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Strange, uncertain times

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It might feel like an eternity, but barely four months have passed since the federal government changed and Anthony Albanese became prime minister. That’s the equivalent of Tony Abbott’s Coalition government in January 2014, Kevin Rudd’s Labor in February 2008, John Howard’s Coalition in July 1996, and Bob Hawke’s Labor in July 1983. In other words, nothing that has happened so far gives us an inkling of the twists and turns ahead.

Current two-party-preferred polls are more encouraging for the new government than they were for Abbott at this point, but not as heartening as for the other two. Does this point to anything? No. Both Abbott and Rudd were dragged down by their parties before their governments’ first re-election. Howard was looking rather shop-worn by the time of the 1998 election, which he survived with the lowest national two-party-preferred victory in history. Only after the 2001 election was he the untouchable man of steel.

They don’t call it a honeymoon for nothing. Young governments find they can make mistakes and barely anyone notices, while ageing, more experienced ones can get away with much less. Fledgling government ministers are boosted by their new positions at the top table.

On the other side of parliament, stripped of the authority of incumbency and the allure of power, the nakedness of former Morrison government members is faintly embarrassing. Did this bunch really run the country for so long? Was that Liberal leader really home affairs minister so recently?

Scott Morrison’s bizarre, secret swearings-in to multiple portfolios provides further revisionist fuel. Were the higher echelons of the just-deceased government particularly lacking in talent, or does it just seem that way?

The early Hawke government went to town on the fiscal misdeeds of its vanquished predecessor, and Howard and team used the same playbook thirteen years later. While Rudd and his treasurer Wayne Swan were negligent on this front — yes, it’s harder when you inherit a budget surplus, but they barely tried — Albanese and Treasurer Jim Chalmers aren’t making that mistake. They’re rarely missing an opportunity to employ the “t” word — a trillion dollars of debt. It’s not fair, it’s not honest, but politics is often like that.

What did the 21 May result tell us about voters’ changing behaviour?

After every election the Australian Electoral Commission provides us with two-party-preferred results for all House of Representatives electorates. Those two parties are Labor and the Coalition, whether or not the actual two-candidate-preferred count was between them. (The Liberals are given a 51.4 per cent two-party vote in Warringah, for instance, though Zali Steggall was the victor.) Total all 150 seats and you have the national two-party-preferred vote.

In 2007, a national Labor vote of 52.7 per cent saw eighty-three of the 150 return Labor two-party-preferred majorities, and all of them were won by Labor. This time eighty-four seats out of 151 recorded two-party victories for Labor, but MPs representing seven of them sit on the crossbench: four Greens plus independents Andrew Wilkie in Clark and Dai Le in Fowler, and — the surprise Labor two-party win — the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie in Mayo.

So although Labor’s country-wide vote of 52.1 per cent was well below 2007’s, and although its seventy-seven seat haul was lower than 2007’s eighty-three, its victory over the Coalition, nineteen seats, was larger by one than it was fifteen years ago.

The leakage to the crossbench was even worse on the other side. Of the Coalition’s sixty-seven two-party-preferred wins, nine were taken by independents and minor parties.

The massive crossbench is a result of the decline of support for the major parties, and there is no reason to believe it won’t continue over the medium term. Recent history tells us that Labor will have difficulty evicting the Greens from their lower house positions. We don’t know if the teals will prove similarly durable, nor the extent to which they become, or are seen as, a quasi party. The future of Dai Le, the independent who won Fowler, is similarly unpredictable.

Does it worry you that the party that won 33 per cent of the primary vote formed government? It’s a bit like Emmanuel Macron becoming French president in April despite receiving just 28 per cent of the first-round vote. But at least Macron topped that first round.

You’d rather the Coalition, with 36 per cent primary vote support, was sworn in? But then there’s no point having preferential voting, which gives the voter multiple bites at the cherry. Overseas, our voting system is often called “instant runoff” because it roughly replicates the French-style two-round system, but does it on a single voting occasion, using the one ballot paper.

