Be the Jim Weirich you want to see in the world

Today marks 1 year since the unexpected death of my friend Jim Weirich. A year ago, this was really hard to process. I tried writing, though these things really just take time. More recently, I enjoy just recalling some of the many great memories of him.

It’s not surprising that his name still comes up a lot at every tech conference I attend. I was sharing some memories with various people at CodeMash this past year, and something interesting occurred to me. I was thinking back to when I first worked with Jim. I was an experienced software developer, but brand new to the Ruby programming language and brand new to the company. Therefore, there was a lot I did not yet know. I remembered feeling so flattered (and also confused) when, probably more then once, Jim asked me to help him figure something out that he was working on. In addition to flattered, I felt included. I felt valued. It was cool. It reminded me that I need to remember to include newer people that I work with. And I have done this before.

Sometimes I like to include newer people on pull requests, in order to review my code. They may not feel like they have any improvements to suggest. Or maybe they will notice something I missed, you never know. And another set of eyes on code rarely hurts. If nothing else, they’ll get exposure to the code changes. They’ll learn about parts of the application that they may not be familiar with. Knowledge sharing is good. Also, they can observe the kinds of suggestions that more experienced developers make on the code; learning by example that way. There’s lots of overall benefits of including newer folks on code reviews.

There are times I have asked someone new to the software application, or even someone new to software development, to help me figure something out. Sometimes, you just need to talk something out. Sometimes just the act of explaining the problem will help you figure it out. And sometimes in the process, the other person has a suggestion to try that you didn’t think of. But remember that sharing the problem is also a form of knowledge sharing. The more people on a team familiar with different parts of the code is good for everyone.

I think Jim knew these things. And I think it may be, at least in part, because of him that I do these things. I should try to break out of my shell and do some of these things more often, and be the Jim Weirich I want to see on my team – in the software development community – and in the world.

And now, to promote something I think is a good idea.

20150219_JimWeirichFundTweet

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The Jim Weirich Tech-Interview Experience

From Twitter back in June 2014

twitter_conversation

 

It’s taken me 5 months to get around to writing this up. I’ve been too depressed to think about it, and that made it way too easy to procrastinate.  Then a couple days ago I realized that recounting this is actually a happy thing – the chance to get to share good memories.

Last Friday night, I went to the movies with some friends of mine. We happened to go the same movie where Stir Trek used to be held a few years ago. We walked by a bench. And my mind was taken back to the conference, and that same bench, and a memory of Jim Weirich sitting there with his laptop. I said hello to him as I walked by, and he asked me to stop because he wanted to show me what he was working on. I don’t recall exactly what he showed me. But I do remember just how very excited he was about what he was telling me, and he had such enthusiasm as he talked. I remember feeling like whatever it was, it was way over my head. Even so, I don’t remember “feeling stupid” about that – because the way Jim talked, you never felt that way around him.

That’s the kind of person Jim was.

As I walked by that bench last Friday night at the movie theater with my friends, I cried. One of my friends knew about Jim. I haven’t known the other friend as long, so he didn’t know. After the movie, I found myself telling my other friend who Jim was. I remembered how many good memories I had. And that even though walking by the bench earlier made me sad – talking about Jim later on made me happy. And that’s how it should be.

So I was reminded I still had on my to-do list to recount my tech interview with Jim. And maybe it didn’t have to be so sad.

Back in 2008 I had an over-the-phone technical interview scheduled to be conducted by Jim Weirich. At the time I was doing Java development full-time and had dabbled in Ruby on my own. When I called, Chris Nelson was on the phone as well, though Jim asked most of the questions at the time. I don’t remember a lot of the specific questions now that years have passed. I remember being asked some basic questions about my background in programming, how long I had been programming, what languages, etc. I remember being asked “How would you design a programmable thermostat?” That’s a good question, I think, because it doesn’t involve language-specific trivia, but it does demonstrate a person’s thought processes, design processes, and how well they can communicate their ideas and thoughts. I remember being asked what do I like about Ruby and Rails, and why.

