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Ask HN: What is a problem you face at work?
117 points by cdiamand on Feb 18, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 122 comments
Hi guys,

I'm Cory. I run http://oppsdaily.com, a daily email for software devs who want to solve the problems people face at work.

The email consists of a super brief interview about a problem you have at work, and the software you wished you had (that you would buy), that could solve the problem.

Each day I receive a handful responses from developers who want to learn more, and I connect them to the interviewee.

I really want to source some of those interviews from this amazing community.

If you are facing a problem that you'd like to share, please contact me! - cory@oppsdaily.com

I'd love to feature you in one of my interviews.


If you're not comfortable being featured in an email, but you would like to share in this thread for the benefit of the HN community, please do! :)

Count me among those unwilling to be featured in an email, but I made this discovery very recently:

I have been dealing with a tremendous amount of anxiety for as long as I can clearly remember. After decades of a vicious cycle of procrastination and depression my ability to perform at an adequate level was entirely gone. I had this way about me that allowed me to appear very busy while accomplishing a criminally small number of tasks and never keeping any promises. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I lucked out by joining a team that was set up to enable this to continue.

After almost 10 years on the team and some treatment for the anxiety I realized that I was performing at less than 10% of my comfortable capacity. With the anxiety lessened, I could go back and trace the path it carved through my life. Regardless of performing in a way that should have had me fired years ago I still managed to be, by far, the most productive, well-informed, and pragmatic member of the team. I spoke with my manager and confirmed that he believed all of this and that, amazingly, he was actively moderating the amount of work sent my way because he was convinced I was overworked.

I had a sudden crisis because this meant that, as an entire team, we had trained ourselves to ignore how poor of a job we have been doing. If my 10% of capacity is that good then the entire team was underwater. Thankfully, my manager didn't try and deny it when I brought it to his attention. He also didn't notice it going on, but once I said the words it was like the clouds parted.

I predict some staffing and management style changes coming pretty soon. I'll call that a happy ending or at least a hopeful future!

Wow, thank you for sharing this!

Prepackaged and well documented IT setups for small business. We've things like "LegalZoom" which are contracts designed by lawyers that have instructions for adapting them to your needs. A site that keeps a set of IT "best practices" for different types of businesses, restaurant, nail salon, bookshop, coffee shop, etc. Want to provide your customers with free internet but don't want to be a source of spam, do <this>. Want to keep a backup of your critical data on tarsnap do <this>. Need to buy equipment for <x>, here is an annual review of the best equipment for that, and why.

Every business needs IT but not every business knows someone who can do it for them and they don't have a way to hire someone part time.

Pair this service with a set of vetted 'sysadmins' who will work part time to put these systems into a business and update them if needed. Uber for IT help :-)

I Like your idea a lot especially your last paragraph.

I don't think providing these information alone is a viable business model. But it could be used as a "lead generater" to support another business model. Basically it would be Content Marketing strategy.

Finding the famous "Aha moment".

You probably heard the story on how facebook realized that once someone adds at least 7 friends, then they reach this "Aha moment", and from that point on, they're converted to longer-term users. And how afterwards Facebook optimized their onboarding experience to help new users find and add more friends...

That's the problem I'm facing with our startup. We have tons of data. We track events, conversions, page views, bounces, you name it. But we're still not sure what's our "Aha moment". A tool or service that would ingest our analytics (or do its own) and find a strong causal relationship between actions and conversions would be really amazing (ideally, without requiring a $gazilion+ enterprise license)

I have a lot of experience with this problem. The simplest way is via data munging in python/ pandas etc by finding what percent users convert/churn after doing an event N times within the first X days, and all the permutations thereof, using statistical tests around the change point. A more clever way is to use bayesian change point analysis.

