At the swing of midnight, on the day you were born,
Three lightning bolts came together.
The first, sinuous and long, said, “I shall make her graceful.”
The second, jagged and strong, said, “I shall give her a mind
That cuts into darkness like diamond.”
The third, bright as a sun, said, “I shall give her radiance
That warms and brightens all those around her.”
As the three lightning bolts descended on the newborn,
A fourth came along, so spectral and pale as to go unseen,
And whispered: “I shall make her forget.”
And so she walked the earth, oblivious to her gifts,
Save when staring into a newborn’s endless eyes
Or hearing a strain of music so pregnant with yearning
As to have the weight of truth,
Or when a dusty pilgrim would arrive from far away
And cry, “Ave!,” with wild eyes that could see
The goddess for the human that she was.
Source: Dr. Ali Binazir
Last Thursday I went to a Wharton Women’s event, A Special Evening with Carol Bartz. Thanks Nadia for the hookup!
For those who don’t know, Carol Bartz was the CEO of Autodesk, where she successfully grew the company from $300 million to $1.5 billion. Following that, she was appointed CEO at Yahoo!, where she was quite publicly fired in 2011. She started her career at Sun Microsystems, where she rose to become a senior executive.
Hearing Carol Bartz speak was inspirational to me, but it wasn’t one of those feel-good speeches. She was very honest, sometimes painfully so.
Some of these stories from when she was a senior executive at Sun Microsystems (in her late 30s) made me hold my breath in shock. She knew this beautiful 25-year-old woman at Air France who told her, “Carol, this senior guy I work with keeps asking me out for a drink. I’m going to report him to HR.”
And what Carol told her was, “You haven’t earned the right to make a big hullabaloo like that.” [me: ODAMN. Where is she going with this…] “When you get to where I am, then you can release your inner bitch.”
I read this book Clean Code on my break between Flixster and Hipmunk, on my coworker’s recommendation.
“After reading this book, you will curse the code your coworkers write, the legacy code you have to work with, and all the code you’ve written in the past.”
- Mattias P. (who is an exemplary programmer, teacher and invaluable asset to any employer)
Clean code is: simple, direct and does one thing well. Elegant and readable, and efficient. Written with care to keep the code base maintainable, so that other coders will also take care.
NB: The book examples are all in Java.
It’s the first book I’ve read on the philosophy of writing code, so I liken it to the Strunk & White of programming. It mentioned lots of problems I am familiar with, and gave me a pithy set of rules to follow.
The main thing I need to keep in mind, after over a year of work experience, is: My code not only needs to work, but it needs to be usable by whoever comes next. That code is my offspring, it will live on after I’m gone. Other people will need to read it, use it, play nice with it. If I leave a dirty legacy, people will be afraid to touch it.
On Saturday I led a workshop with my partner-in-crime, Amanda, to teach middle-school girls how to program. It was called “Learn to Code Hangman”, and we led three 70-minute sessions of the same workshop at the Expanding Your Horizons Conference 2012.
The helper code and solutions, all in Python, are on Github here.
Our presentation covered:
- What programmers do every day
- Programming basics: variables, if / else statements, lists, while loops
Disastrous First Session
Due to administrative hiccups, Amanda and I spent the first 15 mins helping the students get set up with the starter files and Terminal. Then I went through my presentation too slowly, as it was the first time and I was uncertain of how quickly they would “get” the concepts. Midway through the presentation, we ran some examples in the Python interpreter, such as:
age = 11
if age > 16:
print "I can drive now!"
print "I am too young to drive :("
By the time we were done helping them debug their examples from the presentation, there was only 5 minutes left to code Hangman. I’m afraid that most of those girls left thoroughly confused and daunted.
Challenges they faced
Flixster has over 16 products on iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, etc., and every one has become the premier movie app on its platform. I think we owe this to a really strong and creative product team that reiterates quickly and is willing to completely rethink their ideas. For example, last summer I remember being sceptical about our promotion giving away movies on Facebook. Product made dozens of iterations over a few months until we finally succeeded in going viral!
Our initial Flixster Store Homepage also met with lukewarm reviews, but the product team went back to the drawing board and came up with a new design centred around “movie discovery”. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been lead developer on that project, with only 8 months of work experience under my belt, and the new version finally went live last week!
I’ll never forget…
- The day Steve C. brought 15 live dungeness crabs to the office that he had caught from his crabbing boat. Chad brought his propane burner and stockpot and we boiled them in the parking lot, then had Flixsterites picking crabs apart with our saucy hands, slurping and squirting crab butter all over the office.
- Getting to see The Dark Knight Rises in a private pre-release screening with my coworkers!
Today is my last day at Flixster.
I will start out with why I feel fortunate to have landed here for the past year and 3 months of my career.
Flixster has been a good place to work, as defined by Ben Horowitz and my boss Eugene Park. I think this is because of its culture, product and people. In this first post I’ll talk about the culture.
Flixster has a really positive, happy work environment. There are no egos, no blame, only the team. I remember the day I broke code on production. I had underestimated the risk of spreading a single file to www – code that could still have included other engineers’ commits and dependencies. I was the only person who blamed myself – I hung my head the whole day, but my managers and teammates tried to help me lift my head back up high. They immediately conducted a workshop teaching us how to detect and fix problems like this in the future.
Feedback is a gift here. Every employee must take a valuable 4-hour feedback training workshop, and we’re encouraged to give peer feedback. You may only talk about other people’s behaviour, or your own feelings, but cannot make any assumptions about their feelings. An example in action: My boss Eugene to me,
“You make good points in our meetings, but when you end a sentence in a questioning tone or by trailing off, it makes me feel less confident about the point you are making.”
This was especially helpful for me, a fresh grad who was anxious to know how she was doing one month on the job, rather than have no idea what to expect from an intimidating, year-long accumulated performance review.
Flixster managers are some of the best managers in Silicon Valley…