Archive for July, 2014

Operational Transparency

I’ve had a couple of emails and facebook comments that asked, or at least inferred, was this a real email? Yes, it was. I do get questions like these from time to time, it’s unusual to get all them all in a single email. The final question in the email from my colleague was:

 How important do you think operational transparency is?

My response was again curt and to the point. I think. without context for the question, this was the best I can do.

Very. There are time when it is OK to be opaque there is never a time to be deceptive. Your manager should never tell you he/she will work on a promotion for you when they know they have no ability to deliver it. They should never tell you your position is solid, when they know it isn’t.

Austin Business Journal posted an article with a quote from a University of Texas (UT) expert on recent staff actions at Dell. I wrote a response/comment which I think nicely bookends this series of posts. Thanks for all the positive feedback.

Dealing with difficult people

Question 3. in the email, and my answer, is really why I ended up writing this short series of blog posts. Having read back what I’d written, I realized that that after a couple of good answers, I’d been pretty superficial with my 3rd. The question posed was:

How do you go about dealing with difficult people and company politics?

My response was:

See my answer to 1. And 2. above. Got a family? It’s not different. If you shout at kids, yours, nieces, nephews, how productive is that really? Sometimes you can bully people to change, it is almost always better to show them a better way.

This is indeed over simplistic, without context. Of course, it’s what you should do. The more you get embroiled in office politics, the more it is likely to distract you from your real value, being great at what you do. If being great at what you do is being difficult and company politics, well good luck with that, we all know people that have to some degree “made it” because they’ve been good at using system, for everyone of those though, there are 5 who made it because they are good at what they do.

Failing organizations and companies are ripe with people trying to control the system to their advantage; trying to cheat or deceive on their contributions, but my experience has always been that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Again, Nigel covers in the 3 Minute Mentor a goodr case where company politics come into play, where teams, departments are pitted against themselves, either deliberately or inadvertently, it’s worth watching or reading his show notes.

Still, I fall back on be good, have fun, do what you love and leave the politics to others.

Career goals and aspirations

Following on from yesterdays post, the 2nd question that came up in the email was:

What is the most effective way to build and achieve career goals?

Before I get to my answer, I’d like put in a plug for the 3 Minute Mentor website created, run and produced by long time friend, ex-colleague and fellow Brit’ ex-pat Nigel Dessau. Nigel and I worked together as far back as 1991, and he has produced a fine set of short, topic based video advice guides. I don’t agree with all of them, but they are a fantastic resource.

The very first 3 Minute Mentor episode was in fact, “How should I plan a career?” – My take of careers has been long documented in my now 15-year old, “Ways to measure progress” presentation, available in it’s original format on or in the 2012 format Technical and Professional careers I delivered at Texas A&M.

My approach has always been to set a long term goal, and then judge changes and opportunities against that goal. My email answer makes sense in that context.

This is a long term objective. As per the presentation(see above), you need to evaluate each and every job and assignment against a long term objective, depending on what you are aiming for long term, you may or may not decide to take a short term job. For example, I took an assignment in New York as a stepping stone to get here in Austin. I’d worked in NY before had had no desire to go back. However, equally it wasn’t clear how I would get assigned to Austin, so I took the NY job and worked on connections here[Austin] to create the opportunity to move to Austin

Next up, “How do you go about dealing with difficult people and company politics?”

How to stay relevant

I received an email from a colleague in one of the acquired companies, he asked among other things

What is the most effective way to influence or implement positive change at large companies

Rather than dump my entire email reply here, I thought I’d break it up into a few shorter posts.

Easy to say, not so easy to do. You have to demonstrate sustained track record of delivering on important projects. You have to make yourself relevant. How do you stay relevant? Start with tracking what is important to your boss, then meet deadlines; volunteer for hard projects; mentor; measure and report results; always be positive, the glass is always half full; work hard; volunteer more. Make yourself indispensable. When you think you’ve done that for your boss, move on, track what his/her boss thinks is important, lather, rinse, repeat.

Recently someone told me they couldn’t make progress because corporate “branding” was telling him that he had to deliver what was important to them. I asked who “they” was, he was evasive. This was useful as it showed he’d been beaten down by the system. There is no such person as Corporate Branding, it’s a team of people, managers and executives. They have a job and they have objectives. Getting beaten down by them just shows that he hadn’t thought it through and taken his case to the right people. Everything, yes, everything is fixable in a large company, you just have to decide its worth fixing and knowing that you can only do this in a positive forward looking way. Anything else requires people to admit they were wrong, who does that?

Some things are not worth fixing.

OpenSSL and the Linux Foundation

Former colleague and noted open source advocate Simon Phipps recently reblogged to his webmink blog a piece that was originally written for

I committed Dell to support the Linux Foundation Converged Infrastructure Initiative (CII) and attended a recent day long board meeting with other members to discuss next steps. I’m sure you understand Simon, but for the benefit of readers here are just two important clarifications.

By joining the Linux Foundation CII initiative, your company can contribute to helping fund developers of OpenSSL and similar technologies directly through Linux Foundation Fellowships. This is in effect the same as you(Simon) are suggesting, having companies hire experts . The big difference is, the Linux Foundation helps the developers stay independent and removes them from the current need to fund their work through the (for profit) OpenSSL Software Foundation (OSF). They also remain independent of a large company controlling interest.

Any expansion of the OpenSSL team depends on the team itself being willing and able to grow the team. We need to be mindful of Brooks mythical man month. Having experts outside the team producing fixes and updates faster than they can be consumed(reviewed, tested, verified, packaged and shipped) just creates a fork, if not adopted by the core.

I’m hopeful that this approach will pay off. The team need to produce at least an abstract roadmap for bug fix adoption, code cleanup and features, and I look forwarding to seeing this. The Linux Foundation CII initiative is not limited to OpenSSL, but that is clearly the first item on the list.

About & Contact

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

I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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