Tonight I attended a launch/workshop for a new collaboration space in the Perth CBD called Hub Perth www.hubperth.org.
The idea is to provide a space for individuals, creatives, and start-ups to come together and work in the same physical space, host meetings and events, and ultimately inspire innovation.
The launch event was great. Activities were held to get the people who would ultimately use the space to put forward ideas on how it should be designed and work. Everyone was encouraged to leave their comments and ideas on Post-it Notes, butchers paper and floor plans that were scattered throughout.
The space used to belong to a bank, and even comes with its own vault. It will be renovated, but here is a quick walkthrough in its current form.
It was interesting hearing the different views on how a space like this should be operated and what the mix of business versus community/non-profit attendance should be. There was some healthy debate, but ultimately everyone was very excited to see something like this happening in Perth.
It may become part of the global hub network (the-hub.net) if it meets specific criteria, but whatever it becomes, it can only be a good thing for innovation in WA.
Hiring programmers, or anyone really, can be a bitch. Sifting through resumes loses its novelty roughly after resume number three. There are only so many times you can read:
I work well independently as well as in a team and I have a willingness and ability to learn quickly.
And if you have advertised on a major Internet job board such as seek.com.au, believe me, you read this a lot.
When hiring programmers in my previous position at WebSpy, I used a programming challenge as part of the initial application. I found this incredibly valuable, but I’m surprised to see that not many other organisations (at least in Australia) use this approach when hiring developers. Here’s why I found it so valuable.
Programmers come in a large variety of flavours. Mint (green, green, green), Vanilla (coding meh-style), Nutty (insane), Rainbow (colourful, but no gold), Triple Choc Liquor with a hint of Strawberry (ambitious and accomplished), Rocky Road (brilliant, but disruptive), and Pralines n Cream (absolutely freakingly awesome in every way).
A resume might help you sift the Mint flavours from the Vanilla, but it won’t help distinguish the Pralines and Cream from the Rocky Roads or the Rainbows. You need to see code.
Resumes are futile
My idea behind the programmer challenge was simple. Show us how you code, and if we’re impressed you get an interview.
A programmer applying for a job with a stock-standard resume is like an actor standing in an audition holding a sign saying “I’m a good actor”.
The challenge was not the typical ‘reverse a string in place’ or other such brain teaser than can be sketched out in two minutes and 5 lines of pseudo code. It was an actual situation one might encounter in the job, and would take a good programmer at least 20-30 minutes to complete.
The challenge at WebSpy involved parsing a tab delimited log file, and producing a summarised table of results. A fairly simple task, yet all solutions we received were highly unique.
From each solution we were able to glean how the applicant approached the problem, how they structured their code, and whether they coded in an optimal way.
And from this, we were able to identify the Nutty Rainbows and the Pralines and Creme.
Why not submit existing code?
You might ask that if seeing code is so important, why not make it easier on the applicant and allow them to submit code they’ve already written?
There is no doubt that if the applicant has been actively involved in an OSS project, or has some killer code available, that it definitely helps their application. For this reason, I still offer submitting existing code as an option instead of completing the challenge.
But there are a few reasons why this option can actually be a barrier for an applicant:
- The applicant’s hobby project was written a while ago and they are embarrassed to submit it as they have since discovered better ways to do things. I’m still happy to receive this code with side notes on how they would go about it now, but it’s still a hurdle for the developer to get off their butt and submit the application.
- They are hesitant about handing over the code to their hobby project as they hope to one day commercialise it.
- The most recent code (or in some cases all code) the have worked on was for a previous employer and they can’t submit it due to obvious intellectual property concerns.
So if the only option was to submit previous code, then we would miss out on many good applicants.
Advantages to a challenge
There are also a couple of major advantages to posing a challenge in the application process.
One of the keys reasons I found the challenge so useful was because it was relevant to the job and we were able to get an idea as to how successful an applicant would be without any specific training. Their solutions to the challenge often proved more insightful than looking at their existing code on a totally unrelated project.
For the applicant, completing a challenge is often more interesting than digging out previous code. When good programmers read the challenge, they can’t help but start thinking about their solution and it soon becomes something they just have to get off their chest. In fact I received an application long after the position had closed, just because the programmer felt like doing it.
