A short analogy on Feedback & Unit Tests

Unit tests are something that engineers write to test the work they’ve done in smaller pieces. Code that is tested tends to perform closer to expectations. Future changes to old code protect the way things work by causing unit tests to fail if something is changed unexpectedly. Passing tests are green checks ✅. Failing unit tests are red Xs ❌.

Default behavior is to write your unit tests after you’re done writing the solution. When an engineer sees all ✅, they call it a day and ship it. The funny thing with unit tests are … they are also subject to being full of problematic logic or buggy code. How does the engineer know their tests are correct or cover all the scenarios if you’ve never seen a failure?

There is a concept from test-driven design (TDD) that helps mitigate this. Write your tests first before writing the actual solution. Your tests will all start with ❌ and you’ll slowly turn those to ✅ as you write the solution.

Feedback

I was chatting with a coworker today and gave this analogy of unit tests being like feedback. How so?

If you receive feedback from a lead and always get positive remarks ( ✅ ), how do you know if the lead is actually seeing your work enough to find any areas of improvement ( ❌ )? I’ve found that feedback feels less impactful unless once in a while you get something constructive or critical to work on.

I figured the analogy was kind of neat and figured it might illustrate the importance of feedback being a system of trust. You can’t trust your unit tests until you’ve seen other than just successes. And likewise, receiving only praise can make someone feel uneasy and possibly not trust they’re getting the whole picture.

A letter from your ADHD friend or family member

I worry a lot. Let me rephrase that – I worry often. Additively I think my worry amount is low, as if there were any way to measure worry definitively. Having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, to me, shatters my day into so many small moments of time. When I worry about something, it doesn’t last long because my brain is moving onto some other concern or input. What do I worry most about? People and relationships.

I worry about friends, family, coworkers, and how all of those relationships mean something to me and to them. I dug deep into this feeling of worry a while back and came to the realization that I don’t often do much about it. Sometimes I’ll reach out to the person and resolve that worry. Other times I go down a small rabbit hole of permutations of a a possible conversation, of the history between us, and even of the future. I suppose it’s a form of analysis paralysis. By the time I come up out of the rabbit hole, I forget to engage and I’m off to the next thought.

I presumed that from the outside, being friends with someone with ADHD can be difficult. I started to write a letter to all of my friends and family to tell them more about me, how I think, and not to take it personally if I forgot to say something about a birthday or remarkable achievement. It was then I realized that maybe people I don’t even know could benefit from reading this letter.

You might have a friend, coworker, or family member with ADHD. See if this letter gives you any coloring around your relationship that can help it down the road. If you are reading this and you have ADHD, feel free to send the letter to people you know.


Dear Friends, Family Members, and Coworkers:

I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (sometimes the H part doesn’t apply). It’s hard to explain what my universe is like although I suspect you generally have an understanding as we all go through problems with attention and focus. Like other forms of neurodivergence you can’t see what’s different about me, you can only see how I act differently than yourself. If you don’t understand those differences enough, you can’t apply context to them and you may think my intentions are different.

Through thoughtfulness, therapy, medication, and meditation I’ve ruminated enough on what makes me different and have come to understand it. I feel like ADHD can be a super power as well as a super burden.

Maybe you see me as:

  • Impulsive.
  • Unreliable.
  • Disorganized.
  • Restless.
  • Procrastinating.
  • Hot-tempered.
  • Easily frustrated.
  • Anxious.
  • Moody.

I see myself as someone who sees a lot of things. Imagine a room filled with screens – televisions, tablets, phones, beeping signals, dogs barking. A normal person can see the thing that’s important and let the others become background noise. I have trouble picking the signal out of the noise. I have less noise because it’s all signal in my brain.

I see the random things on walks in people’s yards. I notice the painting behind you when you’re talking to me. I feel the seam of my jeans on my right knee when I’m driving. I hear the washing machine clicking in the basement when I’m on a call upstairs.

I have good days and bad days. I know that anxiety goes hand-in-hand with ADHD. There are times I get overwhelmed with stimuli and need to exit a situation. I know that can be hard to take when I might have to leave your birthday party at a Mexican restaurant when the table next to us gets fajitas delivered. Sometimes sounds, smells, and lights can send my brain off into an adventure.

There are other times when ADHD lets me see many sides to a discussion. When I can focus and listen to a story and connect, I can ask deep questions about things you may not have thought of. Maybe you think I’m insightful or thoughtful.

