I feel psychologically unsafe when working in big corporations

Three times during my career, I worked in big corporations.

1. Intel – Haifa, Israel

First time, I worked in the Intel design center in Haifa, Israel. At the time, unlike today, the operations in Haifa were small.

I left work to pursue my M.Sc. after five and half years, during which time the operations in Haifa grew to employ hundreds of people.

With hindsight, it turned out that there was also a manager who wanted me out of Intel due to his own reasons.

2. SanDisk – Kfar Sava, Israel

Second time, I worked in SanDisk, Kfar Sava, Israel.

I noticed that I feel anxious all the time while I was working there. I left the job after half a year.

Among other things, I got into a serious disagreement with a manager in another unit about a problem, whose solution was critical to the success of an assignment that I got.


Before accepting the job offer from Google Ireland (see below), I reviewed my experiences in Intel and SanDisk and made a list of recommendations how to improve my chances to be successful in Google.

One of the recommendations was to identify a high ranking manager, who is interested at helping smart deaf people succeed in their jobs in Hi-Tech companies, and who can advocate for me in case of misunderstandings among me and managers in remote units.

3. Google – Dublin, Ireland

Third time, I worked in Google Ireland. No high ranking manager was available to advocate for me as needed. I again was anxious all the time. I left the job after three and half months.

I chose to leave the job in lieu of accepting a demand that I apologize for a harsh but non-personal expression, which I said during a discussion about an accessibility problem in an American bank, which worked with Google.

I knew, without using the term psychological safety, that if I apologize I would not be able to feel psychologically safe if I ever have to point out problems with proposed plans or designs.

Background anxiety

The unending anxiety that I felt while working in SanDisk and Google was about fear of offending managers in remote units, whom I did not know personally, but with whom I had to interact to fulfill my work duties. I could not be confident that I would have the support of my own bosses if there is any problem with remote managers.

Now there is a research pointing out what I was missing during my work in SanDisk and Google. Ironically, the research was performed in Google about a year after I left the company.

High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It

The five keys to a successful Google team

An earlier version of this article was published in LinkedIn as: Psychological Safety – the reason why I did not survive in big corporations

A dose of the strongman medicine for USA? No, political education is better

USA is facing the serious problems of runaway public debt, overstretched army, and especially political machinery which is unable to effectively deal with the above problems.

Some countries and empires, at this stage of their evolution, got to be led by a strongman (dictator).  The dictator was either someone who rose inside them or someone who invaded the country (like Genghis Khan’s invasion of China).

In today’s world, the primary means of invasion is economic/political rather than by army force.  Army actions are now blocked by the existence of the devastating nuclear option, and by public opinion.  Soldiers, after all, are part of the public, and won’t fight unless there is enough public opinion backing war.

How would USA get out of the present crisis?

At 1985, Israel was going to have an economic collapse, of the kind that leads to dictatorship.  There were calls for a strongman to come to power and put matters to order.  Somehow, enough people of power were persuaded that something must be done and a new economic order was put in place and since then the economic situation improved in a big way (I am not sure that Dafny Leef and her cohorts would agree with me).

I do not see indications for such a political consensus in USA. What would then be a possible route to improvement in USA?  The two-party system is notoriously bad at allowing real leaders to rise to the top.  They must have all kinds of irrelevant qualifications, the inevitable skeletons must be well hidden in closets, they must be good looking and not be obese.  They must be excellent orators as well, and not start their adult career in an unacceptable profession (Ronald Reagan withstanding).

There is, however, another route to power in USA.  One makes a lot of money and leverages it for power in big Wall Street banks and other investment institutions.  That person (man or woman) would then be able to pull the strings behind the stage and push for the right kind of political changes.

A difficulty exists.  That person’s route to richness and power needs to leave him/her free of any commitments to take care of his/her Wall Street colleagues.  So that person would not be obligated to cater to Wall Street’s special interests.

Of course, since such a person would not gain power by democratic means, it is impossible to have an assurance that he/she would in fact operate for the good of the public rather than for any group of special interests. For such an assurance, the political process needs to work properly – and this failure is the underlying cause behind the present problems.

George Soros, anyone?

A better and safer alternative would be a massive educational process, which educate the populace about political processes, how they function, how they are supposed to function, how to wisely choose leaders, how to properly balance relatively minor improprieties vs. major leadership and management failures, how to tell legitimate criticism apart from propaganda by special interest groups, whose interests are damaged by a good leader’s efforts.

The hospital which demands that its surgeons operate in non-sterile theaters, with inadequate equipment and without enough help

If what Alan Carter says in his The Programmers’ Stone blog is right, then the way our society treats software developers is like requiring surgeons to operate in non-sterile theaters, with inadequate equipment and without enough help from other doctors and nurses.

What is the most important thing in administering a Linux (or any other) system?

Ken Hess listed 5 Things Every Good Linux Administrator Knows and left out the most important thing. It is more important than uptime. It is more important than controlling the network services. It is more important than making users happy. It is more important than documentation.


UPDATE (2008 Nov 07):
A day after I wrote the above, Ken Hess added 3 More Things Every Good Linux Adminstrator Knows, the first of which is regular backups.

A Vista Conspiracy Theory

One possible reason for the stupidity of Microsoft in handling MS-Vista, especially in its attempts to ram MS-Vista through its customers’ throats instead of MS-Windows XP, is as follows.

Shortly after SCO sued IBM and other companies due to violation of its Linux copyright, IBM and possibly other big companies decided upon two-pronged counter attack.  First, they would fight SCO in court to the bitter end.

