Interns: How to Hire Porn Stars

Do we actually want to hire porn stars? No. Its a joke stolen from a recent hacker news posting. And despite being flamed a bit in the forum the author made some pretty good points about how funny the job titles we give hackers are. Avery has some thoughts on the interesting job titles and reason for them, and honestly I like his titles way better than the generic ones. And at the end of the day we don’t really want Rock Stars or Ninjas but something a lot more like Porn Stars (willing to work anywhere and probably keeps working at home, doesn’t show up drunk or invisible, etc).

The important part – that we are looking at doing some hiring soon, and looking into our longer term growth. Interns are very important to us, we all used to be co-op students at UWaterloo, we know co-ops rock, and we know the best way to get talent before it gets into the market is to get it as students. Adam wrote a great article about this and I’m stealing some of his ideas here, but the first big problem is no one knows who we are (see avery’s article). We are generic start-up X. And as Adam correctly points out, students, for two reasons, want to work for the Googles and the Facebooks of the world. They get all of the good talent for free, and its not in the students best interests at all. Adam proposed a YCombinator for interns, and I think its a great idea, but way outside the range of what we can do at Upverter right now. So while he is working to make it happen 😉 we have cooked up our own little hacks to try and solve our part of the problem. But first, the problems as we see them:

  • Students don’t get startups. We have been reading Joel and PG since we were teenagers (Steve might have started in the womb). We lived and breathed startup during our co-op terms. We know we would someday be in these shoes. Hell I even dropped out of high-school to start my first business. But other students don’t get it. there are probably tons of students that would thrive in startup culture but have no idea what it means to work for one.
  • Students are irrationally risky. Adam was bang on with this point. You are at the most flexible point in your life, why would you ever chose stability?!?! You could do anything. You could go anywhere, work anywhere. You have no obligations and no ties. Go work for Google when you get bad, or old, or slow, or married.
  • Students want resume juice & prestige. But they don’t know how to get it. They wrongly assume that for their next co-op or real job someone is gonna care that they worked at Facebook. What they don’t realize is that owning a project at a startup and keeping them alive is worth a million times as much to a hirer.
  • Startups are scary & job postings suck. Students don’t know how to pick a startup. They don’t know if a startup is going to disappear and leave them stranded. There are a lot of crappy jobs masquerading as startups, and they are hard to see. And the big boys have realized that fun titles and cool descriptions can hide the cubicle farm reality.

We are going to do 2 things to try and solve these problems. The first is really simple. We are going to convince CECS to allow us to start embedding youtube videos in our job postings. We think this would be magic. The vibrancy, energy and passion that would be conveyed by the three of us talking at a webcam from our ‘office’ cant be faked. You cant cover up a cube farm in a video. You can’t fake interesting. And students immediately get a sense of fit. We think this will do a pretty incredible job of tackling the scary startups & crappy postings problems. The second thing we are going to do is talk to students. And honestly this probably wont scale very well, but we think talking to them about what a startup is, what co-ops do in startups, and what we did in startups is a hell of a first step.

We want to talk about what we look for when hiring and why the name Google will never matter as much as the work you do. We could talk about how none of us ever worked for a buzz name and what that means. About where innovation actually happens and why Google and Facebook buy so many startups. We also want to talk about risk, and give the students a vocabulary for talking to a startup; The questions to ask, and how to know if one is going to disappear or not. The goals of this talk would be pretty simple:

  • Explain what a startup is and why they are the innovators
  • Look realistically at the risk, and the reward
  • Give students a skill-set for evaluating startups
  • Dispel the resume juice myth

And realistically if we could pull off two of these we would be doing pretty well! So whats this look like? We think its us renting a lecture hall and inviting 7 of our most interesting startup friend and colleagues. Fill the hall with a hundred or so of the best and brightest engineering and CS students. Tell stories for about 10 minutes each, no more, and try and get these kids excited about startups. Tell stories that talk about how real and influential the work we do is. Tell stories about the day we killed the internet to Chicago or had a million page views, or changed the world. Tell stories about how the CEO gets the co-ops coffee, not the other way around. Tell a story about hiring and whats really important. A story about what Mom said when PG was on the cover of Forbes. Little, big, passion, excitement, real work, real change, 3 guys in a dorm room. Afterwards we all get pizza and beer together and we can mingle. But the takeaway, and this is where we win or lose, is what the students apply for the next day. Do they still click Google? or do they say “what the hell, why not try a startup”.

At the end of the day its a hack, and we dont really know what will happen, but with any luck we get some great co-op applications. That being said the motivation and the goal is to fix the fundamental problems with the culture around going to work for a startup. I’ll probably be writing more about this as the event gets closer. We think it will be happening May 18th at UWaterloo – but its not set in stone yet. And we are still looking for speakers, sponsors and thoughts, so email me (zak@upverter.com).

