Monthly Archives: October 2014

Demoing past the language barrier

I had a great week at NetApp Insight with two of my colleagues this week.  We had many, many conversations with interested customers and partners, and spent hours each day telling our story and explaining how Infinio is unique.

Many customers were interested to see a demo – what does it look like to manage the product on a daily basis?  what kind of information about performance can I get from the screens?  I like to demo (partially because our UI is so good – we’ve discussed signage that says “our UI is our booth babe”).

But there is a risk with demoing – once I get into the demo, my ability to have someone’s undivided attention wanes.  People are mesmerized by the screen and often only half-listen to what I am saying.  It’s good because I can understand what their questions are and what they’d like to see, but it becomes a shift in the conversation to a shared screen rather than a shared conversation.

The exception to this is the international community.  There were many people at this show from Asia – China and Korea to be specific – as well as South America.  While their English was far better than my ability to speak any foreign language, it was often not good enough to understand what “distributed deduplicated global content-based server-side cache.”

In these cases, the demo was crucial to selling our value.  Without language and conversation to carry me, the product did a good job of showing what it did.  While it didn’t explain the underlying technologies or the technical differentiation, demoing to an audience who doesn’t speak fluent English gives us a common experience.  It helps fill in some of the words that might not be on the tip of their tongues.  Often I got a lot of questions during the demo once there was something to point at or ask about.  Demoing shows what the solution is – what space it is in, generally what kind of benefits it provides.

It was a great reminder of how universal technology can be – not just a screen, but things like charts and graphs and data visualizations – and how they transcend basic spoken language.

Ghosts of conferences past

I’m in Vegas this week for NetApp Insight.  It’s been a few years since I was last in Vegas, but vegasthere were several years when I was here pretty often, between EMC World, Dell sales kickoff, and before that Interop and Comdex.

Yesterday as I was headed to the convention center, I went down an escalator and was struck by a huge sense of deja vu.  The feeling grew as I walked through the hallway, which had concert posters from the MGM Arena.  Except it wasn’t deja vu – I had been there, on that escalator, headed towards the convention center, a few years ago.

That was at Dell Sales Kickoff, it was the conference when we skipped evening events one night to take in the Cirque Du Soliel Beatles show.  Of course, that wasn’t the first time I had a moment like that – when I got off the plane I had an immediate desire for a hamburger, no doubt a homage to a former boss of mine who always went straight to Fatburger upon arriving in Vegas.  When I saw a taxi line, I remembered meeting Andrea Bocelli in line for a car service once time.  And every time I open a hotel room door I think for a moment of when I was “accidentally” upgraded to a presidential suite at the Bellagio my first time here.

Vegas is funny like this for me; it’s a place that – despite its continuous development – feels the same year after year.  So I can reflect on different points in my career that I’ve been here and what I felt like –

  • Excited but nervous going to my first major industry tradeshow and first time at Vegas
  • Curious to attend a sales kickoff when the company was redefining strategy
  • Shocked culturally to be at a major male-dominated vendor conference
  • Nervous to staff a partner’s booth and unsure if I know their technology well enough to be there
  • And now, proud to represent Infinio, and interested to learn more about this partner’s community.

Viva Las Vegas.  As for my memories of this trip – what happens here…you know the rest.

Some reasons I shouldn’t work here

That’s a clickbait title, I admit it.  I like working here at Infinio and it definitely feels like I belong.twine

But I am not a classic entrepreneur; my mind doesn’t work like great startup people’s minds work. Don’t get me wrong, I have some characteristics that are great at a startup – I’m creative, hardworking, willing to jump in to anything, comfortable learning in front of others, and a little bit irreverent.  I’m equally facile in technical and business environments.  Maybe most valuable, I’m invested in working on any interesting problem that comes my way.

I didn’t set out to work at a startup.  Infinio just happened to be the place where I felt the most comfortable.  I liked the people and the culture and the fact it was accessible by public transportation.  I have a background in storage and I wanted to leverage that.  But had I not ended up here, I probably would have ended up at a medium-sized established software company.

