An Experiment in Scotch

"I write to discover what I believe." Michael Lopp on Twitter

Month: June 2008 (page 2 of 2)

The F*ckhead Pattern

While we’re dis­cussing hir­ing, I inter­viewed lots of peo­ple who learned Eng­lish as a sec­ond or third lan­guage but I never had any­thing this funny hap­pen in an interview.

Becoming Arthur Miller

So Steve Yegge has graced us with another post tome huge honkin’ bunch of loosely asso­ci­ated words chock full of spin off ideas. The gist of said words is that Joel Spolsky’s “Smart and Gets Things Done” is a really great way to hire clones of your­self but that for var­i­ous rea­sons (namely that you suck but you just don’t know it) this is a bad idea. Some of the pos­si­ble spin­off blog posts that I think might be inter­est­ing are “Steve’s Right! You do suck and just don’t know it”, “Steve Yegge really needs an edi­tor” (oh the irony, it burns!!), “How do I become a Done and gets things smart sort of guy so that peo­ple will love and adore me?” and “Extended inter­views sound great as long as I’m the one doing the inter­view­ing and not the poor schlub being inter­viewed”. In the end, given my propen­sity for string­ing a huge honkin’ bunch of loosely asso­ci­ated words together, I decided to touch on most of them in one post, once again show­ing my com­plete and total dis­dain for a laser like focus on anything…oh look a chicken!

At my last job, I did a rea­son­able amount of inter­view­ing and I almost exclu­sively used Joel’s advice. In the end, I don’t think we hired a bunch of my clones because we didn’t do much hir­ing any­way (it seemed to be some sort of exer­cise where we would bring in some­one and then not really ever do much with them, but what­ever). How­ever, when you work in Cor­po­rate Amer­ica, your abil­ity to actu­ally hire some­one who is Smart and Gets Things Done is greatly ham­pered by the fact that very few peo­ple who fit that qual­i­fi­ca­tion want to work for you. This is because writ­ing soft­ware in Cor­po­rate Amer­ica (not Cap­tain Amer­ica, writ­ing soft­ware in him would be…probably kinky, never mind) sucks big hairy horse balls. The pol­i­tics, the egos, the pol­i­tics, the CYAness of it all, the pol­i­tics. Peo­ple who are smart and get things done just don’t want the over­head. Peo­ple who are Done and Gets Things Smart won’t even know your job post­ing on Mon­ster exists so you’ll never even get to inter­view them and turn them down because they aren’t a clone of you.

So leav­ing Cor­po­rate Amer­ica aside, what in the hell can you do to make your inter­views use­ful? Well, I really like the extended inter­view idea. There are quite a few com­pa­nies out there that do this and I think it makes total sense. Yes, I under­stand that hir­ing some­one for 6 months and then let­ting them go because they didn’t turn out like you expected is very expen­sive but seri­ously, do you think it’s as expen­sive as keep­ing them around? Face it, Steve’s right and hir­ing good peo­ple is almost entirely blind luck, of which you prob­a­bly don’t have very much any­way. Unfor­tu­nately, the extended inter­view tech­nique only elim­i­nates false pos­i­tives and if you remem­ber from your basic sta­tis­tics class, when you lower beta. the cor­re­spond­ing alpha goes up and so now you have a tech­nique that leans towards hir­ing every­one and see­ing who makes it. Not good.

So if hir­ing good peo­ple is basi­cally a crap shoot, what’s a good hir­ing man­ager to do? Beats me really. I’ve given a lot of thought to inter­view­ing and hir­ing (though not nearly as much as Steve) and the sliver bul­let for iden­ti­fy­ing peo­ple who are smart and gets things done con­tin­ues to elude me. Lots of tech com­pa­nies just ask a bunch of trivia ques­tions but then you tend to hire peo­ple who learned the ins and outs of the tech­nol­ogy but can’t code or can’t com­mu­ni­cate or can’t under­stand why hav­ing code reviews might just be impor­tant. You can ask them crazy ques­tions like “how much does this build­ing weigh?” or “how many midgets can you fit in a phone booth?” (both great inter­view ques­tions if you want to find out if a per­son can han­dle any­thing other than Visual Stu­dio) but that’s not going to get you far enough down the road to success.

Man this post is get­ting long. My guess is I’m the only one still reading.

