mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

Manager Reads - Whistleblower

Three years ago Susan Fowler published an explosive blog post detailing sexual harassment at Uber. Two weeks ago, she released an autobiographical book on her life including her time at and after Uber called Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber. In this episode of Manager Reads, we dive into this book!

Who recommended the book? This book was selected, in partnership with the Women+ Guild at Twitch, as March’s Leadership Book Club book. March is Women’s History Month so we wanted to pick a book highlighting women in the workplace. I turned to Karen Catlin, author of Better Allies, and Katrina Jones, Diversity and Inclusion Leader at Amazon, for recommendations. They provided a list of great recommendations. Many thanks! We decided to go with Whistleblower as it fit in with a recent Twitch panel discussion on the ramifications of speaking out but I’m sure we’ll be reading the other books Karen and Katrina recommended in the near future.

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? This cover is clean. It features a headshot of the author, Susan Fowler, in the background. I really like how the title, subtitle, author name, and the lines separating these things are all justified with each other. It looks very clean. Inside features a standard serif font, really thick pages, and generous leading. Fowler is a fantastic writer and a page-turner with great quality paper makes for an excellent page turning experience.

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? I loved this book; I started it on Sunday afternoon and wrapped it up by Monday evening. Lots of people have read Fowler’s blog post which highlights harrassment at Uber but it was incredibly, incredibly disheartening to read this was not the first occurence of harrassment or inequality she experienced. Her time at the University of Pennsylvia, Plaid, and PubNub had a variety of nightmarish stories.

Sadly, as egregious as Uber’s flagrant disdain for the law and basic human decency was Uber is not a one-off. It is not the first company to treat women unjustly and it won’t be the last. Reading Whistleblower I kept asking myself, “What would I do if I worked with Susan and heard about the things she was experiencing?” The status quo simply isn’t good enough, and everyone must be change agents for more equitable workplaces. Where to start with this seemingly daunting mission? Karen Catlin’s Better Allies is a fantastic guide filled with things you can do everyday to build more inclusive workplaces.

Favorite quote from the book? “You should be in the world, but not of the world.”

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? Fowler’s story of succeeding in the face of adversity from her childhood without compromising her values is both moving and will galvanize you to contribute to safer and more equitable workplaces. We cannot settle for the status quo; we can and must do better.

Notes in Evernote? Notes from this autobiographical book are somewhat sparse but feel free to check out my notes on 🐘.

Most of the world’s wisdom is written down in its best books. Manager Reads is a series covering books on management and leadership, focusing on books that can improve your own leadership with the wisdom of others. Enjoyed this post and want to see more? Check out more at Manager Reads.

Managing Management - Consistent Interviewing

Interviewing is hard - the interview is an artificial environment where you are trying to assess someone’s ability in one hour. Interviewing well and doing this consistently is even harder but don’t give up. There are things you can start doing today to make your interviewing more consistent.

Send pre-briefs to candidates - At Twitch we send candidates preparation notes on our interview format, expectations, what we’ll be assessing, and tips for doing well. We edit these notes as we find new things we wish we had told candidates before they came onsite (e.g. don’t drink more caffeine than normal). These pre-briefs are key to leveling the playing field for candidates and reduces the variability candidates bring to an interview. It’s a win for candidates and a win for interviewers.

Is now a good time to chat? - At the beginning of phone calls I always ask the candidate, “Is now a good time to chat?” Over the hundreds of phone interviews I’ve conducted I have seen candidates opt to reschedule the call only a handful of times. Interviewing is hard and life happens; you want to talk to people when they’re at their best, not distracted, worried about something, or coding a new laptop they just got.

Set clear expectations and don’t be afraid to interrupt - This is really helpful when you’re in the “tell me about a time” portion of your interview. Up front, set clear expectations - “I’m looking for specific, concrete examples” - and don’t be afraid to interrupt if you’re not getting good signal. If you’re clear on expectations you can even interrupt without coming off as rude - “If we’re not digging into a good example, I’ll interrupt and we can switch to another topic.” With the limited amount of time you have, it’s important for you and the candidate to be aligned to maximize the quality of the signal you get. If you find that signal isn’t coming through, interrupt, and try something else.

Have a question bank - For both technical and behavioral portions of an interview have a question bank available. It’s helpful to have this written down so you can deliver the same question with the same wording to candidates. For technical questions you can even have the question ready to go in various programming languages. If a candidate says they’ve worked through that question already, you can have alternate questions ready to go in your bank.

Record clock time during technical exercises - During technical exercises I log clock time when the exercise is presented, when hints are given, when milestones in the question are reached, and when the question is completed. While time to completion is not the only data point to take into consideration on a candidate’s performance, having something concrete helps better calibrate your assesmentment of the candidate’s performance.

