Cool guys (and gals) DO look at explosions

I bought the tickets so long ago, it was almost a bit of surprise when the Mythbusters: Behind the Myths Tour rolled into Toronto on Thursday. We arrived downtown Toronto in record time (thanks to Andrew for driving), and while we had enough time to kill with a pint, C’est What was packed and had other ideas.

The audience was a heartening cross-section of people, with a generous helping of nerd, not surprisingly. It was cool to see that the male/female split was pretty much even, and there were lots of kids. We also saw a number of folks who couldn’t possibly have been anything but professors. Some epic beards, too. 🙂 (And, we think, Ed Robertson from Barenaked Ladies.)

Of all the things Adam promised in the pre-show video, the only one we didn’t get was beachballs. I’m ok with that. There was science, gadgets, stories, stunts, and, of course, pranks, largely played on enthusiastic audience members. They distribute a bunch of waivers on chairs before the show, and if you get one and sign it, you can be selected as an on-stage volunteer. Felt bad for the waiver-holders who were back farther than about 10 or 15 rows from the stage, since they were never getting called on.

The show was extremely family friendly, which isn’t terribly surprising, and many of the volunteers from the audience were kids. We had the distinct suspicion that Adam would have preferred something a little more “late nite”, which would have enabled swearing and more ridiculous stunts, but after Obama himself gives you kudos on getting kids jazzed about STEM, you know on which side your bread is buttered.

There’s plenty of content on YouTube from the shows — amusingly, the venue strictly prohibited recording or photography, but Jamie and Adam welcomed it, long as you kept the flash off. Plenty of photos and commentary on Twitter, too. Those gents definitely understand the value of smartphone ubiquity.

They did experiments and pranks with depth perception, friction, bikes and water balloons, a bed of nails, carnival feats of strength, and catching an arrow. (Apparently an Australian ninja corrected them after they “busted” that myth on the show.) They showed behind the scenes footage from the set and shows, and a number of their favourite explosions. Man, Adam LOVES him some explosions. And sometimes Jamies even smiles.

Both of them sat out and did Q&A at points during the show while things were readied backstage. The infamous cannonball incident came up, unsurprisingly, but Jamie answered in excellent diversionary fashion. The best question of the night came from a kid who asked about “that time they blew up a car for no reason”. The answer to why was, of course, because they could.

All in all, a very entertaining couple of hours. They’re born showmen (Adam more so), who know very well how to harness the enthusiasm (and social media proliferation capabilities) of an audience, and what better way to develop a love and learning of science than by doing crazy experiments and blowing things up?

Unphotographable

This is a picture I did not take of an elderly man walking a tiny white dog, and a young woman pushing a stroller and walking a tiny black dog, both of them straining to prevent their dogs — who clearly thought they were very large and fierce, indeed — from meeting.

Next door

Many thanks to a number of friends who shared their experiences, thoughts, and insights, helping me round out this post and give me the sigh of relief that these reactions were not Just Me. Also, this post includes a variety of experiences based on relationships with a variety of people over time. Right now I am fine, and my people are doing alright. This generalizing is as much to protect individuals’ privacy as to try and make sense of dealing second-hand with mental illness.

Wednesday, February 8th was a day to talk about mental health. Why it was sponsored by Bell, I don’t know. Why it was February 8th, I don’t know. But hey, getting people talking about mental health and raising money isn’t a bad thing.

Unsurprisingly, it brought to mind my own experiences with mental illness. I consider myself fortunate — any depression I’ve dealt with has been situational, and temporary, and I always remained at least somewhat functional. Those who have helped me through it have my eternal gratitude and are immediately welcome to anything I can do for them when they need it.

But depression and I have been close, sometimes very close, off and on for a lot of years. I kinda… live next door. I’ve seen many strong voices online talk about their struggles with depression, which has helped a lot of people. I haven’t seen much, however, from the people around those who struggle. There are some good reasons for that. A lot of what you think and feel seems either utterly futile, or makes you think you must be a complete asshole.

