Tag: startup

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.


v6.2 of IEF from Magnet Forensics! – Weekly Article Dump

IEF v6.2 from Magnet Forensics

v6.2 Release: Mobile Forensics Upgrade

I like to be able to use these weekly article dumps for little summaries of what’s going on in my work life, and I think this is a perfect opportunity to acknowledge our latest product update at Magnet Forensics. We just pushed out v6.2 of Internet Evidence Finder and we’re incredibly proud of the work we’ve done. Like any release we have, we pour our hearts into making sure it’s a few big steps forward. We’ve done our best to listen to customers and work with them to address any bugs, but we’re always trying to push the boundaries in our features.

Some of the new offerings in v6.2 of Internet Evidence Finder include:

  • Dynamic App Finder: We now offer a solution for recovering mobile chat applications that we may not have otherwise supported. This is a great discovery tool and has proved to be very powerful even in our early tests. Read more about it here. v6.2’s secret weapon!
  • Chat Threading: Visualize chat threads within our software as they look in their native applications. If you’re looking at a Skype conversation between two or more people, it will show up just like it does from within Skype. A lot less jumping between records to piece together a conversation.
  • L2T CSV Support: L2T CSV files can now be loaded directly into our timeline viewer.
  • Case Merging: Combine multiple IEF cases together or pull in data from TLN/L2T CSV files.
  • More Artifacts: v6.2 is no different than previous releases when it comes to adding new artifacts!
    • AVI carving
    • Hushmail
    • TOR chat
    • Flash cookies
    • Offline gmail
    • Additional Chrome support
    • … and more.

If you’re a forensic investigator, v6.2 is going to be an awesome upgrade or addition to your suite of tools. If you’re not, then check out Magnet Forensics to see what we’re all about and so proud of what we do. Congrats to Magnet on an awesome release of v6.2!

