Mike Bland

Coding Mechanisms

It's easy to forget that technologists are people, too. You can't fix all your bugs with moar code. Here are some of my own nontechnical, human struggles, in case others find comfort in seeing reflections of their own.

Tags: personal

I know, I know, I promised I’d finish off the Making Software Quality Visible series soon. That’s absolutely my intention, and I’m absolutely feeling inspired again. Soon, as in any day now. Apologies to those losing sleep in anticipation until then.

And despite the title of this post, note the tags: This is personal, not technical. See the “Fair Warning” below.

First, here’s the LinkedIn announcement corresponding to this post.

Next, I need to express gratitude for the responses to my rather personal confession from Narrowing the Imagination Gap with the Test Pyramid in Action. They’ve really helped me regain a sense of momentum, and have already led to some promising opportunities. Thanks so much to those of y’all who reached out.

Speaking of that post, I’ve started the official Test Pyramid in Action page. You’ll see I’m a ways into the script, with a ways to go. Still, if anyone wants to take a peek and give me any feedback or ideas, please do! I’d love to make this more than a solo act.

Fair Warning

But now here’s your fair warning (or throat clearing, as my friend Max would call it): Lord, strike that poor boy down!

Wait, not that one…what I meant was: This is going to be a more personal post, and I may sprinkle in more of them soon. They may include many more cringey Van Halen fanboy references, amongst many other such references that bring me joy.

So if you’re just here for the technical stuff, you might want to pay attention to my "technical" tag, or subscribe to the "technical" feed. Or take your pick of any of my tags and feeds.

Or if you want the whole fire hose, subscribe to my main feed (also in the nav menu) or mailing list.

Or you can go off and watch dirty movies. Whatever you want to do is all good, man.

More to the story

As I’d mentioned in that previous post, I left Apple in November 2022 and have spent the last year coding like crazy. But that’s not all: My nearly six-year relationship ended last October.

No, I’m not fishing for pity—it was, and has remained, largely amicable (modulo the occasional skirmish). There’s absolutely no need for sympathy or consolation; I’m fine, especially now, and my ex is, too, as best I can tell. I’ve hardly mentioned this to many of my close friends and colleagues, or mentioned it only recently. (To those who are learning about it this way, my apologies.) But I’m sharing now to be even more honest about where I found myself last year, with my relationship approaching the end, and finally ending.

It just felt like everything was…stopping. Like it was all up to me to get, get, get, get out and push, and I couldn’t get things moving. The thought of getting out and reengaging with the world was intimidating. The fresh memory of having built the Quality Culture Initiative (QCI) from almost nothing with such great partners should’ve inspired self-confidence. It did (does!) inspire gratitude and pride, but left me wondering how I could’ve walked away, and how I’ll ever have that feeling ever again. (Similarly to how I felt about the Google Testing Grouplet.)

Oh, right: We moved back to northern Virginia a year after we lost our home in the CZU Lightning Complex Fire in August 2020. That’s why I left. We both felt like we needed to come back home, and that was more important than making Tim Cook and Craig Federighi happy.

Again, apologies to those who I left to hear about it later, but I stress: No pity! Things went so well for us after the fire that I called it “winning the wildfire lottery.” We were both well taken care of, and fully recovered emotionally (as best I can tell). More importantly, we were back in Virginia for nearly a year when the return to office order came, and that made it an easy decision. I haven’t regretted leaving for a second. Working for Apple was a wonderful adventure, but not the beginning and end of my life. (Neither was Google.)

Well, more specifically: I don’t regret leaving Apple, but I do miss working with my QCI friends every day. Thankfully I still get to speak to several of them occasionally. Though I’ve neither pried for nor heard too many details, I am proudly delighted to hear the community continues to thrive without me.

Coping through coding

The point is, up until the new year started, my primary coping mechanism to handle all my frustration and loss was to keep coding harder. And hence, of course, the title of this post—for which I can’t claim credit, actually. That would go to a friend of mine and her hidden talent for making nerdy dad jokes.

Coding was the one thing I could do that was under my complete control. It was definitely more socially constructive than smoking crack or meth or whatever the kids are into these days. And thanks to Apple, I could afford to take an extended sabbatical to indulge myself. But it also mainly served to rationalize my increased withdrawal and isolation, while I waited to “figure it all out” on my own.

Hell, I couldn’t even keep up with writing all the blog posts I kept promising to write about what I had been coding. I’d always get wrapped up in the next coding project before following through. (Maybe I will be able to backtrack and write a few, but I guess I shouldn’t make any promises.)

Small steps

Now, I did start taking baby steps over the course of the last half of last year to begin breaking out of this pattern. For starters, I made standing plans to meet one friend of mine every Sunday for coffee. I also bought a PRS HDRX 20 amplifier I didn’t need from the sadly now-defunct Melodee Music just to ask the sales guy about local blues jams. He didn’t know of any, but pointed me in the direction of Wednesday open mics at Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern.

Even aside from the open mics, I liked Jimmy’s so much that now I meet another old friend there to catch up every week. He’s a programmer, too, so I get to spew on about my hatred of the Java ecosystem and cool hacks I’ve learned and done, etc. He returns the favor by regaling me with tales of system design and incompetent coworkers obliterating terabytes of data that takes weeks to recover.

A new hope

I also did one other thing: I started joining Meetup groups again.

I went to a couple Meetups to see local bands play in the summer, but stopped going shortly before the breakup. When that happened, and the weather got colder, and the days shorter, I just wrapped myself in house, dogs, and code. (Music should’ve been part of that, too, but I need to be with other musicians for inspiration, and I was too shy to find any.) I kept meeting my two friends, well aware of how boring I was becoming, unable to talk about anything but my latest project.

