I’m sure this isn’t anything new, but it’s something I’ve noticed several times in the past few weeks: email signatures that say, “This email was sent from my phone, please excuse typos and brevity.” I already find it borderline offensive when somebody sends me a sloppy email with misspelled or abbreviated words and broken sentences, but to then suggest that I overlook these “mistakes” is enough to set me off.
Yes, it’s harder to type quickly and accurately from your smartphone. There’s nothing that prevents you from reading what you wrote to determine whether or not you sound like a moron, though. Nobody’s reading your horrible email and then getting to the signature and saying, “Ohhhhh, it’s just because they sent it from their phone. Whew! I was beginning to think they were dumb or didn’t care about the quality of what they produce, but it’s actually because they’re being ultra-responsive to my needs by replying on the go.” What people are really going to think is that you don’t know better or don’t care about your mistakes, and I’m not sure which is actually worse.
So, instead of letting the world know that you probably know better–and I assure you, the world doesn’t think you do–but you just don’t care, how about you take the time to READ what you’re sending and correct mistakes that you notice? Yes, you’ll probably make a typo here and there or misuse/forget to use a comma, but that’s bound to happen regardless of how you’re communicating. It’s okay, and it’s better than acknowledging that you probably sound like an idiot but just don’t care.
At the end of the day, people who care about spelling, grammar, and professionalism are going to judge you regardless of what your email signature suggests. What you should really do is just slow down and review what you produce. If you find that you just can’t write a high-quality email from your phone, I suggest you stop trying and reserve yourself to only sending emails from a computer. If it’s something that really, truly can’t wait, email is probably not the most effective means of communication, anyway. (Hint: It is incredibly likely that your phone has a phone feature.)
We’ve all been there before: the boss approaches and asks you to do something that seems useless. You don’t ask questions. You just do it because they’re the boss, and that’s what they asked you to do.
“Why are you doing that?”
“I don’t know.”
“It seems dumb, doesn’t it?”
“Then why are you doing that?”
“Boss told me to.”
Ugh. Don’t you see? Everybody loses when this happens! You’re doing something you perceive as useless, so you probably feel like you’re time is being wasted. You’re also probably not putting forth your best effort since you’re doing something you think is useless. Plus, you don’t understand the reason you’re doing it, so there’s a good chance you might overlook something that’s relevant to the actual goal. So even if you’re trying your best, you might not be as effective as you could be. Maybe there’s a better way to accomplish the goal than what you’re being asked to do, but how can you know without having any awareness of said goal?
I see this all the time, and it drives me CRAZY. It’s sad, too, because the solution is so simple: ask questions. Don’t do something without understanding why you’re doing it. The worst reason you can have for doing something is because somebody told you to do it. The next worst reason is that it’s what you’ve always done. If you’ve been given an assignment, and you don’t understand why you’re doing it, don’t just do it: ask some damn questions! You’re smart. You have ideas. If you understand the problem you might be able to come up with some smart ideas about how to solve it. (And if you can’t, at least you’ll understand why you’re doing that dumb thing you’re doing.)
You might be able to do an okay job by just doing what you’re asked to do without knowing why you’re doing it. You’ll probably do a better job if you know what’s trying to be accomplished, but you’ll do your best work if you can somehow find a way actually care about the problem. Mindlessly doing what your told is a fantastic way to be mediocre and not have a satisfying career. Being engaged plays an important role in both performance and satisfaction. You must understand a problem in order to care about it, and only when you care will you become truly engaged–unlocking your full potential, producing your best work, and feeling maximum satisfaction for what you’ve accomplished.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, but I have a good excuse: my house burned down. Before I tell my tale, you should know that everybody is okay, including my dog who was at the house when it happened. Everybody in our lives has been incredibly generous and supportive. We’re settled into a temporary home while our house is being rebuilt. The whole experience has been quite surreal.
I was at work, having a normal Tuesday morning. The day had started like any other day. My wife was up getting ready, I was taking the dog out and having breakfast, and my 10 month old daughter was sleeping. My wife left for work, and I took my daughter to daycare and went to work myself. Around 11 AM, my wife called me. She told me that our house was on fire and I needed to get there right away.