Articles

  • In praise of micromanagement: I’m still very early on in my career, so it’s difficult for me to have an opinion on this article and back it up. It’s a bit controversial, so of course I want to take the other side and disagree with it.There’s that, and I have some discomfort when it comes to Apple so I like to turn off when I see articles on Apple or Steve Jobs. Regardless, I thought that there was an interesting perspective in this piece to share, and maybe even if I can’t see it right now, others would benefit from reading through it. Is there a place for micromanagement? Can it be done right? Are people like Steve Jobs just an exception to an otherwise good rule?
  • The Myth of the Rockstar Programmer: Scott Hanselman says that rockstar programmers don’t exist–rockstar teams do. I completely agree. When your company is so small that you essentially don’t have teams, this might not hold. Maybe you have three developers and each one is a rockstar in their own right. That’s probably a it different. More often than not, you’re not working with one or two people developing a product for a company. It’s not about having one rockstar with all the programming super-powers take charge on the team. It’s about creating a team where everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses and then organizing them to operate at full efficiency. Teams. Not individuals.
  • Strengthen and Sustain Culture with Storytelling: This is an article that I can really align myself with. Nancy Duarte writes about something that’s often lost when small startups are transitioning into small businesses. It’s entirely possible some companies don’t even make it out of the start up phase because this thing is already going south. Storytelling. It’s important to be able to share stories with people as you bring them on board to your company. They need to know where the company has been and how it’s gotten to where it is. New hires need to feel like their part of the family as they are brought on board, and without conveying your company’s mission and values properly you start to lose that alignment.
  • Ignoring Your Test Suite: Another programming article here, but this post by Jesse Taber has some deeper lessons to be learned, in my opinion. The article talks about something not all programmers do, but should: write code that tests their code. This lets developers catch problems early on (because catching a problem now might cost a bit of time, but catching the problem later could be devastating). Running code tests regularly is a process that allows you to ensure the foundation of your software product is structurally sound. But what happens when you have flaky tests? What happens when you introduce a new failure and don’t bother to fix it? After all, you have 3000 tests, and you know why test ABC is failing anyway. Don’t put processes in place just for the sake of having them. Everything you do should be done for a reason, because your business doesn’t have time for anything else. Don’t enable poor habits. If you’re noticing problems in your process, identify why they are happening and look to get them fixed. Maybe you need to adjust your process because it doesn’t fit anymore.
  • Cameron Sapp – Recognizing The New Guy: This one is from me. I wrote up a little recognition piece about a colleague and teammate, Cam Sapp. I want to be able to write more recognition posts, but I started with Cam. He’s been a great addition to our team both from a technical and work culture perspective. All of Magnet is glad to have him on board.
  • Don’t Work For Your Boss, Work For Your Company: I thought that Ilya Pozin had written something great when I cam across this article. Hierarchies in the workplace can often cause disconnect and disengage employees. So why do we have them? I’m not against hierarchies–I think they serve a purpose. However, I think necessary measures need to be put in place to ensure that hierarchies aren’t detracting from the company’s goals. In this article, Ilya says to not work for your boss. Your goals at work should not be to satisfy individuals or only do things for your boss so you can get your promotion. Align yourself to the company values and the mission of the company. You’ll remain engaged and happy to do the work you’re doing. In the end, if you’re not happy doing work that’s aligned with your company’s mission, vision, and values, you might be in the wrong place.
  • Creativity and the Role of the Leader: This article discusses where ideas come from and how leaders fit in to the grand scheme of things. The traditional mindset is that ideas come from the top and then are pushed down to employees to carry out the work necessary for bringing the idea to fruition. However, it’s increasingly more common where ideas are actually generated by employees, and it’s the responsibility of the leader for nurturing idea creation and ensuring that ideas that are aligned with the company’s mission can succeed.
  • Will Your Firm Endure?: In this article by Tim Williams, I took away two key points. In order for your business to be absolutely sure it can endure, everyone needs to be viewed as replaceable. I don’t mean in the sense where we can trade John for Joe and not care because we don’t value human qualities, I mean strictly from the skills and responsibility aspect. There shouldn’t be instanced in your business where if an individual were to disappear one day your company wouldn’t be able to carry on. The next is acknowledging strengths and weaknesses. When people have some obvious strengths, they have weak areas too. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s normal. Make sure your teams are constructed of people with complementary skills.
  • Dynamic Programming with Python and C#: Another article from me, and another programming related post. This my follow up to a post about C# and Python integration that seems to have been received really well. It was a cool little experiment for me to take Python and C# and have them working together in my favourite IDE, but on top of that, I was actually able to learn a bit about C#’s “dynamic” keyword which was new for me. If you’re familiar with either of C# or Python I recommend checking it out. There’s some pretty cool stuff you can do, and I’ve only scratched the surface.
  • To Find Success, Forget Your PrioritiesClaire Diaz-Ortiz says that priorities are too general. We all have priorities, but how many of us are seeing ourselves achieve what we’d like? Claire suggests forgetting your priorities and breaking them down into goals you can achieve. By having conrete action plans, you can execute them properly.
  • Personality Tests: Modern-Day Phrenology: Ron Baker shares his perspective on why personality tests don’t have a place at work. He goes as far as calling them meaningless, but I believe his main argument is that simply siloing people into personality types is pointless. To that end, I agree. I thought this article had great timing because I’ve been discussing personality tests with our HR manager at work. I came across this article right before doing a personality test with her and we decided a few things. Firstly, if the results of the test don’t make sense, then don’t go any further with it. This means that either the test you’re using is flawed or perhaps you don’t understand the test. Regardless, how can you take action on something you don’t understand? We both agreed that simply identifying traits was useless on it’s own, so I think we agreed with Ron on this one, but we weren’t stopping there. The basic act of identifying personality traits had us sparking conversations about how our personalities were different and how acknowledging these differences could influence our interactions. Essentially, it was hard to just silo ourselves into a particular personality type without thinking about and acting on what we were observing. In the end, identifying personality types and sticking someone into some cookie-cutter process for it means nothing. The tests are all about ganining insight and understanding so that we can choose where to go from there.
  • How Open Should a Startup CEO Be with Staff?: Coming from a startup, this was another interesting article. Mark Suster writes a semi-controversial perspective about CEO transparency. The norm is that expecting CEO’s to share every bit of details with the employees achieved perfect transparency and makes everything better. Mark says this definitely isn’t the case and provides some excellent examples where total transparency came back to bite. It’s all about balance. Transparency is great,but total transparency is often too much for most employees to handle on a day-to-day basis.

