25th Post – A Reflection of My Blogging Journey

Earlier today, I made my 25th blog post about how I Love Teaching – and it’s already been getting really nice traffic.  What is nice traffic you ask?!?  Well for a tiny phytoplankton in this giant internet ocean like myself, that looks like about 35-50 views – nothing earth shattering – but I’m loving the experience and the internal insights.  Writing is coming very naturally, and it’s really helping sort out my version of the human experience and organize my thoughts.  Sometimes it might look like ramblings – however some posts feel like the makings of some really quality content.  Usually, it’s just close family and friends finding it entertaining.  Whatever it is, it’s a good thing and this post is about reflecting on my last 25 blog posts, 3 personal transformations, and my favorite posts to date.

3 Transformations Since Starting to Blog:

      1. Two weeks ago, I began volunteering two nights a week to teach children, ages 13-18, how to code in HTML & CSS.  This has been tremendous, seeing kids light up about embedding a YouTube video or listing out their favorite foods and attaching pictures on a web page has really sparked some curiosities in a few youngsters that might grow into something great.  This has ignited a passion for educating people, and particularly youngsters that I want to seek out further.
      2. Started a Morning Routine that I’ve been consistent with 90% of mornings.  This one practice is BY FAR the most important key to my recent performance and productivity improvements.  Why report about a 90%? Because I’m human and want to emphasize how nobody is perfect, and there have been days I’ve woken up and not felt up to my hour-ish long routine.  The one thing I have noticed is this: The days where I don’t complete a morning routine are the days I’m typically least productive, which is a great thing to know about one’s self.
      3. Meditate for ~20min per day.  Doing this in the mornings helps me come alive and focus on the task of the day.  Doing it in the evening helps clear my mind of the day and prepare for a restful night sleep.  Overall, the benefits to my mood and mental stability have been phenomenal and I would recommend this practice to anyone who is setting aside even just 2-5min a day.

My Top 7 Favorite Posts Thus Far (in order):

why 7?…. why not…?

    1. My Morning Routine – It’s the one I link back to most and have edited the most, it’s my best work in progress.
    2. Oh Snap! That’s a Cold Shower! – Entrepreneur on Fire’s John Lee Dumas commented on this post and really inspired some great confidence about what I’m doing.
    3. 1 (More) Reason I Love my Mother – This has been, BY FAR the most visited post.  That’s because thanks to my mother’s Facebooking abilities, she was able to share it and attract nearly 900 unique visits to my site that day.  Even WordPress told me the post was, and I quote, “Blowing up.”
    4. Preparing to Ignite – This was the post right that inspired the morning routine.  I realized on this day that turning 30 was 1,282 days away and I wanted to transform.
    5. Just keep swinging, just keep swinging… – This post was a great personal reflection about overcoming the difficulties and frustrations of learning to code and the learning process in general.
    6. “I am Groot” – surprisingly, this post got me about 3 or 4 follows (like 30-40% of my followers at this time…)  It was a reaction to my experiences watching Guardians of the Galaxy and a metaphorical analysis of the Groot character.
    7. Group Therapy: Lessons from our 1st Group Project – We’ll round out the list with a reflection on what I learned from completing our first group project between back end, front end, and iOS developers.  It’s an honest post with some good takeaways.
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I Love Teaching

Last night The Iron Yard Atlanta introduced a new satellite for their existing Free Kids Course – and they needed volunteers.  I, again, raised my hand even though I’m bogged down with work and probably should be focused on refactoring assignments – but I’m also an entrepreneur at heart and see raising my hand as saying yes to a new opportunity, changing some kids lives, and building up my personal brand and network.  Unlike the first and second kids classes, this one I taught by myself and didn’t have any support from my classmate Alex.  No worries, we followed the lesson plan from the first class and by the end I had all the kids chanting “Everything is a Box” – great success!

These classes will be taking place at the Exchange Park Recreation and Intergenerational Center – an activities center in Decatur about 9 miles east on I-20 from 75/85 in the heart of downtown ATL – ya I just went SNL “The Californians” on you there.

Admittedly, I was not in a great mental state on the way over there, I was tired, feeling overwhelmed, hungry, and worried about my financial future.  After teaching that class, I had this joy that could not be squandered.  The kids were really interested and I got a few “Oooohs and Ahhhs”  when they saw how to get a YouTube video on their page.  A couple of the kids stayed after to ask more questions and find out what other resources they could work with when they got home.  It’s just incredible to work with people who are passionate about what they’re learning and I’m thankful to play a small part in that.

If you’re interested in getting you kids involved in a Coding After School Program – please let me know!

