When you hear the word “input,” run - avoiding unpaid work at work

Thriving in a BigCo: Avoiding homework, and assigning homework

I’m working on a video series with O’Reilly based on my working and thriving in a BigCo talks. Here’s a little storyboarding I did on one topic to avoid having too much work that’s not part of your job, a concept I call “homework.”

The young developer assigns themselves homework. Image from geralt, 2015.

Asking Questions Leads to Homework for You

When you point out a problem, you make yourself responsible for the solution, whether it’s your job or not.

This is a trap that technical people fall very easily into: asking why the company operates why it does as a way of pointing out problems and opportunities. Why don’t we integrate with this new service? Why are we still using FAX machines? Why don’t we use hashtags?

You now have extra homework. You need to study the problem, work on a solution, talk the various people involved and get their “input” (really, permission to mess with their stuff), report this all out in the big meeting, and then start the cycle all over again considering the “input” got in the meeting.

If you want to, and have time for all of this, have fun. But if not, be aware that when you point out problems and way to improve, you might just be assigning yourself more homework.

Bonus tip: when you hear the word “input,” run.

Yes, and… Assign Homework to Filter Vampires

Now, hold on: you can hack assigning homework for your benefit! Often, people will ask you to help them, to join a project, even review something. They want your “input.”

If this is your job - hey, presto! - you should do it.

If it’s unrelated to your official job, it is is extra work. The first thing you should do is ask them to send you some more information and thinking. That is, assign them homework. This can be as simple as asking for a date, requirements, budget ranges, etc.. It could be as complex as writing a memo on what the project is (“my boss needs a write-up to look over,” you might say).

This is like charging a small fee for a trivial service: it cuts out the freeloaders. If sending an email cost a penny, there would be almost no spam.

You can filter out the unimportant work because people won’t do this homework unless it’s actually important. Even if unknowingly, the person asking was hoping you’d just take it and run with, like, all of it, and then just hand it back to them.

Recent ChatDM

I haven’t updated y’all on my attempts to use ChatGPT for Dungeons & Dragons, especially for solo play.

In the most recent round of updates, you can now upload files, like, big ones. I was hopeful that it’d make ChatGPT a better DM: you upload the PDF for an adventure and just it to run it. It doesn’t really work out too well.

I don’t know how to describe it, but ChatGPT is just not…creative? Imaginative? Unexpected? It can’t improvise, even within a well constrained system. I mean, I guess that’s what all the freaked out creatives are saying and hoping for. The other issue with ChatDM is that it just has no idea how to do combat.

It’s still very good at brainstorming. I asked it to come up with a system for determining if monsters would retreat enough, and the first pass was pretty good. Would a gnoll retreat if half of its companions had been killed and it was injured, or are gnolls too dumb for that (actually, it looks like they might be pretty “smart” when it comes to just taking out the weak and pulling back for a snack)? An orc might retreat if it saw a tactical advantage in doing so, or it might fight to the death, and so on. The DM can subjectively determine all of that, but as with a lot of D&D having a system is helpful. Anyhow, ChatGPT came up with a good mix of checking moral (based on Wisdom), damage, and being outnumbered or not.

I’m also trying something new, a mix of journaling and Dracula-like technique. You have one character write journal entries (or, I guess letters, whatever) as milestones in the plot and adventure, then you instruct ChatGPT to fill in the time between the journal entries with role playing. I’ve only done this a little bit and so far it’s…OK?

I haven’t looked at making my own GPT. We’ll see if that’s anything.

Relative to your interests

  • AI is coming for your favorite product’s good user experience - Don’t let Wall Street product management from afar: “Unless the company is existentially bound making these features work, it’s easy to imagine the various chatbots and assistants slowly spiraling into decay. A flashy launch goes out the door; the CEO touts their bold vision; the stock shoots up. The initial version—rushed to market to satisfy an impatient Wall Street—is kind of a dud; it works fine on the simple requests, but falls down on the hard stuff that would be really valuable. But nobody is that upset, because nobody really wanted the feature that much in the first place. There was no burning need that it solved, or pressing jobs for it to do. It was mostly marketing, after all. So it stagnates in its half-built form, left in the product as demo candy, and to prove that the company is thinking about the future, until a new thing becomes the future, and we all move on.” Also: “What makes Excel (and Google Sheets) unique from BI is that it’s not just a tool for working with data; it is the data.”

  • How to Title Art - Guidelines for Artists - Looks good for coming up with titles (and summaries) for anything. Using this advice to come up a summarizing prompt for ChatGPT would be interesting.

  • AI in Backstage - Check out Jennifer’s write-up of Ben’s talk from BackStageCon: put some AI in your BackStage (that’s my title, free of charge for use in future versions of the talk). It has some good prompt-writing advice too: “Next, think about chain of thought prompting,” Wilcock continued. “This is when you encourage the AI to take a breath, think step by step, work through the problem slowly,” as a way to prevent the AI from jumping to conclusions, by showing its work.

