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Outcome vs Output

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Success is an ambiguous word, with just as many intangibly squishy synonyms like "delivering value," "having an impact," and "great results." And when it comes to celebrating our team's successes, highlighting the value we bring in our annual reviews, writing an impactful resume, or sharing the results of our work, the ambiguity of these terms do us no favors in helping us determine what we should capture. And so we write about the wrong things. To avoid this pitfall, I always remind myself to focus on Outcome and not Output . Output is the work we produce: The emails we send, meetings we schedule, PowerPoints we build, lines of code we write, or things we fixed. Output isn't bad or good. It's just a means to an end (the Outcome). Outcome is what happens because of your output (and sometimes despite it). You may have led 5 projects, managed 50 people, wrote 500 lines of code, fixed 5,000 bugs - and all of those are meaningless ( yes, even fi

28kbps

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  Here's to the kids of the 90s who didn't lay back in a field watching the clouds above slowly form shapes... ...but to those kids who hunched forward in cheap swivel computer chair, watching images slowly download in Netscape Navigator, and wondering what they'd eventually form.

Heartstorming vs Brainstorming

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I learned a new term recently: Heartstorming . If brainstorming is a logical process to solve problems, heartstorming is an approach centered around what motivates, inspires, & generates energy. It produces ideas that may seem less logical, data-driven, rationale or pragmatic. Instead, it's about exploring ideas you can't justify with numbers, but still feel important, feel "right." It's an opportunity to speak from the heart, or the gut, and to generate ideas you'd never share with others for fear of appearing soft, emotional, or simply because you can't easily put its value to words. In his book,  Start with Why , Simon Sinek writes about the difficulty of putting words to feelings. Different regions in our brains process emotions and language, making it hard to find the right words for what we feel deeply. The best "Whys" resonate with the emotional part of the brain. They makes us feel something. That's why Product Managers talk about

You Belong Among the Wildflowers

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A long time ago, the web was open. Everyone and their cat had a website, or a blog. Search engines were terrible, and so the community came up with the  now forgotten idea of 'webrings'.  But as search engines became better, along with it came the social networks. Overtime, they evolved and grew walls around their content - blocking search engines and only allowing registered users to view and share. Bloggers became 'content creators' distributing to various walled gardens, and they grew their audience. And while the walls have always bothered me, the perennial problem has really been more about the focus on * recency * of content. To drive up engagement (a proxy for quality), algorithms favored newer posts that were getting more engagement. But engagement isn't a proxy for quality, and social networks don't care about the great observation you made 3 years ago. You know who does? The people seeking help on that very thing you observed. And to find that observat

Impostor Syndrome & Self-Deprecation

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Can we stop saying Software Engineers suffer from Impostor Syndrome, and instead rebrand it as ... *ahem* ... self-deprecating. ...get it?...

A Terrible Password Policy

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I know a guy who can't keep a secret. Or maybe, it's better to say - he won't keep a secret. It was a principled thing. Whatever secrets he comes upon, he feels compelled to share. He preferers openness, transparency, but especially not having to track who-knows-what in his head. I once asked him how he applied this policy to his account passwords. "I use passphrases, and I pick phrases that can naturally be worked into conversation so that no one is the wiser. That way, I share my secrets but my accounts remain safe." "If someone comments on the weather, I can respond with TheresASl!ghtCh@nc3OfR@in. If someone asks about the latest sports game, I'll offer up that Th3R3fsM@deT3rr!bl3C@lls." This is a T3rr1bl3P@$$w0rdP0l!cy.

Highly Efficient Algorithms

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My fitness journey started with reading the latest on new, more efficient workouts. 1 month ago an article said I could get fit with just 3 pieces of equipment and 10 workouts. 2 weeks ago, I learned I can get fit with just 2 pieces of equipment and 5 workouts. Today I found out I can get fit with just 1 kettlebell and 3 workouts. Judging by the rate at which workouts are becoming more efficient my fitness journey should end next month.

Memorable Resumes

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  It's been a while since I've made a slideshow about resume - but I'm still having to give the same advice in my conversations. There's lots of talk about applying AI to resumes, and while that may change the future of hiring/job seeking, I don't think we've hit that inflection point yet. Hiring is still very personal, and very human. The principles about making yourself memorable with the right kind of resume still apply. For now... If you're looking for a simple, elegant and well structure resume template, you can find mine here:  alishahnovin.com/resume-template

Minotaurs & Mentors

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  My kid keeps mixing up Minotaur and Mentor, and now I'm wondering what she thinks I do in my spare time.

"There are no stupid questions."

