I recently had to have a technician come troubleshoot a phone issue at my home. I still have a landline with my cable provider. Mostly because it would be too expensive to change to a package without a phone. The landline does come in handy on occasion, so I needed to have it fixed. When I was speaking with the technician that came to fix things, I inquired about something the customer service people on the phone had said about upgrading my equipment. The field tech told me, “You don’t want that. Your old system is much better.” When he explained how the low voltage system would be replaced by a full voice over IP (VoIP) router, I agreed with him. My thoughts were mostly around the uptime of my phone in the event of a power outage.
Uptime is something that we have grown accustomed to in today’s world. If you don’t believe me, go unplug your wireless router for the next five minutes. If your family isn’t ready to burn you at the stake then you are luckier than most. For the rest of us we measure our happiness in the availability of services. Cloud email, streaming video, and Internet access all have to be available at the touch of a button. Whether it be for work or for personal use, uptime is very important in a connected world.
It still surprises me that people don’t focus on uptime as an important metric of their solutions. Selling redundant equipment or ensuring redundant paths should be one of the first considerations you have when planning a system. As Greg Ferro once told me, “When I tell you to buy one switch, I always mean two.” Backup equipment is as important as anything you can install.
You have to test your uptime as well. You don’t have to go to all the trouble of building your own chaos monkey, but you need to pull the plug on the primary every so often to be sure everything works. You also need to make sure that your backup systems are covered all the way down. Switches may function just fine with two control engines, but everything stops without power. Generators and battery backups are important. In the above case, I would need to put my entire network on a battery backup system in order to ensure I have the same phone uptime that I enjoy now with a relatively low-tech system.
You also have to account for other situations as well. Several gaming sites were taken offline recently due to the efforts of a group launching distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against soft targets like login servers. You have to make sure that the important aspects of your infrastructure are protected against external issues like this. Customers don’t know the difference between a security related attack and an outage. They all look the same in the eyes of a person paying for your service.
We should all strive to provide the most uptime possible for everything that we do. Potential customers may scoff at the idea of paying for extra parts they don’t currently use. That usually falls away once you explain what happens in the event of an outage. We should also strive to point out issues with contingency plans when we see them. Redundant circuits from a provider aren’t really redundant if they share the same last mile. You’ll never know how this affects you until you test your settings. When it comes to uptime, take nothing for granted. Test everything until you know that it won’t quit when failure happens.
Don’t just plan for downtime. Forget how many nines you support. I was once told that a software vendor had “seven nines” of uptime. I responded by telling them, “that’s three seconds of downtime allowed per year. Wouldn’t it just be easier to say you never go down?” Rather than having the mindset that something will eventually fail you should instead have the idea that everything will stay up and running. It’s a subtle shift in thinking, but changing your perception does wonders for designing solutions that are always available.
It’s January 1 again. Time to look back at what I said I was going to do for 2013. Remember how there was going to be lots of IPv6 in the coming year? Three whole posts. Not exactly ushering the future, is it? What did I work on instead?
- Writing. Lots of it.
- A new job with Tech Field Day
- Writing with Network Computing
- Events like ONUG, Cisco Live, and VMWorld
It’s been a bit of a change for me. I’ve gone from bits and bytes to spreadsheets and event planning. It’s a good thing. I’m more in touch with people now that I ever was behind a console screen. I can see the up-and-comers in the industry. I help bring attention to people that deserve it. People like Brent Salisbury (@NetworkStatic), Jason Edelman (@JEdelman8), and Jake Snyder (@JSnyder81).
I still get involved with technology. It’s just more at a higher architectural level. That means I can stay grounded while at the same time interacting with the people that really know what’s going on. In many ways, it’s the cross discipline aspect that I’ve been preaching to my old coworkers for years taken to a different extreme.
That means 2014 is going to look much different than I thought it would a year ago. Almost like I need to introduce myself to the new year all over again.
I really want to spend the next year concentrating on the people. I want to help bring bloggers and influencers along and give them a way to express themselves. Perhaps that means social media. Or a new blog. Or maybe getting them on board with programs like the Solarwinds Ambassadors. I want the smart people out there to show the world how smart they are. I don’t want anyone to go unheard for lack of a platform.
