In my home state of Massachusetts, the Governor announced a phased plan for distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine to residents today. Other states are likely doing the same thing as they had to submit plans for vaccine distribution to the federal government.
The plan was announced as being based on quantities of vaccine that are likely to be approved for Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA soon and that include vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna. The plan for Massachusetts was announced as having three phases of distribution.
Phase One: December 2020 – January 2021
The first phase, beginning in December of 2020 prioritizes health care workers, long-term care patients, homeless shelter residents, police , fire and other first responders, etc. Groups in this first phase include:
Clinical and non-clinical health care workers doing direct and COVID-19-facing care
Long-term care facilities, rest homes, and assisted living facilities
Police, fire, and emergency medical services
Congregate care settings, including homeless shelters, corrections facilities and the staff who work there
Home-based health care workers
Health care workers doing non-COVID-19-facing care
Phase Two: February 2021 – April 2021
The second phase is forecast to begin in February 2021 and extend to April 2021 for the following groups:
Individuals with 2+ comorbidities (high risk for COVID-19 complications)
Early education, K-12, transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, sanitation, public works, and public health workers
People age 65 and older
People with one comorbidity
Phase Three: April 2021
The third and final phase begins sometime in April 2021 for “the general public”.
The potentially hopeful thing about this is that Johnson & Johnson Inc. (J&J) and AstraZeneca Inc. could announce data related to the US trials of their vaccines in January 2021. This would add supply to the available quantities that could accelerate the numbers of individuals who could get vaccinated in the coming months.
So the news of these two more (large) manufacturers of vaccine getting supply to market in the first and second quarters of 2021 could be very good news for those wishing to be vaccinated. This development of potentially having more vaccine than is currently planned is speculative but a positive one. Having larger quantities of the vaccine than is forecast to be available from just Pfizer and Moderna alone could enable the vaccination of larger numbers of individuals sooner than currently planned.
So hopefully science is progressing faster than we anticipated and more supply of the vaccine can help us get more people vaccinated than we can plan for today. As many astute observers point out, the vaccine needs to get into a large percentage of the population to be effective at reducing the spread of the virus. Vaccinating a large proportion of the population will take time and the vaccine will take time to build immunity in those inoculated. But getting more people vaccinated sooner rather than later is encouraging.
Cramer read from a report during the clip that forecast that there may be more vaccine available in the coming months than previously thought. This would indeed be good news for the economy in the new year (2021).
Today in the United Kingdom the first individuals are getting the vaccine against Covid-19. This is a fantastic accomplishment for Pfizer/BionTech (the companies collaborating to produce the vaccine), a huge attribution of the power of science over disease and a wonderful step forward for mankind.
The FDA in the United States needs to get this same vaccine and the one from Moderna approved for use as soon as possible. These mRNA vaccines are true scientific breakthroughs that will pave the way for rapid deployment of treatments for yet unseen viruses and for various forms of cancer. Vaccines for mutations of this virus are reportedly possible within weeks instead of months now that this general mRNA platform has been proven to be effective against Covid-19.
Dr. Anthony Fauci testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions yesterday. During the testimony he expressed concern about opening the country too soon (which is probably a wise stance to take as a public health official testifying under oath and before the world scientific community).
For his trouble, Dr. Fauci (who has served the country for 36 years), was at least implicitly accused of holding himself out to be the ultimate decision maker on when the country should open again. Senator Rand Paul made a reasonably good point about why it is wise to re-open schools as soon as we can but then ended his statement with how Dr. Fauci is not the “end-all and be all” and then went on to imply that Dr. Fauci has positioned himself to be “the one person that gets to make the decision” (apparently about when to re-open schools or the economy). I did not hear Dr. Fauci hold himself out as sole decision maker on when schools would be re-opening and he did not seem to indicate that he was the “end-all and be all” of anything either.
Dr. Fauci politely stated (for the record) that he does not consider himself an “end all and be all” or a decision maker in these matters. He then stated that he is a scientist and gives advice to help inform others who are making decisions related to public health.
It is just hard to be a scientist in today’s sound-byte “digitally delivered” news content world. Poor Dr. Fauci was just trying to provide his opinion as a public health professional. It is too bad he had to suffer these comments.
This is why I don’t watch the news content much during the day. I just go into my office and try to invent the technology of tomorrow today. So during my lunch break I heard this testimony and then retreated to the world of bits and bytes.
As a consequence, it did not surprise me that by 4:30 P.M. the stock market was down 400+ points and the (CNN, CNBC) headlines were screaming: “Dr. Fauci paints dire picture of re-opening” and “Fauci says that schools opening in the Fall is a ‘bridge too far’” (he did not say that at all). I also saw the same headlines repeated on the Boston media when I awoke and turned on the television at 5 AM this morning.
