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Ducks in a Row: Yonatan Zunger’s Response To Google Manifesto

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yodelanecdotal/1449868160/in/photolist-3d7XhU-nD4FUb-nphNJ2-nTjSvi-bTwp2k-mXGMEk-pd9LmU-nBPnBS-boeAFR-7LJWi7-avRQjp-7LEZtK-7LJWjJ-ejatXA-21e3h-Li3kk-3fFvBG-bN4EGz-6i8NJe-8fwJhJ-eUAptg-9YDyyr-68eU85-cTB2rG-9B518N-rCyjHM-7fMvid-6pRHL-rp9wWp-CRih1o-A37C92-68aHjz-eKEMv4-A1ToUq-j29oe8-nVy9YM-dpQ5bL-dPoxSV-9PkXo-z8uXHK-6Qm34u-6QgWRc-zLFDXs-zKwsyt-eUMKcb-A3YDeV-DUDt1-A16hdb-7LEZrD-qMWFVH

I’m assuming you’ve read the anti-diversity manifesto, or articles about it, from the Google engineer decrying his company’s diversity efforts and harking back to the ancient reasoning that women are biologically incapable of being good coders, cops and firemen, among other incapables.

(It’s always sad to see this level of scientific ignorance in a technical person. Of course, it’s not easier in a (supposedly) educated politician.)

There are dozens of responses, but Yonatan Zunger’s is the best I’ve seen (hat tip to KG for sending it).

Zunger is a 14 year Google veteran, who left last week to join a startup. He not only refutes it, but analyzes why the damage goes well beyond the obvious. If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth the few minutes it will take to read.

Ayori Selassie’s is shorter and I’ve reproduced it in full below.

The penis doesn’t write code, the brain does.

Women also have a brain therefore they write code too.

There, I fixed your #GoogleManifesto.

The one thing in the manifesto I do agree with is that freedom of speech should mean that anyone can speak their mind without fear of shaming or harassment.

However, the tactics he describes that are commonly used in liberal bastions on those espousing right and alt-right attitudes are exactly the same tactics used on progressives and liberals in conservative strongholds.

It boils down to the age-old us / them attitude.

Join me tomorrow for a look at the skills that will power your career now and in the future — and have nothing to do with STEM.

Image credit: Yahoo

If The Shoe Fits: Plato’s Soft Success

Friday, August 4th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mEngineers constantly channel Wernher von Braun, “One good test is worth a thousand expert opinions,” preferring AB tests and data points to anecdotal evidence or everyday been there/done that experience.

This is a serious problem for most founders who are

  • engineers, and
  • inexperienced (AKA, young).

Tests, no matter how good, and data points fail miserably when it comes to hiring people, let alone managing them.

Proof of this comes from no less a data embracer than Google, which scrapped an algorithm that was supposed to predict successful hires, its famed brain teaser questions and rigid responses to recruiter questions.

Such was the experience of Quang Hoang and his two partners when they started Birdly, which pivoted three times before finding a solid product/market fit.

…the tumult alienated most of Birdly’s employees, who quit. Hoang attributes the turnover to his own inexperience as a manager.

We, along the way, made many mistakes in management,” Hoang tells Business Insider. “We lost many great developers.” 

Enter Plato, a new name and a new team, focused on providing techies with soft skill mentoring.

The idea, says, Hoang is that an engineer’s education is focused heavily on “hard skills” around programming and systems design. The rest has to be learned. And for programmers-turned-leaders, it’s often the “soft skills,” like management and leadership, that need the most attention.

To people such as myself, who for decades have been involved in teaching and honing those skills in managers across all fields, not just tech, it’s more of a ‘duh’ factor.

But that’s OK; just don’t call it “thought leadership.”

Most great management concepts and skills aren’t decades old, they’re centuries old, constantly updated using language that will resonate with the current target audience.

Probably one of the best pieces of leadership/management advice comes from Lao Tzu and dates to the fourth or fifth century BC; I’ve quoted it multiple times over the last ten plus years.

As for the best leaders,
the people do not notice their existence.
The next best,
the people honor and praise.
The next,
the people fear;
and the next,
the people hate…
When the best leader’s work is done,
the people say, “We did it ourselves!”
To lead the people, walk behind them.