Then there are those things I miss. I forget to wish you a happy birthday or call you when you finish a race you told me about twenty times. Maybe you wonder how someone so insightful can be so forgetful. At times I bet you think I might not care about you as much as you do me.

The reality is I think about you probably 100 times a day in microsecond bursts. I remember those things you told me – I can see you at last year’s birthday party and remember it’s your birthday soon. But when I recall this fact, the next thing pops in my head and I don’t transmit that recognition of the day to you.

I leave cupboard doors and drawers open. You’ll find tools I’ve used in places you wouldn’t expect them. Then other days I’m criticizing your organizational skills because I see 15 different things out of place within moments. I’m also a creature of habit, and I have a habit of needing to change those habits for the sake of doing something different. I crave stability but I also crave change. I move furniture around a lot.

I want to be normal but I also want to be me. Maybe I take medication to help things out but I recognize that the medication changes my personality in subtle ways. Medication isn’t always the answer for everyone. Not everyone feels the need that they need to be fixed. I feel that if I’m honest with the people I live with, work with, and spend time around that we can learn how each other sees the world and we can help each other out. At times I may need a helping hand which can come in the form of therapy and/or medication. Don’t judge me if I’m doing either of these things. I’m not a pill-popper or weak-minded.

Even though I appear to be this self-aware, I need help from my family and friends. Remind me of things that are important to you. Make sure I’m putting important things into my calendar. If you notice me staring through you when you’re talking, connect with me on the subject and tell me why its important to hear your story. I need to feel accountable for things to be a better signal in the noise of my brain.

Thanks for listening, and I’m always here to answer questions. I’m glad we know each other.

Me

The Impact of Sixty Seconds as a Kid

I have memories from my childhood but most of them are fragmented with how my ADHD brain works. There have been plenty of times talking with family about things that happened when I was young and I have no memory of it. I suppose my crappy attention & focus made it hard to store contiguous memories.

There are some things that are very clear in my head, though. One of those clear memories is of my dad and it lasted exactly 60 seconds.

Some days before I would get ready for school I would watch the kids’ game show called Double Dare. It was a 30 minute program that was a combination trivia and obstacle course. The unique thing about this show was the slime and gook used in the obstacle course – stuff that kids love to see people get covered in when they fall. The obstacle course lasted 60 seconds and was at the very end of the show.

One morning my dad was rushing to get ready for work. I remember him dressed in his work clothes and had his briefcase in hand. I was engrossed in the episode of Double Dare and my dad barely acknowledged me being there. I was excited to watch the obstacle course and I wanted my dad to watch too – I think because I wanted him to think it was super cool too. I told him to stay and watch – and then he said no.

I was persistent, though. “Dad, it’s only 60 seconds long! You can wait one more minute to leave!”

He looked at me and then the TV and he did something that was very atypical for him. He said okay and sat down to watch the obstacle course with me. I was so excited that he actually wanted to stay and watch!

It’s funny how 30+ years later I remember this small moment because it had a really big impact on my relationship with my dad. He’s often caught in his own head and doesn’t have a strong sense of empathy with how his actions affect other people. His universe orbits around him in a lot of ways but he doesn’t intentionally mean to isolate himself. He does care about the people around him but it doesn’t always show.

This one day I reached that bit of his mind that recognized the empathy I really needed. In that 60 seconds I connected with my dad in a meaningful way. I’ve reflected back on that moment so many times when I get frustrated with him especially now that he’s affected by Parkinson’s Disease. My dad’s disappearing little by little with what feels like dementia related to the Parkinson’s.

When you have that 60 second moment to have an impact on your kids, take it. You’ll never know how long it’ll stick with them.

Garmin Forerunner Pace Alerts Don’t Make Sense

The TL;DR is that Garmin’s pace alerts seem to trigger on average pace but the alert on the screen shows current pace. It can be confusing especially early on in a run where the average is much more volatile.

Garmin Coach

I own a Garmin Forerunner 245 GPS watch and use it track my runs, bike rides, and any indoor activities. I also have an Apple Watch Series 4 with Cellular but don’t use it for tracking any longer because of weird GPS behaviors. The Forerunner 245 has definitely been a superior GPS unit and their biometrics (especially with their heart rate strap and sensor package) blow the Apple Watch out of the water.

In 2019 I ran way more than I biked and discovered I was also getting faster and had higher endurance. I like to close the red activity ring on my Apple Watch every day and it’s really my only fitness goal beyond using exercise to help combat my ADHD. I was discovering after several months of running every day (3-5mi on average) that my body was getting fatigued sometimes, lasting a week or more before recovery. I really noticed this when I started running more on trails in a nearby park influenced by glaciers.

