Nice quotes on programming from Code Complete

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“The visual and intellectual enjoyment of well-formatted code is a pleasure that few nonprogrammers can appreciate. But programmers who take pride in their work derive great artistic satisfaction from polishing the visual structure of their code.”

“…there is a psychological basis for writing programs in a conventional manner: programmers have strong expectations that other programmers will follow these discourse rules. If the rules are violated, then the utility afforded by the expectations that programmers have built up over time is effectively nullified.”

“The smaller part of the job of programming is writing a program so that the computer can read it; the larger part is writing it so that other humans can read it.”

“The information contained in a program is denser than the information contained in most books. Whereas you might read and understand a page of a book in a minute or two, most programmers can’t read and understand a naked program listing at anything close to that rate. A program should give more organizational clues than a book, not fewer.”


Agile Nutshell Newsletter #13


Competing with Unicorns



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Hello all – long time no see! It has been several years since my last update. But that’s only because I have been hard at work on a book that I have wanted to write for over six years – Competing with Unicorns. And I am proud to say it is finally out.

This book is the conversation I have wanted to have with many of you, since leaving Spotify. It contains all the tips, tricks, management strategies, and cultural norms that enable companies like Spotify to out execute the competition. And this book contains a summary of how they do it.

Here is a summary of what the book covers.

Chapter 1: What’s Different About Startups

Spotify, Google, Amazon, and Facebook were once all startups. What they try very hard to do as they scale is keep that small startup culture. This goes way beyond free lunches and foosball tables. It gets to the heart of how they work and where they focus. In a nutshell they are constantly trying to out learn the competition.

Chapter 2: Give Purpose with Missions

Big tech Unicorns don’t give their teams projects. Instead they give them something much more powerful – missions. Mission let teams operate autonomously, create their own work, and think for themselves.

Chapter 3: Empower Though Squads

Instead of continuously forming and reforming teams, Unicorns keep teams together longer. These longer running teams they call Squads. And self empowered Squads leave traditional Agile teams in the dust.

Chapter 4: Scale with Tribes

The way Unicorns get big initiatives done isn’t by breaking down teams into silos, and never letting them speak with one another. They create small autonomous companies right inside the organization. These they call Tribes, and it’s these Tribes full of self-empowered trusted Squads that do amazing things.

Chapter 5: Align with Bets

Unicorns swarm problems in ways traditional companies could, but for organizational reasons can’t. By creating company wide bet lists, and sharing that throughout the company, everyone knows what they should be working on, and what the companies highest priority items are.

Chapter 6: Working At a Tech Lead Company

Unicorns trust their people way more than most. On rare occasions this can cause problems. But the upside in terms of speed and innovation is so huge, that they are willing to accept a few bad apples, in an effort to enable everyone else to be happier and go faster.

Chapter 7: Invest in Productivity

Unicorns make investment in infrastructure and services that enable their teams to learn and go faster. The speed of iteration is incredible. And anything that gets in the way is fixed or removed.

Chapter 8: Learning with Data

Unicorns leverage data in ways other companies are only learning now. This gives them a big advantage strategically in finding opportunities, but also in product delivery as they better discover what their customers really want.

Chapter 9: Reinforce Through Culture

Culture is so important to Unicorns, that they dedicate a good chunk of time to supporting it. Too important to leave to chance, they support and foster it countless big and small ways.

Who is this book for?

This book is for leaders, people who are in the trenches, and are responsible for setting up teams doing software project delivery.

I would really love every high-level executive out there to read it, because they are often the ones with the power to make these kinds of changes happen.

But experience has taught me however that change seldom comes from the top. Instead it is often led from the bottom. For that reason this book was really written for the people doing the work in the trenches. And this book shows them how to do it.

My hope is that more companies start working this way. It’s a heck-of-a-lot more fun. It delivers outstanding results. And it makes you want to come into work.

Anyways. Enjoy. If you are like me you are working from home. I look forward to getting back out there, and seeing you all again soon.

