Profile cover photo
Profile photo
Erika Rice Scherpelz
Nerd, crafter, software engineer.
Nerd, crafter, software engineer.

Erika's posts

Post has attachment
Work Rules by Laszlo Bock, 4/5

(Note to Googlers reading: I'll also post this internally. Please be mindful of what comments you make on this public post vs there.)

This book was kind of boring... and that's a mark a high praise.

I've worked at Google for a decade, as a manager for nearly half of that. This book really does describe the way that Google structures the workplace to create an innovative environment. If I hadn't been a bit bored, if I had been surprised, it probably would have been because the book didn't ring true. Instead, this book explores examples of what has worked and what hasn't worked at Google to create a strong culture.

The first two chapters of the book set up some framing philosophy. If you want to create an innovative environment, think like a founder. Feel like you have responsibility for and power to change the culture and working conditions around you, even if it's just for your team. Then give people freedom to do the same for themselves. Freedom and it's closely related sibling, transparency, can be intimidating boons to grant. It will be abused from time to time, but the net gains in innovation, productivity, and happiness will offset those occasional losses.

The next three chapters talk about hiring and it's role in creating a culture of innovation. Find the best people for the job, even if it takes more time. Move away from interviewing on instinct; standardize the interview process. Google does this by having candidates interview with multiple interviewers, some to all of them not on the team the candidate will be working on (it varies by role), and then having the hiring decision made by a committee that is separate from the interviewers.

Once good people are hired, allow them to be innovative. It's not uncommon for hiring to look for the best people and then constrain them until they are no more than average. A key action is to take power away from managers and spread it out. Managers are important. Laszlo discusses Project Oxygen which determined the attributes that make a manager great and helped Google understand why good managers are important[1][2]. But to foster a culture of ownership and innovation, it's important to take away potentially destructive sources of power that managers have such as sole discretion over hiring, firing, salary, and promotion. The book also goes into detailed discussion about Google's philosophy in some of these areas.

Google is known for its benefits, and Laszlo spends a fair amount of time talking about some of our benefits and why they matter. Google targets its benefits so that they increase employee efficiency, community (both internal and external), and innovation; some benefits, such as the survivor benefit for an employees death, we have because they're just the right thing to do. If a benefit doesn't have a positive impact in one of these areas, it's not useful. Another interesting thing is that most of these benefits are not expensive. Food and transportation certainly are, but many other benefits are cheap or free.

The most interesting thing to me is that many of these benefits stem from a single core benefit: giving employees the freedom and time to act on their ideas. Whether it's arranging talks from internal or external speakers on a diverse array of topics, diversity groups setting up both bridging and boding activities, or culture clubs setting up fun events like regular live music performance by Googlers, a lot of what makes Google googley comes from people whose job description doesn't say anything about culture.

Even if I was a little bored at times, I'm glad I read this book. Although things are always changing -- some of the details in this book are already out of date -- the core ideas are worth understanding for anyone who wants to foster a culture of innovation.

(As an aside, this book is probably still work reading even if you are a Googler. It brings together a lot of the philosophy and history behind why Google does People Ops the way it does. For those who didn't live through the development of these systems, it's good to learn the bigger picture. For those that did, it's good to remember.)


[2] It's a pity the gteams research wasn't ready to be part of that book. The research about what makes great teams is even more important than Oxygen, in my opinion:

Post has attachment
This week's photo challenge was long exposures animated gif. (Note that there are a couple more in the album)

#photochallenge #photochallenge2017

Post has shared content
Things I have determined cannot be used to predict the weather in the Pacific Northwest:

1. Weather reports.
2. Weather apps.
3. Looking outside the window.
4. Actually being outside.

Post has attachment
Makeing Software: What Really Works, and Why We Believe It, 3/5

Like many collections of works, the quality in this volume varied. I only remember one of the articles being particularly bad. A worthwhile number stand out as good.

The first four articles cover how to read software engineering research. I wish that I had read it in grad school. If you find yourself reading academic papers in computer science, it's worth reading these four articles.

The rest of the articles cover research about different areas of software engineering. If you're like me, your opinion of each article will be partially influenced by its quality and partially influenced by your interest in the topic. That said, there was a general pattern that the essays that tried to very narrowly investigate whether or not some piece of common sense wisdom were supported by evidence were, simultaneously, the best research, in terms of not overreaching, and the worst reading. :-)

Post has attachment
On the Way Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder, 4/5

Wilder's short diary was exceeded in length by her daughter's setting for the book, but it was interesting reading some of Wilder's early writings from well before she was known for her Little House books or even as a local article author. The style is spare, but you do see glimmer's of Wilder's style.

Note that this is 4 stars for those interested in Wilder as an author. Those who just want more Little House will be better served by reading Little House on Rocky Ridge which contains a fictionalized version of this same material and is more of a story.

The child: Daddy draw your [my] bath?

My child might be exposed to some odd influences. Mainly me.

There's a genre of Fast Company article that drives me batty: the headline is generally something like "Why X isn't everything it's thought to be" and then goes on to describe why X isn't the only skill you need, why it isn't the perfect solution to every problem, etc. Not only do these articles never contain a useful critique of X, they argue against a strawman version of it. More often than not, I'm pretty certain that they haven't even read a full explanation of X — just put something together from the popular impression of it. It's annoying. 

Post has attachment
2017 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 7: Minimalsim – Monotone Landscape

When I looked out the window this morning and saw the clear sky and slightly fog obscured mountains, I knew I had to capture this image. So I ran out without my coat or shoes -- maybe not the best decision :-)

I wish I'd decreased the ISO; the fog and misty clouds turned out a bit noisy, but I'm happy with the nature-as-a-gradient effect from the sky, mountains, and trees.

#photochallenge #photochallenge2017


Post has attachment

What I liked about this shot for this challenge was getting enough detail in the light colored rock without making the grass look too dark and dull. In shots which were less exposed the rock looked a bit nicer, but the shot as a whole was dull. Using the histogram helped me hit a good balance.

1/640s, f/4.3, ISO 400

#photochallenge2017 #photochallenge

Post has attachment
Last book review for today!

The Ineritance by Megan Lindholm and Robin Hobb, 3/5

Robin Hobb and Megan Lindholm are the pen names of Margaret Lindholm. As Hobb/Lindholm notes in the introduction to the book, she writes under both names because the two authors have very distinct styles, and she feels she has more freedom to let each of those styles develop under different personas.

This is the first time stories from both personas have been brought into a single collection. It was interesting, because reading the stories from both authors did help to highlight the similarities and differences between them. Both authors are willing to delve into more challenging emotions and relationships, but they write different types of stories in different worlds.

Hence the mixed rating. Lindholm's stories were gritty urban fanstasy in contemporary settings. Hobb's stories were standard fantasy, set in the same Realms of the Elderlings universe as most of her novels. I very much enjoyed the Hobb stories, for the same reasons I enjoyed the novels in the same universe: fantasy with good stories and rich characters.

The Lindholm stories were more challenging. I won't say that I disliked them, but reading about abused children and hard-up adults -- all of the stories had at least one of those -- is not what I want when I read fantasy. That said, I suspect if I had known what to expect going in, I might have enjoyed it more, so I am open to reading some of Lindholm's novels.

Wait while more posts are being loaded