Mergers and Acquisitions, Inc.

David and I have both had the unique opportunity to be at organizations that were gobbled up by bigger organizations. When we were at MDL ( is currently owned by a squatter. Sad) we were purchased by Reed Elsevier (now called RELX Group. Weird.) and operated mostly independently until Reed Elsevier spun us off and sold us to Symyx ( redirects to which displays a company called BioVia. Karma.). The Symyx acquisition was pretty horrible, IMO. There is still a bad taste in my mouth over that one. I left Symyx shortly after the acquisition for WatchGuard, and David stayed on for a while until he was laid off.

David and I have since been acquired again.  David’s company now belongs to IBM, and my company now belongs to HP. We both agree that we would’ve never guessed that we would be working for IBM and/or HP. The thought, even now, seems a bit preposterous. But there it is…we work for massive companies.

This is nothing new, and we all know it.  Companies grow one of three ways: they grow organically by increasing their customer base, they grow by acquiring a smaller company and it’s associated customers, or a combination of both. It stands to reason that the third option is where large companies want to be, but as you gain more and more customers, it becomes increasingly difficult to grow organically as the potential target customer numbers shrink.  Take Kleenex as an example…their product is so ubiquitous that it has become a noun, not just a brand. We even call non-branded facial tissue “Kleenex.” How many more customers can they possibly add at this point through organic growth (discounting the addition through the birth of new humans)?

If you are a large company and you want to grow beyond existing customer base, you diversify your product line to attract more/different customers, or to get existing customers to buy more of your stuff. This means either developing new stuff, or acquiring someone who already HAS developed new stuff.  In my experience, it is almost ALWAYS the latter that happens, especially in tech.

Now, in the best scenarios, the acquirer knows to leave well enough alone. After all, you acquired them BECAUSE they were already valuable, so why change them and impact their value? I agree that some cross-pollination has to occur, and that in some cases, there may be overlapping redundancies. But from a product perspective, the acquiree knows exactly how to make and sell their stuff, and they know how to do it better than the acquirer.

To be honest, I am still sorting out how I feel about being acquired, but I am doing this through the lense of my own personality. And I am an optimist. So I believe that it will work out well for me and for Aruba Networks (this is the part where you snort and call me “naive.” It’s okay, I can deal with it). So far, it looks like things are working out very well for David over at his gig as well. But our respective acquirers are following the rule laid out above.

Time will tell. It always does.

IT? Political? You must be joking.

So, I’m back.

Since my last post, I have made a career change to Aruba Networks, which has been acquired by HP. As a good corporate citizen, I must state that the opinions made in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the opinions or claims made by my company.

Are we good? Good.

By moving to Aruba, the customer size that I now support has increased dramatically. While at WatchGuard, my customers tended to be smaller and MUCH leaner from the IT perspective. This obviously makes for some harried/busy IT engineers, but on the plus side, I was almost always dealing with the implementer and decision maker, all in the same person. This made for a much easier work flow for both of us, even if it ultimately increased our work load.  I will someday write something about how work flow and work load aren’t conjoined twins.  But that’s a post for another time.

With Aruba, my customers tend to be larger organizations.  In larger organizations, the separation of duties becomes more distinct, and any technical implementation will touch many hands.  I am a firm believer in the idea of many eyes = shallow bugs, so I am not denigrating the idea of IT specialization or separation of duties.  I spent MANY years as part of an effective and collaborative IT team, and did not make decisions regarding infrastructure/security (my particular bailiwick) in a vacuum. I worked with intelligent and respected professionals across all IT disciplines. It was, by all definitions, a great gig.

What I have learned is that this is an increasingly exceptional circumstance.

In a significant number of the larger organizations that I support, I have found that the collaboration across disciplines in IT can be minimal or even adversarial.


Well, I could rabbit hole about human behavior, but this isn’t a psych blog, it’s a tech blog. I’m an engineer. Let’s fix it.

