Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Last 21 Days

Many things have a beginning and ending. Projects, computers, vacations, games, school, friends, businesses (sometimes), life, and jobs. Some things have planned endings (vacation, school) and others are random by chance. While there is no shortage of management literature on starting new jobs or the "first 90 days" there seems to be little written about the process of leaving a company, we’ll call this “the last 21 days”.

I am now in the midst of both an ending and a new beginning. After 4 years at Kaplan, I am leaving to join iVillage, a division of NBC Universal. I have had a number of jobs in my career, leaving a company is not new to me, yet significant, none the less.

What are you supposed to do when you end a job? It’s not something we think about when taking a job, and also not something discussed, its mostly taboo. Unless you are a consultant, there is no way to "complete" a job. However, I do believe there are important things you should do, and not do, when leaving. I write this because if you are like me, you will have many conflicting emotions with this period of change, drama and sometimes trauma. Strong loyalties may create feelings of guilt for “abandoning” the company, or feelings of failure to complete a mission may even try to creep into your head. That’s the tricky bit and here are my thoughts:

First, leave a job as smoothly as possible. Someone leaving, especially the CTO, can be unsettling for a technology team, so make it as stable as you can. Write a transition document, think of all the things that may come up in the next 6 months, and pass along as much knowledge as you can to your team.

Second, go out on top. If at all possible, don't leave when things are in bad shape. Make sure you are leaving the team and technology systems in top shape. Think of a movie actor or sports star who stayed in the game just a little too long. How undesirable is that? Much better to leave with a legacy of accomplishments and fond memories. Make a list of accomplishments for yourself, and spend just a little time savouring them and congratulating yourself.

Third, talk about leaving. Don't hang your head in shame. Endings are part of life, and acknowledging them helps us deal with them. Talk about why you are leaving, and talk about conflicts you have about leaving. It’s ok to have regrets of missed future opportunities.

While there is no "completed" status for a job like there is a project, make it is complete as possible. And hopefully this will help you move along to your (my) next endeavor, and will keep your reputation in tact with your former employer. Your reputation should grow stronger with the change as you are the one taking the next big step.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Work and Play?

It used to be that work and play had clear delineations, but not anymore, at least not for me, and I believe not for gen-Yers.

For example, while on a recent Seattle vacation, I (1) had lunch with a couple of CTO buddies (play), (2) visited my company's Seattle location (work) (3) afternoon visit with some in-laws (play). But interestingly the 2 play examples are somewhat work-related as we talked tech (my brother-in-law has a tech startup and I was a beta tester). Add to this the daily stream of emails, of which I responded to the all the simple or time-sensitive ones by days end.

Many companies have policies about what staff can do at work, but do they account for our work & play mix? For instance, wouldn't you rather allow an employee to get some of their personal life done at work (i.e. checking an eBay auction, buying movie tix) and then continue working at their desk rather than them going home? Seems like a no-brainer, yet many company's acceptable use policies say otherwise.

Facebook is a startling example of the mixture of play and work. Most of my facebook friends are business colleagues, we've friended each other to see what its like. But... do my work colleagues really want to know the details of what I did on the weekend? Its right there in my frequent facebook status updates. If I posted that I was sick or frustrated, are they obligated to come find me Monday to see how I am feeling?

This blog is another example. Blogging is not part of my CTO job, yet many of my staff and colleagues read my blog. Is it work or play? It certainly doesn't feel like work, and I do it for enjoyment and self-reflection. But vendors also read my blog to see my views on technology. Which is it?

Workplaces need to start thinking about the intersection of work and play, and how to accommodate employees in this new "always on" world. Google does, and I believe they see huge productivity gains because of it. But there are other simpler ways for companies to support their staff besides chefs and game rooms. First is to acknowledge that the line between work and play is blurry, and then see what happens...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Open source is good for IT

I gave a presentation at OSBC (open source business conference) last week. I don't often speak at conferences, but I have been working on an open source strategy for 4 years and believed that presenting that plan might help other CTOs/CIOs in their open source plans. Two bloggers (Matt Asay and Zack Urlocker) reviewed my presentation at and .

First, Kaplan was not the only company describing their use of open source. Other included CBS interactive, Paypal, Weather Channel interactive, NY times, Electronic Arts, LA times, Christian Science Monitor. In addition, a full 40% of attendees were IT workers, not open source vendors.

In my presentation, I laid out the case for open source, my 3 step plan deploying open source, my experience with vendors and challenges with open source (good summaries on two blogs linked above). I got a myriad of questions from the audience at the end. Our chief architect, Gautam Guliani, was there to answer as well when we were approached privately after general Q&A.

The most difficult question during general Q&A was from Matt Asay, OSBC organizer and also an open source vendor. He asked me the following:- "If an open source platform is stable and my team experienced with it, would I continue to pay annual support fees?". Unfortunately for the vendors, the answer was "no". It truly is a contradiction because if customers don't pay a vendor, they'll go out of business and their products will not be further developed. Frankly, I don't have a better answer. But that said, IMO, open source is a model that is here to stay. Vendors are diving into it and making money, although nowhere near Microsoft's current profit margins.

Open source is good for IT (the customer), period. I believe it is us, IT customers, who are driving open source adoption. In a way, it reminds me of the music industry, and how digital music was driven not by the big music companies, but by consumers.

My question now is:- What are large software companies like Oracle and Microsoft going to do about it?