• How to think about your career

    How to think about your career

    I first stumbled on Charlie Kindel’s blog post about his “job decision matrix” several years ago, while mentoring a young teammate who was wondering about how she should think about her next job. It is such a great model for thinking about – and planning for – career growth, that I have shared it at least a few times a month, every month, ever since.

    Charlie Kindel's job matrix
    Charlie Kindel’s job decision matrix. (source)

    As I prepared to leave Google Ventures in 2020, I built my own version of Charlie’s matrix in Trello, and as opportunities presented themselves, I would put the matrix on screen as I reflected on what each opportunity represented. It was extraordinarily useful – in my experience, these things are often implicit, ongoing conversations with yourself about what matters, what doesn’t… putting my priorities on screen made the evaluation a much more concrete, defensible process. As I’d evaluate a specific opportunity, it became easier to gut-check the stack-ranking of priorities, the preferences about what actually mattered. More than once, an opportunity that seemed exciting turned out to be less so. I learned a ton about what I really cared about, and why – which made it so easy to lean into the opportunity to serve the state of California when the opportunity presented itself.

    Kindel’s matrix helps you identify a few key insights:

    • what matters, and in what order
    • what doesn’t matter
    • which merit badges are you pursuing?
    • where are the blockers that you absolutely want to avoid? (In my experience, unless these are explicit, we’re wired to make excuses for things that seem interesting in the moment, but which have one or more red flags… calling these blockers out explicitly – could be geography, sector, leadership, etc. – is very helpful in keeping yourself honest.)

    We’re in the midst of the “the great resignation“, a time when millions are leaving jobs, reevaluating what matters most to them, and exploring new opportunities. As covid pushes more employers to adapt to (if not fully embrace) remote work, the roles available to job seekers are increasing – often with fewer constraints (geographic and otherwise) that imposed some natural limits on who would compete for those roles.

    It’s with that backdrop that I think it’s worth highlighting Charlie’s original post. (His post on careers being more like space missions, and less like trajectories, is also fantastic.) If you or someone you know is currently rethinking your current role, and exploring what might come next, spend some time creating your own Trello board (Charlie’s current board is here if you need inspiration). You’ll learn a lot about what you’re really optimizing for, and you might be surprised by where that leads you.

  • A National Strategy for COVID-19 Medical Countermeasures

    A National Strategy for COVID-19 Medical Countermeasures

    Love this in JAMA this week:

    [T]o facilitate verification of vaccination status and to better track postvaccination infections, there needs to be an electronic vaccine certificate platform. Relying on forgeable paper cards is unacceptable in the 21st century. Current state immunization information systems are incomplete, fragmented, and not interoperable, hindering national efforts to control the virus. A national electronic vaccine certificate platform is needed, such as the SMART Health Card, that ensures interoperability across states and countries, safeguards individual privacy, and is based on open-source technology publicly available for vetting to help satisfy any concerns over government surveillance.

    One of my big projects at CDT has been the work on California’s Digital Vaccine Record system (more about that below in a Twitter thread from me from last month), which led to me getting involved in the Vaccine Credential Initiative, the organization responsible for the development of the SMART Health Cards framework. It’s exciting to see the awareness of VCI’s work on COVID-19 vaccination verification grow, and lead more leaders to point to it as an example that could become the foundation on which a truly national approach to vaccine verification could be built.

  • It’s been a while

    Just over twenty years ago (!), I started a personal blog. It’s past time to bring it back. Welcome!

    December, 2001: I was past deadline for a magazine column I was co-authoring at the time, and after noticing a series of Google searches all sent me to some random guy’s personal website, I wanted to learn more. As I submitted my article (did I mention I was late?!), I decided I’d give blogging a try.

    Blogger seemed the easiest – I typed something up in a form on a webpage, clicked a button, and the words I’d just typed were sent via FTP to my webhost where my blog took shape. (Spoiler alert: you’re going to want to remember that sentence.) Writing on the web was addictive: the feedback was faster and broader than any prior experience I’d had on the Internet, largely thanks to Google’s ability to steer people to the blog who were searching for things I was writing about.

    The more I wrote, the more people I met. People who weren’t like me at all – professors, professionals, politicians, journalists – but people who shared at least some of the interests I had. They commented on my posts, or linked to my blog from their own. I traveled a lot for business those days, and I got in the habit of mentioning when I’d be in New York, or Boston, or San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or New Orleans, or London. It was a rare trip that I didn’t get drinks with at least a couple of folks who I met online. Many of those people remain friends today.

