Don’t Let Your Rockstar Programmers Define Your Stack

I know it gets tempting to do whatever he or she wants. You value them so much. They are innovators and technical leaders in your organization. Yet, when we choose a stack for our next project or start-up, we must think more strategically.

It’s not just about keeping your rock star programmer(s) happy. Often you can achieve that by just taking him or her to a Star Trek or Star Wars movie — and supplying all the Mt. Dew and pizza the team can handle. No, you have to think about lots of other things, too. For example, will using this stack cause any vendor lock-in?

Using the Microsoft stack is notorious with vendor lock-in. Yet sometimes the cost of lock-in is simply a necessary evil. What about support? Here is where you’ll see more benefits going commercial. The Linux or open source LAMP stack, not so much. Yet, if you go with the LAMP stack, lock-in becomes less of an issue, but where do you get support? Sure there are some companies out there but not the size of Microsoft, Apple or Google.

Running a successful project, team or company is more than just having a cool language or stack behind it. You have to think about other things: like support, test tools, and how hard it is to find talent related to the stack.

I know Haskell is super sexy and all the kids are “doing” it. But guess what? Ruby might be a much smarter option — especially if we’re talking about the web. Are you making software that will run on the cloud or a native desktop app? Well, all of this has to be thought out. What cloud will your software run on? Or what operating system. Who are your customers? That is where it all starts. What are they using?  Is this a mobile market?  These are the things that should dictate the stack you use.

If you want to placate your rock star programmer, there are other ways: tell him or her they can write that unique test tool in Haskell or whatever language floats their boat. But don’t let them drive your stack for production code. Accept some influence and hear them out. But know they have a vested interest: playing on a really cool stack that they can brag to their friends about.

The problem is the rock star programmer has a lot of pull in your organization.  They might not be the “typical” leader, but if the rock star is moping around because you didn’t pick his favorite stack, you will need to do damage control.  The morale of the company is very influenced by your rock stars.  If they are unhappy, it is harder for others to be happy.  Besides they probably are doing about three times as much work as the others.  You want them at top form.

So listen to your rock stars, accept some influence (perhaps a lot), but ultimately be strategic about your stack — from a business point of view.  Once you commit to a stack, it becomes hard to reverse the decision.  Just remember to break the news to your rock star gently if you choose a different stack.  And take him — and the team — to the new Terminator movie to make amends.

Just an FYI … I’m still a programmer advocate, but this is one area where I support the business/management decision makers more. Sometimes we need the MBA weenies, too. Like to help keep us grounded!


Is Your Message Being Heard?

Trying to get your message heard, organically, whether you are a startup founder or run a nonprofit can be difficult. Which blogging and/or social media platform(s) should you use? Long-form blog posts or short videos? Hum…

The Universe is Multimedia Rich Baby

Well, do you remember back in the day when keyword stuffing was the thing. OK, I never did that, in fact, it kind of predates me but I do remember seeing lots of web pages stuffed with them in the early web 1.0 days. Now it’s all about engagement and multimedia rich content. If you simply write content, unless it’s highly controversial and/or engaging, you likely won’t get a lot of traction with long-form blogging anymore–as traditional blogging is kind of dead…more on this later.

Just look at what gets in your feed on Facebook or Twitter. Almost all the content you see is in the form of videos nowadays. For people that have jumped on the platform early AND are being noticed because they write good content, they can still write regular blog posts, perhaps even long ones, and likely get great results. But for the rest of us or anyone joining a new social media platform, the way to get noticed organically is with video. And I’m not just talking about putting a video up on YouTube and sharing it on Facebook rather uploading video on every platform you are on should be your strategy.

And why is this? Well, it makes sense if you think about it from the perspective of the social media company. They are essentially crowd-sourcing content creation in order to bring eyeballs to their platform–and you thought they were trying to just create a space to share photos with your friends and family and had no hidden agenda.

But, in fact, the more eyeballs and the longer their users stay on the platform the more ads they can put in front of them. And that is what attracts the advertisers. Advertisers can then target their audience with great specificity too since Facebook knows so much about their users; it’s pretty scary how much they know isn’t it.

Look at the time you personally spend online. Likely more and more of it involves consuming videos. I know that’s true for me. Sure, I like to read and read a lot but a bigger slice of the pie with my own content consumption is video.

So my suggestions for anyone wanting to get their message out there and be heard is to incorporate video in your content creation. I believe writing should still be your primary focus as it’s the foundation of ideation and can function as the outline or script to more media rich content, but video is way more likely to get you noticed (organically) and in front of your ideal audience.

