Thoughts on Work – 2.5 Years In

Healthcare is complex. Every time I hear of something and think “That’s crazy. No way it needs to be that complicated.” My thoughts are often quickly changed once I learn about the history and reasoning behind things.

That terrifies me. 🙂

People are really freaking smart here.

People are really qualified – or at the least appear confident in their skills.

Everyone loves to learn and share what they learn.

Not a lot of jerks. In fact I can’t think of a single person who’s out for just themselves.

Everyone is a Senior or Lead something. I have very little experience with folks fresh out of college. I’d love to see more greenhorns and apprentice/mentor relationships.

Things change. Leadership matters.

The reward for competence is usually more work. This is true of the environment here. People who work hard – and do good work – get more work. You will never find yourself bored.

Episodic Content

I’ve been playing two games recently, Destiny of Spirits on the PS Vita, a free-to-play, turned-based strategy game with some collectible attributes like Pokemon. The other is Bravely Default on the Nintendo 3DS – a traditional 40+ hour JRPG by Square Enix, makers of Final Fantasy.

Both are titles released on traditional (or non-mobile phone) consoles and are each exclusives to their platform.

I’m enjoying them both, for differing reasons, but they both contain an interesting game mechanic that I’ve been thinking about.

Each attempts to reward daily play with in-game items or bonuses if you continuously ‘visit’ the game. In Destiny of Spirits it’s one of the virtual currencies used to purchase goods within the game. In Bravely Default it’s villagers and items randomly sent from other players.

In both cases the items are rather meaningless in terms of moving the story forward or giving you something genuinely unique. Most items can be gained through the game by normal means – i.e. Play the game longer and you’ll find the items.

My wife and I are also catching up on Parks and Recreation and Orphan Black. Both are great shows that have a traditional time slot and channel where you can watch. We however enjoy the experience of on-demand video where you can binge as much as you like, or carefully fit in an episode or two into your week. No need for commercials or being in the living room at a pre-determined time.

The downside is that we can’t be sure of what we can talk about within the show with friends in family. Are they caught up? Are we behind? Is that weird to talk about a season that aired 5 years ago?

This is something I’m noticing more of. Less conversation around time-based entertainment. Sure, things like Game of Thrones or their ilk are not released online as easily (or require an incredibly expensive cable subscription) but more and more is instant and ‘evergreen’. You can watch it whenever.

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I’m imaging a future medium – a cross between a video game and pre-VHS television. If you missed an episode of TV before the VHS you’d be hard pressed to catch it again. Maybe a repeat, but culturally you’d be out of the loop. The folks at work would be talking about the progress of the plot (or in the case of sitcoms of the time, a hilarious in-joke or reference) and you’d be in the cold.

Now we don’t have that. Now we can watch entire seasons of a show in a single sitting. But imagine a game where daily participation could give you things akin to an episode of TV. Miss an episode and you don’t have a clear understanding of the story. Can’t make the time on Tuesday for that mission? Then you don’t get the rewards other players receive. Truly unique content, not just baubles or items that can be found elsewhere.

I’m not a total masochistic. Maybe tardy players could complete the missions after a period of time. A little punishment that would encourage active participation.

Would something like this work? How far could you push it? Could the death of a main character, or major plot twist happen in a container of time like this?

Another thing that has me thinking about all this is the explosion of “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube and Twtich.tv. You can literally spend hours watching someone else play a video game. The day of a new game’s release you can watch almost the entire plot, see all the world has to offer, and be done.

I dislike cheat codes. Especially for games I have yet to complete. Once you use the code to run around invincible or not have to worry about having enough mana it becomes boring and pointless to continue. After a few minutes it usually breaks the game for me. Let’s Play videos are like a cheat code for my attention. I’m much less likely to play a game (or watch a movie after reading its plot on Wikipedia).

Would exclusive time-based content that furthers a narrative by providing unique information or experiences work in our world?

The State of Things

A few articles that are interesting as a web developer/human at this point in time.

App-pocalypse Now – Jeff Atwood – Coding Horror

Your platform now has a million apps? Amazing! Wonderful! What they don’t tell you is that 99% of them are awful junk that nobody would ever want.

The Evolution of the Developer – Ben Uretsky – Re/code

But that has changed. I’m hard-pressed to think of any paradigm shift, in terms of personnel, quite as drastic and rapid as the new role of the developer. With software being free and readily available, the sole ball and chain left shackled to the ankles of developers was hardware — but with the development of the cloud market, developers have a newfound stray-dog freedom.

How to Get a Job at Google – Thomas L. Friedman – New York Times

What else? Humility and ownership. “It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in,” he said, to try to solve any problem — and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. “Your end goal,” explained Bock, “is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.”

