A Blog by Scott Isaacs

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How To Succeed Professionally, As Taught By a Second Grader

My seven year old daughter was doing some math homework last night at the kitchen table.  I was casually watching over her shoulder and listening to her thinking out loud.  Here’s one of the problems she was working on last night:

16 – 3 – 5

While she didn’t write it out like this, here’s the problem that she decided to solve instead:

18 – (3 + 5) – 2

She solved it this way because:

  • She knew subtracting 3 and then subtracting 5 is the same as subtracting “3 + 5” (distributive property of addition and multiplication(-1 * 3) + (-1 * 5)).
  • She knew subtracting 8 from 18 is easier than subtracting 8 from 16 since she could do it in her head without borrowing (pattern recognition: subtracting two numbers where the ones digit is the same is easier than subtracting two numbers where they aren’t the same).
  • She knew she could change the 16 to an 18 if she remembered to subtract 2 from her answer afterward (manipulating the additive inverse property along with the commutative property of addition: 16 = 16 + 2 – 2 and 18 – 2 + 8 = 18 – 8 + 2).

Bonus: she was able to explain to me what she did, and why.

Granted, she doesn’t know the math terminology, and it’s really a fairly simple, 2nd grade homework problem, but shut up and let me be proud for a minute. 😉  The part that made me most proud was that she’s doing this on her own.  I asked if her teacher showed her those “tricks” and she said no.  I had briefly shown her some of these properties one time a few months ago, but she doesn’t remember that.

As far as she’s concerned, she’s making up her own way to solve problems so she can do them in her head, and then she’s teaching me how to do it.  To her, this is just the way she does it and it’s not a big deal.

As I was thinking I was reminded that this is the key to success in so many professional situations:

  • viewing the problem holistically and recognizing patterns
  • breaking the problem into smaller pieces that can be solved more easily
  • being able to explain your process

Of course you can’t recognize patterns without experience, and different processes need to be explained differently (bullet points, a diagram, blueprints, a video, a story, a user manual, etc.), but the high-level steps are the same.

That’s all there is to writing software.  That’s all there is to building a house.  That’s all there is to being a customer service representative.  That’s all there is to brain surgery.  That’s all there is to rocket science.  That’s all there is to solving a fairly simple, 2nd grade homework problem.

RTLB #6: Some Things Are Hard To Do — Do Them Anyway

This is the sixth in my “Rules to Live By” series.  Like every other professional, in every other field, over the years I’ve picked up a lot of things that make my life easier, or better, both professionally and personally.  Most of these things can be summarized in a sentence or two, and I’ve decided to call them “Rules to Live By”.  As much as any other reason, they are here to remind myself of things that I’ve decided to believe in, even if I don’t feel like it one day.

RTLB #6:

Some things are hard to do.  Do them anyway.

There’s a reason why people have the impression that certain things are hard to do: they are.

Somehow I end up committing myself to things that fall into this category.  I feel like I spend a lot of my time doing things I don’t know how to do.  I take satisfaction in doing things that are perceived as hard, or even considered to be impossible.  Things like working a lot of hours to use one type of technology for a purpose that was supposed to be impossible.  Things like running a users group and organizing technology conferences.  Things like training to climb a mountain, and then making it to the top.  Things like sleeping less than 35 hours per week while writing a book.

Yes, I take satisfaction in doing these things that are perceived as hard.  It’s not because I’m special.  In fact, it’s precisely the opposite.  If I do these things, even if I’m not as good at it as other people are, then so can anyone else.  Yes, there is a sense of accomplishment that comes with doing something I didn’t think I could do or something you didn’t think I could do.  Even more, though, I have a list of things that I can use as examples and as encouragement to others to do something they didn’t think was possible for them.  When my kids are scared to do something because they don’t want to fall or fail, I have history to encourage them to go for it.

Getting hit by a fast ball hurts, but only for a while.  Standing in the box and hitting a game-winning hit feels awesome, for a long time.

