Are You Factoring Yourself Out Of Your Own Life?

January 25th, 2014 Comments off

So I’ve been at Jive for over two years now.  In those two years I’ve seen our employee count surge from about 35 to over 200 as our customer base has grown by between 100%-200% each year, as it had done the previous few years before I joined.  Our engineering department when I joined was made up of four software developers and an operations person; now we have nearly 60 people in engineering including a new CTO (whom I interviewed and helped recruit), Scrum masters, product owners, QA professionals, UX professionals, and a slew of web developers, mobile developers, operations and dev/ops guys, and more regular old software guys like me.

I was just now trying to think how many people I’ve interviewed this year.  I’m not sure the number but I put it at least over 50, probably closer to 70 or 80.  Often, during interviews, I will detect an underlying concern or two, concerns that I’ve also felt in my past.  Working at Jive has caused me to see things differently, though.  So I wanted to talk a bit about some of these concerns.  Here’s a sampling.

“I am looking for a stable job, and Jive doesn’t seem stable.”

This is an interesting one.  Usually what people think they mean is that they want a place where working hard is enough to ensure they never get fired or laid off; they don’t want the company’s lack of a viable business plan or strategy, or an economic downturn, to affect their employment.  A “stable” company is generally a fiction, by the way; nothing’s constant but change.

At this point I will point out that Jive operates in the black, has extremely high customer retention, and doubles or triples our customer base each year.  You don’t need to be a math major to work out that Jive is incredibly healthy financially.

But this usually isn’t enough to convince people.  Often what they really mean is they want a job from a company that has been around a long time and people have heard of.  That’s the only interpretation I can think of where a job with Novell is more “stable” than a job with Jive.

Instead of looking for a stable job, I think people should be looking for a job where they can make a difference.

“I am looking for career growth, and Jive doesn’t seem to be able to offer me that.”

When people feel this way it is usually because they have just found out that our organization is pretty flat and we don’t have formalized job titles, career growth tracks, annual review processes, or regular one-on-ones with managers.  But they fail to understand why:  We are too busy growing to spend a lot of time doing that stuff.

Don’t misunderstand.  It isn’t that those other things aren’t helpful or important.  But consider this:  How much time do you spend at your job planning what career growth objectives you have, quantifying your career growth, measuring it, proving it, documenting it, and arguing about it?  How much time do you spend agonizing over whether you are exhibiting the specific behaviors you were told you had to exhibit in order to earn a promotion to the next job level in your career path?  How many times have you been disappointed or frustrated because your progress in your “growth area” (i.e. weakness) wasn’t enough to merit the promotion you wanted, or you couldn’t be rated highly because of some political reason?  How did that make you feel about your job?

What if you stopped doing all of those things and spent that time actually doing a job you love?  What if you managed your own career instead?  What if you took charge of identifying your own areas where you want to grow, found the feedback from your boss or your peers you needed to grow there, and then just did it without having a formalized process around it?  What if instead of trying to get promoted to “Senior Engineer”, you just started being a senior engineer?

Ironically, when people consider this question, they are preferring larger organizations that have well-established career growth paths with defined career levels and job titles.  They are preferring these organizations without asking why they have these well defined career paths.  They are failing to consider that many of these organizations do this because they have trouble attracting and keeping talented employees without these career growth programs; they are compensating for something else they are missing, like innovation.

A career growth path is of little value if there is no actual growth.  To me this is the big irony.  If a software development organization grows from four to forty in two years, don’t you think the people there at the beginning are going to grow?  You bet.  What about a software development organization that is not even allowed to backfill the positions they lose?  It doesn’t matter how good a job you do of meeting all your career growth plan objectives; if the organization you work for isn’t actually growing, there aren’t very many opportunities for you to grow, either.

Instead of looking for a job with a well-defined career growth plan, I think people should be looking for a job where they are going to have many opportunities to grow and contribute.

“I am looking for a job with a good work-life balance, and Jive seems to expect a lot.”

Let’s be clear about a couple of things.

First, finding balance between work and life is important.  That balance is a very personal thing.  It is not the same balance for everyone.  But that balance is very important.

Second, Jive does expect a lot.  We want to be awesome.  You don’t become awesome by doing the average.  Achieving above-average results requires above-average effort.  This shouldn’t be that hard to understand.

At face value, this sentiment is pretty benign, but sometimes it hides an underlying issue, which is that, secretly, this person is unwilling or afraid to put their heart into their work.

I understand this; I’ve been there.  Starting in 1998 when I went to work for IBM, I spend the next TEN YEARS of my career working mostly on projects that nobody ever used.  Most of the stuff I worked on was canceled, or the company went under, or we spent months working on a prototype feature that the business said was absolutely critical only to find out later that, no, we don’t need that, but this next prototype feature IS absolutely critical, rinse and repeat.  The only project of any substance during that time period was Novell Forge, which actually was shipped and people used, but Novell ignored so much they shut it down in that same time frame.

I can understand why a person who has become accustomed to that can learn to not be passionate about their work.  It is heart-wrenching otherwise.  After a few years of pouring your heart into your work and seeing it fail due to external causes, I can see why a person would choose to stop caring and start living for the weekend.  At this point your job because a means to an end, the thing you do for 1/3 of your waking hours so you can do the things you are passionate about.

But what if your job was something you were passionate about?

Wouldn’t it be better to spend your working hours doing something that really matters to you?  Wouldn’t it be better to have a job that you can pour your whole soul into and feel like you are doing something meaningful?

Often, the phrase work-life balance is really used to convey the idea that “I suffer through my work so I can do what I like to do in life, so I don’t want work taking up any more of my time than necessary.”  If instead you spend your time at work doing what you like, suddenly the distinction between work and life is pretty blurry.

Instead of looking for the job that requires the least of a person so they can spend more time doing what they like to do, I think people should be looking for a job they can be passionate about so they can spend more time doing what they like to do.

Our Role

As I’ve been thinking about this the past few days, I started to notice a common thread.  Let’s review the main issues again:

  • “Is this a stable job?”  vs.  ”Is this a job where I can make a difference?”
  • “Is there a defined career growth plan?”  vs.  ”Is there a lot of opportunity for me to grow and contribute?”
  • “Is the minimum contribution acceptable?”  vs.  ”Is this a job I can throw myself into?”

There’s a clear pattern here.  Do you see it?

  • “What is this company going to do for me?”  vs.  ”What can I do for this company?”

It’s funny.  A few years ago I would have never guessed I would write a blog post like this.  Obviously the relationship between an employer and an employee has to be mutually beneficial for both to prosper over the long term; I don’t think that needs explaining.

I don’t believe that most who have asked these types of questions are poor employees.  I wasn’t, when I was asking them, or even wondering them inside my head.  However, what I’ve come to understand is that those questions take a key factor out of the equation:  Ourselves.

If we ask a question like one of these I’ve discussed, we are, essentially, trying to figure out whether aligning ourselves with the company is going to make our life better.  When we think this way, we are discounting our involvement in that.  We are thinking that this job is a thing that is going to happen TO us.  The employment decision then becomes one of determining what things the job might do to us if we align ourselves with that company, how likely we think those things (good and bad) are to happen, and whether that compares better to the current situation.