My ex, very much an extrovert with a strong support system in the area, was doing OK. But I kept waiting for some flash of genius-level inspiration to come to me, a lamp to light the way out of my predicament. I felt like I had to figure out to make fire by myself in the dark.

But one thing did happen while I was waiting: I kept seeing Meetup people at Jimmy’s! Feeling a little ashamed and shy, I tried to keep a respectful distance and not bother anyone, to not risk amplifying the already unbearable awkwardness.

But fortunately, the leader of the Meetup group kept saying hello whenever she saw me. I gradually felt more at ease, and began reframing the guilt I felt at not attending Meetups as motivation to start going again. It’s doubtful I would’ve mustered such courage were it not for that small, yet generous and welcoming gesture she continued to offer.

And now…

Change—nothing stays the same

…and now, since the new year, it’s like I’ve been unchained—yeah, I’ve hit the ground runnin’!

I’ve gone to see more bands play in the past three weeks than I have in maybe the past ten years. I haven’t made this many friends outside of work since my last stint attending Meetups in Arlington back in 2017. I’ve started staying out until 2am (or later) multiple nights in a row over the weekend. My ex, the aforementioned extrovert, has started calling me “party girl” and “Paris Hilton.”

Case in point: We recently had a Meetup event to go see the “German” hair metal band Herr Metal at the Tally Ho:

Herr Metal at the Tally Ho theater in Leesburg, Virginia on
Not actually German. Maybe one day that’ll be me up there, minus the long hair and spandex.
Click for a larger image.

I lost my mind when they played 1984, the intro track to MCMLXXXIV (a.k.a. 1984), as their intro, followed by Jump, just like the album. (Granted, the “1984” intro was the actual recording, but still.) The 80’s glory only kept going from there, and I sang myself hoarse for days after. So worth it!

Now, granted, when push comes to shove, I doubt I’ll sustain this pace for much longer. I’m not in my twenties anymore, and I’ll be entering the work force again soon, I hope. But while I still have the opportunity, you’re damn straight I’m going to make up for as much lost time as I can.

A gentle breeze blows through hell

And what’s more, a couple of my new friends have induced me to slightly loosen my death grip on my blood feud against Facebook. No, I don’t think I’ll ever cross the line and create an account. But before a couple weeks ago, I never would’ve installed WhatsApp after uninstalling it ten years ago, the day I heard Facebook bought them. Now I’m chatting away with Meetup friends between Meetups almost every day. (It might actually be every day.)

Before this weekend, I never, ever, not one single time in my life, ever willingly followed a Facebook link. I’d sooner’ve died. But one of my friends shared something so deeply personal and compelling, I opened up a private Safari window and did the deed. I proceeded to devour what I was reading for hours.

(Just to clarify: It’s not creepy Facebook stalking if they send you the link, right? Asking for a friend.)

And that’s why I’m starting to get so personal here, at long last.

Embracing uncertainty as the possibility of growth and joy

This post has been about me, me, me today, mainly because I needed to get this background out of the way. My future “personal” posts should dwell less on details of my own story, and more on general life lessons learned (or that I’m still learning). Even so, I’m not perfectly sure what I’m aiming to accomplish by sharing such things, given most of my content here has been technical. Even my guitar-related posts have all been technical (so far).

However, one of the many heavenly insights I gained from getting over myself and absorbing my friend’s writing on that hellsite is that it’s OK to be uncertain. Uncertainty is a necessary precondition of growth—and my own takeaway beyond that is that it’s a necessary precondition of discovering joy as well.

So many of us end up afraid of what the future holds in one way or another, for one reason or another. We end up retreating into our comfort zones, which may be OK when we need to recuperate for a while. We all need a break now and then, to feel comfortable, to regain our energy. But when that need for temporary comfort erodes into a need for absolute certainty and control, our world shrinks without us realizing it. That really means that we shrink, pulling away from the world that’s waiting to nurture us, fearful that it’s actually out to get us.

Once you’ve reached such a point in your life, you risk succumbing to cynicism. Especially in the realm of emotions and relationships, it can be easy to conclude “so this is love” and resign yourself to misery or solitude. Or “so this is my career,” “this is how the world works,” “my best days are behind me,” “this is my life.”

But now I’m beginning to think “maybe it isn’t; maybe I just have more to learn.” Maybe that means there’s more pain and heartbreak ahead—but what’s after that? Resigning myself to accept the devils I know feels more unbearable than the risk of future suffering. I can’t imagine a worse sensation than judging myself a coward in the end. If it’s the only joy I discover between now and that moment, I’ll be happy to know that I at least took my chances.

No regrets

This also means I have no regrets about my career or my life in general. Even though our relationship ultimately ended, I am grateful to have spent the past six years of my life with my ex. I’m grateful to have been at Apple for four years at the same time. Both experiences included new and intense kinds of pain I didn’t expect—but also new and intense joys I never could’ve expected, either. I made some enemies, but I made so many more true friends along the way. I wouldn’t know the joy I’m beginning to feel now without having all of those experiences and all the feelings that came with them.

The point is, life is so much better and easier when you allow others to be a part of it and to help you out. You don’t need everyone to be perfect, but you do need to accept what you can from those willing to offer support in good faith. You’ll get dinged from time to time, thanks to misunderstandings, honest mistakes, understandable motives, or occasionally sheer malice, but you can’t help that. The alternative is to live a hollow life, robbing others of the potential joy of having you be a part of their lives.

Of course, I don’t expect every day to feel like Sunday afternoon in the park from here on out. But those timely words of wisdom from a friend have made uncertainty and taking the chances necessary for growth a lot less daunting. Now I feel even more ready to stick that one foot out the door towards the next adventure!

(And no, I also don’t regret insinuating every track from Fair Warning into this narrative, in proper order. You have been warned!)