Slides from my talk on Distributed Teams

Compare the Market was nice enough to invite me to speak at their tech managers’ off-site about distributed teams. This talk reflects my own experience leading distributed teams.

I was presenting to them over video. Their meeting included people in two different offices and also folks dialing in from home. Ironically, in the middle of my talk, I got disconnected from the video conference. Because I was sharing my slides full-screen and had my speaker notes on my second monitor, I didn’t notice. So I spoke to myself for about 15 minutes before I realized what happened and dialed back into the meeting. It was a bit mortifying, but the folks in the UK were extremely nice about it. I can’t think of a better example though of the challenges around working with teams who have to communicate over electronic means constantly, so it was a good illustration of the issues I raised. 🙂

Using Deep Learning to Train a World-Class Candyland Player

A child playing Candyland
Photo by Amboo Who? https://www.flickr.com/photos/amboo213/4753020084

I’ve been spending the last year working on machine learning methods to train an algorithm that could be competitive with professional-level Candyland players. I’m happy to report that as of today, I attained my goal.

For the first pass of my automated Candyland player, I built a very simple rules-based engine. The engine ran efficiently on a Mac Book Pro. The rules-based engine did ok in lab tests with strong amateur players. I knew it couldn’t stand up to the rigor of professional Candyland tournament play, however.

For the second pass of my player, I created a more sophisticated look-ahead engine. Before taking its next card on its turn, it would simulate every possible permutation of the rest of the deck. While this was very processor intensive, by moving it into AWS and distributing it across 100 xLarge instances, it ran near real-time, although at some expense. The results of this player weren’t significantly better than the first engine.

In my third pass, I trained a shallow Convolutional Neural Network with 100,000 Candyland games. The results of this were disappointing. Playing against my look-ahead engine, over 500,000 games, it did no better than winning 50.05% of the time. Adding more layers didn’t improve the score significantly.

The fourth permutation of my Candyland player was a fully recurrent neural network running across a few dozen AWS GPU instances. This player played itself for several weeks improving the weights in its network using a genetic algorithm. The results from this were fascinating. It was able to win against itself 100% of the time.

This morning, April 1st, 2018, I played three games against the RNN player. While I am not a professional level Candyland player, I am rated 1200 on the amateur circuit, and it was my favorite game in 1st grade. This last version of my player beat me all three times! I think it is finally ready.

I’m going to be setting up some exhibition games with my Candyland player as soon as I can track down someone on the professional Candyland circuit. Not only will this gain some positive publicity for machine learning, but I’m hoping that it will help me recoup the $350,000 in AWS bills that I racked up building, testing, and training my players.

Talks: 1st half 2017

I’ve been remiss in posting since I’ve been back in Seattle. Readjusting to life in the states, and adjusting to the new role has kept me busy. I hope to rectify that in the future. I have been lucky enough to be invited to speak several times this winter and spring in the US and Europe. If you’ll be there or live nearby and want to meet up, drop me a line on twitter and let me know!

Articles I’ve liked recently (stuff I’ve been reading lately #3)

Why Apple Music Is So Bad When the iPhone Is So Good
On April 28, 2003, Apple launched the iTunes Music Store, saving the music industry from the scourge of piracy while creating a large and steady source of…
http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/why-apple-music-is-so-bad-when-the-iphone-is-so-good

Scaling Lean — Lean Startup Co. Blog — Medium
Scaling Lean Written by Jennifer Maerz of Lean Startup Co. How can you really measure the effectiveness of your company’s business model? The process goes much…
https://medium.com/lean-startup-co/scaling-lean-d46a52a06fb2#.32bm465po

Silicon Valley’s Scapegoat Complex — Thinkpiece Dot Club
Tech’s Scapegoat Complex T he recent revelation that tech investor Peter Thiel provided the funding for a series of lawsuits against Gawker Media is one of…
https://medium.com/thinkpiece-dot-club/techs-scapegoat-complex-38a4bfb37f22#.b1ckt8ub7

