Posts in the “career” category

Bruce Springsteen’s book, Born To Run

SI.com 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.”

A bad day can be the best thing to happen to you

About five years ago, when my thyroid was first failing, I went through something known as Hashimoto’s disease. What happened was that at some times I would become hyperthyroid (and therefore hyperactive), but most of the time I was hypothyroid, meaning that my brain and body were slow and sluggish.

Nine times out of ten I was sluggish, so one day when I had a job interview I decided to drink some Red Bull. I had one drink an hour before the interview, and drank the second one just before the interview.

Sadly, on this occasion my body decided to have that “1 out of 10” day and be hyperactive. Combined with the two Red Bull drinks I couldn’t sit still or think. I’m sure the people conducting the interview thought I was on speed, and more than once they told me I could relax. I wanted to tell them, “No, I can’t. I really can’t.” By the end of that miserable interview I was just glad my heart didn’t explode.

At the time this seemed like a really bad event in my life. I didn’t know what to do about my thyroid, and I felt miserable. I was at a real low point, especially in my professional life.

Fortunately one of the next things I did was to send an email to the O’Reilly folks asking if they needed someone to write the Scala Cookbook. They said yes, and the rest is history.

Looking back on that interview, I now think that if I had done well that day I might have been forced to work with Java for the next few years. Instead, I’ve been able to work with Scala ever since that day. I got to write the Scala Cookbook, and now I’m working on a book about Scala and functional programming. With the mast cell disease stuff I just went through I would have never been able to work at a “normal” job, so all of this turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Moral: One some days things in your life can look bad, really bad. But if you keep your chin up and keep working hard, good things can still happen, and in the end that bad day can be the best thing that ever happened to you.

A job interview question about three people at a bus stop

The content of this post was sent to me in an email from a friend, where he mentioned it as a job interview question. As I just learned, this question was (also) posed in the movie 16 Blocks, featuring Bruce Willis and Mos Def. Regardless of its origin, it presents a fun problem (though I personally wouldn’t ask it during a job interview).

I'd rather die than build another web app

Wow, a friend of mine sent me an email yesterday that echoes my sentiments exactly, and he doesn't hold anything back. With his permission, I'm sharing it here:

Man, I'd rather die than create another friggin' web app. I mean, who really gives a crap about web apps? What the **** are these apps doing for the real good of the world? Who cares if you can order a pizza online, or share photos easier than we did 10 years ago? I just don't want to look back on my life and think that I spent it creating friggin' web apps.

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.

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

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.

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.)

Two good quotes about coaching and motivation from a Jon Gruden article

Here are two good quotes about coaching from this Jon Gruden article:

“He had a good demeanor about him, the way he got his point across. He always told me it was always about your demeanor and how you get your point across. He said, ‘You have to be a car salesman.’ If you want to sell plays, you can’t be short on energy. People want to be associated with people that have a lot of energy and love what they do and show enthusiasm, not someone who just walks in there and kind of goes through the motions.”

“I always tell people,‘You’ve gotta have a why.’ If you have a reason why, you’re most likely going to succeed. ... And those are the types of things as a coach, when you know those things, those are the buttons you can push. When you’re not hustling, when you’re not doing those things, it’s like, ‘Is that the type of example you’re trying to set for your little brothers?’ When you don’t know those things, you can’t use those things.”

Two good quotes about work

Two good quotes about work this morning:

“The harder you work the less competition you’ll find.”
~ Shane Parrish

“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.”
~ Roger Staubach.

“They’ve got the keys to the car and they can drive it”

Several years ago I stepped away from a consulting gig. I had an opportunity to continue the gig, but I didn’t enjoy it, and didn’t like the direction the project was headed in. This quote from this article about the Denver Post expresses how I feel very well:

“I have total disagreement with how they're managing the place, but I'm not going to stand up and be overly critical of them. They've got the keys to the car and they can drive it any way they want to. But they're not driving it in a way that I want to be a passenger of the car.”

(That reminds me of the old Alaska sled dog saying: “If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.”)

A lesson learned from writing the Scala Cookbook

A lesson learned from writing the Scala Cookbook: It’s fun and interesting to work with some professional writers in the editing process, and it’s great to get their feedback. But you also have to be willing to duke it out to keep what’s important. It’s your baby, it’s your name on the front cover.

On asking a waitress a stupid question

I’m reminded of this story today:

Back in 2005 I used to walk over to a bar that was across the street from my apartment. One night I was talking to a waitress and wondered out loud whether I’d be happier working a job that I enjoyed that might only pay $30K to $40K per year — as opposed to my current job, which paid a lot more but wasn’t making me happy.

She said, “Don’t look at me honey, I don’t make that kind of money,” then turned and walked away.