The peculiar culture I came to love and how it powers innovation

I wonder sometimes where the time goes. It was the third week of May and I was heads down on arranging some startup talks, when someone casually said on a call, “Congrats on your anniversary!”

I was confused. What anniversary? Did he mean me? Then it dawned on me, he was referring to my Amazonian anniversary. The day before had marked one year when I started at AWS!

I never expected that I would work in a massive company again. I loved the startup life. …


Balancing the trials of leadership with the culture of work

What was the hardest, most excruciating decision you ever had to make? How did it test you and how were you changed? The greatest stories, the ones that survive the ages, most often come from the tough decisions people made and how they reacted to the consequences of those decisions. One story that comes to mind is a play called The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

At first glance, it is a book about the Salem Witch Trails in the late 1600’s of colonial America. This was a period of time when the religious fervor of the Puritans boiled over into…


The struggles and glory of growing from a coder to leader

“I don’t think I can keep going.”

It came out of nowhere, so I just stayed silent.

“I mean I love coding. I love what we are building. I just don’t love my job.”

I first met Chris at an early mentorship session of the accelerator her startup attended. We were paired up based on similar industry experiences and found we had an instant rapport. Since meeting several months back, we got into a regular cadence of chatting every two weeks for advice and brainstorming.

Chris was the pragmatic, down to earth type. Never prone to exaggeration or overly expressive…


Assess more than tech skills for better hiring outcomes

There was a customer engineer named Tom that I knew that was remarkable in two ways. First, he was always coming up with the most odd-ball consumer product ideas that he was convinced would be the next big thing. Second, his job was to reach out to customers and gather their requirements for the engineers. Problem was that he was not very good with customers.

Being in a big, slow-moving company, his poor job fit was often overlooked. That is until the “Bob’s” arrived to clean things up. As Bob grilled Tom on what he did exactly, Tom got flustered…


Culture happens, so decide who and how culture is shaped

One of my favorite songs growing up was a tune by David Bowie. It was from his 1971 album Hunky Dory and the chorus remains one of his most memorable, particularly the last two lines:

“Time may change me. But you can’t trace time.”

We cannot slow or stall the effect time has on our surroundings, relationships, and ourselves. It marches on, changing everything we know and touch. Therefore trying to claw back the past is a hopeless exercise. As Bowie says, you can’t trace time.

A few days ago, the past came back to haunt the present for one…


Love them or hate them, we can make comments useful

There is a game I used to play growing up called Clue. The premise was simple. You went around a board to different rooms to deduce who murdered the game’s victim, where the crime took place, and which weapon was used.

Favorite game growing up was Code…I mean Clue.
Favorite game growing up was Code…I mean Clue.
Favorite game growing up was Code…I mean Clue.

Other than Risk, it was my favorite game as a child. While you could get lucky and just guess the combination early on, the real fun was whittling down the mystery through the clues you gathered. …


Some personal musings from year under the pandemic

This is a bit of a departure from my usual post. Every time I write, there is a personal lens of my experiences, conversations, and discoveries that I bring to these essays. But it’s my birthday and there are some things not in the usual vein of tech trends, engineering principles, developer culture, coding, and organizational efficiency that I hope you will indulge me in sharing.

I love birthdays and warmly bundling up for the occasion…

I have to state that this year was not hard for me in the way it was for many others. I was very fortune and blessed…


The subtle power of just trying things and exploring

I was never a great student growing up. The phrase used by teachers was, “Smart, but doesn’t apply himself.” It was a chain around my neck that dragged me down for years. Many people enjoyed school, but I was not one of them.

The problem was notability, but time. I was always busy with other things. For example, in college, instead of working on boring engineering problem sets in the computer lab, I could try to takeover other people’s terminal sessions. When I lived in the Engineering House, I was running a high-stakes poker game (for college that is) and…


The foundation of great products is early user feedback

You can’t always please everyone. I am reminded of that on a regular basis when it comes to this newsletter. While I generally write about topics in software engineering and leadership, I try to introduce other ideas that are important to me such as diversity & inclusion, community building, and food photos from around the globe. This makes some people upset.

One very recent incident involved an event I recently hosted. It was a talk on Clubhouse, the audio-only social network that is taking the world by storm. Apparently this offended diehard Android users among my readership, even though I…


How to get to the simplest solution in whatever you are building

What was your first portable music player? The answer to this question will definitely age you. For me it was a personal cassette player, but not the cool one from Sony. After a brief time with clunky portable CD players, I quickly jumped onto MP3 players.

It was early days and design aesthetics did not seem so important. It was all about the features, and the one I had from iRiver was the Swiss Army knife of players. It played MP3 files, but it did so much more. …

DEV.BIZ.OPS

Thoughts on developers, digital transformation, enterprise agility, community building & software engineering culture. Author 👉 https://twitter.com/marksbirch

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