    In those first few years, my blog was primarily about two things: legal technology (I did go to law school!) and politics. For more than a year, I actually maintained two separate blogs: one for each of those topics. Then it dawned of me: I wouldn’t not talk about politics at a cocktail party any more than I would avoid talking about work. Both were important to me, so why not just be me online? So I combined them. (Many years later, I’d come to realize just how privileged that decision was. But that’s for later.)

    FeedBurner got bought by Google, and a little over a year later, I found myself getting an opportunity to become a product manager, working on Blogger. It was, in every possible way, a dream come true. In 2009, Blogger received more traffic than Facebook, in many countries a Blogger-hosted blog was the most visited website (over Google!). I exported my blog from WordPress, set up shop on Blogger, and got to work.

    It’s a funny thing to run one of the largest blogging platforms in the world, see just how vital your product is to the millions of people who rely on it, and simultaneously realize how hard it is to use that same product to say what’s on your mind because of where you work. I found it hard to know how to draw the line between “some dude named Rick said…” and “Google exec Rick Klau said…”. I started blogging less. It was strange: I loved the product I was responsible for, even as I found it less and less natural to use it in the way I’d first learned to blog.

    (About that line above: how I first used Blogger? How awed I was by clicking a button and a few minutes later, thanks to the magic of FTP, I had a blog? There’s no easy way to say this: I killed Blogger FTP. Not metaphorically killed, actually killed. I permanently eliminated Blogger’s first, and arguably, it’s original, killer feature. You can read more about the backstory (on Medium, sigh) here; suffice it to say, many years later, I don’t think I’ve ever again made that many people angry all at one time.)

    I moved to Google+, which at the time was a super-secret project, where I couldn’t talk about what I was working on. Then YouTube, where I worked hard to learn a new medium. I blogged even less.

    Then I left YouTube to join Google Ventures. As much as I loved my job at GV, GV didn’t need me talking out of turn about our portfolio, or about the venture industry more broadly. When I did write online, it was generally on Twitter. It offered many of the same benefits of my blogging from a decade earlier (my network grew, my friendships expanded, every once in a while I learned something), but felt, somehow, more ephemeral. The blog felt more permanent, more risky. Looking back, I wonder how much of that was real, and how much was self-imposed.

    Lately, I’ve come to realize: I miss writing. I miss taking the time to reflect on what I’m trying to say. I spoke to a group of students a year or two ago; in passing, admitted that I often didn’t know what I thought about a subject until I had to write it out. Writing helps me think, helps me reflect. It helps me learn.

    So I’m going to give this another go. There’s a lot that isn’t quite right just yet (the blog’s domain is the same, but the permalinks are different, and I forgot everything I ever knew about .htaccess; none of the categories from years ago seem to have come over, that’s probably not terrible).

    But the blog’s here, I’m typing into a form again, and I’m clicking publish. Feels good.

  • Jaguar I-Pace first impressions

    A mere three years after I got a ride in a prototype of the early Google self-driving cars, Elon Musk launched Tesla’s autopilot. I’d experienced something like autopilot already, but to see it in a production car was thrilling. I walked into the local Tesla center and ordered a Model S that day. I took delivery in early December, and turned autopilot on as soon as I got on the highway leaving the factory in Fremont. The future had arrived!

    My feelings for Tesla over the following three years are… complicated. I admire what the company has been able to do. I’ve taken the factory tour a few times over the years, and it’s staggering to witness the conversion of the old NUMMI factory into a modern marvel of engineering and automation. I loved knowing that my purchase of a Tesla was accelerating an industry’s conversion from internal combustion engines to more environmentally friendly options. I was thrilled to know that my car was built just miles from my house. The nature of the way the car was constructed – heavy battery low to the ground, a single gear motor ensuring tons of torque from the minute you hit the accelerator – meant it was terribly fun to drive. As fun as it was, it was also the safest production car on the road. Win-win.

    And yet. Bugs that existed in the infotainment system when I took delivery persisted. For years. The build quality of a car valued at more than what my first apartment cost was uninspiring. There was that time that my car wouldn’t boot. Still drove, but the center panel was unresponsive. Took them almost two weeks to fix it (by replacing the center tablet, because they didn’t know what was wrong and couldn’t reset it.) Or the fender bender I’d had which took almost 2 months to repair – because they had no inventory of replacement parts, and they’d converted the entire factory to pumping out as many Model 3s as they could. I just needed a headlamp. A headlamp that took over a month to produce, because they had none available. (!)

