Feedback is Fun

Feedback was the most exciting part of the day for me today. It was in a meeting and everything, so what could be better?!

If you detect sarcasm there, oddly… you’d be wrong.

Our 12 person leadership team was doing an exercise with a 9-Box Model and our Head of Engineering tasked us to prepare a self-evaluation and feedback for others as well. Our 9-Box classified Leadership Potential along the horizontal axis, and Performance in the role on the vertical axis. It was a bit daunting.

I spent some time Wednesday evening shuffling names around in lists, trying to work out what made sense. I wrote a whole host of notes for the meeting for everyone. And then I didn’t use any of it when push came to shove.

The feedback session was a mix of some different levels of the Org Chart, which was an interesting concept. Listening to Manager Tools teaches one rule about Feedback above all else: “You do not give Feedback to your Boss”. So of course, I proceeded to give constructive feedback to both my boss, and my boss’ boss.

I think the way this session creeps through the eye of the Manager Tools needle is that this was probably not technically feedback in the sense that they use, in that from bottom to top there is no implicit expectation that all feedback must get taken up. Details.

It was fun though, and incredibly constructive.

Giving and taking feedback can be hard, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. It feels uncomfortable because nobody does it enough. It’s the proverbial rusty wheel of management.

For my part, two things stood out (there were other noteworthy items, that need more time to percolate):

  • I have probably not been mingling enough with everyone, shown by the fact most people had trouble finding feedback (and it’s not because I’m perfect already, thanks mom).
  • I make things sound more complicated than they actually are by over-explaining. Although I do suspect that there are times when I don’t explain enough of the intermediate steps of my reasoning as well in my excitement to draw people to the conclusion. I blame Scott from my previous job for just being too damn quick at keeping up with everyone.

The latter point is definitely the harder for me to fix.

When I get questions, my first instinct is to try to explain the full nuance of the subject in one go. Which isn’t helpful. But then… I hate the idea of people falling into pitfalls I could have warned them against.

I guess until we get neural up-links with better bandwidth than a human voice I’ll have to settle for being Mozart, because my skills are definitely not adequate to being Bach.

(If you don’t recognize the Douglas Adams reference in the last paragraph, click through… it’s probably my favourite quote of his… the whooshing deadlines one is seriously overrated).

#PAXAUS – Day 3 – and scene

I’m not sure what it is about conferences.

They make me… want to do things.

Organise, lobby, create.

Today I feel like I wish I could enhance PAX and level it up into it’s next evolution. I’m not sure what that exactly looks like, but it probably involves some moderator training, a slightly broader net of topics, and maybe some workshops. It feels like PAX has a level of energy around it that is worth harnessing… for awesome.

Saturday I felt a pressing need to lobby politicians and try to help activists get their message across. There were so many people at panels passionate about changing pieces of their world, but obviously bewildered about how to go about it.

Friday, I just wanted to start a gaming cafe where people can play games over a meal. But that sounds like a great way to never have time for anything else ever again.

It’s a constant stream of inspiration and puzzle-pieces shifting around in my head.

And there is never enough time to think it all through to conclusions. I’m thinking I should give up some of my TV time in favour of writing time, lest these ideas end up indefinitely detained in the cage inside my brain.

Sadly, all of that is going to have to take a back-seat to my NaNoWriMo now; I have a 30 day deadline, and Tycho signed my messenger-bag with a “Godspeed” when I told him, and now it kinda feels like he is going to haunt me till the end of the month, and possibly beyond if I fail. I have to live up to his well-wish, or I’ll fail on two levels simultaneously.

Also, he has seemed possessed in the comics more of late, and I shouldn’t take any chances.

It was a great time, and I wish there were more of it. Even while it is exhausting. Or perhaps because of.

Thanks PAX, thanks crowd, thanks atmosphere.

And thanks Robert Khoo for picking Australia. That was cool of you.

#PAXAUS – Day 2

I tried to sleep in. I honestly did. But at 9:00am I was awake, despite the best curtains I have ever had in a hotel room. Even at noon, it feels like midnight in here; I had to sneak behind the curtains to confirm that the light bleeding along the edges wasn’t an illusion.

After discovering yesterday that running from session to session is not a great way to spend a day (and missing half of them anyway), I had quite dramatically cut back on my personal schedule.

