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Psychological Safety in Operation Teams

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Psychological Safety in Operation Teams:

Think of a team you work with closely. How strongly do you agree with these five statements?

  1. If I take a chance and screw up, it will be held against me.
  2. Our team has a strong sense of culture that can be hard for new people to join.
  3. My team is slow to offer help to people who are struggling.
  4. Using my unique skills and talents comes second to the objectives of the team.
  5. It’s uncomfortable to have open, honest conversations about our team’s sensitive issues.

Teams that score high on questions like these can be deemed to be “unsafe.”

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10 days ago
Melbourne, Australia
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6 days ago
Linked paper well worth a read
Brooklyn, NY

Bite-sized command line tools: pylintdb

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One of the things I love about Python is the abundance of handy libraries to cobble together small but useful tools. At work we had a large pylint report, and I wanted to understand it better. In particular, I wanted to trace back to which commit had introduced the violations. I wrote to do the work.

Since we had a lot of violations (>5000!) I figured it would take some time to use git blame to find the commit for each line. I wanted a way to persist the progress through the lines. SQLite seemed like a good choice. It also would give me ad-hoc queryability, though to be honest, I didn’t even consider that at the time.

SQLite is part of the Python standard library, but there’s a third-party library that makes it super-convenient to use. Dataset lets you use a database without creating a schema or even model first. You just open a database, choose a table name, and then start writing dictionaries to it. It handles all the schema creation (or modification!) behind the scenes. Awesome.

These days, click is the tool of choice for command-line parsing, and other chores needed in the terminal. I used the progress bar functions. They aren’t perfect, but in only a few lines I had a workable indicator.

Other useful things from the Python standard library:

  • concurrent.futures for parallelizing the git blame work. It’s got a high-level “map” interface that did exactly what I needed without having to think about queues, threads, and so on.
  • subprocess.check_output does the subprocess thing people usually want: just run the command and give me the output.

pylintdb isn’t earth-shattering, it just does exactly what I needed in 120 lines with a minimum of fuss, thanks to dataset, click, and Python.

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10 days ago
Melbourne, Australia
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"What engineers are not getting at their current jobs": an interview with Lynne Tye


How do you find a job with work/life balance? Most companies won’t tell you “we want you to work long hours” on their careers page, it’s hard to ask, and it’s not like you can go to a job board and search for work/life balance. Until now, that is.

Key Values is a newly launched site that lets you filter jobs by values. Instead of the standard boring “at X we’re passionate about doing Y with technology stack Z” (more on that below), you can search by the things that make a job work or not work for you. That might mean work/life balance, but you can also search for companies that are good for junior devs, or have a flat organization. Different people have different values, and Key Values reflects that.

It’s still early days, so there aren’t a huge number of jobs yet, but I love the concept and wanted to hear more. So I got in touch with Lynne Tye, the creator of Key Values, to hear how she ended up creating such a different, and useful, approach to hiring.

Q. Could you share your background with our readers, how you became a programmer?

LYNNE: I studied brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, then went into a PhD program in neuroscience at UCSF. Two years in, I realized it wasn’t for me, and I dropped out. Then I had a couple of odd jobs while I was soul searching, and a few months later I started working at Homejoy, as an operations manager for the Bay Area, a people manager.

While I was working at Homejoy, I noticed how powerful the engineers were. They could make so much impact with just one line of code, and I always felt frustrated when I needed them to fix a small bug that was making my life a nightmare. What I was doing just wasn’t as scalable, like having lots of 1-on-1 meetings. So after Homejoy, I decided I wanted to learn how to code.

Q. What did you learn from your experience before starting Key Values?

LYNNE: Scientific academia is one of the few industries where there’s a master/apprentice relationship, a very clear structure of mentorship. I think that the way you view relationships, the way you make decisions about joining labs is based on the idea of working relationships that need to be as compatible and symbiotic as possible. A lot of times these mentors stay with you your whole life [like family], your mentor’s mentor is your “grandfather”. I noticed this was lacking when I started doing web development.

