I might be asking for it with this post. I’m hiring for a product manager right now and have been interviewing candidates over the past few weeks. After interviewing several candidates I have one overwhelming piece of advice or feedback for interview candidates in general. Ask better questions.

A job interview isn’t a one way street. It’s just as much the company responsibility to make sure that you’re a good fit as it is your responsibility to make sure the company is a good fit for you. So I’m always surprised when a candidate doesn’t come prepared with questions to ask, doesn’t ask any questions, or asks questions that are seemingly weak.

This is your chance to get the best understanding possible of the company before you join. Do yourself a favor and ask the tough questions that will help you decide if this company is the right fit for you. This requires a bit of introspection and understanding what you value in a company. It’s not an easy thing to do but it will certainly help you through your interview process.

Below are a few questions that come to mind that you could ask.

  • What accomplishment are you most proud of in your current role and why? 
  • What’s the best thing about working here? What’s the most frustrating thing about working here and what are you doing to change it? 
  • Who do you consider to be your direct competitors? Are you 10x better than they are? Why is that the case? 
  • How do things get done here? 
  • Who sets the vision and direction of the company and when does that happen? 
  • What’s your current roadmap? 
  • What do you absolutely have to accomplish in the next year? Why is it so important?
  • If you could change any decision you or the company has made in the past year what would it be and why?

Keep in mind that you should ask questions that make the most sense. If you feel like you’re bombing the interview, read the writing on the wall. And most important of all ask genuine questions you care about not ones that will make you seem smart. It’s easy to tell when someone is genuinely interested or just trying to impress you.

It’s also important to give yourself enough time to ask an interviewer the questions you want answers to. Most interviews are an hour long. Typically the last quarter of the interview is “reserved” for the candidate to ask questions. Usually you’ll interview with two to three other employees at the company you’re interviewing at. That gives you a total of 30 to 45 minutes to ask questions you have for the current employees. If you don’t think that’s enough time politely ask for more time before the interview and explain why you’re asking. The interviewer will appreciate you taking their schedule and expectations into account.

It’s not common to think of an interview as a meeting of two parties that have equal interests, but that’s what it is. If a company is going to test your skills and abilities you should feel free to do the same. It’s in your best interest and ultimately will help you find a role at a company that you want to work for.

I’ve been blogging for almost five months now. When I first started I didn’t expect much. I just wanted to write every day. But in the past few days I’ve been surprised by some of the results my blogging has had. So I thought a bit more of the results of my blogging and I wanted to share them with you.

One of the more obvious results is that writing has become a lot easier. I may have even started to find my own voice. In no way is it refined yet, but it’s a start.

People in my network are reading it, and think it’s good. I think they’re way too kind but it’s clear they’re reading. Tony emailed me to set up some time to grab coffee and said “You’ve been killing it with your blog lately.” And Ryan messaged me the other day to let me know that he feels the blog had organically transitioned from a few random thoughts to reflect my own personal development and he’s fascinated by this.

The most surprising has been that when I set up time to meet new people they often have read my blog and bring up one of my recent posts as a topic of conversation. It’s pretty embarrassing but it’s interesting that my blog has now created a particular identity around me that’s portrayed to anyone who happens to come across it. It’s been most surprising to have interview candidates bring up one of my posts.

I continue to not expect anything and don’t plan on changing the way or what I write about. But these results have been extremely surprising. So I wanted to say thank you for reading what I write. It makes writing that much better.

I forgot I could use numbers. I’m not sure when or how this happened but it did. But that’s okay, because over the past two weeks I remembered that I could use them - and I couldn’t be happier.

With numbers it’s easy to quantify problems. There’s not much more to that. Whenever possible it’s important to quantify problems through numbers. It might not tell the whole story but it certainly tells a large part of it.

Numbers do an amazing job of providing a concrete way of talking about things and will quickly bring to surface the underlying issues. When you argue opinions it’s often messy. There’s multiple layers of the argument that you have to peel away to understand what the real problem might be. But when you’re using numbers the problem becomes clearer. Is this the number you’re talking about, focused on, or worried about? If not then you can quickly dive into the why. 

