Robinhood, the Crypto Gateway Drug

Featured image by YIFEI CHEN on Unsplash

How I moved from slingin’ stonks to cryptocurrencies

It all started with a birthday check from Grandma. I’m 40, but I still get birthday checks from my grandparents. Cute, right?

The pandemic was in full bloom, and there wasn’t much for me to do with my birthday bucks — so I decided to head to everybody’s favorite virtual casino: Robinhood.

I was classic dumb money, investing in a certain electric car company — let’s call it Schmikola — and other less-bad-but-still-bad choices. I learn from my mistakes, though. With every misstep, I became a little smarter.

I moved from following the herd to making better, educated decisions. I was diversifying. I decided ETFs were better and started putting money into them instead. Things were growing and moving in a positive direction.

But then I realized I have a 401k for that. I asked myself:

What am I trying to do here?

That’s when I ripped it all out and put it into bitcoin. (Keep in mind that “all” is my original birthday money plus weekly investments of about $50. We’re probably talking about $500 at this point — not my life savings.) Can you guess what happened next?

Source: my Robinhood portfolio

That’s how my fascination with bitcoin and cryptocurrency began. I started exploring outside of Robinhood and discovered an entire world of choices and freedom. It’s become my number one hobby, and that’s what brings us to today.

I’ve since moved all my funds from Robinhood and into exchanges, wallets, and investments. Robinhood’s okay for getting started if your only goal is to have some skin in the game. It’s crypto with training wheels. You can’t make as many mistakes, but you also lose all freedom.

There are two things Robinhood steals from you: choice and opportunity. You’re limited to the handful of cryptos they offer, which is less than ten in a sea of thousands. And since you don’t have control of the coins themselves, you can’t use them for investing — and the investment returns in the crypto space are mind-boggling good.

That’s how my journey began. After leaving Robinhood, I began to explore the various exchanges and opportunities. I started researching lots of different cryptocurrencies. I’ve learned a ton, and I’ve had a lot of fun along the way.

In my next article, I’ll talk about how I’d start if I could restart from the beginning. There’s free money available if you know where to look. I could easily double my same $250 birthday investment in less than 6 months, and I’ll show you how. Stay tuned!


Please note that this is my hobby. This is not financial advice, nor am I qualified in any way, shape, or form to give financial advice. Learn with me; have fun with me, but do your own research and only gamble with money you expect to lose.

I’ve Read My Last Free Article for the Month

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Could big media profit from paying its readers?

You know the moment I’m talking about. The one where you read that irresistibly juicy headline and have no choice but to click. But when you do, you get the message.

You have no free articles left this month.

Great. Well, I guess my world will have to stay right-side-up for now.

I get it, though. News providers like the New York Times and Washington Post deserve to get paid for their product, and the paywall solves that. To what end, though?

Some people will avoid those sources. I’m one of them. I’m very choosy about which headlines I click because I know I’ve only got so many clicks. I ask myself, Do I really want to spend a free article on this topic?

And yea, I could subscribe. It’s just a couple of bucks, right? I don’t want all those subscriptions, though. I only care about a few articles from each of these sites per month, and other outlets cover the stories themselves.

The relationship between news providers and readers is symbiotic. These sites cannot exist without revenue, and readers are revenue, whether directly through subscription fees or indirectly through advertising. Given the interdependency, why can’t we find an honest, mutually-beneficial solution?

I believe one already exists in the form of a cryptocurrency: the Basic Attention Token (BAT).


Meet Brave

Brave is a browser that focuses on privacy. It has nice features like built-in ad blockers and protection against tracking and data collection. Given that ad prevention is one of its key selling points, it feels somewhat ironic that another feature it offers is Brave Rewards, which lets you opt to receive more ads.

Two things are really cool about Brave Rewards. First, it’s entirely optional. If you don’t want extra ads, no problem — don’t enable ’em. But, if you do turn them on, you get a cut of the ad revenue.

This makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Companies buy ads so consumers will see them. Consumers don’t really have an incentive to view ads, though, and will do their best to ignore, block, or avoid them.

Ads that people pay attention to are more valuable — look at the Super Bowl. So, why not take a small percentage of that ad revenue and pay it to people who are eager and willing to participate?

That’s Brave Rewards in a nutshell. You earn BAT by viewing ads. The ads are pretty subtle, too. Just a small OS notification that you can dismiss if not interested. You can make several tokens a month using the browser, and the tokens are currently worth about $0.50 each. So, a couple of bucks.


It’s a win-win-win

So, here’s a novel idea: apply the same opt-in, profit-sharing strategy to news providers.

Think about it. A large provider could give its users two account types. There could be a free plan where readers earn BAT by reading articles that contain paid advertisements. The reader has an incentive to view the ads because it makes them money. The amount earned would be proportional to the amount paid by advertisers, and advertisers would be willing to spend a lot because of the huge audience exposure.

Not everybody likes ads, though, so there could also continue to be a paid plan that removes them. And what if this could be delivered in BAT — the same BAT earned using the Brave Browser?

It feels like the perfect win-win for these media giants. If I could earn BAT by reading articles at the NY Times or Washington Post, they’d quickly become my most-visited go-to sources instead of the paywall landmines that I try to avoid today.

Traffic would be way up. Ad revenue would be way up. Subscriptions would be way up. It could catapult them to the forefront of relevancy and influence.

And it all starts with the simple idea of paying people for their attention instead of treating them as a revenue stream.


This article was originally published in ILLUMINATE on February 17, 2021.