So if I can’t con­tribute to hir­ing the right peo­ple, lets tack off towards another sub­ject, how do I become one of the Done and Gets Things Smart that Steve is talk­ing about? (As an aside, if you haven’t read Steve’s post (and I know most of you haven’t), there’s a dif­fer­ence between “Smart and Gets Things Done” and “Done and Gets Things Smart” and basi­cally, the Cliffs Notes ver­sion is that the for­mer is Arthur Miller while the lat­ter is William Shake­speare.) The short answer and prob­a­bly the only answer is that “I don’t.” I don’t think you can mold your­self into the type of per­son he’s talk­ing about, regard­less of dis­ci­pline and cer­tainly not in pro­gram­ming. For the same rea­son I can’t become Kobe Bryant, I’ll never by Paul Gra­ham. It’s at least 75% genet­ics and while I’m no slouch, I’m not really above aver­age by much either. Hell, I’m still try­ing to get my head around the 475 ways you can use Cas­tle and I’ve been work­ing with it for 5 months.

This post is get­ting depress­ing too and I’m not even drink­ing. Not only can you not hire the peo­ple you need to hire, you (and by you, I mean me) will never be able to get to the level you want to be because you weren’t born hard­wired in the right places to achieve it.

How­ever, I now think (after sev­eral years of think­ing the oppo­site) that while you can’t become “Done and Gets Things Smart”, you can become “Smart and Gets Things Done.” You do this by con­stantly read­ing, broad­en­ing your tech­no­log­i­cal scope, los­ing the ego (I’m lucky in this regard, I’m pretty sure I suck at most every­thing so I’m ahead of the game) and con­stantly learning.

I’ve got some more thoughts on ways to either gather up Smart and Gets Things Done types but this post is already long enough to have cured insom­nia. Maybe I’ll spit that out tomor­row night.

Out On A Limb

Ok, so it’s June, the elec­tion is in 5 months-ish and there­fore, it’s time for me to make my pre­dic­tion. On one hand, we’ve had 8 years of Repub­li­can lead­er­ship which makes it seem like maybe the coun­try is ready for a change. On the other hand, you’ve got a Demo­c­ra­tic can­di­date who is young and ener­getic which is attrac­tive to the youth vote (do the youth vote? no but what­ever). And on your mutant third hand (the one with 6 fin­gers and 7 thumbs), you’ve got Ralph Nader. Ok, he doesn’t count but still, he’s funny like a mutant third hand with 6 fin­gers and 7 thumbs.

So who’s it gonna be? Here’s my 5 minute guess pulled out of my ass mas­querad­ing as analy­sis. Peo­ple who think Obama might win don’t under­stand the South and they cer­tainly don’t under­stand the Sec­ond Amend­ment. Here’s the lat­est Har­ris poll on 2A where adults were asked whether said amend­ment pro­vided an indi­vid­ual right to bear arms and 2 out of every 3 said yes. Sup­port for stricter gun con­trols is 49%, down from 69% ten years ago. With­out the idea that 2A is just as impor­tant as 1A, I don’t see how Obama can win many states in the South. In fact, cur­rent polls show exactly that. Note that sev­eral states that are tossups (NM, CO, NV) are also West­ern states where anti-gun can­di­dates typ­i­cally have problems.

So my pre­dic­tion? McCain wins a close one (assum­ing the whole age thing doesn’t seri­ously hurt him, remem­ber Clin­ton came from a huge dis­tance back to win in ’92 based on the econ­omy and his younger age, hmmm sounds like deja vu all over again). Remem­ber, you heard it here first.

These Are The People Democrats Want To Run Healthcare

Amen Brother, amen.

If you can’t run a bloody cafe­te­ria, how in the hell do you sup­pose you can run the health indus­try in this coun­try? Lord, we’ve elected some weiners.

RIP, Jim McKay 1921–2008">RIP, Jim McKay 1921–2008

The sports world lost one of its lumi­nar­ies this week when Jim McKay, long­time ABC sports­caster, passed away. I always remem­ber his lines from the Wide World of Sports that I watched a lot when I was a kid and he car­ried him­self with more com­po­sure than most men could hope for when he cov­ered the 1972 tragedy at the Munich Olympics. He hadn’t been doing much in recent years but his voice and spirit will live on in those who learned about sports by the sound of his voice.

Not Being a Sheep

How in the world does one man stab 17 peo­ple? This would never hap­pen in the south­ern US and it cer­tainly would never hap­pen in Texas. If some lunatic plowed a 2 ton rented truck into pedes­tri­ans and then jumped out and started stab­bing peo­ple, at least one per­son would pull out a gun and shot the idiot on the spot. Even if no one had a gun, I’m guess­ing at least 4 burly, mean Texas dudes would walk up to him and break his scrawny lit­tle neck, machete or no machete.

