July 15, 2005

Sunkist Exposť

Another sleepless night, but not for a good reason.

This time, it was because just before going to bed, I drank a cup of Sunkist soda. A bottle of soda pop comes for free with a dinner order from our local Chinese restaurant "Golden China", so Grandma Ivy picked out a bottle of the orangey stuff. "Don't get a Coke," said I. "Get something without caffeine."

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Posted by David at 07:21 AM | Comments (3)

July 19, 2005

Telecommuting Safety Tips

Have you ever slipped into a dream on your Day Of Endless Meetings?

You: (grinning in a Dilbert tie while reclining on a beach) "Ha ha, I have found the perfect hiding place. My enemies will never find me here at Waikiki, thousands of miles away from Imperial Headquarters."
You: (raising one arm and setting the beach aglow with your reflective tanless pale skin) "I have broken free of my chains! I will never ever attend a weekly status meeting again - I am a Telecommuter! Moohoohoohahaha. Heh."

The thing about this dream is that the beach fantasy is real, but the part about being hidden is not. In our internet-connected wireless cell phone world you will have no absolutely trouble working from Hawaii or Paris or Your Bedroom or wherever. But wherever you are, there will still be the meetings. And that is a good thing.

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Posted by David at 10:08 AM | Comments (6)

July 20, 2005

Microsoft Departures

Kai-Fu Lee: Another high-profile Microsoft departure. Certainly not the first, and it will not be the last. This time Microsoft sues. Sound familiar? Happened to a bunch of us at Crossgain in 2001. Despite all the fire and brimstone, we later did well at Crossgain, and I'm personally doing just fine now, thank you, and very happy to have "graduated" from Microsoft.

So then why the lawsuits? They are an attempt to stop a wave. They are designed to be a spectacle.

My friend Dave Maymudes (another fellow ex-Microsoftee) has a theory about how these sorts of departures continue to shape Microsoft culture. His theory seems to have a grain of truth, and to me it seems to explain Microsoft's need to resort to lawsuits, so I will relate the observations as best I can.

Dave points out that in the over the years, as Microsoft employees got rich from stock options, people left the company in waves. These waves of departures have defined the culture company they left behind....

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Posted by David at 07:58 AM | Comments (1)

July 21, 2005

Carrots and Sticks; MSFT at 26

Continuing and expanding yesterday's article on Microsoft departures and lawsuits.

The best way of retaining an employee is to make them happy!

But as a "mature" Dow Jones Industrial, Microsoft needs to milk a massive ongoing income stream. It means bean-counting is a priority, and that means the company has been cutting out many of the joys in life, from benefits to "company store discounts" to free cans of Mr. Pibb.

Worse, the company has lost a whole generation of inspirational leaders. Microsoft has become a company full of old-line managers and only scattered groups of junior creative people. As a whole the company finds it hard to differentiate "innovation" from "risk" and "wastefulness".

The company is just not such a fun place anymore. It grows more bureaucratic and slow and political every year. So talented people are leaving.

There are a couple ways to retain an employee, even if they are not particularly happy. One way is to promise to make them rich if they stay....

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Posted by David at 06:16 AM | Comments (1)

July 23, 2005

World's best Radio Station

My iTunes playlist crossed a milestone the other day, and I didn't even notice. According to iTunes, I now have more than 24 hours of music on my playlist - 1.2 days - 459 songs. Almost none of my music is ripped from CDs because Heidi had sold most of my old CDs long ago. (We got, what maybe $40 for the whole pile? Drat!) So I guess that means I've spent $455 at the iTunes music store now. Wow, that's a lot of money 99 cents at a time.

Though it is a wonderful thing. I can listen to all my favorite music all day, and still never hear the same thing twice. I absolutely love my playlist. It is way way better than radio.

Or is it? While I wait around for an iPod-in-the-car solution that is better than the FM transmitter hacks that you can get from Monster or Belkin or Griffin, I still listen to the radio when driving around. And so a new station got my attention....

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Posted by David at 05:28 AM | Comments (8)

July 27, 2005

A Programming Question

Last week, Anthony (my 6-year-old son) came home from summer camp and tapped me on the shoulder while I was working in my home office.

"How long does it take to make a computer game?" he asked.

I looked up from my work for a second. "Maybe five years." Anthony is always full of such questions, and sometimes I have no idea where they come from. He never had too much of an interest in my line of business before.

"That's a long time," he said.

He stood there, next to me, watching me debugging code for a few minutes. Then he spoke up again.

"How about a really easy game. Like a pet show?"

Ah hah. Now I see what he is asking....

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Posted by David at 07:30 AM | Comments (6)

July 28, 2005

Hitting the High Notes

Joel has posted another nice article on why retaining the best programmers is the root of all software engineering.

Of course, he is absolutely right. Building software is, above all else, a creative endeavor. It is not a science - it is a squishy, messy, hard-to-get-a-handle on field. Too many managers are inclined to treat it as an "assembly line" process. It is not.

Writing software has more similarities to music, art, or writing.

Like any creative field, there is a huge difference between the "merely good" and the "very very best" programmers. And even among the very very best, there is a huge gap between the mere superstars and the trully uniquely stellar.

Both Google and Microsoft understand Joel's point well, I think. And the continuing fracas over Kai-Fu is good evidence of this. It is worth fighting over, compensating, and coddling the very best.

But there is another insight that is often missed...

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Posted by David at 11:35 AM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2005

Haaarg, world!

Continuing the "Anthony's first program" series from last time.

When my six-year-old son Anthony asked me if he could program his own computer game, I was worried that he might be totally disappointed. It is not 1979 anymore. The gap between the primitive software you can put together in an afternoon and highly polished multimedia software you can buy at the store for $9.99 is huge.

In 2005, could programming hold the interest of a six-year-old at all? Does anybody even program their own computers anymore? And what tools would you use as a beginner? Which language? Which operating system?

I am a professional programmer, but the tools I use seem far out of reach of a beginner. I have no idea how a real novice should learn to program in 2005. And so after dinnertime last Friday, when Anthony asked me for the 10th time to help him write a computer game, we would have to come up with something. It was time to get started....

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Posted by David at 05:53 AM | Comments (29)

July 30, 2005

Divided Loyalty

Microsoft is keeping itself in the news with the Kai-Fu lawsuit. As a former Microsoftee, it makes me think back to a bigger legal event when I was there: the Jackson ruling.

Normally, when you work for a company, you are rooting for its victories. But sometimes you find that you are cheering for the opposing side.

For example, what happens when a company improves profits by squeezing benefits? What happens when a company retains talent by suing its own former employees? It is not so clear who you should be rooting for, The Company or The Employee. It doesn't matter if it is Wal-Mart or Microsoft. When a company works against the interests of its own employees, it can divide loyalties.

The most spectacular, and most revealing, case where "Microsoft company" interests ran counter to "employee" and "shareholder" and "customer" interests, I think, was the Microsoft breakup case before Judge Penfield Jackson back in 2000. When Jackson ordered the breakup, you might think that legal defeat would have sent shudders of disappointment through the rank-and-file.

However, employees did not get demoralized. In fact, although it was a subtle shift, in some corners of company you could almost smell the atmosphere change for the better. It was the smell of hope....

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Posted by David at 08:25 AM | Comments (3)