2 Productivity-Boosting Mental Jumpstarters

Photo by Fernando Jorge on Unsplash (modified)

Thoughts to think when you feel stuck

I’ve been living in leadership books these past few months, and they’ve given me all kinds of wonderful insights and fresh perspectives. Each one seems to be more enjoyable than the last.

Every day seems to be rife with opportunities to apply what I’ve learned, too. I feel like a leadership book version of Russell Crowe as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, witnessing manifestations of these sacred texts’ teachings in the air around me.

There’s no doubt, these books have made me a better, more thoughtful leader, but there’s a pair of statements that have lingered in my brain that have had a profound positive impact on my own productivity. I don’t think of myself as much of a mantra person, but I’m hit with situations daily that trigger these affirmations to playback in my head — and they help.

Image from The Hangover via meme-arsenal

In addition to improving my own personal productivity, they’ve also been useful tools for mentoring and coaching. We all get stuck, we all need a little motivation sometimes, and we all feel frustrated about things happening — or not happening — around us.

Best served with an eyes-closed cleansing breath, these mantras will help you fight through those moments of stagnation, find a goal, and push to make it happen.


One important thing each day

I can’t remember what I did yesterday, and I’m not sure what I’ll do today.

We’ve all given that update, right? You know, when you show up to your team’s daily status meeting a little underprepared and struggle to articulate what meaningful progress you made or what you plan to do next. I’ve certainly been in that boat — more times than I care to admit.

That’s what I love about this first mantra. It addresses both parts of the feelsbad daily status report.

It’s inspired by the book A Sense of Urgency by John P. Kotter. Kotter explains that having a sense of urgency doesn’t mean you’re always running around creating a flurry of activity. Rather, it’s having a goal and making consistent progress toward achieving it without the stressful, frantic flurry. He writes the following:

With an attitude of true urgency, you try to accomplish something important each day, never leaving yourself with a heart-attack-producing task of running one thousand miles in the last week of the race.

This is my go-to self-talk when I catch myself spinning on tasks but accomplishing nothing, like when I’m flipping between email and Slack, searching for something new begging for my attention. That’s not a productive way to work. It’s entirely reactive and, at best, keeping up. It’s certainly not a mode that will lead to much progress.

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

In those moments, I take a breath and think, “One important thing each day. What’s something important I can do?”

This helps me pause, take inventory of everything that needs to be done, and determine what’s actionable. When done at the beginning of my day, it pushes me to prioritize and set immediate-term goals. It can also help with personal or team roadblocks by shedding light on instances where the most important thing can’t be done.

Completing a meaningful task each day gives you a place to hang your hat. No matter what else happens, you accomplished that one important thing. You set a goal and achieved it, and you’ll remember it when it’s time to give your update in the team’s daily status meeting.


Be the leader you wish you had

Toward the end of last year, I watched Simon Sinek lecture about his then-upcoming book Leaders Eat Last. During Q&A at the end of the lecture, a woman asked, “If you find yourself in a place that you consider unsafe, is your best strategy to exit?”

This was his response:

Absolutely not. The best strategy is to step up. The best strategy is to be the leader you wish you had. The best strategy is to find someone you trust and say, “We have each other; let’s look after each other, but let’s also commit to looking after everybody else.”

He explains how toxic leaders use isolation and fear to control groups, but it’s always the group that ultimately holds power. The group controls the leader.

Sinek speaks about it in the context of toppling a dictator, but I find it to be applicable in many non-authoritarian situations, too. It’s easy for friends and colleagues to complain about what’s swirling around them, and it’s in those moments when the line creeps into my head: be the leader you wish you had.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When I think of these words, I feel empowered to do the right thing. I’m permitting myself to step outside the bounds of my role for the good of myself, my team, or my company. Energy spent on complaining is redirected toward solving. Instead of being frustrated about what isn’t happening, I take actions to help make it the way I believe it should be.

Think about this when you find yourself frustrated. Who could make it better? What do you wish they’d do? What would happen if you did that thing? What else can you do to address it yourself? Be the leader you wish you had.


Put ’em together, what d’ya have?

These two mantras are both pretty good when used independently, but they get really powerful when combined. Like, power-level-over-9000 powerful. It’s setting them up and knocking them down. It’s taking names and kicking ass.

“One important thing each day” forces you to lock-in on a target, and “be the leader you wish you had” permits you to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

It’s taking solution-oriented to the next level because you’re not just coming up with solutions; you’re implementing them. You’re making problems go away. (Hey! Common sense here. Make sure you keep the people that matter in the loop in your decision-making. Feeling empowered is good; recklessly creating controversy isn’t. You’re trying to be productive, not stage a coup. Usually.)

Put yourself in your boss’s shoes, or think about what your team will say. Nobody’s going to complain about how you do important things, like, every day. They won’t be disappointed that you identify solutions and work through roadblocks instead of sitting on problems until the next team meeting.

In fact, it’s going to be the opposite. Your boss will be very excited about that level of proactivity, and the team’s going to notice when you show up every day with tales of glory and meaty contribution.

Recognize when you’re unproductive and lack direction. One important thing each day.

Don’t wait when you know the answer, and don’t be penalized for others’ inactions. Be the leader you wish you had.


This article was originally published on ILLUMINATION on February 16, 2021.


Interested in learning more? Be sure to give the books mentioned in this article a read! Note that I use affiliate links when linking to products on Amazon. Thank you for your support!

The Grass is Brown Everywhere

Photo by Trevor Littlewood via Geograph

Don’t sacrifice what you have in pursuit of what you don’t

You should switch jobs. Life would be better at a different company.

