One Characteristic of a Good Leader

One characteristic of a good leader, perhaps the most important characteristic, is whether others will follow him or her. And one excellent indication of that is when the leader moves to another company or another role inside the same company, do people want to follow him? I’ve worked with some excellent leaders whom I would follow anywhere, such as Patrick MoranDave Thomas, and Dave Pellerin (if any of these people offer you a job, I highly recommend that you jump at the chance!)

I’m also pleased to say that many excellent engineers and managers have wanted to follow me as I’ve taken on new challenges: I’m honored by their vote of confidence, and I always strive to live up to their expectations. Most recently a few top people from my past have joined me in my new role as CTO at InVision, and by combining them with the existing excellent engineering teams …, well, we’re just going to have a lot of fun building another great high-performance organization.


Life is too short to be working for poor leaders, so take a look around and see if you can find a good one; and one clue is whether others want to follow them.


The sun has set, the moon is up, the tall volcanos are glowing ghostly white up ahead. It’s still light but the light is fading and the dark purple is thickening on the ground. Soon it will reach up and engulf Superboy and I’ll need to turn on the lights but not yet, not yet, …

Collaborative Pre-Reads for Meetings

Like many engineers, one of my goals is to have as few meetings as possible. Not quite zero meetings because there are good reasons to have meetings but the key is to avoid the useless ones. Useless meetings are ones whose goals are better accomplished with some other mechanism — with the status meeting being the worst offender in the useless category. That weekly meeting where you go around the room, listening to each person talk about what they’ve done, most of which you already know, none of which you care that much about, everybody knows it’s a waste of time and yet they still occur.

In my organization, we don’t do status meetings: we only do decision meetings (and occasionally an alignment meeting). My philosophy is to make the best use of everyone’s time, all the time, and the best use of highly-intelligent humans is analyzing a situation and making a decision. Those are useful meetings.

But in order to make a decision, we need information (status), so I’m not saying that status is inherently bad, only that status meetings are inherently bad. So instead of status meetings, we communicate status with written pre-reads for status-like information, and then we jump off from there in our discussions and decisions. Some companies, such as (famously) Amazon, use this same mechanism but start each meeting with the reading of the pre-reads: I instead simply insist that everyone come prepared by having done the reading. Nobody fails to do the reading more than once.

Being a modern SaaS organization and fully in the cloud, we actually go one step further than simply having pre-reads: we use the collaborative editor Quip to write our pre-reads. This shared collaborative writing mechanism allows us to read and comment on each other’s pre-reads, and then revise and clarify our own contribution based on each other’s comments, all at our own pace and time. All of this is done in advance of the meeting and thus we arrive with a shared understanding of the status of the issues (because we’ve read all the pre-reads), as well as a complete understanding of the issues (because we’ve asked for clarifications via the Quip commenting mechanism), and are ready to dive into the discussion.

And because we come prepared, our meetings are enjoyable, efficient, and productive.

The Cultivate Conference

I am pleased to have convinced O’Reilly to bring back the cultivate_logo_150x57Cultivate conference as place for engineering leaders to discuss and collaborate on how to be better engineering leaders. As I said in my introductory comments: “I believe great engineers deserve great managers” and that “management is a career you choose, not something you’re promoted into”. We all want to do great things and we can only do that when we are supported and a big aspect of that support is your manager and the company culture.

The lineup was outstanding including Liza Daly, CTO of Safari, and Molly Graham, COO of Quip, as well as, at my insistence, plenty of time for the attendees to talk and learn from each other. (I’m big on learning from one’s peers: my annual internal-to-New-Relic engineering conference is all about making the social connections to be maximally efficient throughout the year.)

There are hundreds of conferences every year where developers can learn to be better developers or architects can learn to be better architects, but almost none where managers can learn to be better managers and create a better company culture: hence the need for Cultivate.

I look forward to more.

Advice for Software Engineers

As Zack from Github says “You can have the best, most comprehensive test suite in the world, but tests are still different from production”, amen! — and he says a lot of other useful things as well:

Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbApr 19, 2015, 10:58 pm 
move fast & break nothing by @holman

Twenty-two good pieces of advice for software engineers including:

  • Everything takes longer than you think.
  • Fix the known errors, then see what’s left.
  • Assume no coincidences.
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbApr 21, 2015, 1:45 pm 
Lessons Learned in Software Development

Advice for New CEOs

From American CEO, fifteen essential CEO skills:

  1. Attracting Employees
  2. Retaining Employees
  3. Employee Development
  4. Communication
  5. Leadership
  6. Sales Knowledge
  7. Operational Knowledge
  8. Financial Knowledge
  9. Regulation and Governance Knowledge
  10. Market and Customer Knowledge
  11. Tying Strategy to Execution
  12. Attention to Detail
  13. Anticipate Organizational Needs
  14. Emotional Intelligence
  15. Build the Culture
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbApr 21, 2015, 7:46 pm 
The Top 15 Essential CEO Skills – The American CEO

And then, from one of the smartest, most inspiring, CEOs I know:

Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbApr 22, 2015, 12:05 am 
From @patrickmoran “Go. Big. Always.” – in everything you do, just go big.

Victimhood, SaaS Startups, and Books

Unfortunately, I’ve definitely met these people:

Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbApr 10, 2015, 10:29 am 
Wait, I’ve met this person before!

From the article: “There’s a familiar path now to SaaS companies that start in the SMB (small-to-medium business) part of the market. Over time, they seem to inevitably begin serving larger customers. Box, Hubspot, Zendesk and among many others have exhibited this pattern. Why does this happen?”

Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbApr 10, 2015, 1:02 pm 
The Innovator’s Dilemma for SaaS Startups via @ttunguz

This is my model for feedback: frequent, followed up with writing, augmented with coaching, and always honest:

nigel carrsohonyApr 10, 2015, 4:01 am 
“How to Build a Culture of Continuous Feedback” by @peeps_first – every company needs leaders who really live this:

And finally, this statement is just too true. It’s not just because I’m a reader and prefer a book or a written report over a movie or a webcast, but because if you’re busy you can read a book incrementally:

Book RiotBookRiotApr 11, 2015, 1:00 am 
Too Busy To Watch a Movie? Read A Book:

Indieweb Experiment Not So Successful

My Indieweb experiment hasn’t been as successful as I wanted, mostly because I now realize that each of the different media I write in has a different purpose and thus trying to unify them all in blog posts is a mistake. So on to the next phase of the experiment which is that I’m going to still re-post some of my short-form entries here, but only the best of them.

Fun Tweets

Leonard NimoyTheRealNimoyJan 11, 2015, 2:29 am 
Don’t smoke. I did. Wish I never had. LLAP
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbFeb 28, 2015, 5:05 pm 
Thanks @ATT, you make me feel less and less like a valued customer every minute I’m on hold and every time you transfer me to another agent.
Terry W. VirtsAstroTerryFeb 28, 2015, 3:58 pm 
Hacker NewsnewsycombinatorMar 1, 2015, 5:01 am 
8cc: A Small C Compiler
EliEliLangerMar 1, 2015, 5:12 pm 
There are 2 kinds of people in this world.
You had one job_youhadonejobMar 3, 2015, 12:34 am 
I’m not sure that’s a kitten.
Scott HanselmanshanselmanMar 4, 2015, 3:08 am 
Me: “What are your life goals?”
7 yr old: “Well! In fact, I…”
Me: “Growing a tail is not a goal.”
7: “Oh. Then I have no goals.”
Wil WheatonwilwMar 5, 2015, 3:15 am 
My cat is doing this new thing where she hides behind my monitor on my desk, and randomly scares the shit out of me by swiping at my hand.
SciencePornSciencePornMar 6, 2015, 1:42 am 
This will be the greatest Pi Day ever in the American history, spread the word!
The VergevergeMar 7, 2015, 6:51 am 
A ninja cat riding a fire-breathing unicorn is exactly why Microsoft is cool again
JessedagraffmanMar 7, 2015, 10:33 pm 
Adam Rosko and I will be doing a short tribute to the legend himself before the show. I hope to see you. #LLAP

ClassicPicsHistory_PicsMar 8, 2015, 12:01 am 
Dr. Seuss is credited with inventing the word “Nerd.”
Swiftsure Yacht RaceSwiftsureRaceMar 8, 2015, 12:39 am 
Velocity, racing up to Vic the Oregon Offshore crowd, then out to Cape Flattery and Back. Nice!
Dr. Sheldon CooperTheRealSheldonCFeb 28, 2015, 3:38 pm 
Google: Earth
Apple: Air
Amazon: Fire
Microsoft: Really needs to make something called water…
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 9, 2015, 2:43 am 
The Cost of Paying Attention: “The benefits of silence are huge.” – I couldn’t agree more.
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 11, 2015, 12:10 am 
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 11, 2015, 12:14 am 
Parable of the Polygons – a playable post on 2D light and dark
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 11, 2015, 10:32 pm 
“Yeah, but it’s more accurate than just to say “Legal” …”
Conrad HackettconradhackettMar 12, 2015, 12:23 am 
Terry PratchettterryandrobMar 12, 2015, 3:06 pm 
Mitch EdgeworthmitchedgeworthMar 12, 2015, 9:34 pm 
This is the best photo ever taken of Terry Pratchett, and indeed one of the best photos ever taken of anybody
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 13, 2015, 3:27 pm 
Scott HanselmanshanselmanMar 13, 2015, 3:25 pm 
I was just humming a song on the way to work, but then I stopped because I was concerned Marvin Gaye’s family would think it familiar.
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 15, 2015, 9:08 pm 
One of my all-time favorite Doonesburys: “hold on, here’s another slip”
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 19, 2015, 2:35 pm 
Adding color to a Billy bookcase – IKEA Hackers
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 22, 2015, 5:50 pm 
Why We Should Design Some Things to Be Difficult to Use
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 22, 2015, 6:04 pm 
Health And How To Lose Weight Once via @PDXcrossfit
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 22, 2015, 6:15 pm 
“and that’s when the world will finally appreciate the talent of sharks”
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 25, 2015, 12:12 am 
“Of all toys, the one that best prepared me for life was Fischer-Price Activity Center”
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 25, 2015, 3:55 am 
Mars rover Opportunity completed its first Red Planet marathon with a finish time of roughly 11 years and two months.
Book RiotBookRiotMar 27, 2015, 1:00 am 
“If you don’t read, the flirting is over.” That’s right, t-shirt. That’s right.
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 27, 2015, 7:00 pm 
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbMar 29, 2015, 2:11 am 
How To Cope With Success: “Failure opens minds; success closes them.”
Gregorgr2mMar 13, 2015, 6:19 pm 
The quote, that will go down in history. @lrnrd in her talk about nothing: #concat15
Amazing Maps Amazing_MapsApr 3, 2015, 12:06 am 
What’s on the other side of the ocean?
SciencePorn SciencePornApr 4, 2015, 5:26 am 
Love this.
Mama SapphySapphykinzApr 4, 2015, 6:28 pm 
Dragons are often considered evil. This however isn’t always the case, it’s often a misunderstanding.
Like so!
Bjorn Freeman-Bensonbjorn_fbApr 5, 2015, 8:12 pm 
I regret ever buying the DroboFS. It has just never worked well = years of stress about backups. Unhappy.
plus one reply tweet 1 (included for completeness)