Quick and dirty is a skill. Use it or lose it. My latest article for Inc. Magazine.
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We have a lot of data to parse through at 37signals. Our internal stats application, Dash, does the majority of heavy data lifting for us, including reports, application health, CI builds, and much more. Our Campfire bot named Tally happily pings us when a build fails, deploys are fired off, and when Nagios alerts pop up.
I had a problem though: I needed to have all of this data open constantly to absorb it. Either I had to look at the pages on Dash directly or make sure I’m in the reading through messages in the right Campfire room.
I decided it was time to fix this overload. The release of Status Board let me take a step back and understand what pieces of data really mattered to my daily work. As a programmer, I want to answer a few questions:
- What’s the on-call load like? Do I need to help out?
- Are there are any problems with our apps?
- Is there an influx of exceptions?
- What are other developers up to?
Most corporate customer service departments seem to have been reduced to call scripts of apologies with no power whatsoever to actually address the problems they encounter. That’s the conclusion I’m left with after dealing with three business bureaucracies this year: Comcast, Verizon, and American Airlines.
All train their front line people to glaze the interaction with the plastic empathy that’s supposed to make you feel like they care, even when they demonstrably do not. It’s the customer service equivalent of empty calories, but worse, it’s also infuriating.
There’s simply nothing worse than someone telling you how sorry they are when you can hear they don’t give a damn. Nothing worse than someone telling you that they’re doing all they can, when they’re aren’t lifting a finger.
The emotional chain reaction is completely predictable: At first, you’re comforted that someone appears to care even if the tone is off (humans are remarkable at sussing out insincerity). Then you realize that their only job is to get you off the line, not solve the problem. Then follows the feelings of being powerless and betrayed. And then follows the anger.
That’s a vicious cycle and it must be almost as bad on the other side. Imagine having to field calls from customers every day who you want to help, knowing that the only thing you’re allowed to do is feign that “we apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced”.
What’s so sad too is how little it would often take to resolve the situations. You bend a policy here, you expedite an order there, you bubble an issue up to a manager. A natural, caring organization designed to create passionate customers stretches and bends. A rigid business bureaucracy looks to nail every T on policies, procedures, and practices—customers be damned.
(This post was brought on by my recent experience in American Airlines earned an enemy)
Find more opportunities on the 37signals Job Board.
By showing the shark less, the movie was even scarier, and as Steven Spielberg said in the documentary The Universal Story, “By the shark not working, it allowed me to be much more experimental and find a way to make the surface of the water, and the threat of the unseen, as powerful as having seen the shark too early. I think the film would have made half the money had the shark worked.”
Via Tested article Hubcap Spaceships, Giant Spiders, and The Charm of Low Budget Special Effects
Recent versions of Google Chrome on OS X mangle native input buttons. I don’t know precisely when it started but no amount of CSS brute-force seems to correct the text alignment. Have you found a work-around? Do you know a little birdie on the Chrome team?
(Update: Paul Irish kindly responded and filed this bug on the Chromium project.)
Take a tour to see why others use Basecamp every day.
There’s a flash flood warning for all of Chicago today. Unfortunately there’s water in my basement (like other Chicago home owners)...
The flood fixing company U.S. Waterproofing has a cool feature on their website. Look at who we’ve helped in your neighborhood. As you can see, they get around! Gives me confidence to give them a call—which I might do right now.
Back in high school my track coach would often get on me about my sloppy block practice. He’d say “You aren’t setting up in the blocks properly. You’re rushing it, just going through the motions.” I’d say “Why does it matter right now? I’m not racing anyone today. I’ll do it right at the meet this weekend.”
“I’ll tell you why it matters” he’d say, sternly. “You play like you practice. Practice sloppy and you’ll play sloppy.”
You’ll play like you practice. You’re not going to be sharp unless you practice being sharp. I’ve heard this again over the years.
A few years ago I took a self-defense class. At one point in the class, we worked with fake handguns. We each had a partner and we had to work on scenarios where a gun might be involved.
The instructor repeatedly said, “When your turn is over, do not hand the gun to your partner. Instead, they’ll turn their back, and you’ll just drop it on the ground so they can pick it up and start the exercise over.”
That sounded weird. You’re right next to the person, why would you drop the gun so they had to pick it up?
Without having to ask why, the instructor explained himself: “If you practice handing the gun over to your partner now, you might end up handing the gun over to an actual assailant later. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen.” Then he showed us surveillance camera footage of someone doing it in robbery.
It sounded ridiculous. Why would I ever give my gun to someone who’s attacking me? The answer is because if I practiced doing that earlier, I might do it later.