During his testimony, Dr. Fauci was asked the direct question about vaccines being available when universities open in the Fall and other schools re-open in the same time period (presumably public and private high schools as well as Colleges and Universities). He said (and I saw this myself on video replay): “having or presuming a vaccine by the Fall is a ‘bridge too far'”. This is a lot different than him saying that schools/colleges/universities cannot open in the Fall with appropriate social distancing, hygiene measures, etc.
Dr. Fauci had to clarify this when it was clear that his words were mis-construed, but by then the “genie was out of the bottle” and the “journalists” in our midst were pronouncing that Dr. Fauci does not support educational institutions re-opening in the Fall of 2020.
I understand that it is important that media outlets “get eyeballs” on their content (and grab our attention). On the other hand, it seems like some editorial oversight would be useful to make the message match the context of Dr. Fauci’s comments. In this case it was rather irresponsible reporting to state a headline that was not backed up by the expert’s actual statements.
It must be tough being Dr. Fauci, because he is just trying to give his advice from a scientific perspective and not get us too hopeful or too pessimistic. As a person who has to communicate technical topics to audiences I am sympathetic to how eager the media are to boil things down to sound bytes. Sometimes it is not their fault when they state something incorrectly. In this case though it was pretty clear what Dr. Fauci was saying and for all of our sakes the media should be a lot more careful.
Back to the technology of tomorrow today for me…….
The growth rate calculations that I published in my last post showed that the infection and death rates due to Covid-19 are both declining. Again, these are the growth rates and not the absolute numbers of cases. The decline in rate of growth is encouraging however. The last few days I performed the calculations on the last seven days of data (rolling seven-day window) and the growth rate has gone down 1-2% per day so this trend seems to be continuing.
The data I use are United States aggregate (all regions) data and as I also pointed out in the last post, different regions will peak at different times.
As for the predictions of when certain regions will peak this article explains that some of our current “hot-spots” may be seeing their peak now (New York/New Jersey either today or tomorrow). Boston may reach the peak soon (Boston April 18th). So there appears to be hope (which we all need) as to when this thing will begin to decline so that we can start planning on going back to work. A combination of testing and appropriate workplace and social behavior can give us confidence over time that we can be with others we know are safe.
This will require staying socially distant in the near term and not going back to socializing in packed bars and restaurants immediately but with some testing and reconfiguration of social norms we can at least start seeing people in person in certain circumstances again. Restaurant tables farther away than they used to be and testing to ensure that we are safe to be with others will probably be some of the “new normal”.
Going back to work will require a plan of testing and verification of health status but if we can see the case numbers peak and then if we have four to six weeks to plan on how to go back to work it would let us all help revive the economy again. If New York could start re-opening its economy by mid-May to late May with Boston and other Northeast cities a week or two after that, then the economy has a chance to be starting to operate again by late June or July.
Having tests available to identify those who may have been exposed and developed immunities (anti-bodies in their system) to Covid-19 will be a key component to help us plan a way forward. When testing is in place and we can identify those who may be safe to work in a certain environment then we can move on to the second phase of economic re-entry: therapeutic treatment of the population.
Having therapeutic drugs to help give people who are infected some kind of treatment (instead of a ventilator) and those who are not infected some limited scope immunity would allow us to function as a society again. I think that it will be some time before we are all packing bars and restaurants again, but at least having some ability to be in public and not feel that we are going to get deathly ill and be confined to an ICU bed would be progress.
Many companies are in clinical trials with therapeutic drugs to help give individuals some limited scope immunity or to allow the infected to get better sooner. The therapeutics should allow those who get sick to avoid severe lung disease and the need for ventilators and ICU care. For others, therapeutics can allow them to fight the disease off without getting sick or becoming severely ill.
Next year a vaccine would allow us to know that we are generally safe from this disease but in the interim it would be nice to be able to feel relatively comfortable having dinner with friends (in our homes or at an appropriately reconfigured restaurant where staff have been tested, etc.). If we had therapeutics that would allow us to even have passive temporary immunities to the virus until a vaccine is available we could get to the next step in this fight.
The news media make such hyperbolic statements about the spread of Covid-19 that it is hard to know when things may get back to normal. One “expert” after another appears on CNBC, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS and MSNBC and makes many valid points about social distancing and prevention (which is good) but they leave the impression that all is lost. These experts mean well in many cases but generally scare people and give no basis of hope that this will end. In the meantime, the economy is stalled and people are frightened. The stock market is punished because the economy is shut down.
