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Someone Else's Problems

Congrats! You got a job at a promising startup, now you are in a boat with all the good and bad things that come with it.  There are no individual problems, there are just common problems with individual champions.  A tech startup is a band of adventurers that decide to go on a treacherous journey.  Unlike at a big company there is no redundancy in systems or personnel.  There is always more work than time and the infrastructure is nascent.  The phrase “this is someone else’s problem” doesn’t exist in this world.

Goals, people and systems change very rapidly, sometimes too fast to create a formal process.  Andy Grove writes about this type of environment in “High Output Management”

When the environment changes more rapidly than one can change rules, or when a set of circumstances is so ambiguous and unclear that a contract between the parties that attempted to cover all possibilities would be prohibitively complicated, we need another mode of control, which is based on cultural values…
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Why you should take the software job in San Francisco (or not).

Silicon Valley is an iconic place for technology.  Many people say this is the place for the “best and the brightest.”. Apple, Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Twitter and other top companies draw a lot of talent form all over the world and the largest chunk of VC capital goes to companies in the Bay Area, so it seems like moving here is a no brainer!

The real situation is actually not that simple, I believe there are three scenarios where it makes sense, but in many cases living in the Bay yields disappointing results.  The cost of living, housing situation, homeless catastrophe make places like San Francisco a lot less appealing to a lot of people.  So in what situations does it make sense to move to SF?

Startup founder raising millions There are many places to be a startup founder, but if you are looking to raise capital the largest pool of VC money is in the Bay Area.  There is an established network, events and conferences which give founders an opportunity to pitch more people th…

Sensitivity and Introverts

"Software developers are creative human beings and they need to make sense of unpredictable, turbulent environments"

- Daniel Graziotin, Xiaofeng Wang, Pekka Abrahamsson "Software developers, moods, emotions, and performance" https://arxiv.org/pdf/1405.4422.pdf

Team output can vary dramatically based on the emotional state so neglecting emotions yield to worse performance.  Beyond the pure output no one wants to spend much time in a place where they do not feel good.  It can lead to turnover and engineers applying their talents elsewhere.

There is a stereotype of engineers being highly analytical so in communication with them "facts is all that matters."  This point of view is often not correct.  In "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" Suan Cain talks about the correlation of introversion, hypersensitivity and involvement in professions that require deep thought, such as software development.

The same engineer…

Pull Requests and Code Reviews

Software development involves a great deal of collaboration.  One of the most basic blocks of collaboration on a software development team is a code review.  There have been many different ways of doing code reviews over time, some of this has been dictated by the tools available.  Git and online source collaboration tools created a set of best practices that are worthwhile of adopting on any team.

About a month ago I have looked at various articles about how to best create a Pull Request (PR) and do a code review and the attached presentation is the result of this research.  The presentation can help you guide your team and develop a set of collaboration practices that works for your particular situation.

It’s good to start out with why to seek a code review.  Having clarity about your intentions helps you guide the person helping you with code reviews and also to manage your expectations about you can get out of the code review.  The reasons for seeking a code review are generally …

Hire Fast, Fire Fast? Not so Fast.

Silicon Valley is full of advice and it frequently comes from people who have little experience on the subject matter.  A popular topic surrounds hiring and terminations with the king catch phrase being: “Hire Fast, Fire Fast.”  To me, what that usually means is lack of diligence, thought, communication and courage.

When hiring people love going with their gut feel, often with disastrous results.  There is an obvious subject of diversity of thought, appearance and background.  When thinking “fast” you are probably hiring people like yourself because humans quickly react to people who they believe are in their tribe.

A startup that lacks the resources of a big company often becomes so desperate to get technical staff that when a decent candidate comes along, excitement ensues and the employer doesn't slow down to put them through a more rigorous hiring process.

I highly encourage technical founders and engineering executives to write out their precise hiring process.  Of course, y…

Chief Collaboration Officer

When you search for the word “collaboration” on the Internet, the top hits are mostly software packages you can buy.  Software can facilitate collaboration, but it doesn’t make people collaborate on its own.

One of the key functions of a technical leader is to bring a team together, help people share ideas, and facilitate team members helping each other.  When a software leader overlooks this key function, you end up with a group of individual contributing engineers instead of a cohesive team.
Before we get into tactics, we should ask “Why is collaboration important for an engineering team?” 
It’s critical to examine your assumptions, so here are my reasons for why a group of engineers working on their own are worse than a team working together: Smart people learn from each other.Getting your plans and designs reviewed by other people allows you to leverage their experience and check your assumptions.Collaboration produces artifacts that stay after collaboration has taken place (such…

Two Critical Questions for Your Next Interview

I’ve interviewed probably over 500 engineering and management candidates over the last several years.  There have been a lot of really smart people who have applied at DocuSign, Microsoft and Tempo Automation. A surprising number of them didn’t have a clear answer to these two essential questions:

Why are you interested in joining our team?Why should we be interested in you? 
If you are an applicant, having a prepared answer for these questions is critical.  If you are a hiring manager, you should ask them and have a clear answer to these questions at the end of the first interaction with your future team mate.

In a field where work is somewhat predictable and static, those questions are less critical, but in software development perseverance, ingenuity and focus make all the difference. These are the two main questions that will separate a subpar and a superb hire.

When I discuss those two questions with an applicant I try to go below the surface.  Generic answers like “it says you ar…