Heidi Waterhouse joins the show to talk about developer relations, life hacks for ADD, and the similarities between housekeeping and code review.
01:20 – Heidi’s Superpower: Being Able to Remember Where Other People Set Things Down
03:53 – Where will software be in three years?
08:28 – Resilience in People and Software
12:00 – Developer Relations
19:24 – Measuring Success in Developer Relations
23:43 – Fostering Relationships
29:13 – Life Hacks for ADD and Claiming Personal Space
41:37 – Housekeeping and Code Review; Clean Fights
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Astrid: The things you say can be heard by someone else a different way.
John: If you think about what you need out of your household or codebase as being your preference, it allows you to work with people who have other preferences more easily.
Jamey: There’s always somebody that is going to care about something.
Jessica: Spreading enthusiasm without judging people who aren’t enthusiastic about the same things as you are.
Heidi: Being able to discuss the emotional needs of having your own needs and space while having to compromise both in code and life.
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ASTRID: Wooh! Welcome back to Greater Than Code. Wooh! This is Episode 95 and I’m here with my great friend, Jamey Hampton.
JAMEY: I’m so glad to be on the show and with all my friends, and I’m here with John K. Sawers.
JOHN: Thanks, Jamey and I’m here with the lovely Jessica Kerr.
JESSICA: Good morning and today, we have a special guest, Heidi Waterhouse. Heidi is an experienced professional communicator, deeply invested in getting information to people who need it, in the easiest way for everyone involved. She does speaking and blog post and technical writing and at one point, she had this lively cutlery-based description at full-disk encryption. She wants this scalar philosophy of simple and empathetic communication by teaching others. She does develop her advocacy, speaking, writing, craftiness and maybe, she’s working on a book. Sorry about that. Books are hard.
HEIDI: Books are hard.
JESSICA: Heidi, welcome to the show.
HEIDI: Thank you.
JESSICA: What is your superpower?
HEIDI: My superpower is being able to remember where other people set things down.
JAMEY: I wish I had that superpower.
ASTRID: What about where you set things down?
HEIDI: No, no. Not where I —
HEIDI: Only where my family had set things down so they can wander by and say, “Hey, where is…” and I’ll know.
JAMEY: It’s practical.
JESSICA: Yeah. I don’t want that superpower. I just want my other people to have that superpower.
ASTRID: Oh, for you?
HEIDI: If people could find things for me, that would be nice but that’s just not how my life works.
JESSICA: My mother-in-law has this superpower and I used to make fun of my father-in-law because he won’t even move his head and be like, “Where’s my…” whatever it was, but then I realized, he’s right. Why bother looking? She knows. She’s like, “Oh, it’s here.” Oh, that. Thanks.
HEIDI: Yeah, that’s pretty much how it works. I often wonder how they fend for themselves when I’m traveling.
JAMEY: How do you do it? How does this superpower work?
HEIDI: It’s a visual memory of, “Wow, somebody is going to want to know what that is and [inaudible].”
JAMEY: I think it has to do with the future, though. I think you have a future sense because you know that people are going to want it. I’m expanding your superpowers for you, Heidi.
HEIDI: I can positively tell that somebody is going to wonder why they put their sneakers in the laundry room, so I could move them out of the laundry room and put them someplace logical, where I could just look into the future and realize they will want their sneakers.
JESSICA: Can you also tell which class is going to need to be configurable, so you should make it more flexible than you, otherwise who would make the code?
HEIDI: Yes and the answer is always, “It is going to expand and multiply beyond your conception of it as right now,” so you should always make everything configurable and also put a feature toggle on it so you can turn it on and off.
JAMEY: I think Heidi is an Oracle for real.
HEIDI: I am. I call it my crazy futurist hat. It’s actually just my hair. I think in three years, this is what’s going to happen in software and I’m frequently right and I don’t understand how that works but I think it has to do with just ingesting 40 conferences a year.
JESSICA: Oh, yeah, that would do it.
JESSICA: Okay, so now we have to ask you, what stuff are going to be in three years?
HEIDI: In three years, we’re going to have customized software that allows us to set all of our accessibility needs as we need them because there is a problem where accessibility needs conflict where some of us need larger type and some of us need to have it read out loud and some of us need larger buttons and some of us need tabs and sometimes, they don’t interact well. We’re going to have that.
We’re going to have a privacy revolution in the next three years and it’s going to be super painful. There’s a lot of things that we’ve counted on and come to expect but I think that the groundswell of movement of people realizing how much we’ve given up is gaining momentum.
JESSICA: When you say we’re going to lose things that we don’t like losing –?
HEIDI: I think we’re going to lose Twitter. I think Twitter is going to LiveJournal a lot of our lives, which precisely dates me.
JESSICA: What did LiveJournal do?
HEIDI: They got bought by Russian oligarchs and we left.
JOHN: Yeah, it was like Myspace and everything else before Facebook killed it and pulled everything.
HEIDI: Right. We added too many ads to make it usable and people immigrated. We will never have LiveJournal again. Dreamwidth is interesting but different and I think we’ll lose Twitter the same way and I literally can’t imagine how I do my job without Twitter but we’ll find something. It’ll happen.
JESSICA: Oh, LinkedIn will love that.
ASTRID: Where do you think that people are going to go after Twitter? What kind of things are they going to go to after Twitter?
HEIDI: I thought that it was going to be Mastodon but Mastodon has some deep security problems of its own. The federation seems like a great idea if you trust everybody who federates but I don’t.
JESSICA: So, let me get that. The security is like the minimum of all the federal bits.
HEIDI: Yes. So, that’s going to be a problem. I’m hoping it’s not going to happen because I don’t even have an Instagram account yet but I think it’s possible that it will be some sort of mimetic transmission device based on images, rather than words because we have [inaudible]. There’s a lot of people who don’t have the bandwidth to do that but we’re terrible about thinking about those people.
JESSICA: Oh, and the accessibility. If we get good at typing descriptions for our images —
HEIDI: It might work but we won’t because most people are not suffering enough to make them change their habits.