To gain some perspective on this, it is important to look at the data and see how fast the cases are spreading and how rapidly the number of deaths is increasing (two different growth rates). This analysis will give an overall picture of the rate of spread of the infection and the death rate. When the rate of spread begins to decrease (this is when the number of overall cases may be growing from one time period to the next but at a slower rate than in a previous period), then we can draw hope that the spread of the disease is slowing and will become manageable.
To look at this I gathered the data from this source and tracked it from March 22, 2020 until today (April 4, 2020). These data show the number of cases and the number of deaths that resulted over that timeframe. The data is as follows:
As shown above, the number of cases on March 22, 2020 was 35,746 and that number has expanded to 300,625 in the thirteen “compounding periods” since. This exhibits continuous exponential growth so I used an exponential growth formula to determine the rate of growth during that timeframe. Then I computed some interim growth factor numbers to see if they (the rates of growth) were increasing or decreasing within this time interval (3/22/2020 – 4/4/2020).
Continuous Exponential Growth or Decay
A = ending value (amount after growth or decay) A0 = initial value (amount before measuring growth or decay) e = exponential e = 2.71828183… k = continuous growth rate (also called constant of proportionality) (k > 0, the amount is increasing (growing); k < 0, the amount is decreasing (decaying)) t = time that has passed
The number of cases on 3/22/2020 was:
The number grew to a very large number in the 13 intervening days:
The rate of growth in cases between 3/22/2020 and 4/4/2020 (the overall growth rate) would be:
k(cases overall) = ~.16 or a substantial overall rate of 16%
The time period from 3/22/2020 – 3/29/2020 (7 compounding periods) showed a growth rate higher than this overall rate of:
k(cases 3/22/2020 – 3/29/2020) = .186 (18.6%) or a substantially higher growth rate than the overall rate
The last six days (3/29/2020 – 4/4/2020) has shown another rate of:
k(cases 3/29/2020 – 4/4/2020) = .137 (13.7%) or quite a bit lower than the overall rate of .16 and a lot lower than the previous seven days (18.6%).
So the overall growth rate has been slower in the last six days than in the previous seven days. This is encouraging and shows that the rate of infection may be slowing down and slowing down substantially. This may be due to social distancing or some other factor, but it is happening.
The number of deaths on 3/22/2020 was:
The number of deaths on 4/4/2020 was:
When we look just at these numbers over a 13 day period we can become frightened. It is a large increase in deaths. This is why we need to look at the rate of increase and see if it is getting higher or going lower.
If we look at the rate of deaths that are occurring in the same time periods we can see a similar phenomenon to the rate of change in the growth of infections:
The rate of growth in deaths between 3/22/2020 and 4/4/2020 (the overall growth rate) would be:
k(deaths overall) = ~.246 or a substantial overall rate of 24.6%
The time period from 3/22/2020 – 3/29/2020 (7 compounding periods) showed a growth rate higher than this overall rate of:
k(deaths 3/22/2020 – 3/29/2020) = .255 (25.5%) or a substantially higher growth rate than the overall rate in the first seven days of the data we are analyzing
The last six days (3/29/2020 – 4/4/2020) has shown another rate of:
k(deaths 3/29/2020 – 4/4/2020) = .208 (20.8%) or quite a bit lower than the overall rate of .246 (24.6%).
More encouragingly this reduction relative to the last seven days is almost 5% (a reduction in rate of twenty percent of the rate of the last seven days. 20.8% is about 20% lower than 25.5%).
So the overall growth rate in deaths has also been slower in the last six days than in the previous seven days. This is encouraging and shows that the rate of deaths due to infection may be slowing down and slowing down substantially. Perhaps people are getting treated more effectively or they are not as sick when they get the disease. It is hard to tell but maybe younger people who are less likely to die from the disease have been infected in the last month.
These data are aggregate data and do not take into account that different regions of the United States suffered infection at different times. Different regions of the country will likely go through a time when there are many people infected and some will survive and recover. A recovery window will not happen over the same timeframe in every municipality.
The encouraging thing is that the growth rates of infections and deaths seems to be slowing down overall. This is good news.
Hopefully the infected (sick) rate and the death rate will peak and start declining soon. On CNBC recently Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the FDA stated that he thought the NYC area could “peak” in the next week to ten days (NYC/greater New York and New Jersey, not the country).
The facts from New York are particularly bleak. Anyone who has ever been on the NYC subway will not be surprised at the high numbers of cases present in NYC. The entire NYC/NJ area probably has the highest per-capita usage of mass transit in the United States. The proximity of people on mass-transit trains and buses and the presence of a virus like this promotes transmission. So NYC as a hot spot is well fortified and probably 6 to 7 weeks into its hot-spot cycle. With about half the known cases in the country, perhaps these declining growth rates and Dr. Gottlieb’s prediction will be good news for the greater NYC/NJ area and portend good things for other regions.
