Meet Luka

Coffee shop in Novi Sad, Serbia. My wife Jelena, my best man Luka and I sit at one of the corner tables. It’s sunny outside. Quite beautiful weather for this time of the year. Jelena is reading the “How not to give a F**k” by Mark Manson, while Luka is texting on the phone, nervous about getting something to eat. We’re all excited about this interview. Luka’s also excited about his food. While we’re waiting, I’m happily jolting down a list of questions I’d like to ask.

Half an hour later…

Me: First of all, I’d like to thank you for accepting this invitation to do an interview! Tell us for starters, how are you feeling right now?

Luka: Currently I feel relaxed, well fed and I’m enjoying the time with my friends. So, awesome! 🙂

Smiles all around. We sure as hell don’t know what we’re doing here, but we’re still going to do it.

Me: In a few words, how’d you describe yourself to our readers, what’s your story?

Luka: I’m just a regular normal guy. A guy who has recently learned how to enjoy his little normal life, how to work for things that are dear and close to his heart. That’s what makes me me, right now.

I feel humbled by Luka’s modesty.

Me: Tell us more about this recent development – learning about how to live your life and what you care about the most?

Luka: I had been studying a lot recently, maybe even too much. Every moment I’ve spent on that. Everywhere I went. I could be in a bus, college, a dance club – didn’t matter – I’d read about JavaScript, React, GraphQL… It was intense. So I started cutting down on that. I’ve shifted my focus from programming to living, such as my emotional well-being. I spend a lot more time with my good friends. That makes me a lot happier than doing just work. It doesn’t come easy. It’s a struggle. Unlike technical knowledge, these things depend on other people as much as on you. It’s hard and exciting at the same time!

Me: How did it get to this point?

Luka: I wasn’t very ambitious about work before. The turning point in my life was when I became a father. I realized I had to do more, not just because of myself, or money, but because of my child. My family became my imperative. I felt the need to take responsibility. I started appreciating constructivism, being productive and such things. And I started surrounding myself with such people.

Me: and then?

Luka: Then I found programming. Fell in love with it. Too much, some might say. And now, I’m trying to strike a balance. Private life and work life. I’ve cut down a lot on the work front, but I think that’s okay. Something has to give, you can’t have it all. And I don’t have to be the best programmer in the world. But I can be a good one and live a fulfilling life. I’ve always cared about being social and my spirituality, but there was a period for about 4 years of my life where I spent my time thinking just about work. That period is over for me. Nowadays, I have more time to devote to myself and people around me.

Me: Woah, so you went from no work, to too much work, and just recently you’ve reached balance… I’m glad you’re taking care of it, such an important thing to do…

Luka nods. I give him credit for doing a great job at telling his story. Welp, I even give myself some credit for doing this for the first time… I read my next question.

Me: We met in 2016 while working on Mekice. How much do you remember about it?

Luka: So, this is how it happened for me… I was in my second year of college back then. I’d studied for 20 hours straight, sometimes. I was working on an Android app. In my time breaks from work, I’d check my Facebook feed…

Me: And that’s when you saw my post, I guess?

Luka: Well, yeah, but before we go into that… I loved psychology. Because I had my own problems, I thought I could help myself by studying it. So about 2-3 years before college, I’ve read about it intensively. The old guys, such as Freud, then some motivational books, such as Sharma, then I went into philosophy, such as Nietzsche. I spent a lot of time on that.

And then I saw your post. I had no idea who you are. First thing I noticed was that the project is about psychology. I also remember seeing the “Hi from California” in it. I’ve never dreamt about California. Just saw it as something serious. In Serbia I wouldn’t trust no one with this project. That attracted me. Hey, great, I thought. Somebody is looking for volunteers to work on psychology. I had to be a part of that story. That was interesting. It changed my life forever.

Me: It changed your life… care to share how?

Luka: You mean a lot to me as a friend. Somehow, whenever we talk I learn something new. I live better materially, but also spiritually. Before I thought it’s all about money and cars, now I have a balance between that and other stuff. I’ve taken a breadth of new interests. Not just because of you, I have other friends who have helped me in this way. Friends are the best thing ever 🙂

The feeling is mutual, my friend.