Sometimes technology experts that say something is impossible are wrong.  So if you believe in your idea, try it anyway.

Stepping outside your comfort zone to do a job completely unrelated to what you normally do is overwhelming and confusing.  But if you’re passionate about it, try it anyway.

Losing weight and training like crazy for 3 months in order to pull your still-overweight self up a steep granite slope with your arms, only to realize that the trip back down could literally kill you is pretty scary.  But if it’s on your bucket list, train for it and do it anyway.

Whenever you feel like you aren’t qualified to do something that you believe in and that you’re passionate about, tell the imposter to take a backseat and do it anyway.  You’ve done other hard things before and you will do more hard things in the future.  You may suck, or worse, you may be mediocre.  You may fail.  You may get hurt, emotionally, mentally or physically.  You may realize that your time could have been better spent elsewhere.  Or you may not only reach, but surpass, your highest expectation.

Some things are hard to do.  Do them anyway.  Not only for yourself, but to encourage someone else.

Math Truck, Math Wiz

Back when I was around 18 or so, I used to have a truck much like this one (65 Chevy).

Mine was very similar but a little different.  Some interesting facts about my truck:

  • Mine had more rust.
  • It appeared to have been painted with house paint.  By brush.
  • After each rain stopped, there was a white rectangle on the ground where some of the paint washed off.  Kind of like a truck-sized chalk outline.
  • The wooden bed had rotted through and about 3/4 of the bed of the truck was covered with plywood.  The remaining 1/4 was open to the ground below.
  • The muffler was held on by a coat hanger until it fell off one day driving down the road.  I dragged it for 1/4 mile before I could stop.  It was too hot to pick up so I had to wait for it to cool.
  • The rear view mirror would not stay attached to the window so I kept in on the seat next to me and held it up when I needed to use it.
  • The defroster did not work, so I kept a “defroster” (a towel) on the seat next to my rear view mirror.
  • The horn only worked if you took the 4″ diameter cover off and shorted a bolt in the center of the steering wheel to a contact a couple inches away.  Fortunately the cover was conductive, so I kept it on the seat next to my defroster and rear view mirror so I could pick it up and use it to short the circuit and beep the horn.
  • The hood was secured with a piece of chain and a padlock.  Otherwise anyone could open the hood from the outside.  Someone did this once and stole my battery.  So I bought chain and a padlock.
  • Only about half of the space under the hood was used.  The rest was just open to the ground.  Just like the bed of the truck.
  • It passed California emissions tests miraculously.
  • Sometimes, you had to slam the door about 20 times to get it to stay closed.
  • It was a manual transmission.  When I got it, it was “3 on the tree”.  Once the clutch went out and I had to drive a few days with no clutch.  I had to start the truck in first gear and be ready to go as soon as I turned the key.  I had to learn to shift without a clutch.  (Believe it or not, this story probably doesn’t make the “Top 10 Ways Scott Should Have Died Before Age 25” list.)  When I finally got it fixed, it was then “3 on the floor” which doesn’t sound as cool.  Also, the old gear shifter was left on the steering column for good measure, even though it didn’t do anything.
I only had the truck for a short time (less than 2 years I think).  As hilarious as this truck was (I’m not doing it justice here), I liked it.
In fact, I had plans to restore it.  Well, maybe not plans, but at least a passing desire.  I was pursuing a physics or math degree at the time (I switched from physics to math somewhere along the way), so I wanted to get it painted white and cover it with various equations (∫cos(x) dx = sin(x) + C, e^(iπ) + 1 = 0, etc.).  I wanted to get a vanity license plate that said “MATH TRK”.
That was half my life ago.  Literally.  I finally finished my math degree, although I never use it.  I’ve forgotten 10 times more math than most people ever bother to learn.  I gave up on studying physics, although I often regret that choice.  I never got my “Math Truck”.  (I moved on to the Black Pearl, but that’s another story.)
No, I never got my Math Truck, but that’s OK.  Instead I have my very own Math Wiz.

