A few weeks ago, I applied to Grand Circus as a Javascript instructor. They asked me to fill out a questionnaire about my teaching style. Answering the questions was very thought-provoking, so I'll share my answers with you. Let me know what you think.
You're teaching an 8 week adult bootcamp, from 9am-5pm daily. *
One of your students is very, very overwhelmed. It's week 2 and he doesn't feel that he is understanding the materials or that he will ever catch up to his classmates' progress. What do you do?
One factor in a bootcamp structure is the level of energy-- therefore, the approach of staying afterward for more learning is of limited use after an exhausting day. Very little information is retained when tired. Instead, I would pair students of different achievement levels, to solidify their learning through teaching it to someone else.

I would walk this student through the process of narrowing down each problem he is encountering, until he finds the question behind that problem-- more specific than just "Why doesn't this work?"

I would not be one of those teachers who says "You are all really quiet. I'm not sure whether to back up and explain it again. Someone nod if you understand." Instead, when I am uncertain that a student is following me, I would say "How would you rephrase what I just said in your own words-- if it made sense?"

During the second week it's a bit late in the process to emphasize keeping a TXT file with notes, but it still can't hurt.

I would encourage him to not measure himself against others, but against his past self. No one was born knowing how to do this. There is no one global standard of minimum adequacy. At each level of his development in the future, he will find places where that level fits.

If I get the sense that he has been inculcated with the tech culture's odd standards, I might remind him that software development is a job for normal people. He is going to be competent, and that's all that matters. You know the tech culture I mean. Constant use of terms like "rockstar" or "ninja" imply that you're either a super-genius, or worthless. It's not reality. Apply for jobs anyway, and do them proudly, with an understanding that 99% of devs provide plenty of value to their employers without being superhuman miracle workers.
You're teaching an 8 week adult bootcamp, from 9am-5pm daily. *
There are only 3 women in a twenty person class. Does this affect how you prepare group projects? If so, how?
I would ask other instructors I know, to find out how they have approached this. If I directly ask the students for feedback on how they would like me to approach it, this might discourage them, as studies have shown students perform more poorly when it is pointed out that they are in a disadvantaged group, in an effect called "priming".

It might be better to assign all three women to work in the same group to avoid one woman being in a group with two men, and being talked-over or dismissed. On the other hand, I don't want them to feel segregated. I would need to do more reading and ask for more advice from women who are software developers.
You're teaching a 10 week public course, offered 2 nights a week from 6pm - 8pm. *
One of your students is not showing up regularly but he is still handing in work on time and his work shows relatively thorough understanding of the concepts you're teaching in class. Do you do anything about his lack of presence in class?
I would ask him why he is absent. Is it due to life circumstances, or because he feels it is unnecessary? I would tell him that collaboration with others is one of the most important skills in software development, and that he can greatly improve on where he already is if he helps students who know less about it than he does.

If his absences continue, I would work within the school's certification policies regarding those who did not take the course they signed up for-- for example, is it a graded class in which I can reduce his grade based on number of missed classes? Or is it a "pass or fail" certification?
You're teaching an introductory programming class. *
One of your students clearly has had programming experience in the past. She finishes independent projects quickly and frequently helps classmates understand concepts. However, she occasionally asks questions during class that introduce higher-level concepts than you plan to teach and that the rest of the students do not understand. This often leads to confusion and derails your instruction. How do you handle this situation?
I would thank her for the question and explain that we don't have time to cover that. After class, I would ask her when this happens to jot a note to herself, reminding her to ask me one-on-one or email me. I would then respond either with explanations, or with blog posts which lead to more self-directed learning materials.
You're teaching at a high school for one of our youth programs. The course you are teaching is part of the students' daily schedule. *
One of your students seems distracted and regularly goes on random websites while you are teaching. Her grades are low, which seems to match her understanding of the material. She refuses help from the TA and occasionally falls asleep in class. What do you do?
That's me in high school, in any class I was not interested in. I have been thinking about this ever since. When a student doesn't get a choice about whether to learn, they often don't want to. Without the student's consent, teaching is effectively wasted, especially when they see it as capitulating a power-struggle over their own right to their own lives. Establishing the student's consent seems like step one.

