Monday, August 31, 2020

To Succeed as an Employee in a Startup Company...

I'm nearing two years at this little startup company, and we've changed a number of times since I got here. I'm on my fourth organizational structure and third boss. In the last org shake up my boss and I headed the same direction and I'm actually the only person from his old reports that still report to him. Funny enough, I'm actually the only person in my group, my box of the org chart. We're hiring!

We've had a few people leave recently, two nearing 10 years total experience in their 30s and two in their younger 20s, like 23-24. When you break down each person's reasons for leaving they all make sense. Yet, in such a small and young company there is a big sense of loss with each departure. So I've been thinking about why they left and what we might have done differently to either keep them longer, or give them a better picture of the work they were going to do here. And I had a realization...

In a big established company people who are professionally successful are good at going through the existing processes and producing work in accordance with those norms, and people who are comfortable navigating the bureaucracy of a large complicated organization. In a really small company, like less than 20 people, maybe up to 35 people, the ones who are successful get things done. Pure and simple they just produce results. However, to thrive in a startup as it grows you can't just be a person that gets things done, or a person that follow the processes. This has taken me a long time to articulate... Success for a person in a startup comes from being able to just get things done, and then articulate and communicate the process you used to get things done, so that it can be replicated and scaled up. 

Realizing that was a game changer for me in the last few days. Of course as the company grows the quality expectations grow too so processes necessarily get more complicated with more checks to poor work. We had a person leave a few months ago who was good at getting things done, but she was pretty terrible about articulating all of the things she did or communicating those things to people. She had previously worked at a startup where there were three engineers for the whole five years she was there, so all of the engineers knew everything about the product. At our company the product is too complex for any one person to know all of the details. However, the flip side of that is that we don't have the formal processes that a 50 year old company has, so on boarding new people can be a little chaotic and I think we struggle to articulate the expectations. For example, a person with 10 years at established companies might be exasperated at the pace of product change and in particular at the lack of rigor that sometimes happens when we make a change to our product. On the other hand the new graduate has no frame of reference for what it's like to work at a company with established processes so she is free to change things that would never be permitted for such an inexperienced person at a larger company.

Honestly, my company has had a lot of failures when it comes to articulating (which is something you can do in your own head) and communicating how we do things. In particular, we bring people in, we don't give them all the information about how someone else used to do that job, and we expect them to do the job even as we double in size and the requirements from that position change. When I read entrepreneurs writing about how hard it is to build a company, I get it now. Let me put that another way, people crave a process. That's a good article linked there by the way. So I haven't actually been promoted in two years, so take my advice with a grain of salt. However, I have quantified, clarified, and attempted to communicate the processes that I work most closely with and as a result people often default to my processes for things that really might be better suited to a different process. While this may not have resulted in my being promoted, it definitely has affected my peers who seem to enjoy this small amount of structure that we have to document our work. 

Taking the next leap, I've been thinking quite a bit more this summer about a company I'd like to start. The core technology isn't ready yet, but it could be in the next year or two. So all of the hurdles that I am going through with my current company are excellent examples of what to do and what not to do. I think that I've learned enough that I could seriously cut a year of development time from company founding to product launch, maybe even in only four years. Of course, I'm waiting for a certain technology item to be somewhat proven before I launch, and right now it is clearly not proven, so I'm still learning.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

An Ultralight Ice Axe

I can't help myself. When an idea gets in my head that I can make something better, I go out there and make it. It's not super common, but it happens. Most of you have probably seen it, but if you haven't I designed a 2.5 ounce ice axe to be used on short steep sections of snow and ice, like you might encounter on a rock climb or a run in the mountains. I made some prototypes which worked exactly as intended, and now I'm offering it to anyone that wants one by funding my Kickstarter campaign:

It's super niche, not for everyone, not for Mt. Rainier type of climbs, but for Rocky Mountain National Park type of adventures, and 14er adventures when there is still a fair amount of snow to cross. If it's something you might use I'd be delighted if you would be a part of this project, thank you!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Nolan's 14: Third Attempt and Failure

For the third time I attempted Nolan's 14 and failed. First was in 2014 unsupported, the second was supported in 2016, and then again supported starting July 1st. Well, a few hours before my running partner M and I started, Joey Campanelli started going South to North as well, and he smashed the record by about 5.5 hours, taking it down to just over 41 hours. I knew it was possible, and now someone did it. Funny that we started within hours of him, I mean, between the full moon, the summer solstice and the good weather, it was a good day to try.

I'm not actually that disappointed about this failure at the moment. When we were on Princeton and falling behind my idealistic schedule I debated stopping. But one of the thoughts I had was, 'if I stop now, on my third attempt, will I ever do it?' Now, two days later as I limp around my apartment with a clearly injured left lower leg I realize how ridiculous that thought is. I enjoy those mountains so much, that I could easily end up attempting Nolan's 14 every year for the next two decades.