JESSICA: Oh, but maybe, if our main information stream is image-based, maybe we’ll suffer more because we want to like hook it in the car or faster or something and so then, more people will suffer minorly and so, they’ll actually do the descriptions and then we’ll make the descriptions easier to do and we’ll let you voice the description. I love that thing that Apple does with the live photos for [inaudible] snippet of sound, so now I can take a picture and narrate it.
HEIDI: That would be cool. That sounds like hell but —
JESSICA: What the next hell, that’s the question, right?
HEIDI: Exactly, you know, what fresh hell… I’m trying not to look at Twitter first thing in the morning because it’s like, “What does the fresh nightmare machine bring me today?”
ASTRID: I’ve laid off Twitter for a while because of that.
JAMEY: I can’t quit Twitter because I have an addiction problem but I’ve made my Twitter really good. I understand why other people think it’s a nightmare and all but my Twitter is mostly artists and animals.
ASTRID: Like Instagram.
JAMEY: My Twitter is like Instagram. I was like, I already have followers. I don’t want move. I’m just going to recreate Instagram with my timeline.
JESSICA: Heidi got rate-limited on Twitter last week.
HEIDI: I got too enthusiastic tweeting a conference about site reliability.
ASTRID: I didn’t even know that you could get rate-limited on Twitter.
HEIDI: Oh, yeah. If you’re tweeting a lot say like, 80+ tweets an hour and you have a hashtag that other people are tweeting on you that look like a bot evidently.
ASTRID: That make sense, I guess.
JESSICA: A bot with the crazy feature in the chat.
JOHN: Also, just a throwback on Episode 84, we talk with Aurynn Shaw about Mastodon and federation and a whole bunch of issues related to that, so if folks are interested in diving into that more, they can go back.
ASTRID: I know.
JESSICA: Heidi, that conference last week was so amazing and you just said it was about site reliability but it was about resilience and resilience and people as much as in software.
HEIDI: Yes, it was super cool because that was very much like we are not just maintaining machines. We are maintaining ourselves and learning how to be both flexible and strong in the face of all sorts of things. There was a talk about mindfulness and there was this amazing talk from Matty Stratton about how to think of PTSD in an organizational sense.
JOHN: That sounds amazing.
HEIDI: It was super good and it’s so true. I might have talk about how organizational process is a scar that is a response to some bad stimulus but this was about how organizations get hypo or hyper reactive in response to a perceived threat.
JESSICA: Right and you said that trauma was when you have a perceived threat and your response to it doesn’t work and the humans are particularly suffering from trauma unlike zebras because that perceived threat can just be the memory of the threat and it’s just as bad.
HEIDI: Right because we have a prefrontal cortex and we can actually predict and remember things. Our ability to make patterns makes us more vulnerable to trauma because we’re like, “Well, this is like that other thing.”
JESSICA: And organizations totally do this.
HEIDI: They do. They’re like, “Oh, well. Let’s totally respond to that other thing that we were worried about last year that is not at all the problem we’re encountering now.”
JESSICA: If you think it’s hard to see the trauma that someone else has experienced and causes their reactions to you now, try seeing it in a network of people.
HEIDI: Yes. On the other hand, if it’s one person experiencing trauma, there are things that you can do to help by making them safe. It’s really difficult to make a traumatized teen feel safe because it’s sort of —
JESSICA: I think it’s harder at scale.
HEIDI: Yeah, it’s harder at scale because they sort of reinforce each other’s reactions.
JOHN: Yeah. We’ve talked about some of these issues before. I think Aurynn must’ve also talking about when she goes into organizations and can sort of detect some of the psychosis and biases and neurosis that the organization has developed, much like the PTSD. I’m sort of imagining a niche in field of organizational therapy that could be developed.
JESSICA: Oh, yeah. Does it Bob Marshall do that? @FlowChainSensei on Twitter.
JOHN: I’m going to check that out.
HEIDI: Yes. I think if we think about our work as relationships, which we frequently do, we’re like, “I’m breaking up with this company,” I think we should also think about how we could do therapy altogether, which is similar to but unrelated to my theory that when I leave technology, what I’m going to do is get a therapy certificate and just specialize in Git-based trauma. Everyone laughs when I say this and then they think about it because somebody needs to understand why it was so bad, you did it what you did and absolve you.
JESSICA: That’s true. Somebody needs to delete your off logs.
ASTRID: When you say that, Heidi, you reminds me of… I don’t remembers this person’s name but he was one of the original developers for Atari and he was talking about how he spent a lot of time just coked up and coding and then, after he did that and then Atari crashed and burned, he went back to school and got a degree in counseling and now that’s what he does because he’s like, “I realize how easy people can be screwed up, especially in this industry,” and as a person, he’s been there who want to help them. That’s what he does now.
HEIDI: That’s awesome.
JESSICA: Okay, so we talked about the transition from coding to therapy. Heidi, did you have topics that you wanted to talk about?
HEIDI: I was thinking about that like what do I care about enough to put on a podcast and the answer is everything because all of my caring goes to 11. But one of the things that I find fascinating is the developer relations community. I was wondering if you all were interested in hearing a little bit about that and also, it relates to another talk from REdeploy, which I thought was going to be about Opera, the browser and wasn’t the Opera, the musical format. I’m forgetting the presenter’s name and I should have pulled it up but she talks a lot about —
JESSICA: It was me.
HEIDI: It was you. You look so professional now.
JESSICA: That’s so funny.
ASTRID: This is the best.
HEIDI: This is where I embarrassed myself.
JESSICA: I shouldn’t have said anything. I should have wait. I want to see what you’re going to say.
HEIDI: — Somebody keep saying it but now I’m going to use it. Sorry.
JOHN: I love this.
HEIDI: If you see my face, I’m totally blushing.
ASTRID: Heidi is embarrassed with everyone else’s face. I’m sorry for you.
JESSICA: We love surprises.