Till next, Jonathan Rasmusson

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Where can I buy the book?


Pragmatic Programmers (cheaper for you / better for me)


Promo Video for Competing With Unicorns

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Stay A While and Listen Book II – Heaven, Hell, and Secret Cow Levels

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Just finished reading David Craddock’s second book on the making of Diablo series and I have got to say – it’s really neat seeing how some of the most iconic games in the word get made.

Through countless interviews, discussions, and research Dave pieces together incredible hard work the designers, engineers, and game developers put into these works of art, and if you are a Diablo II fan, you will get a lot from this long in depth book.

I enjoyed reading it. But then I am a fan. If you were a fan of Diablo II – I think you will enjoy this one too.

Stay Awhile and Listen: Book II


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Occasionally my dad sends me random emails from friends and people he meets. Here are some nice quotes from one he sent me over the weekend.

Compassion is the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
– Mark Twain

Kindness is in our power even when fondness is not.
– Henry James

Today I bent the truth to be kind,
and have no regret,
for I am far surer of what is kind
then I am of what is true.
– Robert Brault

Treat everyone with politeness,
even those who are rude to you,
not because they are nice
but because you are.

Never look down on anyone unless you are helping them up.

I always prefer to believe the best of everybody, it saves so much trouble.
– Rudyard Kipling

Don’t be yourself – be someone nicer.

Never miss an opportunity to make others happy.
Even if you have to leave them alone in order to do it.

Love your enemies. It will confuse them greatly.

Getting to yes

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The Making of Karateka by Jordan Mechner – A Review

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When I saw that there was a book on Amazon about the making of one of my favorite childhood games – Katateka – how could I not click ‘buy’.

Just to be clear, this isn’t a book. It’s a journal. A short, sketchy stream of consciousness from a kid who, while taking Psych at Yale, created one of the Billboards top seling number one Apple games of the 80s – Karateka

That journal itself won’t appeal to use unless you are already a big fan of the game, or you are just really interested in the creative process. For me this was both.

I was fascinated to read how Jordan had to simultaneously deal with the frame rate limitations of the Apple ][, juggling a full course load, while hammering out a deal with Broderbund, while also watching a tonne of movies and considering becoming a full time screen writer.

It’s just a fascinating journey that does contain nugets of wisdom for those who are looking. Here are a few of my favorites:

Maybe what makes great artists — composers, painters, writers, filmmakers — different from competent ones isn’t so much raw ability or talent (although they help) as the willpower to continue refining a design until it’s really perfect.

I get this. I feel this when I write, draw pictures, or just try to come up with innovative ways of teaching people about computers. I know I’m not the brightest tool in the shed. But I also know what it’s like to spend hours on a single paragraph, until that very moment when you just get it right, and it glows!

You can’t do good work in an art form you don’t love yourself. I still do, sometimes, really get into a video game – Lode Runner, Dr. Creep – and it’s that part of me that I’ve got to aim at pleasing. If I can’t satisfy myself, I won’t satisfy anyone else.

Who are they? It’s us!

This perhaps my favorite quote of the book. It’s here that Jordan explains why some games are awesome, and some aren’t. Here is was referring to ports of Karateka to other platforms. None of them were as good as his on the Apple ][ because no one else was prepared to spend the 100s of hours it took to get the animations just right. No surprise. Just reassuring. That love, hard work, attention to detail still maker. And that people feel it when they use your product.

Anyways, I loved this book. And I just started reading the companion journal Prince Or Persia. I will post more then if I find something worth sharing.

Cheers – Jonathan

Reinventing Organizations – Frédéric Laloux



The following are notes taken from Frédéric Laloux’s excellent talk on his new book Reinventing Organizations – The emergence of a new management paradigm.

It’s basically a summary of the next way in which we may all one day be working at companies. Watch this if you are into organizational theory, liked Dan Pink’s book Drive, and are looking for examples of how some incredible companies today are re-organizing themselves around:

1. Self management.
2. Wholeness.
3. Evolutionary purpose.

Here’s the video (1h:42min). Notes below.