With a million thoughts racing through my head, I zipped across town. My house is at the back of a cul-de-sac, and I could see my street was packed with police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks. There were two big engines in the front yard spraying water. There was no way for me to know the extent of the damage, but it was clear that my house was no longer inhabitable.
A pair of firemen pulled me into an ambulance to ask me all kinds of questions. I assume this was all standard stuff as part of their investigation. What had I done that morning? Had I cooked anything? Did my wife use a curling iron? Did I leave the lights on? Shortly after that, my wife arrived, and they asked her all the same questions.
The First Night
When we left the scene, we felt like we had nothing. The only clothes we had were the ones we were wearing. The insurance company was going to pay for us to stay in a hotel until we could find temporary housing, but we opted to stay with some friends that lived nearby instead. Our daughter was scheduled to be at daycare for another few hours, so we made trips to Buy Buy Baby and Target to get everything we needed to get by for a few days.
We focused on our daughter first. It felt like registering for a baby shower, only we needed it all that day. So what’s everything you need to care for a baby? It’s a lot. Diapers and wipes. Stuff to wear: onesies, clothes, pajamas, socks. Stuff to eat: formula, food. Stuff to eat with: bottles, bowls, spoons, bibs. Stuff to clean stuff that was eaten with: bottle brush, drying rack. A Pack & Play with a quilted sheet and a white noise machine. A toy. A book. Good? Probably not, but good enough for one night.
Now it’s time for us. You know what you don’t want to do when your house just burned down? Shop. But you have to. Okay, but where to start? Something to wear tomorrow: jeans, a casual shirt, a zip-up hoodie, socks, underwear. Something to wear tonight: pajama pants. Some toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant. Cell phone chargers. Good? Probably not, but good enough for one night.
Going to sleep that night was hard. I was grateful to have friends that invited and welcomed us into their home without hesitation, but I wanted to be alone. My daughter was her usual happy self, and she made it easy to laugh and smile despite everything that had gone on that day. She went to sleep in her Pack & Play without a problem, so that was a great relief. After she went to bed, I was sad and uncomfortable. I wanted the quilt my mom made me and the slippers my wife gave me two Christmases ago. I wanted to be in my bed with my pillows, but I didn’t have a bed or pillows anymore.
The Next Day
The next morning, we met with the insurance company’s large loss adjuster and fire inspectors from the fire department and insurance company. The consensus among inspectors was that this was an electrical fire that started in the attic. I was relieved to learn that the fire wasn’t caused by something we did, and my wife was unsettled to learn that was nothing we could have done to prevent it.
The fire started in the attic above my daughter’s room. The cellulose insulation we had blown in several months ago was quite flammable, and the fire spread quickly in the attic above the second story. It burned through the roof which allowed the smoke to escape, so smoke damage on the first floor was remarkably minimal, or so I’m told. By the time the fire was extinguished, there was no roof or tresses on the second floor. The only remnant of furniture in my daughter’s room was the metal base from an ottoman. There was not even a trace of her dressers, desk, bookshelf, books, toys, or her crib. It’s really scary to think about how things could’ve gone differently if we had been home.
I didn’t really know how I expected cleanup and recovery to happen, but I was surprised with how it did. The insurance company brought vendors to deal with the different types of contents: electronics, textiles, and “everything else.” All three vendors operate similarly: they inventory everything then take anything that looks salvageable out of the home, use their restoration processes to clean each item, and store the items in a warehouse until a new home is ready to receive them. Items that are left behind or unable to be restored to their pre-fire condition are added to a “total loss” list for the insurance company.
Now, when I say “everything,” I’m talkin’ EVERYTHING. They took all the obvious stuff like furniture, pictures, computers, books, and things on shelves and in drawers and cabinets, They also took a lot of unexpected things like kitchen appliances, riding lawnmower, and snow blower. (And everything else in the garage, actually.)
At this point, the entire contents of our home has been removed and is tucked away at various vendor locations. We don’t really have an idea of what will be saved and what will need to be replaced. All we know for sure is that anything that was upstairs is gone. We may not know about the rest for several months. I’m told that the vendors typically store the items until a new home will be available.