Our involvement is completely a non-factor in that assessment, when the reality is actually the opposite.

If instead we are trying to figure out what we can offer a job position, the whole thought process changes.

Is my job at Jive a stable job?  Well, my performance at Jive has a lot to do with that.  I’ve delivered or helped deliver a number of features that account for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars of annual revenue.  Revenue that Jive would not have if someone had not performed their job.  That revenue makes Jive more stable.  Jive is more stable because I made a difference.  It would be wrong for me to discount my ability to make a difference at Jive when I am trying to determine whether Jive is stable.

Is there an opportunity for career growth at Jive?  My contribution at Jive has a lot to do with that as well.  My ability to execute has led to greater revenue and to greater confidence in the engineering team, which has led to greater responsibility, more interviewing, more hiring, more mentorship, more learning, bigger scale, larger products, larger customers, more complex technology, and staggering growth in both our customer base and our employee base.  Rightly or wrongly, certain key names like IBM and Microsoft on my resume have had a positive impact in attracting higher-profile employees and customers, which also leads to greater revenue, cooler and more interesting projects, and an expanded network of colleagues as we’ve hired really dynamic people from all over the country, and even the world, to work with us; and with that expanded network comes expanded learning from people of diverse backgrounds and experiences.  Has my technical ability, my experience, my ability to deliver product, my leadership ability, my business understanding, all grown over the past two years?  Like no other two year period of my career.  It would be wrong for me to discount my ability to contribute at Jive when I am trying to determine whether Jive can offer me opportunities for career growth.

Does Jive offer me a good work-life balance?  Well, in Jive I found a company that I really care about.  Not only do I naturally refer to Jive in the first-person plural (“at Jive, we do…” or “for us, Jive is…”), but I find myself referring to Jive as my company, even though I am not a founder, and treating as such, e.g. “I expect this at my company”.  I know what we are capable of, I have seen what the world can be like with what we have to offer, and I cannot abide the thought of failure.  I know each executive personally, I know their wives, and I’ve been to some of their houses and out to dinner and rock concerts with them a number of times.  I have good personal friends in every department of the company.  These people’s lives, their families lives, their future goals and dreams, depend upon me to do my job, just my life, my family’s life, and my future goals and dreams depend on them to do theirs.  I have to be able to look these friends in the eye and tell them that I am doing the best I can to make Jive successful.  I am working on stuff that is interesting and awesome and challenging and making a difference to many, many customers that I care about.  I spend my time each day doing what I love, and part of the reason for that is that I have made my job at Jive something that I love to do.  It would be wrong for me to discount my passion for Jive when I am trying to determine if Jive can offer me what I want in my life.

Reading through this sounds like I think I did it all.  I don’t.  I’m just pointing out that my involvement in my job makes a difference as to whether my job is what I want it to be.

This is generally applicable to life as well.  Too often we approach life as a thing that happens to us, discounting the part we play in it.  We evaluate our marriage by what it offers us instead of what we can put into it; the value of our friendships by how often they call us instead of how often we call them; the quality of our life by how much we receive instead of how much we offer.  We don’t consider that our efforts to contribute more toward a better marriage, better friendships, or a better life are going to lead to a better marriage, better friendships, or a better life.  We don’t consider that, in large part, our jobs, our marriages, and our lives are what we choose to make of them.

So here’s the question for you.  What do you wish was different about your life?  Are you waiting for life to happen to you and feeling annoyed that it is not happening to you in the way you want?  What could you do to turn the focus inward and do something differently to make your life more of what you want it to be?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

You Are Your Own Best Internet Filter

November 24th, 2013 Comments off

Recently I have seen a lot of interest in a petition on WhiteHouse.gov entitled “Require Porn to Be an Opt-Out Feature of Internet Service Providers Rather than a Standard Feature”.  The title makes me chuckle; I doubt any ISP advertises the existence of porn on the Internet as one of their “features”:

Hey, Internet user!  You should switch to use our company, FastWires, as your ISP!  We offer the following features:

  • Selectable bandwidth packages from 10, 20, 50, and 100 mBit download speeds
  • Reasonable monthly fees with no contracts
  • Free static IP address
  • Prefetching and caching of most popular news websites every day (USA Today, Wall Street Journal, ESPN, etc.)
  • Porn

Yeah I’m not seeing it.

This petition has expired now, so you can’t see the content of the actual petition.  Just trust me when I say the wording of the petition fails to live up to the standard of the title, and that’s saying something.  Fortunately, it has now expired, and you can’t vote on it anymore.  It is now in the hands of the Federal Government, which makes me worry less about this now because if the Federal Government has to spend $600 million dollars for a simple website like HealthCare.gov, well, I don’t think they can actually borrow enough money to pull off any reasonable implementation of this petition, if there was one, which there isn’t.

I’m not a fan of pornography on the internet.  I wish it wasn’t there.  However, I am a fan of freedom.  I’m also a fan of reality.  So I’m going to explain why this, and other similar petitions, are 1) technological problems that are, for all intents and purposes, nearly impossible to solve, and 2) are likely to achieve exactly the opposite of what the people proposing them are hoping to achieve.

To begin, let me try to help you understand why content filtering is so difficult.

Suppose you are reading text in a web page.  We are talking about written word, plain text, no pictures.  You read a paragraph and determine that it is pornographic.  As a result you close that web page.

Exactly what went into that decision?

Well, it may be that the paragraph you read was very graphic, explicit, leaving nothing at all to the imagination.  It is likely that anyone who read that would agree that it is offensive.

But what if it isn’t graphic or explicit?  You probably wouldn’t require it to be so extreme to consider it pornographic.  Your brain would evaluate all sorts of characteristics of the written content, like nuance, metaphor, intent, verbiage, specific words and word patterns, context, and more.  Importantly, your brain would evaluate how reading that made you feel, what psychological and physiological reactions you had to reading that content, in order to categorize it as inappropriate or not.

Now imagine trying to draft a set of objective rules that you could apply that could be given to an objective third party to evaluate content before you see it.  Perhaps you have a friend (this is hypothetical, remember) who would happily look at all your content before it shows up on your computer, evaluate it objectively according to your rules, and then let you see it, or not, based on the application of your rules.  How likely do you think it would be that you could come up with rules that would always filter out anything you would find offensive and always let you see things that you would not find offensive?  How do you quantify the application and interpretation of context, intent, and nuance in a way that can be objectively applied?

To take this a step further, suppose your hypothetical friend offers to do this for everyone who lives on your street.  How likely do you think it would be that you could come up with a set of rules that would filter for everyone on your street in a way they all agreed with?  Do you think there would be any content living somewhere in the middle that you find offensive but your neighbor is okay with?

Even if you could complete the nearly impossible task of codifying the rules for evaluating text in a way that meets your standards, how would you be able to do that in a way that meets the standards of everyone in your neighborhood, let alone everyone in your community or your country?

