Feb 19, 2013

Hacker's words against MBA-bashing (or other forms of dismissing each other)

Minnow Among Sharks

I am a a minnow among sharks.  I am an MBA among Hackers.  At hackathons, I am the business guy, the idea guy - or as it turns out - the guy that generally inspires disdain at worst and condescension at best from the developers (especially those who label themselves "full stack").

So, I ask around and try to figure out how I can make myself more useful.  So I pick up some graphic design skills - GIMP (aka poorman's Photoshop), HTML/CSS, some sensibility with typeface, learn to make logos and icons, etc.  Even so, oh how tall and lofty those full stacks appear.

Keep Learning

So, I learn to code.  It is a long process, but turns out it's a fun process, so I am happy to learn.  I learn.  And even as I write procedures and google stackoverflow answers for error messages on my local server, I realize that you never stop being a minnow among sharks.  Here I am learning to write a factorial, and there Drew Houston is building Dropbox.  Holy shark!

Speaking of sharks, Mark Cuban is a colorful entrepreneur, well known for among other things his disdain for MBA's.  He didn't write this, but his views are well-known, as captured in this blog by Walter Frick called "Don't Get an MBA."  It turns out, that there is a whole list of those who dismiss MBA's.  It's a sport.  Even famous business people advise against MBA - like Tom Peters (who was himself an MBA), Jeff Pfeffer (who writes about Power - you should read it).

The shark, mocking the minnow.
Even the uber-Hacker Paul Graham wrote "evidence suggests you'd do better to learn how to hack than get an MBA." (Though to be clear and fair, PG was speaking about startups and what gets you there.)

PG: The Oracle of Silicon Valley says forget the MBA
But, I am an MBA. I am a minnow. I can't change that.  Ironically, as I learn to code, I find one of the best responses to those who play the popular game of MBA-bashing.  It comes from an introduction to SQL from the author of the popular "Learn [programming] the Hard Way" series Zed A. Shaw.  In the section called "Against Indoctrination," Shaw warns against those who thinks technology x is superior to technology y (i.e. SQL vs. NoSQL debate).  Shaw advises:

"The problem with these people is they are trying to indoctrinate you, not educate you."

He goes onto note:

"I want to educate you so that you have the ability to make your own choices and learn anything you want."

Wow.  I want to hug this guy!

So, there you have it.  Keep learning.  Learn for the sake of learning, so that you can be a better person.  So that you can help others.  Don't label each other.  Don't disdain each other.  Instead, learn from each other.  Full stacks, share your stacks with rookies.  MBA's, learn to respect developers.  Developers, be curious about what the non-engineers do before you write them off.  And your personal learning path may involve learning to code, or getting an MBA, or whatever.  Keep an open mind.

And the lion and the lamb shall lie together ...

St. Zed, the patron Saint of Minnows
More reading?

Are you considering a full-time programming course to get a career as a software developer? Or are you considering an MBA program?  Either way, be sure to consider the ROI of your time and money investment.

I am continuing to learn and grow, and shared my story of how I am breaking into tech in this blog post.

Feb 10, 2013

What I Learned from George Washington About Startups and Life

Don't ask me why, but I had never read a Washington Biography.  Lincoln I had always found fascinating and devoured, but as for the first US President ... I don't know ... somehow he seemed a bit abstract and aloof and not interesting as a human being.  I was ill informed.  I found a free Kindle book on George Washington by William Roscoe Thayer on Amazon.  I was struck by parallels to the startup life, and to life in general, and wanted to share them.

from Amazon - not your average George

1. American Independence as a Hack - Persistence: Never Give Up

A lot of the epiphanies for me are a direct result of my ignorance of details the American Revolution.  For example, I knew that July 4, 1776 is celebrated as the Independence Day.  I had no idea how drawn out the actual conflict was, from Battle of Lexington and Concord in April 1775 to British surrender at Yorktown in October 1781.  And even then the war wasn't formally ended.

