I've been working at Amor Ministries for fourteen years. I started as an intern, then "temporary paid staff" for two summers. I spent 9 months working in El Paso, TX as the only full-time staff member living there. Then, in the summer of 1994, I moved back to HQ in San Diego. I worked four more years "in the field", showing groups how to build houses for the poor.
Around 1998, I started nurturing our fledgling computer network, and began writing business-management software for the ministry. I was the entire IT department (with a lot of help from Wendy, my supervisor) until we hired Ryan Gwillim to take over System Administration duties in early 2001. Together, we grew the network as the company grew. I wrote a lot more code, including my own database mediation software and web server, plus web applications, and reporting and analysis tools. For the last year, I've added the title of "Director of IT" to my existing "System Architect" role.
And despite all the good work and good friends, it's time for me to move on. Today is my last day as a full-time employee of Amor Ministries.
I've accepted a position as Software Engineer at etsy.com, an online marketplace for handmade goods, starting August 1st. Since they let me work from home, I will continue to live in San Diego. This should also allow me to continue to contribute to Amor--we are discussing consulting options for the transitional period while Amor searches for a new Director of IT, System Architect, and Web Application Developer.
Thanks so much to all who have supported me throughout my ministry here at Amor for so long. Your contributions make a huge impact in our world and for the kingdom--an offer of hope to those who have none. Although I've done my best to meet Amor's future IT needs, they need your support now more than ever as they seek to fill not one, but three positions soon.
Thanks to all my friends at Amor, past and present. We know a level of trial and service that most people never experience, and that common bond will keep us close into eternity. Consider it all joy.
A special thanks to Scott and Gayla, for inspiring and supporting so many to do so much. Thanks for your patience and your passion. May your vision carry Amor to do "even greater things than these" far into the future.
All systems fail, and complex systems fail in a nearly infinite number of ways, some anticipated, many unanticipated. You could publish a large manual for how to deal with every anticipated failure, but for sufficiently-complex systems, the labor of writing such a manual far outweighs the benefit of having it. Heck, the labor of reading such a manual far outweighs the benefits. Even the labor of advertising the manual outweighs the benefits. And let's not forget version control, editing, publishing, distribution, recollection, authorization, errata, indexing, and a host of other system-management duties.
Take laptop overheating. Yes, it happens. Yes, damage is done. But the damage of creating a new system to usefully and efficiently communicate the dangers of laptop overheating to all laptop users in your company is probably far greater.
But people still try. And it takes a long time to explain the above. Wouldn't it be great if you could use a single short phrase to mean all that?
Here's my contribution to the world of Getting Things Done: the Fu Filter. Use it to imply that the issue in question is not worth addressing in any meaningful way, because to do so would be more trouble than it's worth. For example, you could tell someone that laptop overheating "doesn't pass the Fu Filter." Those of you with sufficient computing experience may wish to spell it "Foo Filter" in honor of all foo everywhere. Since "fu" can mean happiness (with the right tone), you can also think of this as the "Happiness Filter".
cote (whose blog title is "People Over Process"!?) wrote:
There's a certain point, to be a cynical coder, where people just show up at meetings for face-time: to show that their involved. I'm not saying that these people don't have valuable work that could be done. Instead, their perceptions is that showing up at a meeting is the prime channel to prove that they're doing that valuable work and to do that work.
The perception is there for a reason. Face to face time, whether in meetings or the hallway or lunch, builds trust among humans. Lack of face time breaks down trust. Employ workarounds for this truth at your peril.
I've decided it's easier to just ban blogspot.com comments. Sorry if that includes you.
Ryan and I took a spur-of-the-moment backpacking trip to the Sespe Wilderness this weekend. His notes and photos are here.
All in all, I felt it was a so-so trip. It was all rushed, and only three days long, so I didn't quite get into the 2-person backpacking vibe. When you hike with only one other person, you find yourself with a lot more solo time than with 3 people or more. I also was hoping to go all the way to the Sespe hot springs on the first day, but blisters prevented that. We settled for the Willette Hot Springs, which took a couple of hours to find and was pretty disappointing. I think I've been spoiled by Big Sur. We also had some technical problems (always, always buy real Nalgene!) that didn't help the overall enjoyment of the trip.
Despite all that, it was worth it. The Sespe river in May is moderately strong, and our trail crossed it at least 6 times. So if you ever go in May, hike in river-running shoes, so you don't have to stop and change shoes every hour.
