Science and engineering salaries

We are in the business of building an engineering organization at DataFox and our team hails from Stanford, MIT, Cornell, as well as Box, LinkedIn, etc.

Stanford published the following data on starting salaries for recent Stanford grads.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 11.15.35 AM

I’m a data and visualization nut, so I had to plot this on a graph.

Engineering Salaries from Stanford

Wow!  You are two students. You both got straight As and were yearbook editor in high school. You both study at Stanford, you both pay an enormous tuition. You both study really hard. Then, you graduate, and one of you makes 40k & the other 110k!  Not to mention the one making 110 gets free food, laundry, and massages.

I’ve written about this topic several times in the past, so this shouldn’t surprise me but the sheer differential is actually pretty amazing.

It is becoming increasingly true – the youngsters who learn how to build and communicate with computers are at an advantage over those who cannot.

Wrapping up an exciting quarter for FounderSoup

I’m really proud of our entire FounderSoup team, as we ran two of our flagship pitch events in the past 90 days.

Check out our website, as well as the following press coverage of our events:

January 2012 – TechCrunch and Stanford Daily.

March 2012 – Pensinsula Press & SFGate

Stay tuned for some more exciting news & upcoming events by “liking” our Facebook page at










Jobs in big data & comp sci

Update (Jan 2015) It is increasingly important that people be able to communicate with computers. Currently we do this through Excel, the console, the command line, GitHub, Python, Ruby, etc. The possession of these skills is an increasingly big differentiator among job candidates. I stay fresh on these skills through sites like Treehouse and CodeSchool.

Original (2011) I wrote a post recently about the importance of learning software development at an early age.

Then I sat in on a talk by McKinsey at Stanford. They project the Talent Gap in the field of “Big Data” to be enormous (almost 2 million more jobs than available workers).

Skill needed | Size of talent gap by 2018

Big data savvy | 1,500,000 jobs unfilled
– Business managers, Financial analysts, Engineers
Supporting technology | 300,000 jobs unfilled
– Computer programmers, Computer software engineers, Computer system analysts
Deep analytical | 150,000 jobs unfilled
– Actuaries, Mathematicians, Statisticians

This is a good time to develop skills in these areas.

Getting to inbox zero

UPDATE (1/15): Technology has improved a lot (as well as awareness) of the problem of email volume. Also, Mailbox came along and made things much easier. I process, archive, or snooze every email in my inbox every time I open it. It helps me always get to zero and always have a record of the most important things. I now use the following all together to keep my projects organized:

  • Mailbox – to triage my inbox
  • Wunderlist – for tracking family & long range goals
  • GitHub – for tracking bugs & code
  • Google Docs – for tracking epics
  • Loose sheets of Paper – for tracking today’s to-dos

ORIGINAL: Managing the inbound flow of emails has become a daily chore for every connected professional.

It’s like exercise.  This is nothing you haven’t already heard.  Getting our inbox to zero is something we all know we should be doing, in an ideal world, along with eating fruits and vegetables and remembering to back up our hard drive.  But like those other guilt-inducers, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

The breaking point.  For me, inbox craziness reached a crescendo during my MBA program, when I received 100-150 emails per day, 30 of which were actionable, and 15 of which were time-sensitive.  Because I was running a business while doing two degrees, the penalty of getting even one day behind on my inbox often meant the difference between getting into or missing out on an opportunity.  The frustrating thing about this is that those truly important emails get lost in wave after wave of updates, reply alls, spammy notifications, etc.  And it never seems to let up…

The challenge.  Why is it so difficult to actually empty out that inbox?   There are the obvious reasons:  we are busy, we get too many emails, some aren’t urgent, etc…

But the key challenge for me has always been this:  the emails that hang around in my inbox, clogging everything else up, are always the ones that I can’t answer immediately…I’m either waiting for a response from a colleague, or I need to think about what to do, or I won’t know until I get home and ask family about timing, etc.  So what do we do about those emails?  For me, they used to just linger…

The existing tools.  I tried all of the usual tricks…add a “star” to the email, add a “label” to the label, mark as “unread”, etc.  But each of those solutions had a shortcoming…I’d end up with a pileup of unsorted emails with stars, all of which are still pending, but which I have to scan, in its entirety, and decide, on the fly, which ones are most important to do.

Why bother?  What’s wrong with just giving up and never zeroing out our inbox?  The main issue is that the inbox is a terrible organizer of actions to take.  It isn’t sorted based on priority, but rather, based on chronology and who is the most vocal sender.  So it’s an extremely noisy tool to use as a task manager.  Emails come in when they come…but what are the key action items to take…today?  They almost never mirror what’s at the top of my inbox.  I needed a way to process my inbound emails, clear out my inbox, and then go on with my day…working on those things that are most important for me to accomplish.

The Solution:  Email Triage…quickly whittle down the mess of messages, identifying the most critical items as quickly as possible…

(1) If I can delete it.  I delete it.  This usually eliminates 1/2 of my emails right off the bat.

(2) If I can “spam” it or “unsubscribe”, I do it.  That way, the offending email won’t bite me again.

