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Friday, December 30, 2005

The Power of A Good Idea

Do you have any friends who go to Engineering grad school? Have you visited their work cubicle before ? What you are gonna find there is quite amusing. A toothpaste and a toothbrush, lots of caffeine in its various forms like tea or coffee, a 12 pack of microwaveable asian noodles and the Dummy's guide to grad school survival. Okay, I made the part about the Dummy's guide but really they almost live at school. A friend of mine is doing his Phd in biotech at Stanford and he is an exception to what I just described. His daily schedule is very similar to mine. He works from 9 to 6 and is usually free on the weekends. To add to the mystery, he usually takes time off from his research during winter and summer to travel. One day I asked my friend to reveal the secret behind his productivity. He told me that at any given day, one could have a few good ideas. You try to work hard to get some results out of those and any effort beyond that does not really add much value. While my friend is much smarter than the average me, there is some truth to what he said and I have seen that personally in my own work. I tend to have this bad habit that whenever I get stuck at work, I mechanically try many things very quickly to solve the problem. This is another case of Dijkstra's I described in my previous posts. The cost of trying out a mediocre solution to the problem is small because it did not require much thinking from my side. But, at the end I am not getting any close towards solving my work problem. I was able to become more productive by forcing myself to concentrate on few good ideas that could really solve the problem.

While I am at it, lemme give some examples of what I consider good business ideas. These are already established businesses so don't quit your job and walk to a VC yet. LinkedIn, Evite and TinyURL are examples of what I like to refer to as simple-but-beautiful ideas. They are beautiful ideas because they are simple yet very useful to many people. They are simple because they are not technically hard problems and the implementation behind them has already been done many times before. Add to that, they have the property of self marketing which means everytime someone is using the service, he/she is also refering someone else. That combined with a friendly intuitive user interface enabled them to gain a large user base very quickly.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Case of Dijkstra's (Not A Technical Post!)

E.W. Dijkstra, a brilliant scientist and a fine man, is credited for the invention of Dijkstra's Algorithm aka the shortest path algorithm. Dijkstra's algorithm is what's used behind the scenes to give us driving directions on mapquest or gps navigators. What's interesting about Dijkstra's algorithm, and is also the case with many computing algorithms, is that its applicable in our everyday life and not just technical problems. Let's look at this fun problem. It's really short and simple. So we are trying to find the shortest
path from node A to node D. The numbers on the edges between the nodes represent the distance.

A _3_B__4_ D

So we could go from A to D through B with a total cost of 7 or through C with a total cost of 8. In this simple problem obviously going through B leads shorter path. Although, and especially
in more complicated graphs, one might be inclined to go with C thinking that if C is closer to A than B that would yield a shorter path. And that's exactly what D's Algorithms proves wrong.

Dijkstra's Algorithm reminds me to focus on my long term goals. We do have choices that we make everyday and sometimes you have to pick the non ideal ones (short term wise) because it eventually leads to the shortest path to our end goals.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Sharing Can Be Good

Let me compare and contrast the Joel model to what I like to refer to as the Hacker model. Jeol who, which hacker, what model? Bare with me, it will all be clear after I tell you this story.

Few months ago, a friend of mine invited me to dinner at his house. I knew my friend from Symantec where I used to intern and he used to work as a lead engineer. My friend managed to file 2 or 3 patents in his one year there so that should tell you something about him. After an excellent dinner, instead of offering me dessert, my friend offered to show me some of his Windows kernel hacking skills. For those who don't know the kernel is the core component of the operating system. Windows does not publish any of its internal OS implementation details so hackers spend alot of time trying to figure out how it works to be able to break it. Security engineers, like my friend, spend an equal amount of time but to prevent against hackers' attempts. I was very impressed with what my friend showed me. I asked him if any of that information is published somewhere. My friend smiled and I saw that look in his eyes that kinda says you are too naive kid. He told me that security engineers spend most of their day trying to figure out this information and obviously no one is gonna reveal this information publicly as they maintain a career out of it.

The Joel model is in reference to Joel Spolsky. Mr. Spolsky is the author of the famous blog: that became very popular among software engineers and geeks in general. Joel Spolsky became very famous to the extent that he gets frequently invited to speak at every major software conference. He was the keynote speaker for my company's annual engineering conference last year. He even published a book off his blog that was a top seller on Amazon. Joel founded a very small company in NYC that does bug tracking software. Despite his fierce attempts to make his product look sexy or high profile its a bug tracking software afterall. So, where did all this popularity come from? I attribute his fame solely to his blog. Joel decided to follow the complete opposite of the Hackers model. He shares the lessons and tricks that he learned over the years. He publicly describes his business strategies, how he runs his company, his management style and more. Of course his unique humorous writing style helped but I am sure that required time and effort from his side. In return for his efforts, Joel earned his name which I claim is much more valuable than any business advantage he could have from not sharing his personal insights.

I like the Joel model better. For one thing, It provides value to other people. Second, it gives you credibility if you have a product that you wanna advertise. Its the best marketing strategy you could ever have. I am gonna try to follow the Joel model in my own blog. Instead of JoelOnSoftware, its gonna be AhmedOnEverything. I don't really expect it to be popular or anything, I would just like to share the things I learn from my every day life that I think would be useful to others.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Moving To The City?

So I am seriously considering moving to the city. Yes, it is crowded, expensive and it's gonna be a long commute to work. And yes this means I will have to get a roommate if I wanna live in a decent place without spending all my paycheck on rent. I think its gonna be worth it though. Like a coworker of mine says its a better value for your time where value is fun/goodtimes/blast however you wanna define it. I have been living in the peninsula for over a year now since I moved from LA. There is really not much to do there like any suburb area. Everything closes early (i.e 11 the latest) and most of the population is either much younger (high-school and younger) or much older (parents of the high-school kids) . Even though I live only 15 miles away from the city, it's still not very convient. I have to worry about driving, getting stuck in traffic (45 min drive on average), finding parking or being tied to the subway schedule. More importantly its different being an outsider than someone who actually lives there. When you are coming from the outside you don't have much time to spend. So you tend to go to places you already know with friends you knew from before. You don't get to explore or meet new people. I could ramble on and on about this but I think now would be a good time for me to experience living in the city. So when am I gonna move? Depends on how early I could get out of my current lease which does not end till summer. Hopefully, I will be able to move earlier than that.

Back To Blogging

It seems like forever since I have posted on this blog. I almost forgot I even have a blog. Few days ago, a friend of mine asked me if I have a blog and that reminded me about it. I guess I have been pretty busy the last two month or may be I did not have anything interesting to write about. Anyways, I am back to blogging now. This time for real ;) I even have a list of topics to write about for the next few weeks. ISA, I will get to write at least one entry per week. I will also make this public soon. Don't know how soon , but once I have few entries out there. So stay tuned everyone (that's just me for now since I am currently the only reader for this blog).