Be your own Hakeem

I was talking to my grandfather the other day, explaining the precautions he needs to take to be safe from COVID-19. He is above 80 and has asthma. He partially agreed to change some of his habits and then gave a long speech on how things were simpler when he was young. I have heard this before but this time it had a different ring to it.

My grandfather fondly remembers a Hakeem who used to take care of all illnesses. And that too with some herbs and food suggestions, no antibiotics. Furthermore, you don’t have to tell him what’s wrong. He knew the kind of troubles you were having as soon as you enter his “clinic”.

The sinister side of me said to myself, well what other options do you had except to believe whatever he told you to believe. There was no way you could disprove his claims about your health. Modern day doctors, on the other hand, are always on the cusp of being wrong.

And while I feel fortunate enough to live in this age. There is part of me that actually wished for those simplistic explanations. Life would have been so much simpler. I just do whatever my Hakeem tells me and come back if things don’t work out. No Google, no way to disprove and no anxiety of not doing enough with my health. I might have lived much shorter but life would have been more calmer/happier.

Of course things are not that simple anymore. No doctor can tell you with absolute certainty what you are going through. They will always practice cautiousness over conviction. Plus, they have thousands of different things to tell you anyway so they are probably as confused as you are. More is not always good.

The antidote, of course is to be the Hakeem of your own health. Take everything all in, have a strong filter on information, take help whenever you need but at the end, chose for yourself. It’s hard but it’s the only way.

COVID-19 makes the case for progress

From The Roots of Progress:

We need progress not only because of the poor. We need it for everyone. Because we are all poor—compared to where we can be and should be in the future, if we can keep progress going.

We still get cancer and heart disease. We still waste time commuting and shopping—and we still die in car crashes. We still toil on farms and in factories. We still lose our homes to forest fires. We’re still largely confined to one planet.

On COVID-19, below is a great chat.

How to increase the ​effectiveness of engineering teams, lessons from Twitter

Steve Jobs once said, a line of code you don’t have to manage is a line of a code you didn’t write. What he meant was less code that does the same job is better than more code. But how do you make sure, as an engineering or product manager, that your developers are following the advice? Especially when teams and projects inside the company get bigger and more complex.

Andreas Klinger asked the exact same question on Twitter recently:

As you can see the actual question wasn’t about less code specifically but rather how to increase the effectiveness of engineering teams. Effectiveness is not directly related to speed. And some times they run counter to each other. But let’s just assume that Andreas meant overall productivity of the engineering teams. In that regard having less code is the ideal form of productivity tip. The problem, of course, is the inherent complexity in seemingly simple advice.

In many ways coding is like writing. Only you want computers to understand what you are trying to say. The good part is computers are not multi-dimensional thinkers like us. So if you write five lines to make it understand something instead of one it won’t complain. Or get any wrongful contextual messages hidden in those five lines. But that does not mean you should take advantage of the fact. For one this tendency will make your code lengthier and harder to manage. Second, at some point in time, another human will read your code. And …

So just because a piece of code is doing the job does not mean it can’t be better. Like writing, revisions can make it better. Always think of code that did the job as mere the first draft. It’s not wise to publish the first draft. The advice might seem counterintuitive because you are delaying deliberately. But it can go a long way in reducing the complexity and manageability of the code in the future.

The thread ensuing the tweet above is pretty good and I would encourage you to read yourself. Below is a summary of themes more prevalent than others with my unsolicited commentary.

Basecamp’s six-week cycle model over 2-weeks sprints: Here is the original blog post from Jason. The idea is, sprints result in rushed code because well you have to finish something in two weeks. Six weeks is a long enough timeframe to do deep work while short enough to manage.

We believe there’s a great six week version of nearly everything. — Jason Fried

No code reviews: I do get the sentiment but there is nothing inherently wrong with code reviews, IMO.

Provide an environment for deep work. No meetings: 👊

Use PR instead of a ticket: Yup, more Github, please.

Avoid refactoring: Joel Spolsky has more to say about this here.

