Friday, April 24, 2015

Dinner @ State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, CA

It was just over a month ago that I spoke about how difficult it was to get a reservation at State Bird Provisions and it was easier to goto their sister restaurant The Progress next door.  The restaurant is notoriously famous for how difficult it is to get into.  Reservations are near impossible and the wait can often be 90 minutes for a walk-in table.  I suppose that's what happens when you get rave reviews, get incredibly hyped, have a price point that allows many people to dine at your restaurant, win a James Beard Award for best new restaurant, and get a Michelin star.  In fact, Yelp reviewers speak of how you should hire someone from Taskrabbit to wait in line for you if you really want to go but are strapped for time.

Well someone I know was somehow able to snag a reservation.

And luckily for me, something came up and she had to bail on it.

State Bird Provisions is an interesting restaurant.  Half of the dishes on its menu are carted around and shown to you at your tables.  Think of it like how dim sum restaurants cart around food.  The other half can be ordered from your table.  Dessert is ordered from your table as well.

Another thing that was interesting was that many dishes were single "shot" like individual tastings for one person (although my date and I attempted to share them).  Keep that in mind for when you go and order enough so you don't have to share a tiny portion.

A number of other dishes are shareable although shareable for different sized groups.  If it had been 3 or 4 of us, we may have ordered more of the larger shareable dishes.  There was a trout & avocado dip w/ housemade potato chips.  It looked really good, but we decided not to get it only b/c it was just the two of us.

Here are all the dishes we tried during the night in the completely random order in which they arrived.

1) potato, shellfish & pickled nori porridge (w/ clams/mussels, quinoa, sesame)

This first dish may have been my least favorite of the night.  It was an interesting mix of flavors and textures.  My date liked the crunch quinoa & sesame on top.

2) duck liver mousse with almond biscuit

I'm unsure if this duck liver was foie gras, but it tasted similar.  The almond biscuits were ridiculously delicious and stood on their own.  Maybe my favorite dish of the night.

3) fresh hawaiian heart of palm salad with tahini-chili oil (w/ strawberries, avocado, wonton skins)

This was ordered off the menu and is reasonably large portion.  I actually had no idea what "heart of palm" was and had to look it up (it's the inside of a palm tree).  It was very light, crunchy, and tasty.

4) beef tongue & horseradish-buckwheat pancake

Another item off the menu, we picked it basically because you can't get beef tongue everywhere.  I thought this was good, the beef tongue was really soft, although I would have preferred more meat to carb ratio.  This is the first case where we should have ordered one for each of us, we had no idea how tiny this was when we ordered it.  Shouldn't a pancake be bigger?  I think the waitress did ask us "Only 1?" when we ordered.

5) guanciale chawanmushi

This chawanmushi was delicious.  I thought it was just bacon on top, but it wasn't quite the right flavor.  I had to go online to learn this was "guanciale" and to learn it was basically cured pig cheek.  Really good.  Although I can't recall what the red sauce beneath the guanciale was.  This was again a single person serving, but we got only one.

6) CA state bird with provisions (quail, cheese, onions)

The signature dish from which the restaurant is named.  If you weren't aware what the California state bird is, it's quail.  Apparently this dish (or something really similar) was cooked when the head chefs were at Rubicon (a pretty famous San Francisco restaurant that is now closed).  I am not sure what kind of cheese was on top of this.  Overall, tasty.  You can order this dish with two or four pieces of bird.

7) pork belly citrus salad (w/ orange, grapefruit, jalapeño)

A solid dish.  I liked that it was light.  This was perfect as it had just two pieces of pork belly in it.  There was also a 4 piece version for larger groups.

8) guinea hen dumpling with aromatic broth

Another example of a single person dish as it contained only one dumpling.  We would have gotten two of these, but the server walking around was down to his last dumpling.  Nothing we could do about it so we had to share.  The dumpling was quite good and probably would have been better if I didn't have to cut it in half.  I didn't know it was guinea hen until looking on the menu afterwards.