The tricky thing is that these insights wind up being kind of obvious from the first analysis. You will find things like "users who use the software more are more likely convert." Other times these types of analysis will confirm what you already know. The tricky thing is making sure you have the right tagging/events and place to make sure you're getting at the right level of detail to get something worthwhile. It's very a much a garbage in garbage out type of thing.

I personally have had this problem and tried looking for that insight hidden among our big data.

but we discovered looking for patterns in quantiative data was a waste of time. Instead what we are focusing on is more qualitative data: interviewing customers, interviewing people who cancelled, and finding the "jobs to be done" of your prospective customers. then mapping that to your product features.

once you truly understand your customer needs, knowing what to fix/improve is rather trivial.

Larry Page calls this the "magic moment" at Google...

Anyway, I'm not sure you'll find what you want with data. Usually you understand what the magic moment is by putting yourself in the position of your customers and then using your own product. Or trying to use your product and identifying the moment where your reaction goes from "meh, who cares" to "oh, wait, this is really exciting!". If you're not your target user, watch your users using your product and carefully observe their facial expressions. The magic moment is entirely emotional; that's what makes it magical.

Interesting, if you like to send me some more information I'd be happy to give you some pointers (andreas (ät) 7scientists.com).

Mistake on http://7scientists.com/ueber.html it should be 'Unser' instead of 'Unsere' just an FYI

Thanks, fixed!

@gingerlime Curious to know more about your problem. Can we jump on a quick call to discuss it? (email: pradeepsridar2@gmail.com)

A data scientist with experience in causal inference shouldn't cost you more than $150,000 a year.

A better use of that would be to hire a consultant for a couple weeks a year to tweak (or determine, at first) your models. We did this at a market research company I worked at, an oldschool stats guy would come in once a year for a review and tune-up.

I do 'data science' for smaller businesses that would not have the resources, or really the need for a full-time in-house analytics person like me. But, one client does about 8 to 10 hours a week, another does some projects periodically, and I just added a third that I think will end up being something like a day a week.

From my perspective it spreads my risk and from their perspective it means they get access to higher-end analytical help in a more flexible package that meets their needs. Their trade-off is higher rates per hour and my trade-off is a little more variance in income.

Good point. No reason to bring someone in-house before you even know what your needs are.

Moreover, the things they would work on may not really change often enough for an in-house person to ever be worth it.

We don't have this kind of money. And I think lots of small startups face a similar problem. I hope someone would "Productize" this kind of thing (even as a niche consultancy which can serve several smaller businesses)

50k remote from continental Europe

You might look at Azure machine learning.

I am so busy fighting fires and doing maintenance, that I don't have time to innovate. There are a few reasons for this: regulatory burden (healthcare), and the complexity of systems, especially integration between complex systems created by different vendors.

Not to get sales-y or anything, but my company solves this problem verbatim https://datica.com/compliant-cloud, https://datica.com/managed-integration - feel free to email me if you want to chat -> ryan at datica.com

This is a good one! Every time I post an interview in the healthcare field, I have a ton of people write in saying they'd never attempt to fix the problem because of HIPAA or some other regulation.

The folks who can make these regulations easier to work around, or who have the patience to slog through it have an incredible opportunity before them.

Here's the thing with HIPAA, the entire healthcare system in the USA treats HIPAA as if it were a truck-load of nitroglycerin. They totally go over-board on its interpretation, and they're super conservative if they think they're going to have a conflict with it. We tip-toe around these regulations and in the end patients are paying for it.

If the patients are paying, you don't have to. So it makes sense, business wise.

Sitting in a cubicle with intense fluorescent light above and cut off from natural light all day feels like it's killing me. And, I can't get an ergonomic set up easily. I need a doctor note. I just want a fucking comfortable chair to sit in 40 hours/week.

Otherwise, I like my job.

