Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Larry Page declaring war on both corporate and human aging

52% of the year 2000 Fortune 500 companies no longer exist today -- why?  Just like humans have a life cycles, companies do too -- large companies cannot sustain success without continued innovation.  At the same time, it is extremely difficult for any large companies to keep innovating out of their comfort zones of existing business.


I had an opportunity to lead some of the most exciting cloud products in Cisco's history, yet I know first-hand how challenging (and rewarding!) it is to innovate within a large company.  There is always resource, business model, skillset, toolset, rewarding system, and most importantly mindset conflict between keeping established business happy vs. branching into new product areas.

Historically, "spin-xyz's" are some of the interesting answers for big companies to combat "Innovator's Dilemma".    For instance, Fairchild did a successful "spin-off" and created Intel, Cisco did a nice "spin-in" of Nuova and created a multi-billion dollar compute business from scratch, now Google apparently is trying out a new model, which I am calling it as "spin-up", with the Alphabet vs. Google announcement.

Time Magazine covered Google two years ago when Google started tackling the human aging problem with calico.  What was super amazing 24 hours ago was that Larry Page officially declared war over corporate aging too!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Influence-by-Culture vs. Influence-by-Bureaucracy

One of the largest hi-tech companies on the planet now allows coworkers to see expense reports of each other's.  It is a brilliant move because it is always better to manage by peers than by process/managers, and it is always better to influence by culture than influence by bureaucracy/process.


As a leader, there are two methods to influence the troop:
  1. Influence via culture, lead by example, establish a "social norm", and leverage the bottom-up social control system; Or
  2. Influence via middle management, rely on the management team for practice/policy creation/enforcement, and leverage the "command and control".
These two methods are complementary to each other a great deal, however whenever it is possible, it is often more effective to manage the team via peer pressure (culture), than via command and control (bureaucracy).

When there is a great and cohesive culture, magic will often happen: expense reports will be done right, products will be designed better, and customer satisfaction will be higher too.

Legendary former CEO of IBM Lou Gerstner once said, "it took me to age 55 to figure that out, culture is everything."

Award-winning journalist Bryce Hoffman recorded Ford's turnaround story in his bestselling "American Iron", and he noted once, "The biggest and most important difference between Alan Mulally and his predecessors is that he attacked the root of the problem: Ford's corporate culture."

I personally lived through VMware's hyper growth period when we beat software giant Microsoft and grew from a start-up to a multi-billion dollar company.   I was often asked why we were able to build a superior product while Microsoft had lots of smart engineers too, and they had far more resources.

In my opinion, it is because we had a better engineering culture first and foremost -- the peer pressure we had, the social norm we lived by, the engineering day-to-day practice we followed, the laser focus we had in our execution, all of the culture stuff shaped us a great deal to deliver one of the most amazing products of the past decade.

While some "command and control" by middle management/bureaucracy is still necessary to provide scaling as well as check-and-balance, leaders should not forget about the magical wand of "influencing by culture".

PS: Special thanks to Stanford Professor Charles O’Reilly for my learning on culture from him!
PPS: While in theory there is no necessary correlation, but in practice there is a tendency to see more influence-by-culture in an "agile" team and more influence-by-bureaucracy in a "waterfall" team.



Saturday, June 27, 2015

Discrepancy In "Outcome" vs. "Satisfaction"

Most of us had some experiences in interviewing for a job and discussing the financial package with the manager/recruiter in the end.  It is super intriguing to learn how the dialogue itself makes such a tremendous impact to the final happiness level of the candidate ("satisfaction"), than the financial package numbers are able to impact ("outcome").


Non-intuitively at all, studies (*) have shown again and again and again, there is often even a big inversion between "outcome" and "satisfaction".   Higher financial package, more disgruntled employees? What's going on here?

And the million dollar question is how to get the upper hand in this process?

For instance, is it a good idea to make the first move for the salary number?  Conventional wisdom is first-mover loses, which is true in many cases.  But it depends on many many other factors, such as how thorough prep work either party has done, the personality of either party, the expectation of either party, so on and so on...

For another example, is it good idea to discuss the entire package together or discuss different line items seperately (base salary vs. sign-on bonus vs. relo pkg vs. start date vs. stock options vs. ...)?

Job offer negotiation is indeed an art.  I personally hired or attempted to hire hundreds of people into my organization over the years, and I can testify the existence of the "satisfaction/outcome inversion syndrome".  It is amazing for me personally, given my engineering/rationalness oriented mentality!:)

The more profound take-away is that, nothing discussed here is limited to the job offer negotiation.  Rather, it is about our everyday life, every negotiation, and frankly everything.

(*)  This post is about "job offer negotiation satisfaction", NOT "job satisfaction", which is a whole different topic.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Disruption in Security Industry -- Reflection on RSA 2015

RSA 2015 was one of the best technology conferences I have been to in recent years.   Here are my top 3 observations:



Public admission that "the perimeter is gone".
    • Make no mistake about it, much of the security industry is still selling the "perimeter" boxes at the show big time, but I am impressed by the public acknowledgement nevertheless by the likes of RSA, Cisco, CA about the notion of "the perimeter is gone".
    • Perhaps perimeter's existence is a fallacy to begin with, but it takes a lot of courage from the "traditional" vendors to come forward and admit.
    • “The largest enterprises with the most sophisticated, ‘next-generation’ security tools were not able to stop miscreants from making off with millions of dollars, personal information, and sensitive secrets and damaging reputations,” Amit Yoran, the president of RSA, said in his keynote speech Tuesday.   
    • Amit's statement is profound and reflects the awkward state of the current the enterprise and data center. Disruption in security is about survival for the customers!
Amazing energy and advancing in "cloud security".

