The Quiet Ones

October 30, 2020

You see, I think [Steve Jobs] better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished. — Jony Ive

Pay attention to the quieter people in your team. Your attention may not be naturally drawn to them, but they work as hard as the ones who dominate the conversation, monopolize the white board, or make the loudest noises.

A dominant and outspoken personality will take over every conversation. To an introvert, this is like sucking oxygen out of the room: it leaves them unable to think or express themselves, and ultimately leads to their disinterest and discouragement.

A wise leader limits the influence of the outspoken, dominant characters in the group to ensure that the thoughtful and the slow to speak also have their ideas heard and hard work recognized.

Designing for Accessibility

October 1, 2020

We’re all disabled; it’s only a matter of degrees.

I need prosthetics to see clearly. I have dental patches to fix my broken teeth. My hearing is diminished. My range of motion isn’t what it used to be. My body no longer heals like when I was a teenager.

When we design for people with disability, we’re really designing for everyone.

Irrational Exuberance During COVID-19

July 12, 2020

I’ve been scratching my head about why the stock market has been so…exuberant…in the past two months. Nothing about the economy or the pandemic has substantially changed, a one-time $1200 check didn’t fix much, and PPP loans are just more lagniappe for the crony crowd which aren’t actually helping to save jobs. We have twice as many new cases per day now than in May, and the numbers are growing exponentially.

Unemployment now stands at a daunting 11% (down from a peak of 14.7%), and many companies have permanently removed jobs that were here 4 months ago. The economy is shrinking and undergoing fundamental shifts before our eyes, and that means turmoil for the least powerful workers among us.

Civilian unemployment rate

Read more…

Musings on Software Complexity

June 18, 2020

I’ve spent 22 years in tech. And one thing anyone who’s been in the industry this long will tell you is that the degree of complexity involved in building software for a modern computer, from the bottom up, is truly, mind-blowingly, incomprehensibly, staggering.

Abstractions atop abstractions, dependencies upon dependencies at build and run time, archeological layers of backward compatibility and reasons-for-being, remnants of design trends that came and went, vestigial features never fully developed, unique and bespoke solutions and optimizations, workarounds for hardware, unexpected behaviors long fossilized into an unspoken part of the interface—and all under active development and maintenance by legions of humans, ever-changing.

It’s an awesome testimony to the ability of humans to tame (or at least safely ignore) complexity to a level that fits within working memory; to come up with abstractions that define a problem space which can then be wrangled by a small team.

But once in a while, you look behind the veil and see the billions of tiny gears meshing to create a working machine, and wonder how it all works. And yet, it mostly does. No one can comprehend the whole, yet somehow, everything comes together as a useful tool.

I’m not sure whether this is a reason to celebrate or mourn, but it is something marvelous to behold.

Read more…

Facts vs Cultural Identity

February 11, 2020

Thanks to Marc Verstaen for pointing me at this wonderful paper by Dan M. Kahan from Yale.

tldr: when it comes to answering questions on science, people can either tell you what they know, or which social group they belong to, but not simultaneously.

The paper posits that we have two, sometimes conflicting personas:

It is the dual nature of human reasoners as collective-knowledge acquirers and cultural-identity protectors.

Sometimes these two sides conflict. And when they do, people will choose to tell you which social group they belong to, even if they know the facts are not on their side.

Response to a question on evolution, disentangled by religious

Read more…