Matthew Sekol

"The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words."

Author: Matthew Sekol (page 1 of 5)

Gen-X: The Forgotten Generation

With National Geographic focusing on Generation X next week, I thought it would be a good time to address Generation X in the workforce.

There are a couple of seismic shifts happening in the corporate world. Baby Boomers are retiring from the workforce in droves and Millennials are getting a big boost. Generation-X sits in the middle of these 2 large populations. For some reason though, Gen-X is largely ignored, our generation has been shortened and otherwise discarded. As kids, they were shaped by the decade of decadence, the Challenger disaster, and two working parents. Not to mention, they barely escaped disco. No wonder they defined themselves as angst-filled slackers!

Gen-Xers barely had a chance to shine. They were the majority of the workforce for the last 3 years before giving up the reigns to the Millennials. These are the kinds of statistics employers see and it makes them nervous. Obviously, Millennial culture needs to be embraced in the workplace, but Gen-Xers still have 25 years yet!

Chart1

I had this conversation with another Gen-Xer the other day and we called out several reasons why Gen-X shouldn’t be ignored and what value we can bring to today’s workforce. One note – obviously we are talking about huge swaths of the population. This may not apply to your situation or describe you.

A Balance of Both
Not only were Gen-Xers directly shaped by the Baby Boomers, but they in turn shaped the Millennials. While this connection is by virtue of our birth years, it goes deeper than that. Beyond just being a transitional generation, Gen-Xers can balance what’s best about each.

Growing up in a Baby Boomer household means that we understand the value of investments and workplace responsibility. We saw our parents struggle to take care of their parents and us while both parents had careers. As a result, our work ethic is strong, but we associate a comfortable lifestyle with hard work. The one way we differ though is that we value our family time. Work/Life balance is important. Technology is an important way to facilitate this balance.

There is another way to think about this Work/Life balance. Gen-Xers bridge the divide between Baby Boomers and Millennials when it comes to what makes them happy. Baby Boomers would take any job and work hard. Happiness didn’t necessarily come from their work, but other things, like stability and community. Gen-Xers could choose their career paths with a little more deliberate design, but they also find happiness with personal fulfillment and their families. Millennials are the generation finding happiness across every aspect of their lives and taking lower paying jobs that make them happy.

The Technical Divide
Baby Boomers were the ones that invented technology. This generation did amazing things, inspired by events like the moon landing and the first nuclear power plant. Modern desktop computing and mobile technology were both pioneered by Baby Boomers (Gates and Jobs, respectively).

While Gen-Xers weren’t saturated with technology, they were exposed to it growing up through video games and computer hobbyists. As a result, they were the ones that brought it into mainstream business processes. I remember back when I entered the workforce in the late 90s, CIOs were relatively new, datacenters were being built and technology began shifting the way business was done. Gen-Xers were largely driving the conversations around technology.

Millennials may have shifted how we think of technology and business, but Gen-Xers brought it in and showed companies what was possible.

Experience and Loyalty
Two key negative events helped shape the way Gen-Xers view their careers. Shortly after they entered the workforce, the dotcom bust hit. This shook a lot of them up and was an important first lesson in how volatile their work lives would be.

The next big blow happened shortly after, namely the Great Recession that followed 9/11. While the Millennials had to deal with this event as teenagers or upon entering the workforce, a lot of us saw our hard work, in the form of 401k’s and investments evaporate right as we were just starting out. Millennials may have had problems getting jobs, but Gen-Xers had problems keeping assets just as we were getting going in earnest and getting our student loans paid off.

These 2 events hardened Gen-Xers and, in some cases, set their careers and retirement back 10 years. It doesn’t help that they were the guinea pigs for 401k’s as companies moved away from pensions. As a result, we understand what it takes to be valuable to an employer because we’ve learned it the hard way through layoff after layoff.

In some ways, these events have made Gen-Xers risk averse, meaning they are more likely to stay loyal to an employer because they’ve seen that there is no safety net in place. This message echoes in the back of their minds, as they’ve heard from our great-grandparents what life was like during the Great Depression. These stories are being told less and less as the Millennials come up.

bilde-113from MarshallRamsey.com Copyright Marshall Ramsey. All Rights Reserved.

Gen-X has gained a career’s worth of experience through these 2 events, spanning less than 10 years. A side effect of this is loyalty. A Gen-Xer might leave a job for a better opportunity and more stability, but otherwise they will likely stick around and just work hard.

This risk aversion though can also be bad. Gen-Xers may prove to be more introverted in meetings and less willing to take the risks that Millennials are. After all, they’ve also entered the workforce at a time where corporate politics were crazy and speaking up against the establishment could result in being cast out. A smart Gen-Xer will realize this is no longer the case though and actively participate.

Groomed for Management
Many, many articles have been written about the aging boardroom and management gaps coming up with Baby Boomers retiring. There appears to be a rush to promote (or possibly an expectation of promotion) for a lot of Millennials.

Not only is Gen-X ready to step into these roles, but they are primed for it. We have the balance between embracing the new, but also avoiding risk to ensure steady growth. We’ve also been in the workplace for over 15 years now, giving us the experience of time to grow in our careers.

