Long-time readers know that when I make these trips, I ask a lot of questions. Some aren’t relevant for the C-level audience; others need to be interpreted by an audience with a bit of … finesse, or, perhaps, would be great, but the answers I get just don’t fit into the piece.
That’s what we have unchartered waters for.
Zappos is a subsidiary of Amazon.com; the company was purchased in 2010, when it had just broke the $1 Billion in annual revenue threshold.
For a website primary known for selling shoes, that is, well, a lot of sales.
Not only did the folks at Zappos invite me for an onsite; they also extended the offer to include attending the all-hands meeting the day before.
Why yes, now that you mention it, I did take my video camera.
Yes, that is a man in a pepper costume.
No, I don’t really know quite what is it about, except that is the mascot for Spiceworks, the hard-working, but fun IT Forum/Community/tool that I introduced last time on Unchartered Waters, where met Darren Schoen, a trainer for Spiceworks.
Well, actually, by day, Darren is a mild-mannered IT guy, with a regular old IT job, who uses Spiceworks call-tracking management software to track calls. By night, Darren is involved in the SpiceWorks community; think of that as a mixture of support forums and Facebook.
Then, on the weekends, and sometimes vacation time, Darren becomes Spiceworks Man, offering contracted training services to help others use the platform.
I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t actually dress up in the pepper suit to become Spiceworks Man. (Mostly I just made up SpiceWorks Man, but it seemed to fit.)
Today we’ll finish up the interview, where Darren sets me straight about my expectations for training and subcontracting, and just how much time off one has to take in order do this work.
They have orange T-shirts, men in pepper costumes, and, yes, a big yellow dinosaur.
No, it’s not a children’s TV special — I am talking about Spiceworks, the quirky Helpdesk/Call Tracking system for small businesses. The one that runs for free, on your machines, on a small web-server, were all you have to put up with is a small amount of advertisement.
In other words, you gave a free database and routing system for support requests that you access through a browser. In the browser, in a pane to the right or top, the company may put advertisements, just like you would see in gmail or facebook.
We’re all for free tools here at Unchartered waters, but today I’m here to talk to you about a reverse cash flow system, one where you take something you traditionally pay to do, and instead get paid to do it.
The classic reverse cash flow scheme is taking a winter vacation in a cabin for the US Forestry Service, but a close second is offering training on products that you use everyday, preferably in exotic locations, and getting paid to travel to train.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably know that someone broke into the Linkedin Database and exported a list of accounts and encrypted passwords.
What you may not know is what, besides a sudden desire to change your linkedin password, all this actually means for you.
On it’s surface, the leak is relatively innocuous. Most users don’t store anything beyond their name, email address, and password. If the cracker managed to break the encryption and login, the best they could do is deface your account. Even if the bad guys crack into a ‘pro’ account, all they can snag is the last four digits of the credit card; you typically need the other twelve numbers, expiration date and security code to actually charge anything.
So what can we learn from this mess?
You might be surprised.
Last time I made the claim that the IT generalist was ‘going away‘, like the computer operators of old.
Things went downhill from there.
My friend Ben Rousch, wrote in a reply on Google+:
The IT generalist has his or her fingers in every technology out there. He or she understands how things are configured and how they need to interact with other things. At this time, I don’t see most young or old office workers having an interest in anything beyond getting their job done with the tools they’re given.
The white collar baby boomers have a decade or more left in them, and most of them are still hopelessly lost with any new technology. Many of them need their hand held for essentially plug and play operations like installing a new wireless router or printer. Considering the current rate of change in technology, I don’t see that getting any better.
Fifteen years ago, I had a little less weight around the middle, my hair was a slightly darker shade of brown, I had my first real suit … and I was going to my first real job interviews.
After four different interviews, two made serious offers: A computer operator for American Blind and Wallpaper Co, in Plymouth, Michigan, and a more specialized role at Professional Computing Resources (PCR), in Grand Rapids, about a two hour drive away from where I was living.
When I interviewed Jerry Barber, the President and founder of PCR, he asked me the dollar amount I wanted. I listed an entry-level figure that I thought was low enough that I wouldn’t get laughed at. Ok, ok, it wass $26K. Yes, I asked for 26 thousand dollars a year, a princely sum!
Jerry took out his calculator, said he couldn’t divide that by twelve, so cutting checks would be a problem. He offered me $28K to start on the spot – even had the letter typed up with everything but the dollar amount before I walked in the door.