There is something broken with the way we manage or companies today.
It feels exhausted. Disengaged employees.
Show up with bodies, but not hearts.
Not just bottom. But leaders at the top too.
They are tired of the rat race.
Tired of the endless meetings, politics, infighting, bureaucracy.
Another tedious budget cycle, targets that need to be hit.
There should be something more.
There is no meaning.
For many corporations this isn’t an easy question to answer.
Nurse and doctors, teachers are leaving their professions in droves.
Something new is about to be emerge.

Big leaps in human thinking (14:30)

Each stage of human organizational evolution resulted in a new management paradigm.
A new way to run organizations.


Magic/Tribal level

One tribe agains the other.
Some modern groups today still do this.
Street gangs, mafias, mecenary armies
Boss needs to constantly inspire fear.


World of rules.
Institutionalized religion – god given rules.
Highly stratified caste systems.
Invented Catholic Church, armies, goverment agencies, public school systems

Key breakthroughs
1. Formal hierarchy
2. Replicable prcocesses

By creating the org chart, for the first time the priests can be priest are aren’t interested in stabbing the boss in the back.

Means can have large levels of organizations with lots of levels of hierarchy.

And by being able to to long term planning, these organizations were able to do things not previously possible with the other groups.
Long term planning.


World of enlightenment.
Scientific enquiry.
Constant innovation, optimization, to gain profit market share.
Most multi-national organizations operate from here.

Key breakthroughts
1. Innovation
2. Accountability
3. Meritocracy

All the things we enjoy today are because companies have innovated.
R&D departments. Marketing deparments.

In previous organizations bosses gave orders – workers followed.
Here for the first time bosses set targets, people figure out how to achieve.

Management by objective. 360 feedbacks. Budgets. Targets. Annual appraisals.

In all previous organizations Pope was from nobel family. Priests from peasantry.
The best people can rise. Huge liberation.
Organizations as machines. People are cogs.


Now starting to look at the soft aspects.
Cultural driven organizations.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast. – Peter Drucker
Green organizations – Starbucks, Zappos, Ben & Jerry’s
If people are happy – everything else will be alright.
Company values are meaningful here.
Fanatical about empowerment.
Pusing decisions to the lowest level.
Moving away from shareholder model, to stakeholder model.
These organizations, like predecessors, dramatically outperform previous levels.
We are a family.

Wolf packs, armies, machines, and now families.
So what’s next?

Three breakthroughs for next level

1. Self-management.
2. Wholeness.
3. Evolutionary purpose.

Self-management (37:00)

These companies are able to operate at large scale (10,000 employees) without the pyramid.
Here is a different way to think about hierarchy in organizations that is more truthful.
Hiearchy works OK in environments with low complexity.
But as some as you have complex thinking, hierarchy is out of it’s depth.
Hiearchy pushes all the complexity up to the top.
And there is only so much complexity a few people at the top can handle.
The global economy has no boss.
North Korea and Cuba are the only two countries in the world that operate from a pyramid.
We laugh, but this is exactly how we choose to operate of companies.
In this new way of thinking you have lots of structure and coordinating systems – but you don’t have a boss.
Morning traffic. Self regulating system.
Single cell. Our brain. Forests. Many examples in nature.
Having bosses isn’t natural. Nature has not boss. It regulates itself.
Not how complex systems work.
As world becomes more complex, will have to shift how we run organizations to these principles.
Our pyramids can not cope.
However, if you replace a pyramid, you need to reinvent everything.
Decision making, organizational structure, information flows, meetings, conflict management.
All this needs to be recreated and figured out.

Decision making

Traditionally two ways to make decisions.
Hierarchical decision making or consensus.
Here the boss decides or the group decides.
Boss isn’t always right.
Group is long and exhausting – make a decision already!
There is a third way – Advice process.

Advice Process – any person can make any decision (including spending company money) under two conditions.

1. They must have sought advice from people with expertise.
2. They mush have sought advice from people how will be impacted by the decision.

