Friday, July 23, 2010
The Secret Relationship between Enterprise Architecture and Outsourcing: Part One
The vast majority of enterprise architects have never thought deeply about how they can make their employer more successful in outsourcing work to other countries. In my experience, outsourcing fails because there may not be an adequate feedback loop into future strategy and planning.
Many enterprise architects grew up in a time where all of the IT talent was local. Interactions between different members of the team could occur in formal meetings, in hallway conversations and sometimes even on the soccer field as coworkers and their children may meet in various social settings.
Outsourcing destroys this type of interaction. No longer can an enterprise architecture team solely rely on the notion of face to face communication in order to ensure that all parties involved have a deep understanding of the enterprise goals.
For every organization that has attempted to outsource and has failed, I bet I can show you a culture that uses facetime as a crutch. Cultures that take on outsourcing and fail tend to be the same cultures that have a risk aversion to allowing their own employees to do remote work. Some companies attempt the "hybrid" model where they hope to support two different interactions; one with the business that is face time driven and one with their outsourcing partner. Can anyone tell me the odds of success in supporting two different cultures/work styles/etc in one organization striving to achieve one goal?
Enterprise architecture needs to embrace modern social methods for interaction and not just rely on the human voice. Let's ignore more obvious reasons why enterprise architecture organizations should evangelize telecommuting beyond economic factors such as saving on real estate, providing more work/life balance for employees, business resiliency in not having all your employees in a given location if a disaster strikes or even the ability to recruit better talent regardless of where they live instead of solely relying on local talent, but focus on what the interaction model needs to feel like in a unified way.
Have you ever read the likes of Jeremiah Oywang, Charlene Li or Ray Wang of Altimeter? If not, you should. They are promoting a concept known as social CRM where they acknowledge that the new generation of consumers may want to leverage social media to interact with your organization.
Industry analyst Nick Selby pinged me on Twitter one day asking for help dealing with my organization. He knew what role I played in the organization and rightfully didn't care. He did know he needed help and that I might have a clue as to whom could help him regardless of my current job responsibilities. So, this begs several interesting questions but the one I think relevant to this conversation is if your younger generation customers are going to connect to you in this manner and the people whom you outsource work to in India may also come from this generation and prefer similar interactions, why are you forcing legacy communication models on both parties?
A thoughtful strategy on outsourcing requires not only the people in India to adjust to the workstyle of your organization, but also for the organization itself to adjust to more modern methods of communication. If you have ever read my blogs or follow me on Twitter, you probably have had deeper interactions with me virtually than you would in an hour meeting and if that is the case, why would you prefer the less efficient method for communicating?
Bill Gates wrote a wonderful book entitled Business at the Speed of Thought. An enterprise should always ask themselves how can they increase response times not just with customers but throughout the pipeline. If time is money, then why would you want to waste time waiting for several weeks to get on my calendar to have a half-hour conversation, when you could in many scenarios, simply ask a few questions via email where the odds of response time may only be a couple of hours?
For any organization that learns to become social through modern means I guarantee that it will pay dividends not only for outsourcing but in terms of better interactions with customers. If social media is important to your customers, why isn't it important to you?
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Four Tips for Hiring Great Employees
Awhile back, I went on an interview for a position that would lead a team of five to six architects yet the interviewer spent little time on figuring out my leadership abilities.
Part of the challenge in finding a genuine leader is to look past pretty much the history of the industry age and what historically has been taught in schools.
Reflect back on your own school experiences and you may realize that increasingly, school is preparing people even less for the modern world than it has in the past. If an interviewer asks where you good in school, what is it that they want to understand?
Being good in school is a fine skill if you intend to do school forever. For the rest of us, being good at school is a little like being good at Nunchuck fighting. It's nice, but it's not relevant unless your career involves homework assignment, looking through textbooks for answers that are already known to your supervisors, complying with instructions and then in high-pressure settings, regurgitating those facts with limited thinking.
If you were to study the likes of Bill Gates, Barack Obama, George Bush, Warren Buffett and others, what would their school records look like? Leadership is not about education, but is all about the ability to be socially smart, to be open to connection and to understand the elements that build a tribe.