9) lamb yakitori and mashed potatoes (w/ unknown citrus on top)

I wish we got this earlier in the meal as it was a bit heavier than the last two.  Overall, a good dish, nice combination of flavors.  I wish I knew what the orange stuff was on top (possibly orange, but some citrus).

Then we ordered two desserts

10) szechuan pepper ‘ice cream’ sandwich, chocolate macaron, pecans & hazelnuts

11) olive oil cake, birdseed, roasted strawberries & mascarpone (w/ sunflower seeds)

I really enjoyed these last two desserts.  While they didn't necessarily wow me, they had little differences to make them just different than what you would normally get out there.

The "bread" part of the ice cream sandwich was the star of that dish.  It made things just different and peppery to make the dish really interesting.  Similar with the olive oil cake.  If it had been lemon or chiffon cake, it would have been similar to the cake in tons of other restaurants.  But the flavor was just different and unique.

Overall, a good and interesting meal.  After eating at The Progress next door, I learned my lesson and mixed it up with light dishes and heavier dishes to make sure I didn't feel too full and too heavy afterwards.

The question is, did State Bird Provisions meet its insane hype?  For me, it didn't.  However,  its ridiculous reputation perhaps made it impossible to meet the hype.  I would say that it's probably amongst the more interesting restaurants in San Francisco and worth checking out if you can get a reservation.  The American style dim sum is interesting as are many items on the menu.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

College Résumé Tips & Tricks

I've done a fair amount of college recruiting for my job.  Over the years I've taken some notes on tips and tricks for students on their résumés and given mini tutorials on the subject.  Decided to put it on this blog and hope it helps someone out there.

List your GPA

What I often tell students is that résumé searching isn't about finding the best résumé, it's usually about eliminating the worst ones.  GPA is the easiest way to eliminate a candidate.  If you don't list it, it's assumed it's bad and your résumé will be tossed.

If your GPA is on the lower end, there are several things you can do to help your résumé still stand out.  For example, you could list a higher technical GPA or a GPA over the last few semesters.  For example, it could be something as simple as:

Technical GPA: 3.5
Overall GPA: 3.2

Noticed that I also bolded the 3.5, to highlight it over the 3.2 GPA.

No matter what, remember to list your cumulative GPA.  Some companies will later request transcripts.  The last thing you want is to have your résumé GPA not match up to it.

Underline/bold key experiences and/or skills

Recruiters may have hundreds of résumés to look through and limited time to look through them.  It's important to capture the recruiter's attention immediately so that your résumé does not get put into the "no" pile.  Highlight key experiences and skills, such as internships, research projects, or extracurricular activities, to draw a recruiter's eyes to those words and grab their attention.

Keep your résumé 1 page long

I think a lot of students think a résumé should list everything they've ever done. The résumé is supposed to be a summary of your top skills and accomplishments.  Any extraneous content that isn't that impressive is just empty filler and decreases the chance someone sees your great accomplishments.  Your best accomplishments should be whittled down into just one page.

For those who might say the 1 page limit is antiquated because so many résumé submissions are now online, the principle of a 1 page long résumé still applies.  You should summarize your top skills and accomplishments, not list everything you've ever done.  Only after you've worked for awhile (or if you're a PhD student, you may have a lot of publications) can you justify it being longer than a page.

Tell me what you did, not what was accomplished

I find many résumés with very general statements to describe work experience and accomplishments.  Candidates that add specific details to show off their own experience, knowledge, and expertise stand out.

Example Mistake: "Participated on a team that won a 20 million dollar contract from the Department of Defense."

This doesn't tell me anything.  For all I know, you might have brought the engineers coffee so they could stay up late to finish the project.

Example Fix: "Developed backend Oracle database for storing flight data from a flight simulator."

In my example fix, notice that I name a specific technology (Oracle) that someone might view as a particular valuable skill.

