Free Book Summaries

ManagerJS now offers free book summaries courtesy of ReadItFor.Me!

Read Faster TODAY!

Today’s summary teaches how to read faster.

Every professional should be interested in reading faster. Every day you get dozens to hundreds of emails. Every week the industry publishes new articles that you need to know about. Reading faster means more time to code, and a better informed coder. So check out the free summary.

More About Free Summaries

Here’s how the free summaries work: ReadItFor.Me has a library of hundreds of book summaries. I can pick one summary at a time to share for free at https://readitfor.me/ManagerJS. From time to time, I’ll change the free summary to correspond to recent blog posts from ManagerJS.

No Profit For Me

Because the only way I could share free ReadItFor.Me summaries with you was to join their affiliate program, there is a chance that this website will generate revenue. This is the first time that ManagerJS has had a potential for generating income.

 

I intend ManagerJS to provide free resources to web developers — particularly ones I meet while recruiting at universities. These recruiting trips are part of my ”day job.”

I will donate any profit from this website to the LDS Philanthropies Humanitarian Aid Fund. I also encourage you to donate to them, directly. For more details see my new page, I’m Not Making Money Here.

Web Components Can Improve Security

It’s been a very busy month: I presented twice at our internal technical conference, recruiting trips to a couple of universities, and we’re working hard to redesign our site to use web components and some other nifty features.

Every year at our internal training conference I try to present on one technical topic and one management topic. Here’s my technical presentation:

Did you know that using web components can lead to a more secure site, but that you have to be mindful of how you use them, or you don’t get the benefits?

I plan to publish my management presentation, as well as some new things I’ve learned this time recruiting on campuses, in the coming days.

Interview Better For Boot Camp Candidates

Coding camps often yield very qualified candidates. Be sure to review your assumptions about candidates and construct a tailored interview for coding camp applicants.

For example, graduates with a university degree in computer science often have to learn basic concepts expressed in multiple languages and technology stacks. I believe this can give them resilience in the face of change. Because some coding camps turn out graduates with very narrow experience those candidates may not yet be able to apply their new skill in a technology environment even slightly different from their learning experience.

To address this, you might ask a question like ”Tell me about a technology that you have learned for your own purposes — outside of school. How did you approach your learning? How did you build on what you already knew?”

The front page of the Business & Tech section of today’s Wall Street Journal states ”Coding Camps Attract Tech Firms.” And they are absolutely right! I have been very impressed by many candidates from coding camps. On the other hand, I have seen some struggle after being hired for reasons related to their narrow experience.

I recommend embracing this new source of qualified talent. Just take another look at your interviewing process to reevaluate past assumptions.

 

Know What References are Good For

Stop asking for references,” is the title and bottom line of Al Pittampalli’s article on the common practice.

Why stop? According to Mr. Pittampalli, because they are a flawed instrument likely to give you little reliable information and false confidence.

The flaws he points out are true: references are nothing like a scientific survey; checking references is so late in the process that you’re bound to be emotionally committed to hiring already — which shuts down critical thinking.

When Mr. Pittampalli gave an honest, negative review of a former coworker they ended up getting the job anyway. His story is easy to relate to. That manager clearly blew it.

Taking a different approach, if you change your goal from “fill this opening” to “avoid a bad hire” – as ManagerTools encourages us to – then you are less likely to fall prey to the confirmation bias when checking references.

Mr. Pittampalli points out how ineffective reference checking was for the caller in his story. He is absolutely correct. I suggest that the problem is deeper than reference checking itself.

The fundamental issue is championed by Mark Horstman and company at Manager Tools: vetting a candidate is designed to say, “no.” Get that right, and references can be useful — not perfect, but useful.

At worst, checking references wastes time and builds false confidence. If there is a chance you can do it properly and avoid a bad hire, then I say do it.

