Matthew Sekol

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

Category: Career (page 1 of 2)

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!

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!

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.

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.

4 Things to Know at 22

In this series, professionals share what they’d do differently — and keep the same. Follow the stories here and write your own (please use #IfIWere22 in your post).

Back when I was 22, it was an interesting time for me and the internet. It was 1998 and I was just graduating from Penn State with an English degree and studying Microsoft’s Networking Essentials. The internet was still largely in its infancy but, like me, it had a lot of potential. I just wasn’t so sure how the two would work together. So, let’s jump right in there!

Thing to Know #1: Having a Career Unrelated to Your Degree Can be a Good Thing
In 1997, it became clear to me that technology would be more lucrative than most things my English degree could offer (Law School aside). I had a knack for building web sites and troubleshooting computers and could see what was coming down the road. This realization came too late for me to switch majors though, so I graduated with my English degree.

This worked out to be one of the best decisions of my life. As I progressed in my career, my English degree supplemented my technical skillset. It took me about 5 years to realize what was happening. Of all the skills I had in my arsenal, excellent communication and empathy proved to be the most important. I quickly moved up in IT in my first Enterprise role, moving from desktop support to lead architect in just 5 years.

Embrace all the passions in your life, there’s likely not only one! If you’re lucky, you can find a job that covers them all!

Thing to Know #2: Work is Not Life
Your career is not your life, no matter how much time you spend on it. I have made countless ridiculous decisions around thinking I was impressing someone when my life was sacrificed.

For example, when my wife and I had our first child, there was a lot going on at the office. The day after my daughter was born, there was an all hands with the new CIO just after our company was acquired. I thought it would be good for my career to make a showing. I left the hospital, went home, got cleaned up and went into work.

What a waste! While I made it through the acquisition and flourished at that company, it wasn’t due to my appearance at some meeting. It was due to my work ethic and the other skills I had gained over the years. My wife will always remember that I did that. Meanwhile, that company has been gobbled up and systematically taken apart.

Remember this, as you get older, your job may change, your peers come and go, but your family is forever. Spend time on finding the balance, it will be well worth it.

Thing to Know #3: Complacency is Bad
Look around at any Enterprise and you will find a small group of people working that have been doing the same thing for a long time with little career movement. Sometimes, these people just have found what they do and are really good at it. Other times though, they are just plain stuck.

Your career requires a balance in this area. You don’t need to job hop like crazy or even ever leave the company you work for to find new opportunities. Keep an eye out for market trends and make sure not to become complacent. Sometimes, this means changing jobs, other times it means changing companies or locations. What I’ve learned, especially in IT, is that today’s skills are tomorrow’s layoff fodder.

Life is change, but pace your career intelligently and look for opportunities to grow. They are out there!

Thing to Know #4: Be Confident and Have Fun
When I was in college, I used to be a chauffeur of a sort. I was a rare breed who owned a car at college. I had the privilege of driving some girls from my home town back home on the weekends. One of them gave me advice that was so simple, I couldn’t believe I had missed it.

One of the girls asked me why I always walked around campus with my head down. I wasn’t sure what she meant really, I just thought I was walking. Her perception though was that I lacked confidence. She also gave me some advice – walk with your head held up.

I tried this and noticed an immediate difference. People will engage you if you’re confident and conversations naturally just start.

I supplemented this new confidence with humor, which is something I’ve had for years and then grew again with my English degree. Once again, I found balance. Humor was more difficult to master than confidence though in a professional setting. It needs to be used lightly and cannot be overbearing or offensive.

Both humor and confidence can build trust and move you forward.

One Last Thing: Short Term Pain is Sometimes Worth It
These 4 things have served me well. Not ever career decision I made worked out though. I once worked for a company that was going bankrupt. The timing worked out in that my wife and I were looking to move closer to family to start our own. I made a huge mistake though. The company offered severance packages and I thought I would be hard pressed to find a job where near family, so I took the first well paying job I could find. I left the drowning company and lost the severance.

About a year later, a lot of my co-workers had made out quite well as the severance packages materialized. I learned this lesson, but didn’t think I would have time to reapply it.

Last year though, the company I was working for was purchased. Severance was offered once again. I bid my time until the my end date and got my severance. Rather than just wait in misery, I took the opportunity to learn as much as I could about how the new company operated. This led me to learning a lot about a competing technology, ultimately helping me in my current role.

Make the most out of a bad situation and ride out the storm. Sometimes that package is worth it!

