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Instagram: Lessons learned with 3D Touch

Ryan Nystrom on the Instagram Engineering Blog:

We had the opportunity to integrate this new technology into Instagram early on and were excited by how natural the shortcuts and peeking on photos and videos felt. The API for adding 3D interactions was seamless to use, and along the way we collected pointers for how to add them to your apps.

Cool writeup. This is one of my favorite new hardware features.

Kickstarter Focuses Its Mission on Altruism Over Profit

Mike Isaac and David Gelles in the New York Times:

Many technology start-ups aim to become “unicorns,” the companies that get valued at $1 billion or more on their way to probable vast riches. Yancey Strickler and Perry Chen have no interest in that.

As co-founders of Kickstarter, the popular online crowdfunding website that lets people raise money to help fund all manner of projects, including cooking gadgets and movies, Mr. Strickler and Mr. Chen could have tried to take their company public or sell it, earning millions of dollars for themselves and other shareholders.

Instead, they announced on Sunday that Kickstarter was reincorporating as a “public benefit corporation,” a legal change they said would ensure that money — or the promise of it — would not corrupt their company’s mission of enabling creative projects to be funded.

“We don’t ever want to sell or go public,” said Mr. Strickler, Kickstarter’s chief executive. “That would push the company to make choices that we don’t think are in the best interest of the company.”

Here Is Postlight

Paul Ford, on his new company:

Over the last few months I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a partner in a business. In practice, partnership means that we talk. Rich and I talk to the Postlight team, in small meetings and all-hands meetings, and over drinks or coffee. We talk to lawyers. We talk, over breakfast, about signage, recruiting, bookkeeping, taxation, legal fees, cashflow, and lead generation.

We ask ourselves, “What are the most important things we can do as an agency, as a company that ships big things?” We think the most important thing we can do is: Build a self-sufficient team and do absolutely everything we can to keep it together. Which sounds incredibly obvious in theory but is not obvious in practice. So we talk even more: About loyalty, and how to build loyalty, how to create trust, and how trust can help you ship good software fast. There’s a lot that is new. It takes time. We’ll get there.

Sounds like a familiar story.

The Right Way to Ship Software

Jocelyn Goldfein on First Round Review:

In a profession where we carry out decade-spanning holy wars over tab widths and capitalization, it’s no surprise that people get attached to their development and release habits. But if shipping so much software has taught me one thing, it’s to be an agnostic. Different methodologies optimize for different goals, and all of them have downsides. If you maximize for schedule predictability, you’ll lose on engineer productivity (as this turns out to be a classic time/space tradeoff). Even when you aren’t dealing with textbook tradeoffs, all investments of effort trade against something else you could be spending the time on, whether it’s building an automated test suite or triaging bugs.

Goldfein’s perspective is refreshingly honest. Most successful engineers will tell you they’ve found the ‘one true way’ to ship great work. But in reality, it seems that there are many different ways to attack these problems depending on your situation.

To determine “the right way to develop software,” you’ve got to understand what matters for your product and how to optimize for that. This isn’t based on personal preference. Ultimately it stems from your company’s mission, and the way you make money is a reasonable proxy for that.

Such a great look at how to approach shipping software.

Peace

Marco Arment, on Wednesday:

Today, I’m launching my own iOS 9 content blocker, called Peace, to bring peace, quiet, privacy, and — as a nice side benefit — ludicrous speed to iOS web browsing.

There are a lot of content blockers being released today, but Peace strikes the best balance I’ve seen between effectiveness, compatibility, simplicity, and speed, powered by what I’ve found to be the best database in the business after months of testing.

Marco Arment, on Friday:

I’ve pulled Peace from the App Store. I’m sorry to all of my fans and customers who bought this on my name, expecting it to be supported for longer than two days. It’ll keep working for a long time if you already have it, but with no updates.

As I write this, Peace has been the number one paid app in the U.S. App Store for about 36 hours. It’s a massive achievement that should be the highlight of my professional career. If Overcast even broke the top 100, I’d be over the moon.

Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have. Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.

The App business is really hard. It’s easy for people on the outside to judge Marco for his decision, and criticize the week he’s just had. Good on him for sticking to his morals and doing what he feels is right.

For what it’s worth, the app is great and I’ll be keeping it installed.

