My daily readings 04/28/2013

    • The students who obtain top grades in classes have an ability to focus like no other.
    • Regardless of whether or not they like or dislike the material, they break the challenge of studying for a test or completing an assignment into small problems, working away until they know, not think, but absolutely know that they are ready.
    • It was an insult for me to think that I was ever anything like them. In my drive to show them up, I have broken myself with grief and anxiety comparing my marks to theirs, and I have alienated them through irrational, envious hate. With my final two exams of university next week, I understand now that I was a fool for having confidence in myself and my abilities without reason. I should have put the effort in first and should have only allowed myself to gain confidence through the results that followed.
    • Fair warning, however: once you start consuming works from the masters it makes mediocre works hard to stomach. Oddly enough, bad material is fine. I still love me some pulp fiction and trashy pop music. It’s the stuff that tries to be highbrow but you know is going to be gone with the wind in ten years that’s impossible to take.
    • I actually believe the mindset this author has (along with many university professors) makes learning far more difficult for students and discourages them from staying in STEM (math and science) degrees.

      I have consistently found that for me to tackle difficult concepts I need multiple points of view, specifically views that simplify the topic tremendously. My professors never encouraged me to seek multiple sources and usually pushed overly complex, decades-old textbooks on my peers and I. The “masters” typically write to a niche, university-based audience and do not tailor their original works for the masses.

      I certainly agree that if one wants a complete understanding of a field or subject they should eventually study original works, however to encourage them as a starting or leverage point for understanding difficult subjects is poor advice in my opinion.

      • This is similar to my experience. If I dont’ understand something, I seek some other angels from other resources.
    • I can tell that this was written by an outsider, because it focuses on the perks and rehashes several cliches that have made their way into the popular media but aren’t all that accurate.

      Most Googlers will tell you that the best thing about working there is having the ability to work on really hard problems, with really smart coworkers, and lots of resources at your disposal. I remember asking my interviewer whether I could use things like Google’s index if I had a cool 20% idea, and he was like “Sure. That’s encouraged. Oftentimes I’ll just grab 4000 or so machines and run a MapReduce to test out some hypothesis.” My phone screener, when I asked him what it was like to work there, said “It’s a place where really smart people go to be average,” which has turned out to be both true and honestly one of the best things that I’ve gained from working there.

      A lot of the observations in the article fall out of this, but in ways that are less sound-bitey. Google doesn’t enforce set working hours – you can get in as late as you want (the latest I’ve been in is around 4:15 PM, but that was because I had a DMV appointment, the latest from just not waking up was about 2:00), stay as late as you want (my latest was about 1:00 AM, though I worked from home until 6:00 AM last Thursday), duck out during the day if you’re meeting a friend or have a date or need to pick a sick kid up from school, or work from home as necessary. You also don’t have a set workload: you do as much work as you think is appropriate and then go home.

    • The thing is – you are surrounded by incredibly intelligent & fiercely hard-working people. Many of them were used to being top-dog at whatever institution they came from before – hell, many were top dog (we have a lot of ex-startup-founders; there’s a good chance that you’re working with someone that’s founded a company or originated a successful open-source project). And that can be a big adjustment, and the types of folks that Google typically hire usually react to not being on top by working harder. It’s up to you to set limits on the amount of time you’re willing to spend working, and most new hires at Google are used to being limited by “the amount of work my boss/professor/thesis advisor throws at me”, not by the number of hours in the day.
    • Sigh. You need both. The reality is that there’s a lot of book-learning in the world. You’re never going to build a rocket to the moon by starting in your backyard with some sheet metal – your lifespan isn’t long enough if you take that approach. You have to read books written by people who have gone before, and learn from their mistakes, which you can do at a far more rapid pace than you can by making all those mistakes yourself. Only by standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before – that is, by reading their books – can you hope to push boundaries.

      The writer’s complaint is daft. The purpose is to test if you can read a passage and comprehend it. Has nothing to do with microscopes. Has nothing to do with “teaching science”, as the writer asserts. Just because he doesn’t understand the purpose of the test doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Reading and comprehending text is one of life’s fundamental skills. It is, in fact, useful to know if schools are teaching that well or not.

      Before I get downvoted into oblivion I should say I also think schools should do hands-on work (which, of course, they do).

