High School Science Club Management: The Microsoft GitHub Example

January 18, 2021

Anyone who reads Beyond Search knows that I eschew the old saws of management consulting. No Druckerisms here. I go for more evocative terminology such as HSSCMM or high school science club management methods. The high school science club was the last refuge for those who were not “into” the flow of athletes, elected school representatives, and doing just enough to pass a class in home economics. Nope, the HSSC was THE place for those who knew better than anyone else what was important, knew better how to accomplish a task, and knew better than anyone the wonderfulness of such an esteemed organization.

Thus, a HSSCMM is a rare thing.

I believe I have spotted an example ably described in “GitHub Admits Significant Error of Judgment…”  I would point out that GitHub is a Microsoft property and has been since late 2018, sufficient time for the outstanding culture of the Redmond giant to diffuse into the code repository/publishing entity.

The “error” concerns a knee jerk response to a person’s post using a forbidden word. After the employee was terminated, others in the science club management team decided that the dismissal was a misstep. Bigger or smaller than the SolarWinds’ modest toe bump? Who knows.

But, by golly, the Microsoft-GitHub science club alums convened and took a decision: Fire the personnel manager (sometimes called a people manager or a human resources leader).

The management precepts I derive from this fascinating chain of events are:

  • Be deciders. Don’t dally. Then without too much hand waving reverse course. The science club precept is that lesser entities will not recall the change of direction.
  • Seek scapegoats. Use the Teflon approach so that that which is thrown slides upon the lesser entity, in this case, the amusing people manager function.
  • Avoid linking the actions of one part of the science club to the larger science club of which the smaller is merely a decorative ornament; that is, omit the fact that GitHub is owned by Microsoft.

I may have these precepts in a poorly formed state, but I think this GitHub admits article provides a provocative case example. I wonder if Mr. Drucker would agree.

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2021

The Twitter Leadership Thing: Is This Charlie Muffin Reverse Arrogance?

January 18, 2021

I read “Jack Dorsey Just Explained Why Twitter’s Ban of Trump Is an Extraordinary Failure of Leadership.” I like the subtitle as well because it contains an interesting word. Here’s the subtitle:

You are ultimately responsible for the platform you build

And the word snagging my jaded attention?

Responsibility

Charlie’s reverse snobbery has taken another step closer to becoming one of the management precepts of the high school science club management precepts.

The write up points out:

Social media platforms aren’t neutral. That’s by design. They are literally built to provide people with the ability to create and share content, which the platform then amplifies in various ways. That amplification is designed to feed people with an almost unending stream of content that reinforces their beliefs, desires, passions, or values.  As a result, platforms have enormous influence over the types of conversation that happen. Even more importantly, Twitter and other social media companies have massive power to move their users’ collective thoughts and belief systems, for good or bad. All of the things that keep people engaged, and make them want to keep using a platform, are the very things that run the risk of promoting unhealthy conversation.

Okay, that’s mostly correct. The context of online information is left out, but after decades of thumb typing, there are these glimmers of awareness. That’s a plus.

Even academics have discovered, when they rip themselves from their mobile phones and messaging about consulting engagements, that something has been going on. A good example is “How Social Media’s Obsession with Scale Supercharged Disinformation.” At least the corn hole bag is heading in the general direction of understanding online. The tweeter game has been going on for years, so the bag filled with inedible corn is arriving late.

I absolutely trilled when I read this opinion in the Jack Dorsey Explained article. Consider:

When the platform breaks, it’s easy to place fault with users. That would miss an important point. That’s what I find most powerful about Dorsey’s statement. Instead of placing the blame elsewhere, he owns the responsibility Twitter has to do what it can to promote healthy conversations. It would be easy for Twitter to simply wash its hands of users who have abused the platform, but that isn’t what Dorsey did. Instead, he took responsibility and indicated the company needed to look internally to figure out how to never be in this situation again. Considering how unique that message is, it’s not only a powerful lesson, it’s a refreshing example of taking responsibility.

Not exactly on time or on target. The beacon of management runs two companies and is apparently demonstrating his high school management method from an island in the Pacific.

And the tweeter? Yeah, a fine service, well managed, constructive, and just the thing to express important information.

And leadership? Examples include a verifiable identity for users, a subscription service, policies, and consequences for those who skirt them? What did that Sloan guy say about trying to do two things. Right, something like two objectives is no objective? Surf’s up, Charlie.