When people talk about having the government filter the internet, or having the government require service providers to filter the internet, this is exactly what they are proposing:  That the government, somehow, come up with a set of rules that will correctly identify everything that is pornographic as pornography, never identify anything as pornographic that is not pornography, and will work for everyone in the entire country.

Keep in mind that I chose the easiest example.  Pictures, music/spoken word, and video are orders of magnitude harder to solve.

Software that can perform this task is essentially active filtering software, software that evaluates the appropriateness of content as it passes through.  Usually when we think of active filtering software, we are thinking of software that runs on our home computer, not at our service provider.  But it is the same idea.  Software that can perform this task well is hypothetical.  This is the problem with active filtering software.  People are paying a lot of money for active content filtering software which is, honestly, not very good at actually filtering.  It will either let in stuff you don’t like, or keep out stuff you want, or probably both.

The human brain is very adept at fuzzy logic, the science of answering questions like “Is this paragraph offensive?”  Computers are not.  Training computers to perform this task, even poorly, requires paying lots of people for countless hours of evaluating the performance of the software against their own interpretations.  Yes, if you are paying for an active content filter, like Net Nanny, you are paying people to look at pornography every day for their job.  Sorry if that upsets you.

When I read this petition, it was as though people think that the service providers somehow have really advanced algorithms for correctly identifying and filtering this type of content, algorithms far beyond the capabilities found in consumer-grade content filtering software, that for some reason they are keeping to themselves, and that we just need to force them to use it.  I hate to tell you but that just isn’t true.  And we somehow want them to apply these magical filters on content as it passes through their switches at the rate of thousands of requests per second or even more.  Sorry, but passing laws to require them to do what is essentially impossible doesn’t make it more possible.

So that’s why the action proposed by this petition is practically impossible to implement.  But isn’t it theoretically possible?  Isn’t it worth a try, if it means no more offensive content online?

The answer is No, and I’ll tell you why:  Censorship is a knife that cuts both ways.

I am a Christian (specifically a Mormon); being Christian is something I happen to hold in common with many of those I associate with in person or online.  This is why many people I know are signing this petition; we don’t like pornography, we think it is evil.  We’d like to be able to use the Internet having to deal with the evil.

It seems like a good idea to pass laws to keep the offensive content out by default, and let me choose if I want the offensive content.  But what is meant by offensive?

As a Christian, I believe the Bible to be God’s word meant to guide our path here on earth.  However, there are many stories in the Bible that, if read objectively through the lens of filtering offensive content, might be flagged as “offensive” to at least some portion of the population.  Certainly, some in the population would claim that any religious content is offensive to them, and would also want that filtered.  Don’t believe me?  It’s already happened.  Ask yourself why we don’t allow prayers in school anymore.

Put simply:  You can’t choose to have the government filtering “offensive” content without running the risk that something you prize and value online would fall prey to the “offensive” content filter.  You might find that because you want pornography filtered from your internet that you can no longer read the Bible online, it being filtered due to a story about a king who committed adultery with a beautiful neighbor woman.

It’s a slippery slope, this.  It seems like such a good idea.  But believe me when I tell you this:  It is never a good idea to allow the government to pass laws that force people to choose the right.  We do not become better people by being forced to do right.  We become better people only by choosing right over wrong, when we have the option to do wrong and we choose to do right anyway.

So where do we end up?  You have a couple of options:

  1. You can choose to avoid technology.  Just don’t ever use the Internet.  It’s like deciding to not drive a car because you might get in an accident.  Seems silly, but there’s a pretty low chance you will die in an automobile accident if you never ride in an automobile.
  2. You can give up and embrace our new evil overlords.  Learn to not be offended by pornography!
  3. You can recognize that in order for you to have the freedom to speak freely online you have to allow others to have the freedom to speak freely online about things that are deeply offensive to you.  You don’t have to listen, and just because they have the right to speak doesn’t mean they have the right to force you to listen.  But if you want your freedom, you have to afford them theirs, and sometimes you will hear what they are saying on accident.  You will need to know how to handle it when that happens.

Given the choices, I go with #3.

Here’s how we do it in our home:

  • The internet is only accessed in public parts of our home.
  • Our kids know a simple plan of action:  If something bad tries to get into the house, you “close the door and tell Mom or Dad.”  Even my youngest kids know this rule.  It applies to strangers at the door, to bad television shows, and to stuff online.
  • We use a basic, free content filter.  We don’t use an active filter that requires me to pay money so that someone will have the job of looking at pornography all day.  We use OpenDNS.  It is free, it applies to every device on my Wi-Fi (not just a single PC), and it is maintained by the community of people that use it, like me.  It is not perfect, but I’m pretty happy with it.
  • We take a family approach that filtering is something we do as a family to keep us all safe, as a family.  It is not something the parents do to the kids because we don’t trust them.  It is something we all do – parents and kids – to the Internet because we don’t trust the Internet.  This puts us all on the same side of the issue, and makes our approach a lot more constructive.

 

Categories: Politics Tags:

A Year After Microsoft

December 16th, 2012 View Comments

Last night, Amber and I attended the company Christmas party for my employer, Jive Communications.  It was an interesting day in another aspect also, as yesterday marked the end of my 52nd week as a Jive Communications employee.  It’s been a year since I was employed at Microsoft and closed the book on perhaps the darkest and most difficult time of my life thusfar.

I’ve thought often about my time at Microsoft, those 2 1/2 years that began with mixed anxiety and excitement, and were shortly followed by a time where I wrote on this very blog how much I loved it there, to my surprise.  It wasn’t long after that when the dark cloud settled in.  After a year and a half of that darkness, I could see no future for me at Microsoft, no way to escape it and remain employed there.  When a better opportunity came along, I left.

Before this starts to sound like an all-out bashing, let me be the first to say that it was me that brought the dark clouds in.  It is admittedly a substantial oversimplification of a series of events that aren’t really all that important.  The bottom line is that choices I made caused the badness to come.  There were things I needed to learn about myself, really hard lessons, things keeping me from being better.  I tried hard to learn them and get better, and after months and months of working on myself I thought I’d done a pretty good job.  Microsoft couldn’t seem to let it go, though.  I let the drizzle in, but it was Microsoft who called it a monsoon and insisted that the rain had to stay.

I went from a very large company to a very small one.  At the time I joined Jive Communications there were just over 30 employees.  Since that time we’ve more than doubled in size as our customer base has nearly tripled.  I have never had so much fun at work, nor have I ever been so busy or productive or learned so much.

When I left Microsoft, I was told by the site management that me and Microsoft were not a good fit.  I already knew that, but it seemed a cop-out for management to take that path.  After a year at Jive Communications, though, I can see that they definitely were right, regardless of whether they should have accepted that excuse for their inability to keep me.

There’s a lot to like about Jive, but there are a couple of things I tend to settle on.

First, we have an amazing executive team.  I know each of the executives well.  They were probably the key in getting me to come to Jive.  They are young, hungry, energetic, tenacious, and fearless, but among all of that, humble as well.  They feel they can learn from me, and are willing to impart of their experience, knowledge, and worldview to me in exchange, and I’ve learned a ton from them.

