Interns Can Run Your Business: How to hire interns that ROCK!

We’ve all been there. Your projects are taking off and there’s a ton of work to be done. Important work. You need to hire more people. You request a new headcount but you’re told that unfortunately there’s no budget for full-time hires. You’ll need to get things done with the people you have…or hire interns.

Let’s face it. None of us likes to hear that. Most of us don’t think important work can be done by interns. How can someone who’s only with the company for three months be effective, anyway, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you that I totally understand where you’re coming from and that you’re wrong. If you hire the right intern, they could potentially run your business in three months. For real.

Over a year ago, I needed help with API community management and outreach as well as the development of code samples to expedite the API on-boarding process at Edmunds.com. Like you, I had no budget for a full-time headcount and interns were my only option to scale. At first, I wasn’t really happy with the thought of an intern managing a community of developers, communicating with potential strategic partners, and writing quality SDKs. But that’s exactly what I needed help with, so I went for it with very low expectations.

Fast forward to today, I couldn’t be happier!

The Process

I started the search with a list of minimum requirements a potential hire must have (intern or otherwise). I knew I wanted someone who a) coded for fun, b) had experience with REST APIs, and c) was personable, humble and engaging. Simply put, I wanted someone who was demonstratively interested in the tech and business of APIs.

So I worked with HR on crafting the job listing. I set the bar really high. I wanted someone who was coding on Github because it’s fun, not because they had to. Someone engaged on Twitter, Stackoverflow and Quora because they have something to add to the conversation. Someone who was having conversations.

API evangelists are a special breed of developers. The good ones are experienced and possess excellent people skills. This made it even harder to find a candidate amongst the pile of resumes sent in by students trying to get a paid internship to meet some school requirement.

Needless to say, the process took a long time, almost 6 months. I got resumes from students with stellar academic credentials in computer science and math but with zero presence on Github, Twitter and forums. Some hadn’t even heard of APIs until they saw the job listing on their school’s bulletin board.

The Result

When the search was finally over, I hired @MichaelRBock, and boy am I glad I did! Michael’s been with us for over 6 months now, even while he’s doing a semester abroad …in Singapore.

Michael and I clicked right away. He’s smart, easy to talk to and very personable. Most importantly, he was extremely interested in our world of car open data APIs and their business impact.

Michael quickly proved himself an invaluable member of the team. Almost everyone who’s worked with him was shocked to learn that he’s just interning with us. He was all caught up with our systems, challenges and roadmap in a couple of days and by the end of the first week, he was knee deep helping developers with their API questions.

He sat on business development meetings and partner discussions on the second week of his hire. He built our Python SDK and was updating the Developer Portal on daily basis during our DX Certification process with Mashery.

Michael saw the potential in some of our API developers and brought them to my attention. He’s been great at handling difficult developers as well. All in all, he’s been fantastic at everything he’s done.

We’re Hiring!

Sadly, Michael’s time with us is about to end at the end of May ☹ If you or someone you know is interested in APIs and want to have a summer internship with us, let’s chat! There’s some big shoes to fill, which is always a good place to be.

Macbook Air 11″: The Perfect Travel Machine

image

Background

Here’s the thing. I own a 2.5GHz / 8GB RAM / Quad-Core i7 / 512GB SSD Macbook Pro 15″ that I use as my main computer to do all the heavy lifting I need (i.e. image processing in Aperture, code compilation & building in shell, manage my 94GB iTunes library, …etc.) It is reliable and powerful and I love it. It’s also a pain in the butt to shlep around when I’m on the go. It’s heavy enough and big enough to be absolutely immobile, at least for me. Here’s what the word mobile means to me:

Mobile: (adj.) Able to move or be moved easily and freely without any additional physical, mental or emotional hindrance to the person initiating the move (i.e. me.)