The Gathering Restaurant hosts an *ICONIC* evening

What an iconic evening!  The Gathering Industries have teamed up with Atlanta Mission to launch their first joint project: The Gathering Restaurant – a 501c3 restaurant that exists to reemploy and provide new direction to the Atlanta Mission’s community of program participants.  Let’s just say, these two organizations have a big mission… and last night, they backed it up and did it BIG… like green Lambo BIG.

“Is it worth it? let me work it…”

Last night’s fundraiser/press party reminded me of an episode of HBO’s show How To Make it in America and simultaneously supported a fantastic cause – creating new, inspiring work possibilities for those who are ready to take that next step in getting their lives back from addiction.  For more on this, refer to my previous post: Introducing: The Gathering Restaurant.  And if you didn’t get the “How To Make it in America” reference, just know the show is awesome and the parties were often upscale and awesome too.

After experiencing the evening, enjoying the conversations, and speaking with co-founder chefs, Lake Dawson and Alex Reethof, I better understood the vibe they are creating for The Gathering Restaurant.  This concept is not going to be an Applebee’s or a Houston’s people – The Gathering Restaurant is shaping up to be one of Atlanta’s finest dining experiences, and it just so happens that its true north is relentlessly supporting the revitalization of homeless Atlanta Mission patrons.  Here’s how I’d describe the vibe last night…

The Vibe:

  • Upbeat, yet not too loud, smooth, eclectic, disco/club playing female dj
  • Upscale furniture, nice art on the walls, perfect room temp, early evening lighting
  • The Food: 10 Atlanta based chefs/restaurants serving specialty or devours
  • Oh my goodness, the food was amazing – had to repeat it…
  • Radio Emcee keeping the event lively
  • Professional photographers keeping the event flashy
  • Crowd size of between 200-300 people total
  • It was pretty glamorous, not gonna lie – I walked out feeling very Mark Wahlberg

During one point, the founders made a short presentation thanking the guests, staff, and benefactors for their support and asked them graciously for their participation in the silent auctions and at the pledge tables – it was in fact a fundraiser.  Yet I would say the pinnacle of the evening was a short, inspirational speech made by a woman who completed the Atlanta Mission’s program several years ago and has since regained her life, career, and sobriety.  She was nearly brought to tears, sharing how far she has come since her darkest days of addiction, and seeing such a dazzling event in support of helping others like her former self.  She had a ton of courage to stand up in front of a large audience and share her story like that – and I realized, in that moment, that’s the caliber of people The Gathering Restaurant plans on hiring, those that are courageous enough to restrain their addictions and get through the effective treatment programs.

This was the first of many entertaining nights ahead for The Gathering Restaurant.  They have many next steps to take and I look forward to keeping a finger on the pulse of this great concept.  Next steps include finding the right space to plant roots and everything that goes along with that.  We’ll keep you posted.

So Did I Give?

I certainly did, even as an underemployed student, because I give to causes I believe in and I can vouch for the integrity and spiritual fortitude of the people starting this non-profit.  Their vision is clear, they have joint support with Atlanta Mission, and they’re certain to gain momentum through their partnership together.  If you support fine dining and transforming the lives of God’s people, consider giving to The Gathering Restaurant today and let’s start building new relationships and making employment possible for those who have demonstrated a readiness to take the next step in their healing transition.

Show your Support for The Gathering Restaurant  

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Oh Snap! That’s a Cold Shower!

My great grandmother, Genevieve, God rest her soul, lived to the age of 96.  She was widowed during World War II and raised her son Toby Maxwell, my grandfather, by herself and was a very mentally strong woman.  I remember distinctly a moment when she pulled me aside and asked me the question, “Spencer, do you know what my secret to long life is?”  I must have been 13 years old at the time and politely responded, “Of course!”  She gazed directly into my eyes, paused for a moment and built up my suspense, and calmly stated, “Cold showers.”

Quick aside… I am a millennial born, American-raised male who enjoys the comforts of our the first world as much as anyone – my smart phone, laptop, pillow top mattress, etc.  So the thought of deliberately taking an uncomfortable cold shower was nonsense and was cast away for over 10 years… until 2 weeks ago.  I was in my normal morning routine, listening to Entrepreneur on Fire episode #848, where Ben Greenfield shared how he was fired up about cold showers.  When he was asked the question, “Why do you take cold showers?” he listed off 6 or 7 different physiological and psychological benefits to cold showers and he ended his statement by saying, “and because it makes you tougher.”

benefits_of_a_cold_shower

Sure, cold shower physiological benefits are great, but what really resonated with my soul was the “it makes you tougher” part – and not this Macho Man, WWE image of toughness, but specifically “Mental Toughness.”  Being able to overcome and conquer the variety of troubles life throws at you is a learned skill, and my personal goal is that of stoicism.  Stoicism, by definition, is the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.  So in my path towards this goal – cold showers are being added to My Morning Routine.

