Saturday, December 14, 2013

Al Fresco Thought

Blogs of TheHackerCIO are done Al Fresco.

Painters -- and I'll seize this word-moment to recommend most highly Paul Graham's Hackers & Painters -- are both challenged and inspired by working on "Frescos," a medium that dries very quickly. Plaster is laid down first and immediately begins drying. Then the paint is applied to the plaster, so that the final product is a beautiful re-creation of some aspect of reality. But you gotta be quick. Otherwise the plaster will dry and you're screwed. I've put an example of a fresh, lively, Fresco of two girls at the lead of this posting.

A blog is a similar medium, in my opinion. It needs to be executed quickly, without over-thinking the topic of interest. It's almost like a core dump showing the current state of thinking about a particular aspect of technology. And if you're not quick enough, you're screwed.

And the great thing is you don't even need to know hexadecimal to read my blog!

Part of the reason why TheHackerCIO is so entertaining is that he works very rapidly, in an al fresco style, so that everything remains very fresh. No cliches here. No PC. But also, nothing is carefully, systematically thought out. It gets written quickly, another once over to ensure almost no typos, and out it goes to publication. That's my blog methodology.

For the carefully crafted, systematically worked out writing, you have to go to the essays.

But, as you know, those are still forthcoming .... and only subscribers will get access to them for the first year. After a year,  a selection of essays will become available on this link.

They will be awesome,  though!

I Remain,


Bum's Rush for TheHackerCIO!

TheHackerCIO got The Bum's Rush from the LACTO Forum, effective today. Some gentle readers may not know what the "bum's rush" is, because today they call them homeless and respect their alternative lifestyle. The bum's rush is when you get "forcefully and abruptly ejected."

It happened Wed, but took effect today, Friday.

I thought the call was to ask me to speak in 2014, but was I ever wrong! It turns out that it was notification that the "invitation-only" forum no longer required my presence.

I was and remain, "persona non grata."

I was excommunicated, so to speak.

But TheHackerCIO has been excommunicated from larger and better groups than this, such as the Universal Body of Christ, for asking the wrong kind of questions, but that's another story for another day.

Interestingly, the grounds given for my abrupt expulsion after years of attendance was the same as the other time. For asking the wrong kind of questions. Or dumb ones. It's not really clear. I was told that "my questions were not thought to be up to the level of the group," which translated into regular English, means "You ask dumb questions."

But TheHackerCIO is thrilled! To be accused of "asking dumb questions," is an honor extraordinaire. First of all, TheHackerCIO follows a principle he learned from his stepfather: the "I'm just a poor sharecroppers son" principle. This principle requires a separate blog-posting to deal with completely, but let's leave it at this: my stepfather, who was quite sophisticated, educated, and charming,  would always say this when he wanted an explanation that reduced complexity to a manageable, normal, everyday, ordinary, man-in-the-street level. Ideas should be explicable, even complex ideas, with sufficient clarity that even a poor, unsophisticated "sharecropper's son" can grasp them. And I am never embarrassed by any question I have asked in seeking this level of clarity. Neither now, nor in the past. Nor in the future.  A desire to understand should NEVER be a source of shame, for anyone.

Best-Selling business writer Patrick Lencioni understands this same principle. In his highly recommended book on consulting ("Getting Naked"), he calls for people to "Ask Dumb Questions" (p: 206-7), and notes this:
Think about the times you've been in a room and had a question that you thought might be too obvious to ask. And then someone else asks it, and you look a them with a sense of gratitude and respect. That's how clients see us, if we have the courage to ask.
Apparently, that's not how the LACTO forum members feel!

Or, possibly, the forum member have an ulterior motive for booting TheHackerCIO out. I'm turning speculative here, but bear with me.  I'm going to ask two questions:

1. How likely is it that an extremely intelligent, perceptive, funny, easy-going, educated specialist in technology for decades would really ask too many low-quality questions?

2. How likely is it that the beliefs of someone strongly opinionated about the need for CTOs to be able to write code would offend a forum of CTOs where this opinion was voiced and shock was registered that he was the only one present who coded daily? Is it likely that such a group would kick him out rather than have him continually blogging and speaking about the need to be a Hacker as well as a CTO? Or maybe even just out of spite toward him for such beliefs?

I'll leave the answer to this as an exercise for the reader.

As an aside, TheHackerCIO's wife, a woman of extraordinary wisdom, warned him about his blog. "You know, you're not going to make any friends by telling people the truth the way you do," she told me. Amusingly, she warned me a few days before the ax fell. But TheHackerCIO decided when he started blogging that he was going to tell his truth, his way regardless of the consequences.

Will TheHackerCIO miss the forum? Yes. It would be "sour grapes" -- a form of dishonesty -- to claim that the sessions won't be missed. But TheHackerCIO doesn't want to associate with technologists who don't code or are OK with it being "5 years since I looked at coding," as one participant said. Or, if they really think my questions are "not up to level," or that simple questions ought not to be asked, or even that they can kick someone out for asking basic questions and not have it poison others against asking basic questions,  then they are complete idiots, and again, I don't want to associate with them. And one session in particular, I always hated, and won't miss, was the quarterly bitch-and-moan Roundtable for everyone about "What keeps you up at night?" I got nothing out of hearing the same old rehash from everyone on a quarterly basis.

