You don’t have to take every handout or jump through every loophole

You don’t have to agree with Uncle Sam on how he conducts all of his affairs to accept that “starving the beast” isn’t a path that leads anywhere good long term.

Basecamp used to take two common business deductions called the domestic manufacturing credit (§199) and the Research & Development credit. Both of these tax credits were substantial, both were recommended by esteemed accounting firms with entire departments dedicated to their exploitation, and both were total fucking bullshit.

So we stopped taking them. (You should have seen the faces of our new accountants as we told them this 😂).

Supposedly these credits are there to encourage American companies to spend on R&D and to keep manufacturing jobs in the country, but give me a break. I’d wager that the vast majority of companies that accept these tax handouts do not base their decisions about how much to spend on R&D or whether to hire domestically on these credits in the least. It’s just free money.

Now the conventional wisdom goes that companies have a fiduciary duty to squeeze, pull, and bend the tax code until it submits to the minimal possible effective rate. That executives and accountants simply must exploit every loophole and take every handout. Then celebrate when they score undue deduction after undue deduction with ever more lavish bonuses and payouts.

Fuck that.

Now, I’m not saying that you should voluntarily just send a bigger check to the IRS than your nominal rate requires. Or that there aren’t reasonable deductions that perhaps make sense and encourage good behavior in circumstances. But I am saying you’re allowed to read the intent of the law, not just the letter of it. That beating the system with the IRS as your opponent is a dismal and dark assessment of a companies role in the larger society.

You can absolutely chose not to partake in these schemes. But first you have to break out of the paradigm that has most executives and accountants treat loophole exploitation as the default strategy.

The scandal isn’t what’s illegal but what’s legal. Don’t be so scandalous.

It’s time to reimagine capitalism. It doesn’t have to be at war with doing what’s good for society. To pay workers better, to pay its fair share of taxes, to be contend with enough. You can do all this and still take a profit.

Exiting the dark ages of capitalism

Stop squeezing so hard

Squeezing out every last dollar from a relationship will leave it sour and dry. That goes whether the relationship is between a company and its workers, a company and its customers, or a company and its suppliers. It’s a two-dimensional, flat, and antagonistic relationship. It’s also frequently completely unnecessary, and nearly always unsustainable.

Yet it remains the predominant gospel of business. One packaged in a variety of euphemisms to make it palatable, like “what the market will bear”. If you’re constantly pushing to get within an inch of what the market will bear, you will inevitably overstep and it’ll break.

Capitalism doesn’t have to be this way. We can all prosper and society can progress without such a single-minded strategy. All it takes is a shift in thinking and perspective.

If, say, the CEO of BlackRock woke up tomorrow and thought “damnit, eeking out the last decimal of a return isn’t how I want to be judged at the end of my days”, then he could start making demands upon his capital that went beyond just “biggest return, at all costs”. Oh wait, he just did that!

You don’t even have to take such a change of heart at face value to realize the good it can bring. Mr Fink may well still be serving the long-term best interest of his fund and himself by doing this. Betting that it’s better to take less than the market will bear, if the market will then continue to exist in a productive form for another century.

Likewise, the CEO of Facebook seems to be realizing that the goal of plundering as much attention from as much of the world as he can reach perhaps isn’t so wise after all. Again, you don’t have to believe in the noble heart of Mr Zuckerberg to realize that such a change is likely for the better.

And you’re free to question those motives, as you should, while cheering on the change. Because that is change, and it can spread if you help.

It’s highly unlikely that Fink and Zuckerberg came to these conclusions in a vacuum. No, they, like everyone, are subject to a change of heart and practice from a change in atmospheric pressure. From seeing the world getting worse in so ever many ways, even as we celebrate progress in some areas. From people making their voices heard with a message of “you’re making it worse”.

These CEOs, especially the likes of Zuckerberg, have unprecedented power to set a new, less extractive course for capitalism. Perhaps they’re waking up to their fearsome power and realizing that legacy matters more than total victory through total war.

