Uncharted Waters

June 25, 2015  11:14 AM

Start Where You Are

Michael Larsen Michael Larsen Profile: Michael Larsen

As this blog is called “Uncharted Waters”, I feel a little entitled to keep the theme of my Pirate Adventures as part of this post. As some will remember with my last post, I talked about stepping back in time to participate in a weekend Pirate Encampment for the Northern California Pirate Festival. This was an event I’ve been looking forward to for several months, and it was my inaugural “voyage” with the Pirates of the Silver Realm, a re-enactment group centered in Reno, Nevada.

A pair of pirates playing instrumrnts and singing songs for an encampment.

Two people, an idea, and the willingness to say “hey, why not?” Photo courtesy of Corey Lefkowitz


I arrived early Friday morning prepared to do whatever was needed, and participate in whatever capacity they wanted to use me. As the group makes decisions democratically, I told the “Captain” to just point me to whatever needed to be done. One way or another I’d figure it out. During that early morning setup, I met another early-bird attendee, named Jeff, and as we got to talking we both realized we had musical backgrounds. He showed me a guitar he had made that was based on an old Martin Backpacker, but a bit more rustic looking. He also had a hand drum he packed, and as we were talking, I picked up the hand drum and started striking out some rhythms. In the process, I used my fingers to tap and drag along the underside of the drum head. Jeff looked at me a little quizzically, and then smiled. “You are one of the first people I’ve seen pick up that drum and know how to do that!” he said. “Do you know how to play that style of drum? I told him I did, and over the next few minutes, we hatched a plan to add a little something to the encampment.

Continued »

June 22, 2015  8:12 AM

Management Lessons From Imgur

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

Over the weekend, I came across this article from someone that recently left Imgur on 21 lessons they learned while in that position. A few things stood out to me.

First was that the author had held the position for less than a year and was a very recent college grad. That was a good reminder of how many lessons fly at you in that first few months at a company, and especially when the environment is all together new to you.

The second thing is only obvious to me after spending so much time looking at new management strategies. The lessons there come form an organization that is using very traditional management techniques.

Lets take a look at how this list might be different with some other management ideas mixed in.

Continued »

June 18, 2015  12:49 PM

Be Kind, Unwind

Michael Larsen Michael Larsen Profile: Michael Larsen

Today will be a day like most others; work commitments, meetings, deployments, testing, commute, family obligations, etc. Tomorrow will be a very different reality. That’s because tomorrow, I will willingly step back in time some three hundred years. Wait, what?

For the past several years, I have been participating in “pirate reenactment”. Yes, you read that right. I love the living history aspect of that time period. With my Welsh and Danish heritage (among several other countries), it’s easy to imagine pirates being part of that. This weekend, I will suit up at the Northern California Pirate Festival, being held in Vallejo, California June 20-21 (one of the largest on the U.S. West Coast). I will be participating with “Pirates of the Silver Realm“, based out of Reno, Nevada.

Photograph of a Pirate Encampment

The encampment of the “Pirates of the Silver Realm”. Photo courtesy of Corey Lefkowitz. Used by permission.

Continued »

June 15, 2015  3:32 PM

Should I go into project management?

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

project management tag cloudI wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that question.

The worst part of it is the sheer inevitability of it. The entire question feels unreal. In nearly every conversation I have had on the topic, the decisions were already made. The people who were ambitious, who wanted titles and money, were going to pursue management anyway, while the folks more cut out of technical roles wouldn’t end up making the decision themselves – instead, they are led to a decision by someone behind the scenes, much like the stainless steel rat is forced into a room in the original short story.

But this question was about project management, which leads me to explore the entire concept of project management, its role on the ladder, and whether you should consider that change.

Now that is worth talking about. Continued »

June 15, 2015  8:38 AM

Freelance As I See It

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

I’m in a few skype threads themed around software testing. Last week, I was chatting with a friend there about the topic of being freelance/independent full time.

