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Friday Apr 01, 2005

Treat them like family

My previous director at Sun has a saying about how to treat employees, it is "Treat them like family". Sun like all large companies has many policies regarding people, benefits, practices, etc. As a large company we're required to have them. But there are many things that Sun's people do for each other that go beyond the boundaries of these policies. My youngest son has a recurring medical condition that has recently required me to travel frequently from Austin to Houston for treatement. Over the course of the past six months this has resulted in a fair amount of time out of the office. When I asked my manager and director how to handle this situation, they simply said "take the time you need". Thanks Mike and Don, and thanks Sun for a culture of character where people are treated like people not employees..


Monday Mar 14, 2005

The Virtual Hallway

A little over a year ago I broke my hip while skiing. Well, to be more precise I broke my hip while falling. Thanks to modern medicine and three 6'' screws, my recovery was not too prolonged. While recovering I worked from home and quickly learned that I missed the interaction of the office. As an engineering manager, one of the most rewarding and important parts of my job is regular conversation with the folks on my team. I say conversation, because given the distributed nature of all teams these days this conversation is just as likely to be over the phone as it to be in the hallway.

Which brings me to my point (finally). What I discovered while recovering was the power of IM and IRC. These tools provide a seamless mechanism for creating a virtual hallway of regular conversation. I personally use GAIM because it works well with both of these protocols and others as well. I have a slight preference for IRC in that the chat rooms provide others the opportunity to listen in and contribute just as with those regular hallway chats. Over the course of the past year IM and IRC have become an invaluable part of my toolbox that I recommend every manager and member of a distributed team investigate.


Wednesday Mar 09, 2005

Jim Collins

You just can't help but be impacted by the influence of good business research and insightful analysis. Here's another Sun Blogger influenced by Jim Collins.




Thursday Mar 03, 2005

Turnaround Tips

Some more wisdom from  Shelby Carter regarding turnaround tips for companies.
  1. Establish a vision for the whole company.
  2. Set clear expectations for every level of the company.
  3. Construct realistic strategies that don't require rocket science.
  4. Focus everything on the customer, because the customer is the ultimate arbiter of success.

Tuesday Mar 01, 2005

Criminal Mastermind

I was in my truck driving to lunch when I heard this over the radio. My favorite line from the reporter was "Details on how exactly the naked man become covered in nacho cheese are sketchy." Sometimes you just have to laugh out loud.

Monday Feb 28, 2005

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst

David Dewhurst came to my Corporate Governance class last Thursday night to speak. Mr. Dewhurst is the Lt. Governor of the state of Texas. His presentation was a bit rough (it must have been the end of a long day for him), but there were some great take-aways:
  1. Surround yourself with the best - this is a theme I've heard presented many times in many ways. Shelby Carter said something similiar which I shared here, and one of the main elements of success uncovered in this research was the importance of getting the right people on the bus (if you like that one, don't miss the original).
  2. Create a North Star - it is important to decide for yourself where you stand on an issue. Choose your position and then move on to the next step.
  3. Facilitate Debate - once you know where you stand on an issue, facilitate debate between the best and the brightest on all sides of the issue. If you do this well the "Pearls will fall to the table" as Mr. Dewhurst put it.
  4. Maintain Perspective - resist the tetendency to dislike those that disagree with you. If someone agrees with you 80% of the time you probably have more in common with them than some of your closest friends.
Ok, so having the Lt. Governor of Texas come speak was very cool, but you can find wisdom in all kinds of places. Here's some from Sunday's church bulletin under "Theology, Kid Style"

"Dear God, I bet it's very hard for you to love all of everybody in the world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it. - Nancy"
"Dear Mr. God, I wish you would not make it so easy for people to come apart. I had to have 3 stitches and a shot. - Janet"
"Dear God, Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they each had their own rooms. It works out OK with me and my brother. - Larry"
"Dear God, I am really doing the best I can. Really. - Frank"

me too Frank, me too.

My Sons' Status Reports

Like many parents I am very interested in the lives my children lead at school. My three boys are in the 2nd grade, kindergarten, and pre-K. As you might expect the standard response to the question "What did you do at school today?" is "I don't remember". Even if I ask specific questions I get one word responses. But I've got great news, I get weekly status reports on what my boys are doing at school. It's called the Wednesday folder. Every Wednesday they come home with a folder full of their work from the previous week. It's terrific, I get to see everything they've done and we get to sit down and talk about it.

As a manager, I find that nothing causes employees to roll their eyes quite like a request for a status report. But just like Wednesday folders, they are a great tool for a manager and a team to share information. Nothing quite replaces the quality of information that can be exchanged in a 1-on-1 or in casually touching base, but status reports go a long way towards complementing these regular touch points. A status report is a great way for a person to tell their manager what they worked on that week that is of importance. I ask my engineers to share their accomplishments (what's done), good news (what significant breakthrough has occurred), bad news (what obstacles are standing in the way), and regular status (what else is of interest) on a bi-weekly basis. I then take the time to summarize these reports in writing (heck I'm already doing it mentally) and then send this summary back to the team. This is a very important step because it helps the team gain some perspective on the efforts of their peers as well as to put their efforts into the larger context of what the team is working towards. Finally, this summary represents a mental map of where we as a team currently stand that enables us to better inform others, negotiate requirements, etc.