    Which brings me back to auto-pilot. I used it almost every day for the first two years I had the car. But as the company struggled to meet its Model 3 targets, I read several articles about the pressures being exerted on the company by leadership. Whistleblowers called attention to questionable safety decisions made repeatedly inside of the same factory I’d toured. There was the Apple engineer in his 30s who died when autopilot malfunctioned – on Highway 101, less than a mile from my office. The same team responsible for software that was buggy – I never knew if that podcast I was listening to when I turned the car off would be waiting for me when I turned it back on, or if the infotainment system would randomly select another for me – was the team responsible for the software that drove my car. Safety accidents caused concerns at the factory. I started to wonder whether I would keep the Model S when my lease was up.

    That’s when I heard about the I-Pace. I’d never considered buying a Jaguar. But it was going to be an electric car, it looked decidedly different, and early reviews suggested it was going to be a competent alternative to a category Tesla had had all to itself for years.

    My local dealer got a prototype over Labor Day, so I took it for a quick drive. I didn’t have enough time to put it through its paces, but it sure seemed to fit the bill. Last week, the vehicle I’d ordered (the HSE model) arrived on a boat, and I took delivery a few days later. If you’re looking for a professional review, here are a handful that I liked:

    Several friends have asked for my thoughts, so here goes:

    Build quality. This car is exceptionally well-built. The fit and finish are uniformly excellent. Where the Telsa’s interior always felt a tad spartan, the I-Pace is clearly a luxury vehicle.

    Driver assistance. I remain surprised by what the Tesla chose not to include, given how technology-forward the car has always been. My I-Pace includes blind spot alerts in both rear view mirrors, along with audible alerts if you signal a turn into a lane where a vehicle is already present. Visibility in the car is generally good, but having additional alerts to help avoid an accident is a big win. The heads-up display is OK, not great. (The HUD in my wife’s Lincoln Navigator offers much more relevant info, for instance.) But it’s nice to have the vehicle’s speed displayed, call info, etc. without having to take your eyes off the road.

    Cruise Control. Though the I-Pace makes no claims to compete with Tesla’s Autopilot, I was pleasantly surprised to find it offers both adaptive cruise control (set a speed, it will adjust as cars in front of you slow down, keeping speed with them) as well as steering assist (it will read the lane markings and control the steering to keep the vehicle in the middle of the lane). I’ve used it a few times, and don’t yet know if I’ll use it as regularly as I’d used Autopilot. Seems to work well, and it will yell at you if you take your hands off the wheel for more than a few seconds. Given my overall ambivalence to the current state of the art for cars (more or less) driving themselves, I think I’ll generally be the one driving.

    The green steering wheel means it’s in steering assist mode; the green lines indicate that it’s tracking the lane markers to stay inside the lane. The orange indicator indicates that it’s staying a set distance from the vehicle in front of you. 

    Android Auto. Yes, I’ve worked at Alphabet for 12 years, so I’m a tad biased when it comes to phone OS. That said, I had my first exposure to Android Auto last year when I rented an Audi A4 from Silvercar. The resulting experience in the car was so transformative that I declared I’d never buy a car that didn’t support Android Auto. Having native access to Waze, Google Maps, Spotify, my phone / contacts, Google Assistant… it’s light years better than anything I’d previously experienced. Jaguar thankfully supports both Android Auto and Apple’s Car Play, which is great, because…

    Infotainment System. The I-Pace has two different screens. The primary screen is a wide, short screen, with a second, smaller screen below. I’d read a number of reviews that mentioned general frustration with this system, and they weren’t wrong. It can often take several seconds from tapping on the screen for the screen to respond to your touch. I rely almost exclusively on Android Auto while driving, so I’ve only interacted with the screen when parked. Which is good, because any amount of interaction w/the screen while driving would likely drive me batty. (One of the forums mentioned that the OS for this is Embedded Windows – not sure if that’s accurate or not, but if true, it’s actually cause for cautious optimism: the Jaguar can be updated over-the-air (OTA) – and software performance can be tuned and improved. Fingers crossed.)

    (Side note: relying on Android Auto for navigation means that the car’s built-in nav system – which can incorporate battery range, and ID charging stations along the way – is bypassed entirely. Among other things, it means I don’t get the turn-by-turn indications in the HUD that I’d get if I relied on the Jaguar’s native navigation system. I get why they don’t talk to each other – but it’s a quirk of  running two OSes in parallel vs. a tighter integration.)

    One nice feature of the built-in nav system? A dynamic representation of where on the map your car can get to given the current battery charge. It’s slick:

    Also: it turns out, having buttons and knobs in the dash is quite a bit more useful than having a giant iPad control every feature in the vehicle. The Jag’s layout is for the most part intuitive, and not having to swipe through lots of menus to get to a specific control is great.