Let your accomplishments show your abilities, not your words

Similar to the above, there are often very generic phrases that students write to try and sell their skills. These are completely unnecessary and take away space from real skills and experiences that could be listed instead.

Example Mistake: "Excellent communication skills."

Anyone can say they have excellent communication skills.

Example Fix: "Tutored freshmen Computer Science students."

In my example fix, you showcase a specific activity you've done that gives you knowledge and experience communicating technical thoughts.

Tell me what you do, not what you can sign up for

Similar to the above, don't just list a bunch of random extracurricular activities for no reason.

Example Mistake: "Association for Computer Machinery - SigLUG 2008-2009"

All this tells me is you know how to sign up for a club on orientation day or know how to sign up for a mailing list.

Example Fix: "Association for Computer Machinery - SigLUG, Treasurer 2008-2009"

Of course, you actually need to participate in these activities to list them.  If you haven't really participated in any extracurricular activities, I would suggest not listing them.

Put an objective on your résumé

While some recruiters are divided on this, I believe it's a positive to list your objective on your résumé.  For example, if I can't tell what kind of job you're looking for (e.g. internship vs. full-time) maybe I will guess wrong and your résumé will be put into the wrong pile.  If you have a specific job interest, I think it's a good idea to list some of those interests in the objective and it can help you stand out against other candidates.

Example Mistake: "To obtain a full-time job in Computer Science where I can be challenged."

I don't see this as anything special, it's just like a million other résumés.

Example Fix: "To obtain a full-time job doing embedded systems development."

If the employer is looking for someone interested in embedded system, your résumé to will immediately stand out.

However, there are situations where it may be best to leave it off.  If you do not have a clear goal in what kind of job you're looking for (i.e. you want any job), then an objective may not be necessary.  In fact, such a generic objective may be a bad idea and that résumé space could be used for some thing more valuable. 

Don't list hobbies unrelated to the job

Some recruiters are divided on this.  I think listing hobbies is perfectly fine, but it could be replaced with something far better.  However, hobbies or interests with close ties to the job are a plus.  For example, for a software engineering position, listing mobile app development would be a good additional hobby to list.

Example Mistake: "Licensed Pilot in California"

When I see this, I think, "Pilots don't know how to program."  This particular student told me he listed this because "It takes a lot of hard work to become a licensed pilot."  However, I know absolutely nothing about flying and I viewed it as irrelevant.

Don't list awards unless they are awesome

Many students will list awards they've won on their résumé.  You're proud about them, and you should be.  However, when looking through a large number of résumés, awards generally don't stand out.  Many of them are not too notable or school specific.

Like the hobby listings above, this isn't necessarily a mistake on a résumé, but your résumé space could be used for showing something more valuable.  Unless the award is somewhat famous and a recruiter has a high likelihood of knowing it, it's better to drop it.

Don't list classes

For the young freshmen or sophomore looking for an internship, listing the classes you've taken is a reasonable thing to fill up your résumé.  However, by the time you've graduated, some skills, abilities, and experiences should be on the résumé instead.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Dinner @ Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA - #2

After a successful trip to Chez Panisse last year we went up for another trip because a couple of friends had missed the prior trip.  Please look at the prior review for details and subtleties of the restaurant as I'll avoid writing about them in this one.

Just like last time, the restaurant has a price fixe four course meal, with an amuse bouche and mignardise at the end.  The only interesting thing to note was there wasn't a cheese course available for a supplement this time around.  We didn't ask why, but we assume it's simply based on what's available at that point in time.   Or perhaps its because we had a reservation at the very first seating time and the cheese course is only for later reservations when customers can linger.

1) amuse-bouche olives

Not a big fan of olives, but tried one.  Hard to judge b/c I'm not a big fan :-)

2) Yellowtail jack crudo with rhubarb and mint salsa, shaved fennel, and wild rocket

This dish was really good as the (what I assume to be) mint salsa was really good.

