Article notes

Notes on articles I read and found interesting.

On Being a Senior Engineer


The article aims to define a list of traits that make an engineer "mature". All of them are either soft skills or only related to programming on a meta-level.


Since our field (web operations) is still quite young, it is not surprising that a lot of people have the title of "senior" while still being comparatively immature on a technical and non-technical level.

Therefor there is a difference to be made between "senior" engineers (by title) and "mature" engineers (by trait).

Characteristics of a mature engineer:

Mature engineers seek out constructive criticism of their designs
Engineers don't work in a void and once what they work on will get into other hands, problems might arise. Mature engineers want to find as many of these problems as possible as early in the process as possible.

Mature engineers understand the non-technical areas of how they are perceived.
Mature engineers want to be enjoyable teammates. While they don't shy away from giving (critic) feedback on other peoples work, they are not assholes while doing so.

the degree to which other people want to work with you is a direct indication on how successful you’ll be in your career as an engineer. Be the engineer that everyone wants to work with.

Mature engineers do not shy away from making estimates and are always trying to get better at it.
All businesses rely on estimates, so mature engineers need to be able to make estimates. Estimates are uncertain, but mature engineers do not shy away from working with some uncertainty and risk.

Mature engineers have an innate sense of anticipation, even if they don’t know they do.
(no notes on this one, wanted to have the headline in though)

Mature engineers understand that not all of their projects are filled with rockstar-on-stage work.
Getting things done might mean working on boring or tedious tasks, or do work that not many (or no) people will notice.

Mature engineers lift the skills and expertise of those around them.
Instead of just making things better, mature engineers aim to teach people how to get better in what they do. They want to share their knowledge.

Mature engineers understand the difference between mentorship and sponsorship, and develop a habit of the latter.
Mentors give advice. It's better to generate opportunity and visibility for people. E.g. suggesting good leads for projects or sharing something interesting someone else did.

Mature engineers make their trade-offs explicit when making judgments and decisions.
They know they operate on a spectrum. They can be efficient or thorough. There are tradeoffs to everything and they're okay with that. When it becomes apparent that a solution is not scaling any longer, they get to work with an productive mindset (because they knew this day would come all along) instead of making passive-aggressive remarks.

Mature engineers don’t practice CYAE (“Cover Your Ass Engineering”)

Mature engineers stand up and accept the responsibility given to them. If they find they don’t have the requisite authority to be held accountable for their work, they seek out ways to rectify that.

Mature engineers are empathetic.
They understand different stakeholders in a project have different goals an perspectives. They can view a project from the perspective of someone else, which allows them to navigate their work more effectively.

They don’t make empty complaints.
If they complain, the have though about it long enough to be able to offer a suggestion for a solution

Mature engineers are aware of cognitive biases
There are many cognitive biases and mature engineers are aware of how they might influence their judgement.

Mature engineers know the importance of (sometimes irrational) feelings people have.
People don't act rationally most of the time, they act based on emotions. Bad experiences with a certain framework in the past might cause people to not want to work with it again, even if the circumstances are completely different this time

21st Feb, 2024

Are you serious?

  • Most people you meet are not serious
  • You can find a lot of serious people in history. Not all serious people go down in history, but few unserious will.
  • Main question is: How to be serious?
  • Telling if somebody is serious:

You can mainly only tell from watching how someone conducts themselves over an extended period of time. Over decades. Particularly, how they deal with shocks, rough times, downcycles. Everyone is optimistic when times are good. The thing to look out for is who keeps going when the going gets tough.

  • cannot take yourself too serious or you will burn out over time. must take the work serious
  • so: need to have fun:

It’s quite poetic how, [Richard Feynman] only broke through his malaise when he decided to give up on the whole enterprise of “doing important work”, and simply started fooling around for the sake of it – and even more poetically, it was his fooling around with wobbly plates that led to the equations that he won the Nobel prize for!

  • on being yourself:

So now I’m finding that it’s easier to say, look, this is what I care about, this is the game I’m playing, you don’t have to play it, you don’t have to like me, cheers, have a nice day.

  • inspire seriousness in other people

You can’t bully people into becoming truly serious, [...]. So the best way to encourage it is to demonstrate seriousness yourself, in your own words and actions.

