Category Archives: Life

Becoming an Expert

Is calling yourself an expert arrogant? It probably depends on the context of the claim. This is a post in which I detail some of the skills that I aspire to improve. Realistically, I don’t think anyone can become a true expert more than a few things, and one might only achieve mastery in one thing after a dedicated and focused journey.

Here’s my self evaluation of skills I am working to acquire. This will be based upon the Dreyfus model of skills acquisition (Novice, Competence, Proficiency, Expertise, Mastery):

Professional Skills:

1. Web Development. I have been involved in web development for over 10 years. I’ve mostly developed with Ruby, PHP, and JavaScript. I have a good grasp on HTML and CSS. During the last 3.5 years, I’ve been working in a non-programming role, so I feel I’m falling behind in some of the latest web technologies, though I read a lot to keep up on this stuff. I have a good grasp of how Angular and Ember work. I have a thorough understanding of HTTP, and proxies (forward and reverse). I’ve used the Rails framework since the 2.0 release. I’ve done extensive work inside of WordPress. I’ve written a few small apps with Node.js, and I’ve created a few things using CoffeeScript.
Self Rating: (High) Proficiency. Perhaps I could put expertise, but because I’ve been out of the hands-on programming loop for a while, I feel I can’t quite put that anymore.
Goal: Expertise, though my current professional responsibilities aren’t going to get me there. Perhaps my goal should be to maintain proficiency.

2. Writing. I’m consider myself a pretty decent technical writer. The post that gets the most traffic on this blog is a post I wrote over 6 years ago on creating a SOAP server in PHP. The writing is highly technical, and has been referenced by many people as one of the best guides on PHP SOAP on the web. The problem is that technical writing isn’t the type of writing that I aspire to do really well. I’d like to become a great blog writer. Great blog writers have interesting things to say, show some personality, break scholastic writing rules, are witty. Their content is fun to read. I don’t feel like I fit any of those things…
Self Rating: Competence (technical writing) Novice (blog writing)
Goal: Expert blog writer. I have a long way to go for this.

3. Public Speaking. This is one that I’ve been working hard to improve. I’ve given many webinars and technical presentations at conferences. I’ve sought out a lot of feedback from peers and mentors in this area. Last year, I decided to break out of my shell and try my hand at speaking on topics for a general audience at genealogy conferences. I discovered that I really like those types of presentations and I felt I performed really well. In fact, at the latest RootsTech conference, two of my presentations made the top 10 based on attendee feedback. My mom attended my last presentation, and filmed some of it on her iPhone. Watching myself present makes me cringe and I notice all sorts of flaws in my speaking (stuttering, umms, intonation, etc,). I think the difference between my presentation and my writing is that I am able to build a connection with my audience. I usually tell personal stories and I’m a pretty good verbal story teller. I’m able to incorporate some humor in my presentations.
Self Rating: Proficiency
Goal: Expertise. This will take many years more practice participating in conferences. I’d like to someday be a keynote speaker at a major conference, which would require mastery.

4. Product Management. My role at work has a lot of overlap with product management. I do a lot of defining direction of integration points between major genealogy software products. I’m getting pretty good at creating user flows, product requirements, writing user stories, etc. I’m quite proficient with office tools, agile methodologies, etc.
Self Rating: Competence
Goal: Proficiency

5. User Experience Design. I list this only because I’m jealous of the skills that great designers have. If I had great design skills, I think I could be an amazing web freelancer, which would be really fun. However, it is unrealistic for me to think I’ll ever be an expert UX designer.
Self Rating: Novice
Goal: Competence.

