Coffee and Joy

I had coffee with a new friend today. He brought his 10 month old. The experience was different than I remember, having small children. I’m no longer rushed the way I used to be. I have energy the way I never had. I just melted, looking into the toddler’s eyes. I felt such joy, handing them a small paper cup, just so they could toss it, for me to pick it up again.

I don’t want to blame my ex-partner or ex-business partner for thinking I missed out on something… I take responsibility. I was so armored. I chose to wear that armor. I imagined they wielded some sort of weapon, aimed at my heart. My ex-business partner would attack directly and indirectly, with barbs that went directly to my soft spots, my insecurities. Indirectly, that was done by getting other people to attack my soft spots. In my apologist nature, taking responsibility for my own feelings, I also need to remember—my business partner was a bully. I needed to protect myself.

Now, I would walk away.

I learned the lesson of walking away with my ex-partner. They were controlling. They were not so adept at pinpoint attacks to soft spots, but I was so insecure about being alone, that I chose to live in a cage, to be crated. I was there to prop up my partner’s emotions, to feed of their happiness. Maybe that’s why pets are so special. I did it, as I thought a loving partner should do, not realizing that their lack of emotional regulation led to my overregulation. The lack of reciprocity ate away at my ability to feel.

And so it went… that I probably lived in mild-depression for years — if mild depression is a flatline of mood.

That’s why I left my partner. I finally saw… I saw there was another way to live and I needed to live that way as a father. As a father, living by example is one of the most powerful things you can do. I did not want to continue the cycle of living for someone else. I knew I could live selflessly. I had to prove and show, for my sons, that I could live for myself.

Stand for Myself by Yola

In online dating, you are often asked whether you have kids and want kids. I have kids, but only want more with the right partner. So, I leave that answer blank. I don’t want to miss out on a person who would be open to kids. Yet, in meeting that young child this morning, I realize, I want more kids. I love the qualities that come from being an only child, but I also know I’m a fantastic father and want a second chance at the really young ages… with a special partner.

Functions?! Why do I need to know this? – HS Intro to Python Class at End of 2021-2022 School Year

TL;DR, Summary, Breakdown

  • Function use is equivalent to using names for things, actions, people, etc.
  • Reuse of functions is secondary to the simplicity provided by naming things
  • This is a superpower

We were winding down the Introduction to Python lecture. There were three of us leading the class, Teacher O, Tutor E, and myself. I asked, “Does anyone have any questions?”

Student X asked, “Why do we need functions?”

I was taken aback. I paused. It clearly is an abstraction concept, related to the idea of naming things. That’s a hard sell. I said, “It simplifies your code, but I’ll try to think of a better answer.”

Teacher O interjected, “It allows you to reuse code. Reusability is very important for the real world.”

I struggled, stammered, and committed to coming back with a better answer. I’m still struggling.

I explored the issue later with Student E. E was having trouble with their creative task. E wanted to create three space men, from their favorite game, “Among Us.” We worked to get E’s task running, but then came to the end of the class period, still needing to fulfill one element of the rubric: use a function with a return value.

When we came back next class period, E, made a telling mistake, putting “()” characters after a variable. They ran the code and an error was instantly visible. They didn’t read the error, just removing the “(),” and suddenly it ran again.

“Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know what those parenthesis mean?”

“I’m not sure.” [1]

I thought for a moment. “Can you put in your own words, the difference between a function and a variable?”

“I’m not sure.”

—I’ve commented on 1:1 interaction, and this is where it is incredibly useful. In a group setting, there are all sorts of pressures that are difficult to relieve. When I was a student, I felt pressure to show my knowledge or, maybe worse, to avoid looking ignorant. So, I wouldn’t speak. 1:1, though, we can use the teacher/student trust to draw the student out. I am able to gauge and even reconsider different directions. I’m able to tell stories about how I found the particular topic challenging when I was a student.

I tried a new tack, “Think of functions like verbs and variables like nouns. Is crewmate a verb or a noun?”

“A noun?” E asked, somewhere between confused and questioning.

I dug in farther. After a few moments of discussion, E asked, “what’s the difference between a verb and noun again?” We googled noun and verb. Thing and Action. Still, E struggled.

“Is createCrewmate a noun or verb?”

“No, a verb?” Correct, but the question hung in the air.

—Can I simplify this?