(3) If I can solve it in less than 2 minutes, I solve it.  Knock out the quickie response, add the event to my calendar, etc.  Done.

Okay, yeah, obviously.  Then what?   This usually gets me down to the final handful of actionable emails for which there is no quickie response.  However, these are not yet sorted by priority!   So where does this final, and most important step in the triage process take place?  In my task manager…

(1) – this is the tool that allows me, for the first time ever, to follow the golden rules above, always be able to zero out my inbox, never lose track of what I need to do, and most importantly, know what is my biggest priority at any point in time.  (A special thanks to Emrecan Dogan for clueing me into this tool and how to use it.)

Task manager, RememberTheMilk

How does this work?  It’s really simple actually.  It’s a straightforward task manager, that lets you add a task, assign a priority to it, assign a deadline to it, and place it into a category.

What’s so special about it?

1. Seamless Syncing – First, it is easy to access on both my mobile devices (iPhone & iPad), as well as my browser.  This is oh-so-crucial.  For me, the absolutely most gratifying time to have this tool as part of my get-stuff-done suite is when I’m stuck somewhere with 5 minutes of dead time…you know, in line at the DMV, waiting for an airplane, waiting for the previews at a movie theater, etc.

Those are the moments in life that used to drive me bonkers, sitting there as valuable moments in life waste away because I’m just waiting for something to happen.  Now, those moments turn to joy, as I whip out RTM on my iDevice, look at my priority-ranked list of critical action items…and bang them out.  Item one done?  One-click to mark it as complete.  Item three done?  Mark that complete, as well.  Back at the office later that day?  My successes earlier in the day are automatically synced and reflected on RTM, whether I’m looking at it on my laptop browser, on my iPhone, etc.  Cross it out on the iPhone, it’s automatically removed everywhere.

2. Ease of Use – Second, it is super fast & easy to add, modify, and delete tasks.  Want to make it “top priority”, just type !1 at the end of the message.  Want it to be due tomorrow, just type “, tomorrow” at the end of the task.  Want to sort by priority, that’s easy.  Want to edit the task?  That’s one click away.  This may seem like a small detail, but for me, it’s a deal-breaker.  I’ve tried other task managers that require maybe two extra clicks to do every little modification…and when you’re relying on this thing to handle all inbound & outbound activities, those little clicks add up.  Having a tool that’s super easy to use makes all the difference.

So here’s the key – with a task manager like this in place, all you have to do is take all of those unread emails that would otherwise linger in your inbox.  You turn those INTO an action in your task manager.  And then get rid of them from your inbox.  They may not be done…but they are out of the way.  They’re not lost, but rather, stored where they belong, and prioritized as they should be.  As a result, your inbox is clear, so that you won’t miss that next, important email.  Now, your task manager, and NOT your inbox, tells you what to do & when…

Clear Inbox => Peaceful Mind

Peace of mind.  I’ve found this combination of tools and this methodology to make all the difference in the world…in keeping me organized, in keeping my inbox clear, and in feeling confident that what I’m working on right now is the most important thing for me to be doing.

There are probably other task managing tools that sync effortlessly across your devices & are quick and easy to use…but if you don’t already have one you love, then I definitely suggest trying one out…once you get into the flow of zeroing out that inbox and relying on a useful, portable task manager, fewer emails will slip through & you’ll feel a lot better about that inbox.

This is one of a handful of tools that I use to handle the daily inbox challenge…hopefully it’s useful to you.  Let me know in the comments if you have any other cool tricks like this….  More to come soon…

Parents, if you love your children…

Get 'em started early

Last week, I was having the typical modern Silicon Valley conversation about how ridiculously challenging it is to find technical talent.

We covered all the typical bullet points:  the best thing you could do is build those skills yourself, you’ll need to be willing to give up significant equity, you might want to offer free food, massages, and funsies at the office, etc.

One of my favorite entrepreneurs (Jason, who happens to be launching an education startup at, piped up, laughing, and quipped…”well, what I did was start reading HTML for Babies to my 1-year-old daughter.”

“Are you joking?”

“No!  I’m not!”

“Awww…yeah!  That’s so awesome.”

And while I think this is hilarious, and I’m sorta kidding.  I’m also not kidding.  The thing is, HTML is no more complicated than math, or grammer…and we definitely teach THAT to our kids.

Most kids these days end up taking 4-8 years of foreign languages, and year-after-year of math classes, and oodles of literature and european history, etc.

But how many of our kids are given a basis, at an early age, for learning the technical skills that are so desperately coveted?   We are living in the midst of this crazy employment oxymoron…we live in a country where unemployment is extremely high, while at the same time, companies are tripping all over themselves to hire people who know how to program…

Job Postings: Web Design vs Geometry

Don’t believe me?  Check out the graph from, showing the trend in job postings over the past few years.  As a hint, the one that is huge and growing is “web design”, while practically no one gets a job because of their skills in “geometry”.

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn geometry and I don’t mean to pick on this skill.  In fact, geometry is important to web design, as well as being a well-rounded individual.

