Richard Bergmair's Blog


==> I just discovered Wouter Groeneveld’s post on overlooked reasons to still buy physical media.

The thing I find noteworthy about physical media is that they yield a marketplace that is in many ways more “democratic” and more efficient than streaming media and SaaS subscription models.

For example, if you’re a hobbyist musician, it’s pretty favourable economics to put your songs on a CD, go out busking on the street, and sell the CD there. The CD is a perpetual licence to play the music as many times as you want, whenever you want, including the right to lend it to other people, pass it on to your children as part of an inheritance or otherwise, etc. etc.

So that’s just about the broadest possible legal right that the artist can give the listener, and, consequently, it should also command the highest possible price. You can charge, say, $10 for the CD, as opposed to $0.01 (I don’t know what the actual number would be) for each streaming play of one of your songs.

Dealing in the broader right is much more advantageous to the artist who is low on capital: They’ve had an up-front cost in creating the music and recording the CD, and selling CDs will amortize that investment quicker than selling streaming plays. Streaming plays may pay more dividends later if the music gets listened to a lot for a long time. However, redistributing that cash flow towards the earliest possible point is much more advantageous financially.

So, if you have listeners paying for streaming plays and artists requiring the largest possible payment at the earliest possible time, you require some moneybags intermediary to convert one kind of cash flow into another, and that opens the door to everyone getting ripped off in the process.

One could interject that this is about the buy vs. rent distinction rather than the physical vs. download/streaming distinction. You could imagine the artist selling MP3s from their website through a paywall and charging for it as if it were a CD. But that opens problems on the listener’s side. Looking after an MP3 collection creates work and comes at a cost.

So those two things are highly interdependent: Physical media is the technology that pretty much makes it the most frictionless on both sides of the transaction for customers to collect and use media over large time horizons. Once you walk down the path of download/streaming, you get into the territory where the thing you need to provide to the customer starts looking more like a service and less like a product, opening a whole can of worms and changing the economics fundamentally.

#computers#business   |   Oct-14 2023

==> There are three big logical fallacies that account for why maybe 80% (in my totally subjective estimation) of any given MBA curriculum, and 100% of any given management fad, is baseless and grounded in nothing.

The first is the fallacy of the cargo cult: “Apple is doing X, and it co-occurs with their success. Therefore, if we do X, we will also be successful.” Not true, because co-occurrence does not imply causation, and without a causal link between Apple doing X and Apple being successful, there is no reason to believe that, if we do X, we will also be successful.

The second is getting confused about conditional probabilities and ignoring confounding factors: “Many billionaires are college dropouts. Therefore, dropping out of college will increase your chances of success.” Not true, because college dropouts as a proportion of billionaires are not the same thing as billionaires as a proportion of college dropouts. And then there are confounding factors. For example: One good way of becoming a billionaire might be to be in tech in the 90s. This gives you two confounding factors, namely the “how” of how one might become a billionaire (tech) and the time period (the 90s). Suppose you now look at the people who were in college in the 90s and who already have a proven capability as programmers. In that case, you might be able to look at the proportion of billionaires among those who were in that situation and who dropped out versus those who didn’t. But, besides not getting confused about conditional probabilities, that takes creativity around coming up with possible confounding factors, and it takes a lot of work because of the experimental controls you’d have to put in place.

The third is the fallacy that poker players call “resulting” and its interaction with the PDCA (plan-do-check-act) method, a religious observance among MBAs. “We have process P, and while executing on P flawlessly, we had bad outcome X. Therefore, we need to change P to avoid X in the future”. Not true. Business deals with stochastic processes, just like poker does. In poker, it is perfectly common to have a flawless assessment of the strength of one’s hand, flawlessly execute the play which is provably optimal given that hand, and then lose the hand. Losing a hand does not trigger the need to change one’s strategy or the method whereby one assesses the relative strength of each hand. When your boss asks, “What went wrong here?” then by answering, “Shit happens.” you might very well be saying the most logical thing possible. But two psychological principles make it difficult to have that conversation. The first is selective attention. Your boss’s layer of the hierarchy will likely be exposed, with great salience, to the one thing that went wrong on your layer of the hierarchy while being comparatively blind to the 99 things that went well. So, their estimations of the relative probabilities of outcomes given process features might be wildly biased. The second principle is roughly this: Changing the process is what makes your boss’s job psychologically meaningful, so that’s what they’ll be motivated to do. So, the PDCA cycle doesn’t tell managers what to do (because of resulting). And it doesn’t even tell them where to deploy their attention (because of biasing their perceptions to negative outcomes). Then what exactly is it good for?

#business   |   Jul-03 2023

==> Writing for Entrepreneur Magazine, Gleb Tsipursky writes about the damaging results of the mandated return to office.

On-site work in offices is widely described as “normal”, and this particular move is often framed as a “return to normal” after the pandemic.

Look at it on more historical timescales. You will find that “historical normal” has predominantly been for work to come to where people lived with their families, rather than for people to leave their family homes to “go to work”.

Historically, the prevalent type of work has been farming and craftsmanship in relation to easily transported goods. A craftsman’s workshop has usually been in the same building as their family home in towns and cities, and rural areas historically operated a putting-out system where travelling tradespeople brought supplies and collected finished wares.

With industrialization, the factory became a thing, and it somehow got into our heads that factories are the success model that everything else should be modelled after. Offices that don’t do factory work started looking like factories. Schools started looking like factories. Public administration started looking like factories. Everything became a factory. This trend is hostile to human nature and relatively recent when looking at it on historical timescales.

Recent advances in telecommunications have made what little advantage there was to factory-like offices obsolete, so it’s time to “return to normal”.

And by that, I mean remote work because remote work is “historical normal”.