I mean, they’ve got better perks, better teams, better brand, better mission, better everything, and with none of the problems of your current company. Things would be so good over there. Right?

The reality is, there’s a pretty good chance the new company won’t be much better than the one you’re with now — but maybe that’s actually good news.

Two traps like to catch us all. First, there’s the “grass is greener” syndrome, where we fantasize about all the things we don’t have. The other is good old-fashioned pessimism, which makes everything look unfixable and hopeless.

When these forces collide, the desire to opt-out becomes incredibly strong. That’s when we start looking for a new job or become susceptible to those pokes from recruiters.

Photo by Carson Masterson on Unsplash

Now, it very well could be true that it’s time for you to move on, that it’s time for a change. The truth is, though, that every company has its own set of problems; the grass is brown everywhere. The secret to satisfaction is realizing what’s important to you, finding a place that checks enough boxes, and embracing it for what it provides.

How do you know when enough is enough, and how do you take inventory of what matters most? Let’s start by digging deeper into why the next might not be better than ex.


The company you work for doesn’t matter

Lie number one in the book Nine Lies About Work is that the company you work for matters, i.e., it doesn’t.

Authors Marcus Buckingham & Ashley Goodall explain that significant research has determined what makes happy, productive employees. The way this is done, they say, is by asking lots of questions to lots of teams. Then, you take responses from the highest performing teams and compare them to responses from average & low-performing teams, and look for the trends.

Through this process, the ADP Research Institute has determined that the following eight specifically-worded aspects are strong indicators of a high-performing team:

1. I am really enthusiastic about the mission of my company.

2. At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.

3. In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.

4. I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work.

5. My teammates have my back.

6. I know I will be recognized for excellent work.

7. I have great confidence in my company’s future.

8. In my work, I am always challenged to grow.

These “pulse statements” are genius. It’s not obvious at first glance, but they aim to measure an employee’s sense of self (even numbers) and team (odd numbers) in each of four different categories: purpose (1 & 2), excellence (3 & 4), support (5 & 6), and future (7 & 8).

High marks indicate someone who feels good about themself, their team, and their company. Given the reliability of these indicators, one would assume the best companies have higher scores than bad companies.

But that’s not what Buckingham & Goodall found.

Instead, they discovered that companies good & bad alike tended to have the same distribution of responses. There was more variance between teams within the same company than between different companies. In other words, your team matters; the company doesn’t.

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

But what about all the articles and research that goes into those “best places to work” lists? Buckingham & Goodall tell us these are important influencers of why we join a company. The culture and perks are there to sell future candidates on the promise of lush, green pastures.

However, those coveted perks like 20% time, gym memberships, and free lunches lose their luster quickly, and then you’re back to the reality of being mostly at the mercy of your team. Their research supports this, too. They found that members of a good team at a bad company will stay longer than those on a bad team of a good company.


Taking inventory

Okay, so it’s the team that matters. That doesn’t change the fact that things might not feel super rosy where you’re at. How do you know when enough’s enough?

That’s a very personal question — one that’s going to be very different for everybody since we’re all at different stages in our lives & careers and have different needs & values.

Indeed, a great place to start is by self-reflecting on your own responses to the eight pulse statements above. If you’re feeling bad on most of ’em, that’s a red flag. It doesn’t mean there’s no hope, but it’s not great for your long-term outlook. (If you’re in that boat, my suggestion is to have a conversation with your boss. Tell them about ADP’s research and your responses. Consider a similar conversation with the team.)

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

I also love this article by Jessica Donahue, PHR. She describes a coaching conversation she had with her boss where her boss asked her to “take stock of what’s important to you at work and put those things through a force-rank.” Her boss asked her to consider things like the people she works with, growth opportunities, job flexibility, and how much money she made.How to Help Your Team Figure Out What They Value Most in a Job
Because no job or company is perfect all the time.medium.com

In other words, find what matters most.

And in her case, she determined that her company’s lack of profitability — the thing that had her questioning if it was time to move on — wasn’t as important as the things her job did provide. Her top 3 needs were being met really well. That realization helped her to overcome, in her words, a piss-poor attitude. She ultimately stayed with the company through bankruptcy and liquidation.


Conclusion

Every career is going to have its ups and downs. We’re all going to have moments where things feel less than great. It’s impossible not to look out the window and dream about what could be.

Consider what you’re leaving behind before you jump ship, though. Acknowledge that no matter how careful you are — no matter how much research and diligence you pour into searching — you’re about to enter into a game of team roulette that will ultimately decide your satisfaction.

The team matters most, and leaving a great team for a lesser one isn’t easily undone. Make sure you’re not already sitting on a great thing before being lured away by another company’s shinies. Know what’s important to you, and discuss your needs that aren’t being met. You might find it’s easier to unlock happiness by fixing your everything-except situation than it is to throw everything in the air and hope for something better. Fixing it benefits everyone.

Finally, if you go through all this — your engagement scores from the pulse statements are low, you’ve determined your most important needs aren’t being met, and you’ve had conversations with your boss to no avail— then maybe it’s time for a change. Part of the gamble is that you might end up in a better place, right? Take solace in knowing that you’ve exiting for the right reasons, and find that better something.


This article was originally published on ILLUMINATION on February 15, 2021.


Thirsty for more? Try the book mentioned in the article, Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World. Note that I use affiliate links when linking to products on Amazon. Thank you for your support!

Writing Tips for Time-Starved Folks

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

From a decade of making it happen on a strict time budget

I’m tired and annoyed by these “how to be a better writer” articles with advice about finding your flow state and writing entire drafts at a time. I’m a parent. With a job. I don’t have time for a pre-writing routine to do daily before losing myself in my writing for hours at a time. I can’t schedule multi-hour blocks on alternating days for writing and editing, and I can’t write and publish every day. Time is the scarcest of all resources.

