More than a year has passed since I last posted here. Much has happened, including some growth.

Given the transience of social networking platforms, I have posted regularly on Facebook and Twitter.

Dynamics of a small software development team have challenged me professionally.

Various mobile and web projects have expanded my technical skills.

Conferences such as Thinking Digital have informed me of improved practices and broadened possibilities.

Serendipitous interactions in Tulsa and elsewhere have provided valuable conversations and collaborative opportunities.

Musical endeavors have been muted, but some solo and orchestral performances have been personally noteworthy.

Foundations have been laid for upcoming endeavors, including more regular posts.

Finding the Next Steve Jobs by Nolan Bushnell

Creative work intended to establish a new status quo demands the involvement of innovators. These individuals are hungry for progress, always experimenting with new things. Personal projects are a better indicator of engineering curiosity and potential than mere résumé line items.

Companies are always trying to find creative talent. Given the inevitable shortage of top performers and the abundance of opportunities available to them, companies struggle with retaining talent. Companies that succeed at attracting and retaining top performers must be conducive to the development of creative talent. While there are conflicting ideas about what constitutes top performance (and the potential range of performance in creative work), there is general consensus that it is difficult to find and retain highly productive professionals. The perspective of Nolan Bushnell is interesting, featuring stories from his time at Atari and Chuck E. Cheese’s, two nontraditional companies.

(Note: Much has been discussed about side projects, and I agree that GitHub is not your résumé. While personal initiative and creativity are wonderful, emphasizing personal projects in hiring decisions can skew hiring decisions in favor of 20-somethings without families or other responsibilities; many professionals lack copious amounts of free time.)

The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice

Spontaneity, like improvisation, is done best from a context of thorough preparation. Serendipitous solutions are typically the result of existing knowledge and discipline. Forming and expanding a compelling storehouse of intellectual material for creative application is critical to sustained productivity in any creative discipline. The book provides valuable tips for approaching the creative process effectively, and the exercises are useful for cultivating improved personal disciplines. If you want to improvise fluently, master fundamentals.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport

Much well-intended but misguided career advice emphasizes finding something about which one is passionate. The key to establishing oneself in a vocation is often assumed to be that of having a great enjoyment of something. The problem is that it can be difficult to identify passion, and passion is no guarantee of success or viability. Focusing on finding something that one loves, in order to devote oneself to it for a career, forces an internal focus rather than an external one. From a standpoint of creating and contributing economic value, it is far more consequential what is needed or desired than what one enjoys. Becoming skilled at something valuable is a better choice than seeking elusive fulfillment. Great work is fulfilling, and competence is satisfying. Aiming for passion excites fear, fear of missing what would be most pleasurable. Passion is elusive, but skills can be acquired. While students today have unprecedented opportunity available to them, and can select from a broad range of careers, entertaining too many options can greatly diminish one’s ability to function at an optimal level in any pursuit, undermining the very potential of opportunity.

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

Having previously seen the TED talk by Barry Schwartz, I read the book for the first time in 2013.

Some decisions depend on finding the optimal solution, or “maximizing” in the parlance of Barry Schwartz. Other decisions are better made after brief consideration, without too much concern for a perfect result. Schwartz calls this simplification “satisficing.” As one is presented more options, it becomes more difficult to make a decision. It is more difficult to come to a conclusion, and then to be satisfied it if one is concerned about having missed a better choice. Schwartz describes this dilemma in various contexts, including relationships and careers. Thinking deliberately about maximizing certain decisions and satisficing others can yield greater confidence and satisfaction.

Quiet by Susan Cain

In many contexts the world seems to belong to those who speak before thinking. Intelligence is often equated with speaking ability. Extroversion is commonly thought of as an indicator of effectiveness. This is a dangerous assumption that alienates individuals more prone to quiet contemplation. Susan Cain presents an effective case for both introversion and extroversion, and emphasizes the presence of both inclinations within individuals. Charisma is no guarantee of competence. Being inclined toward a quiet disposition myself, I had a strong fascination with Susan Cain’s book and TED talk.

Metaskills by Marty Neumeier

“As we address our increasing problems with increasing collaboration, we’re finding that we still need something more—the bracing catalyst of individual genius. Unfortunately, our educational system has all but ruled out genius. Instead of teach us to create, it’s taught us to copy, memorize, obey, and keep score. Pretty much the same qualities we look for in machines. And now the machines are taking our jobs.”
Marty Neumeier

Marty Neumeier’s book discusses essential skills for “The Robotic Age.” New technologies are making old jobs obsolete. Anything that can be routinized will be handled by machines in the future. Technological advancement does not make humans superfluous, but it does change the work that humans do. The inevitable reality of innovation is that the tasks that can be performed by machines will be automated, and tasks that humans do best will become more valuable. Neumeier presents a useful framework for ensuring that one’s skills will not be made obsolete and for establishing a pattern of reinvention for sustainable long-term relevance.

Neumeier’s framework involves these skills: feeling, seeing, dreaming, making, and learning.

“The value and cost of work decreases as its mechanization increases.”
Marty Neumeier

The Robotic Curve describes a progression of work that can be automated:

  • Creative Work: Unique, Imaginative, Non-Routine, Autonomous
  • Skilled Work: Standardized, Talent-Driven, Professional, Directed
  • Rote Work: Interchangeable, Routinized, Outsourceable, Managed
  • Robotic Work: Algorithmic, Computerized, Efficient, Purchased

Creative work requires distinctly human capabilities, and it constitutes the optimal application of individual potential. The creative work of today is making the robotic work of tomorrow. While certain jobs tend to be eliminated by the influence of the robotic curve, others are created. Mechanisms that free humans to focus on things that humans do best are liberating, not threatening.

permalink ideas

The problem of exponential increases in the amount of information available without a corresponding rise in the availability of resources to process and act upon it is not new. It is, however, becoming more pronounced and having more significant implications for individuals and organizations. In our new world of big data, we sometimes lose sight of the knowledge it should have obtained for us.

