Don’t call yourself a programmer, Negative interest rates, and ..

The grandfather of Silicon Valley venture capital, and The Zombie Campaign

It’s 2 weeks already into my 3 months parental leave. I can’t deny that I’m enjoying it. Our newborn son is taking some steady steps towards recovering from a health issue he started to have a few weeks after he was born. Which means that there are decreasing stress levels on me and my wife, with more free time for both of us to relax a bit and work on our own personal todo lists.

My personal todo list is full of books/articles to read, movies/documentaries to watch, side projects to work on, and more working out. All the things I keep adding to the list but never had time for.

I’m even back to coding. It’s 2.5 years already since I transitioned into product management. Since then, I didn’t write any code beyond some basic python in Jupyter to analyze some data. I’m really happy to be coding again. I’m getting my hands dirty building something with Django on top of AWS, and it feels like a rollercoaster.

Coding is fun until you hit a roadblock. That bug that comes out of nowhere, the error message that makes no sense, and the StackOverflow question with no answers. I had one of these yesterday, and it took me 24 hours to figure it out. I was a bit angry about that bug, but here I’m happy again and proud of myself after finding out how to fix it. Coding is really a Goddamn rollercoaster, but that’s what makes it interesting for a lot of creative people, and I think I miss that rollercoaster.


Now let me share with you some of the interesting stuff I came across during the week.

Negative interest rates, the mystery!

Negative interest rates have been alive and kicking in Europe since 2014. It’s a very interesting phenomenon that even economists and finance professionals have no idea how it works exactly. That was Howard Marks’ (famous investor) reaction when he was asked to write about this topic.

"I can’t. I don’t know anything about them” and then I relaized that’s the point. No one does.

So he wrote this memo in a try to answer these questions:

  • Why do negative rates happen?

  • Why do investors buy negative yield bonds even though they know that this will make them lose money? Are they crazy?

  • How do consumers react to negative interest rates? spend more or save more?

  • What can you do in response to the negative interest rates?

Howard raises more questions every time he tries to answer one of his questions, but this makes it an interesting read. Read the full memo here.


The grandfather of Silicon Valley venture capital

Don Valentine, the founder of Sequoia Capital, passed away couple weeks ago. As one of the first VCs in Silicon Valley, he has been involved in a lot of the technology innovations that came out of the valley. Starting from semiconductors and personal computers; to e-commerce and digital entertainment.

While going through my twitter feed, a video of one of his old talks (2010) given at Stanford’s Grad School of Business, caught my attention.

Here are my notes for you if you have no time to watch the video.

  • Storytelling is a critical skill, but we (Sequoia) deal with a lot of smart people who don't know how to tell a story. So we make it our job to come up with the right questions that can get the right answers out of those people.

  • When one of our companies fail, we conduct a post-mortem to understand what questions we should have asked to be able to see what we couldn't see back then.

  • Creating new markets is very expensive. We look for existing big markets to invest in. After we find the big market, we try to find out how we (Sequoia) and those founders can build a big company in that market.

  • We teach our founders the power of outsourcing. As a startup, you have to be very good at very few things, mainly the technology. The rest should be outsourced.

  • We have a search function that keeps looking for the right talent. Not like other investors, we don't wait till founders knock on our door, we knock on their door first.

  • We don’t care about balance sheets. Cash is all that matters. So we hire CFOs for our startups that are wizards when it comes to generating cash flow. That’s how to build resilient companies.

  • As venture capitalists, we survive by being able to connect the dots today to see the future. Technologies and dysfunctions that exist today can help us visualize how the world will look like in a few years.


Do you want to know what data companies have about you?

Kashmir Hill published this article on the NY Times and it’s an understatement to say that this article caused a big headache for the companies mentioned.

Kashmir used her GDPR rights to ask for a report with all the data stored about her. She received a 400 pages report that included detailed information about her interactions with different companies, like Conibase, Yelp, Airbnb, and others.

No, she was not asking these prementioned companies to hand her her data. Actually, she asked 3rd party companies that collect this data from different companies to be able to build fraud detection products and other products that can classify and predict the behavior of specific consumers (the data is not anonymized).

Do you want to get your report too? follow the instructions she provides near the end of the article. Also, use this GDPR template when asking companies to send you a report about your data.


The Zombie Campaign

Olivia Nuzzi wrote beautifully about Joe Biden’s campaign for president. I don’t usually read very long articles about American politics, but this one was worth it.

The future of this campaign is not so bright, but the fact that it has been that strong for so long, says a lot about how the average American decides on who is worthy of being a president or not.


Don’t call yourself a programmer

I’ve been following Patrick McKenzie for some time on Twitter, but I never noticed that he has a blog until recently. His writings appeal mainly to people working in technology.

If you’re starting your career as a “programmer”, check out this blog post. It explains why you should not call yourself a programmer, and many other tips that will help you have a better career. Some of the things you should learn about your job are

  • Engineers are hired to create business value, not to program things

  • You are not defined by your chosen software stack

  • You radically overestimate the average skill of the competition because of the crowd you hang around with

  • Networking: it isn’t just for TCP packets

  • Modesty is not a career-enhancing character trait

  • All business decisions are ultimately made by one or a handful of multi-cellular organisms closely related to chimpanzees, not by rules or by algorithms

  • At the end of the day, your life happiness will not be dominated by your career

It took me many years to learn these lessons, and I still struggle acting on some of these learnings. Your career in tech can benefit a lot from reading this blog post. Once you are done, check more of what Patrick wrote on his blog.

One last thing, I really like how he describes himself in the about page.

Who are you, anyway? A great question! I write well and prolifically, generally on the intersection of marketing and engineering. I’m not the best marketer or engineer in the world, but I’m a better engineer than almost all marketers and a better marketer than almost all engineers. Tactically abusing this combination prints money in a very intellectually interesting way; this site is mostly war stories from doing that. You can read my brief bio for the highlights.

I think that’s how I see myself too, not the best engineer, or the best marketer, or the best product manager. Just the fact that I can mix these skills together gives me a new superpower. Also, his focus on good writing resonates well with me. I get compliments about my writing, but I want to improve it more, and even work harder on improving my speaking skills. As Don Valentine said, storytelling is a critical skill.


That’s it for this week. If you enjoyed this issue of my newsletter, forward it to your friends, and ask them to subscribe to the newsletter, and follow me on twitter (@shreef).

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Have a good weekend!
Shreef