But I wasn’t going to miss “Penny Arcade – Make a Strip!” even if Mike wasn’t available. Kris Straub was a great fill-in; although his art wasn’t entirely to my tastes as much as Mike’s he was a lot more personable and engaged with the Q&A portion of the event.

I am in awe of how open and vulnerable Jerry Holkins is prepared to make himself. I don’t know if it is partially a well-exercised act, but despite agonising over whether to reveal personal details about himself, he always comes through. He’s not afraid to just be himself. I wonder if that’s the secret sauce that makes the PAX con so great; the fact that it originates from geeks with a great attitude about life.

The Six Rules of PAX should be a model for Tech Cons.

Sometimes,… (often… (always)) his unflappable nature results in a blue tinge to proceedings. Q: “Invent and illustrate a new form of erotica” was Chekhov’ed delicately on the corner of the desk and eventually resulted in some delightful Vesperotica / bat erotica.

It is a delight just to listen to Jerry ad-lib and riff.

Next up, I had a political panel which included two lobbyists and one Scott Ludlam. Hearing him speak always reminds me that a quiet measured voice often garners more attention than a raised voice.

It was an incredibly packed session; the queue snaked around corners, and I think we ended up with slightly more people in the room than there technically should have been. But it’s all good. It is good to see that level of interest in activism; I am taking it as a sign of an interest to do something, rather than thinking it might have seemed an opportunity to roast a politician or perhaps gloat over other politicians not-present.

I have many thoughts on the topic of activism in the general sense. I need to find more time to think them through and write them out. Or do something constructive with them. But for now, the call-to-action I felt compelled to write will have to do.

I spent a brief period in an “Are Gamers Social?” session. As much as I was interested to find there are all kinds of geek spaces starting to show up in all the major cities, I think the panel was a bit un-structured and could have done with a bit more preparation. Or perhaps a better premise than a question with an obvious answer.

I left early.

The session on “Geek Culture/Identity: Exploring the Reality of ‘Fake’ Geeks” had a much better premise, a much better panel and a much better moderator than most of the sessions. I’m wondering if PAX should do more to prepare panel moderators for their duties, because it’s not as easy as just showing up with an idea and some guests.

What is a Fake geek… or what is even a Real geek. The panel didn’t really come to a solid conclusion, other than, almost any topic with passionate adherents could be considered geekery. And I don’t disagree. But then, maybe instead of spending a lot of time on the central question we could have moved on to the answer that everyone is a geek for something, and maybe we should all just pay more attention not to alienate those with geekery that we do not quite understand. In a stereotypical jocks-vs-geeks stand-off, aren’t both sides misunderstanding how similar they really are?

I would love for a panel to explore that point in more depth.

This was the point in the evening where the musical entertainment in the main hall proved more interesting than the sessions I had ticked off on my schedule. I ended up seeing some of the Doubleclicks’ work on-stage, and I enjoyed it greatly… especially their tabletop song was a work of art.

And the Axis of Awesome had a bit of a shaky start with feedback from the speakers, but they had some great bits, and ended incredibly strongly on a whirlwind tour through the musical landscape of the last decade based on a single four-chord progression. Music has never sounded more monotonous to me than it did for the last 5 minutes of their act. And surprisingly, that’s a compliment… I think.

We ended the evening late with a full room for the “Sex & The Modern Geek” session; who would have thought that’d draw a full room.

A great discussion, helped along by some various scholarly and thoughtful input from the panel. I think there was a certain level of discomfort in the room around a few of the topics raised, but overall a great audience. I wish there was more room for topics like this at PAX.

Acceptance comes from understanding. Understanding comes from exposure. Discomfort is part of the process of losing your discomfort.

It was a great session to end the day on.

The realisation there is only one more day left (and one that ends early at 6pm at that) makes me a little sad. There are certain conferences I could spend a great deal more time on if the constraints of life would only permit it. I don’t think I would enjoy every panel on the schedule, but I could certainly fit a few more days in.

Alas, time to rest so I can make the most of the last.

How About a Digital Gaming Revolution, Mr. Turnbull?

PAX is a conference for gamers of all kinds, and geek culture more broadly.

But you wouldn’t have guessed it from the length of the room-overflowing queue leading into the session “Boss Level: Meet the Brains in Charge of the Aussie Games Industry”. The most political session at the conference. Scott Ludlam’s presence on the panel is always a dead give-away.