What I really need is a completely mobile machine. A travel machine. Something to use when I’m on the road speaking or attending a conference or chilling on a beach in Mexico. This travel machine has to be super light, super small and powerful enough to get things done. It also had to fit into my travel messenger bag (right.) This machine has got to be more powerful and more versatile than the iPad, which I also own but rarely use, and much lighter and far less bulkier than my Macbook Pro, which I’m on all the time when I’m at home.

Why Macbook Air?

Right about now you’re probably thinking, “come on, can’t you just use the iPad?!” or “man up, dude, and just shlep your Macbook Pro around and stop complaining.” Let me address these two passing thoughts quickly before we move on with the rest of the article.[[MORE]]

Let’s talk about the iPad. As much as I’ve liked it at first, I’ve increasingly become weary of its lack of a physical keyboard and command-line access. I tried the wireless keyboard for a while, but it kept dropping off to the point where it was never reliable and simply useless. When I’m on the road, I oftentimes need to get access to work’s VPN or to update a piece of code on my Github account, amongst other things. The iPad is just not made to do these tasks effectively. You really need a computer to do that, which brings us to the Macbook Pro and why it too is not a viable solution.

Mobility (check definition above) is paramount when traveling. When I travel, I travel light. I almost never check in luggage unless I’m going skiing or camping. I have a carry-on and a computer bag. In the computer bag, I normally carry my passport bag (when traveling internationally,) my Kindle for reading, a couple of magazines, iPhone charger, a couple of pens, headphones and a point & shoot camera. That’s it. Trying to fit my Macbook Pro into a medium-sized bag proved impossible. I would have lived with shlepping around the extra weight, but I definitely didn’t want to carry around a computer bag big enough for it. So I definitely needed something different.

After months of thorough due diligence, I decided to go with the 1.6GHz / 4GB RAM / Core i5 / 128GB SSD Macbook Air 11″. This spec had just the right dimensions, weight, and power to be the perfect travel machine for me. Quite frankly, it’s powerful enough to be the main machine for most people (more on that in the parting thoughtssection below.) During my research, I had three main factors in mind against which I measured my options. Those factors were:

1. Portability

To me, portability means two things: light, small and mobile. That basically excludes all the machines in the Macbook Pro line because light and mobile they’re not. That leaves me with either the 13″ or the 11″ Macbook Air. Although both are lighter and smaller than the Pro machines, the 11″ machine definitely feelsmuch lighter than the 13″ model and fits perfectly in my messenger bag, while the 13″ machine does not. So in the portability department, the Macbook Air 11″ has no parallel.

2. Performance

Although I won’t be doing hardcore image processing with this new machine, I still need it to be powerful enough to handle Keynote presentations and the occasional image processing and code compilation tasks I’ll invariably end up doing on the go. So in that respect, the higher end 13″ and 11″ machines are good enough for what I needed. The mid-2011 update beefed up the processing power of the entire Macbook Air line that it rendered it comparable in performance to the mid-2010 Macbook Pros. That was a huge leap forward in performance for the Macbook Air and it made me realize that regardless of which Macbook Air I pick, I’m going to get a powerful machine.

3. Screen Size

The Macbook Air 13″ is the clear winner in this category. But you could get an extra inch on your Macbook Air 11″ screen real-estate by hiding the dock. This makes the screen feel bigger on the 11″. I also learned to appreciate the power of the two-finger tap zoom, which comes very handy on the 11″ screen. As a matter of fact, it was so handy it rendered the screen size category irrelevant in my decision.

