From Silos to Services: Cloud Computing for the Enterprise

Oct 16 2014   3:00PM GMT

EMC {code} – The Next 5-10 Year Journey

Brian Gracely Brian Gracely Profile: Brian Gracely

EMC World
Open source

At least a couple times a week, colleagues or people within the industry will ask for career advice. What should I do next? Should I work for this company? Where do you think the industry is going next? What’s the next cool technology to learn? I’ve written about this a couple times before. It’s never a one answer fits-all conversation. There are always critical factors to take into consideration – What’s the opportunity? What skills do you have today? What skills are you learning? Where do you live, and does this matter? What’s the next step going to be after this one?

Before I get into the discussion I’ve been having with myself lately, I thought I’d share a story from many years ago. I went to college to study finance and marketing. When I graduated, the jobs in technology were more interesting than cold-calling for stock brokers, so I threw away an education (or so I thought) and jumped into technology. That was scary. I didn’t know the 7-layer OSI model from the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but I studied like crazy and loved the pace of change and competition. After a couple years of doing sales and consulting, my boss came in my office on a Friday afternoon. He said that I had three choices: [1] move to Massachusetts for a corporate job (burr…cold!!), [2] be fired, or [3] as a long-shot, take a couple engineering classes and be a field engineer installing networking equipment. I had 15 minutes to decide. Sometimes life is funny and complicated. I chose option #3. That was scary. For the next 6 months I flew almost every day of every week, reading manuals on the flights and learning by fire about the technology. It was painful, but I learned how to learn. This was the greatest experience I’ve ever had and I’m grateful to have stumbled into it. It was 20 years ago and I had no planning that it was coming.

Fast forward 20 years and quite a lot have changed. I’ve been lucky to have been able to use that “ability to learn” to transition back and forth between technical, marketing and “other” jobs, across multiple technology companies. During that time, life changed and priorities changed. Learning became easier, but planning became more complicated. 20 years ago, technology transitions happened over 10-20 years. Mainframe to Mini to PC to Web. I now believe that similar transitions happen 2x as fast, taking 5-10 years. The economics and supply chains have been radically impacted by things like Open-Source Software (OSS) and Public Cloud Computing. [Tip: Download a copy of “The New Kingmakers” by Stephen O’Grady from Redmonk to get a better appreciation of that change.]

Now comes the tricky part. On one hand, experience gives you valuable insight into trends and how ecosystems work. To some extent, it allows you to be better at seeing into the future. But in our industry, the farther you venture out into the future, the more uncertainty this creates. Uncertainty of stability or salary or focus. But it also potentially positions you to capitalize when that future becomes reality. The trick is timing.

About 4 years ago, I came to a distinct realization – most of the technology I had been associated with (hardware, infrastructure, collaboration/communication, packaged software) were being significantly disrupted by modular software, open-source, platforms and public cloud computing. Disrupted so much that I decided to wade out naked into the deep end of the frigid technology pool and see how uncomfortable I could get. With a colleague (Aaron Delp, @aarondelp) that had a similar perspective, we started randomly calling really smart and interesting people and asked if we could pick their brains. It was the worst elevator pitch in the history of technology. “Can we have 1hr of your valuable time, to teach two idiots about your expertise, for no compensation?”.  The only value we offered was that we would record the conversations and freely share them on the Internet with a community of techies that might also be interested. Maybe, somehow, it might get the experts some valuable exposure. Hence The Cloudcast podcast was born. Over time the topics of discussion evolved from Cloud Computing to Open-Source to APIs. In the last year, we’ve decided to pivot towards more software-centric discussions, once again trying to find knowledge in discomfort. For some reason, people keep answering the phone when we call and ask for their time and expertise.

20 years ago, I had no idea that my boss would come into my office on a Friday afternoon and change my career path. I wasn’t at all prepared for that.