I do love writing, though. It’s helped me immensely throughout my career as a software developer, manager, and parent. (Turns out there’s a lot of overlap between professional leadership and parenting. I recently experienced this through the irony of yelling at my kids while writing an article about the importance of being present and reducing multi-tasking, but I digress.)

Each year seems to bring a few more distractions and a little more responsibility, but I’ve managed to keep blogging for more than a decade now. Finding the time to write and meet my own increasingly high standards isn’t easy. It requires dedication and discipline. In this story, I’ll discuss the tactics that keep me going, publishing regularly, and improving along the way.


One goal to rule them all

There are two primary trains of thought in the when-to-publish debate. There are the folks who say not to be a perfectionist. They advise you to get your article to what you feel is 80 or 90 percent, then pull the trigger and move on. The other camp argues that you shouldn’t stop until it’s the best you’re capable of because there’s enough bad content out there, and a great article will outperform a poorly written one by orders of magnitude.

Have an overarching priority

Both philosophies are valid, and that’s why the single most important thing is to know what you’re trying to accomplish. Your specific goal has a significant impact on the relevancy of most of the other advice you’ll find. Consider your key metric for success. Is it the number of articles, views, likes, dollars, follows, or something else?

It’s kind of like asking a business to focus on product versus sales versus marketing. The truth is, you need all of them, but with limited resources, you must prioritize. So pick one — quality, quantity, or distribution — and make it your top priority.

Adjust the dials

Picking a top priority doesn’t make it your only priority. In the beginning, I was entirely focused on writing as many articles as I could. I think I was aiming for two articles per week at one point. The articles weren’t terribly deep, and the pace was unsustainable. I was publishing things as quickly as possible to keep up, and I’d stress or lose momentum entirely when I’d fall behind.

Photo by Drew Patrick Miller on Unsplash

Quality and enjoyment were being sacrificed to maintain consistency. It wasn’t worth it. But, by dialing back my commitment to a single article per week, I’ve found a much better balance. My writing quality has improved because I’m not rushing to get things out the door as quickly as possible. Stress is down, enjoyment is up, and I stay focused and committed.

Set deadlines

With your overarching goal in mind, set deadlines for yourself. My number one goal is to publish regularly, so I strive to write one article per week. This helps with the whole when-to-publish dilemma because I only have so much time. If I want to meet my deadline, I need to find good enough and stop.

However, if my goal was to provide deep, insightful content, I might target one article per month, so I have adequate time for research and analysis. In this case, it would be beneficial to invest the extra time to make my writing as perfect as possible because the stakes are higher when you publish less frequently. You’ve still got that finish line drawn in the sand to keep you honest about when to move on, though.

Work ahead

Sometimes I get ahead of my deadlines. An article comes together quickly, and it’s done several days before I intend to publish. I stick to my target schedule, though, and begin the next piece.

When articles come easy or when I have extra time, I keep pushing to build some buffer. This helps a lot in the long-term because I don’t stress about an unproductive week here and there. No time to write for two weeks? It’s okay because I’ve got four weeks of material scheduled and ready.

The buffer also lets me take a breather when I’m tired or low on inspiration. Instead, I can take a few weeks to read or focus on other things and come back reinvigorated.


Be ready to throw down

It’s Saturday. The kids just went outside, and you’ve got about 30 minutes to be productive. Go.

You need to be ready to take advantage of the time when it becomes available. Optimize your writing process for fragmentation so that you can use it effectively when you have a little bit of time.

There are two primary influencers of what activity I can do at any given moment. First is where I am and what’s available — like, physically in the world. Am I at home? Do I have a computer? The second is the state of in-progress work.

Being stuck somewhere with a little bit of time but no computer is a great opportunity for phone-friendly activities. You can brainstorm new ideas and create story stubs or develop outlines. It’s hard for me to do actual writing from my phone, but I can begin filling in notes for sections. Phones are good for proofreading and light editing, though. I read a lot of articles on the go; why not experience my own content that way?

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

A quick disclaimer on the phone thing, though. Many of us suffer from some form of digital addiction. Don’t choose to edit articles instead of enjoying the company of your friends and family. Be present — it makes life better. It’s those times we find ourselves obsessively checking story stats, investments, and social media that are our opportunities. If you’ve got 15 minutes alone in the car while waiting for your partner to grab a few things from the grocery store, that’s the perfect time to put in a little work instead of re-checking your various feeds.

The actual writing process at a computer is a little different. For a new story, I try to focus on a single section at a time. Usually, I’ve got at least an outline with notes that I can expand upon. As the work draws closer to completion, effort shifts toward reading & revising, repeating until I’m either satisfied or up against my deadline.

The point is when you don’t have the luxury of being able to schedule consistent blocks of time, you need to make effective use of the time you do get when it’s available. Try to view content creation as an incremental process. Start with a skeleton. Expand it to an outline. Write sections one by one. Add images, headlines, & headers. Proofread and revise. All these tasks can be completed in short bursts.


Make it part of your job

I had no aspirations of being a writer when I started blogging. As a software developer, I was constantly learning about new technologies and figuring things out. I’d solve the problem du jour and move on. Inevitably, 6 months later, I’d find someone else who was bumping up against the same problem, but I’d long since forgotten the details.

So, I started writing to create a repository of things I’d learned that I could refer back to and share.

