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  • Michael Krakovskiy 1:03 pm on May 23, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Alternative education, , cabinetmaker, Co-worker, Dan Tepper, , Internships, Jack Donaghy, , Lothar Krause, , Mentorship,   

    Mentorship 

    The opportunities to be a mentor or, as Jack Donaghy would say, a mentee, are few and far between in the world of web development. On one hand, few potential mentors want to sacrifice the precious, precious time on junior developers who will likely be gone in less than a year. And then there are the developers who scowl at any attempt to share knowledge believing that to be a mark of showing off.

    Besides spending your own time and being a showoff, there’s another mentorship prevention layer: the direct management of junior developers and tight deadlines. A developer once asked me to show him how to do something, but as I was explaining, I could see my other co-worker in a neighboring pod getting more an more frustrated. After 5 minutes, as I was getting into a little more detail, he piped up – well, let’s not confuse […] there — just tell him what he needs right now, Michael.

    Some mentorship styles are harsher than others. Here’s an excerpt from most excellent “Coders at Work” about the schooling that young JWZ received from some dude named Skef:

    “Like the guy who was sort of our manager—the one keeping an eye on us—Skef Wholey, was this giant blond-haired, barbarian- looking guy. Very intimidating-looking. And he didn’t talk much. I remember a lot of times I’d be sitting there—it was kind of an open- plan cubicle kind of thing—working, doing something, writing some Lisp program. And he’d come shuffling in with his ceramic mug of beer, bare feet, and he’d just stand behind me. I’d say hi. And he’d grunt or say nothing. He’d just stand there watching me type. At some point I’d do something and he’d go, “Ptthh, wrong!” and he’d walk away. So that was kind of getting thrown in the deep end. It was like the Zen approach—the master hit me with a stick, now I must meditate.”

    Or here’s a passage about the concept of “nusumi-geiko” that is still alive in Japanese culture:

    “The cabinetmaker’s training usually began in his early teens. In the ensuing ten years of apprenticeship, he endured a great deal of sweeping and menial tasks, but was also exposed to the work of the master craftsmen around him. The term nusumi-geiko refers to what actually took place in cabinetmaker’s training and many other trades. It means “stolen lessons,” alluding to the fact that the apprentices were not instructed so much as they learned the requisite skills by sheer determination through observation.”

    I am very thankful to the people who took their time to show me the ropes: Lothar Krause, Bill Cunningham, Dan Tepper. They spent a lot of their time explaining things to me.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 8:51 pm on January 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Claw, Claw crane, Claw-free permutation, Co-worker, commanding officer, , , , , , MIA CTO, , , , Video game arcade cabinet, , Waka Waka   

    The Claw or Playing Not So Hard 

    When I began my career hiring managers still said things like “we work hard, and we play hard”. The “playing hard” usually consisted of drinking tequila shots after work and having either a ping-pong table or an arcade machine or two in the office.

    Free tequila shots were always a crowd pleaser. Not so much with the games. The worst offender was the Packman machine. The silly little tune and “WAKA-WAKA WAKA-WAKA WAKA-WAKA” got old really fast. The ping-pong table was even worse: it’s hard to write code late in the evening in the middle of a death march project while system adminstrators click-clack the celluloid ball for hours. Both were gone quickly.

    The lone “play hard” straggler was the awesome APB arcade machine that was placed near restrooms. “Help, help”, “yeah, yeah” and the awesome mumbling of the commanding officer deeply etched in our collective brains.

    Besides insidious noise pollution, arcade machines make coders burn out even faster: staring into blinking phosphorus is not good after a long and hard day.

    So, how can a startup stay true to the Silicon Alley/Valley cliche? I think I figured out an answer. A claw machine otherwise known as a “skill crane”.

    My co-worker recently got obsessed with an obscure iphone game called Clawzilla. The original purchase price is a bit steep, but it includes free game tokens. The graphics suck big time, but the remote control functionality and responsiveness is top notch. In theory you can even claim toys caught by you by using a claim code and providing a few bucks for shipping, but that part did not really work for me.

    In any case, me an my co-workers somehow rediscovered that claw machines are awesome. I spotted a toy claw machine at a drugstore and could not resist buying it. I cut the wire to the speaker that blasted circus music, but it’s still a bit noisy (but not as bad as the video makes it sound) because of poor gear alignment. We filled it with memory sticks, a titanium spork, minifigs and other geek items, culminating in a business card of our MIA CTO.

    It’s still kind of lame. Unfortunately there are no affordable “real” mid-size claw machines on eBay: they were only created recently for prizes like the iPod. It’s kind of interesting: there’s a claw machine for iphone, and an iphone for a claw machine. In any case, these small machines can only be found brand new and cost several thousand dollars. Meanwhile, eBay is full of fully functional $500 claw machines.

    Those are great. Load it with old phones, unwanted swag for conferences, etc. Use the proceeds from the quarter slots for charity (be it beer for developers or a real charity), and watch your employees and friends unwind trying to grab that lobster harmonica. It’s a dumping ground for swag accumulating in the drawers as well as a way to refocus and rest your eyes.

    The best part? Have your designer make decal featuring local headcounts and localized title card and decorate your machine with them.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 9:00 am on February 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Co-worker, , , , , , Waterfront hotel,   

    Mudsharked 

    When I worked at TV Guide I had a co-worker who frequently used a phrase “couldn’t we just” (pronounced with a whiney way with a New Jersey accent) to drive web developers to the outer reaches of annoyance. The thing is, in software development there are very few things that are “just” and a lot of resons why we couldn’t.

    One of the main reasons is that people tend to abuse just about any feature that you is created for them. This goes doubly for nice features.

    Let’s say you have an understanding boss who lets you have some flexibility in your workday hours. You can safely bet that without frequent admonitions to come in at a reasonable hour your fellow cowokers (and probably yourself) will probe the limits of when to begin a workday to a ridiculous degree.

    When I worked at a clam counter at Nathan’s at Coney Island we used to have a set of one pint containers with horseradish and cocktail sause. My supervisor told me to keep them under the counter and only furnish when requested. After a number of annoyed customers asked me why “couldn’t I just” leave them on the counter, I complied. What could go wrong?

    A day later two homeless gentlemen had an argument over something and used the containers as projectile weapons against each other. My supervisor sent me out to clean the mess with a dose of “I told you so” (apparently this same exact fight happened in the past).

    The thing is, your fantasy is usually not enough to envision the ridiculousnes to which features can be abused. For instance, as a fisherman I’ve always had a fantasy of fishing out of a building’s window. When I was taking a cruise around Seattles’s waterfront with my wife, the boat’s guide pointed out the Waterfront hotel, and mentioned that in the past hotel’s management provided fishing rods and tackle in the rooms.

    The problem turned out to be not that the clients did not catch fish. The problem was that instead, they caught too many, and left their catch to rot in sinks, toilets and bathtubs. Tired of antisanitary fish carcasses they nixed this feature.

    When I came home, I looked up the hotel, and found the bit that the guide left out. This hotel was the place where the infamous Led Zeppelin “mud shark incident” took place. The link is certainly not PG 13, because rockstars, hotel rooms, fish caught out of the window, and groupies is a dangerous mix.

    Has a feature that you created ever been mudsharked?

     
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