Category Archives: personal

Leadership: striking a balance between runway and horizon

Inspired by the LEAD leadership training last year with Mozilla, I’m writing this blog post to share a snapshot of where I am in my leadership journey today. I believe that true learning doesn’t begin until you share, since that’s how you get to validate your observations and see if your reflections hold any value.

One thing I got familiar with last year is the concept of the runway and the horizon — and more importantly, I learned that you can’t have both as your team grows bigger. First, let me explain the concept.

Things like looking after your team, ensuring that everyone is on a growth path and that they’re happy, stimulated, motivated, and that you’re delivering on all of your team’s objectives and projects — that’s the runway. In contrast, meetings with stakeholders, forming healthy alliances with key players in and outside of the org, getting yourself some solid mentors and using all you learn from them to influence your team’s strategy and success — that’s the horizon. Everyone in every part of an organization typically does a bit of both, and generally speaking, the bigger your individual responsibility, the more you need to focus on the horizon.

Here’s the catch: the more you look up at the horizon, the less you get to look down at the runway. You can’t do both well unless you have a really small team. If your team is large, you have to choose what you want to focus on, and you need help with the parts that you choose to step away from.

Finding the right leadership balance is rarely as simple as the classic rule of third!

I used to be a manager of a handful of extremely creative and hard-working individuals. With a team of that size, things were fairly straightforward and it was relatively easy to keep an eye on both the runway and the horizon. It also helped that Mozilla only had one product at the time. Some people say that there’s a breaking point in terms of the size a team can have before you begin to fail to manage it reasonably well on your own. This breaking point is often said to be around 7-8 direct reports; after that point, you begin to compromise on your important responsibilities as a manager and you have to essentially choose between the runway or the horizon — or do a half-assed job with both like I did when I had ten direct reports in 2012. Luckily, all ten were as creative and hard-working as the first handful of people I hired, but it was still too much to manage for one person while at the same time trying to work on strategy.

By the time I had ten direct reports, I found myself unable to do my job well, and this impacted my team, created some conflicts, and probably also led to my team missing opportunities in the org. This was a big cause of stress for me, because I felt like I wasn’t in control of my life. There were things I knew I should be doing that I simply didn’t have time for anymore. I began to realize that I couldn’t handle both the runway and the horizon anymore, so I had to get help to continue to grow the influence and success of my team. The solution was to form another management level in my team to get help with some of the load.

The art of letting go of the runway

This change of structure of my team also changed my own role, because it allowed me to gradually focus more on the horizon and less on the runway. This gradual change is still going on today: as my new managers grow into their new roles, so am I growing into my new role; and vice versa. At first it felt strange — actually a bit empty and saddening — to not have frequent 1:1s with everyone on my team. All of a sudden, I only managed three people directly instead of ten (today that number is up at four again).

It was hard for me to let go of the idea that I need to stay on top of everything that is going on in my team, but I realized that if I tried to do that, I would fail even more to stay on top of what was going on outside of my team. Also, letting go is the only way the people on my teams will be able to continue to grow their own autonomy and influence by being allowed to step up, make mistakes and learn from them.

If I focus less on the runway and more on the horizon, new opportunities arise that would otherwise not happen to the team. And this new focus of mine has the great side-effect that it spills over to the entire team: I’m noticing that everyone in all of my teams is wearing bigger and bigger strategic hats. In short, every single person is increasing their impact in the organization today — the crucial strategic thinking seems to spread like ripples in a pond.