The long game is what Gen-Xers are all about right now. They are entrenched where we are and crave job stability. Our parents are aging and our kids will soon (if not already) be in college. We’re about to get pinched. Leadership represents a better class of job, more money and better stability.

Millennials are playing the short game. Right now, the job market is not treating them well. Their expectations aren’t matching reality and so, they hop jobs. This can be for various reasons, some good, some bad. Some use the opportunity to broaden their experience while others use it as a way to artificially grow their salaries.

Regardless of the reason, Millennials aren’t getting the expertise they need to manage teams. The challenge for Gen-Xers is overcoming a bias out there. Millennials certainly have new ideas and a fresh perspective, but without the balance of risk from a Gen-Xer, you could find yourself in serious trouble.  Again, a smart Gen-Xer could thrive in a management role.

Gen-Xer’s role in helping to shape Millennials is another great reason to move us into management positions. While Baby Boomers are too far removed from Millennials to appreciate their work-life balance, Gen-Xers get it. We were raised as the divorce generation and we’ll be damned if we’ll give our kids that experience. We want the same flexibility, too. Our reasons are different, but we both crave a Work/Life balance in a world where we are constantly connected.

Gen-X: Bleak Outlook or Opportunity?
Regardless of how the workplace shapes up over the next 25 years, Gen-Xers will be a critical part. Their experience and hard work ethic will continue to support their careers and help them to weather future economic storms. We have a great balance between the generations that will help companies transition from Baby Boomers to Millennials.

As more and more books and articles are published, think about how Gen-X fits into the scenario. Despite being stuck in the middle, we are going to remain in the workforce and continue to help shape it. If you are a Gen-Xer, take this opportunity to take stock of your career. With a little adjustment, you could find yourself suddenly moving up!

At the End of the Day, You Should Read This

No expression gets under my skin lately more than “at the end of the day”. Over the past few months, I’ve been challenging to get myself through a day without hearing it, but inevitably, it rears its ugly head. I believe this expression is one of the most over used phrases in modern business. While it doesn’t hold a nebulous meaning like “paradigm shift” or other corporate speak, it does have connotations associated with it, even if you haven’t realized it.

For this article, I’m mostly going to use this acronym ATEOTD because I don’t want to overwhelm you. Like me, you probably here it too much.

The Literal
I will concede one point. It is perfectly acceptable to use this expression as a reflection of actual time. ATEOTD could mean 5PM when the traditional work day ends. One could argue that your day ends when you put down your smart phone for the last time, but we’re not here to debate work/life balance. If a particular activity needs to be completed by the end of day, feel free to say as much. Usually, ATEOTD comes at the end of a sentence when used literally.

“I need to see you at the end of the day.”

Eep! That doesn’t sound good!

A Lazy Wrap Up
It is possible to use this expression out of pure laziness. Sometimes after a lengthy discussion or meeting, someone will throw out ATEOTD to wrap up.

“At the end of the day, we need this (project) to be done.”

If you have a manager that uses a sentence like this to conclude the meeting, their team may be underperforming. After a meeting, a statement like this enforces importance, but gives no direction and offers no consensus. Post meeting side conversations will crop up and be rife with confusion and floundering. Before proceeding on this critical project, the team will likely follow up with the manager that made that statement for clarification, wasting everyone’s time.

A better wrap-up would be to recap the discussion points and come to a consensus on next steps before closing the meeting with particular assignments for individuals.

That’s My Final Word
People sometimes want something so bad or believe in something so much, they will throw ATEOTD out to end the conversation and try to sway you to their point of view.

“At the end of the day, this is how we’re doing this.”

Don’t be fooled by this ploy. If you hear this and you don’t agree with the assessment or don’t understand something, question it. Someone may throw this out if they feel threatened and want to avoid conflict, but that doesn’t do justice to the issue at hand. Chances are there might just be a miscommunication that requires additional exploration.

A Life Changing Decision
We all have to make decisions in our career. Most day to day decisions are innocuous enough to have a short term impact, but some can be life changing. The latter choices come up rarely. You might hear ATEOTD being used to exaggerate the importance of a decision you are faced with to get you to hastily arrive to that decision.

“At the end of the day, this (solution, car, house) is the one you want.”

There’s some solace and comfort being offered for how you will feel when you look back on this decision and see that you have reaped some reward. Another possible translation here is “at the end of your career” you will look back and realize you made the right decision.

It should come as no surprise that this is a tactic used in Sales to get you to come to the conclusion quicker. The problem is that it offers no alignment to your goals. For the Sales folks out there, you will solicit more engagement if you restate the customer’s wants and align them to your offer.

A Question of Philosophy
This one could also be called The Inspirational Quote for the Masses. You might find it on FaceBook or in the title of some dubious articles on the internet. Come on, you know you’ve seen it (or worse, shared it).

“At the end of the day, you need to be able to live with yourself.”
-Some successful guy with experience

Unfortunately, these quotes are little more than Hallmark Card sentiment. They are typically obvious and still point to an undetermined timeframe in the future. Either the end of your life or at some crossroads.