#business   |   Jun-28 2023

==> Frank Thelen schreibt auf LinkedIn “Mit einer 4-Tage-Woche funktioniert unsere Welt nicht”. Andreas Weck schreibt für das Magazin T3N dass “die Diskussion darum reine Zeitverschwendung ist. Sie kommt sowieso.” Thelen verweist auf dieses Meme und beschimpft T3N als “Notebook-People”.

Thelen’s Argument: Die Forderung nach einer 4-Tage-Woche ist eine Frechheit gegenüber Pflegepersonal, Bäckern, Landwirten und Ärzten.

Man beachte: In einem Spektrum von Landwirt bis “mit MacBook und Chai Latte in Berlin im Co-Working-Space die zehnte Dating-App erfinden”, sieht sich der Tech-Investor selbst wohl eher als so eine Art Landwirt und die anderen, die die Dating-Apps nur programmieren, statt in sie zu investieren, als den Feind. Die hält er wohl irgendwie für charakterschwach, weil sie eine schlechte Arbeitsmoral haben und auch nicht im Krankenhaus arbeiten.

Bemerkenswert finde ich die “reductio ad Pflegenotstand”, ein wunderbares Totschlagargument, mit dem sich immer und in jedem Kontext schön begründen lässt, warum Arbeitgeber ihr Personal schlecht behandeln sollten. Das Pflegepersonal wird ja schließlich auch schlecht behandelt, und wie sollen die sich denn fühlen, wenn andere nicht schlecht behandelt werden.

Teil 1 der “reductio”: Wir haben in unserem Land Menschen, die sind echte Helden, die arbeiten doch tatsächlich in der Pflege, obwohl sie da extrem schlecht behandelt und bezahlt werden. Das sind aber leider sehr wenige, und aus dem Grund gibt es hier eine prekäre Versorgungslage. Man stelle sich jetzt vor, man würde die weniger schlecht behandeln, also ihnen zum Beispiel eine 4-Tage-Woche erlauben. Was würde passieren? Im ganzen Land würden in den Krankenhäusern Menschen sterben; Deutschland als failed state. Das darf nicht passieren, deshalb darf es keine 4-Tage-Woche geben für Pflegepersonal.

Teil 2: Es gibt in unserem Land auch Menschen, die schändlicherweise gar nichts tun, um bezüglich Pflegenotstand die Situation zu bessern. Die setzen sich einfach mit einem Chai Latte ins Co-Working-Space und programmieren die zehnte Dating-App, weil sie sich sagen, “na ja, in der Pflege wird man halt schlecht behandelt und bezahlt”. Man stelle sich jetzt vor, die bekämen neben dem Chai Latte noch mehr Privilegien, also zum Beispiel eine 4-Tage-Woche. Das müssten sich die Pfleger mit ansehen und sich dann noch schlechter fühlen angesichts ihrer Berufswahl. Im besten Fall würden wir also die Helden der Nation beleidigen. Im schlimmsten Fall wären noch weniger Menschen bereit, den Job überhaupt zu machen und dann wären wir wieder bei “Tod durch fehlendes Pflegepersonal” und “failed state” und so weiter. Das kann doch nicht sein, also darf es für niemanden eine 4-Tage-Woche geben, auch nicht für diejenigen die nicht in der Pflege arbeiten.

Das ist eine Variante von einem Argument, das landauf, landab jeden Tag in Chefbüros und Personalabteilungen geführt wird: “Hey Chef, ich möchte besser behandelt werden.” Chef: “Ich behandle Bernd ja auch schlecht, und das wäre dann unfair. Also, du siehst, ich würde ja gerne, aber meine Hände sind gebunden. Geht halt einfach nicht.” Und dass Bernd schlecht behandelt wird, das ist so eine Art Naturgesetz? Könnte man Bernd nicht einfach auch gut behandeln? Oder jeden einfach so behandeln, wie er behandelt werden möchte? Der eine will eben mehr Geld, der andere lieber einen Dienstwagen, und der dritte will kürzere Arbeitszeiten. Warum müssen dann alle dasselbe Geld, dieselben Dienstwagen und dieselben Arbeitszeiten haben?

Liebe Politik: Bitte macht die Arbeitsbedingungen für Pflegepersonal so gut, dass genug Leute auch bereit sind, den Job zu machen. Liebe Wirtschaftswichtige: Wenn eure Mitarbeiter bessere Arbeitsbedingungen wollen, nehmt sie ernst, anstatt ihnen irgendwelche Charakterschwächen zu unterstellen oder zu versuchen, die eine machtlose Gruppe gegen die andere auszuspielen. Danke.

#business   |   Jun-26 2023

==> Ted Neward is in favour of Embracing “Old” Tech, and I agree.

In one of his books, Nassim Nicholas Taleb mentions the “Lindy effect”, and I’ve frequently used it as a mental model ever since coming across it: For a book that has continuously been read for the last 100 years, you can expect it will continue to be read for the next 100 years. For a book that has only come out last year and has been continuously read since then, you should have an expectation that one year from now, people will no longer be reading it.

So, when picking a tech stack for a software investment and you want a reasonable expectation that it will still be actively maintained 10 years from now, you need to go back in time by 10 years. I’ve found this 10 years time horizon a useful one to work with, based on version histories of various bits of software I build upon. For example, for Python, this takes me back to version 3.4, before type decorators and many other things hit the scene that I disapprove of. So now, I test all my code with both version 3.4 and the newest version (3.11). I won’t use language features from 3.11 that weren’t already there in 3.4, and I won’t use code in 3.4 that breaks or throws deprecation warnings in 3.11. I also apply this test to dependencies, paying close attention to what happens if I try to get the newest version of some Python library running on version 3.4 of the interpreter or a 10-year-old version of the library on version 3.11 of the interpreter.

This means my code is engineered so that it could have been in continuous operation for the last 10 years while running continuous updates on what’s underneath it. And this gives me a reasonable expectation that my code will require only minimal code changes over the next 10 years to keep up with whatever might arise.

