IBM Think 2019 – Dear Tech: We Need to Talk

DISCLOSURE:  IBM provided me with a complimentary conference pass as part of a social media influencer program.  My travel to the event was covered by my team at Turbonomic.  All opinions within this blog are mine and do not derive from any specific partner relationship or insider information.   Thank you to the IBM Canada team for inviting me to the event.
These are my notes from the Chairman’s Keynote on Tuesday February 12th.

IBM Think 2019 Keynote – Day 1 Opener with Ginni Rometty

It’s worth mentioning from the start that Ginni is a compelling speaker. and one of the most widely-respected leaders in the technology industry.  She led with providing the keynote room with an idea of themes that will be prevalent throughout the event which is happening in San Francisco from February 11th-15th.  There is a definite keynote feel to the discussion and the content is centered around customer stories and business outcomes.
There were some product mentions due to the announcements that launched this week including these as a sampler:

Digital Reinvention versus Digital Transformation

I’m a fan of the change from “transformation” to “reinvention” in describing the changes .  This may seem small and just a single word, but it’s important to the way things are actually playing out in the industry.  Ginni described the state of digital reinvention as happening in 2 chapters:
  • Chapter 1 – Discovery and first attempts with some missteps and learnings
  • Chapter 2 – Enterprise-driven digital reinvention  – It’s cloud, it’s hybrid
Many have deployed in new ways.  new apps.. Often described as “random acts of digital”.  This did not get to the result we, as an industry, may have hoped.  What it did do as part of Chapter 1 in the digital reinvention was to let us know how we can do things so that when the planning and execution are designed for this next chapter that we have a better result and clear understanding of the outcome.

Five Lessons Learned scaling Digital and AI

Another interesting series of points that Ginni described was the 5 lessons learned by organizations scaling digital projects and the addition of AI.  These 5 stages play out to a final result that achieves the desired business outcome and moves the organization through a natural evolution to get there.
  1. Outside-In – change all the customer experience apps
  2. Inside-Out – workflow, data, and driving change. Modernizing core apps
  3. Business platform to connect these two – AI-infused workflows to empower people using these apps
  4. AI platform is the new lifecycle manager – AI powering and building AI
  5. No AI with out IA – Information Architecture is a must-have
Research in AI is being done by IBM in three distinct coverage areas.
  • Core AI – Getting AI to learn with less data (transfer learning or “one-shot” learning)
  • Trusted AI – fairness, explainability, robustness, and the fully lifecycle
  • Scaling AI – This is AI to automate AI being shown in portions with Watson Studio today
There was also clear segmentation in what Ginni describes as the four pillars of digital reinvention that are prevalent in the keynote:
  • Digital & AI – this combination is proving to be the key to the reinvention
  • Hybrid is the baseline – The proof is playing out in the market
  • Mission-Critical Apps – This is the largest second and third order effect on outcomes
  • Trust and Responsible Stewardship – Trust is going to be a pre-condition for all the great technologies we are talking about (blockchain, 5G, services, networking)
As far as the hybrid numbers, there was mention of the average distribution of public/private infrastructure as 40/60 private versus public with the reverse for regulated industries at 40/60.  It is also typical to find 5 clouds involved including private and public in most environments at reasonable scale.

