Amazing CTO Newsletter
by Stephan Schmidt
Happy 🌞 Sunday,
today let’s talk about Figma. Figma (and all the other tools that do the same, I just use Figma because it’s the most famous) is one of the worst things that happened to software development. This occurred to me yesterday out of the blue. Why is this? Because it draws product managers to UIs and solely focus on UX issues. We have seen this extreme focus on UX over the last decades, in several waves. One huge push was the release of the iPhone.
The downside of this sole focus on UX is the upcoming generation of product managers who think the UI is the product. When combined with the number-driven focus on conversion, this is devastating. I was working at a large company, we did constant redesigns of forms and flows.
What would have been great instead were deep features that make the customer WOW. For example, if you add a product to say eBay, it tells you how much you should sell it for. 500 EUR is an instant sell, 750 EUR will take 3,2 weeks on average and 900 EUR is a tough sell. The UI for this is one line of text above the price input form. But a huge iceberg of code below to make this happen. Think of the Google search box. But you need to know data, algorithms, and deep engineering with creative ideas to pull this one off. It’s much easier to redecorate your sales form. And it’s fun, just like redecorating your flat or buying at Ikea. Guess what people choose? Hard thinking or fun?
The thought was triggered when I was using GetPocket. I add and archive many links to GetPocket. And last week a product manager decided to put all icons into a burger menu. So instead of clicking the archive icon I now need to open the burger and navigate to the archive icon, the item is archived and I need to do the same for the next item in the list. Much slower, and more complicated. Why did the product manager redesign a perfectly working form?`Figma.
Drop your design tools and start thinking!
What do you think? Send me a reply! I’m interested.
On to this week’s insights
- 🦹 Writing an engineering strategy
- 🤖 About technical due diligence and red flags
- 💻 Founder Intuition vs. Team Expertise vs. Customer Expertise
Good reading, have a nice Sunday ❤️ and a great week,
If you only read one thing
Writing an engineering strategy
People ask me about leadership. Being a leader means having a vision (golden land where everyone wants to be) and a strategy (how to get there). The leader is the one showing the way and kindly pushing people who stay behind or want to leave the trail. But how do you write an engineering strategy? (also you need a business vision and strategy and product vision and strategy, otherwise, your engineering vision will not work, they all need to be aligned)
Stories I’ve enjoyed this week
About technical due diligence and red flags
I’m helping CTOs prepare for their due diligence. The key to understanding DDs is the investor is looking for risk (existing and when scaling). “Red flags, when you find them, are rarely deal-killers. They’re just pieces of information, indications of risk. The bigger the reward potential, the more red flags an investor should be willing to accept—or even expect.” That said I have seen investment rounds crash because of the risk in tech.
Europe data salary benchmark 2023
Just take all the salary information you can get. Argue with employees and your CEO. Know the market. This one is deeper than most.
Better to micromanage than be disengaged
Can someone give Will an award already? The most prolific thinker in development management today (Joel 2.0).
“Where I’d imagined an absentee CEO would feel empowering, instead it usually meant that the executive team couldn’t move important decisions forward.”
Founder Intuition vs. Team Expertise vs. Customer Expertise
This is an important text for growing startups, with a transition from the founders to the team.
The maze is in the mouse
“Google has 175,000+ capable and well-compensated employees who get very little done quarter over quarter, year over year. Like mice, they are trapped in a maze of approvals, launch processes, legal reviews, performance reviews, exec reviews, documents, meetings, bug reports, triage, OKRs, H1 plans followed by H2 plans, all-hands summits, and inevitable reorgs.”
How we boosted marketing email open rate from 20% to 60%
Really nice one, “This trick was to start sending the emails at the same hour the user last visited our website.” Perhaps one to surprise the CEO and show that you can think outside the tech box.