As a parent and as a manager, staying informed is critical to my job and whether its Wednesday folders, or weekly status reports, a regular summary goes a long way towards helping me and the team.

Wednesday Feb 16, 2005

You say tomato ...

I say tomato.

You say Jonathan I say Johnathan.

Coincidentally, my COO and oldest son share a name. (I wonder if my COO thinks that's cool?) However, my son's name is spelled Johnathan while the boss spells his Jonathan. Thanks to my wife who pointed out my blunder within 5 seconds of my first showing her my blog.  

Tuesday Feb 15, 2005

The Best Part of My Day

The best part of any day for me is the opportunity to spend time in 1-on-1 conversation with one of my three boys or my daughter. Although, given that the latter is only 18 mo. old those conversations typically involve a lot of babbling and rasberries. (Some would say that is the content of most of my conversations). Anyway, I had the chance tonight to chat with my 8 year old son about girls and books. We were driving back from the post office in the truck and the conversation just happened.

He asked me about the best books I read at his age. I couldn't remember all the way back to elementary school but I do recall the three books that made the greatest impact on me in junior high. They started my habit which currently consists of about 250 pages a week (beats the hell out of a pack a day). They are A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony, The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Once I read these I was hooked and I've been an avid reader ever since. As for my favorite book of all time it's Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

Just as was the case this evening with my son, I often find that the very best conversations just happen. Whether it's in the office, truck, or home there is an amazing number of opportunities to be touched by those around you and touch them. It's part of what makes my job as a manager at Sun so enjoyable. Life and conversations need to just happen more often.

As for girls, I won't bore you with the details of that conversation, other than to note that we came to the conclusion that the purpose of ponytails is not to be pulled by little 8 yr old boys. We think it has something to do with either keeping hair out of the way or looking pretty. We're not exactly sure so we're going to ask mom.



Monday Feb 14, 2005

Ten Commandments for Intrepeneurs

I have the distinct pleasure to be taking a Corporate Governance course this semester at UT with two of the most accomplished men I've encountered. They are Shelby Carter and William H. Cunningham. I can’t find a good profile on Mr. Cunningham but he is only the 2nd man in history to be the Dean of a UT school, President of the University, and Chancellor of the UT School system. He sits on the board of directors for several fortune 500 companies and is brilliant.

This past week Mr. Carter provided us some insight into his Ten Commandmants for an Intrepreneur. An intrepreneur is similar to an entrepreneur but they operate within a company as opposed to creating one. This is the first time I've heard that term but I really identify with it. In some ways I think the intrepreneurial opportunity is more exciting than the entrepreneurial one because of the scale on which you can operate. I've been asked many times over the past couple of rough years for Sun why I am still here. My answer has always been the same. How many times do you see a > $10 billion company with 30,000+ bright people and an $180 billion install base reinvent itself? I would rather be inside that company, helping to make the turnaround happen, than on the outside watching it happen.

Here are Shelby Carter's top 10 commandments for the Intrepeneur (yes I know there are 11 of them):

  1. Come to work every day willing to be fired.
  2. Circumvent any orders aimed at stopping your dream.
  3. Do any job needed to make a project work.
  4. Find people to help you.
  5. Follow your intuition about the people you choose and only work with the best.
  6. Fair is only for children.
  7. Work underground as long as you can. Complicity will only wake up the corporate immune system.
  8. Never bet on a race unless you are running it.
  9. It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
  10. Be true to your goals, but be realistic about how you're going to meet them.
  11. Honor your sponsors, if they're betting on you, then you must back them.

I’m learning a lot from both Mr. Carter and Mr. Cunningham and will provide more later.

Friday Feb 11, 2005

Father Management

As the father of four children under the age of 8 and the manager of a team of 10 engineers, I find a great deal of similarity in the roles I play in my work and home life. I have the opportunity to work with the brightest minds in the world, it is entertaining as hell, I am challenged on a daily basis, I am humbled on a daily basis, and I am keenly aware that my actions (or inactions) affect the lives of others. I'm a manager with the Solaris Kernel and Data Services group in Austin, Texas. I've been here in Austin just about 4 months and I've been with Sun for coming up on 5 years. Prior to joining the Solaris organization I worked as an engineer and manager for Network Storage in Broomfield, Colorado. I have a real passion and joy for Sun Microystems and am proud to be a part of this company. I am currently pursuing my MBA from the University of Colorado at Boulder which I will complete this May. I am taking my final two courses this semester at the University of Texas at Austin. I have been working on this degree on a part-time basis for the past 3 1/2 years. Measured another way, I started 2 kids ago. I hope to use this blog to provide a window on the view from my desk as a line manager here at Sun. I enjoy the view from Johnathan's desk but it looks a whole lot different from over here.

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