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.

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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.

Has our democracy hit the wall?

I recently read a blog post by a friend that suggested that the USA should declare war on fossil fuel dependency.

Wow, I so agree with this idea and I think about this a lot and wonder WHY it does not happen. The easy conclusion usually hovers around conspiracy theories of Rich White Guys. But, I think that the lack of action on this, as well as other large-scale, slow-acting problems is a symptom of our government. Give me some room here… I’ve been watching and reading the recent John Adams book/mini-series and deeply engrossed on how America emerged as a democracy, etc. What a story! But, I’ve been thinking a lot lately that maybe we’ve hit the wall and that Big Business, Big Lobby, and Big Politics have learned to game the democratic system, and that maybe we need something new. Mainly to address the fact that these three constituencies are amost completely focused on Short-Term Gains (next quarter, next law, and next election). Thus, I am convinced that our version of democracy is coming to an end and new version that enables a longer-term view and policy to emerge. However, there is a very good chance that the US is incapable of such an change and that it will happen somewhere else (e.g. Europe) and this could be the eventual downfall of the great US and A………

Andy Goldsworthy Copy #1

My Andy Goldsworthy rip-off (#2)

During our Thanksgiving holiday in Annapolis I reveled in the fall colors and decided to make my first Andy Goldsworthy copy. This was done in my sister’s front yard in Annapolis. I wished I had made it larger and cleared the brown leaves away. I was taking a lot of abuse from the family so I rushed it. I now know that these projects need to go slow and allow the artist to soak in the surroundings. It was a great experiences-besides the constant abuse from family members–and I look forward to doing more copies. I have ideas for making these more my own in future projects.

Here’s a few other angles:
My Andy Goldsworthy rip-off
My Andy Goldsworthy rip-off
My Andy Goldsworthy rip-off

btw: Andy Goldsworthy is an amazing artist living in the UK. He’s been doing these types of pieces for a long time (and I just found him recently!). You can see his stuff at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Goldsworthy and here are some of his best pieces imo:

I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and `found’ tools – a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches. I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn.” Andy Goldsworthy
http://www.applebyheritagecentre.org.uk/html/andygold/andygold.html

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy

New movie: What Would Jesus Buy?

Home for movie This movie opens November 16th 2007 and looks like genius. The trailer and various videos on YouTube are hysterical. These folks have found a way to deliver an important and unpopular message to many audiences. I love the “Retail Interventions” where Rev Billy and choir go to stores and exorcise the shopping demons from the cash registers! And, it’s hilarious to see Rev Billy get arrested in NYC for reciting the First Amendment.

They make a very good point about the foolishness and contradictions implied by Americans addiction to shopping and consumerism. We have a incubated a cultural cancer in America and are now spreading it to the rest of the world. As Borat would say: “Very nice.”

The parody of using evangelical christianity to spread the word is pure genius. They found a way to reach out to an audience that the progressives rarely target–granted it is a bit sarcastic, but maybe some will miss this or get a kick out of it–and at the same time put religion and religious people on trial for the obvious hypocrisy of not speaking out against bad family values (i.e. out of control consumerism).

[While I’m on the rant, why on earth have the religious communities and orgs (read Christian) not come out loud and strong against consumerism, the Iraq war, and global warming? These issues should be direct hits with the core issues and values of Christianity (killing innocent people, lying about the facts, spending money on things rather than time with people, destroying our planet and causing misery to the less fortunate, etc.). It makes no sense. (and yes I know, some Christians are going to say “I care about these issues”, but the problem is that the institutions of religion are not doing enough and end up on the wrong side of the argument.)]

On a larger scale, this film represents to me a new and smarter approach to packaging counter-culture ideas and change into effective, broad viral memes. I think that Carl Rove has taught us all how to be more effective in persuading the American masses. And, Walt Disney invented the ability to talk to multiple audiences at the same time (e.g. children and adults). It will be interesting to see if this is a growing trend.

Movie trailer (funny!): http://movies.aol.com/movie/what-would-jesus-buy/31783/video/trailer-no-1/2012984

Movie website: http://www.wwjbmovie.com/

The Problem with Atheism by Sam Harris

I’ve been a quiet non-believer for most of my adult life but have always felt uncomfortable with the term “atheist.” I never liked the idea of representing my beliefs–yes, I know a bad word–with a term that describes what I don’t believe in. The term “atheist” feels nihilistic and negative, and does not describe what I believe in (secular humanism, rationalism, skepticism, reasonalism?, non-supernatural spiritualism). Sam Harris’ speech captures this issue perfectly. It’s long, but worth every minute. I just bought his “Letter to a Christian Nation” and will buy “End of Faith” very soon.