There are many, many good reasons I shouldn’t be at a startup: I’m (usually) incredibly risk-averse. My husband is the risk-taker in our family, and he’s already at an early-stage startup.  I value work-life balance or blend or whatever it’s being called these days.  I am trained as a mathematician and an engineer – to learn the rules of a system, exercise them to determine their boundaries, and then work within them.  I don’t like change and I don’t like uncertainty.

I can see these characteristics come out in interactions I have here.  Usually one of the most optimistic people I know, here I’m always thinking, “That won’t work” “We can’t pull that off” “Nobody will buy that from us” “We can’t support something like that.”  It’s unnatural for me to think disruptively.  I’m asking for unrealistic levels of certainty to do “clean” product marketing. I’m looking for a short-term, mid-range, and long-term vision that I can build a marketing story around.  And it just doesn’t work that way.

When I first worked at Dell, I remember being beaten in the field over and over by EqualLogic. Sales management knew that I had worked for a reseller and represented EqualLogic, so they asked me to provide some insight on its Achilles’ heels.  And I had nothing.  Sure, EqualLogic wasn’t a perfect product and there would have been compelling reasons for a customer to choose Dell’s branded EMC gear as an alternative, but I couldn’t help but just say, “It’s a good product, it’s very hard to compete against.”  And that’s not very enterprising, it’s not very entrepreneurial.  But sometimes I can have a pure black-and-white meritocracy view of the world, and that’s hard to shake.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I was able to change my Myers Briggs type and I think this is going to be that kind of transition.  The opportunities that will be open to me if I can change my frame of reference in business to a broader one that accepts grey and “maybe” and luck and possibility is large.  Plus, it’s fun.

I thought I’d come and learn “how to do product marketing” but that has been just a small amount of my education here.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s taken a lot of time and I’ve made a ton of mistakes. But more of my energy is spent on “how to think like an entrepreneur” – that things are possible and we can succeed and the market might actually exist.

I am grateful to work with people who think bigger than I do, who make bigger bets more naturally than I do, and who take bigger risks more naturally than I do.

Because I’m learning to do all that, too.

Whose productivity?

I have a strange mix of preferences when it comes to technology.  I like technology and find it dilbert_productivitypretty easy to learn and use.  (See rooting my Android.) But I dislike change, so I sometimes stick with old technologies.  (See how long I kept my Palm Pilot.)  Most importantly, I find it a badge of honor to figure out how to use a technology “off-label.” (See my three-way replication scheme to get music synced to multiple devices without involving a product that starts with “i”.)

Many people at the office use Google Drive, Evernote, and their local file system to store documents.  For file sharing, some people like Dropbox, others like Box, or Google Drive, or OneDrive, or Infinit.  Some shared files are on Google Drive, while others are on Evernote.  Images may be on OneDrive, while executables or log files may be on one of the other platforms.  The owners feel like each of those tools is specifically suited for different tasks – and I get it.  Some of these have better thumbnails, or more granular permissions. But now I have to have a login to each of them to get my work done. Not only that, but I also have to keep track of which kind of file can be found where.  Really any one of them (or maybe two) with some minor lifehacks would probably suffice for all of the use cases.

Which brings me to Slack.  Slack is the new darling of internal IM platforms.  It’s some combination of what Yammer and Chatter were trying to do, with tagging and simplicity of short messages that are reminiscent of Twitter.  There are different “rooms” that you can opt in or out of that are set up around teams or projects.

All and all it’s a pretty good platform.  Except I don’t need it.  It’s not doing anything for me that I don’t otherwise get through email and IM.  So it makes me less productive, because it’s just another thing I have to log in to and pay attention to.  See, I’m maniacal about my email, so I don’t find email disruptive, I find it a great way to manage things people need from me.  And I like that I can search my (google) mail and (google) IM in one fell swoop.

With Slack, now I have to pay attention to discussions that are happening there as well as those happening in my email, as well as IMs from people.  And it’s not just to know what’s happening: now I’m receiving requests for content or perspective over both email and Slack.  #Ugh.

