Management Wondering why we are here

The Seven Circles of Meeting Hell

First Circle: THE SLOPPY AND THE UNPREPARED Meetings start late and run over. Attendees have not read the pre-supplied material, so we spend most of the time answering questions we had already answered elsewhere.

Second Circle: THE DISTRACTED Meetings where attendees are not paying attention to the meeting. They sit there on their phones and computers, working elsewhere. No one is clear about why they are here, but they don’t really care because they’re busy doing something else.

Third Circle: THE ONE MORE THINGERS The humans who wait until the meeting is over to raise a trivial issue because they feel they need to be heard and why not – sure – let’s fill the time with uselessness because you like to be heard and/or must have the last word.

Fourth Circle: THE RELITIGATORS Decisions already made are randomly reintroduced and relitigated because the seven hours we already spent litigating this decision clearly were not enough. They think the value is the debate and not forward progress.

Fifth Circle: THE EXPLAINERS A handful of humans lecture endlessly. We listen, wondering when we’ll be able to add to the conversation, which is a time that will never arrive because lecturers don’t listen.

Sixth Circle: THE ALL THE TIMERS We meet all the time. Daily. Because the belief is that progress can only be made via the very same meeting. This is literally their only leadership move.

Seventh Circle: THE FOREVER ENDLESS EMPTINESS ETERNALS Endless debate with no decisions. The reason why we showed up to meet is never addressed. We talk in circles. Forever.

Rands Every single day

10 Things I Love & Why

  1. AirPods Pro. First, I told myself I’d only include one Apple product on this list, and this is it. Here’s how to sell this product to your friends. First, show them how to properly insert them in their ears (many folks do this incorrectly) and then have them turn on noise cancellation. Boom.
  2. Rapha Merino Longsleeve. I’m a biased biker, and yes, Rapha is not the cheapest Merino you can purchase, but these intensely breathable shirts are my go-to base layer during the cold winter months.
  3. Field Notes Book Darts. The stack of books beside my desk is a calm anchor in a world of Elon-nonsense and failing democracies. Field Note’s Book Darts is ‘”[T]he fusion of a bookmark and a paperclip” and one of my favorite discoveries of the year.
  4. The Overstory. Simply the best fictional book on trees you’ll find. Soon to be a Netflix series from, uh, David Benioff and DB Weiss. Ignore that last part; buy the book and read it.
  5. Studio Hinrichs Typography Calendar. This has been on the list for over a decade because learning about typography is forever.
  6. Orange Mint Lifesavers. Trust me.
  7. Plae shoes. Specifically the Marten Anatese. I’m trying to remove all socks from my life, and these shoes are helping. Also, tying shoes is boring.
  8. Fenix Flashlight. This flashlight fits in your pocket and has three brightness settings: bright, brighter, and unholy bright. I purchased three and use them all time.
  9. Melin baseball cap. Aside from good design, my primary requirement for a hat is, “I AM NOT PAYING YOU TO ADVERTISE YOUR PRODUCT.” Melin does have lightweight branding on its popular tops, but it’s subtle.
  10. Anker USB C 120W Charger Port. Grab your MacBook, plug it into the 100W port and watch. Turns out all these extra watts are important. Must have travel accessory.

(Note: some of the sites listed above provide me a kickback. I’ll be donating all kickbacks to charity — specifically the National Alliance on Mental Illness.)

Rands It's all very human

The Quest for Interesting X

The almost immediate challenge with the introduction of the Internet presented was, “How do I find X?” Now, the actual first challenge was, “I wonder if X exists in this new world,” but that’s still “How do I find X?”

This quest made search services the killer app of the Internet. AltaVista was a thing for a bit, and then Yahoo’s curated list was the cool, but Google won. This is why you now ask, “Did you Google it?”

Google’s dominance has been challenged, but I’d argue Google is still king of the hill when it comes to “How do I find X?” Thing is, there is so much X out there; the challenge evolved. It was no longer, “How do I find X?” it became something like, “How do I find the best X?” or perhaps, “How do I find the X that most appeals to me?”

The evolution of the challenge created an opportunity for a new kind of service. It wasn’t where to find the people; it was where to find the people who knew about the stuff. Yes, it is nice to find people you knew in the real world, but it was also beneficial to find newly aligned humans who shared your interests. Together, we collectively did the hard work of finding new interesting stuff and sharing it hither and fro.

