Google I/O 2012 – The Art of Organizational Manipulation

Google I/O 2012 – The Art of Organizational Manipulation

BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Wow. Everybody’s all quiet
and ready to go. How are you guys doing today? AUDIENCE: Great. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
We got some more seats up here in front. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
Couple of seat– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Scattered around. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: –if anybody
wants to sit down. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Wants it. Good. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Welcome to
The Art of Organizational Manipulation. I am Bryan Fitzpatrick. Most people call me Fitz. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: And I
am Ben Collins-Sussman. Everybody calls me Ben
Collins-Sussman. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: So we are engineering managers at Google. I see a lot of familiar faces
in the audience– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yeah. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: –which
is pretty cool. And we started the Chicago
engineering office back 1,000 years ago in 2005. And we’ve been working as
engineers and engineering managers for a lot
longer than that. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yeah. And in the course of our
travels, like he said, we’ve gone from software engineers
to management. We’ve worked on a bunch
of teams in Google. We worked in open source
for many years. And so over that period of time
we’ve sort of developed a bunch of stories and experiences
that we want to share with you. And we’ve been doing that
for a few years now. And this year we want to talk
about life inside a large corporation. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: As usual,
we like to start our talks also with a disclaimer. We have a very brief one here. And basically, the same thing
that applies to all our talks, which is that these
are our opinions. And some of it doesn’t actually
apply if you’re working for morons or
if you are a moron. But our point here is that
this is our opinions. And if you don’t like it, you
can get your own talk. And lastly, we think that what
we’re talking about here is not the only way to
do engineering. But we think it’s the most
effective way to spend your time when you’re working
in engineering. It’s true. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Doing
software engineering is fun and a lot of work. But really, if you want to be
super efficient and effective, you need to learn to work with
people and with corporations. So, that takes us to our next
slide, which is that corporations, companies, as you
think about them, they are not made out of source code. And they’re not made out of– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Compilers. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
compilers. They’re not made out of
brick and mortar. They’re actually made
out of people. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Companies are
made entirely of people. And people are what not only
make things happen, but people in companies are what prevents
things from happening in a lot of cases, as well. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Or cause
things to happen. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Or, yeah. Occasionally, they do cause
something to happen. But more than anything, if
you’re going to be an engineer in a big company and make things
happen, you need to learn how to navigate them. OK. Now if you’re in a small
company or a start-up– in fact, maybe we should do a
quick– how many people here work in a company of less
than 15 people? OK. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: It’s
like half the audience. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. 16 to 100? 100 to 1,000? BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
There we go. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Bigger
There we go. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: All right. You’re going to like this. So, you’re the guys who need the
flashlight, a GPS, and a big truck of bread crumbs to
navigate your organization. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
All right. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: All right. So that’s a lot about what
we’re here to talk about. Now, I’m aware– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
–organizational manipulation’s a little weird. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: It’s a
little sensational, isn’t it. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: It’s
a little bit– we like sensational titles, like
poisonous people, that sort of thing. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: We could
have just said a talk about office politics. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. But we like to call it
organizational manipulation. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: You could
also call it social engineering, if you like. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Ah. [INAUDIBLE] BRYAN FITZPATRICK: So, there’s
three parts to this talk. We’re going to give
away all the surprises at the beginning. There’s three parts. We’re gonna talk about working
in the ideal company, the reality, BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Just to
get a nice diff there. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
Yeah, exactly. The company that most people
find themselves in at one point or another and
that we found ourselves in in the past. And lastly is the manipulation,
which is the awesome part. But most companies are
a blend of the ideal and sort of the reality. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So you get
to pick and choose what applies to your situation– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
–as we chat. So let’s start with the
perfect environment. Like, what should it be like
to work in a large corporation, right? Let’s talk about– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: We’ll make
this quick because this isn’t very interesting. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: No,
it’s good stuff. I like this. So the first thing that you need
to think about– at least what we preach in a lot of our
talks– is that management is a bad word. That really we talk about
leadership, not management Because the worst thing that
managers do is they manage, and that’s– stop managing, start leading. And what it means to lead is
it means you should be a servant to your team. If you have a good leader– could be a manager, could be
the person you report to– their job is not to tell
you how to do your job. Their job is to remove
roadblocks and be like a butler to your team, make
sure everyone is efficient and happy. And I’m sure that’s exactly the
way it is in your company. But that’s the ideal
that we preach. And that’s what we try to practice as managers ourselves. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And
often fail at. That’s how we learn. So we get better at these
things, I think. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: But I mean,
when I first started out, the first time I had a meeting with
our CEO, at the time Eric Schmidt, he came to Chicago. Had this long meeting
with him. I was very nervous. And he was asking me all
these questions. At the end of the meeting he
leaned back, he said, so what do you need? I mean, I had done all this
preparation for all these answers to all these questions
he was gonna ask me. I had no answer for this. I just sort of, I’m like, what
do you mean what do I need? I’m just some dude. You’re the CEO, man. Aren’t I supposed to do
everything for you? And– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: That’s
a great question. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: It’s
a fantastic question. And it’s one that I like to
ask people who work on my teams as well. What do you need to
get your job done? What do you need to be happier,
to be more effective? And I can guarantee you the next
time I met with Eric, I had an answer. I had a whole laundry list of
things that I needed, because I was ready for that
next time. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: But that’s
great in the sense that Eric saw himself as there to
help you, not grill you on what have you done for him
lately, kind of thing. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Right. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: That’s
a great example of good leadership. So the other thing we’d like
to talk about, if you’re working in this ideal company,
is that as an employee you should pursue responsibility. And what we mean by that is
being able to leave your comfort zone and do things that
are interesting to you and things that you think are
best for your product, best for your company, not
necessarily asking permission. We like to talk about seeing the
forest through the trees. Sort of novice engineers
get told what to do. They expect to get
told what to do. They do exactly what
they’re told. Then they come back and they
say, more work, please. And in a great company where
you can grow, when you have software engineers who are
growing and developing, you have a situation where they’re
actually doing more than what is asked of them. They go out. They not only do what was asked
of them, but they come back with a more general
solution or a proposal to get something better done, right? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Right. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: There’s
generalization going on. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Right. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: And that
should be rewarded. And that should be encouraged. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Right. An example is if you’re a forest
ranger, they send you out in the forest to cut
down the diseased tree. The novice forest ranger is
going to go in, cut down the diseased tree, and come back
and say, I’m done sir. But the more experienced one
might come back and say, I cut down the tree, removed all the
branches and the stump and everything. And I found 57 other trees that
have the same disease. And they’re right here
in this map. Would you like me to do
something with them, as well? BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Create a plan. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Exactly. It’s creating a plan. And those are the kind of people
