A Day in the Life

A day in my life. Thoughts on leadership, management, startups, technology, software, concurrent development, etc... Basically the stuff I think about from 10am to 6pm.


Adoption: For the Love of a Child

What would you do for the love of a child?

- Would you pay someone to do a psychological assessment of you, your spouse, and your family of which the results are provided to strangers?

- Would you pay for a complete medical exam, of which the results would be provided to strangers?

- Would you pay for a criminal background check, on yourself, with the results going to a stranger?

- Would you make copies of your last income tax filing and give that to a stranger?

- Would you pay for and attend parenting and cultural sensitivity classes?

- Would you and your spouse, each, fill out a detailed and invasive 8 page form and give that to a stranger?

- Would you write a letter to a stranger telling her about you and your family? (A birth parent letter)

- Would you build a photo collage of your home and family? (For the birth family)

- Allow a stranger into your home to do a safety inspection? Then implement the required changes? *

- Would you do all these things...twice? Three times?

People who have adopted have done all those things. ** As I watch the privacy debates raging across the news and Internet I am reminded of how unimportant my privacy was when I was hoping to become a parent. If I had to bare my soul to a group of strangers, some of whom I would never meet, so be it. If I had to put my life on paper to be read by people I had never met, so be it. If that is what it took to become a prospective adoptive parent, I would do it. And I did do it. Twice.

Becoming an adoptive parent has a couple major steps. First you have to decide that you want to adopt. For some people this is a very easy decision, but for others it can be agonizing. Some people spend thousands of dollars in an effort to have biological children and only come to adoption after a great deal of pain. Some families will have a biological child or two and then adopt. For others, adoption was the only plan from the beginning. We made a few half hearted attempts at getting pregnant. I had wanted the experience of it, but after a few months of worrying about my ovulation schedule, I decided that I really wasn’t THAT attached to being pregnant. So we started our adoption journey.

Once you make the decision to adopt you then have to decide what type of adoption you will do. International, private domestic, foster-adopt, transracial, open, closed, special-needs, etc... These decisions dictate which type of adoption agency you will engage with. We decided that our first adoption would be domestic, private, transracial, and open. We live in a very racially and culturally diverse area so the race of our child didn’t seem important. We also didn’t care what the child’s gender was and we wanted an open adoption. This led us to Pact. Pact is an adoption facilitator located in Oakland, CA. They have a repository of prospective adoptive parents who are interested in transracial adoption. Birth families of color can contact Pact directly or come to Pact through an adoption agency local to them. The birth family provides Pact with several attributes that they are looking for in an adoptive family, Pact provides them with candidates that match those criteria, and the birth family selects the prospective adoptive families they would like to know more about. The placement of a child for adoption is an act of love and a gift from the birth parent to the child. The birth families are often very concerned about placing their child in a home that matches their values and interests. The birth family then meets with or talks with the prospective families in an attempt to narrow down the choice to one adoptive family. Then we all wait for the baby.

Then begins the third step. While the adoptive parents are waiting for the birth of the child, they busily engage in the completion of their homestudy which involves all the fun things listed above: psychological evaluations, physicals, financial checks, sex offender checks, paperwork, classes, etc...

A foster-adopt adoption is very similar except for two things. First, your home must be licensed as a foster care facility. A social worker will come to your house to evaluate it for safety and if necessary request changes. Which you will implement as quickly as possible. The second difference is that you will have to select the children you are interested in adopting. Their social worker will receive your homestudy and decide if you are a good fit. Further information about the child is exchanged and if you are selected the child will move into your home as a foster child before adoption can be pursued. ***

The odd thing about foster-adopt is that you select your potential child from books containing profiles on all the children currently available by county. Sometimes there isn’t a picture. You will read profiles from these books with lots of big medical words and make your best guess from that profile. You will ask yourself: Can I raise that child? Can I love that child? I feel fortunate that our social worker submitted us for our son before we saw anything about him. Looking at the books made me feel like I was shopping for a kid. I didn’t like that feeling.

With all that adoptive parents go through to gain a family there are a few thing you know for sure:

- The children are very, very wanted.

- Because of the homestudy process, the classes, and the soul searching that often occurs, I consider adoptive parents more likely to be reliable and stable parents. We have the paperwork to prove it!

I didn’t adopt my children to save the world. I adopted them because I wanted a family. I wanted my own children to love and be loved by. And I can tell you for certain that although my children were not born from my womb, they are firmly entrenched in my heart.

If you are a birth parent reading this, know that if you decide to place your child that your child will be loved; deeply and profoundly. If you are considering adopting it is a journey...but one well worth taking.

