How do I Get My Team Inspired to Learn?

From Twitter:

I’m a tier 3 Systems Engineer in a room of my teammates, tier 1 & 2. Informal discussion, tech meeting. I ask them what they want to learn or teach the team, and no one has response. What are we missing? What can I and other tier 3s do to inspire the others?

There’s a lot to unpack there, actually. Let’s begin.

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Whither Piña Colada?

So, it’s Christmas Eve Day. It’s cold outside. It’s raining. Blegh. And so obviously, I get to thinking about tropical cocktails, and piña colada drifts through my brain.

I know that piña means pineapple in Spanish. But colada? I mean, as far as I know, it means wash, with a kind of connotation for laundry. Washed pineapple?

And so down the rabbit hole I go.

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My 2020 Resolution: Stop Being Selfish. (You Can Help.)

So, in looking back at 2019, and even 2018, I realized that I was being a bit selfish in a super-specific way. It’s something I want to change for 2020, and it’s something you can help me with.

Here’s the deal: I know a lot of folks in the IT industry, a lot of whom are renowned experts in their space. That’s partly because I’ve been around a while, and some of the people I “grew up with” are now doing amazing things. It’s partly because so much of my career was spent at conferences, where I got to meet these incredible professionals. And it’s partly because I’ve been able to work with some of the best tech companies out there, meaning I’ve worked with the wonderful people who make those companies so great.

I’ve leaned on these people, believe me. They’ve gotten be out of technical jams, given me career advice, helped me understand how different types of businesses run, and offered me some fresh new perspectives on things I thought I’d already figured out. They asked nothing for all that help, because they’re simply great people. They’re a big part of what I wrote Be the Master, which is more than anything else my distilled effort to “pay it forward” like they all did.

But I’ve realized that not everyone has ready access to such a diverse pool of wonderful people. And so for 2020, I’m going to try and open up my pool of people to you.

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At this point, you should probably assume your data will always be public.

Well, yet another data breach from yet another business that couldn’t afford top-shelf security, or didn’t understand the need for it. At this point, I think we should probably assume that all our data has been stolen, and it always will be.

We’ve focused for a long time on the idea of “let’s keep our information secure,” and it hasn’t been too long before we started to admit defeat with ideas like, “don’t use the same passwords on every site, so that if one is breaches, the others remain secure.” I think it’s probably time to move to an assumption that nothing can stop our data from being stolen.

That can actually change how you act.

For example, consider making everyone in our life invest in a password manager of some kind – even if, God help us all, that’s a paper journal you buy on Amazon. We really do need distinct passwords for each site, and they need to be phrases like “I-am-Using-Twitter-Right-Now-12345” or something. Forget 8 characters; make ’em long. Doing so makes it significantly harder for bad guys with hash tables to reverse-engineer your password, should they obtain hashes in a breach.

Press everyone to use tap-to-pay whenever possible, and kvetch to local merchants who don’t yet support tap-to-pay. NFC payment systems create a unique, per-transaction code that’s essentially useless anywhere else. If that number gets captured in a breach, it doesn’t matter. More websites need to start accepting Apple/Samsung/Whatever Pay as well, so that we’re not asking them to store permanent credit cards which will eventually be breached.

When asked to create “security questions” for account recovery (“what’s your mother’s maiden name?”), use a distinct, fake answer for each website, and note those in your password management tool or journal. For example, I’ve one website where my “mother’s maiden name” is DarthAvon. But there’s more you can do to protect yourself than making fun of Mom.

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On Success

One of the first things The Grind (from Be the Master) has you do is Define Your Success. I can’t stress enough how important this is, or how much people can overthink this.

Look, I’m not saying you need to sit down and write stuff like, “I will be the new Bon Jovi.” People hear the word “success” and they start thinking about Dumpsters full of money, fame, cars, houses, and everything. Yeah, that’s success for some people. It wasn’t mine, and it doesn’t need to be yours. Success doesn’t need to be something other people see as “sexy” or whatever. You’re not defining what other people think you should be doing to “be successful;” you’re defining what YOU think a successful YOU looks like.

If you think to yourself, in the quiet of your own mind, “hey, I’d be pleased as heck, and consider myself a runaway success, if I just got to a point where I could be teaching my passion to other people as a part of my regular job,” well, then that’s YOUR success. That’s not aiming low. It’s not cheating. On the contrary, it’s achievable, it’s objectively measurable, and above all it’ll make YOU happy. That’s your success. Write it down.

Your success is going to change over time. I always hated those “where do you see yourself in five years” questions, because a lot of time the “me of today” can’t even imagine what might be possible in five years, let alone what I’ll be doing within that possible. One you achieve your success, you might find that there’s a step or few beyond that. Cool. At that time, when it comes, you can redefine your success.

