Dan Rasband

Taking a Break

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The main purposes behind me writing this blog were to 1) get me writing every day and 2) get me into a routine. I think I’ve done fairly well in both of these areas. I’ve only missed two or so days in the last month and on those days I’ve worked on my app and other things, so I’ve really kept my goal to write every day. If I stop now, though, I won’t be able to achieve my third goal, which was to write 180 articles. Or at least I won’t be able to achieve it as soon. So I’ve debated whether to try to keep with my blogging goal while trying to work on my app everyday, but that doesn’t seem to be working out too well. Either I work on the one or the other, almost never both.

I have made the decision to continue my blog, but I will only write posts as I come up with ideas that I really need to get out there. I will continue to write every workday, but it will usually be for my Happy Wife app’s content. When Happy Wife is released or I’ve got the content all squared away, I’ll continue my blog as before.

Vacation

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This past weekend was labor day weekend. We had a lot going on on Saturday (a nephew’s birthday and a sister-in-law’s baby shower that my wife helped prepare), so we didn’t head out on vacation until Sunday afternoon. My parents have a trailer and a boat that they keep up at Flaming Gorge, so we tagged along with them and did some boating and camping.

In the past, I’ve often tried to take something with me to read or study or work on. I’ve since realized that doing so is 1) futile (especially when you have kids) and 2) a bad idea because it defeats the purpose of the vacation. This time around I just played with the kids, talked with my family, ate marshmallows, and otherwise enjoyed the time I had there. It’s hard for me to relax like that, but it really helps me loosen up and gets rid of a lot of my life’s stresses.

Communication and Relationships: Part 2

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A couple of days ago I wrote a post about communication and relationships. I talked about the most important aspect of good communication: active listening. Today I’m going to get into some more advanced issues regarding communication: safety, trust, and borders.

Safety

If you want to have successful communication with someone, they must feel safe talking with you. Most people feel a general sense of safety when talking about normal, everyday things with friends and acquaintances. When these same people find them in a situation where they need to express emotions or otherwise talk about something that makes them feel vulnerable, that feeling of safety becomes so much more important. And if the situation changes and that feeling of safety is ruined, it can damage the relationship or make it very difficult for that person to open up again.

Let me give you an example of a good way to destroy communication safety for a relationship:

Wife: “Honey, when you go on business trips I feel like I don’t matter to you because you never call me.”

Husband: “What’s your problem? I’m out there making money for you and all you can do is complain!”

Maybe this is a bit of a contrived example, but the main point here is that the wife expressed her emotions, placing herself in a vulnerable position, and the husband invalidated her emotion and attacked her. Don’t do this.

Safety comes from validation. It comes from a consistent pattern of active listening. It comes from completing difficult conversations without turning them into fights or attacking the other individual.

By the way, what do I mean by validation? Validation is the process of proving or recognizing that something is true and valid. So when you get a parking validation, it is essentially showing that you are a valid customer of that institution and worthy of receiving a parking discount. In conversation, validation is recognizing that the other person’s emotions are true. People can be wrong, and they can misunderstand, but when a person has an emotion and expresses it, you had better believe that to that person in that moment, that emotion is as true as anything. You can recognize and validate that person’s emotions by actively listening and trying to understand what emotion s/he is trying to express. You can simply say, “Oh, you feel sad about …” or whatever it may be. Over time, consistent validation of the other person’s emotions will increase the feeling of safety, and communication will improve.

Trust

Another huge aspect of communication is trust. Trust is built over time through consistency in action. At its most basic level, it means, Are you going to do what you said you were going to do? As you follow through on promises day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, that trust will increase and make communication and your relationship improve.

I talked in my last post about a trust bank. I want to re-iterate that analogy here because it seems to work so well. Each relationship you have has a trust bank that you both have access to. There are two accounts: one for each of you. When something difficult comes up in the relationship, a virtual withdrawal of that trust is often needed. When funds are insufficient, the relationship suffers. When there are enough funds, however, the relationship can actually quickly earn back that trust and more. Frequent withdrawals from that trust account can eventually deplete the reserves, though, so be wary of that.

