Software is in a sort of heyday right now, a new tech stack or programming library is popping up almost daily. It seems like most business ideas now start with tech and then work backwards to the customer experience.
I spent last week in Atlanta visiting with a client and talking at a conference with my co-blogger, Matt Heusser. The night before the conference there was a nice speakers dinner. It was a chance for people to relax a little before speaking (if you get the pre-talk terrors, you know what I mean here), and also a way for the organizers to reward the contributors. After the conference, we had a smaller get together with the client to talk about current projects and working together in the future.
That reminded me of a comment from Steve Jobs after a sharp question from an audience member at one of his presentations.
After working as a writer for Forbes and later Newsweek, Dan was let go at fifty-two, and spent a year at Hubspot. His book Disrupted My Misadventures in the Start-Up Bubble tells that story.
This is my take on that story, my takeaways … and a few ideas for you.
I have been noticing a pattern in contract staffing lately, it usually starts with an emergency. The client needs an expert with a very specific skill set, and they need that person now. But wait, there’s more. There are almost always constraints on this that make the person nearly impossible to find. The candidate needs 10 years of experience, they need to be located in the south west region of the United States, and they need to be available to start working a full time contract as soon as possible.
This seems like a gold mine to the person trying to get the gig. They are rare and they know it. My bet though is that these emergency staffing efforts either fall through completely before the job starts, or don’t work out after a few weeks.
Let’s take a closer look at the emergency and the problem that got the client there.
Sometimes, when we talk about office jerks, a story comes to mind. It happened over the course of a week. Over and over again I saw the same type of behaviors, and finally did something about it. It’s a story about my values, and my behaviors, but also others – and one I have learned enough about to share here.
Far Away And Some Time Ago … Continued »
One way to make your team faster, is to chop a few people out and move them to other parts of the company while still requiring the same output.
There are lots of stories and legends surrounding Toyota Production Systems and Lean creator, Taiichi Ohno. In one story, he was implementing a cost reduction strategy for Toyota. There was a team of people, let’s say it was 100 to make the story easier to tell. Taiichi cut ten people from the team and sent them to other parts of the plant. This staff changed cut production on the team by 10%. The goal wasn’t to slow things down of course. When he cut staff, he also left them with command to rise back to their previous levels of production. If the team managed to do that, they had successfully found and removed some sort of waste from their process.
Taiichi was not known for being a gentle guy.
I am seeing this same pattern of cost cuts in software teams over the past few years. Unfortunately that usually isn’t followed with the same reasoning and depth.
I read a news story this morning about one persons experience working at HubSpot, a company that seems to drip ‘startup’. The story mostly follows Dan’s first day of touring the office and meeting new co workers. The tour was a walk through isles of ‘cool’ looking young people with styled hair and fashionable clothes, nap rooms with hammocks and music rooms for people to blow off steam, and gaming areas with foosball tables and video games.
I’ve been through that same tour a few of times now. At this point, I’m a little more salty and maybe not cynical but realistic. The article made me realize two things about startup culture.
I left my full time job to go freelance (or independent if you prefer) full time on April 1 of last year.
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to shed the traditional employer / employee relationship and strike out on my own. I wanted to build something for myself instead of someone else, and more importantly wanted to jump in to projects and add value now instead of waiting for permission to start. With some help from Uncharted Waters co-blogger, Matt Heusser, I was finally able to take the jump around this time last year.
It has been a great adventure so far and of course with a little experience now I have a different view on independent life.
Customer service is one of the big reasons independent people like me stay deep in contracts.
About two months ago, I noticed a water spot growing on the kitchen ceiling. It took a surprising amount of trouble shooting to figure out that the source of the spot was not a cracked pipe or loose coupling. Part of that trouble shooting involved cutting a hole in the kitchen ceiling sheet rock to get a better view of what was happening.
The service we got from plumbers and the drywall guy that came out to patch the hole was incredible and reminded me of a couple important things.
- A hiring manager told me that occasionally he gets people who look great on paper, interview well, yet cannot do the work at all. He wanted a waiver on his contract, that if the person is let go within two weeks, they would pay nothing.
- A candidate we interviewed gave fantastic answers … until we asked for specifics about how to do the work.
- Another hiring manager told me that once the candidate gets to the interview, she throws away the resume, because they are so full of deception, she might as well start over.
I think I understand what is going on here, and I have a few ideas to help.
A few years ago, in graduate school, we studied market-basket analysis, where retail companies looked at the receipts to try to find patterns. At the time we called it Data Mining, but when you looked at the number of receipts we were talking about, thousands per day at hundreds of stores for a year, averaging a two dozen items or more … we might call this big data.
The claim was that the stores in the analysis, and found that late at night, customers tended to purchase beer and diapers together. The theory was that the beer was an impulse purchase made by a husband on a diaper run. The company began to put some beer next to the diapers, and boom sales went up. The success of this program led to more data warehouses, data mining, and, to some extent, inspired big data.
Except it isn’t true, or at least, not the way the story implies. The Register tracked down the story; it originated in 1992, at Osco Drug stores, that do not currently place beer near diapers. Most of the details of the story turned out to be false — for example, in graduate school I was told it was Meijer, a local mega store. At the time, the professor in my information systems policy class said there were “tons of” additional examples, but was unable to produce additional information.
The new generation of Data Mining is big data; data so large, and sometimes unstructured, that it needs to be processed in something less like a relational database and more like google. As one Microsoft employee at a conference put it to me last summer, the reason Facebook, Chrome, and other tools are free is to get your data. By monitoring media consumption, the advertisers will be able to serve up exactly what the customers wants, when they want it, delivered in such a way that the customer isn’t really even aware they are being sold.
Color me skeptical.
I doubt those tools can actually do what they promise to do. When Edward Snowden, the American Expatriate, is afraid of government surveillance, America tends to listen – but we seem to be ignoring the same risks when it comes to corporate data gathering.