In case of emergency, press this button

Spending four days without power last week left plenty of time for quiet reflection. One thing I thought about during this lull was our society’s reliance on critical infrastructure and the products and services we’ve built around it. There was a great write up last week musing, among other things, about our willingness to pay high multiples for essentials in times of crisis. I could have made a similar case about hot water and cell phone service, but as I thought about it more, I kept coming back to the same question:

What defines critical infrastructure, and how do we come to rely on it so much?

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Get over your ego and ask for help

Note: I am in NYC, and I am fine. I wrote this before Sandy came to town and couldn’t post it until now.

Here is a confession. I’ve never been entirely comfortable asking others for help. I know, I know I am not the only person who feels this way. After all, to ask is to obligate someone to answer. And feeling obligated  to respond is the last think I would want other people to feel.

For the longest time this has been my modus operandi, even though in my heart of hearts I understood that this position was silly and untenable. Now I think I am finally free of these notions, and I want to share what got it out of my system. Continue reading

Managing Product Quality: A Story of Neglect and Oblivion

One of my constant struggles in managing software products has been in establishing and keeping tabs on the correspondence between the amount of work completed on a project and the quality of the software produced.

Oddly enough the main claim on time that would otherwise be spent on “designing quality” is spent on developing features, which, unlikely quality, are easily counted and plotted against costs. Shipping features often gets you off the hook quickly because you can easily explain a feature. Quality, on the other hand, eludes a snappy description.

All this is fine until one must negotiate something out of the product. Negotiating on a feature is usually a minor inconvenience, but when negotiating on quality the conversations get tougher and less pleasant. Customers leave, teams are demoralized, and product management is dismayed.

Why then do we still rally behind the feature list every single time? Here is why and what to do to rebalance the equation… (or skip to TL;DR section below)

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Algae, my next project, is in bloom

One Algae to go, please.

Creating Algae has been a tremendously rewarding experience. I started on it because, having worked on Turn-O-Phrase and LinkPeelr, I have grown very fond of Google App Engine but very weary of re-inventing the boilerplate from scratch every time. I hesitated to jump to a brand new project knowing that the first couple of days (that’s couple of weeks for us weekend warriors) would be spent copy pasting and adjusting defaults.

I started working on Algae in March, and back then it was primarily about scratching my own itch. Since then, I got to thinking that there might be others, constrained by time, and frustrated by the lack of subjectively good boilerplates for Google App Engine, who hunger for a saner and smoother start to their Python projects.

At that point I started thinking of Algae as something that coule benefit the community at large. I even went so far as to create a Skillshare course around it, but that’s another story. Continue reading

We Saw, We Hacked, We Almost Conquered

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending first ever eCommerce Hack Day. I posted recently about my prior hackathon experience, and this time I decided to heed my own advice and do things right. Spoiler alert: I still walked away without any prizes, but it was altogether a more positive and rewarding experience.

Oh, and if you just want to see what was built, go ahead and check out CraftEconomy.

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Common Sense Is A Trap

When was the last time you paid for an idea? I know, I know. Who does that? The information wants to be free and most good ideas are already on the Internet or Wikipedia. A lot of these ideas are public knowledge. Humanism is an idea. Free choice is another idea. Constitutional monarchy is an idea. Individualism is an idea. Why would you ever need to pay for them? Continue reading

Thinking of Going to a Hackathon?

Hackathons are the new black. They seem to be all the rage these days and everybody seems to be doing it. I, for one, always wanted to go to one but never had the chance until two weeks ago when I attended Angelhack NYC.

What finally made it possible for me was a fortuitous combination of: (1) a free weekend, (2) a moderate ticket price, and (3) an event with decent reputation. So if you want me to come to your next hackathon, you know what you need to do. Don’t overcharge and make it good.

But I digress. How to put together an awesome hackathon is a topic for another post. For now I’d like talk about my personal takeaways – what went right, what went wrong, and what I could have done differently to get more out of the event.

If you are a first-time hackathon attendee, I sure hope you’ll find this bit of anecdotal observation useful. If you are feeling impatient, feel free to skip ahead to the summary section below.

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