The argument in Paul Graham’s “Beating the Averages” about how programmers have a hard time recognizing more powerful languages because they don’t understand their power has long been one of my favorite discussion points. The point being that it’s extremely hard to raise the quality in yourself or your colleagues because, unless you deliberately surround yourself with people who are better than you are, it’s very difficult to see “better”. I’ve had the privilege to be part of three organizations that were very deliberate about raising the bar: Amazon, OTI, and the University of Washington CS department. Each was a scary place to be because I was no longer the smartest person in the room, but each helped me raise my personal standards and achieve more than I imagined possible.
So the lesson is similar to that famous quote about poker: “look around and if you are the smartest person in the room, it’s time to find a new room”.
A nice exposition of the same principles I’ve been using to build great engineering organizations: The Modern Way To Build Your Product Team by David Cancel. First, he points out that customer expectations have changed along with the rise of software-as-a-service and the on-demand economy. They don’t want to hear “it’s on our roadmap for next quarter.” So one has to build a different kind of organization, one designed to be low latency and high velocity. That means:
- Keep the teams small – “Small teams have a singular shared focus on the customer problem at hand.”
- No shared resources – “Want to move slow? Want to deal with politics? Have your product teams share resources/dependencies.”
- The Key Ingredients Are Autonomy And Ownership – “development teams are responsible for the entire product, including operating and supporting the apps.”
An engineering organization built along these principles is a lot more fun and productive than a big company with politics and roadmaps and endless meetings. That’s the kind of place I’ve been creating for more than a decade, and if it sounds attractive to you, we’re hiring.
While our Pacific Cup race did not end as I’d hoped it would with us crossing the finish line into Hawaii with a flying spinnaker after a week of fantastic downwind surfing in the tropics, to me it always about the experience rather than the result. And the experience was great. That fantastic start out under the Golden Gate Bridge, sailing through a pod of whales, struggling with the #1 on the foredeck while getting continually doused by breaking waves, sailing along under the moon so bright that no lights were needed — and then, early in the morning, sailing under the Milky Way and even then we didn’t need any lights: there was enough star light and enough absolute darkness that we could see just fine.
Life is good.
We are docked at the marina in Monterrey. It was an interesting sail 150 miles out and back :) We are cleaning all salt water of the bilges and then washing down the floorboards and the sails. Next up: a warm shower and sleeping in late!
Interesting times. We’ve had to withdraw from the race and are heading back to California. The problem started with us taking on water: 5 gph from some unknown place. Not sinking but not good. We checked all the through-hulls but they were fine. It looked like some water might be coming through the sinks because we were so heeled over, so we closed those through-hulls, but the water kept coming in. Eventually we found it spurting in from the front of the V-berth up near the deck. Looking in the chain locker, it was full of water: the drain had been plugged by a stray rag. Completely full of water. Probably 2000 lbs of water. So full of water that it was coming back into the boat around the anchor windlass power wires, hence the water coming in at the front of the V-berth and then draining into the bilges.
We emptied the water from the chain locker BUT the air vents for the freshwater tanks are in the chain locker and so the salt water back-fed into at least one of fresh water tanks. That water is now undrinkable, and the other tank is questionable, so we definitely don’t have enough water to get to Hawaii. So we turned around. Safe but disappointed.
I’m getting blue water sailing experience. Fun is being had.
We had an exciting first day. We made a fantastic start, first across the line and first under the Golden Gate but then our lack of local knowledge caught up with us and we got passed by boats who knew the winds and currents better. Part of our lack of local knowledge led to us having the wrong sail combo up and so we ended up doing six sail changes on my watch: from the #3 to the #1, then back to #3, then back to #1, then #3, then a reef, then a second reef. Now we have been moving along in sometimes gale winds and confused seas. Moving around below can only be done by hanging off the monkey bars, making me wish I’d focused more on upper body strength at the gym :)
We spent the day driving around and around Alameda, Oakland, and San Leandro buying a lot of groceries and a lot of dry ice. Cans are good because they keep; soft cheese is bad because it does not. Everything has been loaded onto the boat and tucked away in cubbyholes, our diesel is topped up, our water is topped up — we are ready to go. Our start is 11am PDT tomorrow and so tonight we’re just vegging out and trying to stock up on sleep because we won’t have a lot for the next two weeks.
The Pacific High is very stable and the hurricanes to the south are going to dissipate to the west, so everything is looking good for a fun and fast race.
I’m headed off to Kaneohe, Hawaii as crew on a J/42 named Velocity doing the Pacific Cup race. Here’s a picture of us sailing on the Columbia River.
We should have a great time and, satphone willing, I’ll post a few pictures along the way.