Seth Godin writes:
Is "I accept responsibility" the new "Your call is very important to us"? Probably.
Is that because some people have to be told by a marketing guru that taking responsibility is worth the effort? Probably. Shame, that.
This past week, our Team Leader Team has met twice to talk about Coaching (with a capital "C", which means it's a Platonic ideal, or academic discipline, or a system, or maybe a product). What is it? How do we do it? What does it look like at Amor Ministries? It's a new concept for most of us, and even for those who have some experience with Coaching, we're having to work at it, trying to collaboratively map the "Coaching at Amor" space.
During the conversation, the topic flowed over into Performance Reviews (paraphrased):
A: What are we saying? If part of Coaching is "building relationship", how do we avoid crossing over the line from Coaching to counseling? B: We stick to talking about "performance". A: But then we won't be addressing our company's values. One of our values is that work will be fun. If I'm only being talked to about my "performance", I'm given license to be grumpy every day as long as I get my tasks done. B: That's why our Performance Reviews have 3 components: company values, core competencies, and meeting your goals (what most companies call "performance"). C: I know that's what mattered in my last job: bottom line--did you get those tasks done? A: But again, if I can only talk about "performance", I'm not addressing the other two components. B: Sure you are. They're all "performance".
Did you catch it? We just obliterated a concept—maybe two. Nuked, taken off the map. If you don't immediately see how, let me tell you another story:
Last year, I wanted to go backpacking in the Los Padres National Forest, just south of Monterey, CA. I hadn't ever been there, and was interested to see what coastal backpacking was like (it was great!). But before you can hike the trail, you have to choose the trail, and the Ventana Wilderness has several. We chose the "Big Sur" trailhead on the West side, but I was just as interested in the "China Camp" trailhead from the East. Both of them provide access to the "Pine Ridge Trail"; they are its endpoints, about 15 miles apart.
But imagine for a moment that Bill is the first English speaker on the Pine Ridge Trail. He only knows about the "Big Sur" trailhead, and as he walks (or creates) the trail, what does he call it? Taking the path of least resistance, he probably calls it the "Big Sur Trail". From his point of view, it's only got one endpoint, so there's very little difference between "Big Sur" (the trail) and "Big Sur" (the camp at the head of that trail).
Now, imagine a second person, Chris, starting at China Camp. She's going to call her journey the "China Camp Trail". After they each thoroughly walk and map the territory, they meet by chance in the middle. Will they decide on a common name for the trail? Perhaps, perhaps not. But if they do, what will it be?
What happens if Bill "wins", resulting in the common name being the "Big Sur Trail"? There are many repurcussions of this decision, but the one I want to focus on is this: the name "Big Sur" does not mean what it did before their meeting. Reread that until it sinks in. Oh, in Bill's personal world, it seems nothing has changed, but Christine doesn't see it that way—the name "Big Sur" is brand-new to her. But there's an important third party we haven't thought about yet, and that is "everyone else". Now that they've decided on names, chances are that those who follow in their footsteps will use the same names, and those names will confuse them. Here's how:
Those people who follow Bill will have no problems. They can use the term, "Big Sur" as he did, to mean "the trail that starts at my trailhead"; that is, "Big Sur" refers to the trail and the trailhead at the same time—they are not divisable.
Those people who follow Christine have no problem, because "Big Sur" means the trail, and "China Camp" means "my trailhead". They never use the term "Big Sur" to talk about the opposite trailhead, because they never use it.
But those people who follow both of them, who are equally familiar (or unfamiliar) with both camps, have a problem. When I talk to Bill and Christine about "Big Sur", they mean different things:
Me: So, I'm planning to hike Big Sur this weekend. Bill: Great! Make sure you get a good picture of the ocean. Me: Oh, I won't have time. I'm only going for one day. Chris: Makes sense. You might get a good picture of the South Ventana Cone, though. Bill: Huh? The cone's at least two days of hiking. Chris: Huh? It's only a day from China Camp. Bill: Oh, I thought you meant "Big Sur". Chris: Huh? That's what we're talking about. "Big Sur". Me: Huh? I'm lost, and I haven't even left yet.
Of course, a real example scenario would be much longer. It might take several days for one of the participants to realize that we aren't all using the term "Big Sur" the same way. Explaining to (and even convincing) the others that this is so is a lot of work. It's so much work that it usually doesn't occur; if I'm the one with the epiphany, then I've solved the problem "for me" and can go on my hike, shaking my head at how silly Bill and Christine are with their parochial uses of the term "Big Sur". Obviously, the term means "the trail" or "the trailhead", but never both. Bill always means both, and Christine always means "the trail".
