Highlights from Managing Humans

”You must see the people who work with you.”

The presence of rigid, e-mail-based status reports comes down to control, a lack of imagination, and a lack of trust in the organization.

The courage it takes to stop this meeting five minutes into the scheduled hour because there is no discernible way to make progress.

It’s great that your freak has chosen to freak out. The alternative is that they’re not saying a thing and have decided to leave the company.

A meeting agenda would help, but as most meetings proceed without one, you’re on your own.

It’s a noble act, speaking your mind in front of all your peers. But it’s also a waste of time.

Roles and agendas in these meetings are simple. Talkers are talking and listeners are listening. Get it? There is no problem to be solved other than the transmission of information. The quicker it happens, the sooner everyone is back to work.

Exhibiting your power and knowledge as a manager isn’t always the best method of communicating.

Blindly landing process without considering the culture it needs to support it is a recipe for disaster.

Each additional person levies a communication tax, and unless we figure out how to constantly improve our communication, we’re just going to get slower.

Bright-and-shiny inflection points are full of energy, but unless that energy is carefully channeled back into the building and immediately acted upon, all an off-site represents is a frustrating opportunity to dream, but not to act.

Use the development environment to build the product. This means you must be familiar with your team’s tools, including the build system, version control, and programming language.

Process is the means by which your team communicates.

What I am saying is that any big decision, any big problem, deserves time and consideration.

I know there is no controlling the world, but I will fluidly surf the entropy by constantly changing myself.

The game here isn’t just overcommunication and Grapevine eradication; I’m still worried I missed something in the plan, and the status spamming is another means of vetting both the plan and the progress.

These people, called managers, don’t create product. They create process.

We all get shit work, but it’s the responsibility of the guy or gal in charge to dole this work out fairly and consistently.

Each week that passes where you don’t share the joy, despair, and discovery of software development is a week when you slowly forget what it means to be a software developer.

A strategic hire is someone who is going to push their agenda, their opinion.

A tactical hire is a person who is filling a well-defined need.

Your job interview isn’t over until you’ve changed to become part of a new team.

There are chronically negative nerds out there, but in my experience with nerd management, it’s more often the case that the nerd is bitter because they’ve seen this situation before four times, and it has played out exactly the same way.

Yeah, they’re going to argue, but it’s the argument you want your teams to have. It’s not a fear-based “Should we or shouldn’t we?” it’s “Let’s do this thing, let’s make sure it gets done, and let’s make sure it gets done right.”

As an aside, let me stress how bad of a career move it is to not know who you are going to be working for when you arrive. The 30-minute interview you have with your future manager is a critical piece of information when you decide whether or not to make a move.

My personal favorites are mechanical organics. These folks have all the slick tricks of organic information gathering, but they’ve got the astounding organization skills of the mechanic. They know everything and never forget a bit. I mean it. Organic mechanics are frightening. They have extreme depth of knowledge, but there is no obvious organic thread that ties it all together. Here’s the scary part. There is a thread. There is a purpose. They just aren’t letting you see it. Organic mechanics will keep you on your heels and just when you think you’ve figured them out, they’ll change everything. I hate that. I mean, I love that.

Wait, don’t these holistics have product to ship? No, they have multiple products, but they’ve hired rock-star inwards to get the products built to specification and on time so they can focus on figuring out what to build next and who they’re going to need to build it.

I’m not suggesting that outwards don’t care about the daily professional shenanigans within the company; they do, but they’ve also hired a group of rock-star holistics to run their company. The rub is this: while it’s not their job to run the company on a daily basis, they are accountable for it.

What you need to know about your manager is how much he cares about this growth and, more importantly whether he sees this as his growth opportunity or the team’s.

You are not that person, because once you are rewarded for releasing crap, you begin a blind walk down a path of mediocrity that ends up with you working at Computer Associates on a product no one has heard of and that no one cares about.

New beginnings

At the end of 2015 personal and professional changes made it clear to us that we would not continue Hubbub in its current form. That realization made me reorient myself in Berlin and refocus on my core skills as an engineer.