HEIDI: Yeah. Anyway, the idea that come around and I keep thinking about how that relates to developer relations and how we’re forming both in-group of people who do this and have the shared experience and also, a best practices routine for like, “How do you do this? How do you understand what you’re doing?” This job title is so new and so amorphous that it sort of like saying, “I am a people wizard,” like what does that mean? You could be a people wizard and then you turn people into frogs or you could be a people wizard and that you turn people into more wizards. I don’t know.
Developer relations is this moving target and I define it as an interface between the company and the people who are trying to use the product both up and down. We have a developer relations Slack, which is our camarada and we spend a lot of time talking about things that you would expect like exactly which neck pillow is best. We care so much about neck pillows. You would not believe the depth of research that goes into travel gear but also, how do you understand yourself as part of marketing or development or product or communication. We’re all of those things and how do you deal with the stresses and pressures that most other people don’t have.
I’m sort of fascinated because a lot of these people end up running conferences too and we’re doing this rapid iteration and cycling in feedback on what a great conference is based on whether it’s good compared to the 30 other conferences we went to this year. It’s so fascinating to me that this is what we’re doing. When we talk to each other, we all assume like this base level of expertise and we don’t have to — there’s a good way to say this — do a status comparison but we’re also always kind of like, “Are you doing it better than me? You know, the way I could steal? If you’ve done something smart, I want to see your smart thing.”
I’ve been posting from articles since last year called Lady Conference Speaker. There’s a lady conference speaker which is these things that I’ve learned but there haven’t been a lot of women talking about the fact that going to after-conference parties is a different experience for women or people perceived as women. The last one I posted was like, ‘Lady Conference Speaker: 14 Travel Tips,’ and some dude was like, “Yeah. It turns out those are good travel tips for men, too,” and I’m just like, “Welcome to my world.”
It turns out that gendering things or using the unmarked gender of masculine doesn’t actually affect the usefulness of flights. I hope you enjoyed that, sir. I don’t think he actually got it but it was a good moment. The travel tips there, two of them were completely gender neutral but that’s how so many women experience the world were like, “These 12 tips are good but these two tips are completely ridiculous for someone travelling along unless a woman.”
JESSICA: Yeah, I enjoyed that post.
HEIDI: Thank you. The other thing that I’ve come to realize is this weird position of privilege and also, sort of problem, that I called the ‘too many hoodies problem.’ When you go speak at a conference, a thing that you frequently get as a speaker gift is a hoodie. If you speak at one or two conferences a year, this is a great gift because now you have a nice, high quality hoodie.
I am, at right this moment, wearing a DevOps Space Baltimore hoodie but if you speak at a lot of conferences, you end up with too many hoodies and you’re like, “Please, don’t give me another hoodie or another t-shirt or I don’t want another company’s t-shirt or ceramic mug or anything that’s a totally normal gift because I am saturated on them, because I am at this high performance level.”
JESSICA: Shout out to conference organizers, chocolate never goes fat. You can always eat more chocolate and my kids get excited about hoodies but they get more excited about chocolate.
HEIDI: Chocolate is the best and ceramic mugs with handles are the worst.
ASTRID: [inaudible] a cutting board as speaker gift.
HEIDI: Oh, that’s a great idea.
ASTRID: I know.
JESSICA: Although right now, I am drinking out of that conference mug with a handle but it’s this big cool mug and actually, we brought wine to the hotel and then they didn’t have any cups except crappy plastic and paper cups and so, we were so happy to have this. Also, we had leftovers and we had a microwave but we had no plates, so we totally [inaudible] to mac and cheese in this mug and it was fabulous.
HEIDI: It is fabulous but did you have trouble getting it home?
JESSICA: We drove, so no. That’s unusual, yeah.
HEIDI: Yeah. I will not name this conference but it was a giant cellophane-wrapped food basket, full of things, six or more ounces. I’m like, “I love the part when you think I checked the bag at all. Can you ship this to me because, no.
JESSICA: But you said, it was a privilege. This is kind of be on a first world problem.
HEIDI: Right, exactly like how do you complain about having too many hoodies and do you rejects those hoodies? No. You gratefully take it and say, “Thank you.”
JESSICA: And leave it in the hotel.
HEIDI: Yeah, because they’ve chosen a perfectly reasonable gift and the problem is with you and your overexposure.
HEIDI: I don’t actually think it’s overexposure because I like staying employed but —
JESSICA: Okay, so I have DevRel question. Both Matty Stratford and Ken Megridge asked about this at REdeploy again, how do you measure success in developer relations?
HEIDI: Me personally, I measure success by the number of people who click on the link after my talk and then continue to go on and do a demo and I measure success by the number of items that I can bring back from developers and put in the roadmap queue.
JESSICA: Does that include hoodies?
HEIDI: No. That only include story items. So, like, I was just working yesterday on what are we going to develop in the next quarter and 10 people have asked me for this while I’ve been on the [inaudible]. They’re really worried about technical debt and they want an alert that goes off that tells them when something should have taken out of the codebase. Because my developers are awesome but they’re also in the water like the fish, they don’t know how people feel about incurring technical debt.
JAMEY: That’s really interesting. I worked in agriculture, so our customer are growers and farmers and I really struggle a lot with what does a grower want out of this app. I don’t know because I am not a grower and I don’t have the same mindset as that person and that’s a hard thing for me but I’ve always thought like, “If I worked on something where the users were people more like me, then it would be easier,” and so it’s interesting to hear the story about how even when the users are on a very similar demographic to you, it’s still not that much easier and it makes sense, like you’re so involved in what you’re doing that it’s hard to look out of it, even regardless of who the person is that you are attempting to have empathy with.
HEIDI: Exactly. I think there is no substitute for watching people do their jobs, to understand what it is they need from you. If there were like a magic wand that I could wave, every developer would give at least one day a year where they sat beside one of their users and just silently watch. Because what users say and what users do is not a one-to-one relation and it’s not like a deliberately deception. They just don’t remember. This was never brought home to me more than when I was working for a company that is sort of a software overlay on the Medicare billing system, which is horrible in a sense because it’s all green screen, 10-key, tab-based and you cannot imagine how old fashioned this feels.