We started up Shavano right at daybreak so that we didn't have to take headlamps. From there over to Antero and then down to the town of Alpine it was seven hours to the minute. I was pretty happy because it felt easy and that's 45 minutes faster than on the training run we had a few weeks ago. Joey did that section in 5:40.

Princeton was not as smooth. It's a loose mountain. Coming down I fell three times, one of those times I stood on about a one ton rock, that was resting on another one ton rock, and they both moved so I fell in an upside down way. When everything stopped my feet were uphill of my body and my butt is still sore from hitting first, which I am thankful for because it's a somewhat padded part of my body.

When we reached the Colorado trail we began running again, and it was delightful! All the negative thoughts went away and I felt confident we were going to do the whole route. We had some pizza thanks to W our crew when we hit the valley and at dusk started up Yale. The exact route we did I have not done, so it was a little disorienting. We weren't moving too fast, in particular I wasn't moving too fast. At 12:45 AM when we finally made the summit M was tired and my leg was not so happy, so we decided to hike down to the the trail and sleep. Unsaid was, 'this is probably going to be calling it quits'. The descent was painful on my lower left leg, and then my shoes appear to be a half size too small, so my toes were hating me on the steep off trail descent down Yale. As we hiked the 1.5 or so miles out on the trail we passed two groups of two starting up Columbia via the normal trail. It was so strange to have been out all day, that the next day's hikers were starting.

We slept for three hours, on the hope that I (we) would feel good enough to go back out there, but it was not to happen. We lounged around by the trailhead and bathroom for a bit then went into Buena Vista and had lunch and drove back to Denver. I don't know exactly what happened to my left ankle/lower leg but it's still swollen two days after finishing and I'm limping around when I walk.

Colorado mountains are a great playground. What I mean is they are big enough to take effort to get up and down, but they are small enough that the risk is generally quite small. Meaning, in Asia the mountains are so big that you can't really afford to make mistakes or you will get hurt badly, but making a mistake on a 14er or a 13er is usually something that is somewhat easy to recover from. Of course on technical routes it doesn't matter if it's 40 feet tall or 4000 feet tall if you fall and hit your head.

What's next? I have four official 14ers and six if you count the unofficial ones left to do and I think there is a very good chance I finish them up in July.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Good Days

If you ever have the opportunity to break two bones and partially tear two ligaments in your ankle, politely decline the opportunity. I really don't recommend it. I ran a 20:55 5k, on a track, two weeks ago. Almost anytime 2009 through 2017 I would have lapped myself twice.

Saturday I ran over three 14ers, Shavano, Tabeguche, and Antero... and I felt so good my climbing partner M and I started up Princeton before thunder at treeline turned us around. It was clearly the best I have felt in the mountains in three years. The feeling was beautiful. While I was working hard, at all times I had the capacity to push the pace more than I was. That's how I want to feel in the mountains.

After our retreat I drove back to the awesome city of Longmont where I live. During the day I saw a total of nine rainbows, ten if you count a double rainbow as two, most on the drive back to Denver. As I walked up the stairs to my third floor apartment, after 10,004 feet of vertical hiking on 14ers, I was exhausted and ready for bed. It was a full day with a couple of my friends. As I get older I realize how precious days like this are, even if we get snowed and rained on like we did, we had some laughs out there, and S and M are two good friends I look forward to more time with.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

When I see a Rainbow

The other day, actually a few weeks ago now, I bicycled up Flagstaff Mountain on the edge of Boulder. At the top, waiting for my friend, I was sipping and gurgling water and coughing, making everyone else nervous in this pandemic I suppose. As I would take a sip of water and spit it out, a small rainbow would appear in the spray at 6:45 PM as the sun set through some light clouds. Long enough I could definitely see it, but not long enough to be a normal rainbow, let alone a double or triple rainbow.

In Genesis God says that a rainbow will be the sign that he will never again destroy the world like he did in the flood. (Yes, I realize for non Christians, talking about the flood is blasphemy because if the flood really happened, than a lot of other stuff in the Bible most likely happened too.) Personally I take it one step further when I see a rainbow, even, or maybe especially, when it's in the spit that comes from my coughing mouth in a pandemic as I go through a breakup. I see it as a sign that God loves me.

