Reading Notes, November 2016

Video: Rich Hickey Rails Conf Keynote: Simplicity Matters

specialization generally leads to optimization, not innovation

Though this talk was targeted at rails developers, I couldn’t help but see the parallels to front-end javascript developers.

npm install hairball

Is that simple or easy? It's easy — easy to get that complexity. Perhaps it was simple to get a hairball, but now you have to deal with that hairball and inevitably down the line that's complex.

If you want everything to be familiar you’ll never learn anything new.

Article: One Behavior Separates The Successful From The Average

Generally I dislike articles with headlines like this. But the story in the article illustrates a characteristic of great employees that is sometimes difficult to articulate. The story goes something like this:

A Dad asked his first son, “will you go find out how many cows Cibi has for sale?” The son promptly returned and said “6 cows are for sale.”

The Dad then asked his second son the same question. The second son later returned and said “6 cows [are] for sale. Each cow will cost 2,000 rupees. If we are thinking about buying more than 6 cows, Cibi said he would be willing to reduce the price 100 rupees. Cibi also said they are getting special jersey cows next week if we aren’t in a hurry, it may be good to wait. However, if we need the cows urgently, Cibi said he could deliver the cows tomorrow.”

This short story illustrates a trait an admirable characteristic of great employees. It’s not just about the mandate, it’s about the why behind the mandate. “Why am I being asked to do this?” You can do what your told blindly, but that’s not what your employer needs. Your employer needs you to add value through your own knowledge and experience.

Most people only do what they are asked, doing only the minimum requirement. They need specific instructions on most things they do. Conversely, those who become successful are anxiously engaged in a good cause. They don’t need to be managed in all things...They also influence the direction for how certain ideas and projects go...They reach out to people, ask questions, make recommendations, offer to help, and pitch their ideas.

You’re given a sphere of influence to act within. Act. Don’t simply be acted upon.

Tweet: Advice on Management

Mar Headland has been working as an engineering manager since 1994. Recently on Twitter he talked about how he gets lots of requests for management advice. So, based on the list of questions he’s compiled over the years, he generated the following advice (rolled out in ten tweets):

  1. Just tell them already. One of the best things you can do as a manager is be completely blunt about what you see. Tell them now.
  2. Trust is the currency of good management. You cannot be a great manager if the people with whom you work do not trust you.
  3. Regular one-on-ones are like oil changes; if you skip them, plan to get stranded on the side of the highway at the worst possible time.
  4. You have to be your team's best ally and biggest challenger. You can't be a great leader by care-taking alone. Push for their best work.
  5. Repetition feels silly but works wonders. Start each conversation repeating the overall goal and connecting it to the discussion.
  6. "My team wants to work on ___ because it is more fun for them, is that okay?" No. Never. Quoting @jasonk: "Winning is fun." Go win.
  7. Clarify the problems your team needs to tackle. Stay all the way away from specifying the solutions. That's their job, not yours.
  8. You can't know how the company looks from any other seat than your own. Practice with people in other seats to communicate and manage well.
  9. We talk a lot about diversity and inclusion. Here's my unpopular opinion: you, as a manager, have to force it to happen, or it won't ever.
  10. Usually when people ask, "Should I fire this person?" the answer is yes. But usually they do it dramatically more brutally than needed.

Article: How I Practice Resilience for the Unknown Trying Times Ahead

Here’s my paraphrase:

Sometimes, try taking the things that are against your typical behavior and instead of avoiding them, do them. Practice patience, speak up, quiet down, whatever it is, use the things that make you angry as opportunities to learn how to control your own shortcomings. Be ready for future difficulties. And the best way to do that is with practice.

It’s a really interesting and practical approach to day to day life. When things happen that are uncomfortable or unnatural to you, brace them as opportunities for practice. Rather than practicing your already refined skill of avoiding them.

Article: My Increasing Wariness of Dogmatism

Hardly a day goes by I don't see a dogmatic statement about the web.

Here’s a short list:

But nothing is wrong with people spouting off opinions right?

I see ideas that start as dogmatic claims spread. I've heard people regurgitate a dogmatic statement years after I've felt like the industry had moved on. When you happen to agree with them, they feel good. They feel powerful. They feel like something you want to get behind and spread yourself. They don't have that wishy-washy "it depends" feeling that doesn't provide hard and fast answers.


Everyone's situation is different than yours. You can't know everything. There is endless gray area.

Chris argues we should perhaps be a little more verbose in our opinions:

It's certainly wordier to avoid dogma when you're trying to make a point. But it's more honest. It's more clear. It's showing empathy for people out there doing things different. It makes it easier for others to empathize with you.