My 2016 Annual Review

I decided to take a cue from James Clear and write my own Annual Review. As James states: “The process reminds me to look back on the previous twelve months, celebrate my victories, evaluate my failures, and hold myself accountable in public.” I think it’s a solid idea that will take my consistent internal dialogue on self-performance and put it to paper…assuming I print this!

So the format is that the 2016 Annual Review will answer the following three questions.

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go well this year?
  3. What will I be worked towards in 2017?

1. What went well this year?

2016 was a big year! I had so much more time on my hands after finishing my MBA in 2015; did I put that time to good use?

SaaS cloud migration. 2016 had me focused on moving our systems into AWS. We spent most of 2016 running a cloud/physical data center hybrid and are a few tasks away from being 100% in the cloud. There is plenty of work to continue on with our AWS architecture so we can be even more distributed, be better prepared for failover, and improve our CI/CD approach. Working is SaaS in today’s techscape is glorious!

New products and team improvement. I roadmapped the release of two new products in 2016. One is an entirely new BI stack as a Tableau partner and the second is a release of our new flagship SetSight product…all distributed, restful and pretty. It has been a major challenge to release products as the unexpected resource constraints have continued from the issues we had in 2015. It’s led me be a more hands-on leader and working more in the trenches rather than leading via mockups, whiteboards, and design sessions like was sold to me out of the gate. While it’s a daily struggle to contain my aspirations for the growth of the company I do take pride in the skill growth of my technical and product teams.

Getting involved. I worked hard in 2016 to expand my presence in the Minneapolis tech community; I find these events a challenge because I’m always prone to work extra or unplug rather than attend events but I’ve been continuing my effort from 2015 to meet up with past colleagues and friends at local events like: minnedemo, minneanalytics, startup week, and conferences on AWS and IoT. In addition I started volunteering at our local coderDojo which offers a great way to give back and inspired me to make the time to teach in more rigorous fashion. In the fall, I started as an adjunct in the computer science department at my alma mater the University of Minnesota. It’s a great university and the opportunity to interact with the next generation of engineers and give a little back to the community has been wonderful. I’m teaching a Senior Design course over two semesters where industry sponsors a class and we are given resources to build something interesting. My groups sponsor is Microsoft and they’ve been great to work with.

Travel. Working is overrated and Kelly and I focus on taking time off and exploring so we stay fresh. 2015 brought another trip to Spain for us where we hit Madrid, Seville, Granada, and Barcelona. Two separate trips to Lake Superior’s north shore.  Two buddy ski trips to Colorado and the purchase of an Epic pass for the 2016-17 season. For my birthday we hit up Palm Springs and rock climbed in Joshua Tree National Park. A weekend in Kansas City. A Colorado summer road trip with our pooch. And an epic guy’s climbing trip in the Grand Tetons. Another Lake Superior weekend but over in Bayfield. And we ended the year with a trip to Santa Fe.

Weightlifting. I continue to focus on active and healthy living through a love of practicing sports. Through the years they’ve migrated from team sports like rugby and softball to individual pursuits like marathoning and now olympic weightlifting which I’ve been doing for 3 years. In 2016 I switched my training location to Crossfit Kingfield where I’ve met great people and coaches. I compete as a master’s lifter (graybeard) and focus on getting stronger while considering the long game and adapting to the gifts of aging. I had a 4-5 month wrist issue that led to me missing my 2016 goals but I still had fun and improved my consistency. I train 3-4 days a week and try to compete at a few meets a year and through that I qualified for the master worlds championships at the end of April in New Zealand…I’m going!

My best lifts of the year were:

  • Snatch – 116 KG
  • Clean and Jerk – 145 KG
  • Back Squat – 196 KG for 3 sets of 3

The snatch and clean and jerk weren’t up to my goals but with health they’ll be bested in 2017 as I enter a new age class.

Reading. I’m always reading and we resubscribed to the New Yorker and other magazines so the book reading took a hit but I still managed 15 books in 2016 and I’ve been reading the Stephen King Dark Tower books which are thick ones so I get a bump there. Besides product management and tech books I read a lot of books focused on racial topics.

Highlights:

2. What didn’t go so well this year?

Writing. I’ve given up the goal of more technical and product writing as it’s been a continued goal I’ve missed for years but another goal I had was to start writing short stories and hoping that would lead to something interesting in either the hobbyist’s pursuit or for the book idea I’ve been noodling on. I’m going to continue that goal and work on journaling and take the computer out of the equation in the hope that the act of writing via the pen will appeal to my creative side a bit more.

Open Source contributing. My open source contribution back to the tech community is best summed via ‘blah’. I count this as a curse of my years consulting when I could either give back or do work that allowed me to bill more hours. I always took the billable time which may have been symbiotically tied to my taste for vacations! Anyway, I didn’t do much in 2016. For 2017, I can contribute via my students project as an advisor and also have my eye on a Alexa/Sonos integration via NodeJS and data science work via python.