With the python interpreter itself, it’s remarkably easy to do that. I feel it doesn’t limit my coding in any meaningful way. With other bits of software, including many python libraries that one might depend on, it would be absolutely unworkable. In such a case, I take that as a clear signal not to use the software dependency at all. This is a lot of work, but also a good forcing function that prevents me from becoming a dependency hog myself.

#business#computers   |   Mar-02 2023

==> Michael Seibel und Dalton Caldwell von Y Combinator sprechen über “The Cult of Conformity in Silicon Valley”. (Übersetzung: “Der Kult der Konformität in Silicon Valley”).

Sie echauffieren sich, dass ihre Bewerber heute zumeist Konformisten sind, die Status wollen; der gleiche Typ Mensch, der sich bei Banken und Unternehmensberatungen bewirbt. Die Gründung von Start-ups sei aber etwas für revolutionäre Querdenker.

Ich glaube nicht, dass die Gründung von Start-ups zu einer konformistischeren Sache geworden ist. Ich denke eher, dass Y Combinator und Silicon Valley zunehmend nur noch jene Kohorte der Gründer zu sehen bekommen, die am meisten auf Status aus ist.

Wenn man in Europa von sich sagt, sich irgendwo im Spektrum der beruflichen Selbstständigkeit zu bewegen, dann wird man vom Gegenüber meist wahrgenommen als Insolvenz auf zwei Beinen, die erst noch zu passieren hat. Das ist also nicht für Leute, bei denen Statusdenken eine große Rolle spielt. Dabei macht es auch keinen Unterschied, welche Worte man benutzt: Start-up Gründer? Unternehmer? Eigentümer eines Kleinunternehmens? Denn alle benutzen solche Worte, um sich selbst zu beschreiben. Jeder denkt von sich, im Prinzip ein kleiner oder zukünftiger Steve Jobs zu sein, auch wenn man ein Selbstständiger ist im Sinne eines UPS-Fahrers oder Kleinunternehmer im Sinne eines hauptberuflichen Gassi-Gehers.

Also geht es vielen darum, sich sichtbar von jenen abzugrenzen. Sie suchen so etwas wie ein Abzeichen, das zu erkennen gibt: “Nein, nein, ich bin nicht einer von denen. Ich bin so ein Kaliber von Mensch, das locker bei Facebook oder bei Goldman Sachs hätte einsteigen können. Doch ich habe mich dafür entschieden, in einer Garage zu sitzen und an einer verrückten Idee zu arbeiten, mit der bisher noch niemand einen Pfennig verdient hat.”

Y Combinator dient als ein solches Abzeichen; oder auch der bloße Umstand, in einer Garage in Silicon Valley zu sitzen statt der Garage der Eltern, irgendwo bei Krefeld.

#business   |   Feb-06 2023

==> People are responding by pointing out that other professions have similar things going.

Lawyers might take on high-profile cases pro bono to build a name for themselves or contribute to academic publishing even when they are not on the payroll in any academic capacity, etc.

But they have a different culture to go with that. As a lawyer, your X-hours work week will stay an X-hours work week, and your non-billable hours Y are subtracted from X. Most jobs in the software engineering profession come with the expectation that you have an X-hours work week, and your employer usually does not allow you to use any of that time for personal professional status-building. Your only chance is to do it on weekends, which eats into your work-life balance.

#business   |   Dec-21 2022

==> Adam Mastroianni is Against All Applications, imagining better ways of picking people. Some people are pointing out that “Selectopia” is already how it works for large parts of the tech industry.

This frightens me. It likely contributes to ageism, as students and teenagers are comparatively time-rich and can more easily find the time to build up impressive GitHub profiles. As you get older, projects like building a house, raising children etc. start taking up your spare time. Also, after many years as a software engineer, you relate differently to your profession than when you started. You’re less naive and less capable of just having faith in some weird karma whereby hard and good work will be recognized and rewarded if you just do it.

#business   |   Dec-21 2022

==> Just came across Benji Weber’s blog article “Why I Strive to be a 0.1x Engineer”.

I’d like to make a point to the contrary here, based on a thought I initially came across in Tom DeMarco’s book “Peopleware”.

Often, from a strictly economic standpoint, you might be in a situation where you’d say, “quality level x is the quality level that the market is willing to pay for, while any higher quality level is uneconomical”. You might then be tempted to ask your employees to dial down the quality level of their work and produce worse work than they’re capable of. He argues that this is almost always a bad idea because of the demotivating effect of doing such a thing. You’ll get lower productivity and not realize the cost advantage you hoped for in your purely economic analysis. Or, to put it differently: Dialling up the quality level of your product from the level you economically need/want to the level your employees are capable of will typically pay for itself through increased productivity through increased motivation.

So, if you ask your employees to be 0.1x employees, you will get 0.1x output. You won’t accomplish more with less. You’ll accomplish less due to lesser productivity.

#computers#business   |   Nov-10 2022

==> Just came across Pablo Guevara’s Manifesto for Minimalist Software Engineers.

The thing is: Pareto’s law really isn’t a law.

You think that the world is full of situations where 80% of the payoff comes from 20% of the work?

I tell you that, equally, the world is full of situations where you get 0% of the payoff unless you’ve done 100% of the work.

That latter observation is just as true as the former, but it won’t make anyone into a best-selling business book author or motivational speaker. It doesn’t help reduce cognitive dissonance when reflecting on laziness and ineptitude.

#computers#business   |   Nov-07 2022

==> Ich bin gerade auf FreeShow gestoßen, eine Opensource-Alternative für die kommerzielle Software ProPresenter.

Da kommen Erinnerungen zurück. So eine Software habe ich ca. im Jahr 2000 geschrieben, als ich 16 Jahre alt war. Meine Kirchengemeinde hatte zuvor Transparenzfolien benutzt, um Liedtexte an die Wand zu werfen. Künftig sollte das per Computer gemacht werden, und dazu brauchte es eine Software.

