BUILD Madison

Last week I had the opportunity to go to the Dell Software Group lab at Madison, Wisconsin. I’d been there briefly once before, and was impressed with the energy and community involvement, this trip was for their 3rd annual build-a-thon, managed and excellently compared by location manager Tom Willis. I was joined by Doug Wright, Doug manages our common engineering team, which includes some team members in Madison.

The event was a 24hr hack-a-thon, where the R&D staff submitted ideas in advance, formed teams and went at the problem in a fun, team, relaxed environment. Projects didn’t have to be specifically work based, and one team took the opportunity to build a tele-presence robot using lego(r) and an Android tablet.

I was really refreshing to see programmers going at challenges in only 24hrs, even in an environment where we do code releases for some products every 10-days, it reminded me of the CIP(continuous improvement programmes)  projects we used to run back in the mid-1980′s where we couldn’t get code out fast enough for the explosive PC application demand. It was idea, code, evaluate, cleanup, ship and then re-evaluate, code, “lather, rinse, repeat”.

The projects for build were evaluated awarded points based on their success criteria, except the Directors award which was chosen. Extra points were given if the solution used the Common User Interface UX framework, and automated testing, as well as being grouped around key Dell initiatives.

The two main winners, with lots of honorable mentions. The main winner was “Project Timber”, a distributed log aggregator. Although I’d already declared my hand over on the @dsgbuild twitter account, looking at the other projects, Doug and I decided on the CUI Builder as the Directors award. Overall it was great to be around, congrats to Tom for organizing, and especially to Jenna for keeping the food and snacks flowing and the midnight root beer shakes. Finally, a special mention for the video confession booth, great idea, and the edited video was either really funny, or I was really tired…

For Dell Software Group employees, you can find more details and pictures here, on commons.

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StatSoft analytics acquisition

News today that Matt Walken, head of the Dell Software Groups’ Information Management division, “got his man”. Back when I was working with Matt when he was in corporate strategy and we were working through the key acquisitions and structure for DSG, Matt was always clear he wanted a proven analytics company.

Despite the urging to go for a more obvious choice, Matt took his time and has landed StatSoft, which is recognized company with a complete set of analytics and statistical algorithms. Matt has a blog on the acquisition and StatSoft, here.

iDRAC Enterprise out-of-band remote desktop

A quick call-out and notice of this Dell TechCenter session coming up this afternoon in 75-mins at 3pm Central time.

The TechCenter team will lead a chat session on a new feature of the Dell PowerEdge iDrac that allows VNC protocol for remote display to be added to the iDrac, can be used to remote view the host OS Console from a number of VNC devices including mobile devices with a VNC client. At some stage in the future this will also include innovative Dell WYSE pocketcloud client.

You can join the chat here at 3pm. Here is a longer document on what they’ll be talking about during the session.

Growing software influence and Dell

A few things have happened in the last couple of months that show the growing influence and maturity of the software team at Dell, and it’s been on my backlog to write up as a blog post.

DMTF VP of Regional Chapters

Yinghua Qin, the Senior Software Manager in our Zuhai China laboratory has been accepted as the new VP of Regional Chapters at the DMTF. This is an outstanding opportunity for Yinghua, who leads the Foglight and a number of software engineering projects, as well as serves as the local liaison to Sun Yat-sen University(SYSU) school mobile engineering (SMIE). Yinghua reports to the Foglight lead architect Geoff Vona.

Dell actually has at various stages in the past been very proactive with the DMTF. Current board chair, Winston Bumpus, was formally a Dell employee; My ESG colleague Jon Haas has been a major contributor to a number of standards. I for one am looking forward to the increased cooperation that working in international standards can bring.

Open Source Project

The Dell Cloud Manager product development team have open sourced their blockade test tool. Blockade is a utility for testing network failures and partitions in distributed applications. Blockade uses Docker containers to run application processes and manages the network from the host system to create various failure scenarios.

It’s a small step, but congratulations to Tim Freeman and the team for navigating through the process to produce the first new open source development project from the Dell Software Group team.

Angular giveback

A number of our development teams are using Angular.js. Once again after an original approach in November by Sara Cowles from the Dell Cloud Manager team stepped forward and asked the right questions, after checking with other teams, I was happy to sign the Google CLA to fax back to google.

Yocto – Embedded Linux and Beyond

Congratulations also go to Mikey Brown from Dells’ Enterprise Systems Group(ESG). Mikey has picked up the mantle of a project I was a big supporter of, when I was in ESG, Yocto. After doing a great job getting a couple of our embedded Linux offering back on track using Yocto, and the build infrastructure around. Mickey has re-connected with the Yocto team.

Each of these on their own are small steps, but these plus a number of other things going on give me a good feeling things are heading in the right direction. I’ll get to go have another facsinating time hearing from students about how things look from their side of the technology field when I head over to Texas A&M University(Insert “GO AGGIES” here!) to address class 481 on 2/25.