But I can tell you what ought to have been keeping them up at night.

They haven't coded in 5 years.

I Remain,


Friday, December 13, 2013

Hiring someone to do YOUR job

TheHackerCIO got pinged for a job. That happens all the time. But this one was puzzling. And the puzzle illustrates a principle that I live by. The J. Paul Getty principle. The principle has already been discussed, here (at point # 5) and is in the FAQ.

The J Paul Getty Principle is, in his shortest formulation:
"If you have a business, make sure that you’re the one who’s running it."
And I've explained before how this applies to outsourcing: you can't outsource technology to an external company if you're in a technology-defined business. It's your core business, so you have to be the one running it. QED.

But the principle has wider application.

And the puzzling email is a perfect example.

TheHackerCIO likes to do interviews from time to time. It's one technique he uses to stay current on technology -- but thats a topic for another day.

At one such interview, many months ago, he went for the position of "VP of Engineering" for a major, successful, revenue-positive, profit-positive!!! startup. Wow. A profitable startup that never needed to raise capital! Wow.

The immediate task was to assess the backend, and reengineer it. It's commonly required, as startups tend to put forth a system more tuned toward rapid-development than handling the scale-up load.

This startup, however made an enormous mistake. They "passed" on TheHackerCIO. It's only to be expected, I suppose, that from time to time he might not be chosen as "the one." But he was happy for the exchange and for what he learned from them, so he stayed in touch with their chief engineer -- an awesome developer he hopes to one day raid for his own boutique.

Now the plot has been developed so that you can see why the headhunter's email was so puzzling. The best way to see it is by reading TheHackerCIO's reply to said Headhunter, reproduced below minus the specific names, followed by the headhunter's reply:

========================================================================On 12/10/13 11:28 AM, James Rothering wrote:
Hi <<Headhunter Name>>:

I've already interviewed at <Company Name>>, actually. We discussed the VP Engineering role, but they decided to go with someone else. Too bad they missed out on the best, isn't it?

I don't think they'd be willing to pay CTO rates for an Architect, but thank you for asking.

By the way, have you checked out my technology blog?

And yes, I Am TheHackerCIO. 


There you have it. They hired someone who needs to hire someone to assess and re-engineer the middle/backend tier.

If you happen to know of anyone for this I would appreciate the referral. I think it is a critical role so hopefully they will pay what they need to. If I can find someone.

I haven't read it yet but will today.

<Headhunter Signature Name>>
========================================================================So, as you can see, this "VP of Engineering" needs to have an engineer who can do his job of assessing and re-engineering the server! Wow! That's a fireable offense in my book. If he isn't up to the job, he needs to fire himself and get a replacement into the works. Ex post haste. Headhunter is right that this is a "critical" role. So critical it can't be done by anyone other than the one specifically hired to do it. So naturally, TheHackerCIO pinged his contact, the chief engineer mentioned before, to find out what the problem was and what kind of insanity was going on. The emails below, again with particulars expunged, show the interchange:========================================================================

On 12/11/13 09:46AM, James Rothering wrote:
Hi <<Name>>:

I just got "pinged" by a headhunter for an Architect who "can assess and reengineer the backend" for <<Company Name>>. I hate to say it, but why isn't your new VP Engineering capable of doing this? Sounds to me like he isn't much of an Engineer or CTO if he can't take the lead on assessing and reengineering the backend. 

Hope that all is otherwise well. By the way, did you like my blog? (



Hey James,

That's funny you got pinged again! 

I actually don't work at <<Company Name>> anymore, so I'm not necessarily privy to everything going on there!

But I do agree that <<CTO's Name>> ought to be leading the charge on the re-architecting. I don't know what the job description says, but last I heard, he was more looking for a lead Dev to execute on his directives. I suspect he's too busy trying to hire people and manage contractors for time to actually code. 

Your site is good - I have been checking it out here and there. Keep it up!


<<Signature Name>>
So, I don't know what's going on at this company. Perhaps the headhunter hasn't been properly told what is needed. But there's a better than even chance, based upon my dismal experience, that this is an accurate reflection of what is desired. The bottom line is:  If you need someone to re-engineer the system for you, then you are not an engineer, nor a VP of Engineering. If you're too busy to code, fire yourself, and hire someone competent. If you have a business, make sure that you’re the one who’s running it.And ...If you're a VP Engineering, make sure that you're the one engineering. I Remain,

Thursday, December 12, 2013

New tab on TheHackerCIO: Reviews

So far all the feedback on my blog has been positive. No one has told me they hate it. Nor even that they disagree with it.

I put up a page to track reviews and feedback here.

If readers want to send me more full reviews, I will post those as well.

So consider this a "call to reviewers"!

Hey, I'll put up a negative review as well, if any such can be found.

