What I Read This Week: 2023-09
I skipped for 6 weeks, I know. I’m sorry!
Normalization of deviance (2015) by Dan Luu
The data are clear that humans are really bad at taking the time to do things that are well understood to incontrovertibly reduce the risk of rare but catastrophic events. We will rationalize that taking shortcuts is the right, reasonable thing to do. There’s a term for this: the normalization of deviance.
The maze is in the mouse by Praveen Seshadri
Google has 175,000+ capable and well-compensated employees who get very little done quarter over quarter, year over year. Like mice, they are trapped in a maze of approvals, launch processes, legal reviews, performance reviews, exec reviews, documents, meetings, bug reports, triage, OKRs, H1 plans followed by H2 plans, all-hands summits, and inevitable reorgs. The mice are regularly fed their “cheese” (promotions, bonuses, fancy food, fancier perks) and despite many wanting to experience personal satisfaction and impact from their work, the system trains them to quell these inappropriate desires and learn what it actually means to be “Googley” — just don’t rock the boat. As Deepak Malhotra put it in his excellent business fable, at some point the problem is no longer that the mouse is in a maze. The problem is that “the maze is in the mouse”.
The Roofshot Manifesto (2016) by Luiz André Barroso
But there has been a growing perception that moonshots are the primary model for radical innovation at Google, and chiefly responsible for our greatest product and technical achievements. What I have seen during my 15 years at Google does not match that perception. I contend that the bulk of our successes have been the result of the methodical, relentless, and persistent pursuit of 1.3-2X opportunities – what I have come to call “roofshots.”
Although true moonshot leaps are rarer, particularly in mature engineering areas, we must learn how to identify and seize them. So how do we find those rare opportunities? I subscribe to the artist Chuck Close’s position that “inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” Moonshots tend to reveal themselves to people who chase roofshots with passion.
Writing an engineering strategy by Will Larson
The reason most written strategies don’t apply is because they’re actually visions of how things could ideally work, rather than accurate descriptions of how things work today. This means they don’t help you plot a course through today’s challenges to the desired state.
People can read their manager’s mind (2017) by Yossi Kreinin
People generally don’t do what they’re told, but what they expect to be rewarded for.
More or less, you need to align individuals with their teams, teams with their company (against institutional self-preservation), and the company with its customers; tricky business!
How Do Individual Contributors Get Stuck? A Primer (2017) by Camille Fournier
Noticing how people get stuck is a super power, and one that many great tech leads (and yes, managers) rely on to get big things done. When you know how people get stuck, you can plan your projects to rely on people for their strengths and provide them help or even completely side-step their weaknesses. You know who is good to ask for which kinds of help, and who hates that particular challenge just as much as you do.
Take your pragmatism for a unicycle ride by Richard Marmorstein
I say the critical resource is not developer time, it’s developer energy. The “10x developer” may or may not be a myth, but it is no myth that I personally am 10x more productive on days when I am energized than on days when I am exhausted, distracted, and frustrated.
Now if you want a counter-opinion, go read Choose Boring Technology (2015) by Dan McKinley:
The problem with “best tool for the job” thinking is that it takes a myopic view of the words “best” and “job.” Your job is keeping the company in business, god damn it. And the “best” tool is the one that occupies the “least worst” position for as many of your problems as possible.
Advice to Aimless, Excited Programmers by James Hague
The two keys: (1) keep it simple, (2) make it something you’d actually use.
“A little bit of slope makes up for a lot of y-intercept” (2012) by John Ousterhout
So I think this is a really interesting concept you can apply in a lot of different ways. And the key thing here I think is that slow and steady is great. You don’t have to do anything heroic. You know the difference in slopes doesn’t have to be that great if you just every day think about learning a little bit more and getting a little bit better, lots of small steps, its amazing how quickly you can catch up and become a real expert in the field.
How it started / how it’s going by David Heinemeier Hansson
The best thing about work is getting the opportunity to exercise your human capacity for creativity, ingenuity, progress. Having a nice view is one of those “second best things”, and the gap between the two is existential. I would never contemplate to give up “the best thing”, a work life filled with engaging, challenging tasks of meaning, for more, or any!, of those “second best things”, like a nice view.
Tidbit of the week: Don’t Try to Get Rich Twice by Ben Carlson.