Supposedly his proposed intention to plunder less attention has sent Zuckerberg’s Facebook stake down billions. But once you’re a billionaire, how much does $70 vs $60 vs $30 billion really matter? No, what matters far more for many of them, as for all of us, is a belief that you’re doing your bit to make the world a better place. The cognitive dissonance between a mission statement like “connecting the world” and seeing 2 billion people growing ever more spiteful and antagonistic must be deafening.

These are the grand gestures, and if they’re genuine and carried through, they might well have a large impact. But there’s an even greater impact lurking below the surface. That fundamental shift in capitalistic ideals. The move away from “what the market will bear” to “what the market thinks fair”. That will only happen once the legion of business owners below these titans adopt a similar change in values. Once the next generation of would-be moguls has a change in aspirations.

But it’s possible. Oh, is it possible. The world looks so stuck, so set, until one day it changes. Until one day enough people wake up and say enough. Until those with the means decide to take less than all of it. Until we all reconsider.

Why shouldn’t that day be tomorrow?

Basecamp doesn’t employ anyone in San Francisco, but now we pay everyone as though all did

If you want to be amongst the best paid people in software, you have to move to San Francisco. Or do you?

The roots of Basecamp are in Chicago. It’s where the business started, it’s where our only office is located, it’s where we do all our meet-ups. But more than just a geographical connection, there’s a spiritual one too: Chicago is the city that works.

So it made sense when we decided to get serious about setting pay in a fair, transparent, and systematic way to use the Chicago rates as a base. They were already higher than just about any other location we employed people from. And as a remote company, we employ people from all over the place.

Yet when we were doing our pay studies this year, we started to question that decision. If we’re already paying people from Tampa or Chattanooga the much higher Chicago rates, why is the rate based on Chicago at all?

It started to increasingly seem like an arbitrary choice, and if we were going to make one such, why not go for the best and the top?

That’s what we did. Starting 2018, Basecamp is paying everyone as though they live in San Francisco and work for a software company that pays in the top 10% of that market (compared to base pay + bonus, but not options).

We don’t actually have anyone who lives in San Francisco, but now everyone is being paid as though they did. Whatever an employee pockets in the difference in cost of living between where they are and the sky-high prices in San Francisco is theirs to keep.

This is not how companies normally do their thing. I’ve been listening to Adam Smith’s 1776 classic on the Wealth of Nations, and just passed through the chapter on how the market is set by masters trying to get away with paying the least possible, and workers trying to press for the maximum possible. An antagonistic struggle, surely.

It doesn’t need to be like that. Especially in software, which is a profitable business when run with restraint and sold to businesses.

Jason and I surely could get away with paying people in Chattanooga the rates of that market. Or people in Tampa that. Or those in Portland that. It’s how most companies do it.

But in what other part of the business do we look at what we can merely get away with? Are we trying to make the bare minimum of a product we can get away selling to customers? Are we looking to do the bare minimum of a job marketing our business? No.

Do better than what you can get away with. Do more than the bare minimum. Don’t wait for the pressure to build. Don’t wait for the requests to mount. The best time to take a step forward is right now.

(And before you ask, sorry, we’re actually not hiring. That’s part of the restraint bit. We have a team of fifty five of the most kind, wonderful, and capable people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. That’s all we need at the moment to do what we want to do.)

The reason we can take such good care of our employees at Basecamp, and why they tend to stay so long as a result, is because of all our wonderful customers. We have thousands of new customers who sign up every week. If you’d like to support a perspective on business like this, consider giving Basecamp a try in the new year.

The books I read in 2017

I didn’t actually read any of these, but boy do they look good!

Last year about this time I extracted all my answers to our monthly Basecamp check-in question of What are you reading? So I thought I’d do the same again. These are the books I read in 2017, as I presented them to the rest of the company:

February 14

With Russia fever at Defcon 2, I’ve made it about half-ways through the biography The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin. It’s a great refresher on post-WWII history, the cold war, KGB, but above all, on the forces present in Russia.

