If going on a cruise to Alaska constitutes getting old, then so be it. However, there were a lot of younger people, so I think it's okay. It was a great experience--lots of interesting history and beautiful country to see. Here are a few photos from that experience. My travel camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LS100 (and sometimes my phone, currently a Galaxy S22)--not bad in this case, but next time I would definitely bring my DSLR.
I went out to visit my parents a few weeks ago. While I was out there, one of my brothers' childhood friends, David, stopped by to talk to my parents. Unfortunately, we were out of the house at the time, but he saw my license plates and realized that I must be visiting. He reached out to me on Facebook, which I almost never use. Luckily, I do have it installed on my phone, so I was notified. His mother was in the hospital, and he had stopped to let my parents know and to ask them to pray for her. We are people of faith, as he is, and he felt to reach out in this difficult time.
David and I ended up having a long, meaningful conversation. When I think about those relatively carefree days of my youth, I often think about my mistakes, those embarrassing moments of youth, the things that did not work out, my own weaknesses. However, in our conversation, I was reminded of the good times, the good friends and relationships I had, even with those who were not terribly close to me, friends of my brothers like him. And I was reminded that renewed friendships can be powerful and meaningful. I had been reminded over the last couple of years, as I'd talked to other old friends, but I am grateful for yet another reminder of the importance of connection and reconnection.
This is not unlike my the old music I've been listening to lately. I didn't really actively listen to music until my teen years, so the music of my childhood in the 70s is mostly buried, only to come up once in a great while. But when it does come up, so many feelings come along with it, feelings sometimes surprisingly complicated, but all part of me, part of what I have become.
I am grateful for the reminder of a rich personal history. I don't live in the past, but visiting once in a while can be enriching. That it can be enriching, I had almost forgotten in my busy life. It's good to slow down and remember.
I was first introduced to the idea of a liminal space in the context of Faerie, from the classic fairy tale, as a person moves from the "normal" world to the "fairy" world. But since then, I have started to see liminal spaces in life, my own and those around me. They often look like discontinuities, interstices (spaces between) or interregna (times between),
From my own life, I have often felt like I am hanging out in Dr. Seuss's "waiting place." Each college degree has transitioned me to a new phase of my career, but each felt like I was stuck "between." I've had jobs that were winding down for various reasons (politics or economics or the like). From my family's lives, I've had kids graduate from college and struggle to find work or feel stuck as they look for a job more in their area of interest, a spouse wonder why she's still pushing hard for an organization that so obviously sees no value in her contributions. It feels like we wait "in between" a lot, which can be very frustrating.
One thing I have learned in my academic journey is that those "in-betweens" are some of the richest areas of learning. What feels like an interregnum or an interstice is empty on the life-map not because there is nothing there (or nothing of value) but because it needs to be examined. Those "gap" areas of life, like "gaps in the literature" are filled with work, but work that yield discoveries. We just have to remember to look around and pay some attention. If we do so, we are sure to notice some interesting (maybe even life-changing) things. And then, when we reach the other side of our liminal space, we may find something amazing awaiting us. In the mean time, we can take Willy Wonka's advice to Mrs. Gloop: "Nil desperandum, my dear lady. Across the desert lies the promised land."
So, if you are not yet a legal adult, stop here and come back when you are. Then you can learn the Grand Secret.
Okay, so you've gotten to this point. I'll assume you are an adult. Continue.
I've told each of my kids when they turn 18, "Okay, now that you are legally an adult [in the US], I can now tell you the grand secret of adulthood: We don't know what we are doing either. But we've been figuring things out longer than you, so you should still listen to us." (I had to add that last part with my youngest, and now I think it's the most meaningful part of the secret.)
It's easy to think, as a child, that adults know everything. And compared to you, they kind of do. Then, as you move into your teens, not only do you find that adults don't know everything, but you become completely convinced that they don't know anything, that they are just stupid. All of them. You know that you are the only one who understands all the answers.
Then, after you become an actual adult, you sooner or later you come to the realization that, 1. Adulting is (actually) hard, and 2. Maybe those adults weren't quite as stupid as I thought they were. The simple thinking of childhood wears away as the complexity of adult life settles in
As Mark Twain said, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years."
This is the beginning of wisdom.
So, for those of you who are not yet adults and who knew better than to stop reading above. Save yourself some trouble and skip the "everybody is dumb but me" stage. It's not just wrong, but wrong in a painful and damaging way. It hurts you and it hurts people around you. Learn to be gracious.
For the young adults reading here, hang in there. It really does get easier (in general). Look for mentors and save yourself some headaches over the next few years. (For me, it was Dudley, my retired engineer neighbor when I was first married. Dudley has long since passed, but he was a treasure trove of wisdom and saved me and my wife many times during those early years.)