There were things I said I liked that, I found out later, were things he once liked but had come to not like about Rails! But it wasn’t important to him that I agree with him. It was important to able to describe why I thought that, and that I had sound reasons. Likely the reasons I had were things he thought at one point – and with experience had come to change his mind – and it just demonstrated I wasn’t there yet, which was OK. In general, It was really cool how comfortable he made me feel. It would have been easy to be nervous being tech interviewed by someone so well-known and well-respected in the Ruby community. But I just wasn’t. I can’t even explain exactly why that was, other than that was just the air around Jim. You couldn’t help but be comfortable in his presence.

So, that’s my experience being tech-interviewed by Jim Weirich. And, for what it’s worth, I got the job! 🙂 I enjoyed working with Jim for those next several months; I’m fortunate that I got that chance.

Jim Weirich. Teacher. Mentor. Friend.

The other day, I tweeted

2:04 PM – 20 Feb 2014 – @gayleforce: My whole subset of the world is mourning w/me over @jimweirich today. What a wonderful person. Teacher. Mentor. Friend. Miss you already Jim.

I became acutely aware of the suddenness of Jim’s death when I realized:

5:43 PM – 20 Feb 2014 – @gayleforce: The last tweet from @jimweirich was ~24 hrs ago. That’s surreal. What a difference a day makes 😥
(Note: Jim’s last tweet was 5:33 PM – 19 Feb 2014)

Later I tweeted a couple of things I remembered about Jim.

I retweeted myself from 2009, a photo I had taken with Jim.

“7 Aug 2009 @gayleforce: http://twitpic.com/d3q8m – I got my #picwithjim Do you have yours? #erubycon”

IMG00543

And I tweeted a video I had taken of Jim’s laptop at CodeMash, because what he had done was so cool!

“9:34 PM – 20 Feb 2014 – Enjoyed @jimwierich showing me at codemash what he’d done with his macbook #MemoriesOfJim http://twitpic.com/dw5tt5

I was obsessively reading Twitter and Facebook that night. Fervently “favoriting” people’s tweets that I liked, and retweeting a few.

I felt inspired to MAKE something to try to express my feelings. Came up with something very simple, but I still like the creative in the simplicity.

10:13 PM – 20 Feb 2014 – Enjoying #MemoriesOfJim yet having a hard time w/what to do w/my feelings. Result: creative side I’ve not seen awhile http://pic.twitter.com/u29InCRCFO

SadRuby

Last night, I happened by the location in Columbus where my “#picwithjim” was taken. That place closed a few months ago. And the emptiness of that establishment hit me in a different, much harder way, as I felt the emptiness of a world without Jim, too.

Later last night, my friend and co-worker Dean Stautberg emailed me something he had been thinking about posting, but it was too long for twitter. So he hadn’t figured out what to do with that yet. I read what he wrote, and realized I felt exactly the same way. And I realized why I was having so much trouble knowing what to do with my feelings – because I hadn’t ACTUALLY expressed them. I tweeted observations. I tweeted memories. I “re-tweeted” others. On facebook, I “shared” what my husband had written onto my own timeline. Changed my cover photo to something I say is a “weeping angel.” There are multiple reasons for that, which may not all be that obvious. But even after all of those things, I had not really expressed myself.

I realized the first thing I said was on facebook

1:30 PM – 20 Feb 2014 – Miss you already, Jim. There are not words.

I had no words. But, now I’m going to try to use my words. I wish I could just write what Dean wrote. But that’s called plagairism. Here, finally, are MY words.


The software development community lost Jim Weirich last week. His death was sudden, and unexpected. I’ve experienced relatives who died from old age, or from long-running illnesses over the years, and was very sad.  But this is a whole different kind of grief. Not better or worse, just very different to deal with. Harder to process.