I also really liked this article from John Mark Troyer about creating the new year you want to see. John has some great points here. I’ve always tried to stay away from making bold predictions for the coming year because they never pan out. If you want to be right, you either couch the prediction with a healthy about of uncertainty or you guess something that’s almost guaranteed to happen. I much prefer writing about what I need to accomplish or what I think needs to happen. You really are more likely to get something accomplished if you have a concrete goal of self advancement.
Every new year starts out with limitless potential. Every one of us has the ability and the desire to do something amazing. I’ve never been one for making resolutions, as that seems to be setting yourself up for failure in many cases. Instead, I try to do what I can every day to be awesome. You should too. Make 2014 an even better year than the last ten or twenty. Learn how SDN works. Learn a programming language. Write a book or a blog or a funny tweet. Express yourself so that everyone knows who you are. Make 2014 the year you introduce yourself to the world. If you’ve already done that, make sure the world won’t forget you any time soon.
I couldn’t help but notice an article that kept getting tweeted about and linked all over the place last week. It was a piece by Jason Kottke titled “R.I.P. The Blog, 1997-2013“. It’s actually a bit of commentary on a longer piece he wrote for the Nieman Journalism Lab called “The Blog Is Dead, Long Live The Blog“. Kottke talks about how people today are more likely to turn to the various social media channels to spread their message rather than the tried-and-true arena of the blog.
Kottke admits in both pieces that blogging isn’t going away. He even admits that blogging is going to be his go-to written form for a long time to come. But the fact that the article spread around like wildfire got me to thinking about why blogging is so important to me. I didn’t start out as a blogger. My foray into the greater online world first came through Facebook. Later, as I decided to make it more professional I turned to Twitter to interact with people. Blogging wasn’t even the first thing on my mind. As I started writing though, I realized how important it is to the greater community. The reason? Blogging is thought without restriction.
Social media is wonderful for interaction. It allows you to talk to friends and followers around the world. I’m still amazed when I have conversations in real time with Aussies and Belgians. However, social media facilitates these conversations through an immense filtering system. Sometimes, we aren’t aware of the filters and restrictions placed on our communications.
Twitter forces users to think in 140-ish characters. Ideas must be small enough to digest and easily recirculate. I’ve even caught myself cutting down on thoughts in order to hit the smaller target of being about to put “RT: @networkingnerd” at the begging for tweet attribution. Part of the reason I started a blog was because I had thoughts that were more than 140 characters long. The words just flow for some ideas. There’s no way I could really express myself if I had to make ten or more tweets to express what I was thinking on a subject. Not to mention that most people on Twitter are conditioned to unfollow prolific tweeters when they start firing off tweet after tweet in rapid succession.
Facebook is better for longer discussion, but they are worse from the filtering department. The changes to their news feed algorithm this year weren’t the first time that Facebook has tweaked the way that users view their firehose of updates. They believe in curating a given users feed to display what they think is relevant. At best this smacks of arrogance. Why does Facebook think they know what’s more important to me that I do? Why must my Facebook app always default to Most Important rather than my preferred Most Recent? Facebook has been searching for a way to monetize their product even before their rocky IPO. By offering advertisers a prime spot in a user’s news feed, they can guarantee that the ad will be viewed thanks to the heavy handed way that they curate the feed. As much reach as Facebook has, I can’t trust them to put my posts and articles where they belong for people that want to read what I have to say.
Other social platforms suffer from artificial restriction. Pinterest is great for those that post with picture and captions or comments. It’s not the best for me to write long pieces, especially when they aren’t about a craft or a wish list for gifts. Tumblr is more suited for blogging, but the comment system is geared toward sharing and not constructive discussion. Add in the fact that Tumblr is blocked in many enterprise networks due to questionable content and you can see how limiting the reach of a single person can be when it comes to corporate policy. I had to fight this battle in my old job more than once in order to read some very smart people that blogged on Tumblr.
Blogging for me is about unrestricted freedom to pour out my thoughts. I don’t want to worry about who will see it or how it will be read. I want people to digest my thoughts and words and have a reaction. Whether they choose to share it via numerous social media channels or leave a comment makes no difference to me. I like seeing people share what I’ve committed to virtual paper. A blog gives me an avenue to write and write without worry. Sometimes that means it’s just a few paragraphs about something humorous. Other times it’s an activist rant about something I find abhorrent. The key is that those thoughts can co-exist without fear of being pigeonholed or categorized by an algorithm or other artificial filter.
