Why we don’t have the checks and balance in place to enable it

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Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

After I last wrote about how big tech and media can be used to undermine democracy I had an interesting conversation with someone who has a different starting point of view to me. Their take was very much that big tech needed to be completely neutral. The examples they cited were Twitter’s recent labelling of some of the current President’s tweets as lacking in factual basis. It reminded me of how differently we, as humans, can interpret the same seemingly unambiguous information.

As well as the blind spots we all have for processing information there are four fundamental problems with freedom of speech on the…


A handbook for how to sow division in a technologically advanced society

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Photo by Jana Shnipelson on Unsplash

I thought long and hard about the ethics of writing this piece as I don’t want to arm people with tools to do harm. Then I looked at the state my country (and others) currently in and realised that the bad guys are already running this playbook. One of the reasons they’re finding it so easy is that there’s a general lack of awareness of just how vulnerable we are. Back in 200, I sat in a room with a friend of mine and we debated various ideas for startups. One of my ideas was a system to control public opinion piggybacking on the Internet. The ideas we discussed then are relevant today in the way our democracies have become so sharply polarised. …


Navigating the tricky path between autonomy and standardisation

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Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

Recently I was talking to the CEO and CTO of a company and they asked me whether they should standardise on a single tech stack or have diverse stacks. It was pretty clear their preference was to standardise and minimise duplication of effort. On the surface this seems like a good idea. I’ve also had very heated conversations with engineering teams who are prepared to relinquish their favourite language or stack when you pry it from their cold dead hands.

This is a common disconnect for leadership and engineering teams. It comes up again and again disguised as an argument about autonomy — particularly as a company scales beyond a certain point. The reality is that neither extreme is healthy. …


How it’s so easy for people to see through people who don’t actually care

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Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

This article is going to be a bit ranty. And maybe a bit hypocritical. After all, I’ve stood in front of a room full of people and shared personal history through tears. But recently I’ve seen increasing incidences of senior people looking to tick the box of vulnerability or compassion because that’s what the books they are reading and the TED talks they are watching tell them to do.

Being vulnerable increases psychological safety. Brené Brown tells us that we need to show our vulnerability in front of people. This is true — as long as we mean it. If we are genuine and sincere then it gives permission to people to be fallible in front of each other. It’s something of a tightrope though — if we get it right it really works. If we’re doing it or doing it too often it starts coming across as manipulative. …


What transactional analysis can tell us about or working relationships

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Photo by Ryan Franco on Unsplash

20 plus years ago I learned a model that I’ve retained to this day. It’s called transactional analysis and it describes how we interact with each other. Looking back I can see it played out in thousands of interactions through my working and personal life. I described this briefly in It’s People, Stupid but it’s worth going over again.

Transactional analysis describes the state two people are in when they are interacting. Each person can be in one of 3 main states — Parent, Adult and Child.

  • Parent is the state where we know what’s best either because we don’t trust other people to do things properly or because they are not sufficiently developed to do it themselves. …


Change is hard. We make it harder than it needs to be

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Photo by Jason Wong on Unsplash

I have lost count of the number of senior leaders who have stood on stage days into some sweeping organisational change to declare that it’s all done. All the while the audience is squirming in disbelief. The truth is that the change is probably done for the leader at that point — they’ve written up neat boxes with different names in, drawn an org chart and told their people to make it so. …


What I learned from 10 years on hiring committee and 3,000 hiring packets

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Photo by Safar Safarov on Unsplash

Following on from The Google Design Interview I’m also going to write up my experience of the Google Coding Interview. For context for the reader — I used to teach the Technical Interview Training course at Google, spent 10 years on various hiring committees and gave a few hundred interviews during my time at Google. That’s not to say there is a single perfect way to give coding interviews — just that I’ve had a fair bit of experience.

The question I’m going to cover this is Conway’s Game of Life which is on the banned list as too well known to the outside world. It’s also considered among the simpler problems to offer candidates. It’s a good way of checking whether they can work through a problem and write clean code rather than testing the candidate’s ability to reproduce a given algorithm. …


Testing the ability for critical thought

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Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

One of the types of interview I most enjoyed giving at Google was the design interview. This interview is meant to test the ability of the candidate to break down a large problem and tackle part of it. It’s one of the biggest differentiators between hiring someone at the more senior levels (from Staff upwards). Part of the reason for this is that it gives the interviewer to test the candidate for their ability to critically think about something. In my opinion, this is a skill that our education system does not do a good job cultivating. …


The reasons your search results are not the same as mine

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Photo by Nathana Rebouças on Unsplash

I was having a conversation with my father in law recently where he expressed frustration that the results he gets from Google for a particular search term are no the same as when someone else does. This led to an interesting discussion about why determinism is not a goal (or even desirable) in a search engine.

It’s worth starting with a quick recap of how Google works. Let’s start with how Google determines the most relevant search results for a given query. Starting with the most basic assumption.

Relevance is a factor of how many people feel something is relevant. If you have a web page that is linked to by a hundred other people then this might indicate it is interesting. Let’s say you work in an office with 5 other people — Bob, Sally, Joe, Judy and Simon. You want to know where to go for lunch. Bob, Sally and Joe say go around the corner to Macdonalds’s. Judy and Simon say go to Fernandon’s Brasserie. Which is the right answer? …


What to do about your imposter syndrome

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Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Imposter syndrome is a relatively newly understood phenomenon. It’s the secretly nurtured fear that the only reason we’re here is that someone made a mistake and that any day someone is going to point to us and declare “you don’t belong here”. It leads us to self sabotage because of the emotional energy we spend being on edge. Waiting for the revelation and rejection of those around us. It’s a lonely road to walk. Everyone around us seems so accomplished, so together that we must be the odd one out.

When I walked through the door at Google I felt this acutely and continued feeling this every day for the following ten years. I also came to realise I wasn’t alone. Nobody really felt like they deserved to be there. I was in a presentation on the topic where it was introduced to me for the first time and I saw a room full of senior people start nodding their heads. As 300 people collectively had the same epiphany “so this is why I’ve been feeling this way” then looked around and realised they weren’t alone any more. It was then I realised that the people who don’t feel this way are the ones you have to worry about. Anyone who operates without self doubt is also likely to operate without conscience. …

About

Andy Walker

Ex-Google, ex-Netscape, ex-Skyscanner. Interested in solving complex problems without complexity and self sustaining self improving organisations.

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