But what I AM saying is that our children ought to be AT LEAST as skilled (and fluent) at software development technologies, like HTML, as they are at things like Geometry and Shakespeare.

So parents, if you really love your children, give them the gift of code this Christmas…and start them on a path toward fantastic job security…start them early…with books like HTML for Babies.  (A more serious look at the hot skillsets forthcoming…but HTML is a good place to start).

Yes, your children (along with everyone else) may think you are extremely strange (right now), but they will thank you in 2035 when they’re making plus salary…while coding up apps for your wall-mounted touch screen tablet television.

The Non-Technical Founder’s Nightmare

Can You Introduce Me?

When I decided to study Computer Science at Stanford, I anticipated many wonderful outcomes.  I knew I would be able to better support the companies I built (ie, understand new technology trends (ie opportunities in mobile), and build new prototypes (ie  The experience has exceeded my expectations…

But there’s one aspect of studying CS at Stanford that I never anticipated: the extent to which the tech community covets top engineering talent.

Go to nearly any event in Silicon Valley and you’ll hear one key theme repeated over and over again by entrepreneurs and investors:

“I’m looking for software developers…”

Cisco and Oracle are hiring engineers.  Google and Microsoft are hiring engineers.  Facebook and Zynga are hiring engineers.  Dropbox and Square are hiring engineers.  Pinterest and AirBnB are hiring engineers.  Your uncle is hiring engineers.  My uncle is hiring engineers.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, is hiring engineers.

The Request

Jockey seeks horse, promises plentiful oats & minimal whippings.

As one of the few MBAs who then went on to become a computer scientist, I get a LOT of requests that sound like this (these are all actual emails I’ve received):

  • “a friend of mine is creating software that IS very cool…But… he needs programmers. I told him that you might be a great resource”
  • “I’m going to revolutionize the ___ industry…do you know any good programmers who might be interested”
  • “do you know of any rockstar android developers who might be interested in part-time work? (longer term, we’re also looking for algorithm and AI engineers)… if yes, can you please fwd this to anyone you know who might be interested? thanks much!”
  • “I am working on a cool idea in the mobile ____ space. Do you have any iPhone programmers you would recommend?”
  • “Anyway, we are definitely still looking for developers…Let me know if you come across any rockstars interested in changing the world of _____.”
  • “Do you know any awesome Rails engineers that might consider joining an exciting _____ startup? Ideally 3-5 yrs experience for a Sr. Eng/VP, Eng role.”
  • “I am determined to launch this project on my own, but I have no development savvy at all. Do you have any advice for how I can find a programmer that would partner up on a project like this?”
How Not To Find Engineers

It gets much worse…(see Whartonite Seeks Code Monkey).

You…and everyone else…

The entrepreneur in me understands EXACTLY where these emails are coming from.  However, the frustrating thing about these emails is that I’d love to help out, but I can’t.  It’s not that these are unqualified people asking for help. On the contrary…these are requests coming in from some of the most fantastic people I know. These are entrepreneurs and investors who are successful, high character people. It’s a beating-and-a-half to say “um, sorry, I can’t really help you with that” every single time this happens.

But the truth of the matter is…if I forwarded even a small % of these emails onto my CS friends, then we wouldn’t be friends for very long. You see, talented Stanford engineers are so thoroughly bombarded with inbound requests like these, they almost become numb to the flirtations.

Everyone’s a gatekeeper…

In coordinating the FounderSoup events, I’ve spoken with a handful of Stanford CS professors to invite them to our events.  Their response, “I actually don’t know that many developers”.  To which I reply, “No, I’m asking if YOU want to come to the event…I’m encouraging my non-technical friends to learn CS and we’d love to have YOU there…it could be a good way to recruit new students.”   They typically perk up at this point, but nevertheless, their guard is up.  And that’s just the professors.

Want to really see what I’m talking about?  Try going to the CS career services folks.  Maybe say something like “hey, I’ve got this really cool program & I wanted to see if I could reach out to some of the CS students directly…”  Hah.  They’ll say something like “yeah, you and everyone else” and then repeat the phrase…”the best we can do for you is offer that you sponsor a booth at the career fair.”   Ohhh…the career fair.  That deserves another post of it’s own.  But in short, if you want to see a who’s who of the technology world, the CS career fair is where it’s at.

Heavily Fortified

So why does everyone in the system either have a fortress built up or deny even knowing any engineers (despite teaching hundreds of them every quarter)?  It’s not that they have bad intentions or anything like that…they, more than anyone, realize how overwhelming it is for these students to be recruited by seemingly every company in the valley.  Their students, who they “don’t know that many of” are so sought after that the professors, advisors, and everyone else within earshot of the ecosystem are bombarded with inbound requests, as well…and all serve as a form of gatekeeper, lest they burn their own bridges.

If I, the MS-MBA, am fatigued by requests to meet software engineers, imagine how tiresome it must be for their professors…or worse yet, the engineers themselves.

As a result, one of the unwritten rules within the CS community is that you don’t bother your friends with intros to “yet another startup looking for a developer”…you just don’t.