Keep an eye on Norway: Its startup scene is about to go huge
I spent a lot of my formative years in Norway, and have been periodically checking in on the Norwegian startup scene. The first time I went and had a look…
https://techcrunch.com/2016/06/20/norwegian-startup-scene/

‘The Life of Pablo’ and the Death of the Traditional Album
As a genuine certified old person, one who generally doesn’t stream music, who remembers having racks and racks of CDs, and who keeps much of his vinyl sorted…
http://www.complex.com/music/2016/06/kanye-west-life-of-pablo-death-of-traditional-album

If Your CFO Hasn’t Already Told You to Control AWS Costs, He’s About To
You made the obvious move and migrated to Amazon Web Services (AWS). Months later, the attractive glow of the move from CapEx to OpEx spend has been dimmed by…
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/your-cfo-hasnt-already-told-you-control-aws-costs-hes-jay-chapel

Can Netflix Survive in the New World It Created? – NYTimes.com
One night in early January, a little after 9 o’clock, a dozen Netflix employees gathered in the cavernous Palazzo ballroom of the Venetian in Las Vegas. They…
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/19/magazine/can-netflix-survive-in-the-new-world-it-created.html?nytmobile=0&_r=0

Stuff I’ve been reading lately #2

12 Powerful habits I have stolen from ultra-successful people
http://observer.com/2016/03/12-powerful-habits-i-have-stolen-from-ultra-successful-people/ (tip to kate matsudaira)

12 Lessons of Waking Up at 4:30 a.m. for 21 Days — Life Hacks for Business
12 Lessons of Waking Up at 4:30 a.m. for 21 Days If it works for me, maybe it works for you!
https://medium.com/life-hacks-for-business/12-lessons-of-waking-up-at-4-30-a-m-for-21-days-90d1053c3634

Practical Networking Tips for Introverts
Networking was such a foreign concept to me. And I really do mean foreign — we don’t do the organized networking thing in El Salvador. I knew that building…
https://www.ellevatenetwork.com/articles/7282-practical-networking-tips-for-introverts

Curing Our Slack Addiction
I love Slack. I really really do. So much so I would call it an addiction at this point. Slowly but surely this addiction has been killing my sanity and sapping…
https://blog.agilebits.com/2016/04/19/curing-our-slack-addiction/

Official Google Blog – This year’s Founders’ Letter
Every year, Larry and Sergey write a Founders’ Letter to our stockholders updating them with some of our recent highlights and sharing our vision for the…
https://googleblog.blogspot.com/2016/04/this-years-founders-letter.html

The Choice Explosion
Lansing, W.Va. — A few years ago, the social psychologist Sheena Iyengar asked 100 American and Japanese college students to take a piece of paper. On one side,…
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/03/opinion/the-choice-explosion.html

Doing a TED Talk: The Full Story – Wait But Why
You’ve probably heard this Seinfeld joke: According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does…
http://waitbutwhy.com/2016/03/doing-a-ted-talk-the-full-story.html

Dropbox cut a bunch of perks and told employees to save more as Silicon Valley startups brace for the cold
You have successfully emailed the post. 20h 8,000 REUTERS/Stringer Winter’s coming in Silicon Valley. When Dropbox employees walked into their new office on…
http://uk.businessinsider.com/cost-cutting-at-dropbox-and-silicon-valley-startups-2016-5

Thoughts on Take Home Interviews
There is a movement now in tech to really think about what it would take to improve our interview process. This is a movement a long time coming. White board…
http://www.elidedbranches.com/2016/05/brief-thoughts-on-take-home-interviews.html

 

Stuff I’ve been reading lately

I’m playing with an idea here. One of the things I really like on Instapaper is the browsing of what your friends are reading. My pal Kevin Stewart, has particularly awesome tastes on technical articles and I find myself saving almost everything he reads to my own queue. 

