Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Ten Famous Jews in Hi-Tech

August 30, 2013

The list does not imply any conclusions in either direction. Some of the people below may not even think of themselves as “Jews”, but I still thought it was interesting and maybe inspiring as well.

I left out many famous Israeli Jews in Hi-Tech , as the list would be much longer. The names appear in no particular order. Strangely, the best sources were either Jewish journals or horrible anti-Semitic web sites.

  1. Steve Balmer, Microsoft, CEO
  2. Larry Page, Google , CEO and founder
  3. Sergey  Brin, Google , Founder
  4. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, Founder
  5. Sheryl Kara Sandberg, Facebook, CEO
  6. Marc Russell Beniof, Salesforce.com , CEO and Founder
  7. Larry Ellison, Oracle, CEO and Founder
  8. Michael Dell, Dell  , CEO
  9. Sir Michael Moritz, Sequoia
  10. Andy Grove, Intel , Former CEO

Sergey Brin, Wikipedia

Mark Zukckerberg, Wikipedia

Larry Page, Wikipedia

Steve Balmer, Wikipedia

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The Unaccountable Number Two

April 13, 2013

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”
― Thomas Paine

One of the most dangerous leaders to have in a company is the unaccountable #2.

UNANT, for short , is usually a former founder, or a top executive, who is still involved in the company, but has no direct reports, or clear accountability for a specific business line.

It can be the CTO, chief strategy officer,the vice chairman or any other obscure title.

Because of his seniority,status and experience the UNANT advises are actually considered decisions.

Unlike other managers, his decisions don’t have to be backed by budgets or organizational support , as he is not the one executing them or responsible for the outcome. It also makes life hard for the rest of the team. Who wants to contradict a member of the board?

Name this #2

In many cases, the lack of accountability , while the authority exists, makes it hard to distinguish “decisions” from “opinion”.

The UNANT tends  use annoying stories from 20 years ago to show he is right (=everyone else is wrong ).

“What’s so hard? We wrote version Three in two hours, we only had a broken typewriter , one chair for four people and we sold 50,000 copies in three days.”

The UNANT also comes up with original ideas like “If every developer puts an extra hour a day on cleaning the office we can fire our cleaners and save lots of money”

The only worst organizational type is the unaccountable #2 spin master .He  actually has direct reports and theoretical responsibility , but manages to never pay the price for his decisions. His direct reports are usually being replaced 🙂

The Functional Idiot

February 16, 2013

accountant-funny2

Here is a story. I’m sitting in a room with an extremely intelligent  person. Our new VP of product marketing – Mr Y. He has an MBA from one of the finest universities in the world ,a track record as a C level executive in a Fortune 100 company. He is articulate and presents an amazing vision for the future of our company. Moreover, he defines concrete examples how we will be using social media and go beyond traditional  enterprise marketing. I’m quite impressed. Finally, we have someone in marketing who knows what he is talking about.

One month later, Mr Y Speaks in an executive forum. He repeats exactly the same story with the same social media example and same jokes. I’m getting a bit suspicious , but as the great Jack Welch said – communicating your message is one of the top leadership roles. So, I give Mr Y the credit that he is talking to a new audience.

Two months later, Mer Y is already working with us for four months. We are in a customer conference. The same exact story, word by word 😦 . Two months later he was not working with us anymore …

He is probably a “Type A” functional idiot.

I recently learned the term “Functional Idiot” which I really like. Unfortunately it is not well-defined, yet. The Urban Dictionary definition for “Functional Idiot” is :

A person who suffers from functional idiocy.

Which does not help much. However, almost everyone seems to “Get It”, so they must have worked with some.

There can be a few of ways to describe a functional idiot:

  • Type A functional idiot – A complete idiot who made it through the system to obtain an important function or position (e.g. George Bush Junior :))
  • Type B functional idiot – A very smart person in specific domains who behaves like an idiot in other domains  (e.g. Steve Jobs’ failure to admit he needs to shower to smell good)
  • Type C functional idiot – A person who used to be very smart and effective, but became outdated and irrelevant (e.g Dan Margalit might be an example for the Israeli audience)

Let’s say you are walking around the office and you spot a “Functional Idiot”  make a stupid decision. Let me provide you with tools to rationalize it.