6. Internet Marketing. I’ve read a ton of material on Internet Marketing. I have a pretty good handle on traffic driving techniques (paid vs natural search traffic). I’m pretty good with web analytic tools and analysis of data. I’m not a good copywriter. I have a lot of interest in this skill because this can make or break a startup company. I’d like to ultimately be a founder of a successful startup. I’ve been a part of several failed startups, and this is an area that I believe we missed terribly.
Self Rating: Novice.
Goal: Competence

Personal or Hobby Skills:

1. Gardening. I’m a total newbie when it comes to gardening. This year, my goal is to eat some vegetables and fruits that I grow on my property. Last year, I planted some seeds in some dirt that I attempted to prepare, but only a couple of carrot greens popped up and my kids pulled them when they were wee bitty roots.
Self Rating: Novice
Goal: Competence

2. Fishing. I’ve never been much of a fisherman. My family would occasionally attempt a fishing trip, and would come away with no fish. My friends who do fish love it, and I’m sure it is because they actually catch fish. Yesterday, my son and I caught our first fish—2 small rainbow trouts. Before that, we had gone fishing three times together with no luck. We’re learning from other fisherman at the ponds and starting to develop some fishing skills.
Self Rating: Novice
Goal: Competence

3. Scouting. I’ve almost completed my first three years as a Scoutmaster. When I started, I was completely overwhelmed, but excited at the opportunity. Now, I’m super busy, but I don’t quite feel overwhelmed. I have tons of room to improve as a Scoutmaster, but I can see big improvements in the way I lead my scouts over what I did 3 years ago.
Self Rating: Competence
Goal: Proficiency

4. Genealogy. I’ve been doing genealogy research for over seven years. I’ve attended a lot of genealogy conferences during that time. I’ve watched a lot of training videos, and I read a lot of genealogy blogs. I have a pretty good understanding of how genealogy is done. I believe this will be a lifelong pursuit. I’ll discover new approaches and methods for my genealogy.
Self Rating: Proficiency
Goal: Mastery (lifelong pursuit)

5. Piano: As a kid, I took about six years of piano lessons. I’m grateful for all of the piano lessons and the ability to read music, but I feel like I’ve lost so much as a busy adult. I’d like to begin playing more. Currently, I can only hammer out a few songs from some Journey sheet music. I love Journey by the way. They are one of my all time favorite bands.
Self Rating: Competence
Goal: Proficiency

6. Drumming: I played the drums through high school and college. At BYU, I played a couple of semesters in their steel drum band. I haven’t really touched a drum set in the last 7 years. I’m hoping to buy one as my oldest boy gets older. I think he should learn to play the piano first though. It might be a while before we have a drum set in the home.
Self Rating: Proficiency (dropping to competence)
Goal: Maintain Proficiency

Okay, so I’ve listed a ton of stuff here. I have all of these skills I’m trying to improve, but I wonder if I’m spread so thin that I won’t make significant improvement on very many of these. Is it bad to have high aspirations for these things? I’m not sure, but writing this post has helped me to see what I’ve been juggling around in my mind. Perhaps I’ll come back to this post every few months to see what I’ve done to improve my skills in these areas.

Photo from Jordan Pines sledding hill

Snow Caving!

I’m laying in a snow cave that was way too hard to get into. I’m up at Jordan Pines campground with my scouts on a winter camp out. Most everyone is sleeping soundly in a tent, but I wanted to be extreme and sleep in a snow cave.

Most years, we build caves under picnic tables , which works well, but can be a bit cramped. This year, I wanted to sleep in a real, non-picnic table snow cave. The campsite that we were assigned had the perfect setup for this.

Someone had carved out a cave under what appears to be a fallen pine tree! The cave was perfectly dug out to fit one adult. All I needed to do is to dig out the entrance a bit because snow had fallen and filled it in a bit. This was perfect!


So, I dug out the entrance, and set up my sleeping bags outside of the cave. Below is the picture of my setup.

My Sleeping Gear

What you see is several layers of warmth: a fleece liner tucked inside of a backpacking mummy bag tucked inside of a large 0 deg sleeping bag tucked under a blanket, all sitting on top some foam pads sitting on top of a tarp (insulation from the ground).

I slid my sleeping gear into the cave. The dumb thing I did was place my backpack in top of my sleeping gear because I way overestimated the size of the cave. I had crawled into the cave first and was pulling the stuff in. The backpack blocked my way out, so I had to push it out, and I thought I was stuck. After some panicked shoves on my pack, I was able to get it back out of the cave and I realized it was best to leave my pack outside of the cave.

