Month: September 2023

What the Return To Office has taught me about the Ultimatum game..

Pre-Covid, the role I was in had some flexibility. For starters, when I first took on this new role, I was told I could work remotely as many days as I wanted to remote. This was due to adding 30 minutes more to my commute and the fact I had a team in Shanghai, India, and the US. I quickly realized the flexibility was more idealistic than realistic. While other people in the office rarely showed up, I found it hard to be more productive than with my team if I was fully remote. The business team I supported were in my old building and my team as stated were mostly remote with a few in my building. 

Being in the office I was able to walk the floor, talk to the team informally and really get insight into things that were going on. I was also building rapport with people on other teams (that were willing to go into the office) and get understanding of how things ticked. One challenge was the team in Shanghai, which I changed the way they worked from them having calls when they got home to me having calls late at night during their morning. That whole reform could be another store. But burning the candle like that was not easy so I did take some time to work at home to get sleep. 

Bring on the Pandemic and I no longer had a team in Shanghai but now my team is in NY, India and Montreal. Everyone was forced remote. There were a few stops and starts and at some point, coming to the office was ‘optional’ but encouraged. My thought always was it should really be a team-by-team thing, as well as the need for the time in the office to be productive. Going into the office and spending 8 hours on a zoom call does not add to productivity. There were pluses to being back as well as some negatives. 

As the pandemic started to be further in our rear-view mirror there was more pressure from some companies to be in the office. The One company demanded five days, another if you don’t make your 3 days a week for 6 consecutive weeks is automated termination. Hence the start of the Return to Office Ultimatums. 

Now for those who don’t know what the Ultimatum games is, it is a psychological experiment in which there are two participants. The first is given a sum of money, say $100.00, and he is to split it with another person known as the responder. The first person is to split the $100.00 between him and the responder. The responder knows that the other person was given the $100.00 and when he is offered his share of the money can accept or reject the offer. They do not get to negotiate, and if they reject the offer the first person can keep the whole $100.00. Now when this experiment is done with people who are known to you (social groups etc.) the split is usually around 50:50. If the experiment is done with a stranger, the split is often less. 

Now people are often given ultimatums from people they know, take example things like a partner asking you that if you are not engaged by a specific time that they will break up with you, or a parent demanding grades on children or if you do this, I will never talk to you again. It is amazing how many of these we get in our lives once we take the time to reflect. Some worked out well, others were empty.  

The Return of Office Ultimatum spans the gamut of threats of firing, HR conversations, used in reviews etc. Companies can pick what they hope will achieve their goals. I am not an expert on what tactic works best. My previous statement still holds it is team-by-team, possibly a employee-by-employee and in some cases a company-by-company scenario. 

What I see as reactions from employees in my company and others is how they react to the ultimatum. In this case the expectation is that the company is part of your social group that is in effect giving you an ultimatum. As the experiments showed people in our social group, we would expect a fair 50:50 split. But most companies are leaning towards 100:0, 80:20 splits. Which the employees see as ‘unfair.’ Thus, we see a lot of pushbacks, anger etc. But unlike some of the ultimatums, this one comes with the loss of your job. Something that unless you can replace your income is easy. The notion that someone in your social circle is doing something so unfair is painful but it is the company you work for really your social circle. Please note, there are many jobs who had to be in person through the whole pandemic and they never got this choice or ultimatum. 

There are those who chose to find another job, some lucky people who get exceptions or others who just walk out. What I read in the news and through conversations is that employees just abide by the ultimatum, well in spirit. As a person who manages people my thoughts turn to what I can do so that people are not just following in spirit but finding how to make that time more positive. Unfortunately, I do not have the magic answer as I am still trying to figure it out.  

Companies, managers, and employees should understand why there is anger, resentment, and challenge to the ultimatum. There is a saying about expectations if you have low expectations, you can be happier. This was not the case. Understanding the ultimatum game has at least let me figure out at least one key reason for the backlash. Now what to do with that understanding? 