What is most surprising for me was how much of a hack the whole operation was during those long years.  Thayer expresses thus: "it must appear that the American Revolution was almost the most hare-brained enterprise in history."  What he means is how often the British had the chance to crush American rebellion, how long-drawn out the process was, how ill-provisioned the American opposition was.

So, then why didn't the British win?  There are many reasons.  And other founding fathers played their roles and contributed to the success.  But the primary key is Washington.  Washington was the persistent voice through all ups and downs.  Washington "never wavered" and essentially acted as the constant light while others disagreed.  Washington became a human symbol of the foundation on which the whole thing hinged and "the people knew this."  It's amazing.

Lesson: If you are fighting for a cause you believe in, don't give up.  Stay constant and true.
Corollary: Find something you believe in with all your heart.  It may not pay off soon, but over time, people will recognize your work.  Nothing great is easy, so don't give up.

(See related post where I talk about temptation to give up in my own venture - never give in.)

2. Leadership Matters

So, Washington mattered.  And he mattered supremely.  Without that one man, there might not be America as we know it today.  One man.  Stop and think about it and it's kind of amazing.  But, funny thing is, I had this sensation a few weeks ago when I watched a documentary on Vince Lombardi.  Again, I'm kind of weird for not knowing much about this American icon.  Learning about Lombardi's impact on the team - with same players - was a revelation.  Just as reading about Washington's singular contribution to victory was a revelation.

Before: In 1958, the Greenbay Packers finished with a 1-10-1 record.  On Feb 1959, Lombardi took over.
After: Well, for football fans and Packers in particular, you know the rest is history.  One man.

I attended a school, the mission of which was "to improve society by developing principled leaders in the world of practical affairs."  Come election time, I am tempted to think (as the masses often do) 'my one vote doesn't matter ... at least not much.'  And that's probably true.  But, at certain critical moments, and in leadership role, one vote, one act, one person, can and do make a profound difference.

This is Jefferson, the scholar ... beautiful Charlottesville

Lesson: The individual leader matters.  The individual matters supremely.
Corollary: In a way, every individual matters for that role.  So, hire wisely.

Hire the Washington or Lombardi for that role, so that they turn the tide of events against a bigger foe.  Help that leader turn a losing season into a championship sweep.  Neither Washington nor Lombardi became what they are overnight.  Behind their contributions stands clues to character and achievements.  It's not always the one who spoke the loudest (Adams) or had the most gleaming celebrity (Franklin) in their past that becomes that dogged, persistent, and constant figure necessary to win a long struggle.

Feb 6, 2013

Design is SCRAP - tinkering with D3.js

Not long ago, I browsed a book on design, The Non-designers Design Book.   The author offers a memorable mnemonic for principles of good typographic design. CRAP.  That's right.  Good design is CRAP!

S - Show is better (I added this one)
C - Contrast
R - Repetition
A - Alignment
P - Proximity

And get this.  The author of the book is someone named Robin Williams.  Go figure.

For me, design kindles thoughts about visualization.  While back, I had heard about a JavaScript library called D3.js.  Well, I just had to try CRAP with D3.js ... mainly because it was funny and I kept saying it in my head.  So, the following is what I have learned, tinkering with style element of D3, on the D3 website. And I added S, for show.  I guess the important point is that you can have a lot of fun learning when you mash things up, and that fun will help reinforce your learning.

Setup & Basics:
The nice thing about something like D3 and JavaScript is that it's built into your modern browser.  I prefer Chrome.  And on Windows, just hit F12 key, and you bring up bunch over developer tools, including a console where you can type in JS code directly.  I will show illustrate a few examples and then include a link to the slides.

Full-slide here for details:

S - Showing is better
Having pictures is clearly better than not having pictures - want proof?  See the next picture!
Type this into the console > d3.select(“div#examples”).remove();

C - Contrast

The original with dark text and white background - let's say you want to try a different contrast

Isn't this cool?
 To change the color scheme as above:

> d3.select("body").style("background-color", "black");
> d3.select("h1").style("color","white");

Neat, huh?