Ownership

A strong bias towards ownership is important in org culture. The problem is, folks often over index on ‘I own this area, so I’m going to nail it!’ vs. ‘I am an owner on behalf of the entire company and need to do the right thing for our customers!’. The key is to balance these.

Amazon’s definition tries to make this tension apparent by explicitly stating ownership is broader than themselves or their team:

Ownership

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job”.

Owners drive results and feel deep responsibility for them. If things are late, the numbers are weak, or a failure occurs, owners never blame others. Owners focus on finding out what went wrong and how to ensure the date gets pulled in, the numbers improve, or the failure can never occur again.

Owners are expert at delegating. There’s a big difference between telling people what to do, and helping people know what the right thing to do is. Great owners are expert at the later. Great owners scale by bringing others along with them.

Owners get their hands dirty. And elbows. They pitch in and do the grunt work when necessary. They lead by example, demonstrating no task is beneath them.

Owners don’t lick cookies. If they assert they are going to build something or deliver some result, they do it. The corollary of this is, owners are effective at managing their time and thus frugal at taking on new responsibility.

Owners pay attention to the details (because details matter) and they hold others accountable for getting the details right.

Owners get direct satisfaction when the product has high quality and feel personally ashamed when there are quality problems.

Owners avoid saying “they or them” when referring to other teams. Instead they realize it is their own responsibility to build the bridge with the other team.

Owners recognize their management can’t know all the details, but needs to and they proactively educate ‘up’.

An organization with a strong culture of ownership enables leaders to do more, faster, independently.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Concierge Home Technology

I had written the following in my blog post announcing my departure from Amazon:

I am hiring a CEDIA-level installer to completely refit my home automation system and I will project manage that.

A few weeks ago someone at Control4 tweeted the following, which I replied to with a tweetstorm. This post expands on the idea I presented in that tweetstorm…

This is true. Even though smart homes are finally taking off, after decades of fits and starts, I still think most of the do-it-yourself (DIY) smart home products are too hard to use and too fragile to actually depend on. There’s still a HUGE gap between a home professionally outfitted top-to-bottom and a home with a bunch of DIY gadgets cobbled together by the home owner.

Not everyone can afford a professionally designed, installed, programmed, and monitored smart home.

Yet.

If they can afford it today, I recommend to friends they go the “Concierge” route: Hire a professional home technology integrator to just do it all for you, correctly. Life is too short to spend futzing around configuring and programming your home.

This not only applies to useful gadgets like lights, media, and cameras, but to the network infrastructure that needs to be in place for it all to work. Ask yourself this: How much of your own personal time would you budget if you decided to replace your home router? The last person I asked this said “At least a weekend.”

If you react to this by saying “Oh, I use Foo Co’s product and it’s so easy it’ll just take an hour” you are either…

  1. Lying,
  2. living in a one bedroom apartment,
  3. have no idea what it means to have a fully outfitted smart home, or
  4. extremely lucky for now, try adding 10+ more diverse devices.

The infrastructure in my home is dated (we designed and built the house in 1999-2002) and I’m going pay a pro to refit everything in the next few months. By everything I mean home network infrastructure, lighting, whole home music, televisions, security, cameras, irrigation, HVAC, and intercom/telephone. There will be some DIY products involved, but the infrastructure and automation system will be designed, installed, programmed, and monitored by a professional, not me.

I currently have over 250 ‘devices’ controllable by Alexa in my home. 152 of those are lighting loads. 47 are keypads. Some are virtual devices like scenes. Some are devices like the air compressor in my workshop which only powers on when I’m there. We have five TVs with associated media players and speakers. There’s an 8-zone whole-home audio system. Plus the security system and cameras. It took serious work by me to program it and maintain it over the past 17 years, all as a hobby. It works, but not as well as it could and should. Part of this is because some of the tech is old, but it’s mostly because I’m not a pro. I don’t get paid to do this.

I do not want to spend my time programming my home anymore. I want to spend that time on my cars Winking smile. I’ve lived in homes with professionally outfitted systems, similar in scale to mine, and the stability, refinement, and ease of use really does deliver on the dream many of us in the industry have been working towards for decades.

However, not even the high-end stuff (or industry) is perfect. Some old-school incumbents have intentionally made their products complex to artificially support dealer networks and protect crazy margins. Some do a horrible job interfacing with other companies’ products. There are not enough skilled installers and programmers, which is limiting growth. And it’s all pretty expensive – everyone in the value-chain wants their fair share and the value-chain is deep.

Part of why I want to have a pro do it this time is to see how far away we (the collective smart home industry) are from the ideal. The ideal being a world where anyone can afford a completely connected smart home where professionals design, install, program, and monitor the infrastructure, devices, and system so customers can just enjoy the benefits. I call this “Concierge Home Technology”.

Concierge Home Technology is real today, and is big business. Technology companies like Savant Systems, Control4, Snap A/V, Crestron, and Lutron are the players you’ve probably heard of. They are supported by tens of thousands of dealer/integrators around the world who do the design, installation, programming, and monitoring. If you are considering making your home truly smart, in order to have music everywhere, reliable voice-controlled lighting, great security, and automatic behaviors find a local dealer/integrator and ask them to show you an ‘experience-based’ demo home (Control4 just launched a cool initiative where at least one of their dealers in every major city has a certified showroom).

The Big 5 are all investing big time in smart home products. A few of them are actually making real money at it (finally). Their focus is on DIY products, and they generally believe smart homes can be self-organizing (by software). I don’t buy it. No household of any size, with more than few family members, is ever going to have the level of refinement and sophistication mine has without some custom programming. I’m eager to see how this plays out.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Friday was my last day at Amazon

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The goodbye mail to the Alexa Smart Home team explains it all pretty well:

Date: Apr 27, 2018 3:03 PM
Subject: Smart Home Org Update

Team,

With mixed emotions I share the news that Charlie Kindel has decided to leave Amazon. Charlie has accomplished many things in his time here, not the least of which is the founding and scaling of Alexa Smart Home. Alexa would not be the leader in Smart Home that it is without his vision, leadership, and hard work – he will be deeply missed. Charlie prepared the short FAQ found below to share his thinking with the Smart Home team. In Charlie’s own words…

1. Why are you leaving Amazon?

The pace of the past 5 years has finally gotten to me and I simply need to catch my breath. I’ve recently been joking with folks that “I used to get my adrenaline rush going heli-skiing. Now I just go into work.” I have a car restoration project that is two years behind schedule. My home automation system needs a complete revamp (it’s gotten a bit crusty since it was installed in 2001).

2. Why leave Amazon and not just go on a leave?

I was originally just going to take a temporary leave, but I like the idea of having total freedom of thought to decide what’s next in my life. By making a clean break from Amazon all options (including coming back to Amazon) are still on the table.