    Height adjustment. I thought this might be a gimmick – the car has three height settings: “Access height” lowers the car for entry/exit so you’re closer to the ground, “Normal”, and “Off-road”. While I haven’t had the good fortune to take this car off-road yet, the numerous online reviews suggest that it’s a legit off-road contender. (Here’s Top Gear’s take.) Put the car in off-road mode, and it raises the car over 2 inches higher. On the highway, the car automatically lowers itself by a half inch to improve its drag coefficient. (Tesla’s with the optional air suspension also lower the vehicle at speed, and can raise/lower the car, for instance when approaching a driveway with a steep initial incline.)

    Driving. This is a driver’s car. I’m sure part of my reaction is a general new/shiny honeymoon phase, but it is genuinely exciting to drive. By default, the car starts in “Comfort” mode, which smooths acceleration and defaults to a lighter steering / suspension mode. But you can put the car in “Dynamic” mode – resulting in faster acceleration, tighter steering, firmer suspension. You’ll use more of the battery, but you’ll have more fun. Several family members have reported that the ride as a passenger is more pleasant – I think this is due to a few factors: first, it’s just more comfortable due to more headroom and legroom in the cabin. Second, the I-Pace has an air suspension that my Model S did not (it was an option, I didn’t add it). Overall, my passengers prefer riding along in the I-Pace, for whatever that’s worth.

    (Speaking of being a driver’s car: when you put the car in Dynamic mode, you unlock an app on the main screen called Dynamic-I. Dynamic-I yields a lap timer (!), a G-force gauge (!!), and a real-time graph of your throttle and brake usage. I’ve not taken the car to a track, so I have no real use for the lap timer or throttle/brake graph. But comparing to the figures in this post, it looks like the I-Pace gets a nearly identical number to the AWD Model S when accelerating 0-60mph.)

    If you have range anxiety, you have a third mode: “Eco”, which will optimize for extracting every last mile out of your charge. You’ll lose some of the car’s performance abilities, but you’ll drive longer.

    The seats are the most comfortable seats I’ve ever had – the driver support is light years beyond what I’d had in my Model S. They are infinitely adjustable – leg support, lumbar support, lower back side support, etc. – once I found the setting that felt ideal, I never looked back.

    Range. There’s been quite a bit of chatter online about whether the I-Pace’s range holds up. They’d originally claimed a range >240 miles on a full charge; the EPA rates it at 234 miles, and owners are reporting a fair bit of variability, with some being disappointed by sub-200 mile rides. Here’s what I can say: when I took delivery of my Model S in 2015, it said that my battery (at 90% charge; Tesla doesn’t recommend charging to 100%) had 250+ miles of range. Over a few years, that degraded a tad to ~238 miles. In reality, my actual range was more like 160-180 miles. First, you never drive to empty. Second, different driving conditions – esp. local roads with lots of stops and starts – often diminished total range. That said, I could always charge at home, and the Supercharger network was never far from wherever I was. So I never really cared about range.

    For the I-Pace, after just a few hundred miles of driving, I’m inclined to think it’ll be something similar. When fully charged, it tells me my range is ~260 miles (it’s adjusting for your driving behavior as well as the driving mode you’re in), and apparently I’m an efficient driver so far. But I fully expect that number to decline as it gets more data and as the battery capacity degrades a tad.

    Frunk. Like w/my Model S, you can pop the hood. Unlike with the Model S, you can’t actually store stuff in there. The storage space in the I-Pace’s frunk is hilariously small. You could fit a few books in there, maybe even a small briefcase. But beyond that? The trunk or the cabin are your only choices.

    Charging. So this is where Tesla has a HUGE advantage. There are over 10,000 superchargers worldwide. Living in the Bay Area in California, there’s a supercharging station in my home town, there’s a supercharging station at the Tesla center one town away, there are a dozen within a 20 mile radius. They charge fast – like, really fast – and they’re convenient. (As a bonus, my Model S was entitled to free supercharging, something which they’ve phased out. A full recharge for a new car will run $20-25.)

    Per Jaguar’s recommendation, I installed a Chargepoint Home charger. For the first few days, it charged my I-Pace without incident. (It’s a 32A charger, and adds 24 miles of range per hour.) I wanted to condition the battery by running it low before recharging it, so I didn’t charge for several days. Went to charge it the other night, and discovered that the Chargepoint Home had malfunctioned. (They’re shipping me a new one, it will be here next week.)