Sometimes, people make sensationalist posts to call attention to things. I’ve done it before and will likely do it again in the future. The key is to read what’s offered and make your own conclusion. For some, that will be via retweeting or liking. For others, it will be adding a +1 or a heart. For me, it’s about collecting my thoughts and pouring them out via a well-worn keyboard on WordPress. It’s about sharing everything rattling around in my head and offering up analysis and opinion for all to see. That part isn’t going away any time soon, despite what others might say about blogging in general. So long as we continue to express ourselves without restriction, the blog will never really die no matter how we choose to share it.
Companies that don’t reinvent themselves from time to time find themselves consigned to the scrap heap of forgotten technology. As anyone that worked at Wang. Or Packard Bell. Or Gateway. But, not everyone can be like IBM. It takes time and careful planning to pull of a radical change. And last but not least, it takes a lot of money and people willing to ride out the storm. That’s why Dell has garnered so much attention as of late with their move to go private.
I was invited to attend Dell World 2013 in Austin, TX by the good folks at Dell. Not only did I get a chance to see the big keynote address and walk around their solutions area, but I participated in a Think Tank roundtable discussion with some of the best and brightest in the industry and got to take a tour of some of the Dell facilities just up the road in Round Rock, TX. It was rather interesting to see some of the changes and realignments since Michael Dell took his company private with the help of Silver Lake Capital.
ESG Influencer Day
The day before Dell World officially kicked off was a day devoted to the influencers. Sarah Vela (@SarahVatDell) and Michelle Richard (@Meesh_Says) hosted us as we toured Dell’s Executive Briefing Center. We got to discuss some of Dell’s innovations, like the containerized data center concept.
Dell can drop a small data center on your property with just a couple of months of notice. Most of that is prepping the servers in the container. There’s a high-speed video of the assembly of this particular unit that runs in the EBC. It’s interesting to think that a vendor can provide a significant amount of processing power in a compact package that can be delivered almost anywhere on the planet with little notice. This is probably as close as you’re going to get to the elasticity of Amazon in an on-premise package. Not bad.
The Think Tank was another interesting outing. After a couple of months of being a silent part of Tech Field Day, I finally had an opportunity to express some opinions about innovation. I’ve written about it before, and also recently. The most recent post was inspired in large part by things that were discussed in the Think Tank. It believe that IT is capable of a staggering amount of innovation if they could just be given the chance to think about it. That’s why DevOps and software defined methodologies have such great promise. If I can use automation to take over a large part of my day-to-day work, I can use that extra time to create improvement. Unloading the drudgery from the workday can create a lot of innovation. Just look at Google’s Ten Percent Time idea. Now what if that was 25%? Or 50%?
Dell does a great job with their influencer engagements. This was my second involvement with them and it’s been very good. I felt like a valued part of the conversation and got to take a sneak peek at some of the major announcements the day before they came out. I think Dell is going to have a much easier road in front of it by continuing to involve the community in events such as this.
What’s The Big Dell?
Okay, so you all know I’m not a huge fan of keynotes. Usually, that means that I’m tweeting away in Full Snark Mode. And that’s if I’m not opposed to things being said on stage. In the case of Dell World, Michael Dell confirmed several ideas I had about the privatization of his company. I’ve always held the idea that Dell was upset the shareholders were trying to tell him how to run his company. He has a vision for what he wants to do and if you agree with that then you are welcome to come along for the ride.
The problem with going public is much the same as borrowing $20 from your friend. It’s all well and good at first. After a while, your buddy may be making comments about your spending habits as a way to encourage you to pay him back. The longer that relationship goes, the more pointed the comments. Now, imagine if that buddy was also your boss and had a direct impact on the number of hours your worked or the percentage of the commission you earned. What if comments from him had a direct impact on the amount of money you earned? That is the shareholder problem in a nutshell. It’s nice to be flush with cash from an IPO. It’s something else entirely when those same shareholder start making demands of you or start impacting your value because they disagree with your management style. Ask Michael Dell how he feels about Carl Icahn? I’m sure that one shareholder could provide a mountain of material. And he wasn’t the only one that threatened to derail the buyout. He was just the most vocal.