I hope you enjoy the read as much as I did:

http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/sam_harris/2007/10/the_problem_with_atheism.html

See the video at: http://www.samharris.org/site/media_video/

What you know vs. what you don’t know (part 2)

what you know vs. what you don't know

This is my second attempt to explain this little jewel taught to me by Dr. Dan Garber, professor of Engineering at the University of Maryland (sometime around 1979). See my original attempt.

A couple of people have commented “doesn’t the yellow circle represent your current knowledge better than the blue circle?” Answer: “No.” 🙂 First, the total body of knowledge is roughly infinite and thus needs to have infinite dimensions, and is therefore represented by the infinite plane that the circle is drawn on. The area inside the circle represents your current knowledge. In this metaphor, it would need to be an area covering gained knowledge, not a line with zero area. As you grow older and gain more knowledge, the circle expands and the area grows. [Obviously, a more sophisticated model would be n-dimensional and much more uneven than a circle, but let’s not go there. ;-)] The yellow circle is the edge between what you know and what you don’t know. You can think of the edge as your `knowledge horizon.’ Beyond the yellow is the stuff that you don’t know. And, so the point is that as your knowledge grows (area in the circle), your `knowledge horizon’ also grows, and thus your perception of how much you still have to learn grows too.

Again, it’s simple, maybe a little trite, and cutesy, but it reminds me of Dr. Garber’s kind, fatherly mentoring and reminds me not to get carried away with my own brilliance. 😉

What you know vs. what you don’t know

whatyouknow

A few of my friends and I were talking the other night about professors that had left a deep impression on them. And, I recalled Dr. Dan Garber at the University of Maryland Civil Engineering department around 1979. He taught me “Statics” and “Dynamics” classes and was a tough, but fair teacher. I would occasionally stop by his office to ask questions and often received jewels of wisdom (and fatherly advice). He was a wonderful teacher.

The jewel that I remember the most clearly was a response to me complaining that there was just too much to learn. He smiled and said something like “Let me draw you a picture…” At which point he drew a small circle and said “the area in the circle represents how much you know.” He then pointed to the perimeter of the circle and said: “And, this is how much you THINK you don’t know. You know, the unknown and mysteries that you can see, but do not yet understand.” And then he added the kicker: “And, as your knowledge grows, so does the perimeter of the circle and your realization of how much more you need to learn. In other words, kid, it only gets worse.”

While simple and possibly trite, this image has stayed with me and has been a good reminder whenever I start thinking that I have it all figured out. 🙂

Added: Note: A couple of people have commented “doesn’t the yellow circle represent your knowledge better than the blue circle?” Answer: “No.” 🙂 First, the total body of knowledge is roughly infinite and thus needs to have infinite dimensions, and is therefore represented by the infinite plane that the circle is drawn on. The area inside the circle represents your current knowledge. In this metaphor, it would need to be an area covering gained knowledge, not a line with zero area. As you grow older and gain more knowledge, the circle expands and the area grows. [Obviously, a more sophisticated model would be n-dimensional and much more uneven than a circle, but let’s not go there. ;-)] The yellow circle is the edge between what you know and what you don’t know. You can think of the edge as your `knowledge horizon.’ Beyond the yellow is the stuff that you don’t know. And, so the point is that as your knowledge grows (area in the circle), your `knowledge horizon’ also grows, and thus your perception of how much you still have to learn grows too.

Again, it’s simple, maybe a little trite, and cutesy, but it reminds me of Dr. Garber’s kind, fatherly mentoring and reminds me not to get carried away with my own brilliance. 😉

Moved from Blogger to WordPress

I’ve been using Blogger for a couple of years, but decided today give WordPress a chance to lose my business. And just for the record, I’m no expert in blog tech or culture. But after feeling mildly frustrated with Blogger for a long time and noticing a better look and more flexibility at WordPress, I’m gonna give it a whirl.

It is important to note that I have not done a detailed comparison or analysis. But, this is how most consumers behave–on whims or after something goes wrong–and decided to just follow my instincts.

Blogger was good to me. And, I believe that it is perfectly fine blogging service. It’s free for <insert-deity-here>’s sake. It’s perfect for novices and beginners. But, I always felt hampered or constrained using Blogger. And after asking my active blogging buddies for their opinions, WordPress usually came out on top as the blogging service to use.

So here goes…