Thursday, February 28, 2013

Server room

We have a closet at Minted used for Internet cabling and to store a server rack. I started using it for phone calls, when all other conference rooms are full.

Before I knew it, others started using it too.

Yesterday I walked in to find four chairs and a standing desk.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


I really agree with the management style described in this article: The Sinatra of Southwest Feels the Love:

When Mr. Kelleher, 77, entered the main meeting room, shareholders gave him the kind of standing ovation usually reserved for rock stars. The Southwest pilots union is also in the process of negotiating a new contract with management. But not only did the Southwest pilots not set up a picket line, they took out a full page ad in USA Today thanking Mr. Kelleher for all he had done. “The pilots of Southwest Airlines want to express our sentiment to Herb that it has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of his aviation legacy,” said the union president, Carl Kowitzky, in a statement.

When he brought up the pilots ad — and when he talked about how much the company’s employees meant to him — he wept. “I’m Lucky Herbie for having all of these years with all of you,” he said. More than a few people in the audience wept right along with him. 

No surprise there, either. Over the years, whenever reporters would ask him the secret to Southwest’s success, Mr. Kelleher had a stock response. “You have to treat your employees like customers,” he told Fortune in 2001. “When you treat them right, then they will treat your outside customers right. That has been a powerful competitive weapon for us.”

“We’ve never had layoffs,” he told me the day before the annual meeting, sitting on the couch of the single messiest executive office I’ve ever seen. “We could have made more money if we furloughed people. But we don’t do that. And we honor them constantly. Our people know that if they are sick, we will take care of them. If there are occasions or grief or joy, we will be there with them. They know that we value them as people, not just cogs in a machine.”

When you look at a company like American, with its poisonous employee relations and its glum customer base, and compare it with Southwest, with its happy employees and contented customers, you can’t help thinking that Mr. Kelleher was on to something when he put employees first. “There isn’t any customer satisfaction without employee satisfaction,” said Gordon Bethune, the former chief executive of Continental Airlines, and an old friend of Mr. Kelleher’s. “He recognized that good employee relations would affect the bottom line. He knew that having employees who wanted to do a good job would drive revenue and lower costs.”

I agree that the ingredients to produce devotion in your employees are:

  1. clear goals with metrics, that people are held accountable for achieving
  2. love 
  3. joy and a spirit of lightheartedness

From wikipedia:
During his tenure as CEO of Southwest, Kelleher's colorful personality created a corporate culture which made Southwest employees well known for taking themselves lightly—often singing in-flight announcements to the tune of popular theme songs—but their jobs seriously. Southwest has never had an in-flight fatality. Southwest is consistently named among the top five Most Admired Corporations in America in Fortune magazine's annual poll. Fortune has also called him perhaps the best CEO in America.

Toppled by my own success!

Usually when I try to grow plants, I get very emotionally attached, but they die.

One Christmas-time when my brother came to visit, we had this exchange:

Me: "Tom, can you do me a favor?  I want you to throw this dead plant away.  [point at plant]  But I'm very sad about it, so I don't want you to tell me when you've done it.  Just do it quietly when I'm not looking, and then put the empty pot in the corner.  I don't want to talk about it again."

Tom: "Okay."

Later that weekend, I noticed that the plant was gone, and the empty pot was in the corner.

Photo of a representative plant.

The next day, I had a few people over for dinner.  Linda brought over a tiny potted spruce.  My brother took one look at the hopeful little spruce, and said with a sigh, "Well, I know what I'll be doing on my next trip to San Fran!"

The only exception were my succulents.  My realtor friend gave them to me, and they grew bigger every week.  I am so proud of them!  I love them dearly.

They got bigger and bigger, and then I came home yesterday to find this:


They got too big for their home.  A success problem!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Must strong people have strong weaknesses?

"Strong people have strong weaknesses.  Where there are peaks, there are valleys."
             - Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive

A few of us at Minted are reading the book "The Effective Executive".  Drew Houston recommended it when he did a fireside chat at our office.  The book contains the quote above.  It has some examples of people who were alcoholic or threw frequent tantrums, but still was the best person at one core part of their job. It goes on to suggest that you ignore the weaknesses in that case.

I agree that if the most effective candidate has major flaws, you should still pick that person over a mediocre candidate with no flaws.

However, I think it'd be better if the super-effective candidate can get over their alcoholism or tantrums, so that they are even more effective.  The book thinks this is unrealistic.

It's true that the famous visionary leaders (Jobs, Gates) are singlemindedly bent on fulfilling their vision, even at the cost of treating people poorly.  There are stories of Jobs firing people in the elevator, and Gates making people cry ("That was the stupidest thing I've ever heard.  What school did you go to?  We're never hiring from there again.")  This book implies that this is to be expected.  But is that really true?

Steve Lawrence, who I worked with for a year at Google, is pretty phenomenal and does not have weaknesses that are the same magnitude as his strengths.  Also Jeff Dean, Omst, and many other people.

I wonder if it's actually that strong people can often get away with having strong weaknesses.  Chris Brown can get away with smashing Rihanna's face into his car -- his records are still selling.  So he is not forced to shape up.

I hope there aren't strong leaders who were debating whether to do the hard work to mitigate their alcoholism / tantrums, and then read this book and decided not to.

Monday, February 18, 2013

oh snap! meteroid

Skype chat at work, with my tech ops manager.

E: "The pope resigning, fire from the sky, and now M [Minted colleague -- adamant Outlook user] wanting to use Gmail.  Yup, it's official, the end is nigh."

Niniane: "Fire from the sky?"

E: "Aliens attacking Russia.  Oh, sure, the so-called 'mainstream media' says it's a meteroid."

Niniane: "It's Aaron Swartz."

Niniane: "Too soon?"