I feel ter­ri­ble for the peo­ple who died and their fam­i­lies but this is the final result of dis­arm­ing the cit­i­zenry. If the good guys can’t pro­tect them­selves, the bad guys have all the advantages.

The Ultimate Geek Friday Night

Seri­ously, what could be bet­ter than pizza ordered online while sit­ting at the com­puter and code?

You Really Want The Leftmost Button or Possibly No Button At All

Have you ever watched some­one repeat­edly do some­thing over and over again even though it didn’t do what he thought it did? Like in The Princess Bride when Vizzini kept say­ing things were incon­ceiv­able even though those very things had already in fact hap­pened and thus, could not by any def­i­n­i­tion of the word be con­sid­ered incon­ceiv­able? Have you ever seen that to hap­pen in real life? For the most part, I think it never hap­pens (evo­lu­tion kinda pre­vents it, long term speak­ing and all) but there is one event, one thing that is so hor­rif­i­cally mis­used that reams of Inter­net bits have been spewed forth about its mis­use and still, the despi­ca­ble behav­ior lives on, in appar­ent infamy.

It must be a sign of my impend­ing descent into senil­ity and gen­eral all around crotch­ety­ness but peo­ple who hit reply to all when in fact they shouldn’t be hit­ting reply to all at all cause me a great deal of con­ster­na­tion. I spent a full 20 min­utes today try­ing to fig­ure out what in the world makes peo­ple do this thing, this reply to all with a sin­gle word that can’t pos­si­bly be intended for every­one. Seri­ously. I sat there, try­ing to explain a behav­ior that is inex­plic­a­ble (mmm smells like irony). I’m los­ing it. Do they need val­i­da­tion that they exist (“Look, I’m alive!”)? Is it more sin­is­ter (“I’m more impor­tant than every­one else on the email chain!”)? Is it less sin­is­ter (“There’s a Reply but­ton?!?”)? I asked these ques­tions over and over for 20 full min­utes. And I’m writ­ing a 500 word blog post about it. I AM los­ing it.

Look, email is almost ren­dered use­less as it is. I used to write long, won­der­fully explicit emails regard­ing best prac­tices and processes and gotchas until I real­ized that email is prob­a­bly irrev­o­ca­bly bro­ken, not to men­tion requires entirely too much atten­tion for the aver­age per­son to spend in one sit­ting these days. Not unlike my blog posts.

How­ever, you can do your part to make email use­ful again. It’s really easy. If you have a habit of hit­ting reply to all when you really ought to be hit­ting reply, take a deep breath, have a sip of scotch or cof­fee or arsenic and ask your­self if what you are about to say is really worth the 5 sec­onds of my life (and every other per­sons’ life on the email chain, hey I’m a hedo­nis­tic util­i­tar­ian if noth­ing else) that I’ll never get back after I read your email that I made the mis­take of think­ing might be impor­tant. It’s the least you can do.

[This post is writ­ten in honor of my friend, Nish, the world’s worst offender of the Reply To All but­ton though in her defense, what she usu­ally has to say is rel­e­vant to the con­ver­sa­tion at hand.]


I haven’t read Cod­ing Hor­ror in a long time but I was going through my badly neglected RSS feeds tonight and ran into Strong Opin­ions, Weakly Held and it really struck a chord with some­thing I’ve been giv­ing some thought to for quite awhile. It’s a deep dark secret I’ve got, one I’ve been har­bor­ing for a long time, one that I think it’s time came out in the open:

There, I said it. Whew, it feels good. Don’t get me wrong, I like feel­ing like I know just about every­thing but in real­ity, I have this huge streak of inse­cu­rity run­ning through me about just about every­thing and I’m mostly OK with it. You see, experts make me ner­vous. Peo­ple who have an opin­ion on every­thing make me real ner­vous. When I see peo­ple who lust after val­i­da­tion through exter­nal achieve­ments and acco­lades, I get down­right skit­tish. I’m never going to be a Microsoft MVP or have 5 cer­ti­fi­ca­tions or be able to say I archi­tected a huge flux capac­i­tor enter­prise level CRM MOSS por­tal. It’s just not me.

I like to get my hands dirty doing things like set­ting up builds, mak­ing sure unit tests run, facil­i­tat­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion by cre­at­ing a wiki no one but me will ever read (if I set up a wiki and no one reads it, is it still com­mu­ni­ca­tion?) These aren’t things that get you an MVP. But they are things that long term will make your soft­ware bet­ter. In the end, it’s good that I don’t want to be an expert. I’m not nearly smart enough. I make up for smarts by doing the dirty work. I’ll have to leave the hard stuff to the experts.

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