Tips for Michaels

When Kim and I started living together, we had to figure out the shared rules of the house. Back in 2004, Kim provided a handy list for me:

  • General
    • Don’t stomp or “walk heavy.”
    • When you answer the phone don’t belt out a loud “HELLO!” directly into the caller’s ear.
    • Every item in the house has its place.
    • Don’t “flick” things off your fingers onto the floor or sink or any other place. Use towels.
    • Always keep the shower curtain spread out, across the entire shower, not bunched up on one end.
    • Never set drinks down on board games.
  • Fashion
    • Always wear a white undershirt.
    • Don’t wear your collar up.
    • In summer, wear light colored clothes. In winter, wear dark colored clothes.
    • When “dressing up,” your belt should match your shoes.
    • If you tuck any shirt into blue-jeans, you look like a cowboy. That’s not good.
    • Tucking shirts into khakis is OK.
    • Don’t stretch the collar of your undershirt, and don’t wear undershirts with stretched out collars.
  • The Kitchen
    • Never, ever, ever use anything metal (spoons, spatulas, sponges) on the pots and pans.
    • Don’t clean the stainless steel stovetop with a wire sponge.
    • Bag all your perishable trash in air-tight bags before throwing it away to prevent smells.
    • Don’t buy cans with dents in them.
    • Place knife blades up in the dishwasher. Forks should be upright too.
    • Don’t let one dish block another in the dishwasher.
    • Clean off dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.
    • Never wash your hands in the kitchen sink.
    • Don’t stab the cutting board with a knife, and leave it standing there.
  • Laundry
    • You have to separate lights and darks.
    • Lights: warm water.
    • Darks: cold water.
    • Check the tags on every item if it’s not yours and you don’t know how they should be cleaned, because several of my expensive clothes have been ruined because they’re dry clean only.
    • Put water in first, then detergent, then clothes.
    • Don’t put black clothes in the dryer. They fade faster.
    • Don’t let wet clothes sit in the washer too long before putting them in the dryer.
    • Don’t leave clothes in the dryer too long or they’ll get wrinkled.
  • Eating and Food
    • Don’t smack.
    • Don’t slurp. Even coffee.
    • Don’t kiss people with a wet mustache.
    • Putting hot sauce/bbq sauce/A1/ketchup on difficult to make meals may be seen as an insult.
    • When grocery shopping, give the produce a good look-over before buying.
    • Don’t put heavy foods on top of squish-able foods in the grocery cart or the refrigerator.
  • Social Stuff
    • You can’t ever leave without saying goodbye to everybody. If this is an issue, start saying goodbye 30 minutes before leaving.
    • You can call people just for short conversations. You don’t have to talk a long time with them. [Michael says: except your mother.]
    • Look people in the eye when you talk to them.
    • Don’t talk about work all the time.
    • Don’t mumble.
    • Don’t put your hand in front of your mouth while talking.
    • Smile and be friendly.
    • Don’t interrupt people.
    • Look interested in the conversation that you’re a part of.
    • Don’t be so stand-offish when people go to hug you.
    • Don’t be weird.
    • When invited to a bar, don’t worry if you don’t know everyone or are afraid it may not be a good time, because “drinkin’s drinkin’.” (Nick’s tip)
  • Personal Hygene
    • When you’re cleaning your ears with a Q-tip, lock the bathroom door.
    • Keep a fresh breath. Look into gum.
    • Trim nose hairs.
    • Keep beard and mustache nicely trimmed.
    • Keep toe and finger nails nicely trimmed at all times.

Ode to Airports

An airport is a time pause. It’s an excuse to not stress or try. You’re trapped in the system and will eventually get there. You can’t leave or you’ll have to re-humiliate yourself through security. Airports are even powerful enough to make you cancel meetings if your flight is late, canceled…or you pretend it is. Your wedding could be delayed because of the airport and no one would really fault you.

Everyone is transiting, coming and going, and while the entry fee might exclude the very poor (and the super rich fly their own), you see everyone.

At a major hub, you’ll see people from all over: the guy with the “Ragin’ Cajun” hat, domestic and international grandmas, the harried big city lawyer, the dad-jeans set, and the local staff. People dress in all manners of business-business or super casual for comfort.

The mix of experienced and novice travels creates a crackly dynamic, paired with either overly friendly or direct gate agents. While some can escape to airline lounges, even those environments are little different than the actual terminal: you just get much friendly staff and free drinks and peanuts.

Airports can be calming if you look at them as escapes and the sort of delightful, enforced boredom that I understand meditation to be.

They can be toxic if you stress out about delays, lines, other people, overhead bin space, and how flight delays effect your plans outside the airport. And they can be distracting like an opium den if you let their peaceful hum shut-out your real life.

Don’t ruin your time at the airport. If you let it, it’ll make sure you get back out right where you wanted to go.

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. For more than the five minutes above, there’s a longer version of the talk as well. Check out the slides as well.


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

  • My write-ups of these and other BigCo patterns and anti-patterns.
  • The book Moral Mazes, an old, but excellent guide to understanding how people in company’s think and, therefor, how companies operate in the real world.
  • “War Stories from the God Pod: Strategies for killing high stakes Executive presentations” – Matt Baker’s excellent tips

Please teach my kid Spanish, or, What have the Romans ever done for us?