    • The energy is definitely moving away from the on-prem solution (remember the days where DPI is the biggest showing off moment not long ago?) but more onto solutions taking care of SaaS, public cloud security etc..  
    • One simply cannot take the on-prem security architecture to the cloud. Disruption in security is about architectural necessity.  
"Security DevOps" ain't just a dream.

    • I would have thought security team is the last one embracing devops/agile but it is safe to say I underestimated the progress so far.
    • Intuit guys blew me away with their learning through DevSecOps. 
    • Silos prohibits sharing and slows business things down. The disruption in security is as much about mentality shift as about technology transformation. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dare Not To Blink

Last night was so special, not only because it was Valentine's Day, but also my son lost his first tooth.  To me it was a huge and completely unexpected milestone, because I feel like he, without any signal, suddenly became a "big boy".   I feel like I had not spent enough time with him in his little baby age, and now that stage has gone for good.


Software industry is the same.  Disruption happens super fast around us, and super unexpectedly.  "Software defined everything" moves so fast that no one can possibly claim catching every moment.

The key is to always keep the perspective on the high order bit big picture, reflect frequently on our amazing journey, and dare not to blink our eyes!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Good managers influence; Great leaders inspire!

I watched Simon Sinek's TED talk video of "How Great Leaders Inspire Action" and it immediately reminded me of an unforgettable personal learning experience I have had.



Many years ago, I hired a young engineer into my team.  He became a star player very quickly and delivered amazing results with all the complex problems I threw at him.  When one day he asked me what he could improve, the only thing I was able to tell him was to talk to customers and figure out more customer pain points.

Unfortunately, he resigned before long.  He told me that he was thankful to my great impact to this first job he had but he wanted to work for a company with a household name that his Mom knows.  In case you are laughing -- he was the very first attrition I ever had as a manager!  I don't know about others but I was completely devastated when I lost a person from my team for the first time and not to mention here's a star engineer.  It was truly a big sad deal to me personally!

I finally asked him a question point blank, "what made you to start thinking about a new job?"  He looked at me and said something I would never forget for the rest of my career. "Howie, remember you told me in our 1x1 to spend more time in talking to customers. But I'm just a programmer, I don't understand why it is my job to talk to customers and I'm afraid I could not live up to your expectation.  Just when I felt I was a bit lost, a good friend from Apple called me."

Wow... An engineer became vulnerable for another job because I was merely telling him "what" to do, and apparently did not connect/resonate with him on the "why" in his heart.  As a result, he became less certain and less engaged.   Certainly this experience profoundly changed how I engage with my team for years to come.

Many years later, I am watching Simon's TED talk and like his wisdom so much -- don't hire those people who can do the job but hire those who believe what you believe; inspiring leaders communicate with people on the purpose, belief, and cause first and foremost, and then the tactical "what" and "how".

Had I learned much earlier this one difference between managers who influence ("what" and "how") vs. leaders who inspire ("why"), perhaps there would have been one less devastated person on the planet? :)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Anniversary Reflection Chap 2: "Cloud First" Transformation

First off, Cisco's President Rob Lloyd announced today a number of Intercloud related news that my team has been working on last year:
  • Rob announced more than 30 new partners have been added for Cisco's InterCloud platform. The new partners include BT, Deutsche Telekom, NTT, and Equinix, and collectively bring 250 data centers in 50 countries.
  • Rob also announced the General Availability of Intercloud Fabric, a game-changing technology that enables seamless, secure workload mobility between public and private clouds—the foundation for hybrid cloud management. 

Secondly, some more colors about my own Intercloud Fabric engineering journey at Cisco.
  • To the external audience, the both simple and complex problem my team is solving:
    • On one hand, CIOs are unequivocally saying "I want cloud", but on the other hand CSOs are telling CIOs "slow down".
    • Intercloud Fabric is giving the peace of mind, visibility, control, and compliance back to the CSOs/CIOs, so that their journey towards a Hybrid Cloud can truly be accelerated.  A CTO from one of the top Fortune 500 (cannot say the name but it is synonymous to the copy machine) told us, "I can now migrate my data center in 6 months instead of 2 years."
  • To the internal audience, the very transformation my team is going through:
    • Just like a few other very successful hi-tech companies are going through, we would not have gone to where we are today and will not reach where we want to get to next few years without transforming our own engineering team.  
    • It is a challenging but very rewarding exercise.  The priorities and skillset requirements for the engineering tasks are morphing, the user experience expectation is changing very quickly, the R&D model needs to be a lot more "agile", and ultimately a "Cloud First" model.
Lastly, it is a humbling experience to see a semi-skunkworks project grow into the top initiative within Cisco and the entire industry.   This is precisely why I'm so passionate and proud of my team -- they are truly delivering something amazing that is making a profound impact to the entire cloud ecosystem.