Launching CoderJourney

I’ve been working behind the scenes for a few weeks to begin producing educational programming content, and today was the day that published my first YouTube video.

Check out the channel and tell me what you think of the first video (if you’re interested in learning about technology).

Special thanks to Ian Zainea for making the intro animation for my videos.

Reading: The 12 Week Year

Reading: The 12 Week Year

The 12 Week Year was an interesting book for me to read because the authors used to be clients when I worked as part of BrilliantFantastic. Having now read the book, I feel like I would have been able to do so much more for Brian and Mike (and our other clients) had I read the book then. The 12 Week Year is all about execution. Execution isn’t necessarily fun to think about, but it keeps you honest about what you are actually accomplishing.

Is this Recommended Reading?

If you have goals then yes, and it’s a pretty small, quick read.

I have pretty high hopes and dreams. I also have a lot of ambitions and plans that have fallen flat on their faces because I didn’t execute on the things I should have. The 12 Week Year gives you a pretty simple framework for determining what to work on and tracking the work you’ve done so that you can determine if you had a bad idea or if you simply aren’t doing anything. Prepare for a humbling experience.

The Gist of It

At its core I think there are two main concepts in _The 12 Week Year_:

  1. Deadlines are good, and thinking outside of the 12-month calendar lets you have more of those. Specifically, thinking in 12-week sections (ie a “12 week year”).
  2. Ideas are great, but if you really want to achieve things you need to go out and take the steps that matter. You must also own those actions, both successful or failures.

Brian and Mike go on to explain how the mind’s perception of time/immediacy changes how we work, and how our emotions change when we’re working on something that gets us out of our comfort zone. Knowing how your mind works gives you the power to change it’s course or expect the next emotion/feeling based on what’s just happened, and that’s powerful for

Some of the content of the book feels like common sense after you read it, but it’s not the way we tend to think on a day to day basis.

There are quite a few good nuggets in here about prioritizing your work based on how the tasks line up with your goals and cutting out the extras if they aren’t helping you make real progress.

My Takeaways

I had quite a few big takeaways from this book that I’ve been putting into practice every day since I read it. I love the idea of tracking my execution on a day to day, week to week basis. Keeping the stats on how well I’m doing the things that I believe will get me to my goal shows me if I’m not putting in the effort necessary and is also helping me bring myself back into focus if I find myself distracted and working on something tangential to my goals.

Besides just tracking stats, Brian and Mike have laid out a great framework for creating S.M.A.R.T goals that make it easy to dig down into what your current focus should be. I’ve had a hard time in the past whittling my goals down into something that gets me out of my comfort zone, yet it actually measurable and possible, but The 12 Week Year is helping me to structure my goals in a way that makes sense.

Reading: How to Win Friends & Influence People

How to Win Friends & Influence People

How to Win Friends & Influence People might just be my favorite book, because it’s a book that I need to keep reading. I enjoy taking the initiative and leading my endeavors, ranging from school projects to mentoring to work projects. The issue that I’ve continually run into in situations where I would lead is that the people around me wouldn’t enjoy it, and nobody wants to be the guy leading the miserable project.

Is this Recommended Reading?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I’ve often heard it said in software that no project has ever failed for technical reasons, they all fail because of people. The most important thing that we can learn to do is interact with those around us and build one another up. How to Win Friends & Influence People is a book that describes just that in a practical way. This book is full of principles, strategies, and tactics for interacting with people in such a way that it’s beneficial for everyone. The worst part about this book is that its title sounds a bit like it’s about manipulating people, but in truth, this book is more about not being a jerk than anything else.

The Gist of It

How to Win Friends & Influence People is broken into four separate sections:

  • Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
  • Six Ways to Make People Like You
  • How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking
  • Be a Leader: How to Change People without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

All four of the sections are good, but they actually cover the same information and techniques by applying them in different contexts. The overarching premise behind the book is that people want what they want, and each and every one of us is more interested in our thoughts, desires, and selves than we are in others. The ticket to winning friends and influencing people is to acknowledge this fact and listen to people. There are other nuggets of information in here that are exceptionally useful related to how people react to the exact ways that you say things to them also, but those ideas aren’t even useful until we start to internalize that people care about their desires and selves more than all else.

My Takeaways

How to Win Friends & Influence People is such an important book to me because it addresses one of my key flaws, I hurt people’s feelings unintentionally… a lot. I do this by correcting people, almost every time that they are wrong. Dale Carnegie does a great job of pointing out you can’t get people to do or think the way you would like them to by telling them that they are wrong. In general, people will dig their heels into the ground when you point out their flaws and resist your ideas even if you prove that you’re correct. This provides a wealth of insight when it comes to disagreeing with someone, and how to address a situation when you know you’re right. For me, I need to let people think their own thoughts, and I should only approach correcting someone if the subject is truly important. If I do decide that it would greatly benefit the other person I need to not tell them they’re wrong, but rather ask them questions to see if I can lead them to what I know to be true.

