The internet as television

One of the biggest generational schisms on the internet today (besides your level of gif game) is your connection to the idea of the “free and open web.”

Anyone in their mid-20s or younger does not remember an internet not utterly dominated by today’s giant digital platforms. After all, the idea of having a full, unencumbered internet experience without ever needing a Google or Facebook account is pretty much inconceivable now. All ecommerce roads eventually lead back to Amazon. All your online activity is tracked and monitored in order to “optimize” your “experience,” which turns out to mean targeting ads to you from the highest bidder. Much of the content you see online is predetermined by an algorithm that shows you what you’re statistically most likely to “engage” with.

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Don’t work “remotely”

Depending on who you ask, “remote” working is either gaining steam in the tech industry or still a coveted-but-rare perk for the lucky few. A pattern that seems to be emerging is this:

  • Tech giants like Amazon and Google, wagering that their corporate brand and bidding power are strong enough to attract and retain local talent, are doubling down on co-located teams. Amazon’s choice of “conventional” sites in Northern Virginia and NYC for their much-hyped HQ2 presence, as well as Google’s announcement that it’s doubling its presence in NYC, seem to support this.
  • Meanwhile, smaller tech companies are slowly (reluctantly?) coming to terms with “remote” working, as they are increasingly squeezed by talent availability and costs in giant tech metros like San Francisco and NYC. (For some reason, few people want to move there.)

There are the conventional objections to “remote” working: namely, VCs hate it, and simple path dependence leads many founders to not even consider it until a solid co-located team has been established. Adopting “remote” working is not simply a matter of hiring someone out in Sioux City – it involves a series of intentional organizational and cultural changes that lots of stressed leaders just don’t want to deal with. Moreover, all of us start with basic inherited ideas of old-fashioned “work culture” that don’t really translate into the knowledge economy of 2018. These are all real, but solvable, obstacles to overcome.

But one largely overlooked obstacle to the adoption of “remote” working is the popular conception of how it actually works, the root of which has to do with all the quotation marks you’ve seen here so far. The term “remote” work itself implies tasks being done at arm’s length, and at some critical remove between object and subject. I’m here, and “the work” is over there, in other words. Like anywhere, this framing is critical. And it’s also mostly wrong. Don’t adopt “remote” working. Adopt distributed work.

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The false gospel of “social entrepreneurship”

Among the most popular recruiting pitches in the startup world today is the claim to be “mission-driven” and to be oriented towards “social impact.” This follows the lead of so many established tech companies, whose pretensions to “make the world a better place” ring so close to home that when skewered on HBO’s Silicon Valley, it’s hard to know who’s in on the joke. Throughout the tech world, “social impact investing” and “philanthropy” are some of the hottest new status brags for the upwardly ambitious.

When I first stepped into business school back in 2009, I was surprised to learn during orientation that more than a third of my classmates had cited a strong interest in “social entrepreneurship” as a part of their applications. At the time, I was puzzled why anyone would pursue an MBA to go into social entrepreneurship, which was a concept I only vaguely understood at the time. What I later learned was that almost none of them actually did. Nevertheless, social entrepreneurship programs are so popular that not only are they ubiquitous at prestigious business schools (and at those that aspire to be), but they are very prominent features in school marketing. This trend has only grown since I graduated. The landing page for Harvard Business School’s MBA program features a big splashy carousel advertising how its graduates are “Making a difference” in Southeast Asia and Africa. (70% of HBS grads last year went into management consulting, finance or tech, btw.)

It’s time to splash some cold water on this phenomenon. Some corrective is needed to counter both the gospel of “social entrepreneurship” as the most effective route of social change, as well as the usefulness of corporate partnership in the same.

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What’s a Senior Product Manager’s job?

I found myself inspired recently after reading another outstanding blog post by Julia Evans titled “What’s a Senior Engineer’s job?” If you’re not reading Julia’s blog yet, then… what are you doing? Go open a new tab and check her out. Her blog has really taught me a lot about how software engineers work, and that post above is just one of many examples.

