Tag Archives: LEARNING

2014: My Year of Transitions

I hate change – and transitions.  And in 2014 I’ve had a boatload of them.  When I look at 20142014, I think it may be the year I learned to be more comfortable with change.  Let’s see what changed in my life this year:

In January, I left Dell after 8 years and in March I joined Infinio.  We sold one of our cars and I began commuting by MBTA.  In June, mrDiva and I jumped at the chance to buy our dream home next door to our former home, securing our ability to stay in our wonderful neighborhood.  Our summer was about renovations and moving, then mrDiva resumed his travel schedule to the West Coast while I absorbed lots of change at work as I learned how dynamic being at a startup really is.

If you don’t know me in real life (or you don’t this part of me) it’s hard to express exactly how much I hate change.  I recently got a tablet to replace my 5-year old Dell laptop and I hate it.  I don’t actually hate it, but I hate learning how to use it.  I felt like this when I got a MacBook Air for work.  You know, the world’s favorite laptop.  I just hate change.  So to change jobs, homes, and routine in one year – that is a lot for me.

And oh yeah, all the while, babyDiva went from toddling and babbling to running and speaking in full sentences, as almost-two-year-olds are wont to do.

Truly, I think it is being her mom that has contributed the most to my being comfortable with change.  Being a parent has been just a major lesson in dealing with uncertainty – not just the daily uncertainties of “will she like ziti on tuesday” and “does she want the stuffed dog in her crib tonight” but Big Uncertainties like “am I teaching her to be confident” and “will she grow up to be happy and healthy.”  You know, the things that you have no control over.

Being a parent has also been a great lesson in transitions – first off, my kid is great with transitions.  One classroom to another at school – no sweat.  New house – no sweat.  Mom travels one week, Dad the next – no sweat.  She just adjusts very well to things.  But she is also constantly changing – babbling to words to sentences seemingly overnight.  Rolling over to toddling to walking to running.  Acquiring new words at a daily clip.  New gross motor skills; new fine motor skills – it’s like coming home to a different kid every few days.

People talk about how being a parent is great for being a professional, but that’s usually about multitasking.  I was already a great multi-tasker.  Being a parent is great for my being a professional because it’s made me more comfortable with change, with uncertainty, and with transitions.

And it is a great thing to be good at transitions…..because (spoiler alert) in May of 2015, we will excitedly welcome miniDiva (or miniDivo) to our growing family.

I’m thrilled with how 2014 turned out and the positive changes for my family.  I’ve worked hard, learned a lot, taken a lot of risks, and ended up in a happier place.  I can only hope for more of the same in 2015.

Happy New Year to all.

The most important meeting I had last week

When I first arrived at Infinio, I reflected on the types of meetings I Infinio_Systems__Inc__-_Calendarattended, praising most of them for being pretty valuable.

That’s been consistent here over the 9 months that I’ve worked here. While there are certainly moments that are unproductive, there are rarely entire meetings that I come out of thinking “geez, what a waste of time that was!”

In fact, two meetings I’ve been attending recently are particularly interesting.  One is the Sales and Marketing leadership planning meeting for 2015 programs, and one is the long-term roadmap & strategy meeting. Both meetings are attended by really smart, engaged people, and between the two of them, I get a sweeping view of the company going forward, which significantly helps me do my job better.

I went to a few other interesting meetings last week – the bi-weekly engineering iteration review, a review of survey results from a vendor, and a discussion about our website.

But none of those (nor the two mentioned above) were the most important meeting I had last week.

The most important meeting I had last week was with one of our BDRs. BDRs (business development reps) call the people we meet at tradeshows and online, and engage them in further conversations about Infinio.  This BDR had some questions about our industry, product, and competition, so we spent ~45 minutes together talking through his (well-thought-out) list of questions.

The reason this was so important was that I got to hear:

  • Which parts of our training were working, and where we were leaving things out
  • What questions he was getting the most on the phone, and what things he did and didn’t know how to respond to
  • What things we’re suggesting he say work, and which are a total misfire on our part

It was a view from someone who directly interacts with our prospects all day long.  And that is the most important thing for me to be in touch with.