Do You Have Some Time To Grab A Coffee?

NO!  Every top notch CS student or engineer has an overwhelming array of opportunities…so much so that many top engineers avoid any spotlight that threatens to bring unwanted attention upon them: public LinkedIn profiles, attending entrepreneurial mixer events, or subscribing to the “blast” email lists.  One of my favorite engineers, a PhD in the CS program here, simply tells everyone he’s studying “marine biology” in order to avoid all the flirtation…

They certainly don’t want to “meet up for coffee” every with every “idea guy looking for a programmer”. In the much the same way that celebrities avoid the public, engineers are hiding from the bombardment of prospective startup opportunities.

After all, they’ve got 6 hours of coding still to do…tonight.  This weekend?  They’ll be cranking on code then, too.


What was my response to this? First of all, I started  The goal of the organization is to invite all of my entrepreneurial friends (and their friends), both technical and non-technical to one event.  It’s efficient for everyone. We aim to make it a high-trust environment and have seen some awesome successes from the event.  So if you’re interested, join the signup list.

Second, I continued studying Computer Science.

Third, I’ve started encouraging every able-minded person to either (a) come to FounderSoup, or (b) study Computer Science.

Earn That Technical Co-Founder

Probably the best piece of advice I’ve heard along these lines came from Jason at HumbledMBA

“You don’t find a technical cofounder, you earn one.”

How do you do that?  Jason suggests several steps to achieving this…most important of which, IMO, is:  1. Learn to Code.  2. Build the front-end.   The key here is doing everything in your power to build trust, gain traction, show your talent & commitment to the project.

In a recent survey we conducted at FounderSoup, we found that even top engineers are mostly looking for other engineers, not MBAs.  But of those engineers who aren’t looking for MBAs…you know what they wanted?  Entrepreneurial decathletes.  In other words…if you aren’t an engineer and you want to earn a technical co-founder…then you’d better be darn good at everything else!

And you’ve got to win them over!

Often, it’s “how” you say it…

So how can you, the entrepreneur, find that special programmer?

Well, first of all, talking THAT WAY, you’ll never find what you want.

You’ve got to show that you respect their skills and know enough about their world to be a great partner.  You are not looking for a “programmer”. You are looking for an “engineer”, a “software developer”.

Instead of saying we are looking  “for an expert in PHP, Ruby-On-Rails, CSS AND Machine Learning”, or “a rockstar programmer to build our frontend and backend using xyz-string-of-non-complementary-languages.” I suggest you say something like “we are looking for can-do co-founders who have a strong foundation in software engineering and enjoy taking on new challenges”.

First Date

It’s Like Dating

When looking for someone to date, you certainly wouldn’t post on Facebook saying, “I’m looking for someone who cooks, fixes cars, loves children, likes to fornicate daily, and is going to make a ton of money.” That would be crazy and even the most socially foolish person wouldn’t do so.  Why? It’s obvious…that just doesn’t work!

So don’t be THAT entrepreneur! Don’t ask the world in your first meeting.  Don’t look for a programmer to build your app.  Recognize that these 21-year-olds are getting offers from the top businesses in whatever industry they are interested in.  Realize that you’re going to need to cough up real equity to attract them.  Know that your competition is offering them free food and foot massages.

So if you’re going to find that team-mate, you’d better not promise minimal whippings…get to know them, show them you are interested in them, let them see how awesome and trustworthy you are…and maybe that special relationship will develop.  But, for starters, know what to call them…they’re software engineers, not rockstar programmers.

Seems like a strange detail to emphasize, eh?  One thing we have learned in building this program is that these subtle touches are surprisingly fundamental to how prospective engineers feel about the way they may be treated in an organization.

This is the first part of a multi-part series on the subject…I’ll later cover things like how to build your engineering skills…but step 1 (for the newcomers to this world) is to recognize that there is a fortress you’re trying to enter and that it takes time and awareness to build the trust necessary to earn that technical co-founder.

US Debt musings from an int’l economics kid, turned scrappy tech entrepreneur

A good friend Thomas just posted his analysis of the financial situation, here, on his “View From The Bottom”.  One of his gifts is explaining complicated stuff in plain english, so I took notice.  I had some followup questions that turned into much more than a comment on his post.  But Thomas (and David, and, and), I want to know what you think of this….

As a non-financial guy & someone not well-informed by US perspectives on this stuff…but as someone who spent so much of my university schooling in foreign unis looking at international economics…I am longterm extremely bearish on the US economy.  In all my studies, seemingly every possible longterm economic health indicator made things look really bad for my country (balance of trade, rate of education, sustainable national competitive advantage, and most importantly, debt).  Sure, we have greatest universities, plentiful natural resources, many of the world’s most sophisticated institutions, and are still the world’s largest economy…but everyone already knows this stuff…The stuff that we don’t think about as often…the comparative trends…don’t look good.

US Trade, as % of DGP
US Trade Deficit, as % of DGP

(source for trade deficit chart: NYTimes & Bureau of Economic Analysis).

