The Technology That Shaped Me – Finding A Passion

I haven’t always worked in in the tech industry. I’ve travelled a less well trodden path.

An economics degree, voluntary work with disabled teenagers and then teaching eventually led to a technology opportunity and I’ve been firmly entrenched in the sector ever since. But I’m grateful for that unique path because although those experiences were a long time ago I use them to bring a different perspective and skill set to my everyday job.

While it might have taken time for me to find myself a career in the industry, I have always had a passion for technology. There were signs; some early obsessions, connections and influences that hinted of a future to come. So strong were some of these connections that much of the tech I still own. At home this is called my museum (I am Lord President Business and the kids are not allowed to touch it), I don’t have it all but when I go through it, unbox it and examine it, I still feel a thrill, that joyful feeling of discovery from years ago.   

Atari 2600

Christmas 1980 (for the record I was seven years old). I can still remember my Dad handing my Mum a large boxed present in the afternoon, long after the standard Wade household present opening period. He had even waited until after the Queen’s speech! My mind flipped when it was unwrapped; this thing plugged into the TV and ran the same games we played at the arcade while on our annual family holiday. The arcades on Cromer Pier were now in my living room and my brothers and I didn’t need 10p to play. Looking back I realise how lucky we were to be given this Christmas gift but at seven I knew little different. I got so good at Defender the score went off the charts. All I wanted to do was know how it all worked, I had to find out. 

ZX Spectrum

Christmas 1982 (I’m now nine years old for those counting) and I was beginning to think that someone might share my passion, or at least be fuelling it, as a ZX Spectrum arrived for the family. A whole new world of games (Manic Miner anyone?) but this time a keyboard, a console I could command; I could make it do things, I could make things happen. I remember spending all day working out how to print the Union Jack on screen. It took ages but it was incredibly satisfying.

Amstrad PC 1512

Christmas’ came and went but who cares about Christmas when your Dad has an office with a computer? (I’m now eleven years old). He had an Amstrad PC 1512, which was total science fiction as far as I was concerned, and I was in heaven. Interestingly enough my passion for this machine was the disks and applications that came with it and moving data about, not the MS-DOS operating system. MS-DOS certainly had a part to play but that was to come, it was software and hardware that became interesting.

From there computers came and went, time passed and as a teenager I continued investigating. The Sony Walkman revolutionised my life (I still have mine, in the museum) and I could tell you a lot of stories, but because this list is about the technology that truly shaped my future there is room for just one more. 

Intel i486DX2-66 Processor

I was absolutely determined to get an Intel 486DX2-66 processor (I was twenty years old now). It was the king at the time. It came in a whole range of machines and every one of them was in a beige box. I wanted one of those beige boxes and in the early 90s I got one. It came with Windows 3.11. My best mate gave me a copy of an MS-DOS handbook and I was away. That computer went a long, long way. I performed a lot of hardware updates on that machine, I remember clearly installing a CD-ROM drive, upgrading it to Windows 95, extra memory, different disk configurations and countless hours of entering commands and code. I kept going with it and it kept me going for years.

Investigating and experimenting with that device gave me the confidence to share the thrill of discovery at work. On those first small Microsoft networks I built NetBEUI became a good friend, I probably had too much NetBEUI in my life but by then I had found my passion and wasn’t looking back. 

Five Steps to Getting AI Projects Right

AI projects are not IT projects

You might be relying heavily on code, developers, cloud services and data stored in systems managed by IT  but an AI project is a business project, the focus should be about solving a problem, not investigating the technology.

Momentum is important

Momentum makes these projects successful. You’ll need to be bold and disruptive to make progress. The best leaders give people the freedom to be creative, find one of these to be your sponsor.  

Building the team is vital

Good AI projects enable a team not replace a team. For success you should use your existing experience to find new results across larger data sets, opening up scale that never existed before.