Back in 1995, France’s first-round winner Lionel Jospin lost the second round to Jacques Chirac. A majority of the voters who cast a ballot two weeks after the first bout found Chirac the lesser of two evils. Same with primary vote versus two-party-preferred here. Australian federal elections have seen primary vote losses turned into two-party-preferred wins three times: 1987, 2010 and, now, 2022. The victor on each occasion was Labor.

Even under the awful first-past-the-post voting system, which Britain and Canada still have and New Zealand used to, the overall vote winner can lose the seat count.

Perhaps you’d prefer more proportional results, giving parties representation closer to the share of support they received? Then you need an electoral system of — drumroll — proportional representation. Single-member electorate systems are in many ways a relic of a pre-party time, when men (as they were) were elected to represent their geographic constituencies in parliament. Much of our system — indeed our constitution, and most obviously the make-up and powers of the Senate — is like that.

(I’ve argued before that PR in our lower house would improve governability by giving the upper house more incentive to make life easier for the executive.)

But back to our current government, and the question of how long Anthony Albanese will be prime minister. Our longest-serving PMs — Bob Menzies, Howard and Hawke — were elected at or near the beginning of longish periods of sustained international economic growth. They got the boasting rights and the favourable comparisons with their predecessors.

We live in different, stranger times, with unemployment very low yet growth sluggish and wages stagnant. And leaders are more disposable these days.

Both major parties are on the nose, but the contradictions in the Coalition’s support base are more glaringly on display because it’s in opposition. Peter Dutton gives every indication he won’t try to win back teal territory, and will instead prioritise what used to be seen as swing seats, the ones that tend to go to whoever forms government. They’re in the outer suburbs and regions: “aspirational,” socially rather conservative, not very multicultural, the fabled western Sydney seat of Lindsay being their archetype. But those voters and seats simply aren’t numerous enough to come close to a governing majority.

They also have a habit, at state level, of swinging to narrowly elected incumbents. (While the states and territories boast plenty of examples, we’ve not had a federal opposition squeak into government at an election since the formation of the two-party system over a century ago.)

That’s one way it could turn out: a stronger vote for Labor in three years. But Dutton is unlikely to be leader at the next election, and his successor would probably take a different tack.

And with a global recession on the cards, the pendulum could — in the context of low major-party support — swing back, quickly.

Did I mention we live in strange, uncertain times? •

The post Strange, uncertain times appeared first on Inside Story.

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FUCK I'm going to be doing Group Policy forever twitter.com/georgewiman/st…

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FUCK I'm going to be doing Group Policy forever twitter.com/georgewiman/st…

@TransSalamander I just retired from a career in computer support at a university campus. The collision of the scenarios you describe is the professor who thinks students are 'digital natives' but neither of them are really conversant with basic tasks like file management, etc.

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The Hierarchy Is Bullshit, We Can Do Better.

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My friend Molly has had an impressive career. She got a job as a software engineer after graduating from college, and after kicking ass for a year or so she was offered a promotion to management — which she accepted with relish. Molly was smart, driven, and fiercely ambitious, so she swiftly clambered up the ranks to hold director, VP, and other shiny executive roles. It took two decades, an IPO and a vicious case of burnout before she allowed herself to admit how much she hated her work, and how desperately she envied (guess who?) the software engineers she worked with. Turns out, all she ever really wanted to do was write code every day. And now, to her dismay, it felt too late.

Why did it take Molly so long to realize what made her happy? I blame the fucking hierarchy.

Hierarchy is a lie

The Big Lie of hierarchy is that your organizational structure is a vertically aligned tree from the CEO on down, where higher up the tree is always better.

Of course a new grad would see it that way, after 15-20 years of advancing through school year by year, grade by grade, your success measured by getting good grades and teacher approval. Even the early years of professional life are marked by hard work and basic skills acquisition, so if you still feel like you are focused on “leveling up” after years in the workforce, well…that still makes sense. They caught Molly on the leveling treadmill before she even had a chance to become a real adult!

