Pushing to production



In the IT world, large software development projects happen in stages. The first stage is a blueprint, sketched out hastily on  a whiteboard. The second stage is in development, where developers actually write the code. The third stage is integration, where the new, fresh code is blended into existing, working code to make sure there are no compatibility issues.  In integration, code can break, compatibility can break, and whole parts of software functions can be rewritten without consequence. It’s not code in the real world. It’s still on the scratch pad. The third stage is QA, quality assurance, where the software is tested even more rigorously to make sure it doesn’t break anything and that it works as it should with all the other systems the company has.

The last stage is when the code is released out into the world. At this point, the code lives in a sacred area called production. The process of releasing this code is called pushing to prod. Live code, such as what you see when you go to Amazon.com or the system your bank uses to allow you to withdraw money, is in prod.  There can’t be any mistakes in prod, and production can’t break, because real people use it to do real things.

For this reason, developers are very superstitious and protective of code going live.  One of the main superstitions, borne out of logic, is that you never push to prod on Friday, no matter what. All kinds of things can break, and no one wants to spend a weekend fixing them. Usually developers will also try not to jinx this code by talking it up or being overly optimistic about it.  They are pushing something that is warm and  live and  fragile out into the world, something that has the potential to soar or fail spectacularly in front of thousands of users.

I have been getting ready for my own push to prod. The development of a baby is much harder and much scarier than developing software, and there are many more moving parts that have to work together in order for a baby to be born, God willing, healthy. Even though it’s a process I have almost no control over, other than not eating sushi and going to the doctor when I need to, I am terrified of doing anything to compromise it.  For this reason, I am scared to post anything, either on the blog, or on Facebook, or anywhere in public where it might catch the dreaded evil eye.  Writing, taking pictures of my belly, baby showers, all have come harder for me than most of the women I see online, baring their bellies with ease, preparing nurseries, making fun gender reveal videos.

But at the same time, not writing about her seems ingenue, like I’m hiding part of my life.  Being pregnant has split me in two. One half of my mind is always on the baby,tucked safely in the back of my consciousness,  no matter what I’m doing.  I can’t do anything without thinking about the baby.  She is always there, with me, even when she is not kicking, and it seems ridiculous to think that I can nonchalantly write about a book I’m reading, a restaurant I visited, a class I’m taking, without also shouting it from the rooftops, “Oh by the way, GUESS WHAT THERE IS SOMETHING GROWING INSIDE OF ME! SHE’S 35 WEEKS OLD TODAY! BABY! BABY! BABY!”

But when I do start to write about it, I think that maybe I shouldn’t, since she will want to control her own life narrative. How much of this experience is mine, and how much is hers?  There is no answer on Google.

So I start, and then stop writing. But when I stop writing, the wolves come. The wolves are invisible, audible only to writers. When writers stop writing, they start slowly going mad because the wolves start howling, why aren’t you writing? Why aren’t you writing

I think, panicked, about all the memories that are already floating away from me, like butterflies I’ve released and have failed to capture in my writer’s net of experiences- the feeling of the roiling, unpredictable first trimester nausea, the days when I could only drink lemon water that Mr. B carefully mixed out every morning in the hot, hazy summer kitchen, the second trimester days where I felt like a tidal wave was pushing me backwards, unable to even stand from exhaustion, the current sensation of Mr. B bending down every day to gently put on the socks I can no longer reach. Every memory I don’t capture  on paper now, now, NOW,  is gone forever  – a writer’s greatest fear.

So I start writing, but then I stop again, because I run into the internet and real life. Every time I bring up pregnancy, people who have been through it have unsolicited advice, which, for some reason, makes me more irrationally angry than when people offer advice on, say, my MBA experiences, or cooking. I don’t want advice. I’m just sharing my life experiences, curating them, pinning them down and putting them on pins under glass.  It’s something I’ve always been doing and can’t stop, because then the wolves come.

So  for now, I work on essays about pregnancy in private, in ink, in development, away from production, because I still want to remember this strange, wonderful, terrible experience before it floats away from my memory, this fragile, when I spend my days exhausted, waddling, frustrated with anticipation,  and my nights tossing and turning to get comfortable on the three pillows that now occupy my side of the bed.

I’m almost nine months pregnant, and it’s the night before the big push to prod.  And then we’ll see what happens.


Cooking 100 stir-frys


“Oh, you want to learn to cook? That sounds like a great idea!  You’ll be able to make your own meals instead of having to rely on other people or going to restaurants. You can cook from fresh ingredients, bond with other cooks, make your spouse love you, and understand what all those people on TV are talking about.  It’s really easy, and we want to encourage everyone to cook because we are a food-based society, and everyone should have basic food literacy. ”

“How do I get started?”

“Oh, that’s easy. Just pick a recipe you want to make, and make it.”

“But what if I don’t know all the recipes I can make?”