I think the trust bank is especially important for children and their parents and then employees and their bosses. It always goes both ways. When a kid has been consistently doing his homework, following his parents’ counsel and rules, and otherwise been doing what she’s supposed to, her parents are going to allow her to do things that a lot of other kids would never be trusted to do. And when a parent consistently validates his child’s emotions, goes to his games, and spends quality time with him, that kid will be able to open up more easily and let the parent guide and direct his actions.

Without trust in a relationship, communication is very difficult because someone is always expecting the other to attack or to stab them in the back.

Borders

Some relationships, though, are pretty much beyond repair, at least in the short term. This is where a defensive strategy can help both parties in the relationship. And that defensive strategy is to set up borders. In relationships, borders should often be more like castle walls. They should never be breached. Here is an example of where a border is needed.

Your father-in-law always makes fun of your job. You’ve told him that it hurts you and tried to help him understand that you don’t want him to say stuff like that, but his remarks are incessant.

So what do you do? You could get angry and yell at him. That’s not going to improve the relationship, though. You could just keep trying to help him understand you feelings, but he might already understand them. Maybe he wants you to hurt because he also hurts about his career.

This is when you set up a border. When your father-in-law (or whoever it may be that is hurting you) starts making fun of you, you just leave. You might want to say, “I’m leaving because I don’t deserve this kind of treatment, not because I don’t want to talk to you or because I hate you.” And then you walk away. This is a pretty drastic measure, but at times it is needed.

In the long run, hopefully that person will figure out that you won’t listen to his/her hurtful words, so they’ll stop. Then trust and safety will (probably slowly) increase and the relationship will improve.

Hopefully some of these communication methods will help you improve your relationships. There’s still a lot more, so maybe I’ll share more in future posts.

Communication and Relationships

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Before I got married I took a class at Brigham Young University called “Marriage Preparation”. I also read books about marriage and had previously had received some personal counseling in relationships. So when I got married, I felt I truly understood what good communication was, and I knew (in my naivety) that as long as I communicated well in my marriage, I could work out any problem. I was right in a sense, but it turned out to be much more complicated than I had thought.

I had learned that good communication meant listening, confirming what you heard, and then sharing how you feel. This is a good way of learning how to communicate well, and it works in a variety of situations. I’ll give an example. Say you’re a teenager fighting with your mom or dad about going to a late-night movie with some friends. The good thing about this communication method is that it is effective whether the other party also uses this method or not. The conversation may go something like this:

You: “Mom, some friends and I are going to the midnight showing of Iron Man 3 tonight.”

Mom: “Oh, really? I don’t think so. That’s past your curfew, and I don’t trust those friends of yours.”

Already, communication is off to a bad start. You started with telling your mom what you were going to do, well knowing that it was against the rules, and your mom responded by immediately attacking your idea and your friends. She feels bad because you don’t respect her authority and the guidelines and rules she set up to protect you, and you feel bad because she doesn’t trust you or your friends. Let’s try to salvage what we can. The first step is to make sure you understand your mom. Her words may not really reflect what she’s feeling, so you need to find out what she’s feeling.

You: “Oh, right, that’s past my curfew. So you don’t want us to go out to the movie because it’s past my curfew and you think my friends will do something bad?”

Mom: “I don’t think they’ll do something bad, I just know that bad things often happen past midnight. And we set up your curfew to protect you.”

You: “So you don’t want me to go because you want to protect me? Thanks mom for caring about me so much.”

Can you imagine any teenager talking like that? No? I can’t either really; at least, no teenager I know has had enough training to show that much self control and prowess. But I believe it can be taught, and adults can definitely learn it.

Think about how the mom must have felt if the teenager responded that way. “Holy cow, this kid is listening to me?!?! Who are you and what happened to my daughter?” The mom would be totally taken off guard, and may even be inclined to let there be an exception to the curfew rule, just this one time. Note that good communication does not mean you always get the outcome you wanted from the onset, but it does foster good relationships, and it will build trust that you can use later. Some call this the trust bank, and each time you do something that encourages trust, you’re adding to the bank so that the next time you need that person to trust you, you’ve already deposited enough that you can withdraw a bit here and there when needed (like when you want to go to a midnight showing of a movie with friends).

We could go the other way around, too, from the mom’s perspective. Here’s how this might go:

Teenager: “What? You don’t trust my friends? I hate you. You never let me do anything fun!”

