Hello Party People!
Welcome to the latest edition of tech leadership news! As always, you can find bonus links here for your reading pleasure. If you’ve got something to say, or would like to add commentary in the future, you can let us know!
News to know (noteworthy events – short just links with 1 sentence)
Amazon Outage Hits Netflix, Heroku, Pinterest, Instagram
Mozilla announces Firefox for mobile coming to a smartphone near you in 2013
Activision rolls out Call of Duty to China – free. I am sure this is a play to get their foot in the door with future paid games
Microsoft may exit the ad business - with a write-down of $6.2B (they purchased aQuantive for $6.3B in 2007 and haven’t had enough traction)
Microsoft pitches that Windows upgrade is going to be $40 - which is substantially less than the $70+ price tag in the past
Amazon is planning to launch their own smartphone to compete with iOS and Android
Apple fixed a server bug that was crashing apps
Tech – MVC, MOVE, the Manifest Destiny of AI and Musing about Go
Ever looked at the internals of an MVC app and observed clean code in the views and models, but the controllers were filled to the brim with everything, including the kitchen sink? Yeah, it happens to the best programmers – it just isn’t always obvious where logic should reside.
MOVE (Models, Operations, Views, and Events) is a paradigm hoping to address this phenomenon by breaking the controllers up into Operations and Events.
Why, you may be asking? Here is the author’s answer:
“I don’t wish to be misunderstood as implying that MVC is bad; it truly has been an incredibly successful way to structure large applications for the last few decades. Since it was invented however, new programming techniques have become popular. Without closures (or anonymous blocks) event binding can be very tedious; and without deferrables (also known as deferreds or promises) the idea of treating individual operations as objects in their own right doesn’t make much sense.”
Will AI create mindlike machines, or will it show how much a mindless machine can do?
This article explores some of the history of AI – from the success of the simplicity in brute force game playing:
“As for checkers and chess, computers are not merely good players; they are unbeatable. [...] Perhaps the biggest contribution of applying AI technology to developing game-playing programs was the realization that a search-intensive (“brute-force”) approach could produce high-quality performance using minimal application-dependent knowledge.”
To the evolution of language translation:
“Deliberately ignoring everything we know about grammar and meaning would seem to be a step backward. However, all the information encoded in grammar rules and dictionary definitions is implicitly present in a large collection of texts; after all, that’s where the grammarians and the lexicographers get it from in the first place.”
And finally into our current search engines:
“To put it another way, search engines are equipped to answer only one type of question: ‘Which documents on the Web mention X?,’ where X is the set of keywords you type into the search box. [...] the main obstacle is that keyword search, though roundabout and imprecise, has proved to be a remarkably effective way to discover stuff.”
And while we are seeing AI spread to many arenas, it is amazing to learn how the simple algorithms and approaches often work best. Makes you really wonder what is going to come next?
Excellent argument around the development (and justification) of Go. The author ponders the question of why Go isn’t more popular with the C++ crowd, as it was designed as a replacement for the complex language.
Do you think less is more, or less is less?
Less can be more. The better you understand, the pithier you can be.
Python and Ruby programmers come to Go because they don’t have to surrender much expressiveness, but gain performance and get to play with concurrency.
C++ programmers don’t come to Go because they have fought hard to gain exquisite control of their programming domain, and don’t want to surrender any of it. To them, software isn’t just about getting the job done, it’s about doing it a certain way.
Fascinating read – mostly because the server crashes were caused by a livelock resulting from code to handle the leap second scenario. And also a great example of a detailed and useful postmortem (with links to checkins and everything!).
Haven’t learned git? Here is a nifty 15 minute tutorial - get with the times people! :)
Product & Process – Skeuomorphs, Bogan Ipsum, and a Floppy Disk
A comprehensive and useful read on e-commerce checkout design patterns.
“Yet despite many years of optimization, online shopping cart abandonment rates reached 75% in the first six months of 2011. No wonder many companies are looking beyond standard form designs to improve their e-commerce conversions. [...] Fundamentally, there are two ways to boost checkout conversion: increasing people’s desire to buy (persuasion) and reducing the effort required to make a purchase (efficiency)” – and this article goes into best practices and different techniques to improve conversion rates.