Take for example, our (Im)Balance of trade, which has been going south for many decades.  It is now massive (we are at -$500 Billion on a ‘good’ year).   The way I understand this is…if this were a company, it would mean “Amount of $ Sales to other Companies” minus “Amount of $ Purchases from Other Companies”, divided by “How Big Domestic Economy Is”.  So with a deficit around 5% of GDP, that’s like a company earning $95 but spending $100 to do it, while all the employees do a lot of trading goods and services among themselves.  But overall, the company is losing $ every year, for many decades.

So…our country chronically buys more than it sells…we buy lots of goods (think oil and plastic toys) and we sell lots of services (think consulting firms), but we buy a lot more oil and hondas than we sell services and fords.

US Annual Balance Of Trade
US Annual Balance Of Trade

(Source for Balance of Trade Chart:  US Census Bureau Dept of Trade Stats)

In a way, this extraordinary “imbalance of trade” since the 60s/70s has no choice but to directly result in mounting debt.  Because our imports so vastly exceed our exports – where does that money come from?   Well, the way I simplify things is that this is where debt comes from.  If we receive WAY more stuff from other countries than we send to them, then someone is lending us that $ (think China & Saudi Arabia), and that means over time, our ability to repay them becomes riskier and riskier, and so our currency becomes less valuable.  Thus, we have to spend more of our currency to buy more of the foreign goods we need, and the cycle reinforces itself.

The crazy thing is that this is commonly available knowledge.  We all know we buy tons of oil and stuff from China.  We all know we have a big national debt.  But somehow, professors in our finest institutions still think that our government is absolutely “good for it”.  Despite us losing $ every single year, our governments bonds are still called the “risk free rate.”  How insane is that?

As an entrepreneur, I’m hard-coded to manically focus on increasing the # of things I can sell and limiting what I have to buy…but our country’s overall position is exactly the opposite.

Plus, maybe I’m old-school, but I’ve always been the type of person that was severely bothered by owing anything to anyone ($4 latte to mortgages)…and I generally consider debt to be a dangerous thing to play with, etc.  So coming from that perspective the US debt situation seems all the more egregious (#s so big that when I look at them, they make me freak out and I don’t want to think about it anymore).

A couple of times in Finance class, I would ask the professor something like “why do we call this the risk-free rate – does that mean there is 0 chance that our country defaults on its debt?”.  Everyone would look at me like I’m from Mars…but if my company had the debt, income, and competitive profile of the US economy, I would be absolutely mortified (like, in the full etymological meaning of the word).  And if our country’s balance sheet was anonymized and we all analyzed it in, we would all say “yeah, this company is totally SOL”.

Seriously, what would an honest rating agency rate our bonds at (if you took away a bunch of zeros and measured it against what we consider to be healthy financial organizations…)?  Would our country receive the same type of ratings that Apple would get right now on its debt?  Hah, no way!  So I sort-of expect a long term, protracted, and painful downward trajectory for our economy.  I don’t like to think like this, but I would have to deceive myself to look at these types of numbers and believe otherwise.

I’m jaded enough about the longterm outlook, that when stuff like the housing crisis and this pop up, I’m not like “OMG the sky is falling”, I’m more like “well yeah, okay so THIS is how this prolonged downward cycle is playing out right now…that all of these elephant hiccups are just a sign of an inevitable obvious X0 year decline.”

But then again, I’m not a finance expert, I don’t watch the news, and I’m not well-informed about what’s going on this week, or even this month.  What I’m wondering is about the big picture, the three-decade picture, and it is twofold:

(1) when (ya know, I assume this is not an IF) the moment of reckoning comes, how bad of a situation are we in?  Like Argentina 2001 where banks close, lower third falls into seriously awful shape, avg person’s savings catastrophically melted away…?  I guess that maybe splits into two different answers?  The upper quartile of the society will probably have their $ squirreled away in asian banks or whatever and be able to eat, enjoy, and have a safe life…?  Meanwhile, the lower quartile will grow into the lower 3 quartiles and life will be miserable?

In other countries where the bottom falls out, the middle class disappears, things get less safe, people’s savings implode, and things get really really ugly (crime, shortages, etc).  What if this happens to the biggest economy on the planet?  I keep asking myself, are we caught up, freaking out about this particular short-term problem, when the bigger issue is the longterm situation which is much worse than we are all anticipating it will be?  The US has been so wealthy (relatively) for so long that most Americans (including myself), can’t imagine what a really bad outcome looks like.

So does that play out where our insurance programs explode?  A run on the banks?  Or seniors have all of their pensions go poof?  And then discretionary expenditures drop further, and then corps shrink, and investment dries up, and social services shrink, and on and on?   Please tell me I’m not glass-half-emptying this to death?  Is there a bright spot?  Something I don’t understand that makes this all okay?

But really, if this wasn’t the largest economy of all time, the global icon of freedom and national wellbeing, and on and on, wouldn’t we just all say “yeah they’re on the brink of bankruptcy”?  And if so, when a country does go completely bankrupt – this might not even be close to being the kind of relatively lovely place to live that it has been for a century, will it?