From watching China, South Korea and other countries go through their experience with Covid-19 it is clear that there is about a 8 to 10 week duration of the worst transmission. After this time there is a period where cases diminish at a “decaying” rate. So our experience is likely to be similar across a number of well-known and predictable “hot spots”.
In the United States, these are Seattle/California, New York State and particularly NYC/NJ, New Orleans LA and points south, Florida and the Upper Midwest/Northeast (college towns particularly) areas. In our case the infections may have started at different times and could have predictable “rolling windows” of 8-10 weeks where the virus will rise and then fall in rate of transmission.
Seattle and California seem to have peaked or are close to peaking. Washington state seems to have had the rate of new deaths fall to low levels in the last week. California seems to be behind Washington state but for its size (40 million people) it is not exhibiting huge growth in case load. California has four times the population of Michigan and has fewer cases than Michigan so the aggressive social distancing instituted by the Governor in California a few weeks ago may be working.
Even though the regional rates may vary it does seem like the data are showing that there is a slowing of the rate of infection and death from infection over the last six days. This is some good news in a very dark period for the country.
This dread virus causes one to really stop and think about what is happening to our world and society. To make sense of this I wanted to look at the numbers as much as I can from my socially distant location. I am truly fortunate to be out of the way of a lot of human contact as there are not that many people around my location this time of year.
For those who are not as fortunate and who have to live in a major city, I thought it might help to think about this from a mathematical perspective to give people hope that social distancing is necessary and helpful at this time. Being trained as an engineer it helps me make sense of how things are unfolding in the spread of the disease by looking at the reported cases and the death and recovery rates of the United States as a whole and some of the more hard-hit regions of the country like New York, New Jersey and Washington state.
These data (below) seem to indicate that one contracting Coronavirus here (U.S.) so far has a 1.1% chance of death versus the world at large (4.25% – 4.3%). We should not look at this percentage difference and assume that we are 4 times “better off” in terms of being safe from death in terms of encountering this infectious disease.
One theory of a lower death rate here is that fewer people in the United States smoke tobacco products than they do in other parts of the world. Despite that fact, we should not assume that we are safer than anyone else in the world in relation to death from coronavirus. It is too early on in our measurement of the spread of the disease to draw such conclusions.
Most importantly, we should not get comfortable with this premature set of statistics and ignore government health procedure warnings. Some people may look at the small number of deaths and feel that they can ignore government health warnings (like students have been doing on spring break). This group of people (those not heeding health guidelines) need to understand that we might not have seen an advanced stage of the disease and therefore have not seen the worst of its effects.
To accentuate the point, these data could mean that we just have not seen enough cases or detected as many serious cases and that hospitalization may spike in the next two weeks causing us to “catch up” with the rest of the world in terms of mortality rate. This would be truly a disaster, so I believe that we all need to take this seriously and “shelter in place” avoid public contact and social gatherings (even in private homes).
Staying distant from one another is very difficult for human beings to do but we have to do it to avoid the chance that we accelerate our rate of infection and the percentage “death rate” to that of the rest of the world.
Ray of Hope
As a “ray of hope” however, we may be fortunate enough to have learned from the experience of those in other parts of the world despite our slow response to the virus in general. An example may be our initiative to seriously consider treatments that have worked on patients elsewhere. For example, we may have a “head start” on the use of therapeutics that can ease suffering in the United States.
These therapeutic approaches could ease the suffering of individuals and relieve the pressure on hospitals by allowing fewer people to require ventilators. Despite this hopeful approach we should not count on that to keep the “death rate” down. Our scientists and the FDA are also racing (literally) to approve new treatments and possible vaccines but these are a few months (new therapeutics) and at least a year (vaccines) away from general adoption.
Being well aware that the United States is slow to implement testing of its citizens we cannot know the current true infection rate. It is encouraging to see on the local news that drive-through testing facilities are being established in Massachusetts. These facilities require a person to have a doctor’s note verifying that they have coronavirus symptoms to be tested (otherwise they are turned away according to local news reporters) but at least we have a means to test those who are likely to be infected and to start getting some good data on actual versus false infection rates.
According to this website: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus (selected because it seems to stay updated regularly; and it is in agreement with the Johns Hopkins University data https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html that is quoted on CNN and other news outlets), the death rate percentage across the world and the United States (percentage of deaths in relation to all infected persons) is relatively constant (percentages below).