And for the older adults, share your wisdom and help make some young person's life easier--if they will let you. If they will not, then just sit back quietly, and know that some lessons have to be learned the hard way, by the school of hard knocks. But wipe that smug smile off your face if you feel it coming on: you probably don't have to think too hard to find some lessons you had to learn the hard way as well. (I'm too embarrassed to share even a few of my own.) (And remember, older person, that you are just one or two new technologies away from needing a younger person's experience and guidance.)
We are all in this life to learn important lessons. Maybe some of those lessons are related to the Grand Secret, directly or indirectly. Maybe some of those lessons are about connecting with and supporting each other. If we are humble and caring enough, we can all learn a thing are two while building meaningful relationships with people we can respect and care about. I'm certainly still learning all sorts of things about the Grand Secret, years and years after sharing it with my own kids.
Last summer, as I was coming up to speed in my new management position, Simon Sinek's Start with Why struck home for me. I realized that I would not be able to do anything worthwhile until I understood what this organization was about and where it could go, so I morphed the Why question into a mission statement and a vision statement, then I expanded the vision statement based on some other things I had read.
My team provides database management services for the Adobe Analytics organization. With feedback from my team, this is what I settled on.
The Database Engineering team makes high velocity, high volume structured and semi-structured data available, accessible, and manageable so that Analytics components can reliably and performantly utilize business critical data assets. We use our passion for data, systems, and service with our deep data and systems knowledge to support ongoing and future data needs of Analytics engineering teams.
Because of our systems, tools, and guidance, application engineering teams will be able to access their more easily, more scalably, and more performantly every year.
We will manage data stores with continued focus on stability, performance, and scalability. To make this management available to every team, we will create and manage tools, document processes, and share our database expertise freely.
We value service, responsiveness, attention to detail, and forward-looking technical vision.
To get to our future state, we will need to do the following:
Each Map item will require concerted team effort. Because each team member has a particular set of skills and responsibilities, individual efforts may look different, with different topics and technologies of focus. These differences, however, will mesh together as to all fit under the Database Engineering Team Mission.
My challenge going forward is to keep the mission and vision in mind as determine the projects we work on and the people we hire into the team.
Last May, I embarked on a new series of professional learning adventures, taking over the management of the Analytics Database Engineering team in Adobe's Digital Experience division. I have read or listened to many management-related books as I have tried to wrap my head around the position and its responsibilities. Almost six months into the adventure, I am almost ready to share some thoughts.
For the moment, though, let me share a list of books that I have either read or listened to (or both) that have been incredibly helpful:
Start With Why was crucial for helping me to pull together a vision of what the team (and my role in particular) is all about. Connect provides amazing insights into building deeper relationships. While less directly applicable (at least so far), Nudge is giving me other insights into working with people.
My favorite of these books, with the widest set of applications, is probably Never Split the Difference. After hearing Chris Voss talk, I can tell he is as unlike me as anybody can be, but the insights and perspectives shared in this book are as powerful as they are generally applicable.
On a more technical level, Seeking SRE and Database Reliability Engineering were great for providing insights into how the group should grow in the work being done (I've read Site Reliability Engineering, The Practice of System and Network Administration and Time Management for System Administrators in the past).
I will probably write something more substantive later about each of these influential books later.
I have started to read or listen to a number of other books which I hope to understand better as I mature in this new role:
As an academic practitioner in the Information Technology space, I love learning about the theories and principles behind anything I am working on. These books have been very helpful in my transition from Senior SysAdmin/Systems Engineer/DevOps Engineer/SRE/whatever to IT Manager.
It has been just over a month since I graduated. In some ways, I have been in that after-push shock that comes when you finish a long, time-consuming project. I find myself wondering what I am going to do on any given evening or Saturday, when I normally have been doing homework or dissertation writing. There are things to do, of course, and even things aligned with my degree work. For example, I need to edit a short, publishable version of my dissertation research--I wrote up the document with a BYU colleague last fall, but as he had not responded to my email over the break, I somehow lacked motivation.
On the other hand, I have started to feel the freedom of being done. I have been snowshoeing more this winter than ever before (even with the lack of snow and warm temps keeping me from the lower altitudes). I have been playing LotRO with my son. I have read more non-school books and taken more online technical training than any two or three of the last five or six years.
In an odd reversal, after 27 years of me going off to work every day, and my wife, Lisa, staying home with the kids, I am the one staying home, and she is the one going to work (she teaches "Major and Career Exploration" at a local charter school, UCAS). Working from home is amazing--it is so much easier to focus on heads-down work when not living in the open office environment. But after so many months, the disconnectedness is lonely. I meet with multiple people (teammates, internal customers, et al) per week, which is great. Still, I occasionally find myself chatting with coworkers well after the work is done, just for the joy of connecting with friends and touching base on life.
For the last couple of weeks, I've been feeling the need to connect to old friends from high school, etc., as well, and I've had several great conversations.
