Brian Gilham

Engineering leader, husband, and father

twg

Thanks to a WFH stipend from TWG, I finally replaced my decade-old desk with something a bit nicer. Some quick thoughts:

  1. The IDÅSEN is built like a tank and doesn’t wobble – even when set to max height. I’m told this is uncommon with a lot of standing desks.
  2. Being able to control my sit/stand desk via the command line has proven to be both useful and nerdy fun!
  3. Even as someone who is fully bought-in on the benefits of switching between sitting & standing regularly, I’ve been surprised at how much of a difference it’s made — particularly now that it’s easy.

Highly recommend this model, if you’re in the market.


The end of the beginning →

Almost three years ago, a group of us from TWG participated in management training offered by Jonathan & Melissa from the Raw Signal Group. Their lessons, insights, and values played a huge role in helping to shape who I am as a manager.

The latest edition of their newsletter hit on something I’ve been acutely feeling, this week.

That’s the challenge for all of us as we head into this next phase. The end of the hectic, new information everyday, everything swirling chaos phase. And into the middle part. The I’m bored, my family is bored, every day is Groundhog Day, and I am all out of ways to make chickpeas interesting phase.

Their appearance on BetaKit’s Black Swan podcast1, “Managers Are Not OK”, is also a really great listen. If you’re a manager and you’re struggling right now, I’d suggest checking it out.


  1. Full disclosure: TWG is a sponsor. [return]

Day 34

Aside from an occasional trip to the grocery store or pharmacy — an experience that continues to raise my stress levels — and some evening walks, we’re staying home. Everything else is optional and right now isn’t the time for optional. Work keeps us busy during the week. As wave after of wave of layoffs hit the news, I’m thankful we’re both employed. We’re incredibly lucky. With The Blob due at the beginning of June we’ve had a steady stream of baby supplies delivered, in addition to lovely gifts from friends and family.

Aside from an occasional trip to the grocery store or pharmacy — an experience that continues to raise my stress levels — and some evening walks, we’re staying home. Everything else is optional and right now isn’t the time for optional.

Work keeps us busy during the week. As wave after of wave of layoffs hit the news, I’m thankful we’re both employed. We’re incredibly lucky.

With The Blob due at the beginning of June we’ve had a steady stream of baby supplies delivered, in addition to lovely gifts from friends and family.

Protocols at local hospitals keep changing, so we aren’t entirely sure what to expect when the big day comes. I spend a lot of time thinking about caring for a newborn in the age of COVID-19.

I’ve been researching how best to give myself a haircut.

This is slowly starting to feel like the new normal. Strict restrictions are likely to remain in place until at least the summer. Beyond that, it’s hard to tell.

Culturally, it’s hard to believe we’ll ever fully go back to our old ways.


Life in Toronto

Almost two weeks ago, TWG asked employees to not come into the office unless necessary. It’s been a difficult adjustment — much harder than I was expecting — but it’s slowly becoming routine. We’ve supported remote work for years, so the infrastructure (and culture) were already in place. I feel blessed to work at a company, in an industry, friendly to working from home. A lot of companies are struggling to make the transition.

Almost two weeks ago, TWG asked employees to not come into the office unless necessary. It’s been a difficult adjustment — much harder than I was expecting — but it’s slowly becoming routine. We’ve supported remote work for years, so the infrastructure (and culture) were already in place. I feel blessed to work at a company, in an industry, friendly to working from home. A lot of companies are struggling to make the transition. Some can’t at all.

We’ve stocked up on some extra food and supplies. Nothing over-the-top, just things we’d normally buy. The baby is due in May, so we’re making sure we have those essentials too. Just in case.

Aside from a daily walk to stave off cabin fever, we’ve been trying to avoid places where lots of people gather. I don’t know what the rest of the city feels like right now, but our neighbourhood is noticeably quieter. We went to the pharmacy yesterday and everyone did a great job of maintaining social distancing.