And don’t just host it on YouTube. Host it on all the social media platforms you are on. Why? Think in terms of the social media company again. They want the media hosted on their own site so they have control of its playback such as quality, metrics, speed, server hosting locality, etc. There doesn’t seem to be a penalty to host on multiple platforms so why not.

Oh, by the way, my videos are coming soon. Stay tuned!

(Another anecdote… I had a math blog a couple years ago that I put together as a hobby. It had a web presence and a YouTube channel. The YouTube channel got 100s to 1000s of views a day and they were of friggin’ math proofs, hard sh*t. My web content got single digits to perhaps 20 views a day. Video is king!)

It’s All About Engagement

If you make amazing content but aren’t getting much engagement, you likely will have a problem getting attention to your work as the social media algorithms are all tuned in on engagement now more than ever.

Say you are a poet that writes about love–what else do they write about ..ha ha. If your posts involve mostly beautiful writing with lots of metaphor and personification (remember rocks can cry) and the most engagement you get is an occasional reader saying, “Beautiful, well done,” you likely will have trouble getting traction. Sure, engagement is more than comments; it’s shares, likes, etc.

But content that is more personal to a reader, like a lot of art is as in this example with the poet, tends not to get shared as much as the classic how to or a controversial post on politics. How tos and the writer’s creative nightmare, the listicle, are probably the most shared articles there are. They bring value that is immediate and indisputable–depending on its source!

So what to do? Make sure some of your posts are a bit controversial or more engaging. Ask questions to get more engagement? If you are a poet hoping to get more readers to your work, ask them if your use of metaphor tickled the underside of their fleshy frontal lobe or add allusion to other creative works that pique their interest and may be interesting for them to comment on. Or write a how-to post before Valentine’s day that would be geared toward the mindless men without whom a woman’s world would with certitude wither away without the wacky words penned by their beloved men with whom they are betrothed–huh?

The bottom line is to write content that makes an impact, resonates and causes them to take action; perhaps it helps them solve a problem, a problem that maybe their buddies have as well and so they would want to share. Make a mark on them.

So whether you are a poet hoping to gain fans of your work, or an entrepreneur with the coolest new communications app that connects cougars to their sought after stud-muffins, produce content that creates engagement. Make an impact with your words and don’t forget video. Make it and get it out there, pronto. Eyeballs are awaiting!

What tricks or tips on getting your content noticed have worked for you? Share in the comments below. And if you liked this post, please like/comment and/or share.

Writers & Entrepreneurs … Find, Then Delight in Your Blushing Bride, the Muse

Is your muse hidden, nowhere to be found?  Has she grown tired of seeing you lick your war wounds.  Or has she escaped your, figuratively speaking, drunken tirades that you delight in when you’re feeling infinitely insecure, seeking refuge in some other great vessel.  Is she a he?  Is she a cause?  Is social justice, perhaps fighting the patriarchy, your light?  Or has the muse of your passion tree not yet born fruit.

Maybe your muse is like a delicious Colorado peach, just not yet in season but waiting to be playfully plucked.  Before you achieve greatness, you must identify your muse.  Your muse is that which lights your fire and excites you to get out of bed at 3 AM, despite Fido giving you an evil eye for disturbing his sleep.  The muse may pull you even from your real-life naturally naked bride during your hedonistic honeymoon.  The muse is that perpetually powerful and fierce force.

Step 1.  Identify your muse.  What spurs you to smile, cry, yell or fight?  In a hundred years time, how would you like to be known?  Are you hopeful of becoming a healthy healer, gushing-with-ideas guru or titanic-sized thought leader?  You can find the root of your muse, namely, by flushing out of your mind that which pulls at your heart’s desire?

Pull harder if you need to.  Ask your family of friends and friendly family for clarity, too?  But trust your gut.  Only you know wherein lies the muse.  You can beckon her but not they.  For they don’t know your spirit, your soul or your inner workings.  Only you can shine a light on that.  And when you find her, she will most naturally be in repose au naturel and waiting for her lover — you.  (This was added to wake up the male readers!)

Beyond a query of the deep recesses of your mind, look at your surroundings.  Artifacts of what she had for breakfast and likely lunch will be evident.  Put on your discoverer’s hat and investigate these territories.  What bodacious books are on your beautiful bookshelf?  What art or posters are on your walls juxtaposed with your favorite female nudes? (I’m assuming you’re French. Ha ha.)