If an employer wanted to know more about my leadership abilities and style should they focus on scenarios where I was simply following a process that resulted in success or where I had to make difficult decisions where there was no roadmap or anyone to guidance provided?
Should an employer figure out whether I am simply a leader who does so under pressure or whether I make conscious choice to lead others? Would examples such as volunteering to run say The Hartford Chapter of OWASP on my own time be something that should be explored deeper?
Way too many interviewers attempt to test one's knowledge by asking them trivia-oriented questions. I remember one interview where someone asked me the difference between the Java keywords Transient and Volatile. Does knowing this or not knowing this make me a better architect? a better developer? If I happen to remember the method signature for the readLine method does that indicate that I am a great developer or simply a mediocre developer with good memory? As a developer, is it not better for me to use the intellsense features of my IDE to help fill in the method signature than to spend additional time remembering it? Developers are expensive resources and productivity is of the utmost importance.
Is it a good thing that a candidate know how to write his own framework or is it better that they know of the capabilities of multiple frameworks and can make the appropriate choices within a given context? If I know how to write Struts or Spring from scratch, does this make me a good developer or does this mean that I am pretty good at reinventing the wheel? Wouldn't a good developer on your team prefer to not know how to write their own framework and instead prefer to reuse something that already works?
I remember being asked several questions that were supposed to test logical thinking, but in reality may have been along the same lines. If you were to ask me to design a routine that can reverse a string using recursion, is it better for me to demonstrate my elite ninja whiteboarding skills or to instead know that the answer to this problem has already been thought about, solved and to conclude that time is better spent using Google to find the answer?
Intellectual masturbation is often committed by interviewers who are misguided in seeking people to compute the length of the hypotenuse of a certain right triangle when the focus should be on figuring the capabilities of an individual to relentlessly seek out new problems even more interesting than that one. Innovation drives our culture and pays higher dividends than spending time solving challenges that have already been solved and even have become commotitized.
Background checks should not be about the HR process of figuring out whether someone is a criminal or whether they have a bad credit score. A background check should be the time spent by the interviewer in figuring out what they can learn about a candidate before the interview begins. Way too many interviews spend time upfront on general courtesies that have no return. The infamous script usually sounds like: "So can you tell me a little bit about yourself" where the candidate essentially provides a short-form narrative of exactly what is written on their resume. Since most interviewers are more than capable of reading, I propose an alternative approach.
One of the best interviews I have ever had was when the interviewer did homework on me in advance of the discussion. They started with simply looking at my LinkedIn profile and noted that I had lots of recommendations. They also spent some time reading my blog entries and some of my latest tweets which gave them a better starting point in exploring my background. In other words, the interviewer controlled the conversation and was certain that they had maximum opportunity to explore areas which are of interest to them.
My LinkedIn profile indicates that I am an Enterprise Architect and when I describe my job, it will have strong affinity to concepts such as strategy and planning, leadership and mentoring capabilities. Is this what I do or is this what enterprise architecture is really about? One interviewer had asked me a question about an article I had written awhile back that I thought was brilliant. It provided him with the opportunity to learn if I did the bare minimum in terms of thinking about the subject area or had thought more deeply on the subject. In other words, they were able to tell my true experiences above and beyond simply describing my position.
Hiring your Twin
It only makes sense that many a hiring decision would be based on finding those who share a similar style, view or temperament to one's own. Yet similar traits in an employee consistutes familiarity, not necessarily the best employee hiring choice. I realized that this was one of my earliest career mistakes in that I would hire people who share common interests whle ignoring people who may have added flavor to the mix.
We have all seen the effects of the alumni network where one day, a new sheriff enters the town and becomes your CIO. He happens to also be Accenture alumni and soon after, ever subsequent hire also has this same alumni background. Does familiarity in this scenario serve to unite or potentially divide? Is the better answer to recognize that you need someone complementary but not necessarily your twin?
There are individuals whom I have worked with in the past that I absolutely cannot stand as an individual, yet I would hire them in a heartbeat because regardless of how I felt, we made beautiful music together. In other words, my personal feelings on a given situation should come second to the ability to create a successful business outcome.