I set myself the goal to work on a significant product as part of a larger team. I thought it would be useful to change up my professional life which thusfar had consisted only of freelance and client work. A long story short, as of this week I’m employed as a software engineer at ResearchGate.

Product design focused on user wants

This post was previously published on Medium and is now archived here.

There’s some recent writing about the decomposition of apps into either thin slivers of single purpose functionality per app or even breaking out of the traditional app domain entirely and delivering their functionality through for instance the notifications screen.

I think both of these are onto something but that the trend itself is more fundamental. I think there are three things happening.

1. Apps can be decomposed into high-level user wants.

A want starts with “I want” and is followed by getting or creating something often accompanied by some social intermediation. Such a want could be “I want to send a message” or it could be “I want to read (and reply to) my messages” or it could be “I want to find a place to eat.”

These are not utilities. Most interesting apps these days are lifestyle apps. Focusing on a single want does not mean the app becomes easier to make. Implementing a want with its very specific functionality, appropriate context, user interface and communication may be even more difficult. A want is a summary of what used to be called ‘user stories’ but focused on what people want to do not on what people are supposed to do. At the risk of sounding obvious: people don’t want to do things they don’t want to do. The exception to this is work where people do things they don’t want to do. People want apps that bring them entertainment, social connections or self-actualisation.

2. Apps cannot support more than a couple of wants well.

Any app that tries to cram in more than a couple of wants from different domains starts to creak and feel cluttered. This looks like the main reason why Foursquare unbundled the totally disparate wants of local discovery “I want to find a good restaurant now” and that of social broadcasting “I want to tell my friends where I am.”

Such unbundling is becoming the norm because an app cannot do everything well without containing multiple apps. Just think back of Facebook’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink app with its own homescreen. The Facebook app itself is becoming more and more bare while wants are increasingly delivered by apps that don’t show they belong to Facebook.

This is a good indicator of what the future holds for these apps. I would for instance be surprised if complicated list management features would be a significant part of the future Foursquare mobile app. Lists do support local discovery but they will never have the mass appeal the app is focusing on.

3. Wants can be fulfilled anywhere you want.

This ties into Naveen’s piece about the notifications becoming the app. I would take this further and say that the app will be wherever people interact with a connected device. Building an app becomes a matter of translating a user want into the interaction affordances of a medium.

You could indeed read and reply to messages in a notification screen if that is where you spend your time. But soon you might do the same thing using the same app but on your connected watch. In a somewhat more distant future you might send a Yo! by slamming two IoT enabled rocks together.

The medium through which a want is fulfilled has become flexible. What matters is the want itself and appropriateness. A talented designer will figure out whether a translation makes sense and how to best implement it.

All in all this is a great development. Digital design is breaking out of screens enabling it to find us where we are and offer us the things we really want.

Loving the Vechtclub XL

A couple of weeks ago by now I finally got to visit our new office in the Vechtclub XL building in Utrecht. This turned out to be a great experience.

Office

One of the best aspects of the ‘club’ is that it offers an alternative to Utrecht’s terribly cramped and overpriced city center. Everybody wants to live and work in the Utrecht within the ‘singels’ but that privilege costs a lot of money and doesn’t give you a lot of quality of life. Only if you manage to strike a suitable property deal with the city you can do whatever the fuck you want.

Canteen

The Vechtclub XL is a fifteen minutes bike ride out of the city on a derelict business park, about here. There’s nearly nothing nearby which means the building needs to be self-sustaining. That necessity is actually causing that to happen. They are setting up a fully functional cafetaria with world class coffee and more facilities. Being there right now is not terrible. People make do with whatever they have already brought in and there are upsides such as somebody training for a barista championship, lunch being brought in once a week and other events being organized.

This is a continuation of a previous non-XL Vechtclub. Most of it has been funded by the people there who run it not as a cooperative —which looks to be vital. Development is autonomous and moves at a fast clip. The space which is already pretty great is improving continuously.