The complexities of life simply cannot be summed up in a single quote. Your decisions will likely ebb an flow over the course of your life depending on your circumstances. If your mentor happens to talk like this, they aren’t really looking at the big picture, but they might think they are.

Why Does This Matter?
I hear ATEOTD quite a bit in a week. Sometimes, the intention is a combination of several of these examples and not just one. I challenge you to do two things.

  1. Listen to people when they talk and identify which ATEOTD they are using. Strike back and challenge them with questions to get to their intentions. The interesting thing about it is once you realize the motivation behind people using the expression, you can’t stop analyzing it.
  2. Make a conscious effort to speak more thoughtfully when you are talking and eliminate ATEOTD from your vocabulary. Strive to communicate more effectively and see where it gets you.

Now that you’ve read this article, you will hear ATEOTD being said by everyone (almost guaranteed). Remember to try these two things and see where it gets you!

Phones are Dead! Long Live the Phones!

I’ve written about the death of email for personal communication, while business email has been unaffected. I’ve discussed how we’ve shifted personal email into something more functional through spam that we opt into willingly as consumers. Still thought something is amiss. There are now more ways to communicate than ever before, but for both personal and business communication, there can be only one king and, believe it or not, that king is the phone.

The phone has had an interesting near death experience lately for two reasons. First, some still hold onto classic landline telephones, but others literally cut the cord and just keep to their cell phones. The second death comes in the form of texting and the multitude of other messaging apps out there.

The biggest problem with messaging apps is that there is little to no standardization, so your circle of friends need to all use the same app or you are stuck using multiple apps. Nothing like the standard platform is email, however, we’ve already determined that email for personal communication is dead. Texting is good for instant communication and it is fairly standard, but it still has more in common with email than the phone. It relies on a sender and a receiver, back and forth. Texts could go unanswered for days. The other problem is that inflections and intentions are lost, just like with email.

With the phone, you have instant communication, period. The phone also allows you to catch inflections in the voice, leading to intention. There’s also a convenience factor to the phone that is lost when something like video is added. The phone is truly the real-time communication you crave because it hits that sweet spot between real-time communication, ease of use and contextual audio cues.

So, why don’t we use it more?

To some extent, the phone also has the same problem as personal email. It became the source of a lot of spam. Things got so bad, the government stepped in with the Do Not Call list, which is almost like a nationwide spam filter. If only telephone companies had the foresight to predict and design spam filtering on phones, they could’ve made a fortune.

Another problem similar to email is something that is self-inflicted. With the advent of Caller ID, it became easy to ignore spammers, but also people you know. You could just ignore them unless it is convenient. Oddly enough, technology has enabled us to be introverts through our fear of what’s on the other side of that communication. When someone calls, we know that person wants something. We assign a value to the caller’s potential ‘ask’ against all the other stuff we have going on. If the value is low, we simply avoid the call.

What a sad state we’re in!

We shouldn’t be afraid of what’s on the other end of that call or assigning these arbitrary values. Instead, shift your mind into opportunity mode – maybe whatever is on the other end of that phone call is something amazing that can help your career or your life. Even better, maybe the person’s ‘ask’ of you will be advice that will help them grow or make their life better.

Here’s my challenge: Think before you have to communicate and try using the phone instead of your normal method. Do this for one month to see what happens.

I’d love to hear what happens in that month, so feel free to post it in the comments below!

Spam is Dead! Long Live Spam!

Back in Part 1, I talked about the decline of personal email for communications. Our failure isn’t limited to email though. Here’s a quick story. I spent the better part of this past Father’s Day weekend working on my father-in-law’s computer and then again with my wife’s uncle’s computer. This started a lot of conversations on their purpose.

When my in-laws’ computers were first purchased, email was a much larger part of the personal communication experience. It was THE way to stay in touch, but now both computers are used for simple functional tasks like personal email, and banking with a new personal communication tool in the mix, social networks.

They both like their computers still, but had the same opinion when I asked about their personal email. They could take it or leave it if they got new computers. There was no need to migrate their old personal email as much of it was just spam. Balance this against the recent Quartz report about the decline of spam and this is where things get interesting.

Spam’s nature remains the same, but it has changed. While there are still blatantly obvious spam emails that are now better filtered, thanks to Google and Microsoft, we now opt into our spam. Most of my personal email is from consumer based sites that I shop at frequently. Spam is no longer something we avoid. We embrace it as part of our consumer productivity. As a result, we’ve moved personal communication into social networks for one to many (let’s leave text messaging out for now since it isn’t strictly computer based).

Through our journey of personal communication, we’ve killed physical letters, evolved into email and then killed that too again through social networks. Spam has followed us all the way through at each stage. Social networks are the ultimate method to embrace spam and kill personal communication.

“The beauty of social networks is you can get users to send it themselves”
– from Kevin Haley, director of Symantec’s security response

As an exercise to prove spam exists and that true personal communication is dead on social networks, let’s run through the top interactions through my personal email, Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s my current top personal emails outside of the pre-filtered spam.