“Let’s stop talking about verbs and nouns. Let’s just talk about functions as actions and variables as things. Is crewmate an action or a thing?”

“A thing.” A clear statement. E didn’t waver.

“And is createCrewmate an action or a thing?”

“Action.” Another clear statement. E had this!

We were there. Functions were actions and variables were things. However, that’s only the beginning of the journey. Helping E to understand when to create a new function/action is a battle for another day. Honestly, I’ve worked with engineers with 15 years of experience who struggle with when to create a function.[2][3] Again, with the 1:1 time, I was able to actually get to the heart of what was wrong. It became an indicator, a canary, pointing to a problem:

My team and I need to explain functions better.

Here’s how Codecademy talks about functions in their Python 2/3 Course(s):

What Good are Functions?

You might have considered the situation where you would like to reuse a piece of code, just with a few different values. Instead of rewriting the whole code, it’s much cleaner to define a function, which can then be used repeatedly.

Here’s how explains functions in Minecraft Hour of Code (

“A function is a specific set of instructions to accomplish a certain task.”

CS Academy Talks About Functions in their CS1 Course (

A piece of code that can take certain inputs to perform certain actions

These all make sense to me, but when I put myself into the shoes of a 12 year old, a 15 year old, a 17 year old, who does not know that this is a superpower, these does not connect.

I’m still trying to figure out how to explain how we use abstraction everyday, succinctly and universally. We describe the process of running as just, “running,” even though it can be broken down and then down again into smaller steps or into sprinting and jogging and distance running and racewalking. Abstraction is so built-in to our thinking that we don’t even notice it.

It’s like the David Foster Wallace essay/speech/whatever, where two fish are swimming and the first asks “how’s the water, today?” The other one replies, “what the hell is water?” [4]

Describing why we use functions can also be challenging, but to pile on the metaphors, if you can see, you have no idea why glasses are so important. If you are colorblind, you have no idea what it is to see more colors. If you are not colorblind, you have no idea what it’s like to be colorblind. Thinking about the examples from, CS Academy, and Codecademy, they are trying to explain colors to someone who can’t see them. I think our curriculums are missing the mark for the students who aren’t already interested in computer science. Again, THE BEST TEACHERS PUT THE SUBJECT INTO CONTEXT.

Steve McConnell wrote in his wonderful book, Code Complete, that the fundamental problem of software is managing complexity. Take a moment. Let that soak in. We are managing complexity. One of the fundamental capabilities of abstraction in language and how our brains interact with it, whether English, Spanish, Mandarin, or Python, is helping us manage this complexity and communicate with others.

I’m not ready to create a single, universal statement that works for all students. I will give a short example that should be very adaptable to students in a 1:1 or even group setting [4]:

“What do you like to do? What are you interested in,” I ask.

She responds, “I like to run.”

“And what is running?”

“What do you mean?”

“Can you describe to me the process of running? What do you do with your feet? How is it different than walking?” I’m careful to put it in a curious tone. I’m trying to invite an open response.

“Well, I guess, I take one foot and put it in front of the other. Then I take the other foot, and put it in front. I do this fast. It’s faster than walking. I think it’s also when one of your feet isn’t touching the ground.”

“Great. Now why do you say you run instead of, let’s go out and put one foot in front of the other and repeat that really fast? Why do you just say, let’s go running.”

The student is dumbfounded. I pause to allow her to think.

“Is it easier to say that? Is it natural? Is it simpler?” I say this slowly, calmly. I lead a little this time with some options to avoid any sense of a trap. The more we can do this, the more sense of trust we will build and the more I can leave questions open ended.


“So, I know you like to post on Instagram. Can you describe how to post to me?”

“I take a picture and post it.”

“Do you need to open Instagram every time?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Do you ever add any filters or captions?”


“Why do you say, ‘I post’ instead of saying, ‘I’m going to open Instagram, tap new post, take a picture, add a filter, add a caption, and then tap new post?’”

“Because it’s easier?”

“That sounds like a question. Are you sure?”

“…, … Yeah.”

“Right. And you can talk to anyone who uses instagram or runs and they will pretty much know what you mean. When I think about it, it’s really the process of naming complex things for simplicity. It really helps out thinking about it more simply, and it also helps you communicate more easily with others.”

Some final thoughts on reuse.