After grad school, I was feeling pretty lost and really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I had basically been laser focused on becoming an academic professor and research scientist for the last 6 years and hadn’t once looked up to consider a different career. One of the main frustrations I had with research was how slow it was, and slow it was to get feedback.

The environment at Homejoy gave me all of that. It was intense, exciting, fast-paced, and there was constantly feedback from all directions. At the time, it was my dream job. And I think it just also made me realize that it wasn’t for everyone, but it was perfect for me. It made me realize that everyone has their own set of personal values/goals and it’s so important to find work that aligns with those.

Q. Doesn’t sound like there was much work/life balance at Homejoy.

LYNNE: Hahaha, there definitely wasn’t. But, I didn’t want work/life balance! When I left grad school, I genuinely thought work/life balance was a proxy for laziness, or a lack of passion. Of course, after grinding it out at Homejoy for a year and a half, I burned out quite a bit. Afterwards, I wanted work/life balance for the first time. And I found it in the lifestyle I had as a web freelancer.

Ironically, after a couple of years of having so much work/life balance, I started to miss the excitement and sense of urgency of working a lot. That’s where I am now: I’d feel a little sad if I was on a team and the only one working past 6pm or 7pm.

All of this sharpened my views on finding a new career: you need to know what you want, and you should be picky and demanding when you’re evaluating your options.

Q. As an operations manager at Homejoy you did some of the hiring. What did you look for?

LYNNE: It’s funny to look back at it. I didn’t have the language at the time, I didn’t have the framework or language to say what we were. And hiring was so new to me, I didn’t have any experience with it, I hadn’t really articulated the actual values we had.

It was very [intense], we were not shy about it. Everyone worked really late, really early, and on felt really exciting, and I don’t think anyone felt like it was work. We all enjoyed spending lots of time together and had all decided we were willing to make that commitment. At the time, I think I was always looking to hire people similar to the existing team.

Q. It seems many companies can’t articulate what they want?

LYNNE: They can’t. Many employers and job seekers have not taken the time to evaluate who they are, where they’re trying to go in terms of culture, and how that impacts hiring. I view my job as helping teams articulate values. And not only helping them articulate them and write them, but also to challenge them, asking whether they’re translating them into actions, or whether they’re things they just write on their website or on their walls.

Q. One my pet peeves in hiring is the focus on particular technologies. Why do you think hiring managers focus on this so much?

LYNNE: In general I think that job descriptions and the way that people are approaching recruiting and sourcing is outdated, given how much information we all have access to now. Previously it was harder to get information about different employment opportunities, so the biggest differentiators were salary, and do you have experience with hard skills we need today. As time has gone by these things are still important, but people have the ability to compare more teams and have more information to compare them by, and job descriptions haven’t reflected this change.

Software development has changed over the years. I can’t speak from experience, but it’s easier to build things today than it was 20 years. The ability to learn technologies, it wasn’t the same conversation it was 20 years ago. I don’t think it makes sense anymore to talk about experience with a particular technology.

Some companies are happy to have people learn on the job, but people just follow the [job posting] template everyone uses:

  • Generic part about what the company does.
  • Generic part about how much you’ll learn, how much fun it is, how much impact you’ll make.
  • Bullet point with requirements, experience with X, Y, Z technology.
  • And then another set of bullet points about benefits and perks, and not-so-compelling reasons to join the company.

Q. Which brings us to Key Values, where you’re trying to do things differently. What exactly does Key Values do?

LYNNE: I try to help job seekers find teams that share their values.

Q. How did you come up with these values?

LYNNE: I interviewed dozens and dozens of engineers. I noticed it’s challenging for people to articulate or identify what they care about most. And I noticed that as people were telling me what they were looking for, it came with a story about a previous experience they had where their job didn’t have that value, and that brought to light why that was so important them.

After interviewing lots of engineers, I spent time thinking about values, and phrasing them in ways where they would apply to many teams, but not every team. For example, had I had “Mission driven” every single team would have selected it, and it wouldn’t help people differentiate between different teams. And I didn’t want to include values that were specific to one, or even zero teams. It was about striking the balance between those two extremes.