Fortunately for us, the powers-that-be called the actual trail, "Pine Ridge". They used a name that is different from the name of either trailhead (but there is a camp in the middle of the trail called "Pine Ridge", on a ridge called "Pine Ridge"). So Bill and Christine and I can all talk about it safely now, without saying, "Huh?" every other sentence.
But our fictitious example happens just as often in reverse. In our "Big Sur" example, the name of the part was inflated to also be the name of the whole. Often, we can find the name of the whole coming first, and then being subverted to mean one of the parts. Take the word "politics" for example. Its "original meaning" can be localized around the phrase "the profession of governing". But to hear the word as many people use it today, it can mean "giving up something in order to gain something else", or it can mean, "all talk and no action":
Joe: We sure needed a liberal judge. Sue: Yes; but in the end, it was "just politics". Good thing, too, or we might have ended up with a conservative. Joe: Huh? We did end up with a conservative judge. It was "just politics". Sue: Huh? No we didn't. It was a political decision. Me: Huh? Isn't it all politics?
The meaning of the term "politics" has therefore been changed, from "governance" to a technique or facet of governance. This is no less of a problem than our "Big Sur" example.
Let's wrap up and return to our first conversation. What concept did we nuke and how? If you recall, speaker B said, in effect, that they were defining the word "performance" to mean "the whole": all 3 parts of the Performance Review. This differed drastically from person A's definition: that "performance" only meant one part, and even if Person A could be swayed, Person C had a lot of history backing up the use of the word "performance" to mean only the one part.
If person B somehow convinced them all to use the term "performance" to mean the whole, then we have a new problem: what do we call the part that we used to call "performance"? If we continue to call it "performance", then we've landed in Big Sur country. One name refers to both the part and the whole, and persons A, B, and C will struggle mightily to be understood in every future conversation about performance. Those who follow person B may never know what "performance" used to mean, and may never be introduced to that concept; simply by re-using just one word to mean something larger, we've potentially wiped out the old, smaller meaning—nuked it. If our people are really on the ball, they might notice this and choose to call the part by a new name, maybe "accomplishment of goals" or "completion of tasks", to distinguish it from the "performance" whole, and let it live on.
But that's not good enough. Although we may be exploring this space for the first time, we're not true pioneers. Someone else has been here before, has already staked their claim to these ideas and terms, and has told everyone else and sold lots of maps and travel guides using these names. Consider: if we redefine "performance" to include corporate values and core competencies, we have now introduced a perpetual translation step. Whenever we bring in a Coaching expert, we will all become confused when they use the word "performance" differently than we do (this happened to us recently when we brought in a process-management expert—total communicative disconnect in both directions). When we hire a new employee, we will say, "I care about your performance" and they will hear, "I don't care about you, just outcomes".
Given the large body of literature on "performance" and the widespread common meaning, we would do ourselves a great disservice to redefine "performance" at Amor to mean something larger than its commonly-accepted meaning. Thankfully, our conversation turned elsewhere immediately, and person B used the word "performance" from that point on as we had always used it. I don't think anyone is going to start using "performance" in the broader sense.
But I was sweating bullets, there, for a little while. Let's hope the question, "what does Coaching 'look like' at Amor?" does not reach a similar point.
The job posting is pretty tame: we need a Python web developer. But I thought I'd add my personal point-of-view, and say that we really mean "developer" and not just "coder". You'd be responsible for producing working web apps, but that involves a lot of design work and architectural decision-making.
You would also be expected to contribute to the CherryPy HTTP framework and to Dejavu (my Python ORM), since I'm a core dev on both those projects and use them heavily already. In other words, if you have or want exposure to the full stack of modern web development challenges, this is the job for you. You'll be a full member of an IT team of 3 serving an energetic staff of 50.
You'll also get something that's hard to find in most programming jobs: warm fuzzies. We build homes for the poor in Mexico, simultaneously "building" the church in Mexico, the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere. We are not on the cutting-edge of world missions--we are defining that edge. If you've been thinking about "doing more for Jesus", but would rather write code than dig ditches in Uganda, give us a call (619-662-1200 ext 11).
You may have noticed I haven't been blogging much. It's due to a combination of factors, and those of you who support me financially deserve at least a quick writeup of those:
So, I have to apologize for being more of a doer than a communicator. I'd write more, but it's time for Bible study. :/
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