Tag: made

Mistakes I’ve Made as an Engineering Manager

I’ve been a manager for many years at companies of different scale. Through these experiences, I’ve done my share of learning, and made some mistakes along that way that were important lessons for me. I want to share those with you.

But before diving in, I want to mention a strong caveat that my advice may be unique to my situation because I’m white and a woman in tech. My experiences may be relevant to that point of view, but your mileage may vary.

Another huge caveat: I’m sharing mistakes I’ve made so far in the interest of helping others, but I’m sure I’m not done making mistakes, either. I don’t have it all figured it out, I’m still on this journey.

Credit: WoCinTechChat

Mistake 1: Thinking people give feedback the way they want to receive it

Feedback is one of the most important tools you have as a manager, but it can also be incredibly disruptive with poor execution. One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn is that humans aren’t pure functions: you can put a form input in front of them one day and get one result, then again another day and get an entirely different result.

The same is true of how people give and receive feedback: someone may give you feedback in a particular way, but they prefer to receive much differently when it comes to themselves.

How do you get around this? Asking helps. I’ve started doing an exercise with my team where I ask the group as a whole how they would like to get feedback. Not only does it open up ideas, but it also helps that each individual has to think for themselves how they prefer to receive feedback. Normalizing this type of vulnerability and self-reflection can help us all feel like partners, instead of some top-down edict.

Another thing that’s helped? Asking folks directly in a one-on-one meeting if they have feedback for me as a manager, and following up with an anonymous survey. Again, it makes things feel less one-sided and provides everyone the opportunity to say things that they might not want to say directly to my face, which I know can be tough.

And lastly, if something comes up, addressing it immediately can be helpful. There’s nothing worse than your manager having an issue with something you did and only finding out about it three months later, especially if it’s tied to a performance review that you could have impacted had they been transparent earlier.

The truth is that even my advice here is imperfect. Feedback is tough. Being honest and improving together as a team is awkward. It’s incredibly worth it, though. That’s where the real growth is. That said, no two people are alike, no two groups are alike, and you may have to use your best judgement given the situation at hand.

Mistake 2: Trying to do everything yourself as a manager is the best way to help

Years ago, I managed a woman who was bright, talented, capable, and an all around pleasure. She was sort of new to the industry and could come across as timid, so I did my best to be a poop umbrella for her, fighting battles behind the scenes to set her up for success. She was on a steady track to land a senior role. Even after I decided to leave the company, I let the next manager know this person is track for a senior position in the next few months.

Then I moved to another city. Years later, I met up with the woman and was shocked to learn she never got the position.

Here’s what I learned: her promotion wasn’t the same high priority for the capable hands I left her in as it was for me. The team was challenged with a million other things that took center stage to the extent that her promotion fell off the radar. But even more than that, what became very clear to me was that all of that “protection” I thought I had set up for her didn’t really serve her well for the long haul. For example, I didn’t teach her how to advocate for herself or how to navigate the system. I vowed never to make that mistake again.

This is tough! If you’re strong and care about your team as people, it can feel very unnatural to teach someone to advocate instead of moving things out of their way themselves. And the point is not to throw that person into the fire. The point is to care. Are you teaching the things they need to learn? Are they really growing under you? Feeling like you’re protecting someone at all costs also lead to your own ego trip, too, which threatens progress.

Try to think through what skills someone needs to succeed without you. Teach those things incrementally. Sure, this is easy advice to say, but it’s really hard to do in the thick of things. Spend some time with it, and think through ways you can inject that learning into everyday work and interactions.

Credit: Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Mistake 3: Communicating something one time is enough

No one likes to feel like they’re repeating themselves. It’s annoying to say someone more than once, and it’s annoying to hear something over and again. But if you have a big enough group and there’s enough going on, things are going to slip through the cracks, so repetition becomes an important tool to make things stick. The trick is to say the same things, but in different ways.

There was a time last year when I asked my team to do something and none of them did it. What happened there? Given that it’s a team of highly efficient, strong collaborators, do you think they just all table-flipped and didn’t take action? Not a chance. I was the one who wasn’t clear. In fact, you can probably guess that if a whole group of people don’t understand or take action, the chance is that you, the manager are the common denominator for why something is blocked. Not only did I not repeat myself enough to be clear, I didn’t align anyone with the why of the purpose of the task. It’s pretty easy to forget or not prioritize doing something if you have no clue why you’re doing it. Repeat yourself and align the group with the importance of the task and you’ll likely have a better result.