But the 50-year old women working in medical billing offices are so fast at that. They never take their hands off the keyboard, they run through this at a million miles an hour because they know what everything is. They know all the billing codes and that’s very fast for them to enter it. My developers for reasons that were lost in the midst of history even before I got there, thought that what these people wanted was a more graphical user interface and also, because they were non-technical, we should make it super simplified.
I just wanted to hold them out by the ear and make them sit next to a medical biller who is trying to work a quarter of the speed that she was used to and they’re like, “Well, but she’s not technical.” No, she’s extremely technically adept at exactly what she’s doing.
ASTRID: Yeah. I want to say, there’s a quote that summarizes what you were saying, Heidi. It was just something like, “What people say, what people do, when people say they do are all different things.”
JESSICA: We talked about this at REdeploy last week with an expert camp output. Sorry, this conference is going to come up again and again for the rest of my life.
HEIDI: It was so good.
JESSICA: Experts can’t tell you what’s in their heads.
HEIDI: No, it’s super hard. Actually, a super interesting thing about being a technical writer is figuring out how to retain your beginner learning mindset about something that you know really well.
JESSICA: Which is back to the developers as users thing because if you think you are your user, your users are actually other developers. Heidi, you said something earlier about the people using your product both up and down. What does that mean?
HEIDI: What I want to do is communicate changes in my product down where out to developers but don’t know about it or need to know more about it. I want to teach but I also want to learn and filter things up and so, I want to take things from developers in the wild and pull that back to my developers who are insular.
JESSICA: Okay, so you want to spread information in both directions?
JESSICA: Yeah, you had your victory conditions of what did they learn or at least, what action did they take, what behavior did they exhibit as a result of your talk and also, what did you learn from them.
HEIDI: Yeah and if I don’t have both of those, then I’m just a marketing shell or I’m just taking from the community and not giving.
JAMEY: I think all learning relationships should ideally flow in both ways like that. I’ve taken on mentoring recently and we talked about mentoring on the show before but I’m really getting used to this idea that I’m fostering a relationship where both people should find it rewarding and both people should be legitimately getting something out of it, which is amazing. But I think it takes real conscious effort to be like, this is a relationship about both people and not just about one person and we’re doing that on purpose. Does that make sense?
HEIDI: Yeah, I agree. It is so easy if the circumstances seem to place you in a position of expertise to be like, “Here are my learning. I will sprinkle them among your masses.”
JESSICA: Thought leadership.
HEIDI: Oh, my gosh. And yet, I am unironically thrilled when people tell me I’m a thought leader. That’s the worst part.
ASTRID: I feel like the established way to pass on knowledge is to do whatever you’re doing to a point where you become an expert and then, you’re ready to share that with other people, as opposed to mentorship model that you’re talking about, Jamey where you may not know everything but you know a little bit more than somebody else. It seems like that allows you to be more valuable because you’re not at this place where you feel like you know enough that you almost have an infallible knowledge that you can spread.
JESSICA: That’s beautiful.
HEIDI: That is.
JESSICA: At the point where you think you’re ready to speak, you’re past the point where you should speak.
ASTRID: Yeah. When I was in my programming boot camp, I want to say I was maybe in Week 6 and I had done Ruby for like four weeks and had learned Rails that week and then that Saturday, I participated in a Rails Girls event, which totally freaked me out. I was very scared to do it because I was like, “I don’t know anything. How am I supposed to tell somebody else what to do?” But doing it was really awesome because I was basically showing a person who knew what I knew six weeks ago, how to get to kind of a step before where I was and that helped me realize that the mentorship part is actually really useful for both sides, as opposed to waiting to have some sort of Rails expert and then deciding that’s the time to try to help somebody learn.
HEIDI: Feel one, do one, teach one.
JAMEY: I think there’s something really accessible about learning from someone who just learned it because they know how hard it is, they know what parts you might get tripped up on because they know what parts they just get tripped up on. It’s more of like a conversation where both people can feel comfortable I feel like, other than like someone’s telling me like, “This is how you do it,” and I’m afraid to ask too many questions. Having someone to be like, “I just did this and I didn’t think I was going to get it but I did and now you are,” I think it’s a much more friendly way to learn.
ASTRID: It fosters relationships that we’re talking about because you know that you’re not the almighty expert, so you really are more humble about what you do know and then it allows you to kind of help another person but not feel like you have done society some form of favor by showing it.
HEIDI: Yeah. I don’t really feel like I know something until I’m able to teach it.
JESSICA: Yes and when you teach it, you learn it from the people who are also learning, right? Because how can we think we know the way to do things based entirely on our own experience? We have to listen to the other people.
HEIDI: This last week after REdeploy, I went to Write the Docs Cincinnati, which was awesome and it was very much a tech writing nerds altogether. I got to hear a talk from a guy who wrote ‘Every Page is Page One,’ and we were talking about rhetorical constructs of technical writing and markup languages and markdown languages and restructured text. It was super inside baseball but it was also very much a chance where we could all be like, “I’m coming out from this angle and I’m coming out from this angle and what could we make together that would make it better for everybody?”
JOHN: Yeah. That actually ties in with what you’re talking about, even if your users are developers like you, they all come from different contexts and so, you can’t just assume they’re all going to want exactly the thing you want. You need to understand their context and it’s the same with that where you want to bring the things together.
HEIDI: Okay. Have you done an episode on life hacks for ADD?
JAMEY: No but that sounds like a good idea.
HEIDI: I’ve just been thinking about all the hacks that I have, in addition to taking medication so that I could show up for [inaudible] at a time and gets shit done. The school year is starting so I’m thinking about it extra because both of my kids are also ADD. Because it turns out that if you have two parents who have a trait, your odds of having kids who have that trait are pretty high.
JESSICA: How old are your kids?
HEIDI: Fifteen and 13.
JESSICA: Congratulations on keeping them alive this long.
