A breach by another name? There is probably more coming. We need to prepare.

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Imagine a data scientist working at Facebook. Let’s call her Alice. As part of her assignment, Alice collects a couple hundred thousand Facebook users’ profile, stores on her laptop. The data contains not just what users entered into Facebook, but what Facebook gathered and inferred about them. Alice is excited. Users whose data is being used largely trust Facebook to be good custodians of this data.

But Alice’s boyfriend, Bob, has another idea. He knows that the user data Alice has on her laptop can be sold to some data broker. He’s been unhappy where their relationship has been going anyway, his startup going through down rounds while Facebook stock just keeps going up and up.

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Reading things on Twitter hasn’t changed for years. It is time for some new ideas.

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I have been using Twitter for a better part of a decade. I have taken somewhat public breaks from it, but for better or worse, it’s become a big part of my life. I’ve met people through it, found jobs and clients through it (though suspiciously never paid for either of it). It’s where I go to ramble, and where I go for cheap laughs, depressing news, and dank memes.

What’s really remarkable about Twitter is how little it has changed over the years. They have added a (rounded) corner here and there, changed likes to hearts, maybe added a feature or two. But the core Twitter experience, a timeline, has been the same. I used to think it’s a good thing, but now I am not so sure. Read More

Books for Software Engineers switching to Technical Product Management

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As I’ve decided to switch over from being an software engineer to technical product management, I found my theoretical knowledge lacking. Having worked in software companies big and large, I knew the basics. Agile this, MVP that. I knew how prioritize things, and how to get things out the door. But largely, I was repeating what I’ve seen to have worked. The lack of a mental framework left me unprepared for novel problems where I’d need to make ad-hod decisions. I never failed miserably, but it seemed imminent. Read More

Developing Shared Code with Principles

Personal / Posts

One of the most high-leverage work in a technical organization is building shared libraries or frameworks. A common library, a piece of code that can be used as is, or a framework, a system that codifies certain decisions and allows further work to be built on top, has the opportunity to benefit many people at once. Not only that, they also institutionalize shared knowledge, put knowledge that’s in people’s head in code for future employees. And of course, there are other benefits such as possibly open-sourcing such work, which comes with its set of benefits to hiring and on boarding. Read More

Planning for Agile

Personal / Posts

One of the main tenets of agile methodology is working software trumps extensive documentation. You get something to work, and then iterate based on the quick feedback. It sounds great in theory, and in my experience, works reasonably well in practice. All software estimates are wrong, so agile is also wrong, but it produces software and does it without inflicting too much damage on those who build it.

But how do you square this way of working with a long term vision? If an organization is aligned towards a vision, there has to be a roadmap that people follow. And a roadmap, by definition, is a long term plan. It guides what needs to be done months, and sometimes years in to the future. Read More

Twitter is throwing the towel on democracy

Personal

When I was growing up in Turkey, one of the more curious political insults was a “statukocu”, or “one who favors status quo”.  I remember asking my parents what it meant. And when I got the answer, it didn’t satisfy me either; why would wanting things to stay the same be a bad thing? It took me a bit longer to fully understand what that really meant.

Jokes about “move fast and break things” are as original as an Adam Sandler blockbuster these days. And so are essays about them. Sure, democracy is too important to accidentally break by moving fast. We get it. Facebook gets it too, they changed their slogan.

But what if what kills democracy is not Zuckerberg et al moving too fast but the crippling inability of Twitter to take a single action? Those jokes haven’t been made yet by others. Luckily for us, though, Twitter management continues to be that joke. And we are the butts, I think. Read More

Goodbye, Twitter.

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I am done with Twitter, for a while at least, if not forever. I will still read tweets, and might even occasionally tweet, if anything to keep my account alive or for major announcements, but I decided to cut it out my life.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know that I use it a lot. It is the only social network I use. I have met people through it, made professional connections, and I generally have fun reading it. Unlike the tamed, manicured, creepily synthetic feel on Facebook and Instagram, Twitter feels raw. I loved Twitter. Read More

Re-engineering News with Technology

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Years ago, in college, I went to a presentation by a big internet company, as part of a recruitment event. At the time, I was working at the college newspaper, and the talk was about their “front page”. They said it was the biggest news site at the time, so I was excited.

The bulk of the talk was technical. But the presenter mentioned that one of the biggest challenges was keeping abreast of what they called the “National Enquirer effect”. The problem, as she described, was this. The main goal of the front page is to drive traffic to other properties; and the system was always optimizing both the selection of content on the front page and its ordering based on raw clicks. He said, while no one admits to it, content with the best-clickthrough rate was always “bikini women”, so left alone, algorithms would turn the front page into National Enquirer. Ironically, this means that no one would visit them, over a long enough period. They said they were trying to fix this by some longer term optimizations, but for now, there was essentially a team for each locale that monitored the site, and kept it “clean”. Read More

Digg was all about news and nothing else. It didn’t work out.

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Couple days ago, I was having lunch with a friend who used to work at Twitter. Eventually, the issue of Fake News came up. I told him, as more of a joke, that Facebook could just solve the Fake News problem by taking the News out of News Feed, and turning it to essentially just a bunch of social update. He retorted, saying that product already existed and it was called Instagram. We both sighed and shrugged and downed a few more drinks.

Now, apparently Facebook is trying that exactly, and of course publishers are freaking out. You can’t really blame them. For many publishers, Facebook is their biggest source of traffic, which they monetize via ads. But you can also not just feel bad for them, because, that is the risk of building your business on someone else’s platform. Just ask Zynga. Read More

Every company is a tech company, and everyone is a techie.

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I work in tech, or used to, like most of my circle in San Francisco. But it was never clear to me, what I really did. I changed the world, of course, but what did I really do? My father ran his own business of gas stations, and also sold cars. My lawyer friends wrote up legal documents and endlessly argued about stuff, and doctors did what doctors did. Teachers taught kids, professors taught slightly older kids, writers wrote, and I worked in tech. I worked at T-tech companies, and tech companies that were more or less a custom CMS. The term lost all its meaning, we all kind of knew, but we all played along. Read More