Q. How do you figure out what values the companies have?

LYNNE: Initially, I thought it would be more like research, I wanted to interview every engineer on the team, provide statistics. But I realized it’s not scalable, and I didn’t want to force teams to share information they weren’t comfortable sharing. You’ll never find a team that says “we never eat lunch together, we’re not friends, we’re really not social here” or “we have terrible code quality here.”

By limiting how many values [a team can choose] it tells you what they prioritize. Being limited and being forced to rank [the values they choose] is very informative, it discloses a lot of information implicitly.

Q. On your website you have job listings with these values, and you share with them with world. What can tell you from your data about what engineers care about?

LYNNE: The two things visitors pick most are work/life balance and high quality code base. This is both surprising and not surprising at all. [Next is] “remote ok”, although that is is a property, not a value, and I think that makes sense since I still don’t have that many team profiles on Key Values yet. I also think developers are more and more interested in remote opportunities. Close to that are “flexible work arrangements”, “team is diverse”.

To me, these are an indication of what engineers are not getting at their current jobs.

Q. Why is Key Values the only job board that lets you search based on work/life balance?

LYNNE: I don’t think previously there was a way for teams to truthfully tell whether the team really cared. By having a limited list [of values], and priorities, it lets you see who doesn’t prioritize it, otherwise I think most companies wouldn’t volunteer that information. How would you ask? If you poll companies, I can’t imagine any of them wanting to publicly state that they don’t.

At the end of the day, how you define work/life balance has implications, it’s difficult to categorize these things. Anyone who is reading about it, or talking about, it’s pretty divisive and polarizing. Some people think if you work more than 40 hours a week you don’t have work/life balance, but I would disagree. My goal is to give companies a chance to tell us how they interpret work/life balance, and expose people to different definitions of that term.

Q. What does a sane workweek mean to you?

LYNNE: A sane workweek to me wouldn’t be a good description, I’d say i’m looking for a sane work month. I love working, I consider myself pretty industrious, but the flexibility to decide when I work is more important. Sometimes I want to work a ridiculous amount one week, and then take a few days off, maybe have a long weekend. And that’s just in terms of when I’m working, and how much.

In general I don’t believe in 40 hours a week, because I don’t operate that way. I don’t have as regular of a schedule, and would 100% rather work 60 hours a week if I could decide when and where I can work, as opposed to a 9-5 at the same physical place with no flexibility. I’d feel much more suffocated with the latter.

In terms of a relationship with an employer, I think the most important thing to me is working someplace where they genuinely support and show interest in other aspects of my life. And that they share some of their priorities in life with me. [The means] having a network of people around you who understand who you are as a whole and support all of you, For me, it means a lot to not just talk about work at work, but to really interact with one another as friends too. I know for sure that this isn’t true for everyone, but I prefer to blur the boundary between professional and personal. I don’t like having complete work/life separation.

OK, back to Itamar here: that was my interview, and now I’d like to ask for your help. Key Values is as far as I know the only place where you can search for jobs with work/life balance, or other values you may care about. That’s hugely valuable, and so I want to see Lynne’s project succeed. If you agree, here’s what you can do:

  • Is your company hiring? Get in touch with Lynne and get your company listed.
  • Are you looking for a job, or plan to look for one in the future? Go visit Key Values and sign up for the newsletter: the more people use the site, the easier it’ll be for Lynne to get more companies on board.
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12 days ago
Melbourne, Australia
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now you can pre-order the new Ask a Manager book


My book is now available for pre-order!

Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work will be published by Random House/Ballantine on May 1, but you can pre-order it now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Powell’s, and more.

It’s nearly all new content that you haven’t read here, and I’m so excited about it!

It tackles more than 200 difficult conversations you might need to have during your career (with your boss, your coworkers, your employees, or your job interviewer) and gives you the wording to do it … focusing especially on the awkward and cringey conversations that people dread the most. (My friend suggested that we title it “Lately I’ve Been Able to Smell You From My Cubicle,” but we did not.)