Bonus: I found a very cool resume while I was doing some research for the blog post. I’m not sure if CECS would ever allow co-ops to post a resume like this, but it would be monumental in fixing the opposite problem of getting a billion resumes for a co-op posting.

Update: Avery posted a response to some of my points, and I think its perfect. I took a pretty hard line in one direction with this post, and he has done a great job of pointing out where I’m over the edge. I only hope the dialog continues!

February 2011 Update

February 2011 Update

February Sucks!!! All of this sitting inside with no new electronics to hack on, or cool web apps to play with… But wait! Whats this I hear Upverter is now (almost) in Alpha?!?! Haha. Thats right! February is going to become officially awesome (or at least less sucky)!

So I just thought I would post a quick update on whats new around the Upverter ‘offices’ in the month of February. And first off we are loving it down here in the Bay Area, albeit missing home sweet home (except for the cold and snow). Last fall we apparently impressed someone enough that they flew us down for a couple months of intense startup training – and its going great! We’ve met so many cool new friends and colleagues. Its awesome.

A very big part of the program is release early and often, and its keeping us true to our original intentions of releasing something (anything!) and working with the community to build the tools they actually would want to use. Expect us to break things occasionally (sorry) but know that its just us trying to add functionality. But please still tell us when stuff stops working, or what features you need, or that you love/hate what were building. Any and all feedback is welcome and appreciated!

In other news we are starting to look for a permanent home. We are Canadian boys tried and true so its going to be somewhere in Canada for sure, leaving us with just a couple picks. It will probably end up being downtown Toronto but Montreal was also suggested as an option, and who doesn’t like Montreal?!?! haha. Any suggestions are welcome! We also accept couches, cheap rent, and empty basements… just so you know…

Exciting Feedback!

Exciting Feedback!

Today I want to share some terrific feedback we have received recently about the tools we are building. First off I need to say that its incredibly exciting getting emails that we know people sent because they want to help us make this whole eco-system friendlier and easier to enter. So thanks for that! And second, that its just super cool when these emails come from people that we think are incredibly smart, and passionate.And when they write about things that we have thought about or feel strongly about, or even considered solving – well thats just super, super cool.

And thirdly, I want to talk about talking about more. I’ve been thinking and I’ve come to the conclusion that there really isn’t any harm in talking more candidly about some of our long term goals, but more importantly in talking about some of the bigger problems in the OSHW ecosystem – even problems we can’t fix yet. And the plug here is that they are the same thing, we want to position ourselves such that the big problems in the eco-system and our long terms goals are the same things.

So here goes! The following is a (slightly revised) to-do list from one of our recent feedback emails and I wholeheartedly agree with its content. So over the next few weeks I am going to be writing about our thoughts on Manufacturing, Modularity, Over-Optimization and Packaging. You’ll notice these are all very real world physical problems. Problems that we haven’t talked much about yet, and problems we don’t yet have solutions for. But we have ideas, and piles of ambition!

A Hardware Workflow Wishlist

  1. Prototype: I want to buy a collection of pre-made hardware component boards each satisfying a function. Examples are power supplies, processors, FPGAs, and video boards. I don’t really care how many separate little boards it takes, as long as it’s easy to clip them together so I can start building software for it. And I really don’t want to solder anything!
  2. Design: In your tools, let me draw a picture of the exact modules I plugged together in #1  and tweak them into my “final” configuration. I want to export a netlist, bill of materials, and board layout, all automatically.  This should be enough to take the design to a contract manufacturer.
  3. Package: Let me order a standardized case that will be able to contain my new board (either made up of the prototype boards, or as a custom pcb). Automatically figure out external connectors and do the cut-outs for me.
  4. Manufacturing: Give me a “print” button so to speak that will talk to the manufacturers for me, and you take a cut of the revenues.  Trust me, I don’t mind giving up a bit of money in order to not have to deal with the manufacturing headaches.

    Bonus: 
    Also doing assembly and packaging. You could event put it into a fancy printed box with paper materials that I specify (and maybe a CD).

    Bonus: 
    QA testing it, and shipping it out to my customers.
  5. Bundling: Handle aggregating pre-orders from random people on the Internet so we can all get a decent price, or find a way to do cheap one-of manufacturing.
  6. Optimize: At this point I’m either done, or I have a marketable product. You could help me transition to hiring people and optimizing my design, or you could scale your company and fill the voids here (like simulation, verification, and design-for-manufacturability).

