Week 17, 2024 - Substack and AI Assistants

Week 17, 2024 - Substack and AI Assistants
Julie Szász, inspired by Gauguin’s The Meal

What an awesome week, full of spending time with great people. I managed to publish my thoughts on why companies should go one step beyond just tolerating, and fully embrace Celebrating Failure. I finished yesterday afternoon, and the first feedback is great, somebody even added that FAIL is just an abbreviation for First Attempt In Learning. When I mentioned the topic to an EM I had a coffee with, he chuckled because his team was just over a serious issue that involved accidental production data deletion, and showed me a Bob Ross meme he received from a team member that said “There are no SEV-1 incidents, just unexpected team building events.” What a great culture!

In other news, Apple decided my site is inappropriate for people under 18, as I found out from an incoming link mentioning the need to add an exception when “Limit Adult Websites” is enabled in Safari. I would love to find out how I ended up being on that list, it must be a good “Learn from failure” story! Anyway, I appealed and now waiting in patience, probably for a long long time to come, knowing how fast Apple handles developer requests.

📋 What I learned this week

My coding and system design interview on Monday went okay, but there’s a good chance we’re not looking for each other, the role involves a smaller scope than my sweet spot of managing 4-6 teams through other managers. I’ll talk with their US team on Monday and see if we can work together. The lesson I learned: I should practice talking out loud while coding, I stumbled a bit at that part. It’s weird to be sitting at the other side of the table.

The second learning of the week was about git, I had a nerdy evening with a good friend, pizzas, beer, and failed upstream merges. My site is powered by Ghost, I customized one of their templates to better suit my needs. I did this by forking and modifying the official themes repo, so I can still get updates when they come out. Which I get, a lot, most of the time (all of the time) about dependency version bumps. My issue was that a minority of their changes failed to merge automatically to my fork, and the way I tried to do it manually required me to resolve conflicts manually, in every single one of my commits since the fork.

Finally, we found a way to do it with much less manual conflict handling, with a temporary branch that pointed back in time before my fork and pulled the new upstream changes there before merging that branch into the main one containing my customizations. Git (and versioning in general) is one of the core foundations of efficient, modern software development, yet such a simple concept can cause weirdly complex situations. Good lessons!

🎯 What I want to try next week

I have to timebox this newsletter because I’m leaving in half an hour to meet some friends and do a proper, full-day hackathon. I mentioned the home dashboard in a picture frame project last week, and yes, of course, I decided to go down the rabbit hole. Fortunately, I managed to make my excitement infectious, so we’ll spend the day learning about Home Assistant, ESPHome and the GTFS-Realtime API of the Budapest Public Transport Company. By the end of the day, we aim to have a proof of concept device that shows upcoming departure times in a neighboring stop, and maybe some other data too. If all goes well, next week I would like to move the project from POC to “product”.

I was invited again to the Kraftie podcast (in Hungarian) where I spoke before about topics like managing teams remotely and the yearly feedback cycle; this time we’ll discuss the technical career path and the various aspects of being a Staff Engineer. It sounds like a good opportunity to publish something about this on this blog too.

🤔 Articles that made me think

Gergely Orosz’s note about Substack

The author of the immensely (and rightfully) popular Pragmatic Engineer Newsletter explains his main reason for using this platform: data ownership. I love how Substack made this a priority, that authors can take everything and move if they want to - which can be a transparent move for their audience with custom domains like Gergely’s. He made me think about why I am NOT on Substack. I boiled down my reasons into two main areas:

  • Total freedom to experiment and learn new stuff - as a technical leader, it’s important for me to “get my hands dirty” from time to time, and deeply understand what’s going on behind the surface of a CMS stack.
  • Full control over content and behavior. For example, I find Substack’s nudges to subscribe too obtrusive as a reader.

The cons are also significant, by not being on Substack, I think I’m missing out on:

  • A robust, scalable technical background. While I love the simplicity and flexibility of the Pikapods setup, I’m not sure what traffic peaks it could handle. For better or worse, it’s not an issue yet.
  • The most tempting feature of Substack is the buzzing environment of connected authors. I love the discussions on some of the newsletters I follow. I feel like I’m missing out on this, and some related discovery aspects too.

All together, I’m happy with my choice for now, but will keep my eyes on Substack.

The Verge’s review of the AI Rabbit vs MKBHD’s Review of the AI Pin

Two arguably similar AI hardware devices, both with a lot more promises than they can deliver. Yet, the AI Rabbit seems to have won this round with a K.O. Some will amount this to the display on the AI Rabbit, or other technical feature differences, but I have a different theory: User Experience is King.

The AI Rabbit was designed by the cult hardware studio Teenage Engineering (sorry about the K.O. pun above), makers of amazing audio stuff, and other cool toys like Playdate. They manage to combine usability with aesthetics in a way that not many other companies can do. This is critically important for devices that are just about to define a new category: stand-alone AI assistants. I’m not surprised that the more usable, and even: more lovable device made users oversee all the bugs and missing features from this first version of something that could one day be a part of our lives. Exciting times!

No more cool stuff for this week, I need to run fry some panels.

Have a weekend full of tinkering,


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