Monthly Archives: September 2019

Changes in asset ownership evolves tech

Reading through Ben Thompson’s What is a Tech Company, one of the most fascinating aspects I’ve found in the evolution of software comes from the changes of ownerships – who (users or companies or 3rd parties) owns what (hardware, software, data, etc.).

(Old) IBM – Sell to you the hardwares (computers/servers) we made, so you can install the softwares we produced. (Heavy operational costs for IBM, like assets maintenance and IT training. But the bill is on customers.)

(Old) Microsoft – You have your own computers/servers; now you need to install the on-prem softwares we produced so it can work on your hardware. (Arguably the most effective/lucrative business model because of zero marginal cost for Microsoft – distributing softwares doesn’t cost anything.)

Salesforce – We run the softwares we produced in the servers we own. You don’t need to own your servers or softwares – they are off-premises. All you need is to use any web browser to access it. (The definition of SaaS. Has fixed cost for running servers etc. but again this is covered by up-front paid customers.)

Atlassian – Sell to companies without even talking to them. Freemium, Easy-to-pay, and Pay-As-You-Go, from anywhere by anyone. (An evolution from SaaS but it gives emphasis on the bottom-up approach and the democratization aspect.)

Software creates ecosystems.
Software has zero marginal costs.
Software improves over time.
Software offers infinite leverage.
Software enables zero transaction costs.

As a separate note shown above, it is also interesting to see what criteria Ben Thompson uses to define a tech company.

Reading books as news feeds

This year I’ve been running an experiment of reading physical books as though they are feeds on Twitter.

It means that, I read 5~10 books in parallel within a given time — read one chapter in a book when I want, then jump to another book without finishing the previous one.

Reading in a bundle helps you connect dots if there are any. Yet a bundle of books are just a small set of consumption of all mediums. Today people have a great mix of diversified types of mediums: podcasts, youtube videos, social media feeds, magazines, favorite news sites, blogs via RSS, subscribed contents distributed via personal emails, subject matter discussions via corp emails, PPT proposals from your colleagues, etc. People might read less physical books, but I believe we actually “read” more today.

Another thing I adopted is to feel less guilty of not finishing a book — I rarely finished any books I recently touched. Instead of reading a book in order to finish it, maybe a valid measurement is how hard you think during the time you read it.

If someone you trust recommends a great book, you may buy it and put in your bookshelf. There’s no need to feel guilty of letting this book idle either. Since you still absorb information from across all other available mediums.

Employee performance metrics

It is common to hear that employees at Facebook get more burnouts compared to those at Google. Facebook does not necessarily have more projects per person – and I agree with what TechLead has said – it’s more about how the systems are set up, particularly when it comes to the criteria of how the companies evaluate their employees.

The performance metrics at Google are Complexity, Impact, and Leadership, while Facebook’s are Impact, Better Engineering, People, and Direction.

I’ll skip Google. But in Facebook, the Impact and Better Engineering sound a bit of a paradox. Because one wants to “break things” to ship as many features as possible in order to make product impact quickly, but could possibly sacrifice the engineering quality.

The People and Direction is more or less a paradox too – employees can be trampling on each others’ works to lead with a new direction of their owns for the same project. But being too aggressive like this could make them lose on the People metrics. So they learn to be passive aggressive.

It’s the constant battle with the paradoxical performance system that can make Facebookers feel more stressful.