With the shareholders out of the way, Dell can proceed according to the visions of their CEO. The only master he has to answer to now is Silver Lake Capital. So long as Dell can provide good return on investment to them I don’t see any opposition to his ideas. Another curious announcement was the Dell Strategic Innovation Venture Fund. Dell has started a $300 million fund to explore new technologies and fund companies doing that work. A more cynical person might think that Michael Dell is using he new-found freedom to offer an incentive to other startups to avoid the same kinds of issues he had – answering to single-minded masters only focused on dividends and stock price. By offering to invest in a hot new startup, Michael Dell will hopefully spur innovation in areas like storage. Just remember that venture capital funds need returns on their investments as well, so all that money will come with some strings attached. I’m sure that Silver Lake has more to do with this than they’re letting on. Time will tell if Dell’s new venture fund will pay off as handsomely as they hope.
Dell World was great. It was smaller than VMWorld or Cisco Live. But it fit the culture of the company putting on the show. There weren’t any earth shattering announcements to come out of the event, but that fits the profile of a company finding its way in the world for the second time. Dell is going to need to consolidate and coordinate business units to maximize effort and output. That’s not a surprise. The exuberance that Michael Dell showed on stage during the event is starting to flow down into the rest of Dell as well. Unlike a regular startup in a loft office in San Francisco, Dell has a track record and enough stability to stick around for while. I just hope that they don’t lose their identity in this brave new world. Dell has always been an extension of Michael Dell. Now it’s time to see how far that can go.
I was an invited guest of Dell at Dell World 2013. They paid for my travel and lodging at the event. I also received a fleece pullover, water bottle, travel coffee mug, and the best Smores I’ve ever had (really). At no time did they ask for any consideration in the writing of this review, nor were they promised any. The opinions and analysis presented herein reflect my own thoughts. Any errors or omissions are not intentional.
During the Think Tank that I participated in at Dell World, the topic of conversation turned to startups. Specifically, how do startups drive innovation? As I listened to the folks around the table like Justin Warren (@JPWarren) and Bob Plankers (@Plankers) talk about the advantages that startups enjoy when it comes to agility, I started to wonder if some startups today are hurting the process more than they are helping it.
The entire point of creating a business is to make money. You do that by creating a product that you can sell to someone. It doesn’t have to be a runaway success. So long as you structure the business correctly you can make money for a good long while. The key is that you must structure the business to pay off in the long run.
Startups seem to have this idea that the most important part of the equation is to build something quickly and get it onto the market. The business comes second. That only works if you are playing a very short game. The bad decisions you make in the foundation of your business will come back to bite you down the road.
Startups that don’t have a business plan only have one other option – an exit strategy. In far too many cases, the business plan for a startup is to build something so awesome that another larger company is going to want to buy them. As I’ve said before talking about innovation, buying your way into a new product line does work to a point. For the large vendor, it is dependent on the available cash on hand. For the startup, the idea is that you need to have enough capital on hand to survive long enough to be bought.
Looking For A Buyer For The End Of The World
There’s nothing more awkward than a company that’s obviously seeking a buyout from a large vendor that hasn’t received it yet. I look at the example of Violin Memory. Violin makes flash storage cards for servers to accelerate caching for workloads. They were a strategic parter of HP for a long time. Eventually, HP decided to build those cards themselves rather than rely on Violin as a supplier. This put Violin in a very difficult position. In hindsight, I’m sure that Violin wanted to be bought by HP and become a division inside the server organization. Instead, they were forced to look elsewhere for funds. They chose to file an initial public offering (IPO) that hit the initial target. After that, the parts of the business that weren’t so great started dragging the stock price down, angering the investors to the point where executives are starting to leave and lawsuits look likely.
Where did Violin go wrong? If they had built a solid business in the first place they might have been able to keep selling along even though HP had decided not to buy them. They might have been able to stay afloat long enough to find another buyer or file an IPO when they have a more stable situation with earnings or expenses. They might have been able to make money instead of losing it hand over fist.
The idea that startups are just looking for a payday from a larger company is hurting innovation. Startups just want to get the idea formed enough to get some interest from buyers. Who cares if we can make it work in reality? We just have to get someone to bite on the prototype. That means that development is key. Things like payroll and operating expenses come second.
