In Someone Else’s Shoes

“Before you a criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes.”

On Friday, January 22, 2016, I literally walked 12,685 steps in someone else’s shoes. My iPhone tells me it was 5.17 miles.

The truth is, the shoes have always been mine, but they were worn by the person I used to be: the Anthony Garone who walked on the sides of his feet, slumped and slouched and lived with persistent back pain, suffered from depression and self-loathing, spent years pursuing other people’s expectations, and constantly felt like a failure. After 5.17 miles of walking in these shoes, I didn’t feel 5.17 times more justified in criticizing my former self. I instead felt grateful, compassionate, and healthful.

My brother-in-law used to compete in the Highland Games during which he would toss cabers, move boulders, and throw huge hammers while wearing a kilt. In the meantime, he was training for the World’s Strongest Man competition. We have talked about these competitions over the past few years and he’s told me repeatedly that most winners are in their early-to-mid-30s as that is the timeframe during which men reach their peak physical condition. He would say, “They’re in their prime.”

I am turning 34 this week and for the first time ever, feel like I’m “in my prime.” Never have I been so happy about my life, nor have I had such a healthy relationship with myself. To what do I credit this magical change? There are several key people, events, and resources:

  1. A conversation on September 29, 2014 with a musician friend who exposed me to the term “mindfulness.” This later led to an interview with him on my Make Weird Music website.
  2. A week in February 2015 spent in Tepoztlán, Mexico as part of a course called Introduction to the Guitar Circle, where I learned about Alexander Technique (AT) and the practice of doing nothing.
  3. A couple hours spent with an Alexander Technique teacher in November 2015 at Coplex, an agency up the street from my office.
  4. A lecture series on mindfulness by Dr. Ron Siegel.
  5. A workbook on Acceptance Commitment Therapy lent to me by the wife of a coworker, who is a licensed ACT therapist.
  6. Lots and lots of research and conversations with friends and experts I’ve met along the way.
  7. Lots and lots of sitting and doing nothing.

Alexander technique helped me fix all sorts of physical issues and completely eliminated my back pain. A great debt is owed to Sandra Bain Cushman and Erin Wigger, the AT instructors in Mexico. My improved sitting and standing postures have given me complete physical relief from back pain and changed the way I use my body. My head has a new sense of “forward.” Coupled with the practice of doing nothing, I can now feel when my body tenses up playing guitar, working at a computer, sitting in a car, kneeling at church, or standing in conversation. I’ve lost a bunch of weight and eat smaller portions much more comfortably. The difference AT has had in my life is extraordinary.

Acceptance-Commitment Therapy (ACT) has changed how I feel about myself and helped me to live a values-driven life that is no longer evaluated against whatever yard stick I’ve imagined others to evaluate me by. I feel a newfound confidence that is rooted in good health and that confidence has attracted new people into my life.

Mindfulness practice and the lecture series have helped me to develop compassion for myself and others. Treating people with loving-kindness is kind of a new thing to me. It’s not that I wasn’t loving or kind to others before, but I have a new appreciation and compassion for others that allows me to feel more for others, relate to them better, and empathize with their problems.

All these things have helped me feel better in my Catholic faith, have grace for myself, and to feel less “busy” than I used to. My new challenge is finding balance among the various efforts that have yielded more concurrent success than I ever anticipated. For example, I never had much success or following with the music I’ve written and released, so I just assumed I could do it forever with little-to-no impact on my family life, my day job, etc. My music site, Make Weird Music, has been so successful, however, that balancing its success with familial and professional needs is a new challenge that has brought me great joy.

There’s a Lyle Lovett song where he sings:

I’ve had an excellent time so far / There’s only one thing that I fear / I’ve been riding so long on this lucky star / It could be all downhill from here.

While there is a small sense of that, I’m largely just feeling joy and happiness in what I have right now and what has been happening in my life these months. I have a different perspective on parenting, management, music, and everything else in my daily life.

Every step I took in those old shoes felt weirdly unfamiliar. Each step was a reminder of what used to be. It was a physical sensation of my shoes not landing on the ground the way I now expect them to. The now-familiar recognizing the now-unfamiliar in a very visceral manner.

All of this has been so extraordinary, I am starting a company with three friends that will host weekly workshop programs to help bring this stuff into the workplace. It’s nowhere near as focused on mindfulness as Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, but nowhere near as boring as every other professional training I’ve been to.

Stay tuned!