I would make the material as engaging and approachable as possible. I would ask what she does want to do with her time, and springboard from that to see if any of her activities can be improved by creating a website about it.

I would gently ask questions which might indicate whether she has an adequate support network, because of sleeping in class, and I'd see if maybe she needs to go somewhere quiet during my class and get an opportunity to sleep. Maybe give her some food that increases blood sugar.

If none of that works, well, I'm going to be completely up-front and honest with you about my position on high school. The bodily autonomy of being in my classroom is a consent issue. That matters to me more than her parents paying me. I want to be a resource, not a jailer.
Perhaps I should learn something that makes developers cringe, such as Visual Basic or .NET. This will take multiple steps of reasoning to explain, so bear with me.

I have been interviewing for various startups. That has been a very educational experience about the "expectation fit" between types of companies and types of employees. When discussing my recent job interviews with a friend who worked for one of the startups, he made a comment that he and his colleagues all worked long hours for very high salaries, and given my life goals, I should try to work someplace large and corporate. I then had the following hypothesis.

  1. I have focused on programming languages, version control systems, and other technologies with one common denominator: developers like using them. Also, I have been favoring seeking out workplaces with processes and management styles that support job satisfaction among developers. What if this disadvantages my specific life goals?

  2. According to this hypothesis, this affects who my colleagues are.

    A. They compete to get into companies that allow them to use these satisfying technologies.

    B. The project they work on for employment is so interesting to them that they consider it to be the main thing they are doing with their lives right now. As a result, they work long hours, and have very little free time after studying and practicing.

    C. Being a software developer is a major part of their identity, not just a way to pay the bills.

    D. They hold strong leadership opinions, rather than saying "I'm sure however you want to do it will be fine". They often seek out companies with fewer developers, each of whom is crucial.

    E. They are playing a game in which the victory condition is measured in dollars. The income necessary to sustain my frugal lifestyle is roughly 2/3 of the lowest end that motivates them -- or 1/2 if I don't mind living hand-to-mouth with a lot of risk.

  3. Reportedly, in some huge companies maintaining ugly legacy codebases in Visual Basic or .NET, software developers are only working when they are at work. They provide financial value for forty hours a week. Then they go home at the end of the day, forget about their jobs completely, and pursue their own projects.

My challenge will be to find a source of about $30,000 to $40,000 per year, which does not completely take over my ability to work on my own projects after hours. I have been given to understand that such jobs are scarce in the post-middle-class economy. My education and experience now disqualifies me from low-skill minimum-wage jobs, since employers would be concerned that I would quit to go back into software development. Income inequality is a game of thrones.
"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground." -Cersei Lannister

The most appealing idea (although possibly not feasible) is to select one of my projects, focus 100% of my time on it, and generate an income through Patreon, rather than just fit my ambitions around a day job. That's a subject for another essay.

I spent fifteen years of my adult life performing unskilled labor for my day job, and the past two years experimenting with performing skilled labor for my day job. Each of us have a "personal business model", whether intentionally or accidentally. I'll continue to refine my personal business model as an ongoing experiment.
I liked the vast majority of 2013. I'm less happy than I was a year ago, but most things are cyclical. My circumstances are on an upward trajectory, overall.

I had career and relationship milestones this year. I got a job as a software developer, and as a result, started spending a lot of my time in Ann Arbor. Today I finally achieved a savings goal that I've had for nearly a decade, and will probably stay above it even after this month's projected expenses.

The main reason for me to select one job over another is how much control it will give me over where I spend my free time, and with whom. My last job, while menial, was down the street from the i3Detroit hacker space, where I do everything that I care about the most, and where most of the people who I care about tend to spend their time. That job set the gold standard. Working in my actual field will make it possible in the future to return to something close to those priorities, in a financially sustainable way.

With those priorities so vividly present in my mind, it is not possible for me to accidentally fall into a gilded cage of high expenses that keep me dependent on a high income. I know people who incur a terrible price with stress and boredom, to pay for isolated McMansions in a lonely gated community. I don't want that. My current path will vastly increase my options. I plan to keep living in densely populated urban centers full of activities with lots of great people.

Speaking of people, that brings me to the topic of relationships. In October, I posted this to Facebook:

A relationship of a year and a half has come to an amicable end. It was both of our great good fortune to be with each other. In that spirit of gratitude, our relationship transitions into warm friendship.

