You’re in the right place

Here’s some great advice from Robin Sloan on how to find good educational content on YouTube:

These days, when I’m investigating a subject, I tend to go straight to Low View Count Scholarly YouTube, which is of course the version of YouTube you get when you append the term “lecture” to your search. When you hit a tranche of videos between forty and ninety minutes long, with between 500 and 5000 views, you know you’re in the right place.

This Google experiment is interesting and kind of related:

To make it easier for people to learn about topics they’re interested in, we’re experimenting with AI-generated quizzes on the YouTube mobile app Home feed.

Building personal and organizational prestige

This is great post by Will Larson on the difference between personal (and organizational) “brand” vs. “prestige”—and why focusing on building the latter is way more important for your career than the former.

First, this reminder:

The majority of successful executives I’ve worked with don’t write online. They won’t post on Twitter or Mastodon. They haven’t written a book. They don’t speak at conferences. In your engineering leadership career, you will at times be immersed in the message that you need to be creating content to be successful, but there’s abundant evidence to the contrary. You absolutely don’t have to do this sort of thing.

And then, this definition of what he means by “prestige”:

Prestige is the passive-awareness counterpart to brand. Rather than being what someone actively knows about you, it’s what someone can easily discover about you if they look for it. Many interviewers won’t know anything about me, but a few minutes of research will find my writing, conference talks, and work history.

I agree with this. Make sure that if someone Googles you, they find your site where you can tell your story and showcase your work.

Why Do Developers (Actually) Hate Marketing?

Why Do Developers (Actually) Hate Marketing? The Heavybit team has some good advice in this post:

  • Don’t: Create product-led content that shoves the product into your reader’s face.
  • Do: create a transparent guide to what your product can and can’t do. But make sure you don’t over-promise (or even sound like you’re overpromising).
  • Don’t: Write thought leadership content that relies on cheesy trend predictions.
  • Do: Create thoughtful, technical essays based on experiences from engineers and founders. But make sure your claims are authentic as well as relevant and well-supported as well as novel.
  • Don’t: Produce hollow, manicured case studies.
  • Do: Create technical case studies that describe, in detail, what a customer’s experience was really like – including the gains, the stresses, and the adoption and integration processes. But make sure the focus remains on the customer’s problem and not on your solution.

How to optimize your pricing page

Good advice here from Kyle Poyar on how to optimize your pricing page, including a reminder to emphasize benefits, not features:

Did your feature matrix get dumped on your pricing page as-is, leading to confusion and eye-rolls across your target buyers? Don’t do that. Tell a story about what the customer can do with the feature.

The Homework Apocalypse

The Homework Apocalypse is an interesting post by Ethan Mollick on how educators can prepare for (and, to a degree, embrace) the incoming prevalence of LLMs in schools:

Students will cheat with AI. But they also will begin to integrate AI into everything they do, raising new questions for educators. Students will want to understand why they are doing assignments that seem obsolete thanks to AI. They will want to use AI as a learning companion, a co-author, or a teammate. They will want to accomplish more than they did before, and also want answers about what AI means for their future learning paths. Schools will need to decide how to respond to this flood of questions.

The Contagion

Michael Lopp discusses how communication works in large organizations. I’ve been thinking about the culture on anonymous workplace app Blind as “Nextdoor for companies”, but this is a way better description:

The Whisper Network is a rich tapestry of partially true information. My gut is to call this the Gossip Network, but gossip is just one of the information types that traverse this network. The Whisper Network is a semi-deliberate construction of humans who might trust each other but mostly wondering out loud what the hell is going on. Remember the rule: humans don’t like not knowing what is happening, especially if it directly affects their professional well-being. They tap into their Whisper Network when they hear a whisper of an idea that hints at shenanigans.

Link roundup for July 2, 2023

Technology and product

Pledge To Executives →

Marty Cagan’s latest is all about the agreements between product teams and executive teams. This point about deadlines stood out for me:

Product teams ask that only the product team that will be responsible for delivering on a promise be the one to make that promise, and they not be asked to make a promise or deliver on a commitment where they don’t know what is involved and what would be required to succeed.