Bimodal IT: Creating Rifts or Opportunities?

As a result of consumer driven conveniences via applications ‘that just work’, employees are expecting more flexibility, capability and speed of delivery from their IT group than ever before. Enterprise IT can address these requirements with the cloud and the efficiencies it can bring to a business if they standardize and streamline processes. Never before has IT had a bigger chance to make an impact. With this new opportunity though, comes a lot of change.

IT needs to align with the business in a way they haven’t before and develop processes designed to enable agility and speed. This is evident from a recent CIO article called “What Gartner’s Bimodal IT Means to Enterprise CIOs,” which theorizes on what Gartner’s vision of the future of IT is. Supplement that with Kathleen Wilson’s “Enabling Azure Operations” session at Microsoft Ignite, and the story really starts to make an impact.

What is Bimodal IT?
Bimodal IT is a way to address the increased speed of solution delivery in an Enterprise brought on by the cloud. It posits that IT needs to be broken down into 2 groups to facilitate this, but also eliminates a 3rd IT group:

1. A traditional IT that deals with rack and stack installations and on-premises troubleshooting.
2. A new modern IT in which everyone is a generalist and they can quickly organize to deliver solutions that drive the business.
3. This has the benefit of eliminating (or lowering) shadow IT because now IT is equipped with the tools to move as quickly as someone with a credit card.

Traditional IT knows what the business needs from an IT strategy perspective (example: We need more storage for our designers), but modern IT understands the business strategy (example: If we had a more robust design environment, we could deliver designs 10 times faster to our customers, resulting in a quicker R&D return).

Is This the Death of Traditional IT?
Bimodal IT builds on the practices that some Enterprises have already been doing for years since the advent of virtualization and subsequently automation. The difference is that now, with the cloud, everything is sped up and even more immediate. Lydia Leong at Gartner wrote a great blog post that shows how the similarities between virtualization and public cloud aren’t close enough though, even through the software defined data center. Despite this assertion, Enterprise IT should already be on the way to towards a modern IT.

This phrase though is particularly troubling for traditional IT staff and shows that a mindset change is needed is staff are to survive.

The IT-centric individual who is a cautious guardian and enjoys meticulously following well-defined processes is unlikely going to turn into a business-centric individual who is a risk-taking innovator and enjoys improvising in an uncertain environment.

I’m not sure I agree completely as this does sound like a death knell for traditional IT. The software designed data center and Devops play a critical role in both and skills and processes likely can transfer. What I take from this quote is that communication between IT and the business units needs to be more immediate, but I don’t agree that you introduce risk by allowing the speed to delivery get in the way of due diligence and long-term planning. Doubt me? Check your data center for those legacy, yet critical applications still hosted on Windows 2003. We can’t let that type of development work continue without some amount of planning, certainly there must be a balance.

I’m hopeful that CIOs always understand the business needs, but historically, those needs haven’t been communicated to the IT managers and engineers. In an Enterprise where IT is split into traditional IT and modern IT, the issue can be exacerbated as both factions are fighting for power. Gartner seems to be suggesting that this model should be immediately implemented even if the CIO isn’t ready! Yikes! (check the Gartner agenda here).

Is that really what they are saying though? Well, likely there is little IT organizational movement now with still small IT budgets, so some IT departments are likely stuck with a structure put in place a decade ago. Certainly Gartner’s suggestion would be less than optimal because of the natural rift that it causes, unless they are building on the efficiencies that Enterprise IT groups might already have in place – infrastructure and business applications teams that work well together, taking the best of both worlds to move into the bimodal model. Traditional IT can offer standards and best practices while modern IT has the agility to deliver quickly.

For traditional IT, this doesn’t represent a death knell, but an opportunity to move into a more agile way of working.

The CIO Needs to Change Too!
Effective Enterprises should be on their way to solving this problem with tight communication between both traditional IT, modern IT and the business. The CIO (or some leader) needs to facilitate this relationship.

With the speed at which cloud moves, the CIO can no longer afford to sit back and be a funnel of business information any more to only one group, ie. the business applications teams. They need to facilitate that deep understanding between IT and the business to enable agile movement and not maintain ‘at arms length’ traditional IT projects. For those businesses that remain with fragmented communication levels, they’ll likely find competitors with an efficient edge squeezing them out over time.

There are hints that this is what Gartner is saying, but it also seems like they are just encouraging 2 nearly separate ITs just to deal with innovation. I don’t believe that the cloud is so transformative that existing processes and standards knowledge can’t be built upon to deal with this new agility. Certainly, communication can help bridge the gap.

