Zen and the Art of Deck Building

Amazing! I just read Scott Hanselman’s blog post on finding geek balance outside of the geek world.  I started commenting on his blog, but realised I was blogging on his blog.  Here’s my own lumber-yard, geek-balance experience.
Just before Christmas, Fiona and I decided to have a deck built in the back yard.  I tossed the contractor’s quote out and decided to build it myself.  Why?  Same reason as Scott and I also specifically wanted to try my own personal Zen and the Art of Deck Building.  Fiona was naturally skeptical but indulged my mid-life crisis moment.

An apprentice in a world craftsmen.

DIY shops are intimidating.  I was an apprentice in world of journeymen and craftsmen.  I eventually found a benevolent craftsman who was humble enough to help me without judging me.  His ideas helped me simplify my design considerably and, more importantly, gave me some confidence.

Really listening to feedback. My paper design was a BDUF :-).  The moment I placed the wood on the ground, Fiona suddenly changed the location of the deck.  Short tale:  I am still building – new requirements still emerge from my main user.  Early on, I resisted every change with enormous annoyance which resulted in huge arguments.  Then I realised that the needs were real and the new requirements came from seeing how the deck looked with each step of construction.  I had an abstract BDUF and Fiona was taking in real feedback –  being agile!  And I was being rigid!

Living in the moment. I tried hard to live in the moment.  When I was digging a hole, I dug the best hole ever, deep, straight and true, until I hit a concrete block in the way.  Then my beautiful hole was a mess and I was angry at this block and tried to get past the block and continue digging my hole.  Zen moment – the task had changed.  I focused on the concrete block. Chipped away one tiny piece at a time, eventually it fractured and I could continue digging my beautiful hole.  I was focusing on the future, not the present and that screwed up my productivity.

Conflicts in collaboration. So I tried to live in the moment with everything from that point onwards.  When I was cutting wood – I cut wood and tried to get the best cut ever – to find beauty in the cut.  The one day my son, Khaleel, helped out and I got annoyed that he was messing up – it was not as beautiful as I wanted it.  After calming down and living a moment of fatherly guilt, I let him help me dig another hole and I just let him … to live in his moment.  He loved the texture, smell, etc of the sand and dirt.  I imposed my own hang-ups of not wanting to get really dirty.  I realised that he was more into having fun and I was messing up his fun – until I decided to live in the moment with him – by his values.

Finding the balance. Building the deck has been one of the nicest non-geek experiences in recent times.  It made me think differently, behave differently, regard people differently and maybe, one day, it will quietly help me build software better.  I think the trick is to find a place where you will always be the traveler in a world of benevolent journeymen.  And when you can’t find that world, then just be a benevolent journeyman in world of travelers.

2 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Deck Building

  1. Good job with the deck 🙂 Nothing like working on a car, a painting or a deck to remind you that you need to do some things slowly… and carefully… and to then step back and enjoy your handywork.
    Thanks for the chat earlier!

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