Sh*t my brain says and forgets about

Author: Aaron Douglas Page 1 of 30

Hello, Shopify!

Well, I took some time to figure things out, but it didn’t take too long to make the final decision. I’m now working at Shopify (and we’re Shopifolk, lol) as a senior development manager for the Point of Sale retail channel and apps.

I’m still in my onboarding time here, but my role and responsibilities will become clearer over the next few weeks. Shopify has a seriously well-organized program to onboard all new employees. I am super impressed. You can read about some of the recently released cool things from the team I will be working on.

Shopify uses React Native for most of their mobile apps which is one huge departure for my previous experience! I can’t wait to learn more about it and put that knowledge into practice leading teams. The tech stack is rather impressive and I can’t wait to learn all the things. 😁

Shopify is hiring and we’re 100% remote!

Farewell, Automattic!

On April 3, 2013, I was sitting in the #devmke Freenode IRC channel talking to other developers in the Milwaukee (Wisconsin, USA) area. I saw a conversation about one of the people working from home and thought, what an incredible place this must be to work! For some reason, I had heard the name Automattic before – and after landing on the homepage, I realized why! It was because of WordPress and specifically signing up for WordPress.com to get an Akismet API key to prevent comment spam. When I saw a Mobile Wrangler job posting, I immediately applied. I got the offer in May and started near the end of July 2013.

Without really exaggerating, working remotely at Automattic has literally saved my life. I’ve learned more about how my mind works, how I approach work, what relationships mean to me, and what value I can bring to an interaction. I’ve learned how to lead like Aaron, embracing my own unique style of seeing the universe and helping inspire others to connect and create outcomes.

Every year (pre-pandemic), every Automattician would get together in one location for a week – called the Grand Meetup. My heart is sad that I won’t be at the next Grand Meetup. That annual event has created some of the fondest memories of my entire life. I’ve become friends with people that I still have yet to actually work with directly. That’s the power of the system there – we value our connections over the work. With those connections, we overlay the work after. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned those lunchtime conversations at the GM into conduits to get things done later. Meetups are critical to Automattic’s success.

DJing @ the 2016 GM – photo by clickysteve

Some of the highlights of my time at Automattic was with helping organize several of the Automattic Grand Meetup closing parties. In 2015 it was with the first Automattic band performance and the Jane Doze DJing, 2016 with a coworker and me DJing, and 2017 with MICK DJing. This all came from me plugging my phone into the PA system of the dinner tent in 2014, playing some of my favorite songs. Our favorite Chief of Staff, Rose, noticed everyone enjoying themselves and pinged me to help out in the following years. Little did I know that I would be negotiating performance contracts and coordinating an audio and lighting production crew in the next months. What a rush. Seeing the look on Matt’s (the CEO) face walking into the ballroom before we opened the doors in 2015 was the best payoff ever.

Trying out the photo booth before the 2015 GM

For the last four and a half years I’ve been leading the Woo Mobile product teams, and it has been a joy. I started the team with just one other person and grew it into the group of 30+ people it is today. Mentoring & coaching four leads made me see how I could be a better engineering lead. I also got a chance to develop product management skills, wearing multiple hats. I’m so proud of everyone on the team (and everyone else we’ve worked with!) for getting the product to where it is today. I feel like I am leaving at a high point in my career there. Nine years will have been the longest I’ve ever been at a place before.

Automattic has been a great home for me and has helped me through a lot of bad times and given me a lot of good times. It wasn’t my intention to find a different place to work. I started looking at other companies for inspiration on defining my role better and for seeing where I should aim my career at. The side effect of that research was a little spark of excitement forming to try something different. Life is too short to not take some risks once in a while.


My last day at Automattic was Friday, June 3. I spent the last couple of weeks passing the baton off to a teammate and getting as much as I could out of my head for others. I had 1:1s with my boss, my team leads, and other Automattic employees wanting to say goodbye.