She mentioned that the word independent is a weird way to describe the way I work. Even though I’m not traditionally employed, my livelihood is still dependent on lots of different things.

My friend is absolutely right of course, I am dependent on lots of things. Her question did get me thinking about what independence and freelance mean to me, though.

Continued »

June 10, 2015  9:16 PM

Book Review: Reinventing Organizations

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

This will be the last in my series on holacracy and Zappos for a while, I promise. In this last installment, I’m going to talk a little about the required reading for Zappos employees that decided not to take the severance package and move on to other companies.

In the email that went out to all Zappos employees, Tony Hsieh explained that in addition to being willing to adapt to a completely different work environment, they would be required to read the book Reinventing Organizations. This book explains a model of companies in various levels of evolution (that is the authors description, not mine) and then goes in some depth about how a self-organizing , or as the book labels it, teal companies should run. The description includes every thing from roles, to how a meetings should run, how conflict resolution should work, to how information should travel from the executive level on down.

I have mixed feelings about all of it.

Continued »

June 9, 2015  12:25 PM

Ruby the actually hard way

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

Practical Object Oriented Design In RubyI’m working on a code project called the bowling kata, mostly as an exercise to teach my fingers to think in ruby. I also have a brand new macintosh, and I thought the experience of re-installing all the command line tools might be fun, and even generate some material.

The generate material part turned out to be true. The fun … not so much.

I stall started when I wanted a unit test framework, and tried to install Test::Minitest, which I read about it Practical Object Oriented Design in Ruby, sometimes called “POODR.” (Fantastic, short read, by the way) Continued »

June 1, 2015  9:00 AM

Interview With Jordan Sams From Zappos

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

Last week I has the pleasure of speaking with Jordan Sams from Zappos about his experience in helping the company transition to Holacracy. Jordan began working at Zappos as part of the customer service team. He worked for years with the goal of being a manager and shortly after being promoted into that role, an email went out to the entire company.

The email explained that not only was Jordan’s role being eliminated, but every other role in the company was going away too.

Rather than taking the severance package and moving on to new opportunities, Jordan chose to stick around and move to a different part of the company where he could still provide value.

Let’s take a look at the Zappos Holacracy transition, and see how folks like Jordan fit in.

Continued »

May 29, 2015  3:41 PM

Equal Festivals: Gender Diversity

Smita Mishra Smita Mishra Profile: Smita Mishra
Women in Technology

This Wednesday I was on a #SheChat on twitter where I was asked questions like: Do women lose out on top startup roles due to bias or presumption? Why do women pick less hitech or datascience, bigdata, or startup jobs? Is the whole talk about fewer women in tech even true? What is the biggest challenge For #womenintech? Is it men? 🙂

Before I get into answering each of these – let’s look at the data.

Continued »

May 28, 2015  2:45 PM

Becoming a Direct Player

Michael Larsen Michael Larsen Profile: Michael Larsen

There has been an interesting discussion happening on twitter as of late about the perceived value of individuals in an organization and the skills they bring to the table. I have found myself in the past several weeks in the interesting position of having to take on much more of a role I had not anticipated needing to take on, that of release manager. At the beginning of April, this was a job that was just done by someone else and I provided testing support to make sure that we had solid code going out the door. Today, I am the release manager, much of which has to do with merging branches, writing and maintaining scripts to make sure the revision numbers are correct, and a variety of small housekeeping jobs.

Saturn V Rocket preparing to launch

Prior to taking on this role, I was seen positively by my team, but outside of my immediate test team, I was really just another tester. Helpful, to be sure, but still seen as “other”. Once I started taking over the release management, though, there was a subtle change. My comments for stories were taken a little more seriously and acted on a little more quickly (at least that was my impression). My comments about potential fixes more times than not now get worked on quickly. Comments have generally been positive. What happened? Just a little paradigm shift, but one that has proven to be very interesting to see unfold.

Continued »

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