claudiolassala

Claudio is a Principal Consultant at Improving Houston. He has been developing software for 25+ years. When not building software, consulting with clients, doing presentations, delivering training, or hanging out with his family, he can probably be found working on his music.

Homepage: https://claudiolassala.wordpress.com

Does your work define you?

Does your job title define you? Your role? Soon after I moved to the US many years ago, I’ve noticed this thing Americans do that seemed different to me: meeting people for the first time, even at a non-work related place or activity, people would ask me “what do you do?”.

I got used to it and never thought much about it again. Until I ran into this video:

That American youtubber loves Brazil, its culture and its people. In his point #9 on that video, “You’re not your work”, he made me think about the “what do you do?” question again. When asked, I used to think to myself: “well, I do a lot of things… what exactly does this person want to know?”.

What do you do for a living?” would be a more specific question. But that’s where the main difference lies: Brazilians, as pointed out by Tim, don’t define themselves by their job title.

I’m one of those fortunate people who do love their jobs, but I certainly don’t let my job title define myself. Doing so would be very limiting, I believe.

When people ask me that question nowadays, I tend to immediately break the ice by saying something like “well, it depends on the time of the day, or to whom you ask!”. Such response allows the conversation to go many different routes, opening up exploration paths that could lead to the creation of a better connection between the other person and me.

So, what defines you?

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Bringing Improv warm-ups to a Scrum team

A month ago I’ve mentioned that Improv Techiniques come in handy. Here are two recent cases where I’ve used it.

Getting to know new team members

Last month, I stepped in as the temporary scrum master for my team. The team had three new members, so I figured I’d try a warm-up I learned at the Improv workshop to help the team members get to know each other a little more as we started our Sprint Retro.

The warm-up consisted of the team sitting in a circle. I started by saying my name and a couple of things I’m passionate about. The activity continued on with every person doing the same. Once we went around the circle, I asked a random person to choose from a number between 1 and X (“X” being the number of people in the circle). Then I asked another random person to choose left or right. I finally asked everyone to stand up and move the chosen number of seats in the chosen direction.

Next, I say my name and things I’m passionate about, except that I’m impersonating the person who was seated in that spot before. The group quickly understands what’s going on, and we go through the circle like that.

In this activity, it’s very likely some people will realize they have no recollection of what the previous person seated on that spot said. It’s a good and fun way to learn how to pay more attention to others.

Listening everyone to the last word

Last week, I’ve started an 8-week Improv class, learned another warm-up techinique, and once again, brought it to our sprint retro, spending about 5-7 minutes on the activity.

In this warm-up, the team stands in a circle. We go around the circle, each person saying one word. The words don’t have to be associated, but we do observe the following behaviors:

  • Some people end up getting biased by the word they have just heard from the previous person;
  • Some people end up spending a lot of time thinking up of a word. Why is that? Maybe trying to come up with a “smart” or “funny” word?

Next, we do the same activity, but this time, we say associated words.

We then move on the the final activity: making up a sentence, one word at a time. One person says a word to start the sentence, then each person in the sequence says a word to contribute to the sentence. When a person in the circle feels like we have a sentence, she can end it by saying “alright, alright, alright”. At that point, the whole circle joins in and says the entire sentence out loud. The person who decided to close the sentence then says a new word, starting a new sentence.

This last warm-up is great because, besides being fun and lifting up the mood, it helps learn to:

  • Listen to every word said, all the way to the very last one. You can’t make up your mind after listening to the first word and blanking out on everybody until it’s your turn, as the other people in the chain may change the direction of the sentence completely with their associations and interpretations;
  • Work together as an ensemble, creating something as a group, building it by adding to each other’s ideas.

The experiment continues

I have another 7 weeks of Improv classes and I intend on trying our more of those techniques in my daily life. I’ll keep you posted!

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Houston Agile Shift 2020: Registration is Open!

Registration for the Houston Agile Shift 2020 is now open!