And (2) how soon is this happening?  I have been looking at these events…the housing thing, this debt thing, other “woah, what happened??” moments…as “well, yeah, this is one of the kerfuffles that will eventually fit together with all the others over the next 10 years?  30 years? 50 years? that is one of those “well we should have known this would eventually happen”.   One of the handfuls of steps in this inevitable march towards serious catastrophe (ie not a two-year blip, but a way-of-life altering mess).

So I’m curious if you, someone who is actually well informed about what’s going on, agrees with this overall picture?

And really, what I am curious to know more of what you think – how big of a mess do you think the US debt situation is, mid & longterm…Should I trade my $s for yen and move to Canada?

Finally, as all of this is obviously depressing – what would we have to accomplish to change our path?  Do we have what it takes, as a society to course-correct?  We gotta try…

Online Music Industry, You Spin Me Right ‘Round…

Update, Jan 2015: It’s all about YouTube, SoundCloud, iTunes, and Pandora for me now. TuneIn for radio.

Update, June 2013: It’s SoundCloud for me now. Longer tracks, huge selection, delightful user interface, straight from the artist. Turntable already fizzled out, even though I thought it would be awesome. :(

I guess because it required synchronous engagement between DJs and fans? Meanwhile, SoundCloud has found a nice way to make this engagement asynchronous, with the commenting features that fans can leave – directly in the tracks. Hype Machine is cool too. Great stuff, internet – continuing to make more music available more efficiently.

Originally posted, July 2011:

Radio Music Method
Radio Music Method

About a year ago, I wrote about what I called “The Great Music Discovery Trifecta” because I was loving how the evolution of consumer internet had made it so easy for me to find and portably own oodles of music that I love.  At the time, I was driving to work, capturing songs I liked with Shazam, putting through subsequent interviews in Grooveshark, and then purchasing the ones I wanted to continue listening to through iTunes.  It was glorious (and still is).

But since then, things just keep evolving.  Pandora’s gone public. has grown into a Wikipedia-like (in terms of depth and quality of information) resource about top rated music.  Spotify has come to the US. has been birthed (Go Joel!).  And has…well, not only become my daytime music radio source, but it has also captured my data nerd imagination.

You see…I stopped listening to the public radio (except when I have no other choice) for the same reason that most technically savvy folks have done the same…to me, radio music is noisy, inconsistent, and jammed with commercials.  The quality-to-nuisance ratio is just so low that it’s practically unbearable.  So when Pandora & ubiquitous iTunes hit the scene (and then my beloved trifecta), I completely ditched the “DJ curating my music” experience altogether.

…until Turntable.

As an internet innovation enthusiast and someone who likes to listen to music while I work…I’ve been absolutely fascinated with Turntable – not just because it’s a cool “gaze into the future” product (and it is)…but because of its DATA Set and what this means for me…and you.  As Turntable grows (in user #s) & its data becomes more widely available (through an API or the inevitable scraping & aggregation of room data)….it will be fabulous.  (kinda like Twitter circa 2008)

DJ Fans Data
DJs Feeling Crowd Reaction

Here’s my thinking (maybe my hardcore industry friends can inform me here)…seemingly for the first time ever, music pros will be able to get real-time data, in a huge way, about what genres, songs, and styles people love (like Pandora + iTunes on steroids + years of watching your Friday night crowd’s heads bob to what you’re spinning…)

Now, Turntable captures all of this through the simple, yet powerful “awesome/lame” button interaction that is a core part of the turntable experience.  We normally don’t think about it while using these buttons, but us users are providing real-time feedback and never-before-possible data…which will allow these DJs (in that room) as well as industry pros (with aggregated voting data) to learn quantitatively how the crowd responds to obvious questions, like “what are the most popular songs and styles”, but even more granular findings, such as how cread reaction is impacted by: (a) time of day (b) the previous few songs played (c) DJs reputation (d) user geography (e) user FB likes (remember, you join via Connect), etc.

Turntable has…what?  Tens of thousands (and growing) users voting on hundreds of thousands of songs every day??  Assuming it continues to scale, we are quickly encroaching on uncharted user feedback data that’s hithertofore unimaginable.

The crazy thing is that DJs are already learning more than they’ve ever learned before about the type of music people want to hear and when…and this will make thousands of amateur DJs a lot better, help quickly surface new DJs, and ultimately…I believe, drive another boom in music innovation.

I realize that there’s another argument entirely about the dramatic dropoff in CD sales and a shift towards concerts and big troubles for the record companies…and I’m not anywhere close to being an expert on those things.  Perhaps certain segments of the music industry will suffer, some forms of creation may be inhibited by this shift of power, etc.

But for me…a lover of technically enhanced music and someone who is willing to purchase the good stuff on iTunes in order to have it on my iPad…well, I’m just super excited about what the future holds in the form of music innovation, discovery, and optimizing toward user preferences in this statistically transparent & unprecedented way.  One example of this that I LOVE, and am not afraid to admit…are Mashups.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about with mashups, and you’re curious…do yourself a favor and find some music by any of the following mashup folks:  DJ Earworm, Kap Slap, Girl Talk, or anything having to do with Miike Snow.  These guys are creating a genre of music which is a truly fantastical blend of other music that brings hardcore beats to pop songs that everyone loves (think Enya + Tupac).