This opinion is mine, and mine only, my current or former employers have nothing to do with it. I do not write for any financial gain, I do not take advertising and any product company listed was not done for payment. But if you do like what I write you can donate to the charity I support (with my wife who passed away in 2017) Morgan Stanley’s Children’s Hospital or donate to your favorite charity. I pay to host my site out of my own pocket, my intention is to keep it free.  I do read all feedback, I mostly wont post any of them.

This Blog is a labor of love, and was originally going to be a book.  With the advent of being able to publish yourself on the web I chose this path.  I will write many of these and not worry too much about grammar or spelling (I will try to come back later and fix it) but focus on content.  I apologize in advance for my ADD as often topics may flip.  I hope one day to turn this into a book and or a podcast, but for now it will remain a blog.   AI is not used in this writing other than using the web to find information.Images without notes are created using and AI tool that allows me to reuse them. 

The next time I hear “Nothing changed on our side…”

Just a reminder that I have worked in the IT field for 25+ years (ok everyone say it. you are old.) and in that time there are things that come up often. This time it was a production outage of one of our internal build software products. The developer’s immediate reaction was “Nothing changed on our side” When something stops working the immediate reaction is ‘it worked yesterday.’ It could be your car, the fridge, your cell phone, anything. In technology the notion that if a piece of software is in production that means it is bug free. One side note, in the 90s I heard a story from a large tech company that bug free was designated on software if something had less than 50,000 known bugs.  

On this day we had a production issue with something that had been running for a long time. The first thing most managers ask (including myself) is “has anything changed?” And in a chorus what do you think the answer is? “Nothing on our side…” The first thing about that statement is pushing blame on someone else. It immediately is saying that you had nothing to do with something ‘you’ did.  

The next question is, has anything changed on outside systems etc. This could be the operating system, user desktop, upstream feeds etc. Of course, in many cases there usually are a few changes. There are always security fixes to server and desktops, so changes happen. Upstream systems can do updates (hopefully they test with you but sometimes they do not) but that is always a possibility. 

Next step in debugging, can we reproduce it in a test environment? Try to figure out how to setup a test environment exactly like production and see if you can replicate the error. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. But hopefully it will help the team figure out what is wrong or point in the direction of debugging. If you are lucky and have unit tests you can run them, and if you are lucky (I am not) you have UI automated tests and can run those. All to see if you can find the issue. 

Now if you are not bored already as technology people are like “tell me something I do not know” and non-technology people are thinking “what does this have to do with me.” Read on, and it will. 

In the beginning I mention that every day people see this when their fridge breaks, the car stops working or the cell phone dies. What I did not say is about yourself. When you are not feeling great, injured, sick, struggling or just not working the way you should what are the steps? Our first reaction is often blaming some outside force. We can blame work, our partner, our kids, something we ate etc. Our mind instantly defends ourselves and looks for the outside force that is to blame. 

I mentioned previously being wrong is like being punched, and as soon as you feel a certain way your immediate reaction is to figure out what punched you. I also stated previously when I take my dog to the veterinarian when she is not well, they often ask ‘What are you feeding your dog?’ but a doctor only asks what is wrong. Where am I taking you? 

As this blog is introspective, I am asking this about myself. I found myself not in the shape I wanted to be, and I stated the list of excuses: I was sick, my daughter was asking me to go for ice cream a lot, I was going out to eat a lot with friends/family etc. Where I had to back away from my first thought and dig deeper. I was the one picking my meals (sick or healthy) I was the one who chose to get ice cream and they are all choices I made. Comparing myself to the production piece of software, my body was the same thing as it was long ago. The change that was going on was the choices I was making.  

I realized something simple is that I should not judge myself on my first thought. That I need to be more responsible for my second thoughts. My second thought was how I did this before and started to make those changes again. And in making those changes I found myself heading back in the direction I wanted. I am not there yet, but I am chugging away at it.  