In my humble opinion, reuse is not a a primary explanation and actually obscures the real superpower here — simplification. Example: what about using a function only once? Wrapping a complex set of steps or ideas up into another named idea is fundamental to simplification and is very useful for single use. Second, copying code is how many people reuse code, even professionals. I’m not even sure there’s a difference between copying a function name and copying the code inside it. The difference is in the complexity the name of the function manages for us when we read the code—the shorthand of saying “run” or saying “post to Instagram”.

We will need to repeat this exercise. We will need to repeat it across subjects. This is at the heart of computational thinking. It’s the same in English as in Spanish, Mandarin, and Python. Oh, and math. [4]

  • So, what’s the best response you’ve ever heard to the question, “why do we need to know about functions?”
  • Is reuse is more important than the simplification of naming?
  • Is this process the same in math, writing, and computer science?
  • What am I missing?  What’s the critical piece that unifies all of this or… totally invalidates my thesis? [5]

[1] This was the point where it became clear to me, E did not have mastery of functions.

[2] One of my first professional projects was taking a research programmer’s code which had up to 15 nested blocks in a single C++ function. It was actually a great learning experience, because I realized I needed to decipher each line and turn it into a well named function to understand the program.

[3] I remember once, as as manager, digging into a developer’s code as our timeline slipped. Imagine my horror when I found a 1000 line function with 50+ complex conditionals (if/else/else if) and all sorts of interdependencies and complex states. Of course, there were also no automated tests.

[4] (I think. I don’t know Mandarin, and am less than fluent in Spanish and Python. I am fluent in thinking though.)

Special thanks to my new friend, David Nassar, who in talking about explaining functions told how he used a very complex act of getting a glass of water, being simplified as “please get me a glass of water.” This example connected with my experiences above and further supports the conviction of my belief that great teachers put things into context for students

1:1 – Observations on Computer Science Education and by a first-time volunteer/teacher

TL;DR, Summary, Breakdown

  • I found one on ones to be essential in leadership.
  • I reflect on how important they are in teaching computer science in high school in their ability to connect teacher and student and uncovering unseen

I have really loved my 1:1 time with students this year.[1] I’ve had the luxury of spending anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes, engaging students in “Introduction to Python” through Carnegie Mellon’s CS Academy CS1 [2]. Selfishly, I love the 1:1 time because I almost always end up seeing sparks of insight in a young person’s eyes when connections are made and problems are solved. I feel… joy, glory, maybe even euphoria. I don’t know if this is oxytocin or dopamine or something else, but I know it’s good.

One of those magical sparks of insight came in helping student, R. R. was making a minesweeper app for an unstructured, creative task. As I engaged, R’s vision for the game required creating an 8×8 grid with mines and empty spaces and covering it all with grass. I could see a pattern in R’s code, repetition (iteration). R. couldn’t see it at first. As I walked R through a series of questions about what each line of code was doing, in English, we started to get to a story of how minesweeper was supposed to work. Eventually, we teased out the pattern and R. was able to rewrite the code. R boiled 30 lines down to three lines. There were two nested for loops wrapping creation of a rectangle — a distilled pattern. When R realized what they had done, a shocked look appeared on their face. R’s eyes went wide. R’s lips parted slightly. Amazement. For me: joy and amazement.

And then an hour later, a thought creeped in. Why hadn’t R. been able to see the pattern? Hadn’t we just spent two weeks on “nested for loops?” Hadn’t we spent two weeks on “for loops,” before that? R. always did a good number of practice exercises. One thing that has always struck me about working with R, they are creative and motivated. If R was having trouble, were there other students having trouble?

I brought up my concern with the teacher I support and the other tutors. We talked through watching student progress more carefully. We talked through other interventions, like slowing down and spending more 1:1 time. The problem is, there is only one teacher and 3 tutors in the class and the tutors aren’t able to show up every day. If we have 25 students and 2.5 adults in the class a day, over the course of an hour, that means we each get 6 minutes with each student, not counting switching time. Is it enough time to tell the student what to do? Sure. Is it enough time to teach the student to recognize the pattern — to see it for themselves?

Each day since sitting with R., I have sat with another student. Each one is the same lesson. Student’s V, M, E, I, and N were all able to perform the given exercises. They were all able to bring in their interests, like Minesweeper or video games like Among Us into their creative task. However, when I talked them through their creative tasks, a pattern emerged:

  • No mastery of loops.
  • No mastery of functions.
  • No mastery of debugging.
  • Cursory mastery of if statements.