There are many lines to draw between Russia’s struggles after the fall of Communism with the fundamental political theories of Fukuyama (Origins of Political Order / Political Order And Political Decay). When taken together, they lend an all the more human and sympathetic story to why things played out the way they did. While still appreciating just how immense the level of brokenness, corruption, and brutality that journey has brought with it.

On a lighter note, I finished The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. It’s a short book, but it still manages to repeat itself a lot. And yet the core patterns it covers are as effective as they are simple. I’ve been on a decluttering kick at home and feel so much better because of it. It was also the kickstarter for the conversation with JF that lead us to sell WWR.

April 5

  • The Undoing Project: Michael Lewis is just a great storyteller, and tell a story in this he does. It’s about two Israeli psychologists, their collaboration on the irrationality of the human mind, and the milestones they set with concepts like loss-aversion, endowment effect, and other common quirks that the assumption of rationality doesn’t account for. It’s a bit long-winded, but if you like Lewis’ style, you probably won’t mind it. The scientific recaps could have happened in a book 1/10th the length, but then you’d miss out on the character portrayals of these two fascinating scientists.
  • The Stranger: Seminal novel on existentialism and the absurd by Albert Camus from 1946. Explores that feeling of disconnectedness from society, its norms, and the absurdity of every day life. Striking first-person account in a powerful, direct language.
  • The Myth of Sisyphus: Camus’ philosophical exposition of absurdity, suicide in the face of meaninglessness, and other cherry topics that continue on from his fictional work in novels like The Stranger. It’s surprisingly readable, unlike many other mid 20th century philosophers, yet no less deep or pointy. It’s a great follow-up, as an original text, to that book The Age of Absurdity, I recommended last year. Still working through it.
  • The Antifragile: Ryan recommended this earlier, and I had already read Black Swan, so followed up here. I’m of two minds with this book so far. On the one hand, I think Nassim does a great job at taking swings at The Establishment thinking in economics in particular, but on the other hand the tone at times seem needlessly polemic. The irony of me saying that of all people is not lost. Which is perhaps the best take-away from the book so far: That it’s a mirror on how to present arguments in a compelling, believable, punchy fashion, without getting lost swinging at ghosts and straw men.

July 5

  • Debt: The first 5,000 Years. Fascinating exploration of the history of economics, debunking the “if we didn’t have money, it’d all be inconvenient bartering!” myth, and the morality of debt. Only just in the early parts of the book, but liking the narrative and the anthropologic examples of exchange from other cultures already.
  • About 2/3s through Antifragile, as I mentioned last time. It got better as it progressed, even if some of the examples (like Fat Tony) are still a bit tortured. Wish he would have edited it down to half the length though.
  • In the last 10% of Political Order and Political Decay. It’s been about 50 hours of listening between that volume and the first, The Origins of Political Order. So quite the undertaking. But we’ve finally progressed all the way through the history of political order and arrived at Fukuyama’s diagnosis of modern day societies. It’s a truly epic journey, and one that’s uniquely timely to the current upheaval. “Things are so crazy now” is only something you’d say in the absence of a historical perspective. These books give you just that and then some.