A Surprising Way to Get There
If you are in an Enterprise and can spare staff to move into modern IT, you will likely want to pull from those with the broadest skillsets so that they can understand the complexities of a cloud based solution. Generalists that can understand an entire application’s stack are better than someone troubleshooting just one component.

If you don’t have the staff or if your IT group remains highly fragmented without effective communication with the business and you don’t know how to address it, an IT Partner can often help bridge the gap. Think about it, a good IT Partner has experience in talking to different levels of the organization and getting to the real requirements and the results. Their job depends on this skill!

CIOs should not fear bringing an IT Partner into business conversations. Partners have the added advantage of seeing industry trends specific to your vertical and can perhaps facilitate external references for large initiatives. Traditional IT should also embrace a partner as they can have two effective means to get your IT group where it needs to be:

1. A Partner can focus on traditional IT, allowing existing IT staff to start develop processes and skillsets around modern IT practices.
2. A Partner can be the modern IT practice, interacting with the business while existing staff deal with traditional IT issues.

Not all businesses are Enterprise class, and a Partner can also help smaller businesses understand and make this transition as well. Not everything is about the big players, there are cloud efficiencies for everyone!

Regardless of how you get there though, shadow IT can still come into play if you’re not careful, proving that communication is the key to this transition. Peter Sondergaard, VP and Global Head of Research for Gartner, wrote a great blog article about bimodal IT and mentions that companies ignoring this trend risk shadow IT, but I think he misses how shadow IT might crop up when applying the Gartner model.

If traditional IT is kept out of the business conversation, shadow IT moves from the end users into modern IT and the solutions implemented will ultimately become unsupportable and fragmented themselves (harken back to the Windows 2003 example). Just because the cloud makes it easy doesn’t mean you move at a breakneck speed towards it. This balance is the value traditional IT can bring. The CIO, on the other hand, must ensure communication is tight throughout the business and keep the bleeding edge reigned in just enough to be secure, while being agile.

The cloud journey is very complex and getting it started right is key if IT is going to shift from cost center to enabler of business agility. IT staff need to embrace the change too. From the engineer up to the CIO, each level now has new roles that can be exciting, but you have to embrace the change!

How an Email Manager
Leaves a Job

I’ve been managing email systems for years and have been manager of the team that manages email (among other things) for the past 2 years. While my primary focus was on Exchange email, I also had a great understanding of different spam systems and how they worked. When my most recent company was purchased by an “Anything But Microsoft” company, the writing was on the wall.

As a result, I’m done! Here’s my goodbye notice to my co-workers. Enjoy!

December 26th is my last day here. Last week, I received a message from a Doctor in Nigeria. Apparently, I can assist with the transfer of $21,320,000.00 (TWENTY ONE MILLION, THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY THOUSAND U.S. DOLLARS) for his family out of the country into US Banks. For helping settle the transaction, I will receive 70% of the transferred funds. On top of that, my wife has won the UK-LOTTO Sweepstakes in Johannesburg, South Africa. We will be getting another $2,500,000 (TWO MILLION, FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND U.S DOLLARS)!

I’ve already provided my PIN number to Citibank per their email to facilitate the transaction (didn’t even know I had an account there) and have been contacted by Fedex regarding a package I have to pick up, which I believe contains the money. I only had to send them $500 to get it!

I can’t justify coming into an office anymore with this sum of money in my bank account. I’ve received an email that I can make thousands of dollars per month working from home for Google, so rest assured, I will stay busy. Of course, this will have to wait until I get back from my FREE Disney trip (thanks Facebook)!

I wish you all the best, it has been a pleasure working with you all. We’ve really done some fantastic things over the years.

If you’d like to stay in touch, I’m on LinkedIn. Try not to spam me, I keep a keen eye out for that stuff!

 

Why You Should Trust
the IT Early Bird

When I moved down to Frederick, MD a few years ago, I learned pretty quick that I needed to adjust my work hours. The commute to Rockville some days and Bethesda on others was tough. The 30 mile commute was always close to an hour, and that was on good days. In order to keep my sanity, I would leave home at 6:30AM and leave work no later than 4PM every day (if I could help it).

I was working at a utility company that only had plants and offices based in the US. Operating power plants and gas transmission lines required 24/7 support, but IT was staffed during the typical 9-5 hours. At each plant, there was a smart hands person (one of these was my own mother), who would typically arrive very early in the morning. This person wore several hats at the plant and were excellent points of contacts for IT.