What a great rundown eh? We have talked publicly a lot about #2 and have some pretty great solutions to it. In fact, I encourage you to head to our landing page and sign-up for the beta of our soon to be released circuit design tool. But over the coming weeks I’m going to give you some thoughts on the others in the list – we have some cool ideas to help fix some of these problems, and we have some great feedback on what other people think is broken. But there is also a discussion that should happen here – and I’d like to start it. As always I’d love any thoughts or feedback, email me: zak@upverter.com

Soldering Olympics

Back when I was working in Waterloo we would occasionally drop our scopes and soldering irons and head to the cafeteria for some much needed beer and cards. It was one of my favorite parts of working with those guys. There is nothing quite like shooting the shit with the boys over cards, drinking beer, and just hanging out. I loved it. Anyways, on more than a few of these nights we would get the (probably beer inspired) idea to host a Soldering Olympics. But we never did. Maybe because it was just the beer talking. Maybe because it really was a terrible idea. haha. But we never came through on it.And I’m both happy and jelous to announce that I have finally found someone else that did manage to pull it off – and its very cool (see the video above)!

I think should I ever get a chance to participate or host version 2 we should make just a couple changes… First, I always dreamed of a freestyle, artistic event, something thats more of a challenge than a time trial. Something like bridging solder between floating 402 resistors and pads, or soldering big parts over small footprints, or i dunno, something that looks just damn artistic under a microscope. Second, bigger irons! Don’t make me work with finger paint when I can use a brush! And third, for a time trial situation there needs to be more paste, or less through hole, or more microscopes, or something. I feel like there is a better test of speed, or that speed is the wrong metric… haha.

Anyways, I’m just glad someone bothered to actually go through with it. And it looks like it was a ton of fun. I encourage anyone and everyone interested in electronics to appreciate the beauty in good soldering and the fun in being able to build electronics. And to anyone hosting version 2 before I do – I want an invite!!

OSHW: Whats Missing?

  • There are just as many students attending electrical engineering or technologist programs as software engineering programs.
  • We are surrounded by more electronics than software, because software requires electronics, while lots of electronics exist on their own.
  • People seem content to buy cellphones but build their own web browsers.
  • There are maybe a few hundred OSHW projects, yet hundreds of thousands if not millions of FOSS projects (Github alone claims 1.5 million repos).
  • How many people are doing OSHW? Versus the number doing FOSS?
  • Electronics is far older and tends to be far more open than software. You can take apart a toaster with a screwdriver, just try taking a screwdriver to Microsoft Word…
  • Electronics had a hacker boom once during the Radio Shack days, long before FOSS ever took off. Why did it end? Why didn’t it go viral? What was missing?
  • FOSS hasn’t always existed. Prior to the mid 90’s there were almost zero open source software projects.

So whats missing? Whats wrong the the open source hardware guys? Why no mecca of sharing? No open cellphones*? Why doesn’t DDWRT run on open hardware? Why haven’t you solved more of the problems in your life with a soldering iron? I don’t have perfect answers to any of these questions, or even good answers really. But we have noticed a spark. There are people working hard to create a great and powerful OSHW community. The hackers with soldering irons want an ecosystem and a community. They want to collaborate and share and grow exactly like FOSS has. And that’s the reason why we are here. At Upverter we are trying to breathe life into the movement and give those hackers what they need to become a great and powerful force of knowledge, sharing and cool hardware. We are betting pretty big on OSHW becoming huge and as a result we spend a lot of time talking about whats missing. And here is the best answer that I’ve got.

  • Sharing. There is no good way to share schematics, parts lists, symbols, decals, hookup instructions, or PCB files. Basically everyone is on their own and starting from scratch. How do you build on each other if you don’t know what anyone else has done?
  • In-Band Communication. This is akin to commit messages in software land. Why did Joe change a resistor? There is no good way to document why I’m rewiring a chip. Or document that I’m doing a bug fix. And there is no history either, you have to keep everything in your head, always. Just looking at a schematic it isn’t always clear why things have been done in a certain way – blocking people from using each others work.
  • Collaboration & Merging. Its virtually impossible to work together with another user on a big design. In software land you just merge textual changes together, but in hardware there is no such thing as diffing, merging, or real-time collaboration. This makes it impossible for two people to work together on a design, which makes it nearly impossible to build a big design.
  • Focal Point. Its not really a technical requirement, and lots of other websites have attempted to become this, but they all seem to devolve because they are missing a connection to the issues above. Back when FOSS was very young people shared code on their personal websites. But then SourceForge came along and it seemed to focus the community and the effort; OSHW needs a SourceForge.

That might be it. Its not a big list, and there are probably lots of social and learning curve problems that will come up along the way. But really, I think if there was available software satisfying the list above we would be looking at a very different OSHW landscape. At Upverter we are focused on filling these voids, but despite talking with hundreds of you we aren’t entirely sure what you want. To be honest we don’t think you know what you want either, so we are taking our best guess. BUT (and this is a big one!) if you do know what you want, or have any feedback or opinions on the list above, please by all means contact us. We truly want to build whats best for the OSHW community, what you need, what you want, and whatever is stopping you from going viral.

