Ben Lobaugh Online

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Second week update on the nano reef cleanup

Today ends the second week of the new saltwater nano reef tank. Here is the update on the cleanup project.

The tanks started out overgrown with algae an aiptasia. The tank had crashed. Here is a photo of how it started.

Nano Reef Tank Crashed

I am dedicated to bringing this tank back up to snuff and giving it back to my buddy looking like the beautiful reef it should.

I started by removing all three large rocks for cleaning. The rose bubble anemone refused to be moved, so I wound up leaving that rock in. You can see the anemone on the left most rock in the above photo. Leaving that rock in has made the revitalizing of the tank more difficult as I have been unable to simply kill off and scrub it like the other two rocks. Minor speed bump!

Later, I took a good look at the default sump configuration and was not too thrilled with what I saw. The built in sump is convenient, and certainly makes this tank much easier to maintain, but it has not been doing a great job out of the box. There are three chambers, in the first chamber was nothing but water. The second chamber held a highly porous black sponge that contained a tiny bit of activated carbon and even less bio material. Not nearly enough bio material to build the level of beneficial bacteria I would like to see.

For the short term, I need to be collecting junk in the water, which the black sponge cannot do. I pulled that and the carbon out, then dropped the bio material to the bottom of the second chamber. Then I took filter floss and stuffed the second chamber full. The first chamber was still empty. Here is a photo of the water change 2 days after updating the sump. The filter looks whiter than it really is in the photo, it is dark brown.

Yowza! That is some gross water!

Both chambers one and two now are packed with filter floss. More bio media should be arriving shortly, and that will fill most of the second chamber. There are other specialty saltwater gadgets that could be used, but I am attempting to keep this as simple as possible.

The sump pump was also replaced. It had an anemic 80 gph pump in it. Or at least it felt like the same output as my other 80 gph pump. A 200 gph pump replaced it. This provides much better flow that everyone in the tank seems to be enjoying. The water is much cleaner as well.

Onto the critters!

Removing the other rocks helped the stock feel much better. Everyone is more active now, especially the shrimp, which had stayed in one place for the most part. I also picked up some cleanup crew to assist:

  • 10 Trochus snails – general algae eater
  • 3 peppermint shrimp – aiptasia eater
  • Emerald crab – bubble algae eater

The anemone was looking depressed initially. I fed it some brine shrimp and the next day it looked better. I have been feeding it directly every other day and it is looking happier now. It has fully emerged and opened up, and it’s arms are floating up again.

I have been heavily consulting with a couple pro saltwater buddies, Josh and Jordan. Their guidance has been invaluable. Barrier Reef Aquariums has also been critical to the success of this rehab. I highly recommend you check them out if you are in the Seattle area.

Here are some photos of the tank now:

Click on this link to see a video of the Emerald Crab dining on some algae.

Emerald Crab

I was avoiding getting a crab, but since I put this Emerald Crab in the tank she has become my favorite! Fascinating to watch.

Motivational Checklist Cup

How to help employees gain confidence in their work

I had recently moved from another organization to serve as the Director of Engineering at a rapidly growing startup. The founders brought me in to rebuild the corporate culture, grow and develop a cohesive team, and implement policies that would help us thrive. No doubt entered my mind as to my ability to craft a powerhouse of a department, I had done it many times before on teams with widely ranging skillsets, but here I was the outsider coming in to be “the boss”. I had to win over the team before anything could be accomplished.

The early days were spent getting to know the team and their current processes, which were loosely defined at best, if not completely absent. As a software engineering team that deals with code responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars, it is imperative that code is of the highest quality and error-free. In my experience, peer-based code reviews win out, hands down, over a single engineer reviewing code. The velocity of team skill growth is explosive!

I pitched my new vision of peer code reviews to the team and it was received favorably. I believe that as a leader I should not ask anything of my team that I would not be willing to do myself, so I rolled up my sleeves and hopped into a project with a few waiting code reviews. A good deal of time was spent modeling what a good code review looks like. I was proud of the example I had set (indeed that is how we review to this day!) and merrily submitted the feedback.

During the project stand up the next morning it seemed as if all hell had broken loose. The dev whos code I had reviewed accused me of micromanaging, and several other things not appropriate in polite company. In the end, he told me, in front of the whole team, that my code review made him feel like a “sh*t coder” and we needed to stop them immediately.