who wind up getting more work, which is usually a
good thing if you like what you’re doing. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: It’s
the reward for work– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: The reward
for good work is more work. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Sure. As long as you like the work. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: It’s
a good thing. No, really. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: As long as
you like the work, that’s the reward. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: As long
as you like the work. But I mean, your leader’s more
likely to give you more interesting things to
do because it’s less work for them. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: And
they trust you now. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And
they trust you now. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:They see
that you’re thinking big. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Exactly. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So, what
else happens in an ideal corporation? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Well, you
might question things. You might, instead of just doing
what you’re told, you might actually question
something you don’t think is right or you think it’s harmful
or you think there’s something better you can do. It’s more of a dialogue than
someone says, hey, you should do this, and you just
go ahead and do it. It’s about not being
a doormat. It’s about challenging the
status quo and trying to think of better ways of making
things happen. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Absolutely. Part of that also is just
learning to communicate well. This is something I know
that does not come naturally to everybody. There’s that old joke about how
do you know if an engineer is outgoing? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: How, Ben? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Looks
at your shoes. All right. Fine. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
Ooh, tough crowd. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So, but
communication is critical on a team when you’re doing software
engineering because you want to let your manager
and your teammates know. You want to know about your victories, about your failures. You want to know what your
expectations are. What do you need, right? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Having the
answer to that question ready to go when somebody asks
you instead of just sitting there with the blinders on
doing what you’re told. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And
obstacles, even. Like– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Sure. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Remember when
your team had some issues with legal, and they were like
six weeks waiting for a response from legal. And Ben and I were having a cup
of coffee, and it’s like, oh my God, you know, this
is just killing us. This legal is not responding. And I said, why didn’t
you tell me. I know these people in legal. And I got on the phone and
resolved it in about an hour and a half. And that’s not because I’m
some amazing person. It’s just because I knew who to
call and talk to politely, let’s shall we say. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
All because I communicated with you. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Awesome. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yay
communication. So another thing that people
often forget about in big companies is actually is that
people treat you the way that you ask to be treated,
I guess, is the way– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. If you expect somebody to
act a certain way, they often act that way. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. So, it’s about getting
your work done. Nobody should be counting how
many minutes you’re at your desk when you check
in or check out. If you get your work
done, it’s obvious. If you don’t get your work
done, it’s obvious. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So that’s
what we mean by– and it certainly is true at Google. One of the reasons we like
working there is they treat everybody like an adult
by default. And it’s a wonderful thing. And that is not true of other
companies I have been in. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. Well, there was a guy that came
to work with us, and he was on my team a number
of years ago. And he’d worked in industry
for 20 years. And it was his first day. You’re a little bit,
like, overwhelmed. Quarter to 5:00, he came
up to me and said, look, I’m really sorry. I have an appointment that
I couldn’t move. I’ve got to go. But I’ll be here 15 minutes
later tomorrow. And I said, look, man, I don’t
care when you come and go. As long as you put in your 80
hours a week, you’ll be fine. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Fitz is just cruel. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And he looked
at me and he understood that I was joking. But he did get the point that
he’s responsible for making things happen, and that it’s not
about being in a seat at a certain time. It’s about being available to
your team to make sure that the work gets done. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Sure. You were telling me another time
when we do a conference in Chicago every winter where
we rent out a big hall at a university, a whole
building in fact. And one of the first times you
went there, you went there to get the keys from the person
who runs the building. And instead of a series of
lectures about don’t do this, don’t go here, blah, blah, blah,
stay out of blah, blah, blah, the guy was just like,
here’s the building. Here are the keys. I’ll get them from
you on Monday. See you. And like, you were telling
me that was– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: That
was intimidating. It was really. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: It was
intimidating because it’s like, wow, this person just
put so much trust in me. I better leave this place better
then I found it, right. They expect me to behave this
way, so I’m going to live up to their expectations. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Right. I mean, if they set up
this fence and they say, here’s the fence. It’s six feet tall. It’s made out of concrete. Don’t go any further
than that. People will often just pile
crap up against the fence because they’re like, I’m being
treated like a child and I’m going to act like one. I’m a caged animal. I’m going to run around
and rattle the cage. People look for those
boundaries. But when there are no boundaries
and you’re given this responsibility, I think
it’s a great responsibility. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yeah. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: So let’s talk
about another thing is taking risks. If you’re in a company, in an
organization where you are allowed to take risks and to
expand your comfort zone, you can do things like fail fast. You can take more
responsibility. You can fail, document what
you’ve learned, adapt, and then try again. If somebody gets upset with
failure, just explain to them it’s a way of learning
really quickly. Think about, Think about– anybody
here have kids? You can raise your hand. You ever see a kid burn
themself on the stove? It’s painful for the kid,
but you know what? They learn really fast
that that’s hot. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
So does my cat. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And they
don’t want to touch that. You can sit there and give
them a lecture on thermodynamics and
all you want. But, man, they just stick their
hand in there and that’s the last time they’re ever
going to pull that stunt. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yeah. Also when you exercise,
that’s one of the things they talk about. If you work out at a gym,
sometimes you want to do weights to the point where your
muscles actually start to fail because that’s the point
where you improve. If you always just do just
enough exercise so that it’s comfortable and then you
walk away, you never really get any better. You just stay at that
level, right. If you exercise to failure, you
start to push yourself. You grow, you adapt. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
Right, right. So without that risk, you
really never improve. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yeah. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: So, those are
a few of the tips that you can do if you’re living in a
lovely garden that’s well raked like this. Unfortunately, we’re aware that
most companies look a lot more like this kind
of a garden. And most people work
for people who look more like this. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yeah. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: So let’s talk
a little bit about the bad manager which is– there’s a statistic– and remember that 75% of all
statistics are made up– there’s a statistic that 50% of
the happiness of your job comes from your manager, whether
you’re happy working with them or working for them. And that really is true
in my experience. I’ve had the, I’d say,
opportunity to work for some really great managers in my
time, not only at Google but in other places. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So, a
typical bad manager is someone who essentially prevents
a lot of the things we just talked about. They prevent you from taking
any risks at all. Failure is a terrible thing. Not even the smallest failure is
terrifying to the manager. And of course, that spills
over to you. And then you’re afraid to
take any risks, as well. In addition, the manager also
thinks that you’re there to serve him or her. And again, instead of what can
I do for you, it’s what have you done for me lately. So, all the meetings you
have are sort of you’re on the defensive. You’re always trying to prove
that you have a value to him or to the company. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Right. How are you gonna help me climb
the ladder because I’m the manager here. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And whatever
you do, I’m gonna take credit for it. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Nasty. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Unless
you screw up, in which case that’s all you. And that’s unfortunately
how it works. And this is something that most
people don’t talk about, but everyone’s aware of on the
