Looking Back and Looking Forward

Connecting the dots…

Image courtesy iStockphoto

image courtesy iStockphoto

Last month, as happens every January, was the SAP field kickoff meeting, or FKOM. I wistfully gazed at my Twitter feed, noting who was and who wasn’t at FKOM. You see, in 2008 I attended the last FKOM conducted by an independent BusinessObjects (see related article, Business Objects Partner Summit 2008). It was the first FKOM that combined its sales force and its partner network, which previously had its own, much smaller, partner summit. I’ll never forget former BusinessObjects executive Mark Doll announcing SAP BusinessObjects XI 3.0 with lights and explosions (see related article, BusinessObjects XI 3.0). Under SAP, FKOM is an even bigger deal, with multiple simultaneous events held around the globe.

The other event that happens every January is the flood of LinkedIn updates announcing new career changes. While reading everyone’s cheerful status updates, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that your own career is on the road to nowhere. Never mind that your LinkedIn contacts decided in December that their own careers were on the road to nowhere and are secretly crossing their fingers, hoping that their new career adventure corrects some of the undesirable qualities of the last one. It’s easy to forget that we were jealous of our friends’ previous career move- the one that they just tossed into the dustbin of history (don’t worry, a recruiter might be calling you soon to fill the open position).

I mention this because seven years ago, my own career seemed to be on the road to nowhere (see related article, Seven Years Ago Today). What I didn’t mention in that article was that I interviewed for a presales consulting position at BusinessObjects and lost it. The rejection was devastating. At the time, staying in business intelligence consulting was a fallback position. Over the years, I later interviewed with SAP for two other presales positions, also without success.

The trouble with presales (for me) is that most vendors could care less if you understood their product. That skill can be learned. What they’re hoping for is somebody with a track record of sales success selling other technology products. Unfortunately, my skills are reversed. I’ve “majored” in many years of deep SAP BusinessObjects experience but only have a “minor” in presales, helping various consulting organizations sell software, services, and education.

It’s easy to have a pity party reading LinkedIn updates, but most social media users only reveal the shiny, happy bits of their lives. Rarely the dark or disappointing ones. While what is divulged on social media may be accurate and truthful, it’s not a complete picture.

In my case, writing Seven Years Ago Today turned out to be therapeutic, as I’ve spent the past few weeks contemplating who I was seven years ago and who I think I am today. Connecting the dots, as Steve Jobs said in his 2005 Stanford University commencement address.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Steve Jobs
2005 Stanford University commencement address

You see, when I sat in the presales interview chair seven years ago, this blog didn’t even exist (see related article, Welcome to My Blog!). I had only one year of experience as a trainer and only one user conference presentation under my belt. Only later would I be part of the team for SAP’s Education Partner of the Year (see related article, Thrilled to be Part of the Team). My experience would grow from a mere report writer and universe designer to include skills with Xcelsius/Dashboards, Explorer, and administering the SAP BI platform. I’d even help write a book (see related article, SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: The Comprehensive Guide).

Maybe I would have hated presales… Maybe I wouldn’t have been any good at it… Maybe somebody who’s worked mostly in small organizations would feel lost in a large one…

Will I ever work at SAP? I don’t know. I’m currently at about “half time” in my working career, so there’s plenty of time for that.

What about you? Feel like your career is on the fast track to nowhere? All any of us can do is put our best foot forward, one step at a time. I’m grateful that every day I get to work with technology that has the potential to illuminate corporate data and brighten somebody’s day. I’m definitely setting goals for the next seven years.

But in the meantime, I’m setting goals for the next seven days. Happy Monday!

Seven Years Ago Today…

Seven years ago, everything changed.

Seven years ago today, Steve Jobs stood on stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco and unveiled the iPhone.

 

An iPhone is a fairly common sight today, but the video of the event captures just how unusual iPhone was compared to smartphones from Motorola, Blackberry, Palm, and Nokia. I was carrying a Motorola Razr at the time and would later replace it and my Palm PDA with a Palm Treo 680.

The same week, a slightly less revolutionary development was taking place. At the lowest point in my career, my friend Eileen King had faith in me and introduced me to the team at Dataspace, a business intelligence consultancy in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I can’t remember if I grasped the significance of it all at the time. But looking back, what seemed like a low point became a dramatic turning point.

SF 325 Eileen

Seven years later, Motorola has been acquired by Google, Palm by HP, Nokia by Microsoft, and Blackberry by… Well, let’s just say nobody wants to purchase Blackberry. And I now carry an iPhone 5.

Thanks, Eileen!

Christmas Vacation

The week between Christmas and New Years is the worst time to use vacation, but that’s not stopping me.

Santa on beach vacationThis year, I’ll be taking some much-needed vacation between Christmas and New Years. The timing wasn’t my first choice, but due to circumstances beyond my control there was no summer vacation this year. Author Scott Burkun says that I’m taking vacation at the worst possible time. And I couldn’t agree more.

The week between Christmas and New Years is the worst time to use vacation. It’s when everyone else is on holiday, turning even the most stressful workplaces into calm zones of highly independent and low interruption work time. Spending your vacation dollars to avoid a paid vacation in the office, is the worst bet in the vacation world: sometimes it’s a forced bet, as family plans force your hand, but it’s still a lousy value.