I was flabbergasted. This dev had been with the company for a long time and had a strong influence on the other developers. Without his support, I knew the peer code review process was doomed to failure. I had to get him on my side.

After spending some time in thought I pulled the developer aside privately. After validating his feeling on the matter (always important!) I put on my coaching hat and sought to draw out of him the real cause of the outburst. As it turned out, he had a severe case of imposter syndrome. Common amongst developers, it causes them to overlook how skilled they truly are and not have confidence in their abilities.

This developer needed a confidence boost.

At various points in my career, I have experienced imposter syndrome as well, and I bet you have too. From watching great leaders I put together the following three steps that have never failed to bring up a person’s confidence!

Show them the way

Lack of confidence often comes from a lack of knowledge. Pointing out a person’s lack of knowledge will only cause them to become defensive. You must create a positive environment for them to learn and be shaped in. Spend some time letting them follow you around and see how you do it. Explain how you think through a problem and find a solution. This route safely opens the door to the absolute basics, without the person feeling insecure or inadequate in their existing knowledge.

Help them along the way

After they have followed you around they will be ready to attempt to tackle a problem with you by their side. It is crucial at this stage not to leave them. If you step away not they may feel abandoned or falter. Either scenario has the potential to lock them into a shell that will be difficult to draw them back out from. Be with them during this time as a coach and guide. Allow them to lean on your knowledge and experience while they learn to do it for themselves.

Send them on their way

Once they are able to confidently perform tasks with you by their side they are ready for the next step, which is for you to step away and allow them a free hand solving problems themselves. This does not mean they are abandoned and left entirely to their own devices. You still need to make yourself available for guidance and coaching, however, instead of standing next to them, they will come to you.

Successfully working someone through all three of these phases takes time and dedication. All of the software engineers I have taken through this process are excelling at their jobs. I am very proud to look at members of prior teams and see them leading their own teams based on the principles I imparted to them. I fondly recall one guy who was placed on my team and had imposter syndrome so bad that it took him weeks to speak up in a casual team meeting. Within a year he was spearheading internal initiatives and confidently working cross-team to support our clients. What a change!

Internalize this three-step method to build confidence in any member of your team and watch them grow today!

  • Show them the way
  • Help them along the way
  • Send them on their way

As a 20+ year veteran in the web software development world, I know it can be an intimidating place. I am here for you! If you would like to chat with me, or are interested in mentorship, head on over to my contact form at https://benlobaugh.com/contact and drop me a line.

Photo by Jose Silva from Burst

The top 2 qualities you must have to be promoted to a leadership position

Please note that this post contains affiliate links and any sales made through such links will reward me a small commission – at no extra cost for you.

It is a classic scenario- you want to move into a position of leadership, but your boss has passed you up for a promotion, again. You are frustrated and wondering “Why does this keep happening? Do they even care about me here?” 

Wait! Before you dust off that old resume, let me share with you the top 2 qualities that you must have to be promoted to a leadership position.

Quality #1 – Personal Stability and Growth

I have watched many teams succeed and fail over the last two decades. What stands out to me in particular is the leaders on winning teams had a couple things going for them: personal stability and dedication to personal growth.

What is Personal Stability?

When I speak of Personal Stability, I mean that person had a consistent pattern to their life. They are solid and dependable in all circumstances. It is rare that their friends and family were surprised by their actions, and never is there a concern as to their personal safety or sanity.

In the workplace, I know that I can depend on this sort of person day in and day out, because I have confidence that they will be right there beside me– in good times and in rough times. I never worry that they suddenly would not show up for work, or a client or project would be left hanging due to their actions.

Be a stable person.

What is Personal Growth?

In addition to being stable, good leaders also practice personal growth. In their off work hours they learn how to better themself.

I firmly believe that no person can grow professionally without first growing themself personally. If you do not have a drive to improve yourself at home that will not suddenly change when you are on the clock.

Have a personal growth plan, in action.

A great book to read on personal growth is The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John C. Maxwell

Quality #2 – Career Roadmap

While it is true that some people have gotten ahead in life without a plan, I generally ascribe that to dumb luck. Right place right time. If you want to move up that corporate ladder, it is crucial to have a plan, a career roadmap if you will.