Think of all the ways we have to communicate these days: chats, emails, video meetings, texts, document comments, and so much more. And because some people communicate better in one medium than another, using all of the platforms have in various mediums becomes a strategy for repetition without nagging.

I’ve found that what work best is allowing everyone to own the information themselves. For example, if your team practices career laddering, each person they read the ladders aloud in a one-on-one and then talk you through their responses to each item. That way, you’re not lecturing — they are owning where they are and what the next steps are as you guide them along.

Mistake 4: You have to have everything together all the time

Some folks think that management looks like a steel fortress of preparedness and authority. I’m not so sure about that.

If something goes wrong, are you more likely to tell the manager acts as though they have everything together all the time, or the manager owns their mistakes? The truth is that your team needs to know you’re human. You can’t fix problems if you don’t know about them, and no one will tell you about them unless you make space for that.

One time, the night before a big release, someone on the team pushed a change that created thousands upon thousands of calls to a service that, in turn, thought it was the target of a DDoS attack, which then shut down our access. Here’s a moment when a lot of folks could have panicked and blamed one another. Instead, we giggled wildly, jumped into chat and on calls, fixed it, and kept going.

I couldn’t have been more proud of the team that day. Their response was wonderful. And it makes all the difference in how we work together, recover, and iterate.

You’re the manager. You have to be show your vulnerability first. You can try this by admitting you’re having a bad day, that you don’t understand something, or made a mistake.


Being a manager is tough. Your mistakes impact people. I’ve made all of the mistakes above and more. I feel that it’s critical to share and learn from one another, so when we encounter pitfalls, we don’t feel alone and know a path forward.


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A Complete State Machine Made With HTML Checkboxes and CSS

State machines are typically expressed on the web in JavaScript and often through the popular XState library. But the concept of a state machine is adaptable to just about any language, including, amazingly, HTML and CSS. In this article, we’re going to do exactly that. I recently built a website that included a “no client JavaScript” constraint and I needed one particular unique interactive feature.

The key to all this is using <form> and <input type="radio"> elements to hold a state. That state is toggled or reset with another radio <input> or reset <button> that can be anywhere on the page because it is connected to the same <form> tag. I call this combination a radio reset controller, and it is explained in more detail at the end of the article. You can add more complex state with additional form/input pairs.

It’s a little bit like the Checkbox Hack in that, ultimately, the :checked selector in CSS will be doing the UI work, but this is logically more advanced. I end up using a templating language (Nunjucks) in this article to keep it manageable and configurable.

Traffic light state machine

Any state machine explanation must include the obligatory traffic light example. Below is a working traffic light that uses a state machine in HTML and CSS. Clicking “Next” advances the state. The code in this Pen is post processed from the state machine template to fit in a Pen. We’ll get into the code in a more readable fashion later on.

Hiding/Showing table information

Traffic lights aren’t the most practical every-day UI. How about a <table> instead?

There are two states (A and B) that are changed from two different places in the design that affect changes all over the UI. This is possible because the empty <form> elements and <input> elements that hold state are at the very top of the markup and thus their state can be deduced with general sibling selectors and the rest of the UI can be reached with descendent selectors. There is a loose coupling of UI and markup here, meaning we can change the state of almost anything on the page from anywhere on the page.

General four-state component

Diagram of a generic four-state finite state machine

The goal is a general purpose component to control the desired state of the page. “Page state” here refers to the desired state of the page and “machine state” refers to the internal state of the controller itself. The diagram above shows this generic state machine with four states(A, B, C and D). The full controller state machine for this is shown below. It is built using three of the radio reset controller bits. Adding three of these together forms a state machine that has eight internal machine states (three independent radio buttons that are either on or off).

Diagram of the controller’s internal states

The “machine states” are written as a combination of the three radio buttons (i.e. M001 or M101). To transition from the initial M111 to M011, the radio button for that bit is unset by clicking on another radio <input> in the same group. To transition back, the reset <button> for the <form> attached to that bit is clicked which restores the default checked state. Although this machine has eight total states, only certain transitions are possible. For instance, there is no way to go directly from M111 to M100 because it requires two bits to be flipped. But if we fold these eight states into four states so that each page state shares two machine states (i.e. A shares states M111 and M000) then there is a single transition from any page state to any other page state.

Reusable four-state component

For reusability, the component is built with Nunjucks template macros. This allows it to be dropped into any page to add a state machine with the desired valid states and transitions. There are four required sub-components:

  • Controller
  • CSS logic
  • Transition controls
  • State classes

Controller

The controller is built with three empty form tags and three radio buttons. Each of the radio buttons checked attribute is checked by default. Each button is connected to one of the forms and they are independent of each other with their own radio group name. These inputs are hidden with display: none because they are are not directly changed or seen. The states of these three inputs comprise the machine state and this controller is placed at the top of the page.