But there is still a balance between the runway and the horizon that I have to strike. I’m still exploring and learning what the right balance is for me. On the one hand, if I focus too much on the horizon, I run the risk of being useless to my team because I’m simply not in the loop on the things that are happening in the teams I’m responsible for. And on the other hand, if I get myself too involved in the projects and people on the teams, I run the risk of missing critical strategic opportunities for my team — and being perceived as a micro-manager! I believe that the right balance for me is to try to do two things well. I’ll share them here because they may be helpful to others, too:

  1. Runway: Grow the leadership of your direct reports by helping them increase their autonomy, accountability, and ability to communicate and coordinate their work with others. Support them when they make mistakes, cheer for them when they succeed. Don’t micro-manage, but try hard to understand most of what they do so you can be supportive and offer support when needed. Be there for them, but stay out of their way. And help them be the same kind of influence to their direct reports so the ripples continue to spread.
  2. Horizon: Devote all of your remaining time on the things that influence your teams indirectly: strategic alliances with other teams, coordinating efforts with stakeholders in the organization, ensuring your teams are where they need to be, looking for opportunities for your teams to increase their impact, staying on top of news and activities related to your area of responsibility. Do everything you can to ensure that your teams make a big difference in the organization.

If you do both of these things well, your teams and the entire organization will benefit. Sounds easy? I’m afraid it’s anything but. This should really be seen as the instruction manual for myself, not me trying to preach to anyone else how to be a great leader. I keep making mistakes almost every day, but I try hard to learn from them — that’s my key, I think, to become a better leader in the future.

Olympus technical service, color me impressed!

Quick follow-up on last week’s blog post about my bricked E-PM1: despite telling me on the phone that I should be expecting a four week service time, Olympus was able to service my camera within just two business days and have it sent back within a week! I’m impressed.

Surprisingly, they apparently had to repair the “main circuit board” to fix the issue. It really surprises me that a firmware update could have that kind of an impact on the hardware, but maybe this is an indication that there was something wrong with the camera from the very beginning.

Anyway, thanks Olympus for really quick service and for ensuring that I have a working camera over the summer!

Olympus, learn how to use proactive support to cut down costs

Wow, I didn’t even think this was possible in the modern IT world where software is constantly getting more intuitive and user-focused, but apparently it’s still possible to completely brick a modern digital system camera by accident. All it takes is poorly written software in combination with poorly written documentation (and just a second of not paying attention).

As I was packing my suitcase for the upcoming trip to the US the other night, I decided to give the new Olympus firmware a try. Having done the same process in the past with my old E-P1, I already knew that the process is a bit clunky and unintuitive with Olympus software, but I at least had a previous success in my memory, so it felt like an achievable task the night before traveling. (Three hours later, I definitely regretted that choice.)

The flaws in their documentation are obvious:

  • The instructions in the firmware update tool just tell you to plug in the camera to the USB port, but in reality, the camera then prompts you to choose one of three modes. It turns out after some trial and error that the correct mode is the one in the middle of the menu (not the default choice). Pointing this out in the documentation wouldn’t necessarily cut down on their number of support incidents, but it would make for a much smoother product experience and it would reduce the user frustration, which would lead to a closer attention to what’s going on in the process. Crucially, however, this is an indication of a deeper issue at Olympus, which is that there is a disconnect between the developers and the people doing support documentation.
  • After transferring the new firmware to the camera through USB, the update tool tells you that it finished updating the firmware and that you can either click Close to finish, or click the other button (I forget its label) to update the firmware on a different product, e.g a lens or another camera. However, the camera itself simultaneously shows a different set of instructions, or rather cryptic status indications. In reality, the update process is not finished, it’s just the USB transfer of the new firmware that is. Ensuring that the instructions on both screens are consistent would help reduce the likeliness of a user making the wrong choice in the process.

The latter point is where things broke down on my end, because I think I ended up turning the camera off by pressing the power button after having read the instructions on the computer screen to do so, but the camera screen was still showing some blinking icons that I paid little attention to at the time.

Boom. One second of not paying attention — two months without a working camera.

Documentation issues aside, having lead customer support for a major software product for the last five years, I’ve learned the importance of looking beyond documentation and rather focus part of the support efforts on fixing problems in the product itself and tightening up the loop between support and product development. Without this proactive type of support, you’re in trouble. Having gone through this painful experience with my almost brand new camera, I highly suspect that there is a disconnect between the support and development teams at Olympus.

