#18 - Link Roundup, 29 May 2020
Planning for hybrid; Building great teams; Bursty team member communication maximizes productivity; Remote brainstorming; Hard technical discussions
Some jurisdictions are starting to make plans for people returning to offices. For those of us who can readily work from home, that return may not be for a while; but planning is still worthwhile.
Return will likely look like “split offices” for a while - a few people going in in “shifts” while others work from home. The challenge then is to get the best of both worlds, convenience of WFH and serendipitous interactions, rather than the worst of isolation and cliquing up.
Have you started thinking about how this would work for your team? I’d like to have our on-site team members be on staggered shifts so everyone gets a chance to be in-person with everyone else over time, but I don’t know a good way to do that while still giving people some predictability. I think it’ll also be important for everyone to call into meetings independently from their own computer — physical distancing will probably demand that, but I don’t want there to be an “on-site” experience radically different from those still distributed.
This week’s link roundup follows:
The New Science of Building Great Teams - Alex “Sandy” Pentland, HBR
“Bursty” Communication Can Help Remote Teams Thrive
Christoph Riedl and Anita Williams Woolley, Behavioural Scientist
These two articles circulated independently this week, expressing related ideas about how communication works in high performing teams.
The first emphasizes how communication works between team members. It’s worth reading, but two key points:
Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet.
Members connect directly with one another—not just with the team leader.
The first is also mentioned by Google among many others. Preconditions for that rough equality of contribution are that it’s safe to speak up without having someone jump down your throat and that no one person dominates conversation.
The second is just as important. We don’t want to be bottlenecks for our team! One-on-ones are great ways to spur teammate-to-manager conversation. Stand-ups and staff meetings are great forums for encouraging team members to talk and work together without our intervention.
The second emphasizes another point:
Peer communication is bursty, rather than constant
Bursty is a feature, not a bug, here. Alternating flurries of peer discussion and relative quiet as each works diligently away in silence is a good and healthy sign. It’s a signal that communication is achieving a vital goal - helping the peers get meaningful work done.
Remote brainstorming for regular humans - Bartek Ciszkowski
Whiteboarding and brainstorming are harder to do when the team is distributed. Here are some suggestions for Ciszkowski on how to do distributed brainstorming:
Do it in ~20 minute chunks with 5 minute breaks
Use a simple white boarding tool (Ciszkowski suggests excalidraw which I hadn’t seen before) or even just a screenshared google doc to record responses. That way people can visualize connections between ideas to trigger new ideas.
Periodically restate to your objectives to keep the brainstorming on track.
Make sure everyone is chiming in.
I’ll just add something that’s not unique to distributed brainstorming: ban commenting on the ideas raised (especially critiques!) You are aiming for lots of ideas first. Only after idea-gathering is complete is it time for distillation and evaluation.
Technical discussions are hard; a few tips - Gaël Varoquaux
The challenges of maintaining community software as seen by a well known neuroscience and machine learning software developer and manager at INRIA. Varoquaux discusses maintainer’s anxiety, contributor’s fatigue, the difficulty of communication. Varoquaux also describes things he’s found that helped:
Hear the other: exchange
Foster multiway discussions
Don’t seek victory
Convey ideas well: pedagogy
Cater for emotions: tone
Give your understanding
Wow, the new $75USD Raspberry Pi 4 has 8GB of RAM?
I still keep getting surprised a ~decade into the data science phenomenon how data-intensive research computing is everywhere now. A big US trucking company, DAT, now has a Vice-President responsible for data science (amongst other things).
You can now make your web page look like a default LaTeX style with CSS. (Controversial take: I like what LaTeX can do but I really dislike the default styles and fonts).
A good reminder about why saving numerical data in binary formats is the right way to go: even integer parsing, never mind floating point, is surprisingly hard to do efficiently.
Interesting take on GUIs vs CLIs - the argument is that CLIs are what happen when you prioritize and make explicit (reify) the interactions between the user and the system, as opposed to trying to make those interactions easy/“frictionless”.
A very deep dive into the simplest possible C++ program.
And that’s it for another week.
To those who knew Rich Brueckner, and to everyone who’s lost someone, take care of yourself this weekend. And my best of luck in the coming week with your research computing team and with everything else going on,