S09E15: Isn’t this enough?

I put some ideas into the world this week and got robust feedback. I made breaking changes to a library I own and then immediately started planning my next revisions. I watched Hamilton, again, and got feelings, again, but some new ones and I know y’all love to hear about my feelings so you better believe I’m going to talk about them.

Hamilton first. Throughout the piece, Hamilton and Burr are set as opposites in how they live their lives (save in one element; they are singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to being a father). We are introduced to Burr as someone who advises headstrong Hamilton to talk less and smile more. Hamilton ignores this advice with gusto: he wears his colours proudly and ensures everyone knows what he stands for. He is so keen to control that narrative that he willingly destroys his own marriage to preserve his good name, a weird contradiction if ever I’ve seen one.

Towards the end of the piece, having reconciled with his wife, Hamilton is up before dawn to write the letter you write before you duel. His wife, half-asleep, asks him to come back to bed. She wishes that the world of their farm and their bed and their family was enough for him. It isn’t, but I want to know if he ever wished it was.

See, because that’s where I am. I’ve talked about it before and still it drives me; drives me on, drives me mad. I wish I were satisfied with my work and my life. I feel like a plant pushing its way through a crack in cement. I don’t even know why I’m doing it. I don’t even know if I want to be doing it. But I’m convinced, somewhere deep down, that if I don’t I’m going to die.

Like to the point where I’m almost envious of his willingness to blow up his entire life. It’s so selfish it takes your breath away, but there is definitely a part of me that wishes I didn’t have connections that stopped me being a workaholic and dying at 50. Isn’t that strange? The smallest violin in history must be playing as I sit here forlornly typing “Gosh, I wish I didn’t have people that loved me and would prevent me self-immolating. How galling to be limited in this way.”

And Burr’s no better, for what it’s worth. He waits forever to get what he wants, doesn’t tell anyone his true feelings, and ends up losing the battle for the presidency because Hamilton intervenes against him. Envy and self-loathing tear him completely in two: he desperately wants to be in the room where things happen; to be a player; to have people ask him his opinion on weighty matters. In short, he wishes he were Hamilton. But to do so he’d have to have an opinion; he’d have to be willing to risk something. He twists in agony in chains whose every link he forged with greatest pride. He’s not satisfied either, but worse than that he doesn’t do anything to change his situation until it’s too late.

I’d rather be Hamilton than Burr, but I wish I could just be satisfied instead.

(Also, in real life, Burr remarried and was then divorced. The lawyer his wife chose was Alexander Hamilton Jr, which is just brutal)

Breaking changes!

I’m trying to practice good versioning, which meant that this week I made a breaking change to a library I own. This library is a good way of practising, because the only client using this library is one that I also own – at least, as far as I know.

I’m facing a reasonably tricky problem, which is generalising out a hard-coded set of rules-as-code to rules that can be interpreted from text. I’m sure there’s a fancy name for this, and it’s a really interesting problem.

As a reminder, the problem space is taking 400 mentors and mentees, and scoring every possible combination. So we combine a Mentor and Mentee class and make a Match class, and that class has a whole bunch of rules hard-coded inside it. However, this makes it really difficult to change the rules. Extracting these rules out so they can be created separately is my next big challenge, and I think it’ll be tricky enough that I’m asking for help from my mentee Miriam.

Separately, I want to develop the library so that users can have any fields when they create their Mentor and Mentee objects. For example, there might be an extra field in the spreadsheet that notes favourite food or whether participants are cat or dog people. This will help get better matches (maybe!) and so we should be able to analyse that data. However, at that point I think we may as well just be passing dictionaries around – an infinitely flexible datastructure is a tough thing to model.

Any ideas? Let me know.

I’m doing a bit of strategic work, and like always with strategic work I start with context, apply principles, think about where we could go, apply principles, and figure out what the next steps are. I put one principle out on twitter, because some very clever people follow me, and got some interesting responses.

Principles – or at least a principle worth a damn – is a maxim that will guide your decision when it’s difficult. For example, one of the principles of the Agile Manifesto was people over process. And I know folks who think that means they can do what they want. And, well, they’re sort of right. Process is (for me) quite an inhuman thing. It removes the complexity of person-to-person interaction and boils it down to a mechanistic series of actions.

See, if you believe in people over process – really believe, I mean – then you have to deal with every problem as a human. And sometimes that’s a fun problem, like “We have to hire someone”, and you can bin the boring process and hire the best person you can find. But it also means when you have to let someone go, there’s no HR process to follow. There’s just you, firing someone whose mortgage you know relies on you not firing them.

And so the principles of any strategic work should be this, even over that. People, with all the messy heartbreak and difficulties they come with, over process. It’s not “People when we’re doing something I enjoy, and process when I won’t enjoy it”. Whenever you have to choose, it’s people.

And so I’m thinking how we feed this into our strategy. Because of course this is a huge cultural change, and it’s a demand that not everyone will actually be able to answer. I think there are a lot of folks who find solace in process instead of the complexity of humans. Goodness knows I’m one of those: my brain learned human behaviour by identifying and cataloguing body language, vocal tone, speech patterns. Purposefully exposing myself to people over process continues to be a real challenge for me.

Anyway. They’re still draft, and maybe they won’t survive the process people.

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