Second, our dev team has a great culture of trust, empowerment, and execution.  Trust is the key.  There is no empowerment without trust, and no execution without empowerment.  We eliminate distractions, we focus on the target, we empower people, and get out of their way to get stuff done as quickly as possible.  We forgive people when they make mistakes so long as they learn and improve.  And we have a lot of fun.

I think what sets Jive apart from other places, however, is the degree to which we care about each other.

When I’d received my offer, Jive took my wife and I out for dinner to give us a chance to meet all of the executive team and their spouses.  This dinner stood in stark contrast to other company dinners I’d attended before.  You could tell that all these people really, truly liked each other.  The spouses knew and liked the other spouses, and everyone knew everyone else’s name.  We were there at dinner talking for two hours before we mentioned anything about work, just telling jokes, talking about movies or TV shows or books or music we liked, commenting on what each other did for fun.  When work did come up, it was my wife who had the spotlight, not me.  She asked about things that mattered to her, and she got very candid and honest answers from the spouses, not the company line from the executive team.

She’s never felt such a part of my job before, never felt so much that my employer cared about her opinion.  A year afterward she feels even more this way.

This feeling of a bunch of people trying to pull together and win is incredible and awfully unique.  I love walking around the rest of the company, seeing face after face of people that matter to me, knowing that we are all doing what we can to win together.  It’s pretty amazing.

My team is hiring, by the way.  If you aren’t a good fit where you are, maybe it is time for you to consider a new opportunity also.

Categories: Programming Tags:

2012 College Football Bowl Predictions

December 10th, 2012 View Comments

It may be true that I hardly blog anymore, but I’m not missing out on my annual college football bowl predictions.  Usually this mostly a joke because, really, what do I know about college football?  But last year I guessed correctly on 75% of my picks, which I think was pretty sweet.  It is also a very high bar, but we’ll give it a shot here.

Just as a reminder, I don’t pick every game.  I only pick the games that I think are interesting to pick.  That doesn’t mean I only pick the gimmies; mostly, it means I only pick the games that I think I might watch, or otherwise that I might enjoy making fun of.

Here we go:

  • Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – Utah State v Toledo:  There is NO WAY I’m picking against my alma mater, who just happens to be nationally ranked and won ten games this season.  And, oh by the way, USU only lost two games this year by a combined total of five points, including one overtime loss to Wisconsin.  Yes, that Wisconsin.  Pick:  USU
  • San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl – BYU v San Diego State:  This is an obvious case of playing to a market.  It is pretty repulsive actually.  BYU, who is not that good and really doesn’t deserve a bowl bid, somehow gets an at-large bid to go play against San Diego State, who happens to be the only local college football team where the game is being held?  The school who regularly gets notoriety for making fun of Mormons?  Wow, what a coincidence.  It’s pretty sad that BYU gets a bid like this and USU had to win 10 games to earn their way into the Potato Bowl.  And don’t be giving me any of that “Hey! BYU beat USU!” crap.  I’m aware.  Who has ten wins this season?  Who is nationally ranked?  Anyway, my pick has nothing to do with any of that stuff above, or the fact that at least some BYU fans have actually told me this year that they don’t want me as a fan.  Both played Boise State at Boise State, and in their respective games, BYU lost and SDSU won.  Pick:  SDSU
  • Maaco Bowl Las Vegas – Washington v Boise State:  One team is so awesome their grass is blue.  One team is so lame they lost to Washington State.  Boise State is not the Boise State of the past few years, but they are still a national-caliber team.  Pick: Boise State
  • Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl – Baylor v UCLA:  See?  Here’s a tough pick.  UCLA’s got the better record, with two of their four losses coming to #8 Stanford.  Baylor is harder to figure out.  Up until mid-November they hadn’t beaten anybody significant, but then they beat then-#1 Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State to finish out the season.  Seems like they are on a roll, but UCLA will be a tough opponent.  Pick:  Baylor
  • Valero Alamo Bowl – Texas v Oregon State:  I saw Oregon State play at BYU, and they looked pretty good.  Not sure they are good enough to beat Texas, though, in what is basically a home game for the “visiting” team.  Pick:  Texas
  • Hyundai Sun Bowl – USC v Georgia Tech:  You have got to be kidding me here.  I thought you had to have a winning record to get into a bowl game, but somehow Georgia Tech gets in with a 6-7 record.  They don’t even deserve to be there.  And I really cannot stand USC at all.  Pick:  USC misses the plane because pretty-boy Matt Barkley doesn’t wanna go.  Tech plays a local high school team, but gets beat anyway.
  • Chick-Fil-A Bowl – LSU v Clemson:  Please, oh please, Clemson, find a way to pull this one off.  You’ve got the tools to do it.  Then, when you win, please knock that stupid white hat right off Les Miles head and get a grass stain on it.  On accident, of course.  Pick:  Clemson
  • Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl – Mississippi State v Northwestern:  Rule #1:  Always pick the SEC team over the Big 10 team, unless it is LSU.  Pick:  Mississippi State
  • Heart of Dallas Bowl – Purdue v Oklahoma State:  Rule #2:  Always pick the Big 12 team over the Big 10 team.  Pick:  Oklahoma State
  • Capitol One Bowl – Georgia v Nebraska:  See Rule #1.  This one comes with the added bonus of hopefully seeing that pretty boy Taylor Martinez getting tagged by Georgia’s awesome D hopefully several hundred times.  Pick:  Georgia
  • Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl – TCU v Michigan State:  See Rule #2.  Pick:  TCU
  • Outback Bowl – South Carolina v Michigan:  See Rule #1.  It is amazing how far this rule can take you, and, let’s be honest, how many correct picks you will make as a result.  SC better watch out for Denard Robinson though, but I think their awesome D-line is up to the task.  Pick:  South Carolina
  • Rose Bowl – Wisconsin v Stanford:  I am required to hate Wisconsin for beating USU.  I also feel I should cheer for Stanford.  Now that I’ve been taking their free online iOS programming courses through iTunes U, I consider myself an alumnus.  Pick:  Stanford
  • Discover Orange Bowl – Northern Illinois v Florida State:  Seriously, Northern Illinois does not stand a chance here.  A 12-1 season is nothing to scoff at, but they really have not played anyone good yet, with the possible exception of Kent State, whose own rating may have been a bit optimistic as well.  Pick:  Florida State
  • Allstate Sugar Bowl – Louisville v Florida:  Rule #3:  Always pick against the Big East.  Always.  Florida would be conference champion in any other conference in the country.  Pick:  Florida
  • Tostitos Fiesta Bowl – Oregon v  Kansas State:  Kansas State had a good run earlier this year, but I just don’t think they can hang with Oregon.  It isn’t like me to pick the PAC-12 over the Big 12, but hey, there’s no rule against it.  Pick:  Oregon
  • AT&T Cotton Bowl – Texas A&M v Oklahoma:  What happens when the SEC plays the Big 12?  It’s a tough one, since there is no rule.  What if the SEC team used to be in the Big 12 but came to the SEC and didn’t get destroyed (like Missouri)?  What if the SEC team has the first-ever freshman Heisman Trophy winner?  What if my daughter likes the SEC team because the likes to call them “The ATMs”?  Well, that makes it easier to pick.  Pick:  Texas A&M
  • BBVA Compass Bowl – Pitt v Ole Miss:  See Rule #3.  Also, SEC.  Pick:  Ole Miss
  • National Championship – Alabama v Notre Dame:  Remember how Alabama totally destroyed LSU last year?  That leads to Rule #4:  Never pick against Nick Saban.  Pick:  Alabama
  • Toilet Bowl – North Dakota Culinary & Drama College v Southern Miss:  In this annual classic based on potty jokes, the chefs, comics, and cheerleaders from ND C&D put a football team together for their one game of the season to see if the worst team in the country can beat them.  Rule #5:  NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER pick against ND C&D.  EVER.  Pick:  ND C&D in a blowout.
Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Consequences and Costcos

November 14th, 2012 View Comments

A new Costco just opened in my community.

