Emotional Attachment to Business Outcomes

entrepreneurship life zen

A few weeks ago I found myself getting overly excited. Gruntwork had been growing at a steady clip each month, and at our last in-person meet up in March we came up with our vision for the next month, the next year, and the next 5 years. I don’t remember my exact inner monologue, but it was something along the lines of:

“If we can achieve our vision, we’ll make such a huge impact! It will be awesome!”

But then I couldn’t sleep that night. Not because I was seized with any brilliant vision or insight, but just because I was still emotionally charged. The feeling continued into the next day, when we got a customer inquiry to build a module that would help us make our product more competitive but not in a major way. Still, I found myself strongly advocating to the team that we pursue it. I communicated something along the lines of:

“If we can add this new module, it will make our offering even more complete!”

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When It's Inconvenient for the Company

capitalism entrepreneurship life zen

This is a post about striking the right balance between values and business needs.

A few weeks ago, I helped finalize the parental leave policy at Gruntwork and an interesting philosophical discussion came up: How many resources is the company willing to allocate to creating a humane parental leave policy?

Some larger companies like Netflix offer full pay for 1 year when your kid is born. As a parent, that kind of benefit is…amazing. If I were an employee of Netflix, I would revel in the idea that Netflix cares about me and my family, not just the next release milestone. It would make me feel a deeper emotional connecton to the company.

But Gruntwork is just 12 people total with 9 engineers, and while we’ve been profitable from Day 1 and growing fast, if one engineer were to leave for a year, that would reduce our engineering output by, on average, 11% while still having to carry that perons’s salary. Can you imagine what kind of impact an 11% engineering output reduction would have on NetFlix? Let’s say NetFlix has 2,000 engineers. That’d be 220 engineers gone for a year…while on full payroll!

The reality is that, as much as I personally want to support a year-long parental leave policy, the company simply can’t afford it right now. Or to be more accurate, if we chose to support a 1-year parental leave policy, we would have to increase our cash reserves to a point that would significantly slow down hiring and other initiatives requiring working capital.

Ultimately, having any parental leave policy at all is “inconvenient” for the company in the sense that it reduces your ability to pump out new features and bug fixes and/or puts additional load on the rest of the team. So…should we just have no parental leave policy at all?

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I Launched My New Website!

website

I’m so happy to announce that I finally launched my new website, the very one you’re reading right now. I really enjoy writing for its own sake, but my old Wordpress blog eventually got some configuration issues and rather than fix it, I just wanted to move to a staticly generated site.

I chose Hugo, a Go-based static site generator and it was a pleasure to work with. At every step, Hugo was an accelerator, never a blocker. Hugo is well-documented, relatively easy to learn, supports all the major features I needed (pagination, categories/tags, partial templates, CSS compilation and magnification, lots of template functions, custom URLs, markdown-based authorship), and of course you have the full power of Go at your finger tips.

I did the bulk of the work over my holiday vacation. I allocated two days, and it wound up taking 4 days total. Yep, even this humble blog followed the typical software development pattern of things taking about twice as long as you originally expected. As a result, the design is pretty limited. If you have any design suggestions, I’d appreciate your sharing them. In the near future, I hope to also add a commenting feature back in.

I’d also like to thank Ibtehaj Raza who helped me migrate a bunch of the content from my old blog to the new one.

I haven’t written anything new on this blog in nearly 1.5 years! It will be fun to start writing thoughts again as I encounter them. Between growing Gruntwork, growing my kids, and life in general, I’m looking forward to sharing.

The Best Tour Guide I’ve Ever Had

life travel

Earlier today, my family and I went to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in Coolidge, Arizona. Coolidge is a pretty small town — less than 12,000 people in total. And it’s at least an hour away from any major city in Arizona. Also, this is hardly the most famous monument in Arizona, so suffice it to say we weren’t expecting too much. Really, it was just a fun random road trip on a holiday weekend.

Just as we finished eating our lunch at the picnic tables, the park announced that a new guided tour was starting in 5 minutes. That sounded like a good idea so we decided to join.