We’re operating under the assumption this is what life will be like for a while. Canada hasn’t had the glut of cases seen elsewhere, but testing is a week or two behind, at best. Everything points to this getting worse before it gets better. How much worse remains to be seen.

I feel extremely fortunate to have a good home, good health, and the ability to be prepared regardless of what comes next. I worry about those in our community who don’t.


Servant Leadership

Over the last year or so, my role at TWG has shifted more and more into managing other people. It’s been a welcome challenge – it requires an entirely different set of skills from being a developer, and it’s an opportunity to work a new group of muscles. Moving into management is often seen as an inevitability for good developers. They think they have to take that step to climb in the organization.

Over the last year or so, my role at TWG has shifted more and more into managing other people. It’s been a welcome challenge – it requires an entirely different set of skills from being a developer, and it’s an opportunity to work a new group of muscles.

Moving into management is often seen as an inevitability for good developers. They think they have to take that step to climb in the organization. And, at many companies, they’re right. It’s a shame. If a senior developer wants to stay on the technical track and master their craft, it should be celebrated – not seen as a career-limiting move. But if management interests you, it offers a unique opportunity.

Growing as a developer often means widening the scope of your responsibilities. As a junior developer, you’re responsible for one small task at a time. When you move up into the intermediate category, you’re responsible for one – or many – larger features. Finally, as a senior developer, you’re responsible for entire projects.

It isn’t just a widening of responsibility – it’s a widening of your potential impact. At one level you can positively impact a set of features or a project. But moving into a leadership role means having an impact on an entire team. For better or worse.

I’ve been lucky to have amazing mentors as I start this journey. They’ve shown me, through their words and actions, what effective leadership looks like. It isn’t about amassing power, getting a promotion, or making tons of money. It’s about having a positive impact on a group of people, and the organization as a whole.

Wanting to do well in this new role, I’ve been devouring every book, podcast, blog post, and conference talk I can find. Along the way, I discovered a concept I love: servant leadership.

Traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid.” By comparison, the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

Servant leadership turns the traditional model of management on its head. Instead of employees serving their bosses, leaders help their people. They teach others and provide opportunities for growth. Everyone on the team gets a chance to learn and advance.

If you’ve been lucky enough to have some good managers in your life, I’d be willing to bet they fit that description. And I can’t think of a better example to try and live up to.

Until next time,

–Brian


Your First Speaking Gig

I’ve spent the last few days preparing for a talk I’m giving at the end of September. Speaking is a great way to promote yourself, share your work, and build connections with people in your industry. But, for many developers, the idea of presenting in front a crowd means stress and anxiety. I’ve spoken several times throughout my career. I thought my nerves would calm down eventually, but I still get butterflies in my stomach every time.

I’ve spent the last few days preparing for a talk I’m giving at the end of September. Speaking is a great way to promote yourself, share your work, and build connections with people in your industry. But, for many developers, the idea of presenting in front a crowd means stress and anxiety.

I’ve spoken several times throughout my career. I thought my nerves would calm down eventually, but I still get butterflies in my stomach every time. If you’re considering jumping into speaking, here’s some advice for making the process a bit easier.

Start small

Your first speaking gig needn’t be in front of thousands of people at a huge conference. Instead, find opportunities to speak where the stakes are low. At TWG, we get together every Friday and show off what we’ve been working on for the past week. For many employees, these demos have been a good way to practice speaking to a crowd. A few have even transitioned their demos into full-blown talks and given them at conferences. If your company has a similar tradition, I’d strongly urge you to take advantage.

Local meetup groups are another great option. The crowd is usually on the small side and extremely forgiving of mistakes. There’s also a good chance you’ll spot a few friendly faces in the crowd. 