I’ve only experienced this kind of grief one other time. I was in Junior High. A boy 2 years younger than me. Our parents, and therefore we, had been friends since before either of us were born. A freak accident took his life a couple hours after we dropped him off at his house after church youth group that evening. The following days were spent listening to other kids share memories of him. And other kids pretending they were good friends with him, when they probably were not. And rumors, nasty rumors, untrue rumors emerged about the circumstances of his death. Junior High kids are not very mature.

My dear husband, James, came into our room the other day as I was getting ready for work and said “I need to tell you something before you read it on Twitter. Jim Weirich died last night.” I cried. After I’d had a few moments to process this a bit, I was worried that I was facing a day full of people trying to prove they all knew Jim, and justifying their heart-brokenness over the news.

It took me several hours before I could bring myself to read Twitter. I wasn’t sure I could handle what I would find. Once I did, I realized Twitter was full of people singing Jim’s praises. There were people who barely knew him saying very profound and true things about him. They did know him, more than they realized. There were people who know him way better than I did pouring out their emotions, too. All the things on Twitter were great. There were no egos. No “I knew him better than you did” stuff. It felt like everyone in the whole world was just grieving. And it was good.

People were sharing their photos and memories. They were talking about the first time they met Jim. People were expressing regrets. People were sharing thoughts on how we could all honor Jim going forward. People are posting tribute videos that they’ve made. And I began to think my words wouldn’t measure up.

After all, I don’t remember the first time I met Jim. I don’t remember the first words we said to each other. I’ve seen him speak several times, though I don’t think I could specifically name off any. And I’m still worried that any words I say are going to come off as justifying why I am “allowed” to feel so bad about his death, and why it has hit me so much harder than I ever would have imagined. But here’s what I do know.

Jim Weirich and Chris Nelson tech interviewed me for my first Ruby programming job. If I got this job, I would get to work with Jim directly!! OMG!! I should have been so nervous! But the entire time I talked to Jim, I just felt very comfortable. We talked about some specifics of Ruby. And we talked about ideas and thought processes, like how might I design a programmable thermostat? And I got the job. And I worked with Jim for maybe I couple years, I don’t even know the time frame for sure.

A few months later, my friend Dean came to work with us, too. Like Dean and I, Jim had a background in Java programming. And from this common background, he was a big part of our learning Ruby. Jim wanted to teach everyone Ruby! Our time spent working with him reinforced and drastically improved our approach to Test Driven Development, and making that an integral part of our development style. “Jim basically shaped our Ruby careers”, says Dean. I couldn’t have said that better myself.

KeepEmGreen

I don’t remember my first interaction with Jim. But I do remember my last. At Codemash 2014, Neo had a pairing station set up at their booth. You could come and pair program with Jim. Having pair programmed with Jim in the past at work, I didn’t necessarily feel a need to participate. I didn’t wnat to take up his time, when I could allow other people who hadn’t had that experience have that experience. But at some point, when nobody else was there pairing with him when I walked by, he invited me to come over and pair with him. And I said “sure!” And that was my last real interaction with him. I learned some things from him about rspec-given that day. I also was able to see that I had so much more confidence in myself that day than I had when compared to my past self pairing with him years ago, when I questioned something I thought he was making more complicated than it needed to be. And he accepted my feedback with grace and humility, as always. And we discussed it like adults and ultimately came up with a compromise that I thought ended up a more readable, and less mathematically complicated code readable by people that aren’t so mathematically inclined. 🙂 How can someone be SO smart, AND so kind?

I’m glad that I actually paired with Jim that day, and can’t say “I wish I had”. I’m glad that I have photos of me with Jim, and can’t say “I wish I had that.” I’m glad that I can’t say “I wish I would have told Jim ____.” I have no regrets.