I got the Forerunner watch in late 2019 and discovered the Garmin Coach plans really soon after installing their app. I don’t run in races nor do I really have any speed or distance goal. I ran a half marathon distance without specifically training and I recovered from it just fine. What I did want to start learning to do was how to vary my workouts with intention and include specific rest days. So, the Garmin Coach plan seemed like a great thing to follow.

I never ran with a specific pace in mind, only ever looked at the results after a run. I wanted to run smarter, and maybe a bit faster on longer distance runs. I may some day decide to enter a race, but again, not a factor for me.

Different Types of Runs

Garmin coach has several different run types that I’ve encountered so far in the plan with the “coach” I’m using:

  • Time trial – short distance runs near your threshold speed to gauge progress to your goal.
  • Easy run – slower runs in a 2-6 mile range.
  • Long run – 6-11mi runs (they keep getting longer towards my half marathon distance goal).
  • Speed intervals – oscillate between hard/threshold runs for 30-90 seconds, then recovery slow run for the same time.
  • Tired legs – an open-ended run once a week that lets you decide your pace.

Pace Alerts

I was really happy to see that the Forerunner gave me audible and visual alerts when my pace was outside of the target zone in the plan. I was not “good” at keeping a consistent pace so this was a great tool to learn control over pace.

During the run on the watch one of the data screens shows the pace range and where you’re at.

If you go outside the threshold, you get a pace alert.

The frustrating thing is the pace alerts never really make sense because there are times the alert shows a pace that’s well within the range you’re supposed to be at. In this example my pace should be 9:17-9:47 min/mile. After I took the picture of being at 9:20 I ran much faster (I was actually at closer to 7:30 min/mile) for nearly a quarter mile before the alert came up. I had started to slow down going up a hill before the alert triggered.

What I’ve Figured Out

Garmin’s documentation is super sparse and most people online blame “GPS inaccuracies” any time someone questions behaviors like this. I think I’ve gotten it figured out with what’s going on.

  • Pace alerts are based on the average pace for the segment you’re in. When you set up a workout plan (or get them from a Garmin Coach plan) the pace is set for a particular segment as shown in the screenshot above. I also don’t think it’s just a regular average, it feels like it’s weighted or a rolling timeframe.
  • Earlier on in a segment, pace alerts are more sensitive because your average speed is volatile with less distance. The alerts come up more often even if you’re trying to stay really close to the edge of the acceptable range.
  • Stopping or walking to take a breather can lower your average speed, letting you unintentionally run faster for a short period of time after. This seems like a “no duh” thing but if you stop for any reason – waiting for a traffic light or whatever – it’s easy to exceed your pace range and not get alerted about it for some time. Then you’re surprised that you’re running faster than you should be.
  • Instant pace is not super accurate and it’s rounded to five second marks. Pace alerts are to the second so they don’t match the instance pace you see on the first data screen.

Even with knowing all this, I still feel like there’s some software programming glitches making the alerts not logical to us users. It’s really hard to capture what’s happening because, well, you’re running and you can’t reproduce it easily for a technical support case with them.

So use the pace alerts to help guide you and if they end up annoying you, turn them off.

The Lead Developer Austin Notes

I attended The Lead Developer which is a single day conference for people leading engineering teams / teams of developers in Austin, Texas. I took notes on about ¾ of the talks on my iPad using Goodnotes. I’m getting closer to sketchnotes the more I practice this and I figured why not share what I took.

Videos should be published soon by the organizers.

Swift by Midwest 2019 Notes

I attended Swift by Midwest in Chicago (Elk Grove Village) IL this past week. The Klein family did another great job hosting an iOS conference and I enjoyed every minute of it.

I recently bought an iPad Pro 11″ and have been really loving using Goodnotes 5 to take handwritten notes. I thought I’d share my notes with you all in case you wanted to see some of the take-aways from the conference.

Swift by Midwest-2Swift by Midwest-3Swift by Midwest-4Swift by Midwest-5Swift by Midwest-6Swift by Midwest-7Swift by Midwest-8

Being mindful during video calls

Working remote means I’m on a lot of video calls. I’ve come up with a bunch of little tweaks to help with attentiveness and mindfulness during the call. It is important to show you’re listening.

Look at the camera often

When you’re in person you look at people’s eyes to show them you’re listening. Doing that on a video call requires a bit of counter-intuitive body language by looking at the camera. You won’t be looking at the person but they’ll see you looking directly at them. It’s a subtle difference but I’ve found it highly effective.