Got an interesting tip for making your interviews more consistent? 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.

Manager Reads - Thinking in Systems

Changing gears from the usual books covered in Manager Reads today we dive into the world of systems in Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella H. Meadows.

Who recommended the book? In An Elegant Puzzle - Systems of Engineering Management Will Larsen calls systems thinking the “most universally useful tool kit” he’s found for effective leadership. Larsen recommends Thinking in Systems if you want a “solid grasp on systems thinking fundamentals.” Consider me sold!

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? Thinking in Systems is an introduction to the complexity-filled world of systems theory but the cover is simple, featuring a Slinky on a white background. The Slinky spans from the front over over the spine to the back cover of the book which looks pretty cool. The book doesn’t delay on making the Slinky relevant as it is mentioned in the first page. It’s simple but I like it.

Page quality inside the book isn’t great; it’s not bad enough that highlighter bleeds through from one side to another but lifting a page to turn it you can see the text and figures on the other side. The serif font is standard and unoffensive.

Worth mentioning is Thinking in Systems does not provide end-of-chapter summaries but it does have call-outs throughout every chapter with big takeaways in bold in the section that takeway is discussed. For those that love end-of-chapter summaries, fear not! The Appendix has a Summary of Systems Principles that covers systems concepts, traps, leverage points, and guidelines.

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? I really enjoyed Thinking in Systems as it was an enjoyable read and provided a very approachable introduction to systems thinking. The book provides a whirlwind tour of systems thinking:

  • An introduction to fundamental system concepts like stocks and flows; feedback loops (balancing and reinforcing) and dominance, delays, oscillations. With this deceptively small list of concepts, you’re ready to dive into systems thinking!

  • An overview of why systems work so well. They do so because they are resilient (the ability to recover after a perturbation), can self-organize (the ability to make its own structure more complex), and generate hiearchies (subsystems that can take care of themselves).

  • A tour of system traps: systems that produce problematic behaviors and how to work your way out of those traps. Like the Accidental Diminisher chapter of Multipliers learning about all the ways systems don’t work and how to pivot out of that was very insightful. This section covers traps like Policy Resistance, the Tragedy of the Commons, Drift to Low Performance, Escalation, Competitive Exclusion, Addiction, Rule Beating, and Seeking the Wrong Goal. Some (and hopefully not all) of these are problems you may encounter in your workplace.

  • The best and worst leverage points for intervening in a system and changings its behaviors? The worst leverage point? Changing constants and parameters of the system. A middling leverage point? Fix information flows so information can get to the right places. The best leverage point? Detach yourself from the shared ideas and assumptions of society and tap into the universe and its spacious possiblity; choose whatever system helps you achieve your purpose from that immense pool. 😮

  • How to live (and improve) a world of systems. This includes gems of advice like observing a system and learning its beat before intervening, to encouraging putting your mental models out in the open to get feedback on them, stay humble, embrace complexity, and to expand the boundary of caring.

My wife often laughs when I drop this now recurring meme, “Aren’t fruit trees amazing? From a seed, soil, sunlight, and water we get these delicious fruits.” I can now add “This is what the world looks like to a systems thinker. Let me tell you about the feedback loops of this fruit tree.”

Favorite quote from the book? “Being less surprised by complex systems is mainly a matter of learning to expect, appreciate, and use the world’s complexity.”

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? 100% read it! The problems we encounter vary in size and complexity but if we approach them with a systems thinking lens we arm ourselves with a set of universal tools for solving them.

Notes in Evernote? My notes don’t capture the helpful system figures but feel free to check out my notes on 🐘.

Most of the world’s wisdom is written down in its best books. Manager Reads is a series covering books on management and leadership, focusing on books that can improve your own leadership with the wisdom of others. Enjoyed this post and want to see more? Check out more at Manager Reads.

Managing Management - Batched Operational Work

To effectively manage recurring operational work like sending weekly update and roadmap updates it’s good to batch it all together and set it up as a recurring event on your calendar. Here’s what my bright and early Monday morning batch of work looks like:

This does two things:

  1. It blocks off time for you to actually do these things. Don’t underestimate the importance of this as this work takes time so allocating and defending time for it is valuable.
  2. It gives you a place to track and update all the work you have to do. When you add or remove items, Google Calendar can update future entries. Once you get your list locked down, it’s easy to deliver every week on these things.

Alternatively, Justin Mancinelli (@piannaf) reached out to describe how he accomplishes this with a different system. Justin leverages Trello Card Repeater to automatically add items at recurring intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, or annually) to his personal Kanban in Trello. Thanks for sharing, Justin!

With a setup like these you can take care of work consistently and realiably. Got an interesting system for managing operational work? 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.

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?