Mostly I’ve been depression’s next door neighbour, but sometimes other neighbours show up: anxiety, mania, substance abuse… And you would think, after all these years, that I’d know how to be a good neighbour by now. I’d have figured out How To Help.

Nope. I suck.
(more…)

The areas of my expertise

In case you’ve ever found yourself wanting to listen to me talk for a really, really long time, your opportunity has arrived!

Last week MaRS kindly invited me to TO to present in their Best Practices series. I talked about social media for small business in an hour-long presentation, followed by a half-hour Q&A. They also did a shorter, five-minute “Hot Tips” video of, ostensibly, my bonnest of bon mots.

The full media pile of videos, slide deck, and notes is here: MaRS: Social Media for Small Businesses.

Unphotographable

This is a picture I did not take of a young man, looking barely old enough to shave, walking toward me on the sidewalk, gingerly carrying a cellophane-wrapped bouquet of roses and a small green bag, looking supremely pleased within himself, on this blustery February 12th, for already having won Valentine’s Day.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft

If you take this gig, I think you should pour your heart into it, but I want you to remember that you’re going to have another five to ten other jobs in your lifetime just like this one. This means that for each moment you spend being pumped about the new gig, you’ll have an equal and opposite moment at the end of the gig where you can’t wait to get the hell out. — Rands

Sometimes you hear or read something and it gets stuck in your head. Perhaps because it totally resonates. Perhaps because it expresses an opinion so diametrically opposed to your own. Perhaps because there’s just… something to it, but you can’t yet put your finger on it.

When I first read that quote, I’d been working at a job I didn’t like for about eight months. I’d never really liked it, and, in fact, my manager quit a few weeks after I’d started. Things didn’t go uphill from there. However, about six weeks after I read that quote, I met the PostRank folks and started on a new adventure, one I liked much better.

But for the past while, since I’ve known that I’d be leaving Google, that quote has come to mind a fair bit. Especially when you come from a startup where there’s always more to be done than bodies to do it, being in a position of not being particularly useful isn’t easy. Or when you’re among people who claim to need/want X, but then make decisions and plans that will never accomplish X. Being informed that their attempts to make me permanent had fallen through wasn’t terribly surprising, nor was it emotionally crushing by that point.

I don’t want to give the impression that I found my time at Google horrible. Anything but. It’s totally not the real world there, and that’s a lot of fun. Googlers are insanely well taken care of, and that level of geek-centric culture can be a great time. The people I worked with, both on the Analytics Marketing team and the operations folks I got to know just by being there, are all great, highly capable people. I just didn’t happen to fit the prevailing structure. When you get far enough away from high school, eventually you realize it’s okay not to fit in everywhere. 🙂

Hindsight gives you a considerably broader point of view, and so one can indulge from time to time in the What Ifs. I’ve never for a minute regretted saying no to moving to Mountain View, but what if I had gone there? It would have been pretty much the only chance I had to find somewhere to “fit” at Google, simply because what I do is done there, but not here. At the same time, though, the way they handle community management, for example, is very different from how I am used to working, and how my personality prefers to work… so would I have been happy there? Would I have loved living in the Valley or San Francisco, or would I have always felt painfully un-hip? (Kidding.)

Ultimately, Google is a big company. A very big company, no matter how much they try to believe and market themselves (especially internally) as something scrappier, more nimble, or “startup-y”. I’ve told numbers of people that working at Google felt more like working at the insurance companies I’ve worked for than any of the tech companies I’ve worked for. Nothing wrong with that — the company has around 32,000 employees. But as you grow you have to accept and adapt to how your growth affects your employees, culture, communications, etc. as well as your products, customers, and the market.