Angels

I changed my facebook cover photo to this “weeping angel” because the show sci-fi show “Dr. Who” had an episode about concrete statues called “weeping angels,” and Jim and I shared a like for that show. The sadness on the face of the angel in that photo also represents how I feel. The “weeping” represents the tears I shed the past several days. And the Angel is because I know Jim was a Christian, too, and is flying with the angels today. One of my favorite tweets, from someone I have never met:

8:58 AM – 21 Feb 2014 – ‏@pkananen: everyone rightfully says they want to be like @jimweirich. Jim would’ve said he was just trying to be like Jesus.

Another favorite tweet from another dear friend of mine summarizes how we can honor Jim Weirich:

7:18 AM – 20 Feb 2014 @aJimHolmes
Want to honor @jimweirich ?

0) Go learn something new
1) Share it
2) Make someone laugh
3) Be a kind person.

Jim was an inspiration to so many. He was loved by all. Even though no future Ruby developers will get the chance to learn from Jim the way I am so fortunate to have gotten to experience, I’m so happy to know that his legacy will live on forever with how much he contributed to software development. He is missed.

This has hit me so much harder than I expected. That still confuses me. There were so many people who knew him so much better than I did. I am within a couple hour drive of his funeral, but my heart is so raw right now that I don’t think I can bear it. And it’s not productive to go out of some self-imposed feeling of obligation. Instead, I’m going to give myself permission today to grieve in my own way, and in my own time. I’m going to spend time reading and learning more about Ruby today. And I’m going to reconnect with some former co-workers that I haven’t seen in awhile tonight. And I’m going to know that this blog post is enough, and that somehow, some way, he feels and knows the words I have written.

Rest in everlasting peace, Jim!

On self-confidence, and self-criticism

I came across an article this week, titled “The Trouble with Bright Girls” by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/heidi-grant-halvorson-phd/girls-confidence_b_828418.html

This may be the first thing I’ve ever read on self-confidence and self-criticism that makes sense to me.

I know I’m good at self-criticism. I know I lack self-confidence at times. But, I never really knew why. So I never knew how to fix it. Anything I have tried to fix it (i.e. telling myself things like “stop being that way” because I don’t know what else to do,) has failed miserably.  That does not work.

You should read the whole article.  But if you don’t want to read the whole article, I’ve included some highlights.

“[psychologist Carol Dweck (author of “Mindset“)] found that Bright [fifth grade] Girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up; the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts rather than give up.

So, what does that mean?  Boys are more persistent? It seems like that might come from having more confidence. Isn’t that a “catch-22?”

“Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: More often than not, Bright Girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.

I never noticed it, but I have felt that way my whole life.  I have always thought that abilities are innate and unchangeable.  I have.  I thought everybody knew that. Wow.

“How do girls and boys develop these different views? Most likely, it has to do with the kinds of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children. Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their “goodness.” When we do well in school, we are told that we are “so smart,” “so clever, ” or “such a good student.” This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness and goodness are qualities you either have or you don’t.

“Boys, on the other hand, are a handful. Just trying to get boys to sit still and pay attention is a real challenge for any parent or teacher. As a result, boys are given a lot more feedback that emphasizes effort (e.g., “If you would just pay attention you could learn this,” “If you would just try a little harder you could get it right.”) The net result: When learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren’t “good” and “smart,” and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder.

Huh.  That’s interesting.  I can relate to receiving that kind of girl-praise.

“And because Bright Girls are particularly likely to see their abilities as innate and unchangeable, they grow up to be women who are far too hard on themselves — women who will prematurely conclude that they don’t have what it takes to succeed in a particular arena, and give up way too soon.

Woah.  That hits home.  I have concluded that I “don’t have what it takes” a lot.  Sometimes I give up and quit.  Sometimes I get over it for awhile, try again, and end up repeating the same sick cycle.