Me: Professionally, you are a JavaScript engineer. Tell us more, how did you choose this vocation?

Luka: We used to do PHP before this NodeJS craziness started. News arrive a bit late in Serbia. We’ve heard about NodeJS a couple years late too late. We had no resources where we could more. I had talked with some people from one of the Belgrade’s universities about it. They were interested in teaching it. That seemed interesting. But simply I thought I can’t handle that. I was thinking, let’s just do PHP, you know, whatever.

Me: So you heard of it, but it didn’t stick. What happened then?

Luka: Then, we talked for the first time, and you gave me a brain dump about this NodeJS stack. First of all, I’ve never heard about 20 new things in a single talk. I felt bombarded by your ideas. Then I felt ecstatic because I had so much to learn. I love learning. I also had a feeling these things are more advanced. In the future these things will be more applicable, I thought. It will be useful in a business sense. It has a future. I felt thrilled. And then also there was the product – psychology. Complete happiness!

As I write Luka’s comments, I start feeling this might come off as a self-promotion of some sort. I tell him to focus on himself, in my self-defense. Doesn’t come off as genuine, I think… welp, I give myself a break and continue.

Me: So you started with NodeJS while working on Mekice. Fast forward almost three years, you’ve moved on to work on various React and React Native applications. What is it like to be a JavaScript engineer in Belgrade, Serbia now? What kind of opportunities do you have? What kind of challenges do you face?

Luka: It’s an interesting thing, being a JavaScript engineer in Belgrade. It’s unusual. Java and PHP are the most popular programming languages here. Rarely I hear about people working on NodeJS and React, especially on the backend side of it. Frontend tech is getting more popular lately, but Node as a backend is not so much. By the way, React is killing Angular. It’s 10 to 1 in popularity. It’s great.

Now, speaking of opportunities, there’s plenty of them. Not that many people know how to work with this, and there is a huge demand for it. Employers are very motivating and they are hiring…

I also have an opportunity to learn new things. We just bought some tutorials for progressive web apps, and that Google’s thing – AMP. At the same time, I’m learning about PureScript. Continuous learning and development is crucial. We have to keep up.

Speaking of challenges, momentarily, I don’t have many. Really don’t know what to say. Nothing serious. No stress. Rarely. The most common and the biggest challenge is finding a company that pays regularly, and legally, with all the social benefits and stuff.

Me: Ah, the “advanced” business practices of ours! And go JavaScript! Let’s take a turn here… Other than programming, you’re quite a fan of trap music. How did this start? What do you like about it?

Luka: I love all music. Trap and rap I do since like forever. They are the same genre for me. I’ve been working with music since I was 8… well, don’t want to lie, perhaps 11 years old. Whatever I did, whatever job, situation etc.; one thing has been given: I will make music in the evening. I actually consider myself a hip-hop artist. More than programmer, taxi driver or anything for that matter.

Me: I also hear you are working on a song! Are there any other hobbies we’re not aware of?

Luka: I’d love to exercise more. Would love to make it a habit. I believe I will start next month. I start and stop oftentimes. I’d like to make it a long term hobby.

I think about my garage gym. The most workout I got out of it is when I assembled it. I feel for Luka’s lack of sustained motivation, when it comes to exercising.

Me: Your life hasn’t always been made of “milk and honey” as we like to say. What defined you who you are today?

Luka pauses at this moment. He thinks carefully. I hear a “huh” coming out…

Luka: The birth of my child, as I said. I used to be way too much into clubbing and partying, and selfish. But this moment changed me. All of a sudden I felt sad about my current situation, of who I am. I felt bad that I didn’t do as much as I could. I felt horrible… It lasted for a year or two. And then I found something greater to live for. I didn’t give up, I started fighting for it. I stopped caring just about my pleasure, and started thinking about other people. That’s the biggest victory of my life.

Me: Any lessons you learned from that experience that you’d like to share?

Luka: I think people should learn to delay their pleasures. To find things they love to do. To devote themselves to them. To learn to give up on things that don’t really matter, you know, short term gratification and such. In the end, they will meet their goals. For me, I used to think party comes first, as in, first I’d want to go for 20 days on Ibiza, then I would do something constructive. Actually, things are different. Hard work comes first, then Ibiza 🙂 Unfortunately, I lot of people don’t realize that. I was very lucky.