I always thought that was weird in the US - that some people work in offices without any natural light. In my country that's unheard of.

assuming you're in Europe, where they have laws which mandate a certain amount of natural light. No such thing in the US. Our workplaces, the unique campuses of Google et al aside, are far behind. I've worked in places that felt like dungeons and no workers made a peep about it. Actually, my own high school was modeled after a prison - no windows at all in the entire building (seriously). Here, even in NYC, I'm not aware of any office towers that have end-of-trip facilities for cycle commuters (just finding a place to park or store the bike is a luxury). Our work culture is awful... please don't point to Google or Apple's campuses either, they are anomalies. Go look at what kind of environment the average American works in. I've also never been offered ergonomics checks or advice by company staff, let alone equipment (bring it myself). OSHA (occupational safety) is basically a joke in this country, so nobody really fears it or thinks about occupational safety, especially in white collar office settings.

Sounds rough. What do you do for work? You might want to consider convincing your company you can work from home, or finding another job where you can work from home/wherever. It's becoming more accepted.

Try to work from home instead.

Extremely long sales cycles. In the order of 2-3 years. We write software for the cultural sector. Most of the sector relies on government funding of some sort, and we're often required to take part in tenders. Lots of annoying paperwork. Very slow and very opaque decision making. Tracking sales leads is hard like this. Making money is harder still. This problem worsens the year before and after an election.

Wearing another hat, I have the same problem in fintech. Slow decision making, long lead times and government meddling.

This is very similar to large enterprise healthcare as well. The upside is the opposite of startups. If you successfully integrate with a large health system then you can count that revenue for the better part of a decade. The downside is the sales cycle. You might have that revenue booked for 3 or 4 years and not collect on it until year 5.

Fantastic answer! I wonder if there is software that could potentially improve some aspect of this cycle.

It would be nice if the various governments (local, provincial, communal, federal ,..) would use a common platform/approach for their tenders and paperwork.

Edit: it would also be nice if there were a single source for new potential assignments. Currently we have to keep an eye on various (non-RSS..) websites, paper publications and bulletins. It's a pain. Especially because there's no way to filter/search paper announcements.

The owners of the company not listening to the technical people and buying crap software then asking us to make it work.

I feel your pain! :|

The main problem I face is people, and software ain't gonna fix that. Software is the easy part.

Nah, just write the necessary software to replace the people!

Or better, replace your job!

There are a bunch of projects we want to complete. Doing so requires me to inform a couple of other teams so that they can solve more fundamental problems so that we can finish our projects. Sometimes things change and I have to find and notify the right people, and tell them that there are now more of the fundamental problems or that there are now different ones.

I keep track of this dependency graph manually, and sometimes I make a mistake. Something that would prevent me from making a mistake and that would make managing this easier would be cool.

Mentally, it's a directed graph and you sort of flood-fill out of the node where the change is occurring. Just knowing which other things are affected would be enough.

Of course, if there's already something useful for this already, do let me know. This sort of sounds like something I should be able to do with project management tools but I haven't figured out how to do it yet.

Our team's boss, who is the CEO, tries to do too many things, so the management of our team ends up being delegated back to us through "360 peer reviews" and vague directives which, when we do them, aren't necessarily what the boss wanted.

If you can quantify how good our contributions to the company are, that would be great. Also if you could clarify our boss's instructions/wishes.

Adopt slack-based standups! https://www.takeaim.io

This will do two things for you:

1. Assuming your boss adopts the practice too, the fact that they are spread so thin will be pretty clear, both to them and the team.

2. You will have a record of tasks you worked on over the course of months. VERY useful when you are pulling together info for reviews.

Disclaimer: I use the software and know the founders

I am looking for a "Daily Operations Management Software". Let me explain.

Problem I am facing:

We have a lot tasks that need to be done on a daily, biweekly, monthly or whatever Basis. For example: checking new profile images, curating user data, checking error messages, etc.

My current solution

I setup cronjobs manually that send reminder emails to certain employees in my company, that remind them to do this Task. I also have an Excel sheet with a list of all these tasks all. In an irregular basis I control if these tasks are done properly.