Change is inevitable

There have been a number of actions at Dell in the last few days that have resulted in people leaving the company. One of my key team members left last Friday on a voluntary basis, when we discussed her request for voluntary separation, I told her I was disappointed but given her reasoning, I said I wouldn’t act to stop her. She’s going west…

Then yesterday the remainder of one of my former teams were let go through an involuntary program, a shift of business requirements, and technology changes. I’m disappointed to see him go, but since he was in a different division, I was pretty much powerless to do anything. I wouldn’t hesitate to hire him back if and when I can. Interestingly, one of my original Austin contacts, is back at Dell after being laid off a number of times.

There has been the usual “link-bait” style hysteria about the Dell layoffs, and today, they turned to IBM. Reading through the comments(I Know , I know), there are the usual “shock horror” comments. After reading the comments on IBM today, I decided it was worth posting in the hope to move the discussion on, really, you are surprised by these layoffs?

Here is the comment I posted [with only minor typographical corrections.]

It’s a massive challenge for the technology companies, just asserting it’s for this or that reason, looking for easy finger pointing to associate blame is just naive.We have to understand that all the former hardware behemoths are suffering from the innovators dilemma. As much as HP, IBM, Dell, Oracle et al. have been broadening their products and services, changing their business models, with differing degrees of success.

Unless y’all are prepared to pay the price for traditional hardware and software, and stop migrating to the “cloud”, these things are inevitable and you are part of the problem. Thats not blame, it’s fact, after all your business is also focused on EPS or expense/revenue ratio too.

IBM made a significant shift to being a software and services company almost 20-years ago, none of this should be unexpected. Shifting workloads, skills, people is hard enough much less in an economy where there are massive geographic shifts as whole continents stabilize,  and others shift in terms of how they consume and use technology, as well as their skills and employment practices.

Even simple things like the continued shift to home working has potential huge impact on employment trends, locations and skills.

If IBM, HP, Dell, Oracle were cities, governments etc. you might be right to hold them to a different standard. But I don’t see anyone voting Goverments out because they are paying too little tax?

It’s not simply about focusing on earnings per share. While there is an argument that for the whole western industrial economy that  the CEO, Executive pay has got out of proportion, it’s important to remember that at least IBM, HP, Oracle are still public companies. Unless you’ve been paying very close intention, their EPS and share price have more than likely a direct impact on you, even if you work for a competitor. They are both direct and indirect investment funds for pension funds, Government/Health/Insurance investments etc. If they all take a dive, you can be hurt anyway, even if you don’t work at those companies.

So lets stop pretending we are surprised this is happening. Understand that everyone in the “industry” from customers to design, R&D and the Execs are responsible for finding a ways to find new opportunities and help and support good employees both those where we are working, and also for those that have been, and are being let go. It’s also going to come over time to facebook, google et al eventually they won’t be able to buy and innovate their way into markets forever in just the same way the more traditional companies can now.

And yes, I’m an Executive at Dell.

Getting into it…

Former IBM Colleagues, especially those who’ve been working in the X86 server business, which is being sold to Lenovo, might enjoy listening to the latest This American Life, #516, Act 1 of Stuck in the Middle. It starts out with this introduction, “he spent his entire career working for IBM, going back to the 50′s and 60′s, when working at IBM was like working at NASA”.

Obsessive, compulsive types rejoice, you are not alone. You can click on the sound bar, the act starts at 11:50′ish, or go here on the This American Life website. Hear it out.

Oh yes, Opus No.1 is here. Tim never made any money, he didn’t get a drink for it, he never used it to pick-up women. This American Life is offering Opus No. 1 as a download, here.

Design and development in a globally distributed corporation

This wasn’t a rehearsed or officially blessed presentation. I was given a last minute opportunity to speak to the students at the Sun Yat-sen University(SYSU) school mobile engineering (SMIE) Industry Elite Lecture Series.

We spent longer than planned looking at a number of the unique mobile/transportation, “Internet of Things” student projects. When we arrived late, at 7:45 in the evening, the room was already packed with students lined up on the back wall, as well as sat on the floor.

1261Speaking to students is always much more challenging than a industry organization. It’s much easier to make assumptions about the level of knowledge of the attendees at Industry events, you can’t make the same assumption about students. Also, giving a talk to those who don’t have the same first language, also requires you to to speak at a cadence that allows them to do realtime translation. A mistake a lot of speakers make, is they speak at their normal pace(often very fast) and stop and wait; the alternative and much worse as both a speaker, and as a listener is when the speaker speaks words slowly and leave big gaps between words, this means lost context and emphasis for both the speaker and the listener, either makes for a dull presentation.

I clearly need to work on my fillers, I said “right?” a few too many times. Based on the long Q&A period after the presentation, both Geoff and I got our points over and overall it was a very enjoyable visit.

The second half of the presentation Geoff talks about the Dell Software Application Monitoring product Foglight, and some of its’ features and functions.


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group. I was formerly Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell, and an IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.

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