Sten Vesterli's Blog

Don’t Trust Phones

Don’t bring your personal devices to China. The Olympic committees of several European countries are issuing burner devices to their athletes and strongly discouraging them from bringing their personal devices to next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing. That has long been an established practice for some Western companies sending employees to China.

If you attend the annual Black Hat hacker conference in Las Vegas in person, you probably also shouldn’t take your personal device.

Since personal devices are often the second part of the two-factor authentication required to access your network, you need to establish rules about where those devices can or cannot go. Or better still, get hardware tokens and don’t trust smartphones at all.

Homo Deus by Yuval Harari

Harari is strongest when he analyzes the long sweep of human history as he did in Sapiens. His analysis of how Humanism evolved during the Enlightenment as a quasi-religion is insightful and serves as a useful framework for thinking about the role of religion in modern society.

As he speculates on the future of mankind, he offers some thought-provoking ideas. His scenarios of increasing inequality as the rich take advantage of biotech advances are probable, but he ends off veering into improbable Kurzweil-like scenarios of humans being supplanted by big data and AI. Uneven, but still recommended.


Work Fewer Hours

You are working too many hours and not getting enough done. It’s gotten worse during the pandemic where people have been working even more hours from home.

Some people who get paid by the hour. For them, working more hours equates to more money. But for most IT professionals, working more hours simple means less time for the rest of your lift. Sadly, the additional hours do not create value for anyone. You can always spend extra time refactoring or attending another status meeting.

Track how many hours you work this week. Next week, work one hour less. You will find that knowing you have less time will focus your attention. You will get just as much done.

Plan Your Life

Have you planned next week? People who don’t spend some time thinking about their future often experience that all weeks feel the same. That feeling can accumulate to general dissatisfaction with your life.

It’s each to prevent this. Simply write down in your calendar what you intend to achieve next week. Because the world runs on a weekly cycle, making weekly plans is a good way to keep your life moving forward. The end of the week provides you with some spare time, and is a good trigger for planning.

People who make specific plans achieve more. Decide today what you will achieve next week.

Gaming the Metrics

Beneficial Intelligence is out. This week: Gaming the metrics. You need measures to manage, but when measures are used to praise or blame, employees will optimize for them. You need carefully paired metrics in order to avoid people gaming them.

Amazon tried and failed. They have an app to record driving behavior, but they also require a lot of packages delivered in a short time. Delivery companies are instructing their drivers to game the metrics by driving carefully at first, then switch off the app and drive like the devil.

As an IT leader, getting your measurements right is one of the most important part of managing your IT organization. If you are not carefully establishing paired metrics, you can be sure your metrics are being gamed.

Listen here or find “Beneficial Intelligence” wherever you get your podcasts.

Don’t be a Jerk

Twitter is belatedly implementing an idea that the xkcd comic suggested many years ago: Showing people when they are being jerks.

Twitter just rolled out a new feature that looks at a tweet before it is sent. If the software thinks the message is harmful or offensive, it offers the user a chance to reconsider. That’s a good use case for some machine learning, and they have now tweaked their algorithm to take your connection to the recipient into account.

But it shouldn’t really be necessary to have an AI to tell you to behave. How about you just train your brain to not be a jerk? Think before you post.

Don’t Ignore Bad News

You should not create products that kill people. And when you find that you’ve accidentally done so, you should not continue to sell them.

After initially refusing the strong recommendation from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, Peloton has now stopped sales and started offering refunds. Their treadmill product has injured 72 children and pets and has tragically caused one death. This product is so much more dangerous than other treadmills because it has to look cool. Peloton didn’t like the look of a regular treadmill that has skirts to prevent children and pets from getting pulled under the machine. Instead, they created a dangerous object and wrote in the manual to keep children and pets away.

When you have invested a lot of time and money and built something you are proud of, you don’t want to hear that it doesn’t work. That’s why Peloton didn’t immediately recall their deadly treadmills. That’s Kryptonite was in denial for months even after it was proven that their expensive bicycle locks could be opened with a Bic pen.

As a CIO or CTO, you need to have someone who can talk to you honestly about the problems with your IT systems and products. It is your leadership decision what to do about it. But you can’t make a good decision if you don’t know there is a problem. That’s why my customers get me to help them evaluate systems that don’t provide the expected business benefit.

Be the Author of Your Life

Are you the author of your life? Think of your life as a book where you write a new page each day. Some of the things that happen have to be done. You need to eat, sleep and take care of personal hygiene. You will spend part of your time on your job. I discussed that on Monday.

But that still leaves a lot of time under your control. Are you spending that time wisely? For some people, watching Netflix is the right choice. For others, it is keeping in touch with friends, contributing to open source, or learning something new.

The test of your priorities is to write down what you did with your personal time each day. If you feel proud and happy to write about your day, you are on the right track. If you feel hesitant or shameful when writing down how you spent your time, that shows you there is something you can improve.

Think About the End at the Beginning

Your risk of getting hit by space debris just went up. The Chinese have launched the first module of their space station. Like last time, they have left their launch booster in uncontrolled orbit. Other nations plan a controlled deorbit so they can splash their used rockets in the sea. Private companies reuse them. The Chinese just lets it hit whereever.

All object have a lifecycle. In modern production, manufacturers are starting to think about how to ensure that as much as possible of products can be reused, recycled, or disposed of safely. In IT, we’re not good at thinking about end-of-life. That’s why we have decades-old mainframe systems that we can’t figure out how to get rid of.

As a CIO or CTO, next time you greenlight a new system, ask the architects and designers how they plan to decommission it. How will useful data be extracted from the system? Will historic data need to be saved? How will the business logic be extracted and reused many years into the future? The system works to spec now, but in less than a month, the system and the documentation will have diverged. Think about the end at the beginning. Don’t be like China and leave it to chance.

Evaluate the Options

Just like the rest of us, you’ve got too much stuff. We’ve got too many gadgets, and we are increasingly aware of the fact that we are consuming more than the planet can provide.

Next time you feel you need something, spend a little time evaluating the alternatives before your rush online to buy it. You might be able to repair something instead of buying something new. Or you might not really need the latest version. If you do need it, you might be able to get a used item instead of a brand-new one. If you need to buy something, you can buy it from a vendor who uses fewer resources, green energy or builds things made to be repairable.

Every decision has many possible options. It’s a good idea to get your thinking brain involved in the decision-making instead of just going with your first impulse. Sitting quietly for a few minutes every day gives your conscious mind the chance to help you improve your decisions.