It became part of my job to document my findings into succinct little packages. These weren’t the kind of articles I write today. They were tiny, how-to articles about whatever I happened to be working on that week.

You know what, though? In my first 5 years, from 2009 to 2013, I published 215 posts this way. These weren’t deep, insightful pieces, but they were valuable practice. They were “putting in the time” and learning to write. I was curious how bad my first post was, so I dug it up — it’s less embarrassing than I was expecting.

However, the most important thing is that I didn’t have to find time outside of work to hone my writing skills. It happened as part of my job. Even if work isn’t your passion and the thing you really want to write about, all that practice is valuable and makes you better.


Find a robot editor

No matter how many times I proofread, I always notice small mistakes while reading the published article. It drives me crazy. As a result, I’ve embraced Grammarly as my editor.

Is it as good as a human editor? Probably not. Does it find a lot of small mistakes that I might’ve missed otherwise? Yup.

When I first learned about Grammarly, I was a little smug about it. I know how to use a comma, thanks. It’s pretty good, though. I like that it checks for things like passive voice and can optimize for conciseness. I also like the score it gives — it feels good to get the thumbs up from my robo-buddy.

All this can be a little distracting. It’s hard to ignore the squiggles while you write and easy to do too much ad-hoc editing as a result. (Even though I poo-pooed it earlier, there’s a reason people like to suggest separating writing & editing.) Good outweighs bad by a lot for me, though. When up against a deadline, it’s really helpful for quick cleanup. I definitely suggest employing Grammarly or a similar tool to sweat the small stuff.


You got this

Writing, parenting, working, and everything else in life are almost entirely about doing the best you can with what you have. Parenting and a full-time day job take up a lot of time. Like, a lot a lot. That doesn’t leave much for writing and all the other things you want to do.

With what precious little time you have left, it’s important to understand what you’re trying to accomplish and do the things that most effectively move you toward your goals. There are many important parts of the writing and publishing process, and you need to dip into all of them to be successful. So, investing time in any of them is valuable and makes you better — that’s how “practice” works.

Identify your overarching priority. Adjust the dials, so time spent is invested in the right ways. Set deadlines to motivate yourself and promote productivity. Approach writing projects iteratively and chip away at them in all those little free spaces. Finally, find ways to make writing part of your every day; use them as a reason to write instead of an impediment.

Do these things, and I promise you’ll write more, get better, and sustain it for a long time.


This article was originally published on The Writing Cooperative on January 29, 2021.


I’m not an author, but I play one on the internet. If you’re looking for real writing, try the wonderful Mulrox and the Malcognitos by my friend & colleague Kerelyn Smith. Note that I use affiliate links when linking to products on Amazon. Thank you for your support!

Why Asking for Help Is the Most Important Behavior for Your Team

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad from Pexels

The ultimate trust-builder and collaboration-enhancer

We’ve all known that person. You like them. They’re friendly and smart. But you hesitate to let them take difficult tasks. You’d rather they stick to things you know they can handle — the kinds of assignments they’ve been successful with in the past.

We’ve all got someone at the other end of the spectrum, too. The person that, no matter what it is, you know they’ll be successful. They’ll find a way, figure it out, and produce great results every time.

It hasn’t been a matter of intelligence or competency for the people in my life that have fallen into these buckets. It’s been entirely about trust. One group lacks it; the other has it.


Like a stretchy waistband

What is it about those folks we trust so much? How can we be so sure they’ll do a great job with new and difficult assignments?

It’s rooted in past performance. They’ve demonstrated an ability to figure things out and succeed. More importantly, though, is that we’re confident they have the right safeguards in place. We know they’ll do the right things to keep us comfortable as they work through challenges and arrive at a solution.

They’ll discuss the plan beforehand, solicit feedback as they go, review when they’re done, and speak up if they get stuck along the way. These are all ways of asking for help — and they all build trust.


The number one thing that earns trust

Brené Brown uses a great metaphor for trust: the marble jar. The concept is borrowed from her daughter’s classroom system for promoting good behavior. When the class does something good, a marble is earned. When bad things happen, marbles are removed.

It’s the same with trust. When you do something trustworthy, you earn a marble. Damage trust, however, and risk losing a handful.

So, what’s the best way to fill the jar? In her book Dare to Lead, Brown shares the following observation from her research:

We asked a thousand leaders to list marble-earning behaviors — what do your team members do that earns your trust? The most common answer: asking for help. When it comes to people who do not habitually ask for help, the leaders we polled explained that they would not delegate important work to them because the leaders did not trust that they would raise their hands and ask for help.

It makes sense, right? If someone is doing something unfamiliar — something they’ve maybe never done before — and we don’t think they’ll seek guidance or check-in as they go, it’s natural to worry about the outcome. How could you not be concerned?


Everyone gets a marble

Think about the marble jar for this person that you’re uncomfortable with, that you don’t quite trust. How full is it? Probably not very.

Luckily, the solution to an empty jar is simple: start adding marbles.

When you don’t trust someone, part of the challenge is that they need to be the ones to earn marbles. Don’t worry, though, because there’s a wonderful, marble-earning solution for that, too! Ask them for help.

It takes courage and vulnerability to acknowledge a lack of trust in a relationship, particularly with someone you’ve known for a long time. It doesn’t need to be awkward, though. You don’t need to say, “I don’t trust you,” which can be harsh, ambiguous, and defense-triggering.

Instead, focus on promoting specific, trust-building behaviors. Suggest reviewing a plan before getting started. Tell them you’re happy to provide feedback at any point. Ask them to report on the status and offer help if they’re stuck. Give them space, but let them know you’re in it with them. Supporting a colleague in these ways is sure to earn you a lot of marbles.