Difficult advice to follow in a world of personal brands and excessively large egos.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: Losing The Forest For The Trees

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/arturtula/15564944217/I was having a conversation this week about Silicon Valley companies. Some of them are doing amazing things.

When I was job hunting I would look at several and imagine myself there changing the world.

There were several though that also had great funding, great people, but I could not understand for the life of me what they did. They had a great list of customers, but I could not understand the value they brought.

There are two possible solutions to that conundrum.

One, I am just not savvy enough to understand (a very real possibility).

Two, they were full of hype and energy, but not substance. I can imagine that both statements are true when you look at the vast array of companies in the valley.

With that said, have we lost the forest for the trees? Have some companies been so hyped that people continue to pour money into them hoping for a huge payday that may never come to fruition?

Uber is in the news for a variety of reasons, some good, some bad. I recently read an article that Uber and Google are working on flying cars. While the concept of flying cars seems cool… I guess, I am more concerned with the participating companies.

Google provides value, products and that elusive quality, profit. They are well established, have multiple streams of income and could fail at this endeavor and live another day. It’s exciting to see them using their money for grand ideas, but it won’t decimate them either.

Uber provides value and services, but zero profit.

In fact, if Uber was run like a traditional company or household, they would have never even gone to market.

They operate more like a country that can print its own money. They take on debt, lose billions every year, yet keep on trucking.

Venture capital and perhaps greed are what allow this to occur. If they fail at the flying car concept what does it mean for the rest of the business?

I know there are very smart folks who are there and who are invested. I often wonder what their long game is. Do they believe they will become profitable at some point if they hang on long enough?

Another thing to consider is the economy. We have easy money right now with very low rates of interest.

For an investor it makes more sense to go with a high risk investment versus storing it in savings, because they essentially lose money due to inflation.

When the markets tighten does that mean Uber cannot seek out another round of funding?

My point is this.

Have we lost sight of the incremental steps it takes for us to achieve greatness by thinking we can accelerate the whole process with enough capital or am I the Luddite here?

I am a believer that debt can be good when there is a viable business model. I am less impressed though when a company has never turned a profit and had no projections to do so at any point soon, but can be valued so highly. What makes Uber so unique?

I say we need to keep dreaming the big dreams, but also look at the foundation.

Is it built on sand or rock?

Image credit: Artur (RUS) Potosi

If The Shoe Fits: Today’s CEO Cowboys

Friday, April 28th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWay back in 2009 I wrote Leaders Should NOT Be Cowboys. While the advice was accurate at the time, it made the basic assumption that founders were adults.

I suppose it was naïve to assume that anybody starting a company, let alone being handed millions of dollars to do it, would have a certain level of mental and emotional maturity — or at least know when to shut up.

But the world has changed drastically.

It’s now a world where nothing is private and letting it all hang out has been take to extremes; where sharing all aspects of your life is expected and the resulting personally identifiable data packaged and sold; where sex/sexism in one form or another is prevalent; where anybody can freely and anonymously critique/shame/bully/insult whomever they please; where frat boy culture/attitude/thinking is the new norm, where etc., etc., etc.

Doubt me?

Take a look at Uber, Thinx, Tanium, or the US president; the list goes on even when the actions are well camouflaged, as they are at Google and Facebook.

These new CEOs aren’t necessarily cowboys in the previous sense.

They have moved past that and are more aligned with the back end of their horses.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: Thoughts About Tanium

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

A few days ago Miki sent me an article about Tanium giving prospective customers a look into their client hospital’s live network, but without permission or protecting the identity of the hospital completely.

I wrote her back today as follows.

I had not seen this on my own, but I have been reading about the company for a few days now.

Coming from the medtech industry and security specifically I will say this.

The fact that he and his company used live hospital data without their consent will be a deathblow to them.

Hospitals take this very seriously because they are the ones who are held responsible by the Office for Civil Rights under Health and Human Services.

The hospital will be shown to have a vulnerability and will be forced to pay fines, lose out on government funds and potentially face sanctions. 