I won’t vouch that my own tastes are quite as good, but maybe the articles that I’ve found valuable might be valuable to others. So, I created an ifttt.com action to save any article that I’ve liked to a google doc. Periodically, I will post the most recent articles to this blog. At some point in the future, I might autopublish them. For now, I like the idea that I can edit them before they go live.

Collaborative Overload
Over the past two decades, the amount of time managers and employees spend on collaborative work has ballooned. At many companies…
https://hbr.org/2016/01/collaborative-overload

Two Items That Aren’t On Your Meeting Agenda, But Should Be
In this era of frequent testing, schools get a dizzying quantity of data about their students. Figuring out what to do with it, though, is more complicated than…
http://www.fastcompany.com/3058036/how-to-be-a-success-at-everything/two-items-that-arent-on-your-meeting-agenda-but-should-be

Good Bosses Create More Wellness than Wellness Plans Do
In the name of employee wellness, and in response to insurance company demands, corporations are offering well-being initiatives with financial incentives.…
https://hbr.org/2016/04/good-bosses-create-more-wellness-than-wellness-plans-do

Billing by Millionths of Pennies, Cloud Computing’s Giants Take In Billions
Andrew R. Jassy, the senior vice president of Amazon Web Services. The per-millionth pricing began last November, in the A.W.S. product Lambda. Amazon Web…
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/11/technology/billing-by-millionths-of-pennies-cloud-computings-giants-take-in-billions.html

Congratulations! You’ve Been Fired
AT HubSpot, the software company where I worked for almost two years, when you got fired, it was called “graduation.” We all would get a…
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/10/opinion/sunday/congratulations-youve-been-fired.html

Medium raises another $50M
Medium , the online publishing platform led by Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, just announced that it has raised $50 million in Series C funding. It’s been less…
http://techcrunch.com/2016/04/21/medium-series-c/

Why Uber Won — Greylock Perspectives
Why Uber Won The Startup Steroid Era and the Use of Capital as a Performance Enhancing Drug The start of 2016 marked the end of the steroid era of startups —…
https://news.greylock.com/why-uber-won-5598a2a66561

Hands-on: $290 Kindle Oasis starts a new chapter for Amazon e-readers
The new Kindle Oasis comes with a leather battery cover included in the price, available in three colors, black, walnut and merlot. (GeekWire Photo) The word…
http://www.geekwire.com/2016/hands-amazons-new-290-kindle-oasis-ups-game-e-readers/

Nice deck from Dan McKinley of Stripe: Choose Boring Technology

As you grow as a developer (and development leader) and you work with more and more technologies over time in different projects, you start to realize how easy it is for the team to get more focused on the challenging technical problems than the actual product issues. Ignoring the product issues will kill the product (and possibly the company). With limited attention (he calls them innovation credits), it is best to put your effort into innovations that can differentiate your product. All too often, teams get more focused on the next cool technologies, turning everything into a nail as the old saying goes.

Dan McKinley does a great job explaining this in his talk below.

Fun with the Apple predictive keyboard

I’m getting used to the predictive keyboards in iOS8. I found myself wondering today what would happen if I just hit a single key and then just picked the suggested word over and over. So I typed “a” and the following resulted. It looked like it was going to end up in an infinite loop, but while it got very repetitive, that never happened.

So, cheap fun (if you don’t include the cost of the iPhone)…

And the rest of the day after a long day at the same thing to say it was the best of the year and the rest of the day after a while ago but the fact I can get it right away with the best of the best way of the best thing to say it was the best thing to say it is not the same thing to say that I have a great way of the day I have a great way of life and the rest of my favorite part of the best of luck with the best thing ever I go back and the rest of my favorite part of the day I have to go back and the rest of my life and the rest of my favorite part of a sudden it was the first half of the best of the year and the rest of my favorite part of a sudden it was the first half of the day after a while ago but the rest of the best…

 

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