– Banana Republic sales
– Various emails from Amazon
– Emails from XBox, DC comics, Humble Bundle and various custom T-Shirt sites
– Billing and payment confirmations

As you can see, I have bought all in to being a consumer in my personal email. There is not a one to one communication to be found.

Next, let’s take a look at Facebook.

– Political post
– Photos of kids I don’t know
– Funny video
– Religious post
– Consumer re-post
– Photos of kids I don’t know

Granted, I control my Likes on Facebook pretty well, so I don’t get too much spam. Mostly, I get a filtered down version of a complex issue distilled into black and white. While I do enjoy trying to keep up with my old friends and their families, I’m not truly getting a personal interaction. I see the photos or posts and comment or move on.

Lastly, here’s Twitter.

– Witty comment from a stranger
– Witty comment from a known company
– No clue, inside joke from a stranger
– Not witty comment from a stranger
– Local news article from newspaper
– Too many other things to see in the 10 minutes since I checked last

Twitter seems to be the best for one to one personal communication, but the relationship is missing. You can’t build a meaningful conversation out of a Tweet.

Is spam to blame for the decline of personal communication. Well…not really. I think we just have too many choices and have built ourselves into consumable information and consumerism though to build real relationships.

Social networks aren’t adding to real one to one or even one to many personal communication. While they have their uses, we still aren’t keeping in touch as we once had. We’re at a point where personal email has become functional and consumer based. Social networks are also consumer based and lacking either the personal interaction or relationships we need to truly build connections with each other. While great monumental shifts in culture take place online, the unique individual is what I see missing. How can you connect with one person ever again?

Ladies and gentleman, we’ve come full circle. I’d like to re-introduce you to the indispensable tool of businesses everywhere – the telephone.

Email is Dead! Long Live Email!

As I check my personal email, I realize it has died. Yet, I still grab my phone and check my work email constantly. There is definitely a disparity today that wasn’t so apparent all those years ago. While business email has thrived with Microsoft Exchange and now Office 365, personal email has become a wasteland.

I started my personal email journey with a Penn State student account, then an Enter.net account, moved into Hotmail, then GMail, my own flockofsekols.com domain (still in use) and back to Hotmail (now Outlook.com) again. As I look through my old personal emails from over the years, I realize it has been dead for most of the time.

Stage 1: The Demise of Personal Interation
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I received quite a bit of personal email on Hotmail while my family and friends used other various email systems to keep in touch. I received emails to engage in personal conversation, but eventually, with the dawn of increasingly rich content on the Internet, personal email became funny or relevant links and pictures.

I still used my personal email, but adjusted my interaction. I, along with others, started to attempt to one-up others. Forget about actually engaging with someone! There was now a race to send something funny or relevant to your circle before someone else discovered it. The payback was the replies of innocuous approval.

Personal email had become nothing more than a modern Facebook or Twitter – friends and relatives sending information or links with little original thought. This shift in discourse was about to open us all up to a BIG problem…

Stage 2: The Rise of Spam
As personal email became the social network of its day, scammers moved in. After all, it was easy to slip in advertisements and scams amid all the other content being thrown around.

Corporate email systems meanwhile were still being used mostly productively. I’ll admit there was a brief growing pain here while people still figured out how to use a personal email account and a business one. Spam helped us all figure that out though.

Spam forced companies to start managing email at a different level. Looking  back, it seems so obvious now, but back when email started no one really saw the risk. In our corporate lives, spam checking solutions were implemented and email was refocused to the business, meanwhile our personal accounts became hotbeds for phishing scams, spam and other seedy activities.

But then, something even more ridiculous happened.

Stage 3: Google Kills It and We Embrace the Spam
At this stage, Google changed the landscape of personal emails in two ways. First, they offered larger mailboxes and second, they started in initiating spam scanners.

Here, we built up on personal mailboxes as throw away. With ever growing space and search calling up emails, we just kept everything. There was really no need to reply because nothing insightful was ever sent. Personal email became the basement of the internet. Just store what you don’t really need down here and come get it whenever you want.

Any communication left here was destined to die under the guise of archiving. In this new system, recipients felt safe in ignoring any sort of interaction.

While this happened, legitimate corporations realized that email was the perfect form of communication to reach real consumers. IT systems were upgraded and suddenly we could shop and pay bills online. This vastly changed the landscape of our personal email.

Our personal Inboxes were suddenly filled with legitimate spam and here is where it dies.

Stage 4: The Death
Certainly, its application, if ever used anymore, is not personal discourse or keeping in touch, but consumerism. We have entered a functional stage, where it is providing a service where we shop, consume and pay bills.

Sure, we might send an update out there once in a while, but likely it is through a social network of some kind. Personal email is surely dead. I suggest you play taps for such a short lived way to track your friends and family.

Email Isn’t Dead!
In the business world though, the demise hasn’t happened. Of course, other systems have arisen, just like in the personal space, but business email remains an integral part of work, despite efforts to kill it off over the years. There are a lot of great reasons why work email hasn’t died yet, but there’s one that stands out.

