I was born on the cusp of the internet revolution. As a kid, my friends and I roamed the streets and were more or less off the grid. Once we left the house, we were untraceable. We had to run to a friends house or a pay phone (remember those?) to get in touch with a parent.
It takes effort to do that today. I take for granted that my phone is connected to the internet, my thermostat and smoke detector are internet connected and can be monitored from my phone. A few years ago, we cancelled cable and started using internet connected streaming devices like the Apple TV and Amazon Fire stick.
Basically, our lives are centered around devices that connect to the internet. They are invisible and ingrained in our daily lives.
But, while we are blissfully watching TV and zoning out, our TVs are watching us and reporting back to the mother ship.
I have submitted proposals to talk at quite a few technology conferences. I’ve gotten “thanks, but no thanks” emails from those conferences a few times, too. Looking back, some of the proposals were just plain bad. They didn’t tell the story I wanted, and didn’t get the value proposition across. I’d like to share a couple of lessons, mostly from mistakes I have made. Some of them might increase your chances of being accepted.
What makes a good conference talk proposal, and what does the process CFP process look like?
Your company is in trouble when people start quitting managers.
I have quit jobs to stop what felt like stagnation and find a place where I could develop relevant skills. I have quit jobs to get promotions and pay raises. And, I have quit jobs just because I felt like it was time for a change. Leaving was the most unpleasant though when I had to quit a manager.
There is a popular saying that goes something like “people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers”. I think that is an over simplification. People only quit managers when something is really wrong. I want to share a couple of stories of when I quit managers so maybe you can notice the patterns before it’s too late.
Other Person: (entire category of problem or job) Is going to go away with the rise of Machine Learning.
Matt: That’s interesting. What algorithm would you use to solve the problem? How would you encode it?
Other Person: That’s the beauty part. The Artificial Intelligence teaches itself!
On a bad day, AI can seem a like magic, think of thing that fills in the question mark in the classic SouthPark skit – “Step 1 – steal underpants. Step 2 – ?. Step 3 – Profit!”
Of course, there is no magic. AI and Machine learning can just do the same thing a human will do, only much faster, many more times, over a much larger dataset.
Let’s talk about how that works, starting with a machine learning algorithm you can perform by hand. Continued »
For me the idea of serving as an employee has always felt a bit surreal.
I did not want a day job.
From my first technology job I wanted to build something for myself, to strike out on my own.
I’ve been freelancing for nearly two years now.
I still do not want a boss, or to have to be in a cubicle at a certain time every day, or deal with performance reviews. None of it. Frankly the idea of going back to that at this point is terrifying. I’ve essentially spent the last two years getting to work the way I want because my clients trust me.
On January first of 2017, I went back to being an employee again, but without the downsides I’ve listed above.
I would like to tell you why, and how I got here.
But first, how I started freelancing.
I have been privy to a few conversations around the topic of career progression lately. Maybe it is the time of year. It is almost time for performance reviews. People with full time jobs are probably wondering if they are getting a raise and how much that will be. And also if they will get bequeathed with a shiny new title. Something that will really let the others know who’s who around there.
Careers are important to people. Or more specifically, the question of where do I go from here is important to people.
Last week I touched on what I think it means to be a Senior technologist. This week I want to talk about what a career ladder is for people that work in technology.
Test IO is a Crowdsourced testing company. Based in Berlin, Germany – the company also has offices in San Francisco. It was as VP of engineering for Lithium Technologies, working to make CRM Software Social, that Phil Soffer saw the opportunity for Crowdsourcing. One of his visceral memories at Lithium was working on a challenging project, getting it to be successful, then losing the idea of that success when a handful of unhappy people called the senior executive team to complain about a bug.
If only those teams had quick access to testers, on-demand, a faucet they could turn on and off just prior to release — they could have found those problems.
When Phil was asked to head a Crowdsource testing startup-up, his answer was yes.
Figuring out rank in the Boy Scouts is easy. You get this number of merit badges, complete these projects, do a review board and presto. The work isn’t easy of course, but at least the boundaries are clear for people that want to progress. Ranking in the workforce is a complete mystery. It is more social than earning a badge. The number of blog posts trying to describe how to advance in a company hierarchy is testament to that. Regularly talking with people and doing the occasional interview has driven this point home for me.
I had a senior person on the phone more than once that couldn’t describe the work they were doing, and they couldn’t tell me about where they fit in the project. Despite years of experience, by the end of the call I definitely thought they were closer to intern than architect.
I have a few soft expectations of people when they claim to be senior.
A few years ago I visited a company in West Michigan that had graphs on all the walls. Graphs everywhere; very impressive.
Then I looked at one.
It was a percentage on on-time project delivery chart for the past year – and it looked something like this:
The typical response to this is probably either excitement (they are doing the best humanly possible!) or disbelief, or perhaps, a small chance the company actually managed to hit dates by cutting scope. My response was a little different.
I saw waste. Continued »
How long does it take for process transformation to work? To a reach critical mass at a company for the amount of people that will not just abide by the new rules, but believe in them.
For Holocracy, that number seems to be about five years. If it can catch on at all. Five years later, Zappos seems to be struggling to keep the vision of Holocracy alive. Employees feel like the management system is designed to empower process (and maybe process consultants) instead of people. Under Holocracy, meetings have a particular flow and style that can not be interrupted. And, new roles have to created and documented for each task that might need to be completed. It seems that rather than helping people develop software in a sustainable way, Holocracy has become the Borg from Star Trek.
Holocracy might be irredeemably bad (if it were good there would be other large, public case studies aside from Zappos, right?), but I’m not sure that is why it is taking so long to catch on. Process change is like changing the direction of a large boat. It takes a long time and a lot of people.
Let me explain.