I Remain,


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Treating Employees Like Adults

I had lunch with a colleague and friend Ilya Pozin, who never sleeps, and one of many fascinating things we discussed was the answer to a GeekyBookClub question/discussion about vacation time.

The GeekyBookClub (actually, it's not called that, it's named the LAJUG Study Group, but how pedestrian is that?) ... well, as I was saying, the book club was discussing a new practice where no fixed/definite vacation time is given by the employer.

Instead, the employee is free to take whatever time He wishes (yes "he," that's for Brian Cantrell, the Pronoun Prick at Joyent, the Pronoun Fascists, where this is a firing offense. I'm feeling edgy and daring here as I defy their PC conventions!).

The discussion in our club took a rather negative view of this. Based upon a lot of Dilbertian experience, the members feared that this amounted to less or no vacation time, for fear of the consequences. And one member pointed out that they also re-evaluated your "contribution to the team" each year, so that your salary might get "adjusted," based upon your vacation time requests! This was not thought to be desirable.

Not at all.

Does anyone wonder why?

Or are you all living in Dilbertian comic strips, as I suspect?

But my colleague said that they way it worked in his company -- Ciplex -- was that everyone had commitments for revenue production. If they wanted to take time, anything desired was fine, so long as someone was covering for them. Or, for example, someone might say "I'm going to Hawaii next week -- but I'll make sure this projects gets done." So, basically, it amounts to -- as Ilya put it -- "treating the employees like adults, rather than children."

Novel idea, that.

Sounds like a  pretty good policy to me.

I Remain,


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Everyone a Hacker

TheHackerCIO has been too busy, so he missed out announcing this on Monday.

This week is Computer Science Education Week. As part of it, everyone -- are you listening, recruiters, marketers, and business development specialists? --  is encouraged to spend an hour learning to code.   Details about the Computer Science Education Week are here.

And the actual video lesson for the "Hour of Code" is here, courtesy of Khan Academy.

And with Everyone a Hacker,

I Remain,


Sunday, December 8, 2013

TheHackerCIO's Top Professional Values

What are TheHackerCIOs Top Professional Values? 

Making a list of your values is a fantastic way to focus your mind and follow the adage of the Delphic Oracle: "know thyself." With the new year approaching, and with a lot of potential business partners needing this information, I've put together this brief first "essay," or "attempt." These are not ordered. The numbering is purely for separation.

1. Learning new technologies has to be at the top of the list. There is absolutely nothing more fascinating than figuring out how to use new technologies in the spirit with which they have been created --  to deliver more efficient, faster, better, and more innovative solutions. Part of the reason why Codojo was brought into existence was to foster the kind of environment where people who loved to learn could come together, collegially, and work together. The Geeky Book Club I attend is full of people who feel this way as well. And that's the kind of people I enjoy spending time with!

2. Having fun through work: life is too short to hate what you do for a living! I've never understood the mentality that says "just give me a paycheck." Why would you want to spend the majority of your day, "just getting a paycheck?" I think this is what Steve Jobs meant when he said, "don't settle":
"You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle."
I haven't yet watched this film about Jiro Ono -- but several people have pointed me to it as an interesting parallel to my ideas about loving your work. And this article quotes him from the documentary:
"Once you decide on your occupation," says Jiro, "you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably."
I think that the notion of striving to fall in love with your work is something that needs a lot further exploration in our culture.

3. Achieving values in work: what's the point of pointless work? Why would anyone want to work on something they thought pointless, silly, needless, or improper, when they could work on something important, useful, helpful, and wonderful. That's the kind of work I look for. And that's the attitude toward work I look for in colleagues.

4. Brutal honesty & full transparency: this is where "the edge" comes forth. It's been said, that TheHackerCIO "has an edge," which I've remarked on before. I'm not one for evading the truth. It never helps. Full honesty is really the only way. And it makes everything so much better. And I hesitate to use the term "transparency," since the politicians have recently ruined it. But that's an important concept too. Far to important to let scum like politicians ruin.

5. The J. Paul Getty Principle: Being in charge of your business. This rules outsourcing out-of-bounds. You can read the other FAQ answers for further details, but this is one of the principles that makes it impossible for me to work with outsourcers. To quote J. Paul Getty, from How to Be Rich:
"If you have a business, make sure that you’re the one who’s running it."
And he explains why:
"A businessman must run his own business. He cannot expect his employees to think or do as well as he can. If they could, they would not be his employees."
You can't outsource your core business concern. And my core business concern is technology. Ergo, I can't work with offshore technology outsourcers. It's really pretty simple.

6. Work with people who also love what they do. And not with Pointy Haired Bosses. Because Dilbert isn't just a cartoon. It's an unfortunate and hideous reality for far too many.

7. Work with integrity, so that you are proud of what you produce. Not "just doing what you're told", but actually doing a good thing, something that works really well, something that, consequently, people want to use, and consequently, that you are proud you produced. TheHackerCIO wants to go home at night -- perhaps tired -- but proud of the code he crafted, happy with the technology solution he designed.

I'm sure there are more, but this is a good start. I'll add others as they come up.

I Remain,