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2021

MIT: In the News Again

January 18, 2021

I have used “high school science club management methods” to describe some of the decisions at Silicon Valley-type outfits. I have also mentioned that the esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology found itself in a bit of a management dither with regards to the infamous Jeffrey Epstein. If you are not familiar with the MIT Epstein adventure, check out “Jeffrey Epstein’s Money Bought a Coverup at the MIT Media Lab.” High school science club management in action.

I read a story dated January 14, 2021, with the fetching title “MIT Professor Charged with Hiding Work for China.” Yep, someone hired a person, failed to provide appropriate oversight, and created a side gig. I learned:

While working for MIT, Chen entered into undisclosed contracts and held appointments with Chinese entities, including acting as an “overseas expert” for the Chinese government at the request of the People’s Republic of China Consulate Office in New York, authorities said. Many of those roles were “expressly intended to further the PRC’s scientific and technological goals,” authorities said in court documents. Chen did not disclose his connections to China, as is required on federal grant applications, authorities said. He and his research group collected about $29 million in foreign dollars, including millions from a Chinese government funded university funded, while getting $19 million in grants from U.S federal agencies for his work at MIT since 2013, authorities said.

MIT is allegedly an institution with many bright people. Maybe that is part of the challenge. The high school science club mentality has ingrained itself into the unsophisticated techniques used to track donations and smart professors.

Harvard has a business school. Does it offer a discount for MIT administrative professionals?

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2021

High School Science Club Management Guidelines: The View from an Engineer Working at Home Alone

January 11, 2021

I have been collecting examples of high school management manifested in high technology companies. I am interested in online, but any firm which embodies the elitism, the “we know better” attitude, and “it’s easier to say sorry that ask for permission” are fair game.

I read “What Silicon Valley “Gets” about Software Engineers that Traditional Companies Do Not” is an outstanding essay. It captures the essence of high school science club management method or HSSCMM.

What are these principles? Let me compress them and urge you to read the source document while thinking about these points:

  • Unbridled data capture and the use of these data to manipulate users, advertisers, partners, regulators, and probably moms and dads
  • The “we know better” view of solving a problem
  • Clever is more important than historical context.

Now let’s look at the compressed points from the source essay:

  1. Software engineers have to be left alone.
  2. Software engineers have to solve problems, not function as librarians or amanuenses
  3. Software engineers want to know everything we define as relevant
  4. Software engineers want to have access to fundamental data; that is, revenue, trade secrets, legal deals, etc.
  5. We don’t want to be hamstrung by hierarchies. Anyone we identify as a useful resource must be available to the software engineers.
  6. Software engineers have to be made and kept happy; otherwise, well, maybe bad things will happen.
  7. Software engineers deserve more money than any other employee in the organization.

This is a very good list. Now let me pose a few questions for an intrepid reader to ponder:

What type of organization emerges when these principles are implemented?

What’s the likelihood of fair and equal treatment of employees who are not engineers?

What’s the likelihood of actions which “break things” perceived as inefficient?

What is the role of ethical decision making in this type of organization?

For me, we are watching the fruits of the science club’s approach to people, processes, and procedures transform society.

How is that working out? Snort, ho ho, chuckle sound effects, please.

Stephen E Arnold, January 11, 2021

Alphabet Google Management Excitement

January 4, 2021

I read that Alphabet Google employees are into unionization. Does anyone remember the Pullman strike, the unrest, and the Federal troops? Sometimes I wonder if the Giant Science Club remembers history, even its own.

The news reports are flowing rapidly into my newsreader. “Google, Alphabet Employees Seek to Form a Union” is representative. I noted this statement in the write up:

“This is historic—the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers,” Dylan Baker, a software engineer at Google, said in a statement. “We will elect representatives, we will make decisions democratically, we will pay dues, and we will hire skilled organizers to ensure all workers at Google know they can work with us if they actually want to see their company reflect their values.”

For several years I have used the term “HSSCMM” which is shorthand for high school science club management method. The idea is that those “elite” in a high school science club were better, smarter, more charismatic, and worthy than someone who worked after school stacking paper in a distributor warehouse or who perspired in athletic practice. Shudder. Plebeians, modern day occupants on the lower rungs of the Great Chain of Being, and dumber humanoids. (Yes, I was a member of the high school science club, and I bought into this stuff but now I am slightly more mature. How much? To be frank, not too much.)

image

The scala naturae: You too can climb the staircase to the country club of science.