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

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Intrapreneurship – Guest Blog by Tayfun Uzun

Intrapreneurship - Guest Blog by Tayfun Uzun (Photo by www.sxc.hu)

Last week I mentioned a colleague of mine, Tayfun Uzun, had a little surprise. He’s put together a great write up on intrapreneurship and what it means to be an intrapreneur.

The importance of Intrapreneurship

Innovation is the life-blood of any organization; we have all heard it and one way or another understand it. Actually, let me rephrase that. Revenue is the life-blood of any organization, but innovation begets revenue. One big movement in large companies is the idea of intraprenuership, the act of behaving like an entrepreneur within an established organization. Intrapreneurship is baked into your culture–it starts from your first hires in a start-up and needs to persist as you grow. It is not something that you can take a two day course and learn, much like entrepreneurship.

Why do you need intrapreneurship? Well, innovation is what sells. Companies have come and gone because they were stuck in the status quo, not innovating and thus becoming stale. The status quo is boring and demotivating. While these companies make great case studies, they do little to motivate the people involved. Intrapreneurship instills the drive, creativity and urgency into your employees. You can either have one person be an innovator or you can make the entire organization live and breathe innovation.

So, how do you foster an environment where your employees can feel comfortable being intrapreneurs? There are a few things I have found effective to get people out of their shell and try different things.

Be Agile

Following the agile model of iterative product development allows you to be able to test your innovations more frequently and get feedback quickly. This is a key component to intraprenuership. The waterfall methodology doesn’t allow time to tweak ideas and prototypes often resulting on those projects being scrapped for high priority planned projects. With agile you can time-box your innovation, forcing the intraprenuers to feel the same pressure an entrepreneur would feel when building products. A good way to do this is having regularly scheduled hack-a-thons where employees can work on their own innovations for a set period of time.

Encourage and Lead by Example

If you are the founder this one is easier than you think. As a leader, people look up to you and imitate you. As the founder, it is not uncommon for your employees to want to be entrepreneurial like you. Just listen to their ideas. No. Actually listen. I get it–you are the visionary, the entrepreneur–but there is value in hearing and seeing the prototypes being developed by intrapreneurs. Imagine injecting your entrepreneurial spirit into each one of your employees, because that is what you are doing by listening and providing them the platform to innovate.

By providing the means for your employees to become intrapreneurs, you are indirectly improving their day-to-day planned work. It allows them to view what they may consider mundane tasks in a different light and become solution-based thinkers. I often think of innovation as a prize–I am glad to do the grunt work as long as I get to innovate frequently–and in turn this affects how motivated I am as an employee.

Don’t Bet The Farm

If you are gaining traction, don’t pivot. Slowly start empowering the intrapreneurs to be product visionaries too. A good rule, (over)used in agile, is the 80/20 rule. In your next project, try to have 20% innovation driven by the intrapreneurs in your organization, while 80% are planned features. A good way to do this is to take out one or two features that you have planned for a sprint/release, and let the intrapreneurs research and build something. This is a good way to foster creative thinking and innovation with little risk.

Tayfun Uzun was one of the first software engineers at Magnet Forensics and currently is the Product Development Manager, responsible for the Software Engineering team.