November 7

  • Debt: The First 5,000 Years. After a few false starts, I finally got going with this, and what a treat. It shoots down the common myth that prior to money, everyone just bartered shit. I give you a pig, you give me five pies and a hat. Evidence shows that just wasn’t at all how things went. Most societies were structured either rather communistic (take what you need, give what you can) or with a loose debt-ledger system (or a combination of both). But where things get really interesting is how the emergence of market economies (and money) changed the relationship with human life and dignity. Especially as a consequence of slavery, which put a very explicit price on that which previously was priceless. All sorts of fascinating historical links to women wearing veils (to distinguish them from women who could be bought), how debt peonage really took off once slavery came profitable (so debtors could be sold, or their children sold, if they failed to repay), and how other morality got intertwined with debt. It’s truly eye-opening, and the lines trace disturbingly well from millennia.
  • The Richest Man in Babylon. This is a 1920s classic version of How To Get Rich. The ancestor of all the pale imitations, like Rich Dad/Poor Dad, that came since. And while I scoffed at plenty of the allegories from ancient Babylon that presents the lessons, it was still a neat package. And at least ancient Babylon is a more interesting backdrop for teaching lessons about money than some suburban house flipper. I ended up liking it more at the end than I did at the beginning. It’s also a really interesting tie-in with that debt history book.
  • Never Split The Difference: Negotiating Like Your Life Depend On It. A former FBI hostage negotiator distills the heuristics of how to defuse tense negotiations with unstable humans, and proposes that they’re the same for every other form of negotiations. Not a bad premise, and I found several of the techniques compelling and resonant of what I’ve read about human biases and flaws from other sources. But the FBI bravado is grating. It’s basically “hey, I just learned this stuff, and I whattadoknow, I become so bad ass that I could beat every Harvard trained negotiator with my sick mind hacks”. Okay dude. Nassim Taleb would be proud though 😂.
  • The Celtic Holocaust. This isn’t technically a book, but it might as well be. It’s Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History “podcast”, but calling a 6 hour history show a “podcast” is a bit of a stretch. That’s longer than many audiobooks I’ve read! Anyway, this one is fantastic. It details Caesar’s Gaelic and Celtic campaigns, the military strategy, the political motivations from Rome, and the right and might of empire. It’s uncanny how similar the justifications and the hypocrisy of Caesar mimics that of modern day empires. All the while still portraying him in the fair light as a brilliant writer, strategist, and general. And then there’s of course Dan Carlin which could make even the most boring topic riveting. So when the topic is this good, the combo is just ace. Very highly recommended.

December 21

  • The Wealth of Nations: It’s hard to believe that Adam Smith wrote this tome in 1776! It’s written in such plain, if repetitive, language that it makes the basic economic theory easily accessible. That doesn’t mean it’s right. The book on Debt: The First 5,000 Years spent a fair chunk of time debunking many of Smith’s accounts of “the barter, truck, and exchange” cultures that supposedly were the rude state of man before the introduction of coinage. But the book is all the better from a read with a critical mind. It presents such a basic, plain description of capitalism and its functions that serves as a proper grounding for a critique. It’s also full of kinda hilarious deep dives into the exchange rates between silver and gold and other commodities set to 1770s prices.
  • The Republic: I’m about a third through this and still can’t tell whether Plato is making a mockery of Socrates ideas for the idyllic society or not. So many of the arguments presented as Socrates’ are so tortured and with so disconnected leaps of logic that it’s hard to take it at face value. Yet still, it’s good fun to follow the dialogue. It reads more like a play than a book, and again, immensely accessible. It’s fun to see the lines that continue from a book like this to the considerations of the Stoics all the way to Adam Smith and the Wealth of Nations and then onto a modern critique and history in that Debt: First 5,000 Years. A conversation spanning millennia.

Basecamp is a great place to help coworkers and team mates share what they read on a regular basis, but it’s not the only automatic check-in we use. We also ask What did you do this weekend? and What’s one thing that inspired you this week?, in addition to the question about work and progress. 2018 would be a great year for you and the team to bond over such questions.

Let’s bury the hustle

I love Gary Vaynerchuk dearly. So much of his message about patience and perseverance is completely in line with how I view the world. But I can’t take any more odes to “the hustle”. Like most banners, it either dies in obscurity or lives long enough to become perverted.

In the early days, I chose to interpret “the hustle” as a way for those with very little to outsmart those with a lot through clever steps. Finding leverage where you had none. Doing things that weren’t supposed to scale or even work, and making it happen.

But even if my original interpretation was once connected to the term, I can no longer pretend that it is. The hustle has become synonymous with the grind. Pushing through pain and exhaustion in the chase of a bigger carrot. Sacrificing the choice bits of the human experience to climb some arbitrary ladder of success. I can’t connect with any of that.

Keep reading “Let’s bury the hustle”

Silicon Valley should welcome the scrutiny

The glowing haze won’t cover things up forever

It’s been a tough year for the tech startup capital of the world. One marred by scandals, flame-outs, and pissy, defensive postures by its royal court. I get the sense that a common thought is “what happened?!”. Why all the scrutiny, why now?

