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.


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.


“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.

The Anatomy of Tech Fandom

This has been ruminating inside my head for a while, so I thought I’d post about it. That’s what this is for, right?

I am not the first to write about this, nor will I be the last. And it isn’t just tech, but fandom at large. However, this is prevalent inside of the tech industry, both on the consumer and business level.

What we are talking about here is…why? Why do we choose sides? Why do we align ourselves with companies and their products? What are the triggers?

It’s obvious that companies want to produce fans. With fans, you can withstand bad product cycles, because fans forgive. With fans, you can build hype around releases, because fans will buy and will influence their circles to buy as well. But why do we take part in this? Are we really doing ourselves any favors by being fans?

Case in point: The Apple iPhone 4s. What about this phone makes it worth the price of admission? Especially when you consider the technology you likely already had, which is the iPhone 4. It did not have what everyone really wanted in their new iPhone which was support for faster data (there is no 4G yet. It’s marketing. 4G will be MUCH faster than what we have now, but i’ll take 4G “lite” over 3G any day of the week, and twice on Sunday). It did have a dual core processor that no one cares about, and a slightly better crappy camera (there are no good mobile phone cameras. the sensors are too small. SIZE MATTERS). But I saw all the people line up to buy it, as did you. I saw and read the hype, as did you. The EXPECTATION was that this would finally catch up, speed-wise, to other phones on the market. The community expressed disappointment, surely, but they still bought the stupid thing. Because they are fans. And Apple KNEW they would buy it. And every other gadget/tech company in the consumer space is desperately trying to figure out how to build the same kind of fandom.

Look, I’m a fan of things too, so I’m not the dispassionate observer that you think I am making myself out to be. I’m just trying to figure this thing out myself.

Apple isn’t the only company with fans. Some companies have fans of only one product (Microsoft XBox) and some companies have fans only among IT sectors (Cisco).

So, back to the “why.” I think there are two main driving factors that build product/company fandom, and I think they work in tandem (see what I did there?). First is the positive personal experience. Every fan, at the very beginning, took a flyer on the product. They hadn’t experienced it before and they felt that they needed to. So, there is an initial risk, a very personal one. This is an exposure of vulnerability in order to fulfill a desire (that we often classify as need). This is non-trivial because it almost always involves more than just financial outlay. With phones, there are usually contractual obligations that tie us in for an extended time. Another risk is that, by choosing one, we automatically eliminate the alternatives. If that risk gets rewarded positively, then it triggers an association. We associate the positive personal experience directly to the company/product that provided the tech we chose. And companies LOVE it when this happens.

The second factor is community influence. This is made up of the fan’s relationships with other people (or advertising) that influence their decision. More on this later.

The May 14th issue of the New Yorker profiles Clayton Christensen, author of the 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma. Christensen sought to discover why large successful businesses could go from successful to bankrupt so quickly. I won’t retell the story here; please read the article. But there are clear parallels to what’s happened with the iPhone.

The revolution began with the iPod and, more subtly, with iTunes. The iPhone was just a big iPod with a phone and camera slapped on. It wasn’t very good phone service, and it was a lousy camera—but the point is, it was good enough, so people used it anyway. In particular, young people used it anyway, and with fandom it’s young people that matter. Low-end digital cameras have been in trouble for some time because of camera phones: sure real cameras are better, but it doesn’t matter because camera phones are good enough for what most people want (this is one of Christensen’s main points).

I’m one of those who went from a iPhone 3GS to an iPhone 4G. Why? Because my wife and I wanted to switch from AT&T to Verizon. Arlene is a realtor, and she spends all day on the phone; she needed better phone service. I’ve always been a Macintosh enthusiast (I’ve owned one since the very beginning, in 1984) but I’ve never stood in line for anything when it first came out. Not sure whether that makes me a fan.

Why Would Doves Cry? Who Wears Damask Clothing? Woodrow Wilson Doesn’t Capitulate?

I know. Best I can do under current conditions.

So, we’ve all been digesting the “news” that came out of the WWDC that started on Monday. In case you were wondering, I’m kind of the opposite of an Apple fanboy. Not going to get into it deeply today (I have already talked about some of it here), but I did want to talk about this.

One of the more interesting bits I’ve read came from this article at Business Insider. It doesn’t really talk about the tech, but more about the attitude at Apple. In a nutshell, Apple is still acting like the plucky young upstart trying to establish space. They aren’t that company anymore, but their language still sounds like the kind of competitive smack-talk that an aggressive start-up would use. Mr. Blodget (if he dropped the “d,” he’d have the near perfect name for the type of work he is doing) makes the point that it isn’t funny anymore…it’s classless. One of the things he brings out is the comparison to Microsoft back in the day, and how the FTC and EU ultimately responded to their arrogance.

I think that’s something Apple needs to be concerned about. You see, they are releasing bundled features (Maps, Ticketing, etc.) that compete with applications that already exist in the app store. So, you’re a developer that makes this cool little app, you run through the gauntlet that gets you inside the walled garden, and now you are reaping the rewards for your hard work, providing service and features that your users want. Then Apple comes along and does essentially the same thing. What do you do?  Because, since it is a walled garden, Apple reserves the right to completely remove your app without notice or recourse. And I’m gonna bet that this will happen. When it does, what is the government response going to be?And I also believe that Apple’s risk is much higher overseas than it is here in the US. Just having the bundled app may be enough for the EU to take action.


