Join me for a bit of a personal story about a terrible travel day that gave me some good thoughts about the challenges of the 10X engineer. This also introduces something which I’ve called Technology Domestique. Hope you enjoy the story!
Welcome to the GC On-Demand Podcast, a show about people, about process, about technology, about community. It’s great conversations, with great technologists, about things that matter to you, that matter to all of us. Thanks for listening. Don’t forget, visit gcondemand.io for all the show notes. And with that, let’s get started.
Welcome everybody to the GC On-Demand Podcast. My name is Eric Wright, you may know me as @discoposse on Twitter, and of course I’m DiscoPosse in the Green Circle Community. We had a really interesting couple of weeks in the past here. As you’ll notice, I’ve had some challenges around getting the podcast up to date, and that’s because we’ve had a bit of a backlog going on. Number one, had a serious laptop failure, which resulted in losing a few different recordings. Unfortunately not everything was backed up. So hey, here’s the story for all the kids out there, make sure you back your stuff up. So Dropbox is the place to go in my case, and unfortunately, I missed a couple so we are going to go back and rerecord some of those. But in the meantime, I thought this is a great opportunity to take a little time to just get down and personal.
Had a very interesting travel situation that happened, and I wanted to talk about it, and how it relates as far as what happens when we think about 10X engineers. It’s probably a weird correlation that I pulled from it, but the goal that I had when I thought about what I want to talk about is, I’m going to tell you a very true story, it’s filled with challenge, it’s filled with a little humor, and it really is filled with a lot of lessons.
So the other day, I was actually trying to get from New York to Toronto. I’m actually getting ready to go to the Vancouver, or BC Regional VMUG. And by the time you download this, hopefully I’ve already been there, and if I’m lucky enough, I’ll have met you there. Now, what was interesting about this whole process was that I had to be able to get, just like I always do, on a six o’clock flight, and that six o’clock flight would get me to Toronto, 7:30 in the morning, nice and easy. And then the end result, I’m back in Toronto, get a whole day’s work done, get on a plane the next day, and off I go.
It would seem like it’s just that easy, except something happened along the way. There was some weather challenges. So my six o’clock flight ended up being canceled. Now this happens more often than one would admit, really. Now what I find is these commuter runs tend to get bumped all the time. So they’re usually delayed, and that’s all well and good. So what happened with this one was I actually got delayed so long even after the cancellation, they said, “The next flight we can get for you is Wednesday night.” Now Wednesday night, for those who don’t figure out the calendar already, is far past Wednesday morning, which is when I’m flying to Vancouver. So the end result was there’s no way that I was going to be able to get on my particular airline in order to get back to Toronto in time to catch that next flight the following day.
So luckily it turned out to be early enough in the morning that I was able to beat the rush, and I saw there was an opportunity to jump on another airline, which would have flown out of LaGuardia. So I originally had gone out of Newark, and for those who know, there’s three, what they call New York airports. Newark, which is actually New Jersey, it’s not really in New York, there’s LaGuardia, and then there’s JFK. So I saw this opportunity to jump on at a 9:40 flight. It gives me lots of time to made sure I can get there, don’t have to worry about… Beat the rush hour. I’ve got… Timing is all good. It can only go right. At least, so I thought.
So turns out that the first flight was canceled because of weather, despite the sunny skies outside. It turns out there was some real weather problems a bit further up in the atmosphere. Seems like about 10,000 feet, things get a little bit weird. It was pretty muddy up there because we’d had a lot of thunderstorms, and there was a lot there were pending, so they decided to actually freeze up the airspace in between a Toronto, New York, Boston, and all of this triangular area. So what happened was my 9:40 flight got delayed a little bit, not a huge amount, but enough that it’s just a little bit irritating. So about half an hour later than normal, I got onto the plane for my 9:40. So it’s now 10 after 10, no big deal, still got lots of time. I’m going to miss a couple of meetings, but I can email and we got that sorted out. So I managed to defer a couple of quick meetings, and then I realized, no problem, I’m still going to be on the ground. I have a meeting in Toronto, and I’m going to get there in time.
