Entries from June 2008 ↓

Explaining my absence

I’ve been a bit busy this week — my wife and I welcomed our daughter Evelyn into the world, this is the first time I’ve sat in front of my PC for more than 5 minutes since Monday!  This is a time of great joy and excitement for the family, and right now I’m not doing much on the “talking shop” front.  I hope you understand :).

Posts will resume soon, but on a slower schedule.

StorageScope’s advice to Netflix

Netflix, the popular rent-movies-by-mail juggernaut, recently announced that a little-used feature called “Profiles” was going to be eliminated in September of this year (see commentary on this here).

I thought that it would be fun to give Netflix a little free advice about what can happen when you remove features from a software product. I was on a team that faced some of these issues (EMC ControlCenter StorageScope, in going from version 5.2 to 6.0).

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Casual Friday: Changing the Rules

(It’s no secret to you that I am a geek, but today’s post is really going to push the boundaries.  I apologize in advance for losing my less-geeky readers.  Come back, I promise I’m not always like this.)

Today I’m going to share some life skills lessons I learned from James T. Kirk and Magic: The Gathering.  Yes, really.
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Through the looking glass (door)

Polly Pearson recently spoke a bit about GlassDoor (indirectly, via “a tech gossip rag” which used GlassDoor’s ratings to classify our satisfaction with our CEO). I’m kind of disappointed nobody else called ValleyRag out on the awful statistics of using reviews from eleven employees to determine the rating of the CEO, but whatever.

What I wanted to do was take a look at GlassDoor and the state of EMC’s corporate picture as painted by GlassDoor’s users, now that the site has been up for a week.
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Saying Thank You

In the corporate world, it’s easy to feel powerless, but there are things within everyone’s reach which can improve the culture of your team (and taken to its logical conclusion, your company). One of these is taking time to say Thank You.

Our successes in the workplace depend a great deal on those around us. Every day, our co-workers make decisions which impact us. And when that person does something that makes our lives easier, what should we do? We all learned this as kids. We say Thank You.
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A Question of Boundaries

I’ve written before about how confusing it can be to navigate this new world where your boss follows you on twitter and your mom reads your professional blog. It got me thinking about the sorts of boundary problems people can run into in meatspace as well. I was thinking it might be interesting to find analogs for various online activities. Of course, there are complications….
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Casual Friday: What’s in your wallet?

When I was in High School, I had a wonderful English teacher (Jane Nagle, now a professor at Westfield State College).  I remember an exercise we did where she asked each of us to write down how much cash we thought we had in our pockets, and then to check if we were right.  Most of us knew exactly how much money we had — we weren’t exactly in an affluent area, and the idea of just having “some money” and not budgeting it strictly was pretty alien to most of us.

I look at my wallet now, and it makes a great symbol for how much life has changed since then.  And I don’t mean how much cash is in it.

Change is inevitable and exciting.  If you had told my 16 year-old self what my 35 year-old self would have in his wallet, he would have called you crazy.

Cash.  Yes, I still carry cash.  I have this odd behavior where I hate to spend less than $5-ish on a credit card.  This means I usually pay for my breakfast in cash, and my lunch on a credit card.  Don’t ask; I don’t understand either.  And yes, the fact that I’d be willing to spend this much money just to avoid brown-bagging it would seem alien to my teenage self, but let’s not go into that.

Credit.  The willingness of banks in this country to hand out credit is something I would never have predicted in 1990.  I shudder to think of how much damage I could do to my life in a crazed shopping spree using just the plastic in my wallet.

Driver’s License.  No, I wasn’t driving in high school.  But that’s not it.  My first license had my social security number on it.  Everybody’s did.  Now you can’t, even if you want to, use that as your license number.  I would never have imagined the privacy concerns this technology boom would bring.

Health Insurance Cards (3).  Teenagers are immortal, right?  Why would you carry those things around with you?  I mean, when would you ever need that?  Hah.  Not only that, why would I need 3 different insurance providers?  (Now that I wish I could fix!)