Our Temporary Home
The insurance company helped us find a condo with a 6-month lease that switches to month-to-month at the end of the 6 months. Their paying the landlord directly, so the inconvenience to us is minimal. They’re also paying for furniture rental, which is really cool. I again didn’t know what to expect but have been pleasantly surprised. We have a fully furnished home, complete with dishes, cookware, coffee pot, toaster, bedding & linens, and televisions. We’ve been there for about two weeks now, and it feels very home-like. It’s weird because it really does feel like home, but we don’t own any of it.
The contents of our house have been removed, and we’re settled into our temporary home. All that’s left is to rebuild the house. We have a building contractor who will be working with the insurance company to determine exactly what needs to be done. We already know that the second floor needs to be reconstructed from scratch, and the first floor needs to be taken down to studs. The entire house needs new electrical and, presumably, new heating & cooling and plumbing.
We are in no way excited about what has happened, but we’re optimistic about a happy ending with an improved, updated version of the house we loved and lost. We’ve been hearing estimates of 6-7 months, so we’re just planning on getting back to our home later this year.
Thanks to Everyone
The most surprising thing–aside from the fire itself–has been the amount of support we’ve received from friends, family, and our extended network of people we’ve never even met. Co-workers have collected donations, we’ve received care packages with clothes, gift cards, and toys for our daughter. It’s been overwhelming, and we’re so grateful for everything we’ve received from everyone.
We’re so thankful that the sequence of events leading up to the fire played out as they did. Nobody was home during the fire, and nobody was hurt. Our dog was home, but she was corralled in the kitchen, as far away from the fire as she could be, before being taken to the fire department. (And the women at the fire department let her spend the day in their office and took good care of her there!) We certainly lost some sentimental items, but most of what was lost can be replaced. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to everyone that’s helped us throughout this whole experience.
I recently visited a local high school to speak with a teacher friend’s speech class. She’s trying to show her students that the skills they’re learning in her speech class are valuable in most careers. She gets a lot of pushback from her future engineers who believe they’ll be relying predominantly on their technical skills, not giving speeches.
I’m entering my tenth year of developing software. I use the presentation skills and techniques learned from my high school speech class almost every day. To an extent, I agree with my friend’s students: you can get by without these skills, but not having them will surely prove to be a significant career growth inhibitor. You might be an incredible [insert engineering career here], but in order to be fully effective, you must be able to communicate your ideas to others, compare and contrast options, and convince your audience–whether it’s your peers, boss(es), or customers–what’s best. This is where those skills come into play.
When I talked to the class, I gave several examples of how I use speaking skills everyday. I gave examples, starting with the most formal, speech-like events and moving to more common, everyday things.
The biggest and best example I have is presenting at my company’s annual customer conference. Customers pay to come to the conference and spend three days attending sessions presented by all sorts of different people, including developers like myself. This is a formal presentation and a direct application of skills taught in a speech class. Preparation is key. We’re required to submit outlines of our presentations months ahead of the event that are refined and built out as the conference draws nearer. At the conference, I’ll be behind a podium at the front of a room, possibly on a stage, giving a presentation or demo to an audience of 20 to 100+ attendees. I’m letting them know what’s new or how they can use my company’s products better. If I do a good job, customer’s get value from the conference. Their opinion of the company and it’s products improve, and maybe they purchase more software. If I do a poor job, the worst case is that a customer begins to question their decisions.
The conference is a wonderful example, but it only happens once a year. A more common scenario occurs when I have a good idea. I need to socialize that idea with my boss and peers, and that requires lots of small communication. I need to make them understand the value of my idea. If I do a good job, they might talk to others. At some point, I might get a call. “Hey, Adam. Remember that idea you were telling me about? I’ve got some people with me that want to hear more. Can you come talk to us?” That’s all the notice I get. I need to walk into a room with an audience that I don’t know and sell them on my idea. If I can talk about the idea enthusiastically and confidently, I might convince people that it’s worth doing and get it onto a project plan. If I don’t have good energy, or the audience doesn’t believe that I have what it takes to see it to fruition, the idea might die there.