Generally, you should remove as many possible points of user failure in the software itself as part of software design. In the case of the E-PM1, I have to wonder why it’s even possible to press the power button while the thing is updating — it’s an electronic button that they could easily disable during that critical moment, rather than exposing this ridiculously simple way of bricking your camera. I don’t know how many other people have had this problem, but having searched for it online, I know I’m not the only person. Another smart thing would be to ensure that there’s always a recovery bootstrap mode that enables the camera to communicate via the USB interface even after a failed firmware update attempt. That way, it would always be possible to retry and recover.

The brutal fact here is that I now have to send the camera to Olympus. The apathetic support rep that I was talking to on the phone today told me that their average processing time is at least a month due to their high support demand (no kidding!). Since I’ll only be in the Bay Area for a couple of weeks, this means I’m going to be without the camera for at least two months before I’m able to get back here again.

I tried to tell the support rep that I feel really strongly about improving processes like this that touch on customer support, because I have a full team of awesome people at Mozilla that do this for a living, and so I wanted to find the best venue to provide this type of feedback at a level where it would be listened to. He just politely said that he will pass on my feedback to “the customer feedback department” and that was the end of the discussion. Of course, what he really meant was “I’ll put some notes that I wrote into a system that will disappear among other notes that no one here really reads, and your problem won’t be solved proactively because I hardly talk to those that could do anything about this, and honestly I don’t really care either. Have a nice day.”

He didn’t really mean the last part — this is America after all. ;)

Status update

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I blogged last time. The thing is that the longer you wait, the harder it gets to start writing again because you have a growing pile of things you should have blogged about in the past that makes you raise the bar on the significance threshold. Essentially, picking up a blog after almost a year of silence requires that the update has to be spectacular.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another way could be to just say: Hey, I’m back! I’ll try to be a little more frequent in the future, but for now let’s summarize the most important bits that have happened up until now:

  • I got married on September 3rd. It was fantastic! :)
  • Sophie and I went on a honeymoon trip to Cyprus on September 5th and it was also fantastic.
  • The plan was to get back home again this Monday so I could take an early flight to SFO on Tuesday morning to join the Mozilla all hands on Wednesday. However, the plan didn’t go so well, because the trip from Cyprus back to Sweden was delayed, and I missed the flight to SFO. So in case anyone at Mozilla wonders where the heck I am, I’m doing the best I can to work remotely while everyone else is on site.
  • Oh, and during the honeymoon trip, my LDAP password expired and I haven’t been able to read mail or access my calendar since then. Resetting the password proves to be hard when all of Mozilla’s IT staff is asleep in the US. ;)

Two months with eagle eye vision

American Bald Eagle Close-up Portrait by Beverly & Pack / CC BY 2.0

It’s been two months now since I had my EPI-LASIK surgery and I have to say I’m extremely happy with the result. I’m beginning to see things clearly now and have a different perspective on things!

EPI-LASIK isn’t like the traditional LASIK where they cut a slit in your cornea and operate with laser behind the lid. Instead, EPI-LASIK operates straight on the surface of the eye. This means that it’s much safer (no need to cut in the eye!), and as a result, you don’t risk cutting the nerves that control eye fluids, something which tends to make LASIK patients suffer from dry eyes. More info about EPI-LASIK can be found here (warning: marketing material).

