.

That was my next hack for continuous improvement. How could I leverage my one on one time to do a better job at recognition? Well, if recognizing my team for things they do is high on my priority list, then it should fall high on the one on one discussion list. The first thing, actually.

So now that I create a summary of topics to go over in our one on ones, I reflect on what my team members say they work on and I toss in other stuff they may not have mentioned. Did they have big accomplishments in our sprint? Did they have things outside of work? Did they have tweaks they suggested for the team to try? Accomplish goals they set for themselves? I try to gather that information and comment on a couple of things at the start of our one on ones now.

I want the team to know that their hard work and their success does not go unnoticed and that they should all keep working to the best of their abilities.

Results?

I’ve only been doing this recently, so I can’t quite say that I’ve noticed big differences. In my opinion, the team has been entering a solid groove over the past few months but it’s hard for me to say whether or not these one on one changes had any impact. I like to think that they did. I’ve heard from several people that they’re really happy with where the team is at.

Has this brought about anything negative? Were there any cons to rolling out this change? I’d say no, not at all. It’s no extra effort for me to reflect on what accomplishments each team member has add. I mean, I’m not writing out lengthy documentation on each accomplishment, but I jot down a couple of points on what I want to call out. I think if anything, that quick exercise has been really positive for myself, if not for the other team member.

So, in the end, I think this small tweak has been a positive change for me in terms of doing a better job of recognizing the team. I also hope that the team has a better understanding that myself and others do see their hard work and efforts.

Keep on it, Team Magnet!


Continuous Improvement – One on One Tweaks

Continuous Improvement - One on One Tweaks

Continuous Improvement – Baby Steps!

Our development team at Magnet Forensics focuses a lot on continuous improvement. It’s one of the things baked into a retrospective often performed in agile software shops. It’s all about acknowledging that no system or process is going to be perfect and that as your landscape changes, a lot of other things will too.

The concept of continuous improvement isn’t limited to just the software we make or the processes we put in place for doing so. You can apply it to anything that’s repeated over time where you can measure positive and negative changes. I figured it was time to apply it to my leadership practices.

The One on One

I lead a team of software developers at Magnet, but I’m not the boss of any of them. They’re all equally my peers and we’re all working toward a common goal. One of my responsibilities is to meet with my team regularly to touch base with them. What are things they’ve been working on? What concerns do they have with the current state of things? What’s going well for them? What sort of goals are they setting?

The one on ones that we have setup are just another version of continuous improvement. It’s up to me to help empower the team to drive that continuous improvement, so I need to facilitate them wherever I can. Often this isn’t a case of “okay, I’ll do that for you” but a “yes, I encourage you to proceed with that” type of scenario. The next time we meet up, I check in to see if they were able to make headway with the goals they had set up and we try to change things up if they’ve hit roadblocks.

No Change, No Improvement

I had been taking the same approach to one-on-ones for a while. I decided it was time for a change. If it didn’t work, it’s okay… I could always try something else. I had a good baseline to measure from, so I felt comfortable trying something different.

One on ones often consisted of my team members handing me a sheet of past actions, concerns, and status of goals before we’d jump into a quick 20 minute meeting together. I’d go over the sheet with them and we’d add in any missing areas and solidify goals for next time. But I wanted a change here. How helpful can I be if I get this sheet as we go into the room together?

I started asking to get these sheets ahead of time and started paraphrasing the whole sheet into a few bullet points. A small and simple change. But what impact did this have?

Most one on ones went from maxing out 20 minutes to only taking around 10 minutes to cover the most important topics. Additionally, it felt like we could really deep dive on topics because I was prepared with some sort of background questions or information to help progress through roadblocks. Myself and my team member could blast through the important pieces of information and then at the end, if I’d check to make sure there’s nothing we’d missed going over. If I had accidentally omitted something, we’d have almost another 10 minutes to at least start discussing it.

Trade Off?

I have an engineering background, so for me it’s all about pros and cons. What was the trade-off for doing this?