These were our best students; the ones who did the exercises; the ones who showed enthusiasm.

As I reflect, I ask, are my standards high?


Are my standards too high?

No. They can’t be. —Based on 6 minutes per class, they might be, but getting 20-60 minutes with a student would be a gamechanger.

I take this as my failure and also as a challenge for the coming school year. I hope to have some of the same students again in AP-CSP. I will help them truly master these concepts, not simply because it’s cool or practical, but because I think it could give them a greater insight into themselves.

As I think about ways to solve this, student/peer interaction and flipped classrooms are moving to front of mind. Any thoughts?


[1] As a software leader/manager, I have extensive time with 1 on 1s and have found them to be an essential way to build trust.

[2] Thanks to the fantastic people at Carnegie Mellon (my alma mater) who make CS Academy available for free!

Leadership Level-up: A black, female entrepreneur gives valuable coaching and business lessons

TL;DR, Summary, Breakdown, Synopsis

  • Joanie Baucum-Robinson taught a synthesis of valuable lessons to community leaders
  • A diverse group of students were able to connect and apply lessons weekly
  • Students supported each other, strengthening community
  • Joanie is a charismatic force

For the past 8 weeks, I’ve been taking Joanie Baucum-Robinson’s Leadership Level-up at the Community Forge in Wilkinsburg, PA. In the past I’ve read books by Stephen Covey, Dale Carnegie, and Michael Porter. I’m familiar with Jim Collins and Jim Doerr. What do I have to learn? —Honestly, everything—great leadership is practice and you can build habits, but you always need to be thinking and feeling about how to be a better leader.

I put in 12 hours of time with Joanie in her class to “Be Better On Purpose,” and took in Joanie’s unique perspective.

Joanie is a force in the classroom, a source of intense energy. She has a tattoo on her arm which reminds her to slow down, breathe, and take in the opinions of others. Joanie is influenced by John C. Maxwell and W.E. Deming. In her professional career, Joanie is a continuous improvement leader. It shows. She is constantly moving, constantly looking for ways to look at things in a different way, constantly figuring out where she can make a tweak to make a breakthrough.

One reason I found Joanie’s class was an active search to broaden my context and community. I was the only white man in the business class, making the class more diverse. Most of the other students were small business owners with real, thriving businesses around cleaning, remodeling, and bookkeeping. I was the only one with the the modern tech sensibility (or sickness) of GROW! SCALE! The lessons, bringing empathy, setting boundaries, knowing your own strengths, were all applicable, and need to be brought to the tech world of burnout and growth for sake of growth. I made some new friends, T, Dee, Angelica, deepened my connection with TJ and Glenn and broadened my network.

If you are looking for a coach, I think Joanie could just be the next big thing.

An Observation On Emotion from a Gifted Stoic


  • Problem solving is an emotional super-power, which requires putting emotion aside
  • IMHO: professionals are in a crisis because we use this super power too much and go beyond our sustainable limits
  • A feelings diagram might help you get back in touch [1]
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I’m a fantastic stoic. I’m able to push away emotion and exist in thought. This makes me a fantastic, ice cold, problem solver.

I think this is a super-power of professionals. If you’re on LinkedIn, reading this, there’s a good chance this is one of your super powers.

If you know me, you know I’m a consistently optimistic, positive person. In 2015, I was working at M*Modal, which at the time was going through a bankruptcy. We were all intensely driven and connected to the work. Bankers and lawyers were driving many decisions. People were scared for their jobs. The stressful environment had become toxic.

I kept rowing. I couldn’t feel that my arms were numb. I couldn’t feel that I had depleted my reserves and was now eating away at my core.

Leadership is sacrifice, right?

Leadership is setting an example, right?

I ended up, clinically depressed and took 12 weeks off and it took years to get in touch with what happened.

Here’s the message: stoicism, not feeling, will keep you from knowing you are doing damage to yourself. Stoicism is for the short term. It’s for a sprint. It’s not for the marathon.

For the marathon, you need to be thought and feeling, integrated. You need to be able to recognize when you are beyond your sustainable limits.

I’m going to end with the idea that “they,” don’t teach us this s*it in school. Some schools are starting. Courtney Bragg shared with me that some schools teach feelings with the characters from the fantastic Pixar movie, Inside Out.