But by the time you are firmly baked as a senior contributor, roughly 7-8 years in, your relationship to levels and ladders should undergo a dramatic shift. You have to learn to honor and lean in to your own inner compass. What draws you in to your work? What feeds your growth and success?

At some point you have to stop measuring yourself entirely on external markers of success. Personal growth might come in the guise of a big promotion, but it also might look like a new job, a different role, a swing to management or back, becoming well-known as a subject matter expert, mentoring others, running an affinity group, picking up new skill sets, starting a company, trying your hand at consulting, speaking at conferences, taking a sabbatical, having a family, working part time, etc.

You have a thirty- or forty-year adult life and career in front of you. What the hell are you going to do with all that time and space??

Your career is not one mad sprint to the finish line

Literally nobody’s career looks like a straight line, going up, up up and to the right.  One of the most exhausting things about working at Facebook was the way engineering levels feltLiterally no one's career, ever. like a spinning hamster wheel, where every single quarter you were expected to go go go go go, do more do more, scrape up ever more of your mortal soul to pour in than you could last quarter — and the quarter before that, and before that. It was fucking exhausting, yo. Life does not work that way. Shit gets hilly.

The strategy for a fulfilling, lifelong career in tech is not to up the ante every interval. Nor is it to amass more and more power over others until you explode. Instead:

  1. Train yourself to love the feeling of constantly learning and pushing your boundaries. Feeling comfortable (“I’ve got this, I can coast”) is the system blinking orange, and it should make you feel uneasy.
  2. Follow your nose into work that lights you up in the morning, work you can’t stop thinking about. If you’re bored, do something else.
  3. Say yes to opportunities!! Intensity is nothing to be afraid of. Instead of trying to cap your speed or your growth, learn to alternate it with recovery periods.
  4. If you aren’t sure what to do, make the choice that preserves or expands future optionality. Remember: Most startups fail. Will you be okay with your choices if (& when) this one does too?

Why do people climb the ladder? “Because it’s there.” And when they don’t have any other goals, the ladder fills a vacuum.

If you never make the leap from externally-motivated to intrinsically-motivated, this will eventually becomes a serious risk factor for your career. Without an inner compass (and a renewable source of joy), you will struggle to locate and connect with the work that gives your life meaning. You will risk burnout, apathy and a serious lack of fucks given..

The times I have come closest to burnout or flaming out have not been when I was working the hardest, but when I cared the least. Or when I felt the least needed.📈📉💔

How companies fuck up hierarchy

But hey! Lack of inner direction and motivation aren’t the ONLY thing that drives people to climb the ladder. Plenty of companies fuck this up too, all on their lonesome. Let’s talk about more of the ways that companies mess up the workplace! Which is to say, by disempowering the people who are doing the work and giving all the power to managers, forcing anyone who wants a say in their own work to become one.

Our language is riddled with authoritarian phrases: “She was my superior”, “My boss made me do it”, “I got promoted into management”, and so on.

There are plenty of industries where line workers are disempowered cogs and power structures are hierarchical and absolute (like, say, meatpacking). There are even tech companies that still operate in command-and-control mode, treating engineers like interchangeable monkeys who simply pluck and resolve JIRA tasks. But for industries that are fueled by creativity and innovation, command-and-control leadership is poison. It stifles innovation, it saps initiative, it siphons away creativity and motivation and caring.

Studies also show that the more visible someone’s power is, the less likely anyone is to give them honest feedback.[2]

Companies that don’t learn this lesson are unlikely to win over the long run. Engineering is a deeply creative occupation, and authoritarian environments are toxic for creativity and people’s willingness to share information.

What does a hierarchy even do?

The basic function of a hierarchy is to help us make sense of the world, simplify information, and make decisions. Hierarchy lets us break down enormous undertakings — like “let’s build a rocket!”, or “let’s invade Poland!” — into millions of bite size decisions and tasks that teams and individuals can perform, and this is how we collectively make progress.