3) Fava bean agnolotti in squab brodo with asparagus (morel mushrooms removed)

Since I hate mushrooms, I asked for the morel mushrooms to be left out of this dish.  Good, but a bit of a disappointment after the crazy delicious "borage agnelotti" the last time I went to Chez Panisse.  However, I think the fava bean based pasta was better than the borage based pasta.

4) Becker Lane Farm pork loin grilled with mustard and thyme; with little turnips, snap peas, and fried farro

The turnips and snap peas were really good.  I assume they were picked just that morning or atleast very recently.  The pork loin was delicious too.

5) Chocolate sherbet and hazelnut ice cream meringata

I really good dessert, although these particular flavors aren't my favorite.  The berry based sherbet and sorbet from last time was about the greatest dessert I think I ever had.  I didn't get to ask what the citrus-like sauce was around the ice cream, as that was delicious.

6) mignardise - coconut macarons and chocolate

Overall, another great trip to Chez Panisse.

I was debating a bit on whether I liked the food in this trip better than the prior one.  I think the yellowtail was > salmon this time.  The second course soup was better the prior time, even though the pasta in the soup was better this time.  The squab and pork loin were about a draw, although the peas may have made the main course win out a bit more this time.  The crazy delicious dessert last time probably breaks the tie and makes it a win for the prior meal at Chez Panisse.

2015 Washington Nationals Pitching Staff vs other great staffs

Last year I compared the 2014 Detroit Tigers to the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies and the 1998 Atlanta Braves pitching staffs.  Given the hype surrounding the 2015 Washington National's pitching staff, I thought I'd do the same comparison.

The 2015 Washington Nationals are quite scary, with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister leading the charge.  They were widely considered the best starting rotation even before signing Max Scherzer in the off season.

Lets add the 2015 Nationals to the same tables in created in the prior post.  I also updated the tables for the Tigers 2014 staff to be through the year 2014.

Cy Young Voting Place Braves 1998 staff through 1998 Phillies 2011 staff through 2011 Tigers 2014 staff through 2014 Nationals 2015 staff through 2014
1st 7 3 3 1
2 2 0
3rd 4 3 1 1
4th 2 4 1 0
5th 1 4 2 2
6th or lower 1 3 3 3

Compared to the 2011 Phillies and 2014 Tigers, the Nationals staff doesn't compare on this chart.  While all of the pitchers are really good, most haven't yet appeared to have made a mark of "elite" and been in Cy Young contention.  As a relatively young staff, they all still have that potential, but it's not there yet.

Of course, Cy Young votes aren't the best indicator.  Lets look at WAR.

WAR Braves 1998 staff through 1998 Phillies 2011 staff through 2011 Tigers 2014 staff through 2014 Nationals 2015 staff through 2014
3.0 <= WAR < 4.0 7 5 3 7
4.0 <= WAR < 5.0 6 5 8 8
5.0 <= WAR < 6.0 6 5 1 0
6.0 <= WAR < 7.0 3 6 4 2
7.0 <= WAR < 8.0 3 1 1 0
8.0 <= WAR 4 3 1 0

While they seem to lack some of that "greatness" that some of the staffs had, with Cy Young wins and high war seasons, all five of their pitchers for the Nationals have been consistently very good.  No pitcher on the pitching staff had fewer than atleast two 3.0 WAR seasons.  That's incredible depth and there's a lot of potential for the group.  The above doesn't even include Tanner Roark, their 5.0 WAR pitcher from 2014 that has now been put into the bullpen.

If this pitching staff sticks together, the chart above would look very insane for the Nationals.  Unfortunately, that's unlikely given Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmerman are free agents after 2015.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Innovator's Dilemma ~ Employee Retention

Not so long ago I read The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen.  It's a classic book on engineering and tech management.

The book basically discusses the dilemma that many tech and engineering companies go through.  Do you continue to work on your super profitable money maker when cheaper & less profitable challengers emerge?  Or should you move resources into the cheaper & less profitable space in case it becomes a hit?  If you move resources to the cheaper challenger, you could lose revenue/profit on your present big money maker or lose market share.  If the challenger becomes very successful and you're too late to the show, your company may lose out and go out of business.