There are lots of great tips and tidbits in the article – so if you work on anything with a checkout form, read this post; and if not, bookmark it for the future :)
This article titled, “Can We Please Move Past Apple’s Silly, Faux-Real UIs?” argues that UI designers need to stop aping real-life calendars and books and move to a model that focuses on utility so that all elements have a purpose. And while there are certainly points to the argument, he uses the example of Microsoft’s Metro Language as a great UI – which I knew nothing about because it is on Windows 7 phones. Doh!
Here were the good parts (including the definition of Skeu…):
- Skeuomorphism is when a derivative object retains ornamental characteristics of the original, and when applied to UI, the rationale is that it “will make the interface more intuitive and usable, as the user will understand how it functions based on their knowledge of the analog object it is replicating.”
- The author advocates that designs should “..scrutinize everything, so there is a clear, purposeful rationale for every element. This means that all the elements and their layout support the primary objectives of the device and/or application.”
Interested in reading more about Skeuomorphs, check out this white paper on Skeuomorphs and Cultural Algorithmsv (http://www.skeuomorph.com/).
The whole thing makes me wonder: Do kids ever wonder why the “save” icon is a floppy disk?
Hiring – How To Do a Reference Check and Make It Count
This article was written from a VC point of view, but certainly could apply to any hire. There is a good list of questions along with the goal/purpose of each – summarized below:
- Background: Where do you work? How long have you been there? What kinds of teams do you manage?
- Relationship: How do you know the person being referenced? How long did you work with them? How did you work together? How long ago?
- Work: What was the referenced’s role in the company? Could you share some examples of the kinds of work the referenced performed?
- Strengths: Where does the referenced person shine? What kinds of work the referenced prefer to do?
- Complementary skills: What kinds of people does the referenced need around him/her to be successful?
- Influence: How is the referenced persuaded or convinced? What kinds of motivation does he/she respond best to?
- Day-to-day personality: What is it like to work with the referenced day-to-day? How would you characterize your typical interactions?
- Ethics is a checkbox question: Any questions of ethics?
- Social proof: Would you hire or work with this person again? How highly do you regard this person? Top 25%, 10%, 5%, 1%?
But don’t just use this list – go bookmark the article – you will want it next time you are checking references for an employee.
Process – An Argument Against Waterfall
While this article has some ideas to improve process – the best part of it was its case against waterfall:
“Despite the confidence inspired by all of this upfront planning and design, the only guaranteed thing to come out at the end of this waterfall process is the wrong solution. It’s not that the project sponsor chose an inadequate feature set or that the system’s user experience was poor. The team delivered the wrong solution because the project was based on unvalidated assumptions.”
Leadership – Microsoft, Multitasking, Minimizing Temptation
Being a great leader, according to this article, means mastering three key behaviors:
- Analyzing – Determining outcomes and routes to those outcomes.
- Allocating – Managing resources efficiently.
- Aligning – Organizing people to work towards a shared outcome.
Though simple in description, perfecting these skills can take years of diligent work before a practitioner becomes a “great leader”.
I often hear people talk about tricks, shortcuts, and opportunities that can lead to one’s success. However, each year I find that the majority of successful people I meet didn’t get that way without a lot of hard work. This article restates the importance of tenacity, willingness to sacrifice short term pleasure for long term gains, and the need to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Need some advice, here were my favorite parts of the article:
- 1. Minimize temptation, which operates the same way the house does in a casino. It will always defeat you if you expose yourself to it for too long.
- 2. Push yourself to discomfort only for relatively short and specific periods of time. Interval training is built on short bursts of high intensity exercise offset by rest and recovery.
- 3. Build energy rituals — specific behaviors done at precise times — for your most difficult challenges.
It’s the willingness to push themselves beyond their current limits day in and day out, despite the discomfort that creates, the sacrifice of more immediate gratification, and the uncertainty they’ll be rewarded for their efforts.
Vanity Fair’s August issue hasn’t hit stands yet, but I am sure sales will be up based on the virality of the summary article.
Microsoft used to be a great company – and for a long time and they built great products (I still use excel – this year I stopped using Word and I am planning to move to Keynote). It is easy to see from the outside why Microsoft – a company full of intelligent and hard working people – has struggled to keep its market share if you look at the products and competition. This peek at the inside though, is very enlightening – and when presented logically not that surprising.
