My Apple ][ Tribute

It’s safe to say that the Apple ][ personal computer had a great an impact on my life as any other factor, short of the fact that I was born.

This is my tribute to the Apple ][ on it’s 40th birthday.

In 1978 I spent a day at my cousin’s factory in Grand Rapids, MI. I was 11 years old. I had never touched a computer beyond the Atari Pong my family had. After a tour of the factory, I think to get me out of the way, my cousin sat me down in front of his Apple ][ and fired up the game “Artillery”.

 

I was entrenched. For a few minutes anyway. Then I got bored.

Then I noticed The Applesoft Tutorial sitting there…

Shortly, I had figured out you could press Control-C to break out of the game in the the “Monitor”.

I learned I could type LIST and see the BASIC code for the program.

I learned I could change any line in the program by simply re-typing it with my changes. E.g. I could change

10 PRINT 2+3

to

10 PRINT 2-3

I learned I could then type RUN and the updated program would execute with my changes.

 

“OH MY GOD. THIS IS POWER.”

 

Never being one to actually, really, read instructions I dove in. I started changing things to see what would happen. I made Artillery my own.

Eventually I broke something and the Artillery game would no longer run.

In a panic, I shut off the Apple ][ and left to tell my cousin I was ready to leave.

From that point forward, my life’s direction was set. I wanted that power.

Later that year I conned my dad into buying a home computer so he could use VisiCalc for “business”. We visited the computer stores in the Phoenix area. One was a RadioShack and another sold Apple’s. My dad was leaning towards the TRS-80. I convinced him the Apple ][+ was better. I don’t remember why I thought so, but I ended up winning. He shelled out the dough for an Apple ][+, a Rana 5.25” floppy drive, and a color monitor. And VisiCalc.

For about 6 months the computer resided in my dad’s office (which was really a shared family room). He never really used it. I sat there for hours on end teaching myself BASIC by typing in programs from books and magazines.

Eventually the machine migrated to my bedroom, and as they say, the rest is history.

I had that Apple ][+ through high school, eventually adding a Microsoft Z80 Softcard to it. I had ‘graduated’ from Apple DOS to CP/M and from BASIC and 6502 assembly to UCSD p-system Pascal…and then Turbo Pascal. 

When I got to college I upgraded to an //e (with a home-built external keyboard!) and put a 4MB memory card in it, which I used as a RAM disk for CP/M, Turbo Pascal, and my dear friend WordStar.

Eventually an IBM PC XT clone entered my life and I saw the writing on the wall w.r.t. Windows so I left the Apple ][  behind.

I still have all the old programs I wrote for the Apple ][ both on 5.25” floppies (that probably can no longer be read) and printed out in a set of 3-ring binders. Maybe I should crack open an emulator and get ‘em to run…

Thanks Steve & Steve for creating such a magical experience and setting me on my way.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

What it Means to Be Great Product Manager

A Tweetstorm of mine from earlier in the week:

https://twitter.com/natbro/timelines/611337333711843330

1/ (piling on a comment @natbro made about PMs) Besides customers, there are two groups of people involved in building tech products:

2/ Engineers and everyone else. Only the engineers actually produce anything for the customer. The job of everyone else, especially PMs

3/ is to generate clarity and commitment to a purpose so that the engineers can create magic. Bad PMs don’t get this and think the product

4/ and business revolve around them. Great PMs have no ego in this regard and understand the reality:

5 That the only work that truly matters is that of the engineers. That said, it is also true that left to their own devices, engineers

6/ will do two things: 1) the most complicated thing, 2) the thing they think is fun. Therefore, do not confuse the fact that a PM’s job

7/ is to enable (and influence) engineers with the idea that PMs are not needed. On the contrary, when done right, great PMs free

8/ the engineers to focus on what they are best on: technical invention and execution. They do this by creating clarity around

9/who the customer is, where the customer is, why the customer cares, why it’s important for the business, and when it’s relevant.

10/ Oh, yea: I have more open PM roles on the Alexa team. Join me in enabling engineers to create magic for #AmazonEcho customers.

11/ E.g.  https://www.amazon.jobs/en/landing_pages/alexasmarthome

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Attention is the Currency of Leadership

Great leaders optimize how they spend their attention. They are skilled at turning up the heat to get others to focus their attention on the right things at the right times. Attention is the currency of leadership and each person has a fixed amount of attention to spend.

“Leaders have a fixed amount of attention units they can spend in a day, week, or year. Are you spending yours on the right things?” (A mentor of mine, Chris Phillips)

The number of “attention units” (AUs) a person can spend over a period of time is fixed. Let’s use a week as our time period. You have 1000 AUs you can spend in 7 days. Each leader’s amount might be different, but is fixed for each. Attention Units cannot be carried forward. You can’t earn more. The same balance applies to the leader’s personal and work life. Spend yours wisely.