HEIDI: Thank you. So far, so good.
JESSICA: And what are your hacks for ADD that you can pass on to them?
HEIDI: It’s interesting. There’s two types… Well, okay, there’s more than two types of ADD but there are two types that I’m dealing with. One is inattentive type, which means that you do not know these things. You can walk across things on the floor and not see them, people could be talking to you and you could not hear them because you were thinking about something else. It’s just the world is sensory different for people, like only very loud things come up, really.
JESSICA: Based on your super power, I’m guessing this one is not that you.
HEIDI: That one is not me, no but it is two of the people I live with. There’s a bunch of things that we do for that like routines and rituals. The kid has a carton-list of things on the door not to forget like, “Do you have your school bag? Do you have your viola?” Being inattentive, she wasn’t always notice the list on the door because that’s how it goes but one of the compromises we’ve come to is she would like to be alone a lot because she’s 13 and introvert and she wants to be able to eat in her room and I’m like, “Yes but when you eat in your room, you leave all the cups and everything.”
We came to a compromise, where after a year of yelling at her not to eat in her room, she has one place in her room that she stashes all the dirty dishes and then we can clear that up. I’m like, “Okay. That’s a compromise I’m willing to live with.” I’m not super happy about it but it was better than complete noncompliance.
The problem is that I have distractible type, which means that I notice when things are out of place or when you left your shoes someplace stupid or when you’ve left your water bottle someplace and so, visual clutter is distressing for me. I’m living with two people who don’t notice visual clutter and it doesn’t bother them and one of the other kids, notice visual clutter and it bothers us all the time and we can’t tune it out.
The people who listen to fan noise as a soothing sound are mysterious to me. I always hear the fan. The best thing about MacBooks is they don’t make noise. I’m like, “I would buy them just for that,” because they [inaudible] at me constantly. As this makes family, what we’ve had to do is figure out how to deal with this together, so everybody has a place that they kind of keep in the kind of order that they want, barring serious health violations.
My wife has a major space that looks like a 3D printer had sextuplets and then something terrible happened to them. It’s behind a curtain. I don’t have to look at it.
JAMEY: It’s such a descriptive thing to say about a room.
HEIDI: And my daughter, I’m hoping by the time she leaves home that she has figured out how both trash cans and [inaudible] gets work but I’m not really holding my breath because it seems likely but it’s in her room and I close the door. I have a crafting space that I keep exactly the way I want and [inaudible] keeps his room exactly the way he wants and then, we just have a constant low-level battle over the state of the living room and the kitchen.
ASTRID: Is this, in any way related to what you have mentioned, I don’t even know if he had it on the episode yet, when you have mentioned, Heidi that you don’t bring your computer to the crafting room?
HEIDI: Yes because I’m distractible. If the computer pings or beeps at me, I turn it off. This is my number one distractible ADD life hack. I’ve turned off all my notifications. Nothing makes noise at me. If you want to call me, I hope you’re prepared to wait until I look at my phone because otherwise, I’ll just be diverted from doing things all the time. If there’s anything with notifications in my craft room, I won’t get any crafting done because I’m working or emailing or… Not emailing because ADD in women interacts in a really interesting ways with anxiety, surprising the one who has dealt with either of these, which means that I’m like, “Wow, I should wait until I am less distracted and were ready to focus on answering that email.”
JESSICA: As if there’s such a time.
HEIDI: There’s such a time and as if I will be less reluctant to answering the email when I’m late to answer it. Now, I feel guilty and distracted, like I should be doing more and now, I’m just trying to hogtie my anxiety brain in a corner, so that I can get some work done. It’s, of course making notification noises at me so I’m distracted by it and I’m like, “Stop that.” Turn your notifications off, that’s my number one hack.
My number two hack is figure out what you can control in your environment and control it rigidly because everybody deserves a space that they can look at and feel relaxed. It doesn’t have to be big. It could be a window sill but it has to be yours. I really think this is what Virginia Woolf was talking about with A Room of One’s Own is that in so many ways, people socialized as men tend to regard the house over all as women space, like this is how we end up with the whole concept of man cave but women don’t feel like it is because what they’re doing is keeping it up to a certain social standard and also, remediating the effects of other people living there and leaving their crap all over and so, it doesn’t feel like it’s your space. It feels like a chore and —
JAMEY: Plus one to all that.
HEIDI: Yeah. I think acknowledging that really makes a difference in understanding why you feel overwhelmed sometimes or at least, why I do.
I have to say, one of the great things about travel is hotel rooms because they are so soothingly bland and generic and there’s nothing you have to do in them. It’s like a chore of its own. Of course, every superpower has its flip side and the flip side of noticing when people leave things in stupid places is that I’m noticing things in stupid places all the time and tracking that and so —
JESSICA: Whether you want to or not.
HEIDI: Yeah, whether I want to or not. It’s like this huge cognitive load. When I am in a hotel room and everything is where it could be, like I can walk in, I can put my stuff in the closet and close the closet door. Sure, it’s decorated like a hotel room but it’s almost like a pop-up overlays in Sims where it’s just like chore pop-up overlays: pick up glasses, vacuum floor. None of that. It’s my favorite thing about hotel rooms.
JAMEY: I also like how you can’t lose stuff under the bed because that is attached to the floor at the hallway.
ASTRID: I love that too.
HEIDI: I was noticing that my last hotel room was designed so that you could see from the door the entire shower and you couldn’t accidently forget things because you could see it all. I’m like, “That’s genius.” You probably didn’t design that that way, given how many people leave things in hotel rooms including me, maybe they did.
JAMEY: You know what struck me in what you were saying about the space and understanding why you feel overwhelmed was also allowing yourself to feel the emotions about stuff that you like naturally feel. I have a small library in my house that are kind of unsolved and it’s like my space and if anyone steps foot in my space, A, I magically know, no matter where I am and B, I can be very upset about it. Even if they’re not touching anything, I’m like, “You were in my room.” I still kind of have that feeling.