Proposed Software solution

I can create a task with a description and assign it to a user / email. I can also assign how often this task needs to be done and wich superviser should be informed, if the task got forgotten and how often the supervisor should control the results. The assigned user gets reminded about this task and has to check whether or not he completed it or whether something went wrong.

Try looking into issue-tracking (aka ticket) systems. They generally come in two flavors: software development bug-tracking and service desk incident-response. They are mostly offered as SAASes these days with a monthly recurring fee per user.

Based on your description, and I hate to say it, but you might like something like Jira. Add recurring tasks plugin, and then the tasks you describe become as easy as scheduling a recurring meeting in Outlook. I think a workflow tracking system might bring tears of joy to your eyes.

I use an old-fashioned approach for some regular tasks, we hire a real human person just a few hours per month. They have a set of tasks which need doing monthly, and as a bonus they're flexible and occasionally take some initiative, or offer their services for basic tasks we might otherwise have to pay someone else to do Plus, they learn a little about running a small business, so I feel I'm giving back a little.

We use Slack's "/remind" functionality for recurring reminders. For us having your proposed software as a slack bot would be awesome

Or trello card repeater[0]? (haven't used it, but figured trello might have something and was able to find it)

[0] http://blog.trello.com/trello-card-repeater

So many products and service for this today. Free, paid, trials etc and from super dead simple to more complex.


I made something very much like this as part if a custom business workflow software for a client recently. It never occurred to me to spin it off as a standalone thing.

Do you think there could be a market for that?

I built almost this exact solution that we still use today. the only difference is when tasks are overdue, there is a escalation system that notifys a set of people you designate.

Perhaps you could automate using https://github.com/tebelorg/TA.Gui?

Here is an example of one I received a while back, but haven't included in the daily email because I was afraid it was a bit too niche.

"I work in sports photography.

A problem I face is that I spend a lot of time grouping and sorting players in uniform.

The software I want would read the jersey numbers and tag the image with the players shown in the picture. Then it would allow manual tagging for those with jersey numbers not visible.

I would pay for this software."

This sure sounds like an interesting problem. With the likes of AI, Google's Cloud Vision[0] and hopefully many more this sort of thing can definitely become a reality in the near future.

[0] - https://cloud.google.com/vision/

I know right? I really loved this one, but was afraid the market wasn't large enough. Maybe I'll send it out anyways.

I've had several interviews with folks who are edit/sort a large amount of photos, and there are a lot of needs in that space. A really flexible image categorizer would help a lot of people.

This sort of thing is not difficult now, and you don't necessarily need to jump to ML. What you do need is someone relatively competent in image analysis.

Pulling numbers off a uniform (typically high contrast) is not very complex.

Depending on this photogs tech proficiency I think they could pretty easily achieve this using Amazon Turk or pay for a custom solution using a dev tool like https://www.scaleapi.com/

I would take payment to write that software. If you have a need for CV people I may be able to help. Email address is in my user page.

Just a note, the email isn't actually visible. You need to copy it to the "about" field.

Oh hell, thanks

I put

Way too many emails, emails from:

* Every spammy SAAS service we're integrated with.

* Background job server failures

* Airbreak and New Relic emails

* Emails spam from team@company.com

* Jira, Stash, Confluence emails

The list goes on and on...

Labels and filters can only do so much, and eventually you end up over-filtering and end up in the same problem you tried to solve - you never see the important stuff.

Frankly video conferencing that doesn't suck would be huge.

Yes! It feels like I try a new video conferencing system every week, never to see any improvement. I currently pay something like £20 per month for WebEx because it's marginally better than Skype (particularly with more than three people, at which point in my experience Skype becomes unusable).

I tried a new one last week (for an introductory call with a new client) - Zoom.us - and it was absolutely agonising: I had to install some junky software on my Mac only to end up with a laggy video connection with appalling sound quality. In the end I made an international phone call to the guy and we both breathed a sigh of relief because we could actually relax and have a conversation.

