Archive for August, 2007

Selling IT Wall of Shame: Intro + Fidelity

August 31, 2007

My job means I get a lot of cold sales calls/emails from various shops. Most of them are for development on the cheap, others are for services/hardware/etc.

While I appreciate that salespeople have a job to do – we wouldn’t have a company without feet on the street – the asks are usually crushingly bad. The pitches appeal to fear or ignorance (“we can bring you Web 2.0” – Chris Pirillo strung out a similar consultant), the person selling can’t state their value clearly, they don’t understand that we’re a technology company (since they’ve done no research for their phone or email spam) or they just assume I’m a technology idiot. (Perhaps that’s a successful strategy with CTOs/CIOs/VP Engs/etc. in other companies, but I have to hope it’s not.)

So here I’m calling them out on the Selling IT Wall of Shame. Your sales pitch is a recruiting pitch – make it good, know your audience, make it smart. I’m hoping this can help improve my cold calls and emails, but mostly it’s just fun. (Selling IT is a play on the Consumer Reports page “Selling It” backpage, my favorite part of the mag, weirdly unrepresented online but available from Google Books.)

Here’s some excerpts from the first Selling IT Wall of Shame entry, from folks who manage 401Ks, and now, evidently, offshore development teams. This one is just mostly badly written – why would I consider a business relationship?

The message came across as plain text, but I’ve made it readable for you. I’m that kind of guy. I’ve removed some content (noted in <>) but left all other formatting as-is, and added some commentary in blue italics, trying to keep the snark to a minimum.

The next Wall of Shame entry features audio – and the future!

Dear Scott,

I represent The “Global Services Group” of Fidelity National Information Services(NYSE:FIS). (First sentence in – we don’t know each other, your grammar isn’t right, and your “group is in quotes. Not a good sign.)

This letter is a reference to getting an introductory meeting for us to determine if there is an area we can work together and scope possible opportunities for us to service – WhitePages.com, Inc.

Our prime value proposition consists of Strategic and Operational Benefits arising out of our “Onsite/Offsite/Offshore -<Global IT/SW Outsourcing &
Support>” (This was the formatting. And the words.)

and how we can together control:
A) The “burn rate”, Lower TCO while generating a Better ROI.

B) Help save you ~ 40% on your IT/SoftWare development dollars… (Again, bad grammar, plus these two are the same thing.)

Our business unit is to be the cornerstone of FIS’ aggressive growth in business services from “Global Delivery Centers”. (Whose business unit? Our nonexistent partnership’s business unit is going to be the cornerstone of “something else in quotes”? I’ve read this a few times and still don’t know what it’s saying.)

A 30 minutes investment on your part in meeting with us (along with your
team) would allow us to mutually explore this further, I shall await your availability and confirmation.

Warm Regards, <NAME>

NOTE OUR VALUE PROPOSITION:

VALUE PROPOSITION : Complete lifecycle IT support

Software Application Development
Software Integration, Portal development and Deployment
Software Quality Assurance (SQA)
Porting, Testing and Certification
Security Aspects – Network & Apps
Software Enhancement and Maintenance
Data Integration & Business Intelligence

<Then there’s a lot of bullet points that still say nothing. You get the point.>

So You Want to Be A Manager: Part Two – The First Management Job

August 24, 2007

(See SYWTBAM: Part One – Good/Maybe/Bad Reasons, Prelude)

OK, so you’ve decided you want to be a manager. Your intentions are angelic and your goals are set, and now you’re scouring the land and talking to your manager about it. Then, out of the sky, it comes: your chance to manage a few engineers. Now, it’s not the most exciting project in the world – ok, you ran from it as an engineer – and the team, well, it’s kind of B-Players, but you’ll learn, right? Take it!

Whoa.

Ruthfield’s First Axiom of So You Want to be in Management: If you want to be a manager sometime soon, you will be a manager sometime soon.

Engineering departments that value engineering over hierarchy (see the Prelude for why you want to be in one of those) never have enough people who want to be managers, and even fewer who want to do it for a good reason. So if you’re interested, it’s going to come up, even if it’s not tomorrow.

Why does this matter? It matters because you still get to choose. You don’t have to take the first management job that comes your way – you should treat it with the same skeptical eye as you would any other job, plus now there are even more things to understand and you don’t yet have enough experience to know what questions to ask. Here are a few:

  • Will I be managing mostly A-Players? Not every team is 100% superstars, but you don’t want your first management experience to be filled with up-or-out management of everyone on the team. Don’t get talked into taking the junior or the troubled team. This is a very common trap. I fell into it, and I had to fire my first-ever employee (a wife, two kids, etc.) when more experienced managers kept pushing it off. Nothing good comes from starting your management career this way: it’s an important skill but it need not be the first one.
  • Does this team have a focus? You don’t also want to be setting strategy for a team adrift as your first job. You have a lot to learn up-front about building your team and your own skills: don’t inherit a floating team at the same time. Again, not everything has to be perfect, but starting from zero overwhelms you from doing anything else.
  • Will I have the right manager? Besides the normal things you should look for in a manager, you’re looking for two extra qualities: someone ready to mentor through new challenges, and someone whose view on team leadership matches yours. You’re going to need to spend a lot of the first few months checking your intuitions on how to deal with challenging situations, and you want your manager to care and to be a sounding board you respect.

