Paper over Programming

I'll be the first to admit that being a developer in my previous life, I have the tendency to pick or build an application as my first reaction to solving any problem. Often times, the best solution is the simplest one. One of my greatest challenges when I came to Zoocasa was to figure out how to effectively and efficiently manage my new team. When I started, the team had only recently implemented Scrum. We had stickies printed with stories and we put them on the wall for stories that were checked out. The major benefit was that we could always tell what features that were being developed. However, as an individual and manager, I'm someone who loves data. I always describe myself as a data monkey at heart. I like to have quantitative data to tell me where the current sprint is and how we are improving from sprint to sprint. In that method, we lost a lot of key management data.

We decided to use an application called Pivotal Tracker. We saw one of our vendors use it and I thought it could work. Within a week, I started to realize that this wasn't going to work. Not because the product was bad but it wasn't the nature of the team. This team consisted of people who were development focused outside of 2 members on my team. It was not first and foremost in their minds to update a project management tool. More importantly, we lost the ability to literally see what was going on during the sprint.

Working Wall

So we've moved back to our board and added a whole series of boards as well. Our current board process is significantly more comprehensive then our previous iteration and it is also more efficient than even our application process in terms of tactical management. Today it is easier to see if we're on track. One downside is that historical capture of data is manually I'll go into more details for the purpose of each board in a future post.

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Important versus Urgent

One of my biggest struggles in life is to constantly evaluate what is important versus what is urgent. This is one of the things that really stood out when I was reading the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." This is even more important in the days when time and money is quite scarce these days. While it is very exciting to work in a start up, it is also extremely busy where we are working to get us to that tipping point of making Zoocasa a sustainable business.

Unfortunately, most things in life are seemingly urgent. E-mails need to be responded to, questions need to be answered and things need to be built. Every department has their own ideas and needs. Sometimes each department has their own goals which don't align and sometimes even contradict another department's goal. Trying to please everyone or do everything is going to quickly prove unproductive.

Goals and targets are important because they ultimately decide what is important. I often like to say that if everything is important then nothing becomes important. Because it can't be. That would cause the organization to be distracted and often causes quick burn out of resources. One of the things I really like to do in planning is to assign each work item a unique priority. It doesn't mean that the team cannot work on other items first but they recognize what is important. I find it more effective to manage the team this way. I think at the day, one of the key things I try to remember is to focus on the bigger picture and not on the inane details.

Preparing for Interviews

I had offered my cousin to help her prep for her university entry interviews and I thought that I might as well put together a blog entry for it. Like everything else, I’m not claiming to be an expert but rather that I just happen to have quite a bit of experience both interviewing and being interviewed for jobs so I thought I would do some quick sharing.

To start off, I often treat interviews as a two-way conversation. Most people focus so much on being evaluated that they fail to evaluate the other party as well. Interviews are a great opportunity to evaluate whether or not this is some place that I want to be at for a large chunk of the year and if this is some thing I truly want to do. Another thing to remember as well is that just like everything else in life, interviewing is a skill as well. Just because the other party is interviewing you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re good at it. Most people are rather bad at it largely because they don’t do it often. Sometimes it’s just as important for the interviewee to try to put the interviewer at ease. It sounds ironic but it works. When being interviewed, I try as best as possible to try to engage the interviewer because it makes the process smoother. Sometimes humour works, sometimes they like to engage in idea exchanges and sometimes they like to be given the opportunity to talk about their work. It’s really not like any other conversation from that perspective.

Interviews are also very purposeful and because it is, there is much preparation to do. The most obvious one is to research about the subject. If you’re going to a school or program, research about the program. Talk to people who have been in it, see what they thought about it and try to understand what the goal of the program is. Also understand what kind of culture of the program is. It goes a long way in engaging in the conversation with the interviewer. If possible, always get the name of the interviewer before hand. If it’s someone more senior in the organization, perhaps they’ve written papers or spoken in conferences. Read up as much as possible about the interviewer. Last but not least, research the organization. Get to know simple things like their mission statement or mission statements.

Not so obvious is the self preparation piece. In general, I find most people are surprisingly unfamiliar with themselves and therefore uncomfortable with themselves. Questions like what are our strengths/weaknesses often cause us to stumble because we are often unprepared and that there are no right answers. I usually focus on “packaging” myself. We are generally multi-faceted; we have many strengths and experiences that make us ideal for what we are going to do. It takes time to focus on parts of our experiences to highlight those things. It takes a bit of prep to have certain strengths highlighted. Also, I tend to take inventory of those things and have them handy. Usually, I need key phrases to trigger my thoughts and that’s what I have. In general, my packaging is usually humility, experienced and interested. I tend to read about lots of things especially on the technology side but I also have to try to make sure that I don’t sound condescending.

