A new role for me: Yahoo! Developer Network

Now that Bradley has mentioned it and Jeremy alluded to it, it’s time for me to write it here. As of this week, I’m leading the Yahoo! Developer Network and Jeremy has joined the team that sprung from the team he helped build originally.

I’m too busy diving in to the new role to write much about it. I would say the usual “I’m looking forward to it,” but I’m already immersed. A big thanks to both Toni Schneider and Jeffrey McManus for everything they both did to make YDN what it is today. I’m really excited about the team, too. I had a nice sushi outing with everyone (Dan, Eleanor, Jason, Vernon, Kent, and Jeremy) just today at Seto — highly recommended (both lunch with the YDN team and the restaurant).

Microformats are huge at Yahoo!

From the Yahoo! Local blog (which is itself new), a massive announcement about Yahoo! support of microformats:

Starting today, we’re happy to announce Yahoo! Local fully supports the hCalendar, hCard, and hReview microformats on almost all business listings, search results, events, and reviews.

In sheer volume, I’m pretty sure this means Yahoo! Local has the largest implementation of microformats on the web. In a broader sense, I think Yahoo! continues to lead the way in opening things up in big-bang ways. Good job, Vince, Andy, Ronnie, and Yahoo! Local team.

The Stanley Cup in North Carolina: just plain weird

When I called my dad in North Carolina (where I spent the first 23 years of my life) on Sunday for Fathers Day and he mentioned NHL hockey, it just didn’t seem right. When I was growing up there, I’m pretty sure the World Cup garnered more excitement than hockey. Hockey and the South just don’t mix well.

One of the more difficult management problems I’ve ever faced was hockey-related. When I managed a team of developers at CNN / Sports Illustrated (now just SI.com) in Atlanta and hockey season rolled around, we had to crunch all the stats into our various databases and generate useful web pages for hockey fans. I remember how difficult it was to get anyone on my team of Southerners to do the work. We had meetings where we hashed over NHL rules that seemed like they had been created on another planet. I still don’t know what “icing” is. The work got done (the team was great), but I always dreaded hockey season.

Fast forward to now, and the Stanley Cup is sitting with the Carolina Hurricanes somewhere in Raleigh, North Carolina. I’m stunned. The world has clearly gone mad.

Yahoo! Hack Day: wow again

Our Hack Day on Friday once again left me in awe of the hackers at Yahoo! In sheer quantity of hacks, we exceeded all prior Hack Days, and the quality seemed to be higher than ever. Our panel of judges included some of the top executives in the company and even one of our co-founders (David Filo). Mike Arrington at TechCrunch was there and has a great summary. I’m really pleased that we were able to arrange for Mike to join us — it was gratifying to get his outside perspective on what we’ve been doing.

Yahoo! Hack DayI had a few final thoughts based on various comments I’ve been reading around the web, hearing from co-workers, etc. Before I get to those, I want to make very clear that this is a “we” thing. I’ve been organizing the Hack Days since our first one in December, but it’s always been a broad effort across all levels at Yahoo! I’ve had different people jump in to help make it happen each time, whether it’s a product manager going to pick up trophies or a PR person coordinating food delivery. For each Hack Day, I’ve had enthusiastic support from the top levels of the company. Of course, the hacker turnout and effort is what really makes it all successful, so the biggest kudos go to them.

First, at least based on what I’m aware of, I think what we’ve been doing structurally with Hack Day is unique among large companies like Yahoo! We did our first large-scale Hack Day back in December with hundreds of participants and it’s only grown from there. While we were certainly inspired by startups (which I pointed out in my prior post), pulling off a Hack Day for hundreds and thousands of engineers across several offices and sometimes even different countries in a 10-year-old company is a different sort of organizational hack. Even Microsoft with its 60,000+ employees put together a Hack Day with only 75 participants and in a very specific business unit, which suggests to me that size doesn’t make it any easier. The fact that we have been able to pull off such a large-scale event across Yahoo! is a not only an indication of the enormous energy of our developers, it’s a testament to the strength, vision, and support of our upper management (one of my favorite photos from the day is the look of pure joy on our CFO Sue Decker’s face in this photo I took from the podium). Of course, I’d like to know if I’m missing some examples out there of large-scale Hack Days or similar events — anyone know of any? (Just to get it out of the way, I think this is a different approach than the Google 20% initiative, a program that has its its own imperfections.)

