jducoeur: (Default)
Home from SCA 50 Year (I did a quick, 4-day trip for the first half of it), catching up on email, and just got to this little oddness, which starts with:
On Monday (June 20th, 2016), Francisco Partners and Elliott Management announced they have signed a definitive agreement to acquire the Dell Software Group. This transaction includes Dell’s Systems and Information Management (SIM), Security, and Advanced Analytics business units.
It appears to be legit (looking around, I find the deal on TechCrunch, so this isn't some pump-and-dump scheme), and I would normally just skim past it, except for one thing -- I got *six* copies of it, *all* of them to fake email addresses at waks.org.

I don't even know where these particular addresses originated. They all look relatively legitimate -- none are real addresses scraped off my pages, but they're not the usual made-up "mom294784@waks.org" that the spammers make up by computer to sell to other gullible spammers, either. They're things like "msutton", "rgordon", "howard", and so on. I've seen them from time to time, so they've been making the resale rounds, but they look like someone spent the time to handcraft fake email addresses, or at least to mix and match real account names from one domain onto another.

But mostly I'm amused and slightly puzzled. Bad enough that the new acquirers of Dell Software send out such a wide email blast announcing the sale. Doing so to such an unvetted list, making unambiguously clear that they are simply buying and blasting to spam lists, is just embarrassing.

And the cherry on top? When I Google for "Francisco Partners spam", my first hit is one of their portfolio companies, Barracuda Networks, which sells spam-fighting tech. Way to undermine the corporate message...
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I'm continuing to think about ways I could contribute to the local tech-entrepreneur scene (which led to yesterday's question about basic programming principles). It occurs to me that it might be quite useful to give a talk on "The CEO and the Successful Software Project": what the CEO (especially for a startup) needs to know about managing an Agile software project, what they need to provide to the team, and what they can and can't reasonably expect from it. A large fraction of the entrepreneurs I'm meeting don't have any formal tech background, and probably mostly don't know this stuff.

(Note that this is specifically Agile from the upper-management viewpoint, so it's all about the "API" of Agile. I love pair-programming and automated testing and all that, but they're mostly irrelevant; OTOH, the rationale for the story stack, sprints, and the customer representative are vitally important.)

So I started thinking about what I might say, and this was one of the first things that came to mind:
The Uncertainty Principle: you can fully understand your feature set or your schedule, but never both. The more precisely you try to understand one, the less confidence you can have in the other.
I believe that's a straightforward lesson from the history of software development.

That quickly led to:
The First Law of Project Motion: the more precisely you attempt to understand the full scope of the project, the more inertia you add to it, and the more slowly it will move.
I'm liking this general approach -- it makes for good, pithy slides that I can then dig into and explain *why* these are generally true.

Do folks have other suggestions along these lines? I'm curious how far we can carry this metaphor before it breaks, while helping to illuminate the realities of software projects from the management level. And more generally, what would *you* like the CEO of a small software-focused company to understand?
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Anyone interested in the startup industry should read this absolutely delicious article about the company's new valuation, and why it is just as valid a number as the ones being batted around for so many companies nowadays...
jducoeur: (Default)
One thing about running a business is it does gradually ramp up the junk mail -- and nobody is being more assiduous about that than Comcast Business, who are hitting me with come-ons around once a week. (Today's was an envelope designed as a fake-out, to look like there was a check for $800-some-odd inside. Did make me curious enough to open it before throwing it out.)

But I can only think, "Seriously, dudes -- you have a long-earned reputation for having the worst customer service in the world. Why would I do something so irresponsible as to use you for my business?"

There's a lesson here, about branding. Building a brand is a two-edged sword. A good brand can open doors for you in all sorts of ways. But if you go tarnishing your brand with one product, don't expect people to ignore that when you're trying to sell them another.

(And yes, this is a lesson I've specifically taken to heart for Querki. Indeed, there are ways in which my entire business plan is built around it, although that's very long-term...)
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I was just reading this column from the Economist last month, on the topic (partly) of employment contracts, and it has me curious about how people feel about them.

I'm pretty passionate about this topic: my past couple of jobs have involved carefully-written riders exempting my various major ideas from company ownership. My contract with Memento specifically said that the company had no rights whatsoever to Querki (yes, I've been planning this project for a *long* time), and I spent a solid month negotiating with them about the details. (And that's with a company whose base contract was better than average.) My current plan is that Querki's standard employment contract won't include anything that I wouldn't be willing to sign. I figure that what I lose in handcuffs on the employees, I gain in making the company more interesting to the really smart folks I'm going to want to hire, and that matters more.

