Joe Conley Tagged books Random thoughts on technology, books, golf, and everything else that interests me Leadership Aboard the Santa Fe <p>What is leadership? It’s certainly a fancy term. It adorns countless corporate walls paired with some inspirational message or image. It appears as a common requirement for most management-level job applications. It can even inspire folks to come together in an almost cult-like fashion:</p> <iframe width="700" height="450" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> <p><br /></p> <p>But <strong>defining</strong> leadership can be tricky. We can use words like humility, decision-making, servant to try to arrive at a definition, but that’s boring and often incomplete.</p> <p><img src="" alt="" /></p> <h2 id="leader-follower-to-leader-leader">Leader-Follower to Leader-Leader</h2> <p>I recently read L. David Marquet’s <em>Turn This Ship Around!</em>, and came across a truly great example of what it means to be a leader. In short, leadership is creating an environment that helps your subordinates grow into becoming leaders themselves. Marquet did this in a seemingly unlikely setting: aboard a submarine in the U.S. Navy.</p> <h2 id="how">How?</h2> <p>Here are my main takeaways from the book to how to shift to this new paradigm:</p> <h3 id="create-an-environment-of-ownership">Create an environment of ownership</h3> <p>It’s important that the environment is tailored to allow reports to make decisions and think on their own, but be accountable for their decisions. Marquet encouraged this by requiring his junior officers to recommend what actions to take. Instead of Marquet giving orders, he’d have his reports make decisions, having them say “I intend to” before acting. e.g. “I intend to take the ship up to periscope depth…”, while Marquet would give simple confirmation. Even little things like language can help encourage passive officers to think independently.</p> <h3 id="delegate-but-dont-abdicate">Delegate but don’t abdicate</h3> <p>Marquet tried out a Leader-Leader experiment on the U.S.S. Will Rogers without much thought into how it was implemented. This led to an oversight in readiness, a failed inspection, and a quick transfer to a Soviet outpost where he could spend time reflecting on just how poorly his first efforts had been. Simply delegating tasks without thought to how they’d be carried out is a recipe for failure.</p> <p>Once he got another shot aboard the U.S.S. Santa Fe, he focused more on developing the level of competency of his officers. He resisted the urge to dictate solutions to problems, but instead gave his folks latitude to work through issues. As Marquet succinctly put it, “Don’t brief, certify”.</p> <h3 id="communicate-vision-without-dictating">Communicate vision without dictating</h3> <p>Communication is paramount. Especially for significant changes that are new or uncomfortable, you can never communicate too much what your vision is.</p> <h2 id="applied-to-tech">Applied to Tech</h2> <p>I’ve certainly struggled with delegating, especially on a small team where there’s plenty of work to go around and never enough bodies to do the work. I think I’ve gotten better at communicating context and the necessary details of a particular issue or task, however I know sometimes I’ll lead with my proposed solution without allowing my reports to come up with their own design.</p> <p>But overall the ideas in this book have helped me start to think more about how I operate and how I can do a better job of creating an environment that creates great leaders.</p> <h2 id="results">Results</h2> <p>Marquet’s work resulted in the Santa Fe earning a record number of awards in both excellence and most improved. Furthermore, Marquet’s officers were promoted at unusually high rates to lead their own ships, and applied most of what they learned aboard the Santa Fe to their own ships.</p> <p>In business, it’s easy to get caught up in optimizing specific metrics, growing profits or increasing market share. But doesn’t that all pale in comparison to helping others grow? To inspiring others to build a brighter future? In that way, leadership can be boiled down to priorities. How you choose to spend your time, what you choose to value above all, and how you choose to impart those beliefs to others.</p> <p>How do you define leadership?</p> Thu, 03 Oct 2019 00:00:00 +0000 2018 Year In Review <p>To paraphrase my son Joey’s favorite Dr. Seuss book “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish”, “2018 is gone. 2018 was fun. 2019 is another one.”. It was quite the eventful year. We welcomed our third son Jack into the world. My hometown Eagles won their first Super Bowl in ridiculous and improbable fashion. I took on a new role as CTO of a local real estate data startup. Never a dull moment!</p> <p>Reflecting on 2018, I see a clear trend in my overall desire to think and operate at higher levels of “the stack”. I’ve grown from wanting to learn how to scale software/systems to wanting to learn how to scale teams/companies. I’ve increasingly started wrestling with more global ideas and concerns, as I’m hoping my blog will show over the coming months. And I’ve tried to do all this while supporting a growing family, and as such have sought ways to remove the non-essential, e.g. goodbye fantasy football (though I hope my friends still invite me to the draft party).