My Cold Shower Approach:

So… I’m not all the way in on this yet, and don’t want to portray that I am.  My current approach is the first 50% of my shower is lukewarm (half hot, half cold) and then for the last 50%, I turn it to all cold.  I think this is a great start for the beginner looking to make a transition.  You can adapt it to be 90% lukewarm and finish the last 10 seconds of the shower all cold and get a similar effect.  Doing this is better than a cup of coffee in the morning, guaranteed.  I find I’m much more alert the rest of the morning and feel much more present in the moment.

The first time I turned to all cold, holy crap, I was screeching like a little girl, gasping for breath, body clinching, fighting the overwhelming sensations that were robbing me of all happy thoughts in the moment.  Now, after nearly 2 weeks of practice, I find myself accepting the coldness and almost welcoming it with much less body clinch.  You can do this, and it will get better.

Ok… so the panda represents me. The water represents the shower. And the panda’s facial expression represents my first time in a cold shower.

In time, I see myself fully committing to a 100% cold shower, but for now it’s still in the testing phase and I feel progress has been solid thus far.

Some extra inspiration:

One of my role models is Rich Froning – 4 time champion of the CrossFit Games, and he has an entertaining video of one of his workouts called “Mental Toughness.”  During “Mental Toughness”, he and a training buddy complete a workout, in the snow, that finishes with a swim in an icy cold pond – furthering demonstrating my point from above.

 

5 Recommendations to LEVEL UP your LinkedIn

In the pursuit of creating an excellent, online, personal brand – LinkedIn is certainly one of the most important profiles to give attention to these days.  Whether you’re an employee, business owner, entrepreneur, or a freelancer – the power of a strong professional network is strong in this one.

linkedIn-yoda-mashup

Now you could search the Google machine for a billion different answers to this topic, and admittedly, those answers have driven a lot of what I’ve changed about my account in the last few weeks.  So this is not me on a soap box shouting you need to change everything about your account and these 5 recommendations are scripture – no… these are merely suggestions that I have found to be helpful in the past few weeks and maybe you’ll take 1 or 5 and find some value.  So here goes…

5 Recommendations to LEVEL UP your LinkedIn:

  1. Get yourself a nice, shiny, professional profile photo
    It’s surprising how long I lasted with just a random, chopped up Facebook photo of myself on LinkedIn – the truth is… this photo is a first impression for a potential recruiter or client, so make it as great of a first impression as possible.  A photo has the potential to say a lot about who you are professionally, and when I tacked up a sloppy photo, it might have been silently sending signals that falsely portray me doing sloppy work, and you don’t want to risk that!  The photo should also match the industry your seeking work in, I’m seeking work as a developer… so a little more casual is not necessarily a bad thing.  If you’re looking for legal, government, or consulting type work – it’s probably best you suit up.  When in doubt, your photo should match how you would dress for an interview.Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 8.58.50 AM
  2. Make Connections, Lots of Them, All the Time, yes… More
    If you grew up with the dawn of Facebook like I did, you might think this sounds like the old social network popularity contest – I have more digital friends than you naa-naa, look at me, I’m cool online!  If that is your perception, you might be missing the point on what LinkedIn is as a professional tool.  The fact is, the more connections you have, the more likely you are to be found or sought out, that’s it.  There is also an unsaid “credibility” that comes with 500+ connections and you want to be there as soon as possible.  linkedIn-connections
  3. Give Recommendations, Receive Recommendations
    What goes around comes around, truly.  I found this recommendation in my research, applied it, and received 2 very solid recommendations from my former employer.  As you make more and more connections, take some time to write a well-crafted, thoughtful recommendation for someone you particularly enjoyed working with or who was senior to you.  Then, ask them to write you one back in return and you’ll be amazed at what comes back.  Recommendations definitely set you apart from the rest and the higher up the ladder you can receive one from, the better.Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 10.58.21 AM
  4. Allow your Endorsements to tell the story
    This one has been big for me recently, particularly because I’m in the midst of a career change and all of my endorsements represent some previous jobs.  So in the same way that you write recommendations for others… if you endorse others for their skill sets, I can almost guarantee they will be endorsing you back for yours.  I’d go as far as saying each new connection you make, make at least one endorsement for their current field.  So if a recruiter adds you as a connection – accept the request, and endorse them for “recruiting” or “networking” or one of their other top choices.  Again, being a professional site, you want as much credibility surrounding your profile as possible.  LinkedIn_endorsements
  5. Content is King when it comes to Experience
    Your “Experience” category is your resume.  So make it readable, and pack it full of the awesome stuff you’ve done for that company.  Use some simple hyphens to give the look of a bulleted list and don’t just throw a bunch of paragraphs on there, be specific and get to the point you’re trying to get across.  This should read exactly how your resume reads and be completely consistent with what you might have on paper.  And since you’ve come this far – apply the Content is King mindset to everything on your page!  Meaning… fill out your Summary, Volunteer Experience, and Education sections with tons of copy.  It shows that you’re serious when it comes to making a great professional first impression. LinkedIn_experience

There you have it – hope you find some value out of this… and if you have some other insights I’d love to hear them!