Most people in my community are happy about this although their reasons are pretty self-centered.  They are reasons like they no longer have to drive 20 minutes to get to Costco, or that their teenage daughter has more job options in town.  Some are happy for deeper reasons, like the increased income tax revenue that will be coming into our community from many neighboring communities (which lack Costcos) as a result, or that it seems to be an indicator that perhaps the recession is taking a positive turn.

Some people in my community aren’t very happy about this at all.  This story is about them, in a way.

A number of years ago, my community was quite a bit smaller than it is today.  20 years ago it was a smallish community of just over 10,000 inhabitants, with a lot of sizable tracts of family land.  The people who lived here liked that small-town feel, sans big-town national business chains, and wanted to preserve it, so they routinely elected mayors and city council members who would keep the town small.  So when Wal-Mart came along wanting to build a new store in town, the request to rezone land for the chosen location was not approved.  Wal-Mart moved on to a neighboring community.

The citizens of my town were alright with this, seemingly.  But there was one other aspect to what they were looking for.  Individually, they wanted to take advantage of the general population growth in our area by subdividing their family land and selling it.  So when they elected the mayors and city council members that would keep the town from adding the big nationwide business chains, they also elected those that would repeatedly zone their family land as residential so they could make subdivisions full of nice little family homes.  A lot of them made some pretty good money doing it.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how this develops.  Over the next 20 years the town tripled in population, and the people that moved in didn’t hold to the same values as those who had lived here for so long.  These new move-ins had a different idea for our community.  It didn’t take long before us new move-ins could sway the vote for the mayors and city council members.  When Costco came calling, things were different.  The new city leaders were in favor of bringing in businesses like this, so land was condemned and rezoned to allow for the new Costco and many other businesses that are now moving into the surrounding business park.

I find it interesting how many long-time residents opposed this shift in the community’s mindset, yet they basically brought it as a consequence of the choices they made.  In fairness, I don’t know of any specific individuals that this story describes, but it is a pretty accurate representation of the series of events.

We humans do this a lot.  We want the freedom to make our own choices but not have to deal with the natural consequences.  I think a big part of maturity is recognizing that just because you declare that gravity doesn’t apply to you doesn’t keep you from coming down if you jump up.

That’s why it was so discouraging this last election season to see so many people who don’t seem to understand this point.  No amount of wanting to be able to afford universal health care and social security and lower taxes and green energy subsidies and better education and great social programs can change the fact that our nation is deeply in debt and we cannot afford all these things.  It was our choices that led us here.  We can only get out of this mess by making the choices that lead naturally to the consequences we are looking for.  Wishing it alone doesn’t make it so.

Categories: Politics Tags:

Football Observations

October 13th, 2012 View Comments

People often ask whether I’m a BYU fan, since I live in Utah county.  These are the more aware, more sensitive ones.  The average person just assumes that I must be a BYU fan since I live in Utah county and are surprised when I explain that I’m not really, at least not to the degree they are thinking of.

Of course, the most aware ones know that I’m a big fan of college football, period, and that I simply enjoy watching great games played by college kids who love to compete.  If they know me at all they know I love SEC football in particular.  But I am a fan of the local teams, too, depending on the circumstances.

Recently I was invited to attend the USC v. Utah game in Salt Lake.  I made the observation that, despite all the friends I have that are BYU fans, not a single one of them had ever invited me to attend a BYU game with them.  Yet I have much fewer Utah fans, but they were the ones to invite me to attend.  I joked at work that I decided I would be a Utah fan since it seemed clear that the Utah fans wanted me to be a fan and the BYU fans did not.

Everyone on my team at work is a BYU fan so they didn’t really like this idea.  One of them said, “Well, we’re glad you got the message.  BYU doesn’t really want you as a fan, since you didn’t go to school there.”  Ah, so I wasn’t just imagining things.  Anyway, I recorded this interaction on Twitter and Facebook, pointing out that BYU fans had actually informed me that I wasn’t wanted as a fan because I was not an alumnus.

So I bought myself a red Utah T-shirt and a black hoodie and went to the USC v. Utah game.  It was great fun even though Utah lost.  Like I said, I am a football fan first and foremost.

Funny, not a week had gone by when my neighbor across the street (who happens to follow me on Facebook) asked if I would like to take an extra ticket and attend the Oregon State v. BYU game with him this weekend.  I expressed some feigned concerns along the lines of “I thought I wasn’t wanted there” but told him I would love to take the ticket anyway, and assured him that I would cheer for BYU despite the fact that I had decided to be a Utah fan.

Friends at work didn’t think this was a very good idea for me to attend the game.  One said, “I just don’t think you should go, I just don’t think you will fit in very well with the BYU fans.”  I responded, “Why is that?  Am I not snobby enough?”  He sort of smiled this knowing grin, like he was secretly pleased that I figured it out.

Well, I went to the game today anyway, and tried to act snobby so that I would fit in.  Again, it was great fun even though BYU lost.  I wore my black hoodie, but did not buy a BYU T-shirt.  I can’t:  I’m a Utah fan now, remember?

I have to say that experiencing both games within just over a week of each other gave me a bit of an interesting perspective on the two games.  BYU fans are going to think that I’m being judgmental of BYU here.  Remember I have been to BYU games before, and also, remember that you guys were the ones who decided you didn’t want me as a BYU fan anyway.

The football game at Utah was what I expected out of a college football game.  If I could sum it up in one word, that word would be “energetic.”  The stadium was simply electric.  The fans were into the game, they understand the game, they know when to cheer and when to be quiet, and when they were cheering it was deafening.  People file into their seats before the game begins, they watch the game while it is being played, and then they go home at the end.

At BYU, it is not like this.  Every time I’ve been to a BYU game it has been the same, which is different than anywhere else I’ve been.  One of the main observations I had today is that people are coming and going, coming and going all game long.  I sat on the aisle in both games, but at the BYU game the flow of people going up and down the stairs was almost non-stop, whereas at Utah that flow was almost non-existent while the game was being played.  I had to wonder, are people even paying any attention to the game?

It was more than that.  People were still filing into their seats throughout the entire first half and even into the second, two full hours after the game began.  Other people started leaving for home during the third quarter when the game was still tied.  Why have season tickets if you don’t plan to actually attend the game?