    No worries, the Chargepoint map showed a DC fast charger nearby – great! Drove there yesterday, only to learn that there are two incompatible DC fast-charging implementations: CHAdeMO (doesn’t work with the I-Pace) and CCS/SAE (works). (Side note: who came up with these acronyms?!) Remembering the dealer telling me I could swing by and use their charger whenever I wanted, I drove to the dealer (~10 miles away). Showed up, and learned that their charger had been offline since last night. Plan C: I’d seen a news report that Electrify America had just installed the two fastest chargers in the U.S. a few miles from my house. Off I went.

    My experience at Electrify America’s station was comically awful. Their power cords are too short – I had to move my car to within two inches of the metal poles in the parking spot for the cord to reach my charging port. Then they declined my first card, then my second (both are in good standing). Finally took a third card, and charged my car for 5 minutes before declaring “charging error”. I tried a second charger, and couldn’t get it to approve any card… and gave up. (There’s an I-Pace owners group on Facebook that I’ve joined; after my experience, I found a thread there that documented an identical experience by another I-Pace owner four weeks ago. John shared those concerns publicly here.)

    I’ve since discovered PlugShare – both an app and website – which looks promising as a way to only see charging stations that work with my car, and get a sense for just how quickly they’ll be able to charge. A Level 2 station will add roughly 20-25 miles of range per hour, which is ~10% of what a supercharger will give you. I believe a fast charging station will add 100-120 miles of range per hour, but haven’t yet been able to confirm that. The emptier your battery, the faster it charges; as it fills, it slows. This screencap of my Model S charging on a supercharger last year was representative:

    322 mi/hour? That’s… fast.

    In short: the reliability, ubiquity, and consistency of the supercharger network is a big, big advantage for Tesla. I’m hopeful that my Chargepoint Home malfunction was a fluke – if so, charging at home will be easy and dependable, and for the vast majority of my trips, I’ll be fine. But for longer trips, I’d have to do quite a bit more planning than I’d ever had to do with the Tesla.

    This doesn’t mean I regret my purchase – I definitely don’t! But it’s to Tesla’s credit that they removed one of the big obstacles to electric car ownership and totally nailed the user experience from discovery to delivery to payment processing. Implementation matters, and the non-Tesla commercial charging experience right now is a patchwork of incompatible formats and let’s-see-if-this-works payment processing. It’ll work (eventually), but it takes patience. For non-Tesla electric cars to really go past the tipping point, we’re going to need a similarly robust and reliable charging infrastructure – and if yesterday’s experience is any indication, we’re not there yet.

    That sound. The first few reviews I’d read were pretty dismissive of Jaguar’s decision to pipe in a computer-generated digital equivalent of engine noise as you accelerate. (More on this from The Verge.) I thought I’d hate it – after all, one of the benefits of an electric car is the absence of engine noise and the overall quiet ride. But in my first week I’ve found that I quite like the audible cue of acceleration. Maybe it’ll seem like a gimmick in time, but somehow it feels normal and even a bit fun. (Note: the sound is different if you’re in Dynamic mode. In either mode, the noise gets more muscular the faster you go.)

    Conclusion: I adore my I-Pace. It doesn’t look quite like anything else on the road, it drives like a dream, and the interior is more comfortable, roomier, and laid out in an intuitive way. Other Tesla owners who’ve grown wary of time devoted to stupid easter eggs instead of fixing long-standing bugs (a whoopee cushion? seriously?! ) but who are bought into electric car ownership will find the I-Pace to be a worthy alternative. And those who haven’t yet made the leap into an electric vehicle should be warned: one test drive of this car will make it hard for any other vehicle to match up.