The first thing is that initially it seemed like I was asking for the sheets super early. Maybe it still feels like I’m asking for them early. I try to get them by the weekend before the week where I start scheduling one on ones, so sometimes it feels like people had less than a month to fill them out. Is it a problem really? Maybe not. Maybe it just means there’s less stuff to try and cram into there. I think the benefit of being able to go into the meeting with more information on my end can make it more productive.

The second thing is that since I paraphrase the sheet, I might miss something that my team member wanted to go over. However, because the time is used so much more effectively, we’re often able to cover anything  that was missed with time to spare. I think there’s enough trust in the team for them to know that if I miss something that it’s not because I wanted to dodge a question or topic.

I think the positive changes this brought about have certainly outweighed the drawbacks. I think I’ll make this a permanent part of my one on one setup… Until continuous improvement suggests I should try something new!


Techno Security 2014

Magnet Forensics Booth at Techno Security 2014

Techno Security… What’s it all about?

Techno Security is a conference that was hosted by NUIX this year in Myrtle Beach. As that first link suggests, this conference has been bringing IT security professionals together for 16 years now. Techno Security doesn’t aim to be the biggest conference of it’s kind–just the best.

At the Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort this year, Techno Security capitalized on a lot of the hotels real estate. There was a large banquet hall style room that was opened up for a great host of exhibitors. There were so many exhibitors that there was even overflow into the hallways surrounding the main exhibit area. On the other sides of those hallways there were rooms and smaller halls for training sessions. Even the halls in the basement of the hotel were packed with IT security and forensic-related sessions.

First Conference Perspective

This was my first conference not only with Magnet Forensics, but also in my professional career. While I’m not a product manager within our organization, I was selected to go to act as an ambassador for our primary development team. It was a great experience on so many levels.

Firstly, hanging around our booth during the day was absolutely incredible. We were almost always swarmed by people asking about our product or organization. We even had people coming up just to tell us that they love our product or that they wanted to thank us for having great interactions with our team back in Canada. It was almost overwhelming–but in a good way 🙂

I was able to sit in on some sessions and hear about what some other organizations are doing. There were companies like Berla that I had never even heard of that provided a high level overview of some of the really cool technology they’re working with. There were companies like Cellebrite and NUIX (that I had heard of) that provided really informative sessions on how to use their products and the benefits they offer. Not only were the sessions packed with information, but I really got a feel for what the digital forensics community is like outside of interactions with Magnet. It truly does feel like a tight knit group of people that at the core of it have one common goal–uncovering the truth.

One of the best experiences I had while at Techno Security was the “unofficial social events” that would take place each night after all of the sessions were done and exhibitors were packed up. Our team would get together outside with a couple of drinks in the warm weather–and no, that’s not why this was one of the best experiences–and some experts in the industry would meet up with us to talk. It was great to get to meet some customers and get a glimpse of what their lives are like: dealing with tons of cases, working through murder cases, working through child abuse cases, etc… It’s impossible for me to fully understand what it’s like for them, but getting a peek was more than enough for me. Again, customers were letting us know just how big of an impact Internet Evidence Finder is making in their investigations. Knowing that you’re making a difference for someone is one of the most rewarding feelings, and I hope the Magnet team truly understands that we are having a huge impact.

Closing Comments

Techno Security was not only packed with informative sessions and vendors with really awesome technology–it was filled with people who spend their days trying to get to the truth. It was amazing to hear all of the positive comments from customers and to get a glimpse of what their lives are like performing investigations. I’d love to go back next year to learn more and reconnect with all of the great people I got to meet.

Nick and Jad at the Magnet booth - Techno Security 2014

There’s me providing The Boss Man Jad Saliba with an arm rest at the Magnet booth at Techno Security 2014


Back On The Radar

Back On The Radar

No More Silence.

I’ve been pretty quiet over the past month and a bit, but that doesn’t mean that nothing is going on behind the scenes. I’ve been busy (maybe a little bit too busy?) and I haven’t really put in the time to create or share any content online. When I over commit, something has to give, unfortunately.

Okay, so what’s been happening?

New Hires!