Here is a second story. In a board meeting, you realize one of your board members (Let’s call him Prisoner X)  suggests the company should release a “simple self-service” version of your costly, sophisticated enterprise product. This could have been   a great suggestion. But we already did it six months ago and discussed it multiple times with him.

The challenge is that Prisoner X is quite smart and has a very good track record in the industry. How can we explain the fact he get’s $40K$ a month ,but is not able to remember the main products of his four companies?

Prisoner X is probably a type B functional idiot. He is very smart in the big picture and in identifying opportunities, but he is very bad in operational work and following details.

Type C functional idiots are easier to spot. You would usually find them in the CTO office, they have the word “Strategy” in their title.  in a recent example I was observing a very long thread on the pros and cons of C vs C++. The heated discussions was taking place in 2012 by people with an amazing track record in the high-tech industry history. And it was a very interesting discussion to have. In 1996.

To conclude,It is essential to identify functional idiots and tell them apart. Otherwise  we are all doomed 🙂

Americana 2013

January 26, 2013
Green Robot - Tomo Hotel

Green Robot – Tomo Hotel,

  • I like Hotel Tomo, cute Japanese design makes a lot of difference.
  • Going green. Why do American hotels provide 9 (as in  3*3, 4+5, 99/11) pillows for a single guest?  And then they ask me not to replace the towels everyday.
  • Continental was bought by United. No major difference. Upgrading to business is now $600 instead of $500. All the rest is the same.
Snowy Boston

Snowy Boston

  • I’m not a virgin for Virgin anymore. First time flight from Boston to San Francisco. The only difference is that the crew is much more beautiful. Old fashioned stewardesses (meaning young and good looking ).
  •  FaceTime is amazing. High quality video calls with family and 10 months old kid. Mac to iPhone, iPhone to iPhone and Mac to iPad.
  • The Windows store in Palo Alto mall is quite empty. It is three times bigger the the Apple store and has 25% people in it. The Sony store is somewhere in between.
Apple Store,Stanford Mall

Apple Store,Stanford Mall

Empty Windows Store,Stanford Mall

Empty Windows Store,Stanford Mall

  • The new Windows 8 Laptops\Tablets from Sony and Microsoft are actually pretty nice, at a glance. The touch screen + Keyboard make a good combination and offers an interesting alternative to iPad. The price point is why they would probably fail.
  • iPad mini is even better than Ipad. Better form factor.
San Francisco, Fillmore and Broadway

San Francisco, Fillmore and Broadway

  • Go Wireless! I physically broke three cables and adapters this trip. The American plugs are always loose and the Mac power adapter is quite heavy 😦
  • In the “Cheese Cake Factory” choose the classic Cheesecake. Don’t be tempted for three layers of chocolate.
  • Could not see a big difference in 4K pixels TV. Probably need newer movies.
Granola in Boston

Granola in Boston

Israel as a BioInformatics Super Power – Part One

December 1, 2012

Showing out, showing out, hit and run
Boy meets girl as beat goes on
Stitched up tight, can’t break free
Love is the drug, got a hook on me

Roxy Music,Love is the Drug

Israel is not (yet?) a super power in Bio-Informatics, but it should be.

We have 6000 PHD’s in biology and probably less than ten Bio-Informatics start-ups.

While Data Science is a great area for Israel , and some Israeli brains like to waste their time on SEO and gambling I think the Bio-Informatics industry is going to be huge , but the dominant players are still not set.

Genome viewer screenshot, Wikipedia

Genome viewer screenshot, Wikipedia

Israel can succeed because:

* Israel has some of the leading doctors and health-care research in the world (#3 in Life Expectancy , despite the wars)

* Many of the leading BioInformatics researchers in Boston and in Israel are originally Israelis 🙂

* Bio-Informatics requires new methodologies which are different than traditional biologiets are used to. This is a good scenario for Israelis who tend to be more adaptive in an unknown territory.