Customer stories from the keynote

Geico – Greg Kalinsky
Using Watson to interact with the call center.  The story was very cool, but one that you can probably read elsewhere.  The real value I drew from the discussion was the proof on how hybrid is the reality, data is a key first layer in movement.  The theme that was called out here strongly was the fact that these are mission-critical
Leadership lesson in adopting AI and taking on digital:  “The opportunity may appear to you to be obvious, but folks don’t like to change and you really have to work together to demonstrate the differentiation and how your enterprise will use technology to change the customer experience. “
Hyundai Finance – Ted Chung
Ted’s story is not unlike that of The Phoenix Project.  Brought into a losing business that was destined for failure and now turned that into a rebrand and transformation of products and the core business, including the technology.  Ted’s story took an obvious move towards blockchain and AI which is more than just a buzzword festival in this case as he and the team actually has proven experience of an active use-case.  Very cool.
Through digital reinvention and process and business reinvention, they’ve achieved less than 10% turnover rate of customers.  The focus again is on customer experience.   The Hyundai choice was to use an AI-driven customer interaction system with Watson.
Leadership tip:  “It’s coming. You cannot take 2 years testing or pioneering something new.”
Jim Whitehurst – CEO Red Hat
Jim’s story of building up Red Hat to what would become a 33 Billion dollar acquisition by IBM and one of the most powerful open source companies in the industry (if not the most powerful by most measures).  I’m a fan of Jim’s management style, his company’s approach, and the drive of open source as a commercially-viable model without sacrificing the value of both the open community or the enterprise value.
It was a great discussion between Jim and Ginni that touched on how the future of open at IBM and Red Hat together is also now becoming deeply involved in the full IBM portfolio.  It will be exciting to see how it plays out in the next couple of years.
Kaiser Permanente – Bernard Tyson
If you spend a little time online, you can find Bernard Tyson sharing lots of very helpful guidance and lessons on disrupting health care with the use of technology.  If you choose any story that shows the difficulty of change yet the profound capability to affect a positive outcome, healthcare highlights both the challenges and the benefit.
Moving healthcare from “you come to us” to “bringing healthcare to you” has been driven by incredible shifts in technology and the advent of networks, AI, and ML.  There are so many great stories that Bernard has shared over the years so I recommend you searching out his content.  Bernard and his team were early adopters of cloud which he himself recalled on stage as having no idea of when first exploring it.  He’s also a great speaker and story teller as well as a proven leader.
Leadership lesson:  “It’s a journey.  We have to embrace this new reality.”… “We are enabled in ways we could never imagine by technology”
AT&T – John Donovan 
“Let’s move everything to the cloud” was the first tactic that was used with a lot of the AT&T systems.  They took legacy systems and transformed them to new deployment methodologies which trained the teams for dealing with massive process and application transformation plus the availably of new services.  This triggered a move to step back and re-architect away from efficiency to effectiveness.
John brought up content that really should be baseline for any application architect, enterprise architect, and CIO together.  The core of changing the way they do technology as a business while first evaluation “why” they need to do it.  Like Simon Sinek says,:  start with why.

Other Quotes worth mentioning

“Skills are going to matter as much or more than a degree” – Ginni Rometty
“Being trusted means to prepare society to live and work in this age” – Ginni Rometty
“AI, like any technology, jobs are going to come, jobs are going to go. This will change 100% of jobs.” – Ginni Rometty
Quick Summary
The event is exciting, the conversations are great.  I’ll bring more content to the podcast and in some blogs as I dive into coding sessions and some other key areas of the event.  It’s a lot to take and hopefully you find these little updates helpful!

Fire versus Rage: Motivation in Rejection

What motivates you? That questions asked all the time when you read self-help guides or are in discussions about finding what your future thing to do is. What is more interesting to me is what motivates you in the hardest moments.

A Personal View of Motivation in Rejection

When I was in Grade 5 I was in an enriched learning program.   The bonus learning program meant that a handful of students get to hang out in the library for 4 hours a week rather than traditional classroom learning.  We did things like logic puzzles, learned the periodic table, and studied things that were outside the normal curriculum.

The challenge at one point was to learn the greek alphabet and be able to recite any letter from flash cards as practice with the goal of reciting the greek alphabet form Alpha to Omega from memory in just one week.  Did I mention I’m also dyslexic?  I struggled more than normal on certain tasks and was also a little on the lazy side (still am).  End result is that I got three quarters through the alphabet and mixed up order of letters twice.  What was the punishment?  Back to regular class and pulled from the program because of “lack of commitment”.

Rejection sucks, now what?

I remember the pain it created.  I was torn up inside about why I let myself miss out on this opportunity.  That was an important part of dealing with it.  I didn’t blame anyone.  I was just upset that I missed an opportunity that I knew I could do.  So, now what would I do about this?

