Did awesome kill cool?

cool (kūl)
adj., cool·er, cool·est.

  1. Neither warm nor very cold; moderately cold: fresh, cool water; a cool autumn evening.
  2. Giving or suggesting relief from heat: a cool breeze; a cool blouse.
  3. Marked by calm self-control: a cool negotiator.
  4. Marked by indifference, disdain, or dislike; unfriendly or unresponsive: a cool greeting; was cool to the idea of higher taxes.
  5. Of, relating to, or characteristic of colors, such as blue and green, that produce the impression of coolness.
  6. Slang.
    1. Excellent; first-rate: has a cool sports car; had a cool time at the party.
    2. Acceptable; satisfactory: It’s cool if you don’t want to talk about it.
  7. Slang. Entire; full: worth a cool million.

I recented posted thoughts on the word “awesome” and realized that a very similar phenomenon occurred around 1989 when I moved from Vancouver to California in 1989. I clearly recall that I heard people at Silicon Graphics using the word “cool”. And, it made me feel good. And so, right on cue, I noticed that I was using the word more often, and it made me feel good. The funny part is that I was addicted to the word “cool” in the 70’s–when I actually was slightly cool–and so it felt very natural to me to re-adopt an old friend.

Somehow the genes for “cool” were dug up by someone and reintroduced into the population in the late 80’s. I noticed “cool” grew with the same skyrocketing frequency as “awesome” did recently. Initially it was used by hip, younger types or artsy/techy intellectuals, and gradually spread out to the surrounding community, later getting to everyday America, and eventually getting time on our media (TV, radio, and film). Eventually, it sorta burned out as we became immune to it’s buzz. Just like a virus…

Since “cool” has proven that it is an effective virus/meme, I wonder how long it will take for it to come back with a vengence and spread it’s magic again.



awe·some (ôsəm)

  1. Inspiring awe: an awesome thunderstorm.
  2. Expressing awe: stood in awesome silence before the ancient ruins.
  3. Slang. Remarkable; outstanding: “a totally awesome arcade game” (Los Angeles Times)

Am I the only person who has noticed that the word “awesome” has permeated America to its core. I first noticed myself liking the word about a year ago and actively using it. It made me feel young and fun and positive. It felt really good to use the word. Then, I started to notice that I was using it a lot and tried to cut back. So, I reserved it for those truly special moments, maybe once or twice a day. But, I noticed that everyone else was using it a lot too. Now, I hear the word in practically every conversation!

The spreading of verbal memes (“awesome”) is an amazing epidemiological phenomenon that seems important somehow. It hints at larger cultural systems in play but just outside our individual perception. It touches on one of my favorite topics: emergent group intelligence. Of course, in this case, it’s probably more of a virus caught by the emergent intelligence (humanity), than useful intelligence.

And, of course, the meme itself appears life-like as it grows and spreads, and probably mutates. But, the one interesting observation that occurred to me is that the meme/virus does provide positive feedback to the individual: I feel good when I use the word. It’s a little embarrassing and revealing to admit it, but I do. And, I am sure that all of these verbal memes must have this quality to procreate. It would be really interesting to study these memes just as the CDC studies viruses and track their growth chronologically and geographically, learn how and why they spread, and eventually die, why some are successful and others fail, etc. Just not enough time in one life…

Stop Piling on Yahoo!

I have been a big fan of Yahoo! for many years, as both a user, investor, and ex-employee. And, if anyone has a reason to revel in Yahoo!’s recent troubles, it’s me (trust me on this). But, I find myself sickened by the jokes, pranks, and cynicism directed at Yahoo! in the blogs lately. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good laugh as much as anyone and some of the jokes are pretty darn funny. However, it’s the pervading theme of cynicism and  enjoying the difficulties of others, that bothers me.

I moved to Silicon Valley in 1989 because it was the place to go if you wanted to make Really Amazing Things that would Make the World Better. And, Yahoo! exemplified this by leading the way into the Internet Revolution. They taught us a lot. We all benefited from their successes and their failures. They built Really Amazing Things and rose to the top. They showed us the way. And, anyone who has been in Silicon Valley (or any business for that matter) knows that staying at the top is very, very hard.

So, I just don’t find it funny or satisfying in any way that this once great company is having hard times. And, I feel sadness for those who do get enjoyment out of the failure of others.

The Scientist, the Artist, and the Engineer: S/W Dev Archetypes

After many years of working with, hiring and managing a wide variety of software developers, I noticed a trend that guided me in my hiring decisions. And, I often used this when giving feedback or career advice to programmers, as well as in my hiring choices.

While there are many ways to categorize and rate software engineers, I observed three primary archetypes emerge after years of interviews: the Scientist, the Artist, and the Engineer. Of course, this is a generalization and no one falls into a single bucket. These archetypes are defined primarily around motivation and core values, but I also believe that skill and talent play a factor too.