* This was only required for the foster-adopt program.
** My adoption experience is limited to domestic private and foster-adopt.
*** This was the State of California in 2004, things may be different in other states.


Business: The Honest Geek

There is a short article on ZDNET today, ”Can IT Workers shake the ‘geek’ image?”, in the article is a quote from Paul Broome, “Most IT types are principled and disarmingly honest about things.”

Well...hell yea. The thing is you can’t lie to a computer and computer systems are designed to keep track of things. Logging is standard. Because when weird stuff happens, which it always does, the logs might contain your only real clues. We are trained to think of all the things that could go wrong and plan for them. We are trained to dig for the root cause of problems. That training is every day and on going. And it requires us to be brutally honest. We don’t get to just put a band-aid on or ignore a problem because if we do and the system fails again...we are the ones who catch it.

For programmers there is no getting around the fact that if you use bad syntax or logic it’s going to show. The compiler will immediately notify you of syntactical problems. This forces us into a perpetual lesson on the proper syntax of our current development language. In fact a great deal of what IT and programmers do is highly visible to their peers. How many times have you pulled the latest source code and had it not compile? Well, it’s not hard to figure out who checked in the bad code or forgot to check in a new file. It’s all there in the source control system. You just look like an ass if you lie about it, so you suck it up, fix the problem, and move on.

Because our jobs require us to be brutally honest the only people we lie to about work stuff, is ourselves. We might have an over inflated ego, think we’re smarter than we are, or faster...but when it comes to external work stuff...we know where we stand. Liars get caught out pretty fast and with most companies, they will end up on the fast track to the unemployment line.

Executives, marketing, and sales folks would benefit from being more honest. My belief in this is one of the reasons that I love “Confronting Reality” by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. Engineers are required to confront the truths of their reality. Many other positions are not. But knowing where your business really stands is critical for making sound decisions.

So yes, most IT and programmer types are principled and honest. We need to be. And so should everyone else. LONG LIVE THE GEEKS!

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Grid Computing: The Easier Distribution Model

If you’re thinking about adding distribution to your Windows project or starting a new Windows project that uses distribution you will likely read the Microsoft MSDN article ”Developing Distributed Services Today”. This is a great paper to begin your research into the new distribution models available to Microsoft Windows based applications. But one of the basics of distributed computing is that some part of the distribution model needs to run on each compute resource. One of the other basics is that you have to build a lot of stuff yourself.

Historically most distributed products have been built with a proprietary distribution framework. So the work of building the framework is repeated over and over again at different companies and sometimes even within the same company. The efficiency freak in me is freaking. This is a lot of wasted work because it is highly unlikely that the distribution framework you built is delivering a competitive advantage. Now if we talk about small projects built for internal use it is even less likely that the distribution framework is providing a competitive advantage and it is also likely that these projects will not be written as distributed applications. Why? Because the framework is too complicated to build and maintain for small projects. But just because it’s not cost effective to build it doesn’t mean that the project wouldn’t benefit from it.

Enter grid computing. Grid is a distribution framework that provides a standardized approach to distribution. With the Digipede Network the distribution framework is the Network and the work that you want to distribute is run by the Network component called the Digipede Agent. The .NET and COM interfaces available in the Digipede Framework work the way Microsoft developers have learned to work. The developer derives a class from the Worker class, defines the work in the DoWork() method, and sends the work to the Digipede Server for distribution. The code that owns the Worker derived class can register event handlers and receive notification at submission, job, and task levels. The entire substructure of resource availability, job registration, task assignment, etc...is all taken care of by the Digipede Network. The hard part of the distribution process is now limited to you figuring out what you want to distribute.

By using a distribution framework like the Digipede Network you off-load all the work of building the framework yourself. This lets your development team:

- Focus on writing the code that is going to directly benefit your business.
- Add distribution to projects based on need and not project size.
- Build scalable software solutions that will grow with your company.
- Keep the software architecture simple because the entire distribution layer is abstracted away.

And of course you save all the development, testing, and documentation time and money that you would have otherwise spent building it yourself. Just think what you could do with that.

The power of grid computing is no longer just for the Linux crowd and with the Digipede Network; it works the way you work. You should consider grid computing as a distribution model if scalability is an issue; the project is parallelizable, and/or computationally intensive.


Business: Make it Easy for Your Customers

The other night I was in Pleasanton for an eBig SIG. The SIG got out early and I decided to head over to Stoneridge Mall. Pottery Barn for Kids had had a Bubble Beater that I wanted to buy for the youngins. I had seen it before Christmas but didn’t want to stand in line for one small item. During my visit to the Pottery Barn I got outstanding service, the problem is that I walked out without making any purchases. They didn’t have any Bubble Beaters in stock. I asked about a quilt that caught my eye and they didn’t have any of those in stock either. So the attendant suggested checking to see if the products were available online. They were not.