What’s happening at the Google is that the Googlers have not internalized the fact that Alphabet Google is set up like a medieval barony or a Silicon Valley caste system. With this understanding, which took more than two decades to gestate, may be a legal revolt. The mini revolt could mature into a putsch too. The plebeians are joining together. Like union actions of yore, a large number of Googlers can become quite problematic for those at the top of the Great Chain of Being.

One thing is clear: The HSSCMM is not to administrative device some of the club’s elite thought it would be. Is this why Messrs. Brin and Page exited before the Great Awakening?

Stephen E Arnold, January 4, 2021

Why Google Misses Opportunities: A Report Delivered by the Tweeter Thing

January 1, 2021

Here’s a Twitter thread from a Xoogler who appears to combine the best of the thumb typer generation with the bittersweet recognition of Google’s defective DNA. In the thread, the Xoogler allegedly a real person named Hemant Mohapatra reveals some nuggets about the high school science club approach to business on steroids; for example:

  • Jargon. Did you know that GTM seems to mean either “global traffic management” or “Google tag manager” or Guatamala? Tip: Think global traffic management an a Google’s Achilles’ heel.
  • Mature reaction when a competitor aced out the GOOG. The approach makes use of throwing chairs. Yep, high school behavior.
  • Lots of firsts but a track record of not delivering what the customer wanted. Great at training, not so good in the actual game I concluded.
  • Professionalism. A customer told the Google whiz kids: “You folks just throw code over the fence.” (There’s the “throw” word again.)
  • Chaotic branding. (It’s good to know even Googlers do not know what the name of a product or service is. So when a poobah from Google testifies and says, “I don’t know” in response to a question, that may be a truthful statement.

Did the Xoogler take some learnings from the Google experience? Sure did. Here’s the key tweeter thing message:

My google exp reinforced a few learnings for me: (1) consumers buy products; enterprises buy platforms. (2) distribution advantages overtake product / tech advantages and (3) companies that reach PMF & then under-invest in S&M risk staying niche players or worse: get taken down.

The smartest people in the world? Sure, just losing out to Amazon and Microsoft now. What’s this tell us. Maybe bad genes, messed up DNA, a failure to leave the mentality of the high school science club behind?

Stephen E Arnold, January 1, 2021

About Those Insider Threat Security Systems

January 1, 2021

Fortinet published a report about insider threats. You can get a copy at this link. The document reveals the trends and challenges facing organizations from insider threats; that is, someone inside an organization helps a bad actor access off-limits systems and services. One statistic jumped out at me: About 70 percent of the companies in the 2019 survey “feel moderately to extremely vulnerable to insider attacks.”

What about 2020? The Hollywood trade publication Variety published “Ticketmaster Will Pay $10 Million Fine to Settle Federal Charges It Hacked Rival’s System.” Hollywood. Companies brokering tickets in the time of Covid. I learned:

Ticketmaster agreed to pay a $10 million criminal fine to avoid prosecution over charges that it illegally accessed systems of a startup rival to steal proprietary info in an attempt to “choke off” the smaller company’s business, federal authorities said.

How did Ticketmaster compromise the target? Hacking, crimeware as a service, Fancy Dan penetration testing tools?

The answer? Read it for yourself:

A former employee of ticketing firm CrowdSurge (which later merged with Songkick) who had joined Live Nation shared URLs with Ticketmaster employees that provided access to draft ticketing web pages that Songkick had built in an attempt to “steal back” one of Songkick’s top artist clients, federal prosecutors said. Ticketmaster, owned by Live Nation Entertainment, said in a statement that in 2017 it fired both Zeeshan Zaidi, former head of Ticketmaster’s artist services division, and the former CrowdSurge exec, Stephen Mead, “after their conduct came to light.”

How do AI infused insider trading systems work? It seems that hiring an employee from a company with interesting ways of dealing with former employees’ access rights is simple.

Companies create their own insider threat issues. No software smart or dumb can prevent problems caused by lazy, incompetent, or distracted organizations’ staff.