This is not how things should be in 2017.

Apple is the worst offender by being the only major vendor not to support WebRTC natively (and I guess that's why Zoom.us went with their own non-native solution).

I know people prefer Macs, but they're enabling this behavior by Apple :( (although they do seem to be working on this - https://sixcolors.com/link/2017/01/safari-to-gain-real-time-... )

We use google hangouts as our video conferencing tool. It's ok, nothing great I suppose. But I'm now wondering:

* what features would make these tools great? shitty?

* are we using a subpar vtc tool bc we don't know any better?

This is how video conferencing should work: I go to your page and generate a link. I send that link to participants. They open it, the video conference starts full-screen immediately. High resolution, no plugin downloads, no prompts, no "invites," nothing. No clutter on the screen at all. I don't need emojis or filters. If there are 4 participants, split the screen automatically into quadrants with each participant's video in one quadrant. None of that Hangouts auto-switching nonsense.

Have you tried appear.in ? https://appear.in/ . It generates a link, and has pretty good resolution and no invites or anything, and I like their UI a lot.

Most of the other problems (high resolution and immediacy) are a function of bandwidth and internet quality more than anything else I think :(

I'm also working on a video conferencing software (for a different use case) and unfortunately we can't do away with the prompts because of security, but WebRTC (https://webrtc.org/) has done away with plugin downloads for everything but iOS (Apple, as usual, not inviting others into their walled garden).

FWIW I've found appear.in through slack pretty nice. Nothing to install. Just type /appear <room-name> and it boots up a room in a browser for you.

We use biba, which is most likely used for amazon chime now (amazon bought biba) and I have never once had any problems with it. It just works

You might want to check out https://chime.aws/

Bluejeans is extremely good.

I've never heard of this one. I'd try it, but the pricing page just says "Get a quote" all over it, which is a massive turn-off.

Yeah, we used them at LinkedIn, they are definitely enterprise, but are also the best. I have no idea of the price and im sure linkedin is going to skype now.


These banal questions under the guise of "Ask HN" are getting out of hand.

There is never enough clean teaspoons to stir hot drinks.

Someone or many people have been stealing forks from our canteen. We have 1 big fork and a handful of smaller forks left.

You need an enterprise cutlery inventory management system.

Put the milk in your cup before adding your hot beverage.

Unless it's tea. The only thing crazier than that is putting jam on your scone before the cream. ;-)

Oh no, you don't want to pour hot water on milk ...

Disposable spoons are the answer here.

Someone write a hot beverage optimizer!!

We should have this monthly, like the jobs postings. Think of it as startup founding postings

I would love to post this monthly! Do you think first of the month is the right time for that, or one month from now?

It would prolly mack on the jobs board if you actually posted it first of the month.

You should prolly ask dang and see if he's cool with it

I'm a junior developer that is highly praised for my ability to deal with people and think big picture. I get good feedback on my coding, but that's not where I shine. In the last few months I've been in more and more meetings with people way more experienced than me. It's great for growth in the company, but cuts into my development time. I feel that's it's weakening me as a developer and will cause problems if I try to move companies.

yea. the fact that people include you in meetings with more important people prevents you from career progression. studying minutiae of whatever pet project you want to nurse is probably way more important.

Cutting through wayn3's (unproductive) sarcasm, he has a point. The typical programmer is going to be better served by the network of contacts he/she develops over time than the code they develop. The people you are sitting at the table with may get promoted, leave the company etc., and can open the door to opportunity down the road.

The flip side is that the value of a network of senior people at your current employer is largely tied to your current employer. Senior people move around much less frequently than junior people (that's often how they got to be senior in the first place...), and when they do move, they frequently end up doing something fairly similar to what they were doing before (otherwise they'd lose their seniority). So your network will easily get you a job working on the stuff they find interesting - but if you want to work on the stuff you find interesting, your current employer better be pretty well-aligned with what you want to do.