Employers – Entice kick arse applications
I personally feel like I’m wasting my time reading resumes or interviewing someone without knowing how they code first.
If you are like me, create a customised challenge for something they may encounter in the job. It should take a good programmer at least 20 minutes and a maximum of an hour to complete otherwise programmers just won’t be bothered applying.
There is also no reason why you can’t use this approach for other occupations too. For example, ask marketing candidates to critique your website, or do a competitive analysis on one of your main competitors.
Then you can interview the best candidates to determine their personality fit and so on.
Employees – Just kick arse!
One of the best applications I’ve received included the solution to my challenge, as well as links to open source projects with explanations, as well as a link to their Stack Exchange profile and development blog.
Ultimately, if you want to win the job, just prove you can kick arse in any way you can. The more original the better!
Living predominantly in the product development world, I’ve focused on what a product needs to do to deliver value to the customer. I’ve also been heavily involved with how it’s branded, marketed and sold, but I’ve never had much to do with quoting or the sales transaction process.
I’m trying to right this wrong as I’ve come to the realisation that this stage of the process is equally important in delivering a great user experience and increasing the customer’s perceived value of your product. Unfortunately, this is often the stage where a potentially happy customer can become extremely dissatisfied as it is where they first encounter the level of bureaucracy within your organisation.
Let me explain using my recent experience hooking up a phone line to my new home.
How to annoy and frustrate customers
In Australia, Telstra is the only company that can physically connect your line and provision a phone number, but there are many other providers than can offer a phone or Internet service. Some of these other providers may offer the ability to provision your line as well, but they ultimately use Telstra to do the work.
I needed Telstra to connect my phone line so that I could go to my other provider of choice and organise a naked DSL plan.
On speaking with the Telstra rep, I was advised the connection fee would be $299. OK, fair enough. He then went on to say “which plan would you like”, to which I responded with, “I don’t want a plan, just the connection thanks”.
Apparently six months ago, Telstra introduced new connection pricing where you cannot get connected without taking out a plan. After explaining what I was after, I was told that the best way forward was to take out their budget phone plan at $20 per month, then cancel it immediately at a cost of $100.
This left a bad taste in my mouth. Why should I have to take out a plan that I don’t want or need, and pay $100 to cancel it?
Price attractively without changing a cent
I later thought that if the Telstra rep had presented the connection fee as $399, with an option to discount this to $299 if I took out a Telstra phone plan, then I would have been much happier.
Why? The fact is I had no expectation on what the connection fee would be. I just needed the connection done. They could have said $299, $399, or $1000 – whatever!
But taking out a plan I didn’t need, then cancelling it at a cost of $100 leaves me feeling ripped off. Had the Telstra rep offered the $299 deal if I purchased a Telstra plan, I may have been tempted to look into them. He could have then touted the many benefits of their plans and made a sale.
Because of the way it was pitched, my perceived value was much lower than it should be.
Don’t let bureaucracy get in the way
Unfortunately it’s not just the sales guy at fault. In fact, it’s difficult to blame him at all as this is the way the product’s pricing is structured. All his collateral material will refer to these unnecessary plans and it is difficult for him to state otherwise.
Product Managers need to plan their product packages so that no customer groups are being penalised or made to purchase items they don’t want or need. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy for companies like Telstra with a diverse set of customers to miss this from time to time.
Failing that, hire sales staff that can identify what the customer really needs, and empower them to pitch your product in a way that increases perceived value. They need to be able to venture ‘off script’ when the need arises.
Ultimately, don’t let bureaucracy get in the way of delivering value to your customers. Because after all, the customer’s perceived value is your product’s actual value.
Nearmap is a Perth based startup that takes regular high resolution photographic surveys of Australia’s capital cities. After a few issues, they were finally given permission to fly over Brisbane just after the peak of the January 2011 Queensland floods. Below are some before and after screenshots of Brisbane River.