</p> <p>I’ve also realized that it’s helpful to pair aggressive “goals” with a strong vision and mental model of the world. There are inherent peaks and valleys to life (which startups tend to amplify) so it’s important for your own sanity to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, compare it to “reality”, and make sure these things are consistent with what you want out of this all-too-short life.</p> <p>So to close out 2018, here are a few of the more interesting things I’ve read or seen over the past year. Enjoy!</p> <h3 id="books">Books</h3> <p><strong><a href="">The Start-Up of You by Reid Hoffman</a></strong></p> <p>A book I wish I had when starting my career. I especially gravitate toward the ideas of competitive advantage as an interplay of “1) your assets, 2) your aspirations/values and 3) market realities”. It puts to rest all of those debates about following your passion (2). Passion is just one component, you need a more holistic and pragmatic approach grounded in reality.</p> <p><strong><a href="">Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio</a></strong></p> <p>I’ve been a big fan of Ray Dalio ever since coming across the PDF version of Principles years ago. This fully-fleshed out book gives more of Ray’s personal backstory and provides a nice reference for all of his principles. Required reading for anyone who wants to do serious work!</p> <p><strong><a href="">Seveneves by Neal Stephenson</a></strong></p> <p>Yes, the plot tends to drag on at times and there really isn’t much to speak of as far as a story arc or climax is concerned, however the sheer scope of the ideas presented here is really amazing and is just a generally entertaining piece of science fiction.</p> <p><strong><a href="">On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins</a></strong></p> <p>This book more than anything has caused me to question to current ideas around A.I. and seems very promising in its potential to lead to a more comprehensive approach to intelligence that goes beyond mere pattern recognition.</p> <p><strong><a href="">Batman: White Knight by Sean Murphy Gordon</a></strong></p> <p>I was surprised by how entertaining this story was. I don’t have a ton of exposure to the comics but being so familiar with the TV/film plot lines of the Batman universe, it was really refreshing to see a story that paints a recovering Joker (Jack Napier) as the hero trying to clean up Gotham while casting doubt on the methods and motivation of the Caped Crusader.</p> <p><strong><a href="">Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram</a></strong></p> <p>This might end up being one of my favorite books of all-time. I’ve always been interested in military history, but it was so compelling to read about a man who was so intense, so uncompromising, and so obsessive about his ideas. The sheer impact he had on this world (both directly and indirectly via his Acolytes) is unparalleled. Coram also does a good job to not over-romanticize Boyd’s life, casting reasonable doubt on dubious claims made by Boyd and fairly articulating how his obsessions led to his wife and kids being largely ignored. The latter never sat well with me, and it certainly taints his legacy. However, his intellectual integrity and passion are a model to strive for.</p> <h3 id="moviestv">Movies/TV</h3> <p><strong><a href="">The Killing of a Sacred Deer</a></strong></p> <p>I enjoyed Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous film <em>The Lobster</em>, but the absurdity of that premise (people turning into animals if they don’t find mates) was fairly constant, and kept me from getting too engrossed into the story. <em>The Killing of a Sacred Deer</em> feels like it’s set in roughly the same absurd world, yet it feels much more grounded. The characters are mostly odd but when thrust into the circumstances that drive the plot, their behavior feels much deeper due to its plain blunt horror. The climatic scene is a great example of this, the protagonist performing a ritual both grotesque yet highly logical.</p> <p>This movie is one of many films (<em>Minority Report</em> being another poignant example) that now take on a different meaning for me now that I’m a father. I’d definitely have trouble watching either film again, but am glad for having seen it once.</p> <p><strong><a href="">Three Bilboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri</a></strong></p> <p>While I only saw this recently and still need to re-watch it, I’m a die-hard fan of anything the McDonagh’s produce (both films and plays) and this movie ranks at the top of the list. This also felt more grounded and grittier than Martin’s past works with a much more personal and heart-breaking premise. He still maintains his trademark dark humor as well (which was at its best in <em>In Bruges</em>).</p> <p><strong><a href="">Captain Fantastic</a></strong></p> <p>I’ll always have a soft spot for stories about rebels who reject the status quo and strike their own path (a la <em>Into The Wild</em>). <em>Captain Fantastic</em> was no exception. Viggo Mortensen plays uncompromising better than most, and his kids in the movie all seem perfectly cast to both challenge and mirror him. The conclusion feels satisfying yet well-earned.