The other big thing that I’ve taken away from this book both times that I’ve read it is that I need to search out and appreciate the good qualities of other people. In general, I’m surrounded by awesome people, but our culture has trained all of us to complain about everything that we see that is “wrong”. That habit (which many of us share) has a negative impact on our lives because it blocks us from seeing all of the great things and people around us.

The takeaways from How to Win Friends & Influence People are so important in my eyes that this is a book that I will continually come back to and reread for years to come and I encourage everyone to do the same.

Recovering from Poor Planning

My goal of reading one book a week didn’t make it that far without a few hiccups. Reading Good to Great took me a day longer than I was expecting and the book I had scheduled to follow that was a pretty big technical book. I was unable to finish reading all of Programming Elixir within the week that I allotted for it.

Poor Planning of a Good Goal

Normally, this would be the point where people would throw in the towel on a New Year’s resolution because they’ve already “failed”, but it shows me that I did a poor job of planning a reasonable goal. I’m not the fastest reader by nature (I subvocalize, and I tend to get distracted and need to re-read passages), so 1 book a week would be fine if I only planned on reading books that we  small. That’s not what I’m actually going for, I want to read 52 books in a year. Some books will take me longer than others, and I shouldn’t be concerned by that unless I get to the point where I can’t possibly read 52 books by December 31, 2016.

It’s important to set good goals and the way that I worded my reading goal set me up for failure. If I chose to read something that got me out of my comfort zone there was a good chance it would take longer than a week, so I’m adjusting the wording of my goal to be this:

I will read 52 books in a year, averaging 1 book per week.

Reading: Good to Great

Good to GreatGood to Great is one of the business books that I’ve heard many people talk about and since Kendra had to read some of it in college, we happened to have a copy lying around. I haven’t read many business books, but I really enjoy talking to entrepreneurs and business people because their world is so different from my own. This puts me in the place of the constant student; there’s always something that I can learn from those in business. I am incredibly glad I decided to read it.

Is this Recommended Reading?


Good to Great is truly a great book. I don’t think the “American Dream” is having a house with a white picket fence anymore, I think the dream is to be part of something awesome. This book does a great job of going through companies that fit into this category (even if I don’t particularly like what they’re selling). This book presents the findings of a multi-year study that have pretty interesting ramifications on the way people do and should think about business. Beyond the business side, though, I find Good to Great to be surprisingly beneficial for an individual, non-entrepreneur.

The Gist of It

James Collins wrote a book before this one called Built to Last, that showed how some new companies laid the groundwork for having enduring greatness from the very beginning of their inception. Good to Great was written for the rest of us. What if our hypothetical companies didn’t start out great? Can we get there? The research follows companies that were mediocre or absolutely failing, yet turned it around and became something truly special. They’ve distilled down the things that they all had in common. Here are the things they had in common:

1) Level 5 Leaders. People who put the success of the company above their own ambitions.
2) Focus on the right people before the right business direction
3) Unwavering faith in their ability to succeed even if the current reality is negative, never ignoring the hard facts.
4) A unified vision that they adhere to (the “Hedgehog Concept”) in all of their actions.
5) A company culture of discipline.
6) Utilizing technology to accelerate momentum. Note: It can’t be used to create the movement.

If I had to summarize the entire book into one sentence it would be this:

“Surround yourself with the right people, find your singular focus, and foster the passion for that focus to attain greatness.”

My Takeaways

This book is almost entirely about having the right people around you, from the executives in a company to the lowliest of laborers in the company. Having people who share the same core values and vision allows you to become great, so long as you don’t deviate from your “Hedgehog Concept”. I’ve been thinking about the people I surround myself with for a few months now, so that wasn’t as profound for me as it could have been a short while ago.

The “Hedgehog Concept” is probably the most profound thing that I was able to take away from this book. I’ve become more and more focused on achieving goals recently, but I’m still finding it hard to decide what my goals should be. I really think the “Hedgehog Concept” is going to help that. The idea is that you find something that meets all of these criteria:

1) You can be the best in the world at.
2) It works towards your statistic for success (“economic denominator”)
3) You are passionate about it.