The Scientist

the Scientist

The first developer archetype is the Scientist. These are software developers that usually have a foundation in academics, research, and more formal computer science or mathematics. The Scientist worships theory, elegance, and formal proofs. Most Scientists will prefer to do the correct and long-term solution over hacky, fast, short-term, practical, or ugly solutions. Scientists can be important members of your team, and often are the deepest thinkers. But, be careful, they need to understand the reality and importance of business needs. I have worked with a wide range of Scientists developers with mixed results. In many cases, the Scientists were difficult to work since their superior intellect–which they like to assert on managers and business folks and anyone who will listen–would often blur their vision and cause them to work in the ideal world, not the real world. They often are cynical about the importance of business requirements and can be difficult to work with (since they report to a higher power, “the truth”). Of course, I have worked with several that understood and embraced business purposes and were the key develops in the team. I have noticed that experience plays a big role in the Scientist; younger Scientists, just out of school, are often the most difficult. But, given time and experience, the smart ones see that the world and business are far more complicated than they thought, and they begin to show respect for the complexity of building a successful business.

The Artist

the Artist

The second developer archetype is the Artist. Beware of this group. They are primarily motivated by `their works of art’ and see what they do as about them. They are motivated by ego, self-satisfaction, and sometimes great work. They are not in it for the customer or the company; they aspire to higher virtues such as beauty, elegance, and uncompromising perfection (usually defined by their standards). They can be very talented, prodigious, and detail-oriented, but are often the most difficult to work with. Artists are usually talented, but, their talents are often narrowed to their area of interest since they can be uncomfortable if they are not the expert. I have worked with a few Artists that were seasoned and practical. But this came after years of learning the hard way. Beware the Artist.

The Engineer

the EngineerThe third archetype is the Engineer.  The Engineer worships results. The Engineer is the most centered of the three and usually the best hire for a company. I try to build the majority of my software teams from Engineers. Of course, depending on the problem you are solving, you may vary the mix (e.g. require more Scientists). But, almost always avoid the Artists. 🙂 Engineers understand that they are problem solvers. And, the good ones recognize that the problem is rarely as simple as What Code To Write. Good engineers are interested in learning new things and solving problems for their customers. They are honest about their work, enjoy measuring their own results, and recognize that: 1) the real world is messy and complicated, 2) it’s not about them, and 3) if the customer does not benefit from their work, they’re doing something wrong.

The hard part is learning how to separate the Engineers and Scientists, from the Artists. I intend to write about hiring engineers in a future post.

The Significance of Insignificance (aka what is most surprising about Barack Obama’s nomination)

I have been stunned by the events of the last eight years, beginning with George W. Bush’s first election coupe in Florida. Many of the things that have happened feel like a ridiculous science fiction novel and are quite distressing (e.g. Florida election, 9/11, Iraq lies, Iraq war, global revulsion of USA, Patriot Act, rise of the extreme Christians, faith-based decision making, extreme partisanism, oil crisis 2.0, global warming and the denial thereof, etc.).

And, the nomination of Barack Obama–as well as Hillary Clinton’s close second place–is right up there. Obviously, the fact that a (half) African American can be nominated is an unexpected, historical, and significant event. And, considering the regressive, fear-incited slide that America began in 2000 and 2001, the truly remarkable event is how insignificant Barack Obama’s race was during the campaign. Obviously, his race played a part in many people’s minds, as measured in the black and hispanic vote, but somehow it was not the main issue. This represents a major turning point for America and the rest of the world.

So, how did this happen?

Clearly, Barack Obama deserves most of the credit. He is a gifted orator and inspiring leader, and he presents a refreshing bi-partisan, reasonable, and fair character. But, I believe that there are other factors that made this significant event mostly insignificant.

First, George W. Bush and friends were able to regressively transform our country in a matter of eight years because of the fear created by 9/11. See Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine for the recipe. Now that many are seeing the results and waking up, the pendulum has swung the other way (i.e. we want change). I believe that the majority of people while looking for the obvious fixes to Everything That’s Broken (e.g. foreign policy, economy, environment, health care), they are really looking for a new type of leadership and someone they can trust. And, Barack is feels like exactly the right guy at the right time. This is based on my theory that when choosing leaders the most important factor is the current conditions and how each candidates matches up, and less about who’s the best candidate in the absolute sense. When in crisis, go with something different. Hllary feels too much like the same. So, in summary, the current crisis conditions laid the ground work for Americans to nominate an African American. If he ran in a different time, I believe he would not have a chance.

My other nutty theory as to why America was suddenly ready to vote for an African American is due to the TV show 24 in which the president, David Palmer, played by actor Dennis Haysbert, was African American. This may seem silly or even insulting to some, but this was the first time I have seen the president portrayed as a black man on national TV. And the key was the he appeared to be a remarkable president and leader. This TV role modeling showed many–albeit in a silly TV show–that it is possible

David Palmer aka Dennis Haysbert Barack Obama

Summary: The truly significant aspect of Barack Obama’s vicotry in the DNC presidential nomination is the insignificance of his skin color. I think there were three major factors that made this possible: 1) America is in crisis and wants a change, 2) Barack Obama is an amazing orator and leader, and fits #1 perfectly, and 3) the TV show 24 showed America that an African American can be great president.