I use this equation to build out the team

Success = Platform + Expertise + Data + Domain Knowledge

Platform = Extensible, secure and open public cloud

Expertise = Developers, data science, cloud architect

Data = Organisation or 3rd party source. Note you don’t need it all to get started

Domain Knowledge = Field expert

Success should come quickly

If you have put the right team together you should be getting results or proving the validity of the project in just a few weeks. In IT we call these ‘sprints’. One or two ‘sprints’ and you should be making progress. I’ve seen results much faster than this too. 

Investment should follow success

Finally, major investment should not be provided until success has been shown, but it should then come quickly. Losing momentum dampens enthusiasm, causes rot to set in and then projects fail. Failure is not a bad thing, it helps us learn but failing to move a successful project forward because it has nowhere to go means we’ve got the wrong sponsor or are not solving the right problem. Reset and go again!  

Successfully Working from Home

I’ve learnt quite a bit about working from home in the last ten years and thought is was about time I shared one of the secrets to my success.

It will take longer to get used to than you will first admit. 

Working from home has some obvious benefits; no travel time, no interruptions, working all day in your pyjamas. It’s a breeze right? When I look back I can honestly say it took me over a year to get into the correct rhythm.  I had started a new job, I had a new baby (our first), I was sent a laptop, filing cabinet (don’t why I got that), chair, printer, tech. toys and I was away.  I knocked off what I thought was a day’s work by morning tea and was a very happy man. But how do you get by with no interaction with anyone at work? Monday is great but by Wednesday, outside of the odd phone call and customer conversation, who do you have the work chat with? What happens if you get frustrated at work and the next person you see is your new child or sleep deprived partner?  You suddenly need to slip out of work mode and into home mode, then back again.  You think Superman makes a fast change in a phone box, it’s nothing compared to mental gymnastics of the accomplished home worker.

As you get used to the transition you’ll be telling everyone how great life is but some times you’ll be doing this to convince yourself, more than anyone else. But working from home can be very rewarding and productive. It took me a while to work this out as I am not someone that has had much interest in physiology but you need to train your brain.

What did I do? I decided I had to identify in my mind where and when I was at work.  I picked a space and made sure everything was the same each time I started.  I created a routine of work, emails, calls and customer visits that I stuck to. I even cleaned and tided the space every week and set it up for Monday. I mentally told myself when I leave this spot I am no longer at work, I am at home. I moved a chair by the door and said to myself, work goes there when I leave this room. Over about twelve months I began to surprise myself with how quickly I was able to mentally switch roles.  I could stride through the house be dad, walk into my work space, sit down and get straight back into it. It was at this point working from home truly became great and productive.  

Without knowing it I was taking my brain through a series of mental exercises.  My brain was getting a workout and learning how to flip modes very quickly.

I have switched companies now and at Microsoft I have the flexibility to work at the office or at home. I can spend weeks in the office environment or at customer sites an then a period at home and the mental flexibility is still there. All I have to do is remember to get dressed when I go into the office.

This is a skill I’m sure anyone can learn.  I’d be interested in what makes working from home a success for you. I always say we all learn by sharing and if you have found another way don’t be shy, let the world know.

Moving On

The year moved very quickly for me indeed.  Many blog posts sit in draft; titled but not executed.  Q3 became a blur of events, installs, upgrades and deals.

I always considered myself incredibly lucky to be in a pre-sales role and to be at Citrix. After all I have talked about being at the vendor that you have built your career on before and there I was. However, I began to become increasingly aware of my customers’ desire to move to the cloud and the exciting projects they were undertaking.   At Citrix I was a small part of these as they looked to move workloads onto a cloud platform, be that PaaS, IaaS or SaaS.

Citrix has parts to play in all of this but I was keen to spend more time focused on these transformational investments.  I was determined to learn and engage more directly.  Therefore, when the opportunity to work at Microsoft presented itself I took it with both hands.