Yahoo! Hack DaySecond, I think the overall looseness of our Hack Day is unique and very intentional, but ultimately difficult to pull off the larger a company is, which makes what we’re doing at Yahoo! all the more remarkable. Companies of all types are naturally very goal-oriented and there is always the temptation to create constraints on activity to nudge that activity in a very specific direction to meet some sort of short-term need or goal. There’s no denying that Hack Day has immediate positive business implications for Yahoo! but the constraints are few and are only put in place to prevent completely unproductive anarchy. If you think this is easy, it’s not. There’s always the temptation to form committees, add more rules, and create a more heavyweight process. We’ve avoided that so far (again, a testament to both our engineers and upper management).

Another positive outcome of Hack Day is the spontaneous emergence of people from within the organization. There are lots of stars at Yahoo! but the company is large enough that you might not meet some of them. Also, some hackers are shy and hesitant to show some of the personal stuff they’ve been working on, but the shyness seems to melt away on Hack Day. Since hierarchy is completely meaningless on Hack Day, it’s all about how cool your hack is, not the org chart. On this Hack Day, I met Dave Glass, a self-described “6 foot, bald, tattooed biker that just happens to be an extreme geek.” Dave won an award for his hack and blogged about it. Dave has only been at Yahoo! for a few weeks and just moved to California. How many people get to stand up in front of hundreds of co-workers in their first few weeks — not just other hackers but top company execs — and show their stuff? That’s magic. (We also had a few interns show their hacks as well — see this comment from intern Richard Crowley on TechCrunch).

The large-scale Hack Day model isn’t perfect by any means and needs to be tweaked in a million different ways, but it’s a functioning organism of its own at this point. Out of all the things that I’ve been involved in during my career, I have to say that I’m proudest of my contributions in getting Hack Day off the ground.

Commentary around the web: Jeremy Zawodny, Dav Glass, Michelle Hedstrom, Gordon Luk

P.S. a note on the awards

Here’s the complete list (and as Mike Arrington noted on TechCrunch, the awards were not the primary incentive):

Best Overall: Swati Raju, Dan Rose, and Peter Anick

Best User Experience: Deepa Joshi, Paul Yiu, Cecil Balzen

Most Money: Aaron Stein, Joshua Rangsikitpho, Sumit Chachra, Steve Spencer, Cody Simms, Dave Zito, Yu Shan Chuang

The “Why Did You Wait for Hack Day?” award: (a tie)
#1: Shankar Venkataraman, Subodh Shakya
#2: Gordon Luk, Mirek Grymuza, Vince Maniago

Best Use of APIs: Dave Glass

Most Unexpected: Rahul Nair

People’s Choice: Mega Hack Team (Leonard Lin, Gordon Luk, Edward Ho, Kevin Cheng, Daniel Raffel, Cameron Marlow, Jonathan Trevor)

Yahoo! Hack Day tomorrow, and some of my inspirations

Tomorrow at noon, we kick off our fourth Hack Day at Yahoo! It runs from noon tomorrow until noon Friday, followed by demos Friday afternoon and a party. As I write this, I am fielding questions from Yahoo hackers who are planning to stay here all night tomorrow night putting together their hacks. Awesome.

We’ve now had two (1, 2) in Santa Clara and one in Bangalore. Hack Day #5 happens in Bangalore on July 4th, followed closely by the pan-European EU Hack Day in London on July 6th. This thing has serious legs around Yahoo! Terry Semel and Jerry Yang presented Hack Day awards personally in Bangalore (see the Flickr photo — there are close to 200 photos tagged hackday on Flickr now — expect more this week). During the Friday demos, C-level execs will be mixing it up with the hackers (we’ve had wonderfully enthusiastic support from the top!)

Hack Day at Yahoo! has minimal rules:Tools for Yahoo! Hack Day

  • Take something from idea to prototype in a day
  • Demo it at the end of the day, in two minutes or less (usually less)

Sounds simple (and it is), but like all simple things, a lot of thought went into making it so simple. Most of my time the past few months has been spent keeping Hack Day relatively “pure.” What do I mean by “pure”? Well, it would be very easy to make such an event a “rah rah” corporate exercise with all sorts of interests trying to mold the event to some very specific business end, but that doesn’t happen. Hack Day is by hackers, for hackers. The ideas are theirs, the teams are self-determined, and no technologies are proscribed. I don’t even know what people are building until they get up to do their demos at the end of the day.

