#PurposeMakesThePassionWork >>> #PassionMakesTheTeamWork >>> #TeamWorkMakesTheDreamWork

First, let me clarify the title of this blog a bit.  Obviously, it’s a hashtag followed by a string of hashtags which I view as a progression, but for me, it’s all about “The Dream”. What’s interesting about the “The Dream” is how varied living it can be, for me it’s always been about waking up in the morning knowing I had to go to work, but making work something that fulfilled my dream and some portion of a dream for others.  So when I think about the term “The Dream” objectively what comes to my mind is a question; what dream, whose dream? The answer to this question in my mind is my dream, your dream, our dream. The rhetorical question and the answer are pretty telling about how I view teamwork, how I view the purpose and the motivation behind teamwork and how important community and culture is to me and to achieving the dream, more on the dream in a bit.  Just like I view everything in life, pragmatically, dreams need to be equitable to be achievable; they can be lofty, but they need to be equitable. Our dreams should satisfy ourselves, satisfy others, satisfy our team, satisfy our customers, etc… When we can align our dreams, we can align our purpose, motivation, and efforts and greatly increase the probability of achieving our dreams.

It is and always has been my belief that engineers should understand things at a different level; a deeper level, concerning themselves less with the finished product (aka the what) and more with the why and how. Engineering is NOT about marchitecture and best practices, memorization and regurgitation, it’s never about the fastest path and often is about the most learned path, it’s about thirsting for and developing a deep understanding of the details.  A deep understanding of the theory and the applied logic is the foundation for the wisdom that allows us to develop new and novel ideas. Execution of someone else’s idea is imitation and as engineers, we are here to innovate not imitate.

I think of this process and our evolution as engineers in the following way:

  1. We need to feed our brains data.  Cognition then needs to take over and convert data into information and eventually into knowledge.
  2. We then need to apply what we already know too that which our conative skill just processed.
  3. We can then take the context of a current situation, all the data about the current situation, mash it together with knowledge which we already possess, and begin to make some decisions.  The ability to make these decisions or judgment calls without a clear roadmap requires a corpus of knowledge which is big enough that we can apply logic and reason and decisions on what is and is not likely applicable in a given situation. This is where wisdom becomes a differentiator.
  4. It is my belief that value is derived by accelerating the velocity of vertical conversion of information to knowledge (aka cognition), etc.. and accelerating our ability to solve the equation, the faster we are at solving the equation the faster we can conjure and commit and the more value we will deliver.  This is the process that I value most and the process that I believe the market values most.

In summary, engineers need to possess the ability to conjure and commit.  Doing this well requires developing our cognitive skills, knowledge and wisdom.  As engineers, we need to be committed to and satisfied by the journey, not the destination.  This past weekend I binged watched Losers on Netflix and for those who need an easy way to make the value of losing and failure tangible, episode one and the story of Michael Bentt does a pretty good job.

With that bit of background out of the way, we can now move on to the annual Expert Services Retreat/Kickoff.  I use the terms “retreat” and “kickoff” interchangeably because this event is really both, a time to congratulate ourselves and our peers for a job well done, a time to reflect on and learn from our mistakes, a time to blow off some steam and have a little fun, a time to strengthen our connection with each other, and a time to develop the skills that make us engineers.  For the last eight years or so the Expert Services team has been taking an annual trip. These three-day events are designed to focus on reviewing our business from the prior year, charting our course for the upcoming year, connecting with each other, challenging each other and ourselves and emerging a bigger, faster and stronger as individuals, as leaders and as a team. Those who know me know the genesis of this event, and without exploring it in detail, what I will say is that I believe the team and only the team can achieve greatness, what we do can not work on the back of any one individual, success and failure is the result of the team 100% of the time. This team works 24x7x365, without a team dynamic and culture that supports this, the business just doesn’t work, and I would argue society doesn’t work, but this post has already metastasized far beyond what I intended so I’ll save the society discussion for another time.  Expectations are always high, but they differ from individual to individual, this is logical. E.g. – We don’t expect our long snapper to run 4.4 40, yet our long snapper is just as important as someone who runs a 4.4 40. Every role has significance and we expect execution at a high-level within a role. My expectation is that as teammates we will always put others above ourselves and we will expect others to do the same; if we can execute on this mission we are destined for greatness.

Without humility, community and a belief in something bigger than ourselves we are merely swirling in the vortex individualism. By the time we realize that the force of the vortex is too intense to handle alone, it is too late. It’s not a question of if the center will hold but rather when it will give way. Building a great team is about the realization by everyone in the community that at some point the swirling vortex will be too powerful for us to handle alone and that our only hope for the future is a community. When we love what we do, we want to sustain it, when we love what we do, we will take measures and make sacrifices to build a community that greatly increases the probability that we can keep doing what we love.  This is culture, this is the foundation on which great teams and great organizations are built.

What a great team!!!

Nothing says “engineer” like cloning one of your team who couldn’t make it because they had to stay home to have a baby. We have one missing team member in the picture above because he couldn’t make it at the last minute and we just didn’t have time to clone him.