Like everything luck, in terms of timing, played a part; Microsoft were looking to expand their team just at the point I thought I had enough experience to apply for the position.  If I’m honest I’ve not been through a more testing, challenging and enjoyable process.  (If you don’t get anything out of being grilled and challenged, then you probably will not find it enjoyable)

So where to from here?  My plan is to share my Azure journey this year on here and to walk through the tech steps I take on projects.  Please note this will be very much my own experiences and there are a number of excellent blogs, tech sites and channels from Microsoft dedicated to technical tips and tricks, troubleshooting etc. that you can access.  I will look to create a resources page that I use on my journey.

For now, over and out from XenCommder Wade and hello Commander Azure!

It’s Q2 Already WTF!

I’ve learned that sales quarters roll round real fast.  I spent some time of my life studying physics, very much at an
FreeImages.com/BSKelementary level.  Time was a topic I always liked the idea of but the academics that tried to express relativity always tripped me up in explanations of travelling trains and view points, they should have given me a quota and a deadline, then worked back to the mathematics!   RFQ response deadlines loom far too quickly and customer’s purchasing departments move in a different time, yet the 24 hours in a day appear to tick over at an alarmingly regular rate and the end of quarter comes just as it should.

For me one month has past of Q2, deals are forming shape and pricing is being negotiated.  This can be a great time if you are in front and it’s easy to get carried away with how the year might pan out.  You may be behind (I know it’s the sales managers fault for setting your silly quota but I can’t change that) and trying to work out how you can climb what is already looking like a mountain.

In either position now as an SE is time to look at Q4.  How are you going to close the year out, how are you going to contribute to the greater good of your quota, where is the extra value that you bring?

You have to assist the deals on the go, you have to work on the company projects and the last thing you probably need is additional work but Q4 is where it is at and your influence is now.

Surprise your rep and book a Q4 planning meeting.  Take time to look at your account list and work out who you can meet, who you are not currently speaking to.  Grab that coffee, take a note book (how old fashioned am I – tablet!) and listen.

Remember you have the best job in the world, go out and enjoy it because as an SE time moves very fast indeed!

Images supplied from http://www.freeimages.com/license

Losing your Religion

The new year has begun, in truth we are well into it, accounts and numbers have been finalised, processes, personnel and strategy have been reviewed and through all this the job continues.

I’d like to take a little look back at Q4, the role of the SE in Q4 and what follows can be an interesting one.  It’s the time of year I am at the mental edge of the role, I spend more time thinking about decisions and actions than any other.  With a smirk I’m sure you will have had a sales lead say “this is the most important week, of the most important month, of the most important quarter.”  Every sale is important to a sales team, as the year closes out they gather momentum.
http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/maxpate-62416For some Q4 will have shuddered to a halt, the final days might have felt like riding a truck with failed breaks, turning the wheel at this late stage is not going to change the end result.  And this is the key to it all, you are not in the final throws as an SE going to change the overall result.  Your work should have been done.  You can and should support and help; start the planning process, take a meeting with a partner or two make a cup of tea for the sales admin team.  (As much as reps think they work the hardest at the end of the quarter it’s actually those that have to process and book all the orders they have thrown together that do – all other times its us ;-))

There will be things you would have done differently through out the year and there will be decisions moving forward taken by management, that you don’t agree with.  This however is no time to judge your role by, this is no time to lose the SE religion. Before you know it you will be back in the wagon, the engines will have started, breaks checked and the GPS guiding the way.

Take a breath and remember you are part of the greatest community on earth, who doesn’t want to be an SE!

Q4 The Pressure Cooker

As an SE I’ve never had an easy Q4. http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/ryly-61697

Even if you are in the rarified air of having completed your quota there will always be pressure from the business to bring in the right deals now. This pressure will come down onto the sales team and a portion of it to you. Everyone has their own way of dealing with it; it’s months like these that you remind yourself you are the SE and not the rep and should be able to sail through the rough waters without getting thrown off the boat, head downstairs and batten down the hatches.