</p> <p><strong><a href="">Westworld</a></strong></p> <p>I feel like I need a few posts just to properly unpack the ideas in this series. Beautifully acted, superbly written, the second season managed to handle the requisite world-building of a second act while keeping a focus on the implications of androids becoming sentient.</p> <h3 id="other-good-stuff">Other Good Stuff</h3> <p><strong><a href="">Mapping and Strategy by Simon Wardley</a></strong></p> <p>As I begun to transition to a more strategic role I found early on that I could use all the help I could get. Reading about Wardley’s experience helped give me ideas on how to use maps and visualizations to help me think at more strategic levels.</p> <p><strong><a href="">How to get Rich (without getting lucky) by Naval Ravikant</a></strong></p> <p>Bill Simmons likes to joke in non-sports contexts of certain things having high efficiency. For example, we’d consider actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and John Cazale to be highly efficient as they almost always turned in excellent performances. This tweetstorm is another example of an extremely efficient work. There’s roughly twenty tweets here and offer invaluable advice for work and life.</p> <p><strong><a href="">Barry Diller on Masters of Scale - part 1</a> and <a href="">part 2</a></strong></p> <p>Really engaging profile about Diller. His ideas about learning seemed to keep “cropping up” over the course of the year. The podcast in general has awesome advice, even so these pods stand out as the cream of the crop.</p> Mon, 31 Dec 2018 00:00:00 +0000 Badreads! <table class="image"> <caption align="bottom">James Clear's idea of <a href="">Systems over Goals</a></caption> <tr><td><img src="/assets/systems-vs-goals.jpg" alt="Systems over Goals" /></td></tr> </table> <p><br /></p> <p>I like <a href="">Goodreads</a>. I’ve used the service for years, mostly to keep track of books I’ve read or want to read. There’s some nice recommendation features and integration with social networks so I have some notion of what other friends are reading. All in all it’s a good service, and I wish I had thought to build it first!</p> <p>What I <em>don’t</em> like about Goodreads is their annual reading goal. You’re strongly encouraged to specify how many books you’ll read in a year, and on subsequent logins you’re informed of your progress. For 2017, I set mine at 30 and fell a few books short.</p> <p>On the surface this seems like an honorable undertaking: get people to read more (and consequently use the network more). But does this method work? Is “books read” the metric we should be optimizing for? Probably not. This thinking encourages people to read as many books as possible, not caring about quality or relevance to their lives but simply trying to hit a target number. It makes books disposable, notches on a belt rather than works of art. It also suggests people should read faster, not taking the time to digest, debate, and have an overall dialogue with the book.</p> <p>On some level this reading goal definitely messed with my head. I grew up very much a perfectionist, terrified of failure and focused more on grades than learning. So much so that one time in fifth grade I got a 60 on a quiz (the horror!) and broke down in tears. While I’ve mellowed out quite a bit since then (philosophy and alcohol probably helped the most), my basic programming still has that instinct to hit arbitrary goals without thinking about why.</p> <p>So for people like me, these goals do more harm than good. I’ve instead tried to focus more on systems when thinking about achievement. <a href="">Scott Adams</a> talks about this idea at length. <a href="">Patrick O’Shaugnessy</a> also has a nice treatment of the idea. In short, don’t <em>dwell</em> on external metrics. You can still use them as a measurement tool, but ultimately your focus and motivation should center on creating habits and routines that increase your probability of success.</p> <p>Paired with this idea is the notion of stoicism. Most people think of stoics as lacking emotion. I think of it more in this context as not being emotionally impacted by external events. You put your work in, you prepare as best you can, and you let the chips fall where they may. I love this approach because honestly, what else can you do? Be aware of what you can control, and try not to worry about the rest.</p> <p>So what would a system of reading look like? Instead of setting a goal of <em>m</em> books to read in a year, why not develop a habit of reading <em>n</em> pages a day or week? Or maybe even set an “anti-goal” of a “books read limit” for the year. Let’s say the max books is at 12 (one book per month). Then you’re forced to choose <strong>only</strong> a dozen books to read all year. Under that constraint, aren’t you more likely to be very judicious about the books you read? I imagine you’d take your time with the books too. Really digest them and converse with them since hey, what’s the rush?</p> <p>Maybe you operate better with goals. Ultimately it’s up to you to figure out how to achieve what you want. But it’s important to not let things like software, social networks, or any external forces manipulate your thinking.