Your success definition might not even last out the year. Maybe some amazing opportunity comes along, and changes your entire vision of what’s possible. Fine! Seize that opportunity, and redefine your success within that new world.

The point of “define your success” isn’t to set some unreasonable limit, or to cater to others’ expectations, or to limit yourself. It’s to give yourself a set of clear, concrete goals that make sense for you TODAY. If the time comes and it seems like a re-definition is in order, you can do that. What I like about “The Grind” though, is that it forces me to actually THINK ABOUT IT. When that new opportunity presents itself, I need to look at my current definition of success, and DECIDE if I want to step away from that path and define a new one. It’s not something that “just happens.” I don’t flit from one life path to another without thinking about it — “The Grind” makes me think about it. It makes me make decisions, like an adult. I like that.

Don’t rush this. Draft up a definition of success and sleep on it. Tweak it over the coming few days until you’re happy with it. Test yourself by asking, “if I come to a point in my life where I feel absolutely successful, what will I be doing?” Whatever you write down for your success definition should answer that question clearly.

Now, before I let you go, we need to have a brief understanding of the word “discipline.” I want you to be disciplined about keeping up with “The Grind,” and this mailing list is designed to provide some help. But “being disciplined” simply means “being able to remember what you want, and why you want it, and how important it is to you.” You’re not going to BE successful unless you BECOME successful; “The Grind” is not about the end-state as much as it is about the journey. So you’re going to have to walk the walk and do the work. I want this mailing list to help poke you each week, so that you’ll take the time to do the work, BUT YOU GOTTA DO IT. It’ll be way easier to not do it, and you gotta fight that.

Time to get started. Define your success.

Writing Workshop Conclusion: Review Your Piece

Time for part 5, our final installment! If you’re not familiar with this workshop, read the overview first. In this part, you’re going to review what you’ve written before you unleash it on the world.

I always wait a day or two before I re-read a piece; it lets me get into a different frame of mind so I can do a “fresh” read. I’ll sometimes catch some typos (although I’m admittedly terrible at doing so, usually), but more often I’ll run across an awkward phrase, or a sentence that doesn’t scan like I wanted it to, or something substantive like that.

I start by taking my original bullet list (from Part 2) and making sure I’ve hit all those points. If I didn’t, I revise.

I don’t do this as much now, since I’ve got 19-odd years of experience, but especially for short pieces I used to read them aloud. If something sounded stilted, or “off” somehow, I’d rewrite it. I don’t want my writing to sound formal or cold or standoffish; I want it to sound like me. Reading it aloud is the best way to see if it does that.

If there’s to be a formal edit of my piece, this is where I’d turn it into the editor. If not… it’s off to publishing.


Take a look at what you wrote in the last piece, with the above advice in mind. Do a revision pass or two, but leave it there: don’t get into an endless cycle of modifications. A published piece is useful; one in and endless loop of rewrites isn’t.


Hopefully, this little workshop has illustrated the process I use myself, and offered you a tip or two that you’ll find useful.

I’m super-biased toward the written word. While I acknowledge that it’s not a perfect form of communication, it’s one that’s served humanity better, and for longer, than anything else. I don’t know if we’ll be able to watch today’s digital videos a hundred years from now, but I’m betting we’ll still be able to read.

With that in mind, I hope you can find something to write about, and that you do it. Eventually (trust me), if you do it enough, you will be amazing at it (assuming you’re not already), and it’ll start to be a habit that you don’t want to break.

“Discipline:” A Definition

We all put things off. Typically, if something isn’t contributing directly to our immediate survival or pleasure, it’s easy to put it off. Folks will tell you that not putting it off is a sign of discipline. But what is discipline?

In my book, discipline is nothing more than remembering why you wanted to do a thing in the first place.

If you picked up a book, clearly you’d wanted to read it. But then other things came up, and so you made a decision on where to spend your time. That’s fine, except when you made that decision, you may not have been exercising discipline. You might not have remembered why you picked up the book in the first place.

This comes up all the time: the gym, your diet, a movie, whatever. Obviously, life requires us to prioritize all the time, and it requires us to let some things go – you can’t have it all! But too often, we make the decision in the heat of the moment, without really thinking and remembering. We’ll tackle the thing that seems most proximate.

Businesspeople will often use a Cover metaphor about rocks and pebbles as a way of approaching this problem. You have a bowl, and it represents all the time you possess. Around it are rocks and pebbles. The big rocks represent the things that will have true impact on your life. You can put a rock int he bowl, but that’s going to take up a lot of space – meaning, it’ll tae a lot of time, and all the pebbles will still be lying there, un-done. You could grab handful of pebbles, too, and while they’ll all fit in the time you have, none of the really “big things” in life are going to get done.

