October 3, 2012

The four-word employee handbook

Everything I want from myself and others at work (and in life!) can be summed up in four words:

Honor God. Love others.

When we started Logos Bible Software twenty years ago, I used a software program to generate a boilerplate “attorney approved” employee handbook. When employees asked “What’s our policy on…?” I might refer them to the handbook, since I couldn’t always remember what it said. But more often I would just approve their special request, or tell them to use their best judgment.

Then I took the Zappos tour, and read the Netflix culture slides. And I realized that we already employed awesome, smart people who trust each other. What did we need a butt-covering book of legalese for?

So that’s it: Honor God. Love others. Our new employee handbook in a nutshell, and the primary measure we weigh decisions against.

To complement the nutshell-handbook we developed a set of slides that expound on the theme, meet the letter of the law, introduce our corporate values, and explain the culture. We even decided on two actual rules: no smoking, and no open flames.

It can be scary to work with so few guidelines. Managers wonder if employees will abuse the un-tracked vacation time; employees wonder if they’re embracing too much or too little freedom. It requires trust and openness and conversation. But after 18 months it is working well.

September 18, 2012

Getting ahead

Thoughts on getting ahead, specifically in your career and earnings.

This is the blunt, direct advice I give employees one-on-one, and what I’m sharing with my kids as they head off to college.


August 6, 2012

Venture Deals explains it all

Venture Deals, by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson, is a highly useful, and highly readable, overview of how venture capital works, with lots of very-specific examples and descriptions.

This isn’t a high-concept book full of abstractions; it’s a detailed explanation of the people and vocabulary you’ll encounter in the VC world. And it’s more than definitions: it also explains the reasoning and motivations.

I have been building a startup for twenty years, have been involved in several acquisitions and funding events, and I learned a lot from this book. It got me thinking about my business in a new way. If you’re at all interested in raising money for a business, or even if you just want to understand how this important part of our economy works, I highly recommend it.

Nota bene: This isn’t any kind of coded message about Logos. It’s just a book I read and really liked.

October 19, 2011

If you’re learning a lot in class, you’re doing it wrong.

I recently spoke with a student majoring in Computer Science who was interested in working for my company. When I asked if he understood a particular concept, he told me he hadn’t taken that class yet.

I understand learning about English composition in a class on that subject, or even picking up some physics in Physics 101. But learning about the subject you’re majoring in, and the field in which you hope to make a living, in a classroom? There is a better way.

You only get a few hours a week in the classroom. Don’t waste them trying to understand something new. You have the textbook, the syllabus, the library, and the Internet. Read ahead! Use the precious little time with a professor to have something explained a second way and to ask the questions that remain after you’ve already absorbed the basics. Understand the big picture, be familiar with the vocabulary, and impress your instructor with your advanced comprehension and thirst for knowledge.

Better yet, skip the first batch of classes in your major. The first few classes are designed for people who know nothing about the subject. They’re easy to test out of, and a waste of your tuition dollars to take. Every slot you free up at the front end is a more advanced class or elective you can take on the back end, increasing the value of your tuition and distinguishing your otherwise predictable transcript.

“Everything in software changes every three years,” the student told me in the course of our conversation.

True. So why would I hire someone whose primary education was in a classroom? Three years out of school they’ll be out of date. I want to hire people who have demonstrated that they can learn and grow on their own, who used their classroom time not to be introduced to new subjects, but to consult an expert and to supplement their self-education.

October 26, 2010

The Maxwell Hotel (Seattle, WA) is perfect

Full disclosure: The owner is a friend of mine. But that’s why I can really say it’s perfect: I got to tell Michelle what I wanted in a hotel before she built it. You made it this way just for me, right, Michelle?

The Maxwell Hotel is exactly what I want in a hotel.

First, it’s new: spotlessly clean (solid surface floors — no grimy carpet!), everything works, modern fixtures, appliances, flat-screen TV, DVD player, iPod-dock alarm clock, etc. (I hate old hotels.)

Second, no nickel-and-diming: parking and Internet are included; there aren’t lots of extra fees. You can’t beat the value.

Third, it’s got a Keurig coffee machine, a microwave, and a fridge. And the fridge isn’t full of expensive mini-bar junk, it’s just got cold half-and-half for coffee. (There are snacks and beverages at the front desk, and a 24 hour full grocery store just two blocks up the street.)

I’m a frequent traveler, and I generally stay in chains. They’re boring, but safe and predictable. The Maxwell Hotel is a boutique hotel, and the interior decorating is more whimsical than you’ll find in a chain. But feature-wise it’s almost exactly like the best, newest Hilton Garden Inn. Only much cooler.

(Okay, this isn’t the perfect Seattle hotel. To be perfect, it should be in the center of downtown with spectacular water views from the 30th floor. But then it would be $600/night. The Maxwell is on the north side of Seattle Center. But the price and the easy free parking makes up for that, and you’re about 2-3 minutes from anywhere downtown by car/taxi. Or better yet, walk into Seattle Center and take the monorail right downtown for $2. This is probably the only hotel in the city for which the monorail is a useful bit of public transportation instead of just an amusement ride!)

October 15, 2010

Where the semantic web breaks down

We’re using semantic web technologies for a lot of cool stuff in Logos Bible Software, and I’m coming to appreciate the tools and structures, especially when you control  both the data creation and consumption. It’s also cool to see more semantic data showing up in web pages, microformats, etc.

Hearing Clay Shirky speak this week sent me back to his site to re-read articles, including The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview in which he points out “In the real world, we are usually operating with partial, inconclusive or context-sensitive information.”

That point was made especially clear for me when I noticed in my teen daughter’s Facebook stream that she recently acquired a sister: a girl I’d previously known as her second-cousin. Also, according to Facebook, my young daughter is married, to her best friend.

OpenGraph and the semantic web are opening up a whole new world of semantic data. But without context – knowing my daughter, for example – it can be just as messy and inaccurate as the raw data that preceded it.

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