And this is when it went sideways.

The issue is one of incentives.

You are incentivized to find like humans. You are willing to spend time sharing interesting things with these humans. You’re usually equally glad to see what they find. You share thoughts, hopes, and dreams, and it’s all very human.

Services were designed to facilitate this discovery and sharing. Lots of them. I signed up for most of them, and I’d first explore the question, “Are my humans here?” If I get a hint of a yes, I remain and invest. If it felt empty, I’d pat myself on the back for grabbing my handle and never log in again.

Infrequently, a service checked all the boxes. Yes, my people are here. Yes, they are active. Yes, I’m also learning new things at scale and sharing them. In these rare situations, it appeared to be a positive feedback loop because the more we believed our people were there, the more people showed up, and the more we believed, “Well, everyone is now here.”

The content, the interesting things, flowed. It was a wonderful time.

The issue is one of incentives.

The services providing these connections and content quickly acquire high costs. They are businesses, and businesses must prove they can grow, like, forever. So it begins: they need money, so they advertise. Why don’t they charge for access to service? It’s because more people would leave if they charged than if they started to advertise. It’s because “free” feels better than paid. It’s because advertising can be framed in the same way as the reason you came to the service, “Because we know who you like, we can share goods and services that we know you’ll like.”

Sounds too good to be true, right? It is. You’re soaking in it.

So, forever growth must be proven, advertising must fund forever growth, so advertising must continually increase. This means you, the person just looking for Interesting X, must be incentivized to see and click on more relevant advertisements. The services need more data to provide more relevant advertisements and fund forever growth. These services require you to engage more.

They’ve already helped you find your people, and you’ve already helped them out by providing your social graph and high-affinity content for this graph, but they need more because of forever growth. You already see ads, and perhaps you’ve clicked on some of them, but now you start seeing “content we think you’ll like.”

Suppose I had to pick a feature in social networks that represented the downfall of social networks — this is it. I arrived because I believed my aligned humans were here. I stayed because I found them, and we began the process of mutually beneficial sharing of interesting things. The service needed to prove forever growth, so they started providing ads, and when that wasn’t enough, they showed You-Might-Like content.

The issue is one of incentives.

You-Might-Like content is not content I discovered or my network discovered; it is content designed by robots to get me to engage. When I don’t engage, the robots notice and find something else. When I engage, the robots notice, and they find more content. It’s a feedback loop that incentives the robots to find ever increased engaging content, and, you guessed it, the content I’ll engage with most is the content that angers me the most. And what happens when I engage? The robots find me more, and I become more angry.

There is a lot to like about robot-generated content. When I’m shopping on Amazon, I’m A-OK with the robots alerting me to other flavors of Lifesavers. Thanks. Orange Mint Lifesavers were a real find. When I’m wandering the thoughts and dreams of my trusted humans, I don’t need the robots. Ever.

This issue is one of choice.

I’ve been a fan of Twitter since the early days: November 2006. Unlike Facebook, which I left a couple of years ago for the reasons described above, I’ve remained on Twitter. This is partially because I don’t avidly read Twitter much except, you know, during insurrections and other world-changing events. I dabble and find bits now and then, but Twitter hasn’t been where I find the most interesting things.

My primary interesting things sources are:

  • A handful of channels on the Rands Leadership Slack and a private Mac Nerd Slack
  • Three Messages groups with close friends
  • RSS feeds I peruse on Feedly

Another reason I’ve stayed is that I mostly use a legacy version of Tweetdeck, and for reasons I don’t understand, there have never been ads there. There are no robots. This means my feeds are exclusively humans and the institutions I’ve chosen to follow. Conversely, I have a moderately sized following where I can share my thoughts and things I’ve written and built.

I’ve been trying to reverse engineer the intent of Twitter’s new leadership, and the kindest way I can describe it is chaos because chaos is engaging. It’s like a soap opera except with… people’s livelihoods on the line. I’m sure Twitter engagement is through the roof, but that’s because the building’s on fire and who doesn’t like spectating a disaster in progress?

