duncan.dev

Sunset at Jungfernsee

February 21, 2021 • 11:00 PM

We spent the afternoon near Potsdam on the banks of the Jungfernsee, which translates to “Virgin Lake.” After a prolonged period of cold and snow, it was great to get out of the house and be outside for a few hours with only a light jacket on.

The location here is across the water from Glienicke Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Spies. This is where the Americans and Soviets would exchange captured prisoners during the Cold War, starting with Gary Powers’ exchange for Rudolf Abel.

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Preparing for my next role

March 3, 2021 • 12:00 PM

Now that I’ve wrapped up my time at Microsoft, my attention is shifting towards my next job, where I’ll be working as a Technical Advisor to a CEO.1 I had the job title in my previous role at Microsoft for Startups, but the scope of that role was for a small team, not a company.

The description for the new job starts with:

You’ll work directly with the CEO and senior leaders to deep dive into some of the company’s most interesting technical challenges and bring perspective. You’ll connect the dots, ask hard questions of the teams, and point out great ideas and flawed designs.

My first reaction: “Awesome! That’s definitely something I want to do.”

My second reaction was “Shit! That’s a lot to do. I gotta get ready!”

The role of a Technical Advisor isn’t a common one. And, it’s a hard one to measure success for. So, I started asking questions. The first person I asked for advice was Mat Velloso, who currently serves as Satya’s Technical Advisor at Microsoft. He laughed when I asked him my questions, saying, “I interviewed every one of my predecessors in the role and asked them the same thing.”

A lot of what Mat told me really popped into focus a few days later while reading a beta copy of Staff Engineer by Will Larson. There was one particular sentence that just jumped out:

Much as the Lorax speaks for the trees in his popular children’s book, staff engineers speak for their companies’ technology.

This encapsulates the spirit of what Mat told me. Most people on Satya’s team manage large organizations and represent the needs and opinions of those groups. Mat is there to provide a counterweight to those needs and ideas, focusing on Microsoft’s technology portfolio as a whole.

So, how is that different than being a Chief Technical Officer (CTO)? Well, first off, the position doesn’t include the word “Chief” or “Officer,” both of which come with a lot of other responsibilities and accountabilities. It also depends a lot on the kind of CTO a company has. Werner Vogel’s post about the different CTO roles is helpful here. A Technical Advisor should complement and extend the capabilities of a leadership team, not just the person who they report to.

That brings me back to Will Larson’s four common archetypes of Staff-plus roles. Using this framework, a Technical Advisor is a “Right Hand”:

The Right Hand extends an executive’s attention, borrowing their scope and authority to operate particularly complex organizations. They provide additional leadership bandwidth to leaders of large-scale organizations.

Thinking about it this way and how the role bridges the other archetypes’ work (tech lead, architect, and solver) with the executive team really brings a lot of clarity to how to approach the role. Of course, there are a lot of limitations to being a right hand.

While they leverage an executive’s authority, they’re not necessarily the person that people want to talk to. They also need to stay closely aligned with their leader’s approach and values to be effective. I’ve had some advice that the best way to handle these limitations is to not have, or at least suppress, a personal opinion. There is an appeal to do that, but taking it too far would limit the role’s effectiveness, I think. Certainly, I don’t think Mat follows this advice too much.2

Obviously, with a couple of weeks to go before I start, I’m still knee-deep in defining how I want to start addressing the challenges that will come with the role. Some of the books that I’m using to prepare are:

Several of these books aren’t about technical topics, and I’ve read many of them in the past. A good review, however, is something that I’m doing to get ready. Here are a few other suggestions from folks:

Thanks Bill Dudney, Larry Wright, Ian McDonald, and Mat Velloso (again!) for those. Any other suggestions? Please don’t hesitate to send them along.

I know I’m being vague as to who I’ll be working for next — all in good time, dear readers. All in good time.

You can get a good sense of Mat’s opinions and take on life through his Twitter feed. He often brightens my day with a quip or observation.

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Visual Studio Code 1.54 is out, now with Apple Silicon support 🎉

March 5, 2021 • 10:00 AM

Native Apple Silicon support in Visual Studio code finally reaches the release ring in the Feburary 2021 release (version 1.54).

Users on Macs with M1 chips can now use VS Code without emulation with Rosetta, and will notice better performance and longer battery life when running VS Code.

Huzzah! The Insider’s builds are almost always pretty stable. Still, it’s nice to downshift to the more stable release train and not download new bits every other day or so.

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Why is Europe is sitting on millions of unused COVID-19 vaccines? 💉

March 3, 2021 • 06:00 PM

While other countries have had their time in the idiot spotlight, it seems it’s the EU’s turn to be a bunch of dolts when it comes to the COVID-19 epidemic.

For all the talk of Covid-19 vaccine supply issues in the European Union, official data show that close to 13 million doses distributed to member states have not even been administered.

Meanwhile, there’s not even a mechanism here in Germany to put your hand up and say, “I’d like some of that unwanted AstraZeneca vaccine in my arm, please!” We’re waiting on info and not even our doctors have a clear idea of how it’s all going to work.