You see, this is where the fun happens though, because the adventure is not over yet. What happened next of course, was three and a half hours of sitting on the tarmac in order to figure out that, guess what? No planes were flying, regardless of what airline. Now, I hadn’t really thought this could happen. It was in the back of my mind that it was going to be more than just the one airline, but it was worth a shot anyways. Everything looked like it was going on time, and it turns out it wasn’t. It wasn’t at all. So the challenge that I was now facing is, here I am, about three and a half hours into a delayed flight, which kept getting delayed, and delayed, then we got rerouted. So we’re rerouted before we even leave the ground, which results in them saying, “Well, we’ve got to come back out of this holding a launch pattern. We’ve got to get back in because we have to refuel. Because not only do we have to refuel, we have to get more fuel in order to get us on this rerouted path we’re going to take.”
No big deal, I’m good with that. As were with the, 85 or so, other folks that were on this plane. So the next step of course is to wait. We refuel, we’re happily waiting on the plane. Everyone’s snoozing, a few other people got up as early as I did. We get to the point where everything’s refueled, we go back into the pattern, we’re getting ready to take off and there we wait, and wait, and wait some more. And doing all this waiting, what ended up happening was then, of course, about 40 more minutes in, we start to feel the engine surge and they start to roll and I think, Oh thank goodness, here we are. We’re finally getting ready to launch. Or at least take off. I wish we would have a launched. End result is that an overhead announcement comes. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re sorry to announce that we have to go back to the gate to refuel, because we’ve been rerouted once again, and it requires us to get additional fuel.”
Now, I’m not sure what magical fuel tanks they haven’t filled up yet, or whether they’ve just strapped a couple onto the bottom of the plane to this point. I can’t even imagine why it is that we have to keep refueling, because they don’t seem to recall that we were using that much fuel just sitting there on the tarmac. But I’m not a pilot, so I’m not going to question it. We get on back to the gate, and then they let us know, “Well, you know what folks, if you want to get off the plane and you want to take a little walk around, then you’re free to do so. Just stay close to the gate and we’ll make announcements inside the gate area. But of course, if you want to stay on the plane, feel free to do so.” Which I did. So staying on the plane seemed like a good idea, because I figured just in case, the last thing I need is to miss the one flight that I’m actually physically sitting on, and end up missing it for that reason.
Well I’m about 20 minutes in, all of a sudden the next announcement comes. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to let you know to please exit the plane. Take all of your carry on with you. We’re going to ask that while we’re refueling that everybody must wait inside.” I can’t imagine that this is a protocol, because we actually just refueled already while out on the tarmac with everybody on board, so I’m going to call Bravo Sierra on them using some kind of rule book as to making this get in. All of my spidey sense is going off, saying that this is a real problem, and something’s about to happen. But they assured us that everything was going to be okay. I give them the benefit of the doubt. Head inside, only to find out after about another 30 to 40 minutes in, they announced that our flight is in fact canceled. So here we are, cancellation number two for the day. And what ends up happening? Every flight out to Toronto was canceled through the entire day, and potentially the entire next day.
This leaves me in a real quandary, because I need to get back, I need to get out of that out of New York in order to get to Toronto to get to Vancouver. I could probably try and get to Vancouver directly in two days, but goodness gracious, who knows what happens if the problem is in the Northeast region, that’s where I’m going to get caught. So at any rate, I decided to get the longest possible route, which is to take a bus. So I got on the Megabus. And for folks that have been in the East side of the country, you’ve probably been through Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, New York, Boston, they have this neat little thing called the Megabus. It’s like Greyhound plus. They’ve got wifi and plugs, although the wifi didn’t work, nor did we find any of the plugs under most of the seats. And end result was we all sat there, a full busload in fact, as we prepared the board, this 6:50 bus, which would take us from New York, down by Hudson, over to Toronto. It’s 12 hour ride, three half-hour stops.