The flip side is everyone else’s productivity.  For many other members of our team, Slack is great.  They don’t treat email the way I do, so they find it disruptive and a chore.  They like to use Slack for temporal things – things that if you aren’t actively working on something you have no need to know about.  They use it to broadcast questions where they aren’t sure who would be interested to weigh in.  And they use it to coordinate quickly around things like test servers, parking spaces, and rather than with several email reply chains.

So while it is decreasing my productivity, it’s increasing the productivity of many people around me.  Which raises some interesting questions.

  • Is a slight decrease in my productivity worth an increase in 10 others’ productivity?
  • Is making the people around me more productive a net benefit for me or for the company, or just a tradeoff?
  • Can my productivity actually increase if that of the people around me increases?

I’m not sure.


This week, Facebook and Apple announced that they were going to reimburse female workers eggfor the costs of cryogenically freezing their eggs in case they want to delay pregnancy. Apparently (no pun intended) Google is also considering it.

The media has been abuzz with whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.  My jury is out.

On one hand, in a post-Hobby Lobby world, bravo to major tech firms for recognizing that women’s health issues are just that: women’s health issues. If insurance plans cover things like gastric bypass, Viagra, and contact lenses, then things like fertility should fall into this camp too.  And if traditional insurance companies aren’t covering it, then good for large employers for doing it.

Also – part of me is hopeful that is a sign of some movement towards far better recognition that while men and women may have equal things to contribute at work, their contributions to child creation just aren’t the same (chicken vs. pig?), and that has be addressed.  I yearn for a world with far better universal support for maternity leave, breastfeeding, and childcare, all in the name of women being able to reach their potential more easily at work.  If that means helping women get pregnant when they want to, then employers should be supporting both IVF and egg freezing.

And for some women it may take what is often a awful distraction of the treadmill of meeting-The-One-falling-in-love-and-getting-pregnant-before-35.  Some people are looking for a partner for companionship and to build a life together, but for many that is inextricably tied to fertility. The flexibility that someone might feel from no longer having that pressure may be a lifted burden.

But the other side is scary.  Mobile phones used to be the exception and now they are the norm.  Will egg-freezing become a de facto standard for working women?  Will we ever get to the point where women are asked (or tacitly expected) to delay pregnancy until it’s good for their employer?  It is hard to feel like there is a “right time” even without freezing eggs.

And what is the actual impact on maternal and fetal health – there aren’t conclusive studies on the efficacy of long-term egg cryogenics on fertility.  And there are lots of studies on maternal age impacting all sorts of health concerns (like diabetes and high blood pressure), not just fertility.  Certainly every decision has tradeoffs and any number of factors may mean that having a baby at 40 is a far better decision for someone than having that baby at 30.  But is this encouraging women towards a medical decision whose impact on both mother and child we don’t actually understand yet?  

The calculus of when to have children vis a vis also having a career is wicked complicated. Prime fertility and the resultant childrearing occurs during prime career-building years.  As an industry (a society?) we have to work out how to make this better.

I just can’t tell whether this move by large companies is helping or hurting families decide how to balance it all.

It’s not me, it’s you

I’ve written a few times about the interpersonal training component of the graduate program I completed.  For the past few months I’ve been trying to track down the term for a particular concept we learned about.

The basic idea that I could remember was that are likely to attribute someone else’s behavior to their personality type (which is often a harsh judgment) while we are more likely to attribute our own behavior to the situation we are in (which is often a more permissive judgment).  But I was hazy on the details.

I googled and searched and read through lists of logical fallacies and personality attributes and *finally* I found what I was looking for.

It’s called actor-observer asymmetry.  Wikipedia explains (citations removed), “Actor–observer asymmetry…explains the errors that one makes when forming attributions about the behavior of others. When people judge their own behavior…they are more likely to attribute their actions to the particular situation than to a generalization about their personality. Yet when an observer is explaining the behavior of another person…they are more likely to attribute this behavior to the actors’s overall disposition rather than to situational factors.”

