Rolling on a Whim

This little ol’ blog of mine is feeling somewhat neglected these days, but that’s because I’ve been writing more than ever – just not here. Back in August, we left Pittsburgh to live full-time in an RV (more specifically, a motorhome) and travel the US. We don’t know how long we will be gone for, and we don’t really know where we’re headed, except that we need to follow the weather. Snow and a 38-foot gas motorhome don’t mix! If you’d like to follow along with us, I’ve been writing a lot on our blog, Rolling on a Whim. I also use Instagram as my primary social tool, so follow us there, too.

before we departed for RV life


I’m a Content Author for Moms Can Code

It’s no secret by now that a lot of my blog content is focused on working in IT/software development, specifically about being a business analyst. I do believe that there is interesting work to be had in IT, and that there are so many directions to take your career in, you never have to be stuck. It is a career that rewards constantly learning, keeping your skills sharp, and adding new skills to your repertoire. In August, I went to the Moms Can Code launch event in Pittsburgh. The basic premise of Moms Can Code is to provide a community + resources for those learning to code – to make the journey less lonely.

I knew immediately after attending the launch event that I wanted to create some content for Moms Can Code. I’ve worked in IT for almost 10 years now, and I have a thing or two I’d like to share. So I combined all of my business analyst knowledge and experience and tried to explain it without a lot of the “tech talk” that can sometimes confuse people. I submitted this to Moms Can Code, and it is now a part of their membership. Membership is only $5 a month and if you join through my link, I get a small portion of that (I donated the content for free). So join Moms Can Code and take a step in exploring software development as a career.


Being a Business Analyst, In Words and Pictures

Summer must evoke the need for me to write about being a business analyst, because the last time I posted about it was just about a year ago. In that post, I wrote things that I believe to be essential to the BA (business analyst) mindset. Well another year has gone by, and that means another year of being a BA. I still believe that what I wrote a year ago is accurate, but I have found myself summing it up a little more eloquently these days:

A business analyst goes between the business and the developers, translating business needs into functional requirements or user stories, which the developers when work off of to create software in meaningful, measurable chunks.

Here’s a “real world” scenario of what a BA does:

Business: Build a new version of our software. It has to do the same thing the current version does, but better.

Developers: We need detailed directions on what to build.

Me (Business Analyst): I need to understand what the current software does so that I can provide those detailed directions. Developers, let’s start with a very basic thing the software does. How about adding a new entry to the system. How do you do this currently?

Developers: We have a base object in the database. We instantiate the object then create a type for the entity, which has varying attributes based on what entity type it is assigned. *insert even more technical details here*

Me: No, from a user perspective.
Developers: Well no matter how the user does it we do the same thing behind the scenes.

Numerous conversations later, I develop the understanding I need to write the requirement.

I then writes user stories that detail all of the functionality. Here is a simple example for adding a record to a system.

User Story 1: Create Record

  • User only sees “Add Record” button if user has proper permissions
  • User clicks “Add Record”
  • Form appears containing the following
    • Form name: Add Record
    • Label: Record Name
    • “Save” button
      • Button disabled until Record Name has >=1 character
    • “X” button allows user to cancel at any time
    • Text input field for Record Name
      • Max length 50 characters
      • Do not allow the user to type beyond 50 characters
  • User clicks “Save”
    • Record is saved to database with unique identifier
    • Confirmation message is displayed “Record Saved”
    • User clicks “Exit” button to exit create record dialogue
 
The BA or the UX person does a mockup of the screen, here is one for this example:
 
Inline image 1
Then the story is discussed with the developers and is further refined. After that process takes place, it is assigned story points and given technical tasks. It can then be placed in a sprint to be worked on. I hope this gives you a better idea of what a BA does. We develop an understanding of either the current or desired functionality, break it down into smaller pieces that can be worked on in a sprint.
Lastly, here is a sketch I made that sums it up:

Podcast Lovin’

I did a post awhile back on my favorite podcasts.  I’ve since picked up some new ones, dropped some of the ones I loved back then, and others have stayed the course, so let’s take a look, in no particular order, at what podcasts I’ve been loving lately.

1. How I Built This – NPR

How they describe it:

A podcast about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built.

From <http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510313/how-i-built-this>

My take: I love these 30 minute interviews with big name entrepreneurs. Every episode has at least one thing that totally surprises me. Did you know the founder of Zappos cares not at all about shoes? Or that Angie’s list wasn’t founded by Angie at all? The thing that always strikes me is just how…simple…most of their stories are. Some of these businesses are total accidents, others started in their own kitchens, no matter the story, it’s almost never one of incubators and investors.