Now back to the technology issue, there was code written a long time ago and as would be our luck had no unit tests as well as difficult to replicate. The problem was with our code. The team’s first thought was to blame others (nothing changed comment) but our next actions were to dig and find if it is. I know people often get frustrated, but getting the team away from the defensive mode into the debug mode is what a good manager does.  

The next time you hear the following with something goes wrong “Nothing has changed on our side.” Do not make yourself responsible for your first thought, but hold yourself responsible for your second, third etc. thoughts. And it is those thoughts that need to drive you to solving problems. 

This opinion is mine, and mine only, my current or former employers have nothing to do with it. I do not write for any financial gain, I do not take advertising and any product company listed was not done for payment. But if you do like what I write you can donate to the charity I support (with my wife who passed away in 2017) Morgan Stanley’s Children’s Hospital or donate to your favorite charity. I pay to host my site out of my own pocket, my intention is to keep it free.  I do read all feedback, I mostly wont post any of them.

This Blog is a labor of love, and was originally going to be a book.  With the advent of being able to publish yourself on the web I chose this path.  I will write many of these and not worry too much about grammar or spelling (I will try to come back later and fix it) but focus on content.  I apologize in advance for my ADD as often topics may flip.  I hope one day to turn this into a book and or a podcast, but for now it will remain a blog.   AI is not used in this writing other than using the web to find information.Images without notes are created using and AI tool that allows me to reuse them. 

Use your vacation…. but as a vacation!

For the longest time managers have always told me to make sure I use my vacation time. In fact, many of the times I knew it was more company line than what they meant. With the amount of work that we had to get done, the hours needed to put in taking vacations often were not something the manager wanted us to take. Over the years finding the right job and manager vacations were something that were taken, but often with the words to ‘recharge’ or ‘prevent burn out.’ 

Now let us think about that. Taking a vacation to do those things means that your job is so overwhelming or stressful, that the only escape is to leave and go away. More importantly, going on vacation is somehow magically repairing the damage that has been done at work. Wow, that better be some magical vacation, it better be the vacation of your dreams, no delays, no issues etc. On the day of your return somehow all the problems are gone, and you can hit peak performance at work. 

Somehow that just sounds stupid writing is it and I am sure it sounds worse reading it. I am going to make a simple statement, there is no such thing as work life balance, there is just life. Any thinking otherwise is the same as believing the magical vacation will bring you back. Your work is as much a part of your life as so is your home life, where you volunteer, the friends you see and the places you go.  

There are a lucky few who love what they do so much they do not work for a day in their life. For others we work to provide for our families, try to have a better life or even just pay the bills. Now instead of dreading that and trying to find balance if we inject that it is life, what differences can happen?  

First, we can build good relationships at work. When I was learning how to manage bands (yes, I took classes in that) there was this notion you needed to network. One thing I learned well working at Loria Music was building relationships. When I started at a large bank I used these skills, and in my current job there is a running joke ‘Larry knows a guy…” What the network has turned it to is not a business set of contacts but good relationships. What I originally thought was necessary to get ahead in life was more becoming part of my life. 

Next, we can change how we think about stress. For years I though stress was a killer and a problem. This is how I thought about work stress, as in trying to be an athlete, stress, or pressure as it is called was used as a motivator. And to win one needs to handle the pressure and use it as a positive instead of a negative. Stress should be a motivator at work, it should bring out the best in you. There are studies that show, yes stress is just that. If you learn stress is positive, you will start treating it that way.  

Finally understand how to deal with failure. My previous post I talked about succeeding at everything means you are not taking any risks. But there is something even more important (and needs its own post) that failure is not treated the right way. Failure in some cases is not an option (aka a surgeon) but sometimes they do. Failure needs to be treated in a straightforward way of how we prevent it from happening again or reduce the possibility of it happening. If we find the wisdom in failure, instead of coming home from work saying you had a difficult day you come home with the thought more of I learned something and need to work on applying it.  

