My name is Ismael Chang Ghalimi. I build the STOIC platform. I am a stoic, and this blog is my agora.

Our days on Tumblr are numbered. Here is a mockup for our brand-new blog powered by the brand-new blogging application currently being developed on top of the brand-new STOIC Pages web publishing framework. Jim still needs to fix one last bug before we can push it live. In the meantime, I’m crafting a lovely minimalist theme using Foundation, and I can already tell you that I love this framework a lot more than Bootstrap.

Why we’re writing this blog

Some of our Kickstarter backers have recently complained that this blog has become overly technical and left our business users out. We recognized this fact on today’s update. No matter how you look at it, this blog is consumable only by the most technical among us. It’s a fact, and there is no escape from it. In fact, it’s become so technical that it’s almost funny. Hell, we’re even inventing our own words… Did anyone see my isogenic fields?

Jokes aside, there are good reasons why we’re maintaining such a blog. First, it’s helping us (me) keep track of where we’re going, in much the same way the logbook kept by a sailor or a pilot is helping her keep track of the miles that have been sailed or flown (being both a sailor and a pilot, I can really relate to that). Not the most exciting prose, but quite useful nonetheless. Second, it’s part of the experiment we’re conducting at STOIC. Let me tell you more about the latter.

While we’re passionate about what we’re building, we’re equally passionate about how we’re building it. In trying to make everyone an app maker, in trying to turn everyone into a data scientist, in trying to bridge the gap between technology and business, we need to bring two communities together. And in so doing, we have to show how things are made, how problems get solved, how code gets written. Not everyone can understand everything, but everyone can develop a feel for the way pieces are fitting together, for the way our development process follows its course, and for the way decisions get made along the way.

On a daily basis, our posts on this blog are completely non-sensical. Taken individually, they have no context and no relevance. They’re nothing more than instantaneous brain dumps, full of cryptic references and devoid of any specific purpose.

It’s when taken together that they will start to make sense, but only after we release our product. Once people start using some features and ask themselves how they work and where they came from, they’ll be able to come back to the blog and trace their evolution. Not everyone will do that. In fact, very few will. But a few will, and what they’ll find in this blog and its 1,422 posts is an incredible wealth of data points. Never before has the creation of a software like STOIC been documented in such a detailed fashion. This log will make it possible to write the story of STOIC in ways that would not be possible otherwise. And because we’re keeping this log public, anyone can build this story with us.

Now, back to adding support for isotypes…

Corporate blog

Our new website has its own blog now, with its own feed. While sutoiku.com has been repurposed as my own direct channel, any STOIC employee can contribute to this blog, but it might take a while for them to do so (they’re more busy than I am). We will use it to push news about the company, and to express opinions in a fairly informal manner (usual disclaimer here). All posts will eventually be pushed to the @wearestoic Twitter account.

Top posts

If you want to learn more about Stoic but don’t have enough time to read through our 514 posts, you might want to start with our top posts (32 at last count). They pretty much capture the essence of who we are, and what we’re trying to do.

Vacation

Last week, I took my first real vacation in a long, long time. As a result, all work-related activities (including blogging) were put on the back burner. I can’t say how much I enjoyed this short break. But I’m back to work now, so you can expect our steady flow of posts to resume immediately.

Management by blogging around

Hewlett-Packard pioneered the idea of management by wandering around. At Sutoiku (another company based in Palo Alto), we’re discovering the virtues of management by blogging around. We have no idea whether any other company did that before we did, but for us, it seems to be working.

We just tagged all 300 posts of this blog, which were written in the span of 85 days. That’s an average of 3.5 posts a day if you include week-end days, and 5 posts a days if you just include working days. In other words, we’re dumping some thoughts every couple of hours, for the whole world to see.

Most people could not care less about what we’re writing here, and we can’t blame them for that, for the prose is rather convoluted, and the topics usually arcane. But a few people do care, and those are the people we really care about. They fall into two buckets:

  • Ourselves
  • Our community

For ourselves, this blog serves as a log of our work (Cf. Blog as a log). For the community, it’s a way to engage at an early stage while we’re still operating under stealth mode, to gather early feedback, and to foster a spirit of participation. But we’re starting to realize that it goes far beyond that.