A certain amount of authority is invested into the hierarchy model. If you are responsible for delivering a unit of work, the company needs to make sure you have enough resources and decision-making ability to do so. This is what we think of as the formal power[1] structure, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s what makes the system work.

The problem starts when we stop thinking of hierarchy as a neutral data structure — a utilitarian device for organizing groups and making decisions — and start projecting or mapping status and social dominance onto it.

The logic of social dominance is wired deep, deep into our little monkey brains. That is what tells us we deserve more power, leverage, pride, influence, autonomy and value than those below us. It tells us those above us are better, stronger and more deserving than we are, and worthy of our respect and deference. It says if you lose status, you might die.

functional hierarchies tend to get mixed up with status signals

In general, it is better to pursue roles and growth based on the affirmative — what skills you want to learn, grow or do more of — instead of what you want to avoid, evade or stop doing. Your motivation systems don’t kick in when you are feeling “lack of pain” — it doesn’t work that way. They kick in when you get interested.

And if you are sick of doing something or being treated a certain way, chances are good everyone else is, too. Who wants to work at a company where all the shit gets kicked downhill?

Hierarchies have stuck around for one very good reason: because they work. Hierarchies are simple, intuitive, and allow large numbers of humans to collaborate together to do great things with low cognitive overhead. Unfortunately, most hierarchies become imbued with status and dominance markers, which can be big downsides. At their worst, they can suck the life and drive out of work, ridding it of any sense of mastery, autonomy or meaning

We aren’t getting rid of hierarchies anytime soon. But we can gently untangle them from social status markers, drain their authoritarian trappings, and emphasize them as a service function. This liberates people to choose work based on what makes them feel most interested and satisfied, instead of based on how much power that work gives them over other people. (Flatter pay bands also help.) It also ensures that managers will get better, more honest feedback from their reports.

Good managers do not dictate and demand, they nurture, develop, and inspire. The most important roles in the company aren’t held by managers; they are all the little leaf nodes  who are busy building the product, supporting users, identifying markets, writing copy, etc. The people doing the work are why we exist as a company; all the rest is, with considerable due respect, overhead.

Drain your hierarchy of social dominance

When it comes to hierarchy and team structure, there are the functional, organizational aspects (mostly good) and the social dominance parts (mostly bad). With that in mind, there are plenty of smaller things we can do as a team to remind people that we are equal colleagues, simply with different roles.

  • Be conscious of the language you use (referring to management a promotion vs a role change, using words that reinforce hierarchy or superiority).
  • De-emphasize trappings of power. The more you refer to someone’s formal power, the less likely anyone is to give critical feedback or question them.
  • Push back against common but unhelpful practices, like “a manager should always make more money than the people who report to them.” Why??
  • Are there opportunities for career advancement as an IC, or only as a manager? Everyone should have the ability to advance in their career.
  • Practice visualizing the org chart upside down, where managers and execs support their teams from below rather than topping them from above.

And then there is the big(ger) thing we can (and must!) do, in order to make people go into management for the right reasons, make senior IC roles remain attractive to highly skilled creative and technical contributors, and help everybody make career decisions based on curiosity, growth, and what’s best for the business (instead of turf and power grabs). Which is:

Practice transparency, from top to bottom

Share authority, decision-making and power

(Technical contributors own technical decisions)

Most people who go in to management don’t do it out of a burning desire to write performance reviews. They do it because they’re a senior contributor and they’re fucking fed up with being out of the loop, or not having a say in important decisions that concern their work. They just want to be in the room where it happens, and management is typically the only way you get an invite.

Every company will say they’re transparent if you ask. But hardly any of them are, by my stick. This doesn’t mean flooding people with every detail, or freaking them out with constant fire drills. It does mean being actively forthcoming about important questions and matters which are happening or on the horizon. Sometimes before you have an answer for them. Sometimes before you are fully comfortable doing so.

