Category Archives: life

Doing the wrong thing…

There are times that your customer will ask you to do something so you do it. But did you stop to ask them about why they need that done? The story here is an old one that you might have heard but recently someone gave me an addition to the story and it blew my mind.

If someone comes to you in the hardware store and asks for a quarter inch drill bit, what do they actually want? Quarter inch holes. A drill bit is just a tool and if there’s a better way to give them the quarter inch hole, give it to them.
The addition was, now ask why they want quarter inch holes… Turns out they are hanging a ceiling fan. Ask them why they are hanging a ceiling fan. Turns out they are trying to sell their house and they were told that a ceiling fan in the bedroom would help. Ask if you could come take a look… Turns out that the paint outside is faded and cracked so the reality is that when they asked for a quarter inch drill bit, really they needed 5 gallons of paint and a ladder and in all honesty, they should slap you for selling them the drill bit.

I’ve been reflecting on this a while and I’ve come to the following…

I’ve long had a philosophy that I’d like to

“Do something, anything, even the wrong thing, learn from it and iterate.”

This has been my guiding light and has helped me keep from getting stuck in analysis paralysis and drives the analytical people around me absolutely nuts (Looking at you Gary Sweeting…) ūüôā
That said, I was talking to my new friend that I met at Collision Conf this week, Bas Wouterse (CTO at, and I realized that I’m slightly off there. It was an aha moment for me as I realized that I’ve been voicing my actual process wrong for years.

Here’s my new motto

“I’d rather do the wrong thing than solve the wrong problem”

The original motto still applies once I figure out what the problem is that I’m solving but it’s not enough to just start doing stuff. I was out with a young developer who asked what’s the difference between an architect and a developer. My answer was “An architect is an experienced developer who cares about the requirements phase of the project.” And that’s the case. I care about the requirements. I’ll investigate until I get a grasp of the problem. Then I’ll start doing stuff in that direction. I’m normally wrong in my approach the first several times. However, as I get more experience, I have gotten better about being less wrong about my direction even in those early phases. The trick is to quickly realize that I’ve made a mistake and fix it. I don’t try to make mistakes, however I’m not scared to make them.

The biggest mistake though, as I’m learning from my previous mistakes, is to solve the wrong problem. It doesn’t matter how correct your solution is if it’s the wrong problem. This goes from macro to micro.

At the macro level, I’ve met a ton of startups who are solving the wrong problem. Normally this means that they are solving a problem that their users have but not solving a problem that their potential customers have. Noodle on that a bit… ūüôā

On a micro level, customers always tell me that X is not responsive enough or something very generic and sweeping like that. Rather than digging into the speed testing and all that, I ask them what they mean and start unpacking “responsive” means to them specifically. Often it turns out that you and your customer have very different definitions of responsive. Once you figure out what responsive means, anything that you do to solve the responsiveness issue has a much higher probability of being a step in the right direction.

Summing up, spend the time to ask that next question that will get you closer to solving the right problem.

Open Sourcing Mental Illness

Open Sourcing Mental IllnessAt PHP Tek 2014, I saw a set of talks organized by a guy named Ed Finkler. This included a talk by¬†Greg Baugues and¬†Paddy Foran. They really opened up and talked about their own mental health issues including anxiety, depression and more. There was not a dry eye in the house. I’m not going to tell their story. That’s their to share. What I am going to share is how it affected me and my story.

Reason I’m blogging about this now is that I recently had a chance to interview Ed and post that to Code to Live.

I’ve always joked about having ADHD but it was always just a joke. My wife,¬†Phoebe, was talking to someone (I don’t remember who) and they recommended that I read a book called Delivered from Distraction. ¬†The first thing that I did when the book came in was the self diagnosis and wow did I score highly on that. The one set of questions that I missed on were the ones about relationships. I got lucky and married a very supportive wife. One of the big things that I learned was that one of the dark sides of ADHD is that people with it suffer from low self-esteem and depression. While I’ve suffered from this myself, I had never attributed it to ADHD and while I joked about it, I hadn’t thought that I actually had it or had any idea how to deal with it until I read the book. And very importantly, I was making the biggest mistake that most people make here – I was trying to deal with it on my own rather than seeking help.