Book Review: Lean Startup

(cross posted at sherylsbooklist.blogspot.com)  

This is probably the top business book that has been recommended to me since I joined a startup. Now that I have read it, I can understand why – it ought to be required reading for anyone coming from a big company into a fast-paced startup. I had many a “a-ha” moment reading this, like “Oh, that’s why we are shipping a product that seems incomplete…it’s on purpose!”

The concept of Lean Manufacturing grew out of the Toyota Production Systems innovations of the mid-20th century. This comprised the idea of constantly improving systems, measuring more important things, and driving organizational learning. In grad school, I remember learning about this, and about its influence on the software industry. Agile/scrum development seems to have its roots in Lean.

So all this forms the backdrop for the ideas in this book – that companies and projects in general can use a lot of the same concepts that have fundamentally improved Manufacturing and Software Development. There’s a real focus on learning and structuring the product development process to increase the speed with which everyone learns. (And it is worth pointing out that like Innovator’s Dilemma, this is relevant for innovative parts of big companies, not just startups.) Two items stuck with me the most:

1. Vanity Metrics – Ries argues strongly against using vanity metrics when evaluating a change to a product. He says that too often metrics are chosen that look like improvements when really they aren’t, like number of downloads (without number of repeat customers) or number of repeat customers (without number of paying customers.) He says you really need to know what you are measuring and why.

2. Experiments – Ries gives several examples of how you want to run experiments about your product in real life with real customers. If your audience is big enough, A/B test actual features. Release great products without all their features to see if you have Andreesen’s elusive product/market fit. Ask focus group customers the right questions, not question your existing assumptions. 

It’s his examples that I liked the most – they were perfectly relevant and constructive. He’s delightfully honest about how hard it is to learn this way by sharing his experiences at his company IMVU. In any case, this is a MUST-READ for people interested in the model for success in technical innovation in the next decade. It’s in my mental bookshelf next to “Innovator’s Dilemma” “Good to Great” and “Crossing the Chasm.”

Cornucopia of social media

Over at I Tech Therefore I Am, Matt talks about how he decides where to post what kind of content.  It’s an interesting analysis of how to manage a single human being through the lens of different audiences.

On a micro(blogging) scale, I’ve been thinking about the same things – when do I post something on Twitter, when Facebook, and when LinkedIn.

Originally, it was simple.  I put things related to work on Twitter and things related to my personal life on Facebook.  I didn’t post anything to LinkedIn, save an ill-conceived week when I copied my Twitter feed to LinkedIn.

Then I started sharing more of my personality on Twitter – articles I thought were interesting, pictures of babyDiva, other items that rounded out @storageDiva to be more personal.

When I started to look for a job, I wanted to be more active on LinkedIn, so many of the items I posted on Twitter I also posted on LinkedIn.  I didn’t post totally personal things on LinkedIn – like photos – but I did post articles of technical interest.

(And I’ll pause here for a second to say that if it weren’t for Buffer none of this would work. They make it so easy to manage all of this!!  In fact, in their live #bufferchat I shared my favorite productivity apps:


Every morning, I get my news from Feedly, I syndicate things I think are interesting through Buffer, and I save longer reads for later with Pocket.)

Anyway, back to my strategy.  When I was at Dell, I was maniacal about keeping Facebook private – I didn’t friend my friends at work, and I didn’t post much about Dell.  Now I feel a little different about that, and I syndicate this blog on all three platforms.  Plus, I’m tiring a little of Facebook – too many ads, and too much curation of my News Feed.

All of this is to say, it feels good to have a system and a strategy.  And I think I am figuring out what the right stuff is to put where.  I hit the Buffer button, and for each article, picture, etc., choose which social networks it belongs on.  This blog, however, has been challenging for exactly this reason.  I do send it to all three channels, although the people I know through each channel are very different audiences.

  • Facebook is everyone from high school acquaintances and camp friends I barely remember to cousins and my mother.
  • LinkedIn is people I know professionally.
  • Twitter is a weird mix of those two, plus people I meet randomly in the twittersphere, and the only place where I know some people online before I know them in real life.  It’s where I post most Infinio stuff, too.