    After a week, I’ve got a few random items on my wishlist. On the off-chance that someone from Jaguar sees this, I’d love to get these to the right team:
    • Miles driven since last charge: The Tesla trip odometer provided this info by default, and it’s a nice way to have eyes on your actual range for a given charge. I haven’t figured out if this is presented anywhere, but it’d be nice to be able to access it.
    • Reprogram the voice button: The steering wheel has a voice command button that seems to only activate Jaguar’s voice commands. I’d love to be able to redirect this button to activate the  Google Assistant (or for Apple users, Siri). I’ve seen this in other manufacturers, and it’s a big usability win. Ordinarily just saying “Hey Google” while driving would be enough, but it turns out you kind of have to store the phone in the center console, where the mic can’t hear you. Why? Because…
    • GPS in the car seems to only work if the phone is actually in the closed center console. If the phone is out and accessible, the phone’s GPS receiver struggles to triangulate on the GPS satellites; if it’s in the center console, it’s much more reliable. Other owners have reported similar behavior – guessing it’s tied to the construction of the panoramic glass roof… whatever it is, it means my phone is out of reach and unlikely to hear me. Fortunately, if I trigger the Google Assistant from Android Auto’s touchscreen, it uses the car’s built-in microphones, and it works fine.
    • The second screen is great for displaying media info (or controlling the phone) when the primary screen is showing Android Auto/CarPlay. Really wish it’d show the artist/song title instead of just the channel name. 
    • Related: why doesn’t Android Auto use the Pixel’s song identification system to surface “Now playing” info and display that on screen? (I’ve filed that feature request internally.)
    • Another Android Auto wishlist item: really wish any of the electric charging apps (EVgo, Chargepoint, PlugShare, etc.) were categorized as Maps apps in Android Auto so I could easily select them to pull up a list of charging stations nearby and see what their charging capacities are.
    • The Jaguar Android app isn’t the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but it mostly gets the job done. That said: naming the app “Remote” is… not the best decision. When your app drawer is alphabetized by default, you’d expect to find it listed under “J” for “Jaguar”, or “I” for “I-Pace”. Definitely not expected that it’d be under “R” for “Remote”. 
    • When I took delivery of the car, OTA updates were disabled. I think this was an oversight on the part of the dealer – but I was surprised, when poking through the car settings menu, to see “Updates” set to “Off”. OTA updates are one of the many advantages to modern cars – I don’t want to have to take the car to a dealer to get the latest software – this is the sort of thing that should be on by default. 
    • There are a ton of features in the car that are buried and unlikely to be discovered by most drivers. An email highlighting a new feature or family of features sent on a regular basis would be a great post-purchase way of ensuring that most of the really useful features are enabled and used. (At a minimum, if I were a PM at Jaguar, I’d be running some analytics across the installbase to see how many users are editing the defaults. Sure, many of the early buyers are likely to be early adopters… but I’m a week in, I’m a huge tinkerer, and I’m still finding stuff I haven’t seen before.)
  • My unconsciously biased address book

    The 20% problem

    Earlier this year, I cleaned up my contacts and became interested in what the gender split would look like for my address book. Not only was it no better than my Twitter experiment from last year, the numbers were exactly the same. Of the just over 1,900 contacts in my primary address book, 399 are women. Last year, people I followed on Twitter were 79.7% men; today my address book is 79.9% men.

    If the majority of leaders at most companies are men and if the majority of their networks are men (as mine are), then this is a self-perpetuating problem. This is hardly a new notion: a 23 year-old study concluded that “network mechanisms operate to create and reinforce gender inequalities in the workplace”; that study’s author, Herminia Ibarra, more recently referenced Malcolm Gladwell’s work on the subject of gender diversity:

    [N]etworks run on “connectors,” people who are linked to almost everyone else in a few steps and who connect the rest of us to the world. … [Y]ou can reach connectors through someone you already know or through someone who knows someone whom you already know. (emphasis mine)

    It really is who you know. And who I know is 80% men.

    The 80/20 split is everywhere for me. People who follow me on Twitter? 81/19:

    Source: Twitter Analytics.

    Maybe LinkedIn is different? Spoiler alert: LinkedIn is not different. Interestingly, LinkedIn itself doesn’t know this: they don’t ask your gender when you sign up. I used genderize.io to programmatically estimate the gender of my LinkedIn network. Of my 2,300+ contacts in my LinkedIn network, 23% are women. At least I’m consistent.

    What now?

    A few years ago, my favorite contemporary science fiction author John Scalzi wrote a brilliant post attempting to explain white male privilege. He came up with a rather lovely metaphor:

    In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

    What I like about John’s metaphor is not that it says you’ll win the game just because you’re a straight white guy, but that the game of life is inherently more difficult if you’re something other than a straight white guy. Once you become more aware of the obstacles placed in front of the non-SWMs, it’s harder to deny the fundamental truth of John’s post.

    I’m a father of three, my youngest is my daughter. Once I’d taken Google’s Unconscious Bias training, it was hard not to notice all the subtle cues we’re surrounded by that reinforce the idea that it’s a man’s world:

    In the professional context, address books like mine are just one obstacle among many that women face — and it’s hardly their biggest obstacle. But it’s a real obstacle nonetheless, and importantly it’s one I can directly work on improving. Much like the Unconscious Bias training helped me see things I wasn’t previously aware of and changed how I interacted with my colleagues, this network awareness led me to be more conscious of how I engage with women at work and online.