I think it happens the very most when I’m playing sports.  I started playing hockey circa 1999.  Then I gave up and quit sometime in 2006.  I like to tell people it’s because I got burnt out being the team captain.  That’s a tiny bit true.  But the big reason was that I became so frustrated with myself and my lack of ability that it wasn’t fun anymore.  But part of me missed it.  I started playing again sometime in 2009.

Lately I have started seeing signs of the downturn of that cycle again.  I’m find myself looking at the time clock during games, wondering how much longer we have in the game because I kinda want to leave.  Not really bad, just kinda.  Sometimes I find myself wondering why I even keep playing when “I can’t seem to do X” and “I don’t understand Y.”  And just in the past few weeks I think I’ve started manufacturing other reasons that maybe I don’t belong, like that I can’t put up with women in the locker room badmouthing my boyfriend, when really that only happened once, and the truth is everyone likes him and everyone has my and his back anyway, and I’m pretty sure that won’t be happening again.  So that’s not a real reason.

“So if you were a Bright Girl, it’s time to toss out your (mistaken) belief about how ability works, embrace the fact that you can always improve and reclaim the confidence to tackle any challenge that you lost so long ago.

We start a new session of hockey in a couple weeks.  I’ve only just started noticing the downswing; It’s not beyond repair yet. Maybe I can leverage this to give me a whole new, and much better, perspective on my self-perceived “abilities.”

So there were really 2 main things that all of this has helped me realize.

1. As I’m reading and reflecting on all of this, I have come to realize how much “I just can’t do it” has become such a regular part of my inner vocabulary.  A statement of defeat; as if that’s it, that is the end, it’s a fact and there’s nothing else to be done about it.  Now that I am aware that I’ve always thought abilities are innate and unchangeable, hopefully working on convincing myself that is just untrue will be more effective than trying to convince myself to just “stop being that way.”

2. The article doesn’t mention this exactly, but I think this is also why I tend to take things more personally than I should.   I have abilities and thought processes, which in turn form my opinions, situations, etc.  You see, I’ve never realized that I’ve always (even if subconsciously) thought that those things are innate and unchangeable.  So, I’ve  never been able to separate comments/opinions on those things that are not innate and unchangeable, from things that are innately me.  If everything really was innately me, then of course it’s personal.  So, come to find out, it’s not.

And again I quote this:

“So if you were a Bright Girl, it’s time to toss out your (mistaken) belief about how ability works, embrace the fact that you can always improve and reclaim the confidence to tackle any challenge that you lost so long ago.

I hope this means I can do that.

The only thing I’m left to ponder is: if the type of praise, the type described in the article, that is often given to girls at a young age ends up having un-intended, negative effects, then what is the right way to give girls praise?  At least, what is a better way?

Helping my mother start a blog!

I’ve spent the last several weeks helping my mom set up a blog. She’s doing really well with all this stuff that’s new to her. I know she was apprehensive at first – but I also remember a time when she wasn’t sure she’d be able to do email and now she uses email all the time. 🙂 She’ll be an expert blogger in no time I’m sure!

I wrote a little more about the personal story behind her blog on my other blog. But in summary: she wrote a book back in 2006 about planning church family camp and that’s what her blog covers.

But here, I thought I’d cover a few of the technical details and decisions made in helping set this up for her.

Using things she’s already familiar with

First, I wanted to make this process easy for her to do, by making it as similar to things she’s already familiar with using as possible.  Based on that, I decided to have her try out Windows Live Writer for her writing.  She’s very familiar with using MS Word, and Live Writer isn’t too unlike Word.  Not exactly, but more so than going to the web page and doing her writing inside a text box.

Easy to use over dial-up

In addition, I wanted to make it something easy for her to use with a dial-up internet connection.  Yes, my parents live so far out in the country that their internet options are basically dial-up or satellite.  They’re too far out for DSL, and their cell phone signal out there is unreliable.  Given that they mostly only use the internet for email, it’s hard to justify the cost of internet through the satellite.  If she were writing from her blog’s website, I’m not sure it would be able to handle the automatic periodic saves that it does very well. With Live Writer, she can do all of her writing offline, and only connect right before she wants to publish her content.

