entrepreneurship, Experience, Experiment, Failing, Focus, hackathon, hustle, Improvement, IT, Learning Lessons, Technology, Trying, Zoning

Why Hackathons Are Awesome: Hacking Detroit’s Zoning Code

For the last two months, I participated in a monthly hackathon event called the Detroit Civic Hackathon (next one is November 12!). These were the first two installments of what is becoming a monthly event that originated from a monthly happy hour meet up called The Detroit Urban Tech Meetup.

These past two events were great! The past few days I reflected on why these two hackathons were awesome.

Focus On Your Passion

First, hackathons are awesome because they enable a large amount of dedicated focus. In my day-to-day work, I do not spend more than 2-4 hours focused on something, unless I am working outside of the normal 9-5 business hours – I get interrupted way to often. Hackathon’s are special because they allow you to block out the world and spend deliberate time working on whatever problem you are trying to solve.

In addition, hackathons harness this focus on your passion. For me, I am passionate about learning new technology and cities. In this case, I am learning JavaScript and the React library and trying to understand/solve a problem related to city zoning (more on this soon). This hackathon’s theme is cities, but other hackathons may be more open or have a different theme. Either way, I suggest trying a hackathon that aligns to something you are passionate about.  

Engaging Problem

For these past two hackathons, I was excited to be taking on a problem that was challenging and exciting to me – zoning codes. Zoning is something you may not think about but impacts the way many cities in the US are currently laid out. For example, zoning laws usually prevent a strip club from being built or operating next to a middle school (crude example but I think it makes the example very clear). In general, zoning regulates a city and town’s land use by permitting or prohibiting certain uses based on the zoning codes.

One problem is that most zoning ordinances are not easily accessible. Zoning laws and ordinances can be hundreds of PDF pages long and each zone can be extremely hard and sometimes costly to understand. This is Detroit’s Zoning ordinance – it’s a light read 😜.

Our idea, spearheaded by a guy who was passionate about this topic, is to help make this information easier to access and digest. Our idea is to create basic website that helps take this information out of the PDF and puts it into a more user-friendly web format.

Great People

The last major reason hackathons are awesome is because of the people you meet. Each event I met new and passionate individuals. Some of them are working on this zoning project, others have their own interests and projects. I met a data scientist who works at Ford but is from the Middle East where he used to be banker. I met an MIT graduate who engineered autonomous vehicles for a company that was purchased by Ford. I met a transit advocate who does design work for the Regional Chamber. Lastly, Jimmy, the guy spearheading this idea, works for the city of Detroit. He is a huge city, transit and do the right thing advocate. Also, he is a talented web engineer. It is always great to be surrounded by people that want to do great things and in an area that you are passionate in.

Try One and Check Out Our Project!

These are three reasons I believe hackathons are awesome. I participated in several of them over the years and I love focusing on learning, working on things I am passionate about and meeting great people along the way. I strongly recommend you try a hackathon to see what it is like. If you have similar or different thoughts, let me know! I’d love to hear what you think.

PS – Jimmy made some great updates yesterday and this project is already leaps and bounds exceeding my expectations. Check it out here: Zoning Guide Detroit

Group getting ready for the Inaugural Detroit Civic Hackathon in September 2019

Agile, Agile, Communication, Experience, Experiment, Failing, Focus, Improvement, IT, Leadership, Learning Lessons, Real Estate, Release Train Engineer, SAFe, Scrum, SDLC, Technology, Trying

A New RTE’s Struggles

As a new Release Train Engineer and former Scrum Master, I am ambitious and excited to dive in to help my train and teams succeed. In both roles, I struggle challenging and supporting my trains and teams to follow a few concepts, I believe are valuable.

Vertical Delivery (working software is the primary measure of progress)

Why is this important?

Working software demonstrates progress, enables healthy feedback into the development process without too much re-work and illustrates how much work it takes to deliver amazing software (plus we can celebrate the progress!)

My Struggle

Overall, shifting mindsets is hard. Our tech team can do the work. Moving away from getting everything together from the onset, is the difficult piece. Getting one piece of data from the database to the UI or even faking the data and getting data to flow from one place to the front end can be a big change. One thing I’ve seen that seems to help think through how to deliver vertically – during PI Planning, one team planned out what they would demo at the end of each iteration. If the demo description didn’t seem to deliver new value, the work may not be very vertical.

Set Based Design (assuming variability; preserve options)

Why is this important?

Change is inevitable. This helps designs and solutions pivot away from dead ends when new information is acquired. Also, this helps support innovation and conquer unknowns.