The internet is fucked – Nilay Patel – The Verge

But we can fix it, I swear. We just have to start telling each other the truth. Not the doublespeak bullshit of regulators and lobbyists, but the actual truth. Once we have the truth, we have the power — the power to demand better not only from our government, but from the companies that serve us as well.

Platformed. – Ethan Marcotte

I don’t really have any answers here—hell, I’m not entirely sure what I’m griping about. But I do wonder if our collective short-term frustrations leads us to longer-term losses. And seeing the web not as a “platform” but as a “continuum”—a truly fluid, chaotic design medium serving millions of imperfect clients—might help.

Thanks to @timothy_snyder and others on Twitter for sharing these.

How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying

I’ve been trying to figure out what success is, what it means to be successful and why people around me are either outwardly successful or self-deprecating in their success.

I should note, personally I’ve struggled with the idea of success. I grew up in a trailer park with parents that, while loving and caring and tentative to my needs, were not educated in a higher degree or what society might consider traditionally successful. Financials were (and continue to be) an issue for a large part of my family.

Myself? Well I’m doing OK. I went to college and met someone who makes me want more for myself. I found something I’m passionate about (the crossroads of people and technology) and am well-respected in my field.

From that angle, I could say I’m successful. Compared to others? Well, that’s a funny thing. I always feel like a dullard or slacker.

But success is measured in so many ways – far beyond the padding in your wallet or the comforts of your home.

As Joss Whedon put so eloquently in his commencement speech to his Alma Mater,

“I talk about this contradiction and this tension… There’s two things I want to say about it. One, it never goes away. And if you think that achieving something, if you think that solving something, if you think a career or a relationship will quiet that voice? It will not.

If you think happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. They will always be in conflict and if you accept that, everything gets a lot better!”

That voice inside me that Joss speaks about is definitely not quiet. Every day I struggle to understand what success and happiness are and to constantly pursue things that bring me both. I wish for both success and happiness to all whom I meet. I try to mentor and advise those close to me – not to be a know-it-all or a wise-ass –  to help in some small way to bring friends and family up.

Another intelligent and experienced person once said,

“The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”

That’s Louis C.K. It’s from his TV show in which he plays a fictionalized version of himself. He’s speaking to his daughter in the scene. It applies to anyone, regardless of age.

So what is success? I have come to think that it’s totally subjective and any canned or preconceived notions we have as young people should be thrown out the window. An individual could be the poorest schmuck on Earth, but in his story he’s happy and therefore the most successful bum that ever lived.

A person with a highfalutin title might be unhappy and unsatisfied with their career or do something they’re not passionate about.

Don’t judge people by their title or position. I’ve met some really smart managers and some really inane leaders. I’ve met first-response service folks who are aces.

That said, I do think there are things you can do to be more successful and happy. It’s not just luck or environment. It’s awareness and a desire to do better – to move toward success and happiness.

These things have worked for me, are subjective, and should be taken with a grain of salt.

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Be an Adult

Tuck your shirt in. Wear nice shoes. Learn about collar stays. Always wear a belt.

Not just dressing, act like one. Meet people in person instead of the phone or email for the first time if you can. Never yell, cuss or say something that is otherwise rude. Don’t say anything bad about your co-workers, boss, clients, or mailman in public spaces – especially the Internet.

Show Empathy

Everyone is the protagonist in their own story. Understand where they’re coming from and listen to what they have to say.

Don’t Abuse Meetings

Show up on time, be prepared and know how to set up the damn projector.

Put your devices down. Turn off the laptop. The email is not more important than this meeting (see below).
Stand up when someone enters the room and introduce yourself.

See Also:
http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1741

Really Listen

When someone is talking listen. listening is not waiting for your turn to talk.

This is a huge help for appropriately understanding the work that is being asked of you. If you don’t listen, are impatient, and want to quickly jump to the end where you get out of the room so you can go build something you will be frustrated when the client asks, “What is this? I didn’t ask for this.”

See Also:
View story at Medium.com

Turn of the @!*# Email

Email is not real-time. You don’t need to check it every five minutes. Turn it off on the evenings and weekends. Replying to emails at 3 in the morning is not a badge of honor. No one is going to pat your back for it.

Work to Live

Know what you should get paid. Talk about salaries with close friends. Understand what you’re getting into with a new company or position. Work a little more than what you’re paid. Show initiative. Offer to help others and when others ask, help where you can.

I’ve never worked more than 40 hours constantly at any job I’ve ever had. Am I lucky? Nope. I work hard, know my stuff, am constantly learning, and act like an adult.