More from Al Pittampalli:

More from Mark Horstman:

Accepting Uncertainty at GE

RE: GE Re-Engineers Performance Reviews, Pay Practices

So General Electric is going Lean? It’s exciting to hear they have hired Eric Ries as a consultant to shake up the emphasis on Six Sigma. If you’re a Manager Tools fan some of the changes at GE simply match good management.

That’s right: It shouldn’t take 5 months to write your annual review. And yes, the annual review shouldn’t be the linch-pin in your performance management system. You should be getting regular, quick, fine-grained performance insight from your manager and your peers. See Feedback and Peer Feedback.

I chuckled a bit at the comment from Janis Semper saying, “It’s not realistic to expect perfection anymore.” Anymore? Yeah, we should always have high standards. We should be disappointed when we miss them. And managers should know their people aren’t going to be perfect.

I actually interviewed a guy that said he had a perfect track record over decades in software of always hitting every deadline with quality. Maybe it’s me, but that actually made me trust him less. Perfection requires artificiality. (See Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park — the book, not the movie.) You can’t really hit it. And if you do, how low are your goals?

It’s great to hear GE will be considering giving incentives closer to the time of performance. No more home-runs in February that have to wait until next January for a raise — or similar.

Offering managers the ability to give their employees time off as a reward? That sounds a bit like HR officially blessing what managers are already doing for their people. But I’ve never worked there. Maybe managers really don’t feel they could do that there already.

Overall, GE’s emphasis on learning and improving faster is a great application of Lean principles, and plain old management feedback.

On a snarky note: the peer feedback via a tool sounds just like what engineers would do. “I want to tell Bob he did a great job here, and might want to change this over here. If only I had a mobile application so that I could type that up and send it to him.” Yeah, what about just briefly and respectfully chatting with Bob?

It sounds like the mobile app’s real purpose is to achieve that ever elusive holy grail of performance management: managing my boss.

That’s right, the company is encouraging employees to give feedback to their bosses via the app. And employees are reluctant to do that. Rightly so.

A good manager has a relationship with his directs that allows them to give “insights” to him. But it’s naïve to assume that all of the managers in a company have that relationship. A program that pushes all employees to speak to bosses with an expectation that they will always be heard, never subtly penalized, and that the boss will change her behavior… a bridge too far.

After facilitated group sessions to gather feedback for bosses “the group is expected to hold the manager accountable for changing his or her behavior, through regular check-ins, but it is a work in progress.”

Yeah, that’s not going to work. Not unless the process involves the boss’ boss.

A group of directs can’t manage their boss. And even if it happens once, it’s not reproducible.

If you want the state of management to improve in a company then directors have to manage their managers for it. You can’t delegate that to the individual contributors.

Just my prediction.

So, yes. Please adopt lean. Please give regular feedback, not just once a year. Please collect information on how management can change. Don’t promise that a group can change their manager on their own.

Delta File: Say You’re Welcome

When others treat you poorly, let it go. Forgive.

As you move on, break the incident down into behaviors–factual elements of the interaction. Commit to do better for when the roles are reversed.

Collect these entries in your own “Delta File:” a collection of the changes you want to be in the world.

My first entry:

When I hold the door open for someone and they look me in the eye and say, “Thank you!” I will not look away with a blank emotional affect and say, “Yep.” I will look back at them and say, “You’re welcome!”

“You’re welcome” takes almost no extra time. I know it feels much better to hear than a dismissive, “yep.”

Thank you, Mark

The idea of the Delta file came to me through Manager Tools podcasts. Mark Horstman has sprinkled references to keeping a “delta file” throughout the casts. For him, it is a list of things you plan on handling differently when you are a manager.

It Will Take Time

I’ve been trying to change my “yeps,” “uh-huhs,” and “no problems” into “you’re welcomes” for a few weeks now. It still comes out a bit forced.

In the mean time I notice that people saying “you’re welcome” does feel different. It feels better.

