#21 - Link Roundup, 19 June 2020
The Role Canvas; Anti-racism in tech; Effective emails
It’s been a weird couple of weeks here at Manager, Ph.D. Global Headquarters. Our entire team is moving institutions, following our boss, and so there’s been a flurry of paperwork, both helping coordinating offers and then arranging for the resignations once those were out.
Coordinating a mass resignation wasn’t quite as fun as it sounds. And it’s funny to see how invested we are in our teams; I actually had to suppress a momentary gasp of dismay when I received the first email with Subject: “Resignation Letter”, even though I (a) asked for the resignation letters and (b) provided the template, both less than an hour before.
The work won’t change at all, but we’re moving to a much larger institution, with more peer technical teams to interact with. So I’m looking forward to “being at” our new workplace, even virtually. Now there’s just the barrage of new hire paperwork and elearning orientation modules to go through. (And if you’re curious - even our boss, who’s moving into a C-level position, had to diligently work his way through those. HR processes will simply not be sidestepped.)
In even weirder news, this week I implemented a (completely trivial) front end to a web service for a demo. In React. It was… actually kind of fun? It continues to amaze me how much more advanced the tooling is to quickly get a web services project off the ground then a more traditional research application like a simulation code or data analysis project. Part of this is due to the web development problem being more constrained, but I think a larger part is just the numbers of it — there’s way more people developing web services than those kinds of research software products.
Anyway, on to full-stack research computing team management!
You can’t hire well without a clear idea of what you’re looking for. In research computing we too often copy and paste job descriptions from HR or lists of qualifications from what other groups are doing without really sitting down and figuring out what a really good hire would look like. Once that’s done you can start pitching your add and your interview questions to find that person.
I like this article. The role canvas reminds me a lot of the “Manger-Tools Quick and Dirty Job Description”, based on 5 questions:
The reason the company created this job was …
The most important ways a person doing this job should spend their time are ….
The 2-3 most important duties of this job are …
What this job takes to be successful is ….
The simplest, easiest way to see if this job is being done well is ….
Sitting down, ideally with the team members a new person would be working with, and really hashing out the answers to either sets of questions is a great way to figure out how to spot someone who would be great at your job. And having those questions clear in your mind when interviewing significantly helps cut through the biases we have. An extra year of C++ experience or 3 extra papers in [domain expertise] probably aren’t the qualifications that you actually need.
A twitter thread of four things ICs can do to support Black workers in tech. For us managers, he has a really strong talk (45 min video), Lending Privilege.
Managing Your Own Career
As you move up in research computing (or anywhere really) you start communicating more, especially upwards, with people whose attention is torn between more and more things. That means for your emails to work you have to make them increasingly self-contained but also concise. There’s 9 points here but four of them are key tools in my kit:
Lead with the ask - You’re sending this email to achieve some purpose: either to get a go-ahead for something, inform someone, ask for a decision, etc. Lead with that.
Write your subject lines like headlines - They should have a pretty good idea of the purpose of the email and what is asked of them by reading the scanning
Give them a deadline - This, plus a default, is a secret weapon of mine. “Let me know by Tuesday, and if I haven’t heard otherwise I’ll assume it’s ok to submit the abstract”. It might take you some getting used to doing this, but honestly, give it a try. For high stakes/high time sensitivity things you wouldn’t be using email anyway. Give them a deadline and a default action you’ll take!
Preview all messages on your phone - Another secret weapon. There’s a 33% chance your boss is reading this email on a phone in a meeting. You want it to be clear in that context.
Product Management and Working with Research CommunitiesRandom
Tsunami is a general purpose network security scanner with an extensible plugin system for detecting high severity vulnerabilities with high confidence. From Google.
A summary of the features and design space chosen by 60(!!) computational notebooks (think Jupyter) out there. Includes many I had never heard of.
Woah. Gilbert Strang has a new textbook introducing linear algebra, this time with machine-learning type application as vs PDEs. A sign of the times, of course, but Gilbert Strang has the clearest explanations (to my ears) of linear algebra I’ve ever seen anywhere. Kind of tempted to buy it for reading in my copious spare time.
ProxyJump, for coordinating multi-step ssh proxy chains, is apparently a feature in openssh? This would have been very handy to know about two jobs ago.
Learning to love systemd - the author makes a serious and worthwhile argument here coming from a SystemV init script background, but they are of course horribly, wretchedly, wrong. As is well known, no one of good conscience learn to love systemd.