Abbott and Fisher’s previous book, The Art of Scalability received good reviews for shifting the way we think about scalability from merely splitting databases and adding servers, to include the human factors that weigh heavily on its success. Together with the authors’ distinguished pedigree (PayPal, Amazon, and eBay between them), I picked up a copy of their second book, Scalability Rules – 50 Principles for Scaling Web Siteswithout a second thought.
If Art was about laying a strong foundation for a scalable organization then Rules is the reference point for when you actually tackle the growth challenges. It acts as a reminder when you come to a crossroad of decision-taking, to keep with the principles of scaling. Each guiding principle is clearly explained and illustrated with examples. It also prescribes how and when to apply the rules. Continue reading Scalability Rules for managers and startups→
Walking around New York you find yourself stopping at plenty of different places to grab some takeout for lunch. There are Vietnamese sandwich places, pizza shops, noodle bars, taco stands, juice bars and of course your daily coffee shop. You’ll find an endless variety.
As is customary in New York, even for takeout there is usually a tip jar at the checkout. Many of them have a large bowl, or glass jar in which you can throw your change as tips, or if you really love the place and service, a couple of dollars.
Of late I’ve noticed a few have placed those small plastic boxes with a tiny slot on the top. You try to put some change in the slot, and half of the money falls on the floor. It’s as frustrating as threading a needle while suffering from astigmatic vision. Now when I come to a place that has this plastic box, I don’t even bother tipping. I get a headache thinking about my change falling all over the floor. All I keep thinking is, why make it so difficult to tip?
First things first. This is not meant to be a beef against developers. But let’s not ignore the elephant in the living room that is the divide between brilliant code writers and the risk averse operations team.
It is almost by default that developers are disruptive with their creative coding while the guys in operations, those who deploy the code, constantly cross their fingers in the hope that application changes won’t tilt the machine. And when you’re woken up at 4am to deal with an outage or your sluggish site is costing millions in losses, the blame game and finger-pointing starts.
If you manage a startup you may be faced with this problem all the time. You know your business, you know what you’re trying to build but how do you find people who can help you build and execute your ideas with minimal risk?
Recently at Surge 2011, the annual conference on scalability and performance, Google’s CIO Ben Fried gave an illuminating keynote address. His main insight was that generalists are the people that will lead engineering teams in successfully scaling the web.
In a world where the badge of Specialist or Expert is prized, this was refreshing perspective from an industry bigwig. As tech professionals, or any professional for that matter, we don’t welcome the label of generalist. The word suggests a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. But the generalist is no less an expert than the specialist. Generalists can get their hands greasy with the tools to fix bugs in the machine but they are especially good at mobilizing the machine itself; with their talents of broad vision, and perspective they can direct an entire team to accomplish tasks efficiently. This ability to see big-picture can not be underestimated especially during times of crisis or pressure to meet targets. For a team to scale the web effectively, you’re going to need a good mix of both types of personalities.
Could pro-waitering serve up some lessons on web scalability? Observing peak hour dining at a New York restaurant gave us some insight.
I was dining at a restaurant the other day with friends. It was a warm and cozy place, nicely decorated with a long, narrow dining room. The food was scrumptious, yet we were getting increasingly frustrated by the service as the night went along.
With some waiting experience behind me, I could immediately see the problem. The waiters, probably through lack of experience, were making the mistake of doing one thing at a time. They would go to a table, respond to one customer’s request, and go and fetch that item. Back and forth, back and forth they would dart, but always dealing with one request at a time. Continue reading iHeavy Newsletter 84 – Restaurant Scalability→
One of the great things about the Internet is how it has made it easier to put great ideas into practice. Whether the ideas are about improving people’s lives or a new way to sell and old-fashioned product, there’s nothing like a good little startup tale of creative disruption to deliver us from something old and tired.
We work with a lot of startup firms and we love being part of the atmosphere of optimism and ingenuity, peppered with a bit of youthful zeal – something very indie-rock-and-roll about it. But whether they are just starting out or already picking up pace every startup faces the same challenges to scale a business. Recently, we were reminded of this when we watched Inc’s video interview with Birchbox founders, Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp. Continue reading Scale Quickly Like Birchbox – Startup Scalability 101→
Shoe leather cost is similar to opportunity cost. It refers to the cost of counteracting inflation by keeping less of your assets in cash. Your strategy would require more trips to the bank and more walking, and incur a cost in the wearing out of the leather in your shoes.
All joking aside, it’s an interesting idea. It highlights how there are all sorts of hidden costs to different strategies. There are hidden costs to using coupons, loyalty cards, frequent flyer miles, managing assets & investments, hiring resources and in general running a business. Let’s look at a few. Continue reading iHeavy Insights 83 – Shoe Leather Cost→