Snow thoughts

Snow covered Heather

Snowy, winter weather in Portland reminds me a lot of where I grew up. In Charlotte, North Carolina, real winter weather is relatively rare. It’s easy to imagine summer holding onto the region by its fingernails and only periodically losing its grip and allowing winter to slip in and blanket everything. It stays mostly in the 40s through most of the winter season in Charlotte. With a sturdy jacket and a scarf, maybe a sweater, you’ll be warm enough. Surrounded by evergreen pine trees you might forget it winter entirely

Portland summers are mild, so they don’t have the same grip on the landscape as summers in the Southeast. Winter is kept at bay here from (relatively) warm ocean currents. If Portland were sentient it would want to keep the thermostat at 55ºF all year long.

Both Charlotte and Portland have inadequate infrastructure for dealing with the snow. It makes sense. Snow is rare. How much winter stuff should you store and maintain when it might not snow again in 4 years?

When the snow comes it follows the same pattern. The snow starts light and fluffy. It’s pretty. People go out and play. Schools are cancelled at the first credible threat of snow, and parents begin scrambling. Daycares (which seem to be the least reliable businesses) also refuse to stay open. Parents everywhere take sudden time off to manage their families. Work grinds to a halt. People share fun videos of sledding and snowman construction.

The sleet comes and the fluffy, mostly safe, snow becomes crunchy ice pellets. People who can’t or wont stay home drive over the roads and compact the sleet/snow into a hard pack of ice.

Then the freezing rain comes and turns every flat surface into a skating rink. All the eager beavers who shoveled their sidewalks immediately after the first snowfall are faced with a half inch of solid ice coating the pavement. The pattern is always the same. Wait it out, wait for the freezing rain, and then shovel. This is why I prefer the minor ecological disaster of a big bag of granulated ice melting chemical from my local Ace Hardware. The salty sludge it produces prevents refreeze, at least a little.

By now the main roads have probably been mostly cleared. Center lanes are a disaster. Side streets and your neighborhood will never see a plow. As the main roads are clear, folks have to start returning to work, so they creep, crawl, slip, and slide their cars out of their neighborhood, over an embankment of grimy slush, and onto the main roads which are crunchy with strewn gravel and other debris.

I worked at home the entire week, a welcome break from my company’s new ‘hybrid’ model. The week before, completely ignorant of the coming snow, I blocked my calendar and tried to lay the foundation for a focus week. No (well few) meetings, and me with my head down on work. With half of our company out wrangling feral snow-day invigorated children, I actually got my wish. Focus time with no meetings.

My team of developers is shorthanded due to a gaggle of fresh new babies. This means me and my leads are diving into client work. This is not ideal, but family leave is short. We won’t suffer for too long. We could bring on a freelancer or two, but then we’d be training and managing freelancers. It’s cheaper and faster for us to just do the work. A freelancer would only be up to speed and productive by the time it’s time for them to leave. The opportunity cost is the same.

The short version: I worked on a lot of websites last week.

I miss this kind of work. I like the feeling of watching a product come to life bit by bit. Most modern website development toolkits include a bit of magic that automatically reloads and refreshes the website in your browser as you develop, so you can quite literally see the website come together as you work.

For uninterrupted hours I would assess, analyze, code, review, fuck it up, redo, and move on. I was in the zone and time spread out and slowed down.

I think making things (whatever the things are) is my first, best destiny. It’s the same thing whether it’s code or art. In my mind and heart I think of this as Real Work™. Everything else I do is management. People management, process management, department management, project management. All necessary, all important, sometimes even very interesting and compelling. But management means meetings and meetings chop your day up into tiny slices. Meetings are always too long and never long enough. Time shrinks down and speeds up. The day is gone and I feel nothing has happened. I feel like the day is lost.

The actual work, here, is making decisions. Or helping other people make decisions. Decisiveness, the ability to not only decide but stick to and live with decisions, is the fundamental requirement of leadership.

I wish I could get the same satisfaction from decisioning that I do from making.

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