To anyone who is considering going through this procedure, here’s a bit of info on how it works and what to expect:

  • The actual surgery was completely painless and not at all as scary as I thought. The machine handled everything itself, and the only thing the doctor actually did was dropping cooling and disinfecting drops into the eyes before and after the laser did its job.
  • After the laser was done, they put a protective contact lens on the eye. Immediately after the surgery, I could see much better than I could without glasses before.
  • About 20 minutes after the surgery, the eyes started to itch and I became sensitive to light.
  • The following 48 hours were pretty tough with tears running down my cheeks, extreme light sensitivity and itching/painful eyes. I spent most of the time just lying in bed listening to music with my eyes shut. (Christina Aguilera’s Hurt was played more often that I would like to admit; maybe my state of mind made me more receptive to emotional lyrics?)
  • After these 48 hours, I woke up with essentially no pain at all. It felt a bit like wearing contact lenses for too many hours, which of course was exactly the case too, since I had to wear the protective contact lens for about five days.
  • I was still sensitive to light during the third day, but on day four it was all gone.
  • After five days (the day before Christmas Eve), I visited the optician again and could finally remove the protective contact lens. From there on, it was as if the surgery never happened!

This is easily the best investment I’ve ever done to myself (aside from making Sofie my girlfriend). So far, the vision hasn’t really stabilized, and some days my left eye is better than the right, and then the next day it has changed. I still don’t see perfectly, but it’s good enough that I almost never think about it. If Ken pushed me to give a number, I’d say my vision is at 97% right now.

According to the doctor, the healing process can take up to a whole year, so it’s too early to tell what the end result will be — we will see! But even if it doesn’t get any better than this, it’s still better than I had with contact lenses, and without the dry eyes and hassle of taking them in and out of your eyes every day.

See you later!

Vive la bagnole ! — My French love affair

I’ve been a happy owner of a French car in over eight years with my now aging Peugeot 406 from 1996. When I bought it in 2001, it felt like a brand new car, and a major step up from my previous (and first) car: a Volvo 142 from 1970. One of the coolest things of the 406 was its 4-digit code you had to enter on the left side of the steering wheel before you could start the engine. Not only did it make me feel super important when I stepped into the car, it was also a pretty advanced anti-theft feature. Perhaps most important of all, it was a very rewarding feeling to see your passangers’ reactions every time they first discovered this killer James Bond feature.

The Peugeot 406 has been serving me well during all these years, but recently, it’s been struggling to keep up with the little things, like showing the outside temperature on its internal display, or letting me in through its drivers door, or not dropping its exhaust pipe on the ground.

One day when the 406 was taking me to Patrick for lunch out at Tuna Park (Sweden’s most popular shopping mall!), Patrick commented on its poor shape and said it looked “tired.” I think this might have been the last nail in the coffin for the 406’s already weak self-esteem, because just a few days later it broke down completely on the parking lot at Tuna Park and wouldn’t let me start it — the James Bond feature was broken!

I had to tow it to my sister’s car dealer and I realized that even if they can probably fix or work around this problem, it might be time to start looking for a replacement. I was also told that I should be happy if I could sell it for anything more than 1,000 Euros…

After some thinking and investigation, I’m now a proud owner of yet another French car:

Citroën C4 HDI 1.6 EGS (2007, diesel). My third car.

I love it! It’s very fuel efficient, it has a very neat 6-speed semi-automatic gearbox (Citroën calls it EGS), and maybe most important, it actually lets me drive it! It’s classified as an environmental friendly car in Sweden — the CO2 emission is 120g/km — but right now I’m still enthusiastically trying to find reasons to drive it, so if you count the distances I’m driving it without a meaningful destination, the CO2 emission is a lot higher.

Seven things about me

I am late to the game and I bet some people hoped this would all be over by now, but lo! men have become the tools of their tools.