You (mom): “Hold on, let’s take a step back. Did saying that I don’t trust your friends hurt your feelings?”

Teenager: “Yes! My friends are good kids!”

You: “All right, I’m sorry for saying that. You said I never let you do anything fun. Do you really feel that way?”

Teenager: “Yeah! Whenever I want to go out with friends late at night, you never let me!”

You: “Maybe that’s true. I haven’t let you in the past. Maybe we can make an exception to the curfew rule tonight, but there are a few stipulations.”

It’s a little bit harder to talk to an unhappy teenager. If both mom and teenager are trained well, though, the conversation would have been amazing.

I hope my examples illustrated the point of what real, active listening entails: repeating what the person said and confirming that you got it right. When the person you are talking with knows that you understood them, they start to feel safe and can trust you more. This is solid communication. If you haven’t tried it, do so. Make sure you understand the other person 100% before moving on and expressing your own feelings. And when you express your own feelings, do so in a non-agressive manner, using words like “I feel”. Don’t use accusatory language like “You always…” or “You never…” or “You make me feel…”.

The above represents the most basics of good communication. Learning it gave me a good foundation to start with, but there was a lot more to communication than I thought. I’ll share more advanced communication tools in my next post.

UPDATE: Part 2 is now available!

Writer’s Block

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It’s been interesting for me to work on this blog. I postponed writing a blog for ages because I couldn’t think of anything to write. Then I just sat down and decided I had to write something every day that I came to “The Dungeon”, which equates to every work day. Somehow, having a rule allowed my mind to break through all of its inhibitions and distractions and discouragements about writing so that I could just write. I know very well that my writing isn’t perfect, and that my topics aren’t really focused, but a lot of times it just doesn’t matter.

I think the same principle can apply to starting your own business, learning to play an instrument, or really learning anything. Consistency has power. Even Jerry Seinfield’s, a seeming comic genius, relies on consistency to improve his skills.

This morning I almost gave up on writing an article. But then I remembered that I need to be consistent, above all else, so I wrote this. Sucky article, I know, but it’s helping me to be a better writer and a better blogger, and it’s giving me more consistency in my life that will hopefully roll over into other areas.

Waking Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed

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I’m sure there’s been a time in your life where you’ve woken up feeling like crap. You feel like either just going back to sleep and shunning life, or you want to lash out at everyone around you. Sometimes you can tell it’s all because of a weird dream you had, but other times you’re just in a bad mood. So what do you do?

A lot of times in life, I think, we get in bad moods and it feels like there’s not much we can do about it. I am usually really patient with my daughters, for example, but Monday and Tuesday night I had the hardest time dealing with their crying and whining when I put them to bed. I couldn’t really figure out why I was in such a bad mood, but I was, and I wasn’t able to shake that mood for a while.

I think there are probably a couple of ways to overcome a mood swing (for people who don’t have depression or other similar difficulties). The first is probably exercise. You can’t always just go out and exercise when things aren’t going your way, though. Another that comes to mind is meditating. I don’t know if I’ve ever used meditation to change my mood, but whenever I’ve tried meditating, it does calm me down.

What other ways do you have of overcoming that inexplicable bad mood?

Hiring Is a Lot Harder Than I Thought

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I’ve had the opportunity since the beginning of the year to be involved in the hiring process at my work. It’s been an interesting experience, and I’ve learned a lot during the process. Most of all, though, I’ve learned that hiring well is really hard.

The hiring process in a smaller company like Agency Fusion (we have 13 people right now) usually consists of screening resumes, sometimes pretesting, inviting for an interview, and then reviewing internally. The testing is sometimes done after the interview instead of before it, and at other times we skip it altogether.

Screening

Our CEO usually doubles as HR Manager, and as such, he usually screens resumes as they come in. When he’s thinned out the pile a bit, he’ll send the ones with potential my way, where I do an additional screening. The hardest thing about screening resumes, in my experience, is that most of our applicants are University of Utah students, and their resumes are all pretty much exactly the same. That doesn’t mean that the individuals themselves are exactly the same, but they mostly just list their school projects, which always include a Boggle game, a spreadsheet application, and a new codec for FFMPEG. Very rarely do they include outside projects (which is understandable for kids going to college), so there’s no good distinguishing factor. This is where the testing usually comes in.