Another observation had to do with what people were holding:  Food.  People at the BYU game were carrying food, holding food, and eating food all over the place.  At the Utah game, they couldn’t do this because they were too busy cheering.

I’m a Mormon so this didn’t really surprise me.  In our church we have a lot of social events, and for some reason we feel like they must always have food, often more food than is strictly necessary.  Apparently this carries over to football games as well.  This probably also explains why the average BYU fan I noticed seemed to be quite a bit heavier than the average Utah fan.

I came to the conclusion during the game that for BYU fans, the games are a social event.  They are a chance to take your family out, to visit with friends, to be together outside, to eat and walk around and see the sights and just be out and about somewhere.  For Utah fans, the games are about football, and watching football, and cheering for your football team.  Based on my observations, this plays out into the way people cheer.  The average Utah fan seems to actually understand the game, whereas the average BYU fan doesn’t seem to know much about the sport beyond BYU football.  Specifically, I’m not sure a lot of them understand the rules.  I had to explain the rules to people around me on a number of occasions.

All told, I feel very lucky to have had both of these opportunities.  I loved attending both games and, despite the fact that BYU doesn’t want me there, I hope I get the opportunity to attend games at both stadiums again soon.  But I think my friend at work is right:  Utah probably is a better fit for me.  I’m more interested in cheering for the football game than I am at eating as many hot dogs and pretzels as I can.  And, like he said, I’m just not snobby enough.

Categories: Sports Tags:

Phone Update

July 31st, 2012 View Comments

You guys probably think this is dumb but I find this journey through the phone adventure somewhat interesting.  Take my Windows 7 Samsung Focus phone, for example.

I’m serious.  You can have it, if you want it.

Lest you think I’m being generous, you may wish to read my previous post to come up to speed.  It simply cannot stay running long enough to be useful.  A smartphone may be able to do all kinds of neat things, but first and foremost it should be a phone.  (Okay, and a texting device.)  When my Windows 7 phone started crashing using almost any app, I could live with it because I could still phone and text.  But when it crashed trying to phone or text, it became utterly useless.

Maybe that’s too harsh.  For example, you could use it as a drink coaster.

You’ll recall that I started using my old Sony Ericsson phone, which is not a smartphone but is certainly a great phone.  But I started feeling annoyed that I was paying for a data plan on a phone that really couldn’t make use of it.

I stopped by an AT&T store to speak with someone about it.  While I waited for the attention of a customer service rep, I looked at the new smartphones being displayed along the wall.  Soon the rep asked what he could do to help.

“Well, I am about 18 months into a 2 year contract for my old Windows 7 phone, but it crashes so frequently that it is completely useless.  Now I’m using this phone, but paying for a data plan under my contract.”

“So you are wanting to buy a new smartphone?”

“Well, since I’m still under contract with you for a phone that doesn’t work anymore, I wanted to see what you guys will do about it.”  I mean, I felt they should stand behind their product.  I don’t think that is too much to ask.

“Alright, well, let’s take a look at your contract.”  So it was about this time I knew they weren’t actually going to help.

He brought me over to a computer terminal and looked up my contract.  ”Hmm, it says here that your contract is still in effect.”  Yes, I already told you that.

Finally, after peering into the computer screen like it were a crystal ball, he says, “Well, what we could do for you is allow you to take the early upgrade option.  To do that, you renew your contract and pay $250, and then you can take any new phone for the standard contract price.”

I considered this briefly, then said, “So, for example, if I want a new iPhone over there, I would pay $200, plus the $250 early upgrade fee, and then renew my contract?”

“Yes, we can do that for you,” he replied.

I felt like they weren’t really doing anything for me at all.  ”I’ll have to think about that,” I said, and left.

Feeling a bit annoyed, I walked down the mall toward the Cell Again kiosk that sells used cellphones.  I asked them if they had any smartphones that would work on AT&T.  She pulled out a used Samsung Infuse.

It looked almost exactly like the picture above.  It had a BodyGlove cover and a scratchguard on the surface of it.  The scratchguard had a few blemishes, but the phone itself looked brand new.  And in reality it was less than a year old, newer than my Samsung Focus.

How much?  $220.

$220 as compared to twice as much.  No requirement to renew any contract.  That seems like a major fail on AT&T’s part.

I bought it almost immediately and I’ve never looked back.  I put a new scratchguard on it and it is like a brand new phone.  It’s a great phone, lots of great apps, nice big screen, etc.  And, it will phone and text!

While I was contemplating my  new purchase, I asked the sales girl at Cell Again if they send the traded-in phones off to be refurbished.  No, she said, they just resell them there in the store.  ”Why, what do you have to trade in?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t trade it in if you don’t send it to be refurbished.  It’s a Windows 7 phone, and it crashes all the time.”

“Oh, I couldn’t give you anything on trade for that phone anyway.  They aren’t worth anything,” she said.

Pretty interesting, huh.  Despite everything you read in product reviews or advertisements, this is the word of someone in the sales trenches, down in the thick of it, with her finger on the pulse of supply and demand in smartphones.  And what she revealed is that there is no demand for the Windows 7 phone.

Categories: Technology Tags:

Circuit of the Americas Follow-Up

July 30th, 2012 View Comments

My post on the Circuit of the Americas and my attempts to make plans to attend the US Formula One race there has been pretty popular.  I’ve had over ten page views.

Seriously, I’ve been surprised.  I don’t get a lot of page views on my blog and that is fine with me.  But I’ve definitely had more views and more comments, especially from people I don’t know, on that blog post than any other I can recall.  I appreciate the comments, even the ones that told me that I’m being a jerk.

After not hearing anything from COTA on the matter, I finally e-mailed the track, a response to the response to my brother’s initial e-mail.  I waited to hear further from them, but I haven’t.  So I’ve included the body of the e-mail here.  Beware:  It’s a long e-mail.

Hi Gabriela,

I’m responding to an e-mail response you sent my brother (cc’d).  I appreciate that you would take the time to try to address the questions he presented to you on behalf of himself and myself both.
I’m writing to reply to the information you provided.  Please understand that while I am frustrated with the response, my frustration is not directed at you personally.  Unfortunately, you happen to be the one who replied.
I hope that you will be able to forward this to the appropriate person as feedback, if you are not the person who would be acting on such feedback.  I debated sending this, but I wanted to provide it to you and to COTA because, as avid, lifelong Formula One fans, we want Formula One in the US and COTA in particular to be wildly successful.
To provide context, let me restate our primary concern:  We have been planning to come to the inaugural US F1 at COTA since the announcement, but for us to do this would be a significant undertaking.  We would be taking over a week off from work and school to bring our sons to the race.  We would be driving over 1500 miles one way to get to Austin from Utah.  Our plan was to camp along the way and at/near the track in order to be able to afford to make the trip.  We have never been to Austin and are thus completely unfamiliar with the area.  Things we’ve read on the COTA website indicate that we will not be able to camp or park at the track, so we do not know where we would camp or how we would get to the track every day, and there is no information on the COTA website to help us make plans we can rely on.  Based on our experience as racing fans, this is pretty atypical; most facilities go to lengths to provide camping facilities or to help attendees find nearby camping facilities and know how they will get to the track every day, if they don’t actually provide onsite parking (even better).
Your reply is quoted below.

