The cacophonies of distributed systems

If you have never heard about Deutsch + Gosling’s fallacies of distributed computing, you are missing out big time! I encourage you to check them out here. Those delusions are widely considered in the distributed systems field as some of the most painful assumptions any junior systems designer, or architect can make. I like to call them “career-limiting choices”.

When I first learned about these eight fallacies a few years ago, I decided I needed to keep them around. I wrote them in a piece of paper and taped it outside of my office. The piece of paper is still there, except that it now has eleven statements – I guess some random folks added a few more fallacies. 

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Product management and the art of focusing on what matters

As a product manager, it is critical to have a meaningful roadmap with a backlog of work. Being able to ideate and constantly iterate makes our products better. However, it is critical that we are able to find which of our ideas are going to be the most impactful ones. Over the past year, my team has been working on refining how we approach this and found some things work better than others. The following are some of the things we found really useful.

1.     Understand the goal – the first thing you must do is to really understand what is the goal you and the business are trying to achieve. If there is any misalignment you must align before continuing. It was amazing how many times we went and implemented things where the goal was not understood, or it was misaligned. Having understood this from the beginning would have saved us a lot of time and resources. Understanding the goal will take you to different paths, for example, a goal of driving adoption will lead you to do different things than driving for revenue or usage. If you do not understand this, you will cycle and leave things to chance.

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Thank you MoviePass and goodbye

The past couple of weeks have been a big roller coaster for MoviePass. I got to experience the Thursday July 26 outage when I was going to see a movie with a friend. We were upset but decided to go for happy hour instead which turned out to be great. The next day we found out it was because they had run out of money which indicated that the end was near. MoviePass was able to get their emergency loan and service was restored. On Friday my friends wanted to see Mission Impossible but the option was grayed out however, after refreshing several times, I was able to get a ticket with an outrageous $6 surcharge. This grayed option turned out to be a change in plans where new movies were not going to be offered anymore. This was a breaking moment for me. I had to make a decision to stay or not before I would be charged the next month.

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Unboxing Google’s 7 new principles on Artificial Intelligence

How many times have you heard that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is humanity’s biggest threat? Some people think that Google brought us a step closer to a dark future when Duplex was announced last month, a new capability of Google’s digital Assistant that enables it to make phone calls on your behalf to book appointments with small businesses. You can see it in action here:

The root of the controversy lied on the fact that the Assistant successfully pretended to be a real human, never disclosing its true identity to the other side of the call. Many tech experts wondered if this is an ethical practice or if it’s necessary to hide the digital nature of the voice.

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What I learned moving from building enterprise to consumer software

Last April I decided to take a big jump from building enterprise software to building consumer products. I am very grateful to have found a place that would allow me to learn the ropes of the consumer business without sacrificing any of the internal goals. This past year has been a great learning experience with big learnings and here are my key takeaways.

Enterprise vs Consumer? What’s the big deal? 

Building enterprise software is a different beast than building it for consumers. They share several core components such as requiring a secure, reliable infrastructure and following best software practices including sprint models. However, I see three key differences.

Difference 1: Knowing what your customers want 

In the enterprise world you go out and talk to your customers and it’s fairly clear what they need. Even building roadmaps is fairly easy. In the consumer world it’s not as easy. Because you are building software for millions of customers you can’t talk to all of them, so you have to find proxies to it.  Unfortunately, many times these proxies are not perfect hence you require to test a lot (and I do mean a lot). On the good side, because consumer software is used right away you get instant feedback and know if you have a success or a fail.

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4 lessons I learned losing money on Bitcoin

I looked at the “Buy Bitcoin” button and paused, was I ready to do it? had I read enough articles explaining what is blockchain? 2017 had just closed after an all-time high for cryptocurrencies, and according to many enthusiasts, it was just the beginning. I felt like I was missing out, so I pushed the button and sat back. I felt confident, but in reality, I had no idea what I was doing.

I passively consumed news about Bitcoin for years, but I never went deep enough to properly understand the technology behind it and its potential. Even though I followed the ultimate rule of “investing only what you can afford losing”, the truth is that I only began to comprehend blockchain technology after I already got my feet wet. I started losing money shortly after my first order completed, these are the 4 lessons I learned since then.

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1. A big Bitcoin dive can drag the rest of the crypto market with it

There is so much speculation around cryptocurrencies and so many people investing in them without having a clue, that a moment of panic can snowball into a sudden market crash. A Bitcoin crash can affect many investors’ confidence in other cryptocurrencies (or altcoins), dragging their price down as well.

Many altcoins are variants of Bitcoin with small code differences, making their prices change practically in parallel to Bitcoin’s.

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Amazon Go: A.I.’s grim face?

I have been waiting since college on RFID’s failed promise to deliver a walk-away checkout experience, and Amazon finally made it possible. After reading my co-blog writer’s experience in the Amazon Go store I had to check it out for myself and was excited for it. All my friend’s pictures were of long lines, but thankfully I am a morning person and there was no line when I got there. My goal was to pretend I had no idea what it was or how it worked. My experience overall was good, with the exception of the on-boarding process. I was greeted with a condescending “oh, you don’t have the app?” and was asked to stay aside. My T-Mobile reception was very poor so it took me a bit to get started. Once I downloaded the app and signed into my Amazon account everything was smooth. Mission accomplished! In this post, I’m not going to talk about the actual store (Ivan did a great job already) but about the implications of the first tangible and successful AI automated store.