Where do you currently invest your time and treasure?  What cause would you spill blood for or have?  When you’re ecstatically elated, what triggered this?  Angered by societal and social matters?  Ask a social justice warrior if they’ve found their merry muse?  You’ll see it in their acts, at least for the ones that have found her.

When you find your muse, she will punch your creativity into high gear, and your innovations will spill over.  Writer’s and/or entrepreneur’s block, etc., no more.  She will be your nuclear fuel.  Mars awaits.  Strap in because there’s no off switch.

Step 2.  Nurture and make love to your muse.  Yet now you’ve found her, and she is beautiful.  So now don’t lose her, because she may be foolishly finicky and not want to waste time with someone who would sinfully squander her gifts of gold.  Water the garden of love for her, pull those weeds, and stay focused on the mission guided by your muse and mistress.

Take care of yourself as not to burn out.  So take your new bride out and love her.  She is yours as long as you lavishly heap love on her.  And don’t be naughty or neglectful or you’ll wake up in the night all alone, once again, with nothing but wonderment and wishes. All that will be left will be your memory of her and the echo of your still voice in that dark chamber of your inconsolable mind.

The muse is our gift from above, but she must be cherished, nurtured, and loved on a daily basis or suffering will result.  She drenched you with her light, hope and dreams that they may be fully transformed to you.  It’s time to stop the silly suffering and win at life and with your art and innovations.  Your impact.  There is no more time now for drunken eyes and thoughts — no self-pity.

Now take your muse to the corner bistro and show her off.  You’re now a richer person than Donald Trump.  As with her by your side, no one can claim a better life.  Your impact on the world will be known.  Just keep watering that garden and the fruits shall soon bear.  Trust in that.

Impressions Versus “Impactions”

For us entrepreneurs, writers and creators, the question is should impressions really matter to us? An impressions is that little number that Twitter reports to us regarding a particular tweet, allegedly how many people “may” have seen your tweet. (Most other social media platforms report this as well.)  Should we care?  And if so how much?

For starters, generally speaking, the number of impressions is beyond fuzzy. What, in fact, is an impression? Perhaps it means “some” people caught a glimpse of your post in their feed but never even read the headline.  Does that count? What kind of impression was that? Probably not so good.  Oh, but let’s say they actually clicked on your tweet and maybe even read your post that you linked to.  Or let’s say they liked it or even shared it.  Now we’re getting somewhere, right?  Well, yes and no.

If impressions — and even engagement — aren’t necessarily what’s most important, then what is most important?  Well, getting someone to read your article AND have it impact them or leave a mark!  As in, having them take action because of it.  And how do we describe that?  I call this impactions — just made up that word.

The best way to describe “impactions” aren’t in how many people may have seen your tweet, or how many likes or favorites you got, or shares for that matter, rather, it’s about putting the focus on making a direct impact on the reader.  For example, it’s someone who meets you or writes to you about how your blog or book, product, or service, has made a substantive impact and improvement in their life; now that’s the impact we should be going for.

Shares, likes, etc., are nice — and even simply impressions — and we do need to get our message out and engagement is taking us in the right direction, but we first and foremost should be focusing on making an impact with our message.   Our focus should be on our reader and improving their life or business.

The impact is the secret sauce to getting passionate fans (super fans) or building up a readership.  Because if you have or create an impact in someone’s life, they are much more likely to share your message, buy your books, use your service, and generally be allies or partners in your mission.

Think of the teachers who you most remember.  Were they the teachers who just showed up and so-called “punched in?”  No.  I bet they were the teachers who went the extra mile with you and helped you with a caring and compassionate heart.  They were other-focused and serving their students by being great and caring teachers.

So if you’re a nutritionist blogging about health and nutrition, you should hope to get comments like, “Since I started reading your blog six months ago, I’ve being eating healthier; I lost 20 lbs, and I feel so amazing now. Thank you!”

So don’t “phone it in” with your content.  Your message is too important for that.  Connect on a deeper level with your readers, build relationships, and with it trust by being immensely helpful and work to make an impact in your reader’s life.  Because if you can make an impact, you will likely see your own bottom line grow the most as well.

So it’s not enough to just get a bunch of impressions or even the more elusive engagement. Instead, focus on making an impact in your reader’s life.  Focus on “impactions.”

When or If You Criticize Someone, Do This

Being critical of things, people, services or brands is the American way — OK, the way of the world.