As a result the rest of the healthcare industry will treat Tanium like a pariah because they will not want to face repercussions.

Regardless of the industry it’s shocking to see how folks think it’s ok to manipulate or abuse customer relationships for their own profit, it always ends badly.  

Miki responded.

Sadly, I think they will find a way to smooth it over. Google, Facebook, etc sell customer data all the time. It’s how so many make their money and no one seems to care.

I know HIPPA is supposed to prevent this stuff, but I’m sure companies are getting around that, too, they just haven’t been caught, yet.

That’s the key, not being caught.

Every company that is caught, or just challenged, cries that they take their customer’s privacy seriously or that that’s not what their culture stands for, etc.

But only when they are caught.
I sincerely hope you are correct and that Tanium takes a major blow and, more importantly, that the CEO is forced out, but I’m not holding my breath. I guess I’ve finally gotten pretty cynical about this stuff.

So now I’m trying to decide if Miki’s cynicism is warranted or if I’m right and the publicized results of Tanium’s actions will have the effect they should.

I’ll keep you informed as there are more developments.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Ducks in a Row: The Education of Google Translate

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/demiace/190365145/

If you’re a regular reader you know I’m not a big Google fan. Google isn’t all bad or all good, but, as with any entity, a mix of both.

Their most recent big score on the good side is the effort to reduce, or at least not promote, fake news.

Google engineers and executives are disturbed by how its algorithm promotes offensive and fake content on the web — such as a Holocaust denial site reaching the top result for certain searches about the Holocaust — and they are doing something about it, search expert and editor of Search Engine Land Danny Sullivan reports.

In a different vein is the article KG sent that’s in the pattern of Tracy Kidder’s fascinating looks at the stories behind major technology developments.

It’s the story of the people and effort to radically change Google translate using AI.

Late one Friday night in early November, Jun Rekimoto, a distinguished professor of human-computer interaction at the University of Tokyo, was online preparing for a lecture when he began to notice some peculiar posts rolling in on social media. Apparently Google Translate, the company’s popular machine-translation service, had suddenly and almost immeasurably improved. Rekimoto visited Translate himself and began to experiment with it. He was astonished. He had to go to sleep, but Translate refused to relax its grip on his imagination.

It’s not a book, but it is a long article — long, fascinating and well worth your time to read.

Which is why this post is very short.

I sincerely hope you will take time to read both articles.

Flickr image credit: JC

If the Shoe Fits: Talent, Revenue and Bias

Friday, December 9th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIf generating revenue is high on your list of important stuff, then knowing your market should be right up there, too.

Actually, the knowing needs to come first.

There is no way a 20-something, white male from an even slightly privileged background knows, let alone understands, the needs/preferences/desires of a Gen Xer, Boomer or older, let alone those of a different gender, race or economic status.

IDEO not only understands that, it hires accordingly and enjoys big payoffs.

The problem is bias.

Google is one company that has recognized the reality of bias and is actively working to counter it, as is Silicon Valley Bank.

The bank has already undergone unconscious bias training globally, which involves exercises including splitting into groups and assessing the merits of four different résumés, only to return to find they belonged to the same candidate — just with different names and genders attached. (…) with female names, for example, the groups were more likely to question the candidates’ credentials.

But it may go much further.

It is considering whether to remove names from job candidates’ résumés in a bid to prevent unconscious bias from its recruiters.

Bias is a serious problem, but you’ll never win against it if you believe that ‘they’ are biased and you are not.

It also helps to understand that bias, whether genetic or cultural heritage, is hardwired in our brain.

As a founder, you have the ability to shape the values, culture and bias of your company.

And you need to do it intentially.

Image credit: HikingArtist

How to be Dumb as Google

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ficusrock/5716144109/

When it comes to hiring, as Forrest Gump would say, “stupid is as stupid does.”

And stupid is using recruiters who think the only “right” answer to a technical question is the one written on a sheet of paper. (Note that “technical” can refer to the specifics of any field, although in this case it was software.)

No knowledge or understanding of the subject; just the blind focus on the written words — kind of like talking to customer service when the rep keeps repeating their script no matter how you phrase the question — and no recognition that they may wrong.

