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Sprint 17: When Everything Changed

April was an atypical month that diverged from our plans, but with good reason. Leslie applied to a developer boot camp, Academy Pittsburgh, and was accepted! Meanwhile, I started my first contract gig.

Last Sprint

We had three objectives planned for April:

  1. Take a break from writing.
  2. Focus on learning how to build video games.
  3. Find freelance work.

We failed the first two.

  • By the second week, I was already itching to get back to Raquel and Verne’s adventure, so I started writing.

  • We tried to do video game dev, but I didn’t get as far as I wanted and Leslie had to give up early to pursue a developer boot camp.

We may have failed two objectives, but I wouldn’t call the month a failure. When opportunities arise, you have to take them.

Leslie’s Approach

I was starting to get anxiety over finding work. Originally, I wanted to take a break to help finish Echo Chamber Heist for agent submissions, but it still felt weird to be home all day and to watch our savings account take a beating. One night, Leslie and I talked about what we’d have to ensure we maintain at least financial equilibrium.

We came up with the idea of sending Leslie to a developer boot camp, now that the book is done. The problem was expense. These programs usually cost over $10,000. There are a few that give women free scholarships, but they take a percentage of their first year’s salary. The one I’m talking about is also in a city that’s more expensive than Manhattan, so living and travel expenses were going to be through the roof—not to mention the challenge of finding temporary housing and being apart for three months.

One recruiter that I met with told me about Academy Pittsburgh, which is a brand new program that teaches the fundamentals of software development. This first round is sponsored by local companies, so tuition was free. It also gives preference to minorities in technology, including women and mothers.

The next morning, Leslie started the application. She spent ten hours perfecting everything, including a youtube video that introduced herself. About a week later, we got the message that she was accepted!

Up until then, Leslie had been doing well with our video game sprint. She was learning Blender, which is a free 3d modeling program, on Udemy. She diverted all of her focus to the boot camp and gardening (since that’s time sensitive).

I believe our characters, Verne and Raquel, would be proud of her decision. Now, Leslie will be better prepared to help with finances. If both of us work, we can save money and take a few months off every year to focus solely on writing. Also, she’ll be more able to help me build some apps I have in mind (…as if we needed more projects to work on together).

Dave’s Approach

I tried to keep up with our original goal of learning game development. I watched lectures on Udemy, but not as many as I had hoped. Later in the month, I didn’t have time in the evenings due to work, and my weekends were spent outside. The weather was just too nice to pass up, and I never felt like I had enough time to do yard work at my last job. I was always protective of what little time there was, and had to split it between family and writing.

We were supposed to be on a break, so I didn’t make writing a priority. However, after two weeks, I needed to get back to the Bitlather Chronicles. I spent my weekend mornings working on book two in those golden productive hours before the dogs wake up.

The Numbers

Everything changed a lot this month, so I don’t think the numbers mean much. However, it’s good to stay consistent.



  • 42 planned tasks (Leslie: 7, Dave: 29, together: 6)
  • 58 finished tasks (Leslie: 21, Dave: 31, together: 6)
    • 38 finished planned tasks (Leslie: 7, Dave: 25, together: 6)
    • 18 finished scope creep tasks (Leslie: 12, Dave: 6)
    • 2 finished winging it tasks (Leslie: 2)
  • 1 finished milestone: Echo Chamber Heist Done-Done
  • 1 new milestone: Leslie’s dev boot camp


  • Get out and meet people. While I was making connections in search of contract work, I met someone who told us about Academy Pittsburgh, which is a brand new developer boot camp. Leslie has been wanting to learn development, but we have so many hobbies and goals that it hasn’t seemed feasible. This 12-week course was free, as well. Given that we just finished our latest round of revisions for Echo Chamber Heist, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

    Leslie’s also met a bunch of people in class who share an interest in projects.

  • Try new things, even careers. I’ve moved to contract work, so I can have more freedom to focus on my own projects. It’s been a little bumpy, so far, and I’m still getting the hang of it. But I think it will work out.

    Now that I spend most days at home, I’m more interested in going out on occasion. I hope this will help me find more passionate people with similar interests.

  • Have an escape plan. It’s good to decide in advance when you should give up. Leslie and I agreed that, if my last job didn’t get better by the end of 2015, I had to quit. Things did improve, but then they got worse, so I had to keep my promise.

    Finding work was tough, at first, and the bills didn’t stop coming. We had to set a date of when I needed to look for other work in case freelance didn’t pan out. I expect contract work is going to be seasons of feast-or-famine. I need to store money during the feast months so I can afford to take a break when work is scarce, or when I want to focus on writing.

    I don’t know why quitting has such a negative connotation. There’s only so much you can accomplish in a week, and there’s a plethora of interesting things to do. Quitting can let you pursue more fulfilling projects.

  • Not my circus, not my monkeys. This is one of the hardest things for me. I’m very passionate. I care a lot about my work, and I’m used to being a leader. It’s a cliché that someone might respond to the interview question, “What’s your biggest flaw?” with “I’m too passionate.” It sounds lame, but really, too passionate is a serious flaw.

    Passion is what wore me down at my last job. Passion is what prevents me from accepting most job offers.

    I need to learn how to disengage and let nothing bother me.

