How To Survive & Thrive In A Big Company

These are my tips on getting by in a large organization. They’re intended for people who are working in less than ideal circumstances – you know, there’s no leaked “culture deck” or well-stocked snacks. Check out the slides as well.

Abstract

If you work at a small, cool company, you can skip this talk. The rest of us in large, slow moving companies that rely on meetings, email, and inbox 2,000 to get the daily work done need some therapy and advice for thriving in big, “dumb” companies. I’ve worked in such companies and figured out how to thrive in the “back to back meetings” world we’re taught to avoid. I’ll tell you my tactics. Ideally, you’d adapt the no manager GitHub dream, adapt the Spotify and Netflix cultures of awesomeness. Indeed. However, oftentimes there are good reasons to stay in the relatively dysfunctional companies you’re at. They’re big, slow moving, and seem to use Microsoft Office as their core innovation engine. If people at your work always talk about “aircraft carriers” this is the talk for you. For whatever reasons you’re there, why not make the best of it and learn how to get along and even thrive instead of letting your head explode in rage. This talk will go over what I’ve learned working in large companies from my strange adventure working with a bunch of MBAs in corporate strategy at Dell, to working with large companies as an industry analyst, to working with marketing and product people at large companies.

Recommended more’s

Want something shorter?

Check out the 5 minute recording of me giving this talk at DevOpsDays Seattle, and slides.

Blogging is a zombie

I’ve started posting a lot of stuff over in Medium, here’s the URL if you want to keep up: https://medium.com/@cote. It does well: there’s lots of evidence that people actually read and interact with the content there, unlike here.

For many years – ever since I left RedMonk around 2011 – blogging hasn’t really “worked” for me. It’s mostly because I don’t try very hard at marketing it. That said, the “lazy baseline” was low long ago when RSS existing and there was that automated channel for distribution. And there was little competition from the behemoth social sites (on the other hand, I don’t think “normals” read as broadly as they do now). Now, little, lazy blog sites like mine are don’t perform well. I look at my blog as more a system of record. Well, sort of: I’m forever on the search for something that would combine together all the content I do in one place – life-streaming they used to call it – but nothing ever seems to pan out.

Benefits

First, Medium has a great writing and pretty good reading experience. The reading experience is limited by the content people put in there and what’s available, but the actual process of finding and reading stuff is good. It’s like the problem I have with Flipboard: nice experience, but until it integrates with Feedly in this post Google Reader world, it’s missing the primary way I read “the news.”

The way you can post to other “collections”/publications is interesting. In a work context, this means I can write content on my own and then have it sucked into my work’s content whirly-gig. If you think a lot of about ownership and control of your content – and it’s life-span after whatever commercial interests were involved in it’s creation…that’s intriguing! Like, what if all my 451 Research and RedMonk content was in Medium, in my account, rather than theirs but had been published behind the 451 firewall and in the RedMonk publication.

Finally, there’s that freaking out about “ownership.” I was brought up in the first generation of web content producers and one of our taboos is posting to “other” sites. You want to own all your URLs, as it were. That’s fine for Ben, as it were, but as even he explains (I forget which episode, sorry), if Medium has just a few more features around it (I’d think a subscription for access to content feature, mostly), he’d use it.

And, hey, if Dave Winer uses it, it must be OK.

What’s going on over there

Anyhow, nothing is actually “dead,” or going away, I’ll probably just post a lot more “original content” over there. There’ll still be podcast show notes and other things, and pointers to those posts as makes sense. To that end, here’s the recent things I’ve put up over on Medium:

  1. All the taboos about working at home
  2. How Microservices Fixes The Slow Train Problem
  3. Crafting the Cloud Native Organization
  4. Day two problems
  5. Self-motivated teams lead to better software

Solving the conundrums of our father’s strategies

So here we are, as of this writing a good twenty-nine years after the “hatchet job,” and Kodak has declared bankruptcy. The once-humming factories are literally being blown up, and the company’s brand, which Interbrand had valued at $14.8 billion in 2001, fell off its list of the top one hundred brands in 2008, with a value of only $3.3 billion. 6 It really bothered me that the future was so visible in 1980 at Kodak, and yet the will to do anything about it did not seem to be there. I asked Gunther recently why, when he saw the shifts coming so clearly, he did not battle harder to convince the company to take more forceful action. He looked at me with some surprise. “He asked me my opinion,” he said, “and I gave it to him. What he did beyond that point was up to him.” Which is entirely characteristic of scientists like Gunther. They may see the future clearly, but are often not interested in or empowered to lead the charge for change. Why do I know this story so well? He happens to be my father. —The End of Competitive Advantage, Rita McGrath.

You don’t get a sudden, personal turn like that in business books much. It evoked one of the latent ideas in my head: much of my interest in “business” and “strategy” comes from dad’s all too typical career at IBM in the 80s and 90s.

Sometime in the early 80s – or even late 70s? – my dad started working at IBM in Austin on the factory floor, printed circuit boards I believe. He’d tell me that he’d work the late shift, third shift and at 6am in the morning, stop by 7-11 with his buddies to get a six pack and wait in the parking lot of the Poodle Dog bar for it to open at 8.

He moved up to management, and eventually into planning and forecasting. All for hardware. I remember he got really excited in the late 80s when he got a plotter at home so he could work on foils, that is, transparencies. We call these “slides” now: you can still get a that battlefield-twinkle out of old IBM’ers eyes if you say “foils.”

Eventually, he lived the dictum of “I’ve Been Moved” and went up to the research triangle for a few years, right before IBM divested of his part of the company selling it to Multek (at least he got to return to Austin).

As you can guess, his job changed from a long-term one where his company had baseball fields and family fun days (where we have an outdoor mall, The Domain now) to the usual transient, productivity harvesting job. He moved over to Polycom eventually where he spent the rest of his career helping manage planning and shipping, on late night phone calls to Thailand manufacturers.

In addition to always having computers around – IBM PCs of course! – there was always this thing of how a large tech company evolves and operates. At the time, I don’t think I paid much attention to it, but it’s a handy reference now that I spend most of my time focused on the business of tech.