Farewell Vend

Thanks so much team. Here’s some shit I wrote down to leave you all with:

Do the hard work

Diversity and inclusion isn’t easy, but that’s not an excuse to be lazy. One major reason for the historical lack of diversity in our industry is because it’s just more comfortable to work with people who look, think, and act like ourselves. Diverse conversations are a little more awkward; a little more difficult. You feel uncomfortable, you feel like you might say the wrong thing, you worry that people don’t “get” you like your friends do.

That. Is. The. Fucking. Point.

Someone described diversity and inclusion as not making everyone totally comfortable, but instead spreading the discomfort a little more evenly. Worried that people won’t quite get where you’re coming from and are asking difficult questions? Welcome to the day to day life of an under-represented minority. Get used to it.

Diverse teams and inclusive conversations result in better outcomes because more perspectives are included. Lean in the awkwardness. Do the hard work to include others. You’ll all be better off because of it.

Be yourself

More than once I’ve been worried about being too open, too honest, sharing too much information about my thought process or political views or personal life. While I acknowledge that my seniority in the company and my culture give me a lot of leeway, I still think that it’s infinitely better to bring your whole self to work than try to hide away the bits that you don’t think people will approve of. 

Share pictures from our weekends sometimes, talk about what’s going on in our lives. Far from distracting, it adds colour and humanity to our work. We’re more than our work lives.

Also: Vote Green.

Thank you

I owe my success at Vend to everyone else. Not the least being my wife Ally and my fam who worked behind the scenes to support me – I literally couldn’t have done it without them.

The Engineering crew, the Product and Design teams, and all of Vend are just fucking brilliant, and I’ll dearly miss you all.

Thank you all so much for what has been, and probably always will be, the best 7 years of my career.


6 years in the same job is pretty unusual these days, especially in the tech industry (although perhaps not as weird as you’d think). This week marks six years for me at Vend, so I thought I’d share some of my tips on how to stick around as a leader at a great tech job.

Worry constantly. Always be concerned about whether you’re missing something, whether you have blinkers on, whether the way you are working is the most efficient or productive. Worry, or more accurately concern, is where growth and change come from. If you’re not concerned that your team is moving too slowly, then it probably is. If you’re not worried that your team structure is correct, then you’re probably growing too slowly.

Avoid rockstars, and don’t kick-ass. Productive longevity requires a caring and nurturing mindset as a leader. Everyone wants to perform at their best, and your job is to create the environment that allows this to happen, rather than continuously intervening when it doesn’t. What works for a brand new grad out of university won’t work for a caregiver with a bad case of gastro running through the family. High productivity (especially in software engineering) is a long game of short sprints, and we know the best sprinters do cross-training, long-runs, and recovery days

Don’t seek promotion. Do great work, prove yourself capable, find ways to do more of the things you enjoy in your job and fewer of the tasks you hate. Seek responsibility and exude trustworthiness. Caveat: meritocracy works best for cis white dudes, so as a leader you need to be seeking promotions for everyone in your team. Ideally they’ll all end up in bigger, better jobs than you.

Don’t be nice. Be genuine, be caring, be vulnerable, be yourself. Don’t create some fake work persona that seeks to be loved by everyone and infallibly nice. That way lies dysfunctional workplace politics and personal emotional turmoil. Sometimes “No” is just better: there is clarity and closure in a “No” that’s absent in a dragged-out “Maybe” (which is probably just a no in disguise, if we’re honest). Additionally, you can be emotionally engaged, helpful, and deeply caring as a leader without always being nice.

New ideas suck. Avoid modern trends, or at least evaluate them carefully. That shiny new technology will not save your project – in fact it will be your new annoying legacy problem in 2 years, max. Be particularly skeptical of trendy team organisation or corporate structure memes: these often stink of survivorship bias, and definitely need to be viewed through the lens of corporate cultural relativism. Incrementalism is always the cool new trend you’re looking for.

Ignore work. Cultivate yourself both physically and mentally. Your body and brain are just machines that need care and maintenance to work well. If you eat less meat, exercise more, and find ways to create space in your mind, your machine will run better. You will get better at your job by finding time to ignore your job. I know you don’t want to hear that, especially if (like me) you’ve not been great at doing these things. I guess you could dance while no one is watching, but taking care of yourself is easier and more productive.

There you go: 6 tips from 6 years at Vend. It really has been a most excellent few years, working with some of the most amazing people I’ve met in my career so far. I’d be happy to work with them for another six.

Don’t be lazy

As I listened back to a recent podcast, just to make sure I hadn’t said anything horrendous while speaking off-the-cuff, I noticed something interesting: three of the four people I referenced in the podcast were women. When thinking of people who I admire or look to for advice, when reaching for readily available examples to illustrate whatever point I was talking about, I came up with women most of the time.

Thing is, this would absolutely not have been the case maybe three years ago. Certainly not over five years ago. So what’s different and what have I changed over the past few years? Well chaps, here’s the magical secret technique that will help you find diverse mentors and authority figures in just one easy step: put some fucking effort in. Don’t be lazy.