The ultimate trust-builder

Asking for help is an underrated and insanely powerful tool. Look beyond the obvious, immediate benefits like getting your question answered. When you review a plan and get input before starting, mistakes are prevented before they occur. Soliciting feedback and double-checking your thinking improves quality and creates opportunity.

And, all the while, you’re creating a trusting, collaborative environment.

The benefits don’t end there, though. Asking questions demonstrates vulnerability and humility. It’s a signal of self-awareness, an admission that you don’t know everything. It signals to others that it’s okay to ask questions. People will be less afraid of judgment and less likely to judge themselves.

Trust is important, and asking for help is an easy, straightforward way to develop a lot. Don’t save it as a last resort. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to fill your jar. Cite specific ask-for-help behaviors missing in your interactions with others. Make asking for help habitual, so it comes naturally when help is needed most — when stakes are high and mistakes costly.

A team that trusts deeply and actively supports itself is capable of incredible things — and all it takes is for members to buy in on asking for help.


This article was originally published on The Startup on January 21, 2021.


Interested in learning more? This article was inspired by Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. Check it out! Note that I use affiliate links when linking to products on Amazon.

How to Connect Azure Data Factory to an Azure SQL Database Using a Private Endpoint

Photo by Hafidh Satyanto on Unsplash

A step-by-step tutorial

Azure Data Factory (ADF) is great for extracting data from multiple sources, the most obvious of which may be Azure SQL. However, Azure SQL has a security option to deny public network access, which, if enabled, will prevent ADF from connecting without extra steps.

In this article, we’ll look at the steps required to set up a private endpoint and use it to connect to an Azure SQL database from Azure Data Factory.


‘Deny public network access’ setting in Azure SQL

Before we get started, let’s review which setting I’m referring to in Azure SQL. It’s a toggle named deny public network access found under Security > Firewalls and virtual networks in the Azure portal.

Source: author

When this setting is enabled, Azure Data Factory won’t connect without a private endpoint. You can see there’s even a link to create a private endpoint below the toggle control, but don’t use this now — we’ll create the request from Azure Data Factory in a minute.


ADF integration runtime

To use private endpoints in Azure Data Factory, you must use an integration runtime with virtual network configuration enabled. The setting cannot be changed, so you’ll need to create a new runtime if you don’t have one with it enabled already.

Source: author
Source: author

Now that you have an integration runtime with virtual network configuration enabled, you’re ready to create a new linked service.


ADF linked service

While still in Azure Data Factory, click to create a new linked service.

Source: author

When you select an integration runtime with virtual network configuration enabled, a managed private endpoint setting will appear in the account selection method section. The setting is read-only and will populate as you enter subscription and server details. If a managed private endpoint is already available — you’re good to go!

If a managed private endpoint isn’t available, click the create new link button to start the process.

Source: author

When you save the new managed private endpoint in Azure Data Factory, it will be provisioned in Azure but remain in a Pending status until approved.


Azure private endpoint

Now we need to hop back to Azure to approve the new private endpoint. Find your Azure SQL database in the Azure portal, and browse to Security > Private endpoint connections.

You should see the connection created by Azure Data Factory with the status Pending. Select its checkbox and click the Approve button.

Source: author

The status will change to Approved in the Azure portal. It takes a minute or two for the status to make its way to Azure Data Factory, but it will show as Approved there after a moment, too.

Source: author

Once it shows as approved, you’re ready to go. You can enter the rest of your connection info and connect!


Recap

Most of the settings I’ve shown can be accessed in several different ways and performed in different orders. For example, you could create the private endpoint from the Azure portal instead of through Azure Data Factory. You can obviously experiment and find the process that works for you.

The important pieces are the following:

  1. Azure Data Factory has an integration runtime with virtual network configuration enabled.
  2. Azure SQL has an approved private endpoint connection.
  3. Azure Data Factory has a linked service using the integration runtime and private endpoint connection.

That’s it — now go have fun with your new connection!


This article was originally published in Towards Data Science on January 20, 2021.


Interested in learning more about Azure Data Factory? Give these books a try. Note that I use affiliate links when linking to products on Amazon.

Light Up Your Razer Peripherals In Linux Mint

Photo by Emmanuel on Unsplash

A tutorial for installing OpenRazer and Polychromatic

I’ve been slowly building a Linux Mint desk setup in the basement, and this weekend I added an old Razer BlackWidow Lite keyboard and Naga Hex mouse to the mix. As expected, they were plug & play functional out of the box, but the keyboard didn’t have its backlighting enabled. This will simply not do.

Luckily, Razer has pretty good support for Linux with its OpenRazer project.

Installing is pretty simple, but lighting still wasn’t enabled. It took a few minutes of research to figure out that I also needed to install Polychromatic.

So it’s really a 3-step process but still very easy. Here’s how to do it!

Step 1 – Install OpenRazer

Open a terminal and run the following commands:

sudo apt install software-properties-gtk
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:openrazer/stable
sudo apt update
sudo apt install openrazer-meta

Step 2 – Install Polychromatic

Open a terminal and run the following commands:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:polychromatic/stable
sudo apt update
sudo apt install polychromatic

Step 3 – Configure Polychromatic

Now you can run Polychromatic Controller to enable the lighting effects. I found and launched it by typing “poly” in the system menu.

Source: author

Polychromatic detected both of my peripherals and allowed me to configure them just as I expected.

Source: author
Source: author

Once I selected the static lighting effect and turned up the brightness, the keyboard lit up. Very exciting. Now everything’s working exactly how I hoped and expected!