But my favorite reason for using numbers is that it definitively tells you two things: 

  1. What you know. 
  2. What you don’t know.

That’s it. If after looking at a number you can make a conclusion, you know something. If you can’t, then it becomes clear what you don’t know. 

If you know that you have 100,000 new unique visitors to a page what you know is that you have an increase in unique visitors. If you can’t break that number down further then you don’t know anything else. You don’t know where those new unique visitors are coming from or why they started coming. 

Numbers are useful and I’m mad at myself for forgetting to use them. 

Tomorrow is Monday, the first day of the work week. So I thought today would be a great time to write about and share some tips on one-on-ones from The Hard Thing About Hard Things

What I’ve learned is that there are two kind of people. Those who have experienced great one-on-ones and know their benefit, and then there’s those who have terrible one-on-ones and wonder why they’re so important. 

One-on-ones are the perfect way to communicate sensitive issues, half baked ideas, worries, concerns, personal meltdowns, clarification, and so much more.  

As an employee, it’s important to remember it’s your meeting. You should use this time to your best advantage. If you feel like you’re not, then you should think about it. Writing out an agenda of items you want to discuss beforehand can really help. 

As a manager, it’s important to remember it’s the employee’s meeting. This is when you should be doing a lot of the listening and the employee is doing a lot of the talking. After all, the employee is telling you how you can do your job - you should listen up. 

If the employee has a hard time opening up you can’t just put your arms up and say, “Well I tried!” You have to work with the employee to make them feel comfortable and tease information out of them.

Ben Horowitz, in his new book shared some questions he found are effective during one-on-ones, and I thought I’d share a few: 

  • What’s the number one problem with our organization? Why?
  • What’s not fun about working here?
  • What are we doing that we should be doing?
  • Who is kicking ass at the company? Who do you admire. 

Regardless of how great of a culture you think you work in or however close you are with your manager (or partners), I can promise you that the one-on-one is never a waste of time. In fact, it can be the most important and valuable method of communication.

This past week my friend Tom Harman wrote his first Medium post. It’s about - as you might have guessed - organizing your smart phone. You can read it here.

The title of his post is actually pretty accurate: Hating your home screen less. Through his post he describes a lightweight design approach to organizing your apps in three steps. 

I just tried doing it and quit after 20 minutes. It’s a very frustrating exercise and really forces you to make decisions. Like am I ever going to read that one book I bought and imported into Readmill - or should I just give up now? 

Or for that matter in what context do I use certain applications. At first I was going to group Tweetbot, Kindle, Threes, and other apps I use on the subway together. But then I realized that I also use Tweetbot and Kindle at home, but very rarely use Threes at home. So I started over. 

I think that I’ll probably give it another 20 minutes and then decide I shouldn’t be spending any more time organizing my phone. But I think that the thinking that Tom has gotten me to do is extremely important and it’s made me appreciate the work put in by Apple’s team to suggest names that’s powered by their categorization system. It’s something I’ve overlooked. 

I came across Printoo today and I think it’s amazing. You can check out their Kickstarter project at the bottom of this post.

I’ve long believed that “hardware is the new software”. That is to say it will be cheaper, easier to make, and it will be everywhere. Printoo definitely is a step in that direction. 

Printoo is a platform of paper-thin circuit boards and modules. It gives makers an open-source, lightweight, flexible, and modular Arduino-compatible platform to create just about anything you want! What makes Printoo amazingly unique is that it comes with a range of printed electronics modules previously unavailable to the public. These are electronics building “blocks” of the future, only not so rigid.

Printoo does something special in my opinion. It bridges the gab between software, hardware, and production. Bringing all three together to be able to make functional betas. You can bring together, an electrochromic display, solar cell, bluetooth module, and 3D printed case to create an e-reader. 

The board designs are also open-source. So if you want to adapt them and create new ones you can feel free to do so. 

I’m very excited for not just Printoo, but the future of connected creations. As the technology becomes more accessible it enables more people to do amazing things. It’s going to change everything. 

I’m tired. That’s really all there is to it.