How will AI affect workers? Tech waves of the past show how unpredictable the path can be →

A good piece by Bhaskar Chakravorti, also discussing AI’s impact on DEI in the workplace:

For example, while the broad shift toward remote work could help promote diversity with more flexible hiring, I see the increasing use of AI as likely to have the opposite effect. Black and Hispanic workers are overrepresented in the 30 occupations with the highest exposure to automation and underrepresented in the 30 occupations with the lowest exposure. While AI might help workers get more done in less time, and this increased productivity could increase wages of those employed, it could lead to a severe loss of wages for those whose jobs are displaced. A 2021 paper found that wage inequality tended to increase the most in countries in which companies already relied a lot on robots and that were quick to adopt the latest robotic technologies.

Also worth noting this discrepancy, which we seem to hear about a lot these days:

A 2022 study showed improved efficiencies for remote work as companies and employees grew more comfortable with work-from-home arrangements, but according to a separate 2023 study, managers and employees disagree about the impact: The former believe that remote working reduces productivity, while employees believe the opposite.

SparkToro Year 3 Retrospective: Investor Payback, Systemic Challenges, and V2 on the Way →

I enjoyed Rand Fishkin’s extensive and transparent thoughts on how their business is doing. A couple of things especially stood out. First, this point about marketing attribution:

In businesses like ours, most top-of-funnel marketing happens months or years before conversions do. When someone buys SparkToro, we have no way to attribute it to the three videos they watched on LinkedIn or the word-of-mouth recommendation from an ex-colleague at their previous agency, or the podcast they heard Amanda on last month. This would drive a lot of CMOs and CFOs bananas, but if you can lean into the process of trusting your “vanity metrics” (views, likes, comments, shares, emails, I-heard-about-you-ons), you can build a marketing flywheel that’s almost entirely devoid of competition.

I had to read that last sentence a few times to make sure it’s not a typo. This may be the first time I’ve ever seen someone speak positively about vanity metrics. Definitely food for thought…

And then there’s this important point about market segmentation:

Great products aren’t enough, either. To be “great” is, in my opinion, not nearly as valuable as being irrelevant to 99% of people, but exactly perfect for the 1% who deeply care about the problem you solve. Extra bonus points: target your product at a group that’s well-connected to others in their field, and gets value from sharing new things. Nothing’s better than word of mouth marketing. Nothing.

Other interests

The customers might be human, but the audience is Google →

This is a really interesting exploration of how “the SEO arms race has left Google and the web drowning in garbage text, with customers and businesses flailing to find each other.” Some small businesses deal with by having two websites: one for humans and one for robots.

How Google Reader died — and why the web misses it more than ever →

This is a really good history and retrospective of Google Reader. Dang, I feel for this team. It was so much more than an RSS Reader, and they didn’t even like that name. It was the first true social media feed: curated content you care about.

In other words, Fusion was meant to be a social network. One based on content, on curation, on discussion. In retrospect, what Shellen and Wetherell proposed sounds more like Twitter or Instagram than an RSS reader. “We were trying to avoid saying ‘feed reader,’” Shellen says, “or reading at all. Because I think we built a social product.”

Why aren’t smart people happier? →

Really interesting exploration by Adam Mastroianni, and a history of how messed up our definition of “smart” has become:

My grandma does not know how to use the “input” button on her TV’s remote control, but she does know how to raise a family full of good people who love each other, how to carry on through a tragedy, and how to make the perfect pumpkin pie. We sometimes condescendingly refer to this kind of wisdom as “folksy” or “homespun,” as if answering multiple-choice questions is real intelligence, and living a good, full life is just some down-home, gee-whiz, cutesy thing that little old ladies do.

Hometown’s Finest →

I’ve always been interested in “sense of place”—finding the reasons why a town or a place exists, and why people are drawn to certain places. Anne Helen Petersen writes beautifully about this concept in an essay about her hometown:

Optimization and remodel culture robs spaces of that heart. I’m sure MOD Pizza, the latest upstart in the pizza world, makes a lot more money. It’s slicker, faster, easier. But it’s not a place, it’s a product—a profit center. You can always tell, can’t you, when a restaurant’s primary purpose is to make a bunch of people who’d probably never eat there a whole bunch of money.

The Reader in Mind Is Me →

John Warner writes about the passing of Cormac McCarthy as well as Elizabeth Gilbert’s decision to indefinitely postpone the publication of her novel following the appearance of over 500 negative reviews of the book on Goodreads (also see How Goodreads Reviews Can Tank a Book Before It’s Published). He makes some interesting observations about “parasocial relationships”:

My first reaction was that we were in the realm of the parasocial, the invention or a relationship with a celebrity who doesn’t know you exist. My most parasocial relationships are with my favorite Peloton instructors who are clearly encouraged to stoke this feeling in platform participants as a way to keep us invested and involved.