The conspiracy theory expoused below has to do with the second prong.  The goal here is to cause Microsoft to bleed as much money and as quickly as possible, so that it’ll not have the financial means to continue to support SCO until its defendants wear out.

For this purpose, moles may have been installed in Microsoft (or maybe Microsoft employees were bribed) to deliberately make the wrong managerial decisions, to sap the morale of the working software developers, to entangle the projects in cobwebs, to bog the projects down in intricate dependencies and frivolous compatibilities with the past, to surrender too easily to Hollywood moguls when they ask for DRM measures to be built into MS-Vista.

Since Microsoft had the fatal combination of de-facto monopoly position and huge cash reserves, both had to be attacked.  The monopoly position was attacked by making MS-Vista incompatible with MS-Windows XP, so that people would find it just as easy to switch to Linux or to Mac OS as it is to MS-Vista.  The cash position was attacked by turning MS-Vista into huge cash drain.

Be prepared!

Head over to Amanda Ripley’s Web site and read her blog!

Highlights (my own summary):

  1. People behave in disasters differently from what you were taught about people.
  2. You can develop the personality traits needed to survive and help other people survive in disasters.
  3. Be prepared.
  4. Familiarize yourself with your surroundings.
  5. Your chances of survival are better than what you think – IF YOU REGAIN YOUR ABILITY TO THINK.

Blogs vs. Newspapers

One important difference among blogs and newspapers (paper or Web sites) is the fact that no one expects bloggers to verify their sources, or to be objective (unless the blog claims otherwise). On the other hand, newspapers are supposed to be authoritative. This means that newspaper journalists should be verify their sources, get a response from people being covered in news items, etc.

Five Unpublicized Anecdotes (in Hebrew) has accounts of five instances, in which journalists and/or newspapers violated ethics or professionalism. The anecdotes can be summarized as follows:

  1. One journalist steals a news item from a colleague, without giving due credit.
  2. A journalist publicized embarrassing personal information about a politician among the politician’s network of friends, rather than publicize it. The information in question was the politician’s very explicit cellphone talk with his mistress.
  3. An embargo agreement between a police investigator and a journalist, not to publicize anything about a certain sensitive investigation before it ends, was not honored by the journalist’s newspaper due to changes in personnel.
  4. A journalist was careful and refused to publicize unconfirmed rumor, and was eventually fired as a result of this refusal.
  5. Another journalist publicized a fabricated news item, which had no basis in fact.

Won’t it be great if bloggers could volunteer to monitor the news items publicized by newspapers, and keep the newspapers and their journalists honest?

Bloggers could catch textual duplications between different newspapers (anecdote 1), and call out newspapers for publicizing false information (anecdotes 4,5).

At present, the only mechanism for keeping newspapers honest is the threat of libel lawsuits. This does not work for keeping out fabricated news items, which damage no one’s reputation. False but non-defamatory news items about people do not lead to libel lawsuits either. People also sometimes let libelous information pass by, knowing that their personal acquaintances know better.

How to implement such a newspapers’ monitoring network?

One approach would be to observe the mechanisms being developed by the Wikipedia for ensuring the correctness of the information in its articles, as well as academic research about trust and reputation networks. Then try to adapt them to set up a network of newspaper monitoring bloggers.

Three practical philosophies


In addition to major life philosophies and religions, there are also various philosophies and methods which aim at doing better various things in life. In this post I write about three such “minor” philosophies.

Feldenkrais Method

The Feldenkrais Method belongs to the realm of complementary and alternative medicine. It stresses user physical movements. It is applied by people like dancers or musicians, who want to improve their movement repertoire, and by people, who want to reduce their pain or movement limitations. One famous student of the Feldenkrais Method was David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel.
Wikipedia article (also source of this summary): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feldenkrais_Method
The Feldenkrais Method Center: http://www.feldenkrais-center.com/INDEX_ENG.HTM

Eliahu Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints

The Theory of Constraints (TOC) belongs to the realm of business and organizational management. Each system (business or organization) has a goal to be maximized. Each system has also a key constraint, which limits the system’s performance relative to its goal. In order to manage the system’s performance, the key constraint must be identified and dealt with.
Wikipedia article (also source of this summary): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_Constraints

Steve Litt’s Universal Troubleshooting Process

The Universal Troubleshooting Process (UTP) belongs to the realms of repairing malfunctioning equipment and software debugging. It is a method for troubleshooting reproducible problems and ensuring that once they are fixed – they stay fixed.
The core of this process is a 10-step process, which covers preparations, actual diagnosis, repair, and post-repair work.
Longer description of the process: http://www.troubleshooters.com/tuni.htm

Organizations need more people with leadership skills than you think

I would like to take issue with a point made in Why do we persist in trying to turn ourselves (and other people) into what we and they plainly are not?

The writer believes that only one or two leaders are needed to work with a very large number (tens or hundreds) of people. The following are counter-examples and counter-arguments.

  • A committee typically has between 5-10 members. It needs a leader to function effectively.
  • When an emergency, such as fire, earthquake or serious equipment malfunction occurs, there is not always time to bring the leader (assuming that the leader is not already busy putting out a fire elsewhere). At least one of the people dealing with the emergency needs to have leadership skills and be able to organize his colleagues as necessary to deal with the emergency.
  • People with leadership skills have also better team membership skills. They would support the current endeavor’s leader and make him more effective.
  • It is easier to restructure and expand the organization if external circumstances so require, if it already has high percentage of people with leadership skills.
  • People with genuine leadership skills would not indulge in petty politicizing to the detriment of themselves and their fellows.