“They’re not hard to choose from! Just pick one…Asian, Mexican, comfort food, soup, pasta…anything.”

“Ok. I want to make chicken tikka masala!”

“That’s too hard for a beginning cook. Let’s work on making stir fry first. Nice and easy.”

“Ok, I’m ready to stir fry!  But which recipe do I use? There are a hundred websites and a hundred ratings?”

“Just Google around until you find something you like. Go on StockpotOverflow and see who else has cooked it and what they have to say about it.”

“Ok. There’s a guy who says he made stir fry but he didn’t season his pot.  Do I need to season my pot?”

“Yes. I forgot to tell you. You need a wok and you need to season it before you make stir fry.”

“What’s a wok?”

“Oh, that’s easy. It’s like a special pot.”

“Oh ok. So I need a wok, and I need to season it. Ok, let me buy that. And I need groceries.”

“Yeah, but don’t get too carried away. Before you go buy groceries, you need to understand the history of farming in the United States. Let’s start by talking about how corn grows. First, it’s planted. Then, it goes through something known as a dormant stage-”

“Wait, what does corn have to do with stir fry?”

“You want to put baby corn in your stir fry, right?”

“Yeah, that looks delicious.Let’s go get some at the supermarket?”

“You can’t. They only sell it at the Korean grocery store down the street. They don’t sell it in regular supermarkets.”

“Ok, so I need to go to two supermarkets?”

“That’s right, and you need the special wok.”

“Ok. That’s it, right?”

“Oh. I forgot. You usually eat stir fry with chopsticks, so you’ll need to buy those. You can usually buy them at the Asian store, but if not, we’ll need to make a stop at Crate and Barrel.”

“Can’t I just buy them at the dollar store? I’ve seen them there before.”

“Yes, but noone uses the ones at Crate and Barrel. You’ll understand why once you learn more about the history of chopsticks and the materials they’re made out of.”

“I just want to cook!”

“Be patient. First, you need to learn a little about different cooking methods.”

“No, I just want to cook!”

“Ok, let’s go to the store.”


“Ok, now that we’re back from the store, let’s look at all of the ingredients we bought and cut them up.”

“Can’t I just cook them?”

“No, first you need to wash them, cut them, and make sure you measure out enough of everything. Then, go ahead, throw them in the wok.”

“I’m cooking now!”

“No you’re not. Look, the temperature isn’t on. You should have pre-heated the wok.”

“How was I supposed to know that??!!”

“Once you become a good enough cook, you’ll know. Ok, the wok is sizzling, go ahead and throw those veggies in.”

“Starting to smell good! But what about the rice??”

“You didn’t make any rice yet? It’s right in the recipe.”

“Oh, I didn’t know I was supposed to. This one girl on StockpotOverflow said that she usually made the rice later.”

“She’s not right.”

“How am I supposed to know that???”

“You will after you make 100 stir frys….watch your wok! It’s burning! Here, let me take over.”

“How am I supposed to learn how to cook if you do it for me and don’t explain everything?”

“100 stir-frys. Then you’ll know.”


“Here, your stir fry is done…DONT’ FORGET TO TURN OFF THE STOVE!”

“It tastes…like oil and grease. And a little of my blood.”

“The first ones always do.”


Based on my experiences of learning Python, Unix, Hadoop,  AWS,  JSON, and Git over the past six months.


How to not be unemployed in a recession

We interrupt this blog for a SERIOUSBUSINESS post on economics.

I’ve been on Google+ for about two weeks now, and I’m really hoping everyone switches over from Facebook, if only because you can get quality conversations like this (and also for the animated GIFs)


I came across the piece yesterday, talking about the recession and how there’s an employment bubble.  The author writes,

For people who spend most of their days within a few blocks of tech start-up epicenters such as South Park in San Francisco, University Avenue in Palo Alto or the Flatiron district in New York, last week’s jobs report must have created some cognitive dissonance. After all, we’re in aboom/bubble right? It’s really hard to hire good people isn’t it?

And I think, aside from that post and one last week by Megan McArdle, I haven’t seen too many mainstream media outlets discuss the fact that the recession is not affecting everyone equally.

Since Mr. B and I lived in DC for most of the severity of the recession, and since, thanks to our parents, we were able to afford to go to college and we picked majors that would guarantee us stable jobs, we never experienced the recession’s effects.

In fact, Mr. B was able to find four jobs from 2007-today, and I’ve been able to switch jobs once to move to Philadelphia, which is a much worse job market than DC.  All of our family (knock on wood) that wants to be is employed and even though three of my immediate family members were laid off in the past two years, they were able to find jobs several months later.  I have one family member that switched jobs just last week.

The key point, though, is that all of us majored in somewhat technical fields, or if we didn’t go to college in the United States, trained here for them.  Here is the range of my family’s professions: computer programmer, power tools and electrical repair, computer programmer, civil engineer, computer programmer, business/economic consultant, computer programmer, QA analyst, computer programmer, medical office.