If you like reading about awkward situations and getting advice and scripts for addressing them,  this book is for you! You can place your pre-order here and you’ll get it as soon as it publishes. (And pre-orders are really good for authors, so please don’t wait if you want it!)

now you can pre-order the new Ask a Manager book was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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15 days ago
Melbourne, Australia
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Glitch: write fun small web projects instantly


I just wrote about Jupyter Notebooks which are a fun interactive way to write Python code. That reminded me I learned about Glitch recently, which I also love!! I built a small app to turn of twitter retweets with it. So!

Glitch is an easy way to make Javascript webapps. (javascript backend, javascript frontend)

The fun thing about glitch is:

  1. you start typing Javascript code into their web interface
  2. as soon as you type something, it automagically reloads the backend of your website with the new code. You don’t even have to save!! It autosaves.

So it’s like Heroku, but even more magical!! Coding like this (you type, and the code runs on the public internet immediately) just feels really fun to me.

It’s kind of like sshing into a server and editing PHP/HTML code on your server and having it instantly available, which I kind of also loved. Now we have “better deployment practices” than “just edit the code and it is instantly on the internet” but we are not talking about Serious Development Practices, we are talking about writing tiny programs for fun.

glitch has awesome example apps

Glitch seems like fun nice way to learn programming!

For example, there’s a space invaders game (code by Mary Rose Cook) at The thing I love about this is that in just a few clicks I can

  1. click “remix this”
  2. start editing the code to make the boxes orange instead of black
  3. have my own space invaders game!! Mine is at (i just made very tiny edits to make it orange, nothing fancy)

They have tons of example apps that you can start from – for instance bots, games, and more.

awesome actually useful app: tweetstorms

The way I learned about Glitch was from this app which shows you tweetstorms from a given user:

For example, you can see @sarahmei’s tweetstorms at (she tweets a lot of good tweetstorms!).

my glitch app: turn off retweets

When I learned about Glitch I wanted to turn off retweets for everyone I follow on Twitter (I know you can do it in Tweetdeck!) and doing it manually was a pain – I had to do it one person at a time. So I wrote a tiny Glitch app to do it for me!

I liked that I didn’t have to set up a local development environment, I could just start typing and go!

Glitch only supports Javascript and I don’t really know Javascript that well (I think I’ve never written a Node program before), so the code isn’t awesome. But I had a really good time writing it – being able to type and just see my code running instantly was delightful. Here it is:

that’s all!

Using Glitch feels really fun and democratic. Usually if I want to fork someone’s web project and make changes I wouldn’t do it – I’d have to fork it, figure out hosting, set up a local dev environment or Heroku or whatever, install the dependencies, etc. I think tasks like installing node.js dependencies used to be interesting, like “cool i am learning something new” and now I just find them tedious.

So I love being able to just click “remix this!” and have my version on the internet instantly.

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16 days ago
Melbourne, Australia
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banana thefts, peppers for potlucks, and other weird office food stories

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In honor of the day of gorging that will take place tomorrow, here are some of my favorite stories from last week’s post about weird food happenings in your offices.

1. “I used to work with an awful guy who used to dig his hand into bowls of catered food at our work lunches. Like pasta salad. it’s one thing to grab a few chips with your hand, but he’d put his dirty ass hand into a BOWL OF MACARONI. he was a total pig and if there was an email that said ‘leftovers from whatever meeting in the kitchen now!’ people would run to make sure they got there before old filthy hands got there because once he was spotted in the kitchen, all food was officially considered contaminated.

One time I was carrying a stack of boxes that I had a huge bowl of fruit salad perched on top, and was struggling with a door. He ran to get in front of me and I thought he was going to open the door, but he stuffed his hand down into the bowl of fruit salad and grabbed himself a handful of dripping, juicy watermelon and pineapple and cantelope and walked away from me just munching on it. I almost puked. I seriously hated that guy, it’s been years and I still hate him.”

2. “Not weird, but one of the funniest potluck moments was at a breakfast potluck. On the sign-up sheet, someone wrote ‘Peppers.’ We all assumed he was going to make some kind of savoury breakfast dish with peppers. Nope. He literally brought in a couple bell peppers and cut them up. For breakfast. Everyone else in my office makes fairly elaborate potluck dishes, so we had fun teasing him for that one.”

