Jess Martin

⚠️ Warning! This is an in-progress research note exported directly from Jess's note-taking system. The ideas in this note are still under active development.

Last Updated: August 05, 2020

User Guide for Jess Martin

What inspires and motivates you?

I'm inspired by anything well-made or beautiful.

  • Music - I have a huge music collection, and I spend 3-5 hours a week actively searching out and listening to new music.
  • Food - I love to cook and host others for dinner and enjoy a great meal, at a restaurant or in someone's home.
  • Stories - I carefully research movies and books and draw a lot from the stories they tell.

I'm a connoisseur of ideas, concepts, frameworks, and other "intellectual scaffolding."

  • I love a rousing discussion of philosophy, theology, psychology, values, futurism, history.
  • I write in order to understand my own thinking and construct my own views of the world.
  • I read fairly widely, preferring books that are more than a few decades old.
  • I love essays and non-fiction and often find connections that I can integrate into my life and work.

I find grounding being outside in nature.

  • Snow-covered mountains remind me of the grandeur of the universe and my place in it. They put me at peace.
  • I walk regularly throughout the day, strolling through my garden and neighborhood in order to get refreshed.

What are you great at or love doing?

My friend Shay Frendt is now a Director of Engineering at GitHub. We worked together for 5+ years as consultants and also cofounded a few businesses together. I asked Shay what I was uniquely great at and he listed three things:

  • Communication - personalizing information to each member of a team.
  • Utilization - getting the most out of each person by knowing where to put them on a project.
  • Teaching - making information digestible.

How I work best:

  • Zero to one - I'm best starting things from scratch. I'm a zero-to-one guy.
  • Generalist - I'm a generalist, so I'm most effective on small teams where I can span multiple roles.
  • Focused - I like to fully focus on one thing at a time rather than spreading thin across multiple initiatives.

Activities I'm great at:

  • Moving fast and shipping things - I'm not the most "scale-oriented" engineer but I can get things into customer's hands quickly.
  • Code review and debugging - I'm reasonably adept at diving into foreign codebases and projects, quickly finding my way around, and figuring out how to fix things.
  • Writing - Written communication, documentation, articles, etc
  • Presenting - I love prepping a talk, sculpting the message, the art of speaking.
  • Talking to customers - I've conducted hundreds of customer interviews and have honed a script for getting valuable info from customers.

What are you terrible at or hate doing?

  • I'm terrible at finishing things. The last 20% I simply have to grin and bear it to get it done.
  • I get bored with things that are in "maintenance mode." Once the major strategies have been implemented
  • I hate splitting my efforts among several major projects simultaneously.
  • Minutiae. I can play the project manager, but I prefer to have a strong task-oriented person on the team to delegate project management to.
  • "Research-only projects." I like building and shipping things, and projects that only come to conclusions that I don't get to act on means I miss the fun part.

What’s the best relationship with a manager you’ve ever had and why was it great?

What makes my relationship with my manager great:

  • Priority - There are always too many things to do in any organization, particularly in startups. I need clear direction about what's most important.
  • Context - I value a large amount of context on whatever initiative I'm working on. Why does it matter? What's the historical backdrop? What are the principles and ideas that underlie this initiative? What assumptions are we making?
  • Trust - I appreciate being trusted by my manager to take in the priorities and context, make clear decisions, and carry them out.
  • Dialogue - As a verbal processor, I value regular "working" checkins to think through a project and direct my efforts. Don't worry though, I'll ask you for this time!
  • Feedback - I can sometimes communicate as if I'm certain of something, when I'm actually just exploring an idea. Great managers have helped hone my ideas and practices by providing direct, correcting feedback that have helped me grow and do better work.

What are the triggers/things that affect you negatively?

  • Two or more simultaneous in-flight initiatives - I like to focus on one big initiative at a time. When I have to divide my days between two or more large initiatives, I start to feel drained. I can only have one top idea in my mind, and I'd prefer to not have competition for that slot.
  • Overwork - I have suffered from workaholism in the past. I try to keep my weekly work to 45 hours or less for my own health and the health of my relationships. Mostly, I can self-regulate on this at this point in my career, but it's not a problem at all for you to ask me how I'm doing on this front!
  • Politics - They're a fact of life. And I've learned a thing or two about how to "play the game." I need to get better at it, and I'm trying. But it's draining work for me.
  • Being a middle manager - I like leading teams, but I need to spend at least 40% of my time as an individual contributor. When I'm a manager who is managing multiple teams, I find the work draining. It's all writing documents and having meetings. (in other words, I need at least 40% of my time to be on Maker's Schedule rather than Manager's Schedule)
  • Underperforming coworkers - I've been blessed to work with smart, hard-working individuals for most of my career. In some cases, I have been the worst player on the team and I grew like a weed during those times. When I consistently have to work with and rely on coworkers who struggle to do the basis of their job, I can grow impatient and tense. I may start to try to do their job for them since I have lost faith in my ability to depend on them to deliver. If I'm involved with coaching and mentoring those coworkers, that tends to help me with empathy.
  • Leadership vacuums - Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do I. I find myself unconsciously acting to fill a void in leadership or direction on a team. At times, this is very helpful, part of the side effect of being a "natural leader." At times, it can seem like I'm being grabby. I have to actively resist a tendency to step in when there is poor leadership.

Tell me three things I should know about your interests/hobbies outside of work

  • I follow Jesus and my faith provides a foundation for just about everything in my life, including how I work and what I value.
  • I love mountain biking and downhill skiing.
  • I love spending time with my family-my wife and my 7, 5, and 2 year old kids-especially going on adventures together, like camping, travel, etc.

What are your career goals in next 2-4 years?

I'd like to teach people about the intersection of software engineering, product management, and programming. I'm not sure what form that will take.

  • I may go out on my own as an independent trainer/thought leader (a la Kent C. Dodds)
  • I may work for a company as a developer evangelist (a la Jason Lengstorf or Swyx).
  • I may work for a company as a principal engineer (a la Patio11, Patrick McKenzie at Stripe or Keavy McMinn)
  • I may start a small startup to build learning platforms or tools for learning (a la or
  • I may work on foundational computing research, driving forward the "state of the art" in how humans and computers work together, a la Bret Victor.

The important thing is I want to continue to be at the intersection of Education and Technology, with increasing autonomy to blaze a new trail.

© 2020 - Jess Martin