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Paula Muldoon - FFS Get Outside
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Paula Muldoon, 19th September 2018, at @FFSTechConf

FFS Get Outside.

[Music]. [Applause].


Thank you very much, my name is Paula Muldoon. I'm a violinist and a programmer. That's a Yankee Doodle Variation, which I wrote because there was an ice cream van in my neighbourhood playing Yankee Doodle every fucking day and I figured I might as well turn the annoying music into a piece. Didn't get any ice cream, though!

So they told us to keep slides to a minimum, so I've got 30 slides for you which is by far the most I've done in a conference, but there you are. I usually forget to do the slides in the right order, so I was going to say could we use jazz hands instead of clapping. [Not everybody likes the sound of clapping hands. -Paula]

A pre talk, reflecting on the morning and the day so far. It's been great to hear the different points of view, hear people speaking so honestly, and it's been great to see all the passion that's going through. However, it put me in mind of meanings I have at work where me in a room with eight guys who get very aggressive and talk to each other very aggressively. I felt that this morning, and I could feel my blood pressure rising and feel the tension of people talking at each other with passionate ideas and good ideas, but talking at and not listening. So I want to throw this out there, it's not my talk at all, but for fuck's sake, listening is a skill, and being passionate doesn't mean you're communicating, it just means you're being passionate and might be alienating part of your audience. That rant is over. Do with that what you like.

I'm a violinist as you can tell. This used to be my main job until a year and half ago until I did Makers Academy. I've been working as a back-end developer for over a year. And I'm interested in the ways that my background as a musician can inspire my work and my approach to programming as a job.

So, first, I would like to define things. What is "outside"? That is outside.

Experiencing the world from a different perspective. Frank Lloyd Wright said I go to nature every day for inspiration about work.

It's developing relationships with other human beings.

Brené Brown said vulnerability is the birthplace of inspiration, creativity, and change.

“Outside” might be honing a skill.

Learning something new, experiencing a new art, or craft.

Outside can be exploring.  CS Lewis says, “Are not all life long friendships when you at last meet another human being who has an inkling of something you were born desiring?”, so making a connection with another human being.

Finally, I thought I would throw it in there, “getting outside” can be “collaborating”.

A quote from Dumbledore: “Music, a magic beyond all we do here. That's me in the Royal Albert Hall there doing a BBC Prom.

Theoretically, one could get outside in this windowless, airless room here.

Who wins from getting outside? You win, and your company wins, and society wins. Let me talk about those.

First of all, you and work. Some thoughts on this. Hillary Clinton: “Don't confuse having a career with having a life.”

Brené Brown: “What we know matters, but who we are matters more.”

Has anyone here certain Brené Brown's Ted Talk? Awesome. You should watch it. It's on vulnerability and communication. Everyone needs to watch this and read some of her books too.

So, first question, who are you?

So why get outside? First of all, for you, you will gain a new perspective. Understand better your learning process. If you go outside and try to learn, say, painting, you're going to struggle. You're going to be in a beginner's position but in a completely new position in terms of how you're looking at a problem. You will understand how your brain works in a different way. It's always useful to understand how your brain works, in my opinion.

You may even experience joy, and this is really, really important. You can do something that is not the frustrations of code, not that coding is always frustrating but sometimes, it can be! You might experience something outside of that something that is deeper and more meaningful. I would argue that that is a good thing. God forbid, you might make another connection with another human being. Careful there! It's risky!

So, the counter argument to that is what if I love coding and what I want to do with my life all the time? I want to code 24/7, I love learning the latest JavaScript, framework? Okay, first of all, great. Great that you love learning new JavaScript frameworks. Please stop because there are too many of them.

If you have to code outside of work, go and find some new people to do with it, don't do it on your own. Go and teach at CodeBar and mentor students and show them that code something fun. You have joy enough of coding that you want to do it in your spare time, find someone to do that with you. Work on open source projects. Try remote pair programming with someone who lives in a different country. Make a new connection with someone. Use a new language that you don't know so you're forced to think about your problems differently. The idea is not to do the same thing all the time. Try something different.

How does your company benefit? So I found this thread on Stack Overflow which I loved. “I would like to hire a developer who is passionate about programming.” There’s an idea that people need to be passionate about code in order to do a good job. You will see this in job descriptions, someone so passionate about code that they wake up saying, "Yay, code, I will work on this JavaScript framework for three hours this morning. Mainly write a new JavaScript framework."

Somehow, this is good that we want people who have no sense of perspective, who don't know when to stop and who don't understand boundaries. I was getting feedback from a job application. By the way, do give feedback on tech tests - it helps people learn.

I was told, “You should be coding all the time.” I have a life, thank you very much. And I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to work with you if you expect me to code all the time. What is this passionate programming? You code after work and code at the weekends. There's nothing wrong with enjoying writing code, I hope we all do or you should get a different job, but this idea that you have no boundaries with your code is an unhealthy way to live.

Someone gave this answer to the Stack Overflow question: “A passionate idiot is still an idiot. Disinterested genius is still a genius. I know which of the two I would rather have.”