team, is that the bad manager will ignore people like this,
low performers on the team. And that is one of the
worst things that a bad manager can do. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Well, it’s
a huge drag on the team. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Well, it
destroys the team’s morale. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: It causes
you to lose your best performers. But, I mean, you’ve got six good
guys on your team and one person like this. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: And pretty
soon, your best people on the team start to leave– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Because they
get tired of dragging this person along. So a good manager’s someone
who’s really going to take care of low performers. So this is some of the things
that a bad manager might do. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Other characters. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Others
characters. Another important person to be
very wary of is the office politician. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
He’s awesome. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: This is
a very friendly person. They’re usually very great
at managing up. And this isn’t necessarily
a manager. This might be another engineer
on your team. They’re very quick to
take credit for something that happens. They’re also very quick
to assign blame. But they put a lot of energy
into looking impactful, but not being impactful. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Perception
is 9/10 of the law. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Exactly. Perception is 9/10 of the law. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: And
they understand that. And they do everything to make
their perception as important as possible. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And the thing
that most engineers will do when they encounter someone
like this is they’ll just go heads down and ignore them
and say, I’m going to write great code. I’m going to have
a great product. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Engineers
hate politics. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: ‘Cause I
don’t like the politics, and I don’t want to deal
with this person. But that’s very dangerous
because if you’re not careful, this person can wind up getting
promoted and being your manager. We’ve seen that happen, too. So they’re someone
to steer around. But it’s another example of
why even if you don’t like dealing with the promotion
process or stuff like that, it’s important to pay attention
to that sort of thing because it’s
a way of getting yourself in a safe place. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: You
don’t want to get run over by this person. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
Right, exactly. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: If
you’re passive, that can happen very easily. Let’s talk about the
organization itself now, not just the people you run into. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: There
are many types of bad organizations out there. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: This
is one, for example. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: And what
are the stereotypes we all know about? What makes a corporation
hostile to employees? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Hey, Ben. I’d like you to finish that
product by Thursday. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Awesome. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And I want
you to also test it. I want you to QA it, push
it into production. And, oh, I have a new feature
I’d like to add in as well. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Didn’t you
just take somebody away from my team? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah, yeah. But you should be skydiving in
with the product tomorrow– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
No problem. So, right. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And don’t
forget about the bike and the rappeling. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
impossible schedules, impossible expectations, not
enough resources to get done what they’re asking you to do. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And when
talking about resources, we mean like– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: People. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: –computing
resources, not people. People are not resources. They’re people. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
You don’t like it when people call them– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: I don’t like
it when people call– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: How
many resources do you have on your team? That’s a pet peeve. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: But we’ve all
seen companies where you can spend $3,000 on hardware and
save hundreds of engineer hours, but companies don’t do
that because you’re already there and you’re going on. That’s a capital expenditure. You’re just a payroll
expenditure, and– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yeah. They don’t do the math with
the big [? scheme. ?] BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. So that’s definitely something
to be wary about. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So,
something else that big corporations tend to do is they
simply don’t trust you. We talked about trust
earlier, right. They treat you like
a caged animal. They treat you like
a naughty child. They just see you as
replaceable, expendable. And in the worst case,
they just see you as a cog in a machine. This person is here to
do x units of work in y amount of time. And turn the key, it should
all just work. And we’re not doing an assembly
line here, right. This is a creative job that
requires a creative environment and a lot of social
skills to survive. It’s not just line up
replaceable parts and turn the knob. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And there’s
a lot of different technological ways that
this happens. You get time cards where you
punch in and you punch out. Or you’re caged by your IT
department in so far as we’re gonna set up a big firewall and
prevent you from going to any website that might
distract you or waste your time. And we see companies do
this all the time. Or we’re gonna prevent people
from checking their personal mail or from using instant
messenger, all that sort of thing. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Just
like a naughty child. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Exactly,
just like a naughty child. And we’re gonna measure your
productivity in great ways, like lines of code. See how many many lines of
code you wrote today. That is a great way to encourage
people to write lots of lines of code, of
crappy code, right. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: More
code is always better. I don’t know what you’re
talking about. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: I’d like to
rate people on how much code they delete myself. But– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
That’s true. Yeah, hard metric. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And so beyond
this, things start to get a little fuzzier. Some companies suffer from
this complete chaos of direction where there’s
too many leaders without a central vision. You might have seven different
bosses giving contradictory directions. What was it, the quote
from Office Space? Bob. I have seven bosses or eight
bosses, or whatever it was. But another characteristic of
this organization is one that’s obsessed with titles and
hierarchy and political power struggles. And I have you on my team and
your miserable and you really want to work on that team, but
I’m not letting go of you because if you leave, I
can’t get anyone else. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: It’s just
that the amount of distraction is huge too, right. Even if you put forth Herculean
effort to achieve these impossible goals, if
different bosses are moving the goalposts around all the
time depending where you talk, it’s just infuriating. It just drives you insane. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And to some
extent, this exists in even companies that are well
organized and high functioning. Years ago when I first became a
manager at Google, I was in my happy little [? world, ?]
writing code and shipping code and moving things
in production. Everything seemed pretty
straightforward to me. I knew where we’re going. And then I became a manager, and
I was talking to all these other higher ups. And suddenly there’s all
these different things. We should do this. Maybe we should do that. And I went and talked to the
guy who had previously been manager and I said,
the company’s gone crazy all of a sudden. What happened? I’m like, we were all going
this way and now it’s like all like this. And he’s like, it’s been
like this forever. He’s like, I’ve just been hiding
all that crap from you because it’s– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Really
good manager. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: –it’s
a distraction. And I’m like, wow, you weren’t
as bad as I thought you were. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: No. Yeah. But that’s the sign of a great
leader or manager, protects the reports from that chaos so
they can get their work done. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: It’s
fantastic when it happens. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: It’s
also the sign of a great cleaning person. You only notice it when
they’re gone. Like, this place is a dump. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Well,
let’s talk about how we actually get things done in a
dysfunctional organization or even just a large
organization. The amount of dysfunction varies
from place to place. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: This is how
you’re gonna survive in a particularly toxic
environment. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Here
is the magic question. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: The
magic question. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So, the
first thing we like to talk about– and this is something
you’ll actually hear a lot at Google. It’s attributed to various
famous folks. I forgot– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: No,