    Next Steps

    I suspect that many people will be similarly surprised at what the data says about their networks. Once you know your own ratio, I think you’ll be motivated as I was to make it better. That was the first step for me: awareness and commitment to improve. I reached out to several colleagues, men and women, to ask how they address this for themselves. Here are a few suggestions:

    Understand Unconscious Bias.

    Once “bias” is a fact rather than a stigma, you can get to work on compensating for it. The Implicit Association test was useful data that helped me accept that even though I’m married to a strong woman, am father of a strong girl, have spent years talking a good game when it came to championing women in the workplace, yes, I do in fact over-index “work” with “male” and “home” with “female”. (Whether you know it or not, odds are, so do you. Take the test.)

    Know your own ratio.

    Look at Twitter’s analytics and give Followerwonk a try. For that LinkedIn data I generated, here’s a blog post on how you can do what I did.

    From the time I started this essay to today, every single metric I measured has improved. Knowing your own ratio will lead you to want to improve it.

    Push for gender diversity and insist on a code of conduct at events.

    One event I attend each year, ORDcamp, addressed this by asking for attendee nominations of people who “don’t look like you”. Zack and Fitz (ORDcamp’s organizers) progressed from <10% to 33% women in just a few years. (To their credit, they’re still not happy with a 2:1 ratio, and continue to work on improving the ratio.)

    Avoid all male panels and all-male speaker line-ups.

    Going forward, I simply won’t participate in a panel discussion that’s all guys. (Also? Panels are often terrible.)

    Follow more women on Twitter.

    No, I’m not giving you a list. Who’s interesting to me isn’t necessarily going to be interesting to you — and whether I listed 50 or 500 I’d be leaving out countless worthwhile voices. Seek them out. Use the ORDcamp mantra I cited earlier as your guide: follow people who don’t look like you.


    A funny thing happens when you engage with more women (I know, I know — this is hardly rocket science): you become more aware of their experiences, more conscious of their challenges. Read one headline about harassment online and you might think it’s an isolated case; follow hundreds of women, you’ll learn just how common it is. And you might just be motivated to help make things better, in whatever small way you can.

  • Using genderize.io to infer gender in a LinkedIn network

    A month or so ago, I got to wondering whether there was any way to determine the gender of my LinkedIn network. Surprisingly, LinkedIn doesn’t even ask for gender on sign-up, so I couldn’t just pull the info directly from LinkedIn. And I didn’t need a 100% accurate solution – I just wanted a directionally-useful metric.

    After doing a bit of Googling, I found genderize.io, a nice little API that gives you a best guess for a gender if you give it a name. If you send it this string:


    you get back this result:


    In other words, genderize.io believes with 100% confidence that “richard” is a male name. (From Genderize’s documentation, the count “represents the number of data entries examined in order to calculate the response.”)

    I have more than 2,300 connections on LinkedIn, so getting a breakdown of everyone’s gender was going to be too time-consuming. Instead of doing the names one at a time, I signed up for a developer account and paid for up to 100,000 queries/month. (For more than a handful of queries, Genderize.io will rate-limit you; with a developer account, you get an access token that bypasses the rate limits.)

    With an access token, here are the steps I used to get a breakdown of my LinkedIn network’s gender split:

    1. Export LinkedIn connections
    2. Import the file into a Google Sheet
    3. Delete everything but the first name field (“Given Name”)
    4. In a separate column, create a a URL string that appends the contents of the Given Name column to a tokenized URL that includes your Genderize.io access token. For me this looked like:
    5. In a new column, use Google Sheets’s “ImportHTML” function to execute the query represented in the adjacent column:
    6. Step 5 creates several columns, as Google Sheets will bring in the Genderize.io query results into the spreadsheet; unfortunately, it does not properly split the gender result into its own columns. Create a new column and use the “Split” command to break the string [gender:”female”] into separate cells, then use “CountIF” to count how many times the word “female” appears in your worksheet. Divide that number by the total number of rows in your spreadsheet, and you have your % of female contacts.
    (If I was a better programmer, I could have built a simple Python script using Genderize.io’s API to do this automatically. Maybe someone who reads this will want to build it? Let me know!)
  • About me & Disclaimer

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I am a partner at Google Ventures, where I run our Partnerships TeamUnless otherwise noted in a post, the opinions here are my own, and not those of Google Ventures, Google, or anyone else whose name has appeared on my paychecks. I’m also a political junkie (worked on the Dean campaign in ’03, ran the Obama campaign blog in ’04 when he ran for Senate, and did a bunch of stuff in the ’08 and ’12 Presidential election), and a proud husband and father of 3 wonderful kids.

