The Talk

The Core Idea

In 2016, after 20 years in the tech industry, and with 6 years of emotional experience workshops under my belt, I began to fuse the ideas from these two worlds together. Hacking Your Emotional API was born of that fusion. The idea is to use a concept many technical peoplinderstand, the API, as a metaphor for emotional responses.

My goal was twofold. First, I wanted to bring more discussion of mental health and emotional intelligence in to the tech circles I was a part of, and serve as an example of someone doing that.

Secondly, using the metaphor, I was able to explain what I'd learned about feeling/emotions in a way that was more approachable and lower-stakes. This allowed me to present the ideas to audiences who, like me, didn't get much instruction or advice in this core part of the human experience.

I believe that to understand other people, we much first understand ourselves. Copious research points to the influence that emotions have out our lives every day, whether we admit it or not. So I set out to help people understand this better. Knowing our own emotional landscape allows us to then know others. This first step allows for greater empathy, better communication and better relationships, in and out of work.

You can watch the video now

The Outline

Emotions are like APIs

Something happens in the world, causing a request to come in. We process that event and (might) send an emotional response back.

The API Is Public

There's no authentication at all. Any person, any event can send a request.


Whether we send an emotional response, and which one we send are determined by our middleware. We can think of this as "which code runs" when specific requests come in. If it's code, we can refactor it.

Coding Solo

Our emotional states impact our work. This may be obvious when you're going through a breakup. But the emotions you have every day also affect you, just not as obviously. Unprocessed emotions impact:

  • Executive Function
  • Short-term Memory
  • Ability to handle stress
Coding Together

Feeling like you have your emotional house in order gives you a sense of power. That sense of power leads to:

  • “Subjects made to feel powerful judged emotional expression more accurately.”
  • Better career advancement
  • Less self-centered
  • Empathy!

All of this leads to a better, more satisfying work environment and career.


These areas all improve:

  • Cognition
  • Advocating for Ideas
  • Code Reviews
  • Distractions
  • Dealing with Problematic Teamates
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Interviewing, Hiring and Firing
  • Managing and Mentoring others
My Toolkit

Over the years I have built up a toolkit of techniques to maintain awareness and understanding of yoru emotional state. They break down into four categories, in ascending levels of effectiveness and vulnerability.

🙂 Level 1: Conceptual Tools

😯 Level 2: On Your Own

😰 Level 3: With Someone Else

😱 Level 4: With a Group

Level 1: Conceptual Tools

These are new ways of thinking about emotions can can make them easier to deal with.

  • You control the implementation
  • It is all legacy code
  • You can control when and where you have your emotions (mostly)
  • Feelings queue up
  • Feelings don't mean anything
  • We're afraid to lose control
  • Feelings are Enumerable, not Boolean
  • There is no should
  • Emotional Debt is like Tech Debt
Level 2: On Your Own

These are activites you can do by yourself to understand what's going on inside you.

  • Move your body
  • Rubber duck debugging
  • Talking, out loud, to nobody
  • Logging (journaling)
  • The Feel Wheel
  • The Emotional Retro
Level 3: With Someone Else

These are activities you can do with others, they're more powerful than doing things on your own, but they require you to be vulnerable, and that can be scary.

  • Again, talking
  • Sometimes you need to feel it first
  • Bring in a consultant (therapist)
Level 4: With A Group

More powerful yet, but also scarier. In this section I talk about my path to understanding my emotions through emotional experience workshops.

I talk about my experience with anger, having never felt safe to experss it from a very young age. During the workshop I learned how to do it safely, without huring anyone. I share some techniques that people can use.

I then talk about my emotional experience when my father died. I didn't have the tools to express my grief at the time, and that unexpressed feeling affected my work for the next 20 years.

“Crying doesn’t indicate you are weak, since birth it has always been a sign to indicate you are alive”

Summing Up

Every one of these tools is just a hack to get to this one place:


Not stopping it

Not analyzing it

Not denying it

Not indulging it

Just feeling it

In Summary

People call these Soft Skills, but anyone who has done this kind of work will tell you they are Super Hard Skills

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