Issue 15 – Ninjas, robots, and the Mystery Machine Bus – plus a special guest!

Posted on August 22nd, by katestull in issues. Comments Off

Hello Hot Shots!

We’re back with another edition of Technology & Leadership News. This one is packed with tons of really interesting reads, but a couple of our favorites are a fantastic post on pricing experiments and a whole section dedicated to recruiting.

If you gotta have more (and we know you do), you can find bonus links on the blog. And let us know what you think! Our door is always open:


News to know

Leadership – Make Stuff, Build Trust, Step Up

Great read: 7 Things I Learned From My Encounter With Russell Kirsch

“Go create something. The only limit on you is what you can imagine. So imagine some impossible things. Then stop waiting around and go create them.”

This blogger met the inventor of the first computer in a Portland coffee shop and wrote down some of the takeaways he drew from their conversation. The message is all about conceiving an idea and then making it happen. If you’ve got an idea, the only thing in between you and making it happen is you.

“It’s never too late to keep changing things. You’re only done when you decide you are.”

How Leaders Build Trust

If you read my blog, you probably know that I am super passionate about trust and leadership.  And while I suggested some ideas in my post, I also liked the ones presented in this post and the methodology behind them.
The 3 reasons why we trust:

  1. Past Behavior: If you’ve behaved as expected in the past, I trust you to behave that way in the future. In this case “past performance” may very well predict “future returns”.
  2. Capability: We trust people based on our perception of their capability, so I trust my doctor to treat my illness because of her training.
  3. Alignment: If you and I are trying to achieve a common goal, I’ll trust you to do your part. Soldiers trust each other with their lives, because they are pursuing a shared goal.

And the 3 ways leaders can build trust:

  1. Involve people in decisions that directly affect them. When people are involved in a decision, even if they don’t make the final call, they are more likely to support the decision. This means bringing people in before you’ve made the decision.
  2. Be transparent and consistent in your actions. We tend to focus on outcomes and ignore the process. Understanding how a decision was made, and the thought process behind that decision, can have a huge impact on how people feel about the decision.
  3. Pay attention to relationships. It’s a given that people join companies but leave managers. The connection between employees and managers makes a huge difference in the degree of engagement and involvement people will feel.

And I would really emphasize #3 of this list.  You are going to screw up and make mistakes (we all do), so do the work up front to make sure that you have built up enough credit in the emotional bank account to compensate.  This means that you shouldn’t ever miss your one-on-one meetings.

[The following is a guest section from Baron, who is super smart, and I was really impressed by his insights, so I am sure you will be too – enjoy!]


[ Baron’s Leadership Corner ]

Self Promotion for Introverts (or other people who don’t want to self promote)

Did you see the Wikipedia redesign proposal from New!?
How about Andrew Kim’s reimagining of Microsoft?

These are great examples of a technique you can use to promote yourself, whether you’re just starting or already established. Both of these are design pieces, but it doesn’t have to be design. If you’re a developer, you could choose a software engineering project for a charity, for example. Pick something local if you’re looking for local exposure — perhaps a local food bank would appreciate an app for some purpose. Can you imagine how much exposure you could gain from this?
If you don’t have enough clients, don’t spend your time surfing the Internet — work on something that will pay dividends, and a refreshing break from routine to boot! Here are two other examples of (at least partially) spare or pro bono time turned into great portfolio items:


  • Sally Carson’s debut issue of The Skids, an autobiographical tale about her days as a New York City bicycle messenger, just after 9/11.
  • Waldo Jaquith’s Virginia Decoded site makes Virginia’s legal code accessible and comprehensible:

The Problem With Performance Reviews

Do you let yourself shy away from giving direct and immediate feedback, because you know you’ll be giving a performance review at a predetermined time? Tom Szaky says that formal performance reviews can lead to lost opportunities for improvement. Compliments and reprimands alike are much more effective when the incident is fresh in the recipient’s mind.


Tech – Librarians Know More Computer Science Than You

Notes from the Mystery Machine Bus (post via Jay Bartot)

A long and insightful read from the always entertaining Steve Yegge.  Using a political analogy of conservative vs. liberal engineers he explains the nuances and struggle between the somewhat religious beliefs in software engineering.  Here are the conclusions (it’s a fun read though, so don’t stop here):

  • Software engineering has its own political axis, ranging from conservative to liberal.
  • The notions of “conservative” and “liberal” on this political axis are specialized to software engineering. But they exhibit some strong similarities to their counterparts in real-world politics.
  • Everyone in the software industry who does stuff related to programming computers falls somewhere fairly precise on this political spectrum, whether they realize it or not.

I am such a big software liberal (even liberal extremist actually) – since it is all about enough to get the job done – don’t solve problems you don’t have right? ;)


Sorting and searching at the library

It’s possible librarians know more computer science that you do :) Applied algorithms and information theory in real life at the library.
Come on – you know you want to know what the librarian manifestation of quick sort.


Thoughts on being a programmer

One of the most truthful, succinct lists I’ve read on what it takes to be a programmer. Excellent!