Over the past week or so I’ve been spending quite a bit of time working on a problem and I think today it’s caught up to me. So I’m stepping away from what I’ve been working on. I’m excited to come back to it with fresh eyes and see what can be improved upon. 

But in the meantime, I’ll spend the rest of my night tonight doing something extremely low effort. My pick of poison tonight is watching House MD. It’s entertaining, predictable, and I love Hugh Laurie. What do you do when you’re tired?

One of the most common problems I’ve encountered throughout my career has been miscommunication. Unfortunately, issues surrounding miscommunication are usually never resolved in a great way. I’ve seen it often take take the direction of finding someone to blame. Or, it’s swept underneath the rug and everyone forgets about it. 

Over the past week or so we started having some communication issues on our team. After talking with several team members it was clear that everyone on the team could do something to help us with our communication issues. Rather than badgering everyone else about how they were going to help I decided to take a different approach. I was going to hold myself responsible for what I could take action on and let everyone on the team know that I was doing it. So I sent the following email to the team:

Hey everyone,

Over the past several weeks we’ve had a few communication issues. After talking with a few of you it’s very clear to me that I can and should improve my communication.
Most of the issues I’ve discovered have stemmed from the agile (and loose) method we take in building products together. (And have mainly made Hans’ life more difficult - sorry!)
I think that the benefits we see from this agile method (time to execution, flexibility, and team building) are amazing and we shouldn’t abandon this approach.
But I do think we can make it better. So I wanted to share with you what I’m doing so you know what to expect and can also help improve the process.
  • Communication of project definition will happen mostly via email and will always include the entire group. 
  • This doesn’t mean that email will be the only way we communicate project definition, but it does mean that all new definition or changes to definition should be summarized and sent to the group via email to provide clarity, and transparency.
  • I will check in more often for feature updates. We can think of these as feature stand-ups that can occur in person or digitally. 
  • This will help us get ahead of miscommunication and keep us aligned through the product lifecycle. 
I’m confident that in a few days we’ll see the benefits of these changes. But, if they’re not working it’s important that we identify that so that we can act immediately and figure out what we need to change. 
I encourage you to share any thoughts or ideas you might have. I also want to thank you for helping me identify these issues and work towards improvements. How we work together is critical to our success and development as a team and business. Let’s never stop getting better.
I hope that this email will help alleviate our team’s concerns around communication and help us improve. But only time will tell. If you have any comments on how I handled this situation, feel free to tell me your thoughts in the comments below. I’m curious to know what they are. 

I came across this tweet from Chris Anderson today.

It might appear rather mundane at first. It’s a new expansion board for the OpenSprinkler that supports up to 16 stations. Think of how many plants, grass, and home-grown crops a 16 station sprinkler system can cover. How does that not get you excited?! Okay, I can see why. 

But what’s truly exciting about OpenSprinkler is that it’s open source. Want to buy it completely assembled and start using it straight out of the box? You can do that.

Interested in the experience of putting it together yourself? That’s available too. 

Finally, do you want to build it from the ground up and tweak it to your very specific needs? All the software and hardware files are available on Github (right here) for you to tinker with.

OpenSprinkler is a true open source product and that’s why I found Chris’ tweet so exciting.

The maker movement and advances in technology have certainly helped open sourced hardware (and products) gain momentum. I can only hope that as technology continues to enable access to more production methods that open source products become the norm. 

The past several days I’ve been working with Raphael (another PM at Shapeways) on a nuanced and tight problem. At the end of one of our meetings we generally would leave with a lot more questions than answers, often refuting some of our own beliefs and theories. Today wasn’t any different, but it felt different.

I had made the remark that the problem felt real today. We’ve been wrong so often about the problem that we didn’t even really know how to talk about it. I at the very least felt like a bumbling fool trying to explain what we were doing. And then it finally hit me, of course I didn’t know how to talk about it, I was wrong.

Being right isn’t about knowing exactly what to do. It’s most often about how the process of determining if you’re right. Throughout the process you end up being wrong, a lot. You don’t have any of the answers just yet. But, you also understand the problem in a way that you wouldn’t have otherwise, and that’s what will help you be right. In the end you’re always wrong before you’re right.