Three Words for 2014

As in 2013, I’ve decided this year to compile a list of three words that will guide by work over the next year. Each of these are fluid; they may shift somewhat over the year, but are based on what I know about my professional goals thus far.

having or showing determination or resolve.

One of my agency’s major projects over the next several years is to replace the case management system used by Washington’s Superior courts. As part of that work, there will be changes required to the applications I manage in order to make sure that the workflows of the juvenile and Superior courts, as well as the courts of limited jurisdiction, are not disrupted. Part of this effort requires me to be purposeful: purposeful in my communication with others about what changes are needed, or why certain business processes cannot be disrupted; purposeful in communicating with the users of my application to show them how the two systems will interact; and purposeful in ensuring that, when all is said and done, the courts still have working applications.

Part of my job is as technical subject matter expert for the juvenile courts; as I’ve covered in previous blog posts, the juvenile "courts" are in fact departments of each county’s Superior court. They must be represented just as well as if not better than the Superior courts themselves. This requires a large amount of coordination amongst a range of user groups. I must approach this work with determination to ensure a successful end result.

to elevate in degree, excellence, or respect; dignify; exalt

I decided to replace listening this year, as I realized that listening, for me, is omnipresent and need not take up a slot on this list. While listening is still a huge focus area for me, I opted to take a slightly different tact.

For me, ennoble refers to the idea that the needs of the users are paramount. This is not to say that they are always right, merely to say that their opinions and ideas should be elevated in respect compared to others who are not as familiar with business processes or needs. The users know their jobs best; how else can they perform them?

I think of this as a weighting method: while all voices should be heard equally, the ideas and opinions of those that actually do the work should be respected and allowed to set tone and direction.

an assistant to an important person; a servant or courtier.

Ennoble and attendant are two very similar ideas for me, but are definitely distinct. Whereas ennoble focuses more on giving ideas and people a voice, attendant is to remind me that I do not work in a vacuum. I chose this over servant, as servitude can sometimes be read as a negative connotation.

For me, being attendant means recognizing that the people around me also have things that need done, and if I can enable their work by assisting them, I should. Not all things that cause me to be attendant should be ennobled; simply because I am helping with something does not mean that it is somehow more important or requires more respect than the work I am doing for my users. If ennoble is my method of weighting requests, attendant is my method of performance.

These three words are the result of my self-reflection over what I have done since last January and reflect what how I intend to steer the work that I do in 2014. The most important part of the execution of my words this year, I think, will involve making others familiar with what they are and how they contribute to my goals, then living those words as best as possible.

Word Choice

Disclaimer: As I work for the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts, this posting does not reflect the opinions of that office or the Washington State judiciary. I speak here for myself and to review my own performance at a high level. Nothing here implies or otherwise suggests the support of my employer or of the Washington State judicial branch.

Back in January, I put together a list of three words for 2013 that would serve to guide me throughout the year. I confess, though I haven’t actually formally looked back at these words since, they have still been in the back of my mind throughout my work. Those three words: reinvent, listen, and unreserved.

In late March, I formally took over as the applications lead for two systems maintained by my agency: the Juvenile and Corrections System (JCS), responsible for maintaining data about juvenile detention and juvenile court interactions statewide; and the Adult Static Risk Assessment tool (ASRA), responsible for predicting the likelihood that offenders would reoffend based on past criminal history. Until that point, I was supported by a senior specialist who owned those applications for a number of years up until his retirement.

Part of my drive at the agency since being hired almost two years ago has been to begin steering both applications in a new direction and to rejuvenate both applications to better serve their users. This is particularly challenging in a court system where the courts are independent entities from one another, as one must balance the needs of the state as a whole against those of any one stakeholder. JCS adds to this complexity, as it serves several key needs.

Reinvention here refers less to tearing everything down and starting from scratch and more to increasing relevance and usability. We have begun to do this; however, the entire agency was sidelined by a major data breach, which re-focused our efforts onto internal security. Nevertheless, I feel as if I have been successful in pushing the need to modernize and make more relevant the applications that I am responsible for.

In listening, I am not sure that I will ever quite succeed. Being hearing impaired brings its own set of challenges above and beyond those with so-called “normal” hearing (whatever that means!). I could spend entire blog posts discussing how “normal” hearing is actually quite subjective (and would probably be attacked by hordes of audiologists disagreeing with me from a clinical perspective). In choosing this word, I wanted to practice listening to users and major stakeholders; this has also been a large component of my reinvention focus. Since I started, I have made it a routine practice to attend as many of the training classes that are related to my applications as I can. The rationale is twofold: first, it increases my visibility to the people that I serve, and second, it serves as a valuable step back, allowing me to look at my work from a different angle.

In each training, I make a point of standing up, introducing myself, and stressing that the application cannot evolve without the input of the people in the room. I cannot do my job and be successful without knowing what my users need and want. What I see as a problem may be working perfectly from a process perspective, or my great idea may simply serve to slow others down when implemented. The lifeblood of both applications is how involved the users are in determining their direction. For JCS in particular, I have been very successful in doing so; these training introductions and subsequent discussions have led directly to requests from the same users for system improvements and enhancements.

Being unreserved is requisite in our court environment: all of the court levels must be represented to the best of our ability. This is a large part of why I selected this particular word to represent my work in the first place: the juvenile “courts”, although we call them “courts”, are, in fact, departments of the Superior court within each county. As such, they are lumped together under the Superior courts for administrative purposes. Their needs should be represented just as well as – if not better than – the Superior courts themselves, as they serve such an important part of the state’s population.