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January 6th was decades in the making 🤬

March 1, 2021 • 02:30 PM

Dave Troy has been digging into the connections leading up to the January 6th insurrection at the US Capitol. He has just published a considerable thread detailing those connections going back decades. He starts out with:

In 1975-1976, the Church Committee investigated allegations that CIA, NSA, FBI, IRS, and Army intelligence had spied on Americans and otherwise abused power; the committee’s work led to changes that greatly limited the power of these agencies.

It’s a lot to take in all at once. However, I know that Dave and others have done their homework on this. The full dump, including references, is also available in a single document.

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BUNCH secures another $1 million 💵

February 28, 2021 • 10:00 PM

Darja Gutnick announces that BUNCH has secured another $1 million in funding, setting it up for a Series A sometime in the next year or so.

Over the past year, we’ve learned that bringing people that are interested in their own personal growth, as well as in the growth of others, together and supporting each other enables us all to achieve more.

I’ve been using the BUNCH app for many months and have been enjoying watching it develop. I’ve also had the pleasure of being the user in a customer interview with Darja, who is also based in Berlin. I really look forward to where they take the app.

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Turn departing employees into loyal alumni 🚪

February 27, 2021 • 10:00 PM

Since I’m right in the middle of an offboarding process, the timing of the current Harvard Business Review’s article on offboarding couldn’t be more appropriate. Alison Dachner and Erin Makarius make the argument that a good offboarding process is essential.

“Companies strive to create an outstanding experience when someone enters the organization,” says Mike Quinn, senior vice president for integration at the chemicals company Synthomer. “Similarly, when somebody is exiting the organization, even under trying circumstances, you want to be sure that the process and experience reflect the overall culture of the organization.”

I’m amazed at how my own offboarding experience from Microsoft mirrors my experience at the company almost every way, from the good parts to the mediocre to the tone-deaf.

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Apple revamps its syringe emoji 💉

February 27, 2021 • 05:00 PM

iOS 14.5 will come with a new syringe emoji that features an empty syringe instead of one dripping blood.

Emojipedia said that while the syringe was once associated with blood donation, it saw a noticeable shift to it being used for vaccinations, alongside other emoji such as a face mask or a microbe.

Oh, thank goodness. I’m not squeamish, but I prefer an emoji representing the syringe in a generic way, not necessarily just for drawing blood. Hopefully, it won’t take long for other emoji sets to follow.

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The cost of startup cloud credits

February 26, 2021 • 12:00 PM

During my two and a half years working at Microsoft for Startups, one topic came up more than any other during the first conversation with a startup: credits. It’s no wonder. Many cloud providers are generous with their offers of credits. If you know the right people to talk to, getting five or even six figures worth of credit isn’t too much of a problem.

Every penny counts for a company just getting started and operating on founders’ sweat and angel investments. Besides, who doesn’t like free things?

Credits, however, do come with a hidden cost. While clouds have revolutionized access to compute infrastructure, they aren’t quite the same kind of commodities that electricity, sugar, or flour are. There are still switching costs if a company wants to move services from one cloud to another. The highest of those switching costs isn’t monetary. Instead, it’s the time and attention that could otherwise be spent on the most critical problem a startup has. Creating a product and getting it first to product-market fit, then scaling it to meet demand if it manages to find that fit.

To be sure, a startup is never locked into a cloud decision. It can always build new functionality on other clouds or pick a specific tech to use from another cloud in a multi-cloud strategy. You don’t, however, want to spend a team’s ability to be flexible on moving infrastructure around like chairs on a boat deck if you don’t have to.

I believe that the startups with the best chance of going the distance are those who pick a cloud and a technology stack at founding and then relentlessly focus on their chosen problem. Ignore the what-ifs and what-could-have-been and make sure that you’re going to make it as a company. Spend all of your flexibility on your product and adapting it to your customers.

So then, when you’re picking a cloud at founding, what should you make the decision on? Pick the cloud you want to be on for technology, customer access, and developer happiness reasons. If you’re a B2B startup, that point about customer access when you’ve achieved product-market fit can be critically important. Then, after you’ve factored for those points, if you can get a bucket of credits to go with your decision, all the better.

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One third of Germans don’t want vaccine 💉

February 26, 2021 • 12:00 AM

From the you have to be kidding me department: 34 percent of Germans said they do not want to be vaccinated at all.

The Norstat Institute interviewed more than 1,000 adults at the end of 2020 for the poll. According to the Gütersloh-based Bertelsmann Foundation, the rejection of vaccination and restrictions on freedom is above average among people who are particularly performance and success-oriented.

Apparently, there’s also a strong bias to the brand of vaccine:

A recent survey by Spiegel on the topic found a significantly higher willingness of people in Germany to be vaccinated: 74 percent. However, the poll also showed that many people attach importance to a vaccine of their choice. The vaccine from BioNTech/Pfizer received the highest approval rating.

And that shows up in the usage, as reported in the New York Times:

Two weeks after the first delivery of 1.45 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Germany, only 270,986 have been administered, according to data collected by the public health authority, the Robert Koch Institute.

Given that every vaccine out there is highly effective in preventing symptomatic and severe COVID-19, I can only shake my head. I’ll be happy to take whatever is on tap when my turn comes to get the jab.