A Gun For Hire

I’m a contractor. I am the director of my own small company and my services are for hire. Since I usually advise in a lead or senior capacity, I get to experience hiring from both directions.

I have to say I find the process lacking. My assumptions are these:

– A contractor is a senior professional.

– As such, a contractor should have testimonials and recommendations available.

– A quick meeting should suffice to evaluate the fitness of the contractor to the requirements.

– If, despite all evidence, the arrangement does not work out, termination is very quick and straightforward.

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Yet, so many companies struggle with contractors. They hire poorly performing contractors (sometimes a whole team of them), keep them for way too long and then arrive at the conclusion that contractors are a bad fit for them.

I have to agree. They are a bad fit for them. But not because contractors are a bad solution. It’s their hiring/terminating process that is flawed.

Get that process right, and you’ll have a well-oiled machine run by contractors. Until you establish a stable permanent team, of course.

Don’t hate the players. Fix the game.

Less Is More

For a long time, I’ve been running my own businesses. A few years back, I was running a small software house where I had to also pitch creative new ideas.

Coming up with an idea from scratch can be challenging. Whether it’s comimg up with an idea for a game, a subject for an essay or a post, starting from a clean canvas is just HARD. Even choosing what food to order can be daunting.

So I developed ways to help myself. It all boils down to narrowing my options from the infinite to a finite number of choices. There are a couple of ways I apply that limitation.

The first is by starting simple. I write a draft. Any draft. If I can, I sometimes ask someone else to write that draft for me. It’s a diamond in the rough. It’s a seed. I then start chiselling at it. Slowly but surely, a polished product emerges.

The other is to introduce arbitrary constraints. I choose a rule at random and apply it to the task at hand. For example, I’d decide the game has to be a racing game. Or the article has to have animal analogies. The food I order has to be Italian.

Constraints help me focus. No longer do I have to worry about the What. I can focus on the How. For me, that’s easier to cope with.

I guess there’s a reason they say scarcity drives innovation. On the other hand, they also say the more the merrier. So what do they know!

A Beautiful Piece of Rubbish

Every time I moved home (of which I lost count), I spent days looking at properties. Figuring out if one fit my requirements was fairly straightforward. Location? Check. Size? Check. The real challenge was to imagine how each property would look once reorganised to suit my style and needs.

When I was developing apps or games, my clients had to face a similar challenge. They had to buy into the idea without seeing the final product.

Every time anyone starts a new venture, they have to prioritise. Do you go for functionality, or do you go for the eye-candy, the bells and whistles.

My message to entrepreneurs is this: polish your product. A website that looks like something out of the 90s (at best) isn’t appealing. It’s challenging to imagine how a final product would look.

To the investors I say: try to look beyond the cosmetics. Getting the cosmetics right is fairly straightforward. Is the engine solid? Is it innovative? Does it WORK? The prettiest product is useless if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to.

There’s a gap between entrepreneurs and investors. One seeks functionality, the other focuses on market appeal. But really, these are two sides of the same coin. A beautiful cardboard car won’t win races. On the other hand, it would be a shame to miss out on the perfect home just because it needed a lick of paint.

So don’t judge the app by its cover, but don’t have an ugly cover, either. And let’s keep innovating together!

A Human Error

I make mistakes. We all do. Mistakes are a part of our life we can’t get rid of.

What I learned through life is how common mistakes are. You’ll find mistakes in virtually every book, every article, every city infrastructure, every work of art. Imperfection is all but a given.

However, it feels like we grossly underestimate the likelihood of a human error. In what is probably our greatest mistake, we don’t account for human error. Not enough, anyway.

My experience taught me to account for human error in everything I do. Always have a fallback, always have a plan B. Assume someone will make an unimaginable mistake and mess up your plans. Because they will.

Human error is not going away. It is more predictable than human success. You can set your watch to it. Try not to set it wrong.

Multi-Tasking is For The Weak

Don’t get me wrong. I love to multi-task. The pressure of handling multiple tasks at the same time, the sense of accomplishment when I’m done…

Here’s the thing, though. I try to multi-task only when I can afford to waste time or make mistakes. If time is of the essence, I focus on a single task at a time.

The reason for this is simple. Virtually any task requires a certain amount of concentration. My head needs to be in the right space. All the bits and pieces of the puzzle need to be in the front of my brain. More specifically, I need to calibrate my prefrontal cortex for the task.

When I switch to a different task, I have to do this calibration all over again. This is the overhead of context switching. What’s worse, my attention is divided between all my unfinished tasks. This leads not only to a slow-down, but to a higher error rate.

In Hebrew we have an expression: “para para”, which translates to “one cow at a time”. If you want something done right, focus on that one thing. One cow at a time.

Trust No One

Everything I learn nowadays I read online. OK, maybe not everything. I still read books. But most of my new knowledge originates from the Internet.

