Archive for March 2000

2000/03/18 18 Mar

More on sabbaticals... - my first article! A bit about what I'm doing on sabbatical and why programmers need to take a year off every now and then.

Coming soon: a discussion of management styles in high-brainpower places. Silicon Valley has a very different style than New York, and frankly, New York's style is going to destroy a lot of good companies.

Jared and I both just read Charles Ferguson's brilliant book, High St@kes, No Prisoners. This is the story of how he founded Vermeer Software (which created FrontPage) and sold it to Microsoft. As Jared says, "you can really feel his intelligence coming off the page." Ferguson is really, really smart, and he really, really understands the software industry in a way that I've never seen in one of these books. He's the only one who really understood how badly Netscape was being run; he's the only one who's willing to say that technical companies run by non-technical CEOs are a disaster waiting to happen; and he just GETS IT. Anyway, even though he had a terribly tense time creating a company, reading this book really made me want to start one myself!

I also loved Jon Katz's book Geeks. Most of the geeks I've known are middle class nerdy kids who got great grades and went on to ivy league colleges where they were appreciated for their nerdiness, but I also know quite a few people who's lives are surprisingly close to the heros of this book.

2000/03/19 19 Mar

I want to tell you two stories from my career which I think are classic illustrations of the difference between tech companies that are well-managed and tech companies that are disasters. It comes down to the difference between trusting employees and letting them get things done, versus treating them like burger flippers that need to be monitored and controlled every minute, lest they wander off and sabotage everything. (My second feature article).

Don't even get me started about what a bad brokerage PaineWebber is. They actually sent me a check (to close the account) for $7 which bounced! They had put a stop payment on it! This is the kind of service you get for paying $1000 commissions.

2000/03/21 21 Mar

I'm convinced that most people think about software companies in an upside-down way. The common belief is that when you're building a software company, the goal is to find a neat idea that solves some problem which hasn't been solved before, implement it, and make a fortune. We'll call this the build-a-better-mousetrap belief. But the real goal for software companies should be converting capital into software that works. If you understand this, its easier to make the right strategic decisions.

2000/03/23 23 Mar

Today, two pieces I wrote as a blueprint for PaxDigita.

The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing. I originally wrote this for Microsoft, and edited it a couple of times in my career; now it's the PaxDigita interviewing manual.

Recently I've been thinking a lot about what made Microsoft a great company to work for, and why working at Juno was so frustrating. At first I attributed the difference to the east coast/west coast thing, but I think it's a bit more subtle than that.

History in the making:

pope at yad vashem:

2000/03/28 28 Mar

Yikes! The US Senate will vote on the proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw flag "desecration" on Wednesday. The vote on the amendment is expected to be very close. Even if you have already written to your Senators, it is imperative that you write and call today! (More info at the ACLU web site:

NDAs and contracts that you should never sign.

An issue which comes up a lot in start up companies is how to divide up the ownership fairly. The best article I've ever read on this topic is by Jim Clark, founder of SGI, Netscape, Healtheon, myCFO, et al. You can read it here

2000/03/29 29 Mar

So, you have to make a schedule. This is something almost no programmer wants to do. In my experience, the vast majority just try to get away with not making a schedule at all. Of the few that make a schedule, most are only doing it because their boss made them do it, halfheartedly, and nobody actually believes the schedule except for upper management, which simultaneously believes that "no software project is ever on time" and in the existence of UFOs. Read today's article Painless Software Schedules and be enlightened.

Arg! BellAtlantic DSL is doing that annoying thing where you only get about 500 bytes through per hour. Good thing I have dial up backup.

Good news! You can still burn flags! Yay!

2000/03/30 30 Mar

As summer interns at Microsoft, my friends and I used to take "field trips" to the company supply room to stock up on school supplies. Among the floppy disks, mouse pads, and post-it notes was a stack of small paperback books, so I took one home to read.

The book was Peopleware, by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. This book was one of the most influential books I've ever read. The best way to describe it would be as an Anti-Dilbert Manifesto.

Ever wonder why everybody at Microsoft gets their own office, with walls and a door that shuts? It's in there. Why do managers give so much leeway to their teams to get things done? That's in there too. Why are there so many jelled SWAT teams at Microsoft that are remarkably productive? Mainly because Bill Gates has built a company full of managers who read Peopleware. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is the one thing every software manager needs to read... not just once, but once a year.

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