Archive for the 'careers' Category

What makes a good technical manager?

Is it possible to engineer the perfect boss? Google was up to the task and found data that will forever change the keys to getting promoted.

A few people posted, quoted and retweeted this INC. Article on my social media streams. The “Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers.” is a good list and set of checkpoints.

For me though, as longtime readers will know, I’ve long been a believer in the non-technical manager, most of my best managers and executives were managers first and technical second. On one post on Facebook it summed it up as:

A good company employs managers to manage the company for employees, and employees for the company.

If the company doesn’t have senior technical non-manager positions and technicians are becoming managers to get promoted, you and the managers are at the wrong company in the first place.

I’d tried being a teamlead very early on in my career, it wasn’t good for me or the team, but then I was just 25-years old. Later on, not being a manager became a source of pride, making it through the corporate ranks at IBM without ever being a manager. My mentoring/career presentation has it on slide-2 and slide-10.

These days I think I’d be a good manager, my patience has certainly improved, I’ve achieved everything and more, that I set out to do, and while I’m still technical, I know my boundaries and wouldn’t want to cross them.

(My) Influential Women in Tech

Taking some time out of work in the technical, software, computer industry has been really helpful to give my brain time to sift through the required, the necessary, the nice, and the pointless things that I’ve been involved in over 41-years in technology.

international-womens-day-logo1[1]Given that today is International Women’s Day 2016 and numerous tweets have flown by celebrating women, and given the people I follow, many women in Technology. I thought I’d take a minute to note some of the great women in Tech I had the opportunity to work with.

I was fortunate in that I spent much of my career at IBM. There is no doubt that IBM was a progressive employer on all fronts, women, minorities, the physically challenged, and that continues today with their unrelenting endorsement of the LGBT community. I never personally met or worked with current IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty, she like many that I did have the opportunity to work with, started out in Systems Engineering and moved into management. Those that I worked with included Barbara McDuffie, Leslie Wilkes, Linda Sanford and many others.

Among those in management at IBM that were most influential, Anona Amis at IBM UK. Anona was my manager in 1989-1990, at a time when I was frustrated and lacking direction after joining IBM two years earlier, with high hopes of doing important things. Anona, in the period of a year, taught me both how to value my contributions, but also how to make more valuable contributions. She was one of what I grew to learn, was the backbone of IBM, professional managers.

My four women of tech, may at sometime or other, have been managers. That though wasn’t why I was inspired by them.

Susan Malika: Sue, I met Sue initially through the CICS Product group, when we were first looking at ways to interface a web server to the CICS Transaction Monitor. Sue and the team already had a prototype connector implemented as a CGI. Over the coming years, I was influenced by Sue in a number of fields, especially in data interchange and her work on XML. Sue is still active in tech.

Peggy Zagelow: I’d always been pretty dismissive of databases, apart from a brief period with SQL/DS; I’d always managed fine without one. Early on in the days of evangelizing Java, I was routed to the IBM Santa Teresa lab, on an ad hoc query from Peggy about using Java as a procedures language for DB2. Her enthusiasm, and dogma about the structured, relational database; as well as her ability to code eloquently in Assembler was an inspiration. We later wrote a paper together, still available online[here]. Peggy is also still active in the tech sector at IBM.

Donna Dillenberger: Sometime in 1999, Donna and the then President of the IBM Academy of Technology, Ian Brackenbury, came to the IBM Bedfont office to discuss some ideas I had on making the Java Virtual Machine viable on large scale mainframe servers. Donna, translated a group of unconnected ideas and concepts I sketched out on a white board, into the “Scalable JVM”. The evolution of the JVM was a key stepping stone in the IBM evolution of Java. I’m pleased to see Donna was appointed an IBM Fellow in 2015. The paper on the JVM is here.(1).

Gerry Hackett: Finally, but most importantly, Geraldine aka Gerry Hackett. Gerry and I  met when she was a first line development manager in the IBM Virtual Machine development laboratory in Endicott New York, sometime around 1985. While Gerry would normally fall in the category of management, she is most steadfastly still an amazing technologist. Some years later I had the [dubious] pleasure of “flipping slides” for her as Gerry presented IBM Strategy. Aside: “Todays generation will never understand the tension between a speaker and a slide turner.” Today, Gerry is a Vice President at Dell. She recruited me to work at Dell in 2009, and under her leadership the firmware and embedded management team have made steady progress, and implemented some great ideas. Gerry has been a longtime advocate for women in technology, a career mentor, and a fantastic roll model.

Importantly, what all these women demonstrated, by the “bucketload”, was quiet, technological confidence; the ability to see, deliver and celebrate great ideas and great people. They were quiet unlike their male peers, not in achievement, but in approach. This why we need more women in technology, not because they are women, but because technical companies, and their products will not be as good without them.