So “know your audience” is not helpful – I do know it, and it’s too broad to find a lot of what I post relevant.  I feel good about the tweets and articles I put through these three channels, but I know it’s not working as well for this blog.


Girl on a Bus

Last week I was on the #43 bus headed home and a friendly woman sat down next to me.

“Oh, that’s a great book. Are you liking it?”

None of that is remarkable, except that I was reading The Lean Startup and she worked in sales for a software startup. So we had a lot in common.

“I do like it,” I said. “Coming from a big company, I’m finding it really helpful to understand why we sometimes make certain decisions.”

She started to rattle off several other books she really liked, all of which I need to add to my business reading list.

Decisive (which she described as a book that helped you learn how to make good long-term decisions)


Great by Choice

She shared a concept from the last book that I really liked – that Jim Collins explains that before shooting a cannonball, gunners would shoot a bullet. It’s less expensive than a cannonball but tells you you are looking in the right direction. You can do that in business too, release a limited version of your product, or release to a limited audience, so you can calibrate if you are in the right place.

I’m almost done with Lean Startup (which I’ll review here soon) and that cannonball concept seemed like a cool extension of the ideas from that book.

This woman’s stop came up before mine, and we didn’t exchange cards, but maybe we’ll have a chance to talk again on the #43 bus.

Figuring it out myself in my head in a dark room alone.

When I was in grad school (nearly 10 years ago now), one of my courses was called “Learning to Lead.”  It was a practical course on leadership and management that spanned throughout the entire 18-month program alongside more traditional courses on product development, finance, and engineering methodologies.

In Learning to Lead I and II, students learn the basic concepts about leadership, management and teamwork. The uniqueness of this course is within the teaching methodology, which has been developed to accelerate the advancement of self-awareness and interpersonal competencies. Specific topics covered in Learning to Lead 1 include: personality types (Myers-Briggs type indicator assessment), best practices in forming and maintaining team performance, giving and receiving feedback, individual and team creativity, communicating to inspire and influencing without authority. Topics in Learning to Lead II include systems thinking, team decision making, communication across cultures, shared visions and organizational change.

We often took assessments to determine our styles and preferences, because that self-awareness is central to leading well.  One of the assessments we took was about learning styles, through the Center for Creative Leadership.  This assessment evaluated what tactics I used when I was learning something new.

  • Accessing other people
  • Taking Action
  • Thinking
Center for Creative Leadership model of Learning Tactics.  Taken from Amazon book preview.

Center for Creative Leadership model of Learning Tactics. Taken from Amazon book preview.

I thought of these as: Asking for help, Figuring it out hands-on, Figuring it out myself in my head in a dark room alone.

And as it turned out, I never, ever, asked for help.  I occasionally tried to figure it out out hands-on, and I nearly always tried to figure it out myself in my head in a dark room alone.  In retrospect, it wasn’t super-surprising: being trained as a mathematician, it’s often about just sitting in a room and figuring it out.

But when I learned this, the moment I had was “OMG, everyone else is working together and asking each other for help, and here I am trying to whack through everything alone.  I’m missing out!”  In fact, I remember thinking that everyone else had this advantage toward their succeeding that I was ignoring: relying on each other.  Mathematician or not, how did I miss this in school?

And thus began a change in how I tried to approach problems and learning.  I started asking people at work for help, for their opinion, to explain things to me.  And it was great!  My colleagues didn’t even seem to notice that I was any different, and I was getting more help.  But it was always deliberate.  I had to think hard about reaching out to collaborate with people.

Fast forward to my start at Infinio.  New environment, new tasks, lots to learn.  In some areas, it’s felt very natural to ask for help.  In other areas, specifically content creation, it’s been harder to access others.  There’ve been a few projects where I’ve shown Alan some of my work, and just 20 minutes with him has made it twice as good as when I started. I don’t know why that’s so hard to do every time.

It’s not that I don’t want the feedback.  Part of it may be that I have the idea that having the level of experience I have means that my work should be pretty complete when I do it on my own.  Which of course is ridiculous – even the greatest authors have great editors.