For me, when I decide to do something, I add it to a list. I prioritize that list. Sometimes, I skip big items. Like, I have to pay the bills, right? But I make sure they’re at the top of the list.

I also limit the list. I have friends who do not do this, and so they have these giant lists of “things I mean to do someday,” which effectively means they’ll never do any of them. When my list gets too long, things have to come off. I have to make a decision, which gives me an opportunity to remember why I wanted them there in the first place. Items that will lead to my personal definition of success always stay; everything else has to justify its place in my life and on the list.

How do you manage discipline?

A Wrap-Up for the Week

I don’t think I’ve done this before, but this has been a bit of a new cycle for me this week, so I wanted to wrap it up for anyone who may have missed a bit.

The DSC Book is now open-source and owned by a community organization. That means it has a minimum price of $0 on Leanpub, and anything you choose to pay goes to DevOps Collective scholarships.

I’ve released The Never, a book I’ve been wanting to write for 18 years. It’s almost 80,000 words, and I’m immensely happy about it. There’s a free ebook offer for those who want to help get the book noticed.

I’ve released Be the Master, 4th Edition and have several offers related to it, including a limited-edition hardcover, an upcoming virtual workshop, and a free ebook offer.

I published Part IV of my online “Writing Workshop,” and if you ever need to write things, it’s a good, short series of articles to read through.

I’ve got articles poised on both and to get you through the holidays and beyond; I hope you’ll stay tuned!

Who are Your Stakeholders, and What are Their Values?

I’m married, with no kids. But I do have some extremely close friends who are every bit part of my family. They’re my stakeholders. If I want to make a change in my life, they need to buy off on it, and they get a say in it.

Their values are important to me. They may differ from my own, but when I look to make changes in my life, I need to understand their values, and take them into account. They won’t sign off on things that contravene their own values, and I wouldn’t want them to.

Whether I’m looking to make a change at work, relocate for a job, or whatever, my stakeholders have always been a part of the decision. They’re part of my Self, the reason I’m alive and happy. Without them, I wouldn’t be happy, and so I need to make sure my decisions are something they can get behind.

Who’re your stakeholders? What are their values?

As you’ve read Be the Master (and you can get a copy below by signing up), and as you’ve contemplated changes you might make to help you reach your success, have you consulted those stakeholders? What advice have they offered?

Even children can be stakeholders. They may not be able to form fully informed opinions, but they do have values, and to them, their opinions – however immature – matter. When my partner was young, his father switched from insurance sales to law, a switch requiring three years of law school and a significant amount of belt-tightening at home. His Dad wisely sought the approval of his stakeholders – his family – before doing that, because they were all affected. It may have been hard to explain to a pre-teen, but he took the time and tried, and it meant that the family went into the change together.

Get to know your stakeholders.

Writing Workshop Part 4: the Writing

Time for part 4! If you’re not familiar with this workshop, read the overview first. In this part, it’s time to write your piece.

Largely due to my detailed and aggressive outlines, writing has always been a little easy for me. I mean, if you’ve got an outline with 3rd- and 4th-level headings, you’re only writing a few paragraphs for each heading, in most cases. So “writer’s block” tends to not be a thing for me.

I try to write in a casual voice. College “technical writing” classes, I swear, ruin people. The best compliments I get are the ones where people say, “I’ve seen you speak, and when I read your book or an article, I can hear your voice in my head.” That’s amazing to hear, and it’s absolutely my goal.

Avoid passive voice:

The computer is now powered up.

It’s passive because we don’t actually know who did the action to what. Go with active voice instead:

You turned on the computer.

There’s a person here: you. It’s fine to use I and you in your writing; only use we if you’re referring to both yourself and the reader.

We see here that the car is in drive mode.


You can see that the car is in drive mode.

Much better.

For each outline heading, try to write one paragraph that makes the main point for that heading – and there should generally only be one point. An additional 2-3 paragraphs can go into more detail, explain supporting concepts, outline variations, and so on. But you should be able to see how each subsequent paragraph supports the first one. Someone who only reads the first paragraph of each heading should still get the basic gist, even if they don’t get the full story.

For God’s sake, stop press <spacebar> twice after periods. Your high school typing teacher is probably dead by now. We have proportional fonts now, not IBM Selectrics.

It’s also fine to not use your outline headings in your piece. I’m not doing so in this piece. This is short enough that a run-on narrative works. But I still used the outline to decide what order to use when I covered things.


It’s go-time! Take your outline and write a piece!