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I'm sure we've all heard how "There are no stupid questions," plenty of times... But, let's be honest, there are stupid questions. There are questions we all hear that make us go "Ouch... how could they ask that?" And, knowing how quick we are to judge others for their stupid questions, we hold back on asking our own. Especially when we feel that "Ouch" with our own stupid questions. When the struggle to understand is inexplicable. That tip-of-the-brain, "how am I not getting this?" feeling, when it ... all ... just ... feels ... out ... of ... reach. And the more we think it through, the further it feels. When you ask enough stupid questions you start to realize that asking the stupid question is the only thing that saves you from doing something stupid. Case in point: I was on the phone with a coworker, discussing an important project. As most important projects go, it came with different risks we had to weigh. We'd been discu

The Measure of One's Life in Relation to the Quality of Pancakes

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For the past year, I've really focused on eating healthier - cutting back on treats, eating dense salads at lunch, whole grain, etc. and also getting in exercise at least 5 times per week. Lifestyle changes always result in people talking about how great they feel, how much better they are sleeping... ...but after being sick with a cold for the past 4 days, I decided to treat myself to some French toast with berries and dark chocolate shavings. Still on the "healthier" side, with no whipped cream, syrup or butter - but an indulgence never-the-less. And now I feel unstoppable. Maybe its the cold medicine kicking in - but I think it has much more to do with the French toast. I'm reminded of one of my favorite dialogs from one of my favorite movies:  "I don’t wanna eat nothing but pancakes. I wanna live. Who in their right mind in a choice between pancakes and living chooses pancakes?" "Harold, if you’d pause to think, I believe you’d realize that that ans

4 Mistakes We Make About Culture

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I wrote this a few years back, before the height of the tech-hiring frenzy. For some reason, I never published it - not sure why. After reviewing it against the current backdrop, I think it's somehow more relevant today. Companies & teams want a great culture but I'm seeing trends in what they often get wrong. Here's my list of 4 things along with what leadership can do about it, based on things I'd implemented with my own teams. Policy ≠ Culture Staying late until the problem is solved, constructive disagreements, being accountable to own another, team lunches, unlimited PTO - those aren't culture things. Those are policies. I read blogs or hear people talk about their culture in these terms - and it's misguided.  Take the first one - staying late. Setting aside whether it's good policy or not, it can only work as a policy, not culture. As a policy, it sets an expectation. It avoids a trap of employees having to figure out what the "right thing to

Raiders of the Lost Code

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You know you've been hanging around compilers too long when you can look at someone's code and carbon date it just by looking how they iterate over a dataset: pre-2005: Standard For loops, no shorthand. 2005-2010: Foreach loops 2010-2015: Linq statements 2015-2023: Dynamic variables, shorthand notation 2023+: Well-written Copilot-generated code with sufficient whitespace for coder to process their AI-induced anxiety attack.

Order of Operations

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I've noticed something in my emails: My second sentence is often a much better first sentence, and my first sentence is a better supporting statement. I need to try this when I'm talking... say the first sentence in my head, the second aloud, and then repeat the first sentence.

Grocery Baskets

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I'm a terrible grocery shopper. I walk in to buy one thing, and end up leaving with 12. I briskly walk right past the shopping carts and baskets - with the intention to be in and out. Then, somewhere along the way, I start to meander. I reminisce of long-forgotten meals. I think of things I ate as a child, or something I'd always wanted to try - and before I know it I have more things in my hands than I'd accounted for. Sometimes I'll buy things I've never intended to buy - determined that today's the day I'll find out whether vegemite and marmite are the same thing. I'll romanticize Rye bread. I've never particularly liked it - but maybe because I've never tried the right kind of Rye bread? I hum the American Pie chorus as I grab a loaf as I realize, for the first time, the lyrics have nothing to do with Rye bread.  Drinking whiskey and rye...   why did I always imagine people eating slices of rye bread at a bar?   Maybe I need to find a good ch

Radiate Intent

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As a follow-up to my post about aphorisms , I think I've found my new maxim for 2024 - inspired by Elizabeth Ayer : Don't ask forgiveness, radiate intent. A play on the 'don't ask for permission, ask for forgiveness,' phrase that gets used a lot. I landed across this phrase while watching a video about effective backlog prioritization, and it lead me to Elizabeth's article on Medium which does a great job breaking down why radiating intent is so important. In a nutshell, announce, telegraph, share, inform others of what you are intending to do. This gives others the opportunity to intervene, or at the very least be informed. It builds trust with them while building your own confidence. It also gets away from the troubling phrasing of 'permission.'      Even though I've taken this approach naturally for some time, I think it's valuable to ground myself to this maxim. It makes it all the more  intentional  (don't pardon the pun, but relish it)

Aphorisms

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Aphorisms. I'm not sure what it is about them - but I think I do better with adopting them as resolutions than I do adopting actual resolutions.  Maybe it's that they're often just more approachable than resolutions? SMART goals are intimidating. If you fail at a SMART goal, well... You have no one to blame but yourself. But aphorisms give the room to fail. They're aspirational and ambitious - the kind of thing Mr. Rogers or Bob Ross would encourage us to consider without being too pushy, and without the judgement or disappointment if we misstep.  Over the years, I've collected various aphorisms as a kind of recipe for my professional life (though they often also extend beyond the professional.) Each year I try to add some new ones but with 2024 around the corner, I've not yet come across anything new that has shaken my perspective the way the ones below have. So I'm taking suggestions! If, after reading the list below, you have an aphorism, observation, ma