Regardless of your company’s email platform, you can still communicate over a standard protocol (SMTP) with all of your external partners. Nothing special is needed. Every business can use any email platform today and be sure that they can still compete and communicate in the global environment.

Trying to kill corporate email is like saying that there is one new web platform that is not based on HTTP.

Will email ever die? Well, likely something new will come up, but it won’t be born out of something created by a corporate entity. It will have to be something for everyone, like the simplicity and ubiquity of SMTP – Send and Receive.

About Matthew Sekol:
Matthew Sekol is a Microsoft Solutions Sales Lead with a degree from Penn State in English. With a mix of creativity and a passion for computers, he has a unique perspective on life, business and technology.

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Who’s in Control –
You or Your Fear?

I admit it, I have a fear of flying. It might stem from having flown Kuwaiti Airlines during the Gulf War when I was 17 or a particularly disturbing 6 hour flight I took right after 9/11. Whatever the reason, I’ve been working on overcoming it for the past 2 years through an excellent program called SOAR, which has helped greatly. Lately, I’ve found that I’m not really bothered by flying so much anymore. While this program undoubtedly helped, I recently realized that something else was allowing that fear to continue.

I had been working at a global semiconductor for about 7 years as a technical lead and architect when I got promoted to manager of the team. Things were going well. Despite having most of my team across the nation and around the world, I never had to fly anywhere for my job. Instead, I adjusted my working schedule and used productivity tools to conduct meetings. This worked out great!

When large projects came up for our remote offices, I let others fly under the guise of giving them an opportunity or I would argue out of it. Granted, I didn’t get face time, but I still provided significant value to these projects and developed great relationships with my co-workers.

During my tenure, job offers would come up. Every job was a great leap forward, but seemed to require that I would have to fly somewhere. My brain shut down when I heard this. I was so comfortable in my job without having to fly, I couldn’t even entertain the opportunities that required travel, even light travel.

I had become complacent and my fear kept me down.

So, I continued to turn down jobs. Of course, my comfortable job couldn’t last and didn’t! The company I was working for was acquired, and the new company valued face time and travel over video collaboration and other cost saving efficiencies. The new company was also based out of Singapore and I live on the east coast. Not a good sign!

I was now being asked to fly to plan a migration, resulting in my team’s eventual demise. I had avoided flying for so long, but couldn’t anymore. Latent fear surfaced, but something else happened.

My perspective changed.

It was one thing to fly for career advancement or an exciting project, but to fly with the end goal of losing your job is a miserable prospect. Well, I did end up flying and it wasn’t horrible. 9 months later, I was out of a job.

In my new role as Microsoft Solutions Sales Lead, I have the opportunity to fly again, but this time the upswing is huge. I now have the opportunity to help grow the business by interacting with Microsoft, customers and other partners.

For 9 years, I allowed complacency and fear to rule my career. It took a real shock, losing my job, to realize that this was a mistake.

Here’s an analogy. I’ve been teaching my kids how to ride a bike. My middle daughter cannot maintain her balance because she doesn’t control the handlebars too well and she is afraid, just like I was. She wants to have the security of me holding onto her as she rides. This is what we yell over and over as I run along side her:

“Who’s in charge of the bike?”

“I’m in charge of the bike!”

My advice is – don’t get too comfortable where you are and allow fear to dictate your path. Let go of your fear and take control!

How Microsoft Can Gain Traction in the Smartphone Wars

With the recent departure of Stephen Elop from Microsoft, there have been a number of articles speculating that this means 3 things:

1. No new Microsoft flagship phone is forthcoming.
2. Microsoft’s focus has shifted to iOS and Android apps.
3. Microsoft is existing the smartphone market altogether by killing Lumia.

As I sit here with my old iPhone 4s thinking about this, I am greatly discouraged. I certainly don’t believe this is the case. While Microsoft has been making waves across Europe and in other regions with Windows Phone, can it gain traction in the US?

Let’s look at ways Microsoft could drop some bombs in the Smartphone Wars.

You Can’t Spell ‘Apple’ without ‘App’
Apple revolutionized the mobile industry with the introduction of apps and created a massive app industry. Android followed suit and has had similar success. Microsoft has been floundering in this space though for years on its own platform. Many developers, frustrated with the lack of support from businesses (Sonos, for example) have developed their own unsupported apps to fill the gap (Phonos, for example).

While Microsoft has a renewed focus in their apps on iOS and Android, this is more a reflection of Microsoft’s realization that not everyone uses their platforms. Better to be as ubiquitous as possible than completely shut out of a market due to your own stubbornness.

Microsoft’s announcements around the Universal App Platform, Continuum and their code portability options from iOS and Android are a major shift for the company. They are hoping they can not only leverage the existing Windows application sets, but that they can allow developers to port existing code into Windows easier than ever before.

If there’s money to be made, those business’ developers may not have much of a say in where their code goes. Soon we will find out if developers’ interest in a platform outweighs revenue. Microsoft is pinning a lot on this hope.