Looking towards Hack Day tomorrow, I wanted to point out a few of the inspirations that inspired those simple organizing principles (to paraphrase the famous Newton quote, we’re definitely standing on the shoulders of giants):

These are just inspirations, of course. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve learned getting this off the ground initially and putting it together for a multi-national public company with several thousand employees. It would fill a book that I don’t have the time to write right now.

In the end, Yahoo! hackers really make the whole thing happen, though — I just help create the context. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens tomorrow. I have no idea what will emerge, just that it will be cool and I’ll have a big smile on my face.

17-car sorta-pileup on the 101 (and I was in it!)

This is a momentous day. Just over a week away from my 34th birthday, and I got in my first-ever car wreck while behind the wheel (I’ve been in a couple with others driving) — and it was a doozy! A seventeen car chain-reaction.

CHiPsTraffic had stopped really quickly and I had just finished congratulating myself for not smashing into the Toyota minivan in front of me when the Honda behind me gave me a memorable physics lesson. I initially avoided impact and came to a stop, but the woman driving the Honda behind me took the brunt from a giant garbage truck behind her and ever-so-gently (in relative terms) slammed me into the minivan.

Things I learned:

  • Camera phones (or digital cameras in general) are really useful at an accident scene. Instead of writing everything down, take some photos of the damage, a copy of the relevant people’s insurance cards, etc.
  • In 17-car accidents, the police break things up into smaller sub-accidents, and the iterate over the smaller accidents.
  • One way to meet a cross-section of Silicon Valley is to get into a large accident. I met a garbage truck driver, a woman who works at Cisco, a couple of Highway Patrol guys, and a woman of indeterminate occupation. I don’t recommend this as a way to meet people, but you’re gonna be on the side of the road for a while, so why not exchange a few pleasantries?
  • In accident reports, one of the first things the cops ask you is, “were you using a cell phone at the time of the accident?” (I wasn’t).
  • People are surprisingly calm in 17-car accidents (and this one didn’t seem so bad). There’s something about seeing 16 other cars on the side of the road in various states of dented-ness that makes one think, “I’m lucky that this wasn’t worse.” When 17 cars are involved, you’re bound to see at least a few cars that got it worse than you.
  • I grew up in North Carolina as a big fan of the old CHiPs TV show (we used to ride our bikes and pretend we were CHiPs). For that reason, I felt like I was dealing with a celebrity when the motorcycle cop from the California Highway Patrol took a report from me. They are good guys. . . just like Ponch and John were.

Anyway, I’m ok and my car seems to need some minor bodywork. Whew.

Postscript: I found possibly the most naive FAQ question EVER in a CHiPs FAQ:

Was the popularity of “CHiPs” ever exploited by marketing?

Uh, “yes.”

Peopleware

One of the Great Books in the management-of-software-development canon is Peopleware. I’ve quoted lighty from it before, and wrote a column about the book for InfoWorld a couple of years ago. It still sits within easy reach in my home office. Kevin Kelly features Peopleware in his Cool Tools blog, and does a nice job of pulling out some of the most relevant passages from the book, a book that’s full of all sorts of nuggets you can use in your management life. Some of my favorite parts of the book describe the concept of the “jelled team,” the team dynamic that we all aspire to attain. Here’s an excerpt about that:

A few very characteristic signs indicate that a jelled team has occurred. The most important of these is low turnover during projects and in the middle of well-defined tasks. The team members aren’t going anywhere till the work is done. Things that matter enormously prior to jell (money, status, position for advancement) matter less or not at all after jell. People certainly aren’t about to leave their team for a rinky-dink consideration like a little more salary.

There is a sense of eliteness on a good team. Team members feel they’re part of something unique. They feel they’re better than the run of the mill. They have a cocky, SWAT Team attitude that may be faintly annoying to people who aren’t part of the group.

. . . .

Once a team begins to jell, the probability of success goes up dramatically. The team can become almost unstoppable, a juggernaut for success. Managing these juggernaut teams is a real pleasure. You spend most of your time just getting obstacles out of their way, clearing the path so that bystanders don’t get trampled underfoot: “Here they come, folks. Stand back and hold onto your hats.” They don’t need to be managed in the traditional sense, and they certainly don’t need to be motivated. They’ve got momentum.

There’s also a lot of mundane material about the design of your office space and other things you might not think about, all supported by the authors’ research. Check it out.

Link: Cool Tools on Peopleware