* Bio-Informatics is across domains. Math, Computer Science , Chemistry  ,Physics , Statistics and engineering all play a critical role.  While Israelis ,some times, are not as good in structured and well known engineering domains, they work well in teams and move between domains relatively easily.On a side note – Intel, Teva, IAI and Iskar demonstrate that manufacturing can work well in Israel.

* Bio-Informatics industry would probably be more cash efficient than traditional drugs design that requires FAB likes investments of Billions of Dollars.Moving from hardware into software and from manual experiments into virtual ones can reduce costs in an order of magnitude.

* M.Sc and PHD in Biology make very little money in Israel, due to the lack of opportunities.  This can get as bad as minimum wage or a high-school teacher salary.On the flip side, it means there is a large pool of extremely talented candidates.

On the next parts – what is the promise of bioinformatics? Why is Israel not there yet, and how can it get there?

Are Public Companies Owned by the Public?

October 6, 2012
Board of Directors Keeping a Low Profile Cartoon

Board of Directors Keeping a Low Profile Cartoon

Is the entire governance model of public companies broken?

In theory, public companies are owned by the public shareholders and the goal of the company is to increase the long-term value for them.

In practice , many companies are managed by minority shareholders or ineffective board members , that can not be replaced by the majority public shareholders.

Lets assume I own HP stock. Assume I think the board is not doing a remarkable  job. Since four CEO were changed in recent years, it is unlikely that all CEO’s are to blame.

How can I change the HP board of directors? This is quite impossible as I have a very tiny share of HP shares. But the largest owner has only 7%.

The classic capitalist answer is that I could sell my HP share, and if many people follow my footprints, the board would “Get the message”.  However, there are some very nice incentives for being a board member ($381,000 per year in this case) , so there is no reason for board members to resign. For example John H. Hammergren is a director of HP since 2005 and despite of the stock decline he did not “get it”.

Maybe he is an amazing director ,I don’t have  any data, but the stock does not reflect it.

HP (HPQ) Stock Price 2007 To 2012

HP (HPQ) Stock Price 2007 To 2012

In theory, I can send a fax a nominate my own director , but I have the feeling it would be challenging, as the process is complex.

In 2012, for example, only 20 such proposals were submitted and only 8 actually got to the voting stage.

In other companies, in which the CEO has 10%+ of the share, things might get even worst, as a minority shareholder (10% is smaller than 90% 🙂 ) is running the show, and effectively selects the board members on his own. There are many conflicts as a result. It is very hard to believe that his own compensation as an employee is not highly biased because of his shareholder position.

The current practice in which the CEO’s have large influence on board selection seems extremely problematic.

One possible solution is to move to a more direct, democratic, online model elections model.

Each shareholder would be able to suggest a director ,electronically and vote, proportionally to his shares on the best directors to run the company.

As a result, the directors would also have to convince the public on their achievements, independence and value to the shareholders.

It would also help eliminate some of the nepotism , which is often seen in Israeli stock exchange, and in a more subtle ways in NYSE and NASDAQ.

Such a model would be modern, effective and representative of the public interest.

Expense Report, Audits and Lap Dances

July 28, 2012
 Shrink Your Stomach

Shrink Your Stomach

A men leaves his wife and kids embarking on a long journey. Travelling 16,000 miles in 24 hours, crossing oceans and continents.

His time is shifted, everything seems blurry , the immune system is falling apart and the streets have no name.

Sleepless nights and sleeping pills in an anonymous motel 🙂 But the worst part of business travel is filing an expense report afterwords.

One can use the fake “Expense Report Generator” , but for the honest people life is much harder.

About ten years ago it was relatively simple:

* Company bought the airplane tickets, hotel vouchers and car rental vouchers

* Eating and general costs were $45-50 a day

* For other larger costs one should have brought receipts (Taxis , Hospitality)

* For a long travel an employee could get  a cash advance or a deposit to his bank account

French Toast in The Grove with Strawberries

French Toast in The Grove with Strawberries

Nowadays it has become much worst , although automation should have made life simpler

* The fixed daily amount was deleted, so a receipt is needed for every item purchased,  even $1 bubble gum.