it’s attributed to Grace Hopper, I believe. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yes, yes. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And if
anyone hasn’t seen Grace Hopper’s talk on nanoseconds,
go check it out. It’s on the internet. We’re big fans of
the internet. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So, the
trick here is this is about risk taking, but a particular
kind of risk taking. It’s know how far you can go
without seriously jeopardizing your career, the risk
of getting fired. But you will discover
it’s amazing. If you know something needs to
be done, you know what the right thing is to do, and you
go in there and you start asking your seven bosses,
can I do this? Can I do this? Every time you ask someone is
an invitation to say no. And that’s the default answer,
right, especially in an organization where people are
afraid of failure or risk. So– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And the
reason a lot of people ask permission is because you’re
relieving yourself of responsibility. I could be, look, I
asked the Bobs. They said it was OK,
or they said no. So, the Bobs are preventing me
from getting stuff done. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: It’s scary
to take responsibility when you’re doing a risk. But often that’s the only way
to get anything done. So act first, apologize later. That’s the other way I’ve
heard this phrase. And don’t do anything
that you can’t undo. That’s sort of the rule
of thumb, I suppose. And be prepared to back up your
decision if someone does come to you and say, why on
Earth did you do this? And if it fails, try
again, right. But at least you’re getting
something way more done than the folks who are scared or
folks who are just asking permission, being turned
down all the time. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And you can
usually choose the action or the consequences,
but not both. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Give an example. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
An example is– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: You control
either the action or the consequence of the action. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Right. So I can launch a product, but I
don’t know how it’s going to come out necessarily. Or I cannot launch a product,
and I know that nothing bad’s gonna happen. You’ll see this a lot in
family situations. I’m gonna say something to my
family because gosh darn it, I’m gonna show them that this
is the way it’s gonna be. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: But then
you can’t control the result. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: You can’t
control the way that they’re gonna act or the way that
they’re gonna behave. So– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
But, let’s say the other side is I want– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: You can
change your actions to achieve a particular consequence. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: The result
is that I want my uncle to be happy– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: That would
be something different. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: –I have
to work backwards and do an action that I know is
gonna cause that. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And that’s definitely the case in companies. And it’s not a rational thing. Some people would say, well,
I’m gonna act this way, and you should act this way. If you ever hear yourself
saying to someone, well, so-and-so should do something,
you should just stop right there. Should is a magic word that
shows up in your head that means that you are trying
to control the future. And it’s really difficult unless
you’re Batman or Sergey Brin, or both. I don’t know. So, not saying anything. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: I’ve never
seen them together. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: I’ve never
seen them together either. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
It’s very strange. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So let’s
talk about choosing battles. This is something that
comes up a lot. There’s usually folks in your
organization or on your team who are very opinionated. Nothing wrong with that. Problem is they don’t always
know which fights to choose. And that is a hard lesson
to learn for some folks. They put so much energy into
being so passionate about everything that they end up
getting almost nothing done because they’re not choosing
their battles. And it tends to drag down the
momentum of the team. It tends to drag down momentum
of the leader of the team, having to defend and deal with
everything that’s happening. So, you need to know not only
just which battles to choose. You need to understand what
kind of political capital you’re spending to win
a certain battle. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
Is it worth it? BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Is it worth it? Are you gonna spend all your
capital over here or are you gonna spend it over here? Because once you’ve used it
up– you’ve called in your favors, you’ve done whatever– you can’t just turn around and
have another screaming battle the next day on a different
subject. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Because if
you think of it as a train and you’re trying to stop every
engineer that comes by every 15 minutes in the train,
eventually they’re just gonna run you right over. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And
lose their patience. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: They
lose their patience. But also remember that every
time people hit the brakes, you’re slowing down the progress
of the product. So that’s something that you
really got to be careful and think about, is it worth it? If you’re gonna beg forgiveness
rather than ask permission, make sure it’s
for the right thing. You don’t want to spend all
your political capital in making t-shirts or something. You’d be better to spend it
on launching a product– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Now
sometimes you have a really great idea but you’re not sure
how to communicate it upwards in the organization or laterally
to other teams. And you’ll fight a battle, and
you’ll scream about it. And it turns out sometimes the
best way to get your idea out there is not to make a giant
stink about it, but instead to do the subtle, subliminal way of
moving the message around. So it turns out that your ideas
can go really, really far in a company– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Really far. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: –if you
don’t take the credit for it, or if you just don’t care
whether you get credit for the idea. So it can be something as
simple, at the grassroots level, just sort of whispering
this idea to certain friends or to certain people
on another team at the lunch table. Or mention it in passing when
a VP is walking by. And maybe he’ll overhear. It’s an art form in
itself, but it’s actually pretty powerful. We’ve seen this happen,
right, where an idea– and by the time maybe somebody
at the top who is a decision maker hears the idea formally
presented, there’s been so much buzz about it already in
the company that it doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And you can
actively use this if you’re trying to change someone’s mind
in your organization, is tell people that you know who
trust you that they trust and ask them to mention the
idea to that person. And if they hear it from
[INAUDIBLE], even if they know what’s going on, if they keep
hearing this over and over again, they’re gonna
be like, hey. And next thing you know, you
hear it coming out of some vice president’s mouth at a
press conference or something. And your response can be,
hey, that’s my idea. Or you can be like, hey,
that’s my idea. That’s pretty awesome. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. Yeah. What’s more important? That it happens or that
you get the credit? Sometimes you have to choose. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: You’re
choosing, right. You have to choose sometimes. So, let’s talk about habits. Anyone here has ever attempted
to quit something, like quit smoking, quit drinking? Some people I know– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Caffeine. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: –have
to quit eating. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Have
to quit eating. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: But bad
habits, or systems, really can’t be destroyed. But we found that they can be
replaced by a new habit. OK. You have a great example of this
you did with one of the teams you work with. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yeah. We had– one of the teams I took over, at
least for awhile, had this standing meeting. I know it was Agile Scrum
something something something. But– BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
–at one point. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yeah. I’m not trained in those
magic techniques. But it was every morning. We’re gonna all stand here for
20 minutes or whatever and go around in a circle,
blah, blah, blah. And people were kind of
frustrated with it, but they were just doing it
out of habit. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Well, but it
turned into an hour, right? BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Got worse. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: There was
sitting down, and it was like group therapy. Well, you know, I went out– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Not so efficient. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
don’t have anything really to say but I want to talk about
Rails, you know. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Oh, oh, stop. But the point is it wasn’t a
totally useless meeting. There were some nuggets of communication going on in there. So it would not have been,
probably, that smart to just be like, this is stupid. Kill this meeting forever. Go away. Instead, we just replaced it. We said, all right, let’s
instead have just an email thread that goes out
every morning. You have a cron job that just
sends an email saying, hey, what’s going on? What did you do yesterday? What are you blocked on today? Everybody reply to this
thread, right. Everybody spends 30
seconds replying. You’re done. People can read the thread
whenever they want. So much more efficient. Gets the exact same sort
of thing done. And it sparks off side
