3 questions you need to ask at any job interview

Photo courtesy of Faramarz Hashemi

My friend Lauren contacted me this morning, very excited. She’s got a promising interview this afternoon, so I offered her my time-tested magic interview questions. And then I thought I might as well share this with everyone.

Anytime I interview, I always bring along a list of questions to ask the interviewer. These are mostly based on my research of the job, the company, and the industry, but there are three that are always there, no matter what. They are the questions that get you hired.

Continue Reading…

Ah, but the view!

Interesting tidbit about Steve Jobs’ conversation with his friend Larry Elison about not buying Apple, and about the price of integrity:

In 95, Ellison wanted to buy Apple, so he could walk Steve back in as the new owner, and they could both make lots of money. Steve convinced him otherwise. Here’s the money quote from the Business Insider article:

Ellison thought it was stupid that some “fund manager at Fidelity” would make more money on Apple’s success than he or Jobs.
Jobs responded by saying, “I think if I went back to Apple and didn’t own any of Apple, and you didn’t own any of Apple, I’d have the moral high ground.”
Ellison’s response: “Steve, that’s really expensive real estate, this moral high ground.”

Most people overestimate the value of money. The wise know to give up a little money, or even a lot, for the infinite returns of not having to compromise.

It’s a luxury, it has a price, but it’s worth it. I’ve once walked away from a years’ salary with my integrity intact… And that has earned me goodwill and trust from some long-term business partners.

Have you ever paid the price of the moral high ground? Was it expensive? And how’s the view from up there?

Putting our phones together

I propose a little gesture as a sign of friendship.

When having a meal or coffee with a friend or family, put your phones on vibrate, and put them together. Lay them atop one another on the table, to the side.

Our phones are wonderful devices that allow us to reach farther. But they can make it harder to reach closeness.

While I’m engaging with you, my friend, there is a line reaching from my pocket to the outside world. I’m not fully present with you, and you’re not fully present with me, because at any moment either one of us can be pulled back into our personal space, into a different conversation.

Putting our phones together marks that the moment is for togetherness. It makes it so that if either of us gets a call, or a text, it will interrupt both of us. We won’t know which phone it is.
The communication line from the outside world becomes a shared line. If somebody calls, they’ll call “our phones,” not mine or yours.

The next time we meet, I’d like us to do this. Because I want to be present with you, and I want you to be present with me.

If you like the idea, let me know!

The end of science-fiction

Breaking through

I’m currently engaged in writing a science-fiction novel with my father. It’s a fun thing to do together when you live eight time zones apart.

As part of the process, I’m educating my father on the latest happenings in science, and futurism… It’s an interesting time for certain.

Science-fiction is reaching an end. Why? Because the future is becoming more and more unpredictable. That is due to Moore’s Law: Density of electonic circuits doubles, at the same price, every 18 months. An exponential acceleration, not a linear one. This “Law” doesn’t apply only to computers, but also to sciences that have “virtualized”: Biochemistry, genetics, nanotechnology, physics. And of course, it also applies to all our informational exchanges, which are an ever-increasing part of our economies and our lives.

Compassionate user experience

Compassion is quite the eye-opener.

There is often bitterness in software development. It is not hard to see the tense relationships between developers and marketing, between users and customer support, between business and IT. When I entered the UX field nine years ago, I put myself in the interesting and strange position of being the intermediary, the emissary, in a protracted cold war.

By itself, UX is hard. There are many threads woven into the fabric of what we call User Experience. Information Architecture, derived from library sciences; Usability Engineering, which comes from the archetypal white-lab-coat scientific approach; Interaction Design, which borrows from anthropology; and Graphic Design, with its vibrant connection to culture and creativity. And the merging of these approaches brings with it some discomfort, as practitioners try to embrace tools and techniques from disciplines that have very different origins, and sometimes conflicting worldview.

Continue Reading…

iPad: Gutenberg 2.0?

Allright, I’m going to give in to the craziness and put out my own prediction for the Jesus Tablet that Steve Jobs is about to unleash. While everybody’s speculating about the hardware and price (as if this were PC-land, where such things matter), or about the deals with major publishers and the kindle-killing potential, I’m not hearing much about the software. And the software is what matters.