A more common (and less dramatic) situation involves my peers. There could be a team working on a problem, and they need my input. Once I understand what they’re trying to accomplish, I use my technical skills to determine options and decide which will be best. From there, it becomes an ad-hoc presentation. I need to present options with their advantages and disadvantages to help my teammates understand what I’m suggesting and get them to buy into my recommendation. If my message isn’t clear, it could result in a bad solution or the need for rework.
And let’s not forget customers. When we create new products, it’s not uncommon to demo them to customers to get feedback. Good presentation skills help the customer understand the value that you’re delivering, and it gets them excited. Bad presentation skills destroy their confidence in you and the company. The same applies to training and conference calls. When you’re able to “speak their language,” customers will like you more and believe in you. I’ve been on calls with other software vendors that aren’t able to articulate their plans and ideas, and it can be really frustrating for all sides.
I certainly couldn’t do my job without the technical skills that I have, but a large percentage of every day is spent communicating with others. I couldn’t be as effective as I am without strong speaking and presentation skills. Those skills have given me growth and leadership opportunities that I wouldn’t have had without them. Standing in front of your classmates, telling them how to care for your dog may not seem like it’s going to be applicable to your career, but being able to explain a complex process to a group of your technical peers is an invaluable ability!
It’s been about a year and a half since I switched from Windows Phone 7 to Android. I was happy with Windows Phone, but I felt like I was missing out on a big part of the smartphone experience: the apps. WP7 was so new that there weren’t a lot of apps. The biggest and most popular apps generally came out for iOS first, followed by Android, and then, sometimes, they’d make their way into the Windows Phone store. I switched to Android, and I felt like I was joining the rest of the world in terms of apps.
In addition to the apps, it was the ability to “unlock” features like mobile hotspot by installing custom ROMs that drew me to Android. The free mobile hotspot is the main reason I’m considering sticking with Android, too. I know that other carriers give you free mobile hotspot with a metered data plan, but I’m sticking with Sprint’s unlimited data for the foreseeable future.
Upon making my switch, I had been running a very stable, very good Gingerbread ROM, and I ran it for over a year. It started to feel stale, and I upgraded to Jelly Bean. I love the updated look and feel of JB, but I’ve had unreliable GPS, poor battery life, and other assorted problems as I’ve hopped from ROM to ROM in search of stability. It’s a tough spot to be in. On one hand, I’m free to upgrade as quickly and frequently as I like. On the other hand, there are always defects, and the quality is ultimately at the mercy of the development community for my specific phone. My phone’s not getting any younger, either, so that community that I depend on is shrinking each day. Getting back to a stock ROM isn’t an option. The phone–a Galaxy SII–is too old, so there won’t be any updates coming from Sprint, and I can’t go back to Gingerbread or even Ice Cream Sandwich after getting a taste of Jelly Bean. And there’s no way I’m going to exchange my mobile hotspot for a bunch of Sprint bloat.
Windows Phone and iPhone are looking like better and better options. I’ve been really happy with my Surface, and I liked my Windows Phone 7. But will I again be dissatisfied with the amount of apps available to me? My wife has an iPhone, and it always seems to “just work.” There aren’t a lot of people that I know who don’t like their iPhones, but what if iPhone has peaked? Is joining in the post-Jobs era a bad move?
My friend that originally convinced me to move to Android tells me that I just need a new phone, and maybe that’s the case. And, to his credit, I’d be pretty happy if everything always worked on my Jelly Bean phone. If I stick with Android, I’ll probably keep it stock–I’m just not interested in keeping up with custom ROMs and the defects that come with them. I’m worried that I’ll be happy out of the gate but grow frustrated with the lack of updates over time.
I’ve still got a few more months before I’m eligible for a new phone, so I have time to sort it out. I’m confused, vulnerable, and directionless. Maybe I’ll just get a BlackBerry.
I will be walking in the 2013 Summer Stroll for Epilepsy this May in memory of my niece, Kearra, who we lost earlier this year. This is the first time I’ve participated in a fundraising event like this, and I have a very modest personal goal that I’m trying to meet. Please consider donating to support this wonderful event.
One of the biggest challenges that my team faces when working with customers on a software development project is controlling scope. These projects begin with a contract followed by a formal requirements document that must be signed by the customer prior to beginning development work. We’re realistic about this process; we don’t expect that every requirement will be correctly identified upfront, and we’re willing to work with the customer throughout the development process to ensure that their needs are met.