    Previously a very active blogger, I’ve found that I post to the blog infrequently at best, while I’m much more active on Twitter these days.

    For more on me, my full CV is at http://cv.rklau.com/.

  • Google, plus our past = the future of photos

    A couple years ago, I wrote about my first serious attempt to organize my family’s photos. 50,000 digital photos spanning more than a decade — scattered across multiple computers, phones, cameras, and hard drives. It wasn’t a bad first attempt, but if I’m perfectly honest, it required a fair bit of work to keep it current. Which means it was out of date pretty quickly. (And it’s just as well: my middle child repurposed the photo server earlier this year to be a Minecraft server.)

    Then I remembered the photo albums. Dozens and dozens of photo albums. Actual dead-tree, hold-in-your-hand, photo albums. Photo albums from my childhood. Photo albums from my wife’s childhood. Photo albums from our early, pre-digital life together. Photo albums from grandparents, passed down to us when they died.

    Photo albums that none of us had looked at in years.

    So naturally I got rid of them.

    Read the full post over at Medium.

  • Measure twice, cut once

    Finally got a chance to try out writing on Medium, @ev’s new platform for writing on the web. I loved the experience, and expect I’ll use it some more in the months ahead to get out a few other posts I’ve been thinking about.

    I wrote about a tough decision we made in 2010 to shut down Blogger’s oldest feature: FTP publishing. (Back in 2010 I wrote about the announcement here.) The gist of the post is captured in the quote below, but I encourage you to read the whole thing.

    It’s easy to say yes when a customer (or prospect) asks for a new feature: after all, if it’s just a day or two of engineering time, why not? But you quickly lose sight of the product you’re building: your product no longer has a coherent vision, and each new feature brings with it uncertain support costs that will last as long as the feature remains. Much harder — but much more important — is the discipline to question whether the feature is a required piece of what you’re building. New or old, easy or hard — if the feature does not support the overall product goals, it has to go. Customers and team-members alike respond to that discipline — particularly if it results in better support, more predictable development, and a clearer understanding of what it is you’re trying to build.

  • How Google sets Goals: OKRs

    (cross-posted from the Google Ventures Startup Lab blog.)

    On the day Google’s acquisition of FeedBurner closed in 2007, it was also the first day of a new quarter at Google. My new manager at Google asked me to draft my OKRs for him to review. I had no idea what he was talking about. I’ve now gone through the process of setting my Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) 24 times, and each time I marvel at what an effective mechanism they are for focusing my effort as well as aligning my work with the company’s objectives. Last fall, I led a workshop about OKRs at the Startup Lab, which we’re making public today.  

    John Doerr originally presented OKRs to Google’s leadership in 1999 when Google was less than a year old, and they’ve been in use ever since. In the video, I present a portion of John’s original deck, then lay out how we’ve implemented them at Google over the years. I also shared a few of my OKRs from my time as a Product Manager on Blogger, and answered some questions from the employees at our portfolio companies who were present for the workshop. Though the video goes into more detail, here are a few keys to what make OKRs work at Google:

    • Objectives are ambitious, and should feel somewhat uncomfortable
    • Key Results are measurable; they should be easy to grade with a number (at Google we use a 0 – 1.0 scale to grade each key result at the end of a quarter)
    • OKRs are public; everyone in the company should be able to see what everyone else is working on (and how they did in the past)
    • The “sweet spot” for an OKR grade is .6 – .7; if someone consistently gets 1.0, their OKRs aren’t ambitious enough. Low grades shouldn’t be punished; see them as data to help refine the next quarter’s OKRs.

    One comment: in talking recently with one portfolio company who’s implemented OKRs, I realized that I should have been more emphatic in pointing out that OKRs are not synonymous with employee evaluations. OKRs are about the company’s goals and how each employee contributes to those goals. Performance evaluations – which are entirely about evaluating how an employee performed in a given period – should be independent from their OKRs. We’ll cover employee evaluations in an upcoming workshop.

    About the Startup Lab workshops Since its inception, the Google Ventures Startup Lab has held more than sixty workshops. These sessions are open to every employee of our 160+ portfolio companies and are held on a variety of topics: everything from privacy to Javascript testing to business development. Speakers are drawn from experts at Google and beyond. More than 95% of our portfolio companies have attended at least one workshop, and our recorded talks have been viewed thousands of times. We began releasing public versions of select workshops to share with the broader entrepreneurial community, and will release new videos several times a month.