Let’s not forget that Apple makes great hardware because they’re passionate about software. Multitouch was a success on the iPhone for the never-discussed reason that Apple perfected the software layer, the one that converts the shaky, jerky motion of my fat fingers into smooth swipes and pinches. The software that ignores accidental taps, that leverages a rich language dictionary to decide which character I most probably wanted to type, when I mashed the side of my thumb over a large portion of the keyboard. These software interface layers are not trivial work. The fact that everybody took them immediately for granted is a credit to Apple’s user experience designers, as good UX should be invisible.

Apple gets the hardware/software melding right, because they care about creating the ideal experience. Apple wasn’t first to market with an MP3 player, or with an internet-connected smartphone… but once they entered the market, they reset the standard. Apple is not first to market with a tablet computer or an e-reader. But PC tablet and netbook manufacturers are waiting for the shoe to drop. Amazon’s Kindle and Wacom’s Cintiq’s days are most likely numbered. Apple is going to get it right, where everyone has gotten it wrong.

Among the rumors that are flying around, one caught my eye particularly. Apple is working on a multi-touch version of iWork, their office software. This is important. Apple is making deals with news and book publishers to provide them with a platform that enables high production values. Magazines will look good on the iPad. It will usher a new era of publishing, a new target format, that will rapidly take over the web and more. This is music to publisher’s ears, as high production values will again justify high margins.

But Apple will also raise the bar for everyone. Because the reason Apple is passionate about software, is because Apple is passionate about changing the world. They’ve raised the bar in the mobile app space, by providing a superior platform and toolkit, removing the need for developers to worry about the business of sales, and enforcing quality and user experience requirements. They’re going to raise the bar in publishing, but also in business documents, emails, and all forms of the printed word, and of multimedia publishing, by making some cloud-based, multi-touch version of iWork the superior platform and toolkit, as well as the sales and distribution channel… and a large segment of that will be free.

This won’t just be an e-book reader. This may also be the new printing press. EAVB_VFDMVVKEXU

Holiday Usability Tips

Holiday Usability Tips:
1. Use a “one-click” switch for all your holiday lights.
2. Gifts should be no more than two layers deep from the  wrapping paper.
3. • Make your greeting cards shorter, • highlight key words in bold, and • use bulleted lists.
4. If writing a long letter, don’t use a roll of parchment (Don’t make Santa scroll.)
5.  Label stockings clearly, and sort them by size. Provide a naughty/nice filter.
6. Remember to include a call to action in holiday cards, such as “Have a great holiday!”
7. Keep the menorah down to 5-7 candles, to fit the user’s short-term memory capacity.
8. Offer an automated mass-email of goodwill to all mankind.
9. Color-code fun things in red, happy things in green.
10. When in doubt, just copy Apple.

1. Use a “one-click” switch for all your holiday lights.

2. Gifts should be no more than two layers deep from the wrapping paper.

3. • Make your greeting cards shorter, • highlight key words in bold, and • use bulleted lists.

4. If writing a long letter, don’t use a roll of parchment (Don’t make Santa scroll.)

5.  Label stockings clearly, and sort them by size. Provide a naughty/nice filter.

6. Remember to include a call to action in holiday cards, such as “Have a great holiday!”

7. Keep the menorah down to 5-7 candles, to fit the user’s short-term memory capacity.

8. Offer an automated mass-email of goodwill to all mankind.

9. Color-code fun things in red, happy things in green.

10. When in doubt, just copy Apple.

The tales are told.

Taking their bows: Jessamyn Geesaman, Marion H., Joni Pierce, Mike Thornwall, Willie LeJeune, Dan Hiester, Rick Bivens, Amy J. Lee, Josiah Lovato, Mariah Aguirre, Kenn Penn

Taking their bows, left to right: Jessamyn Geesaman, Marion H., Joni Pierce, Mike Thornwall, Willie LeJeune, Dan Hiester, Rick Bivens, Amy J. Lee, Josiah Lovato, Mariah Aguirre, Kenn Penn

This past sunday was the final performance of the Ten Buddhist Tales. The show was excellent, the audience reaction was excellent, and the spirits were high. I was transformed and elevated by the experience of assembling, leading, motivating and supporting a diverse team. What gives me the most pride however, is that I believe all of us came out of this with a feeling of personal success, and with some degree of personal growth.

We had set ourselves a tough target, a behemoth of a show: an enormous and complex set design, 27 scenes, 11 actors, 65 characters and costumes, over a hundred props, 80 sound and projection cues, all crammed into 90 minutes. 

