Monday, December 17, 2012

R. Buckminster Fuller

Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons. --R. Buckminster Fuller

Thursday, December 13, 2012


“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” ― Albert Einstein

Sunday, December 9, 2012


“It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.” – Mark Twain

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bad interview experiences

I thought I would share a couple of recent experiences.  The first is a case where the company shot themselves in the foot because they could have had someone come on and help them immediately with no real training costs.  The second is a case where poor communication cost them time and money. While I am open to advice, I also believe that in the world of interviewing, for every expert you can find that says 'do this' you can find just as many that say 'do NOT do this.'

I also firmly believe that if it were meant to be, a poor interview performance will not rule you out entirely.  And likewise, if you nail the interview that is no guarantee that you will get an offer, let alone the position.

Anyway on to a couple of recent experiences where I was the interviewee:

The first one I want to tell you about was a clinic in how to confuse your candidate.  This particular company was one I have known about for years, but not in a positive light.  But they had a position open that I felt could use my experience to help them fill a need and at the least bridge a gap.  I knew a couple of people that were currently at the company and ping'd them to see what kind of interest there might be on the company's side.  After a couple of emails, I got a phone interview with the hiring manager.  Smart guy, well rounded in infrastructure and pleasant to talk to.  So I was scheduled for a follow up in the office.

I arrive early, wait in reception area until HR comes out to greet and take me to a conference room.  So far so good.  After talking with her, I am sensing that I may not have been clear as to the position I was interested in, which was a hands-on role.  She was hinting at my management experiences and didn't seem at all interested in the technical side.  I dismissed it as a pretty common thing for an HR person who may have little technical experience to have done.

Then the first of two interviewers come in.  The questions are decidedly for a management position, which I was unaware they were considering me for, and to be quite honest, due to their reputation I was not interested in that role here.  Same with next interviewer.  Then hiring manager comes in, we just sort of casually shoot the breeze having already done most of the hard interviewing via phone.

So a couple of days later, CTO calls for a phone interview.  Nothing raised any red flags, even when I asked if she felt the storm was ahead or behind them, in regards to organizational and management changes.  She assured me that it was behind them and she had her team firmly in place with the exception of this position, which was clear it was management at this point.  So she says 48 hours for a decision.  Two weeks later and only one email from HR, I get a call out of the blue from someone to interview me, no introduction, nada.  So he starts in asking essentially the same I interrupt to ask who he is and did he just return from vacation because I thought I had already interviewed with the entire team.  He indicates he is the new hiring manager.

Whoa!  Ok, lets do some analysis here.  First, the position I was interested in, I was clearly not interviewed for, and the position I was not interested in, was the one I was interviewed for, which to me was a blindside.  The questions and answers for a single contributor hands-on role are vastly different from a department leader.  Second, the CTO was so wrong about where her staff stood that the original hiring manager was already half out the door when I was interviewing.   And to top it off, the new hiring manager interviewed me in what I can only describe as a rhetorical stream of consciousness style.  He would ask a question and then answer it himself, "What do you know about Netapp filers?  I don't know what you am I supposed to figure out if you understand..."  I only wish I had recorded that interview because I don't half believe it happened that way either.

To summarize, this was a company that has a bad reputation with everyone I know that has worked there.  And it is north of 15...they have a similar platform to a previous employer, which is why I was interested in coming in for hands-on role...I knew I could be productive fairly quickly even though I am rusty.  They are obviously not out of the woods with their management changes and culture shifts.  And they just firmly cemented my resolve to never consider working there and recommending anyone to stay clear.  Incidentally, the two people I mentioned above no longer work there either.

The next interview was a huge waste of travel costs and both their and my time.  After several phone interviews which were by all accounts very exciting to both parties, they scheduled an in person.  They flew me in, put me up at a hotel, and then had me come in for a 4 hour interview with several panels.  This was for a Director titled position.  So as the interview is progressing, things are going well, and they have this position's one direct report in on the interview.  This person is clearly frazzled and not well supported, at least that is the vibe I am getting.  So after a lot of standard questions, I start getting some hard scenario questions based on recent events at the company.  So as I am answering how I would handle the situation, up and down stream, the manager unloads on me a little about something that shouldn't necessarily concern her at her level, to which the hiring manager sort of pish tosh's her...whoops red flag number one.

So now that I have met her, I am starting to get a glimpse of what I am going to be up against here.  We are sitting in a conference room with a large whiteboard, so I press them for an org chart.  I really can't stress this enough...a picture is worth a thousand words!  When I saw the org chart, which was drawn by the recruiter oddly, I knew that this was an over-inflated title.  This was a Sr. Manager position at best.  In hindsight I normally ask enough questions by this point to have a rough sketch of an org chart, but the way I was sold on this position, I thought I had a good idea what sort of role it was.  Red flag number two.

So now I am starting to hear 'matrix' getting dropped into the discussion for this team of Sysadmins.  There are 15 of them in two departments, one with a manager and the other is being handled by the hiring manager, a recently promoted VP.  So, I gingerly relate my experiences with matrix organizations and how I have seen them fail miserably, and it really boils down to selling it to your existing staff by showing how it can be beneficial.  But I also express my belief that I lean more towards a hybrid organizational system especially for an existing Unix Sysadmin team.