    • I’m 24 years old. I’ve had 6 employers since I was 19. I’ve doubled my salary every year for the past four years. And I think this article is bullshit.

      Am I wrong for choosing the path that brings me personal success at the cost of “company loyalty”? The depiction of an ideal employee painted by this author sounds a lot like the Japanese Salaryman – diligent and loyal to the company. Isn’t that model considered totally broken? Company loyalty as a top priority comes at the cost of ineffectiveness and lower morale. It just doesn’t seem right.

      If your employees are being scalped away at salary+15, maybe you’re not paying them enough. If your employees are working 12 months and switching jobs, maybe you don’t offer enough internal growth. If your are rejecting applications of “job hoppers”, maybe you’re leaving major value on the table.

      In Silicon Valley, it’s an employee’s market. The employer has to work to retain, support, and fairly compensate your employees. Otherwise, you shouldn’t be surprised when they up and leave.

    • The author seems to be missing how disruptive interruptions can be to some developers.

      The “on call” idea might have some merit because it allows the developer to adjust their coding schedule around the X hours they will lose every day for a given period of time with customer assistance.

      The “all hands” idea sounds terrible. Asking a developer is asked to answer 5 customer emails daily, each one needing a variable length of time to respond to, threatens to poison the well and become a burden. My understanding is that a developer would either try to answer the emails at the very beginning or at the very end of the day to keep distractions at a minimum.

      My biggest question is – what is the reason for the author to have this many questions after being with Buffer for over 8 months? This seems like sufficient time to learn all the ins and outs of most products. Moreover, I hope that Buffer dev new-hires are told that they’ll be asked to wear many hats, including the responsibility for customer support, as part of the regular duties.

    • The “all hands” idea sounds terrible. Asking a developer is asked to answer 5 customer emails daily, each one needing a variable length of time to respond to, threatens to poison the well and become a burden. My understanding is that a developer would either try to answer the emails at the very beginning or at the very end of the day to keep distractions at a minimum.

      I’ve seen this sort of setup work very well. It’s something I’ve done myself (while wearing a dev hat) and found it very useful. I’d happily do it again.

      Yes – being interrupted at any time would be a pain – but…

      1) There are normally enough natural pauses during the day where knocking off a few customer support issues is doable. It can actually be quite a nice change of pace. It uses a separate bit of your head and you come back to that problem that just stumped you fresh after the break.

      2) It’s can be a mistake to worry about the productivity of individuals and neglect the productivity of the company as a whole. Slowing me down individually can make the company as a whole run faster.

      3) It gets you direct contact with actual customers on a regular basis. This is pure fking gold. Lost count of the number of times this has produced insights about how the ongoing development should work. That minor annoyance that three folk mention in a row that’s sounds tricky but is a 2m fix.

    • I wanted to focus in on the exercise aspect of this piece:

      In my experience, exercise is vital to my mental well-being, just as the author of this piece found it to be for him, until he hit a slump.

      We all hit slumps.

      I hit a major slump when our child was born. Prior to that, I had been hitting the gym consistently (4 days per week), but my life changed and I had to re-prioritize.

      However, where I failed myself is that I quit exercising entirely, because my “exercising world view”, if you will, was gym-centric; that is, I had programmed myself to need a gym to be successful in working out.

      I realized that I needed to change. After some research, I found P90X [1]. This is an exercise system (presented on DVD) that utilizes body-weight techniques (e.g., pull-ups, push-ups), yoga, plyometrics [2] and resistance exercises (you can use dumbbells or resistance bands – they demonstrate both techniques).

      I also found a used Nordic Track ski machine [3] online for $100. This is not part of the P90X system, but I find it to be a fantastic cardio machine, and it allows me to change things up a bit… plus, the skiing action is fun.

      The advantage here is that you can do all of this without going to a gym. Also, there is minimal equipment required; here is a picture of what is used in the system [4] (note the “Description” of the image that identifies all of the required pieces).

    • For anyone struggling to get into an exercise routine, I’ve ran into a potential solution because it doesn’t require lots of time and effort.

