Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Panic..Panic..Panic..

Here I am, a day late with my blog, and I haven't a clue what topic I will write about. (Or at least that's what I want you to think.) Yet here I am.

British Petroleum has found out the hard way what the consequences are of not having all of your contingencies accounted for prior to finding out that Murphy is going to hit you where you are weakest. (There's no need to add a link there, since you can throw a stone and hit 20 news websites with articles on the Gulf disaster.) I have also discovered this on a few occasions - most notably this week with my blog (see? I wasn't necessarily fibbing after all) - and I can assure you that losing control of the situation is never fun, especially when the situation wasn't fun to begin with.

My wife says I have "control issues." I counter with the statement that I simply don't like not knowing what to expect.

In ITIL (which is, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, a collection of business processes that have been refined over the years so that businesses can get the most of their investment in IT), Business Continuity is the collection of processes that help you recover from a calamity of any sort. In my own words, there are five primary parts to this.

Develop your recovery plan. When 9/11 occurred, Morgan Stanley very quickly had their operations moved to another facility before the stock market opened that same morning. This quick turnaround time would not have been possible if they hadn't already determined what their recovery plan was.

Document those plans. Another key component is writing down every detail around your recovery plan that is necessary. The litmus test for the effectiveness of the documentation is in the answer to this question: "could someone fresh out of college read these plans and get our business up and running in a relatively short time?"

Be prepared. Morgan Stanley moved to a base of operations on Varrick Street, something that would not have been possible in the short time period if they had not already established this location as a backup center for their operations. I don't know the specifics of the equipment that was already in place before 9/11 but you can easily imagine that they had enough IT assets (including computers, phone lines, etc.) to resume critical business operations with the "turn of a key."

Practice your plans. Disaster Recovery, as it is sometimes called, requires quick execution to prevent (to the greatest degree possible) loss to the business (whether revenue, customers that go to competitors, etc.). This requires that everyone knows their role in such a situation and can simply execute their role with little direction.

Refine your plans. IT is not a static operation. With many moving parts, it is constantly changing as new technologies are incorporated into the business. Periodic review and refinement of your recovery plans is a necessity to ensure that they are in lock step with the current state of the business.

Here's the "big deal" moment. While this all sounds like something that many of you will not have to deal with, a "personal recovery plan" is still an essential component to any successful professional. More specifically, I will make the claim that there are many variables in the business world that make navigation a treacherous activity at times. Corporate politics, the effect of the economy, changing management, etc. can all have an effect on your ability to evolve in spite of the fact that you may be the best at what you do.

Consider the following (with specific names removed for obvious reasons): at a large company last year, the head of a particular division was laid off in spite of the fact that they were quite good at their job and were well respected by everyone reporting to them. The reason, they were told, was that there was someone in their organization that could do their job (although they didn't have benefit of nearly two decades of experience like this individual had) with almost the same level of proficiency but at half the cost. The loss of expertise / experience was more than made up in the salary savings the company experienced. What did this person do wrong? They fulfilled their responsibilities quite well, but at the end of the day it became a financial decision only.

So what is your backup plan? Do you even recognize the need to have one? Once you have this on your radar, you will easily see the benefits of extending this concept to even the finer details of your professional life. Questions such as "How do we continue moving this deal forward if we lose John's sponsorship of our product?" or "How will our [cyclical] business continue to survive if this economic downturn lasts longer than expected?" will be easier to answer with a little forethought and proper planning.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Price of Privacy

Here's an update on my job situation as a follow-up to my blog entry last week. I found another position within the same company in a role that fits me better by an order or magnitude. To make it better, I received a payraise too.

Being proactive gets you noticed. In fact, it was remarked that my attitude demonstrated that I already had the qualities that my new boss was seeking in the successful candidate.




Privacy has a price. Don't believe me? Ask Facebook. Before I explain that, though, let's have a history lesson.

Facebook started as a joke of sorts. According to Wikipedia (which, in turn, got this information from a 2008 Rolling Stone article), Mark Zucker wrote its predecessor as a Harvard version of HotOrNot to take his mind off of a girl that had dumped him. This evolved into a means for college students to link up in order to stay in touch. Finally, it became the behemoth that we know (and love?) today.

The problem started when Facebook realized that it had a substantial user base.* When you have over 100 million users and all of their associated data, you start to wonder if there is any way to make money off of this. Granted, Facebook started receiving venture capital less than 6 months after work was started on the site in January 2004. But venture capital is one thing - the big payoff (and the reason for the VC investment in the first place) is something else entirely.