After its successful debut in 2019, the conference is back in 2020, bigger and better. I enjoyed presenting there last year, had great interactions with the attendees, and stayed in touch with them even months after the conference was over.

This year I’ll be even more involved with the conference and can’t wait to see attendees learning and networking, speakers sharing their experiences, and a vibrant community coming together!

If you’d like to speak, the Call for Speakers is open for only a short period of time, so hurry up and submit your session proposals.

If you’d like to be a sponsor, this is also a good time to reach out.

If you’d like to attend, grab your tickets!

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Learn how to Taylor your Swift at the Improving Code User Group

The February Improving Code User Group meetup has been announced. Here’s the main presentation info:

Tailor your Swift
We’ll discuss writing cleaner, better code in Apple’s new language, but this talk will be mostly language agnostic and discuss concepts that apply to all languages.
This talk is for all programmers. It is about 98% language agnostic, with Swift used as the language example because I primarily work in Swift, therefore any developer will understand the material and concepts presented.

Presenter
: Mark Wilkinson
Hello fellow coders! I am someone who stumbled into software development and realized I loved it. I continually strive to improve the code others, including myself, will have to read one day, and that’s what is at the heart of my talks.

Please follow the link below for extra information. I hope to see you there!
https://www.meetup.com/Improving-Code/events/267691343/

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2019: Annual Review

As per my 2018 Annual Review, these were the things I mentioned I was working toward:

Continue growing Beyond the Track: the monthly meetups happened all year (except for November), more riders stepped up to do talks for the group, the website http://www.beyondthetrack.net/ has been up and running since early in the year with many important features for logistics, planning, goals and debriefing. A great community of track riders is forming, with folks who help each other out both on and off track.

SportBike Track Riding: I did put together plans and goals for my track riding, worked on those goals, and pretty much crossed off all of them! I have faced setbacks, but came back even stronger, and am now writing up my goals riding goals for 2020.

 

New Opportunities at Improving: while focusing on doing my job as good as I could and helping out my co-workers on any opportunity I had, I was rewarded with brand new opportunities at Improving, which I readily embraced. More on this under the “what went well” section below.

What went well in 2019?

New Original Song: I’ve put out one new song, title Still I’m Dreaming. This being a big passion of mine, getting to put out new music is always an celebrated accomplishment for me.

Riding Goals: Even though I couldn’t ride on the track for 3 months due to injury, I was still able to cross off all of the main goals I had for the year, one of them being getting my racer license. I celebrate this one because it isn’t only about riding; a lot goes into planning, improving my mental toughness, overcoming adversities, etc. The footage below is my favorite one ever, as it was captured by one of my coaches following me on the track, not too long after I came back from my injury, and I feel it’s the best I’ve ever ridden.

Promotion at Improving: halfway through the year I got offered the opportunity to get promoted to a Technical Director role at Improving. This is HUGE for me. On one hand, I get to do more of what I naturally do (helping others grow); on the other hand, it pushes me outside my comfort zone as I get involved with responsibilities I didn’t have before (which in turn, pushes me to keep growing). As part of that, I’ve jumped in to start and lead two important initiatives (directly related to two of my main passions in this industry) within the company, which are going to keep me very busy in 2020. I’ve also participated in a 3-month internal training program that was excellent, as it has both validated many things I’ve learned over the last several years, as well as it has taught me important things I didn’t know before.

Meditation: I’ve finally reached a solid streak of One Full Year of Meditation in August. It didn’t stop there, as I continue having meditation as part of my morning routine. Why? I know this practice has helped me a lot to get through adversities I’ve faced.

 

Language Learning: my Duolingo streak is up to 526 hundred days as of Dec 31, 2019! That’s the number of days I’ve spent at least 10 minutes learning a language. After spending a lot of time on Italian and German (no, I’m not fluent in either, as that hasn’t been my goal), I’ve gone back to Spanish. Besides Duolingo, I also watch YouTube videos in the languages I’m learning, so I can also get that kind of exposure to it.

