A recruiter I met recently said they had eliminated incentive-based bonuses for executives. Performance, much to his surprise, improved.

Pay-for-performance. Makes sense. I don’t want to pay for no performance. That makes no sense. Yeah, but…

Paying for performance creates incentives. You’d like those incentives to:

  • Encourage “good” behavior &
  • Discourage “bad” behavior.

Pay-for-performance sometimes does just the opposite. Incentives are weird. Humans are weird. Systems are weird.

Definition

To make sure we’re all talking about the same thing, I’m talking about compensation that works like this:

  1. At the beginning of the year (or whatever cycle makes sense) the payer and…


A billion dollars in 30 years. Would you take it? I wouldn’t.

This is another of my “smash two ideas together” essays. In this case, the ideas are:

  • The time value of money &
  • Mortality

Heavy stuff, but there you have it. It’s a new year, time for big thoughts.

Time Value of Money

I turn 60 this year. I’ve recently noticed my career thinking diverging from that of my colleagues. Reflecting on the differences I’m led back to a theme of economics I learned early and have been teaching ever since: the time value of money.

I was dragged to the time value…


As a recovering misogynist geek asshole I want to address my fellow assholes regarding “feedback”.

  1. You aren’t owed a respectful hearing for your feedback because,
  2. If you feel the impulse to give “feedback” to a random person with less structural power than you it’s likely just a badly disguised power play, instead
  3. Own your shit

Here’s how I read the original incident — dude was uncomfortable with his own self during Ms. Willis’ talk. Maybe the topic was something he wanted to understand and it was clear she understood it better than he did. Rather than deal with his…


How can we get from a monolith to micro-services quickly?

Can’t answer that question. First, “quickly” is right out the window. You didn’t make this mess in a month; you’re not going to fix it in a month. Second, you want some benefit you aren’t currently getting that you expect from micro-services. What is that benefit? Micro-services aren’t the point.

Having rejected the question, I will go ahead and answer it. Before I can explain why a quick change to micro-services is impossible and, if forced, dangerous, here are the basic forces acting on software design. …


Image for post
Image for post

One thing I love about Gusto is saying things that get the youngsters to blink. Yesterday it was:

“If you’re doing what you’re told, you’re paid too much.”

Autonomy ignites creative workers, according to Daniel Pink’s Drive & GeePaw Hill’s RAMPS. Gusto EPDD (Engineering, Product, Design, & Data) supplies autonomy to how work gets done. We’re still learning how to supply it to what work gets done. That’s what I was getting at.

I’m seeing these 2 dimensions as orthogonal now.

  • Here’s exactly how to work versus do whatever to solve the problem
  • Here’s the problem to solve versus go…


August 27, 2023

To Whom It May Concern:

I recommend Kent Beck for a position with your firm. In the past 3 years he helped us scale our engineering, product, design, and data organization in size and effectiveness. Now that the time has come for him to move on, I believe he could bring the same benefits to you and your company.

Kent introduced himself to us as a “Productive Irritant”. He was not kidding. Working with Kent is not always comfortable, but he stirred things that needed stirring everywhere in the organization from the shop floor to the board…


Image for post
Image for post
Bless This Mess

I contributed to the fear of messiness in software (ataxophobia is the fear of disorder for those of you playing Anxiety Bingo). When I formulated Extreme Programming I chose as values communication, feedback, courage, and simplicity. Simplicity. I hoped that better development would result in neat, tidy software.

“Neat, tidy” is not one of the 3 options. The three states of a software project are near disaster, disaster, and unused.

The mess isn’t random. The mess goes through predictable stages. (You might have wondered when 3X would wander in.) We can respond better and worse to those stages. …


Image for post
Image for post

“I’m not impressed by that projection.”

You hear a plan at work. You think, “Is that it?” But what do you say? Does it matter who’s in the room? What you want the person making the projection to do next? I used to care about all that stuff. A lot. So much that sometimes I couldn’t communicate at all.

Now I just say what I think, served plain on a dish. Here’s how I got here, what it’s like, and what’s next.

The first part of my life (up until 40), I didn’t really give thought to how I talked…


Image for post
Image for post

Today’s essay weaves 2 threads:

  • Incentive systems
  • What do I do at Gusto?

XP is an incentive system, encouraging and rewarding visible progress and social connectivity. The four rules of simple design are an incentive system. So is TDD. And TCR.

As a long-time EconTalk listener I am keenly aware of the power and prevalence of incentive systems. Money is the most obvious incentive but status, autonomy, responsibility and a host of internal incentives also shape behavior. When I want to change my own behavior, changing my incentives generally works better than apply raw willpower.

The second thread on today’s…


Image for post
Image for post
When the road gets curvy…

So you’re driving along the highway in your SUV, counting on cruise control and AEB to keep you from having to pay too much attention. You blink.

Now you’re on a mountain road. About to go into a blind corner. Too fast. What do you do? You might:

  • Die. Not interesting. Would make for a very short post. Also worthless stock options.
  • Brake, downshift, and steer. Position for the next corner, whatever it is.

Expand->Extract

In 3X terminology we are looking at an Expand->Extract transition, but not the usual one. Expand->Extract is usually a business decision. (Professional CEOs have a perverse…

Kent Beck

Kent is a long-time programmer who also sings, plays guitar, plays poker, and makes cheese. He works at Gusto, the small business people platform.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store