New Chapter – Same Book

Today is my first day in a new role; I’m joining EMC as an Advisory Systems Engineer in the Enterprise team. If you’d look at my LinkedIn profile, this might seem like a big change from what I’ve been doing the past ten years; though personally this is just the next chapter in the same book.

DirkGentlyBookCover01What book you may ask? Well if I had to pick my favorite author, it would be Douglas Adams. The unique blend of dry, witty humor, science fiction, technology, and frankly just the bizarre anti-climatic twists. So if I picked a favorite book, you’d think it would be his seminal work, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. While I adore these books to the extent I reference them almost daily; it actually would be Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

I believe I was around 10 when I first read the book; full of questions about myself, and well; life, the universe, and everything. While Hitchhiker simply pokes fun at asking such audacious questions; Dirk tackles it through understanding and exploiting the fundamental interconnectedness of things in his seemingly erratic approach to detecting. If you haven’t read the book, (go do it now) I won’t ruin it for you. But Dirk believes that everything is connected, that only by looking at everything, even the seemingly unrelated, can you solve the whole problem. So much, in fact, that Dirk cracked his greatest case by asking a child; whom he felt were free of the filters that hide the whole solution.

The book and Dirk’s approach stuck with me as I started working in IT. I began to notice how much it applied to technology. Not that I started believing that ghosts or time-travel explained issues (often it does seem more likely); but rather like the 10Base2 network I first managed, the problem was often down the wire. That someone simply kicking back their feet could take down the whole system. The proverbial butterfly flapping its wings is an everyday truth in IT.

As I took on more complex roles, even sometimes seemingly unsolvable issues and projects; I always imagined myself as Dirk. I tried to look with an open mind, not scared of retreading previous tracks, asking seemingly stupid questions or even posing ideas that appeared unorthodox (ironically in technology I’ve learned that today’s unorthodox is tomorrow’s status quo).

As my roles grew from administrative and troubleshooting in nature; toward designing and developing solutions; I continued this approach. Always wanting to ensure my portion of the design was well connected with the whole, and that the whole worked together elegantly. I quickly realized to be successful in this approach; I needed a broad experience across all the elements that are interconnected in IT.

So I made it my goal to shift my perspective continually, to take new opportunities outside of my comfort zone; bringing with me my knowledge but learning the impact of aspects of IT on each other.

Taking stock of this goal; I count the blessings of opportunities over the years. I’m so lucky to have personal experience in dimensions of IT such as:

  • Domains like programming, quality assurance, infrastructure, operations, performance/capacity, database management, even more as a leader.
  • Technologies across network, storage and servers; Windows, Linux, Unix, Mainframe running and coding languages of all flavors.
  • Industries traversing insurance, healthcare, travel, retail, real-estate and finance.
  • Organizations that were cloud computing, software vendors, and enterprise brick and mortar.
  • In companies sizes counting employees in the hundreds, thousands and hundreds of thousands.
  • Businesses that were young start-ups, to 100 plus years old.
  • Nameless brands that nobody knew, to seeing daily commercials for my employer on the tv.

Through those roles, I’ve been an individual contributor, a team leader, to vice president with 130+ team members. Not just progressing up a traditional career ladder, but frequently leaving management roles to jump back into an individual contributor.

I’m fortunate, that through all these facets; I’ve learned more about IT, business and myself. I hope that this diversity has improved my solution designs, made me a better employee, a better leader, and maybe even, a better person. I’ve strived in all of these to see how things were interconnected and in doing so learned that all those difference facets are not just connected, but important in of themselves. Being a VP was no more valuable than an administrator. It’s pointless to build a datacenter if there aren’t programmers to build applications to run in is; though a programmer won’t get anything done without a laptop built by a admin. None of IT at all matters without a business to contribute to. That, because all these elements are so connected, each is a critical portion of making the whole successful, and every aspect deserves respect.

Over the years, I often felt that building this experience was leading me to a specific role. At times I thought that destination was solution architecture, having this broad experience did indeed help my designs be more holistic. Later I felt is was preparing me for large leadership roles and I hope it did as I could relate and mentor everyone on my team. Though, continually I’m reminded of that first goal; the it’s not about the destination, but the journey itself. That when I start feeling like I have enough diversity is when I need to switch it up and find something new.

So, what’s missing from above, why the new role and company? Well, I’ve never been on the sales side. So today I’m adding that to this list, learning new aspects of IT. As well, while I’ve worked for a vendor, they were software only vendors. Now with EMC (and soon Dell EMC) I’ll learn more about being a full solution vendor (hardware, software & services).

I look forward to learning a new facet, to bringing my experience to the role; and further learning how we all interconnect. I’m excited as this opportunity also allows more insight into more IT shops and business models; every one is difference, has it’s own challenges and opportunities to learn from. I look forward to trying to explain to my children this new adventure, as they always live up to Dirk’s belief and ask terrific questions with unknowing clarity.

I’d encourage you to look to the holistic side of your own role; how does what you do related with those around you? If you’re comfortable, maybe you shouldn’t be. If you think you’re an expert in your field; maybe it’s time to change fields a bit. When is the last time you asked peer in a different department for a perspective on how what you do is connected to them; or asked a child even for their perspective?