Boom In Music & Mashups
Boom In Music & Mashups

On one hand, this new platform hurts the old guard of music labels and other intermediaries who the artist previously needed in order to capture economic value…but, it will simultaneously drive a further democratization of music and an explosion of a class of amateur DJs.  This…tenfold? boom in the # of DJs will inevitably speed the evolution of music, prompting the emergence of new genres of music, help DJs to learn precisely how their users respond to the music, and to help content creators be able to iterate & improve at a faster rate than ever before.  So, we’ll probably spawn fewer U2s and Mozarts in this new world…but I believe this new distribution channel & real-time feedback mechanism is going to lead to a boom in the speed of music creation and the quality of music curation, speeding the emergence of upstarts into superstars, and ultimately meaning more quality and less noise in my passive music listening.  This was going to happen regardless…but I’m glad Turntable…and these other innovators…are giving us another big shove in that direction.

Do you agree that Turntable will help drive more innovation in music?  Are there other music pioneers I should know about?

The Great Music Discovery Trifecta

Well, music accessibility has reached a critical threshhold…I’m calling it The Great Music Discovery Trifecta.  Here’s why:

Now, I can (1) identify, (2) peruse, and (3) own any song I ever hear.  Easy.  In control.

(1)  Shazam on the iphone – “prospecting”

(2) YouTube – “filtering”

(3) ITunes into my iPhone – “acquisition”

If you like music and you aren’t using the Shazam + YouTube + ITunes trifecta, then you owe it to yourself to give it a go.

Here’s how I do it…(1) anytime I hear a song I like, I whip out my iPhone and use the Shazam app to identify it.  Then, (2) when I get home, I look it up on YouTube.  In this way, I can listen to the song enough to know whether I really like it or not.  This is the second step in my music discovery funnel.  Finally, after hearing the song a few times, I can (3) choose which ones to buy in ITunes, which I will then have forever – both on my iPhone and at home.

The Trifecta: Shazam + YouTube + ITunes

For me, each of these pieces are nice on their own, but insufficient without the other three.  Without YouTube, for example, I wouldn’t be comfortable buying everything I’d flagged on Shazam.  Moreover, I would be hesitant to flag something on Shazam unless I was sure I’d buy it.  Without Shazam, I couldn’t have identified what I liked in the first place.  Without ITunes, I couldn’t pump it into my iPhone to have it with me wherever I go.

With all three pieces of The Music Discovery Trifecta, I’m in auditory paradise.

Stanford, my MBA experience & my MS

Update (Jan 2015). I finished with a joint MBA-MS. The MS was a blend of energy engineering (building, wind, resources) & computer science (java, c++, ruby, OOP). I continue to be delighted with the relationships my wife and I built there and how useful that experience has been to us since graduation.

Mike & Joan Dorsey
Mike Dorsey & Joan Dorsey at Stanford Graduation

Well, Stanford has been an amazing ride.  I’ve now completed 2 years and have 1 more to go.

Friends: gotten to know some of the most energetic, friendly, and efficient people I’ve ever met.

MBA-MS Joint Degree – I’ve now finished my two years here, but I haven’t yet officially graduated.  I’m now starting a third year, at which point I will have both an MBA and an MS.  I’m splitting the MS between Energy Engineering & Computer Science.

The Book I Read 3X To Get Into to Stanford

"MBA Admissions Strategy" Book I Read When Applying to StanfordSo on Wednesday, I went to a Stanford MBA Admissions session in Bangalore, to be on the student panel.  It was a lot of fun talking to the applicants about the program, about our classmates, the courses, etc.  I was there with Dan, my buddy from South Africa, and Vasily, my buddy from Russia, as we were all interning in India for a month.

The session was fun and the questions were interesting.  But, once we broke into small groups, the obvious and most frequent question was ‘how should I write my essays?’, ‘what are they looking for’, etc?  Answering those questions is almost as impossible as writing the essays is.  The only advice I could tell anyone was to read THIS book.

MBA Admissions Strategy. Getting in to top 10 MBAs

When looking for the right book to read when I was applying, I skimmed the table of contents of every relevant book and thought this was the most useful…I felt that this one did the best job, to me, of explaining (1) what the admissions committee is thinking and (2) what the question archetypes are and how to respond to them.

I read the entire book, cover to cover, 3 different times over the course of my application preparation and essay writing process.  It was literally my reference guide every time I got stuck writing my essays; I marked it up, re-read certain passages many more times, etc.

Everything about the entire application process requires so much personal introspection that it’s REALLY hard to give applicants advice…the usual lame stuff like ‘be true to yourself’ is really unhelpful, so the only advice I can possibly give is, “read this book and do what it says.”

PSA: Macbook speed tips

Public Service Announcement – MacBook speed issues.  I found series of steps that actually fixed my computer speed problems and I thought I’d share what worked.  (Please note, I am not a Mac expert.  I just trusted what these people did and so far, it has worked nicely for me…exercise caution and only do these if you’re comfortable w/ it yourself.)