My two big takeaways from the summary were:
- Collaboration and trust, not managing up. By forcing people to compete with their teammates (via stack ranking) it drove employees to optimize “looking good” over creating real value – which translates to less risk taking and making mistakes, and more finger pointing and shirking of responsibility. I know I want to work on a team of exceptional people (it is part of the reason I choose to work in a startup – you can’t succeed without everyone being amazing and motivated) – so why force a system to give reviews on a curve?
- Innovation stems from long term thinking from everyone, just not the HIPPOs. Instead of innovating and coming up with revolutionary product ideas teams were forced to focus on how to make money in the short term, and in the confines of senior leadership’s product vision. If you are leading a team, whether it is a technical team or product team make sure you are listening to your people and not coaxing people to play it safe and agree with you – it will hinder your results.
And this was probably one of the most eye opening quotes from the article:
“Today, a single Apple product—the iPhone—generates more revenue than all of Microsoft’s wares combined.”
Why oh why can’t we all stop multitasking? It all has less to do with being more efficient, and everything to do with the good feelings it creates in our brains:
“[People who multitask] are not being more productive—they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work.”
It has been proven that multitasking actually splits the brain, and it’s also been proven that no one – even heavy multitaskers – is more effective when doing more than one task at a time. The author has several techniques for eliminating the urge to multitask which, for most of us, isn’t something we’re even aware of anymore. Try one-tab-browsing: close down Twitter, personal email, work email, Facebook, and prioritize the one you’re looking at right now. There, isn’t that better?
Another point that stood out to me was about how we often view successful people multitasking and admire that quality in them; in that way, all the pressure to multitask really comes from within.
“What separates leaders from everyone else is being able to turn towards fear, for the greater good.” The problem with traditional leadership how-to’s is that they focus on the leader as an individual, fearlessly walking ahead and making the big decisions.
A good leader needs to think in terms of what’s best for their team – no matter how risky, new, or unfamiliar the means to that end might be.
“Watch for opportunities to be scared. When you find one, you may notice that your innards start making a strong case for running away, right now! That’s natural — after all, if you’re not scared, you can’t be brave. But, having noticed that you are scared, remind yourself that while fear is a signal of danger, fear is also a signal of opportunity.”
“So in order to continue using the hardware you bought and paid for and own, you have to agree to let Cisco snoop your browser history and monitor your traffic – a clickstream they would of course instantly turn around and sell to advertising agencies and other snoops.”
Yet another argument for open systems. Sigh.
A thoughtful, forward-looking article from the MIT tech review that emphasizes the importance of business in adopting more automation, algorithms, and robotics to increase efficiency.
“Any work that is repetitive or structured is open to automation [...] more productive symbiosis between man and machine—and successful businesses will be the ones that optimize it”
A little bit of history from a great scientist mentored by none other than Albert Einstein.
“In the word “boson,” as media reports have plentifully pointed out during the past two days, is contained the surname of Satyendra Nath Bose, the Calcutta physicist who first mathematically described the class of particles to which he gave his name”
With all this talk, it seems like this must be happening. Apple – if you are reading this, come up with a lighter macbook charger. Mine weighs almost as much as my Macbook air.
Unfortunate news: Vital eye for killer asteroids could shut imminently
The Siding Spring Survey in Australia is low on cash so is planning to shut down – the astronomers there scan images of the sky to discover and track potentially dangerous near-Earth objects.
IBM supercomputer overtakes Fujitsu as world’s fastest – bringing that title stateside after being in Japan. China took the title from the US two years ago….
Could trains, a nineteenth-century technology, be the solution to our twenty-first-century problems? Great read on rail and transportation efficiency, and some good history lessons.
Virginia is the first state that has elected to invest in rail transportation instead of highway infrastructure and this has many public benefits, from reduced highway accidents and lower repair costs to enormous improvements in fuel efficiency and pollution reduction.
Expanding highways is getting expensive: “at a cost of $11 billion, or $32 million per mile, Virginia cannot afford to do that without installing tolls, which might have to be set as high as 17 cents per mile for automobiles.”
There is low hanging fruit to improving rail transportation: “railroads can capture only 2 percent of the container traffic traveling up and down the eastern seaboard because of obscure choke points, such as the Howard Street Tunnel in downtown Baltimore.”