conversations, which is all that matters. That’s we wanted. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: But there’s
one sneaky thing you did as well in that, is that– and this
is a sneaky technique for introducing anything new
or changing anything– is three magic words,
let’s try this. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
We can always undo. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Let’s
try this for 30 days. Let’s try this for two weeks. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: If it doesn’t
work, everybody hates it, we’ll go back. And oftentimes, people are like,
oh my God, I mean, it’s not permanent. We can actually just try
something for 30 days. OK. And then after three weeks,
they’re like, oh, it wasn’t so bad. This isn’t so– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Or they
just forget it was a trial and just do it forever. That’s usually what happens
if it goes well. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And beyond
that, let’s talk about– back to the organization
and moving around. This is something that most
engineers we know– and it’s often been abhorrent to
us, I think, as well– is the ladder of a company. OK. We talked earlier about the
office politician who’s always sort of working it, trying
to go up the ladder. And most of these bad
companies, bad organizations, have– there’s a mismatch between doing
the right thing for the company and doing the right
thing to promoted. OK. So you have to make a choice. And it doesn’t have to
be black or white. It can be a little bit
of a gray blend. You can do a little
bit of both. But it’s dangerous if you choose
to always do the right thing and ignore
being promoted. OK. So, as we mentioned earlier, you
should climb this ladder until you get to a safe place. And so, it is worthwhile to
spend energy on that. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: This
works particularly in companies that are very power
driven, that where hierarchy and title is right at the
forefront of everybody’s mind. That if you can get yourself
up to a high title, then people will leave you alone
because you’ve got power, right, or some imaginary
title that tells people to leave you alone. Just working the
system, right? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. It’s your bubble. It’s your safe haven. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Now a
companion to that idea is not only can you work up the ladder
to the point where nobody can tell you what to do,
you can go find some place in the company to hide. It sounds crazy, but
there are projects that don’t get bothered. There are teams that have so
much credibility that no one will question or bug you, or
just give you a bunch of freedom that you might
not have otherwise. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: There’s often
an executive who values what you’re doing, as well, more
than some other executive that might be in a different
part of the company. So moving to a different
department or different team or something is often a good
way of being safe when the nuclear war comes. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Sometimes
you have to do this every couple years as the company
changes if you want to stay happy. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Some of us
have been in companies that every fifth Thursday
is layoff Thursday. I worked at a company years ago
that I will not name and nobody answered the
phone on Thursday. And if your boss showed up in
your office all a sudden, it was just panic time. But– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Talk
about perception. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
Perception, yeah. Upward perception. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: This
is a tricky thing. We said earlier that perception
is 9/10 of the law. And so what that really means
is being aware not just of getting stuff done and doing the
right thing, but always be thinking in the back of your
head, how does this look to people not on my team or
people above my level? What are they perceiving, right,
because that is at least as important as what
you’re actually doing. The office politician
knows this. And you need to at least– maybe you don’t need to
manipulate people the way the office politician does, but at
least you need to be aware of it and make sure it is not
misrepresenting what you’re actually doing. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Right. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So, you
want to launch things as much as possible because that creates
a great perception. You want to under-promise. You want to over-deliver. These are all things
we strive for. And I personally, I had problems
with this when I first became a manager,
a leader. My team had the project
[INAUDIBLE], we had a huge amount of technical debt, and
it was just crushing us. So the first thing I said was,
all right guys, I’m the new leader here. We really need to hunker down
and spend the next six or nine months just focusing on our
technical debt so that we can be free of these shackles
and then move on. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And
The director was like, that’s great. We love it. You should totally do that. Of course, he was completely
wrong. He didn’t actually– BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
He wasn’t lying. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Well, he
didn’t– he thought it was a great idea– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: He thought
it was a great idea. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
–intellectually. The problem isn’t– this is
something I’ve come to think about later– is that I have
this idea in my head now what we call offensive versus
defensive work. Offensive work is work that is
very visible to outsiders, like, write a new shiny feature,
make this product faster, anything that’s going
to be impressive to people outside your team. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
Really visible. Defensive work is just as
important as offensive work. It’s all the invisible
work, right. Oh, we’re gonna maintain
the product. We’re gonna migrate
gonna refactor code– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: –code. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: –so
it’s more maintainable. We’re gonna make our monitoring
of our systems more robust so we have
better uptime. That’s all stuff that’s
completely thankless when your management looks down. It looks like you’re
doing nothing. And that was a huge slap in my
face because after six months my director was like,
why aren’t you guys doing anything. I’m like, oh, look,
we did all this. We’re doing so much work. And like, it looks like you’re
doing nothing to me. And he was annoyed. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Looks like
you’re fixing crap that you broke in the first place. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Yeah, right. So– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Right. Why didn’t you write it
right the first time? BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: There’s
no sympathy. There’s no– so that’s the sad
politics there is that even though defensive work is just
as important as offensive work, you cannot spend all your
time on defensive work. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And to be
clear, this isn’t a malicious attitude that people have. It’s just the– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Human psyche. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: –perception is 9/10 of the law. And that’s absolutely
the way it is. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So we
have a rule for now where about usually– never spend more than about a
third of your time and energy as a team on defensive work. Because if you do more than
that, then people just think you’re holding still. And– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: If you do
less than that, your product falls over. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. But it’s a tricky
balance to find. But you have to stay
aware of that. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: So, next
we want to talk about– I want to make you an offer
that you can’t refuse. Think of the movie
The Godfather. There’s a favor economy, that
isn’t necessarily done, and there’s not cash. It’s like someone asks you to
do something that you can easily do– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Or you
could easily say no. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: You can
easily say no, but it’s typically gonna be easier for
you to do it, or make it happen, than for them. And, it’s very much in your
best interest, most of the time, to do that for someone. Now, I’m not– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Not
in the short term. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Not in the
short term, because it can take a little bit
of your time. And I’m not saying that you
should be a doormat or let anyone walk over you or someone
continue to take advantage of you. But look for opportunities
to help. And these are the kind of
thing– it’s like making small bets, where there’s no
real house edge here. You make a small bet
and some of them, you’re just gonna lose. A buck, it’s gone. Buck, it’s gone. But every once in awhile, you’re
gonna win the lottery, and it’s gonna come back and
pay you back in spades. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So when
we talk about building up trust, making these small
favors, you’re building up karma and trust that will
come back eventually. There was a great quote somebody
gave when we talked about this idea with them. The quote was, friends come and
go but enemies accumulate. It’s a great thing because
basically it’s saying don’t burn bridges. That’s the corollary to this
theme is that it will destroy your karma and trust in this
favor economy if you leave and burn a bridge. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
And sometimes you get very quick return. I mean like the recruiting team
called us up and they said, hey, you guys are
those two nerds with the lab coats, right? We want to do some videos
where people can talk to engineers– ask questions of Google
engineers. Would you guys mind taking
some time to do a video? Now– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: We
could have said no. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Could
have said no. It is a half hour, 45 minutes