Here are the things that help me during a time like this. Your mileage may vary.

When I start every relationship, I say that it's a gift to each other, not an obligation. I say that if she needs to make new life decisions, and if I don't fit into that life in the same way, I won't make it difficult for her. Past experience says I'll follow through, so that's a comfort.

--I don't want to sugar-coat this. Like anything else worthwile, my relationship philosophy has tradeoffs. For every one to two years of ecstasy (the likes of which many people only fantasize), I experience a couple of weeks of withdrawal from dopamine, oxytocin and norepinephrine. I'll take that deal. During those weeks, I practice disguising my sobs as sneezes, in public. I accept the stormy emotional weather. I ride out the brain chemicals until they pass. If I had avoided loss, I would never have had such rewarding relationships to begin with.

During the infatuated period of "New Relationship Energy", when neither of us can conceive of a day when we don't fit into each other's lives in the same way, I talk about it anyway. The infatuated period is the most difficult time to lay the groundwork for the end of the relationship to be a warm and loving one. But that's when it most needs to be said.

With each goodbye, I remind myself that new connections and new loved ones have never followed far behind.

-- This prediction has already held true. 

When we say goodbye, and I say we'll always be loved ones, I can look at the loved ones who still call, and keep in touch, and miss me, and look forward to visiting me, and I know that real love stories can have endings. Because that's how they can have sequels.

--I was reminded of this when I had a visit from J this month. (J lived with me during 2010 and 2011, predating the relationship which recently ended.) She spoke of her plans to try to move back to Michigan and start a video game company with some others. They were inspired by a game idea I had, and I'm really excited to be in touch with her more often.

With strong connections, and new resources, the groundwork is in place for 2014 to be an amazing year for me.
Well, it happened again. Someone sent me a job ad working as a graphic designer for a company that I really like, and I had a full-blown attack of something. A panic attack? A freak-out? I don't know what to call it. I would really like to get to the bottom of this weird phenomenon that happens to me when I read job ads.

I have a co-worker who keeps asking me why on earth, with all my talents, I'm doing unskilled labor for barely more than minimum wage. This is why.

The irony is that the job ad is for a website about intimate relationships. You know "That Guy" on dating sites? The one who messages every woman asking for sex right off the bat? That's what most job ads are like. This invites a comparison I have often made, between professions and intimate relationships, which I would like to go into in more detail.

A job ad feels exactly like being asked to have sex for money. I am not trying to be insulting and hyperbolic. I am quite serious about this, and have been for years, not just the heat of the moment. Professional job ads ask me to start a very serious capital-R Relationship with total strangers, instantaneously accelerating from a dead stop to full speed. This job ad even uses the word "passion". I am expected to feel passion in exchange for money. They want you to join their "family" (their word). I'm supposed to care deeply about crafting the identity of complete strangers!

It's like that scene in "Joe Vs. The Volcano" in which the limo driver pulls the car over, and says, "You say to me you want to go shopping. You want to buy clothes, but you don't know what kind. You leave that hanging in the air, like I'm going to fill in the blanks. Now that to me is like asking me who you are, and I don't know who you are. I don't want to know. It's taken me all my life to find out who I am and I am tired, now, you hear what I'm saying?"

This is why I don't date. Everybody hates dating, and for good reason. Dates are universally creepy and desperate, because it's an interview with a stranger, for the position of Most Important Person In Your Life. I find that insane. Instead of dating, I make friends, and after I've gotten to know someone, I see if she would like to gradually increase the involvement. That's why my love life is so successful. I don't think that translates to the workplace. In the job world, I'm not sure how I would develop a passionate vision for how someone else's website should look, then go and ask for a job.
Remember when I learned Motion Capture Animation? Let's just I got an opportunity yesterday which I had to turn down. I had been really excited about it at first. My heart kind of broke. I guess that's all that would be appropriate to talk about here. Ask me some time.
Given how socially proficient I am, many of you express surprise when you discover areas in which I am out of place. But those areas exist.

Tonight I went to a networking event for IT recruiters and job seekers. I emailed the event organizers months ago with my resume, and told them I'd be there. So, even though I got a job yesterday, I went because I RSVP'ed that I would.