Stay in your lane

Pick a topic you know like the back of your hand. If you’re creating tvOS apps like there’s no tomorrow, speak about what it’s like to build an app that’s used from the couch. Built something interesting in a hot new framework? Walk the audience through how you did it and discuss the pros and cons of your approach. Struggle with imposter syndrome, never feeling like you’ll match up to others? Please give a talk about it, because we all feel that way and need to know we’re not alone.

The possibilities are endless. But the worst thing you can do is get up on stage and try to fake it on a topic you’re unfamiliar with. I’ve tried. The audience will pick up on it right away. And, even if they don’t, Q&A will give you away pretty quickly. By sticking to something you know extremely well you’ll come across as confident and prepared. Because you will be.

Don’t focus on the slides

Slides should complement your talk, not replace it. They’re great for driving home a particularly important point or showing something interesting in a visual way. But too many people use them as a crutch.

Have you ever sat through a presentation where the speaker read each slide out loud, point by point? It’s agonizing. And it’s a dead giveaway that they wrote the entire thing in Keynote. Look, I get it. Fiddling around with fonts and colours is so much more interesting than writing a talk. But it’s important to remember why you’re speaking in the first place: to share information with your audience. A good talk with passable slides will always be more interesting than a bad talk with lots of memes and fancy transitions.

I find it helpful to use a tool like Deckset. It allows me to focus on the content of my talk, while automatically formatting it in a way that looks good. I highly recommend checking it out.

Practice, practice, practice

In the end speaking is a skill, like any other. You probably won’t be very good at first. But pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. With some time, practice, and these tips, you’ll be wowing crowds before you know it.

Until next time,

–Brian


Be Boring

I’ve become known as a prolific doer of side projects. In the last few years, aside from my responsibilities at TWG, I’ve released six apps, served as technical reviewer on a book, published a weekly newsletter about Apple Watch development, designed and sold the first icon set for Apple Watch apps, spoken on a variety of topics, and published more than 40 blog posts, articles, and tutorials. Phew! That list isn’t meant to impress you.

I’ve become known as a prolific doer of side projects. In the last few years, aside from my responsibilities at TWG, I’ve released six apps, served as technical reviewer on a book, published a weekly newsletter about Apple Watch development, designed and sold the first icon set for Apple Watch apps, spoken on a variety of topics, and published more than 40 blog posts, articles, and tutorials. Phew!

That list isn’t meant to impress you. If anything, it might just illustrate an unhealthy disregard for rest and relaxation. I’m not here to shout HUSTLE MORE! at you. I’ve been that guy before. That guy sucks. If you’re happy with your output, by all means, you do you.

But I get asked about my productivity a lot, and if you’re like me – always looking for the next project, never able to sit still, always wanting to do more – I have some advice.

Focus

Work on one project at a time. Work on one task at a time. You probably have a list of 50 different ideas you’d like to work on. And another 10 or so rattling around inside your head. It can be tempting to jump from one task to the next, particularly when things get hard or boring. Resist the temptation. The more you focus on a single task, the faster you’ll get it done.

Set a deadline

Release to the App Store in April. Put the sales page up by the end of June. One blog post, every week. No matter what. Set an ambitious deadline. If it feels like you won’t make it, cut scope. Then cut it again. A deadline is a little promise we make to ourselves. And it feels like shit when we break that promise. Wanting to avoid that feeling helps me get stuff out the door. 

Schedule it

The idea that you’ll magically “find” the time to work on your side project is silly. Between your day job, friends, family, and just plain ol’ crap-hitting-the-fan moments, life has a way of eating up every spare second. By scheduling time for your side project – in your calendar, along with all your other commitments – you protect it from being overrun by something else. Even if it’s just 15 minutes on Saturday morning.

Most of my productivity advice is pretty boring. Focus on one thing at a time. Set deadlines. Have a schedule. I don’t mean to undersell passion or excitement – those are important too. But, in my experience, what ships side projects is time, dedication, and a little bit of practice each day.

Be boring in your life, so you may be fearless in your work.

Until next time,

–Brian