Getting Hired at meltmedia: The Cover Letter

[NOTE: I originally wrote this for the meltmedia blog.]

If you haven’t noticed, we’re having an incredible year and we’re growing. We recently had 10 positions posted, many of them for brand new roles at the company. This means we’ve been spending a lot of time sifting through résumés and cover letters. And hiring is hard.

Cover-Letter-01

I realized a couple weeks ago that hiring doesn’t have to be so hard. I can make it a lot easier for motivated candidates and for our hiring managers (including me) by telling people exactly how to get a job here in this very blog post! Ready? Let’s go!

The Cover Letter

Cover letters are an great opportunity to introduce yourself and your interest in the job. Most of the cover letters I see look like this:

Dear Hiring Manager:

 

My skills and experience are a great fit for this position. I learn quick and am a hard working person who performs well independently as well as working in a team. Please feel free to contact me to schedule an interview. I look forward to learning more about this opportunity.

 

Thank You!

When I get the time to review applicants, these are the applications that go to the bottom of the pile. Why is that? There is nothing unique or interesting about these kinds of letters. They can be reused over and over, are completely generic, and make me feel like the applicant sees my job as just another one on the big, open market.

Worse, sometimes I call these people (sometimes the day after they apply!) and say, “Hi, this is Anthony from meltmedia calling about your application for our position.” And they say, “I’m sorry, which company are you with? I don’t really remember.”

Furthermore, this is an incredibly boring cover letter. Here’s a sentence-by-sentence response to that letter: Your skills and experience ought to be a great fit for this position. You need to learn quickly and work hard independently or in a team in order to succeed in this position. Of course I will contact you to schedule an interview. And, finally, if you’re as excited for the job as I am to hire a great person, I can only hope you look forward to learning more about the opportunity.

Here’s what we want to see from our applicants:

Dear Hiring Manager:

 

meltmedia looks like a fun and great place to work. I am an unusual applicant. Not only do I love to code and build awesome web applications, I am also passionate about design and communication. I’m the interactive superhero you’re looking for: the almost-mild-mannered programmer with awesome communication skills! I even teach communication in my off hours! Talk about a secret identity.

 

Speaking of superheroes and secret identities, I even wrote a book about them! Serious, it’s on Amazon.

 

I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about myself, my experience, life, the universe, and everything. I’d also love to ask you more about meltmedia and its goals. Your website is a lot of fun and I’d love to see how you are changing the industry.

 

I hope to hear from you soon!

What’s cool about this letter? It correctly references us by name (not “Melt Media” nor “Meltmedia”), gives me a reason to read on (“I’m unusual”), has a casual, lighthearted attitude, and demonstrates personality.

We’re not robots. We’re a small company of ~70 people.

A real human will be reading these letters, not some sort of keyword-searching algorithm robot thing. We like meeting real humans. We like interviewing real humans. Why, as an applicant, make yourself sound like you’re a robot? If I call you and our conversation has the same tone as the overly-business cover letter, I’ll not only be surprised, but I’ll probably tell you that the job may not be a good fit.

A friend of mine criticized me on Facebook to the effect of: “Here at meltmedia, we’re not interested in hiring Java people for our Java software developer position.” And I had to agree! Java is a skill that’s important for the job, but it’s the most basic thing we look for in an application for a Java position. I’d rather let the applicant’s code speak for itself while she/he represents him/herself as a human being I’d like to work with via written communication.

One way we screen for humanity is putting jokes into our job descriptions. One of my favorites is: Remember: The secret word is, “limburger.” I know someone has a sense of humor and actually reads our descriptions when I see the word “limburger” in the cover letter.

Wrapping It Up

If you’re applying for a position at meltmedia, I hope this is helpful. If you’re a motivated applicant, I hope you read this and it influences your cover letter. If you’ve already applied and want to give it a second shot, feel free! Just start off your cover letter by telling us you’re trying again!

And if you’re looking to work for a company like us, keep yer eye on our careers page.

Freedom and Responsibility: Walking the Walk

I wrote this post for the meltmedia blog. Cross-posting it here.

A lot of tech companies talk about “freedom and responsibility” as a key part of their organizational culture. We sell it to new applicants: “Work at our company and you’ll have tons of freedom and responsibility.” It’s a no-brainer… right? On the surface, it sounds really great, but WTH does it mean?

