I love to over-metaphorize things, and I’ve been wanting to do that in regard to my bike accident for some time now. I was in a bicycle accident back in April, and I’ve been thinking about its correlation to DevOps and/or IT in general ever since. A friend of mine who was a champion mountain biker advised me not to tell anyone about my accident here in Boulder, that it was really too embarrassing. Aside from this post, I’m going to heed her advice.
I used to bike a lot, not like the spandex, biking in a pack type but rather just for everyday errands and running around the burbs. I lived in Texas at the time, and honestly I had fallen out of biking for a couple of years because it began feeling dangerous and not worth the risk anymore. I went from feeling like I was on a mission and being an ambassador for biking culture and working in exercise to your everyday life to giving up on it because it was an uphill battle as the many anti-bikers would honk or crowd my lane or just plain not see me because they’re not used to bikers.
Fast-forward to this past April - I was living in Texas, and I had come up to Boulder, Colorado to house-hunt. I was by myself, too, because the hubs stayed home with the kids. One of the many reasons we chose to move to Boulder is the strong biking-as-an-everyday-activity culture with its amazing, dedicated bike trail system. As it turned out, we had already put an offer on a house sight-unseen the week prior, so my trip’s purpose pivoted from house-hunting to neighborhood scouting - school principal interviews, checking out some co-working spaces, meeting with friends, etc. On said scouting mission, I rented a bike instead of a car to get around town.
Things were going well on the bike, although I didn’t have some of the things from home that would have made life on a bike easier, like my Burley trailer cart for groceries, my bike lights, bike gloves, etc. But I had a helmet, my leather jacket, and a backpack, so I was set.
I had made myself nervous a few times going too fast downhill and going over a bump or going too fast coming up to a stop and fish-tailing as I stopped. I was braking with both the front and back brake when I should have only used the back at times. And I was going too fast (for me) because I was nervous that I was inconveniencing others (a fear born in Texas where people do not like bikes on their roads). All these behaviors were indicators that I was out of practice and not being safe, but I noted those things and vowed to be more careful.
I was scheduled to be there a solid week, so that Wednesday I had planned to try out a co-working place nearby (I was still working full-time that week and scouting during lunch and after work). After my morning standup, I was excited to bike over and get the rest of my day worked from an office instead of my Airbnb bedroom. I hadn’t even eaten breakfast or drank my coffee yet because I wanted to get the full experience of the co-working place that serves it each morning.
It was supposed to be about a thirty-forty minute bike ride, but I was in a hurry because I’m awful with directions and needed to account for that. I’m also a bit of a people-pleaser and was worried about being away from my desk for so long, so I rushed.
I was about five minutes from the Airbnb when I was headed down a long stretch of a wide residential through-street. There were a lot of rough patches in the road from cracks that had grown from ice expansion, and I was careful to steer around them. I blew through a stop sign since I had picked up some speed from my steady downhill descent when I saw another rough patch. I know that you’re supposed to look away from obstacles because you will naturally steer toward what you’re looking at, but this time I was worried about going to the left because I didn’t know if there was a car coming up behind me or not.
I found myself biking directly into the hole, and I chose instead to brake. And I broke hard. With both brakes. Like a noob.
What happened next felt like about ten minutes worth of action but really probably took about 10 seconds.
My front tire stuck into that hole while my back tire flipped up and over, sending me flying through the air, over my handlebars. I hit my head a little (I don’t know really how hard), and I don’t know if I blacked out or not because I very well could have had my eyes shut the whole time. When I hit my head, the chin strap split my chin open, and my right incisor tooth went through my lip when it hit the pavement, chipping in the process. This also caused my jaw to go out of alignment causing a lot of pain and swelling so I could only drink smoothies for about a week or so.
My erroneous instinct was to put my hands out in front of me to break my fall. They skidded over the pavement with all of the force of my speed and body weight behind them for several feet. Bloodied and raw, I couldn’t even move them.
I did eventually roll over onto my shoulder and skidded my elbows, but my very expensive, leather jacket took the brunt of that damage.
As I lay there in the street, my body did not want to move. I tried yelling for help, but all of the wind was knocked out of me. After my breath finally came back to me in a deep gasp of air that filled my lungs with relief, I cried out for help a few times, hoping someone would hear because I was really afraid that I could not move. Someone finally drove by after a minute, maybe five, I don’t know. “Oh my gosh, are you okay?”
“No,” I said. “Can you help me?” He called 911, and a couple of neighbors came out. One nice man took care of my bike and sunglasses and texted me his number when I was ready to get them. He even held my phone so I could call my husband there from the middle of the street and tell him what happened. Another passerby assessed me for a broken neck, asking me a bunch of questions to see what I could feel.
“Do you feel any tingling in your hands,” he asked. “Uh, I don’t know. I don’t think so.” “Can you move your fingers?” “Uh huh.” “Can you move your feet?” “I think so.” “Okay, that’s good, but don’t move until the paramedics get here.”
I don’t know if he knew anything or not, but it made me feel better. He was able to give the paramedics the rundown so that I didn’t. My eyes were closed almost the entire time because I was in so much pain.
Ironically, because of the guy’s assessment, the paramedics thought that I was up moving around so they took their time getting there, not knowing that I was still laying in the middle of the street. I think a neighbor said it took like fourteen minutes. When they finally got there they took off my backpack and jacket, and I thought they were going to break me. They hoisted me into the ambulance, and I felt relieved. I also wondered how much this was going to cost me out of pocket.
