Productivity hints: Get a better monitor (today)

One of the best things you can do for your personal productivity (and the productivity of those you manage) is to make sure that people have the right tools for the job.

To keep it brief:  monitors are cheap, your time is expensive.  23″ and even 27″ 1920×1080 monitors are regularly on sale.  Check the usual suspects: SIG Electronics, Newegg, NCIX, TigerDirect. Full disclosure: I have no financial interest, and I don’t get an affiliate marketing fee; I just feel strongly about this, and I worked on a laptop with a great external monitor both in my home office and my corporate and consulting offices for years.  It makes a big difference!

Cheers,
Dak

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The Elements of Security: Omit Needless Software

[Inspired by a mail virus that’s going around, and the classic Strunk and White text, The Elements of Style]

DO NOT install random software from friends, links you get in email, ‘free’ screen savers, and the like. Less is better. Your systems will be faster and more secure, and you don’t need them.  Even if they work, they are a waste of your time and system resources.

Here’s a longer aside for those of you who are thinking “But surely you don’t mean avoid installing anything?”

If  you DO need something, do the research and get what you need for the time and money price you are willing to pay.  (Free isn’t necessarily what’s best for you;  the ‘more expensive’ package can easily be better for you in the long run.)

Here are a couple of relevant examples:

1) Web browsers:  Firefox, Safari, and Chrome.  Great web browsers, all free, and worth the minor work to keep them up to date. They all have their strengths; I use Firefox most often, but both Safari and Chrome for some other tasks.  (Comments are more than welcome!)  Sorry, I’ve been burned too many times by Internet Explorer to want to use it, and the other browsers support a wider range of machines, since Microsoft has dropped upgrade support for older Windows versions, and doesn’t support other operating systems.  Your mileage may vary.

2) EVault data protection software.  Yes, there are free alternatives, but for your business servers where you really, really have to be able to recover, these folks are really good.  I’m no longer with the company, but I did run the engineering team for a year and a half, and I still happily recommend the products and services.  The free/’freemium‘ alternatives are good as far as they go, but system restoration is tricky, and EVault gets it right.  EVault software is owned, and the service operated, by i365, a Seagate company, so you know they’ll be around.  Highly recommended.

I’d love to have comments on other ‘elements of security,’ so please feel free to chime in.

Thanks,
Dak

Personal branding: overrated, or common sense?

I’m sure you’ve seen a number of posts that talk about ‘personal branding.’ They mostly have something to sell you, or an approach you really ought to take, which involves hundreds of hours of sustained work, and buying books and seminars.

BUT: to get started, keep it simple. If your blog is your primary website, keep it that way, and give it the focus of how you are talking to the rest of the world. (A great posting on this is here…)

First, be consistent in what you say. You are talking in public, and it’s going to be around (probably for the rest of your life).

Second, put ALL of your social media links on your blog. If you are using wordpress, it’s remarkably easy. (I’ll do a quick tutorial if there’s interest.). Remember the big three (FOR YOU): twitter, linkedin, and delicious are mine.

Third, see if this makes a difference on your blog stats. (Second edit: yes, it did, see the graph.)never trust graphics without vertical scale ;-)

Regards,
Dak

Building teams: Developers, not Programmers

If you aren’t in the software development business, this post is not for you.  These aren’t the droids you are looking for.  Move along!

Once upon a time, it was Good Enough to have wicked good coding skills.  Master programmers would hand out assignments to the rest of the team, who would code up the concepts and go their merry way.  However, those times are long gone; not only are coding skills regularly taught in high school (all over the world), but even the higher level skill of programming to specifications, not designs, has become a commodity.

I personally believe that the best answer to the commodification of skills is refactor jobs and skill sets.  With this in mind, I am thoroughly convinced that people who were once content to be “programmers” need to be “developers”– consumate professionals able to solve the “whole problem” and take a design task from concept to production.

The fundamentals of business and career growth remain the same: find a need and fill it.  However, there’s no longer a need for 100% code jockeys.  That’s OK; solving the real problem is more fun, and pays better.  (Anyone who I have worked with over the years will recognize that I’m consistent on this point…and most of them have moved on to bigger and better things.  If you are reading this, do drop me a line or post a comment.)

As always, best regards,

Dak

Why morale matters

The McKinsey Quarterly has a good interview with Brad Bird (director of The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille). I’ve been following Pixar with great interest over the years, partly because I have a couple of old friends who work there (Hi guys!), and partly because I really believe in what they are doing (changing from being a software vendor in a niche market to being a major motion picture studio: brilliant!). In my opinion, Pixar is the poster child for the “eat your own dog food” school of management, and deserves their success. (How good is Renderman? Well, it’s good enough that we’ve won Oscars with movies we’ve built on it!)

In my experience, THE key issue on the performance of teams is to get the morale and the synergy of the teams going. This involves selecting the right people, keeping the great players in the team, and keeping the ideas flowing.

Here’s a great quote from the interview:

The Quarterly: It sounds like you spend a fair amount of time thinking about the morale of your teams.

Brad Bird: In my experience, the thing that has the most significant impact on a movie’s budget—but never shows up in a budget—is morale. If you have low morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about 25 cents of value. If you have high morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about $3 of value. Companies should pay much more attention to morale.

Brad is being very low-key here; the emphasis is mine. In my experience, this is exactly correct.

Read the rest of the interview for how and why Brad worked on morale.

What are you doing to increase the morale of your team (and your family, and the broader group of people you work with) TODAY? I’m talking about hugs and compliments; what are you doing to recognize people as individuals, to listen to them, and to make them feel listened to?

More later in the blog, on building a team of “Developers versus Programmers.”

Have a great weekend,
Dak

Tieing it all together [tips, opinions, musings]

So, what, on earth, do all these postings have to do with each other?

Like you, I am a “person in the loop” system. I observe, tune myself to what’s going on, act, observe what happens, and repeat. What I’m sharing with you is what I’m currently observing, that’s “on the fringe” that is my “reading outside of my area.”

I personally view reading outside of my area as being critical to success. We have to be able to bring all kinds of ideas into play when we are looking for creating consulting and management solutions, and bring them up in a heartbeat.

The challenge is maintaining focus while doing this. One solution is setting a limited time budget, and a low energy time, when other, more critical things need to be done, so that it adds value rather than rationalizing distraction. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun, which is all the more reason to put it as a ‘time reward’ or ‘play period’ with limits.

Best,
Dak