Walk the walk blog-01

“Freedom and responsibility” is a phrase coined by the leadership team at Netflix in their famous, oft-quoted Netflix Culture: Freedom and Responsibility presentation. This utopian document articulates the organizational norms and behaviors expected of Netflix employees. Its 124 slides/pages, is loaded with inspiring and relatable language, and generally makes you feel like your company will never be as cool as Netflix. It’s been an incredible recruitment tool for them and has inspired many companies to operate similarly.

We too, have been captivated by the notions of “freedom and responsibility.” We have done our best to instill these words in our company culture and into the expectations of all employees. It’s been a wonderful recruitment tactic for us, too, and I can see the glow in the eyes of prospective applicants during job interviews when I impress them with my black turtleneck and free Costco snackage.

“With great power comes great respronsitrilitrence.”

I bet your eyes are glazing over and/or you’re wondering when I’ll ever tell you what the eff “freedom and responsibility” means and what it looks like! Thanks for the reminder.

“Freedom” sounds awesome.

Who doesn’t like freedom (as in speech)? And who wouldn’t want freedom in the workplace? I’ll tell you who: People who’ve never really experienced it.

Why? Because freedom is uncomfortable.

It means there won’t be a manager peering over your shoulder several times a day checking to see what you’re doing. It means no one is keeping track of what time you come to the office and when you leave. It means you prioritize your work on your own. It means you are almost entirely responsible for knowing what work you need to get done that day.

“Responsibility” doesn’t sound as awesome.

But you can’t have freedom without it. As a manager, I can only offer you freedom if I know I don’t have to check up on you more than once a week… or two… or even three. As a co-worker, I can only offer you freedom if I can depend on you getting your work done so I can get mine done and the company can meet deadlines and make money. As an employee, I can only operate freely if I know I have the trust of my peers and my managers.

We’ve had several applicants enthusiastically accept job offers only to find themselves bewildered at the amount of freedom and responsibility they’re offered right off the bat. It can be astounding to start a relationship with an employer with such a degree of trust, and it can be a bit frightening. The person most accountable to your own success is you. And the longer you’re with the company, the more freedom and responsibility you earn.

That’s how it works, folks. It sounds simple in theory, but it ain’t.

What is the cost of this level of freedom and responsibility? We have to be vigilant about hiring the right people. And guess what: The right people aren’t always looking for a new job when we’re looking to hire. It can be tough and jobs can be open for longer than we’d like, but getting the right people ensures we can maintain our organizational culture. As we’ve grown in size, we’ve had to consider how we continue to offer high levels of freedom and responsibility, without depressing people with too much process and formality. It’s hard work! And sometimes we get it wrong by hiring the wrong person, or putting in short-sighted processes, or interpreting our business data incorrectly.

But that’s okay. It’s how we learn. And our people learn and grow with us.

Interested in joining us on this mission? We’re usually hiring. Check positions on our careers page.

What Another Week!

Make Weird Music Redesign

So I know I kinda humble bragged in my last post, so I thought it’d be funny to do it again. Today I launched a completely redesigned MakeWeirdMusic.com, that’s hosted on GitHub, makes use of a Creative Commons license, and accepts donations. Even better, I’ve already gotten several amazing sponsors/donors. When I got the opportunity to interview Mike Keneally and Steve Vai, I knew I had to do it well, so I asked Carl King knowing that he would do an incredible job. But, my wife–reasonably so–wasn’t terribly happy with the expenses I was facing to travel to California, film the interviews, etc. Hence, the idea of donors/sponsors came up.

Incredibly, I was able to break even on all the costs for the interview thanks to sponsorships!!

ASU Advisory Board

A couple weeks ago, I was invited to participate in an industry advisory board for the Graphic Information Technology (GIT) program at Arizona State University–the program from which I graduated with a master’s in 2010. I had no idea what to expect. It turns out that there were several high-profile leaders from local print, agency, video, and social media companies. I felt like a small fish in a big pond. We had a good, spirited discussion about how the GIT program can meet industry needs.

At the end of the meeting, came the time to elect a chairman. No one volunteered. Instead, I was “voluntold” by several people in the group who “elected” me with their unsolicited votes. Haha.

So, I humbly accepted the honor.

Hard Work

I have often been accused of being “lucky” and “having it easy” and that everything supposedly goes my way. Lately, I’ve felt guilty that that might be true. Then I came across the following tweet from Infusionsoft:

I don’t know if it’s universally true, but it feels true. And I can’t imagine a more appropriate quote to justify the huge, huge, huge amounts of effort I’ve put in these past few days/weeks/months/years. I guess I’d rather feel I earned it than being just plain ol’ “lucky.”