The greatest challenge for me is dodging the fake news. For the most part, I was ignorant to this phenomenon. Then came a president who peddled in fake news like no one before, while blaming every other agency of doing so.

I realised this was a new world, one of information warfare. To fight in a war, you need proper weapons. So I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to weed out the fake news from my life.

I learned of a few ways by which to identify reliable information:

1. Identify the source. Who is the writer? What is their background? What is their agenda? Where is the article hosted?

2. Cross-reference. Is the same information available in other reliable sources? Is it supported? Is it contradicted?

3. Use unbiased fact-checking websites such as snopes.com and FactCheck.org. Background-check those sites, too.

4. Trust no one. The Internet is home to countless charlatans and crooks. The best you can do is suspect and validate.

It’s a crazy world out there, and it’s full of lies. But if you know that, you can be prepared. Don’t let anyone deceive you. And may the truth prevail.

Don’t I Know You From Somewhere?

I have hundreds of contacts on my phone. Over the years I’ve added friends, family, colleagues, clients, recruiters, service providers and many, many other contacts to my phone.

The list has become so long it’s hard to manage. Finding a contact has become like going through the Yellow Pages.

If the number of people on the list wasn’t bad enough, it gets worse. Many of the contacts are duplicates.

Luckily, there are free tools that help you merge those duplicate contacts. They help you find outdated numbers and email addresses. They consolidate the different contact details of a single person in one entry.

On Android you have Cleaner – Merge Duplicate Contacts and quite a few others. Apple’s App Store hosts many such apps too. As always, read the reviews before installing or using these apps.

Google’s contacts app has a built-in tool for this (Menu -> Suggestions -> Clean up duplicates). You can do it via the website: visit Contacts, then open the menu via the icon on the top left, and click “Merge and fix”.

Once done, I’d suggest going over the list periodically. You probably won’t need the number of the plumber you last used 10 years ago. Ciao, Mario!

A Sharp Corner

I am often tempted to take shortcuts. What could possibly go wrong if I don’t wear my seat belt, it’s a short ride anyway. What could possibly happen if I delay scanning this document – I’ll get to it later.

The answer is everything. Everything can go wrong. And often, it will. When it does, it will be ten times more wasteful than all the time saved by cutting corners combined.

I learned this on my flesh. Many times. There’s a reason things should be done a certain way. It took many years of many failed attempts to find the right way to do things.

Many people died from infections before we learned to wash our food. Many documents were lost to power outages before we came up with an auto-save feature.

And yet, people cut corners. Every day. My service providers cut corners. My clients cut corners, too.

But don’t take my word for it. Just imagine your car manufacturer rushing the cars out, skipping the safety tests. Imagine your doctor reusing the gloves from their previous operation. How safe would you feel? Imagine a phone manufacturer taking out the audio jack to save pennies per sale. OK, this one’s just me venting. But imagine the architect planning your home cutting costs on smoke detectors. You get the idea.

I’m not saying I don’t understand the temptation. I do. I’m no saint. I’ve cut corners before, too. In architecture, in code, in life. That’s why I can say it with absolute conviction: don’t cut corners. It’s not worth the cost. Do things properly.

I’ll see you around the corner!

Suck It

I don’t think I’m a messy eater. However, by the end of a meal, there are sometimes some crumbs left on the table. I don’t know how they got there, but somehow they did.

I used to go and get the dishcloth and wipe the table. But that’s a bit of a hassle and a messy ordeal. It’s especially icky if the crumbs were dry and are now a soggy mess. More importantly, if you have a table cloth, a dishcloth doesn’t work very well.

And then my wife introduced me to the kitchen table vaccum. Apparently a lot of people know about these. This post is for the off-chance that you, like me, did not.

These are cute shaped, battery-run vaccums. They’re small and look nice on the table. They’re surprisingly good at sucking up all those random crumbs. And they’re really cheap. If you don’t have a table vaccum yet, I suggest you get one. You can get one here or here.

I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

No Alarms And No Surprises, Please

Very few things can stress me as much as uncertainty.

When a deadline is looming, when a big decision is about to be made… Seconds stretch like hours. I sometimes wish I had a fast-forward button for life.

I’ve been on the other side of the fence, too. I’ve worked sleepless nights to deliver to a deadline. I know that stress too.

In those latter cases, I rarely stopped to think about the client on the other side. They were sitting there, stressed, not knowing whether or not the deadline would be met.

The stress can be so bad that even a successful result doesn’t make up for it.

So having been on both sides of the fence, I learned one thing. Keep the client informed. Even if it’s all going smoothly and according to plan, keep them informed. If it isn’t going well, they should know, too. Not knowing is always the worst option.

Keep your clients in the loop. This is true for friends and family as well.

Cover picture: Charestria – Professional, Filmographer | DeviantArt