Scott Berkun
When Should You Take Vacation? A Strategy

Early on in my career— while lamenting my junior status and lack of vacation days— I quickly noticed many of the same observations as Mr. Berkun. In most US organizations, senior management- the people in the organization with the most vacation time- disappear at random intervals between the Thanksgiving holiday (the fourth Thursday in November), Christmas (December 25) and New Year’s Day. The lack of corporate activity can be further aided by the “year-end IT freeze” that attempts to guarantee system availability for busy holiday shopping or year-end financial closing.

If you’re “stuck” at work having a “staycation”, make the most of it. Pick a small number of new technical skills to master. Install the latest version of your BI software on a sandbox. Most BI organizations have a number of outstanding tasks that never get done. Now is the perfect time to cross a few off your to-do list (be sure to add these to your list of accomplishments on your upcoming annual performance review). And don’t ignore the softer skills. Plan some lunch dates with your immediate co-workers as well as your support teams like system administrators and database administrators. Listen to their war stories as well as the corporate rumors for the upcoming year.

As for me, I’ll be enjoying some down-time with my family this week. And planning next summer’s vacation!

The Hour of Code

Join the Hour of Code this week.

Students working on computers

Today, December 9, is the beginning of Computer Science Education Week, observed each year in recognition of the birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (born December 9, 1906). Code.org, a non-profit dedicated to promoting computer science education, is encouraging every K-12 student in America to join an “Hour of Code.”

Steve Jobs believed that “I think everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.”

My love affair with programming started with BASIC at a local Radio Shack (see related article, Radio Shack’s TRS-80 turns 35) and later turned into C and C++ before I discovered business intelligence. My children may not follow me into engineering school and a technology profession, but I do hope that they will each learn how to do some simple programming. My twelve-year-old daughter recently took part in a one-day computer camp at a local university learning Scratch and Processing. And I recently joined my first Kickstarter for Kano, a Raspberry Pi based computer, but it won’t arrive for her and I to put together until next summer.

In the meantime, Code.org has many resources on their web site for the Hour of Code. Consider taking an hour this week and help somebody discover programming.

Resources

 

Against the Grain

The New York Times, responding to Nate Silver’s move to ESPN.

Man walking through field

There’s an interesting post on the New York Times web site about the departure of Nate Silver to ESPN. And as usual, some succinct and sassy commentary from John Gruber on his Daring Fireball blog. But the New York Times’ editor Margaret Sullivan had this to say about Nate Silver.

He was, in a word, disruptive.

Nate Silver is an American statistician who correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the 2012 United States presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. His Five Thirty Eight blog has become a popular feature of the New York Times web site and his recent book, The Signal and the Noise, became an instant best-seller after the presidential election.

There are some clear parallels in his story to our own stories in the field of analytics and BI. Fact-based decision making from business intelligence frequently goes against the grain of The Established Way of How We Do Things Around Here. Wayne Eckerson captures this maverick spirit, seen in the seven people profiled in his latest book Secrets of Analytic Leaders. Administering a business intelligence platform or even a corporate analytics program pales in complexity to the challenges- both with people and technology- in changing organizational culture to a fact-based, data-saturated culture. The process is frequently disruptive. It takes guts, an even temperament, and a long-term focus.

But as Nate Silver apparently discovered, sometimes it also requires a career move.

Learning How to Think

Inspiring the next generation to learn coding.

Code.org is a non-profit foundation founded by brothers Hadi Partovi and Ali Partovi dedicated to growing computer programming education. They’ve released a video encouraging young people to learn programming. It featuring Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, will.i.am, Chris Bosh, Jack Dorsey, Tony Hsieh, Drew Houston, Gabe Newell, Ruchi Sanghvi, Elena Silenok, Vanessa Hurst, and Hadi Partovi. The video was directed by Lesley Chilcott, whose production credits include An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for Superman.

The clip begins with the following quote from Steve Jobs, taken from Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview.

“Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think” – Steve Jobs

As somebody who taught myself to program BASIC at a local Radio Shack, I hope this video will inspire the next generation- including my own children- to learn how to program.  Learning to code became much hipper to my 12-year-old daughter when will.i.am appeared on the screen.

I’m curious how other parents are helping their children to learn programing. Please share your tips.

Platform

If you have something to say or sell and want to build a platform to promote it, this book will be a valuable resource to you.

Platform by Michael Hyatt is “a step-by-step” guide for anyone with something to say or sell. Like Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, Platform started life as a series of blog posts that became a book. According to the author,

Very simply, a platform is the thing you have to stand on to get heard. It’s your stage. But unlike a stage in the theater, today’s platform is not built of wood or concrete or perched on a grassy hill. Today’s platform is built of people. Contacts. Connections. Followers.

As the former CEO and chairman of Thomas Nelson publishing, Mr. Hyatt not only had a successful career helping book authors build their own platforms, he’s built a pretty successful one himself. With over 400,000 monthly visitors to his blog and over 200,000 followers on Twitter, he is actively using the advice he dispenses in his book.


What I found particularly helpful was Mr. Hyatt’s willingness to share his mistakes as well as his successes. As somebody who has been blogging since 2007, I’ve already learned several of the book’s lessons the hard way. But I’ve taken many best practices from the pages of Platform and will be adopting them over the next few months.

If you have something to say or sell and want to build a platform to promote it, this book will be a valuable resource to you.

Resources

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book with my own funds. It was not a free review copy. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”