I’ll keep pushing through this awkwardness. After all, I used to hate to smile. Now I have smile lines. My first wrinkles.

You Will Have More Success

Any one habit aimed at putting others at ease can be argued with. You can’t reasonably argue with the fact that putting people at ease increases your success.

As I’ve learned more and more about the human side of work I am more and more astounded by how logical we aren’t.

Our rational capacity is bounded. Other people can ignore your antisocial habits, but it costs some of their reserves of rational behavior. You want them to find you easy to get along with so that your ideas get that much more attention.

Learning A Codebase

Responding to my post on internships a student asked me:

Q. Reading Code

What’s the best way to learn a new codebase?

A. Read With Purpose

Good question.

Identify a simple modification you would like to make. Learn enough to make that modification.

If you can’t make the modification after an hour of reading code, stop. Come up with something simpler based on what you have learned so far. Repeat this process until you successfully make a predictable change in the system.

Now that you have a grip on the code base start leveling up. Identify a slightly larger change. Give yourself a small deadline for achieving it. No longer than one hour. Keep leveling up the modification you are making until it gets to a level that is useful.

Remember:

  • Don’t start with a small useful modification — just a small observable modification.
  • Keep yourself on a tight leash. If you miss your short deadlines, make smaller tasks with shorter deadlines. Simplify until you gain purchase.

Above all, reading code is like any other skill. Do it more and you get better at it. Stop doing it and your skill erodes.

I hope that helps you.

Active Meeting Assignments

If people do not have active assignments, if they only attend meetings to hear reports and ask questions, truly professional work cannot be accomplished. 

Management: The Essence of the Craft. Pp 217. Fredmund Malik, Campus Verlog (c) 2010

Malik was speaking specifically of an institution’s supervisory board. But it strikes me as equally useful in other standing meetings. 

Malik on Charisma

Historically, charismatic leaders have almost always produced catastrophes — in every field. 

Charisma … is neither necessary nor desirable for true leadership or right management. 

Uncluttered Management Thinking: 46 Concepts for Masterful Management. Fredmund Malik. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt / New York. (C) 2011. pp 16-17.

This is going to be a good read. 

Seasoned or Cynical

It’s amazing what people can do when they don’t know they can’t.

In the beginning you don’t know all the reasons it won’t work.

As the years pass you’ll marvel at what you though was possible – the risks you took.

And still you’ll see other beginners taking on windmills. Some windmills will batter the riders. Some riders will topple their windmills.


Reminiscing with a senior developer that I used to manage we talked about a project we worked on together that had major flaws. I told him, “Don’t worry. That’s what has made you senior. Now you really do know better.”

Failure can teach you good judgment. At best it will teach you which fears are realistic – which gambles pay off.

A junior developer often makes up for inexperience with occassionally wreckless enthusiasm. But senior developers often earn their keep by what they choose not to do.

A senior developer (hopefully) knows the difference between ambitious and unrealistic.

They need to be able to look at a project and say, “Yes, we can do that with these critical changes.” And each part of that sentence is important.

“Yes, we can do that” – don’t let your experience lead to cyncism where every project is doomed to fail and any who think they can achieve something are Polyanna.

“… with these critical changes” – filter out all of the good or simply true ideas to bring forward the indispensible ones. Conserve your ammo.

If you aren’t careful failure might instead turn you into a member of the “no way” choir. If you aren’t careful you might believe that only saying why a project might fail is actually adding value. It’s not. Not really.


I’ve watched junior developers deliver so much more than their senior teammates that it was embarrassing. Perhaps those senior developers overcompensated for failure.

I’ve seen junior developers merrily build weeks of work on a platform that was genuinely incapable of supporting success. Perhaps those junior developers needed more help from a senior developer.

Still, it’s amazing what people can do when they don’t know they can’t.

The truth embedded in Wiley Coyote’s gravity defying double take is that often it is our own perception of doom that causes our doom.