The Phone Market is More Volatile than It Looks
I have owned Windows, Android and iOS phones at various times over the last 15 years. I’m certainly not married to a particular platform. I’ve switched around and it’s partly due to the nature of the mobile market. Apple and Android may be building their own demise.

With Apple, frequent release cycles ensure consumers are constantly upgrading their hardware. Some carriers even allow you to upgrade for a reduced cost mid-cycle because phones are disposable now. As a result, at least every 2 years, you have the opportunity to revisit your decision to commit to a mobile hardware platform and pick something new. Microsoft can take advantage of this by offering some amazing hardware as well as high performing, low cost phones. Apple will never compete in the low cost space.

For Android, they have the same risk, but one more as well. Their platform is too fragmented. Every hardware provider for Android overlays a unique experience, making it even easier to switch to a new mobile platform, hardware or software. Since the Android platform has the majority market share, Microsoft could easily insert itself here.

Besides inserting itself into the refresh cycle, Microsoft has the opportunity to streamline the mobile interface, as Apple does. This allows for a consistent experience across platforms and will reduce the complexity of the platform, relying on hardware providers to use the hardware as a differentiator. Microsoft can also push out updates across all devices quicker, regardless of hardware vendors or carrier.

And Speaking of Hardware and Carriers
The one mistake Microsoft absolutely cannot make is to have their flagship phone (hopefully phones) exclusive to a particular carrier. This will absolutely kill the platform since it fighting so hard to gain market share. Apple could afford to do this with AT&T at the start of the iPhone, but anyone attempting to penetrate needs to have a strong showing across carriers.

If Microsoft chooses to not release a flagship hardware device, it will be a strong signal to the world that they are not serious about growing mobile outside of emerging markets. They must have a flagship.

Next Steps for Microsoft
The next steps for Microsoft are crucial. With the news from Redmond sparse – any new hardware announcement from Apple, who clearly has a strong supply and distribution channel in place, could derail the best laid plans. Android can’t really disrupt Microsoft, but a well timed Google phone could.

Microsoft needs to buckle down, get Windows 10 out and show Windows 10 mobile on a flagship device in order to be taken seriously by consumers. If they come out with a non-committal showing and more low end phones, all hope is lost.

IT as an Industry Needs to Disappear

I’ve worked in the IT industry, focused on Microsoft mostly, for 17 years. Certainly I’m not on the high end, but I did get in at an interesting point. In the late 1990’s, the internet was booming and IT departments were forming. For me, this is where the IT industry really started. Before this, IT was a bit more undefined and commoditized.

Today, every IT department is unique and each one can exist in a different stage, depending on budgets and the value they provide to the business. In the earlier stages, IT is aligned to the IT industry, but as IT moves into later stages, the impact to the business is greater. When this happens, the IT industry disappears and IT becomes aligned to their company’s industry.

Stage 1: IT as the Cost Center
This is where traditional IT (and I) got started. Traditional IT is responsible for making sure the network is up, that you get your email and that your PC is working. All of these things cost salaries and capital. Frankly the value of this work, while important, isn’t very measurable.

Traditional IT closely follows a refresh cycle budget. Sometimes, the budget is based on break/fix work and no real planning. With proper planning, IT can make great leaps in cost savings through proven strategies. Some smaller IT shops remain stuck here due to budget constraints.

I worked at a company like this briefly. They are still at the same point they were at years ago with little movement. I’m not saying you should jump if you’re stuck here, but don’t be too comfortable to move on if a better opportunity comes up!

The way to jumpstart a traditional IT shop is to find just one efficiency and build on it, then prove value. A few years ago, VMWare played a huge role in this by providing cost savings through the efficiencies brought on by server virtualization. The savings came from a more effective way to operate, helping the business save money.

Stage 2: IT as the Cost Saver
With virtualization, IT figured out that the traditional bloated way of operating wasn’t the best and that within technology itself lied the way to making the most out of the investments made. Standards, operating processes, server consolidation and long term planning became the norm, allowing IT to better prove out their value (and budgets).

This coincided in my own career during the recent economic downturn. Everyone was being forced to do more with less. Many IT shops started figuring out innovative ways to save money while still serving business needs. We used a combination of virtualization for Windows servers and blades to save a lot of money.

Out of this simple cost savings measure, IT found other ways to leverage processes and automation to save money for repetitive tasks (DevOps). At the same time, companies like Amazon and Microsoft began to offer their extra capacity and solutions, managed in a centralized way to help companies reduce costs further (Cloud).

These technologies enable the move to Stage 3, which is where the IT industry starts to fall away.

Stage 3: IT as the Revenue Enabler
This is where the bravest and most innovative companies now find themselves. No longer constrained by their employee size or capital budgets, IT can make a massive impact on their employees and customers with easy to manage recurring operational expenses that are tied directly to performance, scaling up and down when needed.

Here, IT has mostly shifted away from the necessary evil of spending money with unquantifiable benefits, to a group within your business that can build revenue through the software and the solutions they can provide. This requires a little more specialized knowledge of your company’s industry.