It takes a lot of soul searching for you to figure out your own biases and to appreciate the benefits of embracing diversity and inclusion. It is not just a buzzword to be thrown around by HR professionals, but something that needs to be embraced by all. Once you go down this path, you may discover that you have placed many artificial constraints on your thought processes and in liberating your own mind will result in not only hiring better employees but in also making you a better person...
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
The Fourth Career Mistake...
Many practitioners believe I have a great resume and that anyone would/should hire me in a heartbeat. The challenge however is not with practitioners nor their executives but one of recruiters and their understanding of IT. Let's acknowledge that the vast majority of IT positions that one may learn about, the very first stop on the journey is in talking with a recruiter.
The first entry on my resume is for an investment advisory/brokerage firm I worked for in the late 80's where I was a systems administrator for HP3000's. I typically do not list the fact that I started in IT in high school where I worked at Cigna in their data center changing out IBM terminal controllers after hours or how I had to write an application to keep track of all of my work since it would appear strange to the recruiting crowd that I had over 25 years experience in IT but otherwise am on the low side of 40's.
The funny thing is that I used to work a 35 hour week while in high school. Back then the work day hadn't yet converted to even being a 40 hour work week. So, do I count this as fulltime experience? Anyway, back to the brokerage firm position. Did you know that I also did C/Windows SDK programming?
A theme started to emerge in my background where I was doing both infrastructure and software development at the same time. Since most people don't have this as a background, this tends to feel strange to the otherwise boolean questions asked by recruiters.
In 1993, I jumped into consulting and worked for a regional consulting firm named Command Systems where I was technology director. Did you know that I literally achieved my Certified PowerBuilder Developer (CPD) and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer in the same day! How could one be proficient in both infrastructure and networking? As a recruiter, would you think this candidate was bullshitting? Interestingly enough I have externally visible proof that I was doing both at extremely high levels of competency.
In 1996, I wrote a sample application that shipped with PowerBuilder 4.0 in the box. It had the most kick-ass about box eyecandy logic of its time. Also, in 1996, I won the Microsoft Solutions in Action award for the most mature implementation of Microsoft Exchange Server in a corporate setting. Sadly, most recruiters will assume not spend time looking at the evidence and instead make a gut feel call.
In 1998, I fell in love with the internet and was fascinated in how people could make so much money by giving away lots of stuff for free. I wanted my share. Did you know that I led a team of 25 people to develop an online bank in six months? Not only did I lead the development of software, I also took personal interest in building out the infrastructure.
As you can imagine, developing a bank from scratch requires one to think very deeply about security. I remember my first "review" by a respected individual whom I will refer to as Foster. After the review, he sent a humorous note to the CIO regarding my proposed architecture which read as follows:
- Excuse me, Mr. Bank Manager, we didn't have time to build the safes, but I got these nice sturdy paper bags for you to keep your money in...
I went on to lead a team to build out a mortgage platform for another Internet startup. In this scenario, I too not only did development but actually took my learnings one step further and started to rack servers and get involved in networking. My experiences led me to also achieve certifications in Cisco (I achieved CCNP status) as well as get hands-on with CheckPoint Firewall-1.
We all know what happened in 2001, where the dot-com bubble busted. At the time, there was another life event which was the birth of my first son and I knew I needed an old stodgy eight-hour a day job and landed at my current employer. Enterprise Architecture at the time was very infrastructure-centric but as someone with a development background, I wanted to influence in such a way that architecture conversations were more application-centric.
I remember an interesting debate I had with another enterprise architect back in 2003, where the notion of cross-site scripting was first discussed. He thought it was a useful feature where my security conscious knew better. The application at hand, captured lots of personally identifiable information. This was the first battle I lost and learned a valuable lesson that enterprise architecture sometimes isn't about architecture but the human aspects of technology.
As compliance started to grow, I saw an opportunity to turn personal philosophies into something that could be leveraged. We all know that compliance is the largest unmanaged spend within the enterprise and yet the vast majority of enterprise architects are blissfully ignorant when it comes to understanding compliance.
The funny thing about compliance-oriented projects are the fact that the business wants them to be completed in a timely manner, but otherwise don't care to be traditional business customers in terms of expressing requirements since they are already known. The side effect of this activity is that as an architect, one in essence can become their own customer. For example, whom would be better to pose requirements for complying with PCI Section 6 than an OWASP chapter leader?