In a company, and especially one building software products for which creativity is essential, communication is everything. But communication is difficult, and meetings only take you so far (Cf. Meetings). One of the problems with meetings is that they’re synchronous, meaning that all attendees have to be present at the same time, and ideally at the same place (no amount of technology will ever replace face-to-face interactions). Unfortunately, for creative people, the best thinking usually occurs asynchronously, outside of meetings. For them, a blog of the kind we’re experimenting with can be very helpful.

Here is an example of how it works: for the past couple of days, we’ve had quite a few discussions internally about whether we should adopt the kind of flat organization that has made a company like Valve so successful. At some point, I summarized our thoughts in a blog post, which allowed me to clarify a few items and identify some issues. All collaborators in the company read the blog post, at their own pace, and gave it some thoughts. Then, a few came back to me with some ideas and suggestions. In parallel, members of our growing community did the same, and now I’m in a much better position to make a decision as to whether such an unusual organization would work for us or not, and what the consequences would be. And all it took was a couple of blog posts and a few informal discussions over lunch, coffee, or email, during the course of three or four days.

As our company and community are growing, the level of participation through the blog is increasing, and the blog is covering more and more aspects of our business (Cf. Tags). This, in turn, creates a fantastic archive for the business, allowing us to track our progress (Cf. Weekly Goals) and to facilitate the on-boarding of future employees. In fact, we make it a requirement for any applicant to read every single post of our blog before their first interview with us.

By using a public blog instead of an intranet or a private blogging platform (think Jive or Yammer), we blur the line between inside and outside, between company and community. And while there are some risks from a confidentiality standpoint, the benefits we reap out of such an open communication model clearly surpass them.

We’re also finding that communicating that way makes it a lot easier to collaborate with remote workers and to extend the Sutoiku experience beyond the walls of our office. For example, instead of hanging a picture on a wall, we push artistic posts on the blog, allowing everybody to enjoy them.

Clearly, we’re still in the early days of our experiment, and I’m sure that we’ll find that a few things are not working. We’re also bound to make some mistakes, especially when it comes to trade secrets or confidentiality agreements that we sign with customers and partners. But we will learn from them and invent a better way of managing a company along the way.

Thanks for participating. None of this would be possible without you!

UPDATE: Someone coined the term back in 2005.

Tags

This morning, we spent a couple hours adding tags to all 299 posts of this blog. It will make it easier for newcomers to parse through our quickly growing collections of ideas and records. Here are the main tags we’re using:

Company

  • board to get some oversight
  • community to engage with you more effectively
  • culture to help us define our company’s DNA
  • customers to learn more about who we work with
  • infrastructure to learn more about the tools we’re using
  • kickstarter to let you do product management for us
  • management to learn more about how we do things internally
  • offices to see where we spend most of our time
  • philosophy to discover what we really stand for
  • strategy to learn more about how we’re playing our game
  • team to learn more about who we are
  • vision to get a sense of why we get out of bed every morning 
  • weekly goals to keep track of our progress

Product

  • architecture to learn more about our product’s DNA
  • code loader to learn more about how we load code dynamically
  • code server to learn more about how we serve code to users
  • datatypes to learn more about how we represent data
  • documentation to learn more about how we document everything
  • query builder to learn more about how we do reporting and analytics
  • server to learn more about the back-end side of things
  • user interface to learn more about our secret sauce

Craft

  • coding to share tips and ideas on how we do our craft
  • refine to learn more about our unique development methodology
  • testing to learn more about how we test our product

Others

  • art to get some inspiration
  • blog to get the most out of this medium
  • links for things that would not fit anywhere else
  • quotes on simplicity (and a few other topics)
  • thoughts for whatever goes through our minds
  • travels to keep track of where we are and where we’re going to be

Modus operandi

As explained on this comment, this blog is a direct extension of our company. It’s where we engage with our community, in rather unique ways. One of the things we use the blog for is to answer questions that might be asked to us directly and are not visible yet to others. If such direct questions (and their answers) could benefit our community, we will usually answer them directly on the blog, like we did for this question on databases we like. When the question is particularly insightful, we will also give credit back to the person who asked it in the first place.

Corollary: if you want us to keep your question private, please say so.

dlvr.it

Many readers have asked that articles posted on this blog be added to my LinkedIn and Twitter feeds with titles instead of just a link. As amazing as it might seem, Tumblr cannot do that out of the box. As a result, I had to resort to dlvr.it, on the advice of our CTO. It should work now, even though I’m a bit afraid of the potential for some infinite loop if I messed up my Twitter configuration in LinkedIn.

If we all fall into some kind of black hole within the next hour, blame me!