(1). Edited to link to correct Dillenberger et al paper.

Retired Until Further Notice

RUFN. I can’t remember where I first saw this, I think on an ex-colleagues linked-in status(*1). Back in September I declared I was done with cube life and it didn’t take long before it was time to part company with Dell.

I’m at an important crossroads, starting to pack up my Austin home, and move to a new house my partner, Kate, and I are building just south east of Boulder CO. Kate is already living in Boulder, where we are partners in Boulder Bodyworker.

So it seemed like an appropriate time to take some time out, and start an exciting new phase of life for me. I’ll be keeping busy, while I don’t have any active movie or music projects at the moment, I am behind on working on a project for Tri Equal and also a member of the advisory board  of the Professional Triathlon Union and continuing generally as an activist in the triathlon community.

I’m available for consulting work in the new year, especially for small to medium sized businesses that want to get an insight or review of their technology strategy; a perspective and advice on working with open source; data center operations.

Otherwise I’ll post here as appropriate and see how things develop next year. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

 

*1. Yeah I’m aware of the slang usage.

Dell and EMC together

I’ve been asked a few times about the Dell/EMC merger/acquisition, I can say nothing, not because of financial or security regulations, but because I know nothing at all. Although it was clear some changes were afoot at Dell, the announcement came as a surprise to me.

A couple of things are amusing though in the industry analysis. The most amusing is the quotes coming out of other industry based organizations and their CEO’s. This is a classic of it’s kind, on the Register about Meg Whitman at HP, and then this one from Dietzen the CEO at Pure.

This moves comes out of ‘weakness, not strength’, claims CE Dietzen

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of this entirely predictable FUD a confident CEO would say something to the effect of

The acquisition will be challenging, but we welcome the increased competition and are sure customers and businesses will recognize and continue to benefit from the great products we already have, and those on our roadmap.

Of course no one would ever actually say that, one it doesn’t make headlines, and two because well…

The other thing that’s been disappointing is that other Dell trope, you can’t use Apple products. See as an example The Register:

I have one thing to say to MacBook users at EMC: Whoops

I have to say, I’m always surprised when I hear this kind of thing. Seriously, while I’m sure Michael Dell would prefer everyone use a dell tablet or laptop, I’m sure he’d rather have the most talented, productive people and being acquired and having to use new apps is enough of a productivity hit. Why on earth would he want to want to make it worse by enforcing a move of hardware, software and app paradigms. FYI there are a number of people in Dell Software Group, especially from the Quest acquisition, that have been using Apple products since the Quest acquisition.

Goodbye Cube life…

Goobye mau5trapThis month marks the end of my 41st year in information technology, IT; or a it was called back when I started, Data Processing.

Interestingly, officially yesterday I cleared out my “executive” cubicle at the mau5trap and for the first time became a remote (work-at-home) worker. I have to say I’d have preferred not to, but really given the distributed nature of our team it was simply a waste of time and space to maintain the cube, especially since I’m there infrequently; and for the most part, none of the other technical team members are.

It also means I don’t have to waste 90-minutes per day getting to and from the mau5trap, which has got significantly worse in the last 5-years. Yesterdays drive home was an epic waste of time, nearly 2-hours of which 90-mins was getting through downtown Austin.

Over the years I’ve worked at the head office of the businesses I’ve worked for; commuted by train, planes and automobiles to offices; worked on international assignment, temporary assignment, and virtual assignment; but I don’t ever recall actually giving up an office entirely before. In my later projects at IBM I was remote from the team and regularly worked from home; that was actually pretty demotivating.

As it turns out, it’s a pre-cursor to the start of other changes, and probably marks the beginning of the end of my technology career. I have no plans to retire just yet, but as someone who spent his career thriving off the enthusiasm and excitement created by being around others, spending days doing whiteboard architecture and design, I find the current state of tools, webex, powerpoint, chat and the omnipresent  email less and less an attraction.

Add to that my recent tendency to take-on the jobs and assignments no one else wants, or is hoping someone else will do, and there you have it.

| Edit. Thanks to #1 for pointing out I had too many “too’s”

Come work with us

We’re looking for a Senior Software Development Performance Engineer with a proven track record around performance engineering to join our Dell Software Common Engineering (CE) performance team. This team, as part of the Office of the CTO, helps product teams across the Software Group achieve their performance and scalability objectives through direct involvement and consulting engagements.

We are working on some key forward looking technologies essential to the future of Dell Software Group, and we need someone specifically to help on both performance design, as well as recommendations to the design and implementation teams.

Here is a direct link for the job application with a referral from me. As an Exec. I don’t qualify for the referral bonus, so if you know another Dell employee who isn’t an exec. feel free to reach out to them!

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.


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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