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Notes: Week of 13 January 2023
A recap of interesting things from the week.
This week was the most work-like week I’ve had in weeks. I had a ton of conversations, some regarding potential employment, and many just generally with people who wanted to talk about productivity and internal platforms stuff. I even had calendar conflicts I had to resolve, and invites that didn’t have a Zoom, and issues with my AirPods connecting to the right device at the right time. Just like old times.
I made some progress on figuring out what I’m going to do next and I’m kind of incredibly excited about it. More soon as we work through the paperwork.
On my mind
Portfolio management. I talked to an engineering leader starting a new “foundation” group at an online retail company about how I try to have a portfolio approach to the work going on within a team at any time. Just like we invest our actual cash money in different ways as we grow older and life and family situations change, there’s value in being strategic over the long term about where you’re investing your team’s time. Cover big bets with quick wins and impact- and relationship-driven investments that build goodwill — especially when a big bet doesn’t have an early incremental path to validation. (This was, for example, an important strategy while we were investing in a TypeScript migration at Stripe.)Over the weekend, my team at converted the company's largest JS codebase from Flow to . We modified about 3.5 million lines of code, and then hundreds of developers came in Monday morning ready to write TS.
That doesn’t mean you’re off the accountability hook for the big bets: you should always be prepared to explain why a thing is still worth investing in, whether that’s in terms of unlocked velocity, security, reliability, sentiment improvement, or whatever. The SPACE framework is your friend for finding productivity-connected stories to tell.
The productivity change cycle. Shortly before I left Stripe, we were talking about clarifying the operating model for the Engineering Success effort. At the time, it was a pyramid with three levels, from bottom to top: insights, accountability, action. It was intended to capture how we’d drive productivity improvements at the organizational level: our team would rarely take direct action to address productivity challenges, and would focus most of its efforts on insights and accountability, working in partnership with senior leadership to define org-wide goals. I don’t know how that worked out since I’ve left, but the idea has stuck with me: productivity improvements start with data, from which you can generate insights; given those insights, you can drive awareness set goals for improvement; given goals, you can enable action and ensure accountability for achieving and sustaining the improvement. Stay tuned and one of these days I’ll draw a picture.
Instrumentation. Sort of related to the above, everything starts with data. At Indeed and Stripe, one could write simple-ish SQL(-ish, in the case of Indeed, at the time) queries that would join data about pull requests, commits, authors, JIRA tickets, time in status, deploys, etc. There are tools that will do this for you now, of course, and show you pretty pictures and everything, and you should probably start using them now before it gets too difficult, but don’t lose sight of the raw data. And — at least by the time you can’t name everyone who’s using them — don’t lose sight of the need to instrument the glue tools and the wrappers and the stuff in that
scripts/directory. Having the data in a queryable format can let you ask unique questions that a tool can’t anticipate but SQL can.
Job seeking strategies in the current macroeconomic climate. The layoffs just kept coming this week, didn’t they. It’s hard to grasp that there’s like, a significant fraction of a Google worth of people who used to have jobs and don’t now. I had a couple of coaching-ish sessions this week with a person affected by the Stripe layoffs in November, and we spent a lot of time talking about how to position oneself as having unique skills and experience that could effect a transformative change on a growing and evolving business. I think a lot of times we get used to having a role as a cog in the wheel without recognizing, honing, and advocating for our unique value. Think about why jobs should apply to you.
On Twitter, I shared some useful guidance I found about taking notes while reading. A good reminder that there are methods for everything, and there’s no skill too small or too universal that it’s not worth teaching. This also led me to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognition:
I love when I see things that I innately understand boiled down to a framework this simple and actionable.
I’m going to confess to this now so I never have to again: the paperback version of Accelerate arrived today because I haven’t read it before now, though I feel like I’ve read so much about it that I mostly have, right? We’ll see. I also ordered Team Topologies.
For reasons, I was refreshing my memory on the seven ways a batter in a baseball game can reach first base. In the course of this, I learned 1) that there is a whole Society for American Baseball Research, and 2) that (as of 2014 anyway) there have been six games in which batters got to first base all seven ways. The author is an astronomer, also, the director of the astrophysics division of NASA actually. Baseball stats people are wild.
A former colleague texted me on Thursday asking if I remembered “that post about desk moves that you shared once maybe five years ago,” and yes, yes I do. Still a great one from Lara Hogan about managing the human side of change.