  • Let’s agree that we all want to do a good job. Our jobs enable lifestyle choices, and we LIKE our lifestyles (generally speaking). Yes, we all have agendas. But just because my agenda may be different than yours doesn’t necessarily mean we are working at cross purposes. The organization wins when we all understand our jobs and the value of our teammate’s job.
  • Respect your coworkers opinions, even if they are wrong. I’m reminded of a time when I shot my mouth off during an international SE meeting about how PoE works, and I was dead wrong. My good friend and coworker, Bill, came up to me afterwards and corrected me. He could’ve sacrificed me, but instead he gave me the chance to do it myself. So I did.
  • Get out of your ivory towers (I’m looking at you in particular, ISO’s).  There is absolutely no benefit in sequestering yourself “above the fray” of the day-to-day IT operations. It is important to take the long view, I agree. It is also important to get a high level view of how particular technical choices/decisions will impact the business. But you can’t live there and also be an effective and collaborative teammate. This behavior is harmful to the business, and makes you a difficult coworker.
  • Learn new things. Many of us have spent a significant amount of energy to get where we are today. For some, these positions can command a certain amount of respect. Respect is a nice feeling, I like it too. However, when we try to learn new things, we are often at the bottom of the food chain, and that can lead to the dreaded “Dumb Question.” The question that makes the expert, or even the laymen in that particular area, roll their eyes. We’ve all done it. My only advice here would be to not let fear stifle the broadening of your skillset. Ask the dumb question. I do it all the time…it’s liberating.
  • Make time for collaborative exercises. Too often IT teams only work together under crisis. Fix this. Even if your particular project only touches the server team tangentially, include them at the outset.  Windows admins are smart, too.

That’s it for tonight. Don’t want to stretch myself TOO much after such a long hiatus.


Tradeshow Culture, Part 2: The Silent Street

The busy street out front
The busy street out front

There’s a new trend at trade shows, and it really creeps me out. I call it The Silent Street: a long stretch of pre-fabricated meeting rooms, parallel to the main aisle of booths. It’s just like the back alley: so close in space to the fancy street out front, but so far in look and feel.

The pre-fab meeting room has become a popular trade show booth option. The really big vendors will often incorporate a meeting room into the main booth structure, but smaller booths can rent a pre-fab: all you have to do is walk around the corner to the Silent Street to use it. The rooms are roofless, carpeted not just wall-to-wall but also floor-to-ceiling, and have only one tiny window on the locked door. The carpeted wall panels muffle the hubbub from the main aisle so that you feel much farther away from the action than you really are.

The silent street, just a few yards away
The silent street, just a few yards away

No one walks down the Silent Street except to go into a meeting room, so it’s both quiet and deserted. Obviously the rooms are useful—for some even necessary—but the marketing department must hate them: you’re taking customers away from the carefully crafted buzz of a show floor and walking them into a quiet, undecorated locked room.

To me, the Street was  strange enough that I remembered a passage from Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama, where astronauts explore an alien spaceship and walk through silent “cities” consisting of featureless cubical buildings.

Where the Girls Aren’t

Hi-tech has always been male-dominated. It is no longer Caucasian-dominated, I’m happy to say: I work with people from all sorts of ethnic persuasions. But there are still far too few women in the field. I just returned from a business trip where my ten customer meetings included a total of just two women. For many years I was a Unix systems administrator, and I regularly attended the Usenix LISA conference. Over a twenty-year span, the number of women attendees slowly grew from a tiny fraction to about 10%, but of course it should be 50%.

Today the San Francisco Chronicle ran this article about Black Girls Code, a San Francisco non-profit. Founder Kimberly Bryant writes:

By launching Black Girls Code, I hope to provide young and pre-teen girls of color opportunities to learn in-demand skills to at a time when they are naturally thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. That, really, is the Black Girls Code mission: to introduce programming and technology to a new generation of coders, coders who will become builders of technological innovation and of their own futures.

Bryant was a community college EE student, but had no role models: she was one of few women, and often the only person of color in the room. Her own daughter Kai grew up a heavy-duty gamer, but Bryant wanted her to learn workplace skills as well. And so she started Black Girls Code. She received a grant from Google and has mentored over 300 girls to date.