Shortly after this I went to a therapist who specializes in ADHD. He worked with a phycologist and between the two, I was officially diagnosed with ADHD in 2008. I was prescribed with Adderall. The good news is that I knew what that was because I had read about it and the upsides and the side affects. There are two basic types of ADHD meds, anti-depressants and stimulants. They work very differently and sometimes one works better for one person than the other. If you suffer from ADHD, you should work with your mental health professional(s) to figure out what’s going to work for you.

This happened in 2008 but the reality is that I didn’t talk to people other than good friends until 2014 because I was ashamed about it. Ed, Greg and Paddy showed me that we need to talk about mental illness and take away the stigmas. That’s the only way that we can actually create a supportive and healthy environment. The worst thing that we can do is try to suffer in silence and not seek help.

If you want to learn more, if you’re suffering or are not sure if you’re suffering a mental health issue, there are resources up on Ed’s site at

What is ¬°Pura Vida!

I recently got back from an amazing trip to Costa Rica. It was absolutely amazing and has changed me (I hope) forever and for the better. Unfortunately it wasn’t 31 days, but rather it was only 8 days. However I’m taking on a writing challenge of writing something every single day for 31 days straight. I decided to write about the change in my life…

¬°Pura Vida! is the Costa Rican way of life. Translated it’s “pure life” which sounds pretty simple but in practice it goes much deeper. Most of the time folks look at it as just like a “hang loose” or something like that. But it goes a lot deeper than that.

It started in a 1956 film from Mexico called Pura Vida in which the main character said the catch phrase all the time as an expression of unbridled enthusiasm. The movie was a hit and the phrase started spreading. It was slow but by the 1970s, it was all over Costa Rica. It was even officially recognized in dictionaries in the 90s.

The phrase really means that life is wonderful, that there is always someone who is less fortunate that you and we are all in this together. This pervasive outlook on life is outstanding and something that more of us need to adopt.

As I looked around Costa Rica, I saw some real poverty but everywhere I looked I saw amazing generosity, joy and community. Jeremy Sublet and I were driving through a small town and stopped for lunch. The town obviously didn’t have any money and everywhere I looked I saw joy and love whether it was couples walking in the park or having lunch together or kids playing in the streets. At the end lunch, we were headed back to the car when one of the guys at the bar held up his beer to us and I heard that phrase for the first time – “¬°Pura Vida!”.

At the time I didn’t understand what it meant. But I laughed and said “¬°Pura Vida!”.

Now that I understand more about it, I look at my life¬†and think about all of the times when I’m wallowing in self pity. Yes, I have hardships in my life. But there are so many people who have so many more real troubles in their life.

Over the next 31 days, I’ll be writing about¬†¬°Pura Vida! and how I’m going to be trying to incorporate it into my life.

Deciding to go to Costa Rica

Justin Bronder in a boat at Rio Clara

Justin Bronder in a boat at Rio Clara

The first time that I met Justin Bronder, he was just back from a trip that he acted like was the trip of a lifetime. He showed me amazing pictures of obscure birds and crazy little monkeys. Actually, the first picture that I saw was of a monkey’s behind as it mooned the camera. I thought he was nuts, that he was was awesome and that we’d be friends all at the same time. Turns out I was right on all accounts.

Fast forward a year and I know for a fact that Justin has got one of the biggest hearts that I know. And amazingly, he headed back to Costa Rica and invited me to come with him. Something in Costa Rica had touched him and he wanted to share that with more people.

The restaurant at Copa de Arbol at night.

The restaurant at Copa de Arbol at night.

While I was excited to go, I really didn’t know what to expect. Justin had talked about the both the jungle and 5 star resort and pointed me at the hotel web site – When I looked at the web site, I saw that it was both – a 5 star resort in the middle of the jungle. There were some other things that were fun. The resort is right on the edge of the Corcovada National Part which is a green zone. There’s no roads to the property so everything is water taxi or hiking. That made me even more excited.

I talked to my wife and got permission to go.

Honestly though, I didn’t spend enough time researching Costa Rica. That was a failing on my part.But I didn’t look at the amazing country that I was about to go to other than seeing it’s in Central America.¬†I spent a little time reviewing my pathetic Spanish. “Gracias”, “Hola”, “Adios”, “Caliente”, “Fr√≠o”, ¬†“Uno, “Dos”, “Tres”… ¬†I spent some time looking at my camera gear, picking up waterproof backpacks (I picked up an awesome one – Phantom Aquatics Walrus 25 Premium Waterproof Backpack Dry Bag) and the like.

It was all completely selfish but the good news is that despite this failing, I was ready to start packing for the trip.