But people do better work with more context! You’re equipping them with information to better understand the business problems and technical objectives, and unleashing them and their creativity to help solve them. You’re also opening yourself up to questions and sanity checks — which may feel uncomfortable, but 🌞sunlight is sanitizing🌞 — it is worth it, in the end.

transparency isn’t always comfortable

At Honeycomb, we present the full board deck at all hands after each board meeting. We relay any important questions that were asked, and the general tenor of the meeting. When we’re facing financial uncertainty, we say so, along with our working plan for dealing with it. We do org updates in all hands quarterly. Each org is asked to present 2/3 updates and news that is positive/successful, but 1/3 about their failures or misses.

Being transparent isn’t about putting everyone on blast; it’s about cultivating a habit of awareness about what might be relevant to other people, and sharing that. It’s about building systems of feedback, updates and open questioning into your culture. This can be scary, so it’s also about training yourselves as a team to handle hard news without overreacting or shooting the messenger. It’s especially about showing that it’s normal and safe to share bad news. If you always tell people what they want to hear, they are never going to trust that you are telling them the truth. You can’t trust someone’s ‘yes’ until you hear their ‘no’.

You don’t have to share every detail in every area, but I think these are healthy internal rules of thumb for management:

  1. If anyone has further questions or wants to know more details about the information shared, they are free to ask any manager or exec, who will willingly answer more fully, right up to the boundaries of privacy or legal reasons
  2. When making decisions internally about e.g. salary bands, exceptions made to formal policy, etc, ask yourselves … if the decision were to leak, could you justify your decision with your head held high?

And then it’s about sharing power.

Power flows to managers by default, just like water flows downhill. Managers have to actively push back on this tendency by explicitly allocating powers and responsibilities to tech leads and engineers. Technical decisions, for example, should always be made by technical contributors, not by managers.

Try bringing a couple of your most senior engineers into leveling discussions and performance calibrations. They have a valuable perspective on the performance of other engineers which is very different from their managers’. It also signals trust, and builds confidence in the review process on behalf of engineering at large.

When people are considering a move to management, gently probe into why. Anytime someone becomes a manager out of frustration at being left out of information loops or at not having a say in their work, it’s a pretty bad smell that means there’s probably a lack of safety, collaboration, and creativity in general.

We are not our biology; social dominance is not our destiny

People do phenomenal work when they want to do it, when they are creatively and emotionally engaged, and when they know their work matters. That’s where you find flow, where work feels like play. This is how you do your best work, which is also the best way to get promoted and advance in your career. Not, ironically, by chasing promotions. ☺

Yeah, humans as a species are sensitive to social dominance[3] cues, but but only weakly so; we can train ourselves to play with the impulse, lean in or out, or ignore it.

Oh yeah, And about Molly …

Molly, who I mentioned at the beginning, came to Honeycomb five years ago as a customer success exec. After realizing she wanted to go back to writing code, she switched over to tech support to build up her technical chops and practice coding on the side. She has been working as a full stack software engineer for over two years now, and rocking it. It’s NEVER too late. 🙌

<3 charity


[1] Formal power is only one kind of power, and in some ways it is the weakest, because it doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the company and is only loaned out for you to wield on its behalf. (You don’t carry the innate ability to fire people along with you after you stop being an engineering manager, for example.) Formal powers are limited, enumerated, and functional. You don’t get to use them for any reason other than furthering the goals of the org, or it is literally an abuse of power.

[2] I am not going to bother rustling up lots of links and citations, because most of this probably falls into the voluminous category of “shit you already knew”. But if any of it sounds new to you, here are some classic reference works:

Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Drive, by Dan Pink
The Culture Code: Secrets of Successful Groups, by Daniel Coyle

[3] The scientific literature suggests that dominating instincts tend to emerge in more overtly hostile environments. Make of that what you will, I guess.


