Category Archives: call to action

Mission Statement – Keep and refine project ideas

When I am mulling over a new idea, I find that writing the idea down is a useful exercise for it forces you to structure your thoughts, to tease out the essentials, and to do away with obtrusive chaff and filler. Words lend substance to thoughts and grant them a measure of permanence.

Having a handle on this phase of idea elaboration allows one to explore the very nature of what your mind can vaguely frame. Words on paper are all about precision. When writing, you make a conscious choice to use one word and not the other. You make a conscious choice not only about the choice of words, but also about their number, the voice, and the pace.

It’s not only about communicating the idea to yourself, once written down an idea as it would have been communicate to others. It is the message that fills the gap between a mere thought and a full-on action. “Why on Earth am I doing it and what I intend to do” begs a precise and deliberate answer. To execute an idea before putting down the mission in words seems grossly misguided.

Because I believe it helps to set things in words before they are set in stone, on paper, in ink, in oil, or in code (and in the fine tradition of computer engineers building tools to scratch their own itch), I and Tyler Hughes (who has graciously volunteered his time for this project) have build Mission Statement.

Because it’s not the thought that counts, it’s the message…

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Polling Hacker News: What should I build next?

Having implemented and launched a large swath of new Turn-O-Phrase functionality over the last 2 months (namely, the puzzle designer and the custom puzzle user flow), I find myself at the proverbial crossroads. On a whim and without hoping for any real response, I decided to ask Hacker News what I should be building next.

I got really lucky and the poll got upvoted enough times to stay on the ‘new’ page for more than 3 hours, ensuring that a lot of people saw it and had a chance to vote. Some 125 kind souls ended up voting, which I consider a huge, statistically-significant success. There were also quite a few constructive comments and criticisms.

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Waiting for winds to change or setting on a different course

As I complete my tour of duty with the current (now former) employer there is plenty of time for quiet reflection… perhaps too much time for an unhealthy amounts of reflection.

Did I do the right thing?

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How to guilt trip yourself into blogging more

So I’ve let my blog go without a new post for almost a month now, which is a shame.

In case you’ve missed it, and you would have since you cannot read my mind, my personal commitment, call it a New Year resolution, was to post at least once a week. At this pace, I would be at 30 something posts for the year, which I am nowhere near.

The solution to this problem is to give you a heads up about what’s coming, and by doing so committing to write these entries. So here are the write ups that will be coming your way soon:

  1. Re-launch of Turn-O-Phrase: Lessons Learned
  2. RE:trip – My next adventure in web apps
  3. HairQ – My (likely) first Android app

So stay tuned… Your patience is appreciated.

Whoring for Participation Points

Funny story.

I met my future wife when we were both students at UC Berkeley. At some point we decided to take a class together, which was as much an academic decision as it was a decision to spend more time with each other. The class is the stuff of family lore now, but suffice it to say that taking Medieval Russian History together wasn’t prompted by our scholarship of Russian history, medieval or otherwise.

To make a long story short, this is how I came to coin the phrase which is the title of this here post. Whoring for participation point basically referred to my wife waking up periodically during class to ask a completely inane question just for the sake of appearing awake and interested. You only needed to hear one sentence after waking up, so the on-time was minimized.

Consider this contrived example. My wife would wake up. The professor would say to the class: “Thus the asceticism was a key element of the medieval Russian Orthodox tradition adopted from the Greeks.” The wife would raise her hand and ask: “Is this true that the Greek Orthodox ascetics predated the Russian ones?” Not her exact words, but you get the point.

It was then that I realized that I had found my one true love (and a person of formidable cunning to boot). Just kidding, I realized it well before.

Whoring for participation points works great up to a point, yet it starts to fail spectacularly once you leave school and enter the real world. Here is why I think it doesn’t work outside of classroom:

  1. Participations points are no longer 10-20% of your grade. Life, as we come to know it, is 100% participation.  The academic environment is way too lenient to non-participants. The industry is not.
  2. In the ultra-competitive real world, the difference between someone who is engaged and someone who isn’t is not 10%. It’s no longer a marginal difference, it’s a qualitative difference between success and failure.
  3. Ultimately, seizing opportunities is a full time job. You can’t be half awake and not expect to miss something.
So I guess I am trying to use this little vignette to tell you that you really need to genuinely get yourself in front of people, to soak up all the information, and to engage above and beyond the bare minimum level many of us got used to in school. Because if you don’t, someone else will, and they won’t be just 10-20% ahead.

