Mike Bland

So now what?

Staying busy as a coping mechanism has given way to frustration and outrage that I'm struggling to put to good use.

- Alexandria
Tags: go script, personal, philosophy, politics

This post is a bit of a blur between the personal, political, and technical. It may have little something for everyone, or prove repellent to everyone. So be it.

The Announcement

Though I’ve kept quite busy lately, you may’ve noticed I haven’t announced that I’m working for anyone yet. That’s because after nearly eleven months off, and after exploring several avenues and entertaining a few offers, I’ve finally decided to try going into business for myself as an independent contractor. I haven’t really figured out how to do it yet, per se, but as with anything and everything, sometimes the first step to figuring something out is to flail and fail as early and often as possible.

In terms of my mission and vision, it really hasn’t changed at all: Making the right thing the easy thing. Whereas others focus on bringing the next big product to market, I seem relentlessly focused on making it easy to build that product the right way and keep it (and the team producing it) healthy in the long run. My ./go script framework is part of that vision, my Slack-emoji-issues plugin is part of it, as are many of the other little projects I’ve spun up over the past couple years. I’m still working to stitch them all into a lightweight package of tools and practices to make it easier for individuals and organizations to do the right thing by default—even if no one’s paying me to do it at the moment.

Speaking to the very last point above, and perhaps most importantly, my attitude is a big part of my value proposition. I believe organizations should serve the people, not the other way around—because the organization is all the people, not a privileged, self-important subset. I believe in eliminating friction and pain, instead of enduring it until it’s codified as an institutional rite of passage. And although my specialty may be automated testing and sound coding practices, my real passion and focus is fixing whatever is wrong with an organization, and doing whatever it takes, however long it takes.

I’m in talks with a few folks now to do some contract gigs, but nothing yet is firmly booked. So if anyone reading has any interesting opportunities to share, I’m all ears.

And I’m not limiting myself to tech industry opportunities. Like many other technical folks I know, I’m growing ever eager to use my skills, vision, energy, and time to resist and rectify the damage to the United States being inflicted upon it by its own new federal administration.

The Horror

Honestly I’ve never been more shocked and upset by my own country’s actions, including the appointment of unqualified agency heads, many of whom actively seek to undermine the mission of the agencies they’ve been appointed to lead–if they’re even aware of what that mission is–as well as the incredibly discriminatory and damaging travel ban targeting people from nations that haven’t even harmed us, while conveniently omitting those that have. Our election appears to have been deeply influenced by a not-entirely-friendly state, and the response from both the administration and the electorate that voted it into office has been alarmingly muted. Most frighteningly of all, we now live in a universe where the person holding the highest office in the country, one of the highest in human history, can’t hold back from Twitter feuds and whose staff are actively undermining faith in logic, reason, and the media by asserting their own “alternative facts”.

In a way, the furious intensity with which I’ve been developing my ./go script framework isn’t entirely attributable to my coding addiction. It’s been a coping mechanism, an escape. While hopefully it’ll prove a relatively productive method of escape, as far as such things go, ultimately it’s been a bit of a security blanket, a means to shut out the horror and the noise that portends the end of the American experiment in democratic governance.

I feel like Peter from Office Space when he describes every day since he started working as the worst day of his life, replacing “since I started working” with “practically every day since the election, and especially since the inauguration”. And that’s me speaking as a white guy, a full citizen, someone who isn’t even in the crosshairs of this administration’s narrow-minded, hare-brained, alt-right (more like all-wrong) protectionist agenda.

That said, as a white guy, a full citizen, who is deeply appalled by the actions of his elected and appointed leaders, what can I do to resolve this? I’m kind of a borderline introvert who can’t stand being in crowds, so marching in the streets isn’t exactly my thing. And while I’m very sympathetic to all the demonstrators across the country and around the globe, I’m not entirely sanguine that protests will make much of a difference. By that same token, phone call and letter writing campaigns strike me as not entirely worthwhile either–not saying they aren’t, and I could be totally wrong about that, but they don’t feel like the right kind of activities to me, or at least not for me.

So what can I do to help? What is it, I would say, I could do here? (Can’t believe IMDB doesn’t have that Office Space quote listed.)

The Insight

As with my career, wherein I realized that marching up to people, wagging my finger in their faces, and voicing as strongly as possible that I found their lack of tests disturbing wasn’t the true path to solving the problem, I don’t believe that mere vocalization of opposition will solve the underlying problems that led to this situation to begin with. I believe I’m beginning to see parallel threads that I, if no one else, might use to understand the forces at play. From that understanding I hope to arrive at meaningful action that might produce a lasting impact.

These threads have to do with communication and empathy, which I believe are inextricable from one another. It’s been well-documented that many of the votes that flipped from Democratic to Republican in this last election were from people who felt like the statistically-sound assertions of an improved economy were at odds with their own day-to-day reality. By the same token, while the dense coastal cities have erupted in protest over the travel ban, for example, many of the heartland voters are generally supportive—despite the fact that most of them don’t live anywhere near where any previous or any imagined future attacks might occur.

What I’m seeing is that while everyone in the United States has a stake in the policies and the laws of the land, different segments experience starkly different realities that foment hostility and resentment instead of balanced discussion. The problem isn’t access to information; there’s way more than enough of that these days, thanks to technology. And the problem isn’t just knowing what to make of it and what to do with it, though that is a challenge we need to address. To put it in terms like I use in my talks, the people actually have plenty of power to do the right thing, but they don’t yet really know what the right thing to do is, or how that power can help them do it.

To me, the biggest part of the problem is the fear and resentment that springs up whenever people on either side are confronted with ideas and perspectives that run counter to their own lived experiences–especially when those strange ideas and perspectives are framed as though they’re the works of the devil.

Granted, the conservative side has been far, far guiltier of promoting misinformation and mistrust in our society. Far guiltier, by a long shot; after all, they actively cultivated the environment that produced the nightmare we’re living today. But as liberals, we must recognize we’re susceptible to the same human frailties that led the conservatives astray, do our best to avoid falling into the same traps, and work with them to pull ourselves out of this mess, together.

The Next First Step

How to do that is the tricky part that I personally haven’t figured out yet, but as I’ve always thrived more as a team player than a solo act (my independent contracting venture notwithstanding–or maybe withstanding, we’ll see), I’m putting my thoughts and intentions out there in the hope it will inspire some meaningful engagement with like-minded seekers, fellow Instigators who are also struggling to find a way to contribute their skills and energy to a worthwhile solution.

If you’re keen, let’s figure out how to flail and fail together. Shoot me an email, even encrypt it using my PGP key if you’re paranoid. Maybe, like ye olde Testing Grouplet, we’ll stumble upon a few crazy ideas that will converge to produce a lasting difference. Maybe one or more of us’ll even end up taking some kind of public office or other one day. I might even be keen to give it a shot eventually. In terms of qualifications, at least it’s an established (as opposed to alternative) fact that I’m not one to get sucked into Twitbook feuds. That alone should qualify me for the office of President of the United States heads and shoulders above the incumbent.