So, what if I hadn’t tagged along on the Google adventure? They never really needed or wanted all of us, so what if they’d said thanks, deposited a few bucks into our accounts, and we went our separate ways back in June? I recall seeing a couple of really cool jobs back then, and waffling over whether to apply and push my brain into the direction of moving on, or to settle myself in the saddle for whatever ride Google would bring. Needless to say, I chose Google. I think a lot of people would. I am at least grateful that KW is a tech-strong area and desperately thirsty for talent. I’d be a lot more freaked out if we’d had a crash between June and now. (Especially given how many cool gigs I keep seeing for Toronto, Calgary, and the Valley…)

Unsurprisingly, I have been constantly asked the last while what’s next. Perhaps if I’d had a quarter for every ask I wouldn’t have to look for a new job at all… Short answer is: I can’t say. I have some great opportunities that right now mostly just require patience, I know my skills are valued, and I am superstitious enough not to talk about it all in much detail in the open without Is dotted and Ts crossed and where the capricious gods of fate may hear me… Most importantly, I feel fine about where things are and are going.

I am also very grateful to everyone who’s been supportive and helpful. I’ve received leads, introductions, and whatnot from many people who didn’t surprise me, and a number who did. Sounds a bit self-serving, but you hope that by being active in your community and making yourself useful that they’ll be there for you when you need it, too, and that has very much proven true. Fellowship: it ain’t just for Mennonites! So thank you all.

I’ve also enjoyed getting a closer look back into the startup scene recently. It’s certainly grown and changed since PostRank was one of those scrappy, nimble companies with six employees and computers on folding tables. For every story like this I see that makes me weep for the future, I have also seen, heard, and talked to brilliant folks who are passionate, fearless, and who just happen to have recently graduated… or not. It’s also heartening to know their mentors and know that those are folks who’ll kick their asses if they get uppity. 🙂

At the same time, I see the mistakes they make and am becoming ever more aware of the value of experience (especially my own), and for access to business mentoring that reflects that. It seems to be easy enough to get insight and information from great people about the tech, the financing, and all the “hard” skills, but the worst errors I see being made are about people. And it’s not that these folks are sociopaths or lack social skills, it’s just that being the CEO of a company is very different from doing hacking projects with your buddies, or being low enough down the totem pole not to be responsible for a lot of things. I look forward to seeing how these folks grow and change over the years the same way I look forward to seeing how the tech scene here does.

The end of the PostRank era has been hard at times, but it would have been harder had it ended back in June. Having had months to get used to the team being flung to the four winds has provided separation time, and having suspected a permanent position wasn’t going to work out has provided the motivation to send my brain forward, rather than miring it in the present or pining for the past.

I’ve been in much worse places — still working at a company that was crumbling around me, laid off a week after my birthday — so I’m in a very okay place. As I told a couple friends, my main challenge currently is working on my patience, which has never been my strongest of virtues. (Given that it’s my sister-in-law’s name, perhaps she could impart some wisdom?)

Hopefully, I’ll have awesome news to share in one of my all-too-infrequent posts soon. Watch this space. 🙂 In the mean time, a few snippets from Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go, which has been on my mind a lot lately, too (and the title of this post comes from it). I thought it important enough to make a parting gift for the Googles.

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.

~

You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

~

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.

Unphotographable

This is a picture I did not take of a pickup truck on the highway with a large cardboard box in the back, labelled: QUANTUM NANO.

The box seemed excessively large, considering…

Almost nothing?

Courtesy of the Timehop service, I get an email from time to time letting me know what I was up to a year ago on a given day, based on my activity on my social accounts.

The only thing I was up to a year ago was this, apparently:

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s to a year where NOTHING happens. Well, almost nothing… 🙂

2010 was a year of constant change. Some good, some bad, but it just wouldn’t stop. So by 2011 I was good and ready for some stasis. Oh, how naive January 1st, 2011 Melle was…

2011 began with some ugly family stuff, but also with a new relationship that kept me sane and renewed my hope in a lot of things. But not so much with the stasis.