The last time I spent time with my most recent ex we saw a double rainbow. We were no longer dating at the time, it was the first time since we broke up that we physically spent any time together. For me it was a test to see if I could tolerate being around her, and fortunately I could. We still laughed. As I drove back down from the mountains after rock climbing in a snow storm (not exaggerating) without working windshield wipers in the rain (again not exaggerating) we saw a double rainbow, and I realized it would be okay. God loves me. I don't have much of a clue what that means or what he has in store for me, and after a pulmonary embolism and torn ankle ligaments to deal with the last 27 months, I'm very ready for a little pleasant resolution. But the point remains, God, the big man up there calling the shots when he wants to (and not calling the shots sometimes), is looking out for me. He's not going to spare me pain, just read about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but the events in my life are ultimately all for His good plan, whatever that is.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Monday I Cried

I learned last weekend that a friend of mine for over eight years has never cried in front of his fiancé, or me. Might have to dive into that another time. I cried Monday on the drive to work listening to NPR about the protests the night before. Just a few tears. The average cry session is eight minutes and my commute during the pandemic is just over 20 minutes, but this session was only three minutes or so.

I only have a few African American friends. I actually have more friends that are born and raised Africans than African American. In other words, most of my friends are white, Hispanic, or Asian, so I have trouble relating to the experience of people of color in the USA. Yet I've heard the stories of different encounters some of them have had that simply blow my mind, because I don't have those kind of encounters. For example, I haven't been pulled over by the police while driving at all since I went through a yellow light back in 2011.

I haven't watched the 9:31 minute long video of George Floyd being suffocated... because we've seen this before, Philando Castile and Terence Crutcher were the two videos I watched in 2016 that changed me. I just cannot imagine myself ever being in those two situations and getting killed. One challenge is, I know police officers, they don't set out to get into those situations, at all. We live in a world where everything is video taped now, people are going to be held accountable for things that they would not have been even 10 years ago let alone 25. I kind of come at this from a quality control and Six Sigma perspective (hope that's not cold...) meaning as a society we keep trying to get better. However, as the overall quality improves, getting down into the nitty gritty corner cases actually poses harder deeper questions. It's like commercial airline safety, two pilots, basically all instrument flight rules, maintenance is meticulous, certification of the aircraft type is meticulous (737-Max excepted...), and so when there are incidents like the 737-Max crashes or George Floyd's death, it can be hard to overcome, because we've already tried the easy options.

Today I briefly attended the Boulder Black Lives Matter protest. It was mostly on accident, and the crowd was so big I didn't stay long because we are still in a pandemic and I don't want to get sick. I don't know what change looks like, because I already have equality with basically everyone else I want equality with, but obviously many people don't have the opportunities I have had. So I cried.

Point being, Jesus love you. He love me and everyone else too regardless of the sinful things we can change about ourselves but repeatedly fail to change or the things we can't change about ourselves.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Patience and the Blah

We're in a pandemic. We're also in minimum a recession, perhaps a depression. On top of all that I'm processing a breakup, a pay-cut and turning 34. Thankfully I started therapy back in February.
View from my balcony this morning.
I took vacation this past week, and I spent some of the time basically in a state of "blah" like my mind wasn't really actively working that hard. I just completed my portion of a big project at work that we've spent months working on, and I needed a break. But a break can be uncomfortable.

Meaning, when I go to sleep at night I am alone, and when I wake up I am alone. I spent four days this week in the mountains, attempted four mountains and summitted three, all alone. When I think about work, I know I'm at a startup, and I'm super happy we've made it as far as we have. The progress we have made in the last year is tremendous! Yet when we have a pay-cut because there is uncertainty about having enough money to support operations, I'm worried about the next hard conversation, will there be layoffs or even worse? Most likely not, we have such great talent that getting aquihired seems to me the worst case scenario. Of course, that doesn't include any effects from the pandemic. And on the dating side we've now been broken up longer than we actually dated. The whole relationship kind of blindsided me. Yes it was mostly what I was looking for but now that it ended, I again ask God, "What are you trying to teach me?! What is your plan for my life?! I'm 34!"

Point being, this is a time, in my life, and many other's I suppose, where I'm being required to have patience, more that I care to have. With all of the restrictions, I can't just go out to a bar with a friend and hang out and talk and empathize, so I'm spending time in a blah state of mind, not processing things as quickly as I used to pre-pandemic. But it's 57F and sunny with no wind right now and I'm very thankful to live in this expensive apartment with a great view and plenty of space as I spend so much time home alone. It will be very interesting to see how the world is in a few years, will we all be more patient and caring towards each other, or fearful and mistrusting? I suppose some will go one way and others the other way. Years ago my dad talking about people that lived through the Great Depression tended to fall into two groups financially speaking, those with lots of fear for the future who pinched pennies, and those that lived for today. I think we'll see the same, financial independence will probably become more popular, and so will partying like it's the last party you will ever get to go to. I don't know. But those that survive the pandemic will get to find out.