The call started off well but as the interview progressed, Guathier got an increasing number of questions wrong. His frustration grew as he tried to discuss the answers with the Google recruiter only to find that the recruiter wanted the exact answer in the test book even if alternative solutions were better.

The company is Google and it should be noted that they approached the candidate, as opposed to his applying.

Way back in 2007 Google announce that they had developed an algorithm to screen candidates.

It didn’t work.

Google was also famous for its brain-teaser questions.

Only, according to Lazlo Block, SVP of People Operations, they are a lousy predictor of success.

“Part of the reason is that those are tests of a finite skill, rather than flexible intelligence which is what you actually want to hire for.”

The value of elite colleges and high grades was publically debunked in a 2013 story about the prevalence of grade inflation.

Not all Google’s efforts fall in the stupid category; block’s efforts to educate both management and workers about bias is definitely a smart move.

But locking technically ignorant recruiters into accepting only set responses to tech question rates right up there with algorithms and brain-teasers. And I say this as someone who was a tech recruiter for more than 12 years.

Of course, managers’ interviewing skills won’t matter, since  the best, most knowledgeable, most creative candidates will be screened out before they ever see them.

Image credit: Chris Pond

URGENT: In Case You aren’t Aware…

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Goggle may be phishing paradise

A security researcher found a problem in Google’s own login page that could allow a hacker to easily steal people’s passwords — and the company apparently isn’t too worried about fixing it.

Whereas Apple fixed an iOS security flaw in hours

Security firm Lookout announced on Thursday that it discovered a major security flaw that exploits iOS and can give a third party complete control over your iPhone.

But 86% of users haven’t applied the patch.

If you are one of them fix it at Settings > General > Software Update.

Ducks in a Row: Perks that Work

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/allenthepostman/2223927152/

Free food. Free in-office massages. On-site dry cleaning. Concierge services. The list goes on…

These perks are so easily copied, not to mention prevalent in certain industries, that they hardly qualify as retention policy, AKA, people holders.

Are these really the perks on which to spend your money?

Think about it and consider far more dynamic policies that others are doing.

After every seven years of service, employees become eligible for a six-to-eight week paid sabbatical, which they can use to spend time with their families, travel, and accomplish longstanding personal goals — no strings attached.

Aarstol believes that a shortened workday could motivate employees to work more efficiently. And he is proving to be right through his own company, Tower Paddle Boards, which continues to expand, even after a year of rolling out the five-hour workday. Last year, it was named the fastest-growing private company in San Diego. Aarstol even published a book titled “The Five Hour Workday” this month.

REI, for example, gives its employees two paid days off a year, called “Yay Days,” to enjoy their favorite outside activity. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) takes every other Friday off, coining those “Panda Fridays.” We also give our employees every other Friday off — and we pay them for it. We call it the “18-Day Work Month,” and we truly believe it’s the key to a more productive workforce.

Gusto, a startup with 300 employees in San Francisco and Denver, just became the first midsize company in the US to cover fertility treatments in a way that will help single women and same-sex couples, according to Cigna.

However, some of the best perks cost the company nothing.

SEI made Forbes’ 2016 Best Small Companies list earlier this year, in part because of its unusual employee goal-setting policy. Twice a year managers meet with reports who lay out goals, including compensation, and SEI pledges to support employees’ wishes.

The main point: this is not a high-profile kind of job at Facebook, not a developer building a feature that will be used by millions, nor an engineer working on some of Facebook’s moonshot projects like its solar-powered drone or Internet.org.
“At Facebook we believe that ‘Nothing at Facebook is somebody else’s problem’ — it’s yours,” she writes. “I’m tasked with finding creative, innovative and realistic solutions for my clients, even if it has never been done before.”
In other words, she feels a sense of empowerment.
In fact, academic research shows that there’s a strong correlation between job satisfaction and employee empowerment. People who are given the freedom to solve problems in their own creative ways simply like their jobs and their companies better.

In fact, it’s the willingness of management to help their people function at their highest level, grow and succeed, i.e., a manager who cares, that is worth more than most tangible perks.

Flickr image credit: allen watkin

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