Quote of the Month: Dan Canin

May 4, 2009

At the recommendation of one of my bosses, I’m reading a book called Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales, which examines the psychology behind accidents (aviation, space flight, hiking, rock climbing, etc.).  It takes a very interesting look at how we are capable of being very intelligent but have blind spots in our thought process.  In a weird way, it is very similar to the recent Wired article featuring Teller about the psychology of magic.

On page 113 of my paperback version, Gonzales quotes Lockeed engineer Dan Canin who was commenting on the trade-offs between safety and pushing boundaries with NASA:

“Shit happens, and if we want to restrict ourselves to things where shit can’t happen . . . we’re not going to do anything very interesting.”

We all take on projects with a certain amount of risk.  In Mr. Canin’s case, that risk equates to whether or not people will live or not, something I’m not experienced with seeing as I’m pretty sure no web site ever reached through someone’s screen and attacked them.

Still, the path to greatness usually comes with risk.  The Apollo astronauts knew there was a pretty good chance they would die but they took on that risk in the name of pushing boundaries.  Space Shuttle launches sometimes become common enough that we almost tend to think of them as commercial flights, but they aren’t.

In order to make new discoveries, to “do anything interesting” as Mr. Canin put it, comes with risk.  But when you mitigate those risks and avoid them, the results can be spectacular.  Don’t assume you can make those big leaps without the risk that comes along with it.

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Hanselman: Looking for balance in The No Asshole Rule

April 29, 2009

Microsoft blogger Scott Hanselman has an interesting post today on behavior and attitude in the technology world.  This quote best summarizes his framing of the subject:

However, it depends on what you feel strongly about and if what you feel strongly about outweighs what you believe others might feel. You need to be yourself, but you there ARE social norms, and others feelings, that should be considered.

@mstum on Twitter said: I’d rather have honest f-bombs than gentlemen hypocrites… Honest and direct people are so much easier to work with.

But can’t one be an honest gentleman? Why is online (or offline) use of the F-word and general crassness somehow exemplary of “honesty?” If someone swears and slams their hand on a table in a business meeting I don’t immediately think “Whew, finally an honest person!”

Being generally pleasant and helpful isn’t sugarcoating, it’s being pleasant and helpful.

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Coding Horror: Who’s your buddy?

April 27, 2009
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 23:  Google founders Larr...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror ran an article back in March on pair programming that was in the same vein as the entry I wrote last month, Impressing your friends as a motivator for exellence.  For all you non-coders out there, pair programming is a software engineering practice where, as the name implies, you work in tandem with another person on a project so you can constantly check each other.   You have someone else to run things past before a broader audience sees it and, by extension, impressing that person becomes part of your mindset when creating output.

It’s always better with two, isn’t it?  Hewlett and Packard.  Gates and Allen.  Jobs and Wozniak.  Brin and Page.  Disney and Iwerks.  The list goes on and demonstrates that working in pairs can be extremely constructive.

As Jeff says in his article:
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Career advice in 6 words: The Word Cloud

April 23, 2009

My other article on “Best career advice using exactly 6 words” was pretty long already, but I thought a different kind of analysis might be interesting and warranted a second piece. I took every response I received from all sources (not just those that made it into the article) and plugged them into Wordle to get a word cloud:

Best Career Advice Using Exactly 6 Words Cloud

“Always”, “Never”, and “Work” were by far the most popular words used in the submissions, leading me to believe that people think there are hard and fast rules you should utilize in your career. “Give”, “Follow”, “Others”, “Love”, and “Learn” appear to be in the second tier of choices. Enjoying what you are doing is implied by “Love” and continuous improvement seems to be a fair assessment of “Learn” but the other three are a little harder to make a case for given how differently each can be used.

Other thoughts?

What’s your best career advice, using EXACTLY 6 words?