One of the organizers saw me writing "web design/dev" on my name tag. He immediately introduced me to a recruiter. She is with a venture capital firm, which is funding a startup. The startup has a variety of work at different levels, possibly including the entry-level work I was looking for (at least, until I got a job in an unrelated field). We exchanged contact info.

I bought a soft drink, looked around, and tried to figure out what to do. The setting was in a bar, resulting in a weird hybrid of work and fraternization that left me without a clear set of rules. I approached the nearest person. She was a recruiter looking for a different branch of IT, but pointed to someone else who was looking for web developers.

I had a brief conversation with that recruiter-- she expressed no interest whatsoever. Soon it became clear that we had nothing to offer each other. In order to not embarrass me, she asked me to email her my resume. Then she quickly disengaged from me with a friendly smile.

I spent some time wondering why I didn't want to talk to anyone there. I don't just mean I lacked the desire to talk to them; I mean I actively wished to avoid them. All of their visible signals exuded a set of goals and values typically associated with a "career person": money, influence, and status. There was an implicit dynamic of desiring and seeking those things, rather than seeking to spend time with people one enjoys.

I value enjoying the company of other people. This was not about that. Therefore all forms of engagement at such a gathering have to be a pretense. I don't know how to be insincere. So, it was difficult for me to figure out how to engage or disengage from anyone.

I stood at the bar and thought for a while. In order to get a career, one must network. There is simply no way around it. Networking means getting to know people who can make a difference for you. Presumably, people with money, influence, and status. But to paraphrase xkcd, the problem with convincing the rat race to let me join them is... that they might let me.

What career is worth that cost? Standing there, it struck me that I can make anything I want to make on the web. I don't need an employer to fulfill my dreams. I need an employer so that I know where my next meal is coming from while I pursue my dreams. As of yesterday, I have that.

The longer I stood there examining the career people, thinking about their second homes, their third cars, their fourth spouses, the better I felt about filing papers and making phone calls for a living. It is a straightforward exchange of time for money. It has no connection to me, so it makes no unseemly demands that I should be driven by a passion for it. Do I really want to receive money in exchange for my love? Isn't it better if my aspirations and my survival do not get entangled in a conflict of interest?

I left my soft drink on the bar and walked out. Maybe I'll have fewer opportunities, but it doesn't mean I'll have none.
I'll probably start next week.
Over the years, I came to realize that my best work has always involved subjects that interested me, or -- even better -- subjects about which I've become interested, and even passionate about, through the very process of doing design work. I believe I'm still passionate about graphic design. But the great thing about graphic design is that it is almost always about something else. Corporate law. Professional football. Art. Politics. Robert Wilson. And if I can't get excited about whatever that something else is, I really have trouble doing a good work as a designer. To me, the conclusion is inexcapable: the more things you're interested in, the better your work will be
--Michael Beirut, "Warning: May Contain Non-Design Content" from Seventy-Nine Short Essays On Design.
There is just an astonishing quantity of paying work out there for projects that try to get people to buy things, and there is almost nothing I want to buy. I don't want to kindle a desire to buy more things. I don't want kindle that desire in others.

I have focused my design efforts on non-marketing pieces: magazines, maps, information guides, books, games, illustrations. I enjoy doing that-- particularly for topics that interest me. I am known for boundless, passionate enthusiasm. I don't know how to generate enthusiasm. Certainly not in exchange for money. I'm not sure I could live with myself if I did.

On the other hand, I think a lot of programming consists of making a product. That product is what you are selling. It is your business-- not a dozen different businesses a year. Someone uses that product. Corporate software, unfortunately, is chosen and paid for by someone who doesn't have to use it, and that's why it sucks. I hope very much to work on something that is chosen and paid for by the person who uses it. I want to make something the user wants.
Steve Blank talks about startup culture in Ann Arbor.