Like what newly married husband hasn’t said to his wife, “Honey, you weren’t in top form tonight. Is everything OK?” Yeah, not the best post-coital convo. Or dinner conversation like, “Honey, did you forget to salt the matzah ball soup? It tastes bland. And oh, by the way, my mom is coming over tomorrow and wants to help you arrange the furniture. That’s OK, right?” As she proceeds to chuck a bagel at you.

Well, if you feel the need to critique, especially a person, here are a few tips to be most effective. And stay away from critiquing the Mrs. — ever! Well, unless you have really good healthcare.

  1. Criticize the ideas or behavior, not the person.
  2. Value the relationship and the feelings of the person you’re criticizing over the message.  Make sure your criticism is constructive, not destructive.  Blogging, for example, is a form of social media — I think of it like long-form social media opposed to micro-blogging, like Twitter.  The operative word, however, is social. So in the social media spaces, be gentle — especially with those whom you don’t know well.
  3. Ask yourself, would Buddha or Jesus — insert other guru or perhaps Gandhi, Mandela or MLK — say what I’m saying … in the way that I’m saying it?  If not, consider how they might say it.  So, sure, 99% of others don’t do this you say.  I say resonate higher and be a model to others.  Words matter and how you say or write them matter.  Words can be weapons.
  4. Recognize the law of reciprocity (kind of like karma).  If you want greater _____, serve others first and the rest will follow.  Is your critique serving them or tearing them down?  Either your critique will bring you closer or push you apart.  There’s rarely a middle ground or neutrality.  All the spiritual gurus speak of love, reducing suffering and healing the world — uniting yourself with your fellow man or woman.  Is your critique doing that?
  5. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Try and develop empathy.  Would you want to receive such a critique?
  6. It is not the intent of your critique but the perception that matters.
  7. If you’re commenting on a forum or blog, read your comment before posting it in the worst possible tone — same when tweeting or emailing.  Because that’s the tone most likely to be perceived by the reader.  Online communication lacks nonverbal cues, tone, etc.
  8. Preface your critique with something positive or affirming.  Similarly end your critique with the same.  Hence, sandwich your criticism in kindness.
  9. As much as is possible, criticize in private, not public.  Of course, online, this is all by definition public and expected on forums, blogs, etc.  If a serious conflict occurs, however, you should go private and in-person if possible, phone or worst case use email to try to resolve it.
  10. Assume the person you want to critique is already suffering and doesn’t need any undue pain.  I can assure you they probably are.

Constructive criticism isn’t designed to wound, but to help.  To serve.  Don’t try to destroy someone who most likely is already suffering by heaping on your destructive criticism. Develop compassion and empathy.  Play your part in healing the world.

So in the case of commenting online, try to have SOME positivity.  A comment that is 100% critical would appear too negative to the reader — it doesn’t feel good. Us geeks hang out a lot online. We need to improve our etiquette in this space. We are the worst offenders of online behavior. We all need to file down our tongues and get Buddha-like. Doesn’t his following say you shouldn’t even harm a mosquito?

Anyway, although we can often learn the most from our strongest critics, if the message isn’t packaged well, it is often lost on the receiver.  If you offend, you likely won’t influence.  You likely will create more distance with the person and create more suffering.  And the world doesn’t need more suffering.

If you wound someone with your criticisms, you only increase the likelihood of getting wounded in return.  Hurt people, hurt people.  In other words, the hurt person may seek revenge.  The cycle of conflict requires one to break the cycle and not contribute to it.

Caveat:  I want to clarify a point before leaving this post.  There are times where your ideas or message must be of the highest priority, and the feelings of the receiver, second.  Say I love robbing banks and you are challenging me on this.  You say, “It is wrong, immoral, etc.”  Then I say, “Stop it, you’re hurting my feelings to try to shut down the debate.”  So, yes, there are times where your ideas or message must come first, and the feelings of the receiver, second.

Yet, most of the time I believe it’s best to be mindful of the person’s feelings and put them first.  I believe you will have more influence with that approach.  The reason you have a favorite teacher or professor, etc., is likely more than just they had great ideas.  Often it is because they cared about their students AND had great ideas, etc.  Great leaders also care about those they lead. Caring about the feelings of others is actually win-win.

What I Learned from the Doorman at the Four Seasons (business lesson/story)

We’re going on a road trip to Chicago. Don’t you just love those? Driving into a city you’re not too familiar with, getting lost, and ending up in the wrong part of town. Locals who would have preferred you just flew in and took a taxi like everyone else. Patience in Chicago isn’t their strong suit.