I think it boils down to the fact that I’m neither inclined nor trained to access others and I will always need to work to ensure that I’m doing it.

Heading right out of my comfort zone

Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone is in my head today, except the words are changed:

Heading right out of my comfort zone

Heading right out of my comfort zone

A few weeks ago I was at a party explaining to people how I knew the host, a professional singer.  One of the things I explained was that when she was studying for her masters in vocal pedagogy, I was her “sample student.”  I went into her class and demonstrated techniques and a vocal piece she had taught me.

“Weren’t you nervous?”

“Not really, I don’t really get nervous.”

And I don’t.  Not usually.  I sang a cappella in college which is pretty much the best way to develop a thick skin around public speaking.  Since then my career has often involved speaking at conferences and webinars, so I’m pretty used to it.

I’m also pretty used to demoing things.  When I sold EqualLogic, I’d drive around with one in my trunk, and the sales process involved hauling it out onto a conference table at customer sites and demonstrating how quick and easy it was to initialize and configure.  Over time, I also demoed different software packages that came with EqualLogic.

Three months into my time at Infinio I am starting to demo our product, Accelerator.  Twice last week I demoed the interface, and today I did a multi-customer demo of the installation too.

And yikes.  I was nervous.  I think it’s the tools that trip me up.  To do this demo I needed:

  • VDI Client
  • VPN Client (to practice at home)
  • Remote Desktop
  • VMware vCenter
  • Workload Generator
  • GoToMeeting
  • Already-running version of Infinio

I don’t use these every day.  For the life of me I couldn’t even figure out how to delete a virtual machine, which is a basic operation.  (For the record, it’s more hidden in the Web Client, which I was using.)

I wasn’t nervous about the demo itself, or speaking on the demo/webcast, but I was really nervous about getting everything else to work together, including switching between applications on my Mac when all my muscle memory is for Windows.

This is me out of my comfort zone.  Messaging docs, sales enablement, market research, herding cats, pitch decks, whitepapers, webinars, seminars.  That’s my comfort zone.  This stuff, not so much.

And you know what happened on the live demo?  A major technical glitch that totally messed me up!  Something that made me have to re-unzip a file live and swizzle the order of the webinar to accommodate how long that took.  The sky didn’t fall down, customers didn’t hang up on me, and I made it through to the other side.

“Do one thing every day that scares you,” said Eleanor Roosevelt.  Check.

The post-mortem on this week’s travel

I’m sitting in LAX waiting for my flight and reflecting on the past few days.  It was my first business trip for Infinio, and my first tradeshow in many years.  Here are 5 things I learned:

1. Your co-workers are key to your happiness at work.  If you aren’t sure this is true, then spend 9 consecutive hours staffing a tradeshow booth with them.  I’m lucky.  Mine are pretty awesome.

2. The buying process has really changed in the past 10 years.  We talk about how our marketing has to change because customers are more educated and do more of their research before contacting vendors, but I didn’t realize that would make tradeshows different.  But they are.  Customers were much less likely to walk up to our booth and say, “hi, what do you do?”  They were more likely to either (a) read our booth signage to see if we were relevant to them, or (b) already know about us and whether they were interested, or (c) avoid us like you do the cellphone kiosks in the mall.

3. Citrix has a very well-developed and well-honed partner program.  I was consistently impressed with the channel partners I met at the show.  They were very knowledgable about Citrix and all the ecosystem products, and they were notably enthusiastic about learning more about a technology that could help their customers.  They were a really impressive group of people who asked great questions.

4. I need to look into a standing desk.  My colleagues at the show were much more comfortable standing for long periods of time than I was.  We hypothesized that it was because of their use of standing desks.

5. The weather in Anaheim in May is lovely.  I forgot how nice it is to eat outside.

Life moves pretty fast…

When I started in the industry, it was in data protection.  Except back then, we called it “backup.”  I quickly learned that my ability to hold a conversation in the domain was predicated on my understanding some fundamental technological concepts.

For example, I had to understand multiplexing, shoe-shining, grandfather/father/son tape rotation, what it mean that Exchange didn’t really quiesce, and what a backup window was.