At first I was like, “This is stupid. If someone walks in my library and doesn’t just touch anything, they didn’t hurt it.” You know what I mean? But then on the other hand, I’m like, “If I’m going to feel anxiety that other people were in my library, it’s pretty easy to just be like, ‘I wouldn’t really prefer that you stay out of my library,'” and giving myself the kind of room to be like, “I feel this way about it. It’s not necessarily like the most sensical feeling I’ve ever had but regardless, I’m having it and I can kind of respond to it.” I think it’s a really powerful thing to be able to do.
HEIDI: Yeah. I agree. I think a lot of people use their cars this way, which is fascinating to me because they’re not very car-oriented but I think a lot of people use their cars as their personal space and the part of the reason we feel this need for space that belongs just to us is because we are so connected all the time and so interlinked with other people and other humans. Maybe if I lived alone, I wouldn’t have this deep need but I don’t and I haven’t ever.
ASTRID: I really love what you’re saying being a part of a room of one zone because I realized over time that I had that same need to just have a space that was mine because the last time I could remember really feeling like that was when I was growing up and I have my own room and so, I kind of made my home office that space because like what you said about the home not really being yours is definitely my experience. I feel like every room is a compromise for what’s going to work for whomever is going to use it, including me but my office is my office.
I am like you, Jamey. I know when people have been in my office and I don’t want you to touch my stuff. I like my stuff at certain way and I do that with my car and it is kind of this reclaiming of a space because it feels like, especially as an adult, you don’t really get the privilege of just being able to say, “This is mine. All mine. Made for me and I’m not sharing.”
HEIDI: Yeah and I think that’s especially potent as a parent because for a lot of years, you don’t really get body autonomy. It’s not just pregnancy and nursing. It’s very much like if a small child comes running up to you and clings to your needs and is crying, it’s very difficult to say, “Yeah, I know you’re having emotions but I need not be touched right now. Just sort of suck it up,” and so, in the absence of body autonomy, having physical autonomy for a little bit is super helpful.
JESSICA: Yeah and I love going back to work when my baby is still little and to leave them with their grandmother and go like, “Where I could go the bathroom by myself, that was fine.”
HEIDI: I know. Nobody demands your attention like, “Two minute kids. Two minutes, please.” No. I actually, went back to work super early after I had my kids, like three weeks. We were young, it was planned, we were 25 and I was, by far the larger wage earner and so, I left them home with the other parent and I was so happy. I don’t actually like infants. I like to snorkel them for about four minutes and sniff their head and then I’m done.
JESSICA: Exactly. Other people’s babies are great.
HEIDI: Yeah, because you can give them back. This is actually something that I want to say to all the people who are thinking about having babies. You can be a perfectly good mother without liking infants. That’s okay. And also a father but I think dads get it less. I went back to work early and yes, no one is touching me. No one is up against my skin.
JESSICA: Selfishly, Heidi, I really want to ask, because I experienced this distractible thing and the fan noise drives me nuts and the visual clutter. I struggle with that too and a little chore pop-ups that every time you walk into a room, there are six things calling, “Put me away.” How did you do with returning from a trip?
HEIDI: I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer have a hysterical screaming fit.
JESSICA: Yeah, me too.
HEIDI: That took some counseling honestly. I came home last night at 10 and I’ve been gone 11 days. The sheets haven’t been changed and I’m certain about the state of the cat litter but something in this house smells really bad.
JESSICA: Oh, no.
HEIDI: Yeah. The dining room table was covered in cruft, not food but like four days of mail or whatever and I don’t want my kids and my spouse to feel like the first thing that happens when I show up is angry law-bringer.
HEIDI: Yeah. I work really hard to say like, “Hi. I miss you. It’s nice to see you.” I take my luggage downstairs and I go into my craft room and I close the door with my back to the door and sometimes, I cry because it’s just so overwhelming and distressing after a day of travel to get in and experience all of this. But they have been living a life in a way that is comfortable for them and part of the deal that we make when we travel for work is I’m leaving you with a lot of stuff that I would normally maintain. I hope you maintain it but it’s usually my chore, so blaming you for not doing my chore seems unjust. The children are alive, they got fed food, the cat more or less got its insulin shots, none of it is catastrophic. It’s just annoying. Really, really annoying.
One of the interesting things that I’ve been doing since I’ve been travelling more and I have fewer days at home is not fixing it. It used to be like I would come home from a long trip and it would be a disaster. I’d walk in and I’d spend the three days I had at home fixing it so that it would be all nice for them. They don’t care. If they cared, they would do it themselves. It is obviously my damage that I think folded clothes and vacuumed floors are unessential to happiness and recognizing that has made it a lot easier for me to just sort of live with the disaster for the, literally, my next trip in five days, so I’ll probably change the sheets on the bed because it bothers me. I’ll probably do the dishes once because… I don’t know. Nobody can do it. Washing pans is obviously an advanced level skills, man.
ASTRID: It kind of is, though.
JAMEY: “Honey, I feel called out. You would not be able to live with me.”
HEIDI: And thinking that this is a different standard, the thing that the counselor said to me when we were having these fights, like we went to a marriage counselor and he was genius and did a lot of family systems work, was it is very difficult for people who have had traumatic childhoods to hear the difference between ‘this thing is upsetting to me’ and ‘you are upsetting to me.’ That was really kind of revolutionary like to say, “Will you please take the garbage out.” It’s not like, “Will you please take the garbage out, you sack of filth –”
JESSICA: Yeah, the garbage is the sack of filth.
HEIDI: The garbage is the sack of filth which is how I always intended it but I didn’t realize a person could hear it in another way and very much like if you do the languages theory, I’m a gift of service person. If I want to tell someone I love them, I will make their environment nicer and I will do work for them and that’s how I want to indicate it but it’s not how everybody indicates it. If you’re in a marriage where your gift is one thing and the other person’s gift is another thing, you have to figure that out because my spouse’s gift like how she receives love is like affectionate touch and words of affirmation. I’m sort of like, “Of course, I love you. Haven’t we been married like 22 years? I’m just checking.” Like, “Duh.”
