A bunch of little topics this week, from the state of the office to blockchains to Google and a rant about how broken Facebook is. Enjoy and let me know what you think…
So, in the last week… the carpet should have arrived in the warehouse Friday and I’m waiting for the call to schedule install, which should be this week. I found a painter I like, we agreed to the work on the interior two bedrooms, hallway, living room and entry), will start in about two weeks and maybe take a week. I also approved a quote for the exterior, which is about 13 years old and looking a bit ragged, to happen sometime in May. She turned me on to a roofer to look at a couple of spots I’m worried about and give me a view on how long the roof is good for (it’s 16 years old). I’m ready to go over and order the carpet for the bedroom, which will hopefully be ready to install while Laurie’s in Oregon on spring break. We’ll send the bird off to boarding so she’s not around for the paint work to keep her out of the dust and fumes.
I’ve ordered my desks and they’ve arrived, living in the garage until the carpet is in. The chair is in transit and arriving this week. I’ve started ordering in some of the bits and pieces: the UPSs, the networking gear, that sort of thing. The bookshelves will wait until the paint is done to simplify logistics.
It’s looking like most of the work on this phase of the interior will be done by month end, and I’ll be moving into the office. The will also be the start of moving books out of boxes and into the living room and my office and clearing out that pile of stuff in the Library.
This seemed to take forever to get to this point, but now it’s all happening and finishing up quite quickly. Just like, I guess, most projects. Watch my Instagram for pictures of boxes and chaos as all of this comes together.
Choosing where you want to work
One of the nice things about looking for a job when you aren’t currently working is that you don’t have to be discrete about it to your boss or co-worker. And when you have the ability to be fussy about going back to work is that you can make choices about what you want to do, but also what you don’t.
When I decided to jump back into the job market, I made some initial decisions about what I didn’t want to do:
- I wanted nothing to do with any company or project that was working with blockchains.
I can already hear the angry thumps on keyboard readying responses to that statements so let me explain a bit. Blockchain’s an interesting technology. There are companies doing interesting things here, but it’s also a technology currently in a hype bubble, and there’s a lot of snake oil and outright fraud. I think what we’re seeing fall out in the CTO space is an indication I was right worrying about this. This decision was not really about blockchains being good or bad, but about it being an industry area with some great risks, including the bad parts creating enough problems for the technology that takes out the good parts. This was really about not wanting to take the time and energy to research the area enough to know good from bad and make good choices.
- I had no interest in taking a position at Google.
Again, put down the keyboards for a minute. Google is like every big company — well, every company — in that there are good parts and problem parts and it’s bad to paint anything with a broad brush. I know many people at Google doing great work and happy there. My experience with Google recruiting, however, has been nothing but a disappointment. A friend of mine once referred to it as factory farming hiring and I think that fits it perfectly. Every time I’ve agreed to talk to Google I’ve come away from it feeling disappointed at how they handle it.
The last time I did this was about 18 months ago while on sabbatical, when the recruiter contacted me I politely turned him down, and he kept asking and nudging with some enthusiasm, so I changed my mind and agreed to talk. This wasn’t a typical recruiter “send me the resume and then thanks”, he actively suggested ways to improve the resume and we had a really nice dialog, and so I was actually thinking maybe the rumors of changes here were true. And when we were happy with the resume, he said he would walk it to the hiring manager and update me within 10 days. Last I heard from him. Did I ping him for an update? No, the silence was all I needed to know nothing’s really changed here. So I’m back at thanks-but-no with Google.
- No Facebook. Nope. Nope.
Unlike Google, I know many fewer people who work at Facebook than I probably should, which in itself is a warning sign to me. I’ve talked to them at times about positions a few times and the conversations generally ran to something like “you know those nasty things they’re writing about how things are screwed up mysogynistic cesspools? Guilty as charged, but we’re doing what we can to fix it. Do you really want to sign up for that fight?”