Von allen Programmen, die ich seither geschrieben habe, und das sind immerhin 22 Jahre, wurde kein anderes so viel benutzt wie dieses; zumindest so weit ich das mitbekommen habe.

Einerseits ist das nicht gerade ein rosiges Bild, was den Verlauf meiner Karriere angeht.

Andererseits zeigt es, wie einfach es damals noch war, im Vergleich zu heute, eine profitable Nischenanwendung für Computer zu identifizieren und auszufüllen. Wenn ich damals die Schule geschmissen hätte und mich auf die Weiterentwicklung und Vermarktung des Programms konzentriert hätte, dann wäre meine Karriere ganz anders verlaufen. Meine Kirche war ja nicht die einzige im Land, die gerade ihren Overheadprojektor ausmusterte, also war das wohl eine echte Marktchance, die sonst niemand für sich wahrgenommen hatte.

Als ich 10 Jahre später mit meinem Doktorat fertig war, war die Welt schon eine ganz andere. All die Marktchancen, die niedrig hängenden Früchte, waren weg und ich trat während einer Rezession ins Berufsleben ein.

Heute würde ich sonst was drum geben, um ein Indie-Softwareentwickler zu sein, wie es sie in den 90ern gab. Vielleicht romantisiere ich das auch, aber es entspricht jedenfalls meiner Gemütslage.

#computers#business   |   Aug-15 2022

==> Das M.I.T. teilt mit: “We are reinstating our SAT/ACT requirement for future admissions cycles”. (Übersetzung: “Wir führen SAT/ACT wieder ein für künftige Zulassungsverfahren”).

Das ist ein computerbasierter Test, der auf nationaler Ebene standardisiert ist, mit Multiple-Choice-Fragen und Aufsätzen, die teilweise vom Computer bewertet werden, statt von Menschen. An solchen Tests übe ich ja immer wieder heftig Kritik. Diese Zulassungsentscheidungen haben erhebliche Auswirkung auf die Berufschancen dieser Leute, die da studieren wollen. Da finde ich es nicht zu viel verlangt, sich mit denen erst einmal eine viertel oder halbe Stunde lang für ein Interview hinzusetzen. Dann haben die eine Möglichkeit von Angesicht zu Angesicht einfach mal für sich zu plädieren, ohne aufgezwungene Struktur. Mit so einem Test wird doch zu einem Großteil nur gemessen, wie gut sich die Person auf den Test vorbereitet hat. Manche Leute haben auch einfach schlechte Test-Taking-Skills und sind ansonsten sehr intelligent und gut positioniert, so ein Studium erfolgreich zu absolvieren. Und man kann auch einfach mal einen schlechten Tag haben, an ausgerechnet dem Tag, an dem man den Test macht. Da finde ich es grausam, die Lebensleistung dieser Leute auf so einen einzelnen Datenpunkt zu reduzieren.

Als ich mich damals beworben habe, war mir das nicht so recht bewusst, wie sehr man sich auf diese Tests vorbereiten kann und muss. Ich habe da wenig getan und schlecht abgeschnitten und wurde folglich auch an keiner Universität in den U.S.A. zugelassen. Ich bin auch der Meinung, dass es da eine Schieflage gibt, wo man einen erheblichen Nachteil hat, wenn man nicht Native-Speaker ist. In Cambridge gab es allerdings Interviews, und da hatte ich eine Gelegenheit zu zeigen, was ich kann, dass ich schon seitdem ich 14 war, Universitätslehrbücher zu Themen wie künstliche Intelligenz verschlang. Da wurde ich dann auch zugelassen.

Zurück zum M.I.T.: Die begründen jetzt die neuerliche Einführung der Tests mit “diversity” und “socioeconomic inclusiveness”. Autsch. Mit anderen Worten: Das politische Klima in den U.S.A. rund um diese Wokeness-Themen ist derart vergiftet, dass eine Art Beweislastumkehr eingetreten ist. Wenn du als Universität einen Studenten zulässt und dir jemand vorwirft, dass du es aus rassistischen Motiven getan hast, dann müssen sie dir nicht nachweisen, dass du ein Rassist bist, sondern du musst beweisen, dass du keiner bist. Am M.I.T. will man diesen Beweis in Zukunft etwa so erbringen: Man will sagen, “Die Entscheidung habe ja gar nicht ich getroffen, sondern der Computer, und der kann doch wohl kaum ein Rassist sein”. Für mich klingt das wie eine Zukunft aus einem dystopischen Science-Fiction-Roman. Wenn Menschen sich gegenseitig beurteilen sollen, dann überlassen sie diese Entscheidungen lieber den Computern, weil sie sich selbst und ihresgleichen mit solchen Entscheidungen nicht trauen.

#politics#business   |   Mar-28 2022

==> There’s yet another heated debate on social media about tech hiring: A lot of folks feel insulted by automated online coding exams and take-home exercises.

I agree: I’d much rather be grilled in 1:1 interviews for four hours than agree to an automated test or unpaid take-home exercise, even if it just takes 30 minutes. Suppose you’re a hiring manager, and you give me four hours of face time 1:1 with your engineers. I then have a guarantee that you value my time as highly as you value your engineers’. What if you give me 30 minutes of homework? I then have no guarantee that you don’t have 100 other candidates at this stage of the process. One of your engineers might dismiss 30 minutes of my work after 5 minutes of looking at it. This feels highly disrespectful of my time. Automated tests are even worse because they’re dehumanizing. Also highly insulting: bait-and-switch tactics, where a CEO invites a candidate to “have a chat” but then hands off the lead to a junior HR person to funnel the candidate into a sausage factory hiring process. So, what should be done instead?

I’ve recently been doing some reading about how craftsmanship worked in late medieval and renaissance Europe – think crafts guilds of Florence, the Medici, Leonardo da Vinci, etc. One of the things that jumped out at me was that gatekeeping was institutionalized at the guild level rather than the level of the individual company.