Way to go, Microsoft affiliate.

So…I assume you’ve seen this, right? We all have, haven’t we? To be fair, it isn’t MS directly that did this, but an affiliate in Norway for the developers conference. Wacky Vikings. Still, Twitter blew up over this (which, I believe, is the constant state of Twitter). And now MS Azure is hunting down the culprits so they can do whatever it is that Microsoft does when someone else embarrasses them publicly. I’m not sure what that is, exactly. Maybe release the Clippy?

I’m writing about it because it seems that this happens to companies WAY too often. Either it’s an internal marketing department, an external contracted marketing endeavor, or from a third party affiliate. Someone, somewhere, makes the decision that this is a “Good Idea.” Then someone else, or a group of them, executes that idea. Nowhere in the process does anyone say, “Um, wait? Isn’t this a little weird?” Then the event happens, or the commercial is made, or whatever…and then the mad scramble is on to control the damage. Why? Why does it happen in the first place, and why do we all go completely bonkers about it in the second?

I blame the 24 hour news cycle.

There’s an old joke about the driver who gets out of his car and asks the policeman “May I park here?” The policeman shakes his head, and the driver objects “But all these other guys are parked here!” The policeman replies “They didn’t ask.” So you’re a Microsoft affiliate, and you’ve got this great idea for a great show. You could ask Marketing, but you know what happens to Dilbert when he talks to Marketing. (Marketing often gets a bad rap. I really like the Marketing group at my company.) So the affiliate doesn’t ask, but goes ahead with the great idea. Besides, it’s a funny joke if you’re a geek, right? And surely we’re no longer surprised that song or rap lyrics can be explicit, or that cultural attitudes differ widely across international boundaries? America is more stodgy and conservative than most European countries, and Europeans often roll their eyes when Americans make a big deal out of something like this.

Still, the author was just the latest in a long line of victims who discover how quickly “a little thing” can virally morph into a big thing. Certainly it’s embarrassing to Microsoft.

Tradeshow Culture, Part 1: Attending

Your basic tradeshow floor. This is part of DAC 2012 in San Francisco.

Believe it or not, David and I were chatting about the weird sub-culture of tech tradeshows a few days before this article hit the streets. Not to worry, we’ll get to that.  But we kinda wanted to talk about the whole experience. You see, David and I used to work together, and we have a history of attending tech tradeshows together. Now, though, we work apart (sad face). And also, we are both on the other side of the tradeshow…its seamy underbelly, encrusted with gum wrappers, gaffer’s tape, and half consumed peppermints.

So, tradeshows are kind of weird.  Let’s look at it from the attendee point of view, shall we? As attendees, you basically fall into one of two categories: a grazer or a hunter.

Grazers aren’t sure why they are there, but they are pretty sure it isn’t an official work day (even though they are getting paid), so they take advantage. Grazers are interested in seeing everything, getting every free piece of swag and marketing slick, and buying nothing. Grazers like to say they have decision power in their company, but they don’t. Not really. Grazers, however, are not valueless, nor is it completely pointless to be a grazer. As a grazer, you have a wider opportunity to see more at a tech tradeshow and your ability to be surprised/excited by something new is much higher. Grazers are also, by and large, more “joyful” attendees.  Genuinely happy to be there, usually, and much more likely to smile at, nay, even talk to, another human be(an)ing.  Grazers truly appreciate the spectacle before them, and will laugh and dance with you and your colored lights. Grazers are more likely to have exploratory conversations with those that work the booths, and everybody walks away happy.  Or, at the least, slightly dreamy and mystified by what just occurred.

Hunters know exactly why they are there. Hunters are working on a project or evaluating a specific branch of tech wizardry, and they have no time for the dilly dally. Hunters have no patience for the marketroids and fluff at the booth that is their current target…they only want an engineer. They have five other engineers to talk to that day, and then they have to evaluate what they have learned. Good hunters take notes. Hunters, however, aren’t always the best type of attendee. Hunters tend to have blinders towards the other tech on display, and overestimate their own opinion. Rarely is a hunter open-minded, and hunters engage in the conversation process poorly at times, since they tend to mistrust any claims made by the obvious shysters working the show booth.  After all, if you work as a sales entity for a manufacturer, you must be a soulless demon spawn from the netherworld, right?

I’ve been both in my career as attendee, as has David (probably). I’d like to think I’m more intelligent than all that, but it isn’t true. I’ve been the poorest example of both hunter and grazer, and maybe the best, too. I’ve treated people working in booths poorly simply because I associate a perceived shortcoming in their product to, what must be, an obvious personal flaw for trying to get me to buy it. I’ve also wasted more people’s time than I feel I should have done, but over all, I have enjoyed my time in trade shows. After all, I have all the Splunk t-shirts and branded Rubik’s cubes to show for it. And I have made tech decisions based on the initial introductions to technology I have seen at tradeshows…some good decisions, some not so good. As with anything, it’s a mixed bag.

There’s a third kind of tradeshow attendee: the job seeker. A tradeshow is a tough place to look for a job, because hiring managers are rarely the ones staffing the booth. But occasionally you find a good match; when searching for my current job I landed two interviews with hardware vendors, although they didn’t pan out. We’ll write another post about job seeking soon; watch this space.