Company Growth. Much of this is out of my control but the growth issues at SetSight affect me and are affected by me as the tech leader. While I don’t see the team(s) size reaching the levels I planned for us to hit in 2015 I need to continue to put my best foot forward to lead and deliver results with the truth of where we are at as we approach 2017. It can be easy to get caught up in how the expectations didn’t match the outcome but outside of honest reflection used on the road to improvement it doesn’t do much good.

3. What am I working toward?

Looking back, 2016 felt like a float year somewhat. I wasn’t working at the scale where I can put my talents to maximal use so it felt a bit underwhelming and simplistic. However, there were  some nice wins in there through work successes, adjunct teaching, and focus on work-life balance. 2017 can get better by delivering the growth we can hit rather than getting bogged down by the growth we lost out on that were outside of our control. For 2017 I plan to focus on.

Doing less and doing that better. I’m a classic overachiever and when I get time I always sign up for more stuff to do. That’s why I have two graduate degrees and since my MBA have started volunteering and teaching. I need not add anything else and instead create the free-time where I can explore technology, product ideas, and create. That idle time is where the sticky ideas come from, I need to make that idle time.

Simple and healthy. 2016 found me focused on diet, sleep, and health. I want to continue that in 2017 by averaging 7.5+ hours of sleep for the year, hitting the sauna 5 days a week and practicing yoga 3 days a week. The more I work and the more I spend at the keyboard the less I can offer as the creative idea person that I think brings the most value to others. Balance is key and I need to remember my saying that I’m a sprinter and not a long-distance running. Sprinters require plenty of rest, stretching, and focus.

2017 – ready or not.

How I eat – Part 1

Last month I returned from my annual “guys adventure” trip. For 2014 we kept it fairly simple went to Colorado and summited two 14er’s and missed the 3rd 14er, Long’s Peak, because it was still snow packed and more adventure then we were looking for. The participants are a thrown together group linked by two guys who meet via finance jobs a decade ago. Now we have 7 years of trips and solid friendships between the Minneapolis and Chicago bases. It’s a great chance to get away, let the cell phones not work, and go back to the basics well busting each other pretty good.

One of the guys asked me about how he could clean up his diet and I was all set to fire off a fast response with my answer but stopped. What seems so simple turned out to be rather complicated. It can easily snowball into a ‘why do you believe this and that’.  For friendly advice I didn’t want to start citing my references and summarizing the past few years of readings, podcasts, and personal experimentation that have combined to formed my personal approach; so I basically stalled out for a month. I’ve never put this into words and expect that the first pass will be rather rough but I plan to return and refine and have this be something I can share to others in the future as they explore their own diet paradigm.

So as a disclaimer – this is my approach. It’s not proven, backed, funded, or gone through peer review. It’s meant to be an exercise in sharing for others to consider when finding their own approach.

I’m going to start big picture with my personal tenets.

Eat real food.

What’s real food? Food that comes from things that were growing, walking, or swimming and minimally processed like veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, & grass-fed meat.

This means watchout for processed foods

What’s processed? Processed foods to me are foods that have been combined, assembled, constructed, or formed at a plant. How do you know? Does it come in a box or a package? Check out the ingredients and let that be your guide. A box of branded crackers will have far different quantity and types of ingredients from a bag of apples. For me this means avoiding tortilla chips (overly processed) and canned salsa (added sugar). The risk with packaged manufactured foods is that they have so many ingredients that are great for making food ‘shelf ready’ and leveraging our countries awesome food scientists but that is a step further from being considered real food. Take a walk at the store and check out the ingredients list on many of packaged foods and just look for the number of foods that have added in wheat, sugar, or corn. Now ask yourself if they need it and consider why it is in there. If you think its to make better quality food or healthier food then know that you and I disagree.

Experiment

Do I think fasting is for me? Hey, I’m a midwesterner, we don’t starve here! I’ll admit it doesn’t appeal to me on the outset but I’d try it. Being caught in the reasons or expected efficacy of something based on our personal knowledge can limit us from exploring the options out there. Does sugar sap your brain power? Stop consuming it for 30 days and see how you feel. Do you think avoiding processed grains is only for gluten-free wackos? Great, good for you; but what do you have to lose for trying it for 2 weeks? The point is that we don’t know as much about health and the effects of our food as much as we think we do and you are fully empowered to experiment and find the best approach for you. Just don’t start experiments where you digest batteries.

Whenever you experiment do follow Robb Wolf’s advice and ask yourself how you look, feel, and perform.

Be accountable for your health

Don’t look to others for answers on your health. I’m big on self-improvement in every aspect of my life. I don’t need to be the best at anything but I want to be getting better at everything I care about; it’s a core belief in how I live my life. How can we be accountable? For one, be informed, become interested. These topics don’t need to be an area of passion (but then again why not) but at least you can form the basis of understanding so you have an opinion.

Too many want to lean on their doctors for nutritional advice but that’s just not the place to look. Next people may look to the news media for information but there you’ll find news that is more focused on the headline than the research or may have a bad study to share. To solve this I personally find my own sources of wisdom and then always run these sources through my own judging filter. We are responsible for our own health.

My next post will share how I approach diet.