Gracious speech is like clover honey —
Good taste to the soul, quick energy for the body.
-Proverbs 16:24

I have to celebrate this occasion: I started at work January 23. Yesterday, April 7, we published my first release notes, written entirely from scratch by me. This is a big deal because release notes are one of the projects we have with a hard and fast deadline, and they can be a lot of work.

Many companies’ release notes look like this:

  1. Add new wizz to the existing functionality.
  2. Improve gadget to expand functionality.
  3. New feature: doohickey now lets you do another thing.

    And that’s pretty much it. Easy enough to pound out in an hour.

     Our release notes, on the other hand, are fairly detailed documents that include a compelling “sell” of the feature followed by screenshots and a brief description of how to use it/where to find it. To write a release note for one user story, I:

    1. Review the technical specifications, which describe how the feature should work.
    2. Go into the test product environment and try out the new feature, playing around until I have an idea of how it works.
    3. Write an outline of why and how, along with questions for the PM.
    4. Meet with the PMs individually and review all their features, ask questions, understand the feature.
    5. Write a draft of the release notes and send it to the PM to ensure it accurately reflects how the feature works. Lots of screenshots, lots of “I have a quick question.”
    6. Write more, edit more. Repeat several times.
    7. Find out the are several new stories I didn’t know about and the release notes draft is due in two days!
    8. Send out draft for review by entire technical team and upper management. Don’t sleep that night at all.
    9. Over the next week, get comments back. Hound PMs for comments on their stories and incorporate changes. Pray I didn’t make any technical errors.
    10. Receive copy edits from other writers and incorporate edits.
    11. Publish release notes to production about 5 pm and stay late at work to check everything went out correctly.
    12. WHEW! Now all I have to do is update the Help Center content with the actual new information in the next two weeks. That has to be done before the release, which is always two weeks after these notes go out.

    As you can imagine, after all this, these notes get pretty comprehensive. I’ve seen times when release note content served as the verbatim foundation for the Help Center topic.

    This was my first release writing the notes entirely on my own, and I had 13 stories to master before writing. My boss warned me that I might get overwhelmed and if I needed him to pick up some of the work, he could step in. I told him I thought I could handle it, and I’m glad I have it a shot, because now I did the entire thing on my own and I feel really proud of myself!

    Now I have two weeks of crunch time updating Help Center and trying to finish up another project I’ve been writing on the side. I may be offline for done of that time.

    I made lemon bars with Meyer lemons to celebrate. I would have liked lemon meringue pie, but alas, didn’t have time to make one. But I’ll take lemon bars and the sweet, sweet taste of success.

    Biking and Working

    I haven’t mentioned biking lately. When I started at Tamarac, I worried about fitting biking in with a full time job and time with my family.

    Biking helps keep me calm and grounded, as well as healthy and fit; it’s where I have friendships forged by shared (self-inflicted, to be sure) suffering, and I push myself mentally and physically. It brings me a deep satisfaction that I don’t find anywhere else and is one of the foundations of how I think of myself.

    In short, biking is very important to me. Before I took the job, Ian and I spent a good amount of time strategizing how to allow me to get in the biking I need while balancing Ian’s mental health time and my family time.

    It’s been two and a half months, and I think we’re finding a balance that works for now: During the week, I commute home by bike three days. I follow a training plan I put together to do intervals or other targeted riding, so it’s not just the same slogging along every time. On the weekend, I ride on Saturday, making sure to get home before Benji gets up from nap at 3:30 pm.

    When I commute, I normally ride my pink bike. I built it up as a commuter bike almost 10 years ago (disc brakes before it was cool!) and it continues to serve me beautifully in that capacity.
    Snowy Pink Bike

    Now, some of my biking buddies assert that bike weight doesn’t matter. They say it’s all about the motor (how strong your legs are), and that a slightly lighter bike doesn’t make much difference in how fast you go, especially over flats. I’ve ridden my pink commuter bike 20+ times on this route now, and I set myself a goal of averaging 18 mph on my commute consistently. When I started riding, I averaged 15 to 15.5 mph when riding steadily, a heart rate of in the 150s.

    I’ve been following my training plan, including taking rest or cross-training days and riding in heart rate zones that feel pretty easy, and working hard on my Saturday rides.

    Last Monday, riding alone on my pink bike with probably a bit of a tailwind, I averaged 16.6 mph.

    I had a kind of side-wind that may have at times been a tailwind or other times been more of a headwind. It’s a little hard to say if that helped or hindered me. But that seems pretty indicative of my commuting pace at the moment. On the long, flat Burke Gilman/Sammamish River Trail section, I averaged about 17.2 mph.

    But on Friday, I took the fast bike to work (this is my view as I approach the bus stop by my office; that’s my fast bike on the front of the bus).
    Fast Bike, Slow Bus
    I normally don’t even ride on Fridays, resting my legs for a big Saturday ride. But the weather got to over 55 degrees and not raining — how could I resist? For the first time I tried taking my fast bike on a commute. I left all nonessentials at work, including a set of clothes I now have to bring back home, and carried the essentials in a small backpack.