It got me thinking about the natural counterpart on our side – what, exactly, is a Senior Product Manager’s job? In many ways, the Product Management role is much more amorphous than Engineering is, which leads a lot of people to be confused about what they “should” be doing. In that spirit, I’m going to take a crack at this question for folks in our world.

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Progress is slow

The past week here in the Raleigh/Durham area has been full Hurricane Florence prep. While hurricane preparedness is pretty much an annual rite in this region (there are minor hurricanes almost every year), the strength and size of Florence sent this year’s cycle into overdrive. The last storm to cause really massive damage here was Hurricane Fran back in 1996, and memories of that one have lingered, informing everyone’s preparedness this time around.

Something that struck me was how little storm preparedness has changed in the 22 years since Fran, despite how much technology has changed so much else.

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Why you’re having trouble hiring

I was discussing recruiter spam with a friend of mine the other day. He mentioned a recent message he received soliciting his interest in more than a dozen open Director and VP-level gigs. Cool, right? Except here’s the problem: virtually all of the positions were based in San Francisco (or NYC), which made him instantly hit “Ignore” on the recruiter message. We had a good laugh about this, because I always do the same.

Recruiter spam is nothing new, but the idea of doing nationwide candidate searches for non-executives strikes me as awfully weird. The dominant narrative, after all, is that SF and NYC are the most talent-rich places in the country for tech. So why are those of us in flyover country still getting inundated with solicitations to relocate?

The answer is that while recruiting is difficult anywhere, I think it has gotten harder than ever for many firms in these two mega-metros. A big reason is that the numbers just don’t add up. What I’m going to do in this post is break down what a big salary job offer actually means in practice for someone in a smaller city contemplating a move to SF/NYC, and why it doesn’t really make much practical sense to move. Recruiters and HR pros, take note.

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Doing the right thing

When I was in business school, we didn’t have a single class on ethics. At the time, this struck me as crazy. It was 2009, and while the Great Recession was getting into full swing, blame for what had happened was being assigned: greedy bankers, corrupt ratings agencies, feckless regulators, crooked mortgage lenders, and so on. Up and down the chain, you could point to people who had lied, cheated, or at a bare minimum, didn’t do their job. A few got extremely rich doing this, with the disastrous results for most that the rest of us remember. In our classes, we avoided almost all of this, which frustrated me greatly then and still does.

I’ve changed my mind about some of this in the past near-decade, though, in two important ways. Namely:

  • I no longer think that “teaching ethics” is really something you can do
  • I’ve come to understand ethical lapses less as a single moment of failure, and more as an ongoing process

Coming to both of these conclusions has changed how I approach ethics in my own life and career, and I thought I’d write a little about how and why.

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TAMs for Product Managers

“Total Addressable Markets” (TAMs) are typically something you see investors and other “money people” obsess over, and for good reason. Obviously, big market problems are more lucrative to solve than little ones. But TAMs are also relevant for product managers, albeit in different ways. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, and I thought I’d put down into words (and pictures!) how I apply my TAM in managing my products.

(A warning, though – this is all very enterprise-heavy, and I’m not sure how, or even if, it applies to consumer products. Could be wrong. And please excuse the crappy graphs here – I’m on an airplane!)

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I was on some podcasts

A little while back, I did a few interviews with some product management-focused podcasts to talk about enterprise software, why our segment is different, and our book. They were a lot of fun! Here are some links if you’d like to check them out:

 

One year of updates

I restarted blogging a little over a year ago. After a long hiatus, I finally decided that I had enough things to say that I’d try putting them on the internet again and see if anyone wanted to read them.

Just a little while after that, I also restarted my old email newsletter, but with a different format. Eschewing the term “newsletter,” which I think is sort of dated at this point, I called it my “email update,” which is more accurate. I took the old list I used to use, cleaned out a bunch of bad addresses, and sent out a “hey, here’s what I’m doing” message about the new site.

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