mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

Becoming Glue

A memory that has stuck with me from my days as an engineer was being called the glue of the team. The importance of being glue has only grown since I became a manager. In An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management Will Larson highlights this importance:

Managers create stability by becoming glue. We step in as product managers, program managers, recruiters, or salespeople to hold the bits together until an expert relieves us.

Some of my biggest wins during these past two years a manager have come from becoming glue: leaning into things when I identified the need and importance of them rather than passing on them because they didn’t fall under the job description.

  • Product Manager - When I first became a manager the cross-functional team I was working with was not in a place to give us projects. I put on the Product Manger hat and created specs for papercuts by reviewing complaints in app reviews and also designed some experiments. The papercut solutions were well-received (negative reviews were replaced with positive reviews) and the experiments delivered really positive (percentage points) results.

  • Recruiter - In 2019 we had ambitious hiring goals. My initial involvement in the recruiting process grew dramatically as I talked with my recruiting partners and we identified opportunities to improve our process. For example, I learned reply rates on cold emails were much higher when coming from a manager so I started sending cold emails. When I became more involved in the candidate experience end-to-end we were able to interview more people, extend more offers, close more candidates, and do cool, new stuff like measure interview team calibration.

  • Project Manager - As a manager in a horizontal organization a lot of project management ends up falling on my plate: sending weekly updates to stakeholders, keeping JIRA tidy, updating roadmap plans, and a bunch of other operational work. Strong organizational skills and a penchant for executing this work consistently has made leaning into this rote work easy.

  • People Team - Seeing friends at companies like Facebook and Twitter share how those companies celebrate work anniversaries I decided to start something similar with my team. Back then, I only intended for the first run of the Twitch Praise Project to go to my two directs but we ended up scaling the first run of this program to my entire 200+ person org!

There will always be constraints, things missing, people you wish you had on hand, but the decision you make when you don’t have everything you need to succeed is critical: will you complain and spin unproductively or become glue?

Anime Blitz - Winter 2020

It’s that time again yet again… Time to plow through some anime! As always featuring my quick thoughts and a GIF!

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba - The runaway hit of Fall 2019 naturally did not disappoint. This show is fantastic: the story, the characters, the animation, and the music are all very, very well done. What did get a bit annoying after a while was how much Zenitsu and Inosuke yell; once they’re introduced the amount of yelling in the show goes up noticeably for no good reason.

My Hero Academia - Season 4 - As Deku settles into being able to control One for All this series has been able up the ante with its two recent seasons. This season is still ongoing but it’s certified solid from what’s come out so far. I enjoyed the shift in focus from Class 1-A to Deku and the Big 3 of UA especially Mirio. Last season had an epic fight between All Might and All For One; I thought that fight couldn’t be trumped in epicness but this season delivered! Also, after four seasons it’s truly weird that villains are so willing to kill but heroes would never consider it; then again, this is shonen anime.

Sword Art Online - Alicization: War of the Underworld - The previous season of the Alicization arc was great and laid down solid groundwork that War of the Underworld has capatilized on. The season quickly jumps into introducing a new baddie and even makes the Dark Territory more nuanced than it sounds. There is a smidge of the chronic problem plaguing Sword Art Online, the Kirito harem, but overall I enjoyed this season. At only twelve episodes it felt like this season wasn’t able to cover much and I can’t wait for the next season that’s coming out in April 2020.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? - Season 2 - This was a fun watch but not mind-blowing. What I liked about this season: it had an Episode 0 that caught us up on the previous season’s happenings; this is a great idea that I wish more animes would do. This twelve episode seasons had three mini arcs with unbalanced pacing that left only two episodes for the last arc. That said, if you’re into the isekai genre DanMachi is a worthwhile watch.

Dr. Stone - This was a very, very fun watch! The premise is simple: every living thing is turned to stone and thousands of years later some humans start turning back to normal. One of them, Senku, is a genius and wants to jumpstart civialization with the power of science! I knew science was fun but this show delivered that and then some! I was impressed with seamless transition from the opening arc with Taiku to the village arc with Chrome, but maybe it’s because both look pretty similar and filled the role of bumbling sidekick. I can’t wait for the next season of this show.

There’s always more to watch (e.g. Attack on Titan Season 3, Vinland Saga) but as usual, it’ll have to wait for next time! 👋

Holiday Reads

This holiday season - in between diaper changes, feeds, and meltdowns - I dove into a bunch of literature. Here’s what I read with some brief thoughts:

Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Ruin A sequel to the fantastic Children of Time, this book picks up where that one left on and continues building on the newly formed Human-Spider-Ant alliance. It ends up introducing two new lifeforms, which includes a very creepy “We’re going on an adventure” mind-controlling one. These two lifeforms end up being radically different from the somewhat similar humans and spiders and much of book’s tension revolves around the friction of this difference. While I enjoyed the first book more because of the somewhat underwhelming conclusion in Children of Ruin, it was still a great read; my only regret is not reading it immediately after I finished Children of Time!

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

So You Want to Talk About Race This book covers a very wide range of topics: racism (and its systemic, institutional pervasiveness), privilege, intersectionality, police brutality, affirmative action, the school-to-prison pipeline, the n-word, cultural appropriation, hair petting, microagressions, the model minority myth, and even Al Sharpton. My only qualm is it saved actions we can take to combat some of the aforementioned topics for the last chapter; it would’ve been great to lay out actions in each chapter as different issues were covered. That said, I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone interested in social justice and making our world equitable. Many thanks Kaya for the recommendation!

