Who am I?

I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

Currently Consuming
  • The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    by Eric Ries
  • The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    by Daniel Coyle
  • Alexander Hamilton
    Alexander Hamilton
    by Ron Chernow

Paul Tevis


I Am Always Learning

Since November I’ve been working on one of the biggest projects of my post-coding career: Helping our Product Development organization digest and process the results of our annual employee survey. This survey is a strong part of our tradition; it was first conducted in 2010, and eight years later we’re still doing it in largely the same way. Of course, in 2010 we had 14 people in the department, and now we have 150, so it makes sense that we need to do a few things a little differently. Because the tradition is so strong, however, we need to be deliberate and careful about making changes to the process, and we need to do so in as transparent a way as possible.

A key piece of that happened yesterday, when we wrapped up the first major phase of the project with a status report of sorts to the entire department. It was well-received, and I’m excited to start on phase two. Here are a few things that I’ve learned along the way that I plan on taking advantage of as we move forward:

  • Creating space for employees to talk to each other about issues raised in the survey was useful
  • Treating the survey responses as “objects of discussion” helped make it safer to talk about difficult things
  • The model we used for looking at the data help people make sense of what they wanted to happen
  • The same things were perceieved both positively and negatively by different people… and talking about that was valuable
  • Groups of three to five people are awesome
  • Scheduling is hard

None of these things should have surprised me, and yet…


Adventures of an Introspective Extrovert, Part 1 in an Ongoing Series

If parts of five weeks on the road don’t teach you something about yourself, I’m not sure what will.

In my case, what it taught me was how my extroverted tendencies show up under stress and in environments of learning and growth, and how to deal with that. Starting with the Agile Conference in Orlando at the beginning of August, I was been from home at lot, mostly in training and learning environments. Thankfully, I’m home for next few weeks, and I’ve been able to spend some time reflecting on the experience.

Now, I generally use “extroverted” and “introverted” in their Jungian sense, i.e. our tendencies either to gain energy from or to expend energy to interact with other people and the outside world. (This is the roughly same way the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator uses them, which how I was initially exposed to the concepts.) One of the ways my extroverted tendencies show up is that I recharge by hanging out with people and talking about stuff with them; another is that I often need to talk through new ideas in order to fully absorb them. (This latter phenomena is sometimes called “external processing,” and while I don’t have to do it for everything, learning is one of the arenas in which I need it the most.) A side effect of these tendencies is that it takes energy for me to sit quietly, particularly when learning new things.

This means that by the third day of a great three-day workshop, I can’t shut up.

Fortunately for those around me (and especially those with introverted tendencies), I’ve figured out that this happens to me, and I spent a good chunk of these trips experimenting with some ways of mitigating it. Getting more sleep helps, eating intelligently helps, not over-indulging in alcohol helps, having one-on-one conversations helps, and – surprisingly to me – exercise helps. One of the things that carried me through this stretch of time was getting out for a run on as many days of these conferences as I could. Somehow, that processing time – even though it was going on inside my head – settled me down. I think my fellow attendees appreciated it.

I realize that my experience is far from universal. I’m curious: How do you deal with your tendencies in a training environment or when you’re traveling?


The Running Man

A year ago, I decided to get serious about running again. That has turned out to be one of the better decisions I’ve made.

Since then I’ve run at least three times a week each of the last 52 weeks, completed a sub-two-hour half-marathon, and run a total of 811 miles. My cardiovascular endurance has skyrocketed, my recovery times have dropped, and my overall tolerance for discomfort in the service of improvement has increased dramatically. Now I’m running 15-18 miles a week (I’ve stayed above the 15 mile/week threshold for the last six months), and I’ve started working with a personal trainer on improvement other aspects of my physical fitness (mostly upper body strength).

Running four times a week, working out with a trainer twice a week, getting down to SCA fighter practice in Northridge almost every week: This seems like a lot. It is, but I’m enjoying doing it. And I didn’t take it on all at once. A decade or so ago, I encountered this wisdom on a running email list: “People tend to overestimate what they can do in a year (and underestimate what they can do in three).” I avoided overestimating what I could in year by not even thinking about it. I just focused on building things one week, one month at a time.

Where will I be with this in year? Who can say. But I’m very happy with where I am now.


And Also

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

–Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

At the Agile Conference last week I recognized that I have a new speech pattern. I heard myself saying things like:

  • “I want to help the team, and also I want them to be independent.”
  • “That way of thinking about it doesn’t work for me, and also I’m curious to know more about it.”
  • “This conversation is not comfortable for me, and also I believe it’s important to have.”

I discovered that “and also” is my phrase for holding paradox unresolved. I found myself using it to connect two potentially contradictory statements and to affirm the truths within both of them. I used when I didn’t want to favor one statement over the other. I’ve talked before about avoiding the word “but”; this goes deeper than that. This is about not rushing to certainty, about being comfortable with the discomfort of ambiguity. This is about being willing to work through ideas in public, about more deeply collaborating by letting people look behind the curtain of my thinking process before things are fully formed. This is about letting go of “having the answers” or “being right” and instead being more aware of and honest about where I’m at. And this phrase helped clue me and others in to when I was doing that.

It’s an odd little thing, but there is.


More of the Same

A year ago I said that my resolutions for 2014 were to be:

  • Present
  • Deliberate
  • Patient
  • Grateful

These, as it turns out, were a good idea. Did I do them 100% of the time? Nope. Did I do them more often than I had in the past? Yep. Were things better when I did them? Absolutely. That seems like success to me.

I think I’ll do them again, only this time, even more so.