Stephen E Arnold, January 1, 2021

Backscratching: No Big Deal, Of Course, Among Science Club Members

January 1, 2021

I read “Facebook : Inside the Google-Facebook Ad Deal at the Heart of a Price-Fixing Lawsuit.” The write up is interesting because it reveals how high school science club thinking operates. I learned:

Header bidding helped website publishers circumvent Google’s exchanges for buying and selling ads across the web. The exchange auctions ad space to the highest bidder during the split second it takes a webpage to load. Header bidding allowed the publishers to directly solicit bids from multiple ad exchanges at once, leading to more favorable prices for publishers. By 2016, about 70% of major publishers used the tool, according to the states’ lawsuit. Google worried a big rival might embrace header bidding, such as the Facebook Audience Network ad service, or FAN, cracking Google’s profitable monopoly over ad tools, the states allege. The Facebook service said it paid publishers $1.5 billion in 2018, the last time it provided such details on its financial payouts.

This seems to boil down to a slick way to ensure that maximum money rolls in from certain types of advertisers.

Here’s the swizzle:

the states allege in the final suit, Google gave Facebook special treatment. Among other things, it allowed Facebook to send bids directly into Google’s widely used software, known as an ad server, the draft lawsuit says. Typically, bidders go through an exchange, which sends the winner on to Google’s server. By circumventing the middleman, Facebook could face less competition and save money. Google charged Facebook 5% to 10% on each transaction compared with the standard fee on Google’s exchange of around 20%, and it barred Facebook from discussing pricing terms publicly, according to the draft lawsuit.

What’s up? Nothing. Think of the deal as the lunch at one of those College Bowl type of competitions for science club members.

No big deal, of course.

Stephen E Arnold, December 31, 2020

Google Pins HR Hopes on New Executive

December 29, 2020

Perhaps this move will help Google recover some much-needed goodwill. The Times Union reports, “Google Hires New Personnel Head Amid Rising Worker Tensions.” The company has hired Fiona Cicconi, formerly the executive VP of HR at pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. One major challenge for Cicconi will be overseeing Google’s roughly 130,000 employees as most continue to work from home until anywhere from July until September of next year. She will also have to make their transition back to Googley offices around the world as smooth as possible. But working around the pandemic may be the least of her worries. Writer Michael Liedtke reminds us:

“She is also walking into a company that has seen its relationship with its workforce change dramatically in the past few years as more employees have become convinced that it has strayed far away from the ‘Don’t Be Evil’ motto that co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin embraced in its early years. In 2018, thousands of Google employees walked off the job and staged public protests in a backlash spurred by concerns about how the company had been handling sexual harassment claims against top executives and managers. Google has also faced employee outrage about potential bids on military contracts and, more recently, the murky circumstances surrounding the abrupt departure of a respected artificial intelligence scholar, Timnit Gebru. After a dispute over a research paper examining the societal dangers of an emerging branch of artificial intelligence, Gebru said Google fired her earlier this month. Google maintains the company accepted her offer to resign. The rift incensed hundreds of Google employees who have signed a public letter of protest.”

Google has apologized for the way it treated Gebru, but hard feelings linger. We hope Cicconi will be able to help the company maintain a better relationship with its many employees, but the head of personnel can only do so much. The rest depends on other executives behaving well. Will the culture change?

Cynthia Murrell, December 29, 2020

Failure: The Reasons Are Piling Up

December 28, 2020

Years ago I read a monograph by some big wig in Europe. As I recall, that short book boiled down failure to one statement: “Little things add up.” The book contained a number of interesting industrial examples. “How Complex Systems Fail” is a modern take on the failure of systems. The author has cataloged 18 reasons. Here are three of the reasons, and it may be worth your time to check out the other 15.

  • Complex systems contain changing mixtures of failures latent within them.
  • Change introduces new forms of failure.
  • Failure free operations require experience with failure.

I am not an expert on failure although I have failed. I have had a couple of wins, but the majority of my efforts are total, complete flops. I am not sure I have learned anything. The witness to my ineptitude is this Web log.

Nevertheless, I would like to add a couple of additional reasons for failure:

  • Those involved deny the likelihood of failure. I suppose this is just the old “know thyself” thing. Thumb typers seem to be even more unaware of risks than I, the old admitted failure.
  • Impending failure emits signals which those involved cannot hear or actively choose to ignore.

The list of reasons will be expanded by an MBA pursuing a career in consulting. That, in itself, is one of those failure signals.

Little things still add up. Knowing about these little things is often difficult. I am not away of a hearing aid to assist whiz kids in detecting the exciting moment when the digital construct goes boom.

Stephen E Arnold, December 28, 2020

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