JAMEY: Did you see that kitchen I cleaned?
HEIDI: Exactly. I cleaned everything. I folded all your clothes while you were gone and back here, then your side of the bed is all picked up and everything is neat and clean for you. No, she didn’t, because inattentive [inaudible]. She might distinctly noticed that she didn’t trip on things but they didn’t actually mean anything to her. That was really hard because I’m like, “But I did all this work to make you feel happy and it doesn’t make you feel happy. What am I supposed to do? [inaudible] with my mouth [inaudible].”
JESSICA: “No, no. I’m a public speaker.”
JOHN: Yeah, calibrating that stuff is really hard.
HEIDI: It is.
JESSICA: Yeah and the thing with the folded clothes and the cleared up dining room table, I’ve come to realize it’s kind of like code. Everybody has their things that they get write, like some people will make sure every class has a test and other people will make sure it’s formatted correctly and other people will… I don’t know, upgrade libraries. There’s an infinite amount of things that we should do to make our code all well-crafted and pretty and perfect and we can’t possibly do them all because libraries upgrade faster than we can keep up with them.
JAMEY: Yes. I’m just like, “Jess, are you sure there are people that upgrade libraries?”
JESSICA: Yeah —
JOHN: Oh, it’s just me.
JESSICA: We have a couple of them at work and I’m like, “Why are you doing that? It’s getting in the way of my feature additions.” But it’s like that with library like I really care that the laundry is folded and I really care that there’s a trash bag in the trash can.
HEIDI: Wow, you rebel.
JESSICA: But other people wants the counter clean or fills up the toilet paper. They’re good about that. We each have our little things and just because I think it’s absolutely crucial that the big plates all be in this part of the cupboard, it doesn’t mean that’s the most important thing in the world. It’s just the thing I personally choose to use as a standard for how the dishes put away correctly. Other people have different standards like did you use tabs instead of spaces and are your function parameters aligned to the right?
JAMEY: You do code review in real life too because my fiancé folds his shirts differently than me and I will give code review.
JESSICA: If I care about folding shirts, if I care about that trash bag, it just becomes my job. It is my job to put the bag in the trash because I can’t get mad at anyone else about it and staying the code, if you want the stars in my blog comments aligned, do not fill [inaudible]. There’s a blog about this coming out next week, actually. We’ll write a program that aligns the stars and make it run. Every time they commit, it happens and then everyone’s happy.
HEIDI: In code, if you are the person who notices the best majority of things, how do you satisfy the time to fix the things that bug you without losing time to make forward progress?
JESSICA: If you can make a program to do it, that’s the only way to keep it true. It’s like having cleaners. We hire them all. Can’t get mad about that. Like with auto fix, if it’s just a linter that breaks my build, screw it. Not okay.
JAMEY: No violent [inaudible].
JOHN: What I always do is just be the one who advocates for the change. I made sure we upgraded from Rails 3.0 to 4.0 and then from 4.0 to 5.0 and then from 5.1 to 5.2. I did most of the work but I made sure that it was prioritize with the rest of the team’s work, by being the one that said, “We’ve got to do this. These are the features we need. This is what will benefit for us.” I made sure it works with the team’s process and it’s going off and spending two months doing an upgrade.
But one of the things that struck me about this conversation is that if you think about your preferences as, “This is good code. This is bad code. This is the way a house should run. This is not the way a house should run,” then you’re going to be in conflict with all the people that don’t think that way. They’re going to have their different preferences and that’s going to be stressful. But if you think of them as one of my quirks is that I always notice, it’s an unread notification to me. If I see that there’s a library update available and we haven’t installed it, that is like screaming at me.
Other people don’t feel that way and if I really think of it that way, then it’s just like, “Oh, that’s my thing. I can be in charge of how I deal with that and how I bring that to the team and how we work with the team and prioritize and compromise,” and same with the household like, “These are the important things that I want to work on. You have those things that you want to work on. Let’s figure out how we both work on them because we both each value them separately,” then it’s much more harmonious place to start than from, “This is the only proper way to run a household or a codebase.”
HEIDI: It turns out you can wash dishes with both sponges and defrags but —
JESSICA: But not if there are any other dishes in the sink.
HEIDI: No. Sinks are for pouring things and not for setting things in. It’s very interesting to me because a lot of what I’m working on at my employer, LaunchDarkly is basically clean fights and merge. What we’re saying is you should put a feature flag on every feature you write and then because you’re all working out of the same codebase and merging really often, you don’t have any long-lived feature flags and so, you don’t have any of these like, “But I worked on this and made tables centerpiece for six months. What do you mean the table is gone?” We want people to be able to have these fights instead of cleaner and faster without the giant merge conflict. I think it’s a really interesting concept like how do we reduce conflicts when multiple people are working in a codebase?
JESSICA: How do you make it smaller –?
JESSICA: — By making it more frequent?
HEIDI: Yeah like tiny deltas but everybody can see all of your tiny deltas.
JESSICA: I find it like if I do that, if I break a code change up into little steps, so that I can do each step separately and make those tiny deltas without breaking stuff, it’s harder and it takes longer than doing it in a big, use all my working memory at one push, which should be okay, except that I don’t get all the way through it. I get half a centerpiece. It’s just the stems.
HEIDI: Yeah. What I’d like is for there to be like a holographic projection of the centerpiece on the table because the code is there, you’re just not implementing it. That’s the whole cool thing about feature flags. It’s shortening your code. You’re deploying broken code. You’re just not releasing it.
JOHN: An interesting way to think about it.
JAMEY: I love that.
JESSICA: And meanwhile, the feature flag is hanging out there being, “Look, there’s a big, fat, ugly to do here.”
HEIDI: Exactly and then, when you’re done with it, when the centerpiece in the table are united in beauty, you can take out the feature flag and be like, “The centerpiece has always been here.”
JOHN: It’s already in place.
JESSICA: You can touch it now.