The next day I came in to the teacher (Mr. Fitton…I still remember how you motivated me) and I asked “can i have a quick discussion with you?”.  He very kindly said yes, and I recited the alphabet from end to end without missing a beat.  I then wrote it on the paper while saying it and explained that it was writing it over and over again that helped me learn, more than the flash cards.

End result:  I was back in the program and we then spent the next few weeks of enriched program time studying the effect of learning for short, medium, and long-term memory and memory training techniques.

Fire versus Rage:  Thank you, Jason Fried and Tim Ferriss

Listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast recently with Jason Fried brought this moment to light again for me.  Jason Fried, c0-founder of Basecamp, developer, and author, shared stories of his youth and how when he was rejected from a development award that it didn’t create rage for him, but it created fire.  The difference is important.

Rage is reactive, and spiteful.  It’s the same emotion that is usually associated with blame.  The world isn’t out to get you.  Interactions you see every day on social media proves that people are possessed with a little too much rage sometimes as they continuously seek opportunities to be offended and to initiate a blame game.  Motivation by rage is unhealthy.

I remember this from many years ago in talk radio and there was a lot of ire about Howard Stern.  Love him or hate him, what was interesting was this:

Researcher: The average radio listener listens for eighteen minutes a day. The average Howard Stern fan listens for – are you ready for this? – an hour and twenty minutes.
Kenny: How could this be?
Researcher: Answer most commonly given: “I want to see what he’ll say next.”
Kenny: : All right, fine. But what about the people who hate Stern?
Researcher: Good point. The average Stern hater listens for two and a half hours a day.
Kenny: : But… if they hate him, why do they listen?
Researcher: Most common answer: “I want to see what he’ll say next.”

There’s some gold in there.  Much of today’s time for people is being spent rage-listening or rage-watching or rage-reading news and social media.  Not healthy.

Fire, on the other hand, is about taking that rejection or failure and finding a truly self-initiated motivation to not let that negative experience hold you back.  If anything, it should propel you forward!!

I highly encourage you to listen to the podcast which can be found here:  

This is a great motivator and a reminder of how everyone learns and evolves differently.  What makes us able to help each other is not how things are when they go well, but how we react when things are bad.  My most powerful forward-moving moments have been propelled by harsh lessons which could have easily taken me off my path.  I chose to use that motivation to create my fire to drive getting past it.

Find your fire, and stop with the rage.

How do we make Hackathons more Inclusive?

One of the things that I do as part of a technology community event organizer and contributor is to try to introduce new things to each community.  Reducing the echo chamber effect is one if the better ways to grow the skills of the members and also increases the ability to bring in new people into the group.  Many of my communities are more Ops-focused.

VMware User Groups (VMUG) is one of the more prominent parts of the last decade of my time building and participating in communities.  The VMUG community is a great example of one traditionally Ops-focused but leaning towards bringing more coding and development as automation and other new skills are brought to the fore.

When I ask about making a hackathon more inclusive, it’s not even in the sense of diversity of cultural, gender, or ethnic backgrounds.  That’s a separate challenge unto itself that isn’t being covered here.  I mean very simply:  how do we get more IT Operations folks to feel welcome at a hackathon?

The Challenge with Adding Development to an Ops Community

There are many books and psychological studies that point to the importance in company and team culture of a sense of belonging.  The safety in being able to fail and learn among your peers is what creates stronger teams.  I’ve seen this become a company-wide culture and it is amazing to watch how well the dynamics work at full-scale.

When it doesn’t work, it is brutally obvious.  We do enjoy watching development activities happening, and as a non-coder myself, I love embracing and welcoming more development activities into the Ops communities.  One thing that does happen a lot of times is the sense that the strong developer showing these nifty processes and code off as apparently easy can create a sense of heroism in the way they do it.  It’s often seen as inaccessible.

