Posted on: Sunday, August 01, 2010 by Rajiv Popat
A wise man who looked at an email trail between me and my manager once remarked that both of us were misusing the concept of email as a medium. "You are way too long winded", he said, "that is not what email is all about. When you guys have written an email, you should reread it, ask yourself how you can say the same thing with fewer words, delete everything you have written and rewrite the same email this time with a lesser number of words".
The idea was simple. When it comes to writing or reading content, that is supposed to make a point, short works better than long.
While with books the cartoon might seem funny, with emails most people scan your content anyway, and the longer it is the lesser the chances that they might actually read it. After all, people do not read email. They read me-mail.
Years later the same feedback came in for my blog posts. A colleague of mine mildly hinted that I should practice writing shorter. Particularly since all my post revolved around a point which I was trying to make. Making the same point with lesser number of words, was an art, he believed I should start learning as soon as I possibly could.
We're evolving as a race. Twitter imposes a hard limit of hundred and forty characters. Most other mediums are not as controlling and clear about how you aught to use them, but as a general rule, If you want to make a point, keep it short, keep it simple.
If you have a story to tell or a book to write, go ahead and add verbiage. Describe your experiences to your heart's content. If it's humor your are trying your hand at, and you prefer not to use brevity, play with words all you want. There will always be cases where you need to flip those keys for hours but when it comes to an email or a blog post that is supposed to make a point, short is sweet, short is fun, short is powerful.
Ok, done. I think I just made a point. That was short.
Posted on: Saturday, July 31, 2010 by Rajiv Popat
Nasty emails that are condescending and / or simply supposed to trigger meaningless arguments are all over the place in the software development world. Some of the best builders I have worked with often think of these as fouls and believe that you cannot win a game by scoring a foul in answer of another foul.
Given that you are dealing with other human beings and given that you are yourself going to act like an asshole every once in a while without even knowing that you are doing that, chances are that you are always going to face a turmoil regarding the thoughts that you want your brain to focus on and the thought that your brain actually focuses on.
You want to focus on the facebook integration for your product and think about it.
But then, are you truly focusing on it?
Fred is acting like a hardcore asshole. The suit, who you report to has suddenly started acting like a jerk. There are three emails in your mail box that you are just itching to respond. You can shatter the sender of all these three emails right now. All you need to do is hit the reply to all button and slam your keyboard with your fingertips for five minutes.
You are thinking about responding to those emails when you truly want to think about facebook integration.
Aren't you? Huh? Huh? Huh?
Paul Graham has a rather interesting take on the topic. He explains:
Turning the other cheek turns out to have selfish advantages. Someone who does you an injury hurts you twice: first by the injury itself, and second by taking up your time afterward thinking about it. If you learn to ignore injuries you can at least avoid the second half.
I've found I can to some extent avoid thinking about nasty things people have done to me by telling myself: this doesn't deserve space in my head. I'm always delighted to find I've forgotten the details of disputes, because that means I hadn't been thinking about them.
My wife thinks I'm more forgiving than she is, but my motives are purely selfish.
Some attacks are best defended by funny twitter hash-tags, some are just not worth responding to and some are not even worth thinking about, because all they do is clutter your brain and occupy precious processing time which could have been otherwise used processing way more fun filled ideas that would help you move forward. Thinking of how you are going to respond to Fred? I suggest throwing the idea out and not giving Fred your precious processing time.
Go reserve your processing time for something more meaningful that is going to add some genuine value and ultimately matter in the long run.
I wish you good luck.
Posted on: Friday, July 30, 2010 by Rajiv Popat
There is something to be said about throwing out "work in progress" versions of chapters for your book online. Last week, I published a chapter of my book live and within a week I heard from more than individuals who had important but varied feedback about that chapter. All their feedback basically boiled down to this: 'Pops, the chapter sucks! Take it down and rewrite it. Now!'.
The three primary reason why most people disliked the chapter was because:
- The chapter was written with a timeline in mind and that showed in the writing.
- I did not have a lot of fun writing the chapter and that showed in the writing too.
- The third feedback was a rather long feedback which came down the fact that writing for a book is very different from writing for a blog post. When you are writing a blog post you have an audience that reads you and is aware of the context you write in. When you write for a book you need to tell a story, set the context and help your reader understand the context. If you don't do that you have lost your readers.
I continue to be amazed at how easily and clearly people can see through the work that is done halfheartedly without a lot of passion or work that is just done to meet a timeline.
So as of now, I am taking the chapter down and giving you a big fat sorry for wasting your time by asking you to read a chapter that was half baked; something that even I did not enjoy writing in the first place.
Going forward, if a chapter goes out, you can be rest assured that I have given it my best shot, have enjoyed writing it and that there is a good chance that you might have a concrete take-away or something to learn from the chapter.
And as far as this post is concerned, what you can take away from it is simple.
Whether it is a new feature, a new software or a new chapter of your book, the same rule applies when you are about to publish something online.
Did you enjoy writing it?
If you did not enjoy writing it, they will not be able to stand it when they download it.
Do not publish it live.
Let it soak. Work on it. Make it better.
Bring it to a level where you can get at least yourself to genuinely like it.
I wish you good luck.
Posted on: Saturday, July 24, 2010 by Rajiv Popat
The second chapter of the book is now live for download. The point of this chapter essentially is introducing the concept of a builder and what drives builders around the globe. The chapter can be downloaded using this link.
It is funny how the guys who talk about management, hikes, career or rapid professional growth hardly ever understand or get to any of these while the folks who are getting a kick out of building stuff often end up getting good at all of this. What is also amusing is how most kickass developers around the world shrug at discussions which involve these topics but get insanely excited when talking tweaking a for-loop which has a database query inside it.