17th Jan, 2024

An Unreasonable Investment

Micheal talks about his first job and how someone helped him selflessly:

Chuck was helpful. Whenever I spun around and asked a question, Chuck would stop whatever he was doing to help. Complete, fully attentive help. Answer-the-question completely help. He was intensely curious, kind, and full of enthusiasm.

Chuck wanted to help.

He apparently manifested an intro opportunity with Cambridge without even knowing someone there.

In this New Year, I am asking you to find one human; it’s a non-obvious human. It’s not a direct report or a human where you are paid to invest. Find this non-obvious human and invest in them. Unreasonably, consistently, without expectations. While achieving their dream is a goal, your goal is to help without hesitation.

While I never did this (but now am realizing I really want to), I've helped a bunch of people over my (still pretty short) career. No big acts like getting someone an intro at Cambridge. Rather sharing a little knowledge here when someone seemed stuck or testing a prototype there. And every time, without exception, it felt great.

8th Jan, 2024

Real Mind Control: The 21-Day No-Complaint Experiment

Tim Ferris on not complaining:

It all made perfect sense. Fix the words and you fix the thoughts. I’m not a negative person, but I wanted to cut out the commiserating most of us use for 30-40% of all conversation

People want to be around action-oriented problem solvers. Training yourself to offer solutions on-the-spot attracts people and resources.

True, always enjoy to be around people that have a stoic view on live and just deal with situations.

6th Jan, 2024

Buy wisely

Steph makes a case to optimize for cost per use when buying things, making it more favorable to buy more durable (yet usually more expensive) things:

Cost per use accounts for longevity. Durable and repairable things may cost more upfront, but over time they cost less than things that break and need to be replaced.

It's basically "buy cheap, buy twice", but I never thought this through on an analytical level.

4th Jan, 2024

40 Lessons from 30 Years

Net wrote down 40 lessons for his 40th birthday. While they're all good (go ahead an read the whole thing, won't be a waste of your time), the following resonated the most with me.

Err on the side of too early over too late. [...] Your conception that it’s too early is just your fear, and once you dive in you’ll figure it out. Old people tend to regret the things they didn’t do, or didn’t do earlier. Not the things they did.

My wife is the driving factor on this. Not sure I ever made any big decision if it wasn't for her. I should probably tell her (I did by now). Here's some of my advice: If you're thankful for something someone did, tell them!

Most of the world is held together with duct tape. The last 5-10% of everything seems to get slapped together at the last minute. It’s just hard to see in any area where you aren’t an expert. Don’t worry about living duct-tape-free.

While working for an agency, I got to see different areas of business and oh boy, are there things held together by very old, very worn duct tape.

Another water bottle won’t fix your hydration problems. A new note taking tool won’t make you a better writer. If you find yourself looking for a tool to solve a problem, you’re probably just procrastinating.

Just do the damn thing first. Do it a bunch of times. If you really identify pain points that some tool can help you with, change tools. But only after you did the work.

Trust your negative gut, not your positive gut. If you have a great feeling about something, you might just be excited or gullible or not thinking it through, so take your time. But if you have a bad feeling about something, you’re almost certainly right about it.

I made this mistake too often. It hasn't to any real harm yet, so I take it as a learning opportunity.

2nd Jan, 2024

The Lesson to Unlearn

People in school/university are not learning to learn, but to get good grades. This means students are hacking tests (try to narrow down what is needed to know to pass the test and only learn that)

But you can't blame teachers if their tests are hackable. Their job is to teach, not to create unhackable tests. The real problem is grades, or more precisely, that grades have been overloaded.After a certain age, whenever you're being taught, you're usually also being judged.

This translates over to the real world and founding startups:

But wasting your time is not the worst thing the educational system does to you. The worst thing it does is to train you that the way to win is by hacking bad tests.Why did founders tie themselves in knots doing the wrong things when the answer was right in front of them? Because that was what they'd been trained to do. Their education had taught them that the way to win was to hack the test

Especially in big corporations hacking tests is the way to move up the ladder:

I never understood how much of my dislike of big companies was due to the fact that you win by hacking bad tests.

There is a pattern to find out which tests are bad

Tests can be divided into two kinds: those that are imposed by authorities, and those that aren't. Tests that aren't imposed by authorities are inherently unhackable [...]. [A]s a first approximation, bad tests are roughly equivalent to tests imposed by authorities.

Outlook for the future:

The more I think about this question, the more optimistic I get. This seems one of those situations where we don't realize how much something was holding us back until it's eliminated.

