By Craig Silverstein
When I joined Khan Academy, my first project was to write a version of the weekly-snippet server I had worked with at Google. Years later, with the help of many intrepid Khan Academy employees (one such employee, another such employee, a third such employee, you get the idea), it’s ready for the world!
What are weekly snippets?
A weekly snippet is an (ideally) brief description of what you did the last week. What is brief? The snippet-entry textbox is sized for 4 bullet-point entries, each 80 characters or less:
Your snippets are visible to everyone else on your email domain. (So my snippets are visible to everyone who logs in to KA snippet server with a
@khanacademy.org email address.) Depending on your configuration options, they may also be visible to everyone else on your server.
(You may notice, on this page, a bunch of people have not entered snippets. At Khan, that’s perfectly ok. This is a tool for people to use if they find it useful, and ignore if they don’t.)
Why have snippets?
Different people might use weekly snippets for different purposes:
- Instead of a weekly standup or other meeting where everyone shares what they’ve done in the last week, they can just read (and write) snippets.
- Managers can read snippets of their direct reports to make better use of 1-on-1 meetings.
- You can look over your own snippets when writing a self-evaluation or applying for a promotion, or when you have any other need to remind yourself what you’ve worked on.
I’ve found this last reason is particularly compelling. I also use snippets as a simple “time and motion” study: when I have too many things to put into snippets one week, I know I’m being spread too thin!
Another benefit of snippets is serendipitous helping: by reading someone’s snippet, you may discover a task or problem they’re working on that you can help with, that otherwise you would never have known about.
What are snippets not good for?
Some people go into a snippet system with unrealistic expectations and are disappointed.
Snippets do not work well for large groups, say over 100 people. If you have 1000 people using your snippet server, it is neither practical nor useful to read through everyone’s snippets every week.
Snippets are, by design, a low level tool: they show you trees but not the forest. The snippet system does not support “rolling up” groups of snippets or having team-based snippets (though certain individuals could certainly choose to have their own snippets refer to a team’s progress).
Snippets do not provide context. If you don’t already know what someone is working on, their snippet may enlighten you, but it will just as likely confuse you.
At Khan Academy, the entire company uses one snippet server. The snippets are divided into various categories, some functional, some project-based. I like to skim over the snippets for people in unrelated categories such as “facilities” or “recruiting.” I read more closely the snippets in projects I’m interested in but not working on, such as “mobile.” And I read most closely the snippets of people in my own project or closely related projects.
How do you use the snippet-server?
After setting up your settings, to control things like how public your snippets are and whether you want to use plain text or markdown, there are only two web pages: the one where you write your snippets, and the one where you read everyone’s snippets for a week.
The administrator can set up the system to send you reminder emails to write snippets, or to email when snippets are ready for a week. (The snippet server can also use chat systems for this.)
The Google connection
The snippet server is built on top of Google AppEngine, and uses Google services for authentication. To use it, you need to clone the snippet github project and then upload it to your own appengine instance. (It uses few resources, so Google’s “free tier” would work fine.)
The people using your snippet server must log in using Google (aka Gmail) accounts. The snippet server works particularly well with companies that use Google Apps for Work.
Email and chat
The snippet server integrates with email, HipChat, and Slack.
It can send individual emails to people who have not written a snippet for this week, reminding them to do so. (Users can turn this feature off in their preferences.) It can also send an email to all registered users, at 5pm on Monday, to say snippets are ready.
It can also send reminders and ready messages via chat. (In this case, the reminder isn’t [yet] individualized.)
Try it out!
The Snippet Server has been developed in the open since day one, but it hasn’t been advertised that well. Now we’re looking to change that. Contributors welcome!
We believe that snippets can be a useful tool for a small to medium-sized team, and while there are several snippet server implementations out there, this one’s ease of use and low low price makes it an appealing alternative. Try out the server and see what you think.