3. What are you going to do?

Relax and goof off. I will clean my home office which is a freaking mess and work on car projects. I am hiring a CEDIA-level installer to completely refit my home automation system and I will project manage that. I hope to enjoy the awesome summer we’re about to have in Seattle with my family (both of my adult kids will be living in the Seattle area starting this summer). Professionally, I don’t know what’s next.

I will miss you all! Please don’t hesitate to keep in touch; my personal email is charlie(at)kindel.com.

Other questions I’m sure people have:

What are you going to miss the most about Amazon?

I’m going to miss the people. The Alexa Smart Home team is an incredible team that I was blessed to have built from the ground up. I’ve had so much fun watching so many people grow in their careers and it’s going to suck not being able to be around them day-to-day as they continue to flourish.

I’m also going to miss Amazon’s high standards. I’m skeptical I’ll find another environment where the drive for “raising the bar” is so consistent and strong. Wherever I go next, you can be sure I’ll be taking this with me:

Insist on the highest standards

Leaders have relentlessly high standards—many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

— from the Amazon Leadership Principles

What are you going to miss the least?

Leaving the house at 6:00am to beat Seattle traffic and returning home at 6:30pm every day. Although, I have to say, I did enjoy working ‘downtown’ more than I expected.

Will you ever return to Amazon?

Maybe (if they’ll have me). After being at Microsoft for 21 years I promised myself I’d never ‘fall in love’ with a company again. It’s just not healthy. But the reality is there are many, many things about how Amazon operates that deeply resonate with me. For example, the 14 leadership principles all sing to me and I have always been blown away how seriously everyone at Amazon takes them.

Are you available for consulting gigs?

Generally, no. I’m taking a very serious (ha!) break from ‘work’. However, I might be willing to take on some executive and leadership coaching. I am absolutely not available to consult on or discuss things related to my role at Amazon.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Clear Narratives Show Instead of Tell

This is yet-another-post on the topic of Amazon-style “six-page memos”, aka Narratives. This post focuses on the mantra: “Great narratives show, they don’t tell.”

When writing things you believe to be facts, ask yourself: How do I know? How can I qualify it? Then, qualify it in your words.

Tell (Bad):

The BMW E28 M5 is a rare car.

Show (Good):

Of the 722,328 E28 5-series sedans BMW built between 1981 and 1987, only 2,191 were the rare M5 variant.

When suggesting a course of action (e.g. “we should do x”), follow the suggestion with an explaination of why (e.g. “because of y and z).

Tell (Bad):

We should replace the old blinker fluid.

Show (Good):

We should replace the old blinker fluid because customers have reported 42 cases where old blinker fluid caused flux capacitors to wear out.

Its not uncommon for the data to be weak, but for the team to still be committed to a plan because of wisdom or strong anecdotes. If the data being presented has value, but has holes in it point out the holes. Don’t let (or ask) the reader to find those holes. Make it clear the risks have been assessed.

If you think your data has holes but still has value, point out the holes rather than have someone else do it during your presentation. Use data that both supports and argues against the author’s position. Demonstrate that you have assessed the risks.

Tell (Bad):

I am not going to replace the 5 year-old timing belt because it has less than 5,000 miles on it.

Show (Good):

I am not going to replace the timing belt because it has less than 5,000 miles on it. While this belt is older than the recommended replacement age of 4 years, this car has been stored in a humidity and climate controlled environment and the risk of the belt breaking is very low.

Some literary elements one should never use in narratives (yes, I get the irony of using an Absolute Statement here):

  • Quantifiers. Quantifiers are a type of determiner which denote imprecise quantity. They modify nouns or pronouns. Many, much, some, a few.
  • Qualificative or Qualifying Descriptive Adjectives. Big. Small. nice, complicated  better, best, and bad, worse, worst.
  • Predictive Adjectives. Expensive, funny, good.
  • Absolute statements. All, none, never, always. Nothing is in the absolute.

Finally, here are some other tips that will help you show vs. tell:

  • Correlation does not mean causation. A strong correlation between two trends is just a correlation, until there is proven causation.
  • For any data ask “is this common sense”? It’s shocking how many documents contain data that does not pass the sniff test. One mistake like this will ruin an entire narrative. You should always know the exact source of the data (use footnotes!), the timeliness of the data, how the data was calculated, and any assumptions that might not be known to the reader.
  • Don’t just put more data because you feel you need more data. Only put in data that helps create clarity or drive a decision. Likewise, don’t put data in just because getting said data was hard work.

Don’t TELL me your idea or opinion, SHOW me your idea or opinion. Use data liberally to make your case to the readers of a narrative.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Be a Great Reader

When an organization has a culture where the written word is valued, being a great reader is just as important as being a great writer. In my time at Amazon, I’ve learned (more like it was beaten into me) to have a very high-bar for my own writing. I wrote a little about this in my post Details Matter. I’ve also learned the importance of being a great reader, and that’s the topic of this post.

In the latest Amazon Shareholder letter Jeff Bezos wrote more about Amazon’s famous ‘six-page narratives’. He used the process of writing a great narrative as an example of what it means to have relentlessly high-standards.

We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of “study hall.”

– Jeff Bezos, Amazon 2017 Annual Letter

The “narratively structured six-page” mechanism at Amazon is not about the document itself. Instead the ‘six-page memo’ mechanism creates a virtuous cycle that results in ever-increasing clarity of thought. The major components of that cycle are great writing, great meetings (“study hall”), and great reading.

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It turns out that not everyone is a great reader (including those like me who have always read a lot)! Great reading is a skill that requires focus and training.

Understanding is key

I am not a speed reader. I am a speed understander.

– Isaac Asimov

I finish novels in a fraction of the time it takes most people because I learned as a kid how to skim and cluster (two of the primary techniques used in speed reading). For novels this is fine. But for Amazon-style narratives and technical papers speed reading is bad. Understanding is key. I had to train myself to slow down and focus on understanding to be a valuable participant in document reviews at Amazon. I am still working on it.

Learn how to understand first, then apply skills for efficiency. I see two modes to reading: Novel mode and study mode. These modes are related only because they both involve eyes seeing words on a page; otherwise they are diametrically different. In reading a novel, efficiency is key so skimming the boring bits is fine. Inventing character or plot details that were glossed over will not ruin the story.

But for narratives every word, every element of grammar, every punctuation mark, and every number were carefully chosen by the writer. Thus understanding is key. Skimming and clustering are anti-patterns to reading narratives well because if any detail is missed, the entire point of the memo may be missed.

