Dear Twitter

Dear Twitter web folks,

To me, a favorite means “I like this.”

A retweet means “I want my followers to see this.”

Recently, you’ve been sharing things I’ve favorited with my followers. This merges these two ideas in a way that makes me uncomfortable because I’ve lost some control of the message broadcast under my name. Favoriting and retweeting are now a single, blunter concept.

I’m sure it increases some metrics you care about, but I believe it also takes a useful distinction and oversimplifies it.


40-Minute Conference Talks Should Die

In the dozens of conferences I’ve attended, I’ve almost never seen a 40-minute talk that wouldn’t have been better with 10 minutes of junk cut out.

Conference organizers think they are doing speakers a favor by giving them ample of time to cover their topic, but I believe this is mistaken. It is far better to give speakers too little time than too much. The first forces them to present the essentials quickly and leaves the audience wanting more. The second makes one worry about filling time. You can guess which leads to better talks.

When I coach speakers, my advice is almost always “get to the point faster, then stay there.” Shorter slots encourage this positive behavior.

If you take this principle to the extreme, you get lightning talks; often only 5 minutes long. These are nearly always a highlight of a conference. Speakers have no time for wandering introductions or apologies, and instead dive immediately into their best stuff. Then, before you have a chance to get bored, they’re forced to wrap up. If you’re interested in learning more, a quick Googling does the trick. This, by the way, is what I think conference talks are best at: providing just enough information to convince you to research something more deeply.

Shorter slots help a speaker focus their material, but they have another benefit: eliminating the colossal challenge of holding an audience’s attention for long periods of time.

In my experience, there are maybe one or two speakers per conference who can keep an audience engaged for 40 minutes. The speakers that can’t are not necessarily bad, they’ve just been giving an incredibly hard task. Consider this: nearly every attendee has a laptop. Speakers are competing against the internet amongst a group that will switch to a browser if their tests take more than 2 seconds to run.

If I were king of the world, I’d make 30 minutes the absolute maximum talk length. New speakers start with 5-minute lightning talks until they prove they can handle more.

As always, there are exceptions to this rule: some speakers can plumb deep topics in entertaining fashion for 40 minutes. But for every speaker I’ve seen who can pull this off, I’ve watched twenty more slowly lose the room to Twitter, Hacker News, and the irresistable appeal of unread emails.

A Short Guide to Landing Your First Rails Job

A short guide to landing your first Rails job.

In order of importance:

1. You will be judged foremost by the quality of your code, so have an app you’re proud to show off. Aim for small classes, short methods, and full test coverage. More generally, make sure the code is the best work you’re capable of. Submitting a code sample and saying “I know this has some problems” is an antipattern.

2. Make friends with at least three other Ruby developers. My first Rails job came to me through the friend of a friend. My second came through an immediate friend. This is how good jobs get filled. You should also ask your Rubyist-friends to critique your sample app.

3. People who are in the market for a programming job should blog every day. Write about what you’ve learned so far. Don’t make the excuse that you’re just a beginner. Imagine someone who is two months behind you and write for them. An active blog shows passion, demonstrates skill, and helps you make more Ruby friends.

4. Distinguish yourself from the applicant pool. Particularly because you lack experience, you need to stand out. Doing so is 95% creativity and 5% effort. Your goal is to make your application more interesting than “somewhat promising but inexperienced Rubyist number 32″. For inspiration, you can read about how I stood out to get my first conference talk accepted.