I got a survey from my son’s school district about foreign language preferences. I was predictably shocked that Spanish wasn’t listed in the rankings we were asked to do:

To be post-PC, I suppose Spanish isn’t a foreign language in the US, esp. in Texas. However, I wanted to drive home my point so left this comment.

I really, really would like my son (and daughter when she’s old enough) to be taught Spanish in school. I could go look up the stats, but given our geography (our hemisphere, really), Spanish and English seem like the most useful, functional languages.

I only know terrible gringo-Spanish and I wish I knew it much better. When I went to school, we were deathly afraid that the Japanese were going to take over, so I took Japanese in junior high, then French in high school. I finally wised up and took Spanish in college and now speak my crappy Spanish and barely understand it when others speak it. Spanish is such a valuable language for not only everyday life, but also understanding, emphasizing, and therefor beneficially living with all our the Spanish speaking fellow citizens. I’m sure Chinese will be handy, which is why I ranked it as first in the options given, but if I could rank Spanish as my preferred #1–10, then I’d list Chinese as #11, followed by the ordering I had.

Latin seems like a waste, and I’m an incredibly jingoistic about Western culture. If a dead language had to be taught, I’d rather Ancient Greek was taught so that kids could read Greek texts in their original state: I don’t think the Romans did that much that’s beyond remixes of Greek things (Marcus Aurelius and Lucretius aside) — I mean, can you imagine reading Plato, Aristotle, Heraclitius, and Homer in the original Greek? It’d be amazing!

Apologies for the “open letter,” please read it in the appropriate voice.

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: 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.


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.

Coté Memo #078: Spiceworld 2015, Spiceworks Momentum, Enterprise Use, and DevOps

Tech & Work World

I was at Spiceworld, briefly, last week. This is Spiceworks’ big user, annual conference in Austin; they have one in London as well. I’ve followed Spiceworks for many years (from RedMonk to 451 Research) and have always liked their IT management approach: their business model is to be the Facebook of IT by giving away the systems management software for free and then selling access to the users to advertisers, vendors, and others. They also have a data practice which has some interesting, deep pools of data.

Last week they announced several new services and features, and also made some exiting ones free. They have a hosted (cloud!) offering that I’d missed seeing; that’s one of the things they made free (down from $10/month). As ever, I think their ambition is to monitor and manage as much IT as their user base wants. They don’t always provide the deepest functionality (saving that for their “real” customers who can sell more sophisticated tools into the user base), but they balance the “you get what you pay for” product management track well as their user momentum shows:

Spiceworks momentum, as of 2015//

The numbers from there are not entirely consistent as they’re a mix of “users,” “monthly unique page views,” and whatever Spiceworks told me in briefings. That is, the thing counted has likely changed over time. I feel like getting a million “users” over a year is high (from 5m to 6m), but, whatever: just check out the general shape of the thing and you realize there’s something going on there.

Some other momentum figures:

  • One good, recent figure is “2,000 new members a day.”
  • Another one from Sep, 2014: Spiceworks being used by 1.8m organizations.
  • Spiceworks currently has “over 400” employees, up from 225 in Nov 2013.

One theme this year was the expansion, up-market into “enterprise.” If I recall, Spiceworks considers “enterprise” to be 500+ employees, and the rest is “SMB.” For them, that’s fair, but be warned if you think of enterprise as something more like 10,000+ employees.

Over time, the share between “small” and enterprise has been growing:

  • 2009: 13% enterprise, 87% small (from my notes)
  • 201?: 20% enterprise, 80% small (“previous to 2015”)
  • 2015: 40% enterprise, 60% small (from SpiceWorld 2015)

This year, they reported 71% penetration into F500 accounts.

The phrase “DevOps” was flashed up on the screen a few times and mentioned in meetings. In general, I see “DevOps” as only being applicable to organizations who are working on and deploying custom written software, their own software. (Sure, you could adopt the same principals for packaged software, SaaS, etc….but would you?). As it expands more, Spiceworks could concern itself with managing custom written software – somehow – which would be interesting and consistent with their general strategy of grabbing as much IT department land as possible.

Quick Hits




Making users more productive

“We’ve come to understand that productivity software is always evolving, and it’s our responsibility to bring the customer along a journey of constant improvement as opposed to dropping major releases every few years.”

Two points:

  • That stance is fun: we need to put in new features, and we need to educate users about them. This is a tricky position: users don’t know what they want (when they want to stay the same). But I think for productivity software it’s true, if done right. (Remember when people went ape-shit over “the ribbon”?)
  • Good job for Javier and the team. It’s a long way from systems management!

I’ve used Acompli/Outlook for awhile. It’s great stuff. I like the feature, but also the fact that they keep evolving it and working on it. Despite it being an acquisition, infeelnlike it

Digital transformation progress report – Home Depot builds a digital future

“Last year [2014], about 40% of all the orders generated on actually finished in one of our orange box stores. Customers find it incredibly convenient to be able to pick up a product when they wanted to. They didn’t have to worry about whether or not it was on their doorstep. And so that is a great opportunity not only to sell more product, but to drive traffic to our stores, sell them additional product when they come in and pick that product up.”

Digital transformation progress report – Home Depot builds a digital future