#26 - Link Roundup, 24 July 2020
Microsoft's newly remote workforce data; Managing for neurodiversity; Vacuum up chaos; Ask for advice; Trello for personal tasks.
Hi everyone -
I hope it’s been a good week for you. On our side we’re setting up our first Jira sprint on a project I’m really excited about — and we have a really great PM helping us, shoring up one area where I personally am not great. Between the team, the project, and getting some help for a managerial area I’m weak in have me really eager and optimistic about how this is all going to go.
In terms of the newsletters, I’m gearing up to try the Q&A and the interviews that wee suggested.
For questions, I’ll start collecting them. Please send them to me! Top questions will get posed to the community every week with results summarized.
Interviews will take a little longer: I’m starting to line up interviewees. If you have people or projects you’d like to hear from, or are willing to volunteer, let me know (just reply to this email). All suggestions warmly welcomed.
As always, let me know what you find interesting or useful; just hit reply to any newsletter email and the response will just go to me - or feel free to email email@example.com.
And on to the link roundup:
Microsoft Analyzed Data on It’s Newly Remote Workforce - Natalie Singer-Velush, Kevin Sherman, Erik Anderson, Microsoft, writing at HBR
A lot of big companies have pretty decent datasets on how their teams work and how that got disrupted by suddenly working distributed during a pandemic. I find what they’re discovering fascinating, even if one has to be careful about trying to generalize.
Microsoft has a 350-person “Modern Workplace Transformation” team that has consented to have their MS Teams IMs, emails, calendars, videoconference lengths, etc. analyzed - their job is to figure out how people work in an increasingly digital age. So that team has very fine-grained data on how those teams have been coping.
The article is long enough that I won’t try to summarize it here. Some key relevant bits:
Employees who had the most one-on-one communication with their manager ended up having the least increase in total number of hours working. I can imagine lots of reasons for that - clarity of expectations, more feedback (in both directions) so less unnecessary work, etc. Folks, do your one-on-ones.
Managers are bearing the brunt of the transition to remote work, with more hours worked to do the necessary coordination and glue work and take care of our team members. This is good and proper, but we have to look after ourselves too, y’all.
Managers are collaborating more with peers. I’ve found that too - a lot of silo walls seem to be more porous now.
It didn’t take long to settle into a new normal. That’s good and bad; the disruption settled down quickly, but I think after 3-4 months of this we know better than after the first 1-2 weeks what works well and what doesn’t; I think a lot of our teams could use another shakeup to reset some things.
Lots of IMs between 6pm and midnight, and work bleeding into the weekend. Maybe some of those are more social but it’s hard to see that as anything other than bad.
Meetings got more numerous but shorter.
Managing for Neurodiversity - Anjuan Simmons
This is a short and useful discussion from an experienced tech manager about managing team members who are expressing behaviours that might suggest neurodivergence:
They simply receive information about the world and process it in different ways. In fact, no two people see and respond to the world in the same way. We all need to make accommodations for these differences whether we’re talking about introversion, extraversion, autism, or dyslexia.
The thing I like about this article is it strongly counsels against any kind of armchair diagnosing - neither you nor I have the skills for that - and focuses on three common categories of behaviours, with concrete remediations for each.
Short Attention Span
As Simmons points out, being ready with these remediations in your managerial toolkit makes the work environment better for everyone. Honestly, with everything going on - the pandemic, extended work from home, racial injustices, and police backlash - who doesn’t have some occasional short attention span and distractibility? And which of us have no team members (or selves) that have gotten sucked into a rabbit-hole which has them hyper focussed on the wrong something?
Don’t Create Chaos - Stay SaaSy
How to Lead Decisively when you Don’t Know What’s Next - Karin Hurt and David Dye, Let’s Grow Leaders
Making Decisions with Others - Deepak Azad
“Great leaders vacuum up chaos” - The Stay SaaSy post uses this as a nice way to describe one really important function of managers. We have to be entropy-fighters, reducing chaos and uncertainty about how a project will go forward, what priorities should be, what are good next steps for a team members career, and any of a number of other things. And one key point they make:
The fancier your title, the more you must avoid causing chaos.
This is something that a lot of new managers (including myself at the time) don’t get. Once you’re a manager, you can accidentally sow chaos by musing aloud about some idea that just crossed your mind, or asking lots of questions about stuff that doesn’t matter but you’re just personally curious about.
All that chaos reduction means making decisions, especially in the face of uncertainty. That’s really hard for some of us in research. I probably like many of us, was trained in academia. My wife was trained in the Emergency Room. One of us is much better at decisive decision making! The other of us prefers to thoroughly and leisurely analyze things, maybe read a couple books first. No points for guessing who is who.
The short Hurt and Dye article urges us to lean into uncertainty in decision making, by accepting the uncertainty and acting anyway:
Ground yourself in your values
Stay focused on what matters most.
Make the best, next, small, bold decision.
Show up with confident humility, and
Preparing for the pivot.
The article by Azad counsels us to have clarity about your decision making process, especially decisions large enough to have to think about RACI:
What decision needs to be made?
What’s the timeline of the decision making?
Who will do the work and arrive at a decision?
Who are the stakeholders?
Who will ratify or veto the decision?
Who will need to be informed of the decision?
When can you revisit a decision?
Even for smaller decisions, being clear with yourself about what decision needs to be made now, setting a timeline for the decision making, understanding the consequences are of making the decision, and being clear on how easy or hard it is to revisit the decision later has made the decision making process a lot easier for me. Now it’s like one book, tops.
Managing Your Own Career
Why Asking for Advice Is More Effective Than Asking for Feedback - Jaewon Yoon , Hayley Blunden, Ariella Kristal and Ashley Whillans
A nice older article that crossed my desk again arguing that you’ll get more open and useful input from a broader range of people people by asking for “advice” than “feedback”. As always, you don’t need to follow every piece of advice you get, but you should at least take the advice seriously enough to consider.
A manager’s story about using Trello to manage work and life tasks to feel more organized and less stressed.
I haven’t adopted everything from Getting Things Done, but two things that I absolutely swear by that the author finds useful with the system described here:
Get tasks out of your head and onto paper/todo app/whatever as soon as possible
Keep all such things in one place - not a “life” and “work” one.
Myself, I’ve got a paper journal for the day and am using Omnifocus as the “data lake” of todo tasks. It doesn’t quite work, something like Trello could easily be better.
Singer lets you convert data between record-based file formats by defining an intermediate representation. So for instance if you write a ‘tap’ to read data in out of an API, it becomes trivial to output it to database tables, csvs, or to google sheets, where targets are already written. Hmm.
An old debugging warstory - email wouldn’t go more than 500 miles.
An update from twitter about their security hack, posted the day after the event. Researchers deserve at least as much transparency about the systems and software they use for science as do the users of a free social media site.
More for the “files are bad, actually” folder. Can applications recover from fsync() failures? Spoiler - mostly no.
Azure has followed AWS with beginning releasing a series of “Well-Architected Framework” documents. Having a set of reference architectures and guidelines makes it much easier for teams to get started.
Google’s released a really cool autodifferentiation package for python called jax.
A random forest model for choosing the right cloud provider and instance type for a HPC-type application.
A link shorting service implemented entirely in Github Pages and Github Actions.
A templating system for JSON, YAML, or ini config files.