We’ve brought on some amazing talent to help at work, and that’s always incredibly exciting. We had Chris Sippel return to us after finishing up his final portion of school. Chris is a bit quirky (and that’s really why we love him) and started with us in the early days. Pumped to have you back, buddy! We brought on board Jason Gregory and Matthew Beamer who bring a host of skills that are truly going to help our team. Last but not least, we have Graeme Harvey to help ensure that we maintain the highest quality in our software.

Again, I’m excited to having all of the new guys on board. They’re truly going to have a huge positive impact on our team. Oh! Did I mention Graeme has a blog on testing? Check out ITestStuff.ca. It’s still young but I’m sure there will be some cool content going up there 🙂

Magnet In The News

Of course Magnet Forensics hasn’t been out of the news. Here’s a few cool articles about stuff that’s happened over the last couple of months:

Conferences

Magnet just came back from CEIC in Las Vegas. I wasn’t able to attend, but from speaking with my colleagues, the show was a great success. It’s always awesome hearing customer feedback. Knowing that we’re making a difference is really what drives us. It’s also important for us to hear if users are finding parts of the software hard to use to so we can address it.

This weekend I have the pleasure of being able to join Magnet at Techno Security in Myrtle Beach. This will be my first conference with Magnet, so I’m pretty excited. I’m really hoping to get some of that first-hand customer interaction and hear about how people are using our software. I’m sure I’ll be able to share more once I’m back

Hopefully you’ll see a bit more from me on your radar!


Happy St. Patty’s Day – Weekly Article Dump

Happy St. Patty's Day - Weekly Article Dump (Image by http://www.sxc.hu/)

Happy St. Patty’s Day!

I hope everyone who was celebrating St. Patrick’s Day was able to not only have fun but stay safe doing so. Of course, when there is drinking associated with a holiday it can be easy to get carried away. It’s always a great idea to have driving arrangements or the option to sleep at a friend’s place set up before you head out to celebrate.

This year I was able to celebrate with a handful of my university friends that I don’t get to see as often as I’d like. I haven’t been drinking much at all now for nearly half a year, so I stuck to my one Irish coffee to meet my liquor allowance. We all had a blast discussing where our lives have taken us so far, and it’s great to see everyone doing so well. I was excited to hear that more people are hoping to relocate into or closer to Waterloo!

Happy (belated) St. Patty’s Day everyone, and I hope the recovery has gone smoothly today.

Articles

  • Empower Your Visionaries: Steve Faktor talks to us about who the visionaries are in your company and why you should be empowering them. Steve says that the visionaries within our organizations are frustrated by bureaucracy and will often leave to go start their own Next-Big-Thing. So what should we be doing with them? What can we do with them? Well… challenge them! Challenge them to make their radical ideas a reality. Extend the boundaries you’ve placed on them so that they can try to make their vision a reality and make them feel comfortable with the possibility of failure. Wouldn’t it be great if they’re next big thing was the next big thing for your organization?
  • Don’t Forget Me! Ensuring Distributed Team Members Aren’t Left Out: In this article, Gary Swart touches on how to make sure remote employees are kept engaged. Working remotely can be difficult not only for the person offsite, but for the people that are supposed to interface with the person offsite. Timezone differences, cultural differences (i.e. different holidays, for example), and the fact that you can’t interact in person are all things that make remote team members a lot trickier to work with. Gary suggests using the ICE (Identify, Clarify, and Extend) principle, which he outlines in his post. He also suggests using things like video conferencing so that you can pick up more on body language when you’re meeting remotely and even ensuring that you try to keep your technology homogeneous so that information can be shared easily.
  • Inspire Creativity at Work With All 5 of Your Senses: A good friend of mine shared this with me the other day, and I thought it was worth passing along. Many people don’t pay attention to it, but if you work a traditional office job, you spend a lot of time in the office. Even if you can get a little boost from your environment, it can potentially go a long way over time. This mashable is an infographic about how different colors and ambience in the office can be used to enhance (or restrict) different aspects of your thinking and interaction. If your work environment isn’t playing into your senses, you may be missing out on a positive effect!
  • Great leaders aren’t afraid to take risks: According to Alex Malley, risk taking is a very important part of leadership. He has a handful of suggestions for gearing yourself up for taking risks in your leadership role such as separating the personal aspect of failure from your role. If you’ve set yourself up with talented people, you have open communication with your manager, and you’re prepared for the “worst case”, then you should feel more comfortable taking risks.
  • The complete guide to listening to music at work: I’ve personally given up on listening to music at work during core hours due to the nature of my role (I’ve been told this is “humblebragging“, but realistically I’m just making myself more approachable). However, when I’m cranking through some development work on my own and I know I’m not going to be approached by anyone, I love to turn up some tunes. I thought Adam Pasick had a pretty cool write up about the different aspects of listening to music at work. Essentially, different styles of music may be better for different tasks at work.  I think it’s worth a read if one of the first things you do when you get into the office is strap on your headphones!