The discomfort and disconnection that people feel when a hero and unicorn culture is very real.  To the people who’ve crossed the chasm to take on and learn the development skills (which come from a different part of the brain than many IT operations tasks), it feels natural and is often difficult to “teach”.  It’s like inviting a seasoned guitarist to teach a simple song.  Teaching and playing are very different skills as well.

During the organizing of a big event I posed the idea of a hackathon as an idea.  There were numerous responses from people that they felt put off by the term and the activity.  As non-developers, there is a real sense of not belonging or an anxiety of getting involved.  The reactions were visceral and very strong.

Being a Non-Developer at a Hackathon is Eye (and Mind) Opening

We should all make a point of doing some uncomfortable things.  It helps you to grow your skills.  My foray into this was supporting development teams for a long time as an Ops architect.  I made a point of learning how they interact with the system, what they use, the way the think about and architect their application, and then I learned to better map the infrastructure to what the app needed.  It was like watching a magician and knowing how they did the trick.  I may not be able to do the trick, but I knew what was involved if that makes sense.

Going to a hackathon as a non-developer can feel daunting.  What will I do there?! How do I participate?! I don’t know how to code so I’ll probably feel stupid, right?!  These are genuine concerns (maybe even fears) for a lot of people.  At VMworld 2018 I decided to lead a hackathon team.  That opened my eyes to the challenge of a very short timeframe to both teach, involve, and build for folks who had not come from a development background.  It was fun but it could have definitely gone much better if I had prepared the team more.  I needed to see how it would go.

I attended a company hackathon and became deeply involved.  Not in codiing directly, but in creating a team, sharing an idea, iterating on the prototype design, then on testing and presenting the output.  I was included because as a team, we needed various skills.  The value was immediately felt as the groups almost self-organized into developers, testers, presenters, ops builders, and even just viewers who wanted to be close to it as it happened and see the inner workings.

What made this hackathon successful was that there was a familiarity within many of the people involved so the self-organizing happened very quickly.

Crossing the Hackathon Chasm

This more of a question than a statement I’m making here.  How do we make hackathons more inclusive?  How do we open the activity up more effectively to let non-developers learn and dabble in some of these introductory development skills, and feel safe and a sense of belonging while doing so?   It’s interesting that some of the development communities decry exclusivity, but the very nature of hackathons breeds exclusivity.

Over the course of this year I’m doing more research into how effective community growth works and the science behind it.  That includes getting people to do things they have not done before as a part of involvement in these tech communities.  How can we make it easier to allow for unfamiliar groups of people self-organize into teams to create a development-focused prototype and feel included and comfortable to learn together.

Have you got experience in joining more dev-focused events or activities as a non-developer?  I would love to hear from you on this and learn more.  Please share in the comments below.

My hope is that we can figure out how to introduce more fun activities for folks who need a little boost of confidence to get started.  It’s how we all get better at it together.



R.I.P. Email Game – How to Keep the Email Productivity Up Without it

If you’re followed some of my previous posts around personal productivity, you may have seen that I am a huge fan of The Email Game from Baydin.  It’s also important to know that the goal of why I use the email game is not zero email.  It’s about moving more productively through email and the tasks and projects that come from it.  This is why inbox zero is not really the goal.  Flow of work is.

Today I found out that Baydin is closing the doors on the email game as of February 7th, 2019.  Noooooo!!!

Using Gmail Auto-Advance to Move Through Email Better (and Faster!)

Open up your Gmail and click on the settings options.  Then open up the Advanced option and you’ll see a feature called Auto-Advance which is off by default. Once you enable that feature you will open up your top email and then the Gmail web client will automatically move to the next message where you can archive, skip, or reply.

Here’s where to find that option:

Keep using the same process you did in the past with the email game.  Start at the top and and keep yourself moving quickly and effectively through your inbox.  Forcing the flow like this causes you to cut down on the wasted time normally spent mulling over how to respond or when to mark a message unread and file it away for later…which is just deferring the pain of processing it now which can be done in seconds.

Hopefully you find this tip helpful. Please let me know in the comments below if you like these kinds of posts!  Many more where this came from as I learn more about personal productivity hacks that I love to share with everyone.