Things I didn’t know about the WebKit inspector

Cool little tips when using the Webkit inspector, I’m liking $0 and saving CSS edits to a file the most.

Free time?  The open source project I think you should work on: Rei Toei

This is an early stage open source project, but it has a lot of potential.  What couldn’t be more awesome than Siri + NLP + IRC bots?  And it’s name: “Rei Toei was a virtual Japanese pop star who was always your personal ideal of her.”
And on a sort of related note, I loved this quote from the post: “Google Now is excellent, but it’s not extensible. I can’t make it smarter. Also it has the personality of a textarea.”


Need to learn Javascript?  JS Fundamentals for Beginners

Videos that will walk someone through the very basics –  these may not be for you, but could be good for someone you know….

Fancy CSS Tricks: Avgrund – A modal UI concept

Great sense of depth between the page and a modal popup using CSS (plus the code to replicate the behavior on github).


[ Mobile ]

The many faces of “Mobile First”
I heard this rumor that Google search had more mobile searches than web searches recently.  While it may or may not be true I think it is just one more data point on the crazy growth of traffic via smartphones, tablets, and the like.  While “Mobile First” is often used in reference to responsive design, it is being used in many other contexts – from strategy to development.


Mobile Metrics: Making the Mobile Transition

There is more data in the article, but here were my highlights:

  • Facebook: 102 million people accessed Facebook solely from mobile in June, a massive 23% increase over the 83 million mobile-only users in March. 18.7% of its 543 million monthly mobile users don’t even visit its desktop site.
  • eBay: eBay’s mobile shoppers and mobile payers are 3 to 4 times more valuable than Web only.
  • Yelp: 10% of Yelp’s monthly uniques access the service on mobile but account for a disproportionate 40% of Yelp’s search query volume. On weekends, mobile searches actually outweigh desktop searches.
  • Zillow: A user of Zillow on a mobile device is three times more likely to contact an agent than a user of Zillow on a desktop.

Handy: Make your iOS app accessible to VoiceOver

Product – Dollars and Data

Pricing Experiments You Might Not Know, But Can Learn From

This article was so damn interesting, I wanted to highlight it even though I seldom talk about pricing in this newsletter (I save it for twitter ;) ).
Here are some cool bits:

  • Removing dollar signs from prices increase sales (so use 39 instead of $39)
  • Marketing professors at Clark University and The University of Connecticut found that consumers perceive sale prices to be a better value when the price is written in a small font rather than a large, bold typeface. In our minds, physical magnitude is related to numerical magnitude.
  • Go to Wal-Mart and you see prices ending with 9 everywhere. Does it really work? […] In eight studies published from 1987 to 2004, charm prices ($49, $79, $1.49 and so on) were reported to boost sales by an average of 24 percent relative to nearby prices
  • You can influence people’s choice by offering different options. Old school sales people also say that offering different price point options will make people choose between your plans, instead of choosing whether to buy your product or not. And 3 seems to be the magic number

Everything in its Right Pace (via a List Apart)
There is so much noise all the time, and so much data.  Heck, that was why I created this newsletter – to curate things down.  And I loved this article, because it pretty much sums up a new way of being creative – by applying constraints into “notable data”.
Notable data starts to get really enticing when that single piece of data is crafted—contextualized with other pieces of data to make it even more valuable.
Constraints have long inspired people who create.


Teams & Process – What’s Your Motivation?

A Creative Way to “Fix” Incentives?

You have probably heard of Daniel Pink and maybe even watched one of the videos on incentives and motivation.  Well this article describes a study that shows that people performed better when they were given the bonus ahead of time, instead of after the work was completed.

“One possible explanation for this effect is “loss aversion.” Simply put, we’re more motivated to protect assets that we already have than to attempt to gain more assets. Once we are given an object or sum of money, we begin to build psychological connections to it, picturing the ways we’ll enjoy owning it or remembering fondly the ways we’ve used it.”
Not sure I would like to be motivated that way, but it is an interesting idea…


Recruiting – Skip the Ninjas, Start a Cult

Trouble Hiring? Create A Cult.

“The entire company takes week-long workcations in Mexico.”

In a field so full of talented people and fierce competition, tech companies are looking for creative ways to find and hold on to strong employees. How do they do it? One company recruits in intensely connected ways, sending employees on long work vacations together, and even sets up potential hires from out of town in a neighborhood they’d be likely to live in and sending current employees to hang out with them during their visit.


Want to find a great recruiter?

Look for one that consistently follows up.  And there are quite a few other tips too – worth perusing if you are looking for someone to help you hire.
“When recruiters reference previous emails, they maintain the conversation and history. When a subsequent email is sent without referencing the previous outreach, it’s worse than starting over. The ignored history implies that regardless of what the recruiter says, the candidate is unmemorable and the recruiter’s words read insincere.”


Startups: Stop Trying To Hire Ninja-Rockstar Engineers

Spending time, money, and resources recruiting the best of the best for your engineering team isn’t a practical strategy for most start-ups. This article focuses on why hiring junior engineers and growing them with your team may be a smarter strategy in the long run.