Also try to place the video call window up the screen towards the camera. Also decrease the size of the window so the person’s eyes are naturally closer to the top of the window (closer to the camera). When you’re not looking at the camera while the person is speaking it’ll still look like you’re generally looking at them. If you see someone’s eyes darting around during a call it’s easy to assume they’re distracted.

Actually listen

Don’t get on a video call unless the other people have your attention. There’s nothing more dismissive than seeing people on the call absorbed in something else. Give the speaker visual cues you’re listening including the occasional nod. Mark yourself as do not disturb and turn off distractions.

Show your hands

Once in a while I’ll lean back or do something to have my hands show up on camera. Why? It shows I’m not typing. If I’m not typing then I’m not doing something else like chatting on Slack or coding. This is just another subtle way to show you’re paying attention.

Take written notes

Hand-written notes force you to not use the keyboard and further pay attention. I generally let people know I like taking hand-written notes so they know why I look down once in a while. Sometimes looking down can be disruptive particularly in 1:1 meetings –  conversations will naturally pause. If you need to be less obvious when taking notes then stick with typing notes.

Lighting, sound, camera

Make sure you’re properly lit and don’t have a light behind you that’s washing out your image. Use a headset or headphones to prevent feedback. Try using a higher quality microphone as well instead of the built-in one. If your camera is lower resolution consider getting a decent USB one. Looking and sounding good helps eliminate distractions from any message you’re trying to convey.

Turn off your own video preview

If you can, turn off the little window showing your own live view once you’re sure your lighting is good. You’ll find that once that preview is gone you’ll look more at the person on the other end of the call.

About getting paid to not work for 90 days

I’ve been on sabbatical from work since mid-August. Today was my first day back. What did I learn in that time?

No single moment of truth achieved

I did not have that quintessential “aha” moment of clarity that I thought might come during this unique time off. This experience was a huge shift for me living a life of priorities only set by myself. I had the ability to do whatever I wanted every day (somewhat) and it took some time to embrace that.

The stars aligned for the timeframe I chose

I had severe angst when I chose the timeframe I did to take my sabbatical. I knew I’d miss our annual all-staff onsite meetup (the Grand Meetup) but I wanted to take the time off during mostly warmer weather this year. Even though I had a list of things I wanted to try to do during my sabbatical, I was giving it room to be whatever it was going to be. It turned out this room was needed.

Our older dog, Burkley, stopped eating regularly and over the course of a month stopped eating entirely. At the end it was clear he was ready to go but his body was holding on even without drinking water. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life was putting Burkley down. I’ve had pets die in my arms before but I’ve never had to help them move along. My soul was crushed. It still aches.

Burkley died the day before the Grand Meetup started. Had I not taken the sabbatical I would haven’t been in a place to travel. I was meant to not be at the GM this year. I was meant to spend the weeks with him before his death knowing what was coming. I got to hang out with B on the floor in the living room for hours at a time just being there for him. I got to go for long runs, cry, feel sad, and recover. That little guy meant more to me than I really understood.

I missed the social aspect of work

My husband got to take a couple weeks off at the beginning of my sabbatical. When he went back to work most of the time I spent alone working projects and playing outside. It wasn’t until the last month or so that I realized I really missed the social interactions of work. The time I spend with coworkers, even with being remote, is meaningful.

Most of what I enjoyed doing doesn’t have to stop

Work at Automattic is extremely flexible and mostly asynchronous depending on what you work on. The things I really did enjoy doing – baking, biking, running, visiting family,  home improvements – I can keep doing them. If I need the time during the day I can shift my work schedule. Baking bread can be done during the workday since there’s a lot of time waiting for dough to rise. I can visit my parents too and work from their house if I want to just hang out with them.

It’s okay to not do anything

Mindful meditation teaches you to be okay with doing nothing. Focusing on something singular like breathing is the basis of the practice. It’s okay to be bored. I had to pull from this experience during my sabbatical to tell myself it’s okay to not have to be doing something all the time. I did have lists of things I could do around the house and kept myself busy most days. When I started to notice myself being stressed out with picking the next thing to work on, I stepped back and did something simple like reading or playing with a dog. I feel like I was successful with letting the sabbatical be what is was rather than forcing it to be what I thought it should be like.

Summed Up

I am grateful for the time off of work. I have a better understanding of how my mind works. I value the small moments in life and see them with a more mindful eye.

I also realize I really like what I do and the people I work with. I can’t wait for the next sabbatical!