You only had to prove to the guild of wool once that you knew how to work with wool at the master craftsman level. The individual merchants and companies within the guild would then accept that more or less at face value. If there were repeated complaints about your craftsmanship, those, too, surfaced at the guild level rather than just the individual company level and might put an end to your guild membership.

It would be really cool if the ACM, BCS, IEEE, or any of those professional associations started doing something like that, i.e. you could just be an “IEEE-certified dude who friggin’ just knows what they’re doing”. Companies could say, “people without IEEE certification at the master craftsman level need not apply”, instead of giving people insulting exams of technical competence.

On the other end of the lifecycle, an employer who finds an employee repeatedly falling short on craftsmanship could report that person to the IEEE. They would investigate the complaint and revoke the certification if appropriate.

This is how it works for doctors & lawyers, and some other kinds of professionals. I don’t understand why it wouldn’t be equally useful in Software Engineering.

#business   |   Mar-09 2022

==> Alex Klos asks “Why not hire part-time developers?”

Maybe companies are afraid of handing too much bargaining power to the employee: 20hr weeks basically mean you can get a whole second 20hr job. After truly getting to know both jobs, you will likely leave the worse one. You could do this iteratively: Use the 20hrs you freed up to find yet another job, then quit the worse one again; rinse and repeat until you have a truly great job. This would be a situation akin to what an economist means when they talk about perfectly competitive markets (driving profits down to zero/“normal” levels).

With the market offering almost exclusively full-time jobs, what we have now is markedly different: Whenever you switch jobs, you’re, to some extent, buying a cat in a sack, taking a risk that the new job will end up being worse than the previous one. The risk is a barrier to entry, akin to what an economist talks about in connection with limit pricing. Here, a market incumbent can charge a premium over a perfectly competitive price because a would-be market entrant cannot sustain enough profit on the perfectly competitive price to also pay back his initial investment of market entry.

A second point, based on a thought experiment: Say you are staffing a company purely with 20hr employees who are using the other 20hrs to have a go at starting their own businesses. Assume, further, that the personal fulfilment of having a successful business of your own is something you can never hope to match for your employees, so that everyone who is successful will leave. Your company is now staffed exclusively with employees who are bad at entrepreneurship. – This is vastly oversimplifying, of course. Not everybody wants to be an entrepreneur; you can fail by being unlucky rather than bad. But one can still see how such a thing would act as a negative selection effect that works against the company offering the 20hr deal.

#business   |   Feb-27 2022

==> Nash Reilly writes “I Think I Know Why You Can’t Hire Engineers Right Now”.

Companies nowadays seem to have a fixed expectation that if they’re not rejecting 99 candidates for every candidate they hire, they are somehow not doing it right.

From the candidate’s perspective: Recruiters are turning LinkedIn into this huge cognitive dissonance delivery machine. They’re telling you about how much more money you should be earning, how much better work you should be doing, how much better lifestyles a job should be enabling for you, etc.  And all that could come true for you if only you would agree to be interviewed.

Then they reject most of the candidates they interview. And, let’s face it, rejection sucks. Even if, at the level of higher cognition, you are perfectly aware that it’s just a numbers game, and that you shouldn’t let rejection get to you psychologically, you are not a Vulcan. Rejection means cognitive dissonance in a big way: You applied for the job, so that means you wanted it. But they rejected you, so that means you can’t have it. It’s also a threat to your identity because you think of yourself as pretty good, and now there’s someone who thinks you’re not good enough for them. It just sucks.

So, what do you do? Avoid LinkedIn like the plague. If recruiter outreach does manage to get to your inbox somehow, you immediately start looking for reasons not to want to apply. Because if you find any reason not to want the job, they can’t hurt you by not giving it to you.

Recruiting is broken in a big way: We need to find ways of doing it that cause much less collateral damage psychologically.

#business   |   Jan-13 2022

==> Dan Primack of Axios reports: Search engine startup from former Google Ads boss raises $40 million, and many people on social media are commenting that it’s crazy due to the sheer size of today’s web.

But the thing is: You’re dealing with insanely long-tailed distributions. The “meat” of the search engine business is in the fat heads of those distributions.

  1. A small number of queries constitutes a huge proportion of query events you’ll see throughout the day.

  2. For any given query, a small proportion of users will make up a huge proportion of the opportunity to monetise (researching a planned purchase, looking for a job etc.)

  3. For any given query, an infinitesimally tiny proportion of the documents on the web is where the value to the user actually is.

I think there are potentially many ways of making selections on each of those three axes and ending up with a viable business based on a manageably small search index. Just think of indeed as a job search engine or Amazon as a product search engine. They have manageably small document collections, great value to users, a stable user base, and monetisation opportunities.

From that standpoint, I find it surprising that there aren’t many more search engine businesses.

Case in point: I really like, the 90s nostalgia search engine. I don’t think they are a profitable business, but I certainly think they could & should be.

And even Google is making deliberate choices along those three dimensions rather than naively indexing the web and naively executing keyword searches against that index.

  1. Given a query, reinterpret as follows. Catch eyeballs by delivering entertainment value (“pizza” -> “entertaining videos related to pizza”). Monetise those eyeballs by reinterpreting them as local queries (“pizza” -> “restaurants near me wanting to sell me pizza”) or products queries (“pizza” -> “online shops trying to sell me pizza-related items”)

  2. Given a query and document, always make relevance decisions for the audience with more disposable income. For example, “farming” shows a lot of stuff you’d want to read if you’re paying £10 for a potato in Borough Market and nothing you’d want to read if you’re a subsistence farmer in Namibia.

  3. When comparing two documents for inclusion in the pool of documents that stand any chance of coming up on page #1, prefer recency to authoritativeness. For “programming languages”, apparently “The 9 Best Programming Languages to Learn in 2021” is considered relevant, while “Go To Statement Considered Harmful” or the Mozilla Developer Network are considered irrelevant.