Then, last night, my manager called to tell me that a teammate, Spencer Tuttle, had unexpectedly passed away. 11 years ago, Spencer was my manager at Familysearch. A few years after I moved to Adobe, Spencer came over as well. When I switched to the Analytics SRE SE team a couple of years ago, Spencer was the well-entrenched, deeply knowledgeable senior guy on the team. I always felt particularly connected to Spencer, and, for better or worse, he was my go-to guy any time I had questions about what to do in this environment. Spencer could be grumpy about the history and politics, which was refreshing because I feel the same way, and also because he was amazing at taking those things in stride, always working for the best of the organization. Spencer was also a brilliant example of not letting the job crush you--he would get "powder flu" when the snow would fly, and was always doing things with his family. As a man of faith, I know that Spencer is not gone forever, though he is no longer here in this mortal life. He was, and is, a good man in all the ways that matter in life, and good men of that caliber are not as common as they should be. Spencer will be missed on many levels. My heart goes out to his family. When I was 20, I lost my younger brother, so I know something of that sort of loss.
So, how do you deal with loss and disconnection? I feel like I've been getting a bit of training on those topics. My natural man is a pure introvert--happy to hunker down at home, doing nothing, connecting to few. But as I have had to live with a natural seclusion, and as I have put active effort into connecting with people, I have realized that I am actually an ambivert. Though I enjoy the quiet, down times, I am energized by connecting with people. Teaching my SysAdmin class at BYU this fall was particularly therapeutic, though we were all socially distanced. Connecting with coworkers, even via Zoom, has been therapeutic. Calling old friends and reconnecting has been therapeutic. Playing video games with my son has been therapeutic. Working at my church calling, helping with the young men has been therapeutic.
I have a lot yet to mull over in this space, but I know that I must put more energy into my connections. Being connected means that at some time, there will be loss. My heart is aching for the loss of Spencer, my friend and teammate. But having that connection has made the experience meaningful. And that kind of meaning is core to our reason for being here in this life. I am grateful for the good people in my circle of family and friends. I look forward to reconnecting to hundreds of coworkers and old friends as we come out of our COVID-19-driven "personal haze," to quote Dolly Levi. And, to continue the quoting Dolly, "The future will be brighter than the good old days."
I have been snowshoeing up my regular hiking trails for the last few weeks, including today. Here are a few photos from those hikes--all taken on my cell phone (since my DSLR photos are not on this computer yet).
Today had one freaky bit: there looked to be a huge blood stain in the snow right in front of the Fourbay gate. If it's real, I would guess somebody killed a deer there--from the redness of the snow, at first I thought it might be paint or some kind of red stain, since that usually oxidizes and turns brownish-red pretty quickly. However, I suppose it could have been actual blood. If so, I think it must have been earlier this same day (though the cold could have preserved in an unusual way).
I started my hike around 4:20 pm, so there was the whole day for strange things to have happened, I suppose. Once I was past that strange scene, the trail and the evening were quite lovely, as can be seen in the last photo.
Life has been pretty busy for the last few years, with a demanding DevOps job at Adobe, working on a Ph.D. and teaching classes on the side (not to mention family and church work). I have had to find a few ways to diversify my downtime so that I could keep going. Photography and hiking are two of these (which should be obvious to anybody who has looked around this site). Reading and gaming are two others. Obviously, I have not had a lot of time to follow any of these activities too much, but I have wedged them into various slices of spare time. Each of these activities have been helpful in keeping my sanity during times of stress.
I certainly can't claim that clever title for myself--it came as a text message from my mentor, Dr. Colleen Ramos, when she knew that everything had been turned in. The last couple of years, and especially the last few months, have been bumpy enough that I couldn't allow myself to believe it until I got the final notification from Capella University earlier this week.
So, here I am. Now what? As my wife just said, "It's a no-school, no dissertation weekend. What are you going to do with yourself?" What, indeed. Part of me expects to pop into a chalk pavement picture for an outing in the country. Part of me wants to quietly bask in this success. Part of me wants to look for teaching or research positions in universities around me. Part of me wants to double-down on my current awesome job at Adobe. Part of me is already working out the publication of my dissertation data with Dr. Justin Giboney and thinking about my next research project.
Last week, I did some snowshoeing, and the Christmas lights always beg for photographic experimentation. For this week and weekend, I am enjoying some family time. My daughters, Rachel and Catherine, work work in tech support jobs in the SLC area and have come down to spend the week with us. My son is between his last two semesters at UVU and is applying to grad schools all over the world. My wife is enjoying a break between semesters for her teaching job at UCAS. I am okay with a small pause here. Time will tell how things may change, but for the moment, I am just enjoying the quiet moment (though anybody who knows Rachel knows that quiet moments with her around are few and far between--let's call that a "zest for life").
Russel is a senior career IT guy and new manager with an academic interest in log management and log data analysis, a professional interest in monitoring and management systems. database management, and programming languages, and personal interests in family, photography, reading, and the outdoors.