I’ve become a better reader by training myself to be an active reader. Active reading means being 100% focused on the document at hand and scrutinizing every word, every punctuation mark, and every bit of formatting. It means checking the math. It means reading slowly and pausing regularly (like every time there’s a period indicating the end of a sentence or whitespace indicating a paragraph break!) to think critically about what the writer wrote. Great active readers can identify omitted “obvious” details the writer left out, but others miss.

Contrast this to passive reading, which is when the point is just to be entertained.

Tips for Being a Great Reader

  • Be an active reader.
  • Have a pen in hand. Use it. I find having a pen in hand when I start reading helps put me in Active Reader Mode.
  • Pause on numbers and do the math yourself. Don’t trust any number. If a number seems hyperbolic, find the place in the doc where it was justified.
  • Pause after each sentence or paragraph and restate it in your head. Pausing between paragraphs allows the brain to digest details and make connections.
  • Stop if you find yourself reverting to speed reading. Go back and read what you skimmed again.
  • Don’t let document author cajole you into hurrying up. If they made the doc too long, or so confusing that you’ve had to re-read parts of it, that’s not your problem. Insist they give you more time.
  • Hold the writer to a high standard. If the doc is confusing, say so. If, after reading, you are hungry for more details on something, insist on more details. Writing, reading, and the review meetings are part of a complete mechanism that is intended to give everyone involved clarity of thought on a topic. There is nothing wrong with going through a loop multiple times, and until the topic is presented as simply and clearly as possible, your job as a reader is to help the writer come back next time with an even better version.

What tips and techniques have you learned for being a better reader?

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Customer, Business, Technology, Organization (CBTO)

CBTO is a mental model for driving clarity of thought in product development. It simply asserts there are four perspectives: Customer, Business, Technology, and Organization.

CBTOSometime near the end of the last century, J Allard coined the term BXT at Microsoft. As Robbie Bach notes in his book Xbox Revisited:

BXT = Business + eXperience + Technology

I used the BXT mental model for many years to get clarity on organizing product teams, hiring leaders, and in mentoring others. However, several things about the BXT model always annoyed me.

  1. I hated that B (Business) came first. The Customer ALWAYS comes first, not the Business (or Technology).
  2. While the “X” was cute and sexy in an Xbox sort-of-way, the word “experience” fails to capture the most important thing: The Customer. Building experiences is not the end, but a means to the end.
  3. BXT doesn’t factor in another critical dimension of building great stuff for customers: The people who build and how they are organized.

This led me to inventing a framework addressing these issues I call CBTO. The name is certainly not as sexy sounding as BXT, but it is still easy to remember.

CBTO = Customer + Business + Technology + Organization

Customer

Who is the customer? How do we segment customers? How many customers are there? What do customers want? What pain do customers currently feel?

The customer perspective is also the product perspective. What is the customer experience we are working backwards from? What is the product? What features are important? How are those features crafted and prioritized?

Everyone in the organization needs to take this perspective, but generally folks who consider themselves Product Managers and UX Designers tend to index very highly on this perspective.

Business

Why are we doing this? Is there a new strategy, or does what we are doing accrue to an existing strategy? Is there money to be made? If so how much and when? What deals do we need to make to deliver the customer experience? What our our inputs and outputs for the business? How do we measure success?

The Business perspective is also the industry perspective. Who can we partner with? What are industry trends? Who are our competitors?

The Business perspective is typically where folks with business backgrounds (e.g. MBAs) are the strongest.

Technology

How are we going to execute? What do we need to invent to make the proposed customer experience true? What shoulders of giants do we stand on?

The technology perspective is also the execution perspective. What’s our execution model (e.g. agile or waterfall)? How do we operate our services? How do we ensure operational excellence?

The Technology perspective is usually the strongest with engineering leaders, like SDMs or Technical Program Managers. Generally engineering is where the center of gravity in most high-performing organizations is, simply because engineers are the only people who actually do work that directly impacts customers.

Organization

How are we organized? Functionally? Or single-threaded? How will we recruit and hire the best? How do we ensure everyone is setup for success in their careers? What’s our compensation and reward system?

All managers must index high on the organizational perspective.

How to use CBTO

You can use the CBTO mental model to gain clarity on a broad range of topics. For example:

  • If you are designing an organization you can use it to determine if you have the right balance of leadership in place to be successful. The best product organizations have a balance excellence in across all four perspectives.
  • When reporting on status (e.g. a weekly status report), use CBTO to add structure to your report. What did you do this week focused on defining the product experience (C)? Meeting with external partners (B)? Progress towards shipping (T)? Being a manager or mentor (O)?
  • When considering a career move, ask yourself where you are strong, and where you are weak relative to these perspectives. Then decide which of them you’d like to be putting more energy into in your next role.
  • When interviewing leaders, ask them to stack rank their relative strengths and weakness across these four perspectives. If you are hiring someone to be an engineering leader and their stack is “BOCT” then they probably won’t make a very good engineering leader.
  • I’ve used CBTO to categorize many of the posts I’ve written on this blog over the years. These links take you to those that focus on each perspective: Customer, Business, Technology, Organization.

Frameworks and mental models like BXT or CBTO can help create clarity of thought. There’s no perfect framework, but I have found CBTO to work pretty well for me. What do you think?

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Details Matter in Presenting Narratives

Narratives are written documents used to present clear thinking. Narratives enable readers to quickly understand the author’s ideas in order to drive robust conversations and decisive decision making.

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Details matter when it comes to printing narratives for others to read. Sloppy presentation of the written word detracts from content and shows the author lacks obsession about his or her customer (the reader). Authors must apply a very high standard for making it easy and pleasing for the reader to understand ideas. This post contains tips for ensuring written narratives are well read when printed.

Using overwrought presentation style in narratives is the same as using hyperbolic adjectives: Fancy styling is a sign to the reader the document may lack substance and clarity of thought. It distracts versus illuminates.

Minimalist and consistent formatting makes documents easier to read. Less formatting allows the reader to focus on the words. Consistency throughout the entire document reduces the readers’ mental burden. Here are some specific tips:

  • Use a single typeface and size. Text should be big enough so that readers don’t have to squint; nominally this means a font size no smaller than 10pt.
  • Do not use color. Well written words do not require color, and if graphics are required to explain the idea, the idea hasn’t been simplified enough yet.
  • Use whitespace between paragraphs and sections to separate ideas. Horizontal indenting can be effective in guiding the eye, if simple and consistent. Two spaces after a period are not needed; all modern typography systems do the right thing with a single space.
  • Page margins should be no smaller than .75″. Do not make the margins smaller in an effort to make the document seem shorter. The reader will not be fooled and reading extra long lines is more work than short lines.
  • Make sure the document title, the date of last edit, any relevant confidentiality notices, and the page number are in the headers and footers of every page.
  • Numbers in narrative form should be consistently presented. Numbers less than 10 should we written out (e.g. nine). Numbers above that should be in numerical form. Use commas (e.g. 34292 is harder to read than 34,292). Be consistent on how you abbreviate orders of magnitude (e.g. pick either M or MM for million as in $10M).
  • Date formatting should be consistent (e.g. don’t mix “September 10, 1996” and “9/10/66” in the same document).
  • Use Word’s line numbering feature as it makes discussing the document easier. Change the line-numbering style to use a lighter shade of gray than normal text to make the line numbers less distracting.
  • Likewise, numbered headers (e.g. FAQs) should be numbered continuously through entire doc; this way when discussing the document readers can refer to those numbers without ambiguity.
  • Be diligent in ensuring you have no spelling, grammar, punctuation errors, or inconsistencies in the document. Readers will appreciate not being distracted by sloppiness. For example, read every sentence and every word out loud, have someone else proof-read the document, and always do a test printing before final print.
  • The ideas presented in a narrative document matter more than anything, even the details discussed in this post.

Much has been written about Amazon’s culture of the written narrative (aka “Jeff Bezos outlaws PowerPoint” and “The Beauty of the Amazon 6-pager”). This post is not about why narratives are so powerful, nor is it about how to actually write well. But it does provide tried and tested tips on how to ensure the narratives you write meet a high standard for readability. Maybe someday I’ll write up my own thoughts on why the written narrative mechanism is so powerful, but for now I’m going to assume you have already drunk that particular flavor of Kool-aid.

UPDATE: Literally the day after I posted this, Jeff Bezos posted the 2017 Letter to Shareholders. In it he used narratives as a way of illustrating what it means to have high standards. It’s a great read. I did not know this would be the topic of the shareholder letter when I wrote this post (really!).

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Merit Badges – A Mental Model for Success

Today I celebrated my 5th-year anniversary working at Amazon. Woot! It’s also the 5th anniversary of me announcing I was going to Amazon as an April Fool’s joke. Tee-hee.

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(Yellow Amazon employee badges indicate 5-year tenure)

This milestone given me pause to reflect on my career. In doing this reflection, I utilized a mental model a long-time mentor of mine, Chris Phillips, taught me: The Merit Badge mental model. This mental model has given me clarity and peace of mind over the years when navigating big career decisions. I seems to resonate with folks I’ve shared it with. I figure I’m overdue taking the time to write it down and share it with others.

What’s the Merit Badge mental model for measuring success?

The concept of a Merit Badge comes from the Boy Scouts. The idea being a scout can only earn a particular merit badge (actually a patch that gets sewn onto a vest) by demonstrating mastery of the skill or ability defined by the badge. For example, a scout would only receive the “Firemanship” badge by clearly demonstrating, repeatedly, the ability to start fires without matches.

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(the Boy Scout Firemanship Merit Badge)

Merit Badges can come in all sizes. You can earn a small Merit Badge for something like “Touch typist.” You can earn a big Merit Badge by demonstrating you “Can repeatedly lead startups to successful exits as a CEO.”

I’ve collected a bunch of Merit Badges throughout my professional career. They range from “Can learn any technology” to “Expert at ideating and launching V1 products.” Other examples of my Merit Badges are “Quickly hire senior talent”, “Can fumble through using git”, and “confidently presents to 1000+ people audiences.”

My landing a role at Amazon in 2013 was sort of accidental. I left Microsoft in 2011 because I couldn’t identify any big Merit Badges I wanted to earn there. All the big ones seemed to be outside Microsoft, like “can bootstrap a tech startup.” So I went after that one and while the startup I bootstrapped is still cranking I don’t claim I’ve earned that Merit Badge (Freebusy.io is run by my former co-founder Stefan). I can’t claim the Merit Badge because doing something only once does not prove you can do it repeatedly. No demonstrated ability to do it repeatedly, no Merit Badge! No soup for you!

As I was trying to do the startup thing, I discovered people were willing to pay me to consult for them. I had no idea how to ‘do consulting’ so I set in my mind the goal of earning the “excellent at management consulting” Merit Badge. I said “If I can land three consulting gigs, and deliver the results promised, I get the badge.” I read books, I asked others how they did it (thanks Marc and Fabrice!), and I dove in. This was how I kept cash-flow coming in while trying to do startups. I did five consulting engagements in those two years and my customers were happy with the results. Badge earned.

The last of those consulting gig was with Amazon. I won’t bore you with the details here, but the gist was a very smart lady at Amazon realized if she could get me to see the ‘inside’ of Amazon, I’d probably love it and want to work there. She broke all of Amazon’s rules of paying ‘consultants’ and gave me a contract. She was right and after completing the consulting project, I started full-time at Amazon on April 1, 2013.

At the time, I had not finished earning the “can bootstrap a tech startup” badge. To go to Amazon I had to give it up. Maybe some day I’ll get back to it. Or not. The point is, this mental model gave me clarity of thought in making a career decision. It was super clear to me what I was giving up.

I was clear on what was next too. I saw a large number of potential Merit Badges I could earn at Amazon. A primary one I choose (and wrote down in my post describing the Job Decision Matrix) was “Succeed at > 1 Big Company.”

Which brings us back to what motivated me to write this post: I clearly (in my own mind, which is what matters) was successful at Microsoft. I shipped some really great stuff for customers and had a blast doing it. Now that I’ve survived Amazon for 5 years, and absolutely loved the work I’ve done to help make Echo and Alexa so loved by customers, I look in the mirror and am able to say to myself “yep, I’m successful at Amazon.”

Yay for me! One more big Merit Badge I can sew onto my vest! This gives me personal satisfaction and confidence. I was pretty scared of Amazon when I joined. What the eff did I know about anything EXCEPT how Microsoft worked? The inventory of the Merit Badges I had earned at MS gave me the confidence I needed to get started.

Are Merit Badges useful outside of work?

Merit Badges don’t have to apply only to your professional career. For example, it gives me great joy that I’ve earned the merit badge of “engine builder.” I had no idea how to build a car engine when my son & I decided to build a new engine for my classic BMW. But I did it and the damn thing worked (and is still running flawlessly after 25k miles). But one engine build does not prove mastery. Two does (in my opinion). So recently I completed my second motor for a different car. This one works too (knock on wood). I’ll probably never build another engine (I can, thankfully, afford to pay others to if I have a project that requires one) because, for me, all that really matters is I’ve proven to myself that I could.

How do you know you’ve earned a Merit Badge?

I use a couple of tests. There are probably others.

  • When setting out to earn a Merit Badge, if I can, I’ll write down objective criteria. For example, I told myself I’d only get the “Succeed at > 1 Big Tech Company” badge if I was at the big company for more than 3 years.
  • I ask myself “would I add this to my resume, knowing an interviewer might ask me for examples and details?” (Advice from someone who has hired a lot of people: Putting something on your resume you don’t really know how to do is just about the stupidest thing you can do. It’s almost as bad as misspelling your own name; which I’ve actually seen!)
  • I ask myself “can I look myself in the mirror and say ‘Yeah, I effing earned it’?” Of course if you are delusional this may not be enough. But if you are delusional, you probably don’t realize you are delusional, so it doesn’t matter anyway.

What else have you written on managing careers?

I wrote a post long ago about how most people think about their careers in the wrong way (You are Thinking of Your Career Trajectory Wrong). The Merit Badge mental model is very complimentary to the idea presented in that post. It’s complimentary because Merit Badges give you a way of measuring your success in your own terms versus things like ‘how many people work for you’, money, or title.

I’ve also found that Merit Badges are aligned with using another tool I’ve written about, the Job Decision Matrix, that helps drive clarity on what’s really important to you (and what’s not) as you make career decisions.

This link will show you all of my career related posts: Other career related posts.

The name “Merit Badge” and the concept resonates with me because I’m wired such that my self-worth is centered around my talents, the effort I put in, and what I’ve achieved. It also works for me because, for some reason, I’m absolutely addicted to finding things I’m clueless about and then trying to master them. Not everyone views the world as I do so this mental model may not fit everyone. Try it and see. As usual, feel free to let me know what you think in comments or on Twitter.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

My Apple ][ Tribute

It’s safe to say that the Apple ][ personal computer had a great an impact on my life as any other factor, short of the fact that I was born.

This is my tribute to the Apple ][ on it’s 40th birthday.

In 1978 I spent a day at my cousin’s factory in Grand Rapids, MI. I was 11 years old. I had never touched a computer beyond the Atari Pong my family had. After a tour of the factory, I think to get me out of the way, my cousin sat me down in front of his Apple ][ and fired up the game “Artillery”.

I was entrenched. For a few minutes anyway. Then I got bored.

Then I noticed The Applesoft Tutorial sitting there…

Shortly, I had figured out you could press Control-C to break out of the game in the the “Monitor”.

I learned I could type LIST and see the BASIC code for the program.

I learned I could change any line in the program by simply re-typing it with my changes. E.g. I could change

10 PRINT 2+3

to

10 PRINT 2-3

I learned I could then type RUN and the updated program would execute with my changes.

 

“OH MY GOD. THIS IS POWER.”

Never being one to actually, really, read instructions I dove in. I started changing things to see what would happen. I made Artillery my own.

Eventually I broke something and the Artillery game would no longer run.

In a panic, I shut off the Apple ][ and left to tell my cousin I was ready to leave.

From that point forward, my life’s direction was set. I wanted that power.

Later that year I conned my dad into buying a home computer so he could use VisiCalc for “business”. We visited the computer stores in the Phoenix area. One was a RadioShack and another sold Apple’s. My dad was leaning towards the TRS-80. I convinced him the Apple ][+ was better. I don’t remember why I thought so, but I ended up winning. He shelled out the dough for an Apple ][+, a Rana 5.25” floppy drive, and a color monitor. And VisiCalc.

For about 6 months the computer resided in my dad’s office (which was really a shared family room). He never really used it. I sat there for hours on end teaching myself BASIC by typing in programs from books and magazines.

Eventually the machine migrated to my bedroom, and as they say, the rest is history.

I had that Apple ][+ through high school, eventually adding a Microsoft Z80 Softcard to it. I had ‘graduated’ from Apple DOS to CP/M and from BASIC and 6502 assembly to UCSD p-system Pascal…and then Turbo Pascal.

When I got to college I upgraded to an //e (with a home-built external keyboard!) and put a 4MB memory card in it, which I used as a RAM disk for CP/M, Turbo Pascal, and my dear friend WordStar.

Eventually an IBM PC XT clone entered my life and I saw the writing on the wall w.r.t. Windows so I left the Apple ][  behind.

I still have all the old programs I wrote for the Apple ][ both on 5.25” floppies (that probably can no longer be read) and printed out in a set of 3-ring binders. Maybe I should crack open an emulator and get ‘em to run…

Thanks Steve & Steve for creating such a magical experience and setting me on my way.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

What it Means to Be Great Product Manager

A Tweetstorm of mine from earlier in the week:

https://twitter.com/natbro/timelines/611337333711843330

Piling on a comment @natbro made about PMs:

Besides customers, there are two groups of people involved in building tech products:

Engineers and everyone else. Only the engineers actually produce anything for the customer.

The job of everyone else, especially PMs is to generate clarity and commitment to a purpose so that the engineers can create magic.

Bad PMs don’t get this and think the product and business revolve around them.

Great PMs have no ego in this regard and understand the reality: That the only work that truly matters is that of the engineers.

That said, it is also true that left to their own devices, engineers will do two things: 1) the most complicated thing, 2) the thing they think is fun. Therefore, do not confuse the fact that a PM’s job is to enable (and influence) engineers with the idea that PMs are not needed.

On the contrary, when done right, great PMs free engineers to focus on what they are best at: technical invention and execution. They do this by creating clarity around who the customer is, where the customer is, why the customer cares, why it’s important for the business, and when it’s relevant.

Oh, yea: I have more open PM roles on my team. Join me in enabling engineers to create magic for customers. See this link.

(August 13, 2018 – updated formatting and changed job posting link).

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Attention is the Currency of Leadership

Great leaders optimize how they spend their attention. They are skilled at turning up the heat to get others to focus their attention on the right things at the right times. Attention is the currency of leadership and each person has a fixed amount of attention to spend.

“Leaders have a fixed amount of attention units they can spend in a day, week, or year. Are you spending yours on the right things?” (A mentor of mine, Chris Phillips)

The number of “attention units” (AUs) a person can spend over a period of time is fixed. Let’s use a week as our time period. You have 1000 AUs you can spend in 7 days. Each leader’s amount might be different, but is fixed for each. Attention Units cannot be carried forward. You can’t earn more. The same balance applies to the leader’s personal and work life. Spend yours wisely.

I spent last week at an amazing leadership training offsite. One theme of this training was how to ensure others’ attention is focused on the right things. I’ve had some success becoming a better leader by using the concept of Attention Units to focus my own attention, and to train others to do the same. For example, the idea that “90% of the decisions you make don’t matter” is a powerful mental model you can use to focus your attention on the right problems.

“Attention is the currency of leadership” – Ronald Heifetz

As I’ve contemplated what I learned this week I’ve tried to mesh my former mental model of Attention Units with the far stronger concept that attention is THE currency of leadership, which was introduced to me this week. I sat down this morning to write this post (writing is a great way to create clarity of thought) and an article about Reid Hoffman serendipitously came across my twitter stream. In it, Ben Casnocha wrote:

“Every decision has tradeoffs: when you choose to do one thing it means you choose not do some other thing.” – Ben Casnocha

This is so true! I found this definition of Attention on Wikipedia, which resonated:

“Attention is focused mental engagement on a particular item of information. Items come into our awareness, we attend to a particular item, and then we decide whether to act.” (Davenport & Beck 2001, p. 20)

Leaders need to become masters at the following:

  • Optimizing how they spend their precious personal AUs.
  • Teaching other leaders skills for optimizing how the spend THEIR AUs.
  • Defending the pool of AUs belonging to the people who work for you (being a “shit umbrella”).
  • Creating an atmosphere where groups of people turn their attention towards, and focus their attention on, the right problems at the right times.

Great leaders figure out how to optimize how they spend their attention units. They are skillful at using tools (such as the 5Ps) and mental models (such as only 90% of the decisions you make don’t matter) to do this. Great leaders know how to say no to requests for attention from above and below. Great leaders figure out how and when to turn up the heat to get others to focus their attention on the right things. Leaders succeed and fail based on the things they give attention to.

What tools or skills do you know of for managing your own attention economy? Please share in comments!

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Find Work That Does Not Feel Like Work

The first thing I ask people who are looking for a new job is “What work do you want to do in your ideal job?”

It is interesting how few people answer this question. Almost everybody wants to answer different questions like “What do you want to work on?” or “What kind of work environment are you looking for?”

They respond with answers like “I want to work on a small dynamic team with other smart people” or “I want to build products that millions of consumers will use.” These are great answers; they are just answers to a question I did not ask.

work [wurk] noun

  1. exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labor; toil.
  2. something on which exertion or labor is expended; a task or undertaking: The students finished their work in class.
  3. productive or operative activity.

The people who I think will be the most successful can think about and discuss the actual WORK they do in their jobs, day-to-day. Their answers include specific tasks. “Write code”, “respond to emails”, “create user stories”, “analyze data”, “run brainstorming meetings”, and “build relationships” are great examples.

Happiness, I believe, comes from doing work that makes you happy.

When I ask the question “What work do you want to do?” I’m asking a very precise question. I ask it because I believe the biggest indicator of someone being successful in a job is whether they are happy with their job. And happiness, I believe, comes from doing work that makes you happy.

I have been known to spend hours cleaning and polishing the wheel wells of a car. Yes, I get the satisfaction out of the clean result, but, as screwed up as it sounds, I actually love the hard work of the cleaning. I think it is fun. It makes me happy!

I have also been known to spend hours reviewing spreadsheets full of product usage metrics. Finding the key indicators gives me satisfaction, and makes my customers happy, but I find the actual work excruciatingly painful. For me that kind of work is not fun. I do it because it is required.

In my job at Amazon, I am blessed the majority of the work I do is fun for me. Talking face to face with employees about their career is fun. Doing pixel-perfect reviews of our product’s customer experience with the team is fun. Teaching the team that saying no is more powerful than saying yes, is fun. Sitting down with my leads and writing and re-writing a 6-page narrative describing our product is fun. And the list goes on.

I am happy with my job because most of the work I do, even though it is hard, is fun. It is an extra-special bonus that someone is willing to pay me for doing it. Because I’m happy with my job, I’m generally happy.

Think about the work you have done in the past and create two lists: In one write down the tasks that didn’t feel like work and in the other write the tasks that you toiled over. Then go find a job where the majority of required work is in the first list.

Don’t get me wrong, accomplishing big things can give you confidence and bolster your resume (and change the world). Confidence and a strong resume create opportunities to find jobs where the majority of the required work doesn’t feel like work. Happiness does not comes from what you’ve accomplished. Happiness is not about the past. It is not about the future. It is about the now.

My team is hiring. Maybe the work that needs to get done in revolutionizing local commerce sounds fun to you. If so email me your resume (kindelc (at) amazon.com).

More Posts on managing your career:

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Once I was Afraid

Once I was afraid to ride a bike. Then I did it.

Once I was afraid to program in BASIC. Then I did it.

Once I was afraid of getting married. Then I married Julie.

Once I was afraid of assembly language. Then I did it.

Once I was afraid of printer drivers. Then I mastered them.

Once I was afraid of having kids. Then I had two.

Once I was afraid of network protocols. Then I wrote one.

Once I was afraid to tell my manager he was wrong. Then I did it.

Once I was afraid of changing my own oil. Then I did it.

Once I was afraid of managing people. Then I did it.

Once I was afraid of rebuilding a differential. Then I did it.

Once I was afraid of lambda expressions. Then I wrote some.

Once I was afraid of building my own company. Then I did it.

Once I was afraid of doing upholstery work on a car. Yesterday I did some.

I don’t know how much this applies to others, or how much it’s just part of my own personality, but I keep re-learning the lesson that I really can do anything.

I am not saying I can do everything well; I’m not being conceited. I also know that there are things I either don’t have the physical make up for or require years of study that I don’t have.

My mental model for things I’m afraid of is they are black-boxes. Opaque. It turns out that all it really takes to expose the insides of those boxes is to “give it a try”. I have repeatedly discovered that if I just dive in that black box turns into a set of smaller black boxes that fit together. Rinse and repeat.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to remember this. I’m bolder than I used to be and more willing to “just do it”. But I still hesitate.

If I could give my younger-self one piece of advice it would be: “Don’t hesitate. That fear you have is unfounded.”

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Iconic: Photos of Every Apple Product

Last year Jonathan Zufi reached out to me asking if he could use a quote from my “Why Nobody Can Copy Apple” blog post in a book on Apple he was working on.

I said sure, why not?

I’m glad I did. Jonathan has released the book, Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation, and sent me a complimentary copy. Fittingly, I received it on the anniversary of Steve Job’s death.

My quote is on page 181.

“Apple’s products are unique not on their feature merits, but because of the way they are conceived, designed, built, sourced, manufactured, shipped, marketed, sold, opened, held, and used. This is integration taken to the extreme and it would be difficult for any company to replicate.

–Charlie Kindel, cek.log”

The photo on page 181 is of the Apple Time Capsule. This is highly ironic given I built a competitive product to Time Capsule at Microsoft (Windows Home Server). I have no idea if Jonathan made this connection, but I think it’s hilarious either way.

The book is just amazing. It is full of great photos of all of Apple’s products, inside and out. It includes forward by Steve Wozniak and Jim Dalrymple and each photo is accompanied by a quote from a smart and famous person (mine excluded).

The quality of the printing is top notch and the book looks great on our coffee table. He sent me the “Classic Edition” which he sells for $75. There’s an insane “Special Edition” that comes in a case that looks like an Apple ][ accessory that’s $300 (!). www.iconicbook.com

If you have ever been an Apple fanatic you’ll really enjoy paging through this book.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Be Excellent At Saying No

Steven Sinofski has written another great post on his “Learning by Shipping” blog. In this one, titled “8 steps for engineering leaders to keep the peace” he focuses on things an engineering leader can do when his or her ‘manager’ asks for too much.

Solid advice, but it only addresses half the problem (the engineering leader). #5 in his list of things is

1. As part of doing that, I’m going to sometimes feel like I end up saying “no” pretty often.

I believe the best product development organizations are those who are as excellent at saying “no” as they are at saying “yes.” When I say this, I mean the entire organization is excellent at saying “no”. This means that if you are the ‘manager’ (CEO, VP, GM, whatever) then YOU need to be excellent at saying no too. I wrote a post a few years ago on this topic that fits nicely with Steven’s latest post. You can read it here:

Don’t Make Your Team Say No To You

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

How to install a 2 port USB power adapter in an ‘87 BMW

For some reason BMW forgot to put USB power sockets in my ’87 535is.

D70_5615

In addition, while the JVC stereo the previous owner installed has a USB port, I use it for a memory card for music. Lastly, the cig lighter socket in these cars is “always on”.

For these reasons I decided to do a little mod: Adding a 2 port USB power socket. This post explains how I did it and the parts I used.

Here’s the final result:

To start, I went to Amazon.com and bought 4 different cigarette lighter USB power adapters. I wanted to find one that had two plugs, supported Apple’s proprietary USB charging protocol, and would fit well behind one of the blank plates BMW provided on either side of the radio. Amazon’s amazing return policy meant that, as long as I didn’t damage them, I could return the ones I didn’t use.

After carefully pulling all 4 apart, I found that the PowerGen Dual USB 3.1A 15w High Output Car Charger had the following favorable characteristics:

  • Up to 3.1A output.
  • Red LED.
  • A short circuit board. Some of the others had boards that were almost 2 inches long.
  • A USB plug design that would adapt easily to a different bezel (in this case the BMW blank dash plate).

Disassembly of the power adapter was simple: just pry the plastic apart and the innards pop out.

See how the USB connectors hang over the edge of the circuit board? Turns out they extend almost exactly the same as the thickness of the blank plate!  (The blank plate in this picture is a spare that has a hole dilled in it for an alarm LED).

To cut the right sized rectangular holes in the blank plate I needed to use the faceplate from the USB adapter as a template. The USB connectors already fit the original faceplate tightly, but I wanted to make sure the new holes were very-slightly undersized to create an even better mechanical connection.

I used a pair of small Vise-Grips to hold the faceplate in place on the back side of the blank plate (I had to cut the sides of the original faceplate a bit to make it fit) and then drilled a pilot hole in the center of each rectangular opening. I then used a very small flat file to carefully expand the pilot hole and create the new rectangular holes in the blank plate.

I de-soldered the old ground wire and positive wire (spring in the above picture) from the circuit board and soldered in new wires of appropriate length. I then used a hot glue gun to further secure the electronics to the blank plate.

Remember, because I made the holes slightly undersized (10ths of a mm) the USB connectors fit really tightly providing a good mechanical connection.

Untitled

From here it was a simple matter of attaching some plug connectors to the wires on my adapter and their siblings in the dash (which I had previously exposed behind the right hand side plate when installing my Valentine One radar detector hard-mount). I plugged it in and snapped the plate into place.

I have it wired to the same circuit as the radio so that it is only on when the ignition is on. You’ll note that the red LED does a nice job of providing a little illumination of the sockets (that matches BMW’s instrument colors). The hot glue helps diffuse the light a little which is a nice touch.

Hope this helps others.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Have a Plan

Yesterday someone asked me to share my thoughts on the secret to building excellent things. I summarized what I know as:

“Put the customer first, have a plan, create a shared mission, get early victories, remove process, and make it fun.” – me, yesterday.

 

This was the formula my cohorts that built the Windows Phone app platform used. It worked. This is what the small team that created www.milelogr.com did.

“No battle was ever won according to plan, but no battle was ever won without one.”  – Dwight D. Eisenhower

It shocks me how resistant many entrepreneurs are to writing down a plan. It’s like they’ve been beaten down by the “VCs never read business plans, so don’t write one” tripe. Or maybe they were burned by the dense, unapproachable 100 page plans as babies (when they worked at BigCos).

Here’s the secret to planning: The shorter your plan the better.

But always have a WRITTEN DOWN plan.

Elon Musk had a plan for Telsa Motors. In 2006 he wrote a blog post and disclosed the plan as:

  1. Build sports car
  2. Use that money to build an affordable car
  3. Use that money to build an even more affordable car
  4. While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options

The power of such a concisely written plan cannot be underestimated.

The plan for the Windows Phone 7 Application Platform, including the developer experience, fit on a single page. Yes, we had a 30+ page document that discussed all sorts of ideas and details, but the plan itself, the thing that served as our North Star fit on a single page. It concisely described all the things good plans cover:

  • Your purpose (some call this the mission)
  • How you’ll behave (your principles or tenets)
  • What’s important and what’s not (your framework for making tradeoffs, aka priorities)
  • Who’s responsible for what, and who’s not
  • When you’ll do things, and in what order

Our one page plan was the North Star that 100s of people across 4 Microsoft divisions marched towards over the 18 months we had dedicated to the project. As we headed north we ended up going a bit west and maybe a bit east, but we never went south. And that is why a plan is so important.

Have one. And make it as concise as you possibly can.

I’ve written a post dedicated to a great framework for planning: The 5Ps: Achieving Focus in Any Endeavor.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Businesses Buy Differently

My post on Why Nobody Can Copy Apple has become one of the most read posts I’ve ever written (thanks @gruber). Commenters are asking me “Can you describe more what the behaviors are that are different when building for business vs. consumers?” There are many, but central is the sales motion: the approach and process an organization uses to sell product. The sales motion for businesses is diametrically different than the sales motion for consumers.

One of my favorite truisms is

“People don’t buy things, people are sold things.”

Businesses buy products differently than consumers. But, just like consumers, they only really buy things that are sold to them:

“Businesses don’t buy things, businesses are sold things.”

How do businesses buy things differently? I love this answer by Steve Jobs from an interview he did in 2010 (emphasis mine):

“What I love about the consumer market, that I always hated about the enterprise market, is that we come up with a product, we try to tell everybody about it, and every person votes for themselves. They go ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and if enough of them say ‘yes,’ we get to come to work tomorrow. That’s how it works. It’s really simple. With the enterprise market, it’s not so simple. The people that use the products don’t decide for themselves, and the people that make those decisions sometimes are confused. We love just trying to make the best products in the world for people and having them tell us by how they vote with their wallets whether we’re on track or not.” – Steve Jobs, June 1, 2010

A commenter on my Why Nobody Can Copy Apple post did a great job of explaining this in more detail:

“The problem is that the business…are attempting to maximize their profit, so they want to buy bulk, cheap product that fulfills all of the criteria they come up with. And these criteria they come up with are universally profit-driven or simply stupid. They want X features, Y functionality, because they need to do aX and aY with the product. They don’t care about bX and bY, which in this case are the entire experience of the product, because it’s not something that is quantitated in the corporate machine.”

Organizations that build product for businesses must SELL in a way that is compatible with the way the business BUYS. The organization, say Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business (IEB), or Microsoft’s Business Division (MBD), needs a sales motion that fits the customer.

IEB, which makes Xbox, has a sales motion centered around allowing the end-user to viscerally engage with the product at retail (fed by ‘air cover’ marketing and advertising) . In MBD’s case, selling Microsoft SharePoint, the sales motion is about having an army of Microsoft sales people (literally tens of thousands of MS employees are salespeople) call on CIOs and other “business decision makers” to convince them the capabilities of the product address some pain point.

These sales motions and the sales force behind them are radically different.

Another of my favorite truisms is

“Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything. But getting people to pay for something is MORE everything.”

To be successful (profitable), an organization that builds something must be driven by how the product is sold. The product managers, designers, engineers, testers, and middle-managers all end up being highly influenced by the sales motion.

Therefore, in an organization focused on the consumer, every single person is attuned to the motion of sales. If a consumer focused effort where the primary motion is online or retail are ALSO asked to focus on business customers at the same time, they lose focus because they now have to deal with the enterprise sales motion. A loss of focus creates mediocre products. Likewise, a business product organization that also has to sell to consumers will suffer a lack of focus.

Microsoft has done an admirable job in setting up IEB to be mostly consumer focused. This is why the Xbox and related products are pretty damn good. But IEB’s products are not as consistently excellent because they depend on other parts of Microsoft that are not as consumer focused.

Windows? Not so much. And the reason, at the end of the day is the bifurcation of focus between business customers and consumer customers.

Comments encouraged. Keep ‘em clean.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

"Write Once…" is Anti-Customer

Just as in the ’90s, there’s a bunch of hype these days around solving the cross-platform development problem. Mobile platform fragmentation is killing developers, and if only every device supported some common language or technology engine we could all Write Once and Run Anywhere.

If only.

WORA was, is, and always will be, a fallacy. WORA reminds me of the mole in whack-a-mole. It just keeps popping up and the realities of competing platform vendors keep whacking it back down. What drives me crazy is not the “Run Anywhere” part that most people throw out and replace with something else (like “Optimize Everywhere” , “Suck Everywhere”,  “Test Everywhere”, or “Outsource the optimization“).

It is the “Write once…” part that’s the most dangerous. We all wish the world was rainbows and unicorns, and “Write once…” implies that there is a world where you can actually write an app once and it will run on all devices. But this is precisely the fantasy that the platform vendors will never allow to become reality. Stop asking for it.

Mobile fragmentation is going to get significantly worse over the next few years. While this fragmentation will be bad for end users in some cases, it will be particularly bad for developers.”
Me on LockerGnome, Oct 22, 2012

HTML5 is awesome in many ways. If applied judiciously, it can be a great technology and tool. As a tool, it can absolutely be used to reduce the amount of platform specific code you have to write.  But it is not a starting place. Starting with HTML5 is the most customer unfriendly thing a developer can do.

“We start with the customer and we work backward” – Jeff Bezos

“… you gotta start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” – Steve Jobs

Like many ‘solutions’ in our industry the “Hey, write it once in in HTML5 and it will run anywhere” story didn’t actually start with the end-user customer. It started with idealistic thoughts about technology. It was then turned into snake oil for developers.

Not only is  the “build a mobile app that hosts a web view that contains HTML5” approach bass-ackwards, it is a recipe for execution disaster. Yes, there are examples of teams that have built great apps using this technique, but if you actually look at what they did, they focused on their experience first and then made the technology work. What happens when the shop starts with “we gotta use HTML5 running in a UIWebView” is initial euphoria over productivity, followed by incredible pain doing the final 20%.

The problem is each major platform has its own UI model, its own model for how a web view is hosted, its own HTML rendering engine, and its own JavaScript engine. These  inter-platform differences mean that not only is the platform-specific code unique, but the interactions between that code and the code running within the web view becomes device specific. And to make matters worse intra-platform fragmentation, particularly on the platform with the largest number of users, Android, is so bad that this “Write Once..” approach provides no help.

The father of WORA: James GoslingI blame James Gosling. He foisted Java on us and as a result Sun coined the term Write Once Run Anywhere. (Joking!)

Developers really want to believe it is possible to “Write once…”.  They also really want to believe that more threads will help. But we all know they just make the problems worse. Just as we’ve all grown to accept that starting with “make it multi-threaded” is evil, we need to accept “Write once…” is evil.

There is no “Write once…”. I wish there were. I know you wish there were too. But I wish my daughter had a baby unicorn to ride too.

There is, however, “Focus on creating the best possible user experience on each device and try to get as much code re-use as you can along the way.”

Focus on the experience, try to get code re-use.

Not as catchy, but far, far, more realistic. And helpful.

Edit: February 22, 2013 – Shortened title to make it less inflammatory.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Bubbly Time: MileLogr has its first, real, paying customers!

Champagne GlowWhen we launched MileLogr (www.milelogr.com) yesterday we didn’t know how long it would be before the first real customer actually paid us for a report.

It happened today! We have monies!

It is time for a serious glass of champagne!

We got some great press on the launch too.  Todd Bishop of Geekwire wrote:

The service, called MileLogr, works in conjunction with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple calendars, creating a detailed mileage report based on the location of meetings as noted in each user’s calendar.  One of the big selling points is that it works retroactively, pulling the information from a calendar even if you weren’t specifically tracking your mileage last year.

And Nick Wingfield of the New York Times wrote:

…it had the smarts to calculate the length of a trip even if I didn’t give it an address. For example, I set up a recurring weekly meeting at Microsoft, without supplying the company’s location in Redmond, Wash., about 20 miles from where I live in Seattle. It figured out on its own where Microsoft was located by doing a search of online mapping services. (The chief executive of BizLogr, the company behind MileLogr, is Charlie Kindel, a former longer time Microsoft manager and a respected blogger on technology.)

An awesome launch! Now it’s time to iterate, iterate  and iterate and please thousands of customers like the early ones!

If you forgot to track your mileage last year MileLogr can save you thousands by figuring out where you drove from your calendar. Check it out at www.milelogr.com.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.