The number of World-wide Coronavirus cases is 324,064 with 13,782 deaths, 96,006 cases showing recovered, 214,276 active cases with 109,788 closed cases (recovered plus deaths).
World-wide Cases (as of March 22, 2020 1:15 P.M. EDT United States)
324,064 total confirmed cases
96,006 recovered cases
214,276 Currently infected patients (as we know and estimate due to lack of U.S. testing)
204,121 – Mild cases (95%)
10,155 – Serious or critical cases (5%)
109,788 closed cases (96,006 recovered plus 13,782 deaths)
This leads to the following percentage calculations based on a given outcome:
Percentage (World-wide) of deaths per infected person – 4.25%
(13,782/324064 = .0425)
Percentage recovered – 29.6%
(96,006/324,064 = .296)
United States case data(as of 1:15 P.M. EDT United States)
35,746 coronavius cases (it increased while I was writing this) by about three thousand known cases)
178 Recovered cases
35,176 currently known infected cases
35,176 Mild cases (98%)
708 Serious or critical cases (2%)
570 Closed cases
178 Recovered/discharged (31%)
392 Deaths (69%)
Percentage (U.S.) of deaths/infected person – 1.09%
392/35,746 = .0109
Percentage recovered/discharged – .5% (one half of one percent)
178/35,746 = .00498
These percentages do not reflect any inference about a person’s age when they contracted the coronavirus or their general health condition. It is just raw data to see how this virus is impacting the US versus the world NOW. These percentages could change drastically as the virus spreads in the population and has more longevity in the general population. As more cases are confirmed through expanded testing and as the disease manifests over time, the picture of how many people die from this dread virus and recover from it could change radically.
Again, at risk of repeating myself, these data seem to indicate that one contracting Coronavirus here (U.S.) so far has a 1.1% chance of death versus the world at large (4.25% – 4.3%). This could mean that we just have not seen enough cases or detected as many serious cases and that hospitalization may spike in the next two weeks causing us to “catch up” with the rest of the world in terms of mortality rate. Hopefully that will not happen, and our use of therapeutics can reduce the suffering (and death rate) that is being experienced by many people across the world.
Catching up with the death rate elsewhere would truly be a disaster, so I believe that we all need to take this seriously and “shelter in place” avoid public contact and social gatherings (even in private homes). Staying distant from one another is very difficult for human beings to do but we have to do it to avoid the chance that we accelerate our rate of infection and the percentage “death rate” to that of the rest of the world.
We should have faith in the scientists to find a therapeutic course of treatment that gives hope this year, and a vaccine that keeps this dread disease from re-appearing next year. In the meantime we should all be prudent and remain away from others and exhibit responsible social behavior, despite our fundamental urges to be with other people.
My friend and former colleague, Alexandra Hurworth wrote this excellent article that was posted on LinkedIn that I read earlier this week. Besides it being wonderfully researched and written, it illustrates how professionals from different disciplines can enhance the overall work and product development experience by getting outside the bonds of their core disciplines (and training). Alex points out that stretching one’s skills and knowledge and taking risks to understand the perspective’s of other disciplines within an organization can be very beneficial overall.
Alexandra paints a vivid picture of how one can reach out and experience the thoughts of team members and managers from other disciplines. This dialogue and education can enhance the product that results from a multi-disciplinary effort. Besides enhancing the efficacy of the deliverables, Alex points out that one can grow and push their own boundaries of competence, enhance their stature within an organization, and strengthen the human capital of an enterprise by daring to collaborate. This comes about by stretching the “breadth” and “depth” of knowledge that one is willing to research and bring to the collective development “table”.
Alex stresses three things in her article (explicitly or implicitly): “constructive listening”, “organizational empathy” (a true desire to understand another discipline’s point of view) and having an intellectual curiosity or an “honest desire to learn” (at least at the level required to grasp important points made by the experts in another discipline).
This really resonated with me and motivated me to make some further observations about professionals working in a multi-disciplinary environment. Many times within a cross-functional team one set of professionals is tasked with “taking the lead” and “running the process” and they do so without listening to all stakeholders and allowing the best ideas to come forward. This lack of organizational empathy can happen with any group representing a functional organization.
This emphasis on process over cross-functional dialogue and “common sense” often happens with the Agile process administrators (scrum masters) who are tasked with keeping track of projects.
The Agile process emphasizes “rituals” that promote brevity and structure over cross-functional dialogue and understanding. Therefore a team is often forced into a situation where they cannot work together to solve problems constructively. The team is basically required to attend meetings where someone without much knowledge of the tasks at hand (usually the scrum master) requires team members to make brief observations about what work might be required to get something done.