A recommended way to maximize efficiencies is by running an IT model called Bimodal IT, which I cover in another article. Basically, you have 2 IT groups, traditional IT to keep things running and another modern IT group to focus on innovation at the speed that you business demands without shadow IT forming. This is directly tied to the speed at which cloud services enables you to work.

If you can’t operate this way or are looking to ramp it up, engaging a partner (like the one I work for) is a great way to get started! Once this is set up, the result is helping your business move at the speed it demands in a supportable and secure way.

What Next for IT?
I don’t think the next big leap won’t come through IT, but IT will continue to enable it. End users will continue to push and shape IT into what the business needs to provide unique value to the market. To some extent, this is already underway.

Every business out there now
is a software company.
-Satya Nadella (Ignite 2015)

This quote is very telling on where the IT industry is. Never has technology been so accessible to enable businesses to drive value to their customers. IT needs to adapt and become savvy enough in their unique company’s industry to give their end users an edge in the market.

Whatever the next stage is for IT, end users will be in the driver’s seat. If future IT is doing their job right, the IT industry will disappear into the industry they serve.

How Does Your Article’s Title Impact Response?

I have a lot of strong opinions. Sometimes my opinions get me into trouble, but most times I use my opinions to get others to think or at least persuade them to see my point of view. Writing on LinkedIn has proven to be an interesting experiment for me over the past year. One thing though has proven the most difficult to master – writing the title, especially for editorial content.

The title is the way you hook people into clicking on your article to see what your thoughts are. While there are many articles out there on writing a great title and getting it noticed on Pulse, I’m going to take a step back to examine two examples of titles for the same news story in an attempt to help you make sense of how each engages the reader.

My Opinion is My Title and By the Way, Here’s the News

Recently, there was an executive shakeup at Microsoft. Since this news is so potentially massive and multi-faceted, I went to Bing to check it out and get people’s opinions. I’m exceptionally curious about Stephen Elop’s departure because, while Lumia sales are struggling in the US, there is momentum overseas, but no flagship phone in sight, yet Microsoft seems to have a game plan to move forward with Windows Phone 10.

This is when this Wired article from Issie Lapowsky caught my eye

Wired article about Microsoft's dire future, apparently

Wired article about Microsoft’s dire future, apparently

BOOM! I am hooked! I clicked this link because, while I doubt there was an official concession from Microsoft, I wanted to read the author’s opinion on the subject. For example, maybe they know something about Satya and Stephen’s internal relationship that I hadn’t heard or they had unique insight into the situation. I clicked the link and read the article. The article itself states the facts, but turns the news itself into the opinion without much thought.

“…his exit from the company seems to be as strong a sign as any that Microsoft is—at least in spirit—seceding from a crowded smartphone market that has become increasingly difficult to penetrate.”

The question I’m asking is why does x (the departure) mean y (Microsoft is leaving mobile behind)?

The article does mention one other fact, which is the departure of 18,000 Nokia employees. Still though, this fact fails to tie that back into the main opinion and title through any analysis.

Wired, which usually has great content, is exploiting our short attention spans (ironic link to a study from Microsoft) in an effort to get us to think a certain way. To an extent, this isn’t just click-bait because the article’s title isn’t even hyperbole for the article’s content.

A better approach for this article might have been to juxtapose the recent Ignite and Build conference announcements around Continuum and Windows Universal Apps against Stephen Elop’s exit and the Nokia layoffs, questioning what might be coming and hinting at the inconsistent message between all of these announcements. What about the fact that Satya doesn’t mention the word “phone” in his letter to employees once and only mentioned “mobile” twice, but not in direct relation to this news?

Still, these ideas don’t impact the real issue, which is the poor title.

Suggestions for re-titling this article include:
With Recent Executive Changes, Is Microsoft Leaving Mobile Behind?
Stephen Elop’s Departure Brings Up New Questions about Mobile at Microsoft

Editorial pieces that have questions in their titles or frame questions are great because you are engaging the reader to ask that same question. The author is then free to provide the answer with your their unique perspective.

Since the title is provocative, but the article skimps on insight, you’ll notice that the comments have already devolved into a flame war for Microsoft vs. Google vs. Apple. This is not productive engagement, but might gain Wired more ad revenue through clicks to the article itself.

Same News, with Insight and Engagement

It didn’t take me too long to find another article about the same subject written with genuine insight. Roger Cheng over at CNet nailed it with his insight on the same news story.

cnet

If you’re connected with me, you know I’m a Microsoft fan. Regardless of this fact, I love Roger’s article because he lays out as it is – the good and the bad, the shakeup and what Microsoft needs to do to address it’s current mobile issue and outlining what they’ve done in the recent past around the Surface. Granted, this article’s title is pretty long and it includes a sub-title, but the framework laid out follows through nicely in the article.

1. It gives us the news (facts).
2. It tells us how this news relates to the company, industry, and market (context).
3. Reminds us where we’ve been (challenges).
4. Hints at where we might go (potential).