    While I’m sure it’s true that slight differences in weight may not matter, what I can say is that I averaged 18 mph on my fast bike, keeping my heart rate in the same zones as I normally on my steady commuting days. On the flat section, I averaged 19.1 mph, almost 2 mph faster than my regular commuter bike. And that was with some notable wind, most of it not in my favor.

    That bike is faster in so many ways, it’s hard to say if weight definitively made a difference. Whatever the case, I’m willing to keep calling my Cannondale “the fast bike.”

    I hoped to ride it this weekend, but yet again, nasty weather precluded that. My pink bike has gotten a lot of miles this winter, what with having the rainiest winter ever. On Saturday I had to be home in time to go to a friend’s wedding, so Dad kindly started our ride an hour earlier than usual. With that start time, we spent the first hour riding in rain. My feet soaked through and I couldn’t feel my toes. You’d think I’d be better at this whole thing after all the practice I’ve had this year…

    Anyway, despite the rain, three other people besides me and Dad showed up.

    I embarrassed myself by being a complete wimp, and I wasn’t able to hold the pace when everyone started riding into the mid-20 mph range. The very things that make that pink bike a wonderful commuter — the weight, the rack, the fenders, the heavy-duty tires and wheels, its very frame durability — all drag me down on a ride like that.

    Plus, later that day, I also found out that it’s not my favorite time of month… and that seems to always make it harder to ride. I read in my Bicycling for Women book that blood doesn’t transport oxygen as well at some times of a woman’s cycle. One of the things I struggled with yesterday was just feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath, or that I was breathing really hard for my level of effort. Perhaps that’s partly the deal.

    Anyway, that’s biking right now. I think it’s going well; we’ll just keep figuring things out as our needs evolve.

    Work: Week 7

    I just looked at the calendar and counted: I’ve been at my job for 7 weeks already. Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess, because it feels like just yesterday we started this crazy adventure.

    On the other hand, it’s been long enough that we’ve started finding the routine that works for all of us to do what needs doing while staying sane. Benji and I spend his first hour up together, and I make sure to get some of his prep stuff done so Ian doesn’t have to. While we’re hanging, Ian gets ready for his day. I leave the house at 7:15, and get home any time between 6:00 and 6:30, unless I have to stay late.

    This unfortunate occurrence will happen more and more frequently over the next month, I expect, as we approach April 20, the next release date. I have several hard deadlines between now and then. My boss told me “We kind of tried to let you know in the interview that this job is really stressful.”

    I’m not feeling stressed out yet. Maybe that’s ignorance, and I should start stressing, like when I did my first bike race and I really had no idea what was going on and whether I was safe or not. But I keep checking with my boss and coworker to make sure I’m doing the right things, and so far it seems like I’m on top of everything.

    The way the job works is the developers make features based on things called User Stories. We, the writers, find out which User Stories will be going out at the next release. We research the stories, reading the technical specs and trying out the features in the test environment, so we have an idea of how the new feature works. Then we meet with the people in charge of each User Story (Project Managers, PMs) and interview them about their User Stories. Then we write Release Notes, which describe not only the mechanics of the new feature, but emphasize the “Why,” as my boss puts it. We have to really sell the feature, making it sounding exciting and worthwhile.

    Release notes are my first deadline. This is a big deal, because it’s the first time my writing goes out to the senior management and all the PMs for review. I have to hand-deliver a hard copy of the release notes to the president of the company for him to read (!).

    After I get release notes written, I go into the Help Center and edit or add pages to cover details of the new features. I have two weeks to do this from the time the release notes go out to the time the actual release happens. Many features don’t require a ton of new writing, but rather expanding or modifying existing content. Unfortunately a lot of changes to the look require new screenshots, which are difficult to find and take some time to replace. But some of the changes will require me to write entirely new pages, and that takes time, too.

    As I mentioned, I’m not feeling stressed. So far I’ve certainly felt time pressure, and the need to focus and work diligently. As far as I can tell, I’ve not yet fallen behind, and if anything I’m a little ahead of where I need to be.

    Unfortunately, I do have an entirely separate, unrelated project that’s quite big and going to take a substantial amount of time, and that’s going to come due right around the end of April, too. Time to engage in some serious time management.

    I’m not sure how much blog writing I’ll do as we approach this release, and I don’t know what having a job writing will do as far as my desire to write recreationally. We’ll just have to see. Lately on my bus rides I’ve enjoyed reading Wonder Woman comics on Hoopla or library books on my phone Kindle app. But I’ve had this blog so long, it’s not going away. I’ll just update more or less. We shall simply see what the future holds. As always.


    At work, they have people who are “Subject Matter Experts.” These people know everything there is to know about one of our products. Of course, nobody calls them Subject Matter Experts; they’re SMEs, which is then pronounced “smee.”