Charlie is in kindergarten now and is doing really well.  We couldn’t be more proud of her.  Watch out, Hawking.  She’s coming to get you in 20 years!

There She Goes

It’s been almost 5 years ago to the day since my daughter was born.  In many ways it seems like yesterday, yet I can hardly remember a time without her.

In just a few hours, she’s going to be starting kindergarten.  She was so excited she jumped into bed with her clothes on.


These Are Mine

Kelly and me

Charlize Brytan

The four of us

What are yours?

Happy Thanksgiving!

June? Seriously? (And Tech-Ed)

June is just a week away.  That’s insane.  It’s cliché to say it, but time goes so fast.  My son is already four months old, and my daughter is getting hilariouser by the moment.  (I know some of you may not consider hilariouser a word, but as I mentioned before, I make up words and add them to my dictionary to get rid of the red squiggles.)

So anyway, I went to Tech-Ed a couple weeks ago and it was great.  I had a lot of fun, met a lot of people, caught up with a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a while, and actually learned a few things in the process.  Maybe someday I’ll put all my new-found knowledge to practical use and make something, ummm, practical.

I went with a co-worker, Brennan, and he got the chance to interview a few people.  He’s posted his videos here.

I also took my new video camera, but pretty much the only footage I got was of Jeffrey Palermo doing a head stand on the dance floor to “Whoomp There It Is”.  I will leave you with that:

PS – Notice that I’m recycling post titles?  It must be getting bad.

March? Seriously? (And Tech-Ed)

Well, tomorrow begins March 2009.  This year is already one-sixth over and it has been a blur.  As I get older years seem to go faster, but this one even faster than normal.  Maybe it’s the “big project” at work and the “big project”, errr, new baby, at home.  The work project ends in about another month.  The other one will last a little longer.  Whatever it is, the last two months have flown by.

Also, I found out a couple days ago that I am going to Tech-Ed this year in May.  (Before I know it that will be here, too.)  Is anyone else going this year?

Brytan Seth Isaacs

Scott and BrytanI’m very happy to say that Brytan Seth Isaacs was born Saturday afternoon, January 17.  He was 8lbs 12oz, 21in long, and has a lot of dark brown hair.

I snapped a ton of pictures yesterday, but most were duplicates just in case one didn’t turn out.  (I love that you don’t have to worry about that with digital cameras.  The 21st century is awesome.)  We looked through them all and picked 35-40 and uploaded them to Baby Brytan’s website.

In all the picture snapping the only picture of myself with him was when I was cutting the cord.  I didn’t have any pics of me holding him.  So this morning, while Mommy was sleeping, I snuck this picture of him from my phone.  I’m actually surprised how well it turned out considering it came from my phone.

Needless to say, I am a proud dad.  I have two wonderful kids now, and an amazing wife.

I don’t know what else to say, except, I’m happy.

Isaacs #4 Update – January 17 Arrival

Well, it’s official.  Unless he decides to come earlier on his own, we will be going to the hospital on January 17 to induce labor and meet our new son.

We’re really excited.  My parents are coming to town.  My 2 year old daughter talks about the baby all the time, even though I don’t think she has any idea what’s about to happen.  She, all of a sudden, likes to play with the toys that were once hers and will now be his.  I think she’ll be a good little helper.

I will post an update here once he is born, and hopefully be able to show a couple pictures as well.

Update: By Isaacs #4, I don’t mean child #4.  It’s child #2.  That plus my wife and myself makes 4.  Just in case anyone out there thinks I’m crazy enough to have four kids, I wanted to set the record straight.  🙂

Favorite Conversation

I just had my favorite conversation ever with my little girl (2yo).

Me: Charlie.

Charlie: (Stops playing and looks at me.)

Me: I love you.

Charlie: I love you, too, Daddy.  (Starts playing again.)

Makes me wish there was a DVR for real life.

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