Occasionally, we’ll find ourselves working with customers that keep pushing scope, little by little, until the project has been stretched so far beyond the original requirements that we’re not sure how we got there. Kudos to that customer for getting some serious bang for their buck, but at some point we, the development team, need to draw the line. The problem in a lot of these scenarios is that we’ve given and given and given with little or no resistance. We’ve set the expectation that if they ask for something, we’ll give it to them. We can find ourselves with a customer that’s unhappy about being cut off despite delivering a lot more than was originally bargained for.
This scenario has two major flaws. There’s obviously the issue of scope control, but expectations management for the customer is equally problematic.
I like to use a McNugget sauce analogy here. If you go to McDonald’s five times and get an extra sauce with your McNuggets for free, you’re happy. But then, on the sixth visit, maybe you get charged for the extra sauce because it’s the restaurant’s policy. This would upset a lot of people. “This is an outrage! I come here every Tuesday, and every time I get an extra sauce. I have never been charged for it before.” Rather than being happy about getting the extra sauce for free the first five times, they’re upset about not getting it for free the sixth time. However, if the McDonald’s employee were to let you know, “Hey, we’re supposed to charge for extra sauce, but I’ll let you have it for free this time,” then you’re less likely to feel like you’re being unjustly charged when you’re eventually asked to pay.
The same philosophy can be applied to our software development projects. When the customer makes that first seemingly innocuous, out-of-scope request, let them know that you’re doing them a little favor. “This request is out of scope, but I can see where it would be valuable. I’ll discuss this with the team to see if we can fit it in.” If you decide to do it, be sure to let them know that you’re making an exception this time. Finally, document that you gave them some “extra sauce” so that when/if you need to push back on a request, you can show them everything they’ve already gotten for “free.”
Getting back to the McNugget sauce analogy, some folks would still probably be upset about being made to pay even when they’ve been notified that they should be charged for the sauce they’re getting for free. “I know it’s not supposed to be free, but this is the first time I’ve ever been asked to pay. Get me the manager!” In response to that, I’d say an equally valid takeaway from this article is, “Do not give away [too much|any] extra sauce for free.”
Yesterday morning, I was waiting in line at Starbucks to grab a quick coffee on my way to work. The guy in front of me paid with his phone, but his balance didn’t cover the cost. He stepped aside and started the process of reloading on his Starbucks app. He seemed like a nice enough guy; the baristas knew him well enough to suggest his drink before he ordered, and he was apologetic about his mistake once he learned that he had insufficient funds. I’m not sure why he didn’t just pull out a credit card to pay for the rest, but that’s not the point. I think he panicked and just wasn’t thinking clearly, as silly as that may sound. But, I digress.
As he stepped aside, I stepped up to the register, ordered my drink, and offered to pick up the rest of his bill. It was just a dollar, and it seemed like a good random-acts-of-kindness opportunity. Plus, I figure I’ll inevitably find myself in that same position at some point. I know I’d appreciate it if the person behind me in line just floated me the buck instead of impatiently glaring at me while the barista waits and eventually decides to void the transaction in order to ring up the next person. And so I suggested that she just add my coffee to the order, and I’d pay for the rest.
The Starbucks employee let me pay for the rest of his bill, but then she did something unexpected and gave me my coffee for free. I definitely wasn’t hoping for or expecting to get anything–I was just trying to help a guy who needed a dollar. I think it was just her way of saying, “Hey, thanks for being a good person.” It was a nice surprise, and I left Starbucks feeling like this is the way the world should work.
It really felt like wins all around, too. The guy who ran out of money got helped by a stranger and an unintentionally-cheaper drink. I got the satisfaction of helping out a stranger and an unintentionally-cheaper drink. And, finally, Starbucks gets more of my business for acknowledging, supporting, and rewarding a good deed at the expense of a cup of coffee. Thanks for that!