Over time, being able to talk about backup meant knowing a different core set of concepts.  Today, the category would be called “data protection,” and you’d have to know about snapshots, backup-to-disk, deduplication, and offsite replication, for starters.

When I was at Dell, I transitioned from being a sales engineer to being a storage specialist.  Suddenly, I had to learn the fundamental storage concepts – and quickly.  At the time, they were (roughly): RAID, more disks means more IOPS, disk contention, storage virtualization, usable space, and automated tiering.

This stuff is barely relevant in storage anymore.  Or, maybe it’s more like the information has commoditized.  It’s taken for granted now that we know which RAID types are appropriate for what workloads; that’s no longer a consultative value-add that a vendor can provide.  You get into a discussion with someone and mention some of this, and it’s so basic it destroys credibility.

And that happens incredibly quickly.  Less than a year ago, it was still interesting to talk about storage performance and storage capacity being resources that should be managed separately, now that is not considered “thought leadership,” it’s internalized into the collective consciousness of the industry.

So what are the fundamental concepts now?

Content-based storage, I think.  Server-side cache and all-flash arrays.  Distributed scale-out systems, object storage, variable-block deduplication.  Software-defined anything.  Converged systems.  I bumped into two other products this week (in addition to my own) that use are content-addressable with a consistent hash.


As a childhood hero of mine said, “Life moves pretty fast….”

Spelunking to uncertainty

Last week I wrote about the major differences between my experience at Dell and my experience here at Infinio.

One of those was the idea that here, there’s no supposition that at least someone, somewhere knows the answer.

That is really, really hard to digest for someone like me.  I have a predisposition to assume that there is an answer to everything.

I shouldn’t think that, I know.  Even my professional training as a mathematician should teach me that isn’t the case – look at how many unsolved problems still exist in math and may forever.  Look at Godel’s incompleteness Theorem.

Or, last week I was at an engineering meeting and the topic of discussion was a terrible little behavior we were seeing in our product’s interaction with another product.  This behavior came up over and over, and while we fixed each instance of the problem, we had no way of knowing that we had addressed every instance of the problem that could arise.

While extensive testing could minimize that risk, it can’t eliminate it entirely.  As one of the engineers said, “There’s no real way to know when software is ‘done’ or ‘right.’”

This feeling has awed me in the past once before as well.  Before babyDiva, mrDiva and I used to travel a lot, and one of our best vacations was to Belize.  We had planned to hike ATM, a well known cave-system in the Cayo district, but the rains had been so intense that it was un-navigable.

Disappointed, we went to our hosts who said, “Oh, let’s call Ken!  You can go see Ken’s cave.”


mrDiva, our guide Leo, and Ken, with Ken's 1979 Land Rover

mrDiva, our guide Leo, & Ken, with his 1979 Land Rover

Ken’s cave, it turned out, was amazing.  Known more formally as Achtun Chapat, it was only accessible by a bumpy ride in the back of Ken’s 197X Land Rover.  He and his guide led us through a 5-6 hour hike into the cave system, pointing out bats, bones, and pottery shards as we went.  There were cathedral height ceilings and crawl spaces.  Beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.  It was pitch black when we turned off our headlamps.  Like, literally black.  At the end of the cave, we sat under a sinkhole that provided some sunlight from above and enjoyed Ken’s wife’s homemade burritos.

As we were sitting, Ken mentioned casually that this was one path, but they hadn’t mapped the entire cave yet.  There were probably 100’s of additional yards of cave that nobody had yet traversed, because of safety issues – low oxygen rates and unpredictable lakes.

It was inconceivable to me.  This cave was obviously a national treasure for Belize, at least as complex and rich in archeological and natural items many of the well-known sites in Central America.  How could they not have mapped it out?  Aren’t there X-rays or robots or something that could do this?

mrDiva and me at the entrance to Achtun Chapat

mrDiva and me, at the entrance to Achtun Chapat

But there aren’t.  Or they’re not economically or practically viable in Belize.  Or Belize chooses not to explore this for fear of losing control of their resources.

Whatever the reason, I am still overwhelmed by the idea that there’s a cave that I have been in that is only sort of understood.

Sometimes, we just don’t know the answer.