After you’ve found the intersection of those three criteria – your Hedgehog Concept – you can base all of your decisions around whether or not they contribute to you making progress towards that goal. Our culture is one of everyone being incredibly busy, but getting so very little done. I think working to find this central focus to what we do could truly help people feel more fulfilled.

Moving forward, I’m going to be making sure I’ve surrounded myself with the right people and striving to find my “Hedgehog Concept”. I’ll be using another thing I picked up from this book to keep my focus high, the “stop doing” list.

Reading: The School of Greatness

school_of_greatnessThe School of Greatness is Lewis Howe’s study of numerous successful people who embody his definition of greatness. The investigation of the similarities and shared features of these people gives insight into some habits that are truly beneficial. I love this kind of book, being able to learn from the experiences of others is something that I can’t get enough of.

Is this Recommended Reading?


Being the first book of the week, I’m trying not to look at this book through rose colored glasses, but that being said I really enjoyed this book. I’m always looking to improve and I think this book gives some great actionable steps to move in that direction. I would definitely suggest people read this, especially young people who haven’t really gotten out in the world. Some of the ideas in this book could have helped me focus and move towards my own goals in college when I fell off the tracks a bit.

The Gist of It

For the first few chapters of this book I instantly felt that this book was a combination of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The Miracle Morning. I love both of these books and was pretty sure I was going to enjoy this book also.

Each chapter covers a habit or characteristic of greatness. Most of these are things that are often said in these types of books, but the thing that really sets this book apart are the exercises that are at the end of each chapter. There are multiple exercises and they’re really laid out in a step-by-step way for anybody to be able to sit down and go through them easily. Here are the subjects of the chapters:

  1. Creating a Vision
  2. Turn Adversity into Advantage
  3. Cultivate a Champions Mindset
  4. Develop Hustle
  5. Master Your Body
  6. Practice Positive Habits
  7. Build a Winning Team
  8. Live a Life of Service

My Takeaways

Some of the sections in this book were expected. Almost every book I’ve read on this topic has included something about vision, hustle, habits, and health, but some of the topics I had not expected to read about. The amount that this book talks about being grateful caught me off guard. The suggestion that one of the key factors for greatness is living a life of service was a concept that I was happy to here. Pointing out that great people don’t become great all by themselves was eye opening.

Recently Kendra and I have started going through our “highs” and “lows” each night. We say at least three good things and we say at most one bad thing that happened during the day. This practice has been really enjoyable for me lately and really has left me quite a bit happier. I can definitely see how being grateful can help push a person in the direction of greatness. I was sick and exhausted all week, and yet I’ve felt happy and productive the entire time. I consider having a cold to be one of the worst things because it’s annoying and lingers, and because of that view it usually brings me down pretty badly. Knowing that at the end of the day I would need to be able to find at least three things that went well during the day meant that I needed to make at least three good things happen, regardless of how I was feeling. This one change in our night has shown me the power of having people around me to hold me accountable to being grateful.

While not only influenced by this book I am looking to start/join a mastermind after reading the chapter on building a winning team.

I’m not going to summarize the book, but I’m definitely thankful for the knowledge that I’ve gained from it.

Taking a Look at My Life Turns

At church, we’ve been talking about how our own stories matter. Each one of us has a story that is unique and telling that story is one of the greatest things that we can do. By telling our own stories, we give others the chance to learn from our past experiences or to wonder about something that they’ve never experienced. As a church, we’ve been digging into what makes a good story (literarily speaking). We took some time to look at points in our lives where the plot jumps or changes direction, which we’re calling life turns. I’m going to go over a few of the significant life turns to build up my story.

Comprehending Death

The first time something or someone dies in the life of a child it always seems to be a toss up as how the child will react. For me, I can remember being sad and crying when my grandmother died when I was four or five, but it didn’t affect me as much as it should have because I just didn’t understand. The first death that I experienced that affected me as I would expect was when my Uncle Victor (Vic for short) died. I was in the fifth grade at the time, and up to this point I would say I was a pretty well-adjusted kid, but probably a little emotional. I remember crying a lot about things that weren’t that important. I was close to my Uncle Vic and when he died I felt so horrible that I hated God for allowing this to happen and set out to protect myself from feeling this type of pain again. From this point, I became a cold child. I tried my best to guard my emotions against others, and this eventually lead to me becoming cruel to those around me.

This was the first significant life turn that I could recall. A real change in who I was, and there was no going back. This was a negative turn that would result in a few problematic situations and damaged relationships.

