💠 Sunday Scaries (09/06/20)

How to build an API (well), why companies exist, a throwback annual report

Hi everyone,

Writing to you from Austin, Texas. I’m spending the weekend enjoying the local BBQ scene and trying my best to avoid the heat. It seems like everyone I know has plans to move here.

Earlier this year, a few friends and I cooked up an idea: we would rent out a group of apartment complexes and offer short-term leases for the wave of technology employees leaving San Francisco. We devised a slick landing page and marketed the idea to everyone we knew.

Ultimately, we decided not to go forward with the venture. Seeing the influx of new faces to cities like Austin, Denver, and Big Sky, I wonder if that wasn’t a missed opportunity.

What’s New From Me:

  1. Personal Productivity: This essay is an attempt to understand and measure my own personal productivity. It is the latest edition of a growing series focused on this topic. Measuring creative output is very hard. Over the years I’ve crashed and burned by relying on simple measures like word count. There is a great story about the writer James Joyce in Stephen King’s book On Writing that describes why this is so difficult:

    “A friend came to visit James Joyce one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.

    James, what’s wrong?' the friend asked. 'Is it the work?'

    Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at his friend. Of course it was the work; isn’t it always?

    How many words did you get today?' the friend pursued.

    Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk): 'Seven.'

    Seven? But James… that’s good, at least for you.'

    Yes,' Joyce said, finally looking up. 'I suppose it is… but I don’t know what order they go in!”

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In This Week’s Edition:

[👩‍💻Software] How To Build Effective APIs: Understanding how to build useful APIs is essential for anyone interested in a career in software development. This piece from Increment, Stripe’s engineering magazine, covers how the payments giant creates human-centered APIs. Since APIs attract a different set of users than traditional software products, you can’t rely on common techniques like user interviews or A/B testing. Instead, they recommend alternatives like creating a friction log or dogfooding. If you’re interested in effective API design, this entire issue is worth reading.

[📈 Economics] The Nature of the Firm: This paper includes the best description of entrepreneurship that I’ve ever seen. Written in 1937, it discusses the reasons why companies choose to form in the first place, rather than allowing the market to decide prices between individuals. Modern business is based on the assumptions laid out in this paper, although many of us have forgotten that they once needed to be stated in plain language. Here is my favorite quote describing the role of an entrepreneur:

[⚙️Business] AT&T 1913 Annual Report: AT&T was to communications in the 20th century as Google and Amazon are to technology today. This annual report is a case study in effective writing. Plus, it’s an incredible look at how an early technology company flexed its ability to recruit and retain talent. Ten years after this report was written, AT&T would go on to found Bell Labs; one of the most successful research institutions ever created.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday Scaries is a newsletter that answers simple questions with surprising answers. You can subscribe by clicking the link below. 👇