Data is not enough.

  • Sifting through large numbers of irrelevant records may be impressive for a time, but it will ultimately prove to be detrimental, as it diminishes one’s ability to solve real problems or even know what they are.

Analytics tools do not justify irrelevant investments.

  • Pretty charts and graphs tend to sell well (at least with certain measurement-minded stakeholders), but a graph is useless if it plots meaningless data.

Bit rot is a growing concern.

  • We can readily access books written 500 years ago.
  • We sometimes have tremendous difficulty accessing computer files created only 10-15 years ago.
  • As platforms become more closed and device manufacturers trend toward the creation of self-contained machines, there is an increased challenge of maintaining complete archival copies.
  • The only way to prevent bit rot is to vigilantly maintain archival systems that use current best practices.

Digital information is fundamentally different from analog information.

  • Adopting the approach one would have with analog media, only in a digital environment, fails to secure the primary potential benefits of digital interactions.
  • Non-linear organization is cumbersome with paper, but it is often ideal for software.
  • With powerful tools for search and retrieval, storing information should be organized around logical mental processes, not constricted to obsolete file storage requirements.

Failure to train oneself to adapt to the new digital world brings long-term stagnation.

  • Change is inevitable. This is true in many areas, not only in the world of technology, but it must be thoroughly understood that ours is a world of technology.

Managing and interacting with digital information is a critical twenty-first century core competency.

Even robust digital information systems have points of profound fragility.

Despite the challenges of digital infrastructure, one must move forward rather than backward.

You can improve the state of your own digital information management.

  • Consider using a more limited device that forces you to focus on one thing at a time.
  • Use distributed mechanisms to ensure that your data is stored in multiple places.
  • Make regular backups and test them.
  • Refuse to rely on outdated systems; rather, try to be an early adopter of new technologies, so that you are not left behind by the accelerating pace of technological change. Remember Zip drives?
  • Think of your digital environment as something requiring periodic cleaning, much like your physical environment.

Practical Suggestions

  • Use Evernote to record notes on a computer, smartphone, and tablet.
  • Use Time Machine to automate local backups.
  • Use CrashPlan to automate offsite backups.
  • Migrate away from physical media as much as possible.
  • Plan to replace or at least revise your digital storage regularly.
  • Commit to a collection of applications and use them.
  • Try new software, but require a compelling reason for switching.

permalink software

Watch Helvetica (Amazon, iTunes) and become obsessed with typefaces.

Watch Objectified (Amazon, iTunes) and think about the design of objects.

Watch Urbanized (Amazon, iTunes) and consider the planning of cities, including potentially disturbing implications.

Watch Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview (Amazon, iTunes) and witness delightful, singular brilliance.

Read The Design of Everyday Things and be mindful of door handles, tea cups, and much more.

Work through Hack Design and behold a new sense of taste.

permalink learning

Check for undocumented assumptions about input and output.

Every point of interaction with an external system is a potential point of data integrity violation.

Refactoring code can be an excellent way to resolve issues. Code should evolve over time.

If there are pieces of code that are not clear, make them more clear.

There are two ways of constructing a software design: One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies, and the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies. The first method is far more difficult.

C.A.R. Hoare

It helps to have a second set of eyes examine code. What takes hours for one to see may be observed by another in moments, even if the two have similar levels of skill.

Check for interactions involving dates and times. Operations involving time involve more factors and have greater potential for error than almost any other interactions one can implement.

Make sure that adequate mechanisms are in place for gracefully handling errors.

Test coverage is helpful, but it does not guarantee that code will work as expected in real world scenarios; user interactions and external factors can greatly influence application performance.

Clarity and simplicity are central considerations in code quality.

Are you reinventing things that should not be reinvented? Ruby gems (for example) can provide significant functionality for free that would otherwise require significant development effort.

Deliberately try to break your application. If you test and do not find issues, first assume that there must be something wrong with your testing. The goal of testing is to find bugs, and bugs there will almost certainly be.

If you are a nontechnical founder, become technical. Especially if you’re bootstrapped. Otherwise you will be unable to evaluate the merit of technical decisions.

permalink programming software

I once heeded Fox News,
And staunchly held its views.

Gradually, however, I became more curious,
Beginning to explore issues that make it furious.

Alas, there are questions that it will not ask,
And I could no more in its perspective bask.

What had once seemed to be a treasure trove
Held many antics of Cheney and Rove.

I listened to O’Reilly and to Rush,
But the religious right became less lush.

I learned that two contrary views
Do not enable one to choose,
For truth may not be in the one
Or the other when all is done.

Heeding Left and Right
Keeps one from true might.

There is a broader reality,
One with a measure of gravity.

Global awareness is important,
But impart this most sources can’t.

I thought Republicans right and Democrats wrong,
But then I found that both were faulty all along.

Listening to other sources
Taught me as much as some courses.

Confidence blooms in fields of ignorance,
But true knowledge brings greater relevance.

The enticements of fanaticism
Cannot stand up to sound criticism.

The noise of network news
Does not build prudent views.

In short, one must strive to be factual
Before starting to be political.

Having greater awareness and increased uncertainty,
There is now more room for intellectual liberty.

permalink politics