I spent last week at an amazing leadership training offsite. One theme of this training was how to ensure others’ attention is focused on the right things. I’ve had some success becoming a better leader by using the concept of Attention Units to focus my own attention, and to train others to do the same. For example, the idea that “90% of the decisions you make don’t matter” is a powerful mental model you can use to focus your attention on the right problems.

“Attention is the currency of leadership” – Ronald Heifetz

As I’ve contemplated what I learned this week I’ve tried to mesh my former mental model of Attention Units with the far stronger concept that attention is THE currency of leadership, which was introduced to me this week. I sat down this morning to write this post (writing is a great way to create clarity of thought) and an article about Reid Hoffman serendipitously came across my twitter stream. In it, Ben Casnocha wrote:

“Every decision has tradeoffs: when you choose to do one thing it means you choose not do some other thing.” – Ben Casnocha

This is so true! I found this definition of Attention on Wikipedia, which resonated:

“Attention is focused mental engagement on a particular item of information. Items come into our awareness, we attend to a particular item, and then we decide whether to act.” (Davenport & Beck 2001, p. 20)

Leaders need to become masters at the following:

  • Optimizing how they spend their precious personal AUs.
  • Teaching other leaders skills for optimizing how the spend THEIR AUs.
  • Defending the pool of AUs belonging to the people who work for you (being a “shit umbrella”).
  • Creating an atmosphere where groups of people turn their attention towards, and focus their attention on, the right problems at the right times.

Great leaders figure out how to optimize how they spend their attention units. They are skillful at using tools (such as the 5Ps) and mental models (such as only 90% of the decisions you make don’t matter) to do this. Great leaders know how to say no to requests for attention from above and below. Great leaders figure out how and when to turn up the heat to get others to focus their attention on the right things. Leaders succeed and fail based on the things they give attention to.

What tools or skills do you know of for managing your own attention economy? Please share in comments!

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Find Work That Does Not Feel Like Work

The first thing I ask people who are looking for a new job is “What work do you want to do in your ideal job?”

It is interesting how few people answer this question. Almost everybody wants to answer different questions like “What do you want to work on?” or “What kind of work environment are you looking for?”

They respond with answers like “I want to work on a small dynamic team with other smart people” or “I want to build products that millions of consumers will use.” These are great answers; they are just answers to a question I did not ask.

work [wurk] noun

  1. exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labor; toil.
  2. something on which exertion or labor is expended; a task or undertaking: The students finished their work in class.
  3. productive or operative activity.

The people who I think will be the most successful can think about and discuss the actual WORK they do in their jobs, day-to-day. Their answers include specific tasks. “Write code”, “respond to emails”, “create user stories”, “analyze data”, “run brainstorming meetings”, and “build relationships” are great examples.

Happiness, I believe, comes from doing work that makes you happy.

When I ask the question “What work do you want to do?” I’m asking a very precise question. I ask it because I believe the biggest indicator of someone being successful in a job is whether they are happy with their job. And happiness, I believe, comes from doing work that makes you happy.

I have been known to spend hours cleaning and polishing the wheel wells of a car. Yes, I get the satisfaction out of the clean result, but, as screwed up as it sounds, I actually love the hard work of the cleaning. I think it is fun. It makes me happy!

I have also been known to spend hours reviewing spreadsheets full of product usage metrics. Finding the key indicators gives me satisfaction, and makes my customers happy, but I find the actual work excruciatingly painful. For me that kind of work is not fun. I do it because it is required.

In my job at Amazon, I am blessed the majority of the work I do is fun for me. Talking face to face with employees about their career is fun. Doing pixel-perfect reviews of our product’s customer experience with the team is fun. Teaching the team that saying no is more powerful than saying yes, is fun. Sitting down with my leads and writing and re-writing a 6-page narrative describing our product is fun. And the list goes on.

I am happy with my job because most of the work I do, even though it is hard, is fun. It is an extra-special bonus that someone is willing to pay me for doing it. Because I’m happy with my job, I’m generally happy.

Think about the work you have done in the past and and create two lists: In one write down the tasks that didn’t feel like work and in the other write the tasks that you toiled over. Then go find a job where the majority of required work is in the first list.

Don’t get me wrong, accomplishing big things can give you confidence and bolster your resume (and change the world). Confidence and a strong resume create opportunities to find jobs where the majority of the required work doesn’t feel like work. Happiness does not comes from what you’ve accomplished. Happiness is not about the past. It is not about the future. It is about the now.

My team is hiring. Maybe the work that needs to get done in revolutionizing local commerce sounds fun to you. If so email me your resume (kindelc (at) amazon.com).

More Posts on managing your career:

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.