Got the advice from this forum:  People there were nice enough to help some person out – and I happened to find the nuggets later:

Q:  MacBook is laggy, slow, sluggish, stuttering, etc.  Delays when I use mousepad, click around Firefox.  Frustrating.

A: You might do these things
(1) Try going to Accounts in System Preferences and seeing if your account is set to autorun any programs at login, and if it is, remove the ones that you didn’t know were autorunning and remove the ones that don’t need to.

(2) Then, restart the Mac and run Activity Monitor (it’s in /Applications/Utilities) and see what’s running – if there’s anything undesirable running in the background you might want to consider coming back and asking us how to stop it doing so.

(3) Secondly, verification/repair of a disk permission isn’t difficult – simply go to /Applications/Utilities again but this time run Disk Utility, select your hard drive and click ‘Verify Disk Permissions’. Mac OS X will check your drive and come back with a verdict as to how healthy the drive is, and if it isn’t healthy, should offer to ‘Repair Disk Permissions’. Try that, too.

(4) Run Activity Monitor (in /Apps/Utilities) to see what’s running on your Mac. You can sort processes by % CPU or Real Memory to see if anything is using abnormal amounts of system resources. I’ve had problems with Firefox leaking memory

(5) Run Leopard Cache Cleaner and see if that helps.  Run a deep cache cleaning, and all maintenance tasks.   Free download:

MD: I think what really solved my problem was (5) the Leopard cleaner – I did like 5 different ‘cleaning’ operations using that thing and it even rehabilited my very old iMac, too.

Top Ecommerce Sites, Conversion Performance

Great chart, “Top 10 Online Retailers by Conversion Rate – October 2008” posted on, listing the sites with especially good sales conversion rates.

Matt (@tugglmatt) pointed this out and theorized a bit about why they exceeded the performance of the other gajillion websites out on the information superhighway.  He asked: “Top 10 web retailers by conv. rate. Is it traffic quality? site optimization? user intent? interesting chart…”

This got me wondering, so I checked out a sampling of three that I wasn’t intimately familiar with.  I suspect that conversion rates at a site like ‘’ might partially be so strong because of their obvious brand leadership.  Along the same lines, I figured that a site from a company who was not the obvious industry leader might be more related to its layout and design quality…

I found (same company family as and others) to be especially sharp and awesome.  Roaman’s is awesome too.  I find the actual product listings sub-pages to be more attractive than the index page on all 3 examples.

So here’s a quick hit list of my observations.  Clearly, this isn’t the whole story, but I noticed the following common threads:

First, they all have the obvious, clean layout, seo friendly text link navigation, nice buttons, sharp edges.

  • All have bright colors, either a pretty pastel or otherwise attractive coloring
  • Lot of white space, or clean space
  • All have trust signals clearly displayed…McAfee, plus Verisign or another
  • All have narrow page width, not 1000mpx, would fit horizontally on small-ish monitor
  • Product prices in red font
  • Large selection of relatively low cost products
  • Images’ prices displayed below the image, not to the side
  • Full secondary product pages always 4 columns wide, many rows tall,
  • Prices in red font in two of them
  • Attractive smiling women on index page of two
  • All have nav bar across top, not along side
  • All have a search box clearly displayed at the top
  • Order Status, Track My Order links at top of every one

So what do you all think?  What about these sites makes their per-visitor conversion so much higher?  Notice something in common among them that are unobvious?  Other examples of the finest sites you can think of?

Wow Wow! – Pandora of news / talk radio

Works on IPhone. Big selection of customized audio news, on Iphone. No more chintzy local radio for me.

Its huge – he ability to listen to NPR, WSJ, and Top Rated Podcasts on your PC or IPhone – they have a huge list of categories that you can choose from – and their algorithm notices what you like and don’t like – delivering you better stuff the more you liten.

Amazing stuff – this will be my go-to source for news for the foreseeable future.  Go Stitcher.

Interesting thoughts from TC:

I have mixed feelings about Stitcher’s potential. While the desktop-based version of the website works as advertised, I have a hard time picturing many people sitting at their computers listening to recommended news articles and debates. This works well enough with music, but news content is much more involved – generally you need to pay more attention to what is being said, which probably isn’t how most people will want to spend their free time.

On the other hand, the iPhone version of the site has a chance to be a runaway success. The prospect of having my favorite blogs and podcasts streamed to my iPhone without ever having to sync up with a computer is very appealing. Right now the iPhone version of the site is clunky, mostly because of issues with iPhone’s integrated Quicktime player (though streaming over Edge works surprisingly well). But these problems should be short-lived, as Stitcher’s development team is hard at work on a native iPhone application which could see the service really start to shine this June, when Apple releases its sanctioned app store.

I totally agree.  While the PC version of this might be useful for some, the mobile version has the potential to be a game-changer.  I’m very impressed that they’re even reading top blogs aloud to provide this quality audio content to our phones.  I will definitely be using and paying attention to this company.