One example of this that I remember from school is to think about someone in a work setting rudely shooting down a colleague’s idea.  If this person is you, you might explain it as “maybe she was having a bad day” or “she was frustrated by the long meeting they had been in.”  Those are considered “situational” reasons.  If the person in the story is someone else, you would be more likely to attribute the behavior to “he’s just like that” or “he’s always kind of a jerk.”  Those are considered “dispositional” reasons.

What we were encouraged to learn from understanding this phenomenon was that you never know what is going on in someone else’s life.  A colleague may snap at you, or be short, or belittle your ideas, but it might not be because of a deep-seeded lack of respect for you (the dispositional reason), it might because they had a fight with their son before work (the situational reason).

Interpreted this way, it’s a call for compassion at work, a reminder of which I can certainly use every so Positive reinforcement word Compassion engrained in a rockoften. The idea is that if you can overcome this “asymmetry,” that is, look at your colleagues behavior through the lens of situational root cause rather than dispositional root cause, you can be more effective in interacting with them.

At my last job, I had a sign at my desk that said, “Be kind; Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  (Total aside, but this phrase, one of my favorites, has a fascinating history.)

This is not to say, “Be meek.”  When Microsoft’s CEO is urging women to let karma negotiate their salary, it’s not the time to be meek.  There are toxic people, toxic organizations, and just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that colleague isn’t out to get you.  But that does not mean that we cannot start from a place of being kind in the workplace.

Interestingly, after I graduated from my Masters program, a meta-analysis of psychological research determined that this phenomenon didn’t actually exist – at least not how it had been formulated.  There’s now a more complex theory evolving that suggests that people do describe their behaviors differently than those of others, but in some different ways.

That aside, I do come back to the core thing that I learned from this concept: that of compassion at work.

A rant on the stupid thing people say about queues

This week I was previewing a post by our Chief Scientist about why giving RAM to Infinio is supermarketbetter than giving it to the guest OS or application.

One of the arguments he makes is what he calls “statistical multiplexing” which he explains with this analogy:

Think of lines at a grocery checkout. If you have one line per checkout clerk, then some lines would move faster and some slower, because of the variation of both the load seen by (i.e. number of grocery items) as well as processing speed of individual clerks. Some faster clerks can have nobody in their line, and their processing capacity gets wasted – it could have been better utilized in helping out the other clerks who are overloaded.

This leads to one of my biggest pet peeves: the people at a busy set of lines who say things like “please form X number of lines – it will go faster.”  To all the people at the TSA, the grocery store, CVS, the RMV, and the bank, listen up:  That.  Is.  Not.  True.  

When the amount of time it takes to execute each transaction is variable and unpredictable, there are very few instances where it is faster to make separate lines rather than distribute the work as late in the process as possible.  The only exceptions I can think of are:

(1) if the process of distributing the work later rather than sooner is significantly more time consuming than the benefit, or

(2) if there isn’t enough scratch space to wait on allocating the work

In the grocery example, this would mean

(1) the person saying “you line 3, you line 5” takes too long – or the people in line don’t go directly to the checkout whose light is on as soon as it goes on.  But the math would have to be pretty extreme. I mean, the traffic cop would have to be *really* *really* slow for this still not to be beneficial for the people waiting.

(2)  the store (or airport) isn’t designed to have one long windy line, it’s designed to have 10 shorter straight lines.

Not having the space can be a limiting factor, but that rarely seems to be the case.  If it were really the problem, then I wouldn’t be in so many dang lines with someone telling me that it would be faster if I ignored the natural rules of, you know, MATH.

In practice, there is a supermarket who actually implemented this.  Bravo.

“I didn’t get anything done, I was doing email all day.”

How often do you find yourself saying things like this?:337698-get-organized-5-reasons-your-inbox-is-not-your-to-do-list

“I got no work done, I was in meetings all day!”

“I didn’t get anything done, I was doing email all day.”