There were plenty of questions about how to change the status quo, how to make games a more serious part of the Australian economy, how to get taken seriously. And it sounds there is slow progress, but still…

…I feel frustrated on behalf of the panelists when people as “Tell us what we should do?” or “Tell us how we can get meaningful change?” As if permission to act is required. When in reality the best thing everyone can do is to put their best argument in the ear of their local politician. Nothing motivates politicians better than mountains of individual arguments, because they betray a level of passion for the subject.

The dirty little secret of politics is that the less effort you have to take to make your voice heard (copy-paste campaigning, or signature gathering), the more of it you need to carry the same weight as a dozen well-crafted personal messages. Effort counts, not volume. Effort in lobbying translates to effort to get politicians elected (or challenged).

I’m not a citizen. So I don’t get to vote. But I still have an argument to put forward from some simple facts that were incredibly easy to gather from the prompts of several speakers. So here is my bit for the cause.

Globally, the movie industry is worth about $90 billion this year (and climbing).

Globally, the music industry is worth about $27 billion this year (and declining).

Globally, the video games industry is worth about $114 billion this year (and rising rapidly).

Malcolm Turnbull talks a good game in support of the digital economy. Labor has thrown their support behind this message. Getting support for the software industry should be a slam dunk.

And based on current trends, next year the video games industry is going to be larger than the movie and music industries worldwide.

And game development studios have a much more direct path to access the global economy; we already do well in Australia considering the general lack of support the industry gets.

But in light of the numbers above do the movie and music industries get generous support, whilst the games industry gets absolutely none? Success in the latter will be a much bigger factor for the success of the Australian digital media industry than either of the first two.


Time to put money where the mouths are. How about extending some tax incentives into the industries of the future, and set Australia up to punch above its weight internationally?

Now, share this post with someone.

And then make contact with your local politician, and make your own argument why this matters for your career, your economic future, your passion. Because that’s how it is done.

#PAXAUS – Day 1

I bought our tickets many many months ago. I think almost as soon as they became available. They are just too much of a bargain to take risks with how long they will be available.

If you want to ask me “What’s a Pax?” – go over to Penny Arcade, read some comics, and maybe watch a video or two. A PAX is essentially a glorious celebration of amalgamated nerd culture. Over a three day weekend, there are panels on many varied topics, a show floor for PC, console, handheld hardware and games, board games, and many places to play and try a little bit of everything.

All set on the south bank of Melbourne, with all the food, and entertainment, and gas torches.

We’re now at the end of day one, and it just doesn’t feel like there is enough time to get to everything. Too many sessions. I am on average triple-booked throughout the day. I need more time to see all the great cosplaying. I need more time to play all the games.

Or perhaps a better filter. As great as the event is overall, it is not all equally great. I’ve been in two panels that felt a bit under-prepared. Like the host had had a great idea for a session, suggested it, got accepted, and then didn’t do any work to put together a cohesive set of questions and a narrative digging into the material. Which is a shame, because I was looking forward to the sessions on diversity in games.

And although Mike didn’t manage to make it to Australia this year, Jerry (Holkins) is firing on all cylinders like always. I like his words. He puts them in order in the most fantastic way. I need to figure out if there is something I could ask him to sign on my pass. I am leaning towards “A Second Naked Kris Straub” at the moment for reasons I cannot adequately explain outside of the context of the game of Quiplash I witnessed. I could easily listen to him all day.

I had a specific request lined up for Mike as well. Something from First 15 that I thought would go well on a T-shirt, but I will have to forego that privilege for now.

Maybe that was more to assuage my guilt over not knowing what either Mike or Jerry looked like last year, and possibly accidentally snubbing Mike at the pin-trade. Which I have since learned would have been an even more severe snub for the fact that pin-trading came forth from his imagination.

It is a shame that all these cool people gathered here together disperse again in less than 48 hours.

3 days just feels too short.

It’s like… less than 1% of the year. Does that sound like enough to you? It doesn’t to me.

ADSD with AOA and Udi – Day 4

It has been four days since I slept.

I am hallucinating Authorities (aka Services), Bounded Contexts, or is that Business Components? Up is down, down is up. Everything is abstract. Everything is physical but different. Or not.

Today we moved at a much steadier clip through our materials. I was more alert by necessity, and there were fewer tangents, although still enough. There’ve been a few cases of not-really-questions-more-comments-to-try-and-impress, but far more frequent are in-depth tangents that feel like individuals trying to get some free consultin’ out of Udi.

