Category Archives: +3 Staffing

Interview Checklist

I had an interesting discussion with a potential cofounder last night. We had met online, and were kind of feeling each other out for whether or not a partnership would be a good match.

Today I have an interview with a large company in the Midwest. They are looking to see if I can help them train their software developers.

Both of these interviews were large-stakes kinds of deals. Picking a cofounder isn’t like picking a meat cutter, or a hair stylist. It’s sink-or-swim out there. Likewise, turning the reins of training over for several thousand developers isn’t tiddlywinks.

So what do I look for in an interview?

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Sapir-Whorf and Hackers

The sci-fi character Worf, from Star Trek, Next Generation
Not this guy

Philosophers have a lot to say about how to write good programs. It might not seem that way, but they do. Take the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which basically says that the shape and structure of a language molds the thoughts that can be expressed by that language.

It shows up in a lot of places:

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The big guy upstairs has decided for me to cool my heels this week, it seems. I’ve got a lot of stuff happening, but none of it is happening right this minute.

I have a large client in the Midwest that wants me to come out for a year and teach them how to run their software teams. It’ll be cool: training, mentoring, teaching, setting up Communities of Practice. Maybe even working with the MAT some. But the deal is taking weeks and weeks to put together.

I have a small client that needs a few weeks of work done locally. I’m not planning on doing it — small clients cannot afford to pay me to code — so I’m subcontracting it out: managing the work, ensuring the Q/A, and helping with any management consulting that may be required. But it’s taking weeks and weeks to close as well.

In addition, I’ve applied this year to the Y-Combinator. It’s like a boot camp for startups. I don’t imagine I’ll get in — they lean very heavily towards teams — but I still have to wait to get the news.

Finally I have a couple of recruiters with offers to go places that might be fun. Seattle. Tampa. But I’m not ready to begin talking to these guys until I get through waiting on these other deals.

Meanwhile, it’s blogging, reading, and commenting for me. I’m still sketching out some more startup ideas as well. After all, what’s all this free time for if not creating something? You can’t sit on a river bank and wait for a cooked duck to fly into your mouth.

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IBM: It’s Being Mean

I’ve been getting my head around a post over, on all places, Seems like one of the rabble-rousers, a Cringely fellow, predicted that IBM will cut 150K jobs for cost savings.

This was like red meat to a pack of starving wolves. There were over 1000 comments on his first article, and his second article is kicking as well. It’s like a group support meeting over there with IBM’ers spilling the beans on what they REALLY think of the company and how the company acts. Adding to the mix are the usual free-marketers (count me in on that bunch) and the social-engineering crowd (why can’t we make laws so people can keep their jobs?)

If you are looking for an hour or two of reading about what’s wrong with big-company consulting from the inside, you should check it out. This Cringely fellow is following the scuzzy pattern of making outrageous claims, getting a bunch of response, then backing off (Devorak anyone?) but he’s obviously also hit a very real nerve. People don’t understand how big businesses work, they don’t trust them, and they want some stability and reward for all the hard work they’ve been doing. Read on if you want my opinion.

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Are you a World-Class Idiot?

There’s an old joke that goes that 1 out of 3 people are crazy. Take a good look at the person on your right. Do they look okay? Now, how about taking a good look at the person on your left. Do they look okay? If they do, then I’ve got some bad news for you!

We’ve got some changes to make.

Thomas Friedman has written a powerful thesis in his recent business book, “The World is Flat.”

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Rummy Vs. the Arguing Experts

I’m watching a retired general on CBS this morning talkng about how our current Secretary of Defense should resign.

I’m not going to get into the politics of this. But I will talk about the larger issue of debating experts.

I have no criteria to make a judgement one way or the other on this issue. I’m not a general, never was a general, and my knowledge of the armed services is nothing near what, say, my uncle had with 30+ years in the Navy.

So there’s some generals who think Rummy should go. There’s also some generals who think Rummy should stay. Both groups are on TV and the newspapers having at the other group.

Aside from the vague feeling that I’ve started living in some banana republic, since when do we have generals, retired or not, trying to make public policy? As Pat Buchanan said, it looks an awful lot like a coup of the armed forces during time of war. It’s not anywhere near that an extreme case, but the precendent is terrible. What’s next? Should retired generals have their own political party? Should they make recommendations on what the DoD budget should be? Perhaps during each armed conflict, we could have generals on live TV commenting on the action. Oh yeah, we already have that.

In my opinion, even in the corporate world, taking the current political issues off the table, experts have a professional obligation to their clients to come to an agreement on policy. It is not fair to expect non-qualified managers to argue detailed policy with people who do this their entire lives.

I was reading an article in Dr. Dobbs this morning. In it, the author is reviewing some software project management books. One book, I could tell, rubbed him the wrong way. Why, I don’t know. The example he gave of poor judgement on the part of the author was — the author felt you could never completely gather all of ther requirements for a software system. The reviewer knew this to be a totally false statement.

E-gads! Here we go again! On one hand, I have the author of a prominent software management book saying you can never have all of the requirements. On the other hand I have a reviewer for a famous software publication saying that idea is popycock. Poor management. Of course you can gather all of the requirements.

If I were an non-technical manager, and if these two guys were in my office, I would have quite a problem on my hands. What is it? Can I know all the requirements or not? In the end, I’d have to side with the guy who says I should know all of the requirements — after all, that makes the most intuitive sense.