Thanks for reading! Follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week.


Snow Tubing with Team Magnet – Weekly Article Dump

Snow Tubing with Team Magnet - Weekly Article Dump

Snow Tubing

First off… If you haven’t ever gone snow tubing, get off your computer and get to your nearest snow tubing park.

Now that you’re back from that, we’re all on the same page. Friday was another one of Magnet Forensics‘ staff events and we were fortunate enough to go tubing at Chicopee Tube Park. I hadn’t been snow tubing before–only water tubing–and I haven’t even been on a ski hill or anything for years. To be honest, snow tubing to me seemed like a bit of a glorified crazy-carpet experience which would be fun, but get boring after a couple of runs.

I’ll be the first to admit I was dead wrong. Snow tubing was probably the most awesome way for the entire Magnet family to cut loose this quarter. Most people either love or hate the snow, so finding a big group activity for a company to participate in outside in the Canadian winter can be tricky. Snow tubing was perfect though. It wasn’t too intense that people had to shy away from it and it was exciting enough to keep us entertained for the few hours we were there.

Kelly, you did a great job coordinating the staff event! It was great to see everyone come out and have a blast. Thanks for being awesome, Team Magnet.

Articles

  • The Difference Between Managers and Leaders: In this article by Ilya Pozin, he touches on some of the differences between managing and leading. In my opinion, there’s often the idea that managing people is terrible and leading people is the best thing you can ever do. I get that kind of vibe from this article, so I wanted to point it out right at the beginning. I think that a good way to look at it is like this: Being a manager does not make you a leader, but being a good leader sets you up to be a great manager. Leading and managing are different things, and the better you get at leading the better you can become at managing. With that said, I think the article touches on a lot of great leadership points.
  • 5 Ways to Finish What You Start (and Why You Often Don’t)Susan Perry writes about something that a lot of us likely experience pretty regularly. You pick up something new only to end up abandoning it not too much later. Starting a new project or hobby is exciting and it can be really easy to dive head first into something for this very reason. However, if you find that you always start things and never finish them, it might be worth paying attention to some of Susan’s suggestions.
  • 15 Benefits Of Being An Intelligent Misfit: Isaiah Hankel talks to us about what an “intelligent misfit” is in this article. The idea is that swarm thinking is more about just reacting to things, and that’s not overly beneficial. By being unique and standing out, you actually attract others that are unique like yourself with shared interests. As a result, you end up building a network of people that are truly like you instead of conforming to a group. Isaiah goes on to list 15 benefits to standing out in his article and it’s certainly worth the read.
  • Build the perfect teamPeter Mitchell talks about what ingredients you need to build your perfect team. Establishing a common culture and attitude are things that are definitely among the top. Creating clear goals and objectives for your team will also help pave the way for success. One of the most important parts of creating a team is coming up with complementary skill sets. This can be difficult because you want to create a team with people that think alike but have different skills–and often this is hard for people to separate.
  • Fire, Being Tired.: John Hope Bryant gives us a different perspective on what it means to be tired. He says that it’s not just about lacking energy to do something or not getting enough sleep. Being tired is more about losing interest in something. Why? Well even when you’re run down or low on sleep the things that you’re truly interested in can get you excited. John’s suggestion is stick to things that truly interest you–be honest with yourself. Don’t stay in a job where you’re watching the clock for the end of the day. Find your drive and your motivation.

Follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week. Thanks!


Recognition: One of Team Magnet’s Masterminds

Recognition: One of Team Magnet's Masterminds (Image by http://www.sxc.hu/)

Background

At Magnet Forensics, I lead an awesome team of people with the mission of creating forensics software to help investigators around the world solve crimes. We’re stacked with incredible people–and not only on the team I’m on, but company-wide. We do a great job of recognizing our achievements as an organization and as a team, but also on an individual level. If someone has gone above and beyond, we don’t keep that a secret.

I’ve been trying to make more of a conscious effort to recognize the people I work with, especially in ways that are unique to my own style. I think recognizing people in person is important, but you also need to consider your setting. Sometimes recognition in a public forum isn’t actually appreciated or isn’t nearly as effective as appreciating in a one-on-one setting. I find even for myself that I get uncomfortable when being recognized in a public setting.

With that said, I wanted to recognize an individual I work with without shining too much of a spotlight directly her. Thank you, Christine, for all of your hard work.

Broken Retrospectives

At Magnet, we try to adhere to some agile philosophies.  It lets us pivot pretty quickly to customer needs–which keeps them quite happy–and still lets us deliver rock solid software. We develop in short cycles called “sprints” and at the end of every sprint we have a retrospective to look back at what worked well and what didn’t. That way in the next sprint we can make improvements. Keep the good stuff, drop the broken stuff and try out a thing or two that’s new. This is excellent for continuous improvement unless…

They don’t work.

We would run our retrospectives religiously, but it seemed like nobody really wanted to be there. It was a seemingly forced meeting where I felt a lot of the time I was trying to stir up conversation. By the end of the meeting, just about everyone would have chimed in, but there weren’t a lot of ideas being generated. It was long, boring, and didn’t accomplish any of the goals we wanted it to. Thus, our development cycles stayed basically the same for a while. They worked and they didn’t appear to be broken enough that people wanted to see change.

Things remained the same until I received some input from Christine. When Christine read an article on LinkedIn called I Like, I Wish, I Wonder, she thought it might have some positive carry-over to our development process. If Christine thought that it might spark a change in our retrospectives, that was more change than I was hearing from the team in general (including myself, to be fair). So I decided we’d give it a shot.

Annnd we haven’t looked back since.

I won’t go too in-depth on how I Like, I Wish, I Wonder has rocked our retrospective world because I want to save that for a separate write-up. The point is that it did, and it’s all thanks to Christine for digging it up for us. We’ve started to completely overhaul different aspects of our development process now that retrospectives are effective. I really started to realize just how big of an impact it had when I was explaining some of the development process changes to our CEO. I remember thinking “Wow… If we wouldn’t have switched our retrospective process, we’d be nowhere near as efficient”.

So, thank you for the retrospective idea, Christine. For anyone else looking to flip retrospectives around, try out the I Like, I Wish, I Wonder scheme.

Personalities

I can imagine a lot of people in the development world don’t think too much about personalities. I know I didn’t. Sure, everyone is different. Everyone has their own effective ways of communicating, things they like, things they don’t like, and optimal situations for working. I get it. Now let me go do my work and you go do your work. In an ideal world, you just assume everyone can figure out everyone else that they’re working with, and things will just be fine. Except things are never ideal, and it never hurts to put in a bit more effort to make sure you can get your team up to speed.

So we tried something out. I worked with my HR manager (read: communicated a potential scenario for our development team, let her run free with her awesome creative ideas, and then helped her where she needed it) to roll out a Myers-Briggs personality test for a small sub-team of our development team. If you aren’t familiar with the tests or the concept, check out the link and read up on it! We figured it would be best to try this kind of thing out on a small part of the team to see if they would find value in it, and if so, we’d try the whole team.

After we rolled out the Myers-Briggs results with the small team, the benefits were immediately noticeable. We didn’t even have to leave the room before seeing the benefits. We knew there was some potential here, so we were already excited to try it out with the rest of the team. With everyone being aware of how other individuals may act and react when communicating and working, it makes a big difference in how particular scenarios are approached.

