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Posted on: Monday, May 11, 2015 by Rajiv Popat

Why No One Cares About You And Why You Shouldn't Either.

You've worked hard. You've put in the hours, the sweat and the blood. You crossed the 80% mark with relentless effort and you shipped like an artist. You even went and hired the Marketing Weasels who tried to manipulate your customers. But your sales are barely trickling in.

You're starting to learn the hard hitting reality of life - No-one cares about you or your product.

Wondering why?

Ash Ambirge explains this very articulately in her rather interesting blog with an equally interesting name :

When you’re selling yourself, it’s easy to think that your name is what matters to the customer. You tell prospects all the things that YOU’VE done and all the things that YOU think and all the things that YOU suggest and all the reasons why YOU are the best.

But guess what? Nobody gives a shit about you. What they care about is themselves–because we’re human, and that’s what humans do. And therefore, the most important thing to them is THEIR OWN NAME. How is your product, your service, your widget…going to help them make their name?

Whatever story you tell, it should never be yours – it should be theirs.

She goes on to explain this using a Nike Advertisement and why Nike makes an Ad that looks like:

And not like:

In the end Ash leaves you with an action item:

Your homework: Look at whatever you’re selling. Print out your sales page, your description, your whatever you’ve got. Go through the print out with a big red pen, and circle every place that you use the words our, my, mine, us, we, me, I.

So go on, crawl your corporate website and see if you can replace words like our, my, mine, us, we, me and I with a 'you' or 'your' - or better still, weave a remarkable true story of how your product helps your users and how it changes, transforms or simplifies their lives.

The next time you copy write for a new product,  take a note of how your brain tempts and tricks you into telling your own story instead of making it their story.

Give in to that temptation and you'll realize why even if you build it, they won't come.

Fight that temptation and they may still not come, but being able to tell 'their' story will actually help you build a better product, a better story, a better team and a better organization that truly cares about it's customers.

After all, they are your allies and if they win, you do too.

posted on Monday, May 11, 2015 7:50:04 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Friday, May 8, 2015 by Rajiv Popat

The Line Of Best Fit And The Stories Outliers Tell.

Shawn Achor, in his witty, compelling, funny and engaging TED talk demonstrates this completely made up chart:

He describes:

One of the first things we teach people in economics, statistics, business and psychology courses is how, in a statistically valid way, do we eliminate the weirdos. How do we eliminate the outliers so we can find the line of best fit? Which is fantastic if I'm trying to find out how many Advil the average person should be taking -- two. But if I'm interested in your potential, or for happiness or productivity or energy or creativity, we're creating the cult of the average with science.

The study of that one Outlier on either side of "the average" always tells a valuable story and provides deep insights.

Want to track the performance of your IT support team? The fact that 99% of your support tickets meet an SLA tells you nothing. That one ignored ticket that sat unattended for 3 months shows you bottlenecks in your department.

Want to improve your development practices? The fact that 99% of your customers did not have any escalation last month means nothing. That one team that's quietly shipping remarkable products that customers love deeply year-after-year may have something the rest of your organization can learn from.

Most so called leaders out there like to wear suits, get on stages and talk about the 99 percent that confirm to the line of best fit. But real change happens when you take off those suits get down in the trenches and analyze that one extreme Outlier on either side of average.

The question isn't if these outliers provide you new insights and bring you stories you should be paying attention to. The question is, do you even care about these outliers or do you seek comfort in the cult of the average?

posted on Friday, May 8, 2015 11:11:18 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Saturday, April 4, 2015 by Rajiv Popat

Easier Than Fizz Buzz - Why Can't Programmers Print 100 to 1?

I recently wrote a book on how we as professionals need to stop whining and start focusing on developing our skills.

One data point that I obtained for the book (but didn't quite include in the book because it was too programmer centric) was based on 22 job interviews for programming positions I conducted for one of my clients over a period of two months.

Though this is hardly a considerable sample size, it did reveal some interesting facts about programmers. There were two seemingly disconnected questions that we asked at completely different moments of time during the interview:

  1. Talk about a few things in your current organization or manager that you don't like / aren't happy with.
  2. Solve a simple programming problem (one that was much easier than the famous Fizz Buzz problem).

The goal was to study the correlation between whining and coding abilities. Here's a subset of the data we collected (of course I wasn't carrying stop watches in the interviews so the minutes have been rounded up to an interval of 1):

Even though there are some exceptions in the above data set if you look at the graph what's evident is that there seems to be a strong co-relation between whining and being able to solve ridiculously simple programming problems.