* This is speculation, of course, but I daresay it isn't far from the truth.

The first inklings of this desire to make beaucoup bucks reared their ugly heads in November 2007 with the Beacon project. Since the media uproar and subsequent public outrage that followed, Facebook has constantly been in the spotlight (often for poor reasons rather than positive ones) due to its ever changing privacy policy. While the true reasons for the constant changes to the privacy settings, etc. may never be known, it isn't too hard to speculate that Zucker et al are continuing to strike business deals with other websites where they exchange demographic and preference data in exchange for cold, hard cash.

Now a new wind is blowing, however. While social networks aren't new (c.f. Jive Software, Intralinks, Wellness Layers, etc. which all make some form of enterprise-class social networking / collaboration software), the popularity of Facebook in spite of its "mayhem and nonsense" has made it the only social network site worth considering...until now. Recently, the media has been raving about four NYU students who have decided to create an open source Facebook competitor (named Diaspora). Why have they decided to do this? They, like many of the rest of us, got fed up with the lack of control over how our data from Facebook is used, and they want to do something about it. In fact, in the few short months since they announced their intention, they have already raised USD$115,000 in "crowdsourced" funding (i.e. not coming specifically from angel investors).

Again, their idea isn't new. There are other alternatives already under development (OneSocialWeb, for instance). But what they are doing highlights the issue of privacy at Facebook. After all, who wants to stand up and make the claim that their privacy policy is longer than the American Constitution?

In all seriousness, I don't see how Facebook can win this battle. If you keep quiet about it (like they did with Beacon), someone will eventually find out and roast you alive. If you tell people about unexpected use of social data (like Google recently did when they said they inadvertently collected data from unsecured WiFi networks while their streetcam cars were roaming the streets) then the world will start by expressing concern (or by outright blasting you to bits) over the disposition of the data and end by...well...comparing you to Facebook. All in all, I would claim that the latter scenario is preferred since Google at least has some credibility and will successfully defend itself on the strength of the word "inadvertently."

Still, it's only due to its existing reputation that Google will ultimately escape unscathed. Facebook can only wish that it enjoyed this luxury.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Here I Go Again

I found out recently that I am the victim of the recently announced layoffs at my current (as of the time of this writing) employer. More specifically, management was shuffled around and I went from being the protege of the person that hired me to last week's news since my new manager set goals for the group that do not match my background and experience. Last week I mentioned this with the promise of discussing how I am approaching my job search this time differently than last year, so here I am talking about this topic again.

Last year, the employment market was in much worse shape. In spite of this, I'm not allowing the relatively positive outlook to cause me to be lazy. Specifically, I am taking the following approach to my job search.

Do not wait. My wife calls me the King of Layoffs since I was also a victim of a massive reduction in force in 2008. (Yes, that's three layoffs in three years.) Fortunately, I found a new position rather quickly within BMC and averted any financial impact as a result. Last year, I had the attitude that it would be easy again and did not hustle like I should have. As a result, precious time was wasted when I could have and should have been using my connections within the company to attempt to land me a new position elsewhere.

This year, I immediately started canvasing the people with whom I have worked and had a positive impact to ask for their endorsements and recommendations. Introductions have been made internally and progress is occurring.

Make the call. It's embarrassing to say you're being laid off. It's even more embarrassing to say you're being laid off after having started only four months ago. It's the most embarrassing to say that you're being laid off for the third time in three years. Still, there is no shame in reaching out to people that you have connected with to tell them of your situation. I have done nothing wrong (in my opinion and in the eyes of those with whom I have worked directly) so while it is embarrassing, the prospect of being out of work again is more aggravating than enduring a little embarrassment.

Therefore, I have reached out to the movers and shakers that I know. I have spoken with a few C-level executives in my network and have had (and continue to have) meetings with them. Last year, when I was interviewing, I made it a point to break the relationship with hiring managers at other companies on good terms so I am hoping that the attempt to reestablish contact with them will yield positive results.

Sell yourself. I never know when I'll get introduced to someone with influence or the ability to hire me (internally or externally). Since I'm actively seeking out these meetings, it behooves me to ensure that I am prepared when they occur. I have rehearsed my own "value proposition" until I can pitch my worth in my sleep.

Remember: amateurs practice until they get it right, but professionals practice until they cannot get it wrong.