Testing

Over the past few months we’ve been experimenting with testing our applicants. I don’t like the idea of asking random mathematical or logic puzzles, so we’ve created a test that is directly applicable to our line of work: a rails application. It has a little bit of scaffolding already included and requires the applicant to figure out how to accept data from a form and then spit it out again into an HTML table. There are subtle complexities in the problem, though, that really tease out the ability of our applicants. So far it has been very telling. The applicants that have just gone through the motions in school and done what they were told often miss the main point of the test entirely and deviate from the specifications. Those that have potential are able to work through the problem and come up with a solution that matches what we’ve put in the requirements.

Giving applicants the test also is telling in other ways. Many applicants end up never getting back to you after receiving the test, and others ask question after question, seemingly trying to find an easy way out, or to elicit the answer out of you. Just sending the test in itself becomes a way of weeding out applicants that aren’t really interested or who don’t have a strong work ethic. If you ever apply to Agency Fusion and you get our test (and you actually want the job), complete the test! We don’t care so much that it’s perfect, but we like to see that you put forth the effort necessary to get somewhere with it.

The Interview

If we actually get the test back from applicants (and sometimes before), we’ll ask them in for an interview. I tried doing quick phone interviews beforehand, but it turned out that I never really rejected anyone after a phone interview, so it wasn’t super useful.

The interview is useful because we get to see what the person is like, face-to-face. This is especially important for our company because we’re so small — everyone gets to know everyone else super well, so culture is a high priority when hiring. Our company is full of different personalities, hair styles, music preferences, etc., but we like people who we can talk with without feeling completely awkward, and we especially like people who have passion for what they do.

The Decision: to hire or not to hire

Then comes the hard part. We usually sit down and discuss what we thought of the applicant. There have been a couple of times where we didn’t need to discuss anything because we knew the person was going to be a good fit. But the majority of the time we just can’t tell. And we’re often sympathetic with the person’s current state of affairs and think that Agency Fusion would be a great place for them to gain experience before moving on to something else. But if we hired those people, we’d both lose out in the end. We’d be paying for someone that we’re not super excited about, and they’d feel that. They might also be overwhelmed by the way we work, or not feel at home with people that are so dang passionate about what they do.

The thing that makes hiring the hardest is when I put myself in their shoes. A few years ago, when I first decided to get into web development, I applied to a whole slew of companies before one finally had me in for an interview. It just happened to be the biggest web development firm in Hawai’i, and they just happened to decide to hire me (I have no idea why!). If I were the person in charge of hiring over there, I have a hard time believing I would have hired myself.

Maybe there’s a super accurate method for figuring out if an applicant is right for your team, but I think I have a ways to go before I figure it out.

You Need a Budget

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My wife and I have just started using the YNAB (You Need a Budget) software to start budgeting. We’ve tried budgeting in the past and it has never worked out. We continually spend more than I make, and I am forced to take on side jobs to make up the difference. This time, though, I think things are going to work out.

The key to YNAB is this: you give the money you currently have a job, and then you make that money do its job. There’s flexibility, though, so if one job takes more money than expected, you can allocate resources from another job to help out. You don’t need to forecast your budget into the future, you just need to assign a bit of money every month to be in standby for future needs like medical expenses and car insurance.

We started on Sunday, and already we are making better decisions. Our money has a mission, and so do we now, so we’re on a new path of financial freedom. I’ll do a follow-up post after a few months to let everyone know how much we’ve saved or how our financial situation has changed.

Happy Wife App: Discouragement and Renewed Resolve

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I decided to come in to the office early on Saturday morning to see if I could get some code working on the iPhone app. I got it working and actually made quite a bit of progress on the app’s structure. It felt great to make progress, but after getting home and thinking over next steps, I became a bit discouraged.

The most important thing I can do now, I determined, is to come up with the actual content of the app. The technical features of the app are (mostly) uncomplicated and stuff I already know how to do, but for the app to be a success, it has to have great content.