I am currently reading through a bunch of Grahams essays, some of them from as early as 2005. I was pleased to learn this one was written recently (2019), so we're not too far in the future yet.

28th Dec, 2023

What You'll Wish You'd Known

On talent: There is such a thing as natural talent; some people are better in specific areas compared to most other people. However, society tends to overvalue this talent because it's an excuse for being lazy:

If they were just like us, then they had to work very hard to do what they did. And that's one reason we like to believe in genius. It gives us an excuse for being lazy. If these guys were able to do what they did only because of some magic Shakespeareness or Einsteinness, then it's not our fault if we can't do something as good.

[...] if you're trying to choose between two theories and one gives you an excuse for being lazy, the other one is probably right.

So you can get good in most things by putting in hard work.

On what to work on: Things that interest you and open opportunities. Try not to waste your time.

It's not so important what you work on, so long as you're not wasting your time. Work on things that interest you and increase your options, and worry later about which you'll take.

The best protection is always to be working on hard problems. [...] Hard means worry: if you're not worrying that something you're making will come out badly, or that you won't be able to understand something you're studying, then it isn't hard enough.

Curiosity seems to change from children to adults, from broad to narrow and specific:

But in ambitious adults, instead of drying up, curiosity becomes narrow and deep. The mud flat morphs into a well.

On discipline

One of the most dangerous illusions you get from school is the idea that doing great things requires a lot of discipline.

Now I know a number of people who do great work, and it's the same with all of them. They have little discipline. They're all terrible procrastinators and find it almost impossible to make themselves do anything they're not interested in.

Thats actually relieving to hear. I'm not very disciplined but get my work done. Always felt wrong to me.

It's the same with people who do great things. They know they'll feel bad if they don't work, and they have enough discipline to get themselves to their desks to start working. But once they get started, interest takes over, and discipline is no longer necessary.

Noticed this in the last few years. I don't have to motivate myself to work, I need to do it or I feel bad.

You need to frame the world in a way it's interesting to you.

[...] find a question that makes the world interesting. People who do great things look at the same world everyone else does, but notice some odd detail that's compellingly mysterious.

The way to get a big idea to appear in your head is not to hunt for big ideas, but to put in a lot of time on work that interests you, and in the process keep your mind open enough that a big idea can take roost.

The important thing is to get out there and do stuff. Instead of waiting to be taught, go out and learn.

Somewhat random quote. but matching my situation:

If you think it's restrictive being a kid, imagine having kids.

It's both restrictive and a tool for focus. Read the article and wrote this up with one hand with my newborn in my arm. She's sleeping now but could wake up soon, so I better focus.

26th Dec, 2023

A blog post is a very long and complex search query to find fascinating people and make them route interesting stuff to your inbox

via Jim Nielsen

Explaining it to my daughter, [...] I tell her that the internet is like an alien intelligence. We don’t know exactly what it is; it has just landed, and only the first ship. We are trying to figure out how to talk to it.

Henrik expresses two ideas on how writing travels in the the internet:

  1. Words need to be precise and niche, so they can find the people the author wants to address and filters out the rest.
  2. The pleasant parts of the internet are filtered by humans, not algorithms. Information flowed from the periphery to the centers

If you follow your niche interests, it will likely be a lonely journey:

On the internet, Wonderland is recursive, with rabbit holes opening up to yet more rabbit holes; you never stop falling. And the further you fall, the less likely it is that anyone you’ve ever met is falling where you are.

So how do you connect with likeminded people? You write.

You ask yourself: What would have made me jump off my chair if I had read it six months ago (or a week ago, or however fast you write)? If you have figured out something that made you ecstatic, this is what you should write.

On the question of distribution:

The social structure of the internet is shaped like a river.

People with big followings, say someone like Sam Harris, is the mouth of the Mississippi emptying into the Mexican Gulf. Sam has millions of tributaries. There are perhaps a few hundred people Sam pays close attention to, and these in turn have a few hundred they listen to—tributaries flowing into headwaters flowing into rivers.


It turns out that if you’ve written something that _you_ find interesting, it is not unlikely that people you like will find it interesting too, and pass it on if you give them the chance.

A great read about information flow on the internet. Made me jump out of my chair.

21st Dec, 2023

Insights and tweaks to my Work Daily Routines

It's been a while since I read "Deep Work", and I totally forgot about the day start and end routines. The days I do them are way more structured, but I think I don't hold myself accountable enough for it.