Steve Blank is an experienced expert on entrepreneurship, whose excellent blog I have been reading for a long while. He summarizes each post with a set of points under "Lessons Learned". He concludes his Ann Arbor article the same way:
  1. U of M has a College of Engineering dean who “gets it”
  2. He’s turned the school into an outward facing school, fostering an entrepreneurial and innovation culture
  3. The Center for Entrepreneurship is on board with passionate faculty, innovative curriculum and excited students
  4. The area has almost no experienced angel, super-angel or venture capital (as we know it in Silicon Valley) for Web/mobile apps, hardware and software
  5. The lack of experienced risk capital means a lack of experienced mentors, coaches, and infrastructure.
One of the major premises of his blog is that a startup is not a company. A company is what follows a startup. It executes a known business model. But a startup is an organization whose purpose is to search for a business model. This means it keeps changing until it gets consistently stable profit growth, then disbands, hands the reigns over to managers, and becomes a company. Until then, the startup keeps abandoning their business hypothesis and forming a new, altered one. Scientifically, you are expected to start off with a hypothesis that is wrong.

Silicon Valley calls this a pivot. Elsewhere it is called a failure, and you are embarrassed to have been wrong.

One difference in cultures is respect for failure. In Silicon Valley, you're proud to have made many attempts. It's "What did you learn from your first three startups?" In Michigan, it's "Why don't you get a job?"
Good news and bad news. If you read on, I will illustrate my point with a metaphor about kittens. But first an update.

I didn't get the 3D Artist Position at U of M. The bottom line was that they had a lot of applicants with actual paid experience on the job. My next application will be for a User Experience internship at JSTOR.

I really appreciate receiving a followup email from U of M 3D Lab. With over 150 applicants, that's a lot of work for them. They're even going to post (with permission) work from some of the applicants which will give us a sense of where to improve our skills.

The hope of defeating the tidal wave of competition in any branch of the entertainment industry seems more and more like an absurd folly. This Penny Arcade comic painfully illustrates the problems of oversupply of candidates. Conditions are grueling and projects are uninspiring, precisely because hundreds are lined up to replace you.

[livejournal.com profile] jer_ and his associates have been suggesting to me recently that I should consider joining the video game development program at U of M Dearborn. With my Motion Capture Animation certification, programming inclination, artistic skill, and obsession with board/card/puzzle games, it seems to them like a slam dunk.

They have a really good point. I have been mulling it over almost constantly.

On the debate podium opposite them are the articles I read almost monthly on Gamasutra.com or Hacker News, which make it seem that nearly everyone in the video game industry hates their jobs. Imagine you like kittehs and wish to work with them. But so does everyone else. The only remaining kitteh-related career is strapping kittehs into the Pain Machine from The Princess Bride. What do you do? I don't want to have to get up in the morning and go in to work on Railroad Tycoon 14, Tits 'n Guns 9, or the latest Wheel of Fortune.

Now we get to the good news. Independently-published video games are in a boom period, spurred by platforms like XBox Live, WiiWare, and iPhone or Android mobile devices. Minecraft is the poster child. Here is an excerpt from the article "Why Minecraft Matters":
Sounds interesting, you say, but why should I care that a few guys have put together a cool little indie game? The reason you should care is because a team of four or five people using free libraries and cross-platform tools have just made a mockery of the last five years of franchise-oriented, $50 million budget, yearly-release, AAA game development. And it’s not just a fluke. The Humble Indie Bundle, World of Goo, Braid, and a number of other extremely low-budget titles have electrified the gaming community, while games with millions in marketing budget like APB and Kane & Lynch fall flat on their face critically and commercially. Gamer discontent with these barren blockbusters is palpable, and Minecraft is the new poster boy for it.

The game isn’t technically finished; in fact it only recently left pre-beta state. It’s buggy, missing major features, and to make things brief, you kind of have to want it. But it also doesn’t have B-movie voice acting, a scruffy 30-ish white protagonist, DLC, a movie deal, console exclusivity, or any of the other hundred things that plague gamers in practically every major release.
Emphasis mine.

Using a Master's degree in game development to publish an independent video game has a pro and a con:
1. The con: If my goal is to impress myself when hiring myself in a job interview, it is unnecessary.
2. The pro: I might be able to develop the game during the course of the degree itself, rather than look for a source of funding for a startup.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Don't think of it as spending your time doing artwork with your skills, in exchange for vague promises of future money that may not materialize. Think of it as getting in on the ground floor of a company! The graphics this artist created in response to that proposal? Completely hilarious. The email exchange detailed here may or may not be fictional, but is true-to-life.
Gather round and listen to a story of me, self-surveillance, entrepreneurship, and a miniconference about the Python programming language.

