Living through Long Bets, Humor, And Trying Not to Be the Asshole

Long Bets

Bones – twocolors Remix” by Imagine Dragons & twocolors 🎵 

Today, I lost a 12 week bet.

If I had cheated to win what I would have done is referenced authentic good humans who publicly demonstrate they enjoy the art of writing about the present by writing about the past, lessons learned in engineering, and music in order to influence others.

I would have made an assumption that they have Google Alerts. Out of respect, I won’t say what the terms were so the joke can keep going.

Some bets are worth losing.

Setting up a Joke

My bio ends with saying “I enjoy setting up a really long joke.” For example, if you found yourself talking about pandas 10 months ago at work and couldn’t identify the root cause…she might run a blog called SEV 1 Party.

Laughter is influence. It gives us energy.

Often we are, as one brilliant architect said to me this week, “trained to look for what will go wrong as engineers.” We could use more laughter. And generally, I try to find people who mirror the desire to make others laugh while also being transparent on what went wrong and accountable.

I know that safety comes from a blend of transparency to build trust, accountability to build autonomy, and laughter to compete with silence. That is something that cannot waver for me – only us from it.

Building the Context

Steve Makofsky linked to an awesome article in his most recent blog about helping your 5 most important people on your personal board of directors and interestingly enough I had written about this in a group about two weeks ago where another person was asking about mentorship – something I’m passionate about but please don’t have me run another program.

It’s hard to match people in a spreadsheet.

Or through a quiz.

I have 6. I try to keep track of (1) what they want (2) so I can help them knowing that it will help us all in the long term and (3) checking in with no judgement ever to any of us. Only one of them actually works with me. I really like making us all laugh a lot. Cause our work is so hard. And yet still not as hard as farming.

We mirror different things from each other. We see time the same way.

Real mentorship? Speak in the direction of the people you want to find. There can be multiple great styles but you have to decide what you are committed to modeling – then literally hashtag that for SEO and search engines. Your people will start showing up (because of how much data the internet has on everyone 🫠 Use the darkness to your advantage!).

Admitting I wanted to model the things I wish I did better, cultures of VOICE, is what helped me find the people I want to do better for, which is to say, I mostly found people who have the same (wonky) compass by writing a blog – as my husband says “Be your authentic self or you will never find your people.”

Mentorship conversations are light exercises in listening to understand if we see the same things, feel the same way about those things, have similar leadership principles that we consistently refine, what value are we both getting on the journeys we’ve chosen and sharing stories. I hope to be in positions where we are solving the same cultural challenges wherever we are…whenever we are. Often I want to know if my takes are right or “am I the asshole.”

This is also an approach I have as a manager, but it starts with inviting in perspective. I prefer to phrase it as “Hey I really value your opinion-” (make sure you mean that by having demonstrated it through action and making space for their opinion on calls) followed by “Here is an idea I have based on feedback I got, but is this a bad idea?”

Often what I’m championing isn’t my own work but momentum for someone else. They may have a great idea, but for us to see it to completion also requires the expertise of other divisions too. Divide and conquer cause it takes a lot of gap filling as a manager. You may have to remind customers why your whole team exists because their team changed engineers and no one told them what your team did.

With mentors, the seeking of feedback is more extreme for me as that is where I’ve built my core trust. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday I type to one of them “Am I the asshole” after some horrendously core breaking experience because true mentors are the ones who will always tell you what you should hear in the way you need to hear it as mirrors of what your integrity is trying to become. It is, however, more likely that someone I know will DM me “You are not an asshole” as if they are delivering me a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed, metaphorically speaking.

I’ve started to realize, what I truly value, are people wiling to question their decisions, their judgement, where they want to check if it’s the right one before applying.

To specifically to whom I lost the bet – I am, losing a bet, but you know I am winning the long one. I’ve read everything you’ve written since you restarted your blog (after I restarted mine on Medium). I realized, yeah, in mirroring your leadership style I grew.

I got this feedback yesterday, “I like your leadership style. I like that you’re everywhere all at once but never get in the way of your engineers while still giving clear direction.” Starring at what I hope, is another engineer as a mirror of us both, I finally felt like I had fixed one of my own problems.

Which is to say…what I used to mirror 6 years ago? Was micromanagement driven by fear of losing my job, losing clients, production outages, heroism, and ultimately, self sacrifices.

The Punchline

Some of the most interesting punchlines are ones where multiple writers have been mirroring each other in blogs but with their own perspective about psychological safety in engineering. They write across a chasm of merger and acquisition chaos, games, television, layoffs, and change trying to get better at leadership and modeling a world they want to live in, no thrive in, for the cultures they nurture.

Perhaps this.writer may someday get to talk to all of them in person about what they are really trying to do with their words. We will sit down at a real table and discuss a truly defiant engineering culture, the philosophy of time as a currency for which fear has no ability to spend because I lost a bet I intended to lose. A culture that extends beyond teams so there will be not only one safe place to work, but many, in software engineering for all the people they hope are reading.

Here’s to losing short bets, but modeling the long ones together.

Header Image by drmakete lab from Unsplash.

Flashback: I was reminded on Facebook today that 8 years ago today in the creation of Game Developer Barbie I had the pleasure and opportunity to share with Mattel the power of games and #1ReasonToBe. I presented not only on this movement, but why women stay in games even when it’s hard – and everything they’ve built, we’ve built, even when people did not believe they’ve built games many, many times. Shoutout to Rami Ismail who extended the power of that hashtag across cultures and Brenda Romero and Lee Alexander who originally coined #1reasontobe after #1reasonwhy.

In that memory, I remembered how amazing all the people on Barbie’s leadership team are. They are truly some fantastic people who have built a creative culture that doesn’t really say ‘no’ – only let’s try it. They understand humor and the value of the long bet. I’m super excited about the Barbie movie coming out July 21st. Congratulations, Mattel, to your entire team.