So, in my current role am I an Enterprise Architect who understands Information Security or an Information Security Professional that understands Enterprise Architecture? The vast majority of information security professionals either came from some sort of accounting/auditing background or are from an infrastructure-centric background. Wait a minute, I know infrastructure too but why wouldn't folks in this camp accept my as one of them? Its not about competency but more about being operational in one's thought process.
To make a long story short, recruiters love to categorize individuals by placing them into nice neat boxes, but what box do I fit into? Most job requisitions do not specify that they want someone who is highly adaptive and can learn quickly but more are about an enumeration of skills and duration.
Am I a better candidate because I truly have over 20 years of experience and not one of the typical candidates they often see that has had one years of experience twenty times?
One should enjoy what they do in a work context, after all you spend a lot of time doing it so you may as well enjoy it. Likewise, you have to be cognizant of what you do and how others will interpret it regardless of how much business value it brings...
Friday, July 02, 2010
My Three Biggest Career Mistakes
Mistake Number One
I firmly believe that in order to be considered a great leader, you need to have people who are followers. The opposite of this is to recognize when you should be a follower of others. Earlier in my career, I had the opportunity to work directly for a great CIO whom recognized my talent and more importantly my potential. The independent thinker in me always wanted to do things on my own without any assistance. Misdirected pride kept telling me that if I ever got a job, all of my coworkers would know that it was 100% based on merit and not just because I was "alumni".
As I look at my current employer, our enterprise CIO, the P&C CIO, The Enterprise CTO, the VP of Architecture and so on all have the same "alumni" relationship. If my stubborness wasn't an impediment, maybe all of these individuals would now be reporting to me and instead of me reporting to them. We all know the ramifications of alumni networks and its impact on those who are outsiders, but one should ask yourself whether some of your negative thoughts in this regard is not just about the convienent need for diversity and inclusion but also has a component of jealousy, kinda like wanting to be the cool kid when growing up.
Mistake Number Two
I have always had a fear of moving. Some of this is rooted in the comfort of the neighborhood where I grew up (I live three blocks away from my parents) while the rest of this has to do with purchasing a home at a very early age. Most kids when the move out of their parent's house tend to go to an apartment setting. For me, I moved straight into a house; the same house I live in today. Being the handyman type, it is not just a place where I live, but is actually my home. It is part of me. Knowing every nuance, the work that I did throughout the years and seeing the results every day makes it difficult to leave.
Other than vacation and a brief stint in the United States Coast Guard, I have never lived anywhere else. I had the opportunity to live in New York City, to experience the city life and even several opportunities to live in San Francisco working for various Internet startups, but I never could find it in myself to move. Sure, I am game to travel but always look forward to being at home. Where else could I do things such as Organic Gardening or go out in the middle of the street any time of day and embarass myself in practicing with my three sectional staff?
The town I live in is very close to work, yet as some level it seems as if many of my coworkers choose to live elsewhere. This robs me of the opportunity to network in a face-to-face manner with peers after hours. Is my addiction to blogging and Twitter a mere crutch to make up for lack of social components I desire?
Mistake Number Three
Busta Rhymes has a quote about people who are savage in the pursuit of happiness that I often reflect on. I have never really cared about having a big house, a new car or most material things. We are a one car family where my wife doesn't even want a car. Last year I bought a new car, a 2009 Dodge Journey not because of American overconsumption but because my fifteen year old SUV broke down twice and stranded me with my kids. If this didn't happen, I would have been even happier with a 20 year old car than I am with my new one.
Living a simple life and having no worries regarding money since I am debt-free, no mortgage, no car payments, no student loans, no credit card payments, etc means that at some level I have less pressure to go up the ladder. Many people are in debt beyond anyone's wildest imagination. Their only choice is to attempt to grow their careers as fast as possible in hopes of getting more money so that they can take care of debts. There's comfort in being debt-free but it has the side effect of making one a little less motivated.
Fiscal responsiblity is beneficial to all, yet each person regardless of financial condition needs their own stimulus and I have yet to figure out what pill do I take such that I am stimulated to the point where I am comfortable with infectious greed or should I say a savage in pursuit of happiness...