Experiences working with an Outsourced Dev Shop
Outsourcing development is hard. People - especially founders think it’s easier, to pay and go. But it needs tough management. And the key is aligning goals. But if you pay for misjudgments and bugs, you will get more of these not less! Seems simple but most people make the same mistake here. “Unfortunately, once it came time to build it, they hit a wall. They couldn’t figure out how to make Twilio Chat work with React Native [..] And they now wanted us to switch over to an entirely different chat service provider [..] and pay an additional fee for this mulligan”
Creation happens in silence
We have forgotten this. In the past, great things have been created by people in (limited) isolation. Today everyone is forced to communicate, attend meetings, give reports, to collaborate. “As painful as it is, any creation happens in isolation without any signals or external validation until it’s complete. Any idea or creative work you can think of happens in silence.”
Chesterton’s Fence: A Lesson in Second-Order Thinking
Second Order thinking is where many people fail. “Second-order thinking is the practice of not just considering the consequences of our decisions but also the consequences of those consequences.” Give this text to your CEO, please!
Your B2B startup will stop innovating the day you give power to product managers
I’m torn on product managers. On one hand, they are the reason for lots of pain in development, on the other hand, I think there should be more of them - 1 PM to 2 devs is a good ratio. But if you can’t do this, at least don’t let them freely roam but have a tight role description with responsibilities. And make them part of the team, not the boss.
What’s Postgres Got To Do With AI?
MLOps is still an unsolved problem for many startups. Here you go with Postgres.
Improve your debugging by asking broad questions
I think debugging is an undervalued skill. If you have an incident, the key is to understand the problem fast. If you have a bug, it takes less time to fix it if you can debug it fast. But we mostly focus on writing good code fast. Get better at debugging.
McKinsey Plans to Eliminate About 2,000 Jobs in One of Its Biggest Rounds of Cuts
Behind a paywall, but I guess an archive is out there somewhere. What I did find interesting “The plan is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks, and the final number of roles to be eliminated from its 45,000 workforces could still change, one of the people said. That headcount is up from 28,000 just five years ago and 17,000 in 2012.” - This rapid growth means the industry in general is getting worse at its job, if it needs more consultants to tell it what to do.
TIL: You Can Stop Updating Copyright Attribution Years
I’m not a lawyer and for sure ask first, but “I stopped participating after I learned that copyright statements need only the year of the first publication and no lawyer that I asked contradicted” I remember the days when there was a ticket in every company I’ve worked at the beginning of the year to change the copyright in a myriad of systems.
2017 “Neural networks are not just another classifier, they represent the beginning of a fundamental shift in how we develop software. They are Software 2.0.” Whenever you think you’ve said something first, you just don’t know history.
The Philosophy of Computer Science
Ugh. Deep stuff. But as someone who finished university in Philosophical Computer Science (2 years before it was possible, ask if you want to know more ;-) in my opinion we do not think enough about how computer science and development fit into the world.
What to expect from your framework
Why use a framework.
Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos
“the first thing your readers notice isn’t your carefully crafted message, it’s the misspelled word in the fourth sentence.” Why QA should not write tests, but peer review the tests developers have written Developers can’t find the bugs with tests they haven’t thought of (although I always find bugs when I write tests - just recently forked an untested library, wrote some tests, found two bugs - but you get the idea).
How pervasive is corporate fraud?
This doesn’t concern you. Well, I thought the same, until it did concern me in an ugly way. Fraud is not a thing that happens to others. Take off your rose-tinted glasses and think for one moment “How could employees defraud the company and how am I responsible as CTO” - this can save you a lot (I really mean a lot) of trouble. Thank me later.
I love building a startup in Rust. I wouldn’t pick it again.
If you think about using Rust, don’t. The learning curve is too steep “When you first start with Rust, you’ll end up fighting the compiler a bit.” Oh and I love Rust (except I would want a default GC instead of Arc).
I don’t like making the best things.
“When I try to make the best thing, I become less happy, actually I become paralyzed.” Count me in.
How Inevitable Is the Concept of Numbers?—Stephen Wolfram Writings
“The aliens arrive in a starship. Surely, one might think, to have all that technology they must have the idea of numbers” Very removed from the CTO job. But it’s a Sunday!