Apr 14

Coder Whisperer or How to Energize Your Dev Team


Given my  background, an odd thing happens when I am the only technical person in a business discussion; I am often turned to as the code whisperer. Non-technical founders and board members will ask me how coders will react to something or what would get them excited.

The problem: while many people are extrinsically motivated (from the outside) by things like money or responsibility to the team, most hackers are motivated by interesting problems. Smart people understand this; what befuddles them is what makes a problem interesting to a hacker.

Things that might seem trivial to an end user, a game of boggle or sorting a list of names for instance, can house some very interesting puzzles for a programmer. To make matters more difficult, not all coders find the same types of problems interesting. A seemingly mundane problem may give a hacker the chance to explore a path they are curious about. haystacks Think of Monet’s Haystacks, it is highly unlikely that the painter had an innate interest in the making of hay, instead he used the haystacks as a way to explore the nature of light and how colors changed throughout the day. Programmers can do the same sort of exploration within a problem. For instance, they may use a project to learn a new programming language or explore a new development framework. Some common interest areas:

  • Algorithms
  • Scaling to large numbers of users
  • Using new languages or frameworks
  • Data Science
  • Optimizing an application to run fast

This isn’t to say that you can cleverly wrap up a problem and fool someone into working on it, instead this gives you the best chance of finding problems that your programmers will want to work on. Like most people, hackers want to work with great people. So the best way to get a great team of hackers is to start with one alpha hacker. But knowing how programmers think will give you a huge leg up in the hiring department and let you find projects that will excite the best and brightest.

Apr 14

My Struggle with My Inbox

I have a confession; I’m not even close to inbox zero.

Back when I was a manager at Adobe, I could regularly get to Inbox Zero.  Now I’m lucky to get there once a year.

I think the issue is that in a “normal” business context, emails that don’t get answered “expire”.  By expire I mean they take care of themselves by becoming obsolete or the sender finds the answer through another route.

But in venture, many of my inbounds have a shelf life of months.  People will be fundraising for a while and so they still want to talk.  Add to that the asymmetry of an email from a founder.

While the founder has spent tons of time on the deck, they will send it to several investors. Since I’ve raised money in the past, I am very sensitive to Founders time and effort, so I try to give plans a fair reading.  But that takes a lot more time than their email cover letter.

Once I’ve read the plan, I try to provide feedback.  All in all, a plan that came over the transom can take 30 minutes to an hour of my time. You might argue that I should read it faster, but I’m trying to provide considerate feedback.

I’ll leave it up to the reader to estimate the number of plans we get at Gotham.

What does this mean?

It means I have the best of intentions when it comes to email, but also that I regularly fall behind.

Just know that when I don’t reply I’m really not trying to be rude, I’m likely just swamped.