Burnout – Weekly Article Dump

Burnout - Image Provided By Stock.XCHNG

Burnout

The trend in the articles this week is all about burnout. Burnout is a serious issue that can affect a wide variety of people. When an individual becomes so dedicated to something and starts devoting all of their time to accomplish a goal, burnout can set in. This is especially noticeable in startup companies where it’s typical to work longer-than normal hours. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with loving the work you do and wanting to put in more time! The problem ends up being when all of your waking time is geared toward one thing and everything else (including sleep!) starts to take the back seat. This is where burnout can set in.

Articles

  • The Six Deadly Sins of Leadership: Leadership isn’t always easy, but there’s definitely a few things you should avoid doing as a leader. Jack Welch and his wife Suzy do an excellent job of describing six things you should not do. Ignoring values for the sake of results and forgetting to have fun along the way are two of my favourite points.
  • 11 Simple Concepts to Become a Better Leader: Having lists makes for having good references, and Dave Kerpen certainly has a great list for leadership tips. Number one on his list is of course listening. It’s that thing that every good leader should be doing more of. Being a team player, being passionate, and being adaptive are also up there on the list.
  • 3 Key Reasons to be Optimistic Like Steve Case: Julia Boorstin touches on an excellent point in her article: by remaining optimistic, you can view all of your challenges as opportunities to get better. Leaders need to learn from their mistakes (and we all make them) but those challenges are really just self-improvement opportunities.
  • Avoiding Burnout: Take it from an entrepreneur, burnout is serious business. Andrew Dumont talks about his experiences as an entrepreneur and how burnout set in. The best part of Andrew’s post is that in the end he gives a great list of tips for how you can help avoid burnout in your own work/life. Highly recommended read!
  • How to Prevent Employee Burnout: KISSmetrics has a huge list of tips for how you can help keep employees from running into burnout problems. They start off by defining what burnout is and how you can detect it among your employees. By knowing what causes burnout, it’s a lot easier to try and address solutions for it.
  • It’s Time to Dream for a Living: Whitney Johnson talks about how being a dreamer lets you achieve a psychological pay-off similar to a well designed game. Be social, go above and beyond by tackling things that aren’t always necessary, and immerse yourself in epic scale.
  • 6 Ways to Put the ‘Good’ in Goodbye: Read this article by Chester Elton that gives an awesome example of how you should treat departures of good employees from your company. When a good employee leaves your company, it’s probably for a good reason. Try to celebrate their work and encourage success for them when they’re leaving. There’s not much worse than trying to spin things around and make a potentially great opportunity for them a poisonous experience.
  • Burnout: The Disease of Our Civilization: Arianna Huffington put’s it elegantly that most of us have  “the misguided belief that overwork is the route to high performance and great results”. It’s exactly why many people fall into the doom that is burnout. It’s a longer read than some of the articles I’ve shared, but I do recommend it!
  • Find Leadership Inspiration in Your Everyday Encounters: You don’t need to look much further than ever-day life to be able to pick up on some great examples of inspiration for leadership. Simply work on rule #1: Listen. John Ryan (and I don’t know if it’s just me, but I can’t stop thinking of Wedding Crashers when I read his name) details his experience on a plane and how he was able to draw inspiration from one of the passengers he was sitting with. Always try to learn something from the situations you find yourself in–It’s an excellent way to develop yourself.
  • Want to Save Your Life?: “Rest is not a luxury. It’s part of survival” are some powerful words from Erica Fox. She discusses what the effects of overwork are on our mind and body and in the end offers up lots of great examples for how you can avoid burnout. Another solid read.

Hope you enjoyed! It’s great to be driven to accomplish your goals, but don’t become so narrow sighted that you lose track of the rest of the things that matter. Remember to follow on popular social media outlets to get these updates through the week!