Thank you, Christine, for making differences in personality something to be cognizant of and then supporting our roll-out of Myers-Briggs. For anyone reading this that manages a team or is part of one… Consider the personality types of the people you work with. Maybe you don’t need a formalized Myers-Briggs plan, but it’s worth raising awareness of it.

Thank You, Christine

Christine, you’ve made a lot of great contributions to the team and I’d like to thank you for them. Our development processes have been able to greatly improve thanks to your initial suggestion. I’m sure we would have adapted over time, but your suggested tweaks have certainly acted as a catalyst. Your furthered support with the personality type analysis and subsequent rollout was also greatly appreciated. You were able to participate in our mini-experiment and offered great feedback to turn it into a success for the entire team.

Thank you. I’m looking forward to what this year will bring!


Swamped But Ready To Push Forward

Swamped But Ready To Push Forward (Image by http://www.sxc.hu/)

Mini Update

Just thought I’d get a quick one out there to say I’m still here. To be honest, I haven’t kept up to speed with my weekly updates or even sharing articles on social media like I try to do on a regular basis. But that’s just how life has been the past few weeks, and there’s no sense beating myself up over it. Time to acknowledge it, and time to push forward.

Work has kept me swamped with things to do. I’ve been busier than normal the past few weeks and it’s largely due to things going on at work. But I’m not complaining. I actually prefer times at work when I feel nearly overwhelmed. The added pressure (whether artificially inflated by my own doing or not) really helps me buckle down and become productive. It’s a great feeling to be able to reflect on a week’s worth of work and know that a lot got done. It’s even better to see the culmination of your work after several months and how far it’s come. If work weren’t enjoyable, I’m sure I’d have a completely different take on this one!

I’ve noticed that my post on creating a tabbed Android user interface has still kept up with a ton of traffic. I’m actually getting some private requests for help outside of public forums regarding this post, and I’ve been falling a bit behind on those too. It’s great to see people are actually benefiting from this blog post though!

What I’ve Been Doing

Not blogging. But you already knew that!

Well I mentioned work has been pretty busy. Magnet Forensics has launched another update to Internet Evidence Finder, so we’re now on version 6.3 of the product. Even though our process for launching a new release has come a long way, there’s still a ton of extra work and stress that comes with any release. Any potential bug that shows its face has to be closely considered for whether or not it should block the software from being released. Any odd behaviour with the application needs to be acknowledged and documented if it won’t be fixed for the release–So if customers contact us, our tech support can easily guide them through workarounds. Of course while that’s happening, the development team is already hashing out how to solve it for the next release.

There’s a lot involved for a release. It’s hectic but it’s exciting. Reflecting on everything that went into the latest release of our software, I’m still amazed. Every time we put out a new version we always make the previous release seem like it was a minor update. I’m extremely proud of the development team at Magnet for being able to rally and put together an awesome product, and of everyone at Magnet for being able to have an awesome version launch.

Thanks Team Magnet!

What’s Around The Corner

So I had actually started on a few things–I swear. I just didn’t get around to finishing them:

  • I have a recognition blog post I want to rework and get put out. This one is long overdue, but it’s near completion.
  • Two assorted leadership/startup-esque blog posts are in the works. These ones still need a ton of work.
  • My leadership blueprint blog post! I mentioned a while back now that I wanted to do a post on this, but I haven’t started yet. I’m really looking forward to this one.
  • Actually posting and sharing on social media again. Sorry!
  • Weekly article dumps. Again, once I start sharing, I can get back on track with these!

There’s a whole lot on the way!


  • Nick Cosentino

    Nick Cosentino

    I work as a team lead of software engineering at Magnet Forensics (http://www.magnetforensics.com). I'm into powerlifting, bodybuilding, and blogging about leadership/development topics over at http://www.devleader.ca.

    Verified Services

    View Full Profile →

  • Copyright © 1996-2010 Dev Leader. All rights reserved.
    Jarrah theme by Templates Next | Powered by WordPress