20 March 2015

The Badge of Stupidity

I see a couple people like you every month. You live in SF and work in Tech. You seem to think that working yourself to death is a Badge of Honor. It's not. It's a Badge of Stupidity. 
The above was what my Dr told me after I'd been diagnosed with pneumonia two weeks ago.

I can't ignore it anymore. We have a problem in this industry and we need to talk about it.

My Dr is right. Putting your health at risk for your job isn't something to be proud of. It's not something to boast about. It's fucking stupid. Pure and simple. And we need to stop doing it.
Look back at the last year of your life. How many weeks were you able to put in 40 hours of really productive and efficient work? How many weeks were you not able to do so because you were sick or burned out or exhausted or stretched too thin? And how many hours a week of work time did you average?
She also asked me to consider the above set of questions.
So I did.
And if I'm honest... in the last year I've probably averaged between 50 and 60 hours of work time a week - and I'm probably at less than 30 hours of productive and effective work per week on average.

That's... fucked.

I'm putting my health at risk - and the end result is that I'm less productive and effective in my job. If I were to only work 40 hours a week I'd probably be more productive - and I'd clearly be healthier.
I'll make you a deal. You can either promise me that you will stay at home and not work until the following symptoms are completely cleared up - or I can admit you to the hospital right now.
This was my wake up call.
I made the right choice.

The pneumonia has cleared up and I'm symptom free. But I'm not going to forget this.

I know I'm going to get peer pressure to act in unhealthy ways. But I'm going to do everything I can to resist it. It's not healthy, it's not good for me OR for my employer.

It's fucking stupid. I don't want to wear the Badge of Stupidity anymore.
Do you want your headstone to read "he was always the last to leave the office"?

31 December 2014

This Is The End

And so another year ends.

Let's be honest - at a macro, philosophical, human level 2014 kind of sucked. Yeah... a lot of tech folks made a lot of money. Yeah... all sorts of cool new tools and toys were released. But between the governmental oppression and criminal behavior; the high level of douchebaggery amongst the humans on this planet in general (and within the tech industry in particular); the rampant sexism and the insane racism... just the ridiculously high levels of public bigotry -- it's hard to see a lot to be positive about.

But there are two things that are probably worth celebrating.

One - women stopped taking shit. From the US to Nigeria to India and from the Game industry to Politics to tech and Open Source Software - this was the year women said "fucking enough already." Female leaders stepped up and made their voices heard. To be fair - most were then abused, threatened and had their lives made hellish. But they didn't give up. And they're not letting anyone forget. As a result, things could well change for the better.

Second - some white people started understanding their privilege. Note.... "some" and "started." Yeah... baby steps. But we're not that far removed from the highest court in this land declaring we are in a "post racial society" so even baby steps are huge. This wasn't something that these white folks did, to be honest, so we / they get no fucking credit for this. White folks have had their heads in the sand for a long ass time, and the only reason anyone woke up at all was because it was forced on us. Black leaders, particularly young black leaders, are not shutting up. They're not letting us go back to pretending it's all just fine and dandy. And that is a really good thing.

Now.... the above makes it sound like things are getting better.
And in some specific and particular ways they are - and in the future I think there is a good chance things over all could be better.

But in the near future?

Not so fucking much.

My thoughts on 2015 are exactly the same as they were 12 months ago.
It's gonna be a rough ride folks. Better buckle in and hold on tight.

19 October 2014

Twitter, Capitalism, Hate, #gamergate

Note: I'm not going to go into the whole history of #gamergate. I'm going to assume you're already paying attention.

In many ways we should be glad that this whole fucking mess has happened. It's shining a bright light into some very dark corners of our society and we're seeing some ugly, ugly shit that we need to fix.

But while I would be proud to be called a Social Justice Warrior, I don't have a lick of credibility on the subject (being a highly privileged straight, white, upper middle class, educated male working in tech and all). So I'll leave that to the folks in the trenches like Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu and Laurie Penny.

I do, however, have some credibility when it comes to tech - and in particular to the role that Twitter has played here.

Let me be very clear here....

Without Twitter's indulgence and implicit permission there would be no Gamergate. 

For many of us, Twitter is a service and a utility. The fact that Twitter is also a publicly traded commercial entity is of little to no interest. The problem is that Twitter the company is an unprofitable publicly traded commercial entity that is currently valued at at something like 130x next year's projected earnings.

As you can imagine, running business stuff at Twitter right now is probably highly stressful.

Twitter, the company, has been getting beat up for a while now about some of its metrics. In particular, investors are worried about their MAU (Monthly Active Users) count. More critically, investors are also worried about their Engagement Rates.

So right now those in charge of Twitter are highly, highly motivated to do things that will increase user activity and engagement - and are even more highly motivated to not do anything that would decrease these metrics.

As you can imagine, the whole misogynistic cesspool that is gamergate has almost certainly been a huge win for Twitter when it comes to these core business metrics. Four related hashtags have been top trending terms and I'm confident Twitter's TLV/MAU (their core Engagement KPI) has improved materially.

This is why a publicly traded utility is a terrible idea.

Twitter is putting the best interests of their shareholders ahead of the best interests of their users - and of society. Twitter is, in fact, doing harm to many users (and thus to society) through their inaction.

Without Twitter's enablement, the couple dozen core gamergate douchebags would still just be sitting around writing one-handed rape fantasies on some forum that no-one ever sees.