Fix-it Fridays: 🤔

Quantify engineers’ work: It’s hard to quantify an engineer’s work in terms of revenue. User experience can be a good scale though. Another could be how clean, or less, the actual code is.

No Blame culture: Perhaps the root of all evils. Encourage your team to take responsibility not blame.

Mute Slack: ✔️

Remote work: Writing and coding are both better while you are alone.

Hire a PM or EM who gets people: Bingo.

Small teams: A team you can feed with no more than two pizzas is an ideal team.

Trust the devs: Trust is a two-way street. It’s easy to start giving it first than to expect.

Invest in tooling: Yes, iMacs and MacBooks, please. And if a MacBook is post-2016 than an accompanying keyboard too. 😛

Don’t staff a project with more than one person until the scope is well understood and work can be divided among different people with little to no communication. Mythical Man Month and all that: Couldn’t agree more.

Hire engineers who can write: Killer combination.

Aside

No Schedule Vs Pinned Tasks

Naval says (loosely paraphrased), it’s not about the book. It’s about the reader. Meaning one book can mean different to two people. And even to same person depending on when he/she reads it. I first read Marc Andreessen’s productivity guide at least two years ago (don’t remember the exact date but it wasn’t the last year or the one before). And the only thing I seem to remember from it was the idea of having just three lists.

  1. To do list
  2. To watch list
  3. And to latter list

First for things you need to do. Second for things you need to oversee. And third, for things you would do in a distant future.

Marc’s blog post surfaced again in my Twitter feed thanks to the tweet below.

Naval’s take out caught my eye i.e. to whatever extent possible don’t keep a schedule. I don’t seem to recall Marc Andreessen writing that. Though it’s something I am trying to have in my life now a day. So I read the post again. I was unable to finish it though because the first two points drove me into confusion. How can you advocate not keeping a schedule while in the next paragraph promote writing down tasks for the next day on a flash card the night before?

Marc’s no longer on twitter. Even if he was, my odds of getting a reply from him were low. So I decided to stop reading and practice the thing I wasn’t doing i.e. writing down a list of tasks that I would be doing the next day. After seven days I am much less confused, to say the least. Not that I ever doubted anything Marc says but seeing it in action is something different.

The difference between not keeping a schedule and having a list is obvious in hindsight. A schedule keeps you time bound. As an example “I will meditate at 7am in the morning” is a schedule. I will meditate first thing in the morning is part of a list. The first gives you the anxiety of not being able to wake up on time. The latter keeps you in check with little to no pressure as you go to sleep. Of course, making a list is not the point. Getting things done is. Hence it’s important to take the point in entirety.

Write down 3-5 tasks that you will do the next day. And then do them.

The other more subtle and yet insanely useful trick behind writing what you need to do the night before is it takes care of your priorities. While it’s ok to let your mind wander, the problem, of course, is getting lost too much into something new. New ideas are exciting. Working on them, however, not so much. Former is a function of heart, latter a function of the mind. Telling your heart what to get excited about does not work. Telling your mind where to focus always works.

The list takes care of the latter so you can have time for the former.

Aside

What’s missing from remote work

I am living in a remote village in Pakistan. And to almost everyone around me, the idea that I am working with a company based in Seattle, USA is absurd. Even more perplexing is my CEO does not go to the office either. He mostly works from home as well. I have this nagging feeling that for six months I leaving an office going job, my mother used to think I have grabbed a lottery. Sooner than later this is going to end (she likes I live with her) and I am going to head back to the city for “real job”.

She is half right though. Me moving to a city, in or outside of Pakistan, is inevitable. But not because I have to but because I want to.

Which got me thinking why? I had this imaginary reason in my head i.e. the city will give me a better lifestyle. On thinking a bit deeper though I realized that’s not the case. For the most part, my lifestyle is exactly what I want. I am just lonely. And that’s not going to change as long as I am working remote regardless of my location. I also realized that I actually have a better lifestyle of living in my hometown. I am living way below my earnings, something I am learning to appreciate. And I get to visit the city every other week to meet friends and enjoy stuff that I can’t find here.