There are huge audiences who disagree with Google’s choices. They are just waiting to switch or use another product alongside Google if someone comes along making different choices.

So, I really don’t think that any venture in the web search space is doomed, given the size of the engineering effort and Google’s dominance. I’m baffled that there isn’t much more activity in that space.

#computers#business   |   Mar-11 2021

==> Pedro and Henrique of Brex wrote a detailed blog post about Remote-first at Brex.

For a remote company to adjust pay to an employee’s geography: so not cool.

Offering remote and paying people based on what they’re worth to the company: Part of the solution!

Offering remote and paying people based on where they are: Part of the problem!

So, what is the problem?

  1. Wealth creation done by tech companies and tech workers ends up in the pockets of Bay Area landlords instead of those who take risks and do work.

  2. Other geographies besides the Bay Area invest heavily in getting their young people some top-notch education (like Europe). Instead of earning a return on that investment for themselves, they see their young people relocate to the Bay Area and contribute to the tax base there.

  3. If you’re a top-notch tech professional and want to earn money commensurate with your value, you have to go through the hardships of the immigrant situation. You have to be part of a culture and economic system that you may not like and subject yourself to political leadership that you may not approve of.

What will happen if efficient markets do their thing? Some remote companies will be making geographical adjustments to pay. Some will not.

  1. The best workers in low-COL areas will end up with the companies not making adjustments. So making adjustments will leave you stuck with the worse workers. So, you will get what you pay for: If you pay little, you will get low-quality work even in low-COL areas.

  2. People in high-COL areas will realise an opportunity to have more disposable income by relocating away from high-COL areas and taking remote jobs with companies not making adjustments. The only people who can’t do that are those whose work is so low-quality that they can’t compete internationally. Hence, their high-COL postcode is their only viable argument when negotiating high compensation. So, paying higher compensation to people in high-COL areas will become detached from the narrative that those also happen to be the best people. It will come to mean nothing more and nothing less than making donations to those poor, needy Bay Area landlords. I doubt that this is a cause that many tech companies will be getting behind, instead of using their money to do actual tech.

#business   |   Sep-14 2020

==> Ich bekomme einige Rückmeldungen, die darauf bestehen, dass eine 70-prozentige Kommission doch eigentlich gar nicht so schlecht ist.

Das, was ich “70 % Kommission” nannte, bezeichnen Brancheninsider als “30 % Tantieme” und Autorentantiemen für Bücher liegen historisch näher bei 10 bis 15 %. – Das wäre also eine Kommission von 85 bis 90 %.

Meine Antwort: Die Ökonomie hinter dieser Marktstruktur kann doch auf E-Books überhaupt nicht übertragen werden. Das eine, was an E-Books neuartig war, das waren die geringen Stückkosten, was den Preis senken würde. Das andere war die Oligopol-artige Stellung der Verkaufsplattformen in der Kanalökonomie (“channel economics”), was den Preis treiben würde. Letzteres war schlussendlich Trumpf und hat dafür gesorgt, dass der volkswirtschaftliche Mehrwert des E-Books nur Amazon und Konsorten bereichert; nicht die Autoren und auch nicht die Konsumenten.

Außerdem geht es mir in meiner Argumentation, wie gesagt, eher um Indie-Autoren mit Nischenpublikum, was man mit dem Verlagswesen im Massenmarkt nicht vergleichen kann. Denken wir als Beispiel für den Massenmarkt an ein Kochbuch. Hier wird 99 % des Wertes durch Marketing erzeugt. Der Verlag wird Werbeflächen mieten und den Autor in Kochshows im Fernsehen platzieren, um das Buch zu bewerben. Der Verlag wird dafür sorgen, dass Buchläden für das Buch gute Ladenfläche einsetzen. In so einer Situation bin ich absolut derselben Meinung: Der Verlag sollte hier locker 70 % verdienen oder auch mehr, da es schließlich auch der Verlag ist, der den Wert erzeugt. Der Autor, der das Kochbuch geschrieben hat, ist austauschbar. Aber Amazon tut nichts dergleichen für seine E-Book-Autoren.

Als Beispiel für das, was ich meine, denke man jetzt an einen Akademiker. Stellen wir uns vor, sein Lebenswerk habe darin bestanden, ein Lehrbuch zu verfassen, das auf seinem Gebiet aufgrund seiner Qualität zum Standardlehrbuch wurde. Wenn dieser Autor nicht wäre, dann wäre da auch kein Produkt, das der Verlag verkaufen könnte, und es wird dann eher so sein, dass der Verlag austauschbar ist. In so einer Konstellation scheint es mir absurd, wenn der größte Teil des Erlöses nicht beim Autor landet.

#business#computers   |   Dec-29 2019

==> Der Autor “hoakley” von der Eclectic Light Company schreibt: “Publishers determined to kill electronic books”. (Übersetzung: “Verlage scheinen entschlossen, E-Books umzubringen”).

Da bin ich ganz derselben Meinung. Der E-Book-Sektor hätte enormes Potenzial, die Volkswirtschaft voranzubringen, und davon ist einfach nichts beim Einzelnen angekommen, weder bei den Autoren noch den Konsumenten.

Wer ein E-Book auf Amazon verkaufen will, muss 70 % der Erlöse an Amazon abtreten. – Es gibt eine 30 % Option, die aber nur verfügbar ist, wenn man bereit ist, sein Werk zu einem sehr bescheidenen Preis anzubieten und auch nur in Mainstream Märkten. Aber ein Indie-Autor mit einem Nischenpublikum wird häufig darauf angewiesen sein, einen höheren Preis zu verlangen, damit sich sein Buch rechnet.

Das scheint mir sehr hoch. Man vergleiche das mit Bandcamp, eine sehr erfolgreiche Vermarktungsplattform für Musik, die gerade einmal 15 % an Kommissionen nimmt.

