Dave’s Pet Peeves

This post could also be named “Why market share doesn’t matter”, “Why I don’t care what now-standard ideas you invented”, or “What have you done for me lately?”

In my career, like most of you, I have sat through too many product presentations, marketing pitches, and technical demos to count. I have talked to countless engineers, account managers, architects, gurus, and charlatans. Some folks fit more than one category.

It struck me recently that I tune out almost immediately when I hear, in the context of explaining why I should choose a particular product, that “we have the largest market share and ship more units of this tech than any of our competitors!” Why? Because if that’s your lead story, and not the quality or innovativeness of your tech, you’re riding on past success and inertia. I’m not interested in inertia. I want to see what you’re doing that’s INTERESTING.

A certain large OEM told me that they invented a particular technology class (when in fact it was invented – more or less – by a company they acquired), as a basis for why their technology was superior. Now, don’t get me wrong – “we’ve been doing this longer than anyone else, and therefore have had more time to refine our solution” is a perfectly valid argument – but not as your lead story. Likewise, telling me (this was another OEM) that you invented a particular idea (even though you didn’t) and that everyone else is copying you now should NOT be your marketing pitch. In fact, if you tell me that you came up with an idea first and then everyone else jumped on the bandwagon later, it actually makes me want to look to your competitors. Since they have the advantage of having seen what you did right and wrong, and were able to craft their solutions afterwards – what’s to say that theirs aren’t better? First to market does NOT necessarily mean best.

Just because you were first to market doesn’t mean you’re not the best either – I’m just saying that to me, that fact is irrelevant.

I’ve been accused of being biased to particular technology companies, but that’s not actually the truth. I’m biased to technologies that make sense to me and solve real problems that I have or see in my customers’ environments. If my “A Game” technology (see link for Joe Onisick’s explanation in the context of Cisco UCS) competes with your product, it isn’t because I dislike your technology, it’s because for the problems I’m trying to solve, I prefer this one. Come out with something better, and I’ll look at it.

In my new role, I have the advantage of partnering with many different OEMs and selecting the right products to meet my customers’ needs. These needs are not always purely technical. But as a technical guy, I’m going to start with my “A Game” solution unless a customer requirement dictates something else, or something better technically comes along.

So this is my message to AMs, PMs, and anyone else that wants to convince me (and I’m very open to being convinced, I just have very high standards) to look at their technology: Do not lead with market share, time in the market, or that you invented a particular class of technology. Tell me what you do that’s innovative, solves my customers’ problems, and does it better/faster/cheaper than your competitors. THAT is what I care about.

Moving on…

And so today begins the next chapter of my processional career.

For the last five years, I have held various roles within Firefly Communications, the premier datacenter education partner within the Cisco ecosystem. I started out as a storage instructor and consulting, teaching primarily Cisco MDS courses, before moving into a little known (for some pretty good reasons) product called VFrame Data Center. It was part of an acquisition Cisco made (TopSpin), and provided an interesting mix of server deployment, automation, network configuration, and policy enforcement across Cisco and other products. As a product, it had massive potential, but a couple of significant flaws – most notably, it’s reliance on the APIs or command lines of third party products that Cisco could neither control nor predict. When that product died, I went back to teaching MDS, and a little bit of a new thing called Fibre Channel over Ethernet on this newfangled line of switches called “Nexus”.

The combination of skill in those three products (MDS, Nexus, and VFrame Data Center) would turn out to be very fortuitous, as I was invited (along with Joe Onisick and Fabricio Grimaldi, both rockstars of the datacenter) to be among the first to learn “Project California”, a mostly-secret project to produce Cisco’s first foray into compute – what eventually would be released as the Cisco Unified Computing System. UCS became my primary technology focus for the rest of my time at Firefly.

Over the subsequent years, I moved through several roles in Firefly, including Product Line Director for the UCS platform, Chief Technology Officer for the Americas, and finally Vice President of Engineering, overseeing all technical instructors, platforms, and internal IT for the company worldwide. It was a challenging but rewarding position, where I was able to use my love of technology and mentoring, and develop my managerial and leadership (not the same things!) skills through interaction with some great mentors.

Eventually, though, it came time to make a change. I had reached the end of what I felt I could accomplish professionally at Firefly, so I decided that it was time to move on.

In deciding what I wanted to move into, I consulted some great peers, associates, and legends for assistance (thanks all of you who provided guidance – especially @drjmetz @bradhedlund @omarsultan @jonisick) and boiled my interests down into a few key areas:

  • Technology Evangelism
    • I love taking a piece of technology that I’m passionate about, and getting others just as excited about it or helping them see how to solve key operational or business problems with it. I’ve done that with MDS, Nexus, and UCS over the last five years and been very successful and fulfilled by it.
  • Staff Mentoring
    • One of the more rewarding parts of working for Firefly was the opportunity to work with some of the best and brightest people in the datacenter space. Everyone brings their own unique talents and experiences, and I was able to learn just as much from working with them as any class could ever teach. At the same time, I enjoyed being able to help others develop their skills – whether technical, presentation, instruction, or just general business experiences.
  • Independence
    • Firefly afforded me a great deal of independence in how I went about mentoring my team and accomplishing the strategy as set forth by the rest of the senior leadership. Not being tied to a desk job with an hour commute each way was very important to me. Being out in the field, in front of my team and customers was always one of the best parts of my job.

After evaluating a number of different roles and companies, I have selected World Wide Technology as my new professional home. I will be working as a Technical Architect in the Federal sales team. I’m excited – and just a little bit nervous – about stepping out of my comfort zone in a familiar company and striking it out on a new adventure. Without challenge there is no growth, and without growth there is only decay. So let’s go see what’s out there.

One of my new year’s resolutions will be to blog more and get more ideas and discussions flowing. In my new role, I will have a much more broad set of technologies to focus on beyond just UCS, so I hope to do the same with my blog here.

Thanks everyone for reading and for your support!