Is Zuckerberg’s hoodie really ‘a mark of immaturity’?

An industry analyst who recently met with Zuckerberg about investment plans in Facebook stated that he thought Zuckerberg’s trademark hoodie is ‘a mark of immaturity’, implying that he should have been more suitably dressed for the business meeting.

Over on Google+, Robert Scoble posted about the analyst’s comment, which unleashed the most active community discussion that I’ve ever seen on G+ as a result of a single post. Opinions ranged wildly, but the activity in the discussion proves the absurdity and out of date thinking behind the expectation that professional business atire should be nothing other than suit, shirt and tie.

Times change, fashions change. The suit in today’s world is an absurd form of clothing. It has no practical benefits and is purely for show. This is my key issue – I don’t see how a suit is relevant in today’s world (in the software development world that I live in, at least) – wearing a suit does not make anyone a better software developer. It does not gift the developer with magical coding skills. It’s purely for show.

The popular saying ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ hits the nail on the head with this issue. Wearing a suit is nothing more than a cover on a book. As the other expression goes, ‘first impressions count’, but the fact is, once you’ve got beyond that faux outer layer to discover the contents of the person that has wrapped themselves in fancy, overpriced fabrics, it’s hard to hide the facts without the flashy threads. In software development, you can either code or you can’t. You either gel with the team, or you don’t. You perform or you don’t. Each of these have varying levels of degree, but the key point is this: a suit is nothing more than fancy plumage. Remove the outer shell and show me what you’ve got.

There’s some awesome comments to Scoble’s post that capture my thoughts entirely, that I’d like to quote here that make the point perfectly:

"wearing a tie doesn't make you money, not unless you sell ties"
"If you need to wear a costume to play out your roles, you should 
have become an actor or actress long ago"

Understanding the ignorance behind avoiding new software development technologies

New technologies are avoided by companies for many reasons, the primary reason maybe to avoid the risk of the unknown. If your success of your company/business/project depends on the success of your software development project, then of course you want to minimize risks associated with the latest and greatest new technologies especially if they’re so new that there’s no success stories from others already using them. Sometimes this risk is worth taking if the potential reward is so great that it negates the downsides of the risk. For example if the competitive advantage that could potentially be gained outweighs the significance of the risk, then maybe the risk is worth taking.

When new techologies are avoided due to lack of understanding, lack of information, incorrect assumptions, and beliefs based on false information, then you’ve got a more serious problem on your hands. The problem with any decision based on false information worsens when the decision makers believe the information they are basing their decisions on to be correct. The higher up the management chain these decisions are made the worse this situation becomes for two reasons:

  1. no-one questions the decisions made because of the decision maker’s level of authority
  2. the decision maker loses credibility with their team because they are seen to be making wrong/poor decisions based on bad information

‘Community’ or ‘tribal’ knowledge is a dangerous thing when decisions are made and opinions formed based on bad information. Opinions and beliefs quickly spread within a group/team/project of any size, and once those opinions and beliefs take hold as ‘fact’ then the rot has already set in from within – it can be hard to undo this damage and replace this bad information with true and correct facts.

The trouble with believing facts to be true is that if you are wrong, you probably don’t realize you are wrong. The more time that goes by operating with false information, the worse the situation can become, as you poison the knowledge of those around you too. The poor/incorrect information spreads, and beliefs become truths.

In an industry where having correct and up to date information is key to what we do everyday and to be successful, we owe it to ourselves to help anyone who is operating with false information. The longer this situation continues, the worse it becomes, so the best thing to do is to stop the situation in it’s tracks as soon as you see this starting. When success depends on having true and correct information, its important to stamp out sources of bad information as soon as you can.


When successful companies fail to innovate

In last few years we’ve seen quite a few companies who at one time were at the top of their game but then they got left behind because they failed to innovate and renew as fast and/or as effectively as their competitors.

I’m sure there’s many more examples, but it’s interesting to think that being at the top of your game is no guarantee that you’ll maintain that position. You need to keep renewing with new strategies, new products, new directions, new services to keep in the game.

Palm – at one point Palm was the king of PDAs, the PDA was a Palm Pilot. There were others on the market at the time, but THE personal organizer was the Palm. They went though many model revisions from the original US Robotics Palm Pilot, iii, v, vii (one of the first wireless data devices?). There was even HandSpring, another company who made Palm compatible devices competing with Palm, licensing the Palm OS. Then came the Treos, combo phones plus built-in Palm PDA. The Treo phones were original made by HandSpring and later bought out by Palm. The Treo was the smartphone of their time.
Their killer? The Blackberry. The first iPhone. To continue with the same Palm stylus based ui at that point was a lost cause, since Blackberry had captured the market with their incredibly easy interface and ability to easily keep in sync with your office email, and with the iPhone’s touch based interface and UI optimized for touch input shifted the goal posts in terms of usability. Thinking back now, the odd shorthand on the Palm for entering characters with single strokes was kind of odd, but also effective given the technology constraints at the time.

Palm’s biggest chance to stay relevant in the market was webOS – a neat idea but probably came too late. Palm got bought out by HP. The webOS TouchPad was initialially too expensive to get any consumer interest, but flew off the shelves when the price was dropped to $199 to clear stock. HP’s strategy for webOS just wasn’t right to make it work.

There’s been talk of webOS being opensourced, but at this point Palm is pretty much dead.

Prior to the success of Palm, the most popular PDA in Europe was the Psion devices, running the Symbian OS. Psion eventually died but Symbian lived on as a popular OS for many (feature) phones, particularly Nokia based phones.

There’s plenty of other examples in the IT industry, I guess because things change so fast you’ve got to keep the continual innovation to keep in the game. Some I can think of: Sinclair – in the 80s in Europe, Sinclair was ahead of the curve in terms of cost-effective home computers but they didn’t stay ahead long enough to get lost by changes in technology, particularly 16 bit home computers from Commodore and Atari, themselves who both also failed the same way (although Commodore stayed around producing PC clones for a while before disappearing, and then recently reappeared again as a brandname for PC-clones in a C64 style keyboard case).

Industry (particularly technology) and consumer trends are short lived. As something new comes along, you’ve either got to be already on that train, you’ve got to be the one driving the train, or building the next ‘train’, whatever that might be. If you’re still standing on the station and you watch the train go by, then it’s already too late.