Some other writing I have done on this topic, or topics adjacent …

The Engineer/Manager Pendulum
The Pendulum or the Ladder
If Management Isn’t a Promotion, then Engineering isn’t a Demotion
Twin Anxieties of the Engineer Manager Pendulum
Things to Know About Engineering Levels
Advice for Engineering Managers who want to Climb the Ladder
On Engineers and Influence

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Spotlight on: Coriander

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Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is native to the eastern Mediterranean basin, and its use in cooking is already attested in ancient Mesopotamia, where it can be found often in conjunction with cumin and nigella. Its name in Akkadian, kisibirru, is the origin of the Arabic kuzbara (كزبرة) and its variant kusfara (كسفرة). It was also in use in Ancient Egypt and Greece by at least the 2nd millennium BCE, and later became a mainstay in Roman cuisine — nearly one-fifth of Apicius’ recipes call for coriander, known in Latin as coriandrum (or coliandrum), derived from the Greek koriannon. In English, its name varies depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on; in the UK, it is known as coriander, whereas in North America ‘cilantro’ is preferred, which goes back to the Spanish culantro (itself a descendant of coliandrum), but this only refers to the leaf, not the seeds.

Usually it is the leaves and fruit of the plant that appear in cooking, with the root being used in medicine only. Today, it is only east Asian cuisines — especially Thai — that use the root as a cooking ingredient. In medieval Arab cuisine, coriander was one of the most used spices, both dried (seeds) and fresh, and it is not uncommon for recipes to require a combination of both. In a 13th-century anonymous Andalusian treatise, dried coriander is said to suit all food, but especially tafāyās (stews) and stuffed (maḥshī) dishes. In Spain, coriander obtained a religious connotation it did not have elsewhere in the Muslim world in that it was considered a ‘Muslim’ herb, just as parsely was considered a ‘Christian’ herb. Indeed, after the Reconquista, the mere fact of eating coriander was considered an un-Christian thing.

Islamic scholars held that fresh coriander is astringent, strengthens the stomach, staunches bleeding, and is useful against dizziness and epilepsy caused by bilious or phlegmatic fevers. Al-Samarqandī (d. 1222) recommended roasted coriander against palpitations, ulcers and hot swellings, but warned that dried coriander decreases sexual potency and dries out semen (though Ibn Sīnā attributed anaphrodisiac effects to both the fresh and dried varieties). He also claimed fresh coriander should not be eaten by itself, but used to season cooked dishes, while its potency becomes greatly enhanced when used with sumac. Also, when meat is soaked in vinegar and seasoned with coriander, it is more easily digested. Eating too much coriander leads to dim vision and mental confusion.

According to the Andalusian pharmacologist Ibn Khalṣūn (13th c.), (fresh) coriander strengthened the heart of those with hot temperaments (along with, for instance, saffron and caraway), whereas pigeons should be cooked in it (together with vinegar). He also recommended eating coriander with fatty meats and strong spices. As dried coriander keeps food in the stomach until it has been digested, it should be used sparingly, especially in rich dishes. Coriander was also thought to be constipating, while alleviating inflammations in the stomach.

Such is its importance in Arab cooking, even today, that in some North African dialects (e.g. Tunisia), it is also known, simply, as tābil (‘seasoning’).

coriander in a 9th-century manuscript of Dioscorides materia medica, with Arabic annotations (Bibliothèque nationale de France)
coriander in an Arabic translation of Dioscorides’ text (British Library)
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RT @thegrugq: @ug_sig @NoobieDog Only a teenager could pull off these crimes because only a teenager is that oblivious to danger.

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@ug_sig @NoobieDog Only a teenager could pull off these crimes because only a teenager is that oblivious to danger.

Retweeted by SwiftOnSecurity on Friday, September 23rd, 2022 5:40pm

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19 hours ago
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As the UK proceeds further into being a failed state expect more disaffected youth to mount criminal campaigns against FVEY nations.

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As the UK proceeds further into being a failed state expect more disaffected youth to mount criminal campaigns against FVEY nations.

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