Makiko’s Questions

Who the hell is Makiko?

I met Makiko at Yahoo Japan and she generously helped a co-worked set up a series of meetings and was our stellar guide to the city after work.

A few weeks after we left she sent an email with questions from her engineers. I thought I’d share them for posterity’s sake (and for vanity metrics that sustain my husk).


Team vs. Individual Evaluation

How to set and measure a team vs. an individual contribution?

Teams
Teams are easier than individuals to measure. You set a goal with a timeline and measure yourself against the goal. This is as much of a test of execution as it prognostication, but a good leader needs both to get things done.

It’s your leader’s job to inform you if your goal is not ambitious enough.

Individuals
I prefer not to rank individual team members because it leads to two forms of waste.

  1. Team members optimize for the metric and not achieving the goal
  2. You waste a lot of time trying to “objectively” measure and rank people

Instead I take a satisficing approach to individual management. There isn’t much use in rank ordering individuals. It’s way more likely to cause issues instead of fix anything.

Instead I periodically hold individual meetings with team members to listen to their issues and establish a rapport. This way there is an established communication channel for them to come to me with issues. In addition, it provides a periodic forum to let them know that all is well or to discuss a perceived performance issue in private.

The lack of objective standards does open you up to the risk of favoritism/nepotism and other issues. Personally I’d rather air on the side of “unfair” than risk having the wrong performance model.

Open Source Software

When deciding if you release a project as open source or keeping it closed source, which aspects are important to you in order to make that decision?

In general:

  1. If the project is a tool I would make it open source.
  2. If the project is a product I would keep it closed source.

Your product is your team’s business. If giving your product’s source away for free isn’t part of the business strategy then there is no reason to do so.

When you develop a new tool, by making it open source you gain the benefit of free improvements through contribution (and a source of potential new hires. If your company is large enough, you may also set the industry standard for how to do X which also benefits you.

Project & Task Management

In either launching or revamping a product, what is a normal procedure to put into a task and assignment?

We hold a weekly meeting to discuss the priority for this week, explain to the team why we believe it is the priority and how we will measure success. This gives the team a chance for discussion and to voluntarily adopt the requirements.

The engineering manager and I then break up the new feature into actionable tasks for the engineers and place them in Trello so we can track their progress.

We do daily standups to make sure we are making progress towards the goal.

How did you make an ideal goal to a realistic outcome? How did your priorities and compromise the requirements? Any challenges?

Ideal goals should be used to orient the team, not to measure the team. Ideals are unachieveable and if you measure yourself against them you will always come up short and this will damage your morale.

Instead you make smaller goals that are specific, measurable and have a success/failure criteria. Use the ideal to make sure your smaller goal is aligned with the direction you want to go.

Ideals are important because it helps you prioritize features. Providing clarity on the ideal is part of being an effective leader. The ideal is your vision for the product.

“Product” manager’s skill requirements

We are still absolutely shocked that Yahoo! JAPAN don’t hold the same function of US defined “product manager”.

We want to know more details about what product manager takes in Yahoo! or US in general.

Do you have any examples or reference to define a PM’s role and skill requirements? So, we can use this for our skill development and the organization design in the future.

When we recruit for the APM program at Yahoo Oath, we look for several things:

  1. Technical ability. Although not all companies require their PMs to be technical, at Yahoo we believe that PMs that are also engineers build better products and can interact with their engineering team better.
  2. Product Sense. This is more vague, but we look for the ability to intuitively understand and articulate what is good or bad about a product.
  3. Initiative. No one will tell you what to do as a PM. So you must be able to create a vision for yourself. We look for hackathon participants, people that build their own projects on the side or are entrepreneurs.
  4. Communication. Most of the job is meeting with other people and talking. If you can’t articulate your vision then your team can’t execute it, no matter how good it might be.
  5. Analytical ability. Products are complex and a good PM must be able to break them down into smaller tasks and prioritize these tasks for their team.

That’s all folks. Time to turn this into LinkedIn click bait and see how that goes.

The Brothers Karamazov: The Lady of Little Faith

The first passage I’d like to talk about is Book 2, Chapter 4: A Lady of Little Faith.