If the team members are engineers, often “brief observations” are “wild guesses” that become hard and fast commitments as far as scrum masters are concerned. This can be very stressful to engineers or UX designers or others who need to really contemplate what they are being asked to build. They don’t want to guess and be wrong and have to live with the consequences (and criticisms) that will inevitably result from quick uninformed judgments. This adherence to ritual can be exactly the wrong thing to pursue if developing rock-solid and innovative products is the goal of an organization.
During the execution of these rituals the responsible professionals (again usually engineers or UX designers, etc.) are required to guess at how long it should take to accomplish the tasks they have not been allowed to really understand. In these cases the ritual did not allow the team to interact and promote the best way to accomplish the work. The ritual was more important than the project and this caused a lot of frustration and ill-will among the team. It undermined the team’s faith in its management because management was seen as empowering the ritual over best practice and understanding.
Even though some executives who embrace and promote Agile methodologies rightfully state: “we need to fail faster so that we can fix our mistakes sooner”, they don’t need to allow the process to almost require failure in the first place. My argument has always been that it is fair to allow failure but it is not intelligent to plan it into the process by rigid adherence to an incomplete and rigid methodology.
Again, ritual for rituals sake can be very frustrating to engineering and design people who may need to have useful interaction to get the tasks defined and understood. The bounds of the process don’t always allow for proper understanding of the tasks and thus doom the team to unnecessary failure.
As Alex pointed out in her article, everyone grows when they can collaborate effectively and learn from one another. A team of well meaning professionals will generally pick the best path to getting the work done if they are allowed to interact and achieve results. When they are forced into a ritual that is not promoting dialogue and understanding, results will be constrained and morale will suffer.
The best of the scrum master class can sense when a team needs to discuss things and let them “break the ritual”. If an engineer is taking ten minutes to discuss a tough problem instead of the two-three minutes the ritual has allotted, then the wise scrum master lets the team have the time. In these cases it is best to allow the team to get the job done correctly. Letting the team work together instead of rushing to get items crossed off the task list is always the best course of action. Adherence to ritual is almost always a sub-optimal course to pursue.
Many scrum masters I have known would prefer an engineer to just state that something is done than to find out that it had been done completely, was tested and known to function correctly. These types of scrum masters are more concerned with their “velocity” and “burn down rate” than in getting the correct answer. So in these cases the ritual and process can produce a poor product. The team can never be proud of a poor product.
One particular example I can share is that on my last (very large and complex) project one of my engineers (probably the smartest one I ever worked with) needed to discuss some very important items. The Agile process person kept interrupting very important discussions that had to be undertaken for the project to succeed. This process person did not understand what was being said and in stifling discussion of a very intelligent person trying to do the right thing was causing incredibly bad feeling to develop on the team.
As a result the project was a lot harder to complete than it should have been and it was hard for me to keep the team working toward our goals. The team lost a feeling of accomplishment and I had to hold a lot of “side-meetings” where we discussed truly important things in advance of the “team meetings”. It was tense and hard but we did get the product built correctly. I bought a lot of pizza to make up for the lost camaraderie we had at the expense of dogmatic rituals. I have often wondered how much quicker we could have progressed and how much more we could have added to the project if we had been able to discuss ideas freely and learn more easily from one another.
So when structuring a project and thinking of team dynamics it is best to read Alex’s article and think through how one wants to manage the efforts of a team. Factoring in how a group of people will grow and learn from one another is often a function of how management decides to govern the project. Allowing time in the process for useful dialogue is key to team success and overall morale.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke.
This is offered because I think that it is a pivotal time in our nation’s history. If good men and women are silenced by the madding crowd and unsubstantiated assertions then we will all suffer the consequences.
This could also be entitled: “In defense of Mike Bloomberg” but that would narrow the significance of the point I want to make. This is really stated in defense of spirited debate that does not stoop to name calling and appeals to the fears and worst passions of the crowd. Please give this lengthy post your time and attention:
The political process being what it is I should not be surprised, but the state of discourse during elections has hit a new low. It is not just our president and his tweets. The shocking statements that have come out of the democratic debates and the claims that are made without much evidence have motivated me to write this post. I worry because good women and men who could contribute their experience to help the country may choose to stay out of politics altogether.
A reporter from The Wall Street Journal reached out to me yesterday for my thoughts on Mike Bloomberg and the culture of the company he built. The reason that I was contacted is that I worked with Bloomberg at a fairly senior level after working with them as a vendor and then selling my company to them in 2014. The person who reached out to me from The Wall Street Journal seemed serious about collecting and corroborating as many facts around Bloomberg the company, its culture and Mike himself as possible.