out of our day. And we said, oh, sure. Yeah, we’ll do that. So we did this video for them. And they were super glad to
throw some extra recruiting resources to help us find some
people for our teams. Because now they know us. Anyone in recruiting’s
like, hey, you guys. Your [INAUDIBLE] been such a huge help. And it’s actually been a bigger
bet because other recruiters worldwide are using
this video to, well, to recruit more people. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: We get to
do fun things like interviews at IO for the live stream
because of what we started because of small favors. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
Those are just– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Fun stuff. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: –some
really visible examples. But it extends to absolutely
everything. There’s a book called
The Luck Factor. Anyone heard of it? The guy did a test. He put an ad out, and he said,
are you lucky or unlucky? Please come take a
small survey– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
–a small test– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: –to
an ad like that? Sorry. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. Do you consider yourself
lucky or unlucky? Please take this– I guess it’s people who
don’t have a job. I don’t know. So you had all these people
come in who said that. And he said, are you
lucky or unlucky? And they’d say I’m
lucky or not. And then he’d say, here’s the
front page of a newspaper. I’d like you to read this. I’m gonna time you. And we’re gonna see how fast you
can count all the pictures in the front section
of the newspaper. Ready? Go. And now the average person who
considered themselves unlucky took about two minutes
and 16 seconds to find all the pictures. The average lucky person took
less than four seconds to find all the pictures. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: How
is that possible? BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
That’s possible. In the middle of the third
page in 144 point type it said, there are 42 pictures
in this section. OK. Unlucky people were very focused
on exactly the task at hand and nothing else. The lucky people were the people
who maybe looked a little bit outside. And so the point of this book
is that you can actually manufacture luck for yourself. And the favor economy
in a company is a way of making luck. And so we’re big fans of that. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Love it. So, it also helps, sort of
following in this theme of favor economies, finding
influential friends. And what we mean by that is
there’s certain categories of people within a company
who are very useful allies to have. We’ll talk about them. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: I mean,
sometimes it’s useful years and years later, right? BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yeah. It turns out I ended up managing
my former TA in college, became my report. It was very strange. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: It’s a good
thing he was nice to you– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
He was very nice– BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
–to me, right. But again, that’s all about
don’t burn bridges because you never know. The person who you have a fight
with now may be your manager in the next company. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Especially
So you don’t know. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
–tech world. The tech world is super,
super way smaller than you think of it. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Surprisingly small. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Our friend
Carl likes to say there’s only about 3,000 people in
the tech world. Everyone else is local color. So let’s think about that next
time you quit your job and want to go out in a blaze of
glory and tell everybody exactly what you think
Jump off the plane. Go down the chute, right. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. Take your beer and hit
the chute, right. So the first kind of person
is a connector. These are people who, basically,
one of their part-time jobs is connecting
you with other people. If you need to get a hold of
somebody in the company, you don’t know where to go, they’re
the person you’re gonna say, hey, you have
any [? tips? ?] They’ll be like, yep,
–talk to Steve. Yeah, exactly. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: They are
literally human routers. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: They’re
very well connected. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Beyond the
connectors, find people who have influence within
the company. We happen to be lucky to have
Vint Cerf, who discovers wonderful things like
the internet. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Also,
they aren’t necessarily celebrities either. So they could just be someone
who’s been at the company for 20 years, a real old timer, may
not be in a great position of power, but, boy, they know
how the company works. They know who everybody is. And they are sort of secretly
able to influence things just behind the scenes. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: With
to whisper those ideas that you don’t want to take credit
for necessarily. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Now, I’d like
to stop for second and give you all a word
of warning. Do not screw with administrative
assistants. OK? You might think it’s just some
guy or woman or whatever at a typewriter and typing
stuff up, all right. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
They look harmless. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: They
look harmless, but they will cut you. OK. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
If you cross them. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: If you cross
this person, she will ruin your life. OK. Administrative assistants– and I’m not saying that– again,
we’re not talking about manipulating– we’re talking about
manipulating. We’re not talking about being
like that office politician. We’re just talking about a
little bit of yes time, a little bit of politeness. It goes a long way. It really does. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: There’s
an immense amount of power that flows– I mean, there’s like the
official org chart. Then there’s the real
chart of power. And administrative assistants
are right in there, way more powerful than you think. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Well, a good
administrative assistant will wield their executive’s
As a proxy. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Sometimes for
good, sometimes for bad. But, yeah. So you don’t want to be on
the wrong side of that. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Great. So, the other thing, just
talking just about in terms of communicating with people, a
lot of people love to do electronic communication. You’re gonna do email. You’re gonna do chat rooms. You’re gonna do instant
Hangouts on air– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Hang [? outside ?] [? air. ?] Face time is a huge deal. The mere act of getting on a
plane and flying to the other branch of your company, or just
driving to wherever the other office is– being in somebody’s face has a
massive impact, not just on the ability to get things done,
just in the connection you make with that person. 10 minutes in the face of an
executive, or whoever, is gonna have a much more memorable
connection to that person than 20 emails you
have over two weeks. It’s not the same. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: I learned
this lesson. I’ve known this for years, but I
decided to take a shortcut a few months ago. I had a meeting with a senior
vice president. It’s a 15 minute meeting. I wasn’t gonna fly
out to Mountain View for that or anything. And we had a global outage of
our video conferencing system. And so then I backed off to
Google Voice, which was out. So, I’m in my cell phone,
kneeling down in the corner of our building trying to get a
signal with my one hand in my ear and my phone up
against my head. And they can’t hear. They heard every third word. So, that’s a very
extreme example. But being there, being there
face-to-face, in person, is not only more helpful in the
room, but where it helps is coming into the room and going
out of the room You’ve got little more time. Hey, how was your weekend? What did you do? What’s going on? You wind up with chance
encounters in the hallway. You might walk to the next
meeting with this person, get a few extra minutes. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: It’s another
reason why we talk about how it’s so important
for teams to have lunch together. We give tours of our
office in Chicago. And we show them the
cafe where you get free lunch for Google. And a lot of people will say,
I don’t know how Google can afford this? And the answer is, how can
Google not afford this. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Return
on investment. It’s so great. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: It’s huge
to get your teams– even if they’re not talking
about your product– get people together for lunch. Get them to understand that
they’re working with other human beings that have lives,
that have wives and children, perhaps. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Absolutely. Sometimes when you’re trying to
do electronic communication with people, they
don’t respond or they’re too busy, right. It’s amazing when you just
pop your face over at their desk or– this is crazy. Sometimes we pick up the phone,
and we call their desk. And they jump because they’re
like, what’s that thing ringing on my desk. I forgot it was there. What is that for? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: How many
engineers hate the phone? I don’t even have a phone
on my desk anymore. It rings through Gmail,
which is kind of cool. But even when that rings,
I’m like what is that? I prefer the asynchronous
communication. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So,
there is a trick. Sometimes you need to
communicate with executives. Something’s important enough
that you actually need to get in front of them and ask
them for something. And there is an anti-pattern and
there’s a pattern here we want to promote. The anti-pattern is to– maybe you’re not right in
front of their face. Maybe you just want
to send an email. And the anti-pattern is you go
in and you write this long rant, this tirade about
