Archive for November, 2005

Swaroop C H, The Dreamer — at

Over on Planet TurboGears, Swaroop (author of “A Byte of Python“) asks: “Does Ruby on Rails really need the CREATE TABLE SQL statements to be written by hand?”

Well, as of a couple months ago, that would have been true, but now Rails has “Migrations” which are just as cool as the way all of us TurboGears folks have been doing it with SQLObject.

In fact, you could argue that migratins are a bit better in the way they handle incremental database upgrades both on the development and production side.

Right now this is not working as well as it should in TurboGears, and a couple people have reported problems with incremental schema updates. But I see that there is already a bug and a patch in the TurboGears Trac to fix the incremental upgrade problems people are having, so it should be fixed in SVN, but I haven’t had time to test it yet.

Anyway, I am excited to see these two great full stack web application frameworks getting better every day.

TurboGears and Ubuntu

Over on Planet Turbogears, I found this comparison between two of my favorite things. Roland calls Turbogears “The Ubuntu of webframeworks =)” because both bring together existing components and add a little bit of their own special sause to create the best possible total user experience.

I love it!

The Practice of System and Network Administration

TPoSaNA is great!

If you manage computer systems, or the people who manage the people who manage computer systems, you should buy and read this book!

Oh, the full title is The Practice of System and network Administration, and it is highly technical without ever delving into the specifics any specific vendor or technological solution. A lot of things in this book will feel intuitively obvious to the experienced system administrator, but I know I couldn’t have articulated them all very easily without reading the book.

Not only that, the book is well written, and includes enough interesting stories of real life system administration to assure that you will probably laugh out loud at least a couple of times when reading it.

If you manage a large number of systems, or critical servers, this book has information that will make your life better. Buy it, read it, be more successful at work, and have more fun. You’ll learn ways to set up your network so you don’t have to worry about it while you are on vacation — and you’ll learn ways to have more fun at work. Heck, there’s even a chapter called “Being Happy.”

Experience and Education Considered Harmful?

I read a blog post this morning that gets it exactly right! Jeff’s blog Talentism seems overall to have a lot of good information about the hiring process.

But this post in particular is fantastically right. Every hiring decision is a risk. You risk thousands of dollars on the belief that the person you hire is going to have the knowledge, skills, and talents required to do the job, and that they are going to fit in. According to Jeff, “Years of experience and education… are bad indicators of potential and unreliable measures of risk.”

This is my experience too. I once hired a contract programmer based on his experience and a recommendation from a non-technical friend for a 10-20 hour job. By the time it was all over with I’m convinced that he spent well over 100 hours writing a simple JavaScript form verification routine. Because this was a contract job, and we agreed on a possible range of hours up-front we didn’t loose a lot of money, but it took more of my time that I could afford, and got done a week and a half later than it should have. But if this were a permanent hire position, I would have been in the terrible position of having to let this new employee go after just a week or two on the job.

So, if your hiring process puts too much weight on experience and education you are still open to people who are just not a good fit for that job category, and you are also closed off to some people with exactly the right knowledge and talents who for one reason or another doesn’t reach you minimum thresholds.

The moral of this story is to:

  • do your homework
  • test your candidate’s knowledge and experience directly
  • ask the right kind of open-ended questions in the interview — and know what kind of responses you are looking for in advance!
  • and if possible, do auditions where the candidate gets to actually demonstrate their abilities to the team.

The job of finding the right people who are going to excel in the particular job you give them is hard enough, but focusing on experience and education as the best predictors of performance will just make it harder, since as Jeff says they “are bad indicators of potential”.

Talents, Skills, Motivation — Human Resources in a nutshell

O’Reilly doesn’t have an HR management in a Nutshell book. But if it did, and if it was any good, all the legal stuff would sit at the end, and these three subjects would get top billing. If you get these things right, your employees will be successful, and your company will be profitable, and you’ll enjoy your job. Get one of them wrong, and you’ll have problems.

Meanwhile the HR stuff I get in the mail almost all teaches legalities and technicalities:

  • how avoid wrongfully termination lawsuits
  • how often to do reviews and what format to use
  • how to do salary negotiations

Of course, all these topics are useful and even important, but in the end they will have no direct impact on your companies performance or your employees productivity.

On the other hand, if you learn how to find people with the right set of talents, teach them the skills they don’t have yet, and nurture their intrinsic motivation properly, you will see performance breakthroughs.

Talent — everybody has natural talents. Everyone is amazing at something! But they will only be an amazing employee if you know they have the right set of talents for the job. Your job is to determine what specific talents a job requires, and find someone with those talents. Talents are either genetic, or formed in early life, either way short of physical damage you can’t take a talent away from someone, and you can’t give someone a new talent no matter how much training you give them. .

Skills– a skill is something everybody can learn with time and practice. Different people learn at different rates in different ways according to their talents, but you can teach anyone. So, when compared with talents skills and knowledge are easy for a manager. If you happen to pick someone with the right talents, but who is missing a skill or two, your can fix that.

Motivation – motivation is a combination of natural desires for a particular employee and the environment you create for them. Motivation is like farming, you can’t motivate a soybean seed into becoming an apple tree. And you can’t motivate it into becoming the highest producing soybean plant in history, but you can help. If you give it the right soil, the right water, the right temperature, the right amount of sunlight — all the right growing conditions, it is much more likely to produce. Likewise, workplace motivation is about picking the right people with the right internal fires, and then giving them what they need to grow.