I would make sure to balance this with the social aspect. Maintaining a strong network can open a lot of opportunities. Definitely step out of meetings where your presence is not necessary though. There is no substitute for getting things done.

Reddit ads don't have a conversion tracking solution. Especially when you're running multiple campaigns for the same ad - there's no way to see which campaign a conversion came from.

So basically I'd like a fancier Reddit ad-buying tool.

Ooh, this sounds like a good one for the email list. Actually several of the posted ones have been really good. Maybe I'll link to this thread.

Would love to chat more if you're interested!

This is a pretty clever idea to solicit ideas for software. Has it been effective?

Not yet! But I'm refreshing my inbox like crazy :)

Do you have a sales and marketing structure in place? I don't have trouble with ideas, I have trouble grinding out what is necessary to get eyes on product.

For sales, I just ask that people pay me if I'm able to connect them with the person behind the problem. Essentially its a "Pay what you want" Model. Inevitably I'll have to move away from that model though.

In terms of marketing, I just kind of share what I'm up to on a regular basis and people seem interested. Also the email kind of markets itself to a degree. Friends tell friends, etc.

I do feel there could be value in software that keeps your marketing on schedule, and also helps to structure what you write about. It took me a while to figure out the structure of my weekly post.

I've got a few now!

Was the Nugget controversy a setup? ( https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13652612 )

I've talked with cdiamon way before his happened and it definitely wasn't.

Thanks. The whole episode seemed so bizarre to me I was wondering what I was missing. This was the only idea I was able to synthesize.

Like, follow-up post: "He, we created a huge controversy which drove amazing traffic to our products. Now we are joining hands and are doing great!".

But apparently it is Occam's razor and just a giant PR disaster for Nugget.

The company I work for uses weather data provided by one of the many API providers. We switched providers three times now and still customers often complain that locally the data is wrong. We're not even using forecasts, just the current weather.

I am now looking into building something new. However I would be glad about suggestions.

The main problem I face at work is email spam.

Interesting! Care to elaborate?

I remember at one of my first jobs, one of my duties was to manually train our spam filter...

We use Google apps for work and their spam filters are quite robust.

Sales. Specifically, sales as a service. Different months have different sales volumes needs. This month, for instance, our in-house sales team has closed 40% fewer deals than the trend line. It would be great to elastically extend the output of our sales teams on months like this AWS-style.

It's really hard to pace sales due to costs involved. But we ( https://Marketjoy.com )try to solve this problem by controlling the lead flow for our customers.

Edit: I hope this is not too salesy.

This is a super cool idea. Would love to chat more about this!

The questionable competence of our product team coupled with sales selling things we don't have.

We are a smallish startup, but we seem to have a lot of senior people whose value is unclear.

The competence of my product team is not questionable, it is straight up zero.

I've been struggling with the useless product people: the head of product who should have been fired long ago but apparently he's got his ways with the CEO. And the product analyst cannot even write proper english in his self-proclaimed "user stories". All this causes engineering and QA having to double their effort. Additionally we have lost engineering talent at some point because of this terrible product person, who at some point was tasked as the head of engineers as well.

Many people in the past have told management to their faces that these people suck. They're still there. And in the meantime, other competent and productive people _have_ been fired instead. It makes me furious.

Being paid by the hour



Interesting... Office politics, or politics politics?

Office politics.

Here's an idea: a Machiavellian social network software that could help us find like-minded individuals inside our orgs so that we could build alliances and drive initiatives. Uses ML/AI to detect threats or plots targeted at us. Obviously, it would have to be a private social graph - you wouldn't want the marks finding out about your plans. Monthly billing by # of plots/subterfuges in progress.

Might also make for a hilarious game.

Sounds close to what happened at halfbrick https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9WMNuyjm4w

One wonders, which department will be on top.



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