I was proudly nominated by giants of the Internet age: Patrick Finch, Asa Dotzler, Mike Beltzner, Abdulkadir Topal, and almost, almost by Chris Hofmann. For that I am grateful. Now, on to the seven things:

1. My IRC nickname djst stands for my full name David Johan Sebastian Tenser. I started to use the acronym when I was 12 years old and a friend and I played with Deluxe Paint on the Amiga 500. I was a fan of Michael Jackson and was inspired by his company name MJJ Productions, so I created a logo for my fictional company DJST Productions. Here’s a wire-frame version of it (unfortunately the only one I have left after a tragic hard drive crash):

When I finally created an actual company in 2007, picking the name was easy. However, I have to say it doesn’t sound as nice when Swedish sales people call me up and ask if they’ve reached the company De Gee Ess Te Pro-duck-chens

2. I haven’t been at a hairdresser in over eight years. I cut my own hair, usually very frequently to maintain a constant length. Sometimes my mom cuts it when the back hair gets too uneven. I estimate that this has saved me about 1,280 Euros, or the equivalent of over six hundred juicy Double Double Animal Style burgers.

Every so often, the frequency drops noticeably.

3. I used to write my own music between 1995 and 1997 on a Roland W-30 workstation. Because I was writing techno/trance inspired music and there were no lyrics, naming the songs was not easy since I couldn’t really relate to anything but the feeling the songs gave me. One song, which marked an important milestone because it made use of my newly bought Alesis Quadraverb multi-effects unit to add reverb to some of the tracks, is called Incoming Enemy, to Patrick Finch’s great amusement! In late 1997, my mom brought a computer to our house which pushed my music making interest aside for another creative interest: software programming.

4. Between 1999 and 2002, my programming skills developed and I was successfully selling a shareware text editor called Texturizer. Originally, as with many other software projects, Texturizer was only created to scratch a personal itch, but I was encouraged by an online friend to start selling it online. The program got great reviews by ZD-Net, vnunet.com, and other websites, and it was featured in the UK magazine Windows Answers under “The best freeware and shareware tools ever!”

Here’s a part of a review in a magazine that made me very proud at the time: Run Texturizer, and we’re confident you’ll never use Notepad again. […] Texturizer is so ruthless it even features a walkthrough showing you how do do away with Notepad. Sounds like Microsoft has been beaten at its own game.” – PC Answers, August 1999

5. In 2007, I recorded a short video clip with Swedish TV host and celebrity Katarina Hultling. I met her randomly on a cruise over the Baltic sea and didn’t realize it was her until I asked her if she knew Katarina Hultling (probably subconsciously recognizing her) and getting her answer that I was looking right at her. I got very enthusiastic and insisted that we would shoot a parody of her actual commenting of the 2006 Olympic curling final when Sweden won the gold medal, and I would be the enthusiastic side-kick. To my pleasant surprise, she liked the idea!

I’ve proudly shared the epic video clip with most of my Swedish friends, but I won’t publish it along with my other videos on Facebook out of respect to a fellow celebrity. ;)

6. There is not a single physical sport I’m known to be good at. I was one of those kids who didn’t want to play football because I sucked at it, and as a result, I kept sucking at it. Today, I occasionally enjoy playing badminton and table tennis, but I am sure I will never be even remotely good at it.

7. I am, however, a somewhat decent singer. I’m known for cursing loudly about the (admittedly very addictive) game Sing Star because you don’t score well if you try to sing like the original singer in the song — instead, you get higher scores by singing like a bloody .mid file! You probably won’t hear me sing unless I’m drunk, by the way.

There you have it — my seven things! Now, the ancient rules of engagement:

  1. Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged.

In alphabetical order, I hereby nominate:

  • Seth Bindernagel — Wake up, A.M! Liberate your seven things!
  • Stephen Donner — QA superstar, excellent writer, and great friend.
  • Justin Fitzhugh — The man that speaks so fast I can only hear half of what he says. I can’t wait to read some stories from him instead!
  • Chris Ilias — Half-Greek wedding crasher and SUMO team member.
  • Paul Kim — Shock us! I expect nothing less.
  • David Naylor — Journalist, photographer, and proud member of the Mozilla Eskilstuna community.
  • Doug Turner — As one of the first people that welcomed me when I joined Mozilla in September 2007, he immediately surprised me by being such a nice person.