2. Dear Sugars – WBUR

How they describe it:

Radically empathic advice from Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond

From <http://www.wbur.org/dearsugar>

My take:  Cheryl and Steve give such beautiful advice. They deal with some tough situations on this show, and they do a good job of finding humor along the way while also giving the questions the respect they deserve. I’ve listened to other advice podcasts, but I keep coming back to Dear Sugars. Both Cheryl and Steve are so eloquent that their words sound like poetry.

3. Heavyweight – Gimlet Media

How they describe it:

Maybe you’ve laid awake imagining how it could have been, how it might yet be, but the moment to act was never right. Well, the moment is here and the podcast making it happen is Heavyweight.

From <https://gimletmedia.com/heavyweight/>

My take: This podcast keeps me engaged. I listened to every single episode, and I can’t wait for it to come back. It explores the back story behind relationships, and is very specific – episodes are usually about 2 people and the relationship between them, and explores what may be changed present-day if different decisions were made in the past.

4. Myleik Teele’s Podcast – #MyTaughtYou

How they describe it:

I am an entrepreneur and currently running curlBOX.com. I share my insights, things I’ve learned along the way in hopes to teach you the things I had to learn the HARD way!

From <https://www.acast.com/myleikteelespodcast>

My take:  I’ve been listening to this podcast forever. I love Myleik and her advice, I don’t like her interview series quite as much. She’s a straight shooter  and I always feel slightly more confident and ready to conquer the world after I listen to her podcast.

5. Nourish + Flourish -Emily Levenson and Betsy Brockett

How they describe it:

Nourish + Flourish is a podcast about navigating the often difficult terrain of finding what nourishes you — mind, body, and soul — so that you can flourish.

From <http://www.nourishandflourish.us/about/>

My take: This podcast has had a lot of topics that I find interesting: mindfulness, exercise, postpartum mental/physical health, diet, meditation, and just a lot of sharing of LIFE experiences – the things that make us who we are. The hosts are extremely candid and share their personal experiences, so I like feeling like I’m getting to know them better and better as the episodes roll out.

6. Invisibilia – NPR

How they describe it:

Invisibilia (Latin for invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.

From <http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510307/invisibilia>

My take: I’ve been enjoying this podcast on my commute every day. It definitely challenges some assumptions most people (including myself) have had. The latest one I’m listening to: the assumption that our personalities are consistent over time. They take a “fact” and challenge it with science. It’s a nice break from the self-help type podcasts that I tend to gravitate towards. I especially enjoyed the “Problem with the Solution” episode, which gave some insight into how other countries treat mental illness.

 

Lastly I have to give a shoutout to my preferred podcast listening app, Podcast Addict.


Where Have These Been All My Life?

Anyone that knows me somewhat well knows that I hesitate to spend money, particularly on a large ticket item (note: I’m working on this. Less of the cheap thrills, more of the things that matter. That’s another post) . At least not without some pondering, and research. Oh, the research! Must read all the reviews, with careful screening of which ones are sponsored/shady.

Anyone that knows me somewhat well ALSO knows that I work out. Just about every day. I’ve been doing it now for about 4 years straight, and it’s just a part of who I am (copyright, my best friend and workout buddy Brittany).

I walked into Costco one day recently and picked up these Plantronics Backbeat Wireless Bluetooth Headphones.

Plantronics BackBeat Fit Wireless Headphones - Retail Packaging - Green

 

After a quick google on my phone, I purchased them, because they had good reviews and with Costco, you can always bring something back if you don’t like it. This is one of the justifications I have for about 50% of my Costco purchases, and what percentage of those are ever ACTUALLY returned? I won’t answer that question…Anyway, in a move unlike me, I bought them. After a small learning curve getting used to the controls, the only thing I’m wondering is…

WHERE HAVE THESE BEEN ALL MY LIFE?!

It’s so freeing not to have to constantly deal with a cord. I never realized just how much it got in my way, especially when lifting. My favorite feature of the headphones is that they are angled into your ear, but do not take up your whole ear, so you can still hear noises other than your music/podcast. This is important when running outside. The battery life is pretty good as far as bluetooth headphones go. I charge them about once a week.

As of the date of this post, they are only $4 more on Amazon than they were at Costco.

If you don’t think you need bluetooth headphones, you do. I wish I would have bought mine years ago!