Another example is Taylor Swift’s recent relationship with some other recording artist with bad politics and questionable hygiene, something her fans could apparently not countenance, and perhaps drove her to break up with the dude.

Link roundup for June 27, 2023

Ask Questions, Repeat The Hard Parts, and Listen →

Michael Lopp’s latest is an excellent reminder of what good leadership is all about:

Earlier in this piece, I wrote I was disappointed when you asked me to decide. I’m not disappointed in you; I’m disappointed with myself. See, my primary job as your leader is to give you the skills and experience I’ve gained over the years. If I cannot guide you toward making the decision, I’m reminded I’ve not yet achieved my primary goal in our professional relationship.

My job is to teach you not to need me.

The Creators of Disney’s New Platformer Explain the Hard Lessons of Making Games for Kids →

Patrick Klepek writes about making games for kids, but there are some great generalizable product lessons throughout. Like this reminder not to drift toward the “average” user:

“We have this phrase internally, we say ‘don’t make a rosé,” said Grand-Scrutton. “And it’s because one of my friends in the industry, one of my mentors, he said this phrase to me, and he said that if you go to a restaurant and you’ve got someone that loves red wine, or someone loves white wine, you don’t give them a rose because no one’s happy. You gave them an awesome red or an awesome white. So we say that internally, when we are riding this line of only half doing something, we say ‘it’s too rosé.’ Rosé is a perfectly fine wine choice, but we felt we were rosé-ing it.”

Failure →

Mike Fisher writes about a really interesting tool to get teams comfortable with taking risks, called the Failure Workshop:

One strategy to familiarize team members with failure is to conduct a Failure Workshop. Think of it as a tabletop exercise on failure in a safe environment. The workshop’s objective is to “stay in the failure” while fostering a supportive space for peer interaction. This is similar to a pre-mortem but it keeps the participants thinking about possible failure scenarios instead of brainstorming solutions. 

Reality has a surprising amount of detail →

I missed this 2017 piece by John Salvatier, and it’s so good. He talks about how easy it is to get intellectually stuck in our ways, and how to break out of that:

The direction for improvement is clear: seek detail you would not normally notice about the world. When you go for a walk, notice the unexpected detail in a flower or what the seams in the road imply about how the road was built. When you talk to someone who is smart but just seems so wrong, figure out what details seem important to them and why. In your work, notice how that meeting actually wouldn’t have accomplished much if Sarah hadn’t pointed out that one thing. As you learn, notice which details actually change how you think. If you wish to not get stuck, seek to perceive what you have not yet perceived.

Fitness Technology and the Templated Body →

In today’s example of “technology is not neutral” Audrey Watters talks about how depressing fitness tracking can be:

Fitness technologies shape how we think about fitness; they shape how we think about our movement — why we move, how we move, and so on. We covet the gadgets that promise to give us more and more data and deeper and better insights about ourselves, supposedly to learn more about ourselves. And yet, we are simultaneously un-learning to trust ourselves (or trust professionals — our teachers and coaches), waiting for the “nudge” and the badge to compel us move.

Related, also see Lukas Mathis’s Streak Redemption about what happens when you break a streak in one of these apps:

Conversely, losing a streak can be so demoralizing that it can be difficult to start from scratch, and get going again.

The Slow Productivity of John Wick →

You’re going to have to trust me that this is actually really good:

John Wick may be shallow entertainment, but the story of its success highlights some deep lessons about what the rest of us might be missing in our pursuit of a job well done.

A Practical Guide to Executive Presence →

Some great advice here:

If you take nothing else away from this post, it’s this first point: Don’t freak out. Visibly losing control of yourself is one of the most damaging ways that leaders self-sabotage. Seeing the person who’s supposed to be in charge lose control under pressure is confidence-destroying and can take a very long time to recover from.


You only sound as smart as the dumbest thing that comes out of your mouth. The more you say, the more dumb stuff that you have the chance to say. Consciously try to have a timer going in your head that tells you to wrap it up after you’ve been talking for ~30 seconds, unless there’s a specific reason that you need to speak for longer (e.g. a presentation).


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