E: "He missed the lawyer by a few thousand miles."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

moving forward with tiny steps

There was a woman at the Google gym who had lost 50 pounds.  Every time I went to exercise, I saw her there.  She must have gone to the gym almost daily.

One day, I finally said to her in the locker room, "I'm really impressed at how often you work out."

She said, "My goal is to lose 100 pounds.  I have 50 more pounds to go."

The most impressive thing is that she was able to go every day, even though any given day makes little perceptible difference.  You don't see additional muscle tone or increased endurance after a workout.  It's only weeks and months later that the accumulation shows its effects.

It is the same way with work.  Every day you make steps forward with your company, product, team.  But even though you're putting in work, the outside world only notices every so often.  For some of the startups I'm advising, there's no external validation for a long time, until one day they've built up enough valuable work, and then the world takes notice.

Because you don't see immediate results, I find there are only three ways to motivate yourself on any given day:
1. Love what you are doing
2. Have enormous willpower
3. Get someone else to pay attention to you and tell you how great you're doing

With exercising, I rely on #3.  I see a personal trainer.  Occasionally I go to exercise classes.

With work, I rely on #1.  As a result, I only work on products that I love, with people I love.

I mentally debate whether #2 is worthwhile.  Is it valuable to build up your willpower?  Isn't it more efficient to just divert more resources into #1 and #3?  Let's say you hate going to the gym.  Why not find enjoyable alternatives (sports) and people to go with you, rather than relying on willpower?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

An eloquent quote about programming

I was searching for an email, and came across these well-written paragraphs from an old friend.

It was in reply to an email I sent, about a weekend on a houseboat. There were a number of other engineers there, from Google and other companies. Some of them were jostling to determine who was smarter than whom, or a better programmer.

From my friend:

"Good programmers realize that programming is hard. We are all struggling along together or separately. We do the best we can with the limited brains we have. Dominance games are for the insecure, the incompetent, and the ignorant.

"Given human nature, I think those people will always be with us. All we can ask is to be in a place where good ideas and true ability and hard work can prove themselves without needing to play those games. And call me naive, but I really do think that for all the bluster of the echo chamber, that Silicon Valley really is such a place, and that's really why we're all here."

It is uplifting to read again, even years later. I am idealistic too.

still works, unless your handles clash

My friend Melbs says about relationships, "Every pot has a lid."  It means that no matter how weird you are, there is someone out there who will fit well with you.

I told this to James, who said, "What if you're a pot that likes other pots?"

Thursday, February 14, 2013

drama! electric cars! logs!

This Tesla vs New York Times scandal is one of the best things I've ever read.

1. John Broder of the NYTimes writes a scathing article.
2. Elon Musk personally posts on the Tesla blog, calling him out for lying, with logs data.
3. John Broder does a point-by-point rebuttal.

Elon Musk of Tesla: A Most Peculiar Test Drive
When he first reached our Milford, Connecticut Supercharger, having driven the car hard and after taking an unplanned detour through downtown Manhattan to give his brother a ride, the display said "0 miles remaining." Instead of plugging in the car, he drove in circles for over half a mile in a tiny, 100-space parking lot. When the Model S valiantly refused to die, he eventually plugged it in. On the later legs, it is clear Broder was determined not to be foiled again.
We assumed that the reporter would be fair and impartial, as has been our experience with The New York Times, an organization that prides itself on journalistic integrity. As a result, we did not think to read his past articles and were unaware of his outright disdain for electric cars. We were played for a fool and as a result, let down the cause of electric vehicles. For that, I am deeply sorry.

John Broder's response: That Tesla Data: What It Says and What It Doesn't
I drove around the Milford service plaza in the dark looking for the Supercharger, which is not prominently marked. I was not trying to drain the battery. (It was already on reserve power.) As soon as I found the Supercharger, I plugged the car in.

Who doesn't love a good fight with logs data, eloquent accusations of lying, and driving an electric vehicle in circles at night?

abnormal dreams

Two years ago, there was a sysadmin candidate that was introduced to me for Minted.  He came with great references and a solid resume.  Due to being gated on another decision, we delayed a few weeks in getting back to him, and of course by then, he was snatched up by another company.  He was very polite in letting me know that we were a few days too late.

This is all very normal.  The abnormal thing is that I then obsessed over this lost candidate for over a month.  I spent hours lamenting this candidate I had never actually met.  

Eventually I realized that I was doing this as an escape fantasy to avoid the harsh reality that I still had to hire someone and it was tough to find someone good. 

Last week, I caught myself doing it again with another person.  I conjured up an entire blissful working relationship in my head, only to find that it did not match the person's real-life interests at all.

I am wondering if this is the dark side to having an active imagination.  Maybe it is the side effect to the skill we cultivate by looking at a blank terminal window and imagining a beautiful framework of code.

I think companies do this too.  They imagine a partnership with another company, and fuel it on dreams instead of day-to-day reality of how well the technology integrates.  They pin their hopes on unlikely PR blitzes instead of repeatable user acquisition.

The only way I have found to cure this is to spend time getting to know the situation (or candidate) with all their foibles and flaws.  Nothing kills daydreams like cold facts.

The sysadmin story ended happily.  A month later, we hired someone amazing and my baseless obsession went away immediately.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Four rings to rule them all

A great image:

The caption says "One does not simply walk into Mordor."

James: It looks like it's driving away from Mordor. Mission accomplished?

Tom: Cool cars never look back at explosions.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Starcraft Thursday

We have been playing Starcraft at Minted the past couple of Thursdays.

M: Is there any interest in playing Team Fortress 2 tomorrow night in addition to starcraft?

S: I'm pretty awesome at Temple Run but have never played TF2, I'm assuming the skills with transfer across easily, right?

M: Temple run is essentially an iOS port of Team Fortress 2.  You will be fine.