Last week in failure

Who failed this week? Why? What can we do about it.

Avoiding any obvious barbs directed towards any obvious political pond-scum, we have to say that Zuckerberg and friends top our list. Also an interesting idea about how to move companies quickly through the failure process as needed, who the hell knows what’s going on with those Apple and Amazon motherboards, and the Opportunity Rover is still unresponsive on Mars.

  • “The life cycle of the innovation economy—from angel rounds, to accelerators and seed rounds, to Series A, B, C and exit—is missing one key element: failure.”
    This is an interesting idea: “Decelerators” to help wind up failed or failing businesses in the neatest way possible and to help the people involved move on to something more productive.
    (@ The Logic)
  • By the time you read this, the Chinese system board infiltration story will be three days old. The Register had a good take on where things stood on Thursday. But no matter how you cut it there was a failure somewhere, and certainly a large one.
    The bigger question, I think, which needs to be asked regardless of whether this particular allegation is true, is whether it is a good practice to manufacture things in places where the manufacturing can’t be easily supervised or controlled, and where it might potentially be subject to political or criminal interference. Maybe it’s OK if you’re making lead-contaminated childrens’ toys, but for high-security devices? Probably not.
    This would seem to be asking for failure. Eventually it’s going to happen and the costs are potentially catastrophic.
    (@ Bloomberg and The Register, and really all over the internet)
  • Facebook has been very much a dumpster-fire. Last week we found that numbers provided for two-factor authentication were turned over to the marketing team even if they weren’t provided as contact numbers anywhere else. More recently, it seems that about 90m users including me had their access tokens compromised.
    Further proof that “move fast and break things” may be a good way to build a new company, but that at scale the things that get broken really impact people’s lives and when that happens the people in question tend to do things like sue, or perhaps just learn to live without your crappy spyware. No question this one is a fail.
    (@ The Register)
  • The Mars Opportunity Rover is still incommunicado. If not heard from in the next month or so, NASA is going to mostly move on and only passively listen. While it may seem like a failure, it’s worth remembering that it was expected to last 90 days, and has lasted more than 5000. It’ll be sad if it’s gone, but at some level that’s the kind of failure we can live with!
  • Also on Mars, the Curiosity Rover is getting a brain transplant. Or at least switching to an alternate brain. Nice planning to have an alternate in place.
    (@ CNET)
  • Musk continues to be Musk. In a previous life I was very involved in markets. I always found that when a CEO spent any amount of time complaining about short sellers, bad analyst coverage, or any other types of routine negative PR that public companies face from time to time, that it’s time to sell. Effective leaders move forward, solve their problems and let the results speak for themselves. There can be some exceptions, but that’s the rule. I wouldn’t short Tesla right now because it’s just too much of a battleground, but if I had owned it, I would have taken profits.
    (@ Bloomberg)
  • A great perspective:
    “Rather than failure being the opposite of success, it is part of the process. If we adopt this belief, we will begin to see all of our “failures” in a positive light.”
    (@ Maine Public Radio)
  • “People and the organizations they generate tend to find out what doesn’t work – and to do it harder.”
    I don’t have an opinion about what does and doesn’t work in radio, because I haven’t actually listened to radio in years. But this line is a perfect description of how failure can take over your life if you don’t stop, examine what happened, and move on appropriately rather than doubling down
    Don’t do that please.
    (@ RadioInk)
  • A fantastic thread about why trying to filter for bad language in emails is an exercise in futility and an invitation to all sorts of failure. From the company office that was deleted from the database because of its location in Scuntthorpe, UK (a major British Steel location, so someplace that you might not want to ignore), to the company that lost half its customer emails because “MSExchange” in the email header was blocked, or the vendor who couldn’t get permission to ship a part because it was legitimately called a “vibrator.” Be sure to peruse all the branches. A myriad of ways to fail, but all come down to the one, which is that using technology to solve human problems rarely works.
    (@SwiftOnSecurity @ Twitter)

Book Review: Beyond Blame

Had the opportunity to read this one on a flight recently. It was a quick read and not a bad one, though it took a fair amount of narrative to get to the core points.

Following in Eliyahu Goldratt‘s footsteps of writing bad fiction to demonstrate business realities, Zweiback takes us through the story of a corporate IT department coming to terms with the fact that they were more often than not looking for a scapegoat rather than attempting to determine the real weaknesses in the way they were managing their tech. The early story is familiar to anybody in the tech world: something goes wrong, and the last person to touch it — even though he had done everything he should have done — gets fired because “somebody has to be held accountable.” Continue reading “Book Review: Beyond Blame”

About Me

My Presentation at the SoCal Linux Expo, 2018

My history with failure is long and storied. After all, I have spent my life in the tech business, and failure is endemic to what we do.

I began thinking about those failures sometime last year after reading Mark Manson’s piece asking “7 Strange Questions that Help You Find Your Life Purpose.” Two of these questions resonated in particular:

  • What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich and does it come with an olive?
  • How can you better embarrass yourself?

Both, in a sense are about failure, or at least struggle, another topic Manson addressed in greater detail. This hit me at about the time I was struggling with my own career issues and thinking a lot about what made me unhappy in my situation at the time compared to other postions I’ve held. I zeroed in on failure modes and failure responses as the thing that really made me unhappy with that situation. There are some failures that are learning experiences and energize me. As Manson says, they come with an olive. Most of my failures and difficulties at the time were ones that were neither educational nor energizing. I wanted something else.

In a roundabout way this led me to roles I had earlier in my career, which led me back to data, to data science, to a fair amount of coding, and to data architecture. All those combined led me to becoming somewhat of an expert at certain aspects of Amazon Web Services. And now I’m actually getting job offers that seem really exciting, appealing and worth moving halfway around the world for if that’s what it takes. I want the successes that come with those jobs, but more than that, I don’t mind the failures and even look forward to some of them in a perverse way.

This past spring, I offered a lightning talk for the Southern California Linux Expo’s “UpScale” event. It was accepted. “You’re a Failure! Now what?” was a resounding success.

Since then, I’ve heard pretty regularly from people who want to talk about failure. It seems to be something that we’ve glossed over in our modern tech culture but that beneath the surface we still yearn to discuss. I hear from women more than men, and I hear from people outside the US more than people here. Take from that what you will, and maybe I’ll have more to say about it at some time, though I think Barbara Ehrenreich is probably on to something.

This blog (and podcast coming soon!) will delve into those issues, primarily in the tech world but also elsewhere.