Gratitude:
As I’ve wished at the beginning of the year, my Jar of Awesome is full of notes of my gratitude! I’m empty it to start filling it up again. I’ll also be reading a few of those notes daily until I’ve read them all and relive the feeling at those moments of gratitude (and reach out to people who may have caused or participated in those moments).

What didn’t go so well?

Crashing: People say this about crashing on a motorcycle – “It’s not a question of *if*, but just *when*”. For the first time in 29 years I ended up getting hurt riding a motorcycle. That has not prevented me from plowing through life, getting things done, and coming back stronger than before, so I’ve done my best to face adversity, learn from it, and value life even more.

Didn’t make more music: I came close to putting out another new song later in the year, but couldn’t get it done (computer issues and such). The new song is ready to be recorded, though, and I’m very excited about it, as I think it sounds great!

What am I working toward?

Continue Growing Beyond the Track: this is an on-going effort through 2020 (and probably further). As I see things now, this is part of a long-term goal I have for me. For 2020, I want to keep adding features to the website, as well as keep growing the community.

SportBike Track Riding: much like in 2019, I’ll be putting down track riding goals for 2020. It’ll include even more focus on getting more coaching, as this is also part of longer-term goals I currently have.

Solid initiatives at Improving: I’m very excited about the two initiatives I’m leading at Improving, and a lot of my work-related activities are going towards these initiatives. You’ll learn more about what those are when time’s right.

Get better at Spanish: I am going to learn and practice more Spanish. It’s a language that a lot of people speak, so knowing it opens up doors. I have very specific ideas as to what I want to accomplish and how I’ll work my way there.

Conclusion

“When I was 42… it was a very good year” (I hear that in my head with the voice of the late Warrel Dane). Yes, 2019 was a very good year. There are many other things I could have listed in this post, but I didn’t want this to be longer than it already is. I’m proud of myself for how I came out of adversities, making an effort to clear my mind and see through it, finding opportunities, learning from it, and getting better. Could this year have been even better? Of course! What am I going to do about it? Well, taking the time to put together my thoughts and writing up this post is already one step taken towards an even better year in 2020!

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Improv Techniques come in handy

I have been watching Improvisational Comedy videos for many years now and have been wanting to try it myself. I’ve watched this TED talk about it a few years ago and thought it’d be great to try something like that at Improving. We’ve finally had our first Improv workshop at the Houston office and it was a blast!

We brought in an Improv coach experienced in leading such workshop at companies and had 10 Improvers in attendance. Everybody loved it! It was a lot of fun, everybody got something out of it, and we all want more.

The interest in having such a workshop at Improving came out of reading Daniel H. Pink’s “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others”. Great book! At some point, the author mentions Improv techiniques, so we decided to hire an Improv coach to lead a workshop for us.

Besides just being such a fun activity to do with your colleagues, what was so great about it?

Well, I’ll just tell you the areas I see myself sticking Improv techniques in my daily life…

Scrum meetings: how often do teams get into that “status report” flow during daily scrum? How often do team members feel shy participating in retrospective meetings because their ideas get immediately shot down? Better listening skills can be a big help here.

Networking: I’m terrible at remembering people’s names and getting to know more about people I meet.

Working with new people: speeding up that period when a group of new people get to work together, helping them get to know each other and get comfortable with each other quickly.

Public speaking: whether people are talking to a big audience or to a small one (maybe it’s presenting an idea to a team of 5 people), learning techniques to do that better is very benefitial.

I’ll most likely be writing new posts on specifics experiments and learnings I have in this topic.

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Agile Shift 2020: Call for Speakers!

I’ve had a great time speaking at Agile Shift this year and am excited to know the conference will happen again in 2020; bigger this time! Check out the conference’s website for more info.

At this time, there’s a Call for Speakers. If you’d like to speak at a great conference, this is a sweet chance. You can also let your favorite speakers know about this opportunity!

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