In which a lady has travelled to visit the Elder Zosima and confess to him that she is having a crisis of faith. She recently learned of the idea that there is no afterlife, but only the void after death and it troubles her greatly.

She asks the Elder “How can it be proved? How can one be convinced?” to which Zosima replies “No doubt it is devastating. One cannot prove anything here, but it is possible to be convinced.”

This response reminds me of Jordan Peterson’s lectures where he talks about how the meaningless of life is a rational conclusion and ironclad in logic. But so what? That ‘fact’ is not very useful to living, in fact it is often very detrimental and sends people into existential depression or crisis like the lady in the passage. In this way the meaningless of life is not ‘true’ although one cannot write a ‘proof’ that meaning is possible, one can become convinced that life is meaningful.

Skipping ahead, in the Elder’s chambers we see a repeat of this idea in Zosima and Ivan’s

Skipping ahead, in the Elder’s chambers we see a small repeat of this conversation, this time between Zosima and Ivan.

“Can it be that you really hold this conviction about the consequences of the exhaustion of men’s faith in their immortality of their souls?” the elder suddenly asked Ivan Fyodorovich.

“Yes, it was my contention. There is no virtue if there is no immortality.”

You are blessed if you believe so, or else most unhappy.”

Why unhappy?” Ivan Fyodorovich smiled.

Here Dostoevsky reveals what a great character writer he is. The elder asserts that being freed of all moral responsibility must be a great thing for Ivan, or the complete opposite, and Ivan smiles at the latter.

This is brilliantly done; as I have personal experience with this smile as I suspect many others do. Imagine two strangers standing at a rainy street. Both without umbrellas commenting how the rain makes being outside awful. Then one turns to the other and remarks about his closed umbrella they smile knowingly.

“Because in all likelihood you yourself do not believe in either in the immortality of your soul or even in what you have written about the Church and the Church question.”

“Maybe you’re right…! But still, I wasn’t quite joking either…,” Ivan Fyodorovich said suddenly and strangely confessed – by the way, with a quick blush.

“You weren’t quite joking, that is true. This idea is not yet resolved in your heart and torments it. But a martyr, too, sometimes likes to toy with his despair, also from despair as it were. For the time being you, too, are toying, out of despair, with your magazine articles and drawing-room discussions, without believing in your own dialectics and smirking at them with your heart aching inside you…The question is not resolved in you, and there lies your great grief, for it urgently demands resolution…”

But can it be resolved in myself? Resolved in a positive way? Ivan Fyodorovich continued asking strangely, still looking at the elder with a certain inexplicable smile.

Here is the echo of the Lady of Little Faith’s question, this time asked by Ivan the genius atheist. Can one become convinced that their life has meaning?

“Even if it cannot be resolved in a positive way, it will never be resolved in the negative way either-you yourself know this property of your heart, and therein lies the whole of its torment…”

This last part by Zosima struck me as very profound; if the conclusion that life is bereft of meaning is so true, so iron clad in logic and cemented in reason, then why do we resist the conclusion in our hearts? Even Ivan, a rational, extremely smart atheist wrestle with it in his heart?

Zosima says, like he said to the lady, that it cannot be proven (in the positive way, that life has meaning) but now goes further to also assert it cannot be proven in the negative way. If it could, our minds would resolve this fact like any other and not be tormented by it. No one is tormented by the fact the sky is blue although the sun is white.

So perhaps one can be convinced of their being meaning in life, and that is a lovely thought.

For completeness, here is the rest of what Zosima says:

…But thank the Creator that he has given you a lofty heart, capabale of being tormented by such a torment, ‘to set your mind on things that are above, for our true homeland is in heaven.’ May God grant that your heart’s decision overtake you still on earth, and may God bless your path!”

The Brothers Karamazov

I started reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky as translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

I started reading due to a University of Toronto psychology professor, Jordan B. Peterson. In one of his talks he is asked “What is required reading for life?” and Dr. Peterson replied that anything by Dostoevsky. Since I am currently enamored by Dr. Peterson, I picked up a copy of The Brothers Karamazov.

