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.
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.
My super cool geeky birthday present: a working Star Trek communicator. I love it.