Our first Codemania in 2012 had one woman speaker out of 12 total. 2014 had three. Last year we had 7/12 women. We’ll need to run that ratio (or better) for several years to make up for our shitty approach in the early years. We also need to do a much better job of representing Maori and Pacific technologists. I need to put in more effort there for sure.

It’s trivially easy to run a conference full of dudes: you just have ask for people to speak and white dudes will come tumbling out of the woodwork, chests puffed out, legs manspread, ready to bloviate about anything you could require. The same goes for seeking advice & mentorship, or looking for technical leadership: men will be readily available.

It takes effort to look past that wall of dudes and make sure that you’re at least getting representation from the 20-25% of women in the tech workforce. It takes effort to go above and beyond that to ensure that conferences and awards ceremonies are places that women and minorities can see themselves as speakers, leaders, and luminaries. Because that’s one of the first steps: visibility. We forget as white dudes that we can see plenty of ourselves in those positions, so it’s easy to imagine ourselves there. Imagine if you never saw someone who looked like you speaking at a conference.

So yeah, it’s not hard, it just takes some effort, so when I see manels and dudeferences, I feel utterly disappointed in the laziness of the organisers. Stop letting yourself down. Stop letting the dudewave roll over you. Put your head above the dross and take a look around.

  • Follow women and minority technologists on Twitter. Shit I’m not even going to share the lists because you can just Google and find hundreds.
  • Follow the people *they* follow.
  • Run open CFPs and at the very least use a Rooney Rule to make sure your selection is diverse, even if you can’t get over your own biased “meritocracy” hangup.

But most simply: don’t settle. Don’t say “well we tried emailing three women and they were all busy on the day so ¯_(?)_/¯”. Go back and put some more effort in. You wouldn’t finish half of an if-statement and just throw your hands up because “the else clause is too hard”.

I’m comfortable saying all this because I was that guy. I’ve been that lazy dude. Don’t be like me. Please.

Hard Problems

Apparently, we need to allow controversial opinions in order to bring about innovation:

This is uncomfortable, but it’s possible we have to allow people to say disparaging things about gay people if we want them to be able to say novel things about physics.

I presume this is a deliberately inflammatory opinion in order to make more impact. Elsewhere, the article attempts to be more nuanced, including some factual observation:

More recently, I’ve seen credible people working on ideas like pharmaceuticals for intelligence augmentation, genetic engineering, and radical life extension leave San Francisco because they found the reaction to their work to be so toxic. “If people live a lot longer it will be disastrous for the environment, so people working on this must be really unethical” was a memorable quote I heard this year.

Conflating intelligence augmentation with homophobia as “controversial ideas” is utterly irresponsible. It’s identical to Trump saying “there were bad people on both sides”. Racist and homophobic members of the tech industry will read this as validation of their “controversial” views.

Ideas like intelligence augmentation aren’t controversial. What is controversial is the problems they create: these are hard problems to solve, and we all know tech startups avoid hard problems like the plague. Uber would rather break laws and pay less than minimum wage than genuinely solve the problems we need to solve to implement the gig economy.

The travelling salesman or even P=NP are easy problems by comparison. We can reason about them in isolation and even attempt to code up solutions. But if you want to solve radical life extension, you need to also solve sustainability and inclusivity. The reason people baulk when the tech industry brings up these “radical ideas” is because they know the hard problems are being glossed over.

In his clarification article, Sam points out:

It was literally heretical, not so long ago, to say that it was ok to be gay—the Bible has a different viewpoint. In a society where we don’t allow challenges to the orthodoxy, gay rights would not have happened.

Implying that Uber is akin to Galileo, boldly putting out controversial ideas against the weight of public opinion is a very long bow to draw. Uber are the church, charging forward with blind faith that they are right, leaving problems behind for their lessers (public servants, lower socio-economic groups, government legislators) to clean up.

What if it’s not intelligence augmentation that is heretical? ? What if the heretics are the ones challenging you to think about the impact on race and socio-economics before you launch into your intelligence augmentation startup?

What I meant is simply that we need, as a society, to tolerate controversial ideas. The biggest new scientific ideas, and the most important changes to society, both start as extremely unpopular ideas.

I couldn’t agree more. We should tolerate controversial ideas, for example the idea that tech startups shouldn’t get a free pass to “innovate” at the cost of others.

Reasons to use social media

I’ve been away from social media* for a month now, and I’m wondering whether to go back. I’m not convinced I should. I just don’t know whether I find it valuable enough to compensate for the downsides that it causes for me.

Here’s what I find valuable about social media:

  1. It helps me keep connected with friends.
    I actually met some of my closest friends (hi @dylanreeve, @parsley72) thanks to social media, and keep up with others using it. It’s not that I can’t catch up with people without using Twitter, but I do miss that ambient intimacy. I’m not convinced it’s as good as real intimacy though.
  2. It’s (currently) the best way to advertise your company and connect with your industry.
    With Codemania looming, I’m wondering if the lack of last-minute ticket sales is partially because I’m not spamming away on Facebook and Twitter. Possibly? Probably? Also we have some open roles at Vend that I’d normally tweet about to spread the word.

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