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N Wayne Parrott
Product Research & Co-founder of Genuitec, LLC. Follow at @wayne_parrott.

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George greeted me with a smile and handshake as I walked into his camp out in the Colorado wilderness. Little did I know how important this day would become to me and MyEclipse, the product for which I was the product lead. Over the years our products have been adopted around the globe. Meeting with developers and learning how well our dev tools serve them is a cool and occasionally humbling experience. Unlike most of my user meetups which happen at every-day locations such as a tech conference or one-on-one’s at a Starbucks, this is a story about an impromptu user meetup with George in the wilderness on the Colorado Trail and the long term benefits of doing hard things.

Do Hard Things

I met George while hiking the Colorado Trail with my son Kyle who was just 12 at the time. My family and I live in a suburb of Dallas, Texas where (if allowed) everyday life can become routine and unadventurous. It’s safe; sometimes too safe. Hoping to challenge our kids not to settle for a mundane mediocre life, we shared with them stories of lives lived with adventure, courage and commitment to high ideals. Our family mantra evolved into “do hard things”.

image00The Colorado Trail—Challenge Accepted

The Colorado Trail (CT) is a hiking trail that starts near Denver, running 486 miles southwest down to Durango. The trail is divided into 28 segments starting at 5,500 ft above sea level and topping out at over 13,200 feet. Most of the trail is over 10,000 feet elevation and crosses several mountain ranges. To hike the trail straight through typically takes hikers from 30 to 45 days. Most hikers don’t have a month or more to commit to a through-hike so they hike sections of the trail. 

Our first big “do hard things” challenge was to hike the first 6 sections (104 miles) of the CT. This week-long trip would start in Denver and take us over the continental divide into the ski town of Breckenridge.

Doing Hard Things is Hard. Chime!

In preparation for our CT section hike as it is more formally called by serious hikers, we stocked up on long distance hiking gear and did some local overnight training hikes. With the preparations behind us we set out early on July 3, beginning at the northern CT trailhead in Waterton Canyon near Denver. 

Fast forward 12 hours and I was having a WTF moment! We had only covered 10 of our planned 15 miles for the day and I was wiped. I was seriously questioning what I had gotten Kyle and myself into. The heat, elevation, dehydration and climbing with packs that were way too heavy was exhausting. This “do hard things” ideal had just gotten seriously real. 

The 94 miles in front of us to Breckenridge was feeling like an impossibility. Even the CT section boundaries that average every 15 to 20 miles were too far to envision intermediate success. I needed to break down our trip into short attainable moments of accomplishment. I set my GPS to chime every ½ mile of distance we covered. This became our goal, the 184 chimes in front of us.

For the next 3 days we repeated what seemed like an endless cycle of exhausting 1,000 – 2,000 ft climbs only to drop down into a valley on the other side. Yea a chime! And then do it all over again. It was slow exhausting progress. Each chime was progress; it motivated and moved us forward.

Man, you guys look like sh*t!

As day 4 wound down, Kyle and I dragged ourselves into a clearing near the end of section 3. We were 40 miles into this trip. According to our GPS, our objective was a lonely water spigot that should be in the middle of the clearing. Yes, it was right where the map indicated (trust your tools). image03The spigot provided us refreshment, a means to wash off the layers of trail dirt and dust, and mostly importantly a symbol of renewal and hope. As I stood in the field, no shirt, drenching myself under the freezing cold water from the spigot, I realized that I was accomplishing something hard. At that moment I knew we would make it to Breckenridge. 

To our surprise a group of Boy Scouts were camping in the clearing. The troop sent a scout over to invite us to visit and take a break in their camp. That’s where I met George, the adult scout leader. George greeted me with a smile and handshake as I walked into his wilderness camp. In his free hand he passed me an ice cold Coke. His first words to us were, “Man, you guys look like sh*t! How about we make you a burger or would you like the whole cow?” 

Wilderness MyEclipse User Meetup—Do More Hard Stuff

We pitched our tent nearby and later that evening we were invited to hang out with the scouts again. While chatting with George I shared with him that we were on a “do hard things” adventure and that when I was not playing Lewis and Clark in the woods, in real life I was the MyEclipse development manager at Genuitec. George surprised me by sharing that he was a developer and that his company used MyEclipse. What a small world. 

Throughout the evening George and I talked about coding, our profession, and startup vs large enterprise work environments. The conversation evolved into a one-on-one user meetup. George shared with me aspects of MyEclipse that he and his team liked and some areas for improvement (i.e., features that sucked). An area of enhancement that George and his team wanted was basic SQL DB tools integrated into MyEclipse. At that time MyEclipse had no DB tools. The developer in me was thinking, “Oh crap, that could be a big hairy job.” I kept the conversation noncommittal and positive. Privately I had no interest in developing DB tools. They seemed like such a stretch for my small team to develop at that time.

As the evening came to an end, Kyle and I were about to depart when George stated in a friendly yet direct manner, “You have no plans to develop the DB tools we discussed, do you? Is your hesitance that the development is too hard or expensive? Does “do hard things” only apply when you’re hiking? I thought your mantra was about developing the courage and confidence to do hard things in your everyday life, including your work.”

Today

2016Kyle went on to earn his Eagle Scout badge in the Boy Scouts, is a competitive cyclist (recently completing the grueling Leadville 100 mile mountain bike race) and will graduate with a computer science degree this coming fall. This past spring he informed me that he successfully passed a database design course. A tool he came to rely on while in the course was the MyEclipse database tools for Java developers—the DB tools George encouraged me to develop. 

My wife and I repeated this hike to Breckenridge with success; it was still hard. This summer we plan to hike a 100 mile stretch on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. Professionally, I have embraced and extended “do hard things” to “do hard things, smartly”. I’ve gone on to develop several mobile developer tools for Genuitec and open-source Cordova AR plugins.

Lastly, MyEclipse and Webclipse, its smaller cousin for the modern web, continue to evolve under the direction of a team that consistently “does hard things” for the benefit of all developers. 

Acknowledgement

I took a cue from this Highrise blog about being human to your customers. Otherwise I would have never written this blog or shared the story with more than a few people.

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Posted on Jun 29th 2016