The real reason I have come to the conclusion is that remote work has a ceiling. It’s great for stuff that you can do on your own. But not so much for things that need intense collaboration. I used the word intense deliberately. I think we are at a point where effective project management is possible via tools like Slack, Jira, Asana etc. Most of the problems associated with remote project management are just a hyped up problems of project management itself.

What I mean by intense collaboration is the type of collaboration that you need to start a new company. Or work on a new idea together. Or coming up with ideas, to begin with, while hanging out with friends/colleagues for no reason. And I believe that’s what I want to do. This seems like a very long way to say what Andreas Klinger has summed up in this tweet.

And it is. But I was interested in documenting the process through which I came to this conclusion. Not just because I wanted to write a blog post. But also because I am looking to find a possible solution to this if there is one. It’s important because my real, out of proportion, value to let’s say AngelList is not what Andreas tells me to do but rather in doing things both he and I don’t know I can do. At least not yet.

Thoughts?

Link

How to Get Startup Ideas by Paul Graham

I have read the famous essay more than once. Below is the summary based on my notes. I also posted it as tweetstorm here.

A great idea is:

  1. A problem you have. A real one mind you, not a hypothetical one you invented to fit your model of the world.
  2. It’s something you can build yourself. And few other realize is worth doing.
  3. Great ideas are also organic. They come to you rather you look for them. You just have to become the person who gets great ideas.

How?

1) “Live in the future and build what’s missing.” 2) Don’t think up. Notice. 3) Work on projects that seem cool.

Great ideas have well-shaped markets. Meaning your solution is few people want more of rather than more people want less of.

Once you know you have a well-shaped market, figure a fast path out of it. Few ideas have both characteristics.

You can’t possibly prove if your idea has both. You will know it though. Trust your instincts.

Turn off two filters, 1) unsexy and 2) schlep.

Fear of working on something unsexy keeps you away from working on what you desire.

Unsexy is not as dangerous as schlep. A schlep is mostly an illusion. Building a business is going to be difficult, one way or the other. Dealing with payments was a schlep for Stripe.

And lastly, entrepreneurship is riding a bicycle. You don’t learn by going to school for it. You learn by doing it.

TV Shows I Watch and Recommend

Which TV shows you watched and liked recently is an uprising question in social meetups. I thought it might be interesting to write about it. I was not even a mild watcher till 2 years ago. TV for me has always been sports. And by sports, I mean tennis, pro wrestling (if you can call it sports) and cricket. Alternately, it could be a family get together. By all means, I am new to the phenomena of sitting alone and binge watching.

Things started to change around 2015-16 when I first watched Game of Thrones. Past 18 months have been particularly heavy. Below is the list of TV shows, and some movies, that I liked and recommend. Unlike books, it’s not a comprehensive list.

Game of Thrones: It was the first TV serial I watched. And remains THE show on the list. Not because it’s the best but because I watched and enjoyed it the most. NYT recently released a list of 20 best TV shows after The Sopranos, which I haven’t watched btw. And Game of Thrones didn’t make the list. While explaining why:

But its reputation for spectacle, sexposition and shocking twists overshadows the excellence of its storytelling, which has woven roughly 400 compelling subplots.

I couldn’t agree more. While I do enjoy the spectacle part, it’s the intricate details in its storytelling that make me come back to it again. To a point where I now practically judge people who say they love GoT but only watched it once. It remains the most grandiose show there is. You watch it enough number of times and you realize every dialogue is layered. That is hard, if not impossible, to unpack in a single watch. You have to immerse yourself into its world to truly enjoy it.

Season 4 edges out as my favorite though barely except season 7. Season 7 is my least favorite though/because it’s the most spectacular one. Blackwater (S2E9) had to be one of the best TV episodes ever made. Not just because of war scenes but the psychology that ensues them. Lena (Cersei) and Peter (Tyrion) are at their best in those 60 mins. To my money, they are also the two best actors on the show.

There is another reason why GoT is THE show for me. I love its music. My favorites are the Main Theme, The Rains of Castamere, Chaos is a Ladder, Mhysa and The Light of the Seven.

