Why is Operations no longer an 80K Priority Path? 2022-01-11T15:39:20.679Z


Comment by Anonymous_EA on Why is Operations no longer an 80K Priority Path? · 2022-01-13T15:56:45.433Z · EA · GW

Thanks for this! I really appreciate how carefully 80K thinks these questions through and have updated toward this bottleneck having gotten worse fairly recently, as you suggest. With that said, if there was an ops bottleneck in 2018 and 2019 as reflected in  previous surveys of skill needs, and if the ops bottleneck is back as of now, I wonder whether early 2020 was more the exception than the rule. 

To double check this, we would ideally run another survey of org leaders about skill needs, and there's some chance that happens in the next year.

I don't want to rush your process. At the same time, because I perceive this as fairly urgent bottleneck (as seems to be at least somewhat confirmed in comments by CarolineJ, Scronfinkle, and Anya Hunt), I'll just note that I hope that survey does in fact happen this year.  I doubt I can be helpful with this, but feel free to DM me if I could be - for example, I can think of at least one person who might be happy to run the survey this year and would likely do a good job.

Another reason why we dropped it is just because 'work at EA orgs' is already a priority path, and this is a subpath of that, and I'm not sure we should list both the broader path and subpath within the priority paths list (e.g. I also think 'research roles at EA orgs' is a big bottleneck but don't want to break that out as a separate category).

Again, I appreciate that you all are extremely thoughtful about these decisions. I will offer, from my outside perspective, that it seems like the Priority Paths already do a great job of conveying the value of research skills (e.g. 5/9 of the Priority Paths have the word "research" in the title), whereas they don't currently convey the value of operations skills. I'm not sure whether adding ops back to the Priority Paths is the best way to address this, or if there's another better option, such as simply removing the blurb about how ops skills are less needed now. But I think right now a reader of 80K would likely get the impression that ops skills are much less urgently needed than they are (see for example Eli Kaufman's comment on this post).

Comment by Anonymous_EA on Why is Operations no longer an 80K Priority Path? · 2022-01-12T14:28:59.986Z · EA · GW

Just confirming that "longtermist ED" is more the type of skillset I have in mind when I refer to  a "severe" bottleneck. Though I think even "EA-aligned with significant ops skills and potential to grow into ED-type roles" is also highly valuable and in short supply. 

I also like your advice!

Comment by Anonymous_EA on Why is Operations no longer an 80K Priority Path? · 2022-01-12T03:40:19.794Z · EA · GW

These are great thoughts, thanks! We definitely have different perceptions, but I really appreciate this perspective.

One crux may be what CarolineJ points to in her comment: "ops" captures a continuum of skillsets, some of which seem much rarer and more urgently needed than others. I am not sure what roles you were hiring for at your orgs, but I agree with CarolineJ that we especially need those with "chief of staff"-type skills. Examples that come to mind are Zach Robinson (Chief of Staff at Open Philanthropy) and Bill Zito (co-founder and COO at Redwood Research). 

With that said, my impression is that even inexperienced but superb junior PMs are extremely valuable and not easy to find. Here, by "superb," I mean to gesture at the kind of skills described by Tara Mac Auley in her 80K podcast. I'll quote her at length:

So, one of the first jobs I actually had was working at a fast food restaurant called Oporto which is sort of like Nandos, it’s a chicken shop. And I just started working there as a cook in the kitchen and I think that was a really great experience for me because it’s a really fast-paced environment where you’re put under a lot of pressure to do a whole range of different tasks really quickly and they were all things that I had never done before. And I really loved being thrown into a systems-based environment where there were checklists everywhere and you were told how long each of these different tasks should take.

And I think I got to learn a lot from that. It just kind of felt like a game, like I could optimize all of the different motions that I took and the order in which I did of all of the tasks to try and tick off everything in that checklist, find things that were missing from the checklist that should be added or tweak it in little ways to make my work more effective and to make it go smoother for everyone who worked there.

I did that for a little while and at one point, I brought a stopwatch to work and then I timed myself for all of the tasks that I did commonly and timed lots of other people and I compared how long it took me to do it one way versus lots of different ways and kind of did that over a couple of days until I found the most efficient way to do all of the tasks that I had to do at that organization. So then, I got promoted to manager of the shop and then ended up working with a lot of new franchisees to train their staff and build new systems to run these chicken shops really effectively.

So, one thing I did there was to come up with a predictive ordering system based on really hilarious things like the weather forecast for the day to try and predict what things people would order and how much stock we needed to have so that we could fulfill all the customer orders and how many staff we needed to have on shift at all the different times so that the shop would be more profitable. And by implementing that system, we were able to cut staff cost by 30% and make a lot of stores that were failing profitable again. [Bolding added.]

Robert Wiblin: How old were you at this point?

Tara Mac Aulay: When I was doing that, I was about 15 or probably 16.

Obviously there's only one Tara Mac Auley, but (as she discusses later in the podcast) ops skills can be learned and honed. I'd be surprised if there were multiple people of 16-year-old Tara's caliber applying to any given EA ops position - in fact my impression is that anyone with this level of ops talent tends to be rapidly promoted to top positions in EA orgs. I think highly talented EAs who think they could be excellent at ops should very strongly consider this career path, even if they could also be very good in, say, top policy roles. But right now, I think they would not feel encouraged to do so by the community (and I think 80K's Priority Paths have a big impact on this).

Identifying talent for projects that haven't been started seems like a fundamentally different bottleneck that operations for existing projects.

This does seem like another crux. The recent Forum post on Concrete Biosecurity Projects offers some example projects which would likely benefit from highly entrepreneurial ops talent, and it's part of what led me to post my question. 

Maybe I also think ops skills and founder skills are closer together than you do, partly because a lot of the people I think of as excellent at ops also seem like they would be excellent founders (or at least co-founders/early employees). 

Thanks a bunch for the answer :) We may just have a difference of perception here, but I hope this at least clarifies a bit the bottleneck I had in mind. Would love to hear if any of this sounds off to you, and if any others who have experience with ops hiring want to chime in with their own impressions.