    Evidently this is pretty standard in many fields, but all I can think of is this.

    Dispatch from Day 4

    I was going to share some pictures of my work space and general work environment, but yesterday I read the employee handbook and learned that was explicitly banned. Sorry, folks.

    I spent much of Wednesday do video training on various topics, with a break for some in-person lecture-style training for variety. The good thing about that is that I had some idea what was going on. The bad thing is that after spending the whole day with sometime talking at me, my brain felt overloaded. 

    Most interesting and challenging was the training on performance measurement. At my old job, I just knew we reported TWR not IRR, and that TWR stands for time-weighted return while IRR stands for… Something else. 

    Now I have actually practiced calculating those, I have a much better idea of the differences. This morning I woke up thinking, “I wonder if a flow chart would help clients understand the difference better.” Have to think about that some more, but I think in general the view is that we want to improve clients’ understanding of which to use when, and that right now it’s confusing. I may try sketching out a rough idea anyway.

    Today is shaping up to contain lots more training, some in person, some live webinars, some pre-recorded, interspersed with a few meetings about things I don’t understand. But I remain confident that I will pick this stuff up eventually, and in a few months things will make do much more sense.

    So far I continue to be excited to go learn new stuff. Just have to get my brain to assimilate it all.

    Dispatch from Day 3

    Yesterday, my second day at work, I spent much of the day in meetings, little of which I understood. Starting this job is like moving to a foreign country, where there’s a whole new language and culture, and where everyone is friendly and nice, but they all go about on totally incomprehensible tasks. On the bright side, they have lots of good food.

    I have started training on the product itself, getting into stuff I never need as a CSA. Apparently I get to study for a Series 99 certification test, although my boss didn’t seem to care whether I passed so long as I learned something. Right now I’m just going through in-house training videos, which I always have found to be a tough way to learn. I’m trying to take notes and pay attention; but mostly I think I’ll learn as I go.

    Also yesterday, I got assigned my first project, which I have no idea how to start. I trust I’ll get some direction at some point. Oh, and I did get to do a little bit of editing, which was fun. And I met a bunch of people whose names I’ve forgotten.

    Today I also get some training on the authoring software, which should be interesting.

    I rode home again yesterday and did some intervals on the trail. I liked that better because after a while that trail feels very long and dark without something to focus on. Plus commuting is tough – just ride as quickly as you can maintain for that distance. I usually end up losing focus and slowing way down after about 15 miles. I’m taking a break today and bussing both ways, but tomorrow I think I’ll try going across I-90. It’s about the same distance, so I’ll be interested to see if it’s any faster or slower.

    Last and least, I got several huge zits, one right in the middle of my forehead and a few around my mouth, starting on Sunday. My skin looks pretty terrible right now, which is a humbling way to meet all these new people for the first time. It stinks, but I’m stuck with looking like a feckless teen at the height of acne season until my skin clears. I’m trying to just leave it all alone, but it’s taking quite an exercise of self-restraint.

    Dispatch from Day 2

    These posts will be lagging a day, since I’m writing them on the bus the next morning. Also, I expect my number of typos to go way up, since my phone’s autocorrect so helpfully intervenes at times. (Don’t take this as a complaint about my new phone, by the way – I’m really liking having a working mobile device! It’s going to be very handy now I’m away from home so much more, too.)

    So, my first day! It went as smoothly as I could have hoped for, and I think I will like my team and new manager. The office is open floor plan, with minimal little dividing walls between desks. The desks are mostly in clumps of four. My team’s clump is near the bathrooms and kitchen, which is handy. I will have to get used to ignoring people walking by, though; until then, I’ll keep glancing up as my peripheral vision catches something.

    I was worried about bike parking. I parked in the garage in a public rack yesterday, using my U-lock and a cable to the back wheel. Eventually, I will get card access to the bike cage, which will make me feel much safer. Until then, I’m OK with the system I used yesterday.

    I was also worried about getting lost in the building – a legitimate concern, as it turns out, because the lobby/atrium area is so confusing. The are elevator banks all over going to a zillion different places, and it’s confusing finding the right one. I’m sure I’ll figure that out with a little more practice. Meanwhile, I’ll just wander around lost until I recognize something.

    And I was worried about getting home. I made myself several bike routes through downtown and followed one of those yesterday. Seattle has changed so much since I commuted there in 2010! But I got through without a car or bus creaming me, and I followed other cyclists on portions where I wasn’t sure of where to go. Once on the Burke-Gilman, it was simply a matter of slogging home. 

    I learned two things commuting yesterday: I need a snack before I leave, as it really will take me an hour and twenty or thirty minutes; and clothes that feel warm in Seattle at 5 pm don’t feel so warm in Bothell at 6:30 pm. Good to know.

    As for the job duties, I honestly can’t say yet. It will probably be a while before I do anything meaningful. I’m still optimistic, thankful, and excited to have this opportunity, so I’ll just take that and see what happens next.