This week’s reading, including “Useful things to know about engineering levels,” “Enable learning in technical writing,” and more.

Seeing like an algorithm

Author: Eugene Wei

Summary: an amazing post about how TikTok’s app design feeds its algorithm. By showing one full-screen video at the time, and noting a user’s response to it, TikTok produces precisely the data that it needs to make its For You algorithm better.

This doesn’t sound revolutionary, does it? But Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit show you multiple tweets at once, and the vast majority is content you scroll past without interacting. There’s value to those designs too (reduced friction), but the flip side is a weaker signal about what the user should be shown.

The actual magic is how every element of TikTok’s design and processes connect with each other to create a dataset with which the algorithm trains itself into peak performance

All around me, I encounter products or services that seem to have hit a ceiling in the quality of their algorithmic recommendations: Yelp, OpenTable, Amazon, Google, Netflix, and on and on. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are at rest in a good place. But I can’t help but feel there is another leap to be made in some of these, and that perhaps more algorithm-friendly design might be one of the possible solutions.

This is such an interesting perspective, and I can’t believe I’d never thought about it before. An algorithm-friendly design is so powerful. And maybe, Wei wonders, it could become a way for other companies to get an edge in machine learning.

Bootstrapping conference speaking by Trisha Gee gives some of her advice for aspiring speakers. It walked through her story of getting started with speaking, advising people to jump straight in and not be discouraged by rejection.

Something that stuck out:

I firmly believe that with all these virtual events and conferences there’s a much lower barrier to entry to speaking, and that now is exactly the right time to start presenting if it’s something you’ve ever had on your wish list.

This is absolutely true for me! I appreciated this advice.

Other articles:

(Both are reviews of a book that I now plan to read, Seeing Like A State by James C. Scott.)