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When I was in college I was at a party with some folks older than me, but in the same field I was hoping to soon join. Being young and stupid about how things work, I asked what sort of advice could they give me about the field. In my nascent mind I was expecting tips about using Photoshop better or best practices around workflow or industry trends.

Instead the best advice they gave me was don’t put in 60 hours to impress your boss. It’s not worth it professionally and defiantly not worth it personally.

I think that dovetails with success and happiness. It’s not just what you do for a living. It’s the things that you do with your time on this planet. It’s the stuff during your 9-5, the evenings at home, and the weekends with friends. It’s never just one of those things, it’s all of them in moderation and consistent drive to push them all forward. Work hard, meet new people, travel, and enjoy what you have.

Kids and Games – Inspired by Penny Arcade

I like video games. Not just in the sense of spending a few hours a week playing them, but the development and design of them, their history in popular culture, and the unique ways the medium allows us to experience new places and characters like nothing before.

I’m also a parent with a daughter I love dearly. Which, as you can imagine, can create friction between the two interests. Kari loves video games too. We play Minecraft together – exploring caves and looking for diamonds and avoiding monsters. She knows what kind of games she can play – and why she can’t watch dad play his more mature games.

I’m lucky, I grew up with a Gameboy in my hands and had supportive parents that looked over my shoulder every once in a while. Some parents didn’t. I know folks whose first interaction with video games was via the unrelenting requests of their children to buy the latest Sega Super Mega Ultra Station 2000 for Christmas.

I was inspired by Mike Krahulik from Penny Arcade and decided to reach out to my daughter’s principal to see what I could do to help educate other parents on video games. Below is the email I sent to her this evening. If you’re an adult who cares about young people growing up in a positive gaming culture I urge you to do something. Communication and education is far more powerful than talking heads and fear mongering.

Dr. Vogelsang,

I’m Chris and my daughter, Kari Koerner, is in Ms. Parker’s 1st grade class.

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about video games in mainstream media. Katie Couric just did an hour-long piece that, while she has good intentions, makes video games look like something the devil came up with. Here’s a good retort if you’re familiar with the piece. The whole thing is a bit crazy and like most things, the truth lies somewhere in between.

I want to talk to other parents and teachers about video games. Not some boring 45 slide PowerPoint, but an honest chat with literal examples of what games are really like, how to find games that are appropriate, and how to guide our children to the right games, in the right context, at the right time.

This past March my family traveled to Boston for Spring break. Kari, Jackie and I went to a convention called Penny Arcade Expo or PAX for short. It’s a huge gathering of 70,000 gaming nerds from all walks of life. People who love board games, Dungeons & Dragons, card games, classic video games and yes, even the modern blockbuster titles we hear about in the news. People traveled thousands of miles to see new games and hang out with people who share the same interests. And you know what? It was the most amazing group of kind, interesting people I’ve ever met.

The guys who started PAX are behind a webcomic called Penny Arcade. It’s a series that is always mature and sometimes offensive, but spares no victim in being brutally honest about video games and the culture that surrounds them. They are very outspoken on issues such as this and just this morning posted an article about an idea they had. You can read it here (Warning: strong language). The gist, if you don’t wish to read it yourself, is that one way we can help is to educate other adults on the ins-and-outs of video games. They inspired me to reach out to you to see what I can do for Bowles and the Rockwood School District.

It’s awesome to be a nerd and I’d like to share my knowledge and enthusiasm with other parents and teachers. I threw together a rough outline that I hope might give an overview of what we’d talk about.

  • Explain what ESRB ratings mean. Show them how to use these ratings to determine appropriate purchases (There’s also a free and pretty awesome ESRB app for smartphones).
  • Demo some recent games of various ESRB Rating Levels.
  • Show what it’s like to play certain games (walk through a level from a couple different games).
  • Talk about hand-held gaming like Nintendo DS and Apple iPads. These systems too have very mature games (like Resident Evil) alongside Mario and Pokemon.
  • Talk about online gaming, like Xbox Live. What will kids hear when playing with anonymous strangers.
  • Talk about parental restrictions. All systems released in the past 7 years have some from of parental restrictions, many associated with the ESRB ratings.
  • Talk about social pressures. Kids want to be popular and included.
  • Talk about what impact parents can have on other children when they visit their house (to play video games).
  • Talk about how to educate other parents in a polite manner about video games, the ESRB and the implications of inappropriate gaming.

Let me know what you think. I’d love to grab lunch and chat if you’re up to it. If you have any ideas of a potential opportunity to get a group of interested parents/teachers in a room I’m all for putting something together.

Yours,
Chris Koerner
clkoerner.com