something’s wrong, blah, blah, blah. This is wrong. Then I did this and this– And it’s 15 paragraphs long– BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
No line breaks. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
No line— and all sorts of– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Because
this is your chance. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: All sorts
of questions in there, embedded in there, right. And what does an executive
do when they get an email like that? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Delete. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. Now why do they do that? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Because they
just don’t have time to understand it. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: A busy
executive gets about 10 seconds to go through email. If any of you have ever seen an
exec’s inbox, it looks like a distributed denial
of service. Because the emails just come,
and they come from everywhere. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And so, you
get about 10 seconds of their time before they timeout. So if they get 10 seconds into
your first paragraph and you’re on bullet point one of
612 and they can’t figure out the point, they’re just
gonna delete it. I wish I could help this guy,
just don’t have time. And people, like Ben said, will
usually rant forever. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So, we have
a technique that we think works pretty well, has
worked for us. We call it the three bullets
and a call to action. So essentially, you make three
short bullet points, one sentence each if possible. We love this example. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: This
is how to get a pony. This is a fun example. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: And then
a single request at the end. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
A single request. This is a great example. But I would like to disclaim,
once again, that it doesn’t work for insane things. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Right. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: It doesn’t
work for getting a pony. It doesn’t work for getting
Ford to buy your new laser windshield wiper idea. And it’s not gonna
get you a meeting with the CEO of Amazon. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: No. But it did work one
time when you were working for Apple, before– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: –you
got to Google. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: So, I’ve been
refining this since first a version of this
worked for me. I was at Apple about– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
10 years ago? BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
11 years ago. And I’d bought my mom one of
those big strawberry iMacs. It turned out it was
a lemon iMac. And it just kept failing. And it spent more time in
the shop than ever. And I was super mad and
super frustrated. And somebody was like,
hey, Steve’s email is [email protected] BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Just mail Steve. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Oh, great. Oh my God. And I just like started
ranting. My mom got this computer and
she works at the school and she did this and she did
that and she rebooted. And then, you know, like,
it was like 3,000 words. And this very wise guy I worked
with said, look, you’re just wasting your time. He’s like, make it short– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Really short. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Really short
and a call to action. So, I made it really short, as
short as I could, which was still too long. And then I said, look, basically
I just want to resolve this so my mom
doesn’t have this crappy, broken computer. Because I feel bad. I work at Apple. I’m trying to defend it. And she’s telling all
her friends she’s got this busted computer. And about 15 hours later I got
a call from somebody who worked for Steve
and said, hey– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Administrative assistant, perhaps. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: No. It wasn’t. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: No, OK. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Someone in
corporate executive relations, which is an assistant
of sorts. And a week later, my
mom had a new Mac. And we’ve refined this,
and we’ve tried this over the years. And the shorter you go– and
when I say three bullet points, I mean, three 80
character bullet points. You can’t just keep
going under this line wrap stuff, right. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Now,
sometimes you can make links to other– like, if you want more detail,
if they’re really think they’re gonna need background,
you can put a hyperlink in there or draw a line and say,
you know, detail is below if you care. But as long as the top
can be parsed in 10 seconds, you’re set. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Right. So. Yeah, sometimes I’ll do that. I’ll put at the top brief
summary and then long boring, long-winded rant– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
signature and everything. But the fact of the matter is
that executives usually, if they can wave a magic wand and
have someone that works for them right some wrong– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
want to do good. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: That is the
best feeling in the world. They feel like Superman
or Wonder Woman. They’re like, let’s
make this happen. This is 10 seconds of my time. I forward an email. But if they can’t parse it,
they’re just gonna, yeah, delete it and get rid of it. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So give
them a chance to be awesome. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Super
valuable trick. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So what
happens if you’re in a bad company and you try all these
things, nothing is– things still are horrible. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Well, you
go to Plan B, right. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Plan
B. What is Plan B? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: So, we’re
gonna talk about Plan B. It takes a little bit of time,
but we’ve got another 45 minutes here. This is Plan B. Plan B is get
the hell out of there. Now– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: A
lot of people don’t consider this option. That’s just funny to me. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Now, we say
this with a little tongue in cheek, and we’re trying to
be a little funny here. But we’ve been giving these
talks since 2007 now– 2006, technically, I guess. And after these talks, every
year someone comes up to us and says, you know, all that
stuff you said, it is great. But I tried this and I’ve done
that and I’ve done that. I just can’t make anything
happen in my company. And last year at IO, this guy
came up and he asked me all these things. This was two years ago. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yep. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: He
said all this stuff. He said what I can do. And I said get the hell
out of there. I said, update your resume,
start focusing your energy into maybe some classes or
training you might need– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Don’t be a victim. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
don’t be a victim. If you can’t change or navigate
the system, start putting your energy
into leaving. Learn your new skills,
start a job hunt. I got an email from this guy
a couple months ago. And he said, hey, you’re the
guy that told me to get the hell out of my job
two years ago. And I went and took classes. And I am now– just got a job offer in Japan as
a product manager for like my dream company. So thanks for swearing at me. All right. But this is an– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Great story. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: –option. The minute you realize that you
can leave, it’s incredibly liberating. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Empowering, right. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Well, you
want to tell Meng’s story? Meng has a story about
tell that story. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: OK. So Meng, Chade-Meng Tan,
who works at Google, just wrote a book. It’s called Search
Inside Yourself. But he has a blog. And he talks about a lot of
really interesting things. And he wrote a post earlier this
year that said, every day I go into work and I do the
right thing, what I think is the right thing. And then I sit back and
wait to get fired. And if I don’t get– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Sounds grim. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: –fired, then
I realize that this is the right company for
me to be working at. He said if I do get fired, then
I realize the company’s done me a favor. It’s done us both a favor
because I won’t be trying to do the wrong thing for them, and
they won’t be trying to do their own thing for me. Now, I know this is a little
bit of an extreme case. And I am very much aware that
not everyone has this luxury. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
But it’s a nice philosophy to think about. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: It is
a nice philosophy. He went on to describe that
his dad lived by this philosophy. And every day he would drive
home and he would look at the government subsidized
housing in the way. And he’d think to himself, if I
ever screw up or get fired, that’s where I’m going wind up
living, as a reminder to himself of what he had and
what he didn’t have. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
So there we go. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
So that’s it. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Let’s
talk about– well, BRYAN FITZPATRICK: One
more thing, I guess. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Recapping, I guess. Just a few. So remember that companies are
made of people, if there’s one thing you remember
from this talk. And being successful as a
software engineer means not just being successful with your
code base or knowing the latest technologies. It also means learning how to
deal with people and how to deal with corporate politics. It’s just as important. And it’s something,
unfortunately, you can only learned through experience,
for the most part. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: It’s