Because you’re not a punk upstart anymore, slick. Not that you were last year either, or the years before that. It takes a while for people to catch up when the world changes, but eventually they do, and now they have.

Just look at the lingo. It used to be that you could unironically claim to be disrupting this or that, and people would look at you with puppy eyes asking to hear more. Now if you claim to be on some disruptive mission, you’re far more likely to be met with skepticism and critical inquiry, if not outright eye rolls.

That’s because the disruption story hasn’t had the neat happy ending its main protagonists would like you to believe. Whether it’s the gig economy normalizing, nay, celebrating, working three jobs to make ends met. Or specifically ride sharing outsourcing all capital costs and risk to drivers. Or apartment buildings turned into defacto hotels by short-term rentals. There are real, systemic downsides.

Remember “move fast and break things”? So hoodie, so cool. Until we realized that what was being broken was us. People. Broken as mechanical turks in the gig economy. Hidden beneath a savvy app that rendered the human connection as cold as code.

And if it wasn’t your literal back being broken, then it was your mind. Your attention hacked. Your base instincts exploited. Your dopamine trail trashed by self-confessed dark patterns. All so you could juice an engagement meter. Be that DAU. Deliver those clicks. Supply all those likes. Posit those comments.

We got grounded up as “traction” to pave a road for a few high-riding winners that took it all.

The consequences of these trends weren’t clear to most for a long time. It was just new, and exciting, and oh-my-god-look-at-that-kitty!!! The distraction worked until it didn’t. More and more people are waking up to a world driven by Silicon Valley software companies and thinking: is this really better?

Sure, it’s better in some ways. And those ways have gotten the lion’s share of the press and focus over the past decade. But in all the many, many ways it is not, well, we’re just starting to look at that critically as a society. It’s beyond overdue.

Those critical eyes haven’t had to look very far to find the rot and the malfeasance. Uber is both the most valuable tech startup to come out of San Francisco in this latest rush, and one of the most despicable companies ever to reach such a large scale.

But the ethical rot is of course not restricted to the unicorn of unicorns. It is merely the prize stallion breed from a culture seeped in it. Starting to clean that up requires acknowledging not only that there’s a problem, but the role these dominant software companies now play in the world.

The royal court in and around Silicon Valley is clearly struggling with that part. Here’s the head of the influential startup accelerator Y Combinator justifying bigotry on account of “innovation”:

This is uncomfortable, but it’s possible we have to allow people to say disparaging things about gay people if we want them to be able to say novel things about physics. [1] Of course we can and should say that ideas are mistaken, but we can’t just call the person a heretic. We need to debate the actual idea.

If we want “innovation” from Silicon Valley, and elsewhere, we need to debate people who think gays can be “cured”? Or whether phrenology actually has scientific merit? What the actual fuck.

No. Cuddling bigots out of fear they won’t keep shitting unicorn turds is not what this industry needs. Instead, it needs to accept just how dominant and controlling the major software companies out of Silicon Valley from the last ~decade have become. They now are the man.

With this awesome and fearsome power over the lives of billions of people around the world should come an equal measure of responsibility. Along with decency, empathy, and some gawd damn ethics.

It’s ironic that while some corners of the tech world loves to shit on the humanities, it’s these areas of study that they most dearly need right now. Less focus on how we find the people to build the next engagement trap, a little more on finding people who’ll ask whether we should.

But this lack of self-awareness and self-critique is hardly surprising when you hear them whine about the “distracting and demoralizing dishonest reporters”. As Kara Swisher replied: Cry me a river!

It’s in large part thanks to reporters and journalists that we’re just starting to understand and map the rot of Silicon Valley. From the despicable business practices to the harassers and abusers who’ve been preying in their ranks.

It’s time for Silicon Valley to stop running from the skepticism.

Sure, it could embrace the old Wall Street ethos of proudly flouting a complete disregard for accountability and decency. But the difference is that the new cast of characters don’t just want power and wealth, they want to be loved too.