I called a friend out the other day, when I asked her, “How do you feel,” and she went on to tell me, “I feel like work is really busy and I’m doing a lot of things.” She went on to intellectualize… When I pointed out she hadn’t actually told me how she felt, she was able to revise: “I feel overwhelmed” and “I feel tired.”

I did the same thing, intellectualizing my feeling iI did the same thing, intellectualizing my feeling in another conversation. “I feel like I’m going to have a good week.” “I feel like I should be working harder.” “I feel like I should…” –I feel inspired. I feel pressure [to work harder].

Why does it matter? Because you are not feeling… You’re thinking. Emotions are hard and our ability to feel them can atrophy. Emotion, though, is a source of energy and motivation. To be without it leads to not wanting to get up in the morning.

Don’t take my word for it, go practice… If you want to warm up, start by going intellectual and read Wikipedia’s article on emotional classification.


  • Find (and even print) your favorite feelings wheel [2]
  • Instead of talking about why you feel a certain way… name your feeling.
  • Notice, it’s really difficult to start.
  • Keep doing it. Over time, with practice, you’ll start getting much better at it. Being able to name feelings with precision and quickness will lessen their distraction while adding essential input to your ability to make decisions and solve problems.
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Essay (Short) – Adapting to teaching and learning without all the tools we need: Headsets


  • Edit: Don’t forget the easy stuff
  • Good headsets and headphones are an essential tool in teaching in hybrid classroom/virtual environments.
  • Underfunded classrooms are more likely to lack good equipment.
  • How do we fix this?

The Story (that’s a stretch…)

This morning I was trying to teach a student 1:1, 1000 miles away. It works surprisingly well, but was really affected by a number of seemingly small issues. The student was in a classroom with 20 other students. The biggest problem was all the noise. I could hear the people talking next to the student I was helping as well as the student. It’s a great way to learn how young people actually think, but not a great way to communicate with an individual. At the same time, the student had a tough time hearing me.

When I work virtually, I have headsets running from a Logitech game headset to a Plantronics Savi 8200, ranging from $75-$300. Noise cancellation is a necessity. Audio isolation, whether from over-ear headphones or noise cancellation is also necessary. When I worked in healthcare, doctors regularly used $800-$1200 microphones. These improve ASR significantly and one part of the puzzle of how many radiologists (yes, they’re medical doctors) get to 99%+ word error rate, when Siri, Google, and Amazon may be south of 90% or worse.

A good headset is a secondary, essential piece of equipment that we take for granted in the corporate world, from the ivory tower.

Ten years ago, when Skype was blowing up pre-acquisition, they brought out some reasonable $15 headsets and made them available to improve Skype audio quality.

  • Is there a good baseline headset out there that optimizes for cost, build quality, and noise cancellation? (It should probably be a stereo adapter, maybe with the option for a USB-A or USB-C dongle. [1]
  • If not, could an organization like Khan Academy,, or Microsoft leverage their capabilities or connections to get one made?


Edit: I had a similar, but much worse problem today. I assumed it was still the headset, however, the student couldn’t hear me at all. We fiddled with the audio input/output. Then, it turned out, the student had the wrong headset on! Wow. Relearning the lessons of tech support!

I still question the quality of the headsets… When I go look at you’re presented with an overwhelming number of headphones with almost no way to differentiate. Googling/DuckDuckGoing for educational headphones with various keywords from ‘elementary’ to ‘noise canceling’ microphone leads to a rabbit hole with all sorts of cheap junk. Who knows how schools choose their headsets?

[1] I’ll spare you the tirade about Apple dropping the mini-stereo/mic jack because they wanted to make billions off dongles and wireless in the name of “progress.” [2]

[2] Honestly, I would love to see Apple recognize their place at the top of the ivory tower, and create a headset for education and give them away. It would be a fantastic product!

The Net Promoter: Workday Jobs fails to make leap from enterprise to consumer product. Will HR depts. be left asking, “why isn’t anyone applying?”


  • Workday has convinced customers like electronic medical record companies, major universities, and major manufacturers that their HR system would work for applicant tracking and hiring.
  • Candidates need separate login credentials for each separate company they want to apply to. Candidates can’t use the same resume between companies. Candidates have to go through a UX that forces them to cut and paste the resume they probably spent weeks formatting into Workday.
  • This smells like a missed persona in the story writing process.
  • This smells like bad lift & shift to a cloud system without the benefits of a cloud system.
  • I include a discussion of how I’ve seen these things happen below and how they can be avoided…

I’m going to commit to documenting at least one wonderful product experience I have for every negative one. I just learn sooo much from the negative ones. They are also front and center, they grab you. This is exactly the opposite of a wonderful product experience where your day just flows without noticing.