* The previous allowance is  now the daily maximum . Let’s say on Monday I was extremely busy with customer visits and only grabbed a $7 Burger King lunch. On Tuesday I ate the hotel breakfast ($23), some vietnamis noodles for lunch ($7) and nice Italian dinner in San Francisco ($50) . In the past, corporate would understand people might not eat the same way every day. These days the corporate would reimburse me $57 for the two days , instead of $87 actually “eaten”.

* Since sales people abused their expense accounts to get lap dances, every receipt has to be “Itemized” . Corporates want to validate that expenses are not spent on Whiskey, Women and fancy Falafel. I’m quite confident that sales people have ways to solve the problem, but for the poor developers that’s just another annoying rule.

* There is no cash advance. The employee is supposed to pay for all the expenses with his private credit card. “Corporate Credit Card” are a fiction and do not really exist in Israel.Even in the US the mechanism is problematic , because the employee is personally  liable for unpaid accounts, and his credit reputation might be damaged when corporate delays payments.

The problem , like in many other cases, is that finance department focuses on the minority of unethical employees and creates a huge bureaucratic workflow that wastes more money than it aims to saves. While finance administration might be easier, it is amazing that an employee needs to spend 3-4 hours post travel to get back the private money he spent.

Since the costs of checking all these rules become very high, many corporates outsource the auditing to a far away country, with people who can’t read our language and have litle understanding of business, business travel and local facts. Try and explain to an auditor from India your Hebrew Receipt for a Big Data conference (or vice versa).

Of course, once you get high enough in the pyramid , you can delegate such chores to your admin (I’m guilty as charged) , and once you get high enough to change the process you  forget how annoying this type of activity is…..

Why Great Software Developers Should not do Porn and AlgoTrading

June 9, 2012

Product Manager – Backgammon, Company unspecified, Gibraltar

The world’s leading online gaming company, requires an innovative Product Manager to own, develop and manage the company’s suite of Backgammon products. This dynamic role will see you developing and owning the product roadmap for Backgammon, generating new product ideas and driving successful product rollouts.

I believe it is a shame when some of the top intellectual minds of our times devote their 12 hours work days to algorithmic trading, on-line gambling, “casual” gaming, search engine optimization  , on-line porn, search diversion through “Freeware\Malware” and so on.

Of course, these ultra smart developers are not using these services (at least not all of them:) ). They are the brains that run the software and algorithms to operate the questionable services.

I’m not passing judgment on the need for the services , although I’m quite sure Algo Trading has no economical benefit to the world :). I do think that being a “Product manager for backgammon” is less important and satisfactory than “Product manager for diabetes cure” .

I see too many brilliant friends who want to make easy money by finding a loop-hole in the global financial system. While I can’t commit that I would never work in such company, I prefer not to do it, as long as I can.

Interestingly enough, these services are somewhat related. For example, a lot of the real good money in SEO is from references to gambling and porn sites . Forex trading is not really different from a legal(?) form of gambling and “casual gaming” ,IMO, is quite the same.

It just seems that developing the Google search engine is more productive than algorithms that create fake content that only seems real to Google, but no real person would ever want to read.

Our civilization moves forward from innovation like Bioinformatics and Wikipedia, even Facebook and Twitter. But it seems that we can leave SEO to the average  developers….

Mitigating the risk of lawyers

May 16, 2012

It’s not a crime to be innocent, these things we have not done
But you’re not some little child, spring is past and gone
Well I know my craving heart and I’ve seen your vicious eyes
And I think we know the truth, both you and I
Don’t flutter your lashes like a little girl
And ask me why it’s such a cruel, cruel world, no
Don’t ask any more stupid questions
You already know the answers to,

New Model Army, Stupid Questions

Lawyers represent a huge risk to the business. Most of them believe their role is to insure they can never be blamed for any decision made, rather than the traditional role of a business – to make money.