I’m not a psychologist; in fact, I’ve never even taken a psychology class! I can’t claim to be a perfect husband, or to always be able to make my wife happy. Essentially, I’m jumping in to an area that I have very little knowledge about. When I initially thought about the app idea, the only things I was concerned about were writing the code for the app and designing the interface, but it turns out that creating the content for the app is going to be a much bigger hurdle, and a much bigger risk.

I got a bit discouraged, thinking to myself that I didn’t have what it would take to get this done, and “Why did I decide to build an app that I know nothing about?”

But since those moments of discouragement, I have realized a few things that have enabled me to renew my resolve to build this project and get it published in the app store.

  1. The content doesn’t need to be perfect from the get-go
  2. I’m a fast learner, and can read books and blogs and research papers to come up with a lot of great info to put in the app
  3. I have already read a bunch of stuff, and I have a few years of experience under my belt, so I can filter stuff out that doesn’t really seem to be helpful
  4. My dad has been a pretty darn good example of what it means to be a good husband, and at the same time I feel like I’ve learned a lot from his past mistakes.
  5. In one of my earlier blog posts, I talked about becoming an expert in an area and how that’s one way you can truly contribute to the world, and what better thing is there to become an expert in than this?
  6. I love to learn, and if I’m not jumping into new territory all the time, I quickly get bored, so this is a great opportunity to feel like an idiot for a little while and slowly build my knowledge and expertise.

And really, this kind of discouragement is what has kept me from accomplishing my dreams in the past, so I’m not going to let it get to me this time.

I’m going to gather as many resources I can find, and just follow my gut and dig in. If things don’t work out in the end, who cares? I’ll have learned a ton in the process. And if they do work out in the end, how awesome is that?

Modern Slavery

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I read a couple of interesting and somewhat related articles this morning. The first one, about Google doing away with its 20% time (Google’s “20% time,” which brought you Gmail and AdSense, is now as good as dead), explores Google’s new policies regarding 20% time, noting that it is pretty much dead, and wondering if this is a good or bad thing for its employees and whether other copycat companies will follow suit. The second article, entitled “People simply empty out”, was a letter from the writer Charles Bukowski about how he left the 9-to-5 day job and how it had been to him a sort of modern slavery.

I am in agreement with the sentiment of the articles that the 9-to-5 work-for-someone-else day job is not great for the human soul. We humans need autonomy and thrive on being able to be creative. Or at least a lot of us do. But working on someone else’s projects from 9am to 5pm (and often earlier to later) can be draining, especially in certain industries. And yet people get stuck. They aren’t paid enough to have a try at starting their own businesses, or even pay their monthly bills a lot of the time.

And that truly sucks.

But! The idea that we should be entitled to autonomy, or better pay when working for The Man, is somewhat ludicrous in my opinion. Companies have to do what they have to do to keep employees around, for their ultimate profit, of course, but they have no obligation to pay employees for more than their work is worth.

While working at StarrTech (now part of Anthology Marketing Group), AltaStreet and now Agency Fusion, I’ve seen how salaries are the number one expense for businesses. This may not be true for large companies like Google, but it is nevertheless a large expense. And so it makes sense to pay your employees an amount that is high enough to help prevent them from leaving, but as low as possible. I should say, it makes sense from a profit/business standpoint.

There are two things going on here: 1) the market, to a certain extent, dictates people’s salaries and 2) education and culture are training people to join the mindless 9-to-5 day job, so kids don’t know better until it’s too late. And another thing: culture seems to dictate that we need to buy as many things, as nice of cars, and as big of houses as we possibly can, which forces us into financial slavery. This is all self-inflicted, though!

I myself work a 9-to-6ish job, but luckily it’s not mindless, and I have a lot of autonomy. But that doesn’t change the fact that I have placed my financial future in the hands of one man: my boss. For many people, there really might not be a way out. Many have too much debt, too much attachment to things, or a lack of education, or a lack of a visa. But the rest of us can get over the attachment to things and, if we work at it, the debt. Then we become free to choose who we work for and when, or if we are going to work for someone else at all.

Freedom comes with a cost nowadays. It comes with waking up early and going to bed late so that you can educate yourself. It comes with working side jobs and building things in your spare time. It comes with diligence and perseverence, and requires motivation and will power. Decide today to be your own woman or man, and take hold of your future now by taking control of your today.