How To Run Websites As If They Were Apps in Linux Mint

Photo by Carlos Lindner on Unsplash

A WebApp Manager tutorial

I’ve been using Linux Mint for just a couple of weeks, and I’ve been very impressed with it. One of my grumbles from previous forays into Linux has been, why is it so hard to add a shortcut to a website?

Like, look at this tutorial for How to Create Desktop Shortcuts on Ubuntu from 2019. The instructions have you installing applications, doing extra steps to customize the icon, and creating .desktop files. It’s a lot.

So, I was intrigued while reading about Linux Mint’s WebApp Manager. You can read the announcement on the Linux Mint blog or check out the WebApp Manager project page on Github, but the idea’s simple: run websites as if they were apps.


Sounds cool. How do I do it?

I don’t know where I got this impression, but I thought WebApp Manager was supposed to be included with Linux Mint. My first hurdle was realizing that it wasn’t and I needed to install it.

You can download and install the beta from the Linux Mint blog article mentioned above. Here’s the download link they provide in the article.

Download and install WebApp Manager, and it becomes accessible from the system menu.

Source: author

Once installed, it’s ultra-intuitive to use. Open it and click to add a new website. When you save, the web app becomes accessible from the system menu like all your other installed applications.


Okay, but can I get an example?

The thing that pushed me into figuring out WebApp Manager is that Amazon doesn’t offer a Kindle reading app for Linux. They do, however, have a cloud reader available at read.amazon.com.

So, let’s see how it looks as a web app in Linux Mint.

First, we launch WebApp Manager from the system menu, as shown in the screenshot above. Click the “+” icon to add a new app and enter the URL.

Source: author

There are a few cool things to note. First, when you enter the URL, it automatically grabs an icon, but you can also click the icon next to the address box to look for and select other icons. The Amazon smile icon is okay, but I wanted something a little more Kindle-specific.

Source: author

Other options include which category of the system menu to list the web app under and which browser to use. Also noteworthy is the “Isolated profile” option, which is equivalent to running the app in private or incognito mode.

Enter the details, save it, and you’re done. The application now shows in the system menu with the name and icon specified.

Source: author

Launching it opens a satisfying experience that has a very “native app” feel to it. You can pin the icon to your panel for quick access, or right-click it in the system menu to add it to the desktop.

Source: author

Conclusion

In our increasingly web-based world, having access to installable, platform-specific programs becomes less and less critical. It’s one of the reasons Chromebooks are so popular, and Linux benefits from it, too. Linux Mint’s WebApp Manager does a beautiful job of converting websites into an app-like experience.

WebApp Manager is still in beta, and I couldn’t find much information about it after some (very brief) research. It makes a great first impression, though, and it’s another bullet on my growing list of reasons to love Linux Mint.


This article was originally published on Medium on January 7, 2021.

How I Learned to Be More Decisive and Stop Trying to Please Everyone

Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

CONFESSIONS OF A CONSENSUS-SEEKER

I used to think my ability to get everybody to agree was a strength. I have strong opinions, I’m competitive, and it’s not enough to have my opponent concede when debating a topic. I need them to agree with me — to believe what I believe. This served me well early in my career, and my fiery conviction and the resulting success allowed me to rise into leadership positions.

Honestly, even as a team lead this approach worked pretty well. Looking back, I think the turning point was when I became the manager of two teams. That’s when I no longer had the capacity to be “in it” with the team on every assignment. That’s when I hit a wall with my consensus-seeking.


The Deadliest Slide at the Playground

As a team lead, I did the best I could. Of course, I didn’t really know what I was doing and was mostly making it up as I went. That’s not to say I didn’t try or that I did a bad job. It’s just that I’m a learn-by-doing sort of person, so even though I’d read and done research on what it meant to be a good boss, it took some time and experience for concepts to set in.

The pattern continued as I moved into management. I wanted to be a “manager of the people” — to empower the team, and to give them a voice and sense of ownership. But they didn’t always agree among themselves about what needed to be done or how to do it. (Who’da guessed?) On top of that, I had my own opinions about what was best. This is where consensus-seeking started to be a problem.

The team would go on and on about a problem and then, just as they’d be coming to a conclusion, I’d weigh in with my 2 cents and reset the whole conversation. You know the big slide in the board game Chutes and Ladders? The one right toward the end that basically takes you back to the beginning? It was kinda like that.

And, because I needed that consensus, I’d keep the debate going as long as people continued to disagree. I just felt like, if we could all understand each other’s perspectives, we could find a solution we all agreed on.

I knew it was a problem. I could feel the team spinning, and we were spending more time coming up with plans than it would take to execute them. Feedback from the team provided clear supporting evidence in my performance reviews, too.

Could be more decisive. It’s good to listen, but sometimes the team just needs someone to choose. (paraphrasing)

Message received. I wasn’t surprised, though. I knew it was coming, but it still stung a little to be forced to acknowledge my shortcoming in a more official way.


Melancholy and the Infinite Debate

Analysis paralysis was certainly a key problem caused by my consensus-seeking. We’d talk and talk and talk about a topic or design, then reserve ourselves to continue the discussion in the next meeting. It was exhausting.

But, having no decision and pressure to make progress, the team would soldier on, with fatigue from the endless debate taking its toll. Even if it was my idea that “won,” it didn’t feel like winning. My effort to make everybody happy had done the opposite — everyone was miserable!

That gave way to the second major issue: lack of commitment. With so much discussion, people would lose track of what we were even trying to accomplish. Or, worse, they’d stop caring. I was mentally beating them into submission, and they just wanted it to end.