What’s my point? The recession is affecting mostly those whose job skills are no longer needed in the economy.  The manufacturers.  The print journalists. The artists whose skills are no longer necessary as businesses try to streamline costs.  And also those located in cities that don’t have big employment opportunities. Unless you drive a Russian ambulance.

And, as Megan writes, the recession is hard and unemployment is excruciating:

I was unemployed for basically two years between the time I graduated from business school in 2001, and the time I accepted a job with The Economist in 2003.  I was much luckier than most people in that situation, both because my parents let me stay in their spare bedroom, and because I was working during much of that time–freelancing, flirting with a start up, doing some tech consulting, and of course, working in a trailer at Ground Zero.  But none of these were permanent, and at the time, it wasn’t clear that any of them were going to turn into something.  I felt the isolation and the desperate fear of everyone who doesn’t have a “real job”, the people who don’t know how they’re going to earn enough over the next forty years to keep body and soul together.  I experienced real despair for the first time in my life.  And it changed me, permanently.

So, what?

I’m not trying to make this an easy solution, because it’s not. If you’re older and at the point in your career, where learning technical skills would be harder than not, there’s no easy solution.   But I think many more people, at least those my age,  could stave off unemployment if they:

A) Picked useful college majors (philosophy or art history is a tough sell for marketing jobs unless you went to an Ivy)
B) Continued picking up technical skills that translate (for instance, a summer project before grad school that I’m working on is learning Thesis for WordPress, along with PHP and CSS,  so my site can finally look decent in every browser since Netscape 000.1 .  I’m getting there with my front page and soon this blog will receive a minor facelift, too. )
C) Watching industries to see what’s going to be popular in the next 5-10 years (data analysis, anything in healthcare, education, and, of course, Teh Webz.)
D) Craft your resume to segue into one of those fields.  Were you an underwater basketweaver in your internship?  You worked in a fast-paced industry of textiles, multitasking between weaving baskets and learning how to breathe, and were able to complete X baskets on time and on budget. So far, I’ve helped at least four people change around their resumes to look more marketable, and I think, to date, three of them have gotten at least first interviews and one ended up changing his/her job.

So, I guess the major point is to constantly be on the lookout, to adapt, to read a lot, and to follow trends closely.  There’s no easy cure for the economy, but there are definitely ways to make yourself immune to at least some of its effects.

A rolling stone gathers no moss, and someone that’s always hustling will usually find a job. Unless you’re driving a Russian ambulance. Then you’re set for life.





Giving to Charity

Akhila (whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person before) and I recently had a discussion on Twitter about charity.  On Friday, I tweeted a link which made me feel guilty and want to give more money to charity, and then another link which made me feel guilty for feeling guilty.  So, I wondered,

Whoops. Sorry, that one was about the hawk cam.

I wondered about the effectiveness of giving to charity, and about the second article which discouraged it:

And Akhila then picked it up and said she disagreed with the whole premise of Altucher’s piece, because:

Our discussion centered on two viewpoints: Mine, that I kind of agree with Altucher because it’s impossible to monitor charity behavior and Akhila’s in that she believes in people’s inherent ability to research and choose charities correctly.

I think this discussion could have easily veered into one about the benefits of electoral college versus true democracy, but another argument that came out of it was whether it matters why people give to charity.

Being a cynical student of economics, I argued that it doesn’t matter. Whether I give money to Kiva because I want you to know that I give money to Kiva, or whether I give money because I want to help people (specifically, women in countries where entrepreneurial opportunities for women are rare,) I’ll still give, right?

However,  Akhila argued that we need to know we’re doing good in order to donate correctly and effect positive change:

I don’t have a correct answer to account for all of human nature, but I think our disagreement stems from two different viewpoints: I don’t trust people.  I think we’re inherently lazy, self-motivated, and stupid, so much so that we’ll donate to anything as long as it looks cool; i.e. Red Cross, and not examine where the money is going.  It takes forever to research charities, even with organizations like Charity Navigator and GiveWell , so how do you know whether the money you’re sending to send little girls to school in Pakistan is really going to some asshole, or is sitting, doing nothing?  How do I even know my Kiva donations are going to the right place?

The second part of it is that I believe people donate at least 50% to give themselves a huge ego boost. I know I do.  I do know people that are selfless and give their time for nothing more than to give time.  But I’m not going to pretend that giving to Kiva doesn’t give me the feel-goods, or that I gave blood in Israel solely for that purpose and not to tell people that I did it, or that I want to volunteer with dog-related causes to make them feel good. Mainly it’s because I miss petting dogs.  What I don’t know is if this perception hurts us more than it helps.

But Akhila doesn’t feel that way.  And I’m glad. Because some of us have to be  optimistic and in the business of helping people. And some of us have to be in the business of pessimism watching hawks remotely.

Edited to add, speaking of Kiva, I thought this was funny: