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Jonathan Andrew Wolter

Archive for the ‘career’ Category

Book: Power: Why Some People Have It-and Others Don’t

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Reading time: 4 – 6 minutes

Power: Why Some People Have It-and Others Don'tPower: Why Some People Have It-and Others Don’t by Jeffrey Pfeffer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is an easy read with interesting examples. If you dislike the title, consider how the world is political, and it is in you interest to know the power games other people will play.

A few highlights:

  • When Keith Ferrazzi (author, CMO, CEO) was offered a position at Deloitte, he insisted in seeing the “head guys.” He met the NYC chief, Loconto, over dinner and Keith said he would accept if the two  would have dinner once a year at the same restaurant.” This was a gutsy move, but gave him influence at a very high level. All because he asked. What could you have asked for?
  • Ishan Gupta is an entrepreneur from India who positioned himself with compiling a book of major Indian entrepreneurs. He had the founder of Hotmail, the Indian president Kalam, and over a dozen leaders contribute to the book. How? His pitch was as a fellow entrepreneur and IIT graduate, he appreciated their courage, and said no one would take a book by him seriously, he wanted their help to write just a few pages or hundred words with key advice. He packaged the request brilliantly, and almost all accepted. Asking for help is inherently flattering. He leveraged his experience to write something with a positive social implication. Then gained influence with very big hitters, and ‘jumped up a weight class.’
  • Confucius said, ‘Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s own ignorance.’ While this seems somewhat out of place in this book, remember if you gain more power, you will change. It is best to not become full of yourself.
  • Stay focused on the outcomes you are seeking, and do not get hung up on people and their idiosyncrasies. You can not and will not please everyone.
  • Be able to act. As in acting, theatrics, Hollywood. If you are ‘angry’ don’t always really be angry, as you can act with emotion, skipping over facts, weaken you position, and alienate people. I have made my worst mistakes when acting out of emotion. You can use emotions effectively to lead a team; however, if you can have the passion of emotion, without the irrationality, it is much better. Thus, learn how to act. It disconnects the irrationality. When I worked at FeedBurner, Dick Costolo was CEO there and he came from 10 years of stand up comedy. Extremely useful for his outward influence (now CEO Twitter), and inward motivating employees.
  • Synchronize the ‘voice’ of a team’s many leaders. I have had huge team problems because the peer group of senior leaders all had different opinions about the vision and priorities. If one of us had suggested a simple, quick, weekly breakfast or lunch meeting next door, we would have been on sync. It would have boosted the team’s morale and effectiveness.
  • Oliver North vs Donald Kennedy’s congressional testimonies suggest theatrics (righteous anger vs shame and timidity) is a significant factor for how people are judged. This was an “aha” moment. Senior leadership is a lot of acting. CXO’s may not see some employees but once a year. The ability to turn on the energy and optimism (acting) is crucial to leave strong, lasting influences in people.
  • One comical specific claim was that “moving your hands in a circle or waving your arms diminishes how powerful you appear. Gestures should be short and forceful, not long and circular.” Probably true. How you carry yourself influences how you are viewed. Are you the carefree person, consistent worker, angry person, goofy one, solid leader, etc.?
  • Take you time in responding. Flustered or unsure people are marginalized. Related to acting. When choosing between emotions or a slower response, always choose the slower, more deliberate response. (My editorializing).

Not amazing, but short and I finished it. I think I can only read a
small number of these kinds of books a year. Now I am ready to read
more math books.

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Written by Jonathan

May 20th, 2011 at 3:18 am

Book Review: The McKinsey Mind. Focusing on Mutually Exclusive Collectively Exhaustive thinking

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Reading time: 4 – 6 minutes

The McKinsey Mind: Understanding and Implementing the Problem-Solving Tools and Management Techniques of the World's Top Strategic Consulting FirmThe McKinsey Mind: Understanding and Implementing the Problem-Solving Tools and Management Techniques of the World’s Top Strategic Consulting Firm by Ethan M. Rasiel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Worth reading. Especially if you are in consulting. I like the beginning of the book especially, and will be turning back to some of those pages for reference.

Thinking logically
The book starts strong by introducing “MECE: Mutually Exclusive Collectively Exhaustive.” I use it often in my teams. Think of it as building a decision tree, where you cover every option, and none are overlapping. Each branch in the tree also has more MECE sub-branches. When deciding or investigating something, draw the tree on a whiteboard, and walk everyone through the options, and sub-tree options until you have a decision, or clear actions to take. Very logical. Be sure to encourage other people to contribute to the branches, and if you are leading it, ideally you team will volunteer the branches, and then they have more commitment to the options.

Or, as Wikipedia says:

[MECE] says that when data from a category is desired to be broken into subcategories, the choice of subcategories should be
1. collectively exhaustive — i.e., the set of all subcategories, taken together, should fully characterize the larger category of which the data are part (“no gaps”)
2. mutually exclusive — i.e., no subcategory should represent any other subcategory (“no overlaps”)

This is desirable for the purpose of analysis: mutual exclusivity avoids the risk of double counting information, and collective exhaustion avoids the risk of overlooking information.

Two areas for MECE thinking are in logic-trees and issue trees.

Logic trees help you identify components of a problem. Start at the 20,000 foot view and move progressively downward. You may want to build multiple trees, for instance by business unit (organizational hierarchy) and functionally (production, sales, marketing, etc.) to see which leads you to the next step, the hypothesis.

Form a hypothesis of what component of the logic tree may be causing the problem. Run it by the Quick and Dirty Test: ask what assumptions you are making that must be true. Are any false? If it passes the QDT, gather data and do analysis to disprove it. This is the same as the scientific method. If you fail to disprove it, you may be on to something. Predict what could happen if the identified root cause was changed.

Issue trees let you rigorously test the hypothesis. They are different from logic trees. Logic trees are a hierarchical grouping of elements. Issue trees are the series of questions or issues that must be addressed to support or disprove a hypothesis. It becomes you roadmap for analysis.

Present with the conclusion at the start. This was a good lesson. Do not use inductive reasoning to build up from details into a specific conclusion for your audience. They may already agree with it. You would then waste their time. Instead make you conclusion, and progressively drill into details, broadly covering each level before drilling down further. Stop/skip forward if they do not need the convincing. (A refresher on inductive/deductive reasoning).

Presentations are all about getting buy-in. It is important to “pre-wire” the meeting so that there are no surprises, and people already know your conclusions. The act of pre-wiring will identify gaps you need to work on, or build allies for you proposal.

Interviewing clients/stakeholders is a common activity I have done at ThoughtWorks. The authors advised scheduling time with people, and sending them an agenda. This lowers their apprehension of why consultants want to talk to them. Also at the end, during small talk before you walk out, ask “is there any thing else we did not cover that you think we should?” You’ve built rapport by now. Their answer can uncover important, previously unmentioned issues.

Note: as a software engineer, I appreciate the MECE thinking style for its logic. Also, it is the exact way we approach performance tuning an application. Think about the logic tree of slow spots. Build a hypothesis. Test it by profiling the running program under load. Let the data of time spent in each component show the root cause.

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Written by Jonathan

May 1st, 2011 at 3:14 am

Sukrupa in Bangalore, an AMAZING organization, and ThoughtWorks

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Reading time: 3 – 5 minutes

I’ve been living in Bangalore since October. First training at ThoughtWorks University (TWU), now working for a UK client. The people and work has been amazing. Best of all is what we have done with Sukrupa.

Six years ago next month I was in Bangalore, volunteering with the non profit Sukrupa, a slum school founded by the amazing Krupathala Martin Dass. [1] And in January this year ThoughtWorks began working for the school in rebuilding their website and launching a student records project. I’m very proud for ThoughtWorks for investing with many dozen people to work on this, and for the honor to enable such a wonderful, high impact activity. This is part of the culture here. What a great place.

Below is a write up from TWU XX, which completed in February, and compiled by my colleague Pallavi from Australia.

TWU XX project for Sukrupa went live Feb 17 – Release 1 consisted of a redesign of the Sukrupa website www.sukrupa.org and a Student Record System.

Who is Sukrupa?
Sukrupa is a Bangalore-based NGO that works to transform the lives of children from the slums and integrate them into mainstream society. Heard enough and want to help? You can donate or explore volunteer opportunities at Sukrupa.

What did TWU-XX do?

  • We met the most amazingly talented children, who made us realize that every child deserves an opportunity to shine no matter where they come from.
  • We revamped and rebranded www.sukrupa.org to showcase the great work done by Sukrupa.
  • We enabled online donations and are looking for ThoughtWorkers to QA our online donation widget. Any volunteers? ;-)
  • We created an offline donations guide that offers the donor a variety of options to maximize donation.
  • We produced an events summary to help track the many events hosted by Sukrupa (events are an avenue to showcase the talents of the children, and also to increase visibility with sponsors/donors).
  • We are proud to say that we successfully delivered software in a one-click-deploy environment!
  • We got completely upstaged by the Sukrupa children in ‘TWU’s Got Talent (or not!)’, witnessed by Roy, Trevor, Dan and Dave. Stay tuned for embarrassing videos and pictures.

In Closing

  • Sukrupa needs your help! Please donate and/or volunteer!
  • This project with Sukrupa will continue with future TWU batches.
  • ThoughtWorks’ involvement with Sukrupa is set to grow, with Rohit exploring other opportunities for us to help – Thank you Rohit.
  • TWU XX has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only did it prepare us to be consultants but it also enabled us to carry forward ThoughtWorks values in our very first project.
  • A big thank you to our trainers and clients for their endless patience.
  • Thank you to the Bangalore office for hosting us and particularly the Admin Team.

My backstory on Sukrupa
[1] Back in 2005, a friend and I were on a five week project to have an art camp with several non profits in India. We attempted to film a documentary and capture children’s answer to “what do I want to be when I grow up.” We met with many non profits and schools in Chennai and Bangalore. You can read the old blog here, ArtView India. Sukrupa was one the organization that left a deep impact on me and I returned in 2007, as well as have worked with Krupa from the US in grant writing and publicity. I’ve been directly involved since 2010, connecting her with ThoughtWorks.

Sukrupa children

Written by Jonathan

April 18th, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Posted in career, thoughtworks

The Management Myth: Management Consulting Past, Present & Largely BogusThe Management Myth: Management Consulting Past, Present & Largely Bogus – Book Review

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Reading time: 5 – 8 minutes

The Management Myth: Management Consulting Past, Present & Largely BogusThe Management Myth: Management Consulting Past, Present & Largely Bogus by Matthew Stewart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A highly entertaining read where Matthew Stewart dismantles the Management Consulting industry. For you with experience in consulting, parts of this are hilarious as Stewart chronicles both the imploding of the consultancy he helped create, and the overall history of the industry.

One by one, he tears apart Fredrick Taylor (the father of “scientific management”), Elton Mayo (of the “famous” Hawthorn Effect), Management Consultants, Strategy (as a science), popular Management Gurus, and offers a harsh critique of MBA’s in general. His main premises is that “Management” is not a profession on the level with Medicine or Law, however management education through business schools have attempted to professionalize it. And to that end, they have manufactured “science” (in a very non-rigorous and untestable sense), truisms, frameworks, and case studies.

Here are a few highlights. I didn’t agree with all that he had to say, but I did enjoy reading it. I was laughing out loud towards the end as he details how his fellow partners are embroiled in litigation with him as he tries to sever all ties. Stewart is genuinely funny, giving characters nicknames such as “The Prince of Darkness”, “The Troll,” “Dr. Bob” the corporate shrink, and others.

As for management consultants, he had less-than-flattering quotes:

“[C]onsultants often serve not to provide new knowledge to their clients but merely to communicate ideas already formed. In many instances, our work amounted to harnessing work performed in one part of an organization and then packaging it all as our own work for the benefit of another part of the same organization.”

I can’t speak for all organizations, but I am extraordinarily fortunate to say at ThoughtWorks (my employer) this has never been my case. We are not a traditional management consulting McKinsey style strategy consulting firm, true. However, we do have consulting projects, some the strategic management consulting types. I’ve seen us bring our outside expertise and influence and avoid acting solely as grease in the wheels. Becoming grease may let others bill lots of money, but isn’t very intellectually fulfilling.

Even better, if you have worked in a traditional pyramid style company, (of which ThoughtWorks is very, very, very, very much not) he has this gem to explain it:

“It’s like being stuck in a dungeon with a bunch of rats and a giant block of cheese. All the rats keep climbing the cheese, two years at level one, two years at level two. The threes shit on the twos and the twos shit on the ones, and everyone shits all the time on the rats at the bottom. All they care about is rat-face-time. As in, please-sir-would-you-stick-your-rodent-butt-closer-to-my-face time. You keep going up until one of the other rats bites your ass off.”

Up or out. Several friends of mine elsewhere have shared this is a fairly accurate description.

Strategy. He also tears apart Porter and his Five Forces [3]. Stewart claims all business strategists describe strategy in hindsight (not so useful if you want to implement “strategy” for, you know… the future). I have a little bit of a hard time accepting that all of modern strategy is hogwash, as instead I think while bounded in utility, different frameworks help one to position a problem and look for solutions in diverse ways.

Due to business schools’ roots in Taylor, Mayo and others that he sequentially defuses of all credibility, the author also suggests that the fundamental underpinning of MBA’s are shaky. The academic and scientific rigor is weak, and the content is easily grasped by otherwise intelligent people.

“After 100 years of fruitless attempts to produce such a discipline, it should be clear that [Business Management] does not exist. preparing managers to manage, in fact, is not different from preparing people to live in a civilized world. Managers to not need to be trained; they need to be educated. And for that purpose, although a certain amount of study of business-related subjects may prove useful, the business schools as they are presently constituted are at best superfluous.”

A jaded view? Yes. But also very fun. The best parts is the parallel narrative that progresses through the book about his firm. I don’t want to spoil much, but it is especially fun when his firm’s acquiring company’s CEO steps down because he wishes to promote full time his beliefs in UFO’s and alien-human technology transfer. Serious. [4] This guy had a crazy consulting journey, and has a great style of writing about it.

If you are interested in this book, first read his article on The Atlantic [1], which gives you a taste of the content here. Second, check out the WSJ book review [2], by Philip Broughton, author of a similar book that I recently reviewed. Also check out the New Yorker’s review [5].

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/arch…
[2] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424…
[3] Michael Porter, of Harvard. Father of the 5 Forces, which are: (1) the bargaining power of suppliers, (2) the bargaining power of buyers, (3) the rivalry among existing firms, (4) the threat of new entrants, and (5) the threat of substitute products. Extremely influential, he also advocated all strategy aims for a single, measurable goal: excess profits. (Unsurprisingly, Stewart takes criticism of this).
[4] http://articles.sfgate.com/1999-01-09/ne…
[5] http://www.newyorker.com/arts/cri…

And, please share with me your comments.

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Written by Jonathan

October 31st, 2010 at 5:03 am

No-Nonsense Guide to International Development – Book Review

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Reading time: 3 – 4 minutes

No-nonsense Guide to International Development (No-Nonsense Guides)No-nonsense Guide to International Development by Maggie Black

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fast read about international development’s history and future. The statistics are staggering. “10 million people a year are displaced due the construction of dams and urban transportation systems. Compare to 12 million annually with wars and other ‘disasters’.” I enjoyed this book, read it in about a week, and recommend it as an introductory text. It discredits the historical Marshall Plan style of development, which attempted to funnel infrastructure investment in a massive global scale. Post-WW2 Europe developed so quickly because of an educated cadre waiting to run it, eager human capital, and an abundant educated workforce. This is not present in the poorest of developing nations. Maggie Black cites an epic failure of mechanizing agriculture in Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia when tractors suffered from rapid breakdowns, no spare parts, misuse for private purposes, and endless other problems. (Great life lesson: you have to meet people where they are, rather than where your biases initially lead you).

Black covers aid with its many failures, some successes such as smallpox eradication, but overall underwhelming performance in ending poverty. She summarizes aid as generally ineffective: “the machinery of official aid is not designed to address the poverty of people, but the state of nations.” Next she moves to the World Bank/IMF and their program of “structural adjustments,” and the “Washington consensus.” Both were macroeconomic agendas pushing prudent fiscal and monetary policies, inflation control, and free markets. Seemingly wise ideas, but which often resulted in great challenges for the debtor nations: cut services and subsidized foreign commodities competition, and lost local jobs.

- Today a third of the world’s population – about 2 billion people – still remain outside the modern economy or survive at the edges.
- Circa 2007, two thirds of Indians are still involved in agriculture; in China she claims it is 44%.
- In 1960 the income gap between the fifth of the world population in the richest countries and the fifth in the poorest was 30 to one; by 1997 it was 74 to one.
- As of 2004, 1.1 billion people were without a supply of safe water, and 2.6 billion without a proper means of sanitation. And don’t think just digging wells or creating a water utility will solve this.

What is her summary? “Less effort should be put into grand international initiatives – ‘Marshall Plans for Africa’ and achieving the Millennium Development Goals – and more into making things work on the ground.” She goes into detail of successes where local scale efforts have still been able to assist millions of people. These, she posits are the keys to future success in international development, as opposed to the “bigger picture, more western perspective” of macro-economic adjustments.

The book is interesting in the treatment of details, and in the journey it takes the reader on.

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Written by Jonathan

October 20th, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Being Part of ThoughtWorks: Pillar 3 Social and Economic Justice

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Reading time: 2 – 3 minutes

At ThoughtWorks, we have many great technological projects, and brilliant coworkers. But beyond all that is a power for social good that is out at work in the world. Today, many of us are involved in ongoing projects with UNICEF and other non-profit organizations, helping solve fundamental human issues with technology. Last winter North America had an all-hands, and we brought in people like Merrick who’s helping the world with mobile SMS based apps at UNICEF. And we have Jeff Wishnie who is a Silicon Valley veteran, paragliding instructor, and now our Director of Social Engagement. He brings both socially aligned clients, and goes out and leads missions into all parts of the world using technology to better humanity.

ThoughtWorks has three distinct pillars that describe it:

  • First it needs to be a sustainable business.
  • Second it champions software excellence.
  • Third it has a passion for social and economic justice.

Our founder and chairman, Roy Singam, sent a great email out a few days ago that inspired this post, and reminded me the importance of how each of us choose to spend our working hours. Over coffee and engaging life-beyond-mere-profitability conversations he gave me permission to quote him:

“Being part of an organization that advances a cause is an important. Associating with people who collectively encourage moral behavior is one of the most important decisions one makes in life. To ignore this and treat these decisions as simple career decisions (or give a little guilt money) is avoiding moral responsibility.”

We have ThoughtWorkers on the ground in real projects working with global and local NGO’s that allow us to directly apply technology, process design, and lean management to changing the world. The mobile space is especially exciting.

I believe future proof, profitable corporations, with reason beyond profit will retain the most capable employees, and provide lasting global impact as 100-year socially-positive companies. Profit, smarts, and growth is essential, but the meaning of work-life must extend beyond the bottom line.

Written by Jonathan

April 29th, 2010 at 1:48 am

Posted in career, thoughtworks

Future of Work at London Business School: My Take on ThoughtWorks Globally

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Reading time: 2 – 4 minutes

Thanks to Roy’s urging, over the last 6 months I’ve been involved with London Business School’s Lynda Gratton in a consortium on the Future of Work. What will work look like in 2020, and how can companies become “future proof?” Specifically, what will global corporations look like? We kicked it off in London last November, where we met and discussed with people at several dozen companies. It’s been an honor, and a time to meet many interesting people.

Today, looking back at it, I am extraordinarily proud to call myself a ThoughtWorker. As an employer, we have a unique positioning of a global culture, lived out social values, and world changing technology.

Go visit any ThoughtWorks’ office in the world and you’ll find many people on international assignment. Further globalization and virtual-globalization will permeate work in 2020 — but today we clearly stand out as a leader amongst our peers. On vacation last winter in Beijing (pictures), I visited our office. It felt no more like I was in China then if I were in our offices in Bangalore, San Francisco, London or Chicago. It was not an “American culture,” but a “smart, interesting, passionate” culture of people with deep and varied interests — surrounded by great technology and delivering some game-changing products.