The most recent tech example I could think of was Sun Microsystems.  In the 1990s Solaris was a giant and huge money maker.  When Linux emerged, it was a far cheaper and less profitable solution (and arguably a less feature rich and less useful solution).  So Sun had little incentive to invest resources into Linux.  Slowly but surely, Linux got better, took a hold of the market, began stealing market share, and Solaris profits went down.  Well ... the end of the story is well known.  At some point, Solaris wasn't really profitable and it was too late for Sun to catch up.

This is a dilemma that has tested tech and engineering management for decades.  The book highlights that many of the companies lose this battle due to internal management priorities.  It is natural that managers will desire to allocate resources (money, people, capital, etc.) towards their most profitable use.  When a "disruptive technology" emerges, that is often cheaper, less profitable, and less feature rich, it initially has much less market share and a much lower profit margin.  Managers are not likely to move resources in that direction ... until it is too late.

In the book, the authors say the corporate strategy solution to the Innovator's Dilemma is to create separate organizations to deal with the challenger technology.  May it be through an acquisition or a spin-out company or possibly investing in a startup competitor, let a separate organization deal with it and ensure that your primary money making division is left alone.   By creating a separate management hierarchy with different goals and different profit models and different everything, that separate entity can succeed or fail on its own.  If mixed into the current organization, it's simply too difficult to manage.  Managers will always want to prioritize resources back to the primary profit maker and new technology just isn't given the attention that's needed.

As I was reading the book, an analogy to this problem emerged in my head.  It related to employee retention at companies.  Employee retention in the tech arena is quite tough, as employees learn new skills or want to work on new projects or just want to move their career in a new direction.  With an ever changing technological landscape, it's natural that employees want to move on to new things to keep up with emerging technologies.

Their managers have to make a tough choice.

If you really need the employee to work on the project they're an expert in b/c it's super profitable or high priority, the employee may eventually decide the best way to try something new or different is to leave the company.

If you move the employee to work on a new project in the company to try and retain them, the current project where their skills/experience are needed suffers.

It's sort of like the Innovator's Dilemma.  Managers will naturally be biased to use their resources (in this case it's people) for their most profitable/important projects and/or goals.  Regardless of an employee's personal goals or interests, managers have their own goals to meet as well.  This action isn't malicious in anyway ... it's just natural.  As much as any manager wants to help an employee with their career goals, there will be natural (likely subconscious) bias involved.

So what's the solution?   How can we apply the Innovator's Dilemma solution to employee retention?  A separate organization or spin-out company certainly doesn't apply here.

However, a separated out internal transfer process is something that could work.

I remember not so long ago reading that Facebook  had an internal "internship" program for their full time employees.  Effectively, any full time employee could get a several month "internship" with another group if the group had an opening.

It was a healthy balance for Facebook's needs and helped with employee needs for retention.  The new group gets an engineer working right away instead of dealing with interviews, the engineer gets to see if they'll like it, the new group gets to see if the engineer works out, and there should be a backfill "internship" ready for the old group that just lost an engineer.  Facebook ends up retaining more employees than they would otherwise.

How did Facebook solve this with the "Innovator's Dilemma" solution?  To some extent they tried to remove management from the internal transfer process.  Because it's an "internship", their current management shouldn't be concerned that they are losing a person.  At worst they lose them for a few months.  In the time they lose them, another backfill internship may have trained up a replacement anyways.

Even for the Facebook example above, there are likely internal Facebook details that the article did not mention.  I don't want to suggest that their system is perfect.  However, there are steps that probably any organization can take to try and make things better and try to remove management from the process.  The idea that immediately came to mind is that every company can have a internal job posting site for potential internal transfers.  This is pretty common, but what this internal job posting site could do is list the contact information for the hiring manager.  Any employee with interest should be able to contact and talk to that hiring manager directly about the position and potential interview.  Any contact through their current management chain should just be skipped.