Forget about the mobile internet

Benedict Evans:

Mobile is not a subset of the internet anymore, that you use only if you’re waiting for a coffee or don’t have a PC in front of you – it’s becoming the main way that people use the internet. It’s not mobile that’s limited to a certain set of locations and use cases – it’s the PC, that can only do the web (and yes, legacy desktop apps, if you care, and consumers don’t) and only be used sitting down. It’s time to invert that mental model – there is not the ‘mobile internet’ and the internet. Rather, if anything, it’s the internet and the ‘desktop internet’

Steve Smith Sr.’s Last Lecture

Steve Smith on retiring from the NFL after this season (emphasis mine):

My name is Steve Smith Sr., and you might know me as an undersized wide receiver who played 14 NFL seasons. You’ve seen a lot of me on TV, some of it unflattering. And as I step away from the fame and the media and a life captured on SportsCenter, there are a few things I’d like you to know about who I really am.

I’ll start with this: I’ve always been a big reader. I encourage young players to find something that moves their needle in the same way football does. Find something that can challenge you and make you think. Our game is so consuming and you can fall into the trap of being a one-dimensional human being. Don’t let that be you.

[…] In 2008, I began reading The Last Lecture, the best-seller by Randy Pausch, a professor who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told he had only months to live. Pausch’s last lecture is about achieving your childhood fantasy. He asks if you are spending time on the right things, because time is all you have. He talks about overcoming obstacles, seizing every moment and doing everything you can to live life to the fullest. The book speaks to everyone, but really, it is the lessons he wanted to impart on his children.

Focus on what matters.

The Ingredients For Greatness, By Jerome Bettis

This past weekend, Jerome Bettis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Normally, I wouldn’t associate with anything Steelers-related, but his acceptance speech was particularly good. Semil Shah of Haystack also enjoyed it, and took the time to transcript the last bit:

Greatness is not a sports term — it’s a life term. I believe there are four things that get you to greatness. One, you gotta have the ability to sacrifice. A lot of times that means sacrificing the relationships that mean the most to you. The second thing is pain. You’re gonna have to go through some type of pain in your life — either physical or mental — and you’ve got to find a way to endure. The third one is failure. You’ve got to have the ability to understand that you’re going to fail, but it’s how you recover that makes you a better person. And the last, the fourth one, is love, because if you love it, then, it’s not a job — it’s a passion. And if you love it, you’re willing to sacrifice for it, you’re willing to go through all types of pain for it, and you are willing to go through that failure and understand that ‘I will be successful.’ If you go through those four things and understand [them], … then success is in your path. Greatness is available to you.

What Steve Jobs Taught Me About Being a Son and a Father

Nick Bilton in yesterday’s New York Times:

Mr. Jobs said he wanted freshly squeezed orange juice.

After a few minutes, the waitress returned with a large glass of juice. Mr. Jobs took a tiny sip and told her tersely that the drink was not freshly squeezed. He sent the beverage back, demanding another.

A few minutes later, the waitress returned with another large glass of juice, this time freshly squeezed. When he took a sip he told her in an aggressive tone that the drink had pulp along the top. He sent that one back, too.

My friend said he looked at Mr. Jobs and asked, “Steve, why are you being such a jerk?”

Mr. Jobs replied that if the woman had chosen waitressing as her vocation, “then she should be the best.”

Cool story, read the whole thing to see why.

App Camp For Girls 3.0

App Camp For Girls is on a mission: we encourage girls to pursue app development as a career by teaching them how to make iPhone apps in a fun, creative summer camp program under the mentorship of women developers. We are shifting the gender balance in our industry. App Camp 3.0 is the next stage in bringing the program to more girls in more locations!

There’s a few days left in this wonderful campaign. I’ve supported them, and I hope you do too.

Why Hiring for “Culture Fit” Hurts Your Culture

Mathias Meyer, CEO of Travis CI:

There’s one fundamental mistake in both using and looking for culture fit as a means for hiring: You’re assuming that your current culture is healthy and doesn’t need to be changed.

Using culture fit as a reason to fire or not to hire says more about you than it says about them. It says that you’re not willing to dig deep and figure out what exactly you think doesn’t match in your expectation and a candidates personality. It shows that your culture is a fixed property of your company and team, one that can’t be changed, one that is exactly where you want it to be.

Culture fit is a reason to continue maintaining the status quo.

Stress Management

From the great Farnam Street blog:

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?”

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”

It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses. As early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don’t carry them through the evening and into the night. Remember to put the glass down!

The inside story of Answers

Wayne Chang’s story of how a small team at Crashlytics built Answers, their incredibly popular analytics service, is really great. The whole thing is quotable, but I love this part especially showing the power of a small, focused team:

After taking a sip of coffee and setting my bag down next to my desk, I fired up my laptop. 20 tabs proceeded to unwind, like a dealer shuffling cards. Opening one of the tabs in my browser, I wasn’t quite sure I was reading it right. My tab had SourceDNA open, one of the most comprehensive data sources for mobile developers, and it listed Answers above Google. In fact, we were number 2, just behind Flurry.