That was interesting. But what was even more interesting was the actual program the candidates were being asked to solve. If Jeff Atwood wonders why programmers can't program, when they can't solve Fizz Buzz; here's a problem that is much more easier than Fizz Buzz and yet:

  1. About 14% just couldn't solve the problem in less then 10 minutes - which is when we moved on to the next question.
  2. About 40% took more than 5 minutes to solve the problem and / or had to be corrected more than once.
  3. Only about 14% could solve this problem in 2 minutes or less.
  4. About 82% had to be corrected at-least once before they solved the problem. (which means they actually got it wrong the first time around!)

And the problem they were solving?

Print 100 to 1.

That's it.

That was the question.

The Catch?

You need to start with "for(int i=0;" and continue from there - you cannot write anything before "for(int i=0;" and you can't use two loops.

[Update: This is supposed to be a code snippet which already exists inside a function, so you can safely assume that inclusion of headers and declaration of the functions etc. is already done for you and you don't need to worry about that.]

Go ahead. Try it out. The answer really won't take you more than 2 minutes and should not take more than 4 lines of code including the curly braces but you can write as many lines as you want.

If you get the right output without mistakes in a reasonable amount of time we consider the answer correct.

Go on. Try it. And once you've solved it - go on and make it a part of your interview process and see countless programmers fumble, take really long pauses, struggle and even give up on the question.

Personally, I came across two programmers who said they could not do it because the question was too complicated after over 10 minutes of struggling with the problem.

While this little experiment establishes correlation between whining and skills it doesn't establish any causation. In other words the data doesn't really tell us if programmers whine because they just don't have the skillsets to do their job, or programmers don't have the skillsets to do their job because they whine. 

Maybe our programmers are not skilled because they whine a lot or maybe they whine a lot because we've lowered our bars of what we expect from our programmers and don't demand or challenge them enough to even practice the most basic programming skills.

Either ways the sad reality of where the IT industry stands today is that you don't even need Fizz Buzz to differentiate a bad non-programmer from a good one - Just asking them to print 100 to 1 is usually good enough.

[Update: A lot of folks seemed to get an idea that this is a black and white question and that you can make a hiring decision based on this. It's not. But it does give you an important data point to evaluate someone. For example, if someone clears this question and then fumbles at other basics it might be a reason to not hire him / her. At the same time if someone doesn't answer this and go on to answers other complex algorithmic questions really well, you may decide to hire him / her. Putting the candidate at ease is also important here. The candidates should not be asked or pushed to solve the question in less than 2 minutes. The goal here isn't to stress out the candidates. The goal is to watch them think about and solve a simple problem. Merely present the problem to them and watch their approach and time taken. Couple that up with their tendency to whine and the question provides some very useful insights about a person's approach towards solving problems and their ability to ship.]

[Update: Thanks to the folks who were rightly annoyed by the confusing visualization / chart done in the original post and pointed out how confusing that data visualization was. Special thanks to Jacob for creating the scatterplot using the same dataset. Post updated with the scatterplot.]

posted on Saturday, April 4, 2015 8:11:10 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [65]
Posted on: Saturday, March 28, 2015 by Rajiv Popat

That's Not How Much They Pay. That's How Much They Pay You.

People who work in IT (or for that matter any industry) can be grouped in three categories:

  1. The Builders - folks who actually build stuff and get things done.
  2. The Story Tellers - folks who weave remarkable stories around what's getting built and help sell what builders build.
  3. The Whiners - folks who complain about why they cannot build remarkable products or weave remarkable stories.

A lot of this blog has been about what companies can do to build environments and cultures that seeds and grows builders and weeds out whiners. A good part of what I wrote about back in 2009 was about that.

Then I grew older.

When I look at the software landscape now I realize that in our search for a perfect organization that can keep us motivated and engaged, we as programmers, may have become incredibly demanding and often even unfair about what it takes for a company to make and keep us happy and productive.

As Joel Spolsky puts it in one of his discussion groups:

I still haven't met a great programmer who doesn't have a job. I still can't fill all the openings at my company.

(As programmers) Our pay is great. There's no other career except Wall Street that regularly pays kids $75,000 right out of school, and where so many people make six figures salaries for long careers with just a bachelors degree. There's no other career where you come to work every day and get to invent, design, and engineer the way the future will work.

Despite the occasional idiot bosses and workplaces that forbid you from putting up dilbert cartoons on your cubicle walls, there's no other industry where workers are treated so well. Jesus you're spoiled, people. Do you know how many people in America go to jobs where you need permission to go to the bathroom?