The Shell Cracker Plant Comes to Beaver County

It was officially announced earlier this year the Shell Chemicals will be building an ethane cracker plant in Potter Township, Beaver County. Long before the official announcement, there was lots of work going on. What used to be woods on my commute to work was stripped bare. I watched daily as hundreds of pieces of heavy machinery bulldozed then reshaped the land around the I-376 and Route 18 interchanges near Beaver Valley Mall. I learned all about logging equipment – I’d get to work and google to figure out the name of the machine with a 50 foot saw attachment. I saw semi after semi flying down the interstate, loaded with logged trees. The cracker site looked like the moon – completely devoid of any greenery, a far cry from the generally dense and colorful Pennsylvania landscape. I saw the landscape change also during my runs in Beaver. The view from River Rd (some of the most expensive real estate in Beaver County) is now mostly of the cracker site. The roads in Beaver County, particularly the bridges that connect Rochester and Monaca, are dense with 18 wheeled trucks that are covered in a thick black dust. They make the bridges shake like leaves under their immense weight loads. The Rochester roundabout is congested with large construction trucks that can’t fit through the tight bends. All of this in the name of progress – and I will agree that Beaver County could definitely use some progress. However, is this really the kind of progress we want? A heavily polluting plant sitting right on the river…a plant that will create 1.6 million tons of plastic per year. Plastic that will go on to further pollute the environment. I will be the first to admit that I didn’t care quite as much about plastic waste until the factory producing it came to my backyard. It is not ok with me that we pollute the air and river to create something that will eventually sit forever either in a landfill or an ocean. It’s not what I want for me, or my family. I’m glad that Beaver County has some hope again, I really am. I’m not glad that it’s in the form of plastic pellets and pollution.


Consistent Priorities

Life is all about priorities. It sounds so cliche, but it’s a statement that rings more true for me with every passing year. When I think about why I didn’t get something done, it always boils down to one fact: I didn’t make it a priority. This can be hard to admit, especially when it comes to something like thinking about why I haven’t seen certain friends in so long. It’s because somewhere along the way, it wasn’t someone’s priority (I say someone, because it either wasn’t my priority, or my friend’s, or maybe both).

How do I manage to always get my workouts in? They are a priority because I recognize that exercising on a regular basis has benefits that trickle into all areas of my life. But why have I not made the progress that I had intended to on my startup? I haven’t made it a consistent priority, that’s why. It’s not easy to admit this to myself, but it’s the truth. I’ve always been good at forcing myself to do things. It’s become a joke with one of my closest friends, we are usually “forcing ourselves” to do things. Another friend told me that I am tenacious. So it’s time to take that tenacity and force myself to make my startup a consistent priority in my life.

Take a step back – according to your actions, what are your priorities in life?


The Business Analyst Mindset

Recently, I’ve had to interview candidates for a mid-level software BA (Business Analyst) role at my company. As I reflected back on the interviews, I was thinking about how the post-interview discussions about the candidates always come back to one thing: “Does he/she have the BA mindset?” Where the candidate went to school, what his/her degree is in, what internships he/she has had, how long they’ve been a BA, none of it seems to matter without the possession of a “BA mindset”.  It’s nothing that you can put on your resume as a credential, yet it’s vital for landing a BA job. Here’s the “JMO” of what I look for as part of the BA mindset.

The ability to…

 

  • Break down big problems into small pieces that can eventually be called “done”. Categorize these pieces into larger, underlying themes.
  • Ask Questions – or, more specifically, ask the right people the right questions
  • Question the answers  to your questions. Repeat back your understanding of the answer to multiple stakeholders until everyone has the same understanding.
  • Think through problems. This sounds so simple, yet this kind of critical thinking is rare. Think through every possible scenario/flow in your product and make sure logic/error handling exists to account for every single one of them. Even if you do this well, there are many that will be missed. That is OK – don’t let anyone make you feel bad for missing a scenario or two. We do the best we can and the quality of the product is the responsibility of the whole team, not just the BA.
  • Be humble. Admit when you don’t understand something. It is your job to understand complex problems and come up with solutions. This absolutely requires that you admit when you don’t understand – shout it from the rooftops until you get a proper explanation.
  • Draw upon QA expertise. When the BA has respect for QA, the relationship between the two creates a much better product. QA will come up with scenarios the BA didn’t think of. Don’t take it as a personal attack – instead, thank them for their critical thinking skills and be sure the use case is covered. Better late than never.