Twitter’s not going anywhere. As with every company, a handful of quiet, unassuming, and talented humans keep it running. I’m not deleting my account, but I’m removing Twitter from the cycle of things I check for interesting things. I’ve dusted off my Mastodon account (@[email protected]), and I’m doing what I always do: finding my people because…

The killer app is the list of humans you choose to trust.

Rands A worthy cause

The Goldberg

The Rands “R” started many years ago as this:

I’ve been toying with branding, design, color, and other marketing elements for the site for years. I remember spending a couple of weekends trying to get a good picture of the weave of my favorite beanie as background for the site. That’d didn’t go well.

I don’t recall why Cyan caught my attention, but it became the glyph for the site. Many years later, Gruber commented, “It’s you. It reminds me of a slightly untucked dress shirt.”

High praise.

As I wrote about over four years ago, I updated the R with the help of the design skills of Collin Roe-Raymond, a former co-worker and always fantastic designer. He built what we now call Super Cyan and some other variants.

I thought about the new R as I thought about this year’s charity shirt. I was also thinking about what has been the most successful shirt in the growing catalog of Rands t-shirts which is: The Zone

We combined the Super Cyan R with the Flow ascetic into a design we dubbed Goldberg (See: Rube Golderberg). Look closely at Goldberg; many Rands greatest hits are hidden amongst the intricate design.

As with all shirts, all profits for this shirt go to National Alliance for Mental Illness. Between now and the end of the year, I’ll 2x match all profits for all shirts for this worthy cause.

Have a great holiday season.

Tech Life Work hours versus life hours

The Seven Levels of Busy

Level 1: NOT BUSY My schedule is wide open. I can choose infinite paths. Zero commitments. The weekend. I sleep like a baby. Life is good, but am I living my best life?

Level 2: STUFF TO DO I have a few commitments wandering around my brain. They are reasonable, knowable, and not deadline-based. I can keep track of everything in my head.

Level 3: SIGNIFICANT COMMITMENTS I have enough commitments that I need to keep track of them in a tool because I can no longer organically triage. My calendar is a thing I check infrequently, but I do check it to remind myself of the flavor of this particular day.

Level 4: AT CAPACITY My to-do and my calendar are full. I frequently have to make “What is more important?” decisions to help me figure out where to invest my time. There is no unscheduled time, but I continue to feel on top of things. Inbox zero maintained.

Level 5: CRACKS IN THE FACADE I tell myself I’m on top of all the things, but there are early signs of excessive work. This is when Inbox Zero fails. I know daily surprises could be avoided if I had… just a bit more time. I start saying “I’m sorry” a lot. Stuff isn’t getting dropped, but execution becomes sloppy.

Level 6: CRUSHING COMMITMENTS The incoming amount of things are beyond my ability to triage them. Change is constant. Just saying “No” to inbound things is not enough. Stuff is falling on the floor, and I’m not noticing. Work hours spill into life hours. Tired.

Level 7: UNSUSTAINABLE I live minute to minute. Eating and other necessities are shoved in-between things, but eating and other necessities are frequently neglected. To-do lists do not help me here because I do not have time to maintain them. My calendar changes from hour to hour. It is clear by how I walk how busy I am. I get a lot of unintentional “He’s screwed” looks. Zero work-life balance. This is not sustainable.

Management It just feels fair

Better, Faster, and More

I’m rewriting The Business for the next book. This piece is almost 15 years old, much has changed in negotiating an offer letter, and I have more advice on how to analyze those offers. So much advice that I am idea paralyzed™ trying to rewrite this piece.

So, this is just a section of the update to The Business, which I’ll be grafting onto the new version. Given this approach, there’s an entire introduction that I’m assuming you’ve read, but here’s your cheat sheet for now: you’ve just received an offer from my hypothetical company.

And scene.

And then we have the conversation. It’s either you and I or you and the recruiter. We present the offer’s details and explain each part of your compensation package. When we’re done, there is a short pause because that was a lot of information. You might take a moment, take a day, but you eventually come back and say something like, “I’d like more base salary.”

No problem. Of course, we’re expecting negotiation. Of course. We don’t know which part of the package you’ll want to negotiate, but unless we’ve pre-negotiated the offer as part of the interview process (it happens), we always expect a response. However, your response will always receive a response. We are going to ask some form of “Why do you want a higher base salary?”

“It just feels fair.”

