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Robinhood Rides a Phoenix and a Unicorn

israeljcarberry profile image Israel Carberry ・4 min read

In the seminal novel on DevOps, The Phoenix Project, the fictional guru character Erik claims that he’s “long believed that to effectively manage IT is not only a critical competency but a significant predictor of company performance”.1 He then goes on to describe a hypothetical hedge fund that takes long positions on companies with great IT organizations and shorts those with failing IT. In the 2.0 version of that work, The Unicorn Project, that same Erik says to someone else in roughly the same timeframe of the story line that “middle managers are your interface between strategy and execution”.2

I devoured these books in May and June of 2020 as part of an effort to wrap my head around the delivery challenges we were facing in our engineering team. They have been instrumental in the transformation of our team culture and implementation of process changes. This is not a quick and easy path to tread, and even now, as of February 2021, we are only starting to see some small successes and breakthroughs. But successes they are, and they help confirm we are on a track of continual improvement.

Simultaneous to applying insights from these novels in my work life, I also took hold of the above quoted ideas, and decided to play the stonks game3 accordingly. As an engineering manager myself, I figured, I should be able to evaluate publicly traded companies using free, online platforms to ascertain the quality of their IT organizations.

I had long poo-pooed investing in the stock market, and felt vindicated in that stance with stories of entire retirement funds being wiped out by the dot com and housing crashes. I tuned out from any family gathering conversation that wandered into stonkyness. So I found myself needing a place to start. I remembered seeing a vlog interview of the Motley Fool founders, and had thought at the time, “these are the only people I’ve heard actually make it sound like it makes sense.” A few clicks and $99 later, I had Step One done; get good advice, check.

I also decided to approach this as a game, nothing more. I would only “invest” my spending cash as already budgeted,4 so if I made stupids, the cash was already “spent” in playing the game.5 This completely removed the money emotion from the equation, to be replaced with game play excitement or disappointment, and the stonks themselves are just in-game currency. That took care of Step Two; get perspective, check.

Step Three is the Erik Play. I put several of the latest Fool recommendations through my most amateurish analysis; Step Three A, look at each company’s list of employees on LinkedIn filtered by titles with the keyword “engineering”, and Step Three B, look at reviews by each company’s employees on Glassdoor.

Not surprisingly, the general consensus of Three B aligned with what I found in Three A. Companies with lots of Engineering Managers like myself, as well as Directors and VPs of Engineering, that had profile and job history descriptions that championed a culture of learning, empowerment of their direct reports, and a love for devops had, without exception, shiny reviews on Glassdoor. Likewise, those that exhibited pride in jargoned knowledge, specific tech stacks, and sacrificial heroics aligned directly with complaints on Glassdoor of toxic environments, high turnover, and general assholery. Step Three, do my own smartypants stuff, check.

I duckducked the available amateur trading apps, read some pros and cons and opined opinionated opinions, and eventually installed Robinhood. This choice really had no impact on the game;6 it has a decent HUD with dark mode, an intuitive weapons selector, and a solid inventory system.7 I’m sure other apps work just as well. I started putting in $25 to $30 every payday, picking just one stonk each time. Step Four, game on, check.

So far, not even a year in, I’ve leveled up with quite a bit of XP. I keep a list of recommended stonks I’ve turned down, labeled appropriately BMM (Bad Middle Management). I’ve also added other sources of advice, and picked a few stonks of my own liking. I don’t follow hype, don’t try fancy backflips or finishing moves, and so far have held on to everything I’ve picked up. A fun spreadsheet project tracks all my capital input, stonk amount and value, and gain or loss.8 This I only update on the weekend to see how I’m doing and plan my next move. Checking the app during the week is reserved for the end of the work (and trading) day, resulting in either an “Ooh, neat!” or an “Oh, that’s interesting”, but never ever ever a reactive game play.

There really is no Step Five. I’m playing the game, having fun. And so far, Erik seems like a pretty smart guy.

  1. The Phoenix Project, 5th Anniversary Edition, 2018, by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford, p. 335 

  2. The Unicorn Project, First Edition, 2019, by Gene Kim, p. 288 

  3. Absolutely nowhere in this article is any statement meant to be construed as investment advice. This is entirely anecdotal expressions of personal experience. 

  4. I use Mvelopes, and highly recommend it to anyone. It’s the budgeting tool your great gramma used, upgraded from pulped dead trees to an app. It won’t bake pies, though. 

  5. It was pandemic lockdown time. Who needs falafel wraps or new socks? 

  6. It made for a clever title for this article, which is really the only reason I mention it. 

  7. I’m being snarky and metaphorical here, duh. The point is, this is a game to me, remember? 

  8. It also tracks crypto transactions, but that’s a whole different game with different rules. That has allowed me to see both together as a “portfolio”. I know, gross, using adulty words like that. The caveat here is that when I put in cash I specifically planned to take out again a short time later, a jump in crypto meant I could pull it back out entirely from there, leaving the stonks bought with the original cash as entirely “gain”. But that’s another game map, irrelevant to the main thread here. 

Discussion (2)

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codenamekt profile image
Toby Stevenson

A game best played with patience. A great read.

israeljcarberry profile image
Israel Carberry Author

Very true. Thanks!