I have been applying for a number of jobs recently. Everyone seems to have a different system. Yesterday, I applied for one at a prestigious university. It was annoying, but it was such a cool opportunity, helping connect computer science to things kids like, that I didn’t think twice. Then, today, I found another opportunity, similarly awesome, teaching professional software development to an underserved group, who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity. My password manager said I already had a login. I tried logging in. “Invalid name or password.” When I looked deeper, I could see both companies used white-labeled WorkDay.

Workday. I used it at my last job to manage the hiring process. At the time, I thought the friction was indicative of the company I was working for. Now, I’m not so sure.

It’s really interesting to think about the consumer (B2C) and enterprise (B2B) spaces. I have worked in the enterprise space, in healthcare for 20’ish years. It’s not pretty. In particular, giving people access to systems through a single username and password is not universal. In the consumer space, things are better. If I want to use a popular website, I can almost universally login through a Google, Facebook, or Apple ID through OpenID and OAuth technologies, which you don’t need to know about.

Somehow though, when applying for jobs, I need a different user ID for *


To add to the smoothness, try out and you get a nice: ERR_CONNECTION_REFUSED

The experience continues as you would expect from there:

  • Workday parses the applicant’s resume into chunks it understands. The problem is, if your formatting isn’t exactly what it expects, it shreds the content. It’s up to the user to fix it.
  • Each company site is distinct, and user information, including resumes does not exist across sites. For each new myworkdayjobs site you login to, you need to reformat your resume.
  • Each site has an applicant portal. What’s the point, when I need to remember the correct company.wd500 prefix?

This is not a consumer grade experience. The more times I see, the more time I spend repeating a process that in 2021, should be done once, if at all.

I’m frustrated. I feel unvalued. I feel invisible. I feel like fodder for the machine.

I hope the enterprise side is better.

Analysis & Speculation

Enterprise and consumer software both start in the same place, understanding the customer. The details differ.

Who is paying? The enterprise is paying. I think this is a really important place to start when thinking about the decisions that were made in delivering I’d lay even money that Workday is trying to shore up concerns with their paying customers that about missing features that new competitors in the HR space are filling. Keep in mind that Workday has existed for 15 years and has been public since 2011. I can hear the pitch, “Oh, we can add a portal that gives your job candidates the ability to apply directly in Workday. It will be seamless.”

The story that was lost, is the story that newer companies are starting to tell: the relationship with the job seeker is important, even essential. Thinking about LinkedIn and even more out there, OnDeck (, I see organizations that see the value in the job seeker and other opportunities that come with it, like education and engagement. They allow the candidate a platform, beyond the resume, where they can start to tell their story. OnDeck goes so far as to build the relationships between the employer and job seeker. On the other hand, I don’t ever see myself logging into one of the Workday applicant portals. Honestly, the whole experience was unpleasant.

I look at Workday as supporting the flow of undifferentiable candidates, where you can’t separate the diamond from the coal. In my experience in hiring, looking for ways to truly connect is the way you find the great candidates.

“Pot, I’ve worked for the kettle.” One of the reasons I left healthcare was the frustration of managing tradeoffs where getting paid in the short term overrode building high quality software. In a public company where the primary KPI is the stock price, when asked to pick two of fast, cheap, and good, it’s very very difficult to pick good. In fact, you have to build your culture around it, and be willing to take a stock hit to do it.

Balancing Customers in Conflict: AirBnb supports a renter by bending policy, screwing the guest, while failing to explain why…


  • I booked a trip in Summer 2021, which I chose to cancel because of wildfires.
  • The AirBnb policy on extenuating circumstances appears to cover “declared emergencies.”
  • AirBnb had to arbitrate, ultimately coming down on the side of the renter
  • AirBnb customer service failed to explain why they did not honor the extenuating circumstance policy to me as a guest, when the governor of Montana declared a state emergency on July 14.
  • As a guest, I feel negative about this experience. I was a net promoter, but now I’m probably going to mention this story as a cautionary tale any time someone mentions the brand.
  • The renter probably feels supported.
  • AirBnb made a calculated decision between the two parties, but the third option was to support both customers and refund the money out of their own pocket.