For the past eight years or so, Atlantic City, New Jersey in February has been home to the Expert Services Retreat/Kickoff, with a deviation two years ago to Philadelphia. Like everything in Expert Services we favor yield and Atlantic City has always provided what we needed with the best yield. 2018 was a really good year for the team, we nearly doubled our business, our customer base and the number of account executives we are working with, so we decided to pick a destination for the 2019 Expert Services Retreat/Kickoff.  So this year we all headed to Clearwater Beach, Florida. It turned out to be a great location and a great venue.

Our agenda was a three-day trip filled with business, pleasure and a technical project aimed at making us better engineers, this year’s being the Autonomous Car Challenge.

Day One

The day starts with early morning flights into Tampa, Florida.  Upon arrival, we
transferred from the airport to the hotel to quickly check-in and drop off our bags before heading out to our planned team event; a suite at Spectrum Field for a spring training game between Philadelphia Phillies vs. Detroit Tigers.  Thank you to Dell Technologies for sponsoring this great team event, what a great day.

On the evening of day one, the Expert Services team headed to Frenchy’s Saltwater Cafe a casual and fun beach spot for dinner and libations, with or new teammates from Computacenter, our partners Dell Technologies and Forte Data Solutions.  Thank you to Forte Data Solutions, the Expert Services team go to database partner for sponsoring dinner, it was great to have you there and explore how we can further strengthen our relationship and GTM approach in 2019.

Not sure we could have had a better day for a baseball game.

Day one was a great day and we were happy to share it with each other, our new friends and our partners from Dell Technologies and Forte Data Solutions.

Day Two

Day two began with yours truly talking about purpose, passion, motivation, commitment and connection as the true difference makers.  Ever since I attended a leadership workshop at Harvard and was introduced to Dan Pink’s video “The surprising truth about what motivates us” video and later read his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” my thoughts on what it takes to be truly driven and what it takes to be a disruptor has been tightly moored to the purpose motive.

Following opening statements, which actually took a couple of hours, in my defense I did provide a state of the business which took most of that time, we settled in for a partner presentations from Dell Technologies and Forte Data Solutions.

Following the partner presentations, we rolled into a team building exercise using legos to teach the Cynefin framework.  Next up was a customer empathy session, because the best way for us to improve is to make the effort to understand how our actions impact our customers. A subset of the team then delivered their personal presentations where they reflected on their 2018 goals, made some decisions and set 2019 personal goals.  We finished up the day with a with a presentation by “The Engine Ears” presenting on their autonomous vehicle build process.

Day two came to a close with dinner and libations at the Clear Sky Beachside Cafe sponsored by Qlyitcs.  The Expert Services team partners with Qlytics and leverages the Q-PLATFORM to help our customers accelerate their Artificial Intelligence (AI) journey.

Day Three

Day three kicked off with updates on DigitalMe and service delivery for one of the largest Computacenter customers.  We then had a partner presentation by Qlytics, continued on with more personal presentations, followed by a presentation from team “Johnny Cab” on their autonomous vehicle build process. We closed out the formal presentations on day three with a presentation from the autonomous vehicle challenge mentors, and an update on engineering organization.

With all the formal presentation work out of way, it was time to move on to the head-to-head autonomous vehicle challenge where the work over the last two months would be put on display.  We streamed this 2.5-hour session on YouTube Live, it was a blast, but also stressful for the participants.

Following the day’s activities and stress (being open and honest isn’t always a cakewalk, self-realization can be a very taxing process) we chilled at the hotel with a private reception.

The Autonomous Vehicle Challenge

In early January the Expert Services team was divided into three teams:  “Johnny Cab”, “The Engine Ears” and “The Mentors”. “Johnny Cab” and “The Engine Ears” (self-named) would have two months to work together to build a 1/16th scale autonomous vehicle, implement the infrastructure and software stack/frameworks, gather training data, train and tune their AI models and test their vehicles, document their process and ready a team presentation in preparation for presentations and a head-to-head competition at the Expert Services Retreat/Kickoff at the end of February.  The journey was priceless, the teams learned a lot about each other, they learned a ton about so many facets of technology and how little things like training on GPUs vs. CPUs can really accelerate your ability to experiment. They learned why the cloud is so valuable, realizing that by spending a few dollars in the cloud with a service like Paperspace they could train a model that took hours on their laptop in minutes.  The teams spent significant discretionary time over the two months working together and journaling their progress on Twitter (#xs2019).  It was a challenging project, but I believe the project helped people connect, exposed a few things we need to work on as a team and delivered a depth of understanding of machine learning and autonomous vehicles that is deeper and superior to most, this is what being an engineer is all about.

Engineers always travel with their own soldering iron, you just can’t get a quality solder joint with a borrowed soldering iron.

I love this team, I love the intensity they attack these projects with, and I love the preparation they put into getting ready for this event each year.  This video snippet from the full-length streamed YouTube Live broadcast truly captures how awesome this team and this event is.

Note: The video contains celebratory expletives.

I can say with a high degree of confidence that you could search VARdom and not find a group of engineers this size who have an applied grasp of computer vision, supervised learning, and autonomous vehicles the way this team does, and this is what it is all about!!!

Great work team! I can’t wait for next year!!!