Conclusion and Parting Thoughts

In the end, portability was the deciding factor for me. I decided to go with the higher-end spec of the Macbook Air 11″, and I’m glad to say it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time as far as electronics are concerned. As far as productivity on the go is concerned, the Macbook Air 11″ blows any tablet, including the iPad, out of the park. If you’re in the market for a new computer and if nothing you do requires serious processing power (i.e. image processing in Photoshop, video editing in Final Cut Pro, …etc,) then I highly recommend getting the Macbook Air 11″ (or 13″ if screen size is very important to you.) If you plan to make this machine your main computer, I highly recommend getting the Apple 27″ Thunderbolt Display to hook it up to. I have the older 24″ display and I love it. If you can afford to wait, then I’d recommend waiting for the rumored merger between the Pro and Air lines which promises to pack the Macbook Pro power into the Macbook Air body. You’ll get the best of both worlds, that’s of course if you’re patient enough to wait. Patience does pay off in this case 😉 In the image below, I put my Macbook Air on top of my Macbook Pro to give you perspective on the huge size difference between the two machines.

image

Highlights from Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored Event in San Francisco

Great conferences don’t need to span two or three days. In fact, they can be done in one day as Fast Company fabulously demonstrated earlier this week.

The Innovation Uncensored Conference was an impressive feat. It featured great speakers like Scott Case of Startup America, Padmaress Warrior of Cisco and Seth Priebatsch of SCNGR, who discussed pressing topics like customer-centric development, social in the enterprise and game mechanics in business. The mix of speakers and topics was intense without being overwhelming. I was able to walk away with many great learnings.

Oh and the catering … amazing!

Here are some of the learnings I gleaned from the conference:

#1 Successful Businesses are Flexible and Persistent

Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn gave general good advice to startups. He singled out perseverance and focus as the two main objectives of any business. He emphasized the importance of listening to the “smartest people that will talk to you” and heed their advice. He also recommended getting an introduction to VCs you don’t know instead of sending them unsolicited emails (they hate it.)

Scott Case of Startup America echoed Hoffman’s sentiments with his “10 Steps Toward Success:”

  1. Ecosystem: Be part of the environment in which you partake. Give your time to fledgling startups that seek your help.
  2. Pick Your Team Carefully: Founding team members can make or break your business.
  3. Embrace the Pivot: Know how to pivot. Read Eric Reis’s book (my review.)
  4. FOCUS: You have to manage distractions, otherwise you’ll fail.
  5. Build Your Network: The smartest people in the world can’t get anything done without help. Build your support system and mingle with people that are smarter than you.
  6. FOCUS: You have to manage distractions, otherwise you’ll fail.
  7. Customer Development: Know your customers. Read Steven Blank’s book.
  8. Capital: Are you going to raise money? Self-fund? Where is your capital coming from?
  9. Get The Boring Stuff Right: Business, legal, accounting, …etc. Most founders waste their time figuring this out instead of focusing on their product.
  10. FOCUS: Do I really need to say it?
Pretty much everyone that spoke mentioned “focus.” They made a compelling case for the power of saying “NO” and how crucial that is for success. It’s only when you’re “focused” you can be flexible and have the energy to persist.

#2 Your Customers are Your No. 1 Asset

This was another common takeaway and one we take to heart at Edmunds.com.

David Cush of Virgin America stressed the paramount importance of managing customer expectations when rolling out a new system. Virgin America just recently implemented a new reservation system (still buggy as of this writing) and they have worked closely with the marketing department to manage customer expectations and reactions.

Padmaress Warrior of Cisco said the same thing. She implemented BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy at work after her customers (i.e. Cisco engineers) continued using their “unsupported devices” (i.e. Macs.) The new policy has been great not only for her consumers but for business as well.

Customer is the No.1 asset. Also, if your employees are happy and satisfied, that normally translates to customer satisfaction as well.

#3 Focus

I know I mentioned it above, but it was such a focal (no pun intended) point at the event. Focus is success.

Gary White of Water.org and Doug Ulman of Livestrong talked about passion, social responsibility and the role of focus in their success. If you come up with ten projects, prioritize them and then cut the last two and focus all your resources on the first eight. Personally, I’d go further and say cut eight and focus on the top two, but I guess it all depends on the amount of resources you have. Full Article

The Business Case for HTML5

Several weeks back, I gave this presentation at the HTML5 Los Angeles meetup group. A couple of days back, I was humbled to see it featured on SlideShare.