It is worth noting that none of those things would be possible if I had not done the following already:

Bust your ass. I apologize for using such a crude euphemism, but I have guaranteed that I have "positive equity" with my coworkers because of the degree of effort I have put forth in the short time I've been here. Part of this is due to the realization that my skills - as required by the person who hired me - are a bit specialized so I have a lot of catching up to do, but the bigger part is simply that I wanted people to see that I can hustle.

Keep in touch. I've stated before the importance of keeping your network refreshed, i.e. stay in contact with people that you have relationships with. I had coffee with the CIO of a Fortune 100 company last week after telling him of my current situation. I worked for him several years ago at a different company, and always remembered to email him once every couple of months. He may not have answered all of the time (frequently didn't, in fact) but he did not forget who I was. And since I busted my ass when I did work for him, he thinks highly enough of me to grant me 30 minutes of his time on a moment's notice.

All in all, I am cautiously optimistic that this year will be much different than last year. Still, I am not taking anything for granted so stay tuned to find out what fruits my labors yield in the coming weeks.

Monday, May 3, 2010

"You don't get it, Steve. That doesn't matter!"

Author's note: last week was the first time I've not had a blog entry since I started this almost a year ago. I found out a few days prior that I am a victim of the recently announced layoffs at CA (with the accompanying re-org). Obviously, I was distracted with trying to get as many "irons in the fire" as possible, which is my explanation for the absence of an entry.

What am I doing differently this time than I did last time? I'll write about that in a future blog entry, but in the meantime if you are interested in discussing possible employment do be sure to drop by my
LinkedIn profile first to get an idea of what value I bring to any organization.

That infamous quote from The Pirates of Silicon Alley is one that has stuck with me for all time. To provide context, Steve Jobs is whining to Bill Gates that Apple's products are better than Microsoft's. Bill Gates gives him the shaft with the quote above, then runs off to marry one of his lower level managers before getting his testicles chopped off and being forced to give his money to charity.

(In all seriousness, it wasn't until Melinda Gates browbeat Bill into starting the foundation that I actually started respecting him. Go girl power!...wait, did I just say that?)

I really thought of this quote when reading this article from the NY Times recently. Someone needs to ship Andy Rubin a DVD of that movie stat because he obviously doesn't get it.

Disclaimer: I've written a few Android applications. I have never, and will never, write an iPhone application. So don't think I'm needlessly biased toward Apple.

What is it that Andy doesn't get? He doesn't understand that "it" doesn't matter. What is "it?" "It" is anything technical. People honestly don't give a crap if the iPhone / iPod / iPad / iDontCare doesn't multitask. In the end, the Apple R&D labs produced a more usable product with an application store containing 10x more applications than Google's store. That is what users care about - not whether the OS can multitask or not.

(It is ironic then that I will commence development of a new Android application over the next few days. I downloaded and installed all of the development environment and associated components on to my new computer yesterday.)

This reminded me of the OS/2 vs. Windows debate almost 2 decades ago. Windows won there too because IBM thought that the better OS would win and tried to use that as leverage when the battle wasn't yet over.

I want to wag my finger in front of the IBM executives from that time and ask them, "did you count your chickens before they hatch?" But it was better said by the well known, former columnist for PC Week, Will Zachmann:

"The genuinely superior technology of the day in fact won. It was Microsoft Windows."

Before you jump on my case for apparently contradicting what I've been saying, what Will meant was that Windows wasn't technically superior. But it was the superior technology.

The difference is subtle, but important. It doesn't mean that Windows was a better system - it was simply a better designed system from a usability standpoint (mainly because it had the applications that people needed to use). So, in that sense, the technology was superior...even though it was inferior.

You can read the whole discussion if you want the see what everyone had to see about OS/2 vs. Windows.

The point that I'm trying to bring up is that it is necessary to understand your customer. This is especially applicable when you're trying to sell something because even though what you are saying about why you are right / better / etc. may be true, you can still lose if you don't address the needs of the person you are trying to convince. I've seen this happen in...
  • Sales situations (where the product that was heads and shoulders better than the competition still lost);
  • Professional situations (where someone was truly valuable to the organization but the goals for that organization set by a new manager did not require that person's skills);
...and elsewhere.

Take the time to do some discovery. Figure out what matters most. Then tackle the challenge of trying to translate your worth to those things that matter. This will give you the edge you need to succeed at whatever you are trying to accomplish.