It worked. The show was a riotous explosion of visceral energy. It ran through the gamut of emotions, actions, thoughts and bodily functions. It jumped every few seconds, from thoughtful buddhist teachings, to extreme violence, to buffoonery, to heartfelt pleas of unconditional love. You can see some pictures of it in the DRD’s flickr stream.

Turning twelve tales into one story.

Rick, Kenn and I had written the twelve tales (there are three tales numbered “Part 7”) using the exquisite cadaver technique: Write a few lines, then pass the laptop to the next guy. The scripts were therefore an obscure tangle of streams of consciousness, from which we had to tease apart characters, motivation, context, and action. Then we had to pick twelve of them, put them in some kind of order, and somehow connect them. To that end, we lifted some select pieces of buddhist teaching from web sources and put them in the mouth of a character called Guru. We also expanded the originally minor character of the Bearded Lady, as a western counterpart to Guru.

It was a delicate balancing act, to provide a through-line and plot for the audience to hang on to while not watering down the innate randomness of the tales. I think we pulled it off, and the story arc ended up coming through strongly: The underlying tension quickly turns into chaos, out of which the insane characters and the Guru reach epiphanies, as the control-freak bearded lady loses her marbles.

Time to get blown up... Are you ready?

Time to get blown up... Are you ready?

At the beginning of each show, the Bearded Lady enters onto a pristine circle of white light to deliver a rather formal and scripted introduction. By the end of the show, the stage is a giant mess, covered in discarded props, costumes, spent shell casings, cantaloupe seeds, cake crumbs and candy. And on that disaster of a stage, the Bearded Lady in tears and the triumphantly radiant Guru are blown to bits with TNT.

Making meaning without making sense

And so it goes with life: Craziness will happen, randomness is in control, and you better have some real, deep foundation of mindfulness if you want to enjoy it well, and still face the inevitable end with a smile. This was one of the strongest points I wanted to express, that one needs an inner core of unconditional compassion and childlike openness, because the world makes no sense. The world is an illusion created by misunderstanding and misperception, and while it’s an illusion we cannot escape, we can, with mindfulness and concentrated effort, approach it like the beautiful drama that it is. Whether it be as an audience member, as an actor or behind the scenes, we can relish in the absurd experience we share, and in the joy of being together.

I think that point came through to some. The Buddhist audience members I talked to were very excited by the show, and appreciated that it wasn’t a farce based on the common misconceptions about Buddhism. I also had non-buddhists ask a lot of questions about the philosophical underpinnings of the play. All audience members were dazed and confused, but for those who didn’t leave the theatre mid-show, the confusion seems to have been fruitful.

I slowly came to understand what our friend the late great Don Becker meant when he said we were on to something with this play. He was talking about the fact that absurdist comedy is becoming mainstream, but also how the buddhist connection makes it work. I take it to mean that where absurdism is the end of western thought, the philosophical brick wall against which existentialists beat their heads, and come up with nothing but various shades of despair, cruelty, resignation, or at best stoicism. Yet absurdity, the realization that the world is an senseless illusion, is where eastern philosophy starts. And since it has no need to concern itself with useless concepts such as “reality”, it instead focuses, in a very practical and personal way, on happiness.

So to Don’s point, and as an answer to the enthusiasm of our buddhist audience members, I think we will keep the Ten Buddhist Tales alive. We did some extensive three-camera coverage on the last week of performances, and we will assemble and release the tales as a serial podcast, and promote it to the buddhist communities out there. Maybe this show, with its high aspirations,earnest pleas, and complete lack of self-control, can be an instrument of buddhist practice for others, as it was for us.

And if not, well, it’s pretty funny.

Top ten things most likely to be said by a Buddhist programmer

  1. Coding is suffering.
  2. Suffering is embodied in the endless wheel of the product life-cycle.
  3. You cannot escape the wheel of the product life-cycle, because your mind is clouded by desire for a better framework.
  4. Users cannot escape the wheel of the product life-cycle, because their minds are clouded by desire for features.
  5. To be free of suffering, one must first understand boolean non-duality: The bit is not one, and the bit is not not-one. 
  6. The spec is forever like sand between your fingers. Yet each grain of it is a precious gift, inviting you to develop compassion for designers and managers.
  7. Debugging is negative, and unnecessary. Bugs are precious gifts, inviting the QA team and the users to develop compassion for programmers.
  8. It’s fun to set an array of flags, and let them flap like prayers in the wind. 
  9. If you comment your code, it will bring good karma to you in your next release.
  10. To reach enlightenment, pipe your mental I/O to /dev/null