 


Subtle Green Shifts

Lately I’ve created some new habits that are in the “green” category.  They are very simple shifts that didn’t require a lot of change from the way I was already doing things. So I want to share them – maybe you can make some “subtle green shifts” too!

Eliminate junk mail + recycle paper

I found myself getting frustrated by the ever increasing amount of junk mail in my mailbox, especially catalogs and credit card offers. I eliminated 90% of credit card offers in my mailbox by opting out at the following site. Yes, I know it looks shady, but I promise, it’s legit: https://www.optoutprescreen.com/. After about 6 months the offers dwindled down to 1 or 2, 1 of which was the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card which would just NOT quit sending me offers. I sent an e-mail to Southwest and had them take me off of their list.

I had great luck removing myself from catalog lists by sending a quick e-mail to a company every time I got one of its catalogs. Most of them have a Customer ID on the back by the mailing label. I referenced this number and simply said “remove me from your mailing list”. It takes a LOT of time to be fully removed from the catalog mailings, so don’t expect any noticeable improvement for 6 months or so. But it WILL happen eventually.  If after 3 months, I was still receiving catalogs, I sent another message saying so and asking to be removed again. A pain in the butt? Yes. Worth it? Yes.

Any remaining paper (even paper from packaging) I recycle at the Paper Retriever. I have one within walking distance of my house and it gives me an excuse to take a walk. Never mind how I might look walking down the street with a huge bag of paper in tow…

Meatless Lunches During the Work Week

My husband and I pack all of our lunches for the week on Sunday. We switched over to meatless lunches a couple of months ago, and we really like it. The protein we keep coming back to is beans. My husband has become a master at different ways of preparing different kinds of beans. So far, favorites are pinto, black, and garbanzo beans. We’ve had Mexican beans, Asian beans, and “regular” beans. I keep telling my husband to start a food blog so he can share his bean cooking secrets! We feel better ethically about eliminating some of the meat from our diets and we also appreciate the $25 a week or so in savings.

Consistent use of Reusable Bags

I’ve used reusable bags for years now, mostly since I am an Aldi shopper and that’s just the way it is at Aldi since they don’t provide bags. However, I’ve started to use reusable bags 90% of the time, and I’m working to increase that. I don’t want 10 plastic bags every time I go to Target. I don’t want the farmer to give me my produce in a plastic bag at the farmer’s market. I keep reusable bags in my car and it takes a lot of the “remembering” factor out of it. And if I ever find myself with a surplus of plastic bags, I make sure I recycle them.

Reusable Water Bottle

It kills me to see people buying case after case of bottled water. It is so easy to re-fill a reusable water bottle. There is no excuse for trash bags bursting with empty plastic water bottles! I have about a half case of disposable water bottles left in my house, and I have put them in a far corner of my basement so I can’t easily grab one. Instead I just re-fill one of the reusable bottles I already have. My favorite thing about reusable bottles? You can choose the size + carrying mechanism that makes sense for what you’re doing to do. Leaving the house for the day? Take a huge bottle. Going for a walk? I take my Nalgene with the strap that makes it easy to carry. Most of the time 20oz of water isn’t enough for me anyway.  I love that I’m seeing more refill stations for reusable water bottles in places like the airport!


Don’t Let Anybody Ruin Your Day

Ten years ago, I was a student at Penn State. Although a lot of things from those 4 years have stuck with me, there is one memory that always brings a smile to my face. My now-husband (of 5 years), and at the time, boyfriend of, well, not very long, lived in South Halls dorms on campus (Haller Hall, specifically, if you’re a PSU Alum!). They’ve since been re-done and are now beautiful, but Haller Hall used to look like the picture below.

Credit: http://www.freshmansupport.com/images/pa/university-park/psu/properties/haller-hall/main0.jpg

Almost any time you walked into Haller Hall, you were greeted by Rich, the janitor. He was always busy sweeping the stairwells, cleaning the bathrooms, trying his best to polish the turd that Haller Hall was…haha. Rich was intellectually disabled and had an awesome attitude. On our way out of the dorm, he’d often shout after us, “Don’t let anybody ruin your day!” How great is that? It has stuck with my husband and I for ten years now and will continue to stick with us for the rest of our lives. In fact, I dropped my husband off this morning with an ode to Rich, saying “Don’t let anybody ruin your day!” as he left the car. It makes us both laugh, thinking of the memory. So, Rich, thanks for the encouragement and the reminder that the fate of each day lies in our own attitude.


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