I’m currently an 1/8th into the story, and in these writings I am not going to bother to summarize the book but instead focus on the passages I found meaningful and why.

Triangles: Finally

A long time ago, I built a rudimentary program that would take an image, take a number of triangles, and do it’s best to recreate that image using the triangles. I also created a blog to talk about the program and the algorithmic choices I made while building it.

Today I’m pleased to announce that the project is restarted!
Screen Shot of Generated Triangles

In my infinite wisdom, I took down the blog content from my server, and the code from my GitHub and saved them locally onto my laptop.* While I was moving to San Jose my car was robbed u__u;; and I lost all my work.
My Ford Escape with two windows smashed I did get a half pack of cigarettes, a crack pipe and a rock in exchange; so it wasn’t a complete disaster.

The good news is that as of last weekend, the project is back on. I spent a long night trying to remember C++ well enough to hack together a shadow of what the program was before with the hope that it one day outshine its predecessor.

Check out this example using a red panda who has become the “Lenna” of this project.

Red Panda staring into the camera Same image as above but created with translucent trianglesSo with that in mind I’ll be posting periodic updates on my Twitter and larger updates and lessons learned on this blag.

You can laugh at my pitiful attempt to re-enter coding here.

Update: I used to have a website up where it was drawing stuff but that fell apart too.

*Why did you not have a backup?

1) Because I am not a clever man.
2) Because I was undergoing a name change, and was changing hosts as part of hosting them under a new account.

Mustard

Yellow Bird on a Branch
Are you bored in long car rides? Do you like excuses to touch people you’re normally not ‘allowed’ to touch? Does the arbitrary excite you? Are you still reading anyways?

Allow me to introduce you to: Mustard

The rules of Mustard are simple*

  1. Whenever you see a yellow car, say the word ‘mustard’ and poke someone in the car.

*While I worked at Capital One I played this with my carpool who thought is was the dumbest thing in the world until they were emotionally invested. Being the smart asses they were this simple rule was picked apart and we came up rules with advanced play.

Mustard: Advanced Play

Guiding Principle: Whenever you see a yellow car, say the word ‘mustard’ and poke someone.

Rules

What is a car?

A car is any motorized vehicle, including compacts, SUVs, trucks, semis and others.

Exceptions
The following vehicles do not count as ‘cars’ and cannot have ‘mustard’ declared on them:

  1. School Buses
  2. Construction Vehicles
  3. Motorcycles

Parked cars can have mustard called upon them. They do not need to be on the road with you for mustard to be called.

Once mustard is declared, mustard cannot be re-declared using that same car for 24 hours.

What counts as ‘yellow?’

First off, the car must be primarily yellow, meaning that 2/3rds of the car body must be painted in a qualifying yellow color. For semis, only the tractor color counts for determining the validity.

What is yellow? For most cars it should be obvious. A few less than honest players may start calling very orangish/greenish/brownish yellow cars much to the annoyance of the other players. So what is an acceptable yellow?

Using the Hue, Saturation and Luminescence scale, acceptable yellow ranges from:

  1. Hue: 50-60
  2. Saturation: 50-100
  3. Luminescence: 35-65

So if there is a dispute, take a photo of the car and use a color picker to determine who is correct.

Calling Mustard

When you call ‘mustard’ you must immediately poke another member of your cohort. Players may not ‘save up’ mustards to unleash a poking frenzy later. If you don’t poke right away (within 5 seconds) you have wasted your ‘mustard’ and lose your right to poke.

Often, two or more players will call ‘mustard’ on the same car at the same time and engage in a poke simultaneously. This is taken in good faith and both pokes are delivered and considered ‘good.’

If a player calls mustard on a non-yellow car, or on a car that has already been called, or after 5 seconds then they are to receive punishment. To discourage this behavior, one member of the group will punch the offender in their cheating face the shoulder. Like calling mustard, one only has a short window of time to administer punishment.

When you call mustard, it is considered good form to point out the car you are calling it on. This helps avoid confusion and lets players keep track of errors to administer punishments.