Electrification of the railroad offers cost and energy savings: “electric railroads are fully twenty times more fuel efficient than trucks.”
It really seems like this is a policy more states should consider, no?
Great profile of Ksenia Sobchak in New York Times. One of the most important personalities of the Russian opposition. “Sobchak is ‘the Paris Hilton of Russia,’ the country’s reigning, and most outrageous, socialite. But if you ask her, after a season of discontent in which tens of thousands of her compatriots have taken to the streets in protest, she is ‘a political journalist.’”
[Reading these will make you better]
According to this article from HBR, lower self confidence can result in:
- Paying closer attention to negative feedback and being more self-critical
- Strong motivation to work harder and prepare more (I know the preparation part is true for me with public speaking)
- Reduced chances of coming across as arrogant or delusional
Not long ago I wrote this blog post on trust. Since that post several people have asked about rebuilding burned bridges and improving their credibility. This article focuses on the importance of integrity and truly meaning what you say. So next time you make a promise try asking yourself the following questions from the article:
- Am I saying something that implies a promise? What are the odds I can or will actually follow through?
- How can I articulate my ideas and concerns in such a way as to not raise false expectations?
- What kind of credibility do I currently have with my family, my organization, and my community? What kind of credibility do I want?
- Where or with whom do I have special difficulty bridging my credibility gap?
- Who can support me in keeping my word?
Listening and learning to be quiet is a powerful skill (something I wish I was better at). This essay explores the authors sanctuary of churches and chapels. Where the “silence and spaciousness and whatever put the human round, my human, all too human thoughts, in some kind of vaster context.”
Self-improvement is much easier when you have clearly defined rules and objectives. Here are some of the author’s top picks:
- When you say you’re going to do something, do it.
- Walk out of movies, stop reading books, leave parties. In other words: don’t spend time on things you aren’t committed to.
- Always be learning something.
- Listen to people. This one is tough for a lot of us, and requires active focus and the decision to absorb what people are saying.
- Do things other people aren’t doing.
“Those selected for development have one universal trait in common: They are by definition high achievers. But there is a difference between those superstar achievers that can make the leap to CEO and those that will implode: To what degree do they feel invigorated by the success and talent of others, and to what degree does the success of others cause an involuntary pinch of insecurity about their own personal inadequacies? Only an individual who feels genuinely invigorated by the growth, development, and success of others can become an effective leader of an enterprise. And it remains the most common obstacle of success for those trying to make that leap.”
[Just for fun]
Lego + Settlers of Catan
Does it get any nerdier?
Neat! Grains of sand up close & personal
(see image to the right)
What will the internet look like in 2020?
A quora thread on that topic.
Lots of debate on if it will be faster or not, and how people will interact with it.
What do you think? I am just hoping for a self-cleaning house and a cell phone that won’t break when I drop it (although I guess neither of those is really “the internet”).
Pixel art in the style of facebook “likes”
Ever wondered why printer ink is cyan, magenta, yellow and black – not the primary colors, red, blue and yellow?
“Three colors of ink which, when combined, produce all others: cyan, magenta, and yellow. (Black is included as a money-saver — black is the cheapest and most common color; it’s cheaper to have a black cartridge than to dump ink from the other three.) So this is a different set of three colors which are “Primary,” yet still generate color wheels containing all the other colors.”
The most compelling Microsoft branding I’ve ever seen, and done in 3 days by an student designer. Impressive. (P.S. If you have an open design or branding role I would be clamoring to hire him)
[Useful & Productive]
If you want to teach someone how to do something on the web or mobile app – this is a very compelling product and a great alternative to screen capture videos.
Productivity tool for agile fans: Kanban for 1
If you like agile & kanban this may be a good option for your personal to-do list.
Herdict is a project of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Herdict is a portmanteau of ‘herd’ and ‘verdict’ and seeks to show the verdict of the users (the herd) to gain insight into what users are experience.
Great tool for mobile app usability testing: Delight.io
With one line of code you can seamlessly record interactions with your mobile app – then play back the experience on video. Great for testing, case studies, or usability.
Quote of the week: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy
That’s all for this week! If you liked it, why not pass it along? If you have feedback - please do tell.
Have a safe, sunny rest of your weekend!