Sharing graduation with technology

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My oldest child is graduating from high school in a few weeks. I don’t yet know all the emotions that will come over me, but I’ve started to feel some of them as I prepare for the event. Technology is playing a role in how I prepare for the event. But it’s just an enabler of sorts for a few things. The real event will be based on relationships, sharing experiences with others, and ceremonies.

The graduation letter

One tradition during the last week leading up to graduation is the presentation of a letter to the graduate. We sent invitations to family members and friends who would thought might like to leave a letter for her. The letter can be about anything, including advice, memories, congratulations, and well wishes.

I used Google docs to draft my letter. In part because it gave me an editor to draft, read, make adjustments, etc. But it’s also easy to share the letter with my wife through the Google share feature. We’ve started using Google docs for other documents that we want to share and edit together. I like the flow and portability of the feature and then we can access the document no matter which device we are using. For my daughter’s letter, this is just a staging area. The final copy I’ll ink by hand to give it more of a personal feel. Technology has a it’s place but for this occasion, I want the note to feel more crafted and created.

The memory deck

Graduation wouldn’t be complete without a slide show recapping her life! I plan to use this during her celebration party with friends and family. I haven’t finalized the layout or presentation just yet, but I’ve picked the technology tool. It’s Picasa because I use Picasa to manage our digital photo and video library locally. Then I sync to cloud for backup storage.

I’m already learning that the joy in this exercise is looking through years of photos and remembering the events where they were taken. Isn’t it wonderful that digital media is so readily available in our lives? I hope it will have an impact on my daughter when she sees it. She’s been blessed and has much to be thankful for in life.


Onward to the next steps and phases of life. Long live technology. Long live daughters.


Play it again.

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Repetition in youth.

That song was awesome! Play it again. Rewind-stop-play-rewind-stop-play-forward-play, call the radio station for a request, press repeat. These actions are all part of my memory as a youth. Back in the days when I spent a fair amount of my income on cassette tapes and CDs. It was that song. It was my favorite song. It was our special song.  It represented something of value in mood, a feeling, a lyric, or a sound. Whatever the case when I found it, I wanted to do it again. Play it again and again.

Repetition in business.

The year has changed. My daily routines have changed. My friends have changed. But one thing that is still there is an attraction to repeat what works in business. Play it again! When a project or implementation goes well we talk about “lessons learned”. Sure we record the bad, but we also record what went right. Then we try to do it again. We want to replicate the secret formula for the same good results.

But software projects are all different. The requirements change. The people may change. The customer may change. Repeating success is not as easy as hitting rewind-stop-play. We could different results holding all but one of those variables the same.

Magic in the interpretation.

Two musicians will play the same song differently. It’s their interpretation, their emphasis, and their feeling. Software programming can be the same way. Two different programmers will create distinctly different programs that accomplish the same goal. The results may be visible in the UI or noticed by different workflows and program speed. It’s all part of their interpretation and skill.

Programmers “play it again” when they establish repeatable processes and procedures. It’s the software development life cycle (SDLC). Strictness to process is encouraged, but the real magic happens when the programmer is allowed to interpret , feel, and create on the edges.

So yes, play it again in business and software development. But play with feeling. Play from the heart. Find that unique rhythm. Create a one of a kind. Stop-rewind-play.


Technology Athletes

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The athlete.
“We are recruiting him as an athlete” is a statement that football fans often read. It means the football coach wants a player on the team not because he is skilled at any-one position, but because he is talented enough to play a variety of positions. This type of athlete has a core base of athleticism that makes it possible for him to be successful at a variety of positions. But what the coach may not know,until after assessing a player more thoroughly, is if the player has the head knowledge to play a specific position. Do they understand the role within the team? Do they understand how to make reads on the opposing team’s formation? Do they understand where to go on the field and when?

 The athlete in academia.
When I entered Georgia Tech as a freshman computer science student I remember an academic advisor telling my mother and I that they intended to teach the fundamental concepts of programming and not any particular language or technology. The school was treating all of the students as what I’ll call “technology athletes”. The academic recruiting process was built around the admissions requirements of the school. The College of Computing course of study was not geared to make specialists in one particular language or technology platform. The curriculum was more setup to teach computing concepts that were common to all technology specializations so that these same concepts could be used to apply to solutions form a variety of business problems. The advisor told us that learning a specific skill, such as a programming language, was really only possible if you understood the underlying principles and concepts of programming.

The athlete in business.
Over 20 years removed from that experience and now leading a technology group, I see the wisdom in the advisor’s statements. Programmers, analysts, and networking engineers are successful when they can adapt and translate their core skills to a variety of technology platforms. If they understand how a specific technology solves business problems, they can apply those skills to other technologies.

An organization most values technology employees that have the capacity to learn the inner workings of the business. It’s things like production process flows, order to cash processes, and customer pricing models. Technical skills and knowledge can be added by attending a class or reading a book. Then practice and apply. But business skills and knowledge of a business process are added through experience. I’m not degrading the value of the technology skills because they are most often the prerequisite to getting a job.

 Learning the technology is often the easy part.
Some would argue that we live in a world of specialists. Particularly in the technology world we may hire a specialist to work a contract for a period of time. “Guns for hire” is an expression I hear. But I believe that the team members with the longest reaching value to the organization are those that acquire the institutional knowledge and then apply that to a variety of technologies. They are the technology athletes and they “make a play” when it’s 3rd and 10 and you need a way to make the first down. It’s the technology athletes that have flexibility and longevity in their career. They know their role on the technology team and understand the business. They are worth recruiting.

Are you all in?

Do you know them?

Think about a person you know that is completely dedicated to their work. The kind of dedication that does not equate to a work-a-holic, but rather someone that is completely immersed in meeting the requirements of their job with unwavering enthusiasm and resolve. Yes, that person. The one who may have even annoyed you at times because of their dogged persistence. But the one who has earned your utmost respect.

In a workplace conversation this week one of my co-workers remarked about another employee, “You know him by now right, he’s all in.” The words stopped me for a moment to think and then stayed with me through the evening.

What defines the employee that is “all in”?

It’s built-in to the mentality, attitude, and drive of the professional. Going “all in” is for those that believe in their odds of succeeding. The employee that is “all in” receives more than a paycheck, they receive a place to serve, a place to make a difference to a customer, and place to share life with their co-workers.

I think being “all in” requires:

  1. Dedication and belief in the company mission.

  2. Dedication to the well being of other employees.

  3. Dedication to achievement and professional development.

It’s not for everyone and it’s not easy. It requires patience, persistence, and faith in ideals and purpose. In the end, it’s the person who is “all in” that earns respect and leaves the greatest mark on customers and other employees.