You can imagine that this is pure desperation that’s driving. Most of the folks on the bus were actually on the planes that I had been waiting to get to, so I wasn’t alone in my need to get to Toronto. Except the fun part was, we still had a couple of hours to wait. In fact, we had three hours to wait. And if you haven’t ever taken the Megabus, there’s actually no shelters for the Megabus. See, the Megabus just parks along the side of the street down by the Hudson River on 34th between 11th and 12th, which is precisely in the middle of nowhere, uncovered. And guess what? That very same weather that keeps planes on the ground, well, it does a mighty fine job of soaking about 80 people who were sitting in that bus lineup waiting to get on this bus. So in a downpour that I would only describe as biblical at this point, because it was terrifying how much rain was coming down.
In fact, cars were stopping because it was unsafe to drive. And there we all were like wet rodents, getting poured down on. And then we finally get on the bus, and the bus is half an hour late, so he sat for half an hour longer in the rain. We get on the bus. The buses is blasting with air conditioning, so we’re fairly sure we’re all going to at least get sick, if not suffer pretty greatly during this whole trip. They managed to get all that sorted out and anyways, we made it back to Toronto safely. It was about an hour behind, and we got there. They got the heat working, and we all dried off slowly over the course of many hours, and we made it out scot-free. So the total travel time from the 3:40 wake up that I had in the morning, turned out to be about 29 to 30 hours of travel time.
It feels like I could have ridden a bike in that time, but anyways, what’s the point of the story? First of all, it was crazy fun. It was weird. At some point, you become so disturbingly angry about the fact that you’re trapped in this situation. There’s no way out, and I thought, well, at least if I get on something that’s got wheels, there’s a chance it’s going to make it out. Luckily it did, and while it’s a long way, I knew that I needed to get into town in order to catch this crazy next plane. All the while I’m unable to really do a lot of work, but then it hit me that maybe this is a bit of forced time. Maybe there’s a good reason. My wife was very good to remind me that there’s good reasons why some things happen, and maybe something else was avoided in order to get me onto this particular journey.
While I may not have been the dog, the cat and the bear, or whatever that crazy story was in the original Incredible Journey, it felt pretty incredible while I was experiencing it. I made it through okay, got a reasonable amount of fractured sleep during the process, and now I’m getting ready to go to Vancouver. The good thing about this is it taught me a neat lesson. In slowing down, I had a sudden realization that I was used to doing a lot in a very short period of time. Sometimes this happens, and it’s a bit of a self regulating thing. And this is the 10X problem. If you’ve heard about 10X engineers, I don’t even actually know what the origin is directly. There’s obviously a lot of talk around Google and a few big engineering shops, and their idea of creating these super productive, heroic, type of folks that are able to do amazing things.
I always tell people that if you have a 10X engineer, you find me a 10X engineer, and I’ll find a team of people wrapped around them who’s really tired of having to be compared against this 10X person. When you’re the 10X person, it’s even weirder, because sometimes you need to slow down a little bit. So suddenly you find yourself delivering at about 6X, and you’ve got people walking up to you saying, “Hey, is everything okay? I noticed that you’re slowing down a bit.” We’ve created this artificial floor now that you have to perform at a particular level or above. The danger in doing that, is it celebrates overwork, it celebrates stress, it celebrates these heroics.
Now, I’m not going to say that I don’t participate in a lot of it myself. I’m not going to say that I don’t celebrate it amongst a lot of folks in my team at work, and in the community and all over the place. I’ve always done it. But my goal was to at least be like maybe two and a half X. It seems like a good number. You can be 10X some days, but let’s level off here and there, and have it average out. I can only warn you out of this. What ends up happening was in the quest for heroics, I ended up very humbled, and having to spend 30 hours to do what should have taken an hour and a half to get done. That was a reminder that 10X is not a permanent condition, and we have to think about that as we slow down. And maybe you should force yourself into a situation to slow that thing down.