I’ve been an AT&T U-verse customer for a few years now, and I’d say I’m at the “very satisfied” level of satisfaction. I get good internet speed, free HBO (3 months at a time), and wireless cable receivers. I’ve only had one problem when my DVR crapped out, and that was fixed promptly with a replacement. Last month, they called me because they “noticed that I didn’t have any active promotions” and proactively lowered my monthly bill by about $60. I love them!
Yesterday, I called their Rewards and Rebates customer support line because I moved to a new house last summer, and there was a take-us-with-you promotion that offered a prepaid Visa gift card for transferring qualifying U-verse services to a new address. I don’t remember the details now, but they put a note about the promotion on my account when I was transferring the services last year. I think it was just because I had asked about the promotion and the customer rep decided to add a note just in case the reward didn’t trigger automatically–good thing we did that! When I called yesterday, the guy I talked to read the note, reviewed my account, and issued the reward with no questions asked. I didn’t even have to wait on-hold to talk to anybody despite the standard we’re-experiencing-high-call-volumes-at-the-moment automated warning message. It was a completely painless customer support experience!
After contacting any customer support, it’s not unusual to receive a “Thanks for contacting support!” email. AT&T went the extra mile here–in a bad way–and sent me twelve of those emails overnight. TWELVE!
What’s up with that? Each email had the subject “More Helpful Information Chosen Just for You” and contained the following message:
It was our pleasure to work with you today. We’re sending the links below to give you additional help related to our conversation.
Thank you for contacting us.
And then each email had a different link for fixing a common problem, none of which were related to the reason I actually contacted support. But, hey, at least I’ll be in good shape if I ever need to know How to fix picture or sound problems on U-verse TV, How to fix sound problems on U-verse TV, How to launch and use AT&T Troubleshoot & Resolve, Troubleshoot U-verse: Internet, password, and email – video, Update credit/debit card or checking/savings account information, How promotions appear on your bill, Travel with U-verse, How to use Wi-Fi at AT&T hotspot locations, Perform or schedule a virus scan with AT&T Internet Security Suite powered by McAfee, Learn about AT&T Internet Security Suite, Prepare your computer to download and install McAfee Consumer products, or Download and install AT&T Internet Security Suite powered by McAfee! Thanks for all the proactive support, I guess.
I’m still a raving fan of U-verse, though. If my only complaint as a customer is that you sent me too many thank-yous after contacting support and resolving my issue, you’re probably doing okay.
This is a typical be-a-good-person-and-people-will-like-you article, but it’s good to remind ourselves of that from time to time. The concepts presented in the article that I feel are most important are transparency, adaptability, and gratefulness.
Transparency is a great leadership quality because it earns trust over time. I hate playing games. It doesn’t get anybody anywhere. If you told me you were going to start working on a project but got distracted, don’t tell me that it’s moving along just fine. Tell me you got distracted and haven’t started, but also tell me when you’ll be starting it and what will be the impact on the project timeline. Being transparent also drives customer satisfaction because it helps set and adjust expectations.
I presume the importance of adaptability transcends industry–hence its inclusion in the list–but it’s incredibly important for software development. In my experience, it’s pretty rare to have a project that goes 100% as planned. Next to never. And I’m talking about “next” being on the other side of never, not the side where it might actually happen. Understanding when to deviate from the plan is key. It might be to overcome a challenge: “We thought we could do X, but that’s not going to work. Let’s do Y instead.” It’s not always a problem that makes adapting advisable, though; it could be an unforeseen improvement: “We planned on doing X, but it makes more sense for the users if we do Y.”
And, finally, gratefulness. My least favorite type of co-worker is the ungrateful leech. You never hear from them until they need something. Then, you go out of your way to help them out–because you’re awesome and that’s how you roll–and you’re lucky to get an email that says, “Thanks.” When those guys come around looking for help, I don’t like to give it to them. On the other hand, you’ve got people who genuinely appreciate what you’ve done. They offer to buy you lunch or a drink. Gratefulness goes a long way, even if it’s just saying, “Seriously–thanks. You really helped.” When those guys need help, I’m happy to drop what I’m doing to give it to them. It’s not because I hope to get free stuff, it’s because I know my effort will be appreciated. As a leader, you’re playing the role of the guy who needs stuff in these scenarios. Do you want to be the guy that people do things for because they have to or because they want to?