January 2015 Articles

Michael Lopp on why engineering managers are overloaded with non-stop meetings, unable to build and stick to a schedule, and are only able to react to things that are happening today or are due tomorrow.

Collectively, I believe that we, the engineering leadership community on the Planet Earth, have done a poor job supporting each other. I think for every manager who has taken the time to find and regularly meet with a mentor, there are 20 managers who like the sound of mentorship, but haven’t done anything about it because they have no time. And even if they did, they wouldn’t know where to start.

I think that there are well-intentioned HR teams who are building leadership training without partnering with their engineers. Similarly, I think there are legions of engineering managers who have been asked very politely by their HR teams to partner on building said programs and those managers have politely and repeatedly said, “I’m too busy.”

SpaceX has been developing the technology to reuse their rockets for a while now. If they can be successful in this demonstration, they’ll be on a path to significantly disrupt the launch vehicle business.

At 6:20 a.m. Eastern time [on Tuesday], one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets is scheduled to lift off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on what is otherwise a routine unmanned cargo run to the International Space Station.

But this time, the company will attempt to land the first stage of the rocket intact on a barge floating in the Atlantic Ocean. After the booster falls away and the second stage continues pushing the payload to orbit, its engines will reignite to turn it around and guide it to a spot about 200 miles east of Jacksonville, Fla.

Ev Williams, CEO of Medium, writing about why metrics are hard; especially when attempting to measure the value of Internet businesses.

We pay more attention to time spent reading than number of visitors at Medium because, in a world of infinite content”Š–”Šwhere there are a million shiny attention-grabbing objects a touch away and notifications coming in constantly”Š–”Šit’s meaningful when someone is actually spending time. After all, for a currency to be valuable, it has to be scarce. And while the amount of attention people are willing to give to media and the Internet in general has skyrocketed”Š–”Šlargely due to having a screen and connection with them everywhere”Š–”Šit eventually is finite.

Leslie T. Chang, a Chinese-American journalist and former China correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, gives an alternate take on the common narrative of poor working conditions in Chinese factories that make goods for western markets.

It’s taken for granted that Chinese factories are oppressive, and that it’s our desire for cheap goods that makes them so. So, this simple narrative equating Western demand and Chinese suffering is appealing, especially at a time when many of us already feel guilty about our impact on the world, but it’s also inaccurate and disrespectful. We must be peculiarly self-obsessed to imagine that we have the power to drive tens of millions of people on the other side of the world to migrate and suffer in such terrible ways.

Michael Lopp is right on the money when it comes to open office plans. An open plan office isn’t optimizing for creativity and clear cognition.

I have a variety of issues regarding the open office trend. Let’s start with the fact that the folks often making the space decision are managers who already don’t spend much time at their desk because they are, by necessity, in meetings all day. They’re already in a quiet and private conference room where they can focus on the task at hand. They (we) don’t intimately understand the daily tax of constantly being interrupted because they (we) are not living it on a daily basis.

…In the past five years, the teams I’ve seen work at impressive speed are the ones who self-organized themselves elsewhere. They found a dark corner of the building, they cleared out a large conference room, or they found an unused floor of a building and made it their own. While this might strike you as a case for shared common open space, it’s not. It’s an argument for common space that is not shared because these teams have work to do and don’t want a constant set of irrelevant interruptions.

He also links to two other great articles therein:

Charles Fishman writes a terrific piece for The Atlantic on the International Space Station; its significance culturally, scientifically and politically. His story covers the challenges and successes of daily life for Station astronauts, and the future of the station.

Spaceflight has faded from American consciousness even as our performance in space has reached a new level of accomplishment. In the past decade, America has become a truly, permanently spacefaring nation. All day, every day, half a dozen men and women, including two Americans, are living and working in orbit, and have been since November 2000. Mission Control in Houston literally never sleeps now, and in one corner of a huge video screen there, a counter ticks the days and hours the Space Station has been continuously staffed. The number is rounding past 5,200 days.

It’s a little strange when you think about it: Just about every American ninth-grader has never lived a moment without astronauts soaring overhead, living in space. But chances are, most ninth-graders don’t know the name of a single active astronaut–many don’t even know that Americans are up there. We’ve got a permanent space colony, inaugurated a year before the setting of the iconic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a stunning achievement, and it’s completely ignored.

IBM Design Language


IBM has published a tremendous guide to design. In it they cover user experience, visual and interactive design, and front end guidelines. They include multiple design resources associated with their guide (type scale calculator, color palettes, etc.) and lots of examples for inspiration.

Great perspective when it comes to choosing wine:

After the waiter had taken our order and left the table, my manger asked me what I’d ordered. I repeated my order, only to have him say “You ordered a red wine with your fish?” and he looked at me funny…Apparently I’d done something wrong.

The design firm IDEO continues to employ the best people on their teams. They’ve recently hired Barbara Beskind. Why? “Interest in designing products for older adults is growing as baby boomers age.” And who better to be a part of a team designing products for older adults than a well qualified, experienced designer who is also an older adult.

StartUp is “a series about what happens when someone who knows nothing about business starts one” and is hosted by Alex Blumberg from This American Life and Planet Money. Alex chronicles the birth of his new venture, Gimlet Media, from his shaky first pitch through the naming process, gaining investors, and launch.

The episodes are 20-30 minutes each and are well worth the listen. Alex tells the story not like a businessman or MBA, but as someone who’s passionate about storytelling who wants to turn that passion into a business. Tune in.

Paul Graham of Y Combinator on passion and work.

Few people know so early or so certainly what they want to work on. But talking to my father reminded me of a heuristic the rest of us can use. If something that seems like work to other people doesn’t seem like work to you, that’s something you’re well suited for.