But I’d be wrong.

As a former president taught us, a lot depends on your definition of terms. For our purposes, let’s consider “requirements” to be the “formal request from the users for features in a system”

Now obviously you have to have a list of stuff that your program has to do, or you ain’t got a plan. So score one for the Dr. Dobbs guy. But if you think that your users are going to stop having requests for your program to do stuff simply because you’ve started to program it, you’re smoking rope. Sure, you can say something like “After June 1st we are locking down the requirements.” You can even have a ceremony. Get somebody to sign a piece of paper. Whatever.

But you ain’t stopping people from wanting new stuff. That’s crazy.

In fact, most modern process methdologies (RUP and XP for instance), plan on the users continuing to give you requirements throughout the lifetime of the system. Mainly because that’s the way it works in real life.

In this case, both guys had a point, and both were making totally logical arguments. If you want to be a real pro in any area, you had better learn to understand both sides of “religious” issues like this one. Then you need to understand that confusing your manager doesn’t accomplish anything at all. Professionals have an obligation to put the interests of their clients above their personal opinions and feelings. Sometimes if you get a big ego this isn’t possible. If so, it’s time to find some other work. Like TV commentator.

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Are Technical People Natural Suckers?

I was reading a good book yesterday, “The Word is Flat”, by Thomas Friedman. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it, especially if you are a little outside the technology sector.

Friedman’s thesis is that high technology is making the world “flat” — that is, the barriers to communicating and trading are completely disappearing. Any techie probably already knows this, but Friedman makes the case in clear terms. I was very surprised at some of his examples, and I try to keep up with what’s going on in the world of technology.

One thing he said, struck me as odd: he said that during the big dot com buildup of a few years ago, Bill Gates was hassled at a speech to give some comment on the state of the industry. Was it all hype? Was it all a big bubble?

I forget the exact reply Gates gave, but the gist of it was that Microsoft was going to make money in either case. Friedman then did a wonderful pirouette and made an analogy to the gold rush of 1849 in California. Sure there were a lot more gold miners than there was gold — it was all a bubble. But a lot of people made a lot of money selling train tickets, lamps, pick-axes, maps, hotel rooms, and provisions to the prospectors. From their perspective, it wasn’t an imaginary boom, it was the real thing.

Suddenly a very startling light bulb came on in my head. All those years of watching Microsoft for the latest programming tools, the latest Office applications, the latest Enterprise software! All those magazines, conversations, web chats, and interviews about what new technology and buzz words were going to be the Next Great Thing. All this time, we were the prospectors, and the shopkeepers were showing us their provisions.

Sure. Many of us had nothing to do with the dot com boom (or did so indirectly), but that’s not the point. We were part of the dot com crowd. We were the ones facilitating all the _other_ folks who were trying to get rich by 1) going public, 2) creating the super program, 3) building a consulting service — you get the picture. Behind it all, somewhere, there was an economic prospector. We technical folks were part of the team that was heading to “them thar mountains” to hit it big. We’re still doing so today. All over the place, in fact in every technology-based company, there are economic prospectors. People who get up every morning looking for the gold. They’re usually the people that pay the rest of us.

And what do we get from our technology vendors? Do we get a map to the gold? That is, do we get help on how to find market needs and fulfill them? Do we get help on how to identify problem areas in the economy and how to integrate the technology with those problem areas? Heck no! We get people selling us gold-plated pick-axes!

Is there a technology conference on being an entreprenuer? Is there a conference on marketing for technical people? You’d better believe there is not. Marketing is for Microsft, for Oracle — for the folks who are really making the money in this sector of the economy. Not us regular guys. They’ve even convinced us that the marketing guys are the “dark side of the force.” They are the ones Who Are Not To Be Trusted. We’re supposed to be looking at the shiny tools, cool GPS maps, neato plug-and-play development components, enterprise James-Bond-like agents that inform us of everything we always wanted to know about bandwidth usage. Or storage space. Or desktop configurations.

It’s not that those things are not important. They absolutely are. But they are way, way down the food chain from where any business makes money: providing perceived value to some other entity. And certainly, in any large organization there are a lot of people who make a living allocating disk space, setting up email accounts, rebuilding servers, and all of the other vital tasks that must take place. I am not trying to denigrate those jobs in any way here.

But let’s get real, folks! These are tasks that the computer industry itself has given us to do. They are not tasks that are part of any mission statement. Instead, they are tasks that the industry has given us by making our search for providing value more difficult than it may need to be. You buy Microsoft Exchange, and you had better plan on creating some experts in MS Exchange technology. You buy the IBM Rational Product Suite, and you had better plan on paying some money to creating Rational Suite experts. I’m not saying this was any kind of coordinated effort, but I am saying that a lot of people know better and got rich off of us suckers. They’ve been pushing the diamond-pointed, platinum-based, microprocessor-controlled wheelbarrows and we’ve been the ones looking in the store window ooogle-eyed.

So what is it? Are we suckers?

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So Long, Little Buddy

Bob Denver passed away yesterday at the Duke University Medical Center. He was 70.

Like a lot of kids of the 70s and 80s, I grew up watching Gilligan’s Island. Yes, it was a stupid premise. It was done without even a passing nod to common sense. But somehow the show was mesmerizing. I guess to a kid who had never met a millionaire, professor, movie star, or boat skipper, these were my first archetypes.

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