There are lots of really good authors out there that write about the 10X value, but also the dangers of going out too hard continuously. Steve Prefontaine, famous runner, of course Steve was famous for leading out of the gate, and what would happen is that he lost a significant number of his early races because he was eating the winds the entire time, and then he would basically trail off at the end because someone would be in his draft. And while you’re running, it doesn’t seem like you can get a whole lot of drafting done, and it’s actually surprising amount can be done now. Obviously, he became better at it with time, but again, just because he can perform a 10X, doesn’t mean you can perform a 10X all the time. Be careful, tread carefully. We only have one body, one soul and one family. We’ve got to make sure we take care of all of those three things.
And this is where I thought to myself, maybe being 10X isn’t the right idea. As a cycling fan. If you know, in cycling teams we have the leader, let’s just call them your 10X person. You’ve got the entire team that wraps around them, and they are what we call the domestiques. Domestiques effectively do domestic tasks that makes sure that the leader’s protected. They’re kept from the wind, kept in a group, protected from falls, make sure we get their food for them, and make sure that we go out in front and basically ravage the front of the race in order to do some damage to some individuals on the other teams. And meanwhile, we have the rest of our team wrapped around our leader to give them lots of drafting, and make sure that we can save their legs for the big finish, or something.
So I would encourage people to become a technology domestique. Being a technology domestique means, taking time out to do something incredible, to be heroic, but in the service of somebody else. That’s why I do community. And community is a very powerful thing, because you can do something heroic and then hand it off to somebody, and they get the benefit from it. And in turn, of course, you do gain benefit.
This is the real value of community, and why I want to make sure that we all take a moment when you feel like you’re trying to do 10X delivery and you can’t stop for a second, find somebody else that you believe can help you through that, or that can take that lead for you. And what do you do? Go out on the front, eat the wind for a while for them. Become a technology domestique. I can’t tell you that it’s a perfect world. I can’t tell you that it always works. I can’t tell you there’s always somebody there to take the wind for you. But what I can tell you is that you’ll be there often enough, that the best team member is one who can be the domestique. And then who knows? You may have your time out in front, that everybody else takes the wind for you, and then you get to take the win.
So think about that as you head down some incredible journey that you feel is holding you back. You feel like you’re not getting enough done. I really honestly felt my reputation was on the line because I was canceling meetings, I was disappointing folks. I had become 10X what I really needed to be, dangerously so. That day off, or at least day on the road, it wasn’t a day off, got a lot of work done. But what it gave me was the ability to rethink things, again. We need to revisit this all the time. And I would encourage you to become a technology domestique, and if you haven’t got one and you don’t need to be one, then find one, because this is what the community’s for.
With that, I would encourage you, you want to see good technology domestiques? I like to say that I am one for the virtual design master community. Also, the time we’re doing the Vancouver VMUG, I’ll be giving a containers conversation there for the keynote at lunch, which is going to be a lot of fun. But in fact, the very same day, on Thursday, June the 22nd at 8:00 PM Eastern time is the premier of season five of Virtual Design Master, the one and only IT reality competition. And we’re looking for domestiques, and we are going to be that for everybody in that community.
So we’ve got a great group of folks which are joining us. We’ve got a great set of judges. So go to virtualdesignmaster.io, you can read about it there. You can get involved. You can send a shout out. Follow along on Twitter, it’s #virtualdesignmaster. Reach out to me, of course. I’m @discoposse on Twitter. Follow along with the community. Our creative team, which is at Venus 33. Of course Melissa and Angelo at Angela Luciani, L U C I A N I. Join us there. We will find ourselves some 10X folks, and we’ll try and give them the tools they need to be 10X for five weeks, and then hopefully we’ll give them a break and we’ll eat the wind for them.
With that, thank you everybody, and we’ll talk to you next week on the next GC On-Demand.
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