In return, companies are becoming skittish of buying a startup. Why take a chance on a company that may not be around next week? I’d rather spend my time on internal innovation. Or, better yet buy that failed startup for pennies on the dollar when they liquidate due to inability to manage a business. Larger companies are going to shy away from startups that want millions (or billions) for ideas. That lengthens the time that it takes to innovate, either because companies must invest time internally or spend countless hours negotiating purchases of intellectual property.
Obviously, not all startups have these issues. Look at companies like Nimble Storage. They are a business first. They make money. They don’t have out-of-control expenses. They filed for an IPO because it was the right time, not because they needed more money to keep the lights on. That’s the key to proper innovation. Build a company that just happens to make something. Don’t build a product that just happens to have a business around it. That means you can continue to improve and innovate on your product as time goes on. It means you don’t have to look for an exit strategy as soon as the funding starts running dry. Then your strategy looks more like a plan.
If there is an overused term when it comes to management software, it has to be Single Pane of Glass (SPoG). The first thing that marketing and sales organizations want to tell you is how unified their management tools are. I’ve found that the tools in question are usually not as paneless (pun intended) as might be indicated otherwise.
The idea of the Single Pane of Glass term comes originally from the disparate tools that have been used since time immemorial to configure and manage IT systems. At first, configuration was a separate program. Monitoring was a separate program. Even between applications on the same system the tools were often separated. When the number of browser windows kept climbing it started to resemble a window pane on the desktop, with four or more open at any one time just to manage and monitor a single application.
This usually became worse over time as companies would acquire new software or tools and attempt to integrate them into the process. If the company had some kind of flagship product that was the go-to for monitoring and maintenance the acquisition was usually ported quickly to provide a one-stop shop for users. When the integration was completed, the company could proudly announce that everything could be done from one browser window, or the Single Pane of Glass.
More often than not, the process to integrate the pieces together was rushed and incomplete. Sometimes the integration would launch a new browser window. Other times an HTML-based monitoring system would fire up a Java VM because the new firewall integration could only be managed via Java. Still other integration attempts would have a browser window with a CLI shell embedded within, since the appliance could only be managed through the console. These haphazard attempts at integration look like something else entirely.
I can’t take full credit for this idea. It actually belongs to J. Michael Metz (@DrJMetz) of Cisco. He mentioned it in a tweet when talking about a competitor’s management system. I took the idea and ran with it a bit.
Stained Glass Management Systems happen because people are so focused on the overall picture that they lose sight of the fact that each individual unit is useless in the overall context. While a stained glass window may be a beautiful work of art, looking at one close up betray the fact that the whole is indeed made up of lots of dissimilar parts.
You’ve probably experienced this at least once. Think about a software program that has a web interface. For reference, I’m going to pick on Cisco Unified Communications Manager Business Edition (CUCMBE). This is essentially a CUCM server and a Cisco Unity Connection server crammed together to create a VoIP appliance.
CUCMBE doesn’t have a unified management portal. It is in fact managed via two (or more) separate GUIs. Except for a few minor changes to each GUI in a couple of fields, you wouldn’t even know that you were working on software programs co-resident on the same box. Each platform keeps a separate copy of a GUI that doesn’t really have any consistency with the others. CUCM looks different than Unity Connection. On the newer CUCMBE platforms, those GUIs look even more different from products like Unified Presence or Cisco Video Communications Server (VCS).
Cisco never marketed the CUCMBE GUI as being SPoG to my knowledge. But I know of some companies that would claim that a GUI reachable from one IP address that can manage multiple systems is technically SPoG. That’s wrong. A true SPoG needs to have a unified management style. No jarring transitions between management paradigms. If I realize I’m working on a totally different software platform, your SPoG failed.
The solution shouldn’t be to cram as much functionality into a web browser window. The real goal should be to analyze what you are trying to accomplish with the SPoG tools and rewrite your interface to keep overlap and discontinuity to a minimum. If I’m putting the same information in three different places because four different programs each read from a different place, you need to go back to the drawing board.
The interface needs to be consistent in and of itself. If you can a something a widget in the management section, don’t have a wudget in a different section with a legend stating “Wudgets are widgets in this program.” Sometimes that means you have to blow up the data structures of you old programs. So be it. If I can see the individual parts of the window, it detracts from the overall picture.