My answer is of course “hell, no”. But honestly, I’ve felt for a few years that Facebook is a sick organization, and it is the company in Silicon Valley most likely to replicate the fall from grace Apple did a couple of decades ago. A big problem is a culture that still seems convinced the solutions to its problems are technology things, when in fact their problems are about people and society. This flows down from Mark Zuckerberg, who I think is out of his depth (to be honest, very few people at the helm of that company wouldn’t be) and still has that tech-nerd naiveté about the social aspects of the things he builds. Unfortunately for Facebook, the stock ownership is structured that he won’t be replaced at the helm of Facebook until he decides to be and I keep thinking this isn’t going to end well. The best thing he could do for Facebook right now, I think, is go on a sabbatical to focus on his foundation and leave Sandberg in charge (and then not take his phone with him so he’s not tempted to give advice).
I should note I like Zuckerberg as a person — to the point where I applied for a job in their initiative at one point, because like the Gates Foundation (a place I’d jump to work for if I was in the Seattle area) I think it’s doing interesting and good things worth supporting.
But that doesn’t make up for the reality that Facebook’s a sick company, and it’s illness is leaking out all over society — and that Facebook seems unwilling to recognize it’s responsibility in all of this, and unable to fix things properly when it does admit to there being problems.
That’s why, though I didn’t realize it would turn out exactly like this, the problem that Facebook has over the Cambridge Analytica data is exactly the sort of thing I expected to see happen. I won’t go into all the details, but a good overview is here at Recode.
Basically, Facebook is trying to play the “it’s not our fault someone signed our agreement and then violated it”, which is patently false. Except that as far as I can tell, Facebook built no tools, not even rudimentary ones, to track whether their data was being abused.
There are basic techniques to audit this kind of behavior. Mailing list rentals are a classic version of it: salt the data with information that only exists in the database, and if it starts being used, you know it’s leaked and you can investigate. There are ways to embed info in them to identify the leakage source, too. Yet Facebook didn’t do this.
It simply didn’t care enough to bother trying.
The problem here is that Facebook gives a lot of trust to the developers who use its software features. The company’s terms of service are an agreement in the same way any user agrees to use Facebook: The rules represent a contract that Facebook can use to punish someone, but not until after that someone has already broken the rules.
Our technological innovations always run ahead our our ability to manage them appropriately
Here’s something companies like Facebook didn’t seem to think about, or didn’t care enough about to worry: our ability to build new technologies invariably runs ahead of our knowledge on how best to use them and how they’re going to impact people and society. That was true with email and SMTP (because the issue of spam abuse was only obvious in retrospect) and commenting systems (which should have known better than to start out with no authentication but did it anyway), and it’s true today.
And Facebook keeps ignoring this reality and having to try to fix it after the fact, and doing it poorly.
Worse, they don’t seem to be learning from this continuing series of increasingly nasty problems they’re happening. And that’s what’s going to nail them and when they hit the wall, it’ll be nasty.
An amusing Facebook anecdote to close this out.
I was having a chat with an old friend and mentor one day while I was in the job search. Somewhere in the middle, he blurted out “you know what? Facebook needs you, you’re the kind of person they need to solve their problems! I have contacts, let me get you in touch with them!”
I tried to suggest that working for Facebook wasn’t high on my priority list, but his enthusiasm won out. Fortunately his contacts at Facebook didn’t match his enthusian, and after about three tries and not even getting more than a “busy, not now” response, he gave up, saving me the complication of actually having to worry about it moving forward.
And while I was honored at his thought on this… And while I have definite ideas and opinions on what Facebook ought to be doing, I know there’s no way I could fix their problems, because they’d never listen to me and they’d never want to implement what I’d probably suggest to them, because they are incompatible with the company ideas and cultures — the ones that both made them successful and are now making them fail and damage society globally along the way.
And those ideas and cultures come from the top, and nothing will change, I fear, until that changes, either by a major shift in the worldview of Zuckerberg, or Zuckerberg realizing that he’s not the right person to fix this and stepping to the side.
I’m not holding my breath.
Have a fun and interesting week!