  • OKRs in Software Engineering - First, figuring out what to actually do from an OKR seems to be a problem; second, it’s hard to tell if people understand what the OKR says, thus, I presume, what to do: “a mismatch in how aware managers think their teams are about their goals: 60% of individual contributors say that goals are communicated to them monthly, but 65% of managers say that they communicate goals weekly or multiple times a week”; third, as ever with metrics, gathering the data is difficult; forth, not enough training to get everyone to understand OKRs and to, then, all use them in a uniform way. The other issue, not present in the company the researches study is, fifth: sticking to OKRs past their creation. I’ve experienced all of these with OKRs, and almost all types of corporate-goal metrics over my career. And, here’s a nice example of how teams and leadership can easily get misaligned with team charters.

  • Self-Gaslighting and the Doubt Loop - This feels like a template for most all, everyday-therapy.

  • How to talk to little kids about their day, and why they draw a blank every time you ask. - Sure, anything will work better than “how was your day?”

  • Gartner Forecasts IT Spending in Europe to Record 9% Growth in 2024 - “IT spending in Europe is projected to total $1.1 trillion in 2024, an increase of 9.3% from 2023, according to the latest forecast by Gartner, Inc. IT spending in Europe is on pace to surpass $1 trillion by the end of 2023.” But: “CIOs in Europe who pursued the ‘growth at all costs’ strategy for over a decade, are now shifting the emphasis of ongoing IT projects toward cost control, efficiencies and automation, while curtailing IT initiatives with longer ROIs.”

  • Half of cloud transformations are ‘abject failures’ | CIO Dive - “You have to go through some sort of transformation with your infrastructure, your data and your processes to do more than just layer on some new tech.” // My read from the summary: just lifting and shifting doesn’t get enough new advantages (cost savings) to make your ROI targets. When you use a new technology, you need to think about what it’s good at and change how you operate and work to take advantage of that. The cloud vendors don’t want to be cheap, they want to make money like anyone else. So you need to make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for.

  • Millions of Luxury Products Now Come With Unique Digital Passports. Here’s What That Means. - Blockchain to track (luxery?) good provenance.


  • The Chronic: The perfect soundtrack for filing expenses. It’s like this and like that…yeeeeeaaaaah, compliant as heeeeell. Now, back to gettin' my stroll on.

  • “charmed many users with oddball fundraising techniques like meaningless, stackable verification checkmarks” On tumblr business models.

  • “they are locked in an embrace of mutually exclusive optimismsHere.

  • “When two or more people with authority and influence (formal or otherwise) have competing narratives for what’s broken, why, and what to do about it, you can end up with a narrative stalemate.” Here.

  • There’s a certain tactic for presentations I call “I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, so I’m going to tell you what my reaction to it is as I find out.” This is great for demos, new technologies, and, really, most all thought-leadering. It requires a type of story-telling that educates from this feint, and that continually winks at the audience as if to say “and, come on, I mean, does anyone really know what the fuck is going on here?”

  • Related: baking a pie is simple. It’s making the pie dough that’s hard.

  • “sporting a sort of coastal grandfather aesthetic; the tiny tighty-whities have been replaced by cable-knit sweaters, and he’s got a stubbly salt-and-pepper beard” Here.

  • “Fireplace” is a ridiculously simple work. What is it? It’s the place that you have a fire. I’m fascinated by words like this: they are stupidly simple and so common that I don’t really think about them as descriptive words. You notice this if you encounter a lot of different languages, as I do, especially German and Dutch. I wonder if most words are like that: neighborhood, gas station. I guess these are words that you can break in two that are just descriptions of the thing, place, or concept: phrases that have become words, really. In contrast, older words have lost their literal meaning (or I just don’t know them!): kitchen, park, knife, love, tree, winter, porch, candy, fart, bed, shelf, lamp, dog, happy.

  • Frequent Flyer pro-tip: if the gate sign says the plane is now boarding, but there is no plane at the gate, the plane is not now boarding.

  • ‘The term microadventure was made common by British adventurer and author Alastair Humphreys and is defined as an overnight outdoor adventure that is “small and achievable, for normal people with real lives”. The New York Times described microadventures as “short, perspective-shifting bursts of travel closer to home, inspiring followers to pitch a tent in nearby woods, explore their city by moonlight, or hold a family slumber party in the backyard.”’ Wikipedia.


I have my last, scheduled work trip of the year this week. It’ll be fun because it’s a new talk, just down in Belgium - an easy trip. I’ll see how it goes and then maybe write it up here.

Suggested outro.,, @cote,,