The sincerity of the reporter made me want to help and post this to my blog because I want to make clear that Bloomberg the company has a good culture and that Bloomberg “the man” was the prime architect of that culture. Also, I think that in our “sound-byte” culture even a good person can be made to look like they are severely flawed by the screaming invective of the political process. My goal is to add a positive voice to this debate based on facts and observations.
It is hard to get the good aspects of a person out in the public discourse. Due to a lot of the “opposition research” and public statements being released about Bloomberg and the culture there that surfaced in recent Democratic debates it seemed like Bloomberg was cast (unfairly) in an unflattering light. This post describes my perspective on what I saw while I worked with and for the company.
Mike Bloomberg strikes me as a good man. The company he built operates from a basis of integrity. I am an entrepreneur and have started and operated four companies. I have dealt with all kinds of people and have seen many organizations. Overall Bloomberg LP was the most impressive.
My experience with Bloomberg goes back to 2012. The small software company I founded that year built a software solution for a business unit at Bloomberg. Bloomberg LP bought my company in 2014 when my team and I became employees of Bloomberg. I worked at Bloomberg LP as an employee for almost five years. While at Bloomberg my team had the opportunity to take on new projects well beyond what we initially were tasked to build. The team I led had engineers and support people located in both Cambridge MA and New York City, NY. We were well integrated into the culture at Bloomberg and were allowed the opportunity to deliver significant SW systems for them.
I can say that the company was tough but fair when I did business with them as an outside vendor. They negotiated very hard, expected a lot but lived up to every item in the contract we signed. They paid their bills on time and we delivered our product and made them successful in the certain area our SW enabled for them. The Bloomberg people I dealt with were tough and demanding and excellent at what they did, but fair and reasonable.
Mike Bloomberg was returning to the company about a month after the time when my firm was acquired. Therefore, I dealt with all of the senior managers who were there with Mike since the beginning of the firm and before he left to be the Mayor of New York City. When he came back it was clear that what he had put in place years before ran along in the same way it would with him being back in the building. Not much changed when he returned so he must have built the culture and team to carry on with his vision.
When my team and I became employees of Bloomberg LP I was impressed by the amount of training that is required of every employee. Training on data privacy and confidentiality around customer data was paramount. Customer satisfaction and “doing the right thing” was stressed. Making sure that all employees understand the policies and procedures that they must follow was a key component of the training for all employees, not just new ones. The most surprising thing was the commitment that the company made to training and awareness of issues around diversity.
Not just managers but all employees took required video classes in the area of diversity and awareness around “conscious and unconscious” bias toward others (handicapped fellow employees, people of color and other minorities and of course female employees). The training was tailored to the Bloomberg environment and made people think. It was expensive but it stressed that these are important topics to the management of the company. Everyone took the courses and they were placed into the employee “training transcript” to indicate that they had been completed.
There was a lot of emphasis on charitable giving and employees were encouraged to work in group events organized to assemble bikes for disadvantaged kids, or to deliver food to soup kitchens or other charitable organizations. Employees were encouraged to go to local schools and be reading tutors for children. A lot of emphasis was put on giving back to the community. This was all culture that was put in place by Mike and it carried over into the upper management he had in place when he went off to run New York City as mayor.
When Mike came back to work at Bloomberg, he sent out emails telling everyone that he was back and that he was excited to re-engage with the company and the employees. He liked to get in early (he would explain; around 7 AM) and get into his workday before the mad rush began. He encouraged anyone to walk up to his desk and say “hello” and tell him what they do at the company. He told people that the best time to catch him at his desk was between 7 AM and 8 AM. I never worked anywhere else where the CEO and Founder would tell people when they would have the best chance to get to talk to him. I found this impressive, and it was genuinely expressed.
The firm had no private offices and only conference rooms had doors. Mike would explain in video “town halls” that he did not believe in doors as he felt that everyone should be open about what they were doing. He encouraged everyone to work together and be fair; he stressed the word fair a lot when he spoke, which resonated with me.
Bloomberg can be a tough environment focused on results. The company is very goal-oriented and pushes everyone along to achieve its goals, but I can say that it is a fair place to work. One has to work hard but generally everyone is given the chance to succeed and is given the resources they need to get a job done. It is very business-like in that regard.
I met Mike twice in the time that I was working at Bloomberg. Once was a chance encounter at the coffee station where I did not notice him and he said: “hello, how are you, where do you work in the company?”. I told him that I ran a group that spanned Cambridge MA and New York City. He exclaimed that the office in Cambridge was not far from where he lived in Medford MA as a kid. He seemed excited to have an office near his hometown. We chatted about that and then he walked off with his coffee to his desk.