I mean, Flurry was acquired by Yahoo for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Here, it was saying that we had done in a few months what it took Flurry nearly 10 years to do — and with just six people on our team.

What makes a good or bad designer, developer, sys admin…

Natalie Nagele on the Wildbit Blog:

On the last retreat in April, we asked the entire team to read Ben’s Good/Bad essay. Everyone then spent an hour writing out what they think makes a good or bad developer, designer, QA engineer, etc. We wanted each person to put their expectations down for their teammates. We then regrouped and read them all out loud. We made comments and put together common themes. Finally, each team (designers, developers, QA, success, etc) broke away, and started crafting their own essay on what makes a good/bad _______.

I love this approach to setting job expectations and clarity around what makes a role great. Kudos to the Wildbit team for sharing their documents for the community to review and use.

Zeldman: ‘My Website is 20 Years Old Today’

Jeffrey Zeldman:

I launched this site twenty years ago (a year before the Wayback Machine, at least two years before Google) and it was one of the only places you could read and learn about web design. I launched at a tilde address (kids, ask your parents), and did not think to register zeldman.com until 1996, because nobody had ever done anything that crazy.

Apps versus the web

Benedict Evans nails it:

But for an actual brand, developer or publisher wondering if they should do an app or a website, I generally answer that the calculation is much simpler and less technical:

Do people want to put your icon on their home screen?

Do you have the kind of relationship, and proposition, that people will want to engage with it enough to put your icon on their phone? If the answer to this is yes, then you should have an app – if only because the app store is the way to do that that people understand, and they’ll look for you in the app store. Once that app is there, you can leverage all the interesting and sophisticated things that you might do with it, or you might manage the flow of information just like your website, but the app has to be there.

And, he adds:

In either of these cases – whether you have an app and a website or just a website, you should presume that your customers will engage with you only on mobile.

How FreshBooks Got Its (Design) Mojo Back

The transformation to Scrum was scary, messy, confusing — even emotional. We had to forget what we knew about building software and take a leap of faith. Truthfully, there were times we weren’t sure we’d come out the other side. But like when Andy Dufresne crawled out of the pipe at the end of Shawshank Redemption, our perseverance paid off.

Software development became collaborative; Product Managers and Developers began working together — no more silos. Software development became iterative; we shipped customer value every single week — no more monolithic projects. […]

We were so focused on figuring out how Agile Scrum could improve the way we build software that we didn’t consider how design fits into this new way of working. Design got left behind.

Figuring out how to ‘fit’ a true creative design flow into the Agile process has been difficult for us to grasp as well. They’ve illustrated a common pitfall very well:

One of the lessons we learned when we moved to Agile Scrum was that there’s no such thing as a purely technical problem, just as there’s no such thing as a purely business problem. Each problem in software development is a bit of both, and solving it therefore demands collaboration and teamwork across disciplines. We completely overlooked this important lesson when we tried to solve our problems with design. This all but guaranteed our inevitable failure.

Tomorrow’s Advance Man

Great read in the this week’s New Yorker about Marc Andreessen. The whole thing is great, but I especially liked this bit about some advice to Mark Zuckerberg:

In 2006, Yahoo! offered to buy Facebook for a billion dollars, and Accel Partners, Facebook’s lead investor, urged Mark Zuckerberg to accept. Andreessen said, “Every single person involved in Facebook wanted Mark to take the Yahoo! offer. The psychological pressure they put on this twenty-two-year-old was intense. Mark and I really bonded in that period, because I told him, ‘Don’t sell, don’t sell, don’t sell!’ ” Zuckerberg told me, “Marc has this really deep belief that when companies are executing well on their vision they can have a much bigger effect on the world than people think, not just as a business but as a steward of humanity — if they have the time to execute.” He didn’t sell; Facebook is now worth two hundred and eighteen billion dollars.

The Chokehold of Calendars

Mike Monteiro:

People rarely schedule working time. And when they do it’s viewed as second-tier time. It’s interruptible. Meetings trump working time. Why? And why so often are the same people who assign deadlines the same ones reassigning all of your time? Crazymaking. They should be securing work time for you and protecting it fiercely.

Why are you letting other people put things on your calendar? The idea of a calendar as a public fire hydrant for colleagues to mark is ludicrous. The time displayed on your calendar belongs to you, not to them. It’s been allocated to you to complete tasks. Why are you taking time away from your coding project to go to a meeting that someone you barely know added you to without asking and without the decency to have submitted an agenda?