Easy for me to support her

And I wanted to make this process easy for me.  Since I have a blog on wordpress and blogger, that narrowed down my choice of one of those two places to have her blog.  I wanted something I was already familiar with to make it that much easier for me to be her “system administrator.”  🙂  I went with WordPress because I’ve found it a little easier for me to configure, and b/c of a few extras like blog stats that are already there automatically.  I know it’s possible to get blog stats using Google tools and such, but then I have to go set that up separately and I can be lazy. 🙂  Bonus is I’ve learned a lot more about what WordPress can do through the process of setting things up for her.  Particularly in relation to Widgets.  So much can be done with Widgets, and anything that can’t already be done I can pretty much take care of myself with the catchall Text Widget coupled with my HTML skills.

Explaining the tools

At first she wasn’t sure how Live Writer and WordPress relate to each other, why she needed both, and what each one was really for.  I used an analogy to try to explain it to her.  I said to think of Live Writer as her spiral bound notebook.  (She wrote her book on the computer, I just went old-school with the analogy 🙂 )  And think of  WordPress as her book publisher.  She can write whatever she wants to in her notebook.  Scratch things out.  Throw pages away.  Start new pages.  But only when she’s satisfied with a draft, she sends it to the publisher and they publish it for the world.

Ada Lovelace Day

While I didn’t officially “pledge” for this (bah), I thought I’d throw something out there for Ada Lovelace Day 2009 – March 24, and write about a woman in technology whom I admire.

When I first thought about participating in this, I had some severe writers block.  I just couldn’t think what or who I wanted to write about.  And as I reflected on why this was so tough, it occurred to me that most of that came from a thought that goes something like:

“dangit, people, why aren’t we writing about about inspiring people in technology.  What about people who inspired my career?  Why does it matter if it’s a woman?  I guess I just don’t get it.

I, for one, want to be defined by – I want to be remembered as – many things, but not necessary because I am a woman.  Rather because I am a good developer.  Because I am intelligent.  Because I am a nice person.  Because I am a person who can figure things out.  Because I am a person who helps others figure things out.  Because I have good ideas.  But not because I am woman.

Then, a person came to mind: the first woman programmer I ever worked alongside: Clar-René Sliper.  I was a little, junior co-op, still in college.  She was one of the senior members of our group.  Aside from me, she was the only female programmer there.  (There were other women around, just not programmers.)

I remember wondering how she got into IT.  After all, there were so few women in my college classes.  I can imagine that finding women in the field was even more rare when she got into IT.  Yet whenever she was around, it just never seemed like – nobody acted like – she was any different than anyone else on the team.  She was smart, I never saw her ideas ignored, she never got walked all over or had to put up with crap from anyone.  And she never had to put forth any attitude to get that respect.  The only difference was her name was Clar instead of Jim or Liem or André or Dean or Matt or Dave.

It’s not unusual for people’s first experiences with things to shape them going forward.  Maybe those early experiences paved the whole way for me thinking: “People – this is not a big deal. Quit making it one.  Singling people out only makes it worse.”  You should admire anyone around you who deserves it.  Man, woman, white, black, Asian, disabled, etc.  Appreciate anyone around you who deserves it.  And treat everyone around you with at least a basic level of respect, no matter what.

I appreciate Clar for unwittingly showing me that it is not that hard, or weird, to be as competent and capable as everyone else around me.

My big move: from Java to Ruby

I’m pleased to announce that effective 6/9/2008 I have accepted a Ruby/Rails job with MedWiz Technologies. I’m taking the leap from Java, which I’ve done for over 9 years now, into Ruby, which I’ve been interested in for over a year. I’m very excited, somewhat nervous, but very much looking forward to this new opportunity and step in my career!

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