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Exterior of the Amazon Go store

Automation has always been part of our history. Automation has helped us evolve into the society we have now. Such as, automating how we grow and crop food so we can have a good food supply, the industrial revolution to make things faster and cheaper, the assembly line to make them even faster and cheaper, and finally computers to automate processes and tasks. Now, AI is here and it will automate all of our productivity.

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Are you rude to your virtual assistant?

2017 has been the year of the smart speaker. Amazon’s Echo Dot and Google’s Home Mini are currently selling for around $30, which makes them a popular Christmas gift. Using an Artificial Intelligence (AI) has never been cheaper and it’s finally reaching critical mass.

Companies are investing on AI more than ever: natural language recognition still has to improve a lot, but the current algorithms are already impressive. My favorite example: it’s now possible to ask “how long would it take me to get to Starbucks on 15th Ave?” and get an accurate response with the right assumptions. What a time to be alive!

All of this progress comes with side effects: having to learn how to talk to a machine. Often, people start talking without the wake-up keyword, and sometimes they forget to check if the device is actually listening, getting confused when there is no response to their inquiry. Talking to a machine is not easy and usually, very unsatisfactory.

Perhaps that dissatisfaction is what makes us be less aware about our manners when addressing an AI. What would you think if someone interrupted you mid-sentence with a sudden “STOP”? What if someone kept giving you orders relentlessly, never pausing to thank you? That’s how most of us talk to AI’s like Alexa or Siri, never saying “please” or “thank you”.

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What’s on my phone’s home screen?

2017 is almost over, so I wanted talk about the apps that have taken the most important space on my phone during this year, and whether or not I think they’ll still be there next year.

Let’s start with a screenshot of my home screen:

I place apps in my home screen based on the frequency in which I use them. I try to minimize the amount of times I have to go to other pages of the home screen, so these are truly the apps that keep me going. But are all of these apps equally important for my daily tech routine? Will they stay in such a prominent position next year? Let’s break them into categories.

Connecting with friends & family

Messages, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Mail are absolutely critical to stay connected with family and friends, especially those in other countries. I’m convinced that I’ll keep these around since they are literally the first thing I check every morning.

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have been part of an interesting migration during 2017: most of my friends stopped posting on Facebook and became more active on apps where their posts have a 24 hour expiration date. So far, most of my friends are choosing Instagram, probably due to the fact that it has a classic profile of everlasting posts; Snapchat will have a hard time recovering after the aggressive takeover from Instagram, so I would not be surprised if Snapchat didn’t make it on my phone through the next year.

Consuming entertainment content & news

I don’t see Twitter or YouTube as simple social networks anymore; I use these apps to consume news and media content. I can see what’s trending in the world or I can follow the creators that I want, and get content directly matching my interests. Twitter is not dead (even if you don’t use it to connect with friends) and YouTube is not getting substituted by Snapchat (not in the next year at least) as my main video provider.

Feedly, LinkedIn and MSN News (which I use to read many Spanish newspapers in one single place) also keep me informed, but they are usually secondary sources in my daily routine. Feedly is there because it’s where I keep my old RSS collection (rest in peace, Google Reader), and it’s the app with the highest probabilities of not making it one more year.

Now, about the Podcasts app: I acknowledge this might sound weird, but the first time I ever listened to a podcast was just a few months ago. Considering that podcasts are a relatively old form of audio broadcasting, this may be surprising, but I had not found a compelling reason to try it until I found this amazing podcast. I then turned to Facebook asking for podcasts recommendations and my friends gave me enough titles for the rest of my life. This app is a keeper.

Tools

This category is also critical, but individual apps can easily be substituted if a better alternative appeared in the market. I use many Apple stock apps due to their integration within iOS, but I’m not too attached to them. In fact, I have already substituted some 1st party apps: Notes with OneNote, Calendar with Google Calendar or Music with Spotify.

I have a love-hate relationship with Apple Maps: Google Maps has better content, but I like Apple’s design and it usually finds what I’m looking for. I have switched back and forth between Google Maps and Apple Maps at least twice during 2017, so we can officially call this an unresolved situation.

WordPress and Medium are my basic blogger tools: even though geekonrecord.com is hosted in WordPress.com, I also publish in Medium on my own account and on Medium publications like Hacker Noon. It’s safe to say that these apps will remain in my home screen as long as I keep writing.

Work

This might sound like the most boring part of my home screen, but as a Microsoft employee I enjoy using apps like Outlook, which is a way better email client than the Apple Mail app (I use both to separate my personal and work email), or Teams, which is Microsoft’s response to Slack.

What’s next? Which new apps will appear on my home screen next year? With the popularization of augmented reality (AR), I hope to see new and exciting apps in 2018: a successful crossover between social media and AR could dramatically change which apps stay in that valued home screen. The future can’t come fast enough.


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Image taken from my own phone, with a wallpaper provided by Marques Brownlee

About the iPhone X notch controversy

The iPhone X was already controversial even before it was officially introduced last Tuesday, mostly due to the rumored removal of Touch ID in favor of Face ID.

However, Apple’s presentation caused a new controversy: the infamous notch. Even though the array of cameras and sensors got leaked long before the event, nobody knew how Apple was planning to do in order to integrate it with iOS 11. We have the answer now: Apple is so proud of that black bar that they decided to render the user interface around it.

Since Apple controls the operating system, they made sure it looks good with most 1st party apps. But what happens with 3rd party content like a website? The notch gets in the way. Continue reading “About the iPhone X notch controversy”