That was my first time in an ambulance, and, whoa baby, it was no fun. The trauma plus the bumps and crazy driving plus facing backwards plus the pain of the accident really makes a person want to throw up, and I almost did until he gave me some blessed Zofran.
I finally made it to the hospital, and they did a bunch of x-rays and a CT-scan (another first for me). They also had to take a scrub brush to my raw palms to get out all of the debris. That was not lovely at all.
I was there about six hours, and I probably cried about 50 times. I knew that it was just the trauma that was causing me to cry, so every time any hospital staff came in my room while I was crying I would reassure them, “Don’t worry, come on in; I just keep crying. I can’t help it.”
I was then given the all-clear to go home. All in all, I fared extremely well (especially for how badly I felt). The result of my foolish blunder could have been so much worse, and I am very well aware and grateful. I left with:
- raw palms, but healed quickly because of the painful cleaning
- hands were bruised all the way through for about 2 weeks
- a chipped tooth and hole in my lip
- busted chin that was glued shut
- torn cartilage in my left wrist for which I will undergo surgery in August
- chipped bone fragment in two places in my right pinky finger and damaged ligament for which I am in physical therapy
Not bad! Inconvenient, sure, but you know what’s more inconvenient? Dying. Dying is definitely more inconvenient, so I will take these minor injuries over dying any day.
I hadn’t eaten or even drank water all day (because of the possibility of surgery), so I was ready to get out of there. While I was at the hospital my sweet husband arranged for me to fly home that evening because the doctor told me that the next day would be the hardest, and while my Airbnb hosts were nice, they didn’t sign up to take care of me, so I welcomed the rough flight home. The problem was that I needed help getting packed up but didn’t know anyone in town and my hosts were at work, so Michael called my realtor’s assistant, and she came and picked me up at the hospital, took me to get some food (some organic cola product for my caffeine headache and sushi rolls which I had to swallow whole), and packed up my suitcase at the Airbnb. Then I Lyfted to the airport and came home to recover.
I’m wondering at this point if you’ve guessed what the parallels to DevOps are or if you’re waiting for me to pull some out of my hat because you think I’m crazy. Well, here they are:
1) When we trade velocity for common sense, it will not always work out for us. Sometimes we just aren’t careful and want to move too quickly, and we know what we should be doing and even tell ourselves that we’re going to do it, but we chase after that goal with velocity (co-working place / better application) at the expense of safety and we end up crashing anyway. I have had a client like that in the past. They wanted so badly to move quickly with their software product and release often, but they weren’t careful (didn’t have proper pipeline testing, isolation, versioning, etc.), and in the long run it cost them more time.
2) Cleaning promotes healing. How many times have I seen companies leave an application/pipeline/whatever in poor health for the sake of moving forward with their plans? How can you keep moving forward if you’re hurting? Take the time and energy and endure the pain of clean up, and you’ll be more effective in the long run.
3) Sometimes expensive stuff really does keep you safe. I was wearing the most expensive article of clothing that I own - my Joie leather jacket (go ahead and Google it and judge me). And it was pretty shredded, but I took it to the leather repair shop, and they fixed it completely! You can’t even tell it was in an accident. It that had been some cheap $50 jacket, it would have been ruined. And sometimes we want the cheap or free tool to save us, but if we put some actual money into a tool that is proven, then it will likely come through for us.
4) Being safe takes practice. I had gotten out of practice on my bike and suffered the consequences. There’s a guy, Nick, at my current client’s office that has a good practice of repetition. When he and his team do something for the first time, after it works perfectly, they tear it down and rebuild it another few times just for practice. Another guy recently was complaining about it taking so long to get started with Test Kitchen, and, yes, that’s annoying, but it’s only like that at first. After practice it becomes second nature, like any exercise.
5) Vulnerability is good from time to time. Noob mistakes are really embarrassing and humbling, but if you allow yourself to be vulnerable in the midst of that failure, it will likely bring out empathy and compassion in your fellow humans. Everyone knows what it’s like to hurt. Likewise, everyone knows what it’s like to fail at something in technology. If you allow yourself to be rescued when it’s absolutely necessary, then you will contribute to building a culture of vulnerability and trust in your organization. If you want to grow in that, I suggest listening to this talk by Sameer Doshi.
6) The stress of our self-imposed deadlines costs us life energy. To those of you fellow over-achievers, slow down and enjoy the ride. If you don’t, you could be in for a wipe-out, burn-out, fly-over-the-handlebars kind of year, and it will cost you all the time you thought you were saving.
7) Colleagues that debug together, stay together. Even if you don’t know what you’re talking about, sometimes it really helps a person feel better to have someone to assess a situation together. I have no idea if that guy knew what he was talking about or not, but it made me feel so much better that someone cared whether or not I was paralyzed. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the rubber duck theory, but every now and then, when someone’s really freaking out, just be the rubber duck. It really helps.
8) Drop everything when there’s an incident. My husband has a pretty intense and demanding job, plus he was solo parenting while I was out of town. But when he got the call, he sprang into action. Everything else was put on hold while he handled the logistics of getting me home and taken care of. I’ve seen people ignore IT incidents (or even just broken stuff) because maybe it didn’t affect them as much, or maybe they wanted to finish the task they were on before they got distracted onto something else, or whatever the excuse. But it benefits everyone when the whole team is healthy, functional, and unblocked, so even if it’s not your problem, get your ass in gear and help people when there’s an incident, or unblock people, or fix something broken when you discover it.
We can get in the thick of it at work sometimes and forget about using common wisdom in our everyday. There are lessons all around us if we’ll slow down enough to take heed of them. Velocity is great, but sometimes so is slowing down.