Aaaaaaaand, we’re back!

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Aaaaaaaand, we’re back!

The last time I posted here was the last day of school, and prior to that I had decided that I was going to take the summer off from writing. There was just a lot going on in my life, and I needed a break.

Amongst other stresses, I was struggling with parenting.  As my kids have gotten older (they’re 8 and 11, now) they’ve become more independent and assertive, naturally, and let’s just say that I was not endowed by my creator with an endless fountain of patience.  About 97% of parenting is modeling, and frequently I don’t model very well. I’m trying hard to be more patient and let them make their own decisions and mistakes.

Nevertheless, my older son is extremely enthusiastic about technology, and this summer he set a goal of building and shipping an iOS app to the App Store before he went back to school.  He worked very hard, and it was an amazing experience. I gave him a few pointers here and there when he got stuck, but honest to goodness, 99% of the work he did on his own and met his goal!

As an extremely proud father, I present to you Kinoki. It’s a math puzzle game which he wrote entirely himself in Objective-C.  (Not only would he appreciate your shares, he’d be thrilled to tears if you downloaded the app, left a 5-star review on the app store, and sent him some feedback through the app.)

Then, as the summer wore on, I was deeply reminded of my own mortality.  I had a close friend pass away after a year long fight with cancer.  I am lucky to have two grandparents still alive, both in their 90′s, but less and less able to care for themselves, so I spent a lot of time caring for them.  And, finally, I turned 40 and visited my doctor for a check-up because it had been years; he gave me a very stern talking to: eat right and exercise or you’re going to die young.

“How you take care of yourself for next 10 years of your life will determine whether or not you’re dancing at your kids weddings”, he said.

So, yeah, mortality was on my mind this summer.

And, then, when I wanted to get back to writing I had genuine writers block.  I told myself that I’d start writing again when school started.  But, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about, I didn’t know what to say.  The topics I’d written about previously…mostly work stuff…didn’t seem all that relevant given where my head was at this summer.

Plus, there were some new things going on that were taking my time.  In addition to my day job at Rover.com, I was working on a side project in the local Seattle music, arts and entertainment scene which I’ve only started to pull the covers back on in the last week.  (Shameless plug: we’re hiring!  Check out http://spazindustries.com.)

And, I’ve started to take on some new responsibilities at Rover by taking a more formal role leading our demand generation and marketing activities—which is both exciting and scary, and something I’m sure to be writing about more soon.

So, that’s what’s up and where I’ve been.  I’m glad to be back and hope to be more consistent here again.

Keep in touch!

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October 21st, 2013 at 9:25 am

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INME: School’s Out

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Children feel many intense emotions, but there are two feelings that nearly all of us share and can remember as adults: the eager, nervous excitement of the first day of school and the jubilant emancipation of the last.

Today, was the last day of school for my kids, and I drive my kids to school every day, then head in to my office.  The drive takes about 15-20 minutes, and in order to avoid fights between them about what we’re going to listen to on the ride I have previously declared myself The Absolute Dictator of the Radio.  I introduced them to Alice Cooper today.

As I watched this video I noted just how bad Alice Cooper is: not only does he pop a balloon, the chaotic and climatic ending is punctuated with bubbles!

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June 14th, 2013 at 9:19 am

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INME: Minus the Bear

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I’ve liked Minus the Bear for awhile now…just something catchy about their sound.  I was pleased to find out they’ll be playing a music festival north of Seattle this summer.

 

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June 7th, 2013 at 8:42 am

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INME Friday: Frank Zappa does Stairway to Heaven

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You may not like Zappa, and you may think Stairway to Heaven has jumped the shark, but trust me, this is worth a listen.

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May 31st, 2013 at 10:55 am

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Phone Interview Tips

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A friend of mine sent a message to an handful of friends today:

I got my first phone interview lined up and I’ve never done this before. I would love some pro-tips on making it successful.

I’m not sure if these are actually pro-tips, but here’s what I offered:

1. Have a piece of paper and pen in front of you.

2. Take a moment to think before answering.

3. Don’t be afraid to respond to their question with a probing, clarifying quesiton…so that you can answer it more in line with what they want.

4.  Be yourself, you’re awesome as you are!

What would you have suggested?

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May 28th, 2013 at 5:26 pm

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INME Friday: Sasquatch

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May 24th, 2013 at 9:29 am

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What is Water?

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May 23rd, 2013 at 7:36 am

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How to Write a Story in Elementary School

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I really enjoyed reading Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, and a central part of that book is Miller learning about the structure of a story.  In the book, Miller attends Robert McKee’s “Story” seminar in LA where he learns the essential structure of a story: a story is about a character who wants something and must overcome obstacles to get it.

I reminded of all that today when I saw this in my son’s 2nd grade classroom:

story

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May 22nd, 2013 at 9:31 am

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Technical Questions Staffing Agency Recruiters Should Ask Prospective Clients

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I had coffee with a friend who recently entered the staffing agency business.  His company has several hundred developers on staff, and each of these have been technically vetted.  So, the idea is that a company can easily increase its engineering resources by calling up and saying, “Hey, we have a new project and need <insert some number> engineers next week.”  Yes, you will pay a higher rate for the resources, but you’ll get them when you need them, and don’t have to incur the ongoing cost of full-time employees after the project is over.