Introducing: The Gathering Restaurant

“A family that prays together, stays together.”  I’ve heard that quoted multiple times throughout my 26 years on Earth, and I believe it to be true.  Additionally, we can take it one step further and say “A family that eats together, prays together, and therefore, stays together. ”

Growing up in my family, dinner time together was a sacred gathering of sorts.  It was the cornerstone for us bonding together, even though we all had many different obligations and activities going on.  80% of the time, we ate meals together and looking back on it, it was a special time and brought us all closer.  We had a corny tradition called Family Jeopardy with the classic Kurt Wyckoff (my dad) “De nuh Na na nuh nuh nah na” intro music that he would cue up on the spot, in perfect key mind you, and then take on the voice of a Bob Barker-like game show host and proceed to ask simple questions like, “will wood float?” or “do carrots grow above the ground? or below the ground?”  (they grow below the ground, for the 100th time…)

However, the point of this post is not asking the question, “why is Kurt Wyckoff not a game show host? ”  The point of this post is to state that gathering people around a dinner table is one of the best ways for people to connect, bond, share stories, and grow together.  That’s why I’m particularly excited about this upcoming Thursday night in Buckhead GA.

With great honor, I will be attending a fundraising event for a new philanthropical concept starting here in Atlanta, GA called The Gathering Restaurant.  The Gathering Restaurant is a concept founded by a former high school classmate of mine, Lake Dawson, and an outstanding chef, business, and family man, Alex Reethof.  They have partnered with Atlanta Mission, an organization with the bold purpose of ending homelessness, and are setting out to transform the lives of individuals who have successfully completed a transitional program for drug and alcohol dependencies and prison-release programs.

About___Gathering_Industries

That’s all I know for now, I’m excited for the opportunity to experience the birth of this concept and look forward to writing more about it in the coming days.  I leave you with this short informational video and a link to sign up for the event.

Want to attend the fundraiser this Thursday?

 

Group Therapy – Takeaways from our 1st (multi-tier) Iron Yard Project

What is this sad Aura?

Monday morning everyone shows up by 9:00am, but there is a weird defeated feeling in the air.  Everyone is sharing how far they got on their recent Checkers group project and no one is excited to share about their accomplishments – we all failed to meet the minimum requirements and therefore we all felt like failures.

Then, instead of going directly into a new lecture, we all meet in the back to present our projects and what we were able to accomplish.  Great… this is going to be more painful than turning away kids on Halloween because you forgot to purchase candy… (maybe that’s a pain point, maybe it’s not…)

The Project Makeup

There were 4 groups total.  Each group was comprised of 3-4 Rails developers, 2 Front-end developers, and 3-4 iOS developers.  The goal was to create a game of checkers that was available to play on iOS, the web, and all the moves and game logic work and communicate back to the server.  But this post is not meant to be technical.  This post is about my 3 takeaways from working in this first, cross-platform, group type.

My 3 Takeaways:

  • Pair Programming: Pair programming is a great way to tackle and troubleshoot issues – my partner Mark and I would fill in each other’s gaps a lot of times and it made breaking through barriers a lot smoother.  Outside these walls, I will want to be part of an organization that supports pair programming between senior and junior developers – even if it’s a once a week practice.

  • Lay the Foundation Early:  Laying the foundation for our project and setting up the ground rules for communication is imperative early in the project process.  We did this by setting up our project Trello and a Slack channel, yet over the course of 5 days we became more virtual with our communication.  We would have done better with a daily, face-to face stand-up between the 3 groups (front end, back end, and iOS) to keep everyone in the loop of what pieces we were currently working on and where we were being blocked.

 

If only SCRUM was this black and white…

 

  • Butting Heads can be a Good Thing: Butting heads can be a very productive way to build great products, so long as the people butting heads maintain a high level of respect for each other and it doesn’t get too personal and venom isn’t being spat.  Our group did not butt heads, however we did witness one group that had 2 people butt heads consistently and they ended up turning in one of the best looking and functioning projects and it was all smiles by presentation day.  As someone who is normally anti-conflict, this can be hard for me to grasp, however I do see where being able to communicate exactly what your team needs to another team’s manager is crucial for a great final project.

There you have it, 3 takeaways from my first coding group project… it was surprisingly like many of the other projects I’ve been a part of in the past, except a lot more time in a text editor.  In the end, our instructors paid us many compliments, and even though we didn’t get as far along as we originally expected to, we had a lot of great takeaways in the process and felt much better after our early morning group therapy.