You will work with reps in your time as an SE who will attempt to throw you off the boat, this highlights a poor understanding of the roles and responsibilities and a poor working relationship. You either need to fix this, directly or with your manager or find another partnership. That’s a big call as you might be wedded to the vendor you are working for, we often are as SE’s, but reps that take all the glory and are not prepared to take any of the blame for a poorly executed quarter are dangerous to your health. In my experience these reps don’t often last long, the step up and pressure of vendor sales has been a leap too far for them. You’ll know if you are there or not.

Why am I talking about pressure? I am in the end game, its Q4, the last month, the last weeks. Time is running out, I’ve just stepped off a plane, my 4th week away in a row. I’ve crisscrossed the country eight times, I’ve burnt a lot of jet fuel, I’ve stood up in front of countless customers, written two multimillion dollar proposals, seen reps and SE’s breaking down as purchasing departments decide to change the procedures and sign offs at the last minute and I’ve watched the pressure literally melt some minds.

So as an SE what do you do? I think I am lucky, in that my generation of SE’s have all had other jobs before we landed on our feet as a Sales Engineer. It’s that experience that gives us perspective at these times. We know that the pressure cooker we are in is different to those in the armed forces, police, education or health care . It’s still real, it still causes real problems but we have the immediate release of perspective.

What if you are new to the game, what if this is your first Q4? Everyone is different but I highly recommend in practising how to switch off and not bring Q4 home with you. If you work in an office this could be finding a spot where mentally you dump work and pick up home, a corner or set of lights on the way home is the point you  tell yourself you are in home mode now. It takes time but this does work. Or as many do these days burn it off by cycling home.

If you work at home, as I do, you’ll need to practise switching on and off work.  This is hard, you’ll have no train or bus journey to manage this over, you’ll need to be able to do this like flicking a switch. This is a really important SE skill, you’ll need the full support of your family to get this job done right, to travel as much as we do without worry.  Make time for home, especially in Q4.

I’m home now, my kids are laughing with me, I’ve dropped work off outside and the pressure has been lifted.

Hang in there my SE fraternity, good luck closing out, Q4 is almost over.

Image: Boat by Stephen Jones

#LifeofanSE – Let’s Begin

Welcome to the Life of an SE.  The world of the SE, a.k.a. Sales Engineer, Systems Engineer and more recently Solutions Engineer is for me and I’m sure many aspiring and current SEs an interesting one.

No day is the same, demands are constant, travel a given and listening and talking at the same time required. No one really knows how on earth they ended up doing the job, I’m sure that is changing but for  my generation we are a band of high functioning misfits who just know how to explain stuff.

There are some good resources out there  that can help you on your path.  The best for me is Mastering Technical Sales the website is full of interesting information and resources and the accompanying book Mastering Technical Sales by John Care and Aron Bohlig a book you will need, I reference it on a regular basis.  

Here I don’t intend to repeat their good work but to give you a blow by blow account of my working life.  Through that I aim to draw on what is working and what is not.  I will drift into the past I’m sure but there has been a lot of that and experience in this role can be a good thing.  I’m starting this 8 years in and in Q4 (I must be mad) but hopefully you’ll discover why I consider myself very lucky indeed and many describe being an SE as the highlight of their career.

Wherever you are good luck!

Where are the Innovators, Gartner Symposium 2014? 

I’ve just come back from the Gartner Symposium ITXPO on the Gold Coast #GartnerSYM. This was my trifecta having been to the 2012 and 2013 events.

Gartner opened the event with the keynote on Tuesday morning by hammering in hard their new definition of the market. With a brief introduction touching on constant change and the Internet of Things (IoT) we were introduced to the “Digital Business.

According to Gartner “Digital Business” represents this current age of technology and its impact on all companies.

Attendees were told to embrace risk, to focus on building a new talent pool with experts in mobile, user experience and data science and to understand that disruption will accelerate the decline of markets.

The message made a point but I don’t think went far enough, time was still dedicated to telling everyone to keep the foundations secure and solid. Like a rock everyone was told. Almost as if Gartner wanted to keep their feet secured to what they know and trust and not be too innovative themselves. This was a shame but like all vendors Gartner have a product to sell and as much as we try and swim in the new oceans we always like to look back at what made us successful and pays the bills. Jumping from the boat isn’t easy, especially when it looks like the party is still in full swing.