Meeting a Positive Influence

The same year that my first life turn occurred I was fortunate enough to get to know my best friend James. On his own, James is a wonderful man and has always been a great influence on me, but when we became friends I got much more than a single friend. His entire family took me in like I was one of them. This lead to me becoming the “adopted” son, not because I didn’t have my own family, but because I spent a lot of time there and James’s parent poured a lot of their love and guidance into me. George and Kathy Brake loved God in a way that I had never seen before. I didn’t understand it at first, but it didn’t take long before some of that started to rub off on me. George took the time to lead a youth group at the Brake house each week and I tagged along because it was an excuse to hang out with James. That’s how it started. This group that my friend’s dad lead was the bridge that lead me to know God. Every since then the Brake family has welcomed me with open arms, and I continue to grow as a follower of Christ because of them. This was one of the most positive life turns that has occurred in my life thus far.

Tragically, George Brake died in a car accident a few weeks ago, but his wisdom lives on in his children and his effect on the world is not hard to see.

Loved and Lost

Moving forward into my first year of college, I had grown up and dated the same girl all through high school. I’m not a huge planner, but I thought I could see where my life was going. I imagined myself finishing my math degree, becoming an actuary, and marrying my high school sweetheart. None of that happened.

During my freshman year of college, I had something that I didn’t have while growing up, friends that were nearby for me to hang out with. Growing up in a town of fifty people I only had one boy my age that I could hang out with, and he and I had a tendency to argue and not speak for months at a time. I lived in an all-Freshman dorm my first year and became good friends with the other guys on my floor. I got way too caught up in having friends and let my relationship with God suffer. At this same time, my girlfriend was not falling away from God, but instead growing stronger. This eventually caused her to leave me, and I didn’t even see it coming. In true Keith (or rather human) fashion, something horrible happened in my life so I turned on God with my full fury. This time I didn’t just shout at the sky, though, I started going after the Christians that my girlfriend hung out with. I like to think I was trying to figure out what went wrong, but that’s really not the case. I’m a pretty intelligent person and at this point in my life I used this in the worst possible way. I poked holes in the faith of the Christians I ran into, and I did this in the most hurtful way I could. If I had to relate to anyone in the Bible at this point it would be Saul. I persecuted Christians with ruthless abandon. This is the most shameful of my life turns.

End It

Having a four and a half year relationship fall apart isn’t the best situation, and I didn’t handle it well. Besides being wrathful, I was also depressed. This depression built up until I eventually decided that it was too much. One evening as I was driving back to Toledo I decided that I should just end my life. I’m not one for gore and I didn’t want people to know that I intentionally killed myself, so I decided a car accident was probably my best choice. I was driving down the highway going somewhere between 90-100 mph waiting for the next overpass so I could swerve into the support column when I decided that I needed a little music. At this point I didn’t listen to Christian music, but that’s what I ended up on and the song that was on spoke to me more directly than I had ever experienced (sadly I can’t remember the song). Needless to say, that was enough to stop me from being as stupid as I had planned. I broke down crying and felt more loved at that moment than I can explain. This was a pretty positive life turn by not being the end of the story. I realized that I didn’t have the relationship that I expected to have, but God still loved me very much.

A New Journey

Shortly after not committing suicide Summer break started and I had a summer job lined up to work for Central Insurance. Central had given me a large scholarship so I seemed like a shoe-in for a position, but I would have never considered trying if it hadn’t been for my ex-girlfriend’s mom suggesting it. From where I stand now it’s interesting to see how the story unfolded and all it took to get me to Central, where my next life turn happens.

After a few weeks of working at this job, I got to meet the actuarial intern who also worked in my department part time. Her name was Kendra. She and I got along well and we both had the same career direction. The first time we hung out after work was the day that she got her wisdom teeth taken out. She looked and sounded incredibly silly, but I enjoyed every moment we got to spend together. Things were looking up for me at this point, I was finally letting myself be happy again. To make a long story short, she and I started dating before we both went back to college, had a long distance relationship (2.5 hours apart), and eventually got engaged. The distance was hard, but Kendra was able to use it help me not rely on her for my happiness, this lead me to grow closer to God.

Money Can Make You Look Stupid

After Kendra had graduated from college and moved home I was still in Toledo, but wanted to be closer to home since I wasn’t getting anything out of college. Prior to this, I had made some stupid mistakes with money and built up a large debt unknowingly. I’m not going to go into a ton of detail because I wrote most of my thoughts on money over here, but it embarrassed me to discover my own stupidity. This embarrassment made it hard for me to admit what I had done to Kendra. Eventually, I tried to transfer from UT to IPFW so that I could live at home and be closer to Kendra. I thought I had everything worked out with the transfer, but I was only given in-state tuition for IPFW if I went to school full-time which I was not planning on doing since I was consulting full-time. I put all of my eggs in one basket and ruined my chances of graduating in a timely fashion from UT by dropping some courses before finalizing my transfer to IPFW. At this point, I needed to tell Kendra what had happened, and it terrified me.

