The Portable CTO
Startups · Technology · Leadership
This week, Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham published a great summary of this "test-hacking" problem and what it means for startup founders raised in an education system that encourages learning to take tests rather than actually working hard or absorbing information

"Wasting your time is not the worst thing the educational system does to you. The worst thing it does is to train you that the way to win is by hacking bad tests. This is a much subtler problem that I didn't recognize until I saw it happening to other people."

I'm one of those people who can figure out creative ways to "hack" tests, so I always did well in school while learning and studying relatively little. I always felt this was an injustice to my friends who struggled so hard and still barely passed their classes, but didn't think much of it until I began working in startups.

I remember the feeling as I started my first company when I realized that no one knows the right answer. There's no test to "hack," there's just a "successful" or "failing" business. Even these two words have different definitions depending on the company's goals.

As a founder, you have to "unlearn" what traditional academics teaches you. Life in a startup won't be a series of "hackable" tests.

"The world is getting dramatically more technical, which means that a lot of pursuits are being automated out of existence, while other pursuits require an increasing degree of technical savvy. My fiancee, a professional copy editor, is finding aspects of her job to be easier if she knows a bit of HTML and CSS."
We think of California as the home of tech-savvy entrepreneurs and startups, but there's another California where kids can't do homework because they don't even have an internet connection.
"Great leaders know that while facts help people understand and comprehend reality, it’s in narratives that make enthusiasm, excitement and passion happen. Ultimately, we are the stories that we tell."
"I failed [at hiring] because I couldn’t find a single interview style or process that works to accurately evaluate every candidate (let alone even a small subset of candidates)...I gave up and started asking the interviewee to do the lion’s share of work in coming up with how I should evaluate them."
"When I want to refactor code, I don’t start with unit tests. I start with characterization tests, which are meant to characterize the current software’s behavior. I usually write them by calling an HTTP endpoint or batch script, then inspecting the output."
"Employees were not allowed to email each other, and direct messages were supposed to be used rarely (never about work, and only for small requests, like asking if someone wanted to eat lunch)."
"Financial machine learning creates a number of challenges for the 6.14 million people employed in the finance and insurance industry, many of whom will lose their jobs -- not necessarily because they are replaced by machines, but because they are not trained to work alongside algorithms."
Great for running snippets of code, background tasks, and integrating data from APIs. You have to be able to write some code to use it, but it is free for most workflows.
I think Linkedin connections and messages are played out, but if this channel works for you, We Connect will help you automate the process.
One of my mentors turned me onto this, and I'm pretty sure I'll be using it once my team here at The Graide Network gets a little bigger. Having a structure to your 1-on-1s is really important and helps employees get more out of the experience.
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Karl Hughes
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