So, I can finally tell you all what it is I’ve been working on in so much secret. For the past few months, I’ve had the honor of being chief architect for Google’s social systems, and today we launched the Google Plus Project at last. This isn’t a final thing — as its name implies, it’s going to be evolving and improving very rapidly. As the news stories say, the purpose is to make sharing more social; to make it match the way we actually relate to our friends in the world. And it has some amazing other features, like Hangouts, Huddles and Sparks, which just make it lots of fun to work with.
This bit of news just makes me happy. Not because the scientific advance is so critical (it’s an important advance, and will have significant practical applications, but that isn’t what I like about it) but because, despite having a really stressful and high-level day job, Steve Chu is still relaxing by going into the lab and doing science. And publishing papers in Nature. It’s nice to see that you can still make time for the things you love doing the most, no matter where you end up in your career.
Where I work, I’m considered fairly senior. I’ve got a good deal of experience, and people generally respect my opinion.
This has had an important consequence which I didn’t expect. I have the power to make people feel good about themselves professionally. For example, when someone comes to me with a design – especially if they’re feeling insecure about it, especially if they’re fairly new or junior and are nervous about coming forward with it – by getting excited about their work and encouraging them, I can lead them in turn to be excited about their own work.
One of the wonderful things about this is that it doesn’t require that their design be excellent in order to work. Even if the design is deeply flawed, the conversation that results will reveal the ideas which led to it, and will encourage them to think more about it, and by the end of it they wil have something that they’re excited about.
Another one is that oddly enough, this seems to work for good but not for evil. Having a senior person – one you respect but don’t necessarily know personally – praise your work has a much more positive impact, overall, than having the same person deride it would have a negative impact. Not that I would want to do that, but it’s very pleasing to me to think that there is a benefit which can come in life from a form of power which isn’t immediately translatable into its opposite.
There wasn’t any particular recent event that inspired this post. It just occurred to me that at various times in the past, I’ve spoken with people who were unsure about their work, and when they left they clearly felt really good about it; and those have been some of my favorite moments.
Working with people is neat.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years reading resumés and interviewing people. A really surprising fraction of those resumés have been really lousy; either uninformative, or full of meaningless junk, or just plain illegible. I tend to throw those out. On the other hand, good interviews with competent people leave me in a better mood all day… so in the interest of getting more of those in the future, I’m going to post a couple of notes on good versus bad resumés. (OK, to be honest: In the interest of not having to slog through any more piles of really bad resumés. It makes me feel like my brains are going to leak out of my ears.)
I think I just found one of the upsides of being in charge of things. We had a group meeting just now. I asked one question, it got answered. Then I asked if anyone had some issues they wanted to raise with the group, and one person did. And nobody else did, so I asked “Does anyone feel like having more meeting right now? [pause] No? Good! Let’s get out of here.”
I feel like I just used my powers for good.
From work: We’ve got lots of new people in our group. As a getting-to-know-you event, next Wednesday our boss is taking us shooting, then drinking.
I love my boss.
(A very deep part of me thinks that ought to be spelled shootin’ and drinkin’)
Reading Material: Collapse by Jared Diamond – highly recommended. It’s a volume of case studies on societies which have failed, societies which almost failed but got themselves out of hot water quickly, and societies which are still in transit. Very insightful as to the different ways people can blow themselves to hell, and good at extracting some general principles from it. It’s given me a very different perspective on various issues, especially on the right way to manage resource use.
The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami – I’d never read any of his short stories before. Quite surreal at times; very good. The subjects range from the quotidian (a man seeing his sister move towards marriage, the author recounting his job mowing lawns in high school), told with Murakami’s slightly wistful tone, to the somewhat surreal. (A story – not the title story! – about a man who works in an elephant factory)
Desolation Island by Patrick O’Brian – very naval. Just started it. Notable for being able to use the following lines in an actually meaningful context:
“But if you had heard him speak of wombats – oh, just in passing, and not with any sense of ill-usage – it would have brought tears to your eyes. Oh, Jack, he is so very low.”
Can anyone point me at a reliable source of information about the activities of frienditto, and if at all possible to their terms of service? (Their site itself is down right now, answering 403, and I’m not certain if this is because they took the site down or if it’s a response to a DDoS) Please respond by e-mail.
You know it’s going to be a long day when you get in and get pulled off an emergency project to work on another emergency.
Google just launched Google Scholar, a search engine specifically for technical publications, books, and so on. It’s incredibly cool, and I didn’t work on this so I’m not personally biased. I’m mentioning this in a locked post since, even though we did publicly launch, I’m always a bit nervous about publicly discussing things.
But… try this out. It’s not just hard sciences and medicine; the social sciences are in there, too.