In February, Carol and Ilya had some interesting meetings in California, which led to being informed at a “routine” company update meeting in March that Google was buying PostRank. And the only thing that makes huge news more fun is not being able to say a damned thing about it to anyone. Until June. Including a trip to California for interviews in April. Nothing like lying to your friends and family for business purposes.

Should anyone have doubted that I can keep a secret… 🙂

June 3rd was the announcement and party, June 11th was my birthday, and June 12th the team flew back to Mountain View for orientation. June 17th I started working in the Kitchener Google office.

From time to time I still have moments where my mind boggles at it all. And other days I really miss my little spot in the back corner of the office on the fifth floor at King and Allen and those 15 other people with whom I helped build something cool.

Per my prior blog post, my adventure at Google will be coming to an end on February 2nd, or when I resign for another position, whichever comes first. I wish things could have worked out well, but I leave there knowing it was never in the cards. And I am grateful that the whole adventure leaves me in a financial position that I don’t have to panic if I don’t have a job on February 3rd. (Though I plan to hustle my ass off to ensure that I do.)

The abovementioned relationship wasn’t easy. It seemed like everything conspired against it to make things way harder than they should have had to be. Due to certain circumstances, I wasn’t expecting 100% clear skies and smooth sailing, but I also wasn’t expecting a never-ending series of spanners in the works. I still believe things happen for reasons, though.

We finally admitted defeat in November, long after we really should have. But it’s a testament to both our personalities and needs that it lasted so long. Now? We try to figure out what we should have embarked upon back in December 2010. I’m not eager to throw myself at any new relationships just yet, though me, myself, and I have a few things to work out.

I didn’t write very much this past year, which bothered me and still does. I aim to rectify that. I’m good at it and it feels good to craft stuff, and sometimes just to get it out of my head. I’ve figured out things like blogging, and I’ve figured out social media, to the detriment of my own blogging and other writing. Now it’s time to figure out how to manage it all in proportions that work for me. And hey, there’s still that book stuck in my head. I can’t believe it’s been two years since the presentation that sparked the idea for it in my head.

No stasis in 2011 for those around me, either. Friends’ startup was also acquired, new jobs were begun, new homes were moved into, new cars were driven. Babies were born and loved ones were lost. I am grateful that the deaths mostly passed my family. Goodness knows we had plenty in the preceding year or two.

I remember, years ago, seeing my doctor back home after she and her family had returned from a year in Israel. I commented that it had been “quite a year to be there”. What with assorted bombings, assassinations, government machinations and the like. She basically shrugged off my comment with the reply that “isn’t it always?” Which was very true.

It may seem like 2010 and 2011 were constantly changing and that seemed somehow unusual, but I’ve come to realize that that’s all years. It just seems like it more and more as I get older as I have more life and more perspective and a greater sphere in which change is always happening.

The best I can do is to take care of myself and those I care about, make the best of whatever comes, and embrace the best parts wholeheartedly. Or when things happen beyond my control, attendre et espérer. (I got an important tattoo in 2011, too.) Yeah, it’s January 1st, and I’m supposed to be full to bursting with optimism, resolutions, and plans for the new year. I shall leave that to others. Never really been my thing, and I’m a little beat up right now.

Sometimes a quiet New Year’s Day is just as necessary as a quiet New Year’s Eve.

Of substance

You know how people refer to the best possible outcome of getting what you want as being “of your dreams”? Job of your dreams, man of your dreams, dream house, etc.

Except that it occurred to me that my dreams are typically weird, disjointed, and mostly quickly forgotten.

I’d be ok with the trappings of a decently crafted reality, I think. 🙂

She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time

I have mentioned the Very Personal Ad before, and, indeed, wrote one up when I wanted to find a new apartment. Worked like a charm; I love it here, though these things can take time. And so it is time to try this experiment again.

What is this ad for? A job.