Stop the whining, already. Programming is a fantastic career. Most programmers would love to do it even if they didn't get paid. How many people get to do what they love and get paid for it? 2%? 5%?

I don't get the negativity in here. How did the Joel on Software discussion group turn into a mutual mope-fest for angsty emo girls.

It is one thing to objectively take a stand and disagree with your organization on something or even look for another opportunity if you aren't happy with your current job. It's another to systematically cultivate a depressed attitude towards your work life, take rash decisions and blame your organization for everything that's not quite right in your work life.

"The Times are Bad!"

"There are No good jobs left these days!"

"The economy is struggling!"

"Nobody gets more than a 10% hike now a days!"

"Of course I'm depressed! That's all my company pays!"

Ever heard these statements? Have you ever been the voice behind these statements?

About a year ago, I saw an entire group of genuinely talented programmers inching down this path of negativity and decided that I was going to do research on just how true the above statements are.

The research turned into a book and the response to the last remark - "Of course I'm depressed! That's all my company pays" became the title of the book:

"That's Not How Much They Pay. That's How Much They Pay You!"

The book is a collection of stories from my own life in the High Tech industry and a collection of research and studies done in the field of neuroscience and psychology that shows you the problem with today's work life.

The book builds on the premise that the problem in your work life today is not "the times", "the economy", sadist bosses or evil clients. 

The problem with today's work life is you.

The style of writing used in the book is a tad bit confrontational, but I do hope it brings you face to face with some of the biggest problems in work life today and then gives you the insight, science and tools to deal with those problems like a mature adult so that you can stop whining and start doing what you've always done - build stuff, weave remarkable stories and be happy!

The book is on Amazon.

It is a Kindle book but you can just as easily download it on your mobile device or tablet using the Amazon Kindle App.

I don't want to end up sounding like a cheesy self help guru who claims his book will change your life but I really believe it might give you value which is more than the price you pay for it. 

I'd love to hear your honest feedback and reviews both; on amazon and here. And I do hope that if the book inspires you or adds value to your life, you'll go ahead and spread the word.

posted on Saturday, March 28, 2015 10:52:31 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, October 19, 2014 by Rajiv Popat

Safely Disastrous.

Your brain will play tricks with you every time you inch aware from safe:

Doing that would be disastrous!

Let's stick to something which we've done in the past.

Something time tested.

Something... Safe.

There is an old saying that nothing in life is as good or as bad as it seems.

That saying is now supported by rigorous and legitimate... science.

Most of the times "disastrous" isn't as disastrous as you think.

Most of the times "disastrous" is just a figure of expression and all it means is:

Somewhat painful or borderline uncomfortable.

Most of the times safe or harmless is much more Disastrous than Disastrous.

What silent "safe" choices are killing your business or your career? The question isn't if you can identify these choices. The question is, do you have the courage to confront the safe and give disastrous a fair chance?

posted on Sunday, October 19, 2014 12:21:51 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Saturday, March 15, 2014 by Rajiv Popat

Time To Overcome The Always Mindset.

All Resistance often begins with an always mindset.

This is what we have always done.

What we have always said.

How we have always worked.

What we have always believed.

No doubt your organization isn't morphing like an living organism that adapts, learns, improvises and changes the way your business has always worked. Personal lives are no different:

This is what I have always worn.

What I have always eaten.

How I have always lived.

What I have always done.

The kind of people I have always been friends with.

No wonder your career and life isn't bringing you new and meaningful challenges.

No wonder each today of your life seems like yesterday.

The universe has peculiar way to doing what it has always done.

If you plan on changing the world, start with yourself.

Your team, your organization, your planet and your universe might follow; but only if you dare to move away from what you have always done and try out things that you have never done.

The question isn't can you; the question is will you?

posted on Saturday, March 15, 2014 2:53:37 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [1]
Posted on: Monday, February 17, 2014 by Rajiv Popat

Minimalistic Artists - Part 1.

Some environments shout out smart.

That young random doctor in that fancy hospital for instance; The chamber, the white coat, the receptionist, the forms you fill before you are allowed to meet the doctor - all work to prime your brain with the belief that your doctor is smart. That you are in safe hands.

Software is no different. The plush offices of that smart product company, the bean bags, the large television screens on the corridor, the huge long passageways, the professionally trimmed grass in the gardens that surround the office - all designed to prime the customers brain to believe that the people who work in the company are really smart.