Entry-Level Job Hunting

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Someone recently reached out asking for tips for their first job hunt. I honestly struggled with the response because I wanted to give the best advice I could give. Frankly, I really wondered if my advice would be good at all. Afterall, my career started almost 20 years ago and while it was tough then, it's not like what it is today. A simple "Just do this..." approach didn't work then and works even less now. So I've really been challenging myself with this idea: If I got started today, in tech, in this economic climate, with large layoffs happenings, an increasingly competitive job market, with no experience, no network, and few resources, what would I do? Where would I get started? How would I find my first job? While I don't know if I have the answer, I have some perspective that may help: Re-think what a "first job" can be. I say this because I see a lot first-time job seekers think the first time job has to be at a name brand. Maybe they've

Lessons

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When you're 11 years younger than your oldest brother, you get to learn a lot through them. You learn how to blow air through blades of grass and make it squeal. You learn the hilariously reckless fun of riding your bike around in circles while he tries to knock you off by throwing a basketball at you. You learn the right way to make a snowball. How to eat cherry tomatoes. You learn how going fishing isn't about the fishing but about the sandwiches you pack. You learn how to code. As you grow into adulthood the 11 year gap narrows. You learn how you can help in ways you couldn't before. You can help him move into his first house, tile his bathroom, grow cherry tomatoes... And yet you're still learning from him. How to get a job, prioritize what's important, how to be a dad. And as the years go on, the gap continues to narrow until one day it's no more. He relies on you as much as you him. But he's still not done teaching you things. One day, he t

Jam on Toast

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6 years ago I went for brunch at a small cafe in Cambridge, MA. I took a picture of the jam & toast I was served. It's hard to get jam & toast wrong but as simple as it can be, it can still be taken to new heights. The right bread, the right fruit. This was a memorable encounter.  People will forget the texture of the toast, they'll forget the sweetness of the jam, but people will never forget how jam & toast makes them feel. I'm sure there's a lesson in here somewhere - maybe about the work we deliver, the infinite possibility for improvement... or maybe it's just as simple as making sure you always make time to enjoy some jam on toast. Trust me on the last one - you'll thank yourself (and me) in 6 years.

null

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Seeing a null in a very large tech company's app is a nice reminder that small but obvious mistakes can slip past even the best of them.

Emily.

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When my daughter was 2 she began telling us of an imaginary friend "Emily." Emily was imaginary friend who'd show up whenever she was feeling lonely - if she was playing by herself at preschool or, in particular, at naptime when she was trying to get herself to sleep. One day, when she was 3, I was asking her more about Emily and she told me how Emily "lives in her heart." She told me how, at nap time, she'd ask Emily to visit the hearts of the people she was missing - her mom's heart, her baby brother's heart, mine heart, and then hearts of the rest of her family and her friends. When she reached the end of her list of people, she could then fall asleep while hugging Emily's heart, and with Emily hugging hers. About 6 months later, my daughter announced one day that she no longer 'needed' Emily, and that she'd made her up to help her feel less afraid. There's no metaphor here, no deeper meaning, connection back to careers, growth

Pong - A Laptop Bag

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  So my daughter surprised me with a "laptop bag" she decorated for me - which was an opportunity to build Pong for the hundredth time - but, for the first time, to her spec - and with her watching along. I've built so many variations at this point. One of my most favorite variants that I built 20 years ago is one I called ' Pango'. You can tell Pango is old, because it's from an era where lens flares meant good design. Pango let you move in all directions, and required you to first break a hole in the wall protecting your opponent's end-zone. And while Pong is not necessarily complicated to build, it's always a fun exercise to see how much faster & better you can build it. For example - building the collision detection to avoid cases where the ball gets trapped within the paddle, and bounces back and forth rapidly. Or including momentum transference that can alter the ball's angle. My daughter version includes a yellow obstacle that moves back

Last on the Bus

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Some time ago, I decided to go through all my old files (some of them being as much as 25 years old ) to find all the things I'd posted online since the late 90s. Hundreds of journal entries (before it was known as blogging), updates about things I was coding, and then a lot of day-in-the-life type posts from my college days. I took a bunch of them and re-uploaded them within this blog - preserving their original publish date. Walking through them is not only seeing the progression of the internet, but my progression from student to professional. It's interesting to put myself back in the mindset of being a college student - and re-reading post after post after post where I was running on fumes, sleeping in the school library, barely scraping by. With graduation on the horizon, I relived the stress and anxiety of starting my first professional job hunt - and then ultimately the transition to adulthood. I remember the final day of my senior year in high school. The final bell ra

Connecting the Dots

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This past weekend I read a fascinating article by Cognitive Scientist and Marketing researcher Hang-Yee Chan. In this article Dr. Chan, backed by brain-scans, supports the case that storytelling is one of the most effective ways to land your message. More specifically, crafting a linear narrative triggers the consumer to a process   called mentalizing , "which is the ability to decipher the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of others. It's what makes human beings social, allowing them to interact and coordinate based on subtle cues. Mentalizing is also key to story comprehension." I come from a long line of great story-tellers (it's one of the things that pushed me to pivot from writing code to Product Management) but it also had me thinking about a lot of the advice I give around crafting a solid resume. First - I think it's worth reiterating: my own views on resumes have evolved over the years. I don't think resumes carry the same weight in the job-applica

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