Much has been written about why so few women, and particularly minority women, pursue careers in math, science and engineering. I agree with those who believe it stems from both implicit and explicit social pressures that steer women into “traditional” women’s fields, or away from a career altogether. This can change if enough of us work to make it so. As Bryant says, “Imagine the impact that these curious, creative minds could have on the world with the guidance and encouragement others take for granted.”


The little program that foreshadowed the Web

On 10 August 1987—twenty-five years ago yesterday—Apple Computer unveiled a revolutionary new program called HyperCard. Tonight the Hillside Club in Berkeley hosted a 25th anniversary celebration of HyperCard, with BMUG co-founder Raines Cohen interviewing Bill Atkinson with a large crowd of grizzled computer geeks in attendance.

Soon after HyperCard’s Boston debut, developer Bill Atkinson demonstrated his new program to the Berkeley Macintosh User’s Group. At its peak, BMUG was the largest user group in the country with over 13,000 members, and gave away book-sized “newsletters” each year stuffed with free software. I was in the BMUG audience that night, inside the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall (now Pimentel Hall) on the UC Berkeley campus—the same cavernous room where I had taken chemistry from Dr George Pimentel a decade before. The image that sticks in my head was Bill displaying a picture of a fish and clicking on the fish’s eye, which immediately jumped to other eyes on other pictures.

Atkinson was already famous among Macintosh afficionados, as he had written both QuickDraw and MacPaint for the original Apple Macintosh in 1983. One might say that HyperCard version zero of the World Wide Web: a program whose raison d’etre was creating links between various elements in a database. Tim Berners-Lee drew upon this concept when he invented HTTP, and computing has never looked back.

My personal favorite stepchild of HyperCard was the game Myst. I’m not a gamer, but I was captivated by the evocative landscapes, steampunk and spaceships, all with a fantastic soundtrack. Atkinson’s own favorite stepchild was his iOS app PhotoCard, an attempt to save the postcard from extinction by offering a postcard delivery service. Bill is a talented nature photographer and edits many of PhotoCard’s images himself.

And the winner of the gold medal is: Curiosity!

While my wife Arlene is in the other room watching the Summer Olympic Games in London, I just finished watching NASA TV’s live coverage of the Curiosity rover’s landing on Mars. After years of engineering work, then an eight-month flight to Mars, all the hard work came down to a seven-minute landing sequence where the entire team can only watch helplessly as their work either succeeds brilliantly or fails miserably.

The parallels to an Olympic athlete are striking: years of sacrifice and hard work towards a precisely-defined goal, with one final performance when it really counts. If you succeed, a medal is hung around your neck; if you fail, you must find consolation and fulfillment in the journey itself.

The engineers at JPL know all too well the Olympic parallel: I just heard NASA Deputy Administrator Laurie Barber refer to swimmer Michael Phelps as “not the only one to hold his breath the whole time.”

What a fantastic day for JPL, NASA, and planetary science.

Aug 7
Today Adam Frank wrote this excellent piece for about how seemingly impossible tasks can be solved, as long as we all work together solve them.

Aug 9
Watching the live stream from JPL was completely engrossing, and the ongoing data we are getting (full color photos! GAH!) is just astounding.  David is right…the parallels with Olympic sport are uncanny.  One other similarity is the months and years spent in training (development for the scientists) that no one sees or cares about until the event happens.  Even then, that training is merely a footnote. We, the general populace, have no idea what that is like.  It’s more than just a job; more than a career. It’s truly a lifestyle, something that is completely consuming for the athlete (or scientist). And something I have a hard time really grasping, but I do my best to appreciate the commitment.

Life Without Friction

David pointed me to this excellent NYT opinion piece earlier. Great read, very thorough. So why am I talking about it, when I should just link it and then go my merry way?