The story:

I love AirBnb. I loved AirBnb.

At the beginning of July, I booked a trip to Montana on AirBnb, with 3 stays. By Mid-July things were looking bad. Two weeks before my trip, a statewide fire emergency was declared. Forecasts we for 90 degrees without rain, with wildfires and air quality changing daily. Over the the past year, I had seen front-line health workers under stress. This led me to thinking about the fire fighters and how a choice to travel under emergency could be putting them in harm’s way, if we were caught in a dangerous area.

My friends and I decided to cancel, and move the trip to New England.

Two of the cancellations went smoothly. One, didn’t fit the renter’s cancellation policy, but the renter graciously approved the cancellation. The third told me, “I was up there last week. Not much of a issue. No ground smoke smell at all.” We went to arbitration. I thought the AirBnb extenuating circumstance definition was clear and favored my case:

In arbitration, however, we went around and around. Round 3, I got the response:

I asked for confirmation on the extenuating circumstance policy.

Escalation didn’t take it anywhere. I never got a response. Twitter didn’t take it anywhere. I have about 17 followers. I was pissed, and everytime I think about it, I’m pissed, but it’s time to dial back the personal emotion and look at it from some different points of view.

By the Numbers

I am an AirBnb guest 15 nights a year. I’ll estimate, the renter is an AirBnb renter 150 nights/year. For simplicity, we’ll say that the nightly rate I pay averages about the same that the renter charges per night. The overall value of us as customers is 10:1 in the renter’s favor. All things being equal, arbitration should always favor the renter.

There’s a third option to consider, what happens if you make both parties whole? Then AirBnb would have to foot the whole cost of the rental, not just their service fee. Rounding, let’s say AirBnb makes a 20% service fee. It will take five trips of the same length/cost to get recoup one trip refunded. Is it worth it? What’s the guest’s customer lifetime value (CLV)? By the numbers, it’s probably a toss-up, but only because I’m probably going to continue being a customer. Also, money now is worth more than money later. Thinking about the decision maker, an operations or service manager, taking the money now instead of addressing the issue, may lead to higher KPI’s and they may not be around to sow the losses of choosing short term.

Beyond the Numbers: Customer Service, Trust in the Brand

It’s more complex than that. As I’ve said, I think there’s a clear, documented policy that says I should have been able to cancel. In my estimation AirBnb violated this policy. This goes to the heart of AirBnb’s brand. Is AirBnb trustworthy? Will AirBnb do what they say they do?

This could be headed off by a great customer service rep, who can show the customer the fine print and convince him or her that it was there all along. When escalated, a manager would be able to support where the rep wasn’t convincing, but also have some power to provide a sweetener.

In the case there are times when there’s just a cost of doing business. From my biased perspective, it appears AirBnb is finding in favor of a customer with a higher future value by ignoring their policy and then not explaining that policy. I’m still waiting for an explanation.

Cameras on? Hyper self-consciousness in the classroom and workplace … September 2021

I have been teaching computer science remotely through Microsoft Teams for the past month. At the beginning, all the students had their cameras on. Now, about 1/3 of their cameras on. When I was working through Covid, there was some debate about whether we should always have our cameras on in remote meetings. I bought into this. It would help us be present and engaged, and it did. However, in the past few days I’ve really been reflecting on whether I have the authority to ask the kids to turn their cameras on. I think I do, and I understood how this would allow me to verify discipline and engagement. However in my professional life, I am starting to change my thinking.

I’m catching myself, staring at my small thumbnail. This is instead of making eye contact with the person I’m talking to.

I’m finding myself critiquing my smile, or the way I hold my head. Does it emphasize my chin? Are my teeth white enough? Now you may ask yourself, “Is Jeremy just narcissistic?” No, I don’t think I am. At least I’m not more narcissistic than the next guy, gal, human. I’ve been on camera so much, and actually seeing that live image you do catch yourself in unflattering poses or habits:

  • Square your jaw.
  • Elongate your neck.

The child who was made fun of for being overweight, for being different, for being ugly is now able to see his unflattering side and be slightly more attractive in bearing. This is great in that it makes me more aware of how others see me. This is a disaster and that it makes me more aware of how others see me.

