Data-driven decision making, effective teams, and Boeing’s fatal crash

TSER stands for “Top Software Engineering Reads” a new theme I introduce on my blog. In each TSER, I share articles I found interesting this week with you. Most of the articles focus on software engineering and productivity-related issues.

Top reads on productivity, technical documentation and data-driven decision making
Photo by iam Se7en on Unsplash

So, let’s get started with the first article from the engineers at AirBnB.

Data-driven design-making at Airbnb

Airbnb has been actively working for several years now to increase data literacy within their company. They started an internal training program that boosted the active user rate for their data platform and allows more teams to make data-driven decisions. They realized that it isn’t enough to grant employees access to the data. They actually have to train them to have a solid understanding of data analytics in order for them to make data-driven decisions.

Boeing 737 disaster

In this excellent write-up, pilot and engineer Gregory Travis explains his view on why Boeing 737 was doomed to fail. He argues why it’s not the compartmentalized approach of working, but the sheer strive to make and save money that leads to the disaster.
He explains that Boeing 737 Max violated that most ancient of aviation canons. But instead of going back to the drawing board Boeing relied on something called the “Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System,” or MCAS. Fixing a hardware problem with the software. The outcome was fatal as we know.

His observations are in contrast but also complement the latest report from the NY Times on the events that lead to fatal flaws in Boeings system design.

Patterns for effective teams: GOTO-conference Video

One video I came across this week when preparing my blog post about productivity is from Dan North. In this excellent GOTO conference talk, he describes several patterns he observed that help teams be more effective.

I especially liked the idea of using a Dreyfus Square to understand how to effectively pair up people to boost their learning capabilities. Following Dreyfus Square, it is, for example, good to pair two experienced engineers.

On the other hand, pairing a novice and an expert can lead to trouble. Why? Because the expert does not think in terms of rules anymore. The novice on the other hand really needs rules to understand the subject.

Another concept that resonated well with me is the “warm welcome” pattern. And indeed, I already experienced both worlds: being really warmly welcomed when starting at a new company and having to realize they even forgot to allocate a desk and office for me. It does change the whole experience. And somehow, even after quite some time, this cannot be undone.

I really recommend watching this talk. I plan on discussing it in a separate blog post in more detail.

ETSY immutable documentation

Another nice read was from the ETSY engineering team. They explain how they experiment using Slack as a means to look up and store documentation. Therefore they separated the how and why parts of the documentation with the premise that the how part changes much more frequently. The experiment is to use Slack capabilities to store and retrieve the how part on demand. The idea isn’t groundbreaking but it makes documentation appear like team conversions and reduces the friction of updating yet another document.

The ultimate guide to productivity

Talking about productivity, the team from Todoist also published an ultimate guide covering several productivity methods. Each one of them is explained including how much commitment is needed to make it work. I liked the list as there were quite a few I did not know before. On the other hand, productivity methods suitable for developers are also covered. So, definitely worth a quick glance over.

What did you read this week?

So, that’s it. I read many more articles this week, but these stood out. Feel free to add your favorite articles this week in the comments.

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Dr. Michaela Greiler

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