Roger and the editors over at CNet got me to read the article through the question in the title and gave me useful insight, helping me build my own thoughts around this topic. Quick side note – not every article needs to follow this format, the one you’re reading now doesn’t for example, but this format is a great one to follow when posting your own thoughts on industry news.

If you check the comments section on this article, you’ll find more useful comments on the topic at hand. It is almost as if just by writing the question in the title, Roger has invited people to participate in a real conversation. This is what you want to emulate when you write, especially on LinkedIn. The more people you engage meaningfully, the more connections you can make.

Picking a Title that Engages

There is now little difference from writing on LinkedIn and writing for professional publications. The lines are blurring. On LinkedIn though, there’s a lot riding on someone reading your article. It could lead to new sales, a new job, or even a new way of thinking. Here are three helpful tips:

  • Don’t turn your title into something that should’ve been a Tweet. People will simply read it and move on.
  • Be sure your title captures what you’re writing about and you back it up with your article’s content.
  • If the article is your opinion on a news story, try to engage the reader by asking them a question, it can be a great hook for their participation.

Think about these tips when you are writing new content for LinkedIn Groups, too! You might just see your engagement go way up!

For Those at Broadcom
(We Salute You)

I remember that cold December day in 2013. It was right before Christmas vacation and I had just walked into the office. I was geared up for the holiday, but then someone walked up to me as I walked towards my office – Did you hear we’re being bought? They use Oracle and not SAP! Google Apps instead of Office 365! Panic, panic, etc. What ensued was several months of panic, appeasement from management, and again more panic.

Here is a dramatic reading of my reaction as performed by Michael Scott:

After months of hard work and a lot of ups and downs, I got through it and I learned some things. What follows are some tips for Broadcom employees and anyone else going through an acquisition. I’ve been where you are (quite literally). You will get through this, just breathe and read on.

Keep Your Ears and Eyes Open
Being on the acquiree end of an acquisition (I’m an English major, we can make up words), it is easy to become over paranoid. Listen to what management is saying, but keeps your ears and eyes open for what’s really going on. Information will likely fly around, some wrong, but some right. Make sure you are making any career impacting decisions based on what you think is best for you. Knee jerk reactions can lead to the wrong decision (see One Last Thing here).

Don’t Overreact in Public
Look, this is a hard time that you’ll be going through. Lots of money is going to be exchanged way above your pay grade. Don’t take any of it personally. This deal is insanely huge and you are just a cog until the dust settles. Don’t fight it – a company is not a democracy. The sooner you come to terms with this realization, the more relaxed you’ll be about the whole thing and can just focus on providing value and not worrying about your little corner of the world.

Remember, you know you’ve put in years of effort and, worst case, your next employer will see that contribution. Best case, the acquiring company will see your value. Regardless, you shouldn’t take out your anger on any walls if things don’t go your way.

Update Your LinkedIn!
Just in case they don’t see your value, update your LinkedIn profile and resume. When I was faced with the inevitable, I updated my LinkedIn and even started writing LinkedIn articles. One article might be particularly helpful if you’re just starting out.

There’s no reason to wait, get going! If you do it now, you’ll quickly get 2 benefits. First, you’ll be prepared if you are terminated under the new Broadcom (glad to see they are keeping the name). Second, it will help you prepare any internal self-reviews that you might need to complete to justify your job.

Remember the 2 Bob’s? Best to be prepared.

Keep Your Friends Close
Updating your LinkedIn and resume are great first steps, but keep your friends close and try to help them out if they decide to jump ship. You never know when they might be able to help you in return. I did a lot of resumes and gave out a lot of career advice to folks that were leaving. Those folks are now at companies in the area and I’m in IT sales. I’d say it has worked out pretty well so far.

It definitely isn’t time to burn bridges. No one at any significant decision making level is going to care what happens to you ultimately. Remember, money is flying around way above you in the ether, but those you’ve struggled and worked along side with will look out for you if you look out for them.

Someone once wisely told me that you should be nice to everyone because you never know who will be your next manager. This is a volatile time – look out!

Make the Best of the Situation
It is never fun to watch the work you’ve done go down the drain and be replaced by other systems. Obviously, you know best and everyone else is wrong, especially this new company. Who do they think they are anyway? Well, they must be doing something right because they’re buying your company.

Regardless, even if you’re transitioning off of your systems and processes to other people, make the best of it – help them succeed. There are real, but non-tangible skills you can learn through transition period, no matter how painful. Empathy and organizational skills can be gained here. That sounds useful in the future, right?

Even if you don’t think these soft skills are valuable, you have an opportunity to learn how another company operates. Learn as much as you can and see what happens. Remember this guy? You might find yourself having to drink some to stay sane, but keep your head up and pay attention.

Don’t Stop Believing!
Just like a feel good group hug, let’s end on the most optimistic hope we can. You’re only on this earth for a short time. It hurts when you work so hard for 50% of your life to wake up one day and find out that it all didn’t matter, but take solace. You (hopefully) helped your company get to a point where they were valuable enough to be purchased by someone else. There is a value there and, if you follow my advice, you’ll come away with some experiences gained through a fast and furious few months that you can use again in the course of your career.

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