3. “I worked in a small office for a larger company with about 12 people in my department and we had our own lunch room. When it was time for lunch (11:30 am), someone would ring a bell (like at the hotel front desk) alerting everyone it was lunch time. If you did not come to the lunch room, someone would come looking for you and ask why you were not at lunch. The boss said it was for team building, but in reality he liked to have an audience for his stories/rantings/topics of the day. If someone was having a side conversation while he was telling a story, he would glare at the offenders and talk louder. Lunch was often the worst part of the day.”

4. “I’ve been through my share of great and not-great potlucks, but my most extreme office food story is the moment I learned to appreciate my surly coworker.

My surly coworker and I were tasked with providing light refreshments for an all-staff meeting (more than 200 people) on an extremely tight budget (less than $1 per person). My coworker went to great lengths to talk (badger) local vendors into deals so we could get the best spread possible, and she did a great job. It was nothing fancy, but fresh fruits, mini pastries, crackers, spreads, and coffee–enough for everyone to have some of everything.

During the opening address (by a senior manager), before the refreshments were officially served, someone standing near the refreshments at the back of the room was sneaking food off the tables and putting them into a plastic bag she had brought. A few of us noticed but were so appalled (and trying to stay quiet) that we just watched, silently aghast, the collective ‘who *does* that??’ on hold in our minds, waiting for the speech to end. That is until my surly coworker saw her take an entire bunch of bananas. ‘EXCUSE ME,’ she shouted from the front of the room, ‘THIS IS NOT A GROCERY STORE, AND YOU DO NOT DO YOUR FOOD SHOPPING HERE. PLEASE PUT THOSE BANANAS BACK ON THE TABLE.'”

One beat of silence, bananas go back on the table, speech resumes. I’ve never been so impressed.

5. “I make a mean chocolate cake with cherry pie filling included …chocolatey, moist, great texture and a Carmel frosting. At OldJob, I had to quit bringing it because Donna would talk about it, talk TO it, and make moaning NSFW adult noises while eating it.

No one could look her in the eye for days after eating that cake.”

6. “At my last job, I invited a bunch of coworkers over for pizza from my wood-fired oven. It’s a serious piece of kit – it’s effortless to crank it up to 900 degrees, and it’ll put out a Neapolitan pizza in about a minute and a half. My coworkers brought a ton of beer, and I slung pie for hours while we all debated the merits of various IPAs. While drinking them.

When everyone’s pizza urges were sated, I closed the oven door and let it start to burn itself out, which takes over a day. My wife and I know to never open the door once it’s time to let the oven wind down, but my coworker Bill didn’t know the rules. And Bill was very deep in his cups. So he bellowed, ‘Man, I wonder if it’s still hot in there?’ and grabbed the door.

One of the interesting side-effects of flameless combustion in a low-oxygen environment is the buildup of pyrolytic gases in the oven. This is more than an academic point. PROTIP: when your drunkass opens the oven while your host screams NOOOOOOOOOO and tackles you, the inrushing draft of oxygen will result in explosively energetic resumption of combustion, firing a jet of howling flame across the patio and lighting several pots of decorative plants on fire. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to be Bill, and aren’t just lit on fire like a human road flare. Maybe just don’t.”

7. “Yesterday there was a multi-department company-sponsored pizza lunch as a thanks for a big launch. He whipped out a Swiss army knife and walked around the building to every pizza, cutting out the ‘buy ten, get one”’ coupons on every box. This was very soon after the food was delivered and served, so he was hacking and sawing away at the boxes while holding up a line of people who actually wanted to eat, and also mangling/creating giant holes in the boxes that made the hot food turn cold right away.

I watched this go down with a mix of aggravation and admiration for his sheer DGAF.”

8. “We usually have a potluck at the end of the year. Some people make a fancy dish, buy a thing of cookies or chips, a veggie tray, etc. My favorite was last year when someone unwrapped a block of cheddar, put it on a plate and stuck a plastic fork in it. Like it was Excalibur.”

banana thefts, peppers for potlucks, and other weird office food stories was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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21 days ago
Omg 🤣
Melbourne, Australia
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