A couple of other things that comes to mind are to attempt to answer all questions and ask lots of questions. I usually try to answer all questions. If I’m unsure, I will try to ask questions or try to ask for examples. If I still don’t know, I try to make an educated guess. When I’m guessing, I try to prefix it with “I’m not entirely sure but if I were to hazzard a guess, it would be…” Hopefully that shows a more thoughtful side of me and at the same time, I’m openly honest about the things that I don’t know. Always come prepared with a lot of questions. For one, it shows that you’re interested and prepared. Take notes during the interview because you’ll want to use that to answer questions. Ask questions that may pleasantly surprise the interviewer but don’t put them into a defensive position. If they can’t answer the question, give them an easy out. It’s key not to make the interviewer uncomfortable.

Do you have any other tips? If so, please do share!

State of Mobile Operating Systems

What ultimately makes the mobile space usable is
the operating systems that hardware manufacturers use on them. While
there are more than 4 operating systems out there, there are 4 in
particular that I find intriguing or at least the most talked about in
general. They are the Apple iPhone, Google Android, RIM's Blackberry
and Microsoft's Window Mobile.

iPhone is generally considered the King of Consumer mobile. It is most
interesting how Apple to the mobile world by storm. Apple's approach to
mobile is to focus on it's area of core strength. It gave users an iPod
that also happened to have a phone on it. Consumers are used to having
an iPod. Apple extended it's features by giving the iPod a really big
screen and then "brainwashing" users that the gestures that they put on
it was the only way of doing things on the mobile and like everything
else Apple does, it worked. While the mobile platform has been around
for  a very long time, Apple is the one that made mobile accepted by
the masses. One of the things that I learned while managing development
of the Zoocasa iPhone app is that it only has very limited memory for
apps – around 20 MBs to be exact. It's hard to see the Apple be able to
run more complex applications on the iPhone at least on this current
version of the hardware. That being said, the iPhone is here to stay
and if all things remaining equal – the iPhone will continue to be the
king of consumer mobile for a long time to come.

the new kid on the block, Google's Android has gotten a lot of buzz for
the platform. I remember looking at screenshots on the internet and
couldn't help but think it to be cartoonish. I quickly lost interest.
However, @elusive_jackal decided that he wanted to get one and I got
the opportunity to play with it and I have to say that I was very
impressed with it. The physical device felt solid and the operating
system felt really solid. Setting it up did take a bit of time as we
had brought in the phone from the US and it was a bit tricky to set it
up. Fortunately, I'm pretty well versed in setting up mobile phones in
Toronto because I reset my phones so often and between @elusive_jackal
and myself, we were able to set up the phone. The platform reminds me a
bit of Ubuntu. For one, it's open-source and the developer community
seems pretty active. It is already the hottest selling phone for
T-Mobile. Like Ubuntu, Android will start off being a "geek" phone
before making it more popular mainstream.

a bit ambivalent about the Blackberry. I love RIM because it's a
Canadian company but I have to say that I'm completely baffled by it's
continued success in the mobile industry. Blackberry is often
considered the king of the enterprise mobile but up to today, it seems
like a one-trick pony which is push-email via the Blackberry Enterprise
Server. Blackberry has been facing growing pressure in that space with
Microsoft Exchange Server providing Exchange ActiveSync which is
provided for free. Earlier this year, GMail now allows synchronization
through Exchange ActiveSync. It'll be interesting to see how RIM fights
back. I had a Blackberry 8890 for a while for work but I quickly gave
it up because it wasn't stable and couldn't run the apps that I
needed/wanted to. It does messaging well and beyond that it doesn't do
much more than that well. It's starting to be more than just a
messaging platform with introduction of devices like the Storm, Bold
and Javelin along with its version of the App Store called Appworld.
It'll be interesting to see how it fends off Microsoft ang Google which
are gnawing at its own core strength.

general consensus with Microsoft is that it missed the boat on mobile
which is a bit unfair. It did unseat Palm as the premier handheld
device but it was never able to build a product that won the hearts and
minds of the general consumer. The other problem with Microsoft is that
it has a really bad rep of releasing unstable phones. The reality is
that Microsoft does not develop platforms and mobile devices are quite
different than desktop devices. Microsoft provides a very rich feature
set for developers and it has a lot of depth and potential as an
operating system. It's also the most enterprise and retail friendly.
Microsoft, under Bill Gates, has always been scrappy. It's proven then
it can take on the major players like Netscape for the browser wars and
Palm for the handheld wars. The big question is will Steve Balmer at
the helm be able to steer Microsoft to green pastures again? Is mobile
even a space that they feel that they want to compete in?

the end of the day, the end-user really doesn't care that much about
what operating system they use on the mobile platform. It just needs to