The Googles and I will be parting ways in a little while, so it is time to figure out what my next adventure is. The circumstances of my departure aren’t relevant; I’ll probably write some about it one day. TL;DR is basically: “what I do, they don’t do here”. No crying, no recriminations, no hurtin’ songs… Just c’est la vie. I do not, however, enjoy certain uncertainties very much. And right now I have a bunch. I know I will be okay — I always have been. I will not get eaten by the eels at this time. I am working to vanquish the uncertainties, however, and asking for some help.

I’ve talked to a few folks, applied for a few things, but I would love to see/hear about something (a specific role, a company, some people I’d be totally jazzed to spend my days with) and just know that’s it. It would also help if they thought I was it, too. 🙂 Seems odd to be working on this stuff at this time of year, but the world doesn’t seem to slow down at Christmas much anymore.

I imagine most folks who would read this are reasonably familiar with me and what I do. However, to get all official: here I am on LinkedIn. Here is my resume. Ask me anything. Even better, let’s have coffee while you ask me stuff. I’ll probably ask you stuff, too.

I don’t want to commute every day or move to Toronto, though I know there are a bunch of amazing gigs available there these days. Some remote work combined with commuting I might be okay with. Travel sometimes (like with planes) is fine. I don’t want to move to the Valley, though, either. I’ve been offered that before. I feel fortunate to live here in the Region where there’s a whack o’ stuff going on, and new companies being born pretty much daily.

I have worked at really big companies, medium-sized companies, and a couple of teeny startups. Generally, I tend to be happier in a smaller environment. It has some to do with scale, but really it’s more about… Dunbar’s number, kinda. You know, how supposedly we can only maintain 150 close ties/friendships with people? In a smaller company, you can ask anyone anything at any time. Just walk on over and sort things out. Or the whole company can have lunch in one room. Get to know all of your team. Make sockmonkeys for all of your co-workers and not have to spend all year on it.

It’s personal, it’s efficient, and most importantly for me, it lets me get my hands dirty and enjoy variety. I have been on the internets about 20 years. My attention span was shot a long time ago, but I am damned good at absorbing and synthesizing information, creating and curating content, learning from and connecting people. Direct contact with data and folks. Delicious. I’m really good at organizing things and taking care of people. I’d still be good at it even if I wasn’t a Mennonite (and community is what we do), but hey, as a bonus I make delicious treats for my co-workers. 🙂

Again, the organization doesn’t have to be teeny, but it sometimes helps. With size typically comes hierarchies and silos and process. If you know of a company where that hasn’t happened, let me know. (I still compare Google more to the insurance companies I’ve worked at than the tech companies.)

I like working in tech. I like how things change, how curious and innovative people are, and how they don’t just have ideas, they do stuff about them. Action Folks can be found anywhere, but most of my experience happens to be in tech. That said, it would be nice if what the company does is helpful. It makes someone’s day better or connects them to folks they need to know or helps their business grow or what have you. Not everyone can save lives, but it’s hard to feel noble about your job only being to help big companies convince consumers to spend more money.

I like to help tech, too. Or, rather, the people in this community with me. I’ve been around long enough and been fortunate enough to have some experiences that other people can find useful. They can reproduce my successes and hopefully avoid my mistakes. I like sharing, and am almost always happy to do so. The extra special thing is, too, that invariably you learn interesting things from everyone you talk to. I love that.

So yeah. I like to build things: communities, knowledge bases, customer bases, relationships, networks, really cool products or services that people want. I like to record and share information: how-to content, blog posts, white papers, articles, case studies, videos, social dissemination, connecting the people building stuff with the people using it. I like to help people: educate them in what the company does and how that can be valuable to them, help them get ramped up and productive, answer their questions, help get their issues sorted out, enable them to go.

I firmly believe the internets know everything, and that we are better connected than we’ve ever been before. And hopefully I can borrow just a tiny bit of its connectivity and knowledge and find a place and some people where I can look forward to going to work every day, and make myself useful.

Thanks!