Team members would shake their heads and ask, “So, what are we doing?” They had no energy and just wanted to get on with it. It’s a real feelsbad moment to look into the defeated eyes of your team and explain that you’re just going to do the thing that you all talked about so long ago.


Can we all agree that consensus is horrible?

My a-ha moment came while reading Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The main character, Kathryn, is speaking and says the following:

“Consensus is horrible. I mean, if everyone really agrees on something and consensus comes about quickly and naturally, well that’s terrific. But that isn’t how it usually works, and so consensus becomes an attempt to please everyone.”

It feels dumb and obvious, but I literally stopped and thought, Oh no. That was it, that was my problem. I continued reading.

“…some teams get paralyzed by their need for complete agreement, and their inability to move beyond debate.”

Yep, that was us. I was worried that people would be upset by not having their idea picked, so instead, I chose to pummel them into having the same idea. Reading about my own behavior in the context of the book was reassuring, to know that the bad thing I was doing was prolific enough to be addressed in a novel about the bad things we do. Still, not a great feeling to know that I had stepped into a common pitfall.

I always tell my teams that I’d rather have a problem we know the solution to than one we don’t, though, and this was one of those cases.

In the same chapter, another character speaks up about “disagree and commit” which is a popular idea that’s been written and talked about by many people, including Jeff Bezos. The concept is simple: it’s okay to disagree, but once the decision is made, everyone commits to it.

Certainly, that’s the philosophy I need to embrace, I thought. The hard part about decision-making was the fear of being wrong. I needed consensus because, if we all agreed and were wrong, we’d be wrong together. I didn’t want to force my decision on the team to have it rubbed in my face later by bitter and spiteful colleagues.

Because they’d be bitter and spiteful… Right?


A Breathtaking Detour

Making decisions requires a constructive environment filled with trust and communication, and my consensus-seeking didn’t provide that. I felt like we needed to talk things through because people would be upset if we didn’t do it their way. And it wore them down. Instead of looking for the best solution, they were looking for a way out.

However, it turns people don’t need to get their way to be happy. They need to feel heard. Having a voice makes us feel safe, like we’re in control. We want to know that if we call out danger, the team will steer away from it. Similarly, if we know a safe path, the whole team benefits from taking it.

Imagine you have plans for dinner at a restaurant with a friend. You and your friend have many choices for how to get there. You can take highways or backroads. You can drive yourselves or take public transportation. You can go separately or together. There are a few tradeoffs with each decision, but for the most part, they’re inconsequential.

Now, let’s say you know about some construction on one of the roads. You tell your friend to avoid that route because of significant delays, but they take it anyway and show up super late. You’d probably be upset, right?

Conversely, if they show up on time, you probably don’t care which specific path they took to get there. Maybe the same construction takes them through a scenic part of town, so your friend left early to enjoy it. You wouldn’t mind that they ignored your advice. It wouldn’t prevent you from enjoying each other’s company and having a good time — it might even give you something to talk about!

It’s the same with most team decisions. If you can agree on what you’re trying to accomplish, listen to everybody’s input, and make a reasonable decision, it doesn’t usually matter which specific path is chosen. What matters is that you get to where you’re going.


The Destination vs. The Journey

We’ve all heard the popular adage about road trips: it’s about the journey, not the destination. The idea is that the experiences you’ll have on the way to your destination will outweigh the ones you’ll have once you arrive. The point of these sorts of trips is usually to have experiences, and the journey is long and thus provides many experiences, so there’s truth to the statement.

When you have several options to choose from, you’ll often find yourself in one of two buckets. Choices will be equal or have tradeoffs. When all things are equal, it’s like meeting your friend at a restaurant. It probably doesn’t matter. Pick and move on. Most decisions have tradeoffs with multiple factors being influenced to different degrees, though, and that’s what makes them so tricky.

The reason they’re difficult is that people have different values. The best decision for me is different than the best decision for someone else, and neither of us is wrong — we just have different values. For example, one of us may value speed to market whereas the other values robustness of features. This is sort of a destination-vs-journeyquestion all in itself! Is it better to reach your destination quickly to benefit from more time or go a bit slower and arrive more prepared?

The question to ask yourself is, what are you trying to accomplish? This is why it’s so important for leaders and stakeholders to set goals and priorities: to enable the team to make decisions.

But, even if all that fails, there’s some good news. In the absence of a clear winner, you’re somewhat back to the all-things-equal scenario. There is no right or wrong when the deciding factor is subjectivity, so choose and move on.


The only losing move is not to choose.

As a former consensus-seeker, I hope I’ve said enough to convince you — to make you believe — that consensus-seeking is bad.

The two major problems with consensus-seeking are time lost and lack of commitment. You sacrifice time with endless discussion, and with no decision, there’s nothing to commit to.

For that reason, any decision is better than no decision, even if it proves to be the wrong choice. Being wrong is often more efficient than trying to ensure you’re right, and conducting marathon debates won’t save you from mistakes, anyway.

Consensus is painful, and you don’t need it. What you do need is commitment. Seeking consensus will drain energy and morale whereas listening and incorporating feedback will build trust. When the team trusts you, they’ll support your decisions, and that’s how you get commitment.

Energy saved by skipping analysis paralysis now gets applied toward the commitment, and a positive cycle begins. Commitment and energy lead to results. Results earn trust and influence, which then get applied to the next round of decisions.

Making decisions is more important than the decisions themselves. Know what you’re trying to achieve, listen to your team, and make a decision. Everyone will be happier and more productive for it.


This article was originally published in The Ascent on January 5, 2021.