When humans are in stressful situations, we tend to fall back on our practice. If I practiced handing my gun over, I might mindlessly fall back on that when it mattered most. That would be bad.
Skip steps now, you’ll skip them later. Cut corners now, you’ll cut them later. You get used to what you do most of the time.
My friend Nick Quaranto is in the market for a new camera. A few days ago we discussed the pros and cons of various cameras (DSLR, mirrorless, iPhone, etc) in our Campfire chatroom. He was overwhelmed by all the options. Where do you even start?
I asked in our “SvN Post Ideas” Basecamp project, and notified the rest of our company:
What kind of camera do you have? Do you prefer DSLR, Mirrorless, or iPhone? Something else? There are so many options out there it’s overwhelming…
The most popular answer was iPhone. However, some of us are enthusiasts who must capture moments the tiny sensor in the iPhone can’t quite get. Here are the answers I got in Basecamp:
Jamie Dihiansan Fujifilm X100S and Nexus 4
I just got a Fujifilm X100S. I really dig it. Been waiting for a while to get one. I like the fixed focal length (35mm equivalent) and the low-light image quality under high ISO (6400). I also use the Nexus 4 for Instagram, Facebook, casual polaroid type shots.
Mig Reyes Panasonic GF-1 and iPhone
I have a Panasonic GF-1, with the pancake lens. The chip inside the body is fried, so I don’t have a working camera. I’d like to invest in a new body that can still make use of my pancake lens, and would love any suggestions.
So, for now I just use the camera I always have with me; iPhone.
Ryan Singer Nikon D7000
I have a Nikon D7000 w/ a 35mm prime lens, which ends up looking like 50mm because of the D7000’s sensor size. I like the D7000’s high ISO and how optically faithful the 35-50mm range is.
I bring it with me on trips and to major events, but I still find myself leaving it in the bag because I don’t like having it around my neck or in my hand on all time. I inevitably take some photos with my iPhone.
I’m usually disappointed with my iPhone photos when I load them on the computer. The colors and res are sharp, but the wide angle distorts close-up subjects and creates lots of empty space in landscape/scenery shots.
Shaun Hildner Canon 5D Mk II
Canon 5D Mk II on a Redrock Micro Field Cinema Deluxe DSLR Rig with an Ikan 7” monitor and a Rode shotgun mic.
Canon 24-105mm f/4L
Damn right you need all this shit!
When you work in a traditional office and have a question, instant gratification is hard to resist. It’s so easy. Just stumble over to a co-worker’s desk, make sure they stop whatever it was they were doing, blather on until the lights of recognition come on in their eyes, then await the answer. Unless your query concerns inflammable materials currently engulfed in said flames you’ve likely wasted their time – in fact, you may have even wasted your own.
One of my favorite side-effects of working remotely is the way slow-time communication forces you to stop and think before you speak. When I have a question for one of our programmers, for example, here’s a bit of what goes through my head:
How should I ask this question? He’s online, I could just send a quick IM…
...but is this important enough to risk interrupting with an instant message? No. I’m not even sure I can even explain it one line at a time like that.
What about email? Nah. It’s about some specific code, maybe I should ask on Github.
It’s complicated. How can I explain this as directly as possible? I can post a comment right on the helper method…
...but is the problem really in the helper or is it because of the collection set in the controller? It’s definitely in the controller, let’s start there. Wait a second…!
It’s usually at this point that I either figure out the answer for myself or come up with a new way of considering the problem, never having to even ask the original question. I didn’t bother my co-worker, I didn’t look like an idiot trying to articulate the question on-the-fly, and most importantly I figured out the answer!
People who struggle to work remotely often bemoan the lack of in-person collaboration jumping from this tool to that tech in an effort to recreate the magic that only happens when we’re all in the same room. There are definitely advantages to face time, but too often it seems like facial expressions and waving arms are substituted for clear thought and courtesy.
The next time you have a question for a coworker, try writing it out as if they were 1000 miles and 3 time zones away – even if they’re sitting right next to you. You might surprise yourself with the answer.
Getting support online is great, but wouldn’t it be nice if you had an expert right beside you? A few of us will be in Atlanta and would love to meet you and your team!
We’ll be at Roam in Alpharetta on Friday, April 19th, at your service. We’ve got 30-minute sessions throughout the day to fit your schedule. Registering for one 30-minute session will cover you and up to five others on your team.
We’ll be there to answer all of your Basecamp questions and to help turn you into a Basecamp pro. We can also show you some best practices to help you and your team get the most out of Basecamp. You’ll just want to bring your own laptop so we’ll be able to do all this inside your Basecamp account.
Space is limited. Make sure to register and save your spot.