Es gibt einige wenige Mitbewerber, die versuchen, zumindest einen kleinen Bissen von Amazon’s Mittagessen zu ergattern: Erwähnenswert wären hier Rakuten’s Kobo, sowie Handelsketten wie Barnes & Noble mit ihrem Nook in den U.S.A. und Thalia mit ihrem Tolino in Deutschland. Doch die folgen in ihrer Preisgestaltung Amazon. Bessere Deals für Autoren gibt es bei Google & Apple, deren Plattformen aber für E-Books bei Weitem nicht so interessant sind.

Man könnte E-Books auch verkaufen, indem man Direktdownloads vom eigenen Webshop anbietet, aber der Overhead wäre erheblich und vielen Kunden wird es nicht zuzutrauen sein, ihren E-Book-Reader per USB anzuschließen und EPUBs hochzuladen.

#business#computers   |   Dec-29 2019

==> Bloomberg’s Natalia Drozdiak reports that Huawei Eyes ProtonMail as It Searches for Gmail Alternative. People react with dismay. Proton Mail responds, Clarifying Proton Mail and Huawei.

The mainstream interpretation here is “Bloomberg messed up and got the story wrong”. Here is my two pennies’ worth, providing, purely speculatively, an alternative interpretation of what might have happened.

Bloomberg is a source that investors and traders trust with getting them some level of access to the rumour mill (in the spirit of the saying among traders that goes “buy the rumour, sell the news”). The problem here is that, fact or fiction, rumours affect the financial markets, and not knowing about them puts a market participant at a disadvantage.

The article starts by saying in indicative mood, “ProtonMail is in talks with Huawei Technologies Co. about including its encrypted email service in future mobile devices […].” I don’t see a problem with that part of the statement, since they were indeed in talks of some kind, and there’s a certain bandwidth of what “including” could mean. It could just mean “making available through Huawei AppGallery”, so there is nothing wrong with using indicative mood here.

In the second paragraph, the article switches the modality and says, “The Swiss company’s service could come preloaded …” Now, it could, of course, be the case, as people are alleging, that they just entirely made that shit up and manufactured a rumour. But it could also be the case that they were reflecting a rumour already out there and sufficiently widespread that they thought investors and traders should know about it. They used subjunctive mood using the auxiliary verb could to signal that something was going on here about the modality of the statement.

ProtonMail speculated that a misunderstanding of their earlier announcement must have been the basis of Bloomberg’s article. But I guess we’ll never find out if that was indeed so.

ProtonMail clarified their earlier announcement and took issue with the word “partnership” being used to describe their relationship with Huawei. Interestingly, they did not come flat out to respond to these assertions. For example, they did not say that preloading was not a topic that was discussed.

Now, it stands to reason that preloading would amount to Huawei handing a huge chunk of market share to ProtonMail. Then it would be up to users to make up their minds about the likelihood of Huawei asking for quid-pro-quo and ProtonMail’s response.

Rather than there being no basis at all for the Bloomberg article, another scenario could be that ProtonMail saw that making-up-of-minds play out on social media in response to the Bloomberg article and decided to do a one-eighty as a result.

… I guess we’ll never know.

#business#computers   |   Sep-09 2019

==> Ecosia explains “Why we’re saying no to Google”.

This auction doesn’t address the problem it was actually meant to address, which is to stop an anticompetitive practice. The spirit of the law concerning antitrust is that you can’t abuse a monopoly in one market to gain a monopoly in another. That’s why it wasn’t acceptable that Google’s Android would set Google to be the default search engine and offer no other options.

Now Google says to those other search engines: Hey, you can be the default. But you’re going to have to give us all your profits. How is that any less anticompetitive than what they were doing before?

Footnote: Why am I saying all of their profits? Well, it’s four slots. Google will be one of them. Microsoft and Yahoo will bid whatever it takes to be on the list. – Now there’s one slot left for everyone who isn’t part of the existing search oligopoly, like Ecosia, Qwant, or DuckDuckGo.

Now imagine if this was open outcry: Ecosia bids X dollars. Qwant outbids them by offering X+1 dollars for that fourth slot. Well: If Ecosia knows they would still be profitable even if they had to pay X+2 dollars, that’s what they’re going to bid, right? They hit a limit only at the point where they know that the deal would turn unprofitable. The guy who gets the slot would, in open outcry, end up paying the next guy’s profit plus one dollar. But that’s not the model. They’re making sealed bids, and you’ll have to actually pay what you bid, so that’s why I’m saying all their profit.

#business#computers   |   Aug-13 2019

==> Tiago Forte schreibt: “Why I’m Leaving Medium”. (Übersetzung: “Warum ich Medium verlasse”).

Wenn man den eigenen Content hinter eine eigene Paywall schiebt, dann hat das natürlich auch Nachteile, insbesondere der Verzicht auf eine vertrauenswürdige zentrale Vertragspartei für Vertragsmanagement, Rechnungsstellung, Zahlungen etc.

Beispiel: Wenn ich auf Amazon Prime Video einen Kanal abonniere, dann weiß ich ganz genau, wie das mit der Kündigung funktioniert. Ich kann im Monatstakt kündigen, ohne Einhaltung irgendwelcher Fristen. Dazu muss ich einen Button klicken, von dem ich genau weiß, wie ich ihn finde. Ich habe das schon oft gemacht und weiß deshalb, dass es einfach und zuverlässig klappt. Und deswegen shoppe ich umso freier herum und probier mal den einen, mal den anderen Kanal für ein paar Monate aus.

Aber wenn ich meine Kreditkartendaten für ein Abonnement auf einer x-beliebigen Website angeben soll, dann erfordert das schon ein höheres Maß an Vertrauen, das ich kaum haben werde zu irgendeinem Blogger. Bei Abos tauchen ja immer wieder vertragliche Strukturen auf, mit denen man so unmittelbar nicht rechnet. Zum Beispiel könnte “€10/Monat” bedeuten, dass der Vertrag nur im Jahrestakt gekündigt werden kann und dass dazu eine Frist von 3 Monaten einzuhalten ist etc.