  • A junior engineer costs less to hire. By the time they’re earning a senior engineer salary, they’ve already been part of your team for a few years and are doings the way you need them done.
  • Hiring a less experienced engineer means having the opportunity to mentor them and grow them into a long-term position with your team. You can foster an environment of learning, avoiding potential for “knowing it all already” from a more senior engineer.

Need some creative inspiration for a good recruiting video – here is an interesting example.

Quick Bytes

[ Random Links I Liked ]

Useful & Innovative: A Font to Generate Charts
FF Chartwell is a font library that creates charts from a sequence of numbers. There is no programming, no spreadsheets, nothing – it is just typing a sequence of numbers like:  25+5+100+45+23
Just think about the implications on devices like tablets and phones!

Twitter’s API changes will have a real impact on news developers
When your product depends on a (free) third-party platform, the rules can change at any time. Twitter’s are now.  These are the dangers of building on someone else’s data … The company will crack down on apps that “reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience” .… choose your partners wisely….

Batman’s Gun: Why the Comic-Book Hero Was Disarmed in 1939
“Superheroes weren’t soldiers or policemen. They were private citizens. They shouldn’t carry concealed weapons.”
While we can do little but mourn the dead from the Aurora shootings, it is interesting to reflect on the 2nd amendment and American gun ownership.  

Communications Primer
Vintage (1953) video intro to communication/information theory of Shannon & Wiene.  And it totally reminded me of watching those videos from the Dharma Initiative on Lost!

Everywhere at Once: Chef Geoff Tracy’s Data-Driven Empire
Data driven restaurants.  It is long read, but the most interesting part is the whole idea of using technology to improve and streamline service.  Oh and for whatever reason I found this quote particularly amusing:
“Chris believes it’s simply not possible to measure too much. Measurements matter. They improve performance.” Ha.


[ Inward Focus ]

Six Simple Ways to Reduce Your Stress Levels
Reducing stress is often as simple as taking a step back, and allowing yourself to feel better.

  • Accept Help From Other People – For lots of people who pride themselves on being the best and feeling like they can do it all, this one can be tough.  Understand that asking for help is just a way to get where you’re going.
  • Exercise On A Regular Basis – Really! Exercise releases endorphins that improve your mood and can clear your head, so take a break and go for even just a brisk walk when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

How to become your own biggest fan
“Make a list of all the qualities you value in yourself: Are you funny? Driven? Patient? Things like your career, your car, or your body shape will come and go throughout your life. Uncovering the remarkable core aspects of your identity will make you less inclined to cling to external descriptors.”


[ Geeking Out ]

Tupper’s self-referential formula.
This is probably one of the coolest pieces of math/comp sci magic I have seen in years. And click through to this page to see it in action (and view the code).

Print meat – it is what’s for dinner (in the future)
Missouri-based Modern Meadow received $350,000 to develop a way to create healthy and sustainable meat — by allowing you to make it yourself on a 3D printer.

Network Theory Breakthrough Reveals The Origin Of Outbreaks
Swiss scientists figured out how to find patient zero (or gossip or malware monger zero) with minimal data.  Applied graph theory == awesome.

Soft autonomous robot inches along like an earthworm
I have been loving all the innovation of these news types of robots.  First butts, and now earthworms!  And one of the coolest parts to read is about how they created the materials for the body.
“Most mechanical parts are rigid and fragile at small scale, but the parts in Meshworms are all fibrous and flexible. The muscles are soft, and the body is soft … we’re starting to show some body-morphing capability.”

Genetic Analysis Solves Human-Neanderthal Interbreeding Puzzle
Geneticists say they have finally settled the debate over when and where our ancestors had sex with Neanderthals – and the answer is yes.


[ Wordly Reading ]

The power of kickstarter
I am so enamoured with kickstarter – it’s such an awesome platform that allows real customers to back the products that they care about. And I love this example of a hardware start-up called Ouya that has garnered more than $8.5 million, from over 63,000 supporters. Do you have an idea of your own?

Why Explore Space? A 1970 Letter to a Nun in Africa
An amazing reply to the question of why should we explore space when there are so many problems on earth from 1970, and it is still so applicable today.

[ Just for fun ]

Google Autocomplete Reveals the Fattest, Boringest, and Most Racist States in the Union
A cool interactive map of an interesting study – when you type “Why is [state name] so…” into Google, what comes up? Scroll over each state to see what the most searched words were.

LA Restaurant Pays Customers To Put Away Their Phones
Maybe easier said than done…? :)

I’m proud to have contributed to theLet’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum


[ wtf ]

This is a bit fucked, Quora.
Pardon the language, but make sure if you use quora you pay attention to your privacy or restrict your browsing to stuff you don’t mind sharing :)

[ Useful & Productive ]

Hustle Boards
disposable forums

(While a cool idea, these sort of things seem to be used for the most unsavory activities… I am looking at you, Ning.)

Reminder: Turn on two factor authentication for your gmail.


“Chance favors only the prepared mind.” –Louis Pasteur

That’s all for this week, readers! Have a fantastic week – see you next Sunday!


Comments are closed.