      Exercise 10 minutes daily (or at least 3-5x a week) as soon as you wake up and before you hit the shower. Do intervals. Out of the 10 minutes, two have to be all out and intense. You can do a treadmill, elliptical, or as I often do at home: jumping jacks and running in place (no, seriously). Also, listen to your favorite, upbeat music.

      Benefits:

      * exercise is generally good for the frontal cortex, what helps you focus and get things done [1]

      * exercising in the morning will put you in a more positive mood, helping to reduce stress; by reducing stress, you feel more energetic, you feel less hungry and crave less crappy food, therefore you prevent the systematic downward spiral that comes with it and you lose weight.

      * because you exercise in the morning, you burn more fat [2]

      * adding music is great for your dopamine levels: [3]

      * intensity (anaerobic exercise) is more important than duration and frequency [4]

    • Another alum here, good list of questions. As was stated, the key to doing well at the interview is insight. This can’t be overstated. Show them something you understand about your users, market or technology that gets them thinking.

      The actual questions will vary based on the type of team you are. I.e. a couple undergrad dorm-room hackers with a prototype, a team that’s spent time in the industry they are trying to disrupt, a team that’s developed some real technology, or a team with a product that has traction.

      But whatever questions you get, demonstrate genuine insight, not marketing speak or cliches. And have a decent answer to every possible question. The partners have spent only minutes with your application, and you’ve spent anywhere from weeks to months to years on your idea, so this should not be that hard. If you do this, they will get themselves excited and you’re pretty much in at that point.

    • Better yet: be relentlessly empathetic, create something people want (need/can’t live with it, etc), whether you are interview with YC or not.
    • How would this work out in a scenario where the customers are a subset of the users. Say, a restaurant menu service that provides restaurants with enhanced menus for their clients. The customers are the restaurants and restaurant owners. But the users include the clients who actually use the menus and may have their own interests and considerations. You may revenue-share with the restaurants, but the customers are still the restaurants. Now there may be questions on this list, where the customers’ interests and pain are at odds with their clients’ interests and pain. What happens when the customer is an enterprise level business, and you can’t speak to them daily or weekly or maybe even monthly?
    • I wonder how much this has to do with the rise of Pocket over the last year.

      It’s no secret that Pocket has improved dramatically since rebranding a year ago. And I’m sure most people who are looking for their first “read-later” app are trying Pocket (free) before buying Instapaper ($5).

      Personally speaking, I bought Instapaper for myself and gifted it to a few other people over the years, but I switched to Pocket a few months ago. The continuous updates and simpler interface (those thumbnail pics are surprisingly useful) won me over, despite my hesitations about their business model.

    • >Pocket, although having its own benefits, is free. Any service with ongoing costs (parsing servers) that charges nothing for their app has me questioning their longevity.

      Prior to the name change, Pocket offered a $3 “Pro” version.

      I’m guessing that Pocket means to be acquired eventually.

      Pulse runs a free app parsing/serving from App Engine and took in $9.8M in funding before being acquired by LinkedIn for $90M.

      Pocket runs a free app parsing/serving from EC2 and has taken in $7.5M in funding.

      I was able to see who would be interested in Pulse and why pretty early on. I’m not sure about the same for Pocket.

    • I’m guessing that Pocket means to be acquired eventually.

      And those acquisitions work out so well for the product, especially smaller, more niche products.

      If they’ve taken that much money, they are going to have to provide a strategy to monetize. If they are doing it for free, it means they are selling analytics about what you are reading to somebody else.

      For myself, I’ll pay for the app.

    • I have no particular loyalty to Instapaper, but their major feature over Pocket, for me, is sending a compilation to kindle as an ebook (Kindle sees it as a magazine, complete with TOC.) People have been asking for this feature from Pocket for a while now (http://help.getpocket.com/customer/portal/questions/286894-k…), but without much encouragement that it will appear.
    • > What we are seeing more of with flat design and color though is the matching of tone and saturation.

      As someone with practically no design skills, how would I accomplish this? For example, let’s say I had two or three colors in mind or already picked out. What are the steps I could take to line up their tones and saturation? Is there a formula or algorithm that applies?

      I realize design skills are developed through practice, but I very often find myself with something I’ve put together that looks just OK and just sort of aimlessly tinkering around with it until I’ve inevitably made it look washed out. So obviously my feel isn’t working yet–where else can I turn?

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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