I think this is one of the drivers behind why we are working so hard, so long, and with such a cost to our work/life balance.  We are working – but it doesn’t feel like work.  Why?

I have a theory.

1. The number of meetings we go to that are really relevant to us is very small.

2. The percentage of email that we get that’s actually relevant to us is very small.

I’m not the only one who thinks this is true.  For example, Tim Ferris has long advocated against email.  Here’s a great post where he suggests using auto-reply to eliminate most email.  He also advises against attending meetings unless they have an agenda and an end time.  Lots of experts suggest that meetings are often over-subscribed and under-performing; the advent of the “standup meeting” is the natural antidote to that.

But I definitely don’t have a job where I can eschew email and stand up through every meeting. Still, I’ve been able to combat this idea that replying to email and attending meetings isn’t “work”.  Here’s how.

  • I figured out what meetings to go to.  Some meetings are status reports from all the participants, some are working sessions, some are read-outs from a project group, some are announcements from management, and some fall into some other category.  At both Dell and Infinio I’ve looked at the meetings I attend (sometimes 4-6 hours’ worth a day at Dell, at Infinio considerably fewer) and asked “Do I need to be attending this meeting?”  Nobody ever perceived me as difficult for asking – and often I was just being invited as a courtesy.

The thing that drives me nuts is people showing up to a meeting and doing other work, usually sorting through email. Either you have to be at the meeting or you don’t.  Unless you are in an extremely dysfunctional organization (in which case, leave!), there are rarely meetings that you “sort of” have to be at.  It’s rude to the organizer, and you won’t actually feel like you accomplished anything.

  • For email, I use Franklin Covey’s FAD method.  mrDiva took the course years ago and it’s one of the tips that we both still use.  Every email you get should get Filed, Acted upon, or Deleted.  Deleted means deleted – and many things you are cc’d on can be deleted.  Acted upon means you have some action to take based on the email, and those stay in your inbox  (At the end of a week I rarely have more than 10 items in my inbox.)  And Filed means you need to refer to it later, so you save it somewhere.  Now that I use Google Mail, it’s even easier because instead of Filing, I just Archive.  If I need it later, I just search rather than try to remember a folder I put it in.

And before you go all Negative Nancy on me – at Dell I was in email hell: I got hundreds of messages a day, and still managed to use this system.  Just be methodical, be ruthless, and only keep something in your Inbox if you still have to do something with it.  Face it, most people send you an email, then they come over and ask you if you got their email.  If you accidentally archive or file something you should have acted on, they’ll let you know.

Once I did these two things, I stopped feeling guilty about replying to emails and attending meetings.  I’m communicating with colleagues, customers, and vendors; I’m designing our product, strategy, and tactics; I’m understanding the bigger picture and explaining the details.

And all that is work.

Infinio fan fiction

I had a great talk with Christopher Kusek and Bo Bolander at VMworld about life, the universe,book and everything (including Life, the Universe, and Everything).

At one point, Christopher asked me what I did for Infinio.  When I explained I did our product marketing, he said, “Oh, so you write Infinio fan fiction.”  We all had a good chuckle.  “I’m changing my LinkedIn profile right away,” I said.

But do I write fan fiction?  I think that I’d be a pretty crummy marketer if that were true.  I’m not writing fiction about Infinio – like “oh here’s this environment Infinio could work in, but only in my imagination” or “use Infinio and world hunger will be solved”

The content I write for Infinio falls into one of a few categories.  In marketing we usually think of customers as in one of three buckets:

  • Awareness – someone has a problem and they are beginning to research approaches to solving it
  • Consideration – someone is zeroing in on an approach and looking at the specific vendors or solutions that solve the problem that way
  • Decision – someone is close to deciding which solution they are going to use to solve their problem

An Awareness asset might be something like a 2-page “What is content-based caching” primer, a Consideration asset might be something like “5 things to look at when buying new storage” and a Decision asset might be a recorded product demo.

None of that is fiction.  Although I’ll admit – I am a fan of Infinio. 🙂