We encourage frequent cross-pollination of ideas and experiences through short and long term transfers. I felt right at home, met some amazing people (fellow TW’er and father of the Chinese internet Michael Robinson), got set up with daily Chinese lessons, and returned to visit in the office (for said lessons) almost every day.

There are so many more things to write about. It’s inevitable for work in 2020 to involve more cultures, countries, and languages. The marketplace for your goods could be half way around the world. Virtual-workers and virtual-meetings will explode. Yet, I also predict more face time with global coworkers. (Think how the world will change when we have US to Asia, or Europe to South America point to point travel in a few hours via spaceflight.) This will usher in increased complexity, and security measures; however I am excited for the future.

I have many more ideas, especially about the social values side of work in 2020 — but in true agile fashion, I’d like to see if anyone is interested in this before putting in more time up front.

Written by Jonathan

April 9th, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Posted in career, thoughtworks

What is grad school for a consultant (or practicing software engineer)

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Reading time: 2 – 4 minutes

Does it make sense for practicing software engineer to go to grad school? Technologies change rapidly, and so do our clients and projects. So we have constant opportunities to learn and most importantly to apply ourselves in building production systems. Bonus: putting production systems live into the world teaches a lot more than a good grade in an exam.

I once remember in undergrad my friend getting an offer at Microsoft, but he was torn on going to grad school. Basically his sponsor there told him graduate degrees aren’t worth much, and I’d go so far as to suggest that they can be less useful than varied and interesting real project work.

“Sure, go to cs grad school if it makes your ego feel better, but don’t do it for your career.”

Oh?, my friend said, and if my memory serves me, he went on to grad school.

Everyone’s situation is different. However this is something I’ve struggled with for the last several years: does it make sense to step back and do research, and to do computer science-y things instead of day to day project delivery? Maybe. Maybe not. I’ve more or less made my decision for now. But every few months the nagging urge comes back.

I found these posts helpful for framing my decisions.

  1. http://jxyzabc.blogspot.com/2008/08/cs-grad-school-part-1-deciding-to-apply.html (the whole multi-part series, actually)
  2. http://www.stanford.edu/~pgbovine/grad-school-app-tips.htm – says how it is all about research, and really Ph.D. applications are a job application, where you are applying to do research, rather than a place to be taught. (MBA, Med School, and other higher education avenues are a place you pay to be taught.) Masters degrees are different, but generally still have the same theme “you’re getting paid, so you better love (your) research.”

Update: Mark Needham commented about two pointed posts from Penelope Trunk’s blog. Worth reading.

  1. http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2008/06/18/seven-reasons-why-graduate-school-is-outdated
    Grad School isn’t needed, and it causes more harm than good. Too much focus. Careers change too much. Experience trumps prolonged childlike academic sheltering. (Note: My opinion isn’t so harsh. Your grad school might not apply, it depends on what you want to do).
  2. http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2009/02/03/dont-try-to-dodge-the-recession-with-grad-school/
    She prefers learning by doing, and suggests a feeling of “being lost” is actually helpful for growing.

Written by Jonathan

August 10th, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Posted in career, code

Tagged with ,

Chicago to San Francisco, by way of India

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Reading time: 2 – 2 minutes

I’ve really, really missed the really smart people I used to work with.

I believe working full time, with great people, and doing my own projects on the side will be vastly more productive than having full time for my own projects.

After leaving FeedBurner with the Google acquisition, I gave myself 2 months of running my own business full time. After that period, I would either be hiring folks, giving myself a few more months, or getting more experience at a startup or consulting.

Second Valley’s revenues are up a healthy 25-40% compared to May. I’ve been spending time in Ruby on Rails, and have started rebuilding the full ecommerce and delivery platform for one of Second Valley’s sites. But I missed the smart coworkers.

My decision Wednesday was to email ThoughtWorks and continue my interview process I started prior to joining FeedBurner. Well, thanks to the amazing Carrie McComb, I interviewed Thursday and had an informal offer that night. Friday morning I signed and it’s official.

In 10 days I’ll be off to India for ThoughtWorks Immersion training, and then I’m relocating to San Francisco.

Photo credits: meaux, and artview (my previous trip to India)

Written by Jonathan

August 10th, 2007 at 3:04 am