Some companies get it. HP and IBM have created decent SPoG tools after a few years of trial and error. Some companies don’t get it. I won’t mention CiscoWorks. I’m still not sold on Cisco Prime. The key is to look at the end goal. Are you trying to create a picture by collecting individual pieces and working toward the whole? Or are you trying to create the equivalent of macaroni art? That would be where everything is thrown together and resembles a picture in name only. Stained Glass should be avoided at all costs. Integrate your system to the point where I can’t see the pieces and longer and you’ll have a picture pretty enough to sell.
We’ve all had that moment when we hit send on something only to realize that we shouldn’t have. Either there’s a glaring typo or a forgotten attachment or you attached a file you shouldn’t have. Quickly you rush up to the Actions menu to take back that errant email via Outlook Message Recall. And, much like every else on the planet, you click Recall This Message only to find out that it never works.
What is Outlook Message Recall? And why does it fail almost every time? Message recall is an Exchange feature that allows the server to reach into a connected Exchange user’s mailbox and pull out the bad message. There are a lot of rules that govern whether or not a message can be recalled. In most cases it comes down to whether or not the user is connected to your Exchange server and whether or not the message has been read.
The first condition is easy. You can’t recall a message you sent to a Gmail address. You can’t recall messages from a POP or IMAP mail store. You can’t recall a message if the user you sent it to isn’t a user on your Exchange server. The server only has authority to delete the original message if both users are on the same mail system. There’s no point in recalling a message sent outside your organization. In fact, attempting to do so usually results in the recall request calling attention to the original message.
The other condition seems to be whether or not the message was read. If the user has read the message it will not be recalled. Instead, the user will be notified that you want to recall the message and keep the original in their mailbox. If you’re using a caching mailbox like I tend to do on my laptop, the original recalled message can’t be pulled out due to the nature of the mailbox.
I think the viewing status of the email is a pretty dumb conditional. I habitually read all the email that comes into my inbox, even if I don’t intend to do something with it right away. I need to glance at things to see how critical they are. That means message recall would never work for messages in my inbox. In fact, I’m pretty sure that message recall has never worked based on an informal poll I conducted with people.
I’ve gotten used to doing other things to ensure that my messages don’t escape before they’re ready. I don’t put the recipients in until the text has been edited. I don’t put a subject line in until the penultimate step so that I’ll be prompted to add it in. I essentially write my emails backwards on purpose.
The best way to avoid using a broken, non-functional feature is to not need it in the first place. Attention to detail will save you much more often than the recall button. Taking a few moments to cool off before you ship out that burning missive will also protect you a whole lot better than a ham-handed attempt to pull back something that shouldn’t have been sent in the first place.
May you live in interesting times. – Purported Ancient Chinese Curse
Life is never boring for the independent blogger. Especially when the vendors come calling. In recent months, Sean Rynearson (@SRynearson) and Rocky Gregory (@BionicRocky) have taken up residence at Aruba Networks. Gurusimran Khalsa (@gurusimran) has headed over to VMware. Most recently, Ryan Adzima (@RAdzima) has joined the ranks of the wireless elite at AirTight Networks. There’s still more to come if my guesses are right. In many of those cases, I’ve been asked what I think about so many independent influencers heading for vendors. My response is always the same: It’s a great thing.
A Cog In The Machine
So many independent people being hired by vendors shows the value of their thinking and analysis. It’s much easier to interview for a job when your entire resume is online in the form of a blog full of deep thoughts and impressive research. If the employer can Google your name and find not only your commentary but the commentary of people that have discussed things with you then the actual interview process is a formality. I personally like it that way because I’m horrible at telling people about myself. I’d much rather let my words do the talking for me.
Vendors know that having an independent thinker on staff is a huge asset. If the independent is detached for the existing process, they can point out weaknesses or quickly adjust strengths to make things better for the vendor. A dispassionate third party view is useful when determining if marketing efforts are working correctly or if a product line needs to be refreshed or removed entirely. Sometimes you can’t get the objectivity needed from someone that’s been entrenched at a vendor for too long.
Independents worry about working for vendors. They are afraid they will lose their objectivity. They want to be sure that their opinions are their own and don’t reflect the views of their employers. I’ve been asked on more than one occasion by those folks if it’s even possible. My response: Yes, but it’s hard.
It’s Not Easy Being Free
You have to be vigilant when you want to make sure you are independent. Your thoughts and ideas should never be suppressed because someone doesn’t like them or because they don’t fit a marketing campaign. The value in having an independent on your payroll is the objectivity that person brings to the table. Hiding that objectivity for the sake of a few dollars on the bottom line is the road to ruin.