Naturally, he was asking if Rover could use his services.  Yes, we are hiring, but no, we are already working with some recruiters, and are not going to add any more at this time.  (Hint: recruiters, don’t call…I’m not going to hire you right now.)

The conventional wisdom is that startups and young companies don’t want to hire through staffing agencies because of the higher costs.  In part, that’s true, but it’s not the real reason.  Most companies would gladly pay an extra cost for great developers immediately.

The real reason is that a young company like Rover isn’t well-suited to use staffing agency resources.  How are we not well-suited?  Let me count the ways…

There is a big cost for us to bring a new employee up to speed.  As a young company, our software isn’t well-documented and we have yet to establish robust, yet efficient, training programs.  Part of value of a staffing agency is that you can get the developers quickly, but you can release them easily when the project is over.  Yet, we have to invest in a new employee which means we want them to be here for a long time in order to recoup that investment.  In other words, the “releasability value” isn’t valuable to us.

One of the things that helps new engineers be productive quickly are thoroughly written product specifications.  Startups are notorious for not spending a lot of time on specs.  Often, the entire spec is a just a sticky note, for example, “Add promo box on checkout”.  What?  There is no way a new engineer to know what they should do.  In that case, the engineer needs to be familiar with the system, so now we’re back to the “up to speed” problem.  Or, to get the “quick availability value” the company needs to invest in writing more detailed specs, and that further increases the costs.

Soooo, who then, are technical staffing agencies good for?  This is what I talked to my friend about this morning, and I thought I’d share those ideas to get your thoughts.  (I’m curious to hear what my recruiter friends have to say about this.)

Scott’s ideas for questions for technical staffing agencies to ask of firms to see if they might be a good fit:

1. Obviously, companies that spend a lot of time on product planning and specifications will be more suited toward flexible resources.  So, asking about the planning process, the number of planners (i.e. product, project, program managers), asking about the importance of details specs versus agile flexibility…these are good things to find out if you’d be a good fit.

2. Ask if the company’s software uses a “service-oriented architecture”.  An SOA is a type of technical design where components of the system (i.e. services) are completely independent and only interact with other services via an API.  (An API is a pre-defined programming interface that allows computers to talk to each other.)  An SOA provides a lot of flexibility to the stuff behind the API; as long as the API does what it’s supposed to do, then it doesn’t matter how it gets done.

For example, if there is an email sending service, as long as other software components can connect to that service via the API and the emails are sent it doesn’t matter if you have fancy software doing it or a bunch of hamsters.  All of that is hidden from the outside.

An SOA has a number of signatures that indicate it’s a good fit for flexible staffing resources.  Since an SOA relies on APIs, and an API is a pre-defined interface, then that means it requires a thoroughly written spec.  You know who else relies on a thoroughly written spec?  That’s right…developers from technical staffing agencies.

Additionally, the independence of each service in an API make it easier to test.  As I said, as long as the service does it’s job, it works.  In other words, the internal quality of the system is less important because it doesn’t impact the whole system.

Finally, an SOA is language-independent.  You can write your service in C++ and I can write mine in F#, Z-flat or Q-minus.  All of the services will communicate via a common mechanism, so the language doesn’t matter as much.

3.  Ask if the company uses a “message bus”.  I guess this is just another flavor of SOA.  In other words, a message bus is a signature of an SOA.  So, if you’re a technical staffing agency, asking if they app uses a message bus is a good thing to ask.

Now, if you’re a sales guy at a technical staffing agency, you might not have the chops or nerve to just ask, “Do you use an SOA?”  Maybe a better approach is to say, “I’m trying to learn more about system architectures because I think that will help me better serve my clients…what’s your system like?”  Or, “I’ve heard this SOA buzzword…can you explain that to me?”  Or, of course, you could just read and get the chops.

So, thems be my thoughts for the day….whaddya think?

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May 21st, 2013 at 2:11 pm

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INME Friday: Toby Finds His Love

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In this week’s I Need More Ears, we have a special guest appearance from Toby McKes.  He shared this story with me, and it was so amazing, that I asked if I could share it with you:

About 10 years ago, C89.5 started playing this song…it was a mashup before mashups were a thing.  And, it was the most glorious mashup my young ears had heard.  It was the instrumental from “Let’s Groove” by EW&F, with the vocals from an Elton John song I had never heard called “Are You Ready for Love”.

They played it all summer and I fell in love with it, so I called the station and asked who it was by, but they didn’t know.  They told me that it arrived in one day at the studio in a blank envelope containing a CDR that said “Elton John” on it.

So, I made a crummy rip of it from the bad online streaming back then, complete with skips and system sounds in the background, and that was all I had.

Over the last 10 years I’ve tried to find it on the Internet with no luck. Then, last week I found that crappy mp3 I made 10 years ago on an old backup hard disk, so I tried to find the song online again.

I found a Youtube video of it with a DJ name attached to it. I contacted the guy (found him on Facebook) and he pointed me to an old mp3 store site (from the pre-iTunes era) where I could buy it legitimately.

So happy!  :D

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May 17th, 2013 at 9:06 am

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