To get back to my original point, a vacation should be just that a getaway to enjoy yourself. It should not be something to recharge. There needs to be something that you do (it is not your company/bosses’ role) to recognize your life and to make the most of it. It is not easy, unlearning the bad history of work will take effort and time but the reward at the end is wonderful. I was asked this past week why I stayed at the company so long, it was easy to answer. Leaving for other places means leaving the community I built, the ability to use the challenges at work to get better and know how to improve myself from mistakes. Now the stressful thought is where should I go? 

This opinion is mine, and mine only, my current or former employers have nothing to do with it. I do not write for any financial gain, I do not take advertising and any product company listed was not done for payment. But if you do like what I write you can donate to the charity I support (with my wife who passed away in 2017) Morgan Stanley’s Children’s Hospital or donate to your favorite charity. I pay to host my site out of my own pocket, my intention is to keep it free.  I do read all feedback, I mostly wont post any of them.

This Blog is a labor of love, and was originally going to be a book.  With the advent of being able to publish yourself on the web I chose this path.  I will write many of these and not worry too much about grammar or spelling (I will try to come back later and fix it) but focus on content.  I apologize in advance for my ADD as often topics may flip.  I hope one day to turn this into a book and or a podcast, but for now it will remain a blog.   AI is not used in this writing other than using the web to find information.Images without notes are created using and AI tool that allows me to reuse them. 

AI is more like humans than we think… Ok in one aspect

Over the past few weeks there have been articles about regulating AI (well Large Language Models but honestly only the tech people care.). There are also a few articles about people asking to have their information removed, other lawsuits from authors saying their information were used in training, would they ask for their data to be removed. Now not going to get into is permitted use, but more about how the AI is human like in one thing. 

Humans have something that is causing lots of issues, not just now but appears to be for the longest time. Unlearning is a struggle. When people learn something and for years that learning is reinforced it gets embedded in their brains. When there is a change, or even challenge to that knowledge there is an instinct to push back against it. The point when someone is told they are wrong it feels like they are being punched.  

Now Large Language models cannot feel pain, but they do have an issue. When ingesting information (web page, document etc.) they are converting the text into ‘tokens’ and giving those tokens a numeric representation. Those numbers get linked together. Reversing that information out to find that exact point of some text and removing it is well impossible. So LLMs struggle to do the same thing that humans have, unlearning.  

So, one option when it comes to LLMs is to train it from scratch all over again. This could be costly. For humans there is an art of unlearning, and it is a skill that we should work on. Just like learning it is something that we need to practice getting good at it. Now, LLMs the unlearning of things is a bit more difficult. There are a few studies, here, here and here. I am not going to deep dive into them, as I will leave that to the reader to deep dive. 

It really is amazing that LLM and the GPTs that are built on top of them can produce sentences, paragraphs, and code. What is surprising is that both struggle to unlearn. And though there are now studies and ways for humans to unlearn, the only apparent way for an LLM to unlearn is to start from nothing. To reach GAI do machines need to be able to unlearn? Have we stumbled on an update to the Turing test? Or is it possible that our brains are not powerful to understand our own brains? 

This opinion is mine, and mine only, my current or former employers have nothing to do with it. I do not write for any financial gain, I do not take advertising and any product company listed was not done for payment. But if you do like what I write you can donate to the charity I support (with my wife who passed away in 2017) Morgan Stanley’s Children’s Hospital or donate to your favorite charity. I pay to host my site out of my own pocket, my intention is to keep it free.  I do read all feedback, I mostly wont post any of them.

This Blog is a labor of love, and was originally going to be a book.  With the advent of being able to publish yourself on the web I chose this path.  I will write many of these and not worry too much about grammar or spelling (I will try to come back later and fix it) but focus on content.  I apologize in advance for my ADD as often topics may flip.  I hope one day to turn this into a book and or a podcast, but for now it will remain a blog.   AI is not used in this writing other than using the web to find information.Images without notes are created using and AI tool that allows me to reuse them. 

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