Audio Meeting Quick Reference Card.  I carry in my wallet a card with phone and access numbers to a conference call I can use at any time.  Included is of course access numbers from other countries.  I don’t think my 1990 self could imagine why I’d be carrying a card with a phone number in India on it.

Employment Badge.  The only reason I’d have carried one of these around at 16 would be to get my employee discount on audio tapes at Caldor.  I certainly would have trouble picturing myself doing what I do for a living today, for who I do it today.

Corporate Credit Card.  Again, I hesitate to ponder the damage I could do to my life if I ever snapped :).

AAA Card.  Ok, this one I could have pictured.  Our cars were always breaking down, back then.  I feel like I pay into AAA now strictly due to the terror I underwent back in those days every time the car I was in broke down, got stuck, wouldn’t start, and so on.

So … what’s in your wallet?

Enabling other decision makers

After I posted yesterday’s commentary on decision-making, I realized I had a few more thoughts that should have made it into the post.  That’s what I get for pushing for a post every day, I guess.

There’s a natural tendency among engineers to question decisions.  We do it to ourselves, and we do it to our colleagues. We expect it, and value it. We need it, when we’re collaborating on design, or performing a code review.  But this behavior runs counter to rapid decision making, though, and knowing when to suppress it is a valuable differentiating skill.

Yesterday, I wrote some of the reasons why people with a technical background might have trouble making decisions.  Now imagine this person has finally made the decision (despite being deeply uncomfortable with having to) and the first thing you say is “Did you consider XYZ?”

Well, drat.

Maybe I did consider it, and judged it an unimportant factor. But the fact that you’ve brought it up causes me to second-guess that judgment, my instincts, and my decision.  It’s like you came along and hit the reset button on my decision.  It’s worse than that.  You’ve made me gunshy about making future decisions.  Clearly I’m not thinking all the factors through thoroughly enough.

You go back to your desk, happy that you “helped” me.  I go back to my desk and continue gnashing my teeth.  Neither of us think of what just happened as negative!  But it slows the organization down, and negatively impacts future decisions.

This is probably not something your manager will praise you for or call you out on during a performance review.  Your peers might not even notice you doing it.  But you have the power to support a decision or to undermine it, every time you’re exposed to one.  If your organization (like mine) values decision-makers, you have a responsibility to encourage decisive behavior.

Learn to recognize that moment of choice, and think twice before you exercise your ability to sidetrack a decision.  I’m sorry to say that it’s unlikely anyone will thank you for it, but you will learn to appreciate the feeling of enabling success on your team.  Not only that, when you do finally push back on a decision, people will know that you’re seriously concerned, not just exercising your engineering instinct of second-guessing everything.

It’s just another tool to keep in your chest and bring out when the time is right.

Indecision clouds my vision

I am not naturally decisive. And yet every day when I look at the RMSG value set, “Empowered Decision Making” looks back at me.

The truth is, our educations often tell us to put off decision-making. Reference an object via its most abstract base type, use late binding, value generic over specific, and so on. How many design documents have you read which go out of their way to talk about the myriad of implementation options available, when the author knows perfectly well what the implementation is going to look like? We take Einstein’s quote to heart and mangle it a bit: “Put off every decision as long as possible, but no longer.” Scientists take pride in not making decisions. We’re happy when someone tears apart one of our hypotheses, spotting something we didn’t, ruining our tentative decision and forcing us back into analysis.

Frankly, we like to keep our options open.

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To Sun: I thought we were friends

I’ve attended three JavaOne conferences. I have Java T-shirts, little Java toys, notebooks, pens, pins, mugs, you name it. Books galore. Somewhere I have a picture of myself and several other EMC employees posing with the Java mascot, grinning stupidly. I’ve written more Java code than I care to remember, and evangelized it over the years to many audiences.

So why do I feel like I just got stood up on prom night?

Because I stopped and read the licenses, that’s why (or, technically, someone else read them, and clued me in).

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