A consistent doer is much more effective than the talker.
This chapter lays the foundation of some for these ideas and more.
Go get the chapter here.
As always, your ideas, comments and suggestions are always welcome.
Feel free to email them to me or use the comment on this post.
Posted on: Friday, July 23, 2010 by Rajiv Popat
For those of you who might have been following the blog and downloaded the Acknowledgement section of the book, the first chapter of the book where the basic theme of the book is introduced is now live and can be downloaded using this link.
During my years of observing multiple organizations at work, one of the recurring theme that often keeps coming out is that when we get together in large groups and try to organize things, we often loose the ability to thin slice information, organizations and situations.
The first chapter is all about thin slicing the people who work in the business of software development.
You can get the chapter here.
As you read the chapter please do remember that this is a draft version and is open to change. If there are any typos, errors or concerns you have regarding any of these chapters, please feel free to email me or drop in a comment in the comments section.
Now go download the first chapter of the book here.
Don't forget to email me your thoughts, suggestions or opinions. Given the fact that I am not working with a full time editor, these comments, suggestions and opinions genuinely help.
Posted on: Sunday, July 18, 2010 by Rajiv Popat
Long Story Short.
For those of you who know about my book project. I have started releasing parts of the book live as and when I get considerably 'done' with those parts. This is the first in the series of posts where the Acknowledgement section of the book goes live.
You can get the draft of the PDF version using this link.
If you don't know what this is all about, read on. You know what, even if you know what this is all about, I would still recommend you read on.
The Story So Far.
Months ago I announced on this blog that I would be doing some serious bathroom singing at a concert and that this was your chance to boo at me. The book, even though I have no clarity about what I plan on calling it, was an idea that caught me by my collar and would not let me go till I had set it down on a white canvas of my word document or blog posts.
After writing a truck load of content and material for the book and making all of it live, I looked back at the content and thought I would just dump it in a word document, publish it and be done.
Then when I started re-reading the content, there was only one thing left to tell myself:
I mean seriously. There are primarily three reasons why I was f@#cked. They were:
- Editing and Proof reading a book is hard. Just like everything else this is the ten percent of the work that is usually the hardest. Which means that there was quite a bit of work still left on the book.
- Your past work, when looked back, from a point and time in the present always sucks. Which meant that there were parts of the book that would have to be heavily re-written and parts that would have to be edited out.
- The book was not going to let me go till it had received the final touches and till it was released.
So, after a state of panic and denial which lasted for a few days and then jumping over to a couple of added side projects, I came back to the book and decided to pause all other side projects of my life till I am done with releasing this book.
Your Help And Participation Required.
As always, when I sat down to edit the book and give it the final touches, I thought of releasing parts of the book as PDFs which you can download, read, talk about, blog about, tweet about, criticize, comment on and give your feedback on.
With every release of a new chapter, go ahead and grab a copy of the chapter. Go through it. If you find any typos, let me know. If there are parts that you believe are better left out, let me know. If there are parts that you feel would be better re-written let me know.
You can either leave a comment on the post where the chapter is announced for download or just email me using the mail icon on this blog.
I've given a decent round of editing and proof reading to the Acknowledgements section of the book which is now available for download.
More chapters and added parts of the books will start following in the weeks to come. Looking forward to your comments, suggestions and opinions. Given the fact that I am a cheap author working without a real editor your help would mean a lot.
Now get the Acknowledgements section of the book using this link and do start in your comments, suggestions and opinions.
Posted on: Saturday, July 17, 2010 by Rajiv Popat
I'm late. We were going to have a product scrum. I worked late and could not get up. Shit. I was supposed to get the scrum started. We were supposed to talk about the features we would address in the next sprint. I overslept.
When I rush to office, my gut reaction is to email everyone and let them know that I am sorry for cancelling the scrum. We can do it later during the evening.
But the scrum has already happened. The team has already met. They have already picked the items they would address in the next sprint. They have already started working on those items.
I glance through the backlog, desperately looking for items that they should not have picked up. Items that are not 'high priority'. Items that are not even 'required'. I am desperately and quickly glancing through the list, looking for every single item in the list that they should not be working on. Looking for any mistakes that they might have made during this morning's scrum that basically happened without me.
Stop it. A voice deep down within me tells me.
I glance through the list.
Stop it. The voice repeats itself.
There, that's the item they should not be working on. It's just packaging. They could have done this later. There are so many other high priority items that they could be working on. I tell myself.
Yeah right. You are scared. Scared of losing control. Shit scared. Deal with it. The voice says coldly and disappears.
It's like being slapped on my face.
The voice, as it often turns out, is correct.
I decide to keep my gob shut, focus on fixing the bugs that are on my plate and let my team do their thing. They are growing. They are learning. They no longer need me to give them direction, and that, in a very special way, is a hugely good thing.
Want to see if your manager is worth his salt? Stop involving him in a couple of decisions. I am not even talking about the overall product direction. Just a sprint which lasts a month. Go pick a few items from the backlog that you feel are most needed for the product and start working on them without involving your manager.
Did you piss him off?
Did he freak out?
Did he just politely invite you to a meeting room that tell you that you are working on items which are not high priority?
Or did he find something bigger and better for himself and let you continue with the sprint without any interruptions?
How you react when your team stops asking you for direction and starts taking their own decisions is your true test of leadership. Go on, give up that insecurity. It's way too heavy and you cannot carry it with yourself in the long run anyway. Go ahead. Throw it away. Shred it off.
I wish you good luck.