Because I think he blows by something crucial, and that is how we have worked so hard to remove friction from all of our interactions. There’s a couple of things…first, it has become important to us to make sharing easy. As an example, I believe Google + would have more traction if it integrated more easily with existing apps like Twitter and Facebook. But it won’t, because Google wants the mindshare. What that means to me, a Google + user, is that I have to post info about this particular blog post more than once. I have to do it twice, at the least. Yes, it’s totally a first world problem, but this rings true for all of us.  Another example: swiping your credit card through a mag strip reader has become so cumbersome for Americans that we have implemented technologies that allow us to just wave the card in your general direction. I like how this particular example  removes ACTUAL friction, and not just perceived toilsome logic steps. Because of the removal of friction, we have become a society that overshares our data, and what government or business in the world doesn’t want that?

And then we get our panties in a wad when we read about how that government or organization is using those very same technologies to track our movements.

So, before I proceed further, I should make one thing clear. I don’t think ANY agency should be allowed to just approach my tracker carrier and get all of that information without a warrant. IMO, that is a fourth amendment violation. But we threw that right away, as a country, a LONG time ago.

The second part of this issue is that, by removing the friction, we have made the person and the data inseparable. There is absolutely no way to remove that data footprint from the digital world. This poses loads of challenges, not least of which is that we can no longer grow past any youthful indiscretion. That data will always exist, and will continue to exist long after our metabolic processes are history. And what about data that gets added to our digital life that isn’t ours? You think that doesn’t happen? Do you know how easy it is for me to impersonate you? It’s frightfully easy, and even if I’m only marginally successful, that data now has the potential to follow you around forever.

In my mind, I would like to have more friction. Friction is a reminder that I’m doing something real, and that I should think about the consequences of that particular action.


The double-edged sword

Here are some recent headlines about Twitter, culled from the technology site slashdot:

What strikes me most about this collection of stories is how difficult it is to run a journalistic enterprise. Twitter, like any company, is fundamentally in the business of making money for its employees and stockholders, but I’m sure the Twitter brain trust believe they have a somewhat higher calling. Twitter is justifiably proud of its role in the Arab Spring and other revolts against oppression, but the dividing line is often a blurry and uncertain one. Do you let Thailand censor tweets in exchange for allowing the Thai people to use Twitter? Do you give a user’s tweets—all of them—to the US government just because it asks for them? After all, the courts have ruled that Twitter users have no expectation of privacy, thus there is nothing to keep secret. Not all questions have a right or wrong answer.

Twenty-three centuries ago, Ecclesiastes wrote “There is nothing new under the sun” and “There is a time for war, and a time for peace.” If Ecclesiastes were alive today, he’d probably nod and say it again. The technology has changed, but the human condition has not. The challenge is how we use our double-edged technology.

“I’ve just made a deal that’ll keep the Empire out of here forever.”

Way, WAY back in the day, Cisco bought Linksys. Linksys was a hacker’s friend…you could root the box and install your own router on it with greater customization and security. Everybody was doing it, and it built a pretty big fan base.

Today I read this. In a nutshell, the newest Linksys routers came with an “auto-update” feature turned on, and the routers did just that.  They updated themselves, and then changed how users authenticate to the device by integrating it with their cloud service. Users revolted, much backpedaling ensued. But what’s really interesting is this paragraph that used to be part of the EULA (since removed):

When you use the Service, we may keep track of certain information related to your use of the Service, including but not limited to the status and health of your network and networked products; which apps relating to the Service you are using; which features you are using within the Service infrastructure; network traffic (e.g., megabytes per hour); Internet history; how frequently you encounter errors on the Service system and other related information (“Other Information”).

That’s some nasty stuff you are trying to doing there, Cisco. Consumers have come to expect this kind of stuff from ISPs (which is also shameful, IMO), but not necessarily from the companies that provide widgets. The thing about widget ownership is that we all feel that, when we buy it, it’s OURS. We have paid a distinct price set by you, Mr. Manufacturer, and now that we own it, we can do whatever we want with it. We know that we may be giving up on the warranty, but we usually don’t care. The usefulness of the device will always outlive any warranty that’s provided anyway. And if I want to hack my Cisco router and make a blender and pancake maker out of it as well, then I will do that. What we don’t like is when you, Mr. Manufacturer, try to extend your ownership past the point of sale. Yes, this happens alot. That doesn’t mean it’s right.