Thinking about Ibiza… Jelena and I almost spent our honeymoon there last year. We look at each other and smile.

Me: You’re also a very versatile person. I know you’ve worked as a taxi driver, then in the textile industry, you also had your own start up… what did you learn from all of those?

Luka: I can’t say I’ve learned any special skills from any of these jobs that I could brag about right now. I did learn, however, how it feels when you think you don’t have any future ahead of you. Feeling hopeless. Back then, the best that could happen to me is to have a customer I’d drive for 30 kilometers instead of just 3. The best thing I could hope for is that some day I would be driving a better car. You can’t go further.

We nod at each other. Luka sways his head to the right side, as if to signal it wasn’t easy for him back then.

I just realized that I didn’t want to do that any more. I figured you won’t get anything easily. Now when I reflect, I wouldn’t even want that (getting things the easy way). The best successes are the ones that you earn. If someone told me 5 years ago, that I will be working and fighting to reach my goals, I wouldn’t believe it. Either I should have everything, or nothing – I’d rather be wasting my time, than struggle trying to achieve a normal life, that’s what I thought.

Now, I find it more exciting to have a 1000 EUR salary, then 2000, then 3000, than to make an app for 1 billion dollars and call it done for life. I love working step by step. It gives me continuous satisfaction.

Me: Progress?

Luka: Exactly, feeling the progress.

Me: This is a cheesy question, but I had to ask – looking backwards, if you could go back in time, with all the knowledge you have now, would you do that, or would you rather have any wish come true right now, and why so?

Luka pauses here… he smiles.

Luka: I’d go back and program a lot. You ask me why? I don’t know. I had a lot of free time. I wish I used it more to develop myself. Math, physics, chemistry, biology.

Me: … and looking forward, where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Luka: In a business sense, I see myself as an algorithm guy, someone who knows math better. Privately, I can’t predict, I don’t know. Perhaps I’d like to have another kid. No vision right now, I’m still searching for it.

Me: I’d like to thank you Luka for your time and wish you all the best in finding your vision. Any kind of a message you would like to send to our readers?

Luka: I genuinely want your readers to feel well and to be content and happy, with themselves. Work on yourself, invest in yourself. Spread the love around you. Positive vibes. And fight for your own goals.

I look outside, and it’s raining again…


That’s it folks, thanks to Luka for sharing his amazing story with us, it really is a gift! Hope all is well and see ya next week!

Four Communication Types

During my career in the Silicon Valley, I’ve mentored and coached dozens of people, without ever having a formal training on it. Last year, I attended the Berkeley High Impact Leadership course and I finally learned a good theoretical background behind these processes. In this article, I will be sharing the secret recipe with you!

After reading, you should know more about how to express empathy in your relationships, as well as the basics of playing the four basic role archetypes.

Empathy

First of all, I’d like to emphasize the importance of empathy in your work relationships. What is empathy? The best explanation I’ve heard over the years is that it basically means to be able to walk in other person’s shoes. To imagine you were them. How would you feel?

For those that like an instruction manual to everything, like myself, here’s a quick trick. There are two types of empathy according to the cognitive psychologist Dr David Burns: thought and feeling empathy.

Thought empathy is simply the act of summarizing what you’ve heard from the other person.

Feeling empathy is simply the act of noticing how the other person is probably feeling and letting them know you are aware of their emotions.

So let’s take an example. Say your coworker Bob comes to you with a following problem:

Bob: That meeting went horribly. We’re two months behind on our schedule and our director demands we meet the deadline, which is only four months ahead of us! I don’t know what to do!

You: Sounds like you are behind on your project (thought empathy). You must be under a lot of stress (feeling empathy).

Bob: etc.

This conversation pattern can occur for as long as Bob needs to talk with you. Pay attention to Bob’s words and body language, they will make empathizing with him that much simpler.