Hey, it was the 1990’s, and I wasn’t asking for much. “Those were the days.”
I asked for a week to think on it.
Last time I wrote about the CityTime boondoggle, that spent over $700 million from an initial budget of $68 million, and seemed primarily designed to separate the people of New York City from their money.
It seems most of the folks involved in the decision making process had *cough* incentives to ignore problems.
You can’t automate yourself out of this folks, nor, if your auditors are on the dole, can you audit or checklist your way out.
This is a problem that pure IT can’t solve.
It’s the settlement that blows me away, though. Management of the city was willfully avoiding the truth for years at a time. You don’t get to turn your back on a project, allow it to fall apart, then turn around and ask for your money back.
Or, well, I guess you do.
(The word you are thinking of, by the way, is probably “governance.” That is the process by which the directors of an organization control it. Governance is not a meeting, nor a series of reports, nor extra work inflicted on the organization; it is, instead, the process by which the leaders govern. And it didn’t happen in New York City, and yet, somehow, the leadership is getting ~75% of their investment back.)
First, I get back from Las Vegas, a town teeming with the spirit of the age, that seems to promise that you can do anything and not get caught. Some folks at the show even dressed like it.
Except, of course, this is the age of Facebook, digital cameras the size of your pinkie, and “tagging.”
Let’s face it — What happens in Vegas shows up on Facebook.
And believe me, it does. Two things hit me hard when I came home, one in the mail, the other on the internet.
LAS VEGAS, NV – With a few hundred booths at interop this year, it’s no surprise that some vendors would augment their staff with temporary employees designed to draw the attention of the crowd.
Given that IT is something like 90% male, it isn’t a huge surprise that many of these are female.
However, I have to say, it was a pretty big personal surprise to me how some of them were dressed.
Mini-skirts with fishnet stockings, tight racing outfits (with the zipper half-way down), and midriff-baring leather biker tank-tops. I can’t make this up, and I wasn’t the only person to notice.
When I initially saw this, I was more than a little shocked. The journalist in me took over, and I took a few pictures for the blog, to talk about how horrible it all is.
I have honestly never felt dirty as a journalist.
I don’t need to publish those pictures; if you want to see them, you can go Google “Booth Babe Interop” yourself and see plenty.
More than don’t need to publish, it would be a sort of exploitation to publish them; I’d be ‘outraged’ yet using the pictures to generate clicks, and I think my readers deserve better.
Why the Babes, Race Cars and Motor Bikes
Apparently because they work.
No, really, seriously, having attractive females and race cars seems to draw people into the booth, so the vendor can scan a badge, and, to some extent, scanning a badge is a numbers game that leads to sales.
It’s sad, and it encourages the sort of objectivism of women that leads to the brogramming mentality, which makes it harder for women to enter the workforce, which leads to all male conferences, and all-male attendees will pay attention to … you get it.
My objection today is not a PC one. My hobby horse is not getting more women in tech (though I think that is noble), but instead that “because it works” is lazy. Should we do something silly, ridiculous, inappropriate, and insulting just because it works?
In January, I was in times square, and a guy handed me a flier for a strip club. I looked him in the eye, and said “You can do something better with your life than this.” His reply boiled down to something like “Hey man, it pays the bills.”
A Better Way
Instead of pandering with pictures, please allow me to tell you a story about a company that is doing it one better: ExtraHop, a company that provides tools for application performance management and monitoring. Like everyone else, Extrahop realized that they needed to do something different, to get people to at least listen to the pitch, so they hired a national champion yo-yo player to do tricks and demos in an appropriate way.
That was worth seeing, and I caught it on film:
Way to go, Extrahop. You actually thought about how to deliver something to reach the audience in a way that was professional, meaningful, fun, and I could take pictures and tell my family without feeling … icky.
Let’s all find out Extrahops, and celebrate them.
Better yet: Let’s go make the world a better place ourselves, with this as an example.
A few of us are lucky enough to attend professional conferences … some aren’t so lucky.
I spent the last week at INTEROP, in Las Vegas, a conference with an early-bird price of $2,800.
Of course, that is before Airfare, hotel, food, or any taxi fees. So unless you live within commuting distance, I expect the total cost would be more in the $4,000 range – plus there’s the work back at home you’ll be missing. The boss is going to ask “what do I get?”
What do you tell him?
For that matter, what can you even expect?
I came to interopt with my video camera on to give you some answers.