Next Sprint

The theme is going to be keep on keepin’ on. I’m going to focus on work so I can stow away money in preparation for taking off a few months in the future to help write book two. I’d also like to get out more and spend time at places like Looking For Group.

This is another strange month, so the sprint board is a little weird.



The gang’s interested in writing a second Steampunk Fairy Tales, and I’m the leader. That’s going to take some time, between management and writing a new story, but I’m excited for both.

I also want to get retirement investments in order. My 401k has performed abysmally, so I’ve mostly set money aside for our house and the ability to survive while I try a new career. I’m going to speak with financial advisers and CPAs.

If there’s time, I’d like to start making a list of agents that might be interested in Echo Chamber Heist, just in case no one bites from the last round of submissions.

If there’s even more time—and I doubt there will be—I’d like to continue watching Unity lectures.

Leslie is going to continue focusing on developer boot camp (which is a full time job) and help write our next Steampunk Fairy Tale. There’s still plenty to do with our gardens, too.

Reflecting on April

Our month began with a trip to the Clearview Mall. The mall of our childhood.



Death of a Mall

I thought that the Butler Mall was invincible, unlike the other malls that have a short burst of life followed by dormancy. The Clearview Mall really hung on. But last year, I noticed something had changed.



I hadn’t been back in a while, because (a) it’s sad, and (b) it’s really far away from where we live.

However, my parents told me a new store had moved in. The mall’s atmosphere had changed, but there was a new hope.



It’s exactly what you think it is.



Erm… maybe it’s not exactly what you think it is.



It’s not the same place it used to be, but if you count the trucks parked outside of Rural King, you can tell there’s hope for the Clearview Mall yet. Actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it that busy before.

Pinball World Championship

The Pinball World Championship was held near Pittsburgh, at the Professional Amateur Pinball Association’s (PAPA) world headquarters.



This split flipper trophy is prominently displayed when you enter. (Split flipper is when two people play, and each person controls one flipper).



This collection is only open the public one weekend a year, when they host the world championship. It used to be the largest private pinball collection, but the owner made it into an organization that repairs old machines to keep the game alive. They also put games in children’s hospitals.

Leslie and I love pinball backglass displays. Someday, I’d like to publish a book that uses a similar fantasy art style.



This place had a ton of machines, sometimes duplicates of the same game. We finally got to play The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, neither of us played well that day, and you had to feed the machine quarters. Leslie and I like all-you-can-play over the course of a few hours, since it’s fun even when you’re not in the zone.

I like to keep track of the different mechanics each machine uses. Almost every game has one feature that makes it stand out.

This time, it was Safe Cracker caught my attention. It’s a small machine with a timer. When you hit certain points, time is added. You don’t have a specific number of balls; instead, as long as there’s time left, you keep shooting.



When you hit the objectives, (I have no idea what they are), the machine actually spits tokens at you from a slot under the rotating red beacon. The coin hit me, and I was temporarily stunned while I tried to figure out what had happened.

It wasn’t the best game, but it surprised me.



Waffles & VR

My friend Gabe likes to make waffles for people. He also likes VR. So, he hosted a Waffles & VR party where we got to play with his newly acquired HTC Vive.



I was impressed with how immersive it was. While playing the chef game in Job Simulator, I nearly took off the controllers and placed them on a virtual reality counter (that didn’t exist in our world). Leslie spent time in the ocean and watched a giant whale swim above her.

I expected to get motion sickness or have some weird sensation, but I was fine throughout the entire experience.

Leslie’s First Day of School

Leslie got accepted into the inaugural class at Academy Pittsburgh!

Here’s her first day pictures.



I came into Leslie’s class on two Fridays as a volunteer teaching assistant. I’m really impressed with what I’ve seen at Academy Pittsburgh, and I’m thankful she has the opportunity.

The Tables Have Turned

Leslie used to stay home all day while I was at work. Now, everything is different.

While Leslie is at class, I’m usually in my study with the hounds.



This little guy, Niko, (who inspired our character Montgomery), has been the most trouble.



I let them out during lunch and eat outside with them. Schooner is a sun worshipper; one time, I caught her relaxing in that hole Niko’s been digging.




Leslie started seeds in the basement.



She’d been talking about this watering can on a nearby road for a few weeks now, so I indulged her and we stopped to get it.



I told her it was broken and we wouldn’t be able to screw a spout on it, to which she responded, “It still pours water, doesn’t it?”



We also picked up two old olive barrels to convert them into rain barrels.



Birthday Vengeance Cookie

We met my parents for dinner at Jimmy Wan’s in Cranberry. I was thinking about writing middle grade someday, so I asked mom to bring my old books.



After dinner, we ate our semi aggressive fortune cookies.



For my actual birthday, Leslie brought me a matcha cupcake.



Last year, Leslie and I played Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver. I’ve been meaning to finish that, but I wanted to enjoy a different classic from my childhood: Harvest Moon.

A few days later, I really wanted some Lego. Specifically, the Trash Chomper from The Lego Movie series that just retired. We went to Toys R Us, since the online prices were high, and looked everywhere to no avail. Then, while I was checking out Ninjago, I turned around and saw it out on a shelf!



I couldn’t believe my luck. It’s almost as if someone planted it there, just for me.

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