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Weekly Article Dump

Here’s the collection of articles I’ve shared on social media outlets over the past week:

  • Why Innovation Is So Hard: A few good points on why innovating sometimes feels like it’s a difficult thing to do and what you can do to improve!
  • Present Slides, Distribute Documents: Do your meetings sometimes feel like someone is just reading you a slide show? You can read a slide show yourself, can’t you? Why not distribute the slide show ahead of time?!
  • How to Evaluate Personal Characteristics When Hiring: Being a good fit is incredibly important when hiring someone. How can you improve gauging how good of a fit someone will be with your work culture? This article gives you a few strategies.
  • Look Out! When the Visible Becomes Invisible: Invisible work “clutter” can be holding your efficiency back at work. Check out this article for why ignoring things at work and letting them build up can get dangerous… and of course, how to avoid it 🙂
  • The Single Most Essential Building Block of Success: This article talks discusses how your mindset and perspective on challenges can gear you toward success. Complete with 10 tips for becoming more resilient!
  • Having a Really Lousy Day? Some Ways to Feel Better: We all have bad days. This article has some great practical tips (13 of them!) for you to improve your day. My favourite is number 2: do something nice for someone else. Definitely a great way to make your day better.
  • Are You a Workaholic or an Outlier?: This article discusses what being a workaholic means and the differences between when it may be a good thing versus a bad thing. The real takeaway point is to remember to do what you love.
  • 29 Reasons to Start a Bog Today: Ever considered starting a blog? For me, it kind of happened over night… but I’m betting there are lots of people at least on the fence about it. Why not give it a shot? Check out this article and you might get that little nudge you need to take the plunge!
  • Why I Wake Up Early and 3 Reasons You Should Too: In this article, Julia Boorstin touches on 3 reasons why she’s a morning person. For some people, it’s a matter of playing catch-up with the other side of the world but for others, it’s just a way to become more productive.
  • 5 Ways To Lead No Matter Your Title: Some of the best leaders at a company are home-grown and not brought in from somewhere else just because they were good leaders. In this article, Angie Hicks talks about 5 different ways you can put leadership skills into play even if you don’t have “Leader” in your job title.
  • So You Want To Pick Someone’s Brain? Do It Right: Sometimes I think this kind of stuff is common sense, but I’m definitely being proven wrong on this one! In this article, Linda Coles talks about a handful of things to consider when reaching out to someone to ask them for their opinion on something. Think about it… Why would you do it differently than if you had the opportunity to do it in person?!
  • Be SMARTe: How to Clarify Confusion:  This article focuses on hiring and resumes, but I think the concept applies in the more general sense. Lou Adler puts it well right at the beginning, “if you can’t describe exactly what you want, don’t be surprised if you don’t get it”. Using a simple set of guidelines, you can formulate what you’re looking for in a clear and concise manner that helps reduce assumptions and confusion.
  • To Become An Expert, Do This One Thing: In this article, Whitney Johnson makes a great point: you need to leave your ego at the door if you want to build up your skill set in an area where you’re a beginner. Just because you might be accomplished at some things, you need to get into the beginner mindset.
  • Are You Grounded in Trust?: Stan McChrystal writes about a parallel to trust in your business and team. Trust is incredibly important, especially in small businesses, because it let’s people focus on what they are experts at. In order to keep your team operating efficiently, everyone should feel like they can trust the other team members.
  • How to Focus Innovation: This article identifies the 6 ‘W’s that you need to answer when considering innovation. Gijs van Wulfen describes these steps as the necessary formula for innovation. He then outlines a group of questions that you should ask about your innovation in terms of it’s placement in the market. Certainly a lot of things to consider, but they all seem worthwhile.
  • The Joys Of Screwing Up: Being fearless is neccessary for innovation according to Jeff DeGraff. When we become afraid of taking risks and pushing the boundaries, innovation stagnates. How can you innovate if you’re never willing to take risks?
  • 7 Tips for Surviving Life As a Middle Manager: Nothing I would consider ground breaking here, but Dennis Berman has done an awesome job of summarizing a lot of excellent middle management tips. You may have read about some of these in some of the articles I’ve shared, but it’s certainly a great list to refer to!

Hope you enjoyed! Remember to follow on popular social media outlets to get these updates through the week!

Nick Cosentino – LinkedIn
Nick Cosentino – Twitter
Dev Leader – Facebook
Dev Leader – Google+


  • 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.

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