But what about that talented doctor who runs his own small practice and refuses to get a monthly pay check from that hospital?

What about that young programmer who decides to write his own application and not work for that development shop?

Or that writer who decides to publish on Kindle instead of going with a professional publisher?

Or that artist who sells his own painting instead of showcasing them at a known gallery?

When you decide to give up systems and environments which make your clients believe you are smart, you are left with only one thing that will convince your clients you are indeed smart and will make them keep coming back to your work:


Here is to all individuals who don't need environments and systems to earn respect, attention, business and success.


posted on Monday, February 17, 2014 7:19:36 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Friday, January 31, 2014 by Rajiv Popat

Remapping The Windows Key On Your Keyboard.

My obsession for making a PC look like a Mac dates back to 2006. The quest is just as much about exploring new tools and utilities as it is about the esthetic element of having a Zen like desktop. Here's what my desktop looks like today:

Getting a dock that looks like the Mac doc is easy.

And so is getting a free utility that shows your outlook tasks and calendar items on your desktop.

With the number of folks cribbing about the windows start screen, getting a launcher is even easier.

Most of them will automatically map to your windows key and start off when you hit the windows key on your keyboard.

I however; prefer the Zen like simplicity of Launchy; instead of having an obtrusive start button or a start screen.

It's open source and rather easy to grab and install.

Wouldn't it be amazing if we could just replace the start screen with the simplicity of Launchy when we hit the Windows button on our keyboards?

But Launchy options don't provide any settings to invoke Launchy when someone presses the windows key on their keyboard. For me this is a deal breaker since I'm so used to hitting the window key if I want to start something, learning a different keystroke to launch applications is just insanely difficult and I keep going back to the window key. I could of course disable the Window key but that would just make hitting two keystrokes to launch applications that much more non productive.

Remapping or reprogramming the default windows start screen with Launchy when the window key is pressed seemed like the only valid option if I was to use Launchy.

Launchy may not provide this out of the box but it does provide options where we can map invocation of Launchy to ATL + CRTL + Space; so we do that as the first step.

But we still want Launchy to replace the Windows Start Screen when someone presses the Windows Key on their keyboard.

Enter AutoHotKey.

If you don't know what AutoHotKey is, you should spawn a browser window right now and start reading. It is an amazing little tool that allows you to write tiny scripts for remapping keys and sending keystrokes, messages and do a lot more when specific keys are pressed on the keyboard. This is amazing because it just makes most of us geeks super-productive but what intrigued me was it's ability to capture the window key.

The first thing we do after installing AutoHotKey is Right click the AutoHotKey taskbar icon and click "Edit This Script" menu item. We then clean up the file and add the following line of script:

With AutoHotKey we have the option of sending multiple keystrokes when any key (including the windows key) is pressed, however, after having Goggled for hours on how you can remap the windows key on your keyboard to not show the windows start screen at-all, it seemed like there were no direct solution; until there was a sudden realization that when we hit the escape key the start screen disappears. That's what led to the creation of the above script.

In the above script we're mapping the left window key to first hit escape, then hit the ATL key (indicated by ^) + CRTL Key (indicated by "!") + Space (indicated by {Space}). So we basically hit Escape to hide the default Windows Start Screen and then send keystrokes to invoke Launchy.

After this script is modified you save it,  Right click the AutoHotKey icon and click the "Reload this Script" menu item. Once this is done you hit the windows key and launchy kicks of.  To put simply, you train AutoHotKey to not try to take control of the start screen, just hide it in milliseconds of it showing up.

The takeaway? Well actually there are two:

  1. It's very easy to remap the windows / start key on your keyboard to do anything you want it to by sending Escape key followed by the keystrokes you want to send. The escape hides the default windows start screen. The other keystrokes you send do what-ever it is that you want them to do (in this case it's opening Launchy).
  2. When Google fails; rely on Ocaam's Razor.

And now that you've remapped the windows / start key on your keyboard, have gotten rid of the Windows 8 start screen and have a minimalistic replacement for it, give your self a pat on the back and please get back to work. Oh and of course, spend some time on AutoHotKey - there's some serious damage you can do as a developer / geek when it comes to automating tasks and making yourself more productive with this tool.

Quick aside: The solution of automating the hit of escape key before sending other key strokes isn't full proof in scenarios where the application you are working with also captures the Escape key; but for most cases this should do the trick. If you know of a better way to remap your windows key I'd love to learn. Please drop a line in the comments section and let me know.

posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 9:34:10 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]