As Lord Vader put it: “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”

This is precisely why we need investigative journalism. As you recall, journalism is dying because of the Internet, the very medium over which I am publishing this plea. On the other hand, journalism must be alive otherwise we wouldn’t have heard about this Cisco EULA. But I’m willing to wager that the person who uncovered the EULA isn’t getting paid what a former investigative journalists got paid. The money thingie still hasn’t worked itself out.

Tech Fandom, The Power of Influence

So, when we last looked at this, we explored the power of positive experience, and then I kind of left you hanging. Well, guess what? I’m going to finish a thought.

IMO, the second largest factor that determines the tech a person chooses is the influences that push them in that direction. Those influences come from two sources: advertising and community.

Many of us ignore or dismiss the influence of advertising, but it totally exists. If it didn’t work, companies wouldn’t spend truckloads of money in it. But, for some reason, we pretend it doesn’t.  We scoff at the cheesy ads that adorn the right-hand side of our facebook experience. Honestly, we often act like we are “above it all.” Especially us gadget head/tech freaks. We set up these walls around ourselves, like we are the last hope for the race of men, and we behave just like Lord Denethor (without the descent into madness, I hope). But those ads work on us, too. We are part of demographics that get studied, and the people doing the studying are pretty smart. For example: I used a personal install of Splunk at my last job for log aggregation. Why? No one else at my company was using it, and no one that I trusted was using it, either. But they had this shirt that said, “Taking the SH out of IT.” It was irreverent and funny, and it struck a chord. So I installed and used their product. I liked their product, too. I still do, even though I haven’t used it in ages. They knew exactly how to market to a guy like me. Their ad campaign totally worked.

The same thing happens in the consumer electronics world, too. The Motorola Droid ads are a little weird, but they are also pretty successful. The Apple “I’m a Mac” ads were snarky and elitist, and they totally worked. Sometimes the ads don’t work directly(, for example), but they are successful in planting a concept or idea in your brain that creates a positive association with the product that is being offered (If I get my hosting there, I get immediate access to fast cars and pretty girls). And, truly, in the game of advertising, all publicity is good publicity.

Even though ads are powerful, they pale in comparison to the power of community. I experienced this first hand in 1998 with the explosive popularity of Linux among IT geeks. Sites like and were driving this popularity globally. It was anti-establishment, tech-elitist, and intelligent. And the people that were involved were (and still are) totally cool. I wanted to hang out with these people (and I did, some). I wanted to BE these people. They were innovative and part of a circle of influence that impacted me greatly. I spent all kinds of time tweaking my MDL laptop to make it Linux-only, flying directly in the face of the corporate IT standards that I was supposed to be supporting. I went to tradeshows; hung out at the slashdot booth and watched Wrath of Khan; played pool with Linus Torvalds. All of this made me feel like I could be somebody in this community. And it cemented a connection in my head that associates Linux users with good, cool people. That connection still exists.

That’s my experience, but we all have similar experiences around the tech that we have chosen to be part of our lives. Maybe not that overt. Maybe it’s an art thing, or a style thing, or a geek thing. But it’s there. I dare you to say different and not lie at the same time. I triple-dog dare you.

I agree that community is the most important thing, but that’s true of life itself, not just technology. Humans form groups; the group becomes “us” and everyone else is “them”. Heaps of Ph.D. dissertations have been written about this.

However, I personally have never been convinced about the power of advertising. Sure, I enjoy a well-done ad campaign (I have about six Splunk shirts in my t-shirt drawer). But I didn’t buy my Subaru because of Subaru ads, I bought it because I shopped around and this was the best car for me at the time. I don’t buy Chevron gasoline because of those incessant Techron ads, I buy it because it’s the closest gas station to my house. I patronize the local independent hardware store and endure Home Depot only when necessary. I always hit the mute button during commercials.