Here’s a newsflash: The way to our heart doesn’t go through excuses, but through redemption. Fewer former executives looking in the rear-view mirror shuddering at the car crash they caused, more current executives making the conscionable choices to avoid them.

That’s unlikely to happen through some sudden corporate epiphany, but because brave individuals and outlets keep turning up the heat and the scrutiny.

May the next Etsy learn its lessons

Can I interest you in a necklace with a lesson for eternity?

Venture capital taught Etsy that making money wasn’t a skill it needed to learn early on. Go on, it said, spend the millions. And when you’ve spent those, come back and get some more. So Etsy did. They came back for a B round, then a C round, then D, E, and F rounds. Just shy of $100 million in total.

That experience deluded Etsy into thinking that they, uniquely, could ferry the scorpion across the river without getting stung. That a cool hundred million wouldn’t ever need to be paid back or corrupt its noble mission.

But the party only lasts until the music stops. And after Etsy’s VCs foisted the “growth stock” onto the public markets, those markets eventually grew tired of waiting for said growth and profits. So they demanded change, and change they got by booting the old CEO and installing a new growth-at-all-costs replacement.

When Etsy looks back at the arc of its story, it’s easy to flatter themselves into thinking that everything was hunky-dory until The Evil Capitalists came for their pound of flesh. But give me a break. This story is as old as time, and the outcome perfectly predictable.

Etsy corrupted itself when it sold its destiny in endless rounds of venture capital funding. This wasn’t inevitable, it was a choice. One made by founders and executives who found it easier to ask investors for money than to develop the habits and skills to ask customers.

“If you really want to build a company that works for people and the planet, capitalism isn’t the solution”, muses one of the former Etsy employees in a NYT piece. Bollocks. Feel-good nonsense bollocks.

Etsy wasted the chance to provide a human alternative to Ebay and Amazon all by itself. Now it’s largely the same kind of strip mall hawking the same mass-produced goods. There was a laudable mission at its core, but one that was quickly spoiled by a gluttony for growth and negligent naiveté about scorpions.

In the burnt ashes of what Etsy has become, I hope a new attempt will grow. One that learns its lessons and guards its own destiny with as much zeal as the high-minded ideals.

The value of human, exploratory testing

Ann and Michael find things programmers never would have.

Since unit testing and test-driven development burst onto the programming scene in the early 2000s, too many programmers have deluded themselves into thinking that they could ship high-quality software with automated testing alone. It’s a mirage.

Don’t get me wrong. The industry took a big leap forward when the tooling and conventions for automated testing got put in the spotlight. But in many corners, it also threw the baby out with the bathwater. Automated testing does not replace “testing by hand”, it augments it.

Testing by hand, or exploratory testing, is a crucial technique for ferreting out issues off the happy path. It is best carried out by dedicated testers who did not work on the implementation. Those pesky auditors who have the nerve to try using the application in all the ways a real user might.

None of this is news, of course. I remember reading a statistic long ago saying that Microsoft had three testers for every developer. That sounds wild to me, but I suppose if you’re trying to keep three decades of backwards compatibility going, maybe you do need that sort of firepower.

What it is, though, is forgotten wisdom. Especially in the small and mid-sized shops. Propelled by the idea that automation could take care of the testing, dedicated testers weren’t even on the menu in many establishments.

For many years that included us at Basecamp. Yeah, sure, programmers and designers would sorta click through a feature and make sure it sorta worked. Then we’d ship it and see what users found.

But we leveled up in a big way when Michael Berger became the first dedicated tester at Basecamp several years ago. He’s since been joined by Ann Goliak. And between the two of them, we’ve never shipped higher quality software. Far more issues are caught in the dedicated QA rounds that precede all major releases.

What Ann and Michael bring to the table just cannot be replicated by programmers writing automated tests. We still write lots of those, and they serve as a very useful guide during development, and form a strong regression suite. But they’re woefully insufficient. And it doesn’t matter whether they’re unit, functional, model, or even system tests. They’re no substitute for a fresh pair of human eyes bent on breakage.

I hope we start seeing a renaissance for human testers at some point. Not just as something to do if there’s time, but something for dedicated individuals to do because it’s effective. Long live manual testing!