Gartner made a good job of selecting other keynotes that focused on the impact of change and innovation.

Andrew McAfee @amcafee of MIT challenged us with information on change and automation, he touched on topics of his research and in his book The Second Machine Age http://www.secondmachineage.com/. Anyone listening to this either left thinking well it’s still will not happen to me or probably rushed to lock themselves in a bunker and wait for Arnold Schwarzenegger looking machines to take over the planet. All should have been left with the impression that the rate of change is exponential and we have a fantastic opportunity as well as responsibility to capitalise on this.

Guy Kawasaki @GuyKawasaki http://www.guykawasaki.com/ took us through his rules on innovation. Not surprisingly it was very well delivered. It didn’t take Guy long to win everyone over. If you could take a bit of that sparkle, energy and experience into a role in your organisation just imagine what the results would be. Although would you because he’d probably be running the joint in a couple of weeks. Just how many of the audience will cut their presentations down to 10 slides and 20 minutes I’d love to know. I’m certain no one will invest in dog food dot com but I’m sure there will still be mission statements made at expensive hotels in and around the golf course.

These two in particular helped support and promote the main theme Gartner were delivering, it’s just a shame that the real innovators appear to still be on the outside.

The Rise of the Complex Workplace

It’s been twelve months since I managed to find that time for blogging spot in the work life balance venn diagram.  That point has arrived thanks in part to actually thinking about one thing for more that a couple of days, finding the time to do a little reading and spending a lot of time in airports and hotels.   The reading piece is mostly due to the airport and hotels bit of my recent life.   At times that is just the #lifeofanse, if only I hadn’t eaten steak every night!

At this moment I am on my way back from Citrix mForum in Sydney (see bottom of article for the presentation), going via Adelaide, before I finally get home.  At mForum I was given the chance to present on and demonstrate some business use cases for our technology.   The presentation wasn’t long and therefore I’d been asked to focus on just three topics.  But rather than just jumping into the use cases I wanted to set the scene, so spent a little time thinking about what’s driving change, how we are reacting and why change at all.

So Why Change?

As IT professionals I believe we have to change, the ground has shifted, devices like the iPad are only few years old but their impact has been significant.

Consumerisation has leaked into the workplace the same way the ocean washes over a sandcastle at the beach.  It can start as a trickle eating away at the walls of a lovingly created fort; it can be encouraged with a path to follow or arrives in an almighty rush.  The end result is the same, what you had has changed forever.

Gartner in a definition of Consumerisation states “… Consumerization can be embraced and it must be dealt with, but it cannot be stopped.” 

I’ll agree that it cannot be stopped, every workplace has its own examples but dealt with sounds a little too harsh to me and embraced a little too welcoming, maybe excepted?

Why do we have to except this change, the Economist has an interesting article on this topic and states: “The PC may have been personal; a smartphone or tablet, held in your hand rather than perched on your desk, is almost intimate, and you can take it almost anywhere.”

Dealing with intimacy in IT is nothing new.  Just try updating someone’s PC when they have their own desktop background and shortcuts to their favourite sites.  Miss them out of an update and you’ll be in trouble! Or just listen to people in the office talk about their computer “come on you stupid thing”, or “excellent job” you’ll hear.  I’ve even seen people pet them!

So the devices brought into our workplace, this unstoppable wave is more than handholding, pretty packaging or the ability to be mobile.  Although I’m sure all those factors play their part.

Anyone who has a tablet or phone these days has their own set of apps and data with them and for me it is this combination that drives this true demand for constant use and companionship.  It is this demand; device, apps and data, that is causing greatest disruption and therefore this is the true impact of consumerisation.

Each new factor (data, apps and device) is having a compound effect, therefore leading to greater and more unforeseen complexity.   The ocean has washed over the enterprise.

mForum Presentation