{% macro FSM4S_controller()%}   <form id="rrc-form-Bx00"></form>   <form id="rrc-form-B0x0"></form>   <form id="rrc-form-B00x"></form>   <input data-rrc="Bx00" form="rrc-form-Bx00" style="display:none" type="radio" name="rrc-Bx00" checked="checked" />   <input data-rrc="B0x0" form="rrc-form-B0x0" style="display:none" type="radio" name="rrc-B0x0" checked="checked" />   <input data-rrc="B00x" form="rrc-form-B00x" style="display:none" type="radio" name="rrc-B00x" checked="checked" /> {% endmacro %}

CSS logic

The logic that connects the controller above to the state of the page is written in CSS. The Checkbox Hack uses a similar technique to control sibling or descendant elements with a checkbox. The difference here is that the button controlling the state is not tightly coupled to the element it is selecting. The logic below selects based on the “checked” state of each of the three controller radio buttons and any descendant element with class .M000. This state machine hides any element with the .M000 class by setting display: none !important. The !important isn’t a vital part of the logic here and could be removed; it just prioritizes the hiding from being overridden by other CSS.

{%macro FSM4S_css()%} <style>   /* Hide M000 (A1) */   input[data-rrc="Bx00"]:not(:checked)~input[data-rrc="B0x0"]:not(:checked)~input[data-rrc="B00x"]:not(:checked)~* .M000  {     display: none !important;   }    /* one section for each of 8 Machine States */  </style> {%endmacro%}

Transition control

Changing the state of the page requires a click or keystroke from the user. To change a single bit of the machine state, the user clicks on a radio button that is connected to the same form and radio group of one of the bits in the controller. To reset it, the user clicks on a reset button for the form connected to that same radio button. The radio button or the reset button is only shown depending on which state they are in. A transition macro for any valid transition is added to the HTML. There can be multiple transitions placed anywhere on the page. All transitions for states currently inactive will be hidden.

{%macro AtoB(text="B",class="", classBtn="",classLbl="",classInp="")%}   <label class=" {{class}} {{classLbl}} {{showM111_A()}} "><input class=" {{classInp}} " form="rrc-form-Bx00" type="radio" name="rrc-Bx00" />{{text}}</label>   <button class=" {{class}} {{classBtn}} {{showM000_A1()}} " type="reset" form="rrc-form-Bx00">{{text}}</button> {%endmacro%} 

State class

The three components above are sufficient. Any element that depends on state should have the classes applied to hide it during other states. This gets messy. The following macros are used to simplify that process. If a given element should be shown only in state A, the {{showA()}} macro adds the states to hide.

{%macro showA() %}   M001 M010 M100 M101 M110 M011 {%endmacro%} 

Putting it all together

The markup for the traffic light example is shown below. The template macros are imported in the first line of the file. The CSS logic is added to the head and the controller is at the top of the body. The state classes are on each of the lights of the .traffic-light element. The lit signal has a {{showA()}} macro while the “off” version of signal has the machine states for the .M000 and .M111 classes to hide it in the A state. The state transition button is at the bottom of the page.

{% import "rrc.njk" as rrc %} <!DOCTYPE html> <html lang="en"> <head>   <meta charset="UTF-8" />   <title>Traffic Light State Machine Example</title>   <link rel="stylesheet" href="styles/index.processed.css">   {{rrc.FSM4S_css()}} </head> <body>   {{rrc.FSM4S_controller()}}   <div>     <div class="traffic-light">       <div class="{{rrc.showA()}} light red-light on"></div>       <div class="M111 M000 light red-light off"></div>       <div class="{{rrc.showB()}} light yellow-light on"></div>       <div class="M100 M011 light yellow-light off"></div>       <div class="{{rrc.showC()}} light green-light on"></div>       <div class="M010 M101 light green-light off"></div>     </div>     <div>       <div class="next-state">         {{rrc.AtoC(text="NEXT", classInp="control-input",           classLbl="control-label",classBtn="control-button")}}         {{rrc.CtoB(text="NEXT", classInp="control-input",           classLbl="control-label",classBtn="control-button")}}         {{rrc.BtoA(text="NEXT", classInp="control-input",           classLbl="control-label",classBtn="control-button")}}       </div>     </div>   </div> </body> </html>

Extending to more states

The state machine component here includes up to four states which is sufficient for many use cases, especially since it’s possible to use multiple independent state machines on one page.

