recent blog posts related to software careers, and career advice

Bruce Springsteen’s book, Born To Run has a great quote from Bruce Springsteen’s book, Born To Run:

The band was part of a four-band showcase; one band would get the chance to move on and perhaps get a recording contract. The Jersey guys went third and thought they killed it. The fourth band, though not as energetic, was very good. Via “Born To Run:”

“They got the gig. We lost out. After the word came down, all the other guys were complaining we’d gotten ripped off. The guy running the joint didn’t know what he was doing, blah, blah, blah.”

That night, Springsteen reflected, sleeping on a couch in his transplanted parents’ home in the Bay Area. “My confidence was mildly shaken, and I had to make room for a rather unpleasant thought. We were not going to be the big dogs we were back in our little hometown. We were going to be one of the many very competent, very creative musical groups fighting over a very small bone. Reality check.”

“I was good, very good, but maybe not quite as good or exceptional as I’d gotten used to people telling me, or as I thought ... I was fast, but like the old gunslingers knew, there’s always somebody faster, and if you can do it better than me, you earn my respect and admiration, and you inspire me to work harder. I was not a natural genius. I would have to use every ounce of what was in me — my cunning, my musical skills, my showmanship, my intellect, my heart, my willingness — night after night, to push myself harder, to work with more intensity than the next guy just to survive untended in the world I lived in.”

Train people well enough so they can leave alvin October 21, 2019 - 5:43am

“Train people well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

~ Richard Branson

The frustration of working with people who aren’t “A” Players (or don’t care)

Let me start by saying that I don’t know if I’m an “A” Player. In part, that definition depends (a) on what work I’m doing, and (b) who you compare me to. For instance, if you compare me to Linus Tourvalds as a Linux C programmer, I’m very clearly not an A Player. Shoot, I’m not even a player.

But if you were to judge me on other skills, I’d like to say that I’m at least a B Player in the things I care about. As I wrote in my book, A Survival Guide for New Consultants, my superpower as a programmer/analyst is empathy; I care about my work, and about my success and my client’s success. If you pay me $100,000 to do some work, I want you to make at least 2X or 10X or more from my work. I want my clients and sponsors to succeed.

Beyond that care, since I began paying attention to Apple and Jonathan Ive starting back around 2005, I’ve become more interested than ever in quality. When I work on something, I imagine that I’m either working with Mr. Ive, or that I’m going to have him review my work, and I want it to be impeccable.

It’s important to distinguish opinions from facts

It’s important to remember that even when successful people say things, they’re often just opinions, not facts. Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz once told Jeff Bezos of Amazon, “You have no physical presence. That is going to hold you back.” The reality was that not having a physical presence at that time is what propelled Amazon forward.

The Scientific Method

Back in the 1990s I was fortunate enough to work for a very smart, energetic man. In a way, working for him — or at least in the position he gave me — helped change the trajectory of my career into what I wanted it to be.

Skipping 99% of that story ... one thing he did exceptionally well was troubleshoot problems, and troubleshoot them very fast. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was using something called The Scientific Method. After observing him for a while, I saw him repeat these steps so precisely that I thought he must have them on a tattoo on the inside of his eyelids:

  1. Observe some feature, in our case, a bug
  2. Hypothesize a model consistent with the observations
  3. Predict future events the hypotheses should yield
  4. Verify the predictions by making further observations
  5. Validate by repeating

Don’t be afraid to hire people that are smarter than you

I’m reminded of the time right before an interview for a contracting position that a tech recruiter called and told me, “Don’t appear to be too smart. Pretend that you can’t answer some of his questions if you have to. He won’t hire people he thinks are smarter than he is.” I answered every question he asked because if that’s the way he was, I didn’t want to work there.

As a manager or business owner — any kind of leader — always hire people that are smarter than you in one or more ways.

Better today than yesterday

I just read this quote by J.K. Rowling, and it’s quite good: “Believe me, neither @RGalbraith nor I walk around thinking we’re fab. We just shoot for ‘writing better than yesterday’”.

(Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym she used for some of her other novels.)