Then in comes the C-levels.  There are two and they are tossing out some real softball questions, presumably to get a feel for me and my management style.  Fair enough.  But then the hammer comes down and they say in no uncertain terms, that the matrix system will be implemented because, and I am paraphrasing here, they have seen it work.  Red flag number three.

Now here is the part where I feel a little embarrassed.  A question along the lines of  'what would your previous employees say about you if they were here right now'' is asked, and I reply all too quickly "I'm passionate."  I still laugh when I think about this.  I mean, I couldn't quite believe they asked the question, and more unbelievably I blurted out that answer.  I meant it more tongue-in-cheek, but the way they took it, it was like I metaphorically said F you and walked out.  

Not my proudest moment, but this goes back to my belief that there is a love connection or there isn't.  In this case, I felt like I had been lured to a third date and then the ugly truth came out.  If they had just been upfront about the org structure and their resolve to implement a matrix organization, maybe the trip and the hours of everyone's time would have been better spent.

In a nutshell, don't dismiss your intuition or chemistry when it comes to the interview process.

Some further reading:

10 Words Not to Say in Your Job Interview

5 Ways to Spot Bad Company Culture

The lighter side:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

LinkedIn Purity

A brief explanation of what I term 'LinkedIn Purity'


To me, this is the second most important thing on LinkedIn, with your experience being number one.

With regards to your contacts, the purest form of a LinkedIn profile is one in which you know every single contact intimately, having worked with them enough to meet up for beers or go to their house for a BBQ.

The reality for most of us I suspect is we have several types of contacts that don't fall into this category, but are one or a mix of the following:

Ex or current cow-orkers we can't stand (keep your enemies closer.)
Profile boosters(these are people who impress others that you know them, and to someone you are one too.)



How honest you are here decides your purity.  Everyone writes the resume to put your accomplishments in the best possible light to remain competitive.  So how much is fluff and how much is just sheer fabrication is almost impossible to determine for certain things.  For instance, I could say I was instrumental in implementing XYZ project at ABC company, but how do you confirm this?  It's one of those grey areas for most smaller companies/projects.  I mean it would probably be fairly easy to figure out if you really were the inventor of the iPhone.


All your recommendations have been written out of shear altruism and have never been solicited.  They have not been written out of guilt or perceived obligation.  They are all worthy of printing out on gold leaf adorned heavy stock paper and framed.  This is true of both those you have written and those that have been written about you.

The reality is, sometimes people solicit and we comply.  Sometimes we throw people a bone for various reasons.  And we will also approve a recommendation even though it appears that it was written by a 12 year old on NyQuil.

Skills & Expertise Endorsements

These are similar if lesser in impact than a recommendation.  And it is infinitely easier to endorse someone with a click than it is to write a paragraph long recommendation.  The purity comes from refraining from endorsing those you either don't fully believe they hold/master a skill or accepting a skill endorsement from someone you either don't know well enough, or wasn't working with you by time you acquired the skill.  See my post on endorsements for more details.

Groups and Associations

How many groups can one be associated with?  I am guessing it is only a few, not dozens as I have seen on some profiles. Update: So I just read up on some LinkedIn tips and it seems that groups provide people with a loophole to contact someone. If you and they share a group, you don't need to be a 1st degree connection to contact them. I have seen mostly recruiters and consultant types with the long lists of groups, so now this makes perfect sense. So in the context of purity, less is more.

LinkedIn Skill Endorsements

Daniel's Unofficial Guide to LinkedIn Skill and Expertise Endorsements

I have seen no official (or unofficial for that matter) guidelines on how to use the skills and expertise endorsements. So I am going to outline how I see them and how I judge whether I will or won't endorse someone for a particular skill.

I have read a lot of derisive or dismissive comments about the system, but I am not sure where that is coming from. I find the skill endorsements just another aspect to LinkedIn, which shouldn't ever be your sole deciding factor on a hire or engagement with an individual. To listen to some of the complaints you would think LinkedIn adopted Facebook's privacy policies and opted you back in to sharing to the world.

Here are some choice words/phrases:

thoughtless endeavor
clutters profiles
painting by numbers
zero credibility
virtually worthless
complete waste of bandwidth

And this is only from one page! I think maybe some people should get more fiber in their diets.

Anyway, I can see some benefits to the system. For instance, if someone is marketing themselves as an NFS Guru with 30 years experience, yet only has the skill NFS endorsed by one person...that raises a red flag. More than likely, the endorsements are going to reflect the longevity of the skill...or at least one hopes.

There exists the possibility of keyword searches by recruiters or others interested in finding someone with a certain skill. I don't know if the search functionality exists(I only have a basic account), but if you have 'expertise requests' listed under your contact options I would think it makes sense to be well endorsed for specific skills. Imagine a scenario where an individual or company is having trouble with an NFS implementation. They search on LinkedIn for NFS Guru and find our friend above who has the 'expertise requests' contact option set and has 45 endorsements over the span of his career for this skill. I would think that is a benefit.