That said, this technique can be used to build a state machine with more than four states. The table below shows how many page states can be built by adding additional bits. Notice that an even number of bits does not collapse efficiently, which is why three and four bits are both limited to four page states.

Bits (rrcs) Machine states Page states
1 2 2
2 4 2
3 8 4
4 16 4
5 32 6

Radio reset controller details

The trick to being able to show, hide, or control an HTML element anywhere on the page without JavaScript is what I call a radio reset controller. With three tags and one line of CSS, the controlling button and controlled element can be placed anywhere after this controller. The controlled side uses a hidden radio button that is checked by default. That radio button is connected to an empty <form> element by an ID. That form has a type="reset" button and another radio input that together make up the controller.

<!-- RRC Controller --> <form id="rrc-form"></form> <label>   Show   <input form="rrc-form" type="radio" name="rrc-group" /> </label> <button type="reset" form="rrc-form">Hide</button>  <!-- Controlled by RRC --> <input form="rrc-form" class="hidden" type="radio" name="rrc-group" checked /> <div class="controlled-rrc">Controlled from anywhere</div>

This shows a minimal implementation. The hidden radio button and the div it controls need to be siblings, but that input is hidden and never needs to be directly interacted with by the user. It is set by a default checked value, cleared by the other radio button, and reset by the form reset button.

input[name='rrc-group']:checked + .controlled-rrc {   display: none; } .hidden {   display: none; }

Only two line of CSS are required to make this work. The :checked pseudo selector connects the hidden input to the sibling it is controlling. It adds the radio input and reset button that can be styled as a single toggle, which is shown in the following Pen:

Accessibility… should you do this?

This pattern works, but I am not suggesting it should be used everywhere for everything. In most cases, JavaScript is the right way to add interactivity to the web. I realize that posting this might get some heat from accessibility and semantic markup experts. I am not an accessibility expert, and implementing this pattern may create problems. Or it may not. A properly labelled button that does something to the page controlled by otherwise-hidden inputs might work out fine. Like anything else in accessibility land: testing is required.

Also, I have not seen anyone else write about how to do this and I think the knowledge is useful — even if it is only appropriate in rare or edge-case situations.


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Web Scraping Made Simple With Zenscrape

Web scraping has always been taken care of by actual developers, since a lot of coding, proxy management and CAPTCHA-solving is involved. However, the scraped data is very often needed by people that are non-coders: Marketers, Analysts, Business Developers etc.

Zenscrape is an easy-to-use web scraping tool that allows people to scrape websites without having to code.

Let’s run through a quick example together:

Select the data you need

The setup wizard guides you through the process of setting up your data extractor. It allows you to select the information you want to scrape visually. Click on the desired piece of content and specify what type of element you have. Depending on the package you have bought (they also offer a free plan), you can select up to 30 data elements per page.

The scraper is also capable of handling element lists.

Schedule your extractor

Perhaps, you want to scrape the selected data at a specific time interval. Depending on your plan, you can choose any time span between one minute to one hour. Also, decide what is supposed to happen with the scraped data after it has been gathered.

Use your data

In this example, we have chosen the .csv-export method and have selected a 10 minute scraping interval. Our first set of data should be ready by now. Let’s take a look:

Success! Our data is ready for us to be downloaded. We can now access all individual data sets or download all previously gathered data at once, in one file.

Need more flexibility?

Zenscrape also offers a web scraping API that returns the HTML markup of any website. This is especially useful for complicated scraping projects, that require the scraped content to be integrated into a software application for further processing.

Just like the web scraping suite, the API does not forward failed requests and takes care of proxy management, Capotcha-solving and all other maintenance tasks that are usually involved with DIY web scrapers.

Since the API returns the full HTML markup of the related website, you have full flexibility in terms of data selection and further processing.

Try Zenscrape

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How we made Carousell’s mobile web experience 3x faster

Both a sobering and interesting read from Stacey Tay on how the team at Carousell gathered the metrics to define a performance budget and, in turn, developed a better experience for their customers:

Our new PWA listing page loads 3x faster than our old listing page. After releasing this new page, we’ve had a 63% increase in organic traffic from Indonesia, compared to our our all time-high week. Over a 3 week period, we also saw a 3x increase in ads click-through-rates and a 46% increase in anonymous users who initiated a chat on the listing page.

The team inlined critical CSS, reduced the number of resources the app was loading, and implemented a lazy loading strategy, among many other things. I think it’s interesting to note that they also changed the design of the app in certain ways to make things more performant, too. I reckon it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that performance is solely a task for developers and posts like this prove that it’s more collaborative than that.

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