If you’ve been a hiring manager and received this type of justification, I want you first to take a deep breath. It does read… unhelpful, but there is a signal there, and it’s not the word you think. More on this shortly.

Let’s start with one word: fair. What might this mean? Fair could mean “fair compared to other similar companies with similar job levels.”

Right, so you know that the job of Engineer 3 at my Company is the same as a Senior Engineer at Company XYZ. Furthermore, you know the salary ranges for Engineer 3 and Senior Engineer are roughly equivalent. Finally, you have a friend who recently received an offer at Company XYZ for Senior Engineer, and you believe that you and your friend have the same experience.

First, I want to acknowledge that you’ve done this research, and having this data at the ready is a good thing. I want you to do more of this work because that is the entire point of this chapter, but right now, I want to talk about your single data point and how little it tells you in this scenario.

  • Are these job levels the same? What does that even mean? Are you saying these two companies value precisely the same skills and experience in the same way? That seems unlikely. But, ok…
  • Are you suggesting the salary ranges for these jobs are the same in different companies? There are companies out there who do market research to determine how much companies are paying individuals at different levels, and this is interesting data, but how do these research levels apply to the levels at my company? Also, how much time had passed between when this research was done and manifested in the salary range for this level? High-tech hires aggressively, and salary ranges are often adjusted to make Company A more attractive than Company B. But, ok…
  • How big is your friend’s company? Is it big? Is your data point from precisely the same team? No? Is it a different team? Are they beholden to the same salary guidelines and philosophy as your offer? Are you sure? The bigger the company, the more different executives land different compensation philosophies. Some teams are eager to hire and increase offers to make them more attractive. Other teams recognize that varying compensation philosophies are fundamentally unfair and go to extreme lengths to ensure all candidates receive the same offer for the same job for candidates with the same experience. But, ok…
  • Is your data point from your friend’s company at a different growth stage? How do you even compare your big company offer, primarily stock, to a big public company offer, which is a knowable blend of base salary, bonus, and publicly traded stock, to a start-up where the stock is a mostly unknown quantity, and they’re trying to conserve cash?

Your single data point tells you the data from one other talented individual and how one other company values their ability. Unless your offer is from the same company for the same role on the same team, deltas just in base salary aren’t anything other than expected. Big deltas. Thousands of dollars deltas. Single data points are not apple-to-apple comparisons.

My point of this breakdown is to give you context. The factors that go into the construction of an offer are many. Some of these are easy to discern, and some are tucked away in the values of biases of a company.

But fair isn’t really what I see in “It just feels fair.” What I read is, “But I want more.” More is good. Who doesn’t want more? I sure do. It’s not your best work, but there is a glimmer of a goal in this awkwardly simple sentence. It would be best if you were striving for more in your new role, but I think your job goals needs more definition, so I’ll tell you mine…

Better, Faster, and More

I want a better job. I want a role providing me with challenges I have not seen before. I want to work with a diverse and talented team that, by just existing, teaches me new ideas and makes me better. I want a better company that has figured itself out and is heading, no, charging towards building the next thing.

I want to move faster in my career. I have been doing the same thing for the last three years, and I feel my career is decelerating because my daily learnings are decreasing over time. I always have the next goal for my career, and I want to have a job accelerating me towards that goal by providing me with new opportunities with new humans on different products. The speed with which I’m heading toward the next goal should be… breathtaking.

I want more. More accountability means more potential for the products I’ll be building. More visibility into how the product is built and how the company is shaped to support building the product. More features that help more humans.

You will note that nothing I listed under my Better, Faster, and More job goals mentions compensation. This is not because compensation isn’t essential; it’s because the things that will matter most in your next job have very little to do with how you are paid. We gravitate towards compensation as the measure for the next gig because it’s so wonderfully measurable and comparable. However, who you work with, how you build, and what you build are aspects of the job you should be assessing.

But how? There are no structured rubrics for evaluating and comparing people, processes, and products. This is why the best word in your response is “feel”. I know your feelings about the compensation, but how do you feel about the humans you will be working with? How do feel about how they work together? How do you feel about what they build and where they are going?

Feelings are observations collected, compiled into opinions, and finally transformed into an emotion. I want you to feel your offer is fair, but I want you to feel this is a fantastic opportunity for you to grow.