Wenn dann etwa Probleme bei der Abrechnung auftreten und man mit dem Kundendienst Kontakt aufnehmen muss, dann kann das mitunter schwierig werden. Erstaunlich finde ich auch die große Rolle, die dem guten alten Faxgerät bei der Kündigung von Abos zuzukommen scheint.

Es sollte sich also jeder bewusst sein, wenn er mal eben “€10/Monat” von mir haben will, dass das nicht so einfach werden wird, wenn ich dafür meine Kreditkartendaten herausrücken soll, und zwar aus Gründen, die mit den €10/Monat wenig zu tun haben.

#business   |   Jul-15 2019

==> Rod Hilton wrote a blog post: Smart Assholes: A Probing Examination.

To me, the definition of an asshole is slightly different. An asshole is someone who acts out every social interaction on the principle of “dominate or be dominated”. It’s the lack of a middle ground that makes an asshole so that people can’t just go into an interaction being each other’s peers and also finish the interaction with being each other’s peers, having been friendly and respectful towards each other, preserved each other’s individual freedoms, and exchanged some information.

I agree that assholery tends to spread, and the mechanism in my observation is as follows: You can start out not being an asshole. When there is an asshole for you to deal with, you’ll realize, “All of my interactions with this person end up with this person dominating me.” But you don’t like being dominated because that’s natural (psychological reactance), and accepting domination would be bad for your career. So next time you interact with that person, you know you have to act on the principle of “dominate or be dominated”, i.e. the asshole principle. Soon enough, it becomes a habit, and you may inadvertently behave towards non-assholes as an asshole. It’s now, at the latest, that you have become an asshole yourself.

Another corollary: If you perceive a lot of assholes around you, maybe you are the asshole. It also explains why you find more assholes as you go up the corporate ladder: Being higher up means you can exhibit domineering towards your subordinates without repercussions.

#business   |   Jun-05 2019

==> Redditor u/butAblip Spent 50 hours on a take-home assignment only to be ghosted.

Been there, done that. I spent considerably more than 50 hours on it, too, not because I broke the rules but because they made it a point to specifically emphasize that I should take my time rather than submit something half-baked. – I will not be so naive in the future. Now I specifically ask how many other candidates for the same spot are in the stage of the take-home exercise. If it’s more than half a dozen, forget it, I’m not doing it.

It also depends on several further factors: Anything up to 48 hours I might do for free. For anything more, I would push pretty hard to get paid for my time to ensure they have skin in the game. Many reputable companies do this now.

#business   |   Apr-24 2019

==> Noah Smith of Bloomberg writes that American Employers Are Hung Up on Hiring Ph.D.s. But I’ve also seen some social media echo from Ph.D.s saying things like “well, actually, my Ph.D. has mostly felt like a liability.”

This resonated with me a great deal: Whenever I join a new workplace, I feel like building credibility is an uphill battle where I fight against the ghost of someone who worked there before who had a Ph.D. and who fit the stereotype of the dysfunctional academic.

I wish that, just because I can do one type of thing well, people wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that I can’t also do another type of thing well. As in: Just because I understand math, please don’t jump to the conclusion that I don’t understand databases and can’t write clean code. Just because I can see the “right way” to solve a problem doesn’t mean I can’t also appreciate a cost-efficient way of solving 20% of the problem for 80% of the benefit.

#business   |   Mar-27 2019

==> Tovia Smith und NPR berichten: “More States Opting To ‘Robo-Grade’ Student Essays By Computer”. (Übersetzung: “Mehr Bundesstaaten benoten Aufsätze von Studenten durch Computer”).

Als ich mich damals in Cambridge beworben habe, um dort zu studieren, hat man sich tatsächlich die Zeit genommen, Interviews mit mir zu machen. – Das war das Cambridge in England, nicht jenes nahe Boston, und ich hatte mich für zwei Studiengänge interessiert, den M.Phil. in Computer Speech, Text, and Internet Technology und den Bachelor in Mathematik als “mature student” am St. Edmunds College. Durchgeführt wurden beide Interviews durch Professoren, also wirklich durch die Inhaber der relevanten Lehrstühle, nicht durch Hilfsdozenten. In den U.S.A. war es damals schon üblich, standardisierte Tests durch schlecht bezahlte Hilfskräfte auswerten zu lassen; im Prinzip durch “Mechanical Turk”. Und jetzt nehmen sie sich nicht einmal mehr die Zeit, überhaupt noch einen Menschen mit der Aufgabe zu betrauen? Ich bin sprachlos.

Ich hoffe, Cambridge bleibt in diesem Punkt eine Hochburg der Vernunft und Menschlichkeit. Schließlich wird hier über die berufliche Zukunft junger Leute entschieden, und solche Entscheidungen sollten wirklich nicht Algorithmen überlassen werden.

#politics#business#computers   |   Jul-21 2018

==> Zum Thema WeWork schreibt John Harris vom Guardian “in a world of digital nomads, we will all be made homeless” (Übersetzung: In einer Welt von digitalen Nomaden werden wir alle obdachlos).

Als jemandem, der in Österreich in den 80ern und 90ern aufgewachsen ist, erscheint mir die Werkwohnung kaum als eine neue Erfindung. Gerade unter größeren Industrieunternehmen im Wiederaufbau der Nachkriegszeit waren diese keine Seltenheit. Sie standen ideologisch eher mit der linken Seite des politischen Spektrums in Verbindung. Ich denke da jetzt etwa an die ÖBB. Daher ist es etwas ironisch, wenn über diese alte Idee jetzt ausgerechnet ein linkes Blatt schimpft, dass es sich um einen ganz neuen kapitalistisch-ausbeuterischen Auswuchs der Digitalökonomie kalifornischen Gepräges handelt.

#business   |   Jun-21 2018