    The best way to find out if your views on management align is the same as finding out other alignments – talk to people. Current and previous employees, colleagues, etc. Ask what they think of Joe as a manager, how he deals with conflict, how he sets goals for his team, how he provides feedback, does he build consensus, overdelegate, control every decision, etc.

You will always have more than one chance to move into management, and your first job is like your first impression, both to yourself and to your company. Think through it.

(Off on vacation for a week: back after Labor Day.)

Other choices besides "Ignore" I’d like to see when getting a Facebook Friend request

August 23, 2007

“Restraining Order”
“Are You <epithet> Kidding Me”
“You Ruined My Childhood”

People Search is The New Hotness

August 22, 2007

Yesterday, Twitter sent me mail advertising its new “People Search” feature.

It’s new feature season and we’re starting with People Search.
This new Twitter feature is great for finding more people to
follow because it searches profile information such as name,
location, bio, and url. Come on by and find out if your friends
are already Twittering and you just didn’t know it!

As a techie geek, I’m obligated to love the Twitter, and I do – I tell it when I have a headache, I see what people who I never see personally are doing with their Xboxes, I click more tinyurl‘s then I ever used to do. I don’t understand why I would use both Facebook status and Twitter, but if I think hard, I’m not sure why I would use either, so I try not to think.

But here’s the thing – searching for Bob’s Twitter profile isn’t a People Search, anymore than searching for e-mail Bob sent you is a People Search. If People Search means anything, it has to mean trying to find important and canonical data about a person – practical contact information, personal history or genealogy, social network filtering, professional data, pedophile-related tag spam (I kid!), etc. It can’t mean “does Joe use service X,” even if service X has a tiny bit of profile information available other places. You wouldn’t call deliberately searching for my blog a people search, for example: you’d call it a blog search.

I’m not actually annoyed by this – I just find it interesting to see how the “People Search” term has taken off, such that it’s either a marketing checkbox or an easily-typed, if inappropriate, moniker for new features. It’s a good time to be in the People Search business – and, perhaps, a good time to look like you are.

So You Want to be a Manager: Part One – Bad, Maybe, Good

August 17, 2007

(See SYWTBAM: Prelude)

So you’re a software engineer now, and you think you want to be a manager, huh? Bully for you. Let’s figure out why.

Bad Reasons

  • I want more money/a fancier title/a promotion. If you’re working in an engineering organization where the only way you can see career progress is to move into management, get out of that organization. Organizations that value engineers provide them technical career paths – multiple engineering levels/compensation brackets, technical architecture or advisory roles, etc. They also provide opportunities outside of engineering if you want to grow other skills – product or project management, for example. If your organization doesn’t promote engineers (consistently, not theoretically), it doesn’t value them or doesn’t understand them. Find something else.
  • The code/design/whatever would be better if I was in charge. Yes, you’re 1337, I get it – you really are a better engineer than your peers (they see it too), but they don’t do things your way, and things would be better/faster/cleaner if I could tell them what to do.

    If this sounds like you, then management isn’t the right role – a good software manager doesn’t dictate technical direction to a series of monkeys, or keep their innovation box so small that they go somewhere else. You need to find ways to increase your influence over technical direction – mentoring, discussions, examples – by skills, not dictate.

  • My manager stinks and I could do a better job. Maybe so, but even if your management chain agrees, this is a blinking red light. You have no management experience, you’re going to move from being a peer to a manager, and you don’t have a good role model or someone who can help prepare you? Tough gig.

 Maybe Reasons

  • I don’t want to program anymore. Here it’s the “because” that matters. You want to learn new things or have more influence on product direction? Great. You’re tired of the drudgery of debugging and are sure that management has no such busy work? Not so good.
  • I’m ready to increase my sphere of influence. You’ve nailed your current job – everybody tells you that, too – and you’re ready to take on a bigger piece. That’s great – what you need to know now is if the best way to do that is through management. This means understanding your organization in more detail (we’ll talk about that more later), but for today, you should be thinking about who the influencers and connectors are, and if most of them are in management.

Good Reasons

  • I’m motivated to lead a great team. Three parts here: “motivated” – excited about and ready to work to new challenges and required skills; “lead” – your team will depend on you to set direction and give guidance, and you’ll be responsible for a larger goal; “great team” – ready to mentor, hire, and build relationships between great individuals to make a strong unit.

… and that’s pretty much it. The good reason is a prerequisite – if you don’t buy into all three parts, either you’re not ready for management or the management jobs you’re seeing aren’t quite right.

Did I miss something? Other reasons that come to mind?

(Breaking Blogger Rule #X – posting late Friday afternoon. Aah well.)