We will have shuttles going to and from the track to three different Austin locations.  RV and Camping information has not been finalized yet, but I would recommend checking private camping sites or even Texas State Park facilities for a great secondary vacation while you attend the race.  Allowed items (chairs, blankets etc.) will be on the website shortly after we release individual ticket information.  General Admission, individual ticket, 3 Day Pass Information and First Date of sale will be released early June.  If you would like to talk to someone about priority seating, please let me know.  Also,  keep an eye on www.circuitoftheamericas.com for updates and see you in November!

I will comment on each portion individually.
“We will have shuttles going to and from the track to three different Austin locations.”  Unfortunately, this information is only slightly better than no information at all.  It doesn’t give me any indication at all as to what those three Austin locations are or, more critically, whether I would be able to park a car there and shuttle in to the track every day.  I can’t tell from this if it is meant to serve the general public or only those who can afford to stay in a hotel downtown or who actually live in Austin.
“RV and Camping information has not been finalized yet, but I would recommend checking private camping sites or even Texas State Park facilities.”  Of course we considered this and have done some exploration.  Your response still doesn’t tell us how we will get from these facilities to the track every day. As a point of comparison, Laguna Seca actually allows attendees to reserve their campsite on the Laguna Seca website when they buy their tickets, and then runs special-purpose shuttles back and forth from the campsites (there are multiple) to the track throughout each event day.  But even a list of nearby campsites would have been sufficient, so long as we’d been assured that there would be transportation to and from the track.
“Allowed items will be on the website shortly after we release individual ticket information.”  Sorry, but this needs to be determined BEFORE the tickets are made available.  How can I decide whether a general admission ticket will suffice for me if you cannot tell me whether I will be allowed to bring in a folding chair?
I don’t like to complain without providing an alternative, so let me give you some ideas I have that might work for you.
1- COTA really should think about offering onsite parking.  Maybe acquire some additional land to accommodate this.  If you are worried about creating a bad traffic experience, there are a couple of options:
  – Follow the example of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  At LVMS they have a premium parking lot where you pay extra for the parking ($20 for NASCAR, for example).  This lot is allowed to leave first and all other lots are held for some period of time after the event ends, so those who pay extra can leave (reasonably) expeditiously.  You could include these passes in the VIP ticket packages and offer them for sale to others a la carte.  Miller Motorsports Park offers a variation of this, where the best parking is available to those with the expensive tickets, but other ticket holders still get to park at the track, albeit at a further distance from everything.
  – Have separate ingress/egress for premium parking compared to standard parking.
2- Like with onsite parking, COTA really should consider offering onsite camping, especially if there is nothing nearby.  This would ideally be in addition to onsite parking.  This is pretty standard for most race tracks.  If this isn’t possible, follow the example of Laguna Seca and make it easy for us to make arrangements with nearby campsites and to get from there to the track.
3- I realize COTA has spend hundreds of millions on the track thusfar.  If acquiring additional land for onsite parking and/or camping is not an option, perhaps COTA could arrange a lease or some other arrangement with a nearby landowner.  Viewing the track location from Google Maps gives the impression that there is a lot of open land nearby that could possibly be leased for the weekend for the use of COTA’s customers.  Or perhaps landowners would wish to do this themselves, and COTA could simply help us make use of it.
4- Make arrangements for large-scale parking in Austin, and for shuttling attendees to and from these locations to the track, and make sure we know about these locations.  One place that comes to mind is the University of Texas, particularly the football stadium.  Surely there are a number of places to park there to accommodate the tens of thousands of fans that attend football games every year.  There is no scheduled home football game the weekend of the US F1.  It seems that parking places like this would work for providing parking and for shuttling participants to and from the track.
One more comment on your response:
“See you in November!”  Unfortunately, that will not be the case.  We so badly wanted to come.  But the utter lack of information on how to have a successful trip caused us ultimately to decide not to come this year.
Please understand this:  We had every intention to attend, but COTA’s failure to address these basic issues made it so we could not confidently plan our trip.  Of course we could not responsibly take a week off of work and school, drive 1500 miles each way, and pay around $300 each for tickets when we don’t know where we will park our car or how we will get to the track from wherever we happen to find a place to stay.
COTA must understand this – that COTA lost our business this year by failing to address issues that every other racetrack in our experience addresses.
Thank you again for replying and, if you stayed with me this far, for caring about my opinion.  As I said, we yearn for your success.  I hope you will consider seriously the issues we’ve raised.  I realize we are only talking about a handful of tickets that I’ve decided not to buy, but I do believe my viewpoint represents that of many, many other race fans, perhaps thousands or even tens of thousands of others who are currently feeling similarly frustrated and may also be deciding to postpone their experience to another year.
I look forward to 2013.  We’ll take the money we’ve saved and put it aside for another year.  Hopefully you will have all of these issues worked out by then.  If we can make plans confidently, you can expect to see us then.
I hope they work this out, but I have my doubts.  This is really disappointing to me in thinking about Formula One in the United States.  Based on what I’m hearing about COTA, if they continue this way I don’t know that I will ever be able to afford attending that event (with hotel stays, needing to take a taxi to the track, etc.).  That leaves the planned event in New Jersey as an option, but honestly, I would be surprised if I wasn’t shot in stray gunfire on my way to the track.  My brother used to live down there, so I’m speaking based on his experience.  He says he’d never go back if he could help it.
So, taking a trip to Spa or Silverstone seems like a more likely possibility.  Looks like it will at least be more affordable, and amenable to the grass-roots race fans who are the foundation of the sport.
Categories: Sports Tags:

Stack Ranking at Microsoft

July 5th, 2012 View Comments

Lately I’m seeing a bit of a buzz around a Vanity Fair article written about Microsoft’s annual stack ranking process along with a commentary in Forbes about the same article.  There’s some strong words used in the articles, such as “terrible management technique,” “devastatingly destructive,” “effectively crippled Microsoft,” and “cannibalistic culture.”  I’m willing to bet much of the outrage over this technique (which Microsoft didn’t invent and has certainly been used by many, many large companies) has more to do with fairly uninteresting stock price growth, or lack thereof, especially when compared to the Apple rocketship.

It’s important to keep in mind that the verbage I quoted above is being used to attract readership and sell ads.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that it is wrong though.

If you are unfamiliar, here is stack ranking in a nutshell:  Instead of evaluating employee performance against an objective metric, employees are ranked against each other, from best to worst.  Some criteria are applied to make the samples meaningful, e.g. employees are ranked against others at their same career level and within a right-sized organizational unit (not too large or small).  Then a curve is applied by policy; in Microsoft’s case, the top 20% are considered top-performing and the bottom 20% underperforming, with the middle 60% somewhere in the general vicinity of “average.”  Keep in mind, these rankings have very little to do with what an individual’s actual performance was as compared to an objective metric; in a stack ranking, performance is all relative.