Another time was when he gave a speech to a bunch of engineering executives and engineering folks at the Bloomberg Philanthropies offices. Mike spoke about how he had studied electrical engineering at Johns Hopkins. He then said that he realized that his talents were best used elsewhere but he always appreciated what we did for the firm. He also mentioned that we as engineering people should always be mindful to help minorities and women advance into leadership roles. Engineering had traditionally been the way for individuals new to professional life to advance themselves and he mentioned that is why he studied engineering. He walked around after his talk and spoke with me and most everyone that he could. He was very down to earth and grounded and clearly loved talking to people.
So, when I heard the Democratic “hopefuls” attack Mike for his bias and accuse him of things that were discriminatory it did not fit with what I saw in the company. He clearly committed major amounts of resources to training employees to be mindful of how they were treating one another and how they should move minority and female employees along in their careers.
Many times, my female co-workers commented on how much they loved working at the company. Flexible work schedules, lot of family leave for maternity and paternity situations, and an ability to work from home were all mentioned. Compared to other places I worked the benefits (such as those mentioned) were exceedingly generous. Managers were encouraged to promote an environment where employees could feel comfortable working from home as long as the work got done. When this arrangement was not encouraged and a senior manager found out about the situation, it was usually corrected, particularly with a high-performing employee.
There were incidents mentioned in the recent Democratic debates where vague references to behavior of Mike’s sometime in the past had caused female employees to be uncomfortable. The references (in the debates) were made in an inexact and awkward context and were impossible for Mike (or anyone) to refute directly. I don’t know what happened when these incidents occurred. I can say that the culture at the company seemed to be open and transparent and that if something uncomfortable happened it was likely inadvertent. I did not work closely with Mike but saw him in a lot of “town halls” (as I mentioned) where he interacted with people and I never saw or heard any disrespectful behavior.
Mike seems to be the kind of guy who if he said something that caused someone to be uncomfortable, he would stop and learn from it. He was treated (in the debates) as if he was predatory and habitual about dealing with some employee groups. This seems unlikely as it just does not fit the culture that I saw at the company.
Mike set the tone for the organization and I never thought that it was anything but a great environment for everyone. The culture (as I mentioned) is focused on results and I was in meetings with upper managers who made very direct comments to people, but I never heard anything that was derogatory toward minority groups of employees or that was meant to be demeaning. The comments were always in relation to a serious business issue. The emphasis was on addressing the issue, not demeaning anyone.
The emphasis on training and awareness around these kinds of things was evidence that upper management takes diversity and inclusion seriously. Members of the “management committee” (Mike’s direct reports) were routinely stressing that we need to set goals and hire and promote females and minorities into all roles in the company. One of the committee members regularly published the goals toward promoting more women into leadership and management roles. These messages always mentioned goals set in this regard and the progress being made against those goals. It was clearly part of a conscious plan to bring diversity to the workforce.
Mike has also been criticized for being a “Billionaire”. Bernie Sanders also called him “immoral” for being a Billionaire. I don’t understand why someone who built his own business and was very successful and became a Billionaire is immoral. Mike gives away billions of dollars, he encourages and supports his employees to do so, and he left to perform public service as mayor of New York City.
Mike is financing his own campaign and is beholden to no person or group of people. He can afford to tell the world what he thinks because he will pay for his own campaign. To me this is not immoral but a wonderful change from politicians who take large donations from interest groups.
I understand that people think that this is unfair, but given that Mike has shown himself to be highly competent in a number of areas and that he asks nothing from lobbyist groups I am totally comfortable with Mike seeking higher office. He seems genuinely concerned with bringing people together and using “common sense” to provide solutions to our problems. He is concerned about the environment and wants to combat global warming. All of these are good things and good motivations.
So, I hope that I gave some insight into the culture of the company Mike founded by relaying what I saw. I was not a confidant of Mike’s and only spoke to him twice. But the culture that existed at the company did not seem predatory. Management at Mike’s company clearly put a lot of emphasis on recognizing that everyone needs a safe and effective workplace. So, I don’t think that the attacks on Mike in the debates were accurate or fair. I could go on about exact examples of hearing stories from satisfied employees who said that they would never leave the company but that would make this post even longer than it is and that would be counter-productive
This article: https://phys.org/news/2020-01-quantum-chips-correctly.html contains a lot of information on efforts to validate the correctness of computations made on quantum computing engines. Readers of previous blog posts on this site have seen that there is a lot of skepticism by experts in the field of Computer Science around the practicality of quantum computation in real-world use cases.
This is article discusses a number of interesting aspects of the disciplines involved with quantum computing.