Tag Archives: rants

It’s all about the BATNA

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(Image courtesy Ismael Celis under Creative Commons license.)

It seems like there is a constant stream of articles being turned out about how we’re all going to be working in Amazon fulfillment centers and holding in our pee for 12 hours while we dry-swallow bottles of Aleve and live in fear of our slave-driving lower-level warehouse managers.

You can read a lot of these types of articles on sites like the Verge for some reason. (I am beginning to think of them – at least in part – as “nominally ‘tech’ but actually ‘tech pessimism'” sites.)

Meanwhile, there is another – perhaps-less-frequent but still influential – stream of articles about how companies “can’t find” good employees, they “can’t hire”, millennials want “too much” from their employers, Americans “won’t work hard” and “don’t have the necessary skills” for “the future” ™, and so on.

You can probably read these articles in the Wall Street Journal.

The NY Times, that bourgeois rag, will happily run both types of article. (Parts of its demographic hold both views, in some cases simultaneously, and hey, the ads pay either way.)

Unfortunately there is an important concept taken from business negotiation called BATNA that is almost never even mentioned in either type of article – even though it usually explains the behaviors chronicled in the article! I could almost forgive this if the writer had studied journalism and not economics (although not really), but if they have any economics or business background at all it’s just criminal.

What is BATNA though, really? Well you can read the wiki article for more information, but it is an acronym that means “Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement”. In other words, it’s a way of thinking during any type of negotiation about questions of the form “What’s my next best option if this deal falls through?”

For example, if you are an employer with a lot of cash on the balance sheet you can afford to wait a few quarters (or years) until employee wages come down to a level you find more appealing, maybe. If you are a wage-earning employee, you probably cannot. (Not to mention that it’s probably cheaper for companies to have their PR people push articles in the WSJ about how hard it is to hire than it is to just raise wages until hiring picks up.)

P.S. Special thanks to Andrew Kraft, who gave a great talk on BATNA and other related topics a few years back at AppNexus. Without his talk, I might never have heard of this magical acronym.)

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Thoughts on Rewrites

As a user, when I hear engineers start talking about doing a rewrite of an application or an API that I depend on, I get nervous. A rewrite almost never results in something better for me.

Based on personal experience, I have some (possibly unfair) opinions:

  • Rewrites are almost always about the engineering organization
  • They are almost never about the end users
  • Inside any given organization, it’s very difficult for people to understand this because their salary depends on them not understanding it
  • Attempts at rewriting really large apps rarely get to a state of “fully done”, so the engineers may end up with a Lava Layer anyway
  • Except now users are angry because features they depended on are gone

Why am I writing this? Because I’m still mad they took away my Opera.

Until recently, I’d been using Opera for over a decade. By the time Opera 12 came out, it was amazing. It had everything I needed. It was lightweight, and could run on computers with less than a gig of RAM. With all of the keyboard shortcuts enabled, I could slice and dice my way through any website. I could browse the web for hours without removing my hands from the keyboard, popping open tabs, saving pages for later reference, downloading files. It was amazing.

Oh, and Opera also had a good email client built in. It was, like the browser part, lightweight and fast, with keyboard shortcuts for almost everything. It also read RSS feeds. Oh, and newsgroups too. It had great tagging and search, so you could really organize the information coming into your world.

Then they decided to take it all away. They didn’t want to maintain their own rendering engine anymore. They let go of most of the core rendering engine developers and decided to focus on making Yet Another Chromium Skin ™. No mail reader. Most of the keyboard shortcuts gone. Runs like shit (or not at all) in computers with 1 gig of RAM.

I realize I got exactly what I paid for. But if you are wondering why users get twitchy when engineers and PMs start talking about rewrites, wonder no longer.

After Opera stopped getting maintenance, I switched back to Firefox, and fell in love with Pentadactyl, the greatest “make my browser act like Vim” addon that ever was.

Can you guess what happened next? Yep, they decided to rewrite everything and break the addon APIs. I know they had some good reasons, but those reasons meant the end of my beloved Penta. Now I am back to using Firefox with Vimium (like an animal), and I suppose I should be grateful to have even that.

And don’t get me started on my experiences with “REST APIs”, especially in a B2B environment.

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