What followed was a vivid and dare I say gripping exposition on Hohokam culture some thousand years ago. Against the backdrop of what we later learned was a major architectural structure in a major city in a culture that has long since collapsed, this turned out to be a surprisingly engaging tour.

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The Best Way to Buy a New Car

capitalism general lessons learned

I recently bought a new car.

It was my first car purchase in 8 years, and being the obsessive geek that I am, I researched every last detail of the optimal process for buying a new car. By optimal I basically mean “get exactly the car you want for the lowest possible price.”

Since I put in all the time to do the research, I figured I’d share everything I learned in the hopes that it helps someone out if they’re ready to buy a new car. That, and my Dad asked me for details, too.

Just to cut right to the chase, I wound up saving over $3,500 from the original price I was quoted (which included a trade-in of a 2008 BMW 328i Coupe). I won’t bother mentioning the specific car I bought because it’s not relevant to this post, but its MSRP was around $30,000.

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A Proposal for a new type of media source: "True News"

capitalism general lessons learned social dynamics

The November 2016 election has made me think about democracy, government, and our society in new ways for the first time in my life. One topic that seems to keep coming up is this idea of truth in the media.

I think most people would say they’d rather read news they know to be true than live in a fantasy world where they read news they like but which they know to be false. It’s basically an alternate take on the famous thought experiment, the Experience Machine, and comes to the same conclusion: truth matters.

In fact, truth may be the single-most important attribute of the news we read. And if you really start to think about it, truth becomes a really slippery concept.

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Democracy 1.0

capitalism general

Whoever you voted for in the recent election, most people agree it was one of the most negative elections in their lifetime. People on both sides of the ballot used words like “disgusted”, “exhausted”, and “embittered” to describe their state of mind come November 8.

The candidate who won the electoral college lost the national popular vote. Hundreds of thousands of people have come out to protest that the winner is “not my president.” As a result of the election, virtually all levels of government will be controlled by Republicans, yet Democrats represent roughly 50% of the electorate.

And if that’s not enough, people’s trust in the media and the factual accuracy of the information they read is at an all-time low.

It seems to me Democracy 1.0 ain’t working out so well.

Actually, most Americans call the American system of government “democracy”, but even that term is loaded with nuance. Technically, the USA is a “federal presidential constitutional republic,” owing to the fact that it is a federation of states, that the people elect a president in a fair and free election, that the rights of all citizens are guaranteed by a founding constitution, and that the people do not directly vote on government matters (usually considered impractical), but rather elect representatives who do that for them.

For the rest of this blog post, I’ll just use the term “democracy 1.0” to mean all the above since it’s simpler and more in line with how people use the term in everyday conversation.

So is democracy 1.0 failing us? I think it is in some profound and interesting ways, and the point of writing this post is to explore how.

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Thoughts from Ireland

general travel

This past week I had the pleasure of visiting my esteemed Gruntwork co-founder where he currently lives in Dublin, Ireland. I had a blast, it was awesome to work in person with Jim, and it was the first time I’ve been to Europe in about 15 years!

Sort of looks like Jim and I are opening a pizzeria together.

In theory, Irish culture and American culture aren’t much different. We both speak English as our primary language, we both eventually left the rule of the UK, and much of Ireland feels like a typical Western country. But there are some really interesting differences, too, and to make sure I don’t forget them, here they are!

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My Talk on New AWS Services

aws software

I recently gave a talk to the AWS Phoenix Meetup on three new services and updates from AWS: the Application Load Balancer (ALB), EC2 Container Service (ECS), and Kinesis Analytics.

More than half the software teams I meet today run Docker in production, so there was high interest in how you can use the ALB with an ECS cluster to have a more streamlined docker cluster setup.

Some important details I since learned that are worth mentioning:

  1. The ALB’s costs scale with use. For example, if you have 1,000,000 idle web socket connections, you’ll pay $2,000/month! But presumably if you have 1,000,000 active users that kind of cost is ok. Thanks to nivertech on Hacker News for pointing this out.
  2. The ALB currently has a bug that impacts its ability to do zero-downtime deployments. Special credit to my colleague Yevgeniy Brikman for discovering and reporting this!

Check out the presentation on the Gruntwork Blog!