This idea of passion again is that you lose all sense of perspective, you lose the ability to reflect on yourself, your desire to do something overwhelms your ability to think, “Should I do something? Earlier, it was said that maybe sometimes the answer is to do nothing. Yeah, let's get situations, and people who have the ability to sit back and think, "Should we do something?"

Maybe passion for code isn't an indicator of a good employee. Also, if you expect your programmers to get their programming kicks on the weekends, maybe look at how many meetings you're making them attend and ask why they can't get programming kicks inside their job because their job is writing code, right? Not meetings. That's another rant.

Let’s talk about what a good employee is. What do companies want to look for and nurture? I would argue it's someone who works proactively and not reactively, so they think about what they are doing and don't react, saying, "We've got to get this out now.”  Instead, employees who ask, “Do we need to test this?" Stop and think.

Someone who doesn't generate stress. That's a huge thing. There are a lot of people in programming who, "Oh, my God, we've got to get it out, fix!" Stop and think. Perspective is really important. Someone who is focused and dedicated while at work able to start in the morning with a clear head.

As part of learning to play the violin, you practise a lot. I did four hours a day of violin practice. It is a lot to do one thing except programming where we are expect to work 7.5 hours a day and have our brains firing on all cylinders. With music, you have a physical constraint. Programming, you get back aches and stuff and there's not so much an indicator of your brain hurting in the same way, so it's easy to carry on when your brain is producing mush.

So it's much better that you show up in the morning well rested with a clear head ready to go, having spent the previous evening scuba diving, or whatever it is that you do. Someone who works at a sustainable pace. Again, that perspective is really important.

This is something that start-up culture is so bad at telling us, because the start-up culture, not saying you all work in a start-ups, but this idea that you have to just work, and work, and work, and work, and maybe get a break three months down the line, but that's not sustainable and not a good habit to teach a 22-year-old - probably male - to do, either, because he turns into a 42-year-old guy who doesn't like the verb "rest", or have relationships with people, and so on.

How do we develop them? First of all, you can do it. They don't drop out of the sky. I used to be a massively chronic overworker. Makers Academy is wonderful because they taught me to set boundaries.

I do not discuss code on the weekends or after 5.30 pm, but I turn up at 9.00 am and I'm "Cool, what can I do?" I'm actually excited to go to work in the mornings, and sometimes relieved. I spent so much time this past weekend with the violin that I was like, "Thank God I can do some code Monday morning. Really sick of the violin right now!."

We need more than a job. We need relationships and interests, and we need to be curious, fresh points of view, and time away from screens, and we need to think in a different way, or just not think, just exist. We need to get outside.

So society I think is the third thing that benefits, and this picks up on a theme that's been happening today. I heard a story recently about a group of people at a software company that will remain nameless, and they all socialise together. This is fantastic. They go out after work, they have a few drinks, go climbing together, they do whatever. Great.

But when are they meeting other people? If they're engineers, they're probably again, sorry for the stereotype, probably going to be mostly guys. When are these people meeting someone with a different viewpoint? Someone of a different gender, race, or different socio-economic background. Probably never if they are spending their time in the same bubble.

We know that this bubble is an issue, right? Like, we talk to other programmers who are in the same idea but not to end-users.  If you hang out with only programmers, you're in that bubble. A group of males that hangs out together and works together, when are they going to encounter a different viewpoint, something that will challenge them?

Getting outside is very important for a society.

Meeting new people is a giant pain in the ass. I hate it. So many times at home I think I should go to this thing but I can't be bothered. I force myself to go out. I play music with different people, and teach music. If you're at a pottery class, and you meet someone, and they're driving you up the wall, you say it's great to meet you, I need to concentrate on this pottery wall at the moment. It is a perfect excuse to tell them to bugger off without looking rude.

Shared activities are good.

So, next bit, is now - it's audience interaction. I want you to get something you can write on - a phone, a piece of paper, or whatever, and write a list of three things that you want to try that involve getting outside. And don't care if it is impossible, don't care if my kids are busy, all these things, write down what you want to do. Forget if it is possible.

They should be things that make you curious, that make you joyful, that you anticipate enjoying doing. Maybe there's even some fear, because to acknowledge what you really want is scary, because then you might not get it.

And then you choose one, and you write down the next step towards doing that thing. Next step might be like, I don't know, you can imagine what the next step would be. Something very, very simple, and that really is the next thing. Write down the name of the person you can tell this thing to. As soon as you leave the conference, tell them, so you have an accountability partner. While you're doing that, I will play the violin.

Going to improvise and hopefully not walk into a wall. I will give you about three minutes, or until I run out of musical ideas. [Music].

As my final act before questions, I'm going to play the piece that I wrote for this conference. It's called For Fuck's Sake, Get Outside. I wrote it last week. If you play the violin, I can give you the score. If you want to learn the violin, that's a great idea, too. It only takes about 20 years! [Laughter]. So spend lots of time outside. [Music]. [Applause]. Thank you very much.

[EDITOR: Q&A section redacted due to attendee request - it was great though!]

[Applause]. [Break].