April 21, 2009

It’s been a little while since I tured to LinkedIn Answers to get thoughts from others on career related topics, but when I did go back to it I got lucky and the subject I picked got pretty popular.   Here’s how I framed the question:

In January around the time of the inauguration, the Bush daughters wrote the Obama daughters a letter giving them advice on living in the public eye inside the White House. The most widely quoted part of that letter was pretty touching, “Remember who your dad really is.”

At about the same time, Newsweek ran a short story about a collection of 6 word memoirs put out by Smith Magazine on the topic of love.

Given that Jenna and Barbara’s advice happened to be exactly 6 words long, and that I have an interest in mentoring, I thought it would make for an interesting experiment to see what people might come up with on the topic of career advice.

So, what’s the best career advice you have, using EXACTLY 6 words?

I got well over 100 responses, a plug over at About.com and a lot of really interesting ideas to consider.  As you might expect, they covered lots of subtopics an as I read through them they clustered themselves into groups, although some definitely stood out.
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Quote of the Month: Conan O’Brien

April 16, 2009
American comedian Conan O'Brien at "Stand...
Image via Wikipedia

Conan O’Brien recently appeared on Inside the Actors Studio and had a really deep thought about knowing, really knowing, your craft:

“Nobody knows really what they’re doing.  That’s, they don’t, they don’t know what they’re doing. And there’s two ways to go with that information: one is to be afraid and the other is to be liberated.  I choose to be liberated by it.”

I find myself in situations every once in awhile where I’m forced to question whether or not I’m qualified to be making a certain decision.  As O’Brien points out nobody can ever know with 100% certainty what they are doing and you can let that ignite you if you simply choose to think of it that way.

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You want in? Career advice in 6 words

April 13, 2009

I’ve got a question over at LinkedIn Answers that has a whopping 51 responses and I wanted to give my regular readers a shot at contributing.  The answers will be turned into an article here, but here’s how I framed the question:

In January around the time of the inauguration, the Bush daughters wrote the Obama daughters a letter giving them advice on living in the public eye inside the White House. The most widely quoted part of that letter was pretty touching, “Remember who your dad really is.” 

At about the same time, Newsweek ran a short story about a collection of 6 word memoirs put out by Smith Magazine on the topic of love. 

Given that Jenna and Barbara’s advice happened to be exactly 6 words long, and that I have an interest in mentoring, I thought it would make for an interesting experiment to see what people might come up with on the topic of career advice. 

So, what’s the best career you have, using EXACTLY 6 words? 

Feel free to participate yourself!

How I invented a new and embarrassing email mistake

April 9, 2009

I’ve written before about the evils of the “Reply All” bug, but I really outdid myself this time by inventing a new way to embarrass myself using email.
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Board games and logical thinking: Settlers of Catan

April 6, 2009
Settlers of Catan!
Image by readmckay via Flickr

During my recent blogging vacation (otherwise known as March) I developed quite an addiction and it’s all Wired magazine’s fault.  I’ve spent the last couple months playing increasingly more difficult board games with my 7 year old in an attempt to let her have a fun way to develop her math skills.  We started with Life, which has larger and fewer bills to keep track of, before we moved onto Monopoly and increased the complexity a bit.

That’s when my April issue of Wired arrived and introduced me to Settlers of Catan.  I quickly and hopelessly became addicted and I’m pretty convinced that a return to logical based games helped me catch a mistake at work.
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My alma mater and the wrong distribution list

April 2, 2009
UCSD Library
Image by ken mccown via Flickr

Go Tritons! (and take the Padres with you)

In a widely reported story yesterday, it was revealed that the UC San Diego admissions office accidentally sent acceptance emails to candidates it rejected.  They set up distribution lists for both groups of candidates and got mixed up on which message went to which group.  Admissions director Mae Brown was forced to send out a second email admitting the error, “In all humility, I ask that you please accept my apologies and those of the University of California, San Diego . . . and know that we continue to wish you success in your educational pursuits.”  Ouch.

So any email mistakes I make (and I’ll reveal another next week) is all about my pedigree 8).

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