I have always charged a flat rate for art and design.* This time, I wanted to time myself to find out what I earned per hour and adjust my future rates to what I need to bring in, based on accurate estimates of different types of assignments.
Read more... )
In this post, I will make another feeble attempt to think like a businessperson. Well, perhaps not quite. Business plans are stereotypically concerned with starting a company, hiring employees, changing the world, and becoming rich. This plan concerns merely generating enough supplementary income to live on. I have realized that life itself requires a business plan, so that counts.

As I have been mentioning to anyone who will listen, I am inspired to earn income by having customers and tip-donors rather than offer a service to clients. My long-term goal is to reach a place where I earn $2,000 a month by going directly to users of my creations, without having to work for a BigCo or a client.

As Escape Artists has a cozy team of about half a dozen, and all our listeners are consuming something that I absolutely love, I consider that part of this plan. I consider a successful webcomic artist or internet musician to be another type of person who lives this way.

My latest scheme is to make games and sell them on my website. What prompted all of this was finding out how easy and inexpensive ceramic is. It also plays to my strengths, both as someone who likes building things with his hands, and using art software. Custom cookie cutters, and rubber stamps based on my own vector illustrations, will make easy and fast replicas. I just press the stamp into a sheet of clay, for an entire game; then cut out the tiles with my custom cookie cutters, which I've already made. The first set is drying now.

I'm used to game designers telling me that the only way to make and sell games is a massive outlay of capital, based on a small business loan, to get a production run of plastic parts in China.
What little credit I have is mildly poor, so I used to feel game entrepreneurship was beyond me. It turns out the cost of a 7"x9" rubber stamp made from my vector art is only $35. I'd only ever have to sell one copy to make back the money to start the product line. I'd lose on the cost of my own labor if I only sell one copy, but it's the way I would want to spend time anyway. In the worst-case scenario, I've made beautiful things that previously only existed on paper. I don't see a downside.

I think many of my products will involve Japanese, since I have familiarity with that, and I know people who can help me get in touch with lots of students who might like to buy beautifully-made learning games.
Out of all the job hunting sites or tools online, what are your favorites?
We've all heard "Time is money". Whether time is money depends on which one of them you're spending. It's true if you're spending time. It's not true if you're spending money.

We have to spend our own time in such a way as to maximize the money from it. But I'd rather pay someone for the results I want; their time in itself is worth nothing to me. It doesn't help me if they take longer to give me results. It doesn't cost me if they finish quickly so long as it's the same result.

If you're paying money, you can't really receive time in exchange. The time it would take you to perform a task is longer than the time it would take a paid professional. The outcome would differ as well. There isn't an equivalence in the time you save and the time they spend. So ask yourself when spending money to receive time, are you paying for their attention? If not, how much is the result worth to you?

The problem with paying for the result of a service is that it's subjective. Time, by contrast, is easy to measure. That makes it convenient to set a standardized value on time. But we still don't really buy each other's time. The same person can do a valuable task in one minute, and a less valuable task in an hour. So our evaluation of what our time is worth is a measure how that averages out. We also take into account bits of overhead. Employees evaluate a wage to take into account time spent driving to work or thinking about solving work problems during free time. Employers evaluate a wage taking into account time spent in the office taking breaks for smoking, bathroom, drinking fountains, taking private phone calls or an email or two, and other necessities of life.

The corollory to thinking in terms of results is that I'm comfortable being paid "by-the-result", at a flat rate based on the market value of the benefit, rather than just measuring when I'm in the office. I don't want to feel like my wage is a punishment on my employer for the time they've taken from my warm body; I want to feel like I've been rewarded as a measurement of specific contributions! That's exchanging benefit for benefit. Territoriality about time can create a climate in which the transaction feels like an exchange of harm for harm; taking money in exchange for taking time. Then each party might want to ensure the other is losing an amount that justifies what they are losing. Who benefits from that? That's what I would call a lose-lose situation.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Here's an update for those of you who want to know where this stands. Last week I submitted my resume and cover letter to the Free Software Foundation. I followed up today by phone and was told that the position had been filled. Nonetheless, I have been inspired to think in very promising directions throughout this experience.

November 2016

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