Be Kind

Andrew Bosworth, engineer at Facebook:

Being kind isn’t the same as being nice. It isn’t about superficial praise. It doesn’t mean dulling your opinions. And it shouldn’t diminish the passion with which you present them.

Being kind is fundamentally about taking responsibility for your impact on the people around you. It requires you be mindful of their feelings and considerate of the way your presence affects them.

Great, honest story about a very common problem. Kudos to him for sharing.

Slack’s $2.8 Billion Dollar Secret Sauce

Andrew Wilkinson, of MetaLab, on how his team designed Slack:

In July 2013, I got an email from Stewart Butterfield. I recognized his name immediately. I was a big fan of Flickr, which he co-founded and sold to Yahoo, and we were both based in the Pacific Northwest. He had big news: he was shutting down Glitch, the game he’d started in 2009, and was working on something new. He wanted us to design his new team chat app.

I groaned to myself. We were avid users of Campfire, and had tested out the many copycat products that had come out over the years. I felt the problem had already been solved. It was a crowded market and knew it would be difficult to make his product stand out from the crowd. Regardless, I was excited to get a chance to work with Stewart, and thought it would be fun to solve some of the issues that we•d had with Campfire. We shook hands, kicked things off, and rolled up our sleeves.

When he pulled back the curtain and shared their early prototype on day one, it looked like a hacked together version of IRC in the browser. Barebones and stark. Just six weeks later, we had done some of the best work of our careers. So, how did we get from hacky browser IRC to the Slack we all know and love?

Slack is an amazing success story about a product that came into a fairly saturated market and took it all away by being smarter and better designed. I couldn’t imagine not using Slack every day as we grow our business.

The Arc of Company Life

Great piece by Mark Leslie on First Round Review:

Successful enterprises have a cycle of life. Startups build a product or service, enter the market and attract customers. Once they’re over these initial hurdles, they enter a growth phase, rapidly increasing their revenue and market share with big gains year-over-year. They continue to work on their product, fine-tuning it as revenue starts to flatten and margins stabilize at lower but still attractive levels.

As these companies mature, growth slows even more, eventually flattening out — yet operational expenses continue to climb as they strive to compete with new players in the market. Finally, unable to keep up, burdened with bloated budgets, companies spiral into negative growth, marked by layoffs, high burn rates and eventual bankruptcy or liquidation.

This paints a pretty bleak picture — especially if one considers the inevitability of this pattern — but it’s important to note that this cycle plays out over drastically different time lines for different companies. Many successful companies have prolonged their relevance for decades, and some for over a century. Technology companies are just like “real companies” except that the cycle is shorter so everything happens faster.

I love his explanation of the so-called Opportunity-Driven leaders:

You can identify this type of leader by their ability to not just see the future but seize it, their comfort with unconventional strategies, and their acceptance of bold risk. They don’t measure their success by rankings, quarterly earnings or liquidity events. They have a more grandiose vision to change the world, build a global brand, upend an existing industry.

Why You Need Emotional Intelligence to Succeed

Dr. Travis Bradberry on Emotional Intelligence for Inc.com:

When the concept of emotional intelligence was introduced to the masses, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70 percent of the time. This anomaly threw a massive wrench into what many people had always assumed was the sole source of success—IQ. Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. […]

Of all the people we’ve studied at work, we’ve found that 90 percent of top performers are also high in emotional intelligence. On the flip side, just 20 percent of bottom performers are high in emotional intelligence. You can be a top performer without emotional intelligence, but the chances are slim.

The SimCity Model of Growing

Danny Sullivan on growing the old-fashioned way:

It’s what I once called the “SimCity” model of growing. I used to often play the game years ago. I would take two approaches. One was to use the “FUNDS” cheat to get all the money I needed to build everything at once. But in doing this, I often found my cities built that way didn’t thrive. Instead, naturally growing my city slowly over time allowed it to stablize [sic] and do well.

Third Door Media has taken this SimCity natural approach, over the years. Our growth has continued. Two years ago, we were even able to take money out to return to some of our early employees, who have shares in the company. We’ve made the Inc. 5000 list four times in a row. We’ve done three hires this year and have several others planned, bringing our overall staff to nearly 50 people. This will all be funded by our own revenues, not because we had VC money pouring in. We also have a solid cash balance in the bank because our CEO Chris Elwell is dead serious (and right) on being conservative and being prepared.

Nice analogy.