Silo (Wool, Shift, Dust) by Hugh Howey

Silo This trilogy diverges on the typical sci-fi exit strategy for “We ruined planet Earth and need to figure out how to survive now.” Rather than the usual “Let’s take to the stars and find a new home planet (to eventually ruin)” Silo has humans living in silos dug into the Earth. I enjoyed the trilogy overall but loved the first entry, Wool, the most. Howey is fantastic at world building and developing characters to help build that world out; oftentimes characters are just vehicles for building out the world and advancing the plot but Howey’s cast was deep and interesting on their own.

The second entry, Shift, is mostly a prequel and covers the events leading up to Wool. It’s at this point in my reading that I wished there was some sort of visual timeline at the beginning of each chapter to help me keep track of when major events had happened. Dust wrapped things up nicely but felt a bit rushed and leaned heavily on the Metal Gear Solid 4 “Blame the nanomachines” trope for tidying up loose ends. In short: Wool (5/5), Shift (3/5), Dust (4/5) but if you want some sci-fi that looks to the ground beneath your feet for solutions instead of the stars I can easily recommend this trilogy. Thanks Josh for the recommendation!

The Paper Menagerie This is a collection of fifteen stories that range in length from very short (e.g. 9 pages) to much longer (e.g. 89 pages). The Paper Menagerie is the star of the show having won all three of science fictions major awards (Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy Award). I enjoyed some of the stories a lot like Good Hunting, Simulacrum, and A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel. On the other hand the longest of the stories, All the Flavors, had a lot of set up for what ended up being an extremely underwhelming conclusion. Overall, the short story format allows for quickly building up and tearing down worlds to tell stories but ultimately that format doesn’t gel very well with me: I don’t get hooked on the book and have a hard time getting through it. If this doesn’t sound like a problem you would have, I think this book is worth checking out. It’s chock full of interesting stories.

And that’s that for this go of reading. Every time I do a blitz of reading, I’m always amazed at all the fantastic literature available to read these days and I mostly read science fiction. What a time to be alive!

Managing Management - Calendar Colorist!

When I shared my Managing Management - Time Management via Color-Coded Calendar blog post on Twitter it got some nice traction because of a generous retweet from Will Larson. In the blog post I mention automating color-coding in the future via the Google Calendar API and someone asked for me to share that system once I built it.

Striking while the iron is hot… Calendar Colorist is here!

Calendar Colorist is a simple rule-based utility written in Kotlin to color code your Google Calendar. The README on GitHub walks you through setting it up to color code your calendar. I hope it’s helpful for your color-coding needs!

P.S. For bonus points, once you’ve got it all set up, configure that personal TeamCity server you have (it’s free!) to run it once a week to fully automate this automated process!

Fully automated!

P.P.S. A few thoughts on Kotlin after taking it on this most recent whirl:

  • Kotlin’s interoperability with Java is fantastic. I used the Java version of the Google Calendar API and had zero drama getting things working. It literally just worked™️ although it would be nice if Google added nullability annotations to their code.
  • Kotlin extensions are also great for extending classes in libraries that cannot be easily edited. I added several properties and functions to the Event class via an extensions to make Events easier to work with.
  • I got tripped up using Kotlin’s let with a trailing Elvis operator ?:. I assumed in an expression like a()?.let { ... } ?: b() that so long as a() was not null b() would never get executed but turns out the ... inside the let block can end up getting us to b(). Many thanks to Heath for helping me diagnose and fix this one! 🙏

Managing Management is a series on systems that are shareable and serve as actionable templates for addressing the deluge of things managers encounter everyday. Enjoyed this post and want to see more? Check out more at Managing Management.

Managing Management - Time Management via Color-Coded Calendar

This past summer at Twitch I went from working with our Viewer Experience team to owning all viewer-side features on mobile. This meant working with another team, Viewer Engagement. In preparation for this increase in scope and team size my manager asked me to look at where I was spending time to ensure I could continue to deliver on all my responsibilities.

In his fantastic book An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management William Larson describes time management as “the enduring meta-probem of leadership.” When describing effective time management strategies one of Larson’s methods stuck out to me:

Quarterly time retrospective: Every quarter, I spend a few hours categorizing my calendar from the past three months to figure out how I’ve invested my time. This is useful for me to reflect on the major projects I’ve done, and also to get a sense of my general allocation of time. I then use this analysis to shuffle my goal time allocation for the next quarter.

Categorizing my calendar got me way more excited than I expected! I went through my (Google) calendar and color-coded events based on different types of events. After doing a coloring pass I looked at my calendar from earlier in 2019 to see if the system accurately reflected my hunches about where my time was going. Growing the team was a big focus in 2019 so I spent a lot of time recruiting and interviewing. All the red here matches that hunch!

Early 2019 - lots of recruiting!

These days with hiring mostly done I spend less time recruiting. But with a much larger team I spend a good amount of time in 1:1s (yellow) and working with my Viewer Experience (light blue) and Viewer Engagement (grey) partners:

More recently - a more balanced calendar!

With this system I’m able to quickly scroll through weeks in my calendar and get a good feel for where my time is being spent. I currently manually set colors; for recurring events I only have to do it once and for one-offs it’s really easy to set the color (e.g. right click and pick a color). That said, I am already looking into automating this process via Google’s Calendar API. From there I can even produce a quarterly reviews by adding up time by event color. Update! Calendar Colorist is now available! The sky’s the limit with a color-coded calendar!

Got an interesting system you use to manage your time? Let me know on Twitter!

Managing Management is a series on systems that are shareable and serve as actionable templates for addressing the deluge of things managers encounter everyday. Enjoyed this post and want to see more? Check out more at Managing Management.