My struggle

From my perspective, during PI Planning or Iteration Planning the team has a clear idea of how they are going to do something and then go and do that thing. While this makes sense (SAFe also mentions how this is normal), it seems like we hurt our ability to innovate and try new solutions that may work better than just sticking to the plan (responding to change > following a plan). I don’t know if this is just a concern because of the technology we use and mindset we’ve created or if every organization has this kind of dilemma when also trying to deliver valuable working software.

Improved Predictability (program execution)

Why is this important?

Predictability helps others understand when they can receive their valuable working software. The more predictable a team, the better experience and experiences matter a lot. For example, if we expect websites to load within milliseconds and it takes 20 seconds to load a website that will result in a bad experience. That experience matters because we won’t go back to that website if it takes a long time to load.

My struggle

Sizing is hard. Sizing is an estimate, but it doesn’t need to be precise. I think this takes practice and the better the work is broken down, which also takes practice, the better we can size. I believe the skill of sizing can be improved and results in better expectations when it comes to major gaps. Often, I see rushed estimations (maybe because of pressure) or I don’t see a lot of time spent thinking through the estimates. Again, there is a delicate balance between wasting time on solving the entire story (analysis paralysis) versus getting just enough information to estimate how long it will take to complete the work.

What do you think?

I know the teams and trains I work with can execute on these concepts. I think as an RTE I can better support them in doing this by finding examples, finding mentors to help guide them and being unafraid to challenge “the why” when someone says it “can’t be done” like that.

I wanted to share my struggles because I think others have these struggles, and it is OK to openly talk about what we are working through. If anyone has any suggestions or thoughts, I’d love to hear from you and what you learned along the way!

Photo Credit: https://medium.com/@media_75624/release-train-engineer-rte-is-not-a-traditional-manager-b51536bd6664

Experience, Experiment, Failing, Goals, Improvement, Leadership, Learning Lessons, Parents Experience, Trying

Growing From Fatherhood

I hope all the dads out there had a great Father’s Day weekend!

Becoming a father is hard to describe. I did a lot to “prepare” for it. I read books, articles, attended classes and talked with other fathers about their experience. I knew this journey would be hard and I knew it would help me grow as a person and as a leader.

Here are four ways I am growing as a new father. For any new fathers, how have you grown?

Patience towards achieving goals like having our daughter sleep in their crib

  • Patience with a newborn is critical. When a baby cries for a while, it can quickly test your mental and physical resolve. Being patient and sticking towards achieving the end goal is really helpful to persevere through the tough times. It’s easy to completely change gears and try soothing techniques that work against your end goals in the long term
  • We wanted our daughter to sleep in her room and in her crib. Early on, we wanted to avoid using sleep props (swings, bouncers, our arms, beds etc) so our daughter would get used to sleeping in the crib and in the room. When she cried, it was really tough to not use a swing or bouncer, but we chose to try and rock her to sleep in our arms and once she was sleepy, put her back in the crib. She currently, sleeps in her room and crib without issue.

Asking for help so you can get much needed sleep

  • Newborns are literally a handful. Being OK to ask for help, is required (and expected!). Asking visiting family or friends to bring over food, help with cleaning up or taking the baby for a bit so new parents can get some much needed sleep, is something I am not always comfortable doing.
  • As a new parent, I’ve learned to be better at asking for help when I think I am hitting a breaking point or I need to accomplish a few overdue things. When my parents were in town to visit, I gave my daughter to my parents for a few hours, so Kayla and I could get some uninterrupted sleep, which was extremely helpful.

Trying, failing (accidentally choking 😬) and learning from experiences like administering medicine

  • Trial and error is a key component to solving various baby related problems. One evening our daughter seemed to have some bad gas. We had some “gas medicine” that we decided to try.
  • I made the mistake of feeding her the medicine to fast and while she was lying flat on her back. This caused her to choke for a few seconds and this event became (still is) the scariest moment of my early fatherhood.
  • I learned from this experience that any medicine should be administered slowly and with the baby at an angle, to help her swallow. Since then, she hasn’t choked and Kayla hasn’t choked me 😀

Setting work boundaries and enjoying the moment because this time is precious

  • Making sure you create the time and space to be present for things that matter most to you is challenging and important. Most people we’ve talked with say the newborn time goes by quickly. Since going back to work and spending a fraction of my day with my daughter, I can see why people say this. I haven’t missed too much yet, one time she rolled front to back and I miss all of her smiles, but I am sure I will miss more.
  • I am creating clearer work boundaries, so I can be home for her two evening feedings. I want to make sure I have the time I want with my daughter and I want to make sure everyone at work understands that you should set boundaries based on what is important to you. For me, this is my growing family. Work can be very fulfilling, but it doesn’t have to be all consuming.