When I sat down and talked to Kendra about the mistakes I had made regarding school and money she nearly left me. I was hiding things from her because I was ashamed and that’s not something we could build a healthy marriage on. Thankfully, she showed forgiveness and helped me to get my personal finances under control. This education on finances set me on a good track and really changed my life, but the forgiveness and mercy she showed are the incredible parts about this life turn.

Life Theme

Our stories are more than the turns. Together these turns make up the narrative of our lives. When I step back and look at mine this is the story that I see:

No matter how many times I turn my back, God still finds a way to bring me back to him and show me his love.

My turns show the ebb and flow of my life, I make a mistake and God finds a way to put me on the path to redemption. That’s really how I see God working all the time. To sum up everything I know about God is to say that he loves us a lot and no matter how many times we screw up he’ll always be there to guide us and receive us when we decide to return home.

What’s your story?

Budget to See Your Values

After a hectic few months of being married (since Oct 26), my wife and I finally
sat down to write out our budget. I get a lot of comfort out of having a budget
and feeling like I’m incontrol of my money. This was not my first time making a
budget, but it made me think about how budgeting has really changed my life.
It’s shown me what I apparently care about and allowed me to adjust accordingly.

Who needs a budget?

Growing up I was always considered a “smart” kid. I took great
pleasure in this and thought pretty highly of myself. When I was a junior in
high school I was making roughly $300/week. Being as I grew up in the middle of
nowhere in Ohio this was a pretty substantial amount of money. I saved none of
this money. I had always been a little over confident about college, knowing
even in junior high that I would get a full-ride to college, so why did I need
to save money? Thankfully, I had been correct and my scholarships would pay for
college. I didn’t need a budget, money was going to find it’s way into my bank

Loans aren’t that bad…

In college I was able to see that I was really lucky that I didn’t need to pay
for any of my schooling, but it quickly became apparent that I didn’t have
enough money for everything. I had a Summer where I lived off of rice and an
occasional egg, but I hadn’t taken out a loan so I was feeling pretty good about
that. I didn’t tell my parents that I was struggling, the only person that knew
was my girlfriend at the time (now wife). She was pretty concerned for my health
and loaned me some money against my will. After some persuading, I decided that
it wouldn’t be a big deal if I took out a small loan in the short term to cover
living expenses since I knew I would be getting my first paid internship in a
few months. So began my reign of stupidity.

Where’s this money coming from? Who cares.

Shortly after that I had gotten my first programming job which payed $14/hr,
which wasn’t too bad and I could pretty easily pay for my living expenses with
that type of income. That’s the key right there, I had enough to cover all of
my expenses at that point without any loan other than the small one that I had
taken out when I had no job. I proceeded to not cancel that loan… each
semester more money would just pour into my bank account and I didn’t even care
where it was coming from.

Full-Ride = 22k in debt

After those few years were finished I ended up having $22,000 in debt. I was so
ashamed that it nearly broke up my relationship with my fiancée, who just so
happens to have a degree in finance. Thankfully, as part of what we thought we
should do before we got married we read The Total Money Makeover
together and she helped me make my first budget.
Telling each and every dollar that came in where to go was a very freeing
experience. She laughs sometimes to see the change that this has made in me.
Budgeting seems obvious to me now and I question people who don’t think about
it. I sometimes forget that I was one of those people just a year ago.


Having now been on a budget for a year, I’m amazed at how different I feel and
act. I used to blow tons of money on things that were simply for entertainment,
even though I had plenty to do and never did anything good with my money. I’ve
since cut down my spending to the lowest it’s ever been and Kendra and I are
knocking out our debt faster than we really thought possible. We’re also able to
give generously to people and causes that actually need it.

Jesus states in Luke 12:34:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This is completely true. If you’re not in control of you’re money how can you be
in control of your heart?

Getting Started

For anyone who would like to start budgeting I would definitely recommend
reading Dave Ramsey’s book. This book really helped me to just
understand money as a thing and was a big inspiration. If you’re not really one
for books or you’ve already read it, then I would suggest grabbing the
monthly cash-flow plan that he provides and start writting out your budget.
If you’re on the Mac I’ve translated this into a Numbers spreadsheet
that will handle the calculations for you (Kendra and I use this).
If you use that spreadsheet, I would encourage you to fill it
out and then save it as a template so you can create one for each month and
start from scratch with a blank set of transactions. Good luck!