And I’m not even talking about external lawyers who are looking for ways to sue you 🙂 these are your own employees who earn their living of your business.

A typical discussion with the legal department goes something like this:

  • Manager: Can I Do X?
  • Legal:No, it is risky.
  • Manager:But It is Really Important.
  • Legal: I’ll check.

Legal never get back so the managers pings legal two weeks later.

  • Manager : What’s the answer? Legal : You can’t.
  • Manager : Why? Because it is very risky for IP\TAX\HR\Contract reasons.
Happy Legal Expert Taking Risks

Happy Legal Expert Taking Risks

I have learned a few rules to mitigate the risk from the legal department.

  • Learn the principles. My two MBA courses on contracts and law in information systems have given me enough basics to ask hard questions.
  • Managers should understand employees’ social rights , benefits and different employment models etc. This is important part of the role, not “HR department role”.
  • Always start from the business goal. The lawyer cannot argue about that because he does not understand the business and because you are the owner.
  • If you are hiring the lawyers get the good ones who understand business and are service oriented.
  • If you are using internal legal and  get bad service – complain. Legal is a service provider , just like the IT department. If their responses are slow, inaccurate or unhelpful to te manager one should talk to their executive and ask for assistance.
  • Demand domain expertise. High-Tech Lawyers should understand the difference between SaaS ans On Premise, for example.
  • Use standard forms,standard contracts, standard NDA etc. It is not scalable to rethink these for each relationship.
  • Request service, not consulting. For example :”   want to have a OEM partnership with X in two weeks because it is going to add 20M$ for us next year. Please handle the legal parts ASAP”
  • Give the lawyers context and business reasons: what  are you trying to achieve, who is the other side, what’s the urgency, what’s the reward.
  • Don’t go legal unless you have to.Risk is everywhere – bugs, features, unhappy customers. As managers we manage risk without even thinking about it. Lawyers are trained to think only about the risks and have a very strong bias against action. In decisions where risk is understood and  is small , it is better to leave legal out of the picture.
  • Unless we are talking about tax or death issues , no one is going to come back to the manager 10 years from now and blame him anyway
  • Insurance is a great way to quantify risk and can be used in many cases. For example , instead of  long debates on what will happen if your web site is crashed by aliens,  it is simpler to buy insurance.
  • “Risk to legal department” != “Risk to the business”
  • Magic words: “I understand the risk and I accept it, If things go wrong this is my business decision”.Since most lawyers are just looking to cover their behinds, this is what they need to hear.

Can You Make Money Writing Algorithms? – Part III

April 21, 2012

“Money For Nothing and the (K) Nearest Neighbors Are Free”Doctor Mark Knopfler

In 2007 I wrote Why it is hard to make money form algorithms and How new technologies allow making money from algorithms.

Kaggle is a fascinating example:

Kaggle is an innovative solution for statistical/analytics outsourcing. We are the leading platform for predictive modeling competitions. Companies, governments and researchers present datasets and problems – the world’s best data scientists then compete to produce the best solutions. At the end of a competition, the competition host pays prize money in exchange for the intellectual property behind the winning model.

The biggest challenge right now is for $3M , to improve the broken American health care system 🙂 with 951 teams competing at this stage.

If we want to go for higher numbers: google paid $12B for Motorola patents. Most of these patents have probably never been used and are not-so-important-or-smart.

While I believe most software patents are idiotic, this is how the game is played these days. And in some sense it is encouraging that Intellectual property, in the form of Algorithms starts showing its economical value.

And the people with skills are doing well. From  “Big Data Skills Bring Big dough” in GigaOm

If you can claim to be a data scientist and have the chops to back that up, you can pretty much write your own ticket even in this tough job market. A quick search of the popular job posting sites –Indeed.com,SimplyHired.com, or Dice.com – shows a huge demand for data scientists or anyone who can demonstrate other “big data”skills.

And , most importantly, the funniest show in TV right now (except for Fox News) is Big Bang Theory, focusing on Algorithms to making Friends.

The German version is even funnier