There’s plenty of talks about the technical aspects of HTML5 but not much about its business value. This presentation sheds light on some of the benefits of HTML5 for business. Enjoy!

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries

117478738 Crucial Lessons for Fledgeling and Mature Companies

I started reading Eric Ries's blog, "Startup Lessons Learned," back in October 2008. I was quickly impressed by his technical acumen and the simplicity of his writing. I also enjoyed the breadth of topics covered and how engaging they were.

Needless to say, I was glad to hear that he was going to distill all his knowledge into a book, and now that I read the book, I'm glad to say that he didn't disappoint.

The book defines a startup as a 1) a human institution designed to 2) create a new product/service under conditions of 3) extreme uncertainty.

Notice how the definition doesn't address the size of the venture or its backers or its origins. As long as it is a team building a product with high uncertainty, it is a startup.

The book also covers the entire life cycle of a lean startup, Figure 1.

Lean-startup

Figure 1.
Build-Measure-Learn Feedback Loop that's at the core of the lean startup (image source)

Eric puts a huge emphasis on "validated learning" as opposed to "failure as a way of learning." He says, "a failure to deliver results is due to either a failure to plan adequately or a failure to execute properly." He's all about accountability, which is sorely lacking in so many institutions these day, with the most egregious being Wall Street.

Eric goes on to explain the principles of the lean startup with andecodotes of successes and failures in business. One of the most fascinating and very telling for me was the SnapTax story. The fact that a giant company like Intuit could spawn an innovative startup (i.e. a team + a product + high uncertainty) was a nice validation for my unsuccessful push for an R&D department within the companies at which I worked in the past. SnapTax was a team of five individuals that was given freedom to experiement while held accountable throughout the process. The results were impresssive.

If nothing else, the reader, especially those running mature companies, should pay close attention to Eric's conclusion. He stresses the points of validating assumptions, rapid testing of ideas, and most importantly, "stop wasting people's time."

I think that's the most valuable lesson in the entire book. Mature companies that continue to waste their talents' time with banal and insipid tasks are bound to lose those talents and will only be left with lazy, oftentime overpaid individuals that are too comfortable, too politically secure that they can't produce anything new or original even if they tried.

Startups are a "human institution" first and foremost. If the right team isn't in place, you do not have a startup. Nurture those talents and don't waste their time. Only then will the trappings of success adorn your business and you.

Illustration: Google+ and The “Actionable” Social Web

This is a followup to my previous post on Google+. Here's a very simple illustration that explains what I mean by the "actionable" social web:

The image below shows a post shared by Steven Levy on Google+. The post talks about a book he recently wrote called, "In The Plex."

BeforeThat's all good, except, that post could be so much better if it allowed Levy's followers to actually buy the book right there and then. This post could be enhanced as follows:

AfterDo you see the Amazon "Add to Cart" button below the post's description?

Now that's a much more meaningful post to people interested in the book. Now they have the option to buy it without leaving Google+.

Before Google+ came out, I was hoping that Facebook would do something like this. But here is why I think Google can easily succeed in making the "actionable" social web possible:

  1. Google understands data: unlike Facebook, Google's bread and butter is understanding data on the web for ranking and relevancy.
  2. Schema.org: Google is pushing for structured data through schema.org. With website getting more structured, the more accurate the understanding of their content becomes.
  3. Sparks: You can follow a particular interest on Google+ by creating a Spark.

The questions now becomes this: when will be see enhanced, "actionable" posts like the one below on Google+?

After2I hope the answer is: very soon!

SlideShare Deck: How Edmunds Got in the Fast Lane: 80% Reduction in Page Load Time in 3 Simple Steps

Here’s the deck I presented at Google. Let me know if you have any questions 🙂

http://static.slidesharecdn.com/swf/ssplayer2.swf?doc=edmundsfastlanefinal-110116201722-phpapp02&stripped_title=how-edmunds-got-in-the-fast-lane-80-reduction-in-page-load-time-in-3-simple-steps-6593377&userName=EdmundsLabs