HEIDI: You can touch it now but it’s never been half the centerpiece because it’s never been fully released.
JESSICA: And meanwhile, the cats don’t even bother knocking it over because they tried that before and it didn’t work, so it wasn’t really there.
HEIDI: Exactly. Man, that could be the best.
JESSICA: If only cats had that kind of memory.
HEIDI: Yeah, but they’re not supposed to be on the table and this is a thing I enforced heavily but I have a feeling, based on their behavior when I come home, that I’m possibly alone in this enforcement.
JESSICA: It gets down to there’s a big difference between making something true like making a code change in the first place and keeping it true.
JESSICA: Which involves those auto fixing linters or tests — automated tests — that are about, “Let’s keep this feature working,” or paying house cleaners to do it.
HEIDI: Yeah but house cleaners won’t get you get off that table. There’s always things that you have to do yourself. As a collective, you have to agree on the style guide as a collective.
JESSICA: Yes, because otherwise, we fight with our lint roll changes.
HEIDI: Right and I think that’s an interesting thing about having been a technical writer for all these years because I have all of this like, “The hell of style guide committees.” Do you think it’s bad in code? You should see it when it’s people who care about where their commas are.
JESSICA: Oh, no.
HEIDI: Oh, yeah. It is a thing. Hours of my life wasted on this. But it’s interesting to be like can we get to consensus on this, unless you’re using YAML, which is here to make me cry, like do spaces or tabs really matter? Do they? Are we creating this thing? Sometimes, sure. It depends on your language but, “What are the battles worth fighting?” is always the question we’re asking, whether it’s in a relationship or work relationship. Is this thing worth hurt feelings or time or energy or is it the thing that can we say, whenever you put the toilet paper on a roll, it’s fine. As long as you put toilet paper on a role?
JESSICA: And if I want to turn the other way, I can turn it the other way myself because if it’s something that I care about but it’s not objectively and probably, a negative for the codebase, then it’s my chore. If I want to keep it true, then I keep it true.
HEIDI: Yeah, exactly.
JESSICA: And this is totally in keeping with this podcast where we dip in and out of now we’re talking about code, now we’re talking about actual life, can you even see the line?
HEIDI: What if code is actual life?
ASTRID: There is a physicist who says that that’s the case.
HEIDI: Oh, that’s true.
JESSICA: I don’t think it’s life until I can self-reflect, until it can think about its own thinking about itself, well conscious life that is. It could be like bacteria level-life, just more easily but that a whole discussion.
ASTRID: That’s another podcast.
HEIDI: — For your eight-year olds.
JESSICA: We should do reflections.
ASTRID: I have one. This was a lot of stuff. There’s a lot to reflect on but I think the thing that stood out for me the most, Heidi is when you were talking about the counseling and you were saying how you didn’t realize that you said it but it could be heard in another way and that was a big light bulb. I feel like you could take that and broadcast that to so many parts of living, that there’s a lot of what you perceive and how you feel and what seems to be universal and then, you realize, if you do realize, that it’s not always received that way. Then if you can at least become conscious of the fact that it may not be received that way, it can make a big difference.
I kind of feel like this is a little related to what Jamey was talking about in the beginning about how they always thought that if they were like the users that they were developing for, that it would be easier but then you realize that it doesn’t really make a difference because when you’re on the other side, it’s still not the same thing, even if you think it’s the same thing.
JOHN: I think my reflection is very similar. I think that part of the conversation was really meaty. Back to what I was saying earlier about how if you think about what you need out of your household or your codebase, as being your preference that allows you to work with other people that have different preferences much more easily and I find myself not particularly dogmatic about these things but I think bringing that thought to a conversation with other people and maybe helping them come around to that same sort of thinking will help those conversations be more successful in the future.
JAMEY: My reflection is similar. I think it’s about the fact that people are so different, which I guess, I know that people are different but the idea that there’s always somebody that’s going to care about something. The thing that got me thinking about this was when I made the joke about like, “Oh, who is it that updates libraries?” and a bunch of people are like, “Me. I update libraries,” and I’m like, “Oh, that’s so good,” because that is so far removed from something that I would ever do. I don’t even think people do it but I’m so glad that there are people like that and I’m like, “I should have more of those people around me,” and this idea that people are so modular that you can put a group together. It’s like one person is good at this and one person is good at this and one person is good at that and create a group that kind of covers all the basis without forcing anyone to do something that isn’t natural to them. It’s something that we’ve been trying to do it at my company lately too and so, it’s been something that’s on my mind. I think it’s just a really beautiful way to let work together with people.
JESSICA: Sweet. My reflection goes back to something you said really early, Heidi, which was all of my caring goes to 11 and that’s wonderful. One of the challenges in life is keeping that enthusiasm without imposing that everyone be enthusiastic about the same things. You’re like, “Go out and you teach and you spread that enthusiasm without judging people because they aren’t enthusiastic about the exact same things you are and that sit at home and in the codebase.
HEIDI: I think my reflection is so interesting to have a place where we can discuss the emotional need of having your own space and wanting things your own way and yet having the compromise, both in code and in life. I’m really excited that there are other people out there who I could talk to that have the shared experience and the thing I like about having a developer relations community too is that what I want in the world is people who are sharing similar experiences and tackling the problems in different ways, so I can get some parallax. Because I have this problem where I can think of one way to solve a problem and I keep trying it until… I don’t know, I run out of wall to ram my head against. But if I have other people who are tackling a similar problem, I have ways around over the wall.
JESSICA: Yeah. That is very cool. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining us, Heidi.
HEIDI: Thank you.
JOHN: Are there any URLs or things that you would like to share people to find out more about what you do and what you’ve written?
JESSICA: What’s their action item to take if they learned something from this podcast?
HEIDI: If they want to learn how to create holographic centerpieces, they could go look at LaunchDarkly.com or FeatureFlags.io. If they want to read more about how to do travel and lady conference speakering, HeidiWaterhouse.com.
JESSICA: Of course, we will put those links in the show notes.
HEIDI: Thank you.