I am curious about whether anybody else gives a damn about this stuff, though. What sorts of rights have you signed away to your employers? Have you minded? Have you ever demanded negotiation of an employment contract's IP provisions? What do you think is reasonable and appropriate in such a contract, and what isn't? I have strong opinions here, but I have no clue how much of an outlier I really am...
jducoeur: (querki)
Today's LinkedIn trawl turned up this interesting article, making the point that Apple Stores actually have a big sendoff for departing employees -- and how distressingly unusual that is. It's a damned good point, enough so that I've just added a Business Practices page to the Querki wiki (which I really do need to start transitioning to Querki itself), which so far just contains this:

Leaving is Okay

Every employee has their own career to attend to, and nobody knows that career as well as they do. That being the case, the company should be honest about the fact that people will sometimes choose to leave, and shouldn't be petty about it. So:
  • There should never be retribution towards an employee for choosing to interview somewhere.

  • If an employee is thinking about moving on, they should come talk to me about it frankly. I may try to convince them to stay, but should never coerce or pressure them.

  • We would appreciate as much notice as possible before you leave, so that we can manage a smooth transition. Employees should continue to work until their departure date, albeit with a growing focus on knowledge transfer.

  • Leaving parties are to be encouraged as much as joining ones: we should help the employee celebrate their new opportunity.

  • We will not practice the "clean out your desk and get out" nonsense, unless we have reason to suspect malfeasance. I certainly hope never to need to do something like that.
In general, the intent is to treat the employees with respect, and hope that they will do the same for the company.
It feels a bit weird to write all that down, probably 18 months before I can even begin to think about hiring anybody. But it's the sort of policy that is all too easy to forget in the crush of business-as-usual, and I think it's important. Most business are rather horribly co-dependent towards their employees, and I suspect one has to establish the right policies from the get-go in order to avoid that...
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Following on from my post last week about tired MBA cliches, [livejournal.com profile] serakit came up with Cliche Bingo. This is an innovation that needs to happen. (And I suspect somebody could make a pretty penny selling bingo sets online...)
jducoeur: (Default)
This week's LinkedIn trawl turned up one good new article, arguing that it is a bad idea to work more than 40 hours a week.

The title's a bit overstated -- the article itself is a bit more nuanced -- but I applaud the general sentiment. This is one that was driven home to me at Buzzpad, which was probably the most *productive* company I've ever worked for. We were a tiny little XP (Extreme Programming) shop, and among the XP rules that we chose to live by was that you not only don't demand that your people work overtime, you don't *allow* them to work overtime. Buzzpad's rule was that Thursday was the only day in which you were allowed to work more than an eight-hour day, and that specifically because Friday was end-of-sprint, so we would allow a *little* extra time if needed for integration. And then everyone was strongly encouraged to have a beer and play Starcraft afterwards.

Like I said, we were phenomenally productive -- we were an eight-person company (including the CEO, CFO, UX designer and tester), and we wound up building software *way* out on the cutting edge, doing things with the browser that the rest of the industry still hasn't caught up with, ten years later. By truly internalizing the "work smarter, not harder" principle -- requiring everybody to *focus* during the workday, in exchange for which there was an explicit commitment that the company didn't own the rest of your life -- everybody accomplished more than I've seen at any other company. We had zero burnout, deep company retention and loyalty, great team spirit, and everybody able to stay sharp month in and month out.

So since then, I've become a fairly outspoken devotee of this principle. It has nothing to do with fairness, or being nice, or anything squishy like that: plain and simply, in the long run it is better for business if the company focuses rigorously on keeping folks on a strict 8-hour schedule, and treating it as a severe process bug if you have to violate that routinely...
jducoeur: (Default)
[Happy birthday to [livejournal.com profile] hungrytiger and [livejournal.com profile] tpau!]

It's that time of week again, when LinkedIn offers me management-oriented links. This week has a truly relevant one: The 5 Qualities of Remarkable Bosses. Besides being generally right for business, every point in it applies just as much to leadership in any organization. Worthwhile for whichever of us winds up Baron/ess to keep in the back of his and/or her mind.