Another portion of my work at the agency involves work with our web team to maintain several web sites under the umbrella. I serve as a high-level advisor, working on things like search engine functionality, security troubleshooting, and strategic planning. Here, too, I have tried to push this idea of being unreserved: asking questions, making suggestions for improvement, trying to provide a fresh perspective on questions.

These three words, I think, have been accurate reflections of my work over the last year. I will repeat the exercise for 2014, though I expect that at least one of the words – listening – will likely remain.


If there is one thing that disturbs me as a professional, it is apathy.

I believe that whatever work you do, you should endeavor to do it well. It should be relevant and have value to the person that the work is being produced for. I do not believe in working somewhere where you, as a person, are not valued, and where you do not feel a direct relationship between the work being performed and the benefit to others. I believe that if you work somewhere, it should be because you are willing to invest in the business, whatever that business may be.

Thusly, I fail to understand those who are working simply to work. I further fail to understand those who are working to work who actively sabotage efforts. It is not their opinion that matters. The work being performed has a particular purpose, traceable (one hopes) to a particular business need, well-defined or otherwise. Indeed, we would hope that the work is not being performed for no reason. The performance of that work, then, is not an invitation: “hello, we’re working towards something important, please feel free to sabotage us in any manner possible!”

Nor is it an edict: “we decided we must do this, so we must do this, even though we’re clearly failing. Failure is not an option!”

Failing is always an option. Indeed, sometimes failing is the only option that actually makes sense for a project – X number of dollars invested over Y number of hours for a low or nonexistent payoff would tend to suggest that perhaps a company should not invest much further in the endeavor unless gains are provable within a reasonably short amount of time. Small failures are not necessarily bad either, nor is failing often (in fact, failing small and often can easily be preferred over almost never failing, but failing spectacularly the one or two times you do).

The problem is, not all sabotage is necessarily evident immediately, nor is it particularly obvious. Sabotage might be achieved by willingly failing to actively consider all possibilities or all impacts of a particular unit of work. A single refusal to do so does not, in and of itself, necessarily fail a project; it is the accumulation.

Why, then, is apathy so bad? Quite simply: it hinders. It hinders the ability of the organization to work effectively toward its shared goals. It hinders you as the person who is apathetic; simply working for a paycheck, while not necessarily bad, does not contribute to the overall well-being of the organization or of the work you are assigned to. But perhaps more devastatingly, it hinders the people who are there to not only do the work, but to understand why the work is being done and who endeavor to do it well.

To put it more personally, you hinder me.

Now, I am not one to tell people to shut up and get out of my way; far from it. I believe that an investment in helping others become interested in the work again is well worth it. I do not believe that is easy – it most certainly is not. But if not a full restoration of interest, every organization can benefit from having all of its members at least agree that they will work for common purpose.

Because, really, if we are not all working towards a common purpose, what, exactly, do we intend to achieve?

Three Words for 2013

Chris Brogan put together a post by the same title, and has apparently done so for several years; I figure, “hey, it’s worth a shot!”.

Think of three words that sum up what you want to work actionably on changing/improving in the coming year. [. . .] The idea is to look deeper than a single goal and try to give you an entire mindset to contemplate. The Heath Brothers in their book, Switch, talked about needing three elements to bring about change: a rider (your plans and intents), the elephant (what your mood will do no matter what your plans say), and the path (the environment within which you intend to implement those changes). The concept of the three words is like the path. Think of a word that gives you the HUGE picture, not the small picture.

Here’s my choices. I mostly focused on professional goals rather than personal ones in my descriptions, though these can apply equally to each:

Take what is well-established and elevate it to the next level. Look at what is around me and use the materials I have to turn it into something more usable and efficient. Create an environment where reinvention is the norm, and expected.

Irony is being hearing impaired, knowing the value and the necessity of truly listening to people, but not consistently putting that to practice and making a personal, conscious effort to make sure that needs are heard and understood. This could be a permanent word for me, since it will never be perfect or quite right. However, this year, I want to practice, specifically, listening to users and listening to major stakeholders.

This particular word selection is a bit of a battle between “Unreserved” and “Outspoken”. There was an article in Network World recently that resonated with me:

Jason Clark, Chief Security and Strategy Officer for Websense

Advice: “If you are not putting your job on the line, you are not doing your job.”

When I first started my security career, one of my early mentors stressed the importance of voicing my opinion. This especially applies in the security industry, where we have to stay ahead of the bad guys. It proved to be an important foundation for my career and has contributed to my continued success.

I was employed by a company that acquired part of another very large company. During the acquisition, I had to stand up to the other CIO when we disagreed on how to merge the two businesses from a security perspective. The other CIO wanted us to take a substantial amount of risk. I stood my ground. He said that my company needed the deal more than his company — and escalated the issue to my CEO.

Next thing I know, my CEO is talking to the other CEO, and both my CEO and CIO backed my strategy. I was initially worried that I rocked the boat. In the end, I was praised for standing my ground.

I learned that to do your job, you have to stand up for what you believe in — even if it’s an unpopular decision. Just make sure it’s always aligned with your company’s morals, needs and strategy.

— “IT pros reveal the best career advice they ever received”
Network World

This dovetails well with what I’ve been trying to do in my work life – push what can sometimes be an unpopular opinion or question because I want to be sure that the business has that question answered or that opinion registered so that it can perform its work. This is particularly true in my product management work, where I try to push the edges of the application out further in order to provide users with a more robust and data-rich environment to work in.

I will try to review this regularly; these are not necessarily fixed words, either. The word or the rationale may shift slightly over the year.