Those two weeks were tremendous in helping me process my exit. I posted my farewell notice, told the team, turned in my hardware, filled out the exit survey, had a final 1:1 with my HR rep, DJed one final Friday jam session, and then attended a farewell Zoom I planned. My team put together a very thoughtful farewell video and organized a couple gifts for me which were amazing. I definitely felt the warm fuzzies and the sense of loss we all were feeling. What a great group of humans! 🥰

I didn’t stick around for my access to get cut in Slack – it was already an emotional day and waiting for that felt unnecessary. I walked away from my last day feeling a bit lonely which is certainly an artifact of not being in an office with other humans.

The departure process at Automattic felt anticlimactic. I’m not sure what else I had expected to happen, honestly. They celebrate new hires, new houses, new partners, and new babies, but don’t really celebrate someone leaving at a company level. My farewell post had a LOT of heartfelt goodbyes and the process of reading and replying to them was cathartic. It helped me recognize my true impact on the company by hearing the stories of how I’ve helped shape the culture there and affected so many lives. That was priceless.


On the exit survey, Automattic asks “would you consider ever coming back to work at Automattic?”. I answered truthfully:

Yes.

What’s next? More details to come. 🤫

Love the light and endure the darkness

I saw this quote on a friend’s wall as I was leaving their house. I found the original and decided to share it here.

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.

Og Mandino

The Radio Effect

I listen to a lot of electronic and trance music to keep a part of my mind occupied while I focus on my work. What I’ve noticed over the years is using a playlist or a service like Pandora doesn’t quite do it for me. I could never put my finger on it until it clicked one day. Having the ability to skip a song makes the experience of listening more in the foreground where I have yet another choice to occupy my mind. Do I like this song? Should I go to the next one?

I grew up listening to broadcast radio. The DJ was the one making all the choices for me. I merely had to pick a station, turn up the volume, and go about my day. I’d hear songs that were interesting, some terrible, others meh. Commercials were also a mindful break for me to step away. Taking away the decisions about what song to play next was freeing. It also felt like the DJ was in my room with me – you even developed weird relationships based solely on their voice and style of DJing. You knew others were listening to the same exact thing you were at that moment in time. It was a way of building a community.

You knew others were listening to the same exact thing you were at that moment in time.

Photograph of a Pioneer DJ deck against the backdrop of my front yard through my office window

That’s why to this day I will still subscribe to services like Digitally Imported and SiriusXM. It’s also why I love DJing music for other people. I like being part of that subconcious community enjoying that music at the same time, on the same planet.

It reminds me I’m not alone.

Sometimes it’s the little things…

I haven’t seen a majority of my coworkers off-camera for 559 days as of today. The mobile teams at Automattic got together in Chicago at the beginning of March 2020, right before the pandemic hit the USA. We continue to do things to help connect people together to accommodate that lack of in-person meetups. It’s not the same, but it helps.

Then yesterday, I got this in the mail.

Photograph of a card and envelope I got with a canceled stamp. The card reads "We're thinking of you. Thanks for being a part of Automattic!". There's a smiley face on it as well.

It’s funny how sometimes the small gestures can have the biggest impact. I know I’m not alone. Getting this small physical item does help ground my mind a bit to realize I work with other humans, not just Zoom participants. 🙃

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.

When my brain goes on a little adventure

It me.

Picture of a cartoon penguin wide-eyed with the caption: When my brain goes on a little adventure instead of attending the conversation I'm having.

What a funny (and accurate) way of describing the mental float during conversations when my ADHD is ramped up. This cracks me up! I feel like there should be some background sound effects with this. A nice animated parallax effect would finish it off. 🤪

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

ADHD & that feeling when

That feeling when you have so many ideas for blog posts but never have enough time to put them into words for others. I do have one idea in-flight, and a coworker helped me copy edit. This is my accountability mechanism to get that post out there by the end of June.

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.

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