Yet, there are cities much worse. Boston comes to mind. I almost got run over by a taxi the last time I was there. OK, it was my fault, but he was going way too fast. Besides, I’m pretty sure a taxi would have won against a scrawny, vitamin K-deprived programmer.

The trip was to be a romantic getaway for my birthday – driving in from Minneapolis. We decided to try one of the 5-star hotels for something different. When you get middle-aged (gad), you feel like living it up. You may only have a few years to go. Oh, that and if you don’t have kids, what else do you do with your paycheck.

Well, I spent time reading the reviews online and felt we couldn’t go wrong with the Four Seasons. I was right! It was our best hotel experience of our life and exceeded our expectations.

For those wondering, I compared the Four Seasons to the Trump and the Peninsula. The latter being an Asian themed place – more precisely, it’s owned by an Asian company. Don’t worry, we visited the Trump and had diner at the Peninsula – it was delicious. I had the prawns.

Anyway since we were staying at a 5-star place, I was a bit stressed when we arrived. See, I didn’t get the time to have my car detailed before our trip. I was concerned the doorman would think what is he doing here in that? See, I like cars but have a tight car budget. My current car is an 8-year-old Saab 9-3 Aero.

If you are from Minnesota, and like many here are of Scandinavian descent, you may own a Saab. It’s a nod to our Viking heritage (we are also home to the Minnesota Vikings football team). We are actually nice people despite our scary mascot. Well, on my car, the turbo-charger sounds splendid.

My car is a snappy car and fun to drive. The car designers call the passenger cabin the cockpit. Well my car was clean but again not detailed. For those wondering, detailing a car involves a meticulous day in the car spa. It takes typically 4 hours to have a small team detail a car – in my city the rate is about $200, not including tip. They scrub down every surface and remove all traces of the urban jungle.

So in the procession line in front of the hotel, one guest after the other were getting out of Porsches and other fine autos. My car was on the low end of acceptable. The doorman didn’t shun me, and I was relieved. When we went up to the front desk, the staff member – before showing us the elevators – mentioned the Porsche dealer was here this weekend and would offer us two free hours in a new Porsche (no strings attached) to drive up and down Lake Michigan.

We politely declined, but for a nano-second, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think the doorman is sending me a hint. I knew deep down he thought I was a bum. My wife later commented that it was too congested anyway, and I suspected she was right. Being that, in her youth, she got a full ride in a good private school, I often defer to her on these kinds of things. That and Michelle Obama said women are smarter than men – I believe said in jest, but who knows.

When we got to our hotel room, on the 37th floor, we could see Lake Michigan was bumper-to-bumper. Guess what? She was right. Everyone was driving in for the Taste of Chicago. Why did we choose Chicago for our romantic getaway considering we live in the swanky city of Minneapolis? Well, my wife is a foodie, you see.

She is officially the Food and Beverage Chair at her PR firm, so she needs to know food – of all kinds. We tried all sorts of food and had a great time, but let me get to the premise of this post. What I learned from the Doorman?

It was the doorman, after checking out, that revealed to me some nice insight. So, what did I learn from the Doorman? Tell me already you say. The Doorman seemed to know everyone – even people who weren’t staying at the hotel. He would say, “Hello Mrs. Johnson, how are you today?” Then a lady driving by would double park and chat with him as well. You might think he was Don Johnson from Miami Vice – a real Casanova (my readers over 40 may remember him).

Well, I can’t say much about his looks, but he looked like a regular guy to me. He would also say hello to the kids who were walking by with their parents. Everybody loved the attention. I was a bit envious myself. I realized that he was teaching me a lesson however.

My observation and takeaway is that people love attention, love to be called out by name, and generally love to feel warmth and love. The doorman was delivering. I suspect some people stay at the Four Seasons just because they like the doorman.

The doorman is likely the first customer contact. That is why that position is so important. If the doorman took a legalistic approach to his job, he would just open doors for people and call it a day. That would be performing on the functional part of his job but missing out on the more important part.

That would be, well, public relations. He is the ultimate public relations engine for the hotel – public relation boots on the ground. Sure the hotel could hire a stellar PR firm, do some cool things, and that probably would be helpful. But the PR that the doorman does is immeasurable.

So the takeaway from this for me is that, in any business, we must be mindful of the customer facing contact, in particular. This role is extremely important. What authors like Dale Carnegie wrote about on these topics, so many years ago, are still true today. Remember, “customers” includes any user of our software, too, so this story is relevant to all of us in the software industry.

We need to love and care for our customers … and clients, too!