It is of course hard not to bring your real-world scenarios into the learning experience, but there is a difference in the feel of a question motivated by not-quite-understanding and a question that is looking for a solution.

Today was actually surprisingly more concrete and nuts-and-bolts. Still provocative and even surprising in places though, but I wouldn’t have *that* any other way. Why yes, yes, let’s connect the javascript client straight to the database; and the case he made was surprisingly compelling all things considered.

I cannot quite tell how he felt about CQRS; the tone and body-language was somewhat dismissive, but he explained it with a level of nuance and determination at odds with that posture. He was definitely dismissive of Event Sourcing though. And we’re not allowed to use Udi Says for justification, but it was hard not to sympathize with his assessment of the limitations on its value.

He still reveals some things with a larger sense of mystery and caginess than I think is warranted, but at this point I’ve decided the showmanship is just getting the best of him.

And… I was so hopeful.

We got to 200 pages out of 250 around 4pm. I thought today was going to be an “early” one (i.e. 5:30pm for example), since I knew he had a further speaking gig in the evening, and surely he eats?

In the end he raced through to page 237 by about 7pm. I’d have said that bodes well for an early mark tomorrow, but I really have no idea what to believe anymore. I’m doing my best to stay focused and absorb everything throughout the day, but it is … so … hard.

One more day.

I can do this.

And then, hopefully, a more in-depth summary of what I got out of the experience.

The Answer Might Surprise You.

ADSD with SOAAOA and Udi – Day 3

Dear diary, today is day 12 of my 5-Day Training Course.

I would complain about the energy drain if not for the appreciation that Udi is investing so much of his time. Every day starts at 8:30, and goes well past 6 pm with very limited breaks. It’s a … marathon? (I hope?) We’re now 30 hours in with at least 20 more to go that I can tell, excluding further homework tomorrow.

I am a bit mystified why Udi uses the word “Service” so much when he clearly has a distaste for its nebulous definition and general appropriation. “Authority Oriented Architecture” sounds like a much better descriptor overall, even if Authority isn’t ideally unambiguous either.

IT managed to go through all the good words by the end of last century, re-defining them all into meaninglessness.

The pattern in Udi’s style is abundantly clear by now; cleverly selected examples without singular answers, and a well-honed skill at arguing, together make for a lot of head-scratching around the room. I am enjoying thinking around the provocative propositions he throws out there, but I cannot help but feel there’s a level of empty calories about the exercise.

There will be no technology advice anywhere along the way. That’s an implementation-detail that is case-specific and therefore not something he can (or will) give us. I think some in the class are still hoping/thinking we may end up there, but that’s not the direction this course is following.

There will also be no scientific underpinnings for the theories. De-composing architecture along the lines of his advice is a good thing, because. And by squinting just right I am convinced overall that’s true, but I wish I had something more concrete to hang that on. Case studies. Empirical evidence. A rigid mathematical proof (I can dream…), but that’s also not where this is heading.

It’s a very valuable exercise at stretching the mind, and learning new ways to approach architectural and design decisions though, and that’s not to be sneezed at.

Still no silver bullets, sadly.

ADSD with SOA and Udi – Day 2


Apparently I am back in school now; after a long day (8:30am – 6:30pm) I have a homework assignment for tomorrow. I had hoped to get some extra sleep tonight, but no luck.

Using Thing-Oriented-Architecture, I am modelling the service boundaries for a hotel booking system tonight. I probably will save some for on the train tomorrow morning, because I could barely keep awake today and if I don’t sleep well, tomorrow will be worse still.

As much as yesterday felt like the set-up for some grand unified theory on distributed design, after today it feels like there aren’t going to be any answers, just increasingly vague questions. And a lot of my own opinions. So maybe more than anything this is a course to help me figure out what I believe myself? With some rules-of-thumb thrown in?

So far the single most useful piece has been a helpful question to determine whether services are sitting in the right context together (or not). I can tell it’s going to get a big work-out in time.

And I’m looking forward to the suggested approach to pull information back together into a cohesive interface. I can kinda see where Udi’s leading, but it is still a little bewildering. This may be exacerbated by the fact that he is clearly purposely constructing worst-case examples to push boundaries.

I’m hoping tomorrow brings more answers than new questions.

I’ll hold off on holding my breath.