Continuous Deployment with Totem and GitHub

Aside

Hey-o! You may have noticed that I didn’t post anything on this site for over a year between June 2014 and September 2015. That’s because I did most of my professional blogging on the meltmedia blog.

Here’s the latest post that rehashes the Iterate.PHX presentation we gave on our Docker-based, open source continuous delivery workflow, Totemhttp://blog.meltmedia.com/2015/09/continuous-delivery-with-totem-and-github/

What a Week!

I am what you might call a “sower.” My constant search for the next creative project leads me to plant creative seeds all over the place. Rarely do the seeds seem to come to harvest, but this past week has been an exception.

This post may sound like a “humblebrag.” People who truly know me can attest to my regularly inflicted doses of self-loathing. I will ask your patience and pardon on this rare occasion in which I tout good things!

My music site, MakeWeirdMusic.com, has been blowing up in its own small way. It has led to Skype-based guitar lessons with people in Scotland, England, Chicago, and South Africa. It has also led to a couple amazing opportunities culminating in two interviews this past week with musical heroes of mine: Mike Keneally and Steve Vai. Filmed by Carl King nonetheless!

Also wonderfully, Cory Berg of Software++, sponsored the filming work. Ed Heisler of Mad Hatter Guitar Products agreed to sponsor. And I received donations toward the site that have helped offset the costs further! I never would have thought this site would lead to chances to interview such talented musicians, much less doing so without incurring hundreds of dollars in debt.

While filming the interviews, I got accepted into Robert Fripp’s Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists. (Robert is the mastermind behind the band King Crimson.) That experience will take course over a week in Mexico in February 2016 and culminate in three public performances with Mr. Fripp himself!

Shortly after getting that news, my indie folk duo friends emailed me with links to three videos they recorded at my home recording studio. The audio and video turned out better than I expected. I was quite proud to have engineered that session.

Then yesterday morning, a video of the presentation my coworker and I gave at a local conference was made public. The feedback on the presentation has been quite positive and encouraging. I’m going to shop the video around to other conferences and see if we can present elsewhere now.

My blog post about meet ups went live yesterday on the meltmedia blog. I’ve been blogging more for both meltmedia and my personal projects. I just finished coding the new redesign of Make Weird Music a few minutes ago, which is running on GitHub Pages so people can contribute to the site via pull requests. I’ve been helping with data automation efforts at work that’ve been back logged for a couple years now. I wrote a presentation about kanban for the Show and Tell at work tomorrow…

What a week!! There’s more, but I’ll stop now…

And back to your regularly scheduled insecurities and tortured artist syndrome.

Continuous Deployment with Totem and GitHub Presentation

My coworker, Sukrit Khera, and I recently presented at the Iterate.PHX DevOps conference  about Totem, an open source continuous delivery and deployment workflow developed at meltmedia (where I work). Here’s the video!

You can’t tell from the video, but the room was absolutely packed. People were sitting on the floor and standing along the walls in the back. I expected 12-15 people and at least 40-50 showed up, which made me a little nervous (you can probably tell in the first couple minutes). It was really an honor to see so much attention and care given to this subject!!

Totem makes use of several tools:

If you’re interested in learning more, let me know or check out our GitHub docs and repositories!

Thanks so much to Stephen Kuenzli and Tomasz Stechly for inviting us to present and for putting on an excellent conference!

What is he Presenting?

I go to conferences occasionally. I take lots of notes when I go to conferences. A lot of notes. Occasionally, there is a presentation at a conference and I don’t take any notes. In fact, I am confounded to identify a single thing to write down. Following pages of of notes for 3 presentations in a row, there’s not a single bullet for the 4th.

There is a guy presenting right now in front of me and I have no idea what to write down, or really what he’s saying. The frustrating element of this is that I cannot decide whether that means the presentation is good or bad.

Am I not taking notes because there is no clearly discernible story? Is it because the presenter’s content is obvious or mundane? Is it because the presenter is really interesting and has usurped my desire to take notes? Is it my problem? Is it his? Perhaps it’s my ignorance and an inability to relate to the topic. Or, perhaps it’s just not a good presentation.

How is it that a person can speak for 30-40 minutes to a group without boring them the whole time and say nothing that I feel noteworthy?

I think I hate it and I think I have incredible respect for it.