Support Role

What we’ve seen above is also called the support role. When you choose to play a support role in your work relationship, your job is to simply empathize with your coworker and simply make them feel heard. Is this useful? Oftentimes, this is exactly what people need, especially when under a lot of stress. Giving premature advice or asking too many questions might do more harm than good.

The main quality of the support role is that it’s full of empathy, but not much on telling the other person what to do, nor asking a lot about it. Let’s put those two on a graph:

Fig. 1) Support has “low tell” and “low ask”.

Who to support: Ask yourself – do I know this person well enough? If the answer is no, probably the best course of action is the support role.

Coaching Role

So what do we call it when you start asking questions, inquiring? For example:

Bob: That meeting went horribly. We’re two months behind on our schedule and our director demands we meet the deadline, which is only four months ahead of us! I don’t know what to do!

You: Sounds like you are behind on your project (thought empathy). You must be under a lot of stress (feeling empathy). What do you plan to do about it (inquiry)?

Bob: etc.

That’s coaching in a nutshell. The main pattern is:

  1. Listen: pay attention to what the other person is saying and what does their body language reveal.
  2. Empathize: show that you’ve heard the other person by empathizing with them using thought and/or feeling empathy.
  3. Ask: using open-ended questions, help the other person think about the problem they are having and help them reach the solution on their own!
  4. Go to step 1.

Most importantly, when coaching, do not ask suggestive questions. Then you aren’t a coach. Ask open-ended questions. Questions that cannot be answered by “yes” or “no” and such. Instead of asking “are you going to do X about it”, ask “what are you doing to do about it”. Let the other person think about the solution, your job as a coach is to guide them in their thinking. Keep them on track.

Not having to give any advice, coaching is very useful when you feel that the other person is far more capable of solving the problem for themselves than you are.

Fig. 2) Coach has “low tell” and “high ask”.

Whom to coach: Ask yourself, do I believe this person can resolve the problem at their own? If yes, assume the coach role.

Advisory Role

Let’s take an opposite example. What happens when you know more about the problem your colleague or friend is having and you want to “jump right into it” and help them succeed? In this case, you are playing the role of an adviser. You aren’t asking many questions, but you do tell a lot. Make sure you are invited and welcome to play this role, before you do. Playing an adviser is a dangerous one!

Fig. 3) Adviser has “high tell” and “low ask”.

Whom to advise: This one is best to do when you are directly asked for an advice, such as when being a consultant. Otherwise, ask yourself, did this person ask for my advice?

Mentor Role

Finally, being the mentor is my favorite relationship type. In this role, you are going to ask questions and give advice, you will empathize, support, coach and advise, all at the same time.

Fig. 4) Mentor has “high tell” and “high ask”.

Whom to mentor: Does this person need both coaching and advising? See above. Make sure the person wants to be mentored.

The other side of the archetypes

Finally, when playing all of these roles, you have to pay attention to how your participation is received on the other end. Just knowing these “recipes” won’t make you the best coach or mentor in the world, right? Trying to be a supportive person can render you seem absent or useless. Being too much of a mentor can make you seem like a micro-manager, and so on. So here’s an example of what could happen if things go wrong:

Fig. 5) The negative sides of the four communication roles: Micro-Manager, Dictator, Absent and Nuisance.

Summary

Alright, hope you had a fun time reading the article. Remember – listen, repeat, then ask for more or give advice if you have a good one. Remember to use open-ended questions. Choose the right role for the situation. Be mindful – focus on the other person, forget about yourself.

Thanks for reading thus far and see you next week.

Linux Guitar Pro Alternative

Today I finally configured my Ubuntu for guitar tabs playing!

Here is the recipe:
– install “tuxguitar” package
– install “timidity” package

Maybe your sound card supports MIDI files better than mine, so you might go with hardware support for playing MIDI files. However, software sequencers do provide better sound and sometimes they are the only choice, as in my case.

For some reason though, timidity daemon isn’t started with boot up, so I had to start it manually. Before launching tuxguitar, launch following command from terminal:

timidity -iA -B2,8 -Os -EFreverb=0

Then run tuxguitar and select Timidity port from the settings as shown in the second picture.

Good luck and enjoy your guitar 🙂

TuxGutar

TuxGuitar settings
Configuring TuxGuitar to use Timidity synthesizer