Go to Nearmap to switch back along the timeline and zoom in on their 2cm high resolution survey images. They say you can see a walnut on the ground without it pixelating, but I’m yet to find a walnut…
View Large Map
Nearmap is a great resource for Australians, especially for incidents like this. Zooming in to such detail around Brisbane really gives you a feeling for the extent of the disaster. My thoughts go out to all the Queenslanders that have lost loved ones and livelihoods.
I was watching Mark Suster interview Brian Feld on This Week In Venture Capital, and thought I’d extract their discussion about the role of Product Management in a startup.
Brian Feld mentions that in a startup, especially a fast growing startup, one of the most difficult roles to fill is that of Product Management. Startups usually have a very strong engineering skillset, and it’s often one of these engineers that is thrown into the PM role. Brian believes you can teach people how to be PMs, however it takes a very specific personality type to be successful.
Some of the pitfalls Brian Feld mentions is that the existing members of a startup may be too process driven, or may not have the right mix of leadership and management. They might be creatively awkward and/or lack the ability to button down and drive the product to the goal line.
To quote from the interview, Brian Feld says:
“Product Managers need to be the CEO of their Job” (a quote he took from Mark Pincus of Zynga fame). “If you’re a Product Manager for a specific thing, you have to deal with it all, just like a CEO has to deal with the whole company.”
Finding someone that can own that whole function can be a very challenging task for a startup.
Here’s the actual discussion:
So can a bunch of engineers make it work, or should these startups spend time finding outside ‘experienced’ product people?
Everyone has a Product Manager lurking inside them. We all use hundreds of products each day. Some we love, some we don’t even notice, and some piss us off. If we were made the Product Manager of one of these products, I’m sure that after some thought we’d all come up with bright ideas of how to make the product better.
But my guess is these ideas would generally gravitate around each persons area of expertise or interest. For example, ideas may be centered around making the product work better, or look more attractive, and others may be focused around improving the marketing or sales process.
If your ideas span the whole spectrum of product design (design is not a stage), and product marketing, and you also have the leadership and management skills to implement these ideas, then you are probably a good candidate for the PM role.
So yes, a bunch of engineers can make it work, if, at least one of those engineers has the personality type to step back, formulate a wise, holistic product strategy and lead it successfully. If no one fits the bill, then go hunting for outside help.
Unfortunately the top 10 traits of being a rock star engineer do not necessarily line up with the PM traits above, so chances are, hunting for outside help may be the more successful move.
We often recommend customers using Microsoft ISA or TMG switch their logging to W3C text file, in order to get the best possible import speed, and also because the text logs are much easier to access from a remote machine (see my previous article on accessing TMG’s SQL Express Log database). Logging to the default MSDE or SQL Express databases also requires more resources in terms of processor utilization, memory consumption and disk I/O.
But there is another advantage to switching to text. They take up considerably less disk space. Here are some figures
Today I was asked how to filter out computer objects when importing your Organizational structure into WebSpy Vantage.
The default LDAP query when you first run through the Import Organization wizard should filter these computers objects out. The query is:
If you’re using Microsoft Forefront Threat Management Gateway, there is a bug in the logging that causes Bytes Sent and Bytes Received to be logged in reverse. This seems to only affect the Web Proxy logs – both SQL and W3c . We noticed in a few web reports, that people were generally uploading a lot more than they were downloading. So we checked the logs and verified the buggy behavior.
One of the most common questions we get asked by users of Microsoft TMG and ISA is why there is so much traffic attributed to the Anonymous user. Even though unauthenticated access to the web has been disabled, they still see the ‘Anonymous’ user as one of the top users in their reports.
So let’s use WebSpy Vantage to drill into that Anonymous user and find out what is going on.
I’ve produced a video on how to use WebSpy Vantage to report on IronPort’s Web Security Appliance’s access log files. It is quite a detailed look at the key tasks involved in setting up and using WebSpy Vantage with IronPort WSA access logs, and is therefore divided into several parts. The videos take you through the following activities:
- How to import your log files and explore the information recorded by IronPort using the Summaries screen
- How to open the customized IronPort Report Templates and Aliases
- How to generate reports
- How to import your organizational structure and report on departments
- How to setup the Web Module and publish reports