Likewise, you as the independent need to be sure you don’t cross the line when it comes to reducing your own independence. I’ve seen more than one person go to work for vendor and slowly transform themselves from an independent thinker to a corporate mouthpiece. When you put the leash on yourself and impinge you own credibility you’ve done a disservice to your employer as well as yourself. Attacking a competitor via blog posts or social media serves no real purpose. Debating salient issues is a better use of time for everyone. Don’t let yourself be dragged into the fray. Rise above and keep the discussions focused on technology and not on the logo on the device.
I’ve stayed independent because of my own stubbornness. I feel that my views are better voiced outside the vendor community. That doesn’t mean that vendors are evil and should be avoided. On the contrary, vendors are a great fit for a great number of bloggers. Any time someone comes to me and tells me they’ve taken a position with a vendor I applaud their choice. It ultimately comes down to the person making the choice. If you feel you can stay independent inside the greater organization then a vendor is a great fit. Just remember to be vigilant and stay true to who you are. Not the logo on your shirt.
I have a brother. We act like brothers. We argue and fight with each other fairly often. We get along in our own way. One thing we do *not* tolerate is anyone else picking on us. We’ve been known to have a disagreement, but when someone comes up and starts something, we will put aside our disagreement and band together to fight against whoever thought it was a good idea to mess with either one of us. That’s what brothers do. Right or wrong, you back your brother.
The Work Family
Managers aren’t all that different from family. We spend a lot of our lives working in proximity with managers. The middle of the road types are like family members we tolerate. Those that aren’t so good tend to be like family members we don’t really get along with at all. There are some that end up being just like a close family member, like a brother or sister. It doesn’t mean that the relationship isn’t still managerial. What makes it key is what happens when someone comes down on you.
My last manager was a great person. He was calm and thoughtful. He saw every side of a problem and did what was right. Those qualities make him great to work for. But to transcend above that, you have to do something to set yourself apart. For me, it was the way he corrected behavior.
He tended to give what I like to call “Do Better” talks. He never yelled. He never got upset. In fact, all he usually said was, “I’m disappointed.” For guys like me, disappointment is ten times worse than getting yelled at. After chats like that, we agreed to not do whatever it was again and move on. That’s the essence of a Do Better talk. No blame, just do better next time.
Backing Your Family
Where he shined was what happened when the other managers came hunting for heads. You’ve seen this all the time. Someone screws up and the issue is dealt with. However, some higher manager feels the need to exert control do they find the person responsible for the issue and give them a dressing down for it. That doesn’t really serve to correct the behavior. It’s more about dominance.
Weak willed middle managers will sit back and let the higher manager have their way with employees. That doesn’t foster a supportive atmosphere. If you’re never sure who is going to come head hunting, it doesn’t make you want to admit failure. Which means the issues never get corrected, just covered up.
My old manager was different. Whenever I screwed up and someone at the top of the food chain came looking for me I never had to worry. The same man that would call me on the carpet for making mistakes would turn right around and defend me to those that came looking to chew me out again. In his eyes, he’d dealt with the problem. Picking on me served no purpose. Just like my brother, he’d take up arms with me to defend our “family” against others. It didn’t take long for everyone to learn that my manager dealt with things his way. And there was no point to trying to deal with his employees against him.
Managers that are willing to defend you right after chewing you out are a special breed. Those are the kind of folks that employees will walk across broken glass to work for. It’s not for everyone, though. Standing up to the heat to defend someone that did something wrong is never easy. Especially if the higher manager is upset and emotional. The key is to trust in your instincts as a manager and believe that dealing with the situation your way is the right way. Having someone come in and undermine you management skills makes you look ineffective. It’s better to weather the storm of yelling from one person than to lose the respect of everyone in your department.
Treating your employees like family doesn’t mean you can’t be their manager. You can still be in charge and have a good relationship with them. You can win their respect time and time again by backing them even after you’d had to correct them. When they see you standing up for them against all comers, they’ll have someone they can believe in. And they’ll be as close to you as any family member.
If you’d like to see more thoughts about management and some great career advice, be sure to check out The Tech Interview. It’s a great site with great articles and run by awesome people. Take it to heart and you’ll go far in this world.