Fast forward to the present, and I had a similar experience again. This time it was a random phone call on a Friday afternoon from an SVP of my company. He asked me one simple, but complex question – “How do we better engage with developers and communities?”. We talked for a few minutes about ideas. They were simple but focused ideas, resulting in a couple slides. By Sunday, I was busy and had forgotten about those slides. It wasn’t my (direct) problem. A few weeks later I got another phone call, this time from the staff in the CEO’s office, telling me that it was decided that the potential to execute against those ideas would be my new job. Go make it happen, we’ll provide support and air cover, because it won’t be simple.

[Disclosure: My full-time employer is EMC.]

Opportunity and change are funny sometimes. In no way was I prepared for that specific conversation. That was scary. But unlike 20 years before, I felt like the previous 4 years of podcast learning and community interaction had partially prepared me for how to make this successful. Opportunities like this can’t just about an individual, rather they must involve a community to be successful. I have a clear understanding of how ecosystems, communities and platforms work. I have an understanding of both the business and value-creation models, which aren’t always aligned in traditional ways. And I can point to examples of friends and colleagues that have been foundational in creating the new software-driven economy.

So going forward, I’m now leading a small group of uber-smart and passionate people to go do some things that are absolutely necessary, but may sound partially crazy. We call it EMC {code} – Community Onramp for Developer Enablement. We’re going to take a traditional technology company and drag them kicking-and-screaming into the modern software world – at least in some areas. And we’ll be able to leverage the massive amount of engineering talent within EMC to bring a lot of good things to share with the community.

  • We’re going to be present, active and contributing in multiple developer and open-source communities.
  • We’re going to provide FREE, PUBLIC, online sandbox environments for developers, ISVs and DevOps groups to play with our software – experimentation without risk or cost.
  • We’re going to contribute code from EMC back to the community. Some of this will be product-centric, while other code will be from projects that have been internally incubated and will be useful across multiple domains.
  • We’re going to make our documentation more community-oriented and transparent.
  • We’re going to allow people to contribute to our projects, as well as bring recognition to their projects.
  • We’ll be hosting and sponsoring events, meetups, hackathons and contests to collaboratively explore new ideas, collectively solve problems and create some cool new things.
  • We’ll be creating, sponsoring and funding new opportunities for existing and new developers (universities, research, etc.)
  • We’re already planning a bunch of very cool developer-centric activities, talk tracks, demos and partner/community interactions for EMC World in May 2015 – but I’ll leave some of that as a surprise for next year.
  • We have a few other fun ideas planned that will look nothing like the Black Box – Blue Light company you knew in the past….

So the journey continues, but now it goes down a different path. Just like the last time, I’m not really sure where it will eventually end up. It’ll be a lot of hard work, some ups and down, some good luck and bad breaks and hopefully a few surprises. You never know when a door will open, or close, but sometimes you just have to charge through it when it cracks open.

And I’m sure it’ll involve calling up more experts and interesting people to ask them to share their knowledge and passion. Hopefully they’ll take our calls. That’s the coolest part of our industry – the challenges are so great that people are willing to share because we’re collectively more powerful than any individual or company.

So if you ask me for advice on what’s next and I don’t have a great answer for you, maybe this will help you understand why. Things change really fast. You never know where the next opportunity will come from, or how fast it will happen. Sometimes it’s dumb luck or just right-time-right-place luck. All you can do is figure out how much time you’re willing to pay forward (usually for $free$) and how much you’re willing to contribute back to communities. It might not always be immediate, but it usually does pay off. People pay attention and seek to work with others that share the passion.

And keep throwing some breadcrumbs forward down the trail. The journey never goes backwards.

2  Comments on this Post

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  • Ben Rubenstein
    Great story, Brian, and great lessons for anyone thinking about their own career trajectory (as everyone should be). Your new opportunity sounds exciting and challenging. 
    11,260 pointsBadges:
  • ToddN2000
    It's never to late to make a change. I switched my career path at age 49. I was "locked" into a technology that did not seem to have a long range career path. The new position offer a lot more challenge and brighter future with current trends and technologies.
    135,295 pointsBadges:

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