You can imagine that I was a bit envious and loathe to leave. The upside is that it’ll probably be all new again next time I get there.

Going down everywhere

I was looking around a bit to see if something similar is happening in Berlin or other places as well.

Adam Greenfield mentioned the Institut for (X) in Aarhus which looks very similar in its setup and goals. In Berlin there is the Alte Gießerei which is being converted into a similar setup. There are a bunch more spaces that do something in that direction but most of them do not manage to hit the scale or communal vibe that I try to describe above.

New Ways to Work: A Long Overdue Update to the Heist Model

I promised to write an update to the Heist Model a long time ago and never got around to it because of work and other stuff. Then recently conversations with friends moving back into the freelance life prompted this smaller update but it too had been languishing in a draft for far too long.

So now I’m resolving to get this out as a multi blogpost thing over the course of the coming week.

As a disclaimer, we at Hubbub are not working exactly like the model proposed above anymore. This is in part because the focus of our business has shifted towards consulting, but for any serious production work we do still work like that.

We have incorporated and thought up some innovative ways to structure the business within the Dutch/German framework we live in. I’ll come back to that later.

We have also seen too many of our friends change their businesses or suspend their operations to prompt serious reflection on our part. That reflection is ongoing but the way we are organized contributes to our optimistic view of the future.

The Heist Model was meant to be a way for sole proprietors to work together and to think bigger. I think those things are still necessary. During the next days we’ll first treat the standard options that are open to freelancers and why they don’t really fit before we dive into an alternative way of doing things.

We don’t need saddles nor do we need faster horses

We just switched over to Slack and we are quite happy with the tool as a replacement for our previous Hipchat setup. It all feels a bit fresher, it’s easier to integrate with the rest of the web and has more functionality and niceties built in.

I did have this frustrating twitter conversation with them about what I think is an important topic:

The problem is that it is difficult to use these tools if you are part of several organizations. The way people work these days I could be part of a dozen or more companies and non-profits. Slack is a bit more flexible and it allows quick switching between logged in organizations. What it doesn’t give you is an integrated view of your channels across organizations.

The way we use Slack may be different from most others people. We use it both to coordinate intensively around projects in private rooms, but besides that we have a couple dozen friends from all over the world in a couple of open channels who help us create and maintain our company culture. None of these people are ‘part of our organization’ per se but they all belong in our organization.

The hermetically sealed company wall is the anomaly. There are more free agents than ever who work in flexible configurations. This is a trend that does not show any sign of abating. What the twitter exchange above shows is that Slack either does not understand this or they don’t want to understand this. This is fine but also a bit disappointing for a company that wants to be visionary when it comes to new ways of working together.

I criticize because I love Slack. If there is any company that can help us work together in this new world, it is probably them. But for that to happen we need to start having these conversations.

Week 333

This week was a bit more stationary than the last thankfully. I tried out a competitor to Cuppings called Bean Seeker which is a rather terrible app.

That night I attended the IoT Berlin meetup organized by Martin and had dinner with a rather interesting set of people.

IoT Berlin Meetup

Dinner

I also started playing DOTA2 this week for which there is a working Mac client available and which is a deep but somewhat too hardcore experience.

Cuppings was featured on Fontanel and we got a mention from London’s Best Coffee. Both of those are from people we respect which makes it mean the world to us. It also made us hit top 3 in the Food and Drink category of the Dutch store, which is nice to see (and altogether too easy).

Top Ranking in the paid Food and Drink category

Pancakes

I met Will Perkins and Nikos Green both highly capable people who I look forward to work with (again).

Using that fresh cycling infrastructure

I read up about SpriteKit which is in the forthcoming iOS7 release and should make 2D game programming very very easy for developers. Looking forward a lot to iOS becoming an even more capable platform than it is.

On Friday we tried to attend the inaugural Biteclub which turned out to be too busy if you actually want to eat something.

Biteclub

That Saturday I started to work on the AJI prototype in earnest which is coming together nicely as we speak.

Oslo Bar