Don’t need to integrate my decision into watered down consensus.
This works because it’s a process of collective intelligence.
But it stays an individual decision. So if I feel strongly about something I can just make it happen. No one can stop me. Every is empowered to do whatever they feel is necessary.
Imagine the kind of energy that liberates.

And it leads to interesting dynamics. Because one of the few ways people can get kicked out of these organizations is if they don’t respect their peers advice. And instead just go and randomly make decisions. You are putting whole system at risk.

Who makes how much money

Morning Star (a tomato paste distribution company in the US).
Once a year you write a letter in which you state I grant myself a raise of X% and then you state all the reasons you feel this is justified. 360 degree f/b.
They each plant, elects a committee, which puts all these letters beside each other, and the only thing this committee does is give advice.
Committee gives advice.
All information is public.
And then you decide.
Either you earn the raise or you don’t.
People are incredibly good at choosing their salaries.
Forces everyone to grown up.
People don’t talk salary here because it isn’t an issue.
If you don’t like your salary raise it – and see what happens.
All the strategizing, haggling and complaining, falls away.
Everyone is just an adult.


Most organizations there is an expectation that we show up in a specific way.
A professional sefl.
Most orgs push us to wear a mask.
It’s become acceptable to show up and work, with ego, and to fight for what we want.
But showing up to work, and asking questions with deeper meaning – isn’t.

55:00 Imagine for example the advertizing executive who shows up Monday morning and says:

Hey guys. I want have a really important disucssion with you guys. I sometimes wonder what we are busy with. We are creating all these needs for people, for goods that they don’t really need, for goods that get produced in China, pollute the world, get shipped over, used once, get thrown away, trash the planet, and all those people who can’t afford them become unhappy. What we are really dealing with.

The person that calls in the meeting proably won’t have a very long career.

Same for a doctor in a hospital. We’ve changed hospitals into these kind of factories and we’ve forget about what it really truly means to care. The relationship with the client.

What these companies have discoved is that when this is the case, people only show up to work with 1/16 of their abilities. Their hearts, minds, and passions that same for other things. They don’t bring these to work.

But those companies that have found ways to align these, are recieving peoples best. And outperforming all others. They have create very deliberate practices to open up this window and tap that energy. Full glory of how humanity of who we are. People here brim with energy because they can be who they truly are.

It’s about creating a safe space. When we show up we are vulnerable. So they work hard to create a safe place.

Meetings without egos (1h:00)

At every meeting they have these hand symbols.
When ever he or she feels that some is speaking from their ego, or trying to win an argument for the sake of winning an argument, or serving themselves and their career, or group, someone chimes two bells.

The rule is while the bell rings everyone is supposed to be silent for a minute and ask themselves who they are trying to serve. Am I serving me? Or am I hear in service of something greater.

All these organizations have these meeting practices because meetings tend to be these places where egos tend to come out. Meetings without egos.

This is only possible when people have been trainined in active listening, non-violent communication. A whole common knowledge around this.

There is a public school in Berlin that is entire self managing.
But what they’ve really nailed in how to make kids truly be themselves.

One pracice they do is they gather every Friday afternoon, for 45min, they start by singing a song (to get everyone in tune). And then they have this practice of open microphone, and the only rule is you walk up to the microphone to either thank someone or make a compliment.

What happens is people tell mini-stories. But actually what they are reviling is things about themselves. Adolesents how go out there and thank their classmates for helping them in all sorts of things.

You have kids daring to be authentic and vulnerable infront of 500 people. This school has no violence problems. Children are just so passionate to learn because they are accepted for how they are. No masks.

Evolutionary Purpose (1:06)

Most companies prioritize making money above most other things.
Most people are cynical about their mission statements.
Most companies hide their competitive advantages from competitors.
No Berjekalen. They did the opposite.
He wrote a book explaining in exact detail how he and his company (who have managed to secure 80% of the market) to each of his compeitors.
Because for him, the purpose is not his organization.
It’s greater than that.
Market share doesn’t matter.