A Product Manager’s Authority is Earned, Not Granted

This post originally appeared as a guest post on On Product Management blog.

When was the last time you had to soothe your wounded ego with thoughts like these:

  1. I raised it to senior management, but couldn’t get them to commit to the project. My job is to identify opportunities and to point them out to the powers that be. I can’t do the impossible. There is only so much I can do.
  2. I’ve let Engineering know that they need to scrap three months worth of work and start on something completely different. This decision came down from my bosses, and I had no say. I’m totally clear of any wrongdoing, and that’s what I’m telling engineering.
  3. I know the website for my product sucks. I brought it to the attention of our web admins but they won’t even consider my suggestions. They don’t want to implement the changes. I’ve done my best, but that part of the organization is totally impervious to my requests.

Sounds familiar? The uncomfortable truth is that a product manager’s job is a carefully disguised exercise in the most excruciating kind of professional impotence. An authority over no one, we are tasked with performing  feats of coordination among insubordinate, obstinate groups, entirely unmotivated to heed your opinions or to collaborate.

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Calling all hackers: Let’s team up for our fated greatness

Dear all,

I am looking for collaborators, co-creators, madman-in-arms, and partners-in-crime to join me on my quest for making the Web a better place. How? Why by building web apps.

Why should we be building web apps together:

  1. To have fun. That’s actually the secret sauce to all of this. If you are not having enough fun, and are intellectually curious and technically inclined, this should fit the bill very well. The idea is to make this experience personally and collectively fulfilling.
  2. To make something beautiful and useful for the masses. Beauty and fun go hand in hand. Americans believe that anything fun is intrinsically good. French believe that anything beautiful is intrinsically good. Where do those two cultures collide? Exactly, in building web apps. (Just for the record, I am not French.)
  3. To learn something new. Teachers say learning is key, and they are definitely onto something. You will face new technologies, push bits around, beat them into submission, and emerge victorious. Did I mention fun?

Why work with me?

  1. I have actionable ideas that I can no longer bear letting just sit there. And I have a decidedly elitist Moleskine full of neat little project blurbs. You will be the first judge for these. I have no qualms about letting ideas out. In fact, I’ll just give you what I have if you simply drop me a line.
  2. I know what it takes, and I’ve done it before. I am not entirely naive. I’ve built LinkPeelr; I’ve worked on JustLiked (never launched), and I am currently working on Turn-O-Phrase (online and quietly waiting for some finishing touches). You can get to work on these too.
  3. I am easy-going. I don’t have many hang ups. I hate petty grievances, and I am low key when it comes to asserting my point of view. I guess what I am saying, I am OK if you end up in the driver’s seat as long as you possess integrity and respect people you work with (me++).

Some rules (of course there are rules, you didn’t think there wouldn’t be any?):

  1. Everything that we start will be 50/50. If it ever turns into anything, we will be equal partners. But don’t kid yourself, the chances of this happening are effectively 0. We’ll cross that bridge if (not when) we get to it.
  2. You must contribute at least 10 hours every week. The more the better, but if I can’t match contribution I will feel guilty, and that’s going to sour the relationship. Trust me on this.
  3. Chances are we will have incompatible skill sets, working hours, etc. The idea is not to coerce the other party into your philosophy but to educate and to compromise. I will do the same for my part.
  4. You must be in and engaged. The only thing worse than having no collaborator is to have a collaborator who is not into it, or who starts showing a half-hearted effort. You need to be self-motivated too. I will stop short of trying to resuscitate your motivation.

That’s all, folks. If there are no takers, this message will self-destruct to save me the sheer embarrassment. Or not.

Feel free to contact me at ilya[dot]bagrak@gmail[dot]com or on Skype at ibagrak.