Here’s some other interesting quotes from the Vanity Fair article:  ”It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”  Further on, it reads:  ”It was always much less about how I could become a better engineer and much more about my need to improve my visibility among other managers.”

From my experience, those last two statements are pretty much spot-on.  I clearly remember being told that in order for me to improve my performance at Microsoft I needed to focus on making myself look better than the others on my team.  It was about this time I thought I should start looking around for a new gig.

It’s important to understand why, though.  It wasn’t because I was unable to perform well at Microsoft or that I was unable to execute as well as my peers.  It was because I don’t want to work in that kind of an environment.  It goes against things that are central to my very core.

C.S. Lewis said:  ”Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. . . . It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.”  On the same topic, Ezra Taft Benson said:  ”Another major portion of this very prevalent sin of pride is enmity toward our fellowmen. We are tempted daily to elevate ourselves above others and diminish them.” And Jeffrey R. Holland said we need to work to “escape our culture’s obsession with comparing, competing, and never feeling we are ‘enough.’”

Those quotes go a long way in describing my feelings on the matter.  In my view, to promote a practice wherein people are forced to compete and be compared against one another is to encourage behavior that I consider sinful:  pride, backstabbing, gossiping, fault-finding, etc.  It is sinful in that it encourages behavior that is not Christlike.

How much better instead to let individual employees work as teams and only compare themselves to an ideal they help to set for themselves!   I may never become the kind of software engineer or husband or father that I could become if my main concern is that I’m better than my immediate peers.  I can instead choose to evaluate my performance against my own ideals and be continuously working and growing.  The role of a manager in this environment is to coach and mentor, not to compare and punish.

One area where I disagree somewhat with the author of the Vanity Fair article is where he suggests this is an “astonishingly foolish management decision” made by Microsoft.  To say such a thing implies that the leadership making this decision is not smart enough to see beforehand the implications of this policy.  Whatever a person may choose to say about Microsoft employees, at any level in the company, “foolish” is not a word I would use to describe any of them.  In my time there I met many individuals at many levels, and to a person every one was incredibly smart, perceptive, aware, and intelligent.

Why would smart, perceptive, aware, and intelligent people then promote a policy that seems so wrong?  I give them the benefit of doubt.  I assume they know exactly what they are doing.  Such a policy will select favorably for people who are willing to do whatever it takes to win, and will adopt any tactic and step on whoever they need to step on to get there.  I don’t believe everyone who is successful at Microsoft is like this, mind you.  But it certainly describes many of the successful people I knew there.  If I wanted to create a culture and a company full people who will do whatever it takes to win, establishing a policy that rewards such behavior is not foolish, it is brilliant strategy.

One critic of the article pointed out that the former employees interviewed may have all been rated poorly, which would certainly skew the numbers.  It’s a fair point, but misses the mark.  The comment also makes two implied assumptions.  The first is that the people who leave are mediocre in their profession, which I can almost assure you is nearly universally not true.  The second is that they left out of frustration with the policy.  This is probably true for some number of former employees, but people leave companies for lots of reasons.  Some may have left because of the policy, not because of frustration, but rather because it does not align with their values.  This was true with me.

So, read the articles and come to your own conclusion, but don’t assume Microsoft doesn’t know what they are doing.  I think they are very intelligently going about trying to create the exact type of culture they want.

Whether that type of culture can remain competitive in the long term, well, that’s a completely different question.

 

P.S. I also wrote about this topic here, a couple of years ago.

Categories: Business Tags:

25 Years of Hysteria

June 23rd, 2012 View Comments

Last Wednesday marked my fourth Def Leppard concert, making them the band I’ve seen live more than any other.

Some time ago my boss just happened to mention that he’d really like to see Def Leppard in concert, not saying it but almost wondering if they even tour anymore.  ”Oh, they’re really great,” I said.  ”I saw them last summer.”  He vowed that if they came again we would definitely go.  It wasn’t a month later before I found that they would be kicking off their 2012 tour at Usana Amphitheater in Salt Lake.  We bought tickets on the first day they were on sale.

My boss’s wife had the idea that we should all dress up and really get into the whole concert thing.  So Amber and I planned this way.  The shirt was an easy choice.  We were going to see Poison and Def Leppard, so I clearly could not wear my Def Leppard shirt.  But I’d just been to Van Halen (in another town, crucially), so obviously I was going to wear that shirt, especially since Van Halen isn’t coming to Salt Lake.  As for the pants, that was obvious:  I was going to make some more holey jeans like Joe Elliott had during the Hysteria tour:

I had some of these in high school but gave them away before I left on my mission.  So I made new ones.  The old ones wouldn’t have fit anyway.

The other girls were going to wear pleather pants or some other thing.  Amber was harder to convince but she finally decided to go all out with neon and rubber bracelets and the big hair thing.  She even tried to do the whole super-claw bangs but couldn’t get her hair to do it.

The other girls came and picked Amber up, which was when she found that they had kinda chickened out.  Kinda.  They still had some of the 80′s look going on, but Amber looked the best.

Here’s the crew on our way out the door:

We missed most of Poison, sad to say.  I was kinda looking forward to it, but most of the others aren’t fans.  We did get to hear the last three songs.  Bret Michaels is a pretty good frontman, I have to say.

Def Leppard was great like always.  I think last year’s Mirrorball tour was the best I’ve ever heard them sound, but this year was quite excellent.

My pants seemed to draw some attention that I’m not sure was the best kind.  In the middle of “Armageddon It” this guy in front of us was drunk and dancing back and forth along the row right in front of us.  I was on the end of the row.  He came over by me and put up his fist for us to bump fists.  I complied, and soon we were banging heads in unison and then he wrapped his arm around my head and sang/shouted in my ear “Cause the best is yet to come!”

Actually that part was kinda fun.  The security guard came up to me afterward and asked if I wanted him taken out, but I said Nah, we were just having fun and he was okay.

The one I wanted to throw out was the girl behind us who kept coming up and trying to dance with me.  She’d come and dance next to me and when I would ignore her she’d nudge me and try to get me to pay attention to her.  With Amber standing right next to me!  Some people aren’t too bright I guess.

We had a really good time, and I have to say most of the people around us were pretty decent.  Drinking alcohol usually just makes people friendlier, so even though I don’t drink I don’t usually mind being around those that do, and I’ve got nothing against them.  But I must say I really don’t get it.  I like having all my senses present and fully capable when I’m trying to enjoy a rock concert.  I like feeling fully aware.  I like not stumbling out of the concert and falling headfirst into a chain link fence.

At the concert I thought back on a clear memory of 25 years ago this summer.  I remember where I was when the Space Shuttle blew up.  I remember where I was when I heard the Twin Towers had been hit by terrorists.  And I remember where I was when I first heard Hysteria.  I had ridden my bike up to my friend Curry Wilson’s house.  He brought me into his bedroom and said, “Dude, you have to listen to this.”  He introduced me to Def Leppard’s brand new album, Hysteria.  I said to him, “This is going to be a classic rock album.  I will be listening to this for the rest of my life.”

25 years later, those words are still proving true.

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