15 July 2014

Minimum Actionable Dataset

By this point, all thinking humans have come to accept that there are ethical problems with the current ungoverned way businesses, governments and organizations capture, store, use and monetize data.

I'm not going to debate the ethics themselves, or suggest any systemic or social methods for addressing the ethical failings that have created this problem (other than to suggest that ethics really needs to be a required course in both CS programs and MBA ones). Instead I'm simply going to suggest a new philosophical guideline.

Introducing the Minimum Actionable Dataset (aka MADs)
When defining the dataset your application, site or service is going to capture, store and use - start with the minimum set of data needed to make critical product and business decisions. Only add additional data when it is required to make these decisions.
While it is no longer acceptable to capture any and all data, and then later on figure out which stuff is valuable and which you want to analyze and use -- it's also unrealistic (and stupid) to not use data. We need the data we need to make good decisions on what customers and users want, value and need out of our products and services. We need the data to be able to run our businesses effectively, responsibly, sustainably and professionally. 

A little analogy....

Lazy developers, when working with a relational database, will often do a "SELECT * FROM" query in order to pull all data into the app, and then manipulate, sort, find the needed data from within that full set within the app logic itself. 

This is a Bad Thing.

It is equally bad (and lazy) to do this exact thing with your data capture.

Defining Your MADs

One of the reasons why I identify laziness as a root cause is my acceptance that for many developers, it's easier to simply capture all the data than define the Minimum Actionable Dataset.

Defining this dataset is a collaborative activity - and is one that involves multiple points of view and individuals within the organization. And that is messy, interpersonal and difficult. You need to define the data that is required by Product to make appropriate decisions around customer and user needs, desires and wishes. This obviously should be defined by Product. You need to define the data that is required by the Business to make appropriate decisions around business strategy, tactics, pricing, capitalization, partnerships, etc etc etc. 

So you just capture the requirements from both those stakeholders, merge them and voila, right?

No. Wrong.

This is how we got to the "capture it all and let god sort it later" mentality. Both Business and Product have a vested interest in raising the threshold of what is considered "minimum" in this case. So you'll need a counterbalance. You'll need someone who is the "keeper of the threshold."

Most companies do not have a Head of Privacy or a Head of Data Policy. If you do... this is your counterbalance and this person should be part of the decision-making and should have veto power (though, obviously, they can if needed be over-ruled by the CEO). In this context, their role isn't to "protect the user" or "keep us in legal compliance" as much as it is to "defend the minimum threshold." 

In other words... their job in this process is to be the one who challenges every new data point captured and requires a justification for why the business and the product couldn't be run effectively without that data.

Why MADs?

The tech industry has lost the trust of our customers and our users.

And we have not - and are not - stepping up to take the lead on fixing this.

We have to. And quickly.

If we don't.... Winter is coming (and by Winter... I mean Regulation).

It's time.

30 June 2014

SF.... Love it (and Hate it)

This last weekend perfectly illustrated for me all the greatness that was (and sometimes still is) San Francisco. And sadly - it brought moments that also perfectly encapsulated what has gone wrong.

Illustrating The Good

Walking up Market St between 16th and Castro and sashaying (quite literally) down the sidewalk towards me comes a shirtless bear on a 49er flag bedecked Segway blasting easy listening R&B from a boombox. The crowd goes wild.

All the smiling happy (sunburned) faces at the Pride Parade (which has truly become a celebration of love and welcoming - as well as an awesome party).

The trans-woman who I bumped into and apologized to in the Mission (it was CROWDED), who turned to me and said, "Honey... this is the one weekend a year you don't have to apologize for shit. It's all love baby!"

For the weekend it felt like the clock was turned back a bit. It felt like there was a little less homogeneity in the population. It felt less conformist again.

For the first time in years it felt like the culture of SF was once again Urban (rather than today's Suburban values dominance).

It felt like SF again. I'd move here all over again to be part of this San Francisco.

And The Bad

Scene: Three guys waiting for their Sandwiches at Bi-Rite in the Mission.

Guy One: You live near here right? You must shop here all the time.

Guy Two: Nah... not really.

Guy Three: Because it's too expensive?

Guy Two: Yeah... I mean, it's ridiculous. $10 for a turkey and cheese sandwich? Come on.

Guy One: So what do you do for lunch usually?

Guy Two: Oh, we use Instacart at the office and get them to bring us stuff from Whole Foods. It only works out to like $100 a week.

20 May 2014

Income inequality in SF is greater than in Rwanda

25 April 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

The other day I got on MUNI...

Wait, I think some context is needed.

So I have a broken hand. A recently broken hand. A displaced fracture of the 5th metacarpal to be exact.
It is in a cast / splint / sling thing that is quite visible.

So I got on MUNI light rail.
As I stepped on to the train a bearded younger guy in an Uber hoody and artisanal hat who was sitting in a seat looked up at me. Our eyes met. He looked away, putting his sunglasses back on, reached down, picked up his longboard and carefully placed it on the (empty) seat next to him.

I sighed.

At that point a hispanic kid wearing big Beats headphones looked at me, raised his eyebrows and offered me his seat.

And you wonder why so many of us are unexcited about the tech industry's impact on our city and our lives.

And you wonder why so many of us would prefer a different future. A different city. A better SF.