A career roadmap does not need to be intricately detailed. Start simple. Let’s say you have been a developer for two years and your goal is to become Director of Engineering. A plausible roadmap may look something like:

  • Gain development skills
  • Get hired as a Junior Developer
  • Get promoted to Developer 
  • Get promoted to Senior Developer
  • Get promoted to Lead Developer
  • Get promoted to Engineering Manager
  • Get promoted to Director of Engineering

As you progress through the roadmap you will discover what is required to reach the next level. If you want to get to the next level,  you need to operate as if you were on the next level.

A Lead Developer is typically responsible for a team. Moving from a Senior Developer to a Lead position is no small jump. You go from being responsible for your own output, to being responsible for the output of an entire team. Not to mention client communication and interfacing with project management, and possibly other departments.

When I consider someone for a leadership position I ask myself the following questions:

  • Where are they going? I.E. What is the career roadmap?
  • Have they asked me for advice on how to get to the next step, or are they blindly hoping they know what it takes?
  • Have they asked for mentorship? 
  • What actions have they taken inside the company to prove their ability?

I mentioned mentorship- that is not a requirement, however it weighs heavily in their favor. For a good portion of my early career I did not have a mentor. It was like the blind leading the blind. Once I found a mentor my growth and leadership ability exploded. A good mentor will provide invaluable insight into where you are now, and guidance for where you are going to.

How to get back on track if you screwed up

A team member I worked with years ago recently called me up for advice. He was trying to get a leadership position in his company, but had been passed over twice for the promotion. As I probed him with questions I learned that there had been an incident in his personal life the previous year that spiraled out of control and had an impact on his work and the company itself. He is very capable of taking on the new role, but his leadership has concerns about his stability. I shared the above advice with him, and a simple plan on how he can overcome the stigma currently attached to his name.

In order to move up, he first needs to restore the trust and faith of his leadership. A great start is being completely transparent with them and bringing them a plan. Here is the plan:

Personal Life

  • Acknowledge and own the issues
  • Share what he did to address the original issue
  • Show the ongoing personal improvement plan and how he will stay aligned with it

Professional Life

  • Acknowledge and own the impact on the company
  • Ask what leadership requires to  show he is ready for the new position
  • Work on a plan, with leadership, to regain status
  • Request mentorship on a consistent schedule. Biweekly is a good starting point

If a member of my team came to me with that plan (and indeed a couple have!) I would certainly be impressed! I want my team to succeed. If you show me your drive and desire for improvement I will move heaven and earth to get you there, as any good leader will.

Pulling it all together

In summary, there are two qualities that you must have to be promoted to a leadership position:

  • Personal Stability and Growth
  • Career Roadmap

If you messed up somewhere along the way, do not fret. Your career is not over. Own your mistakes and work with your leadership on a plan that will get you back on track, and before you know it you will be coming back here to read about the traits of successful leaders!

Know that I WANT YOU TO SUCCEED! If you are struggling to reach that next level in your career and would like advice or mentorship then head on over to my contact page and let me know how I can help. I would love to hear from you.

Photo by BENCE BOROS on Unsplash

New fish tank, saltwater- I have never had this before!

For over three decades I have kept aquariums. I tried to calculate of all the individual tanks over the years and came up with a rough 400 gallon number. In all of that time I have never had a saltwater fish tank! My friends Joshua and Jordan were the salt pros and I was the freshwater guy. 

A  buddy with a nano reef tank asked me a couple weeks ago if I could take care of his tank for a while. An established tank, with a built in sump. It is the perfect salt water aquarium starter package. I gladly agreed and the tank is now sitting next to my desk where I get to look at during the work day. 

Tank: Fluval Evo 13.5 

Current stocking:

  • Rose bubble tip anemone
  • Frosted Clown
  • Black and White Clown
  • Watchman Goby
  • Pistol Shrimp
  • Fire Shrimp 
  • Peppermint Shrimp
  • Emerald Crab (I added)

Photo of the tank after moving it to my house

Algae and Aiptasia got a foothold during my buddy’s vacation. We are currently battling it out, but I am confident that we will be the victors and the tank will be pristine again soon!

Some photos of the stock:

Video of the Emerald Crab

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