</p> Fri, 19 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0000 High-Leverage Development with Giter8 Templates <p><img src="" /> <img src="" /></p> <p><a href="">Edmond Lau</a> talks a lot about leverage in his book <a href="">The Effective Engineer</a>, a term he borrowed from Andy Grove’s <a href=";from_search=true">High Output Management</a>. Both are excellent reads, especially for programmers looking to maximize the impact they have on their teams. The term <em>leverage</em> gets to the heart of this. It describes activities that create a disproportionate amount of value. This feels like a much more elegant description than “10x/rockstar/ninja developer” or whatever cliche that stokes the egos of the programmer-gods. It places the focus on <em>output</em>, where it belongs!</p> <p>Some examples of high-leverage activities Lau mentions include:</p> <ul> <li>improving the onboarding processes for new hires via tutorials, documentation, and notebooks (i.e. labs)</li> <li>creating tight feedback loops to quickly validate ideas (e.g. use a REPL or a notebook!)</li> <li>writing tools to make you and other developers more efficient</li> </ul> <p>In this spirit, I’ve created a <a href="">Giter8</a> template to show how to <a href="">create an SBT-based Spark project</a> with the following accouterments:</p> <ul> <li>utilities for logging and writing dataframes in common formats</li> <li>configuration via <a href="">Typesafe Config</a></li> <li>building the fat jar via <a href="">sbt-assembly</a></li> <li>release support via <a href="">sbt-release</a></li> <li>support for running your Spark job in Intellij</li> </ul> <p>This has saved me a significant amount of time in starting new Spark jobs or testing out quick proof-of-concepts. Simply call <code class="language-plaintext highlighter-rouge">sbt new josephpconley/spark-seed.g8</code> and you’re all set! Enjoy!</p> Thu, 12 Oct 2017 00:00:00 +0000 The Power of Myth <p><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="" /></a></p> <p>Perspective. That was my biggest takeaway from reading <em>Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind</em> by Yuval Noah Harari. He does a masterful job in articulating the history of our species and the forces that guided our culture. His narrative encourages us to reflect on our own role in the universe and try to understand what’s meaningful in life and what isn’t.</p> <p>I was amazed to learn that there were multiple different human species, and that ours “won out” due to the creation of myths that effectively organized large numbers of people. Surprisingly, similar myths still persist today. Companies, money, religion, they’re all inter-subjective fictions that govern our daily lives. However, just because these fictions don’t exists <em>a priori</em> in nature doesn’t mean they aren’t important. It’s just helpful to remember that fictions like money are built on trust, and in rare cases (like the 2007 financial crisis) that faith can be strained or even broken altogether.</p> <p>I was also surprised to learn that the advent of farming is actually “History’s Biggest Fraud”. You’d think that cultivating farmland would be a boon to our ancestors, yet farming was much harder work than foraging. Relying on one staple crop provided a less balanced diet than the varied intake of foraging. Most farmers hoped to reach a state of affluence by achieving food surpluses, yet this just lead to a population growth that created more mouths to feed. Never forget second-order effects!</p> <p><img width="700" height="450" src="/assets/wheat.jpg" alt="Ancient Egyptian mural – Wheat harvest" /><br /></p> <p>One other oddity I’ve often wondered about: how did a tiny island in Europe conquer so many global territories? England had, above all others, a great desire to learn and cure its ignorance using the scientific method. This quest to improve knowledge, in conjunction with a deep national pride and desire for conquest, led the country to fund risky expeditions to all corners of the globe, expanding their empire.</p> <p>I think I most appreciated the power that the individual has in our current age. We’ve advanced technologically by leaps and bounds, and as most dystopian books or movies will tell you, with that great power comes a great responsibility. Climate change is real folks. We have not been very hospitable guests of this planet, exterminating entire species of animal wholesale and polluting our environment. Yet through our ingenuity, we have the ability to develop renewable sources of energy, preserve endangered species, and even one day colonize other planets like Mars (really hoping to live long enough to see that one). Yeah Science!</p> <iframe width="700" height="450" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> <p><br /></p> <p>Harari concludes with a thoughtful exploration of human happiness. Despite our progress and relative prosperity, we seem more discontented than ever. He cites research that shows that money and good health provide diminishing returns for happiness, and offers Buddhism as an interesting path to ending suffering. His final line, though, strikes a note of caution in his beautifully phrased warning, “Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”</p> <p><em>Sapiens</em> is a great read for people from all walks of life. Harari touches on a few dozen fields of study like history, biology, economics, philosophy, political science, computer science, and psychology to name just a few. His work is a great reminder of where we come from and where we might be going. He notes that “History has a wide horizon of possibilities, the vast majority of which don’t get realized.” He reminds us of our own possibility as a species and that today, more than ever, we have the power to shape it.