After all of this, I figured that I was set. I laid down some cardboard to stand on while I changed into some set clothes. The problem with the cardboard is that it had nice shiny marketing print on one side of the cardboard, which made it very slick. The number one rule for staying warm is to stay dry. In the process of getting dressed, the cardboard slipped and I managed to fall over in the snow, and got my dry clothes all snowy. So much for staying dry. That was dumb.

Once I was in my new clothes, it was time to get into the cave, a task I underestimated. The entrance was so tight, that I couldn’t just slide in. I ended up getting more wet and stuck, but I finally made it into the cave.

Me inside of the snow cave

Here I am inside of the snow cave.

Very tight space

You can see in this picture that there is not much space above me—less than 1 foot.

My view inside the cave

This is what the cave looks like right above me. I placed my phone as close to my face as possible to take this picture.

Now I’m hearing strange noises outside the cave and am kind of wishing I wasn’t alone in a tiny space of a snow cave. I probably won’t sleep much tonight. I also have no idea how I am going to get out. I cannot put my snow boots on inside of the cave. I can barely move in this thing.

Update: I didn’t sleep much that night. Miraculously, I managed to get out just fine and my boots were not frozen!

I think I will sleep under a picnic table next year. That is if I am still a scout master next year.

Salt Lake Temple - Featured

Why I Love Working for FamilySearch

I have my dream job working for FamilySearch. Here’s why I think it is the best:

1. Within the genealogy and family history space, there are so many difficult problems to solve technologically. This keeps things very interesting.

2. I get to work with great people within the FamilySearch organization. Most of the people who work at FamilySearch work at FamilySearch because they have a personal conviction of preserving and connecting to their families. I love that.

3. I get to work with brilliant people from all over the world who are building the future of genealogy systems.

4. I love genealogy and family history. As I continue to research, I keep finding more and more interesting things about my ancestors. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface and my goal is to become a proficient researcher.

5. The world of genealogy is changing. It is awesome being part of a workforce that is connecting diverse systems, transferring big data, and helping people break through genealogical brick walls.

6. I get an amazing view of Temple Square from my office window. I took the featured image picture with my iPhone 5 from my window.

Salt Lake City in the Snow

A blogging change

After reading  Matt Mullenweg’s post on The Intrinsic Value of Blogging, and after realizing that my blog has been sitting idly these past couple of years, I decided that I would change the way I think about my blog.

From now on, my blog is simply going to be a place for me to write for myself. If the content happens to help someone else, that’s great. Professionally, I sit in an interesting niche which is the intersection of programming and genealogy. Many people find either of those topics to be very interesting. I believe there is a relatively small crowd that finds both topics interesting. And that’s okay. I’m writing for me.

So, if the content of my blog may be changing. Actually, I hope it feels different because it has been stuck in the mud lately. Perhaps I’ll discover some new things about myself and perhaps I’ll find some things to write about that people want to read. I’ll never know until I begin writing more.

At a Crossroads

I’ve recently hit a point in my career where I feel like I am at a crossroads. I’m currently headed down a path that could lead me to fantastic opportunities in Product Management. When I first hired on at familysearch, that was totally the direction I wanted to head. It still may be, but I’m feeling torn because I still really love developing software.

I love getting my brain wrapped around a programming problem, getting in the zone, and delivering something cool. It is strange to say, but it gives me a sense of exhilaration when I’ve solved a really hard problem. It is really hard for me to let go of that.

I feel like I am good at combining together good ideas to solve problems. Sometimes those ideas are big ideas which would need an orchestrated effort from multiple teams of people to pull off. This is where I see excitement in Product Management.

My fear is that I will become consumed working in heavy product/project management tools (like VersionOne) doing busy work and will lose the enjoyment that I find in software development. I also fear that I will become one of those guys who says “I used to program COBOL or Fortran.” Another fear I have us that I won’t be effective enough in persuading others when I run up against opposition. I don’t like conflict, but I know I need to learn to manage it.

We are experiencing innovation like we’ve never seen before. New platforms, databases, devices, protocols, etc. are being released at breakneck speeds which enable us to imagine things that have never been possible before. The question I have to ask myself is: What is the level of influence I ultimately want to have in defining the future? I guess that is why I am still leaning slightly towards Product Management.