Ann and Michael just finished testing a major upgrade to the todos feature in Basecamp 3. You should give it a try.

Hybrid development is how we give our teams of three superpowers

We just launched a major revamp of the schedule in Basecamp 3. New calendar grid, new day drill-down, new navigation across months. It’s a big change, and we rolled it out simultaneously across five platforms: Web, Windows Desktop, OS X Desktop, iOS, and Android.

Three people did the work in less than six weeks.

Not because they worked 120 hour weeks. Not because they’re polymath geniuses. Not because they outsourced the work to offshore programming farms.

Three people launched a major new feature across five platforms in six weeks because of their hybrid-development superpowers. Powers derived from using basic web technologies, Rails, Turbolinks, and the Majestic Monolith.

These six weeks included all sorts of experimentation, back-and-forth, and trade-offs. It was both research and development. A flexible, fluid spec that we honed as we went along.

Can you even imagine trying to do coordinate five different native teams covering all those platforms simultaneously? Or how many people it would take? Or how long the schedule would be?

This industry often speaks of the 10x developer, and not a lot about the 10x environment. I think the latter is much more reproducible. And in fact, most people who appear to be 10x developers were simply lucky enough to be working in a 10x environment.

Hell, one of the three people on this scheduling team was even our awesome intern, David Newell. And we just had one main designer on the crew as well. So that’s one intern programmer, one senior programmer, and one senior designer delivering this major upgrade in six weeks.

We don’t have any proprietary magic at Basecamp. We’re literally giving all these superpowers away for free. Turbolinks is open source. Rails is open source. The Majestic Monolith and Hybrid Development patterns are well publicized. It’s all right there for anyone who wants to be this productive.

And sure, you probably could eek out the last few percent of interface fidelity if you went all native everywhere on a feature like this. But the price of going from 95% Good Enough to 100% Verified Native is orders of magnitude. Some times those orders are worth it, but the vast majority of the time, they’re not.

Basecamp 3 currently carries a 4.5/5 rating in both the iOS App Store and the Google Play store. Both are hybrid apps powered by Turbolinks and backed by that Majestic Monolith of a Rails app. The results speak for themselves.

Going with hybrid development has been absolutely key to how Basecamp gets to stay small and still deliver an ace experience across all the major platforms. And you can do it too, if you dare to reject the dogma of All Native, Microservices, and the dark side of heavy client-side JavaScript MVCs.

Whether to judge on effort or results

Reality is a fuzzy picture much of the time

Unless someone is spectacularly inept, there’s always a reasonable sounding explanation for why the project they were involved with fell short. Maybe the direction was unclear, maybe the technology was harder than expected, maybe it was just too ambitious.

It’s sound and human to be sympathetic to such woes, even if you think things should have gone better or faster or made more of an impact. But at some point, you have to decide whether you’re judging someone’s work merely on their earnest effort or whether it’s by the results (or lack thereof).

To me, that’s the dividing line between someone able to lead a team executing a vision, and someone who’s simply on a team working to a plan. I can’t fault someone who’ve done their part well if the whole thing falters, unless their part was the responsibility of the whole thing.

It’s in this executive leap where judgement is rendered as much on all the things you did, as on all the things you didn’t do. If you’re leading the charge, almost everything that happens could have happened differently by the weight of your choices. You have to accept that if you want to play the lead part.

This negative space, the actions not taken, is carried on confidence. Can you maintain that confidence? Can you build it? If not, soon nothing else matters. You can’t be effective without confidence. That’s the whole buck-stops-here premise.

The hardest part is just how fuzzy that evaluation can be. What does it actually mean to “lose confidence”? It’s usually a build up of so many little things, then the final snowflake that bends the leaf of the bamboo.

The problem is that most creative, entrepreneurial work can’t be examined as a closed system. You don’t get to hold all other variables stable while you examine just the one. Which means conclusions can only be drawn from the whole, fuzzy picture.

Being a leader means accepting such uncertainty, and making or accepting the most compelling choice regardless.