In most traditional organizations we believe it is the role of the leader to determine the vision and the stragey. And then some execution plans to get there.

That way of thinking makes sense if you believe organizations are static, inanimte object. Like a machine. You need to program the machine. It’s a ship. You need a captain.

But organizations are like living beings.
The organization has a sense of direction.
It’s own creative spark about something it wants to manifest.
And our role as leaders is to listen to where does this organization naturally want to do.
And align with that.

Noe of these companies have a strategy.
They have a very clear intent and purpose.
But everything flows from that.
Most don’t have budgets or targets.
Anything they put in the ground, in terms of a plan, is a distraction from reality.

When we try to predict the future, we stop listening to reality.
When we try so hard to stick to the plan we stop listening.
Instead we should have a very clear intent on where we should do.
And then we should listen intently on how to get there and constantly adjust.

1:15 Great story of how Bjorkshallen got into prevention, shared it with the CEO, and asked him if he thought they should change direction. He said I don’t know, let’s share with everyone else and see if there is energy to support it. Some ideas/innovations flourish. Some don’t. The company as a whole decides. If someone wants to drive and champion they will.

Not playing God. Listening to what is happening.


It might not be crazy to think there is a new way to run organizations.
They are built on these three breakthroughs.

1. Self management – can operate without hierarchy
2. Wholeness – bringing our wholeselves to work
3. Purpose – will become central. More about clear intention

I was personally blown away by this talk. I think many of us in the Agile community feel this already. And I am excited to see how quickly these new ideas spread and catch on. I will take years. But I believe the change has already begun.

Cheers – Jonathan

Persist – Creativity Inc Letter

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In Creativity Inc, Ed Catmull describes a letter he received from Pixar animator Austin Madison, which he found particularly uplifting when it came to protecting and promoting Pixar’s culture.

To whom it may inspire,

I, like many of you artists out there constantly shift between two states. The first, and far more preferable of the two is white hot, in the zone, seat of the pants, firing on all cylinders creative mode.

This is when you lay your pen down and the ideas pour out like wine from a royal chalice. This happens about 3% of the time.

The other 97% of the time I am in the frustrated, struggling, office corner full of crumpled up paper mode.

The important thing is to slog diligently through this quagmire of discouragement and despair. Put on some audio commentary and listen to the stories of professionals who have been making films for decades going through the same slings and arrows of outrageous production problems.

In a word – persist.

Persist on telling your story. Persist on reaching your audience. Persist on staying true to your vision.

I think this is a great letter. The audio commentary Austin refers to is what you find in your blu ray DVD. Turn it on sometime. Listen to the struggles the artists and directors when through making that movie.

You’ll see it’s not magic. It’s a lot of hard work. But through the hard work, and persistence, magic can happen. And that is what we all love.

There is no tribe

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I’m currently reading Turning Pro by one of my favorite authors, Steven Pressfield. And it’s great. Not as good as The War of Art. But still very good.

In Turning Pro, Steven has a great metaphor for describing how people sometimes get caught up in worrying about what others think, instead of doing what they were meant to do. It’s fear. Fear of the tribe.

Read this excerpt on p68 to see what I mean (paraphrased).

The Tribe Doesn’t Give a Hoot

The amateur dreads becoming who she really is because she fears that this new person will be judged by others as “different”. The tribe will declare us “weird” or “queer” or “crazy”. The tribe will reject us.

Here’s the truth: the tribe doesn’t give a hoot.

There is no tribe.

That gang or posse that we imagine is sustaining us by the bonds we share is in fact a conglomeration of individuals who are just a messed up as we are and just as terrified. Each individual is so caught up in his own bs that he doesn’t have two seconds to worry about yours or mine, or to reject or diminish us because of it.

When we truly understand that the tribe doesn’t give a damn, we’re free. There is no tribe, and there never was.

Our lives are entirely up to us.

If you’ve got fears holding you back, check out Turning Pro. It may be the boost you’ve been looking for.

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