OSHW: Where to Start, and How to Participate

So you read my post about OSHW, you’re super excited to do some hardware of your own, but have absolutely no clue where to start. I get that! We hear about that all the time, and I have some really simple stuff to get you started. First thing is first, the excitement and interest is great. At the end of the day your want to learn, and to better yourself is the important part. Even if all you do your first day on the job is light up an LED, i promise it will be cool, and as you get deeper its that interest that will keep you going through the really gross bugs. If you’re already elbows deep in a project and looking for pointers read down a bit, I try to explain the tools you need and how to work with and without them. For everyone else here is my advice for where to start…

Tools

I would really recommend taking a look at Lady Ada’s equipment list as a starting point for what you’re gonna need. The following is my list of comments.

Soldering iron

You just need one for now. Get the most watts you can reasonably afford, but there is nothing wrong with a $25 iron. I used to have one of the Metcals and I loved it (it was also my job to solder for days on end), but unless you are trying to find a place to spend your millions you don’t need one.

Multimeter

If you can afford an auto ranging one get it. I used to bang my head against the wall picking ranges, which is just a pain.

Power Source

My advice would be (and please don’t die or sue me) to take a 12V or smaller wallwart for some old thing that you no longer have and cut the connector off. 12V and below can’t kill you, so you should be safe, and you’re gonna love not having batteries to fool around with.

Tronix

Do you need a scope? a logic analyzer? Universal counter? Variable dc supply? etc, etc, etc. While all very, very cool, my answer is a resounding no. All of these tools make your life easier when trying to solve certain problems. And I really do want you to stick around electronics long enough that you collect all of these tools, but start small. Start with what you need, and when you hit a problem that requires a scope to solve beg, borrow and steal one, and only when you need to – pony up and buy one. I will change my story if someone ever builds a cheap usb accessible display-less scope, or logic analyzer, but for now I say skip it.

Bits n’ Pieces

So, you have some tools and you have parts for an idea. But you are a hacker, and hackers need to hack. So here are some suggestions for the bits n’ pieces to keep around for maximum hack-ability.  I’d start with something like thesparkfun beginners kit. The Make beginner electronics kits also look decent, albeit more expensive, kit1 & kit2. Its totally cool to put together your own kit too, here are my suggestions.

Resistors & Caps

For resistors you need a range of values from 20R up to 1M (20 ohms to 1 mega-ohm). You can have big spread in the high values, so your density should be best between a couple hundred and tens of thousands (250R – 20K). For capacitors you again need a range of values from 10pF to 100uF.

The smaller values will need to be ceramic while the bigger values will need to be electrolytic, but don’t get too hung up on any of this. The important part is that you have a starting point, you will still find yourself needing particular parts, for particular problems as time goes on.

Diodes & Transistors

While super cool and I recommend having a few lying around (1N4148 Diode, 1N4001 Diode, 2N3906 PNP Transistor, 2N3904 NPN Transistor) your need for diodes and transistors will largely be driven by your project. With one exception – LEDs. Because you always need a couple LEDs kicking around.

Others

You’re gonna want a few switches, some wire, and maybe a 7-segment. Headers and pots are useful too. But really don’t worry too much about these. This pile is gonna grow as you hack and collect your stash of bits.

What to Hack on?

So, you’ve got the bare essentials and are looking for a project. My advice would be to start by looking at something like the Spinnerette or the Arduino. Here is a link to a top-40 list of Arduino projects which might give you some inspiration.

Sensors are cool
Robots are cool. Anything wireless, or distributed, or web-connected is cool. But hell even the simple stuff like multi-color leds (2) and making sounds is cool.

How to Use the Tools?

Never done any of this before? No biggie! Here are some videos and tutorials on using the tools – and don’t worry if you mess up, in the end its all about the learning experience and the fun you have hacking away.

Zak’s OSHW Plug

OSHW is made great by the people, the energy and the collaboration in this community. However big or small your project please share it. Post pictures, make a video, share the schematics, give a part list, anythingeverything. Teach others what you learned, and help others to get involved. Together lets make this a great place to learn and hang-out.

Holidays and Such

So, while we don’t get much of a holiday here at Upverter (startup = hacking 110% of the time) we do want to wish you all a happy one! We are furiously working on a couple of deadlines right now which is disrupting the blog a wee bit. So for this week that’s pretty much it! I just wanted to say Happy New Year, Merry Christmas, and stay tuned – 2011 is gonna be a big year for us.