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Principles of Technology Leadership

Bryan Cantrill
October 05, 2017

Principles of Technology Leadership

Talk given at Monktoberfest 2017. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QMGAtxUlAc

Bryan Cantrill

October 05, 2017


  1. Principles of
 Technology Leadership CTO bryan@joyent.com Bryan Cantrill @bcantrill

  2. Origin of this talk

  3. Origin of this talk

  4. Origin of this talk

  5. Principles? • Principles are the fundamental truths that form the

    basis for beliefs and the foundation for behavior — they are universal and permanent, transcending culture and time • By contrast, values are expressions of relative importance of desirable attributes — they are by nature more malleable and may change over time or may be naturally in conflict • e.g., honesty and integrity are principles; industriousness and resilience are values • Principles and values are both important!
  6. Must we elucidate principles? • Elucidating principles can feel redundant

    — if they are universal truths, why make them explicit? • And if we make explicit principles that human behavior will occasionally contravene, are we institutionalizing hypocrisy? • This is exactly why we must make them explicit: making clear our principles allows our future selves to be guided by (in the words of Abraham Lincoln) the “better angels of our nature”
  7. The ur statement of principles

  8. The power of elucidated principles

  9. The power of elucidated principles, cont.

  10. Organizational principles? • Principles are just as important in the

    small as they are in the large — and it behooves an organization as much as a nation to elucidate its principles • Organizations reasonably conflate principles and values and integrate them into their mission — but they all combine to express the deeper purpose of the endeavor • Purpose is one of the factors in Daniel Pink’s triad of intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose
  11. Organizational principles, ca. 1990 • e.g., as part of managing

    for values, Levi Strauss & Co. developed their “aspirations statement”:
  12. Organizational principles, ca. 1990 — Robert Haas, CEO Levi Strauss

    & Co. in an
 interview with Harvard Business Review, September 1990
  13. Organizational principles, ca. 1990 — Robert Haas, CEO Levi Strauss

    & Co. in an
 interview with Harvard Business Review, September 1990
  14. Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley… • Sun’s aspirations were more distilled:

    “Kick butt and have fun” • This was heavily loaded: “kick butt” carried the implication of a fair fight (viz. Sun’s championing of open systems in the 1980s) • The culture of Sun was more fully expressed by Scott McNealy, albeit as an epitaph: Kicked butt, had fun, didn’t cheat, loved our customers, changed computing forever. • Scott elaborated upon this in his farewell e-mail to Sun employees…
  15. Changed computing

  16. Loved our customers

  17. Didn’t cheat

  18. Kicked butt

  19. Had fun!

  20. The Web 2.0 generation • For the companies of the

    Web 2.0 generation, the ethos shifted • Google: “Don’t be evil” • Facebook: “Move fast and break things” • Which brings us to Amazon’s Leadership Principles…
  21. Amazon’s Leadership Principles

  22. Amazon’s Leadership Principles

  23. Amazon’s Leadership Principles

  24. Amazon’s Leadership Principles

  25. Amazon’s Leadership Principles

  26. Amazon’s Leadership Principles • With essentially no exceptions, these aren’t

    principles • And in as much as these are to be principles, there are some important ones missing: integrity, honesty, decency! • Some of them aren’t even values! • They contradict one another sufficiently that they can be used to justify essentially any action • The danger isn’t so much in these “principles” themselves (many of them represent laudable traits), but rather in how they mistakenly inspire the next generation…
  27. The next generation

  28. The next generation — Marc Andreesen, “Why Software Is Eating

    The World” (2011)
  29. The next generation, courtesy James Mickens Source: James Mickens, “It

    was never going to work, so let’s have some tea” (LISA 2015)
  30. Me want leadership principles! • The peril of the me-want-services/software-is-eating-the-world

    generation is that software companies are now coming into contact with the much broader economy • These software companies see themselves as disruptors — and they often rely on skirting (or outright violating) regulation or other norms • These companies are tautologically new; they lack any inherited wisdom or humility — and they view that as a strength • When they mimic Amazon by codifying their own principles and values, the results are predictably calamitous…
  31. Uber’s 14 Cultural Values • Meritocracy and toe-stepping • Own

    it don’t rent it • Super-pumpedness • Optimistic leadership • Champion’s mind set • Celebrate cities • Inside out • Making bold bets • Make magic • Always be hustlin’ • Principled confrontation • Let builders build • Being yourself • Obsession with the customer
  32. Uber values: “Greyball” Source: letter from Uber to Portland (OR)

    City Attorney, as quoted in PBOT Greyball Audit Report, April 2017
  33. Uber values: Self-driving cars Source: letter from Brian Soublet, Chief

    Counsel of California DMV to Uber, December 14, 2016
  34. Uber values: Self-driving cars Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CdJ4oae8f4 as reported by CBS

    San Francisco
  35. Uber values: Anthony Levandowski Source: New York Times, “Uber Executive

    Invokes Fifth Amendment, Seeking to Avoid Potential Charges”
  36. Uber values: Susan Fowler’s experience Source: Susan Fowler, “Reflecting on

    one very, very strange year at Uber”
  37. Uber values: Eric Holder’s verdict Source: Report by Eric Holder

    and Tammy Albarrán on Uber’s workplace environment in light of Fowler’s experience
  38. Software vs. the world • We in software have allowed

    values of optimization and disruption to seep into our organizational thinking • But what is right for software is not necessarily right for society! • That software is eating the world does not mean that societal constraints no longer apply! • Software is on the cusp of yet broader societal impact — and at a time when our society is increasingly divided and fractured • We have a greater burden to society than ever before — and we need to start acting that way
  39. Principles of technology leadership • With greater information connectedness and

    with consolidation into relatively fewer entities, the potential for abuse is great • There are many grey areas; principles must be elucidated to assure individuals exercise sound judgement! • Companies must explicitly treat decency, integrity, and the law as constraints on the problems that they endeavor to solve! • So: kick butt, have fun, don’t cheat, love your customers — and let’s lead the world to a better future!