Also, you are in complete control of what endorsements are displayed on your profile page. Got an endorsement from someone you don't know?(Which also begs the question, how or why are you "linked" to that person? It's what I call your 'LinkedIn Purity') Than just delete the endorsement. No point in whinging on about it.

On the Integrity of My Endorsements

I know people live and learn and gain skills over time, but when I see someone with a listed skill for something that they famously did not possess when I worked with them, I chuckle. For instance, a former cow-orker lists 'Disaster Recovery' as a skill, yet the one thing that stands out for me is his 'engineering' of a system with zero redundancy, zero backup strategy, very little documentation and questionable source code on a platform not supported by our team.

The fact it became a key piece of a much larger system tied to revenue really drives it home. But here is the rub; he may have built the system as a proof-of-concept and people that didn't know better rolled it out before it was fully fleshed out. Either way, I can not in good conscience endorse him for this skill. He may have learned his lesson, and now he makes sure that every ounce of work has a full DR workup, but since I didn't witness this, I will just skip this one.

I also see skills for people that I am pretty sure they have, but either they gained that skill after we worked together or I just have never experienced it first hand. In both those circumstances, I will not endorse. Well, for the most part. There are certain skills that I have not personally witnessed(someone setting up a SAN for instance) but I know that this person has done it successfully on several occasions. Depending on my relationship I will probably endorse them.

While I have yet to receive any solicitations for endorsements, when it does happen I am very unlikely to answer unless I have legitimately overlooked the person or a skill that is very core to how I view them.  This is also part of the LinkedIn Purity.

Feature Requests

It would be nice if you could indicate the level of confidence you have in a person's skill or expertise and how much personal experience you have with this person's skill/expertise, like a star rating or color code(ie, terror alert?) Sometimes it is obvious. If Bill Smith in marketing endorses you for NFS, that is not even in the same league as an endorsement by Bill Joy.

Having a "Don't show me this again" button on the endorsements would be nice as well.  Anyway to ack you saw it, it doesn't apply or you don't like that person and will never endorse them for anything but a lobotomy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Which box?

After a year of flirting with re-employment in a traditional employee/employer relationship, I suspect that a lot of employers may be looking to the wrong people to bring them what they desire.

While at Los Angeles Times/Tribune, my experience with the existing staff was that they were firmly living 'inside the box.' Once Sam Zell and his minions tore away the chains of oppression and kicked open the door to freedom, there was a collective sigh and much joy. The reality is very few rushed to embrace that freedom and many did not even know what to do with it as they stared at it for the first time.

My colleagues and I were dumbfounded that after years of complaining how they didn't have the freedom to even air ideas, let alone try and implement them, now that they were staring at the wide open space they were not prepared to actually explore it. The realization came to me later that the type of person that would not only make the cut to get hired here, but had made it for years in the previous culture, were wholly and completely not qualified to survive in this new environment.

As we were lured under the auspices of 'greenfield' and building a dotcom with the financial backing of a corporation with 22,000 employees, this was very appealing to most of us, if not all of us. But we were all from Internet companies and were used to creative thinking, energizing workspaces and the other perks standard in the dotcom world. The environment we encountered was the exact opposite. The walls were biege, the trim was a dark brown and most offices had huge doors that locked. While we managed to breathe some life into our floor, this office had not been remodeled for decades(I assume.) It felt like a bank as featured in every 70's era movie. And everyone, existing technology team members included, wore very formal office attire. Shiny shoes, crisp starched collars, probably sock suspenders, etc. And I will only speak for myself and say I hated it and it was depressing, but many felt the same way.

So when you think of the type of person that can show up to work, day in and day out, to that type of physical environment, and the matching 1970's management style, you think of Milton from Office Space. So when the Zellites demanded 'innovation' it was met with a resounding thud.

(In all fairness, there were a handful of people that were not this bad, but when you try to implement a culture change that big in that short amount of time, it really was a slog for those people.)

So why would you ask for 'outside the box' thinking from someone who is firmly residing inside the box? Wouldn't it be far better to ask someone not confined to said box for their thoughts?

My career, much like my life, has taken a non-linear path. And I don't think or live in the typical box.  So when you ask if I think 'outside the box' understand when I reply "Which box?"

Some further reading:

"The entire “social media” marketplace is now taking viewers, and ad dollars, from traditional media bringing the limelight to CEOs at Facebook, Twitter and Linked-in.  While newspaper companies like Tribune Corp., NYT, Dow Jones and Washington Post have faltered, pop publisher Arianna Huffington created $315M of value by hiring a group of bloggers to populate the on-line news tabloid Huffington Post.  And Apple is close to becoming the world’s most valuable publicly traded company on the back of new product innovations.

But, asking again, would your company hire the leaders of these companies?  Would it hire the Vice-President’s, Directors and Managers?  Or would you consider them too avant-garde? "

From  "Why Steve Jobs couldn't find a job today" - Forbes