List of Advice

List of Advice
Photo by Li Zhang / Unsplash

Here is a compilation of the advice I received and felt useful over the years, sharing them to pay it forward.

  1. “patience”
    1. This single word is the parting advice I got from a manager earlier in my career whom I really respected. I still haven’t developed a lot of patience (ppl who work/worked with me can probably testify). I’m not proud of it.
    2. Shortest path is not the fastest, see "proof" here.
  2. “what did you do about it”
    1. stop complaining, take actions or accept things the way it is.
  3. “don’t help them”
    1. give people space to fail and figure it out.
  4. "be honest"
    1. sooner or late you have to be.
  5. “life is unfair”
    1. if you feel you didn’t get what you want, did you ask for it?
  6. “It is always my fault”
    1. “Other than health and a few specific issues in your life, if things go wrong it is always your fault”. If this is shocking to you (at least it was shocking to me initially), take a minute to examine a few examples where things went wrong and you feel like it is other ppl’s fault. Then think really hard if there really is nothing, like absolutely nothing, you could have done to influence the outcome? I bet not.
    2. Thinking this way make you have agency in making changes. “Be the change you seek”.
    3. And (except for health + other specific situations), never, never be a “victim” - it is an active choice.
  7. "take actions on surprises"
    1. test result is most useful when it surprised you, that is the only time you should NOT ignore it
    2. you probe a system you get surprised, that is how you learn, and build better mental model and intuition so in the future your guess will be more correct; intuition save you time and make you efficient, good ideas are often motivated/initiated by intuitions
  8. relate to the above, if someone's behavior surprised you, take notice, it might be the time to ask for feedback
  9. intuitions
    1. “the universe is so hard to understand because there is nothing to compare it to” - some geophysics Professor in UC Irvine I think.
    2. to a large part, we learn by analogy. we compare a new thing to something we already know and understand well. understand means we have a mental model of how it works. that is called intuition.
    3. some of the strongest eng and product leaders have great intuitions, they seem to guess things right a lot without doing much detailed work
  10. be curious
    1. curiosity is the only lasting motivation
  11. a few project management things
    1. front-load risk mitigations, focus on the unknown/reducing variance
      1. dealing with the unknown/variance is what project management is all about
      2. bring risk mitigation related work items to the early phase of a project, i.e. front loading
      3. ack and be explicit about risks we are taking on for new project, known and unknown one
      4. have a plan to mitigate them (or at least work towards learning how to mitigate)
      1. aggressively shorten time to the first test (you learn a lot and can adjust your plan)
    1. explcitly manage dependencies
      1. a lot of the time, dependencies is in the subtext or as context outside of the main discussions, the main discussion are often about the work your team is doing, but for the project to be successful, on time, your team depend on other team, how do you hold them accountable?
      2. dependencies especially items on the critical path, need to be managed as if they are your own work items
    2. learn about basic project management practices, what is a “critical path”, scrum vs waterfall what’s the pitfall of each?
    1. it's important to have a centra person holding a lot of context in their head and ensure the conceptual integrity of the overall project plan. Having those context spread over 10 ppl, nothing gets done.
  12. take a break, take a walk take a vacay, try the opposite of your style (i.e. the opposite of what you would normally do)
  13. “real respects real” the first order of business is doing good work, all else are secondary
  14. “ppl closest to the work should take the strongest positions“
  15. “don’t shout from the back of the bus” - have real accountability / skin in the game
  16. don’t work to hard, don’t ignore your dreams - sometimes we are very emotionally invested in our job, you forget your own life priorities, and you forget ppl you work with are also a human being
    1. this is from one of paul graham’s essay
    2. I think there is an “operating distance” to work, too close you lose sight/perspective of bigger picture (e.g. bigger problems to solve, maybe someone who frustrates you in a project is a great human being and someone you generally want to be friends with and learn from etc), too far you probably aren’t that engaged to be productive and are doing your team a disservice.
    3. so don’t work too hard, don’t be too close (or too far) from your work
  17. when you say something (good or bad) about someone tell it to them directly, and be genuine about it
    1. good == you should tell your colleague they did well, those positive feedback loop add up
    2. bad == only by telling someone something is bad, things can be improved/changed
  18. pick up the garbage on the floor
    1. a team/organization is a group of ppl held together by a few amorphous things: common practice, processes, eng culture, trust and friendship; all of these will decay if we don’t upkeep them, and your team fall apart.
    2. At one point, I threw around a number: “eng process will decay by 7% per month if no one maintains it”. So for every process/eng culture that is working well, there are a group of ppl behind the scene actively maintaining, improving and enforcing it.
    3. A msg to EM/TLs: a lot of things we do to improve team and reduce entropy will seem unscalable. But they will work, there is no silver bullet, just lots of lead bullets. “Continuous improvement is a shared responsibility. action is an independent one.”, so do your part and inspire other engineers to do theirs.
  19. deliver results - focus on outcome, then work backwards
    1. i still think amazon is the best company on this planet... jkjk
    2. but i generally enjoyed my time there and really liked a couple of amazon’s leadership principles, and they are highly correlated: “obsession about customers” isn’t really about customers per se, it is about the company care about winning, winning over customer is the outcome, we are always obsessed about it and then we say “we work backwards”, we be crystal clear of what we want to achieve as an outcome then propose solutions to get there while always checking
  20. planning is useful; plans are not that useful
    1. planning makes everyone on the same page about the tradeoffs and constraints of the system and be prepared to make tradeoffs / adjust as new info comes in
    2. always try to shorten the time to the first test of your hypothesis so you can adjust your plan
  21. "when in doubt, optimize for the global"
    1. optimizing for local and have too much selfish interests will generate solutions/situations that can't really last
  22. have backbone, and think on your own
  23. refining craft in itself is motivating
    1. motivations wax and wane,
    2. the act of trying to be the best in class, motivates you more consistently - that’s why i always liked asking eng team to publish papers, to show that they are doing something world-class;
    3. that sense of supriority in being the best is contagious to other aspects of our work; by being the best, you would not want to disappointed the world and would want to have rigor, and uphold the highest standard
    4. once you have that kind of standard, it is so much easier for everyone to give and take feedback, mediocre standard is prone to be debated, world class standard doesn’t need to be debated, I/we/you are most likely not there, period, improve.
  24. focus on learning early in your career,
    1. “mortgage your youth to learn”; later, learning gets expensive (opportunity cost and the actualy cost of making mistakes)
  25. assume the responsibility, do the work first, “title” comes later
    1. I hate to generalize, but myself and ppl from my own culture seem to not feel empowered to do stuff until there is a title change; we even have a saying to this 名不正言不顺 (if you don’t have the title, you can’t get the message thru). There must be some truth to it.
    2. The opposite of this thinking is just assume it is all your fault and start improving things. “ask for forgiveness not permissions“
  26. influence without authority
  27. (more to come, hopefully...)