(Somewhat less compelling, but more amusing, is this Forbes article on Five Leadership Lessons from James T. Kirk.)
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Two related stories from a couple of days ago, both demonstrating that sometimes the bad guys do get their comeuppance:

First, the court judged that SCO owes Novell $2.54 million. If ever I needed a personal definition of schadenfreude, this would provide it. SCO was a good company once upon a time (like, 25 years ago), but for over a decade now it has served only one purpose: claiming that it owns the rights to Unix, and trying to sue everyone involved in the Linux business for vast amounts of money. Their claim was that Linux infringes on Unix code, and that since they bought the rights to Unix from Novell, everybody who has ever done anything significant with Linux owes them big bucks.

Well, this has slowly turned into a rueful comedy of errors. First, it gradually became clear that no, Linux does not, in any meaningful sense, infringe on Unix' intellectual property. Worse, in the course of *those* lawsuits, it turned out that they never quite succeeding in buying Unix from Novell -- they thought they had, but they didn't read the fine print on the contract that they'd signed. In fact, not only does Novell still own Unix, SCO owes *them* money for everything they've ever done with it.

So while this judgement isn't all that large in the grand scheme of things, it's a fine bit of ironic justice -- hoist very much by their own petard. And it should be the final nail in the coffin of The Lawsuits That Wouldn't Die.

Second, the courts awarded an eye-popping $873 million judgement to Facebook against a major spammer. Of course, nobody (including Facebook) actually expects them to receive even a small fraction of that money. But it ought to put at least one egregious spammer out of business, and helps eat into the business case for spam. It's a small step, but a good one...
jducoeur: (Default)
Two related stories from a couple of days ago, both demonstrating that sometimes the bad guys do get their comeuppance:

First, the court judged that SCO owes Novell $2.54 million. If ever I needed a personal definition of schadenfreude, this would provide it. SCO was a good company once upon a time (like, 25 years ago), but for over a decade now it has served only one purpose: claiming that it owns the rights to Unix, and trying to sue everyone involved in the Linux business for vast amounts of money. Their claim was that Linux infringes on Unix code, and that since they bought the rights to Unix from Novell, everybody who has ever done anything significant with Linux owes them big bucks.

Well, this has slowly turned into a rueful comedy of errors. First, it gradually became clear that no, Linux does not, in any meaningful sense, infringe on Unix' intellectual property. Worse, in the course of *those* lawsuits, it turned out that they never quite succeeding in buying Unix from Novell -- they thought they had, but they didn't read the fine print on the contract that they'd signed. In fact, not only does Novell still own Unix, SCO owes *them* money for everything they've ever done with it.

So while this judgement isn't all that large in the grand scheme of things, it's a fine bit of ironic justice -- hoist very much by their own petard. And it should be the final nail in the coffin of The Lawsuits That Wouldn't Die.

Second, the courts awarded an eye-popping $873 million judgement to Facebook against a major spammer. Of course, nobody (including Facebook) actually expects them to receive even a small fraction of that money. But it ought to put at least one egregious spammer out of business, and helps eat into the business case for spam. It's a small step, but a good one...
jducoeur: (Default)
... I commend following the TechCrunch coverage of Yahoo right now. Pretty much everyone heard about the MicroHoo fiasco over the past couple of months, as Microsoft tried to buy Yahoo. But less covered in the major media is the fact that, now that the buyout has clearly failed, the company appears to be collapsing at the top. TC is keeping a list of executives leaving the company, and it's astonishing -- at this point, they're losing people nearly every day. Those leaving are scattering all over the industry (including, for instance, their Senior Director of Int'l Business, who is moving over to become the VP and GM of LiveJournal). The founders of Flikr and del.icio.us have quit in the past couple of days.

It's amazing, and rather sad -- clearly the end of an era. We'll see where things go for Yahoo, but at best the company is being shaken to its core. It's a remarkable object lesson in the importance of morale, and how quickly things can disintegrate when the employees stop beliving in the firm and its top management...
jducoeur: (Default)
... I commend following the TechCrunch coverage of Yahoo right now. Pretty much everyone heard about the MicroHoo fiasco over the past couple of months, as Microsoft tried to buy Yahoo. But less covered in the major media is the fact that, now that the buyout has clearly failed, the company appears to be collapsing at the top. TC is keeping a list of executives leaving the company, and it's astonishing -- at this point, they're losing people nearly every day. Those leaving are scattering all over the industry (including, for instance, their Senior Director of Int'l Business, who is moving over to become the VP and GM of LiveJournal). The founders of Flikr and del.icio.us have quit in the past couple of days.

It's amazing, and rather sad -- clearly the end of an era. We'll see where things go for Yahoo, but at best the company is being shaken to its core. It's a remarkable object lesson in the importance of morale, and how quickly things can disintegrate when the employees stop beliving in the firm and its top management...

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