efficiency, and its effectiveness. It’s not just about touchy
feely, lovey dovey crap. It’s about a way to make your
stuff go a lot further with a lot less effort. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And
you will be happier– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And
you’ll be happier. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
–as a result. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Now, so. But before we wrap up, we’ve
been giving these talks for six years now. You may have seen or heard
of some of our talks. They’re all available
on YouTube. And I think they’re going to
come in here eventually. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
So pretty. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. We love the effect. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: You may
have seen us on the internet. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yes. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
So yeah, we have a bunch of these talks. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And now
we have this talk. And so, we’re really happy
actually to announce– we’ve never announced this
publicly here other then occasionally on our
G+ accounts. But, we’ve written a book that
incorporates this and a whole bunch of other stuff. It’s called Team Geek. And it’s available. You could pre-order it. We won’t give you any particular
book seller to buy it from, like Amazon. But you could buy it from
wherever you like. And you’ll find information
about this talk as well as other stuff in here. But it’s all about people
aspect of software engineering. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: It’ll be
out in a couple of weeks. And so we have little cards,
if you’re interested. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: They’re
at the door. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Are
at the door, I suppose. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: So,
thank you, guys. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Thank you
very much for your time. Now, if you want to leave,
please feel free to run off. We do have some time for Q&A. We
have two microphones here. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Please
step up to a mic– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: So,
please step up. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: –if
you have questions. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Anything
we can clarify. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yep. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Otherwise,
we’ll be hanging around here. Any questions? Let’s see if anybody hits
the mics, or if we scared everyone away. Here comes someone. First question. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Hello. MALE SPEAKER: Good afternoon. A little quick background. I work a Fortune 10 company. It has a half a million
All right. MALE SPEAKER: And one of the
big things that we do is– like you said, perception is
9/10, and it’s almost 10/10 in some points. And I’ve seen very technical
engineers work up the ladder through hard work and a lot
of perception because they understood the climate
very well. But then when they got to a
certain level, they began to lose some of that thing that
made them magical. Having the technical people
in the top level still be technical and still understand,
they get lost in spreadsheets and finance
records and whatnot. So you being technical
managers, how did you keep that? BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: I think to
some degree, we’re lucky at Google, which is a rare thing. They actually have two different
ladders, one for engineering and one for
engineering management. And they do not cross
the ladders. And they never force anyone
to move from one ladder to another, which is unusual. Typically, in a usual company,
the best engineer climbs up the ladder. And then in order to advance,
they have to become a manager. And now you’ve– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Which
is a terrible idea. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: –lost the
world’s best engineer, and you’ve gained the world’s
worst manager. It’s awful. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: And then that
engineer usually leaves. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Yeah. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: I think
we’re immune from that a little bit. But I think there’s always
some element of it. And to some extent, you
can push it off. To some extent, you can
navigate around it. But it’s very tricky. It really is. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: That’s an
argument for focusing on social skills explicitly and
political navigation, not just relying on your technical
expertise and hoping for a meritocracy. I mean, it’s an argument, I
suppose, that something they need to think about and focus
on as an actual activity. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. MALE SPEAKER: OK. Thank you. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Thank you. Next, please. MALE SPEAKER: You touched
on a few things in your talk about this. But I was wondering if you
have some specific recommendations for staying sane
when you’re managing a satellite office at
a large company? BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Geographical distribution. MALE SPEAKER: Yes. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
That’s a tricky– BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Other
than liberal applications of alcohol? No, kidding. That’s a really good question. Are you talking about avoiding
the need to have to travel all the darn time or–? MALE SPEAKER: Balancing the
travel, not going stir crazy, staying connected. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: That’s
interesting. MALE SPEAKER: You guys are
familiar with this challenge. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Well, yeah,
we about this in the book a little bit. One of the things that we
find really useful– I mean, the reason a lot of
companies like Google, for example, is they like people to
be geographically centered in one place because there’s
so much value in face time, in having– just being able to swivel around
in your chair and ask the right person right next to
you a question as opposed to sending them an email
or getting on the phone or whatever. You want the friction to
be as low as possible. One way we have found working
on distributed teams– we’ve been in that situation– is to actually have, like, a
continuous chatroom, like IRC in particular. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: One
of my teams has a Chromebook actually– talk about IRC first,
then we’ll go on. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Well, IRC,
right– for those people who remember what it is– it’s an actual group chat system
designed for group chat, not IM with some party
feature stapled on. It’s noticeably different. Everybody would literally just
hang out in an IRC chat room all day long, corner of their
screen dedicated to it. And that became– for distributed team working in
three different offices– that became our substitute sit
in a circle, swivel all our chairs around to talk
to each other. You could fire a question
in there any time. Everybody would see it. Everybody would reply. And it creates, partially, that
allusion of being in the same room with everybody. It really helps. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: One of my
teams, actually, they use a lot of chat. But I gave them a Chromebook. And they set it up between
two of the engineers. And VC Chromebook to the other
engineer in the remote office. And they had that up pretty much
half the day or so as a way to just quickly grab
a question or– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: It is
strange to just see a floating head in the middle
of a bullpen. Like, is that your
other teammate? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: When people
are coding, they look very angry most of the time. But you have to use everything
in your power to do that. And the fact of the matter is
is that the people, the engineers who are in the remote
office– and having been in the remote office
for many, many years– it takes more work. It takes more effort to get
where you’re going. And the advantage of
that is you get to live where you want. So– BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
It’s a tradeoff. BRYAN FITZPATRICK:
It’s a tradeoff. And we’ve made that tradeoff. And we’ve built an engineering
office in Chicago with the help of a lot of other people. But it’s never friction-free
and 100%. And you’re still gonna have to
get on a plane once in awhile. MALE SPEAKER: Thanks. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN:
Yeah, sure. We’re almost out of time here. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Almost
out of time? BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Want
to do one more question? BRYAN FITZPATRICK: One
last question? Anyone? BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: We’ll go
out in the hall, if you guys want to ask more questions. BRYAN FITZPATRICK: Yeah. We’ll head out in the hall
and talk some more. But thanks a lot, guys. Appreciate it. BEN COLLINS-SUSSMAN: Thank you.

Comments (13)

  1. These guys make relay nice talks. But they got to drop the 80 hours a week joke, it's third year in a row 🙂

  2. Is Ben Collins-Sussman related to Gerald Jay Sussman (author of SICP) by any chance?

  3. amazing stuff guys. I am already your fan and regular watcher of your prior series!!

  4. You cannot trade daily meeting in favor of an email thread.
    If daily meeting lasts 1h, fix that – but don't restrict communication channel bandwidth – go read Cockburn.

    Other than that, great talk(s), I'm a fan of the whole series – including recurring jokes 🙂

  5. As I said, If meetings are unnecessary talk, fix that.
    Actively dump non-interested people out, organize agenda, keep to 15 minutes.

    Removing daily meeting IMHO is NOT an option.

  6. beards and glasses for nonces and grasses

  7. My approach for dealing with big organizations is: just do what I am paid to do, pad my bank account, get the hell out of there before I go nuts, and then go on vacation for a couple of months. Being a freelancer has its perks.

  8. You will be soon talking more about management than about technology 😀

  9. This is such a gem… thanks a lot for the talk.

  10. Thanks… Fitz and Ben!

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