One thing I realize and engaging the kids, they live in an Instagram/tinder world. Everything is on display, 24/7. There’s no doubt, that appearance in the form of body language is a strong communicator. Appearance in the form of cleanliness is a strong communicator of hygiene. Appearance is a communicator of wealth, which may project future safety to a potential mate. But damn, if it doesn’t breed worry. Damn, if it doesn’t undermine self-confidence by making us self-conscious.

I’ve decided not to ask the kids to turn the cameras on. I’ve decided try to figure out whether kids are engaged based on their work as I can see it through CS Academy. I’m going to leave my camera on, but I’m going to put a window over the little thumbnail of myself. At least part of the time. I want to smile and project that. But the kids are in the classroom, with masks on. I want to give them a break from their lives of being on camera.

Being able to observe yourself is a wonderful gift. Observing yourself constantly is undeniably a curse.

The phrase, “unconditional-self acceptance,” was uttered by someone recently. Well not recently, a couple years ago. I just remember it, I it totally caught me. It sounded foreign, but also somehow necessary. Somehow essential. I realize now, it is at the root of confidence.

Net Promoter: The limbo of a consumer between corporate partnerships


  • Gamestop and DoorDash have a partnership to deliver same-day
  • In my experience, each handed off responsibility for a failed delivery and lost product to the other and no less than 6 conversations by chat and phone.
  • Analyzing the communication/customer service channels is enough to hypothesize a systemic issue
  • In my experience, partnerships in medical IT, to do integrations, were similarly fraught and very difficult to anticipate

The Story

This was urgent. I didn’t know what to get my 6 year old for his 7th birthday. I needed to find something before urgency would give way to desperation. I dug through the internet, leaving a trail of tracking cookies in my wake. I finally found a really cool Link action figure from The Legend of Zelda at Gamestop. That with a new video game would make a thoughtful, but not over the top gift.

Add to cart, click.

Get your order today from DoorDash for $5.99. –My foot is in a moonboot from a fresh achilles tendon reconstruction. This sounds fantastic! Click.

Submit order, click!

I went to coffee with a friend. My kids were t home with their grandfather. I got a text that the delivery was out and then a second that it was delivered.

I got home 45 minutes later. No package. My kids had been running around outside and didn’t see a delivery. DoorDash, which often sends a picture, didn’t bother to.

I tried to call GameStop and they didn’t answer. I tried DoorDash. DoorDash seemed to have all my order information and were really responsive. DoorDash told me they would work with GameStop to get a photo and a refund and it would take an hour. Wow. That’s nice.

That evening, about 8 hours later, I hadn’t received any feedback from DoorDash or GameStop, so I did an online chat with DoorDash. The chat attendant asked me for the history around my order. I asked if the attendant had a record of my call. They brushed off the question and I gave them the history. DoorDash then said I would need to call GameStop.

The “Dasher” wouldn’t respond by text, when I requested a picture. When I called GameStop’s local store the next morning, the manager said he would call around to other stores. When I called back, he said I would need to go through DoorDash.


It doesn’t matter how this story turns out. My kid had a fine a fine birthday. We are blessed that the money is not an existential issue, and only wrankles my sense of fairness and business quality.

Quick Analysis

In the realm of product/service management, I’ll deconstruct the primary issue:

Neither customer service organization was able to take responsibility for the failure. This puts the customer in the middle, trying to manage their way to someone in the organization who can make a decision.

In my experience, working in Health IT, we integrated with at least ten different vendors in material ways that had significant daily benefit. That meant when there was a failure, there was a significant daily degradation.

Shifting blame onto other organizations was something that always put the customer in the middle. There were rarely incentives to work together if you could get the other organization to do the work.

I had 6 conversations through chat and phone (I include the interactions where the phone was never answered). There was clearly no shared, “playbook,” for operations in this case.

Was the relationship rushed? Is there a process of continuous improvement here? Is this something we can focus on? If the value of the business isn’t great enough to pursue/focus on, does it make sense to keep the relationship at all?

Personal Reflection

As second in the market and as my team matured, we generally looked at problems with partners as opportunities to show we could lead.

In my time running a small, boostrapped business working to pivot from consulting to products, we had to stay customer focused: razor with a diamond edge.

In my time as an intrapraneur with buy-out milestones, at the mercy of a publicly traded company, and isolated from customers I lost my way for a time. I don’t take all the blame for this, but do take it as a lesson. Building something to last is always about making customers happy.