Friends: Here is a shocking, or not so shocking, disclaimer. I hadn’t watched Friends until last year. And last year I watched too much of it. To be honest I wouldn’t have enjoyed it before since most US-centric jokes would have lost on me. Netflix paid $100M to keep the show for 2019. I guess I am not alone.

It’s the best kind of home TV. Same familiar faces and voices, arguing/discussing their life troubles in a funny way while you are struggling through yours at the back of your head.

All 6 actors are too good on the show in terms of chemistry and delivery. To a point where I don’t think any of them has a comparable second act. Not even Jennifer.

Mad Men: A show most people seem to have missed especially my friends from Pakistan. If you are one of those people and you liked Tyrion in GoT, you will love this. Or should I say you will love Don Draper? It helps if you are interested in advertising. The pilot episode remains my favorite. And so does the end scene.

The show is about Ad Men from 60s who wanted to change and become better persons. It was the women on the show, however, who did change. Like Friends’ cast, I don’t think Jon Hamm has a good second act. For Elizabeth Moss, however, this was just the beginning.

Halt and Catch Fire: The show I liked the most from the first episode (I didn’t like GoT much in the beginning). And I have no idea why no one talks about it especially when most people I know seem to love computers. I absolutely love it. And there is a part of me that lives inside each of the four lead characters on the show.

Joe McMillan is the computers industry version of Tyrion and Don Draper. Still not convinced? It’s one of the three shows recommended by Marc Andreessen.

Rick And Morty: I started watching it because Naval loves it. I did enjoy it but certainly not as much as him.

Breaking Bad: This is arguably the best show when it comes to pace, build up and overall quality of each episode. I heard The Wired comes close but I haven’t watched that. You can’t take your eyes off it. If you enjoyed the thrill and speed of events in GoT season 7, Breaking Bad is the same except for what makes it thrilling is the drama and acting of the people in it. Rather than the dragons and dead people waking up.

Crown: Netflix attempted to pull an HBO with this. And they did pretty well. It’s slow to my taste but hey it’s about the British monarchy. I was reading Gandhi and Churchill when I started watching it first so I seem to have enjoyed the first season better.

Billions: I don’t have many words for it. It’s brilliant. Just watch it.

Silicon Valley: Season 5 was a major let down. The formula that made it hilarious now seems repetitive. Season 1 was the best.

The Last Kingdom: Its Game of Thrones mins the 400 subplots. If you only enjoy the spectacle part of GoT, you will like this. I only watched the first season.

Ozark: You will like it if you like Breaking Bad.

Sharp Objects: Amazing visual storytelling. I enjoyed it but I had to see certain scenes immediately again. The ending will shock you.

Stranger Things: Probably the best Netflix original serial.

House of Cards: I only recommend the first two seasons. I didn’t watch the last one.

Succession: Recommended by Marc Andreessen. Much like Billions but set inside a media empire.

Narcos: Season 3 somehow was just as good as the first two.

Peaky Blinders: I don’t remember much except for the fact that I was enjoying it at the time.

13 Reasons Why: An important topic especially for concerned parents like me. Season 2 was not good.

Fauda: A useful perspective on the Israel/Palestine conflict while you enjoy an action-filled drama.

Black Mirror: Obvious. Though some episodes are meh.

World War 2:

The Defenders:

Jessica Jones: My favorite Marvel character.

Hitler’s Circle of Evil: Brilliant.

Money Heist: Probably the best crime series I watched.

Sacred Games: First Netflix original in India. Damn good.

Little Things: Romantic, light and funny.

Movies: I don’t watch many. Ones I remember enjoying recently are The Black Panther, The Incredibles 2, Fight Club, Warrior, Fahrenheit 9/11, Argo, and Schindler’s List.

Bollywood: The industry is filled with under the hood gems if you can get past the masala romance. Angry Indian Goddesses, Sulemani Keeda, Udta Punjab, Ankur Aurora Murder Case, and Drishyam will blow your mind. Kapoor and Sons have to be Fawad Khan’s best act to date. Others I enjoyed are Braily ki Barfi, Lunch Box, TE3N, Madari, Bombay Talkies, Shahid, A Wednesday and Rajma Chawal.