Categories
What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#50)

Book excerpt I loved:

As we make progress in our practice of Stoicism, we will become increasingly indifferent to other people’s opinions of us. We will not go through our life with the goal of gaining their approval or avoiding their disapproval, and because we are indifferent to their opinions, we will feel no sting when they insult us. Indeed, a Stoic sage, were one to exist, would probably take the insults of his fellow humans to be like the barking of a dog. When a dog barks, we might make a mental note that the dog in question appears to dislike us, but we would be utter fools to allow ourselves to become upset by this fact, to go through the rest of the day thinking, “Oh, dear! That dog doesn’t like me!” (William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life)


A grave reminder. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.


The importance of winters: As winters shrink, our discontent grows is a thought-provoking essay on the impact of climate change and how we rely on seasons to give structure and meaning to our lives. Hadn’t quite thought about it in this way before.

Whenever winter hits and however mild or severe it might be, we must remain cognizant of the fact that winter offers a change of pace, a reduction of the world around us. It can be a period of withdrawal, of reflection and regeneration. If we allow ourselves to embrace it, it can bring us back to a time when people were forced to be more flexible and responsive to the seasons. Maybe we, too, can become more receptive to the small pleasures and wonders that we otherwise perceive only peripherally, if at all?


Thoughts on how to think about your career: The Obvious Way to Improve Your Career (That Might Not Be So Obvious) has some good perspective worth a quick read. I’m of the mind that your career is a painting and not a ladder, but the same thinking here applies.

Often the kinds of efforts that will move forward your business are hard. They are uncomfortable. They require doing things that you (currently) have no idea how to do.

Many people pass on these to pick hobby projects instead. Projects that are fun, seem related to their career, yet, ultimately deliver underwhelming results. Improving their social media marketing, rather than creating compelling content. Installing a new development environment, rather than becoming an expert in their language. Designing business cards instead of drumming up business.


Werner Herzog doesn’t really watch movies: Why He Didn’t Need to See ‘Star Wars’ Films for ‘The Mandalorian’ Role.

You shouldn’t feel upset that I haven’t seen the “Star Wars” films; I hardly see any films. I read. I see two, three, maybe four films per year.

This made me think, but his comments about watching and understanding what the rest of the population is watching (which it sounds like he’s been saying way before it was trending) also stuck with me.


Tiger stripes are like fingerprints: While creating a book about tigers with my daughter (her idea), we came across the following fact from Wikipedia:

As with all tigers, the white Bengal tiger’s stripes are like fingerprints, with no two tigers having the same pattern. The stripes of the tiger are a pigmentation of the skin; if an individual were to be shaved, its distinctive coat pattern would still be visible


Finally, see what we’re up to now.

Categories
Moving to Scotland Work

Being a beginner again and always

A lot of people are asking about what I’m going to do when I get over to Scotland. Where am I going to work? Am I going to continue with Microsoft? Are there opportunities with other gaming companies? 

I don’t have anything lined up yet, I say. This is followed by some knowing nods and smiles. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding something is a common response. I don’t disagree, but I also don’t want to agree so easily. I feel comfortable with where I’m at professionally, and that’s my issue. The expectation of most is that I will go for the equivalent of a “lateral” move, or even better, get a “higher level” role for my next job. What if I did the opposite? What if I started over?

Menu sketch
Me writing out the code and design for an accordion menu I would implement on my university’s homepage using Actionscript in Flash back in 2000.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved art and design, and grew up learning about it through the lens of games. My interest in technology was born of game consoles, PC games, and remote control cars. How interfaces and images appeared and were arranged on a screen, and how input devices manipulated those images, was inextricably linked with how I created and what I wanted to create. I was also (and am still) a meticulously organized person, and I’ve always held tension between those often opposing forces: the creative who dives in not knowing where something will go on one side and the cartographer charting a detailed plan on the other.

The intersection of this making and organizing is where my career in tech began. Around the end of 1999, I started to notice how much visual creativity and storytelling were happening online, and I wanted to be a part of it. A friend of mine was making websites, so I joined him and suddenly I was building and (over) designing websites for academic departments at my university. I also set-up my own site (philnick.com), hosting it with a company called MediaTemple.net (solely because other web design artists were also using them). I was hooked by the combination of design and technology and freedom I had publishing on the web. Information taxonomy mixed with art! These were the days of figuring out how to bend table-based layouts to one’s will using single pixel spacers and CSS wizardry. The days of using FTP clients to publish a new version of WordPress and it’s MySQL back end. The days where Macromedia made Flash and the coolest sites had their menus and hero sections of homepages rendered with it. It was maddeningly hard to learn how to do it all and there was nothing else I wanted to do.

Scanned drawings for PhilNick.com
Some layout sketches for my original blog. I wanted a unique style so I hand drew the UI and then scanned them in and cut them into table layouts using Macromedia Fireworks.

I’ve previously written about this time as good hard work, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s the time in my life where I felt most creative, where I had full agency to learn, create and do. I knew there was no barrier other than time to making it happen. I was solving problems though experimentation, banging my head on the wall more often than not, and I was teaching and learning with others at the university technology department, and with like minded friends. My career at Microsoft owes itself to the momentum I gained during this time.

Early academic department website screenshots
Screenshots of some early departmental website designs I did. Bad by today’s standards but back then the web wasn’t as pretty as it is today.

I’ve never lost that love of creating and publishing work, and helping and supporting others use technology to create themselves. However, I’ve gotten further away from it as my career has progressed. Up until recently, It had been a long time since I was last making, designing and creating things with technology. My recent role (with Minecraft) has gotten me into making again, and non-coincidentally I’ve also jumped back into sharing my writing and illustrating online as a committed side-gig. It’s been amazing how it’s fueled all other aspects of my life and made me a better dad and a husband. The energy is flowing in the right direction, and I want it to stay that way.

“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.”

Albert Einstein

So what do I want to do for work next? I’m not sure but I know what I don’t want to do. Instead of looking for a job that’s lateral or “higher level”, I’m looking for something that will allow me learn something new. I’d like to go back to the beginning, to actually being a beginner again and having to figure something out from scratch. I’d like to learn how to design and implement new user interfaces, bring stories to life using narrative, illustration, music and some code, or create a new way for creative collaboration and sharing. I’d like to do it both for income as well as incorporate it in projects with my kids and their education. I’d like to do it with others, in a way that’s not crazy.

I’m not sure that this will lead to in terms of my next role, salary, etc. It could certainly lead to less money. It will almost certainly lead to some raised eyebrows. I know it will lead to a lot of new learning, new connections and great experience.

Beginning again might not make sense to most, but it makes sense to me. I can only hope it’s one of many more.