</p> Wed, 23 Nov 2016 00:00:00 +0000 A Crisis of Imagination <p><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="" /></a></p> <p>I found it difficult not to admire Secretary Geithner after reading <em>Stress Test</em>. He’s colorful, pragmatic, a realist who focuses on substance over optics. He’s clearly a bright guy, rising fast in the world of finance despite a lack of formal education in the subject. He’s also a great teacher, “marinating” the reader in economic terminology (one of many Geithnerisms). Yet his most endearing quality is his spirit for public service. He was one of the “first responders” to the Great Recession, and I believe that his efforts and the efforts of others helped to dampen the effects of the crisis. While it’s difficult to imagine how much worse off we would’ve been, we owe it to ourselves to at least suspend our populist outrage over the Wall St. bailouts and take a serious look at the crisis and its aftermath as this could most certainly happen again in our lifetime.</p> <p>The Great Recession wiped away nearly $15 trillion in household wealth. Unemployment peaked at 10%, and we’re still feeling the effects today. And yet most people ask, why didn’t anyone go to jail? Because this was ultimately a crisis of imagination. No one imagined in 2007 that housing prices would crater. No one foresaw how the complicated derivatives market would unwind and go beyond investment banks to affect other large financial institutions and insurers. No one anticipated the need to keep capital reserves, opting instead for high amounts of leverage and short-term, runnable funding. This was an insanely complex crisis that is <a href="">still being debated</a> and <a href="">studied</a> today, almost a decade later. It’s clear that its causes were too complex to assign blame to a few bad actors.</p> <p>Given this complexity, it’s not surprising that the average person doesn’t appreciate the work that government officials like Geithner, Ben Bernake and Hank Paulson did to prevent an economic collapse. This, too, is another failure of imagination. While it’s reasonable to object to certain aspects of the response, like the failures of Lehman and Washington Mutual, it’s difficult to argue that these individuals didn’t act in good faith to resuscitate an economy that was on life support. It’s equally tough to question their credentials, as Geithner spent most of his career at the IMF helping countries deal with crises, and Bernake’s academic career focused on the Great Depression. I suspect that economics itself is partly to blame, as it’s difficult to see the real-time effect of policy until months or even years after the fact.</p> <p>Yet despite these ambiguities, we have concrete evidence that the response was mostly positive. Most of the bailouts have been repaid with a profit to the taxpayer. We can see from the recent economic troubles in Europe that punitive haircuts and excessive austerity, things Geithner fought against and successfully avoided, has led to unnecessary economic stagnation in the Eurozone. The stock market has returned to pre-crisis levels, and then some. The financial system is now stronger after the increased capital requirements of the stress tests and the creation of programs like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which help to restore fairness to the markets. Whatever your opinion of these officials, it’s clear that the country is in a better place than it was in 2007, and we’re better prepared for the next crisis.</p> <p>Unfortunately, these public figures have been mostly vilified for their efforts, accused of saving the arsonists on Wall St. while ignoring the common people on Main St. That’s the reality of a crisis. Systemically important institutions had to be saved to protect the whole system. And that’s certainly a thankless task, to do something you know is right when it’s unpopular. But history will be the ultimate judge, and I think it will ultimately look kindly on the efforts of these individuals.</p> <p>I was very inspired reading Geithner’s first-hand account of the response to the Great Recession. His story highlights the importance of public service, and shows how a “small group of thoughtful, dedicated citizens can change the world” <a href="">1</a>. I for one think they did, and for the better.</p> <h2 id="further-reading">Further reading</h2> <ul> <li><a href="">Too Big to Fail</a> - great account of the crisis by Aaron Ross Sorkin (and the equally good <a href="">HBO movie</a> as well)</li> <li>Reviews of the book by <a href="">Paul Krugman</a> and <a href="">Bill Gates</a></li> <li><a href="">Larry Summers’ blog</a> - he tends to give very thoughtful, if not highly intelligent, commentary on current issues in economics</li> </ul> Tue, 02 Aug 2016 00:00:00 +0000