The end of day shutdown routine is non-negotiable—it guarantees a smooth transition from work mode to relaxation.

They also have advice for chaotic days (which, to be honest, are the most days when you have young kids)

On the good days, I take a solid 30 minutes to plan my schedule down to the nitty-gritty. But when chaos strikes on the bad days, I glance at my calendar, block off meeting times, and dive headfirst into urgent tasks. After lunch, I do a quick ‘post-mortem’ assessment, tweak my time blocker, and figure out where to focus my energy for the rest of the day.

I think I'll steal that.

20th Dec, 2023

Digital Tools I Wish Existed

A tool for queue management:

I have little visibility into required time investment and foundational context until I’ve opened it and started thinking about it. Should I sit down with a pen and paper to read this or can I skim it while waiting for my coffee?

This is something I never really thought about. I guess this could become a part of my flow of reading content - tagging it properly so I know when I have the time and/or energy to dig into it.

I had a similar idea a while back and started working on it (had earlier versions that are now delete, I believe the project originated from my wish to combine instapaper and pinboard). Probably stopped because I hit some sort of road block - still seems to be a valid idea and a nice side project though.


I want to be able to open an interface, type three words, and instantly see results from everything my digital self has interacted with. Emails, years of full-text browsing history, text messages, Slack messages across **all** my organizations, calendar invites and events, books, podcast transcripts I’ve consumed, Twitter and Instagram DMs, PDFs I’ve downloaded, bash commands, videos I’ve seen, my online and offline files, notes, blog post drafts - I really do mean everything.

This would be awesome. I feel we're not far from it, sounds like it is a task that AI will be helpful with.

13th Dec, 2023

The simple system I’m using to stay in touch with hundreds of people

Jakob shares the system they use to stay in contact with people they know and get into contact with new people. Heavily inspired by an article by Derek Sivers.

Every morning I’m getting an email that tells me who I should reach out to today. After I sent the messages, I open Airtable and update the Last Contact column to today’s date. In total, this process takes maybe 15 minutes per day.

This somehow feels "wrong" to me and not how social contacts should work. I have this idea that they should just "come naturally". However, at least for me, this is not the case, so I think using a system like this is actually a good idea.

12th Dec, 2023

Observation Creates Reality

Only through observing reality we shift it from a variety of possibilities to a fixed state:

It seems that it is only when one is observing reality does reality shift from being a wave of possibility to the actual, physical reality that we all know.


reality exists as in a state of multiple possibilities and it is only when observed that one physical outcome becomes real.


Basically, every possible outcome is happening, and it is only when someone observes the outcome does it finally become a fixed outcome in reality.


This therefore raises the question of ‘what is consciousness and how does conscious observation actually cause reality to become real?’ Unfortunately the answer to this question is probably well beyond our scientific understanding; maybe beyond human comprehension!

​I like to think that nothing is behind human comprehension in general. It might be at this point in time but I am sure this will change, much like thunder was behind human comprehension at some point in time.

12th Dec, 2023

Disrupt the Government

Hotz argues that the government is failing in many infrastructure areas, the one thing it should really be good at.

You disrupt the government by providing 10x better versions of all of the services that it provides.


The key thing the government is supposed to be able to do is infrastructure. Most of the wealth that we give to the US government no longer goes into that, such that even if you are building decentralized versions, you may be able to outcompete the government.

I think the same statement can be made for Germany, currently.

11th Dec, 2023

#14. Enabling Children’s Play

Gray makes an argument that our children are suffering from play deprevation.
This is due to limitations in time for play and the chance for unsupervised play in general.

As a society we have become insane in our overprotectiveness of children, to the point that children are largely under house arrest when they aren’t imprisoned at school.

They address various areas in which quality of children play has worsened:


But now, at least in the United States, if you send your child out to play there are likely no other kids with whom to play, and worse, there is some chance that someone will call the police and you may be reported to Child Protective Services for child neglect.


If you look at public playground today, what do you see? Most often nobody or a bunch of little kids with their moms [...] minding their every move and telling them not to do this or that.


[...] at many schools there are rules about what you can and cannot do at recess that essentially destroy play

However, some elementary schools now have Play Clubs.

Libraries an family vacations seem to see positive develpoments, though.

10th Dec, 2023
© 2024 Chris Jarling