After coming in early for a few months, the plant contacts realized I was online early. If there were any issues overnight, they would usually call me up first thing and we would work through the issue together. There were benefits on both sides. I was learning plant systems and troubleshooting issues that other IT owners might have taken on if they waited until 9AM. For the plant contacts, they would get their issue resolved quicker, resulting in higher satisfaction and a growing trust with myself and, by extension, IT.

I was hired as a desktop support person. Within 5 years, I was the technical lead for the Platform Services team. A lot of this was due to coming in early.

No one seemed to mind that I left early in the day either. My managers were well aware of my commute and they saw the advantages from me coming in early.

Since then, I’ve had other jobs and I always try to show up early and leave early. After all, I check my email all night anyway and as remote access became ubiquitous, this became even easier and more frequent. Some managers and teams didn’t care, others did care though. Regardless of opinions though, I was still consistently a top performer who would find issues early in the morning and resolving them before everyone came in.

Moving into management, I’ve come to understand the delicate balance of this shift in start and leave times. Sometimes I would get complaints from others when they see someone leaving early. They would make comments under their breath like “banker’s hours” and the like. Before you try something like this, make sure your manager and team is on board and understand your work times. Your manager in particular needs to account for your time. Be sure they are comfortable with it and see the benefits. If they do, they (and your team), will have your back.

The IT early bird is someone that can be trusted. They’ve seen it all and have done most troubleshooting by the time the others roll in. This gives them a great general knowledge of systems that might be out of their direct line of responsibility. Keep an eye on these folks – you might just see them do some amazing things!

Looking at Liberal Arts from the Outside

tulipsThey call us dreamers and radicals. We took a chance at what we loved and came out the other side battle-worn. We are Liberal Arts graduates.

A friend recently posted an article on Facebook about a conference for the future of Liberal Arts that took place at St. Johns College. It doesn’t look good. Here’s a snippet –

English majors only account for 3% of all majors nationwide.

One interesting comment listed in the article, which admittedly is controversial, is made by Andrew DelBanco, head of American Studies at Columbia University – “You cannot explain the value of a liberal education to those who have not had one.”

While the article focuses on some recent trends in the humanities that arguably should be reversed, let’s focus on that one comment. I don’t think it is the value is difficult to explain, you just have to switch your perspective.

I absolutely loved studying literature, but having an English degree meant two paths:

1. English professor – I saw the decline coming (see the article linked above)
2. Lawyer – I took my LSATs, but it just wasn’t for me.

By the time I realized I may have made a mistake by declaring English as my major, I decided that I was too far down the path. I took advantage of the free websites at Penn State, learned some HTML code, and finished up my English degree. I spent my immediate post-graduate life focusing on computers and moved into an entry-level IT job.

16 years later, I am still in IT and the value of my degree is extremely easy to see. This made me realize that Delbanco, which highly educated and well-respected, is missing the perspective of someone working completely outside the Liberal Arts field.

I thought my English degree was a hindrance for a long time. In IT, obviously technical skills are highly valued. I had these skills, but I started noticing that others, while very technically saavy, lacked other skills that I seemed to have.

I could communicate effectively and had empathy. This helped me translate technical ideas and concepts to non-technical customers and business partners. Empathy is a skill that is valued by business leaders for this and other reasons. For example, my first Enterprise IT job was a laptop support technician. After seeing the same problems being logged by the Help Desk over and over, I designed a training class to address common issues and delivered it to IT contacts in the business and administrative assistants.

As time went on and my responsibilities grew, I found other skills came naturally – complex analysis, listening, and critical thinking. It turns out, these skills that are also highly valued. Several years ago, I worked with IT teams and HR to understand the requirements and pain points around account management. From there, I developed an account lifecycle management strategy using a software solution and pitched the idea to various business units and management. The project was approved and we implemented a solution that lowered Help Desk tickets, streamlined account creation and kept terminations within SLA.

Delbanco almost has it right. Trying to convince someone of the value of a Liberal Arts education from inside a career in that field is impossible. Preaching the value as a professor and pointing to Liberals Arts careers as valuable is certainly difficult. How do you quantify the value of an author’s work, for example? It is completely subjective.

Instead, put a spin on the discussion and point to successful people that leverage their Liberal Arts education to drive results and change in other fields. The value become both measureable and obvious.

Photo: Library_Tulips_2 by Alina Gluck

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