Tuesday, October 10, 2023

A Thousand Tiny Steps

One day, for good or ill, you may look up to find yourself in an altogether unexpected place. And in that moment, you might consider how you could have possibly arrived there. The answer is, of course, one thousand tiny steps.

The question for right now is: what road are you on and/or where are you heading?

Outcomes derive from many small decisions.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Art & Commerce

In the 2002 film "Nickolas Nickelby", based on the book of the same name by Charles Dickens, an amazingly brief scene shows us the everlasting struggle between the work we want to do, and the work we have to do. Engineers, in particular, are known to dabble in the bits of engineering which are pure fun, creative, and exploratory, and nearly recoil at the thought of making something on a deadline which will be sold to a customer. But, as we know, sales sponsors the engineering effort.

That connection, to me, is what makes this scene so spectacular:

Art & Commerce Clip (YouTube)

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Screwups are Cumulative

If you look around you, there are likely tons of things in disarray in small ways.

If you simply leave these alone, more disarray will accumulate.

If you leave these things alone long enough, they can grow larger than your ability to cope with them.

I'm starting to see that most people don't experience colossal, earth-shaking, life-altering failures in their lives, but rather they experience small accumulations of cruft and disarray that permeate a large portion of their lives, and eventually cause high stress and failure. Or, at the very least, it limits how high they can climb.

In my career, I've experienced the slow, creeping accumulation of cruft and disarray that, over years, causes the exhaustion of good will and even the eventual loss of a job.

I've never been able to put my finger on that exactly. I felt in my failures that I had my part to play, but the crushing blow was always dealt by outside events outside of my control.

But the truth is, in most instances of personal failure, it's because I had let the small things get rotted away to where the support structures weren't there when support was needed. I felt like I had the habit of delivering when it counted. Big projects were successfully delivered/deployed, after all. But, of course along the way I was allowing the erosion of goodwill by not keeping up with the small asks, and I was allowing myself to be seen as less valuable.

So, what's the takeaway then?

I guess the takeaway is not to let the cruft accumulate; don't let the goodwill erode; don't concede to let people continually see you as weak in seemingly small areas, fight for your good name; and set things in order in small ways, all of the time.

Then, if failure comes hurling at you, you will have done all you could to have withstood the blow; and you might even survive it, and continue the fight.

Now, about these messy, dusty rooms, and unfinished house-projects...

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What You Work on Is More Important Than How Hard You Work

This morning I opened a work-item with a vague description of the work to be done. Since I don't know much about this particular project, I immediately went over to see my boss who has extensive knowledge of the system, just to get a head start on understanding the basics of how to approach the problem. He looked at the ticket and the related code, and said the requirement was actually different than stated, and that I should update a regex statement in the code to resolve the problem (and add some extra tests too).

I got to work immediately.

The regex statement change was not nearly as straightforward as I would have expected, and within an hour, I realized that the only reliable approach I could conceive-of was to modify the code, not the Regex. So, I wrote code instead of the Regex and made quite an elegant and extensible solution to the set of problems to which my work-item belongs. Still, I was feeling bad that I couldn't fix it with only a Regex change, but at the end of the day I sent my boss a PR so he could look at my solution and added some notes about wishing I could have done it the way he envisioned.

My boss came over almost immediately.

It turns out that he saw my solution and immediately realized that the requirement in the work-item was simply dumb, and that we shouldn't allow the users to do what the ticket was asking for.


Yet another instance of "What you work on is more important than how hard you work.", an idea which comes up a lot these days.

To abstract this idea a bit, you see people, smart ones too, who chose the wrong career and work harder than I do at their profession, and yet they make far less. What mattered most from the beginning was what they chose to do with themselves. Had they known the right thing to work on, they could have far surpassed me by now.

Working on the right thing is the primary concern, so if you can manage it, do that instead. If not, sometimes you can still earn a paycheck while occasionally making elegantly-written throw-away code.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Gaps


The feeling that you don't quite know enough, and can't decide on the best direction.

The impulse to seek knowledge to bridge the chasm between where you are and where you want to go.

The eagerness with which you listen to topic authorities, only to feel let down after because you still don't understand how they arrived at success.

The mentors to meet with for lunches who became successful during a different era that themselves can't seem to recapture the old flame.

The peer group you join, where smart people spend time. But most are just aping the things they've heard and have no direct experience with success.


You can't fill the gaps, not for certain, and not permanently.


The gaps between the things we know are best filled with the things we do.


Pick a direction, go a ways, test the wind, repeat.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Enemy Night, Friend Morning

Oh Enemy Night, oh Friend Morning
How often I confuse thee to my great sorrow.
Better now to bed, cease from striving.
And wake to take my aim the morrow.

For at end of day, when my hopes have failed
I seek to draw favor of this enemy veiled,
And in this, I borrow from my friend morning,
And fecklessly I give its power to the night.

How night loves diversion,
And morning loves the getting.
Morning cannot yield guiltless leisure,
And night consumes my time unwitting.

But, go to now, and sleep,
Go early to bed and set thy hope upon a new day.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Path of Least Resistance

At any given moment people are fleeing from problems, some of which are simply the equilibrium points of life: hunger, boredom, physical pain, poverty.

Businesses exist solely as paths of least resistance between where customers are and where they want to be.

To the extent a customer understands their problem very well, its much easier to put forward evidence necessary to convince them to buy your product or service.

If you correctly optimize all visible and invisible traits that convey to your customer the ability to be their path of least resistance compared to other alternatives, then you win.

Examples of this:

* Uber exists because cabs are disgusting and expensive.
* McDonalds exists because people don't want to drive far to eat a reliably consistent, cheap meal.
* Walmart exists because people don't want to visit 17 specialty stores.
* Sonic exists because people want to eat in their cars and not be judged by it.
* BMW exists because some people don't want to identify with poor domestic US car brands. 

To be the path of least resistance:

* Optimize your business/product to solve most/all/enough of the pain.
* Advertise and talk to customers in terms of their specific problem (segmentation)
* Answer all their questions, be very easy to talk to, and generally treat them very kindly.
* Give your customers a clear idea of how long something will take (contrast with alternatives)
* Don't be too slow to pass-on savings to your customers.

Things to avoid:

Some companies make themselves the path of least resistance by putting up artificial barriers (pharma, spyware companies, acquisitions of competitors, etc). Yuck.

Be nice.

A Thousand Tiny Steps

One day, for good or ill, you may look up to find yourself in an altogether unexpected place. And in that moment, you might consider how you...