The issue that I have with retail stores is that if you sell something in the store you sure as hell need to sell it online as well. Don’t make it hard for your customers to buy your stuff. Neither the quilt nor the Bubble Beater is available online. You can only buy them in a brick-and-mortar store. This makes no sense.

Online catalogs for retail companies should have every product they sell available for purchase. The print catalog can have a few less and the brick-and-mortar can have even a smaller subset. People understand that a store doesn’t have enough space to carry all of a company’s products, but carrying products that are only available in a store and NOT available online is inexcusable. I’ve been trying to think of a reason that Pottery Barn does this and the only reason I can come up with is to try and get customers to visit their brick-and-mortar stores. This seems counter intuitive to me. And to make the whole thing just hilarious there was a catalog waiting for me in my mailbox when I got home that night. A catalog that did not contain either the Bubble Beater or the quilt. Go figure.

While I'm complaining about retail stores...I stopped at a Lego store during the Christmas season hoping to get some Lego people for my son. He has a lot of bricks but few people. But the Lego store didn't carry people, although they did have a ton of bricks. So I was delighted when I saw that I could at least buy the Community Worker Lego set through their catalog. I can’t image why Lego doesn’t make it easy to buy people. But they got a huge wake up call over the Christmas holiday. I ordered the Community Workers set early December...it arrived last week. There was such demand that the set was back-ordered. I hope that Lego realizes that they could sell a lot of people if they just made them available. Might I suggest soccer players?

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Business: Getting Started

Over on the blog webdevs.blogspot.com there is a post comparing Paul Graham’s startup approach to Joel Spolsky’s startup approach. I found it interesting because TechBert is comparing apples and oranges.

So how do you start a company? You start by figuring out what you really want to accomplish. Do you want to build a company to flip or do you want to build an institution? Knowing your exit-strategy will help you decide when and how much funding to pursue.

What resources are currently available to you? This tells you where you are now. And as you build your business plan you will be mapping out how you will get from where you are today to your exit strategy.

As you work through your business plan one of the questions that you will need to answer is, who is my customer? Further refining your approach. Questioning, questioning, questioning.

Each question you answer directs you to the startup approach that will work best for you. Because we are all different each person who sits down and seriously considers what business they want to start is going to end up getting there in a different way. There is no guarantied path to success.

As you read through the points about Paul and Joel you can clearly see that they are taking very different approaches and going after different markets. The point I want to make is that they are both successful and they got that way by following the paths that worked best for them. And that is exactly the formula that any aspiring entrepreneurs should take.

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Book Review: “A Love Like No Other” edited by Pamela Kruger and Jill Smolowe

I am an adoptive parent of two awesome boys. I thought A LOT about adoption and race issues before my children joined my family. And I have thought about both of those issues every day since. Whether you are an adoptive parent or thinking about adoption “A Love Like No Other” is a must read. This book is a collection of stories from families who have adopted and it seems that many of the various flavors of adoption are represented. These stories document the complexity of adoption. Not just the joyfulness of having a family but also the facts about how complicated our families and children are. Raising adopted children is not easy. Every time one of the kids has an “issue” we run through the question loop, is it an: adoption issue, racial issue, developmental issue, sleep issue, food issue, etc... My kids’ have a couple extra layers to them. It was very therapeutic to read about families that use the same loop. To read about families like mine. Our children have hurdles but they also have our love. And I have never known a greater joy than my kids. So if you are thinking about adoption read this book, you will get a better feeling about what you’re getting into. If you have already adopted, then read this book, you will feel less alone.

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Software: Running Excel with .NET 1.1 Code-Behind

Working programmatically with Microsoft Excel is always fun because it’s sort of the ugly stepchild. I’ve been working on making sure that our samples still work in Visual Studio 2003 and suddenly, **throat clearing**, I was no longer able to debug the Excel with code-behind sample. So of course I dug around for answers...

I turned up this group posting: “VS 2003 to VS 2005 UPGRADE w/Excel 2003, VSTO”. Ken states that you can experience Excel debugging problems if you have both Visual Studio 2003 and Visual Studio 2005 installed. He suggests either porting the application to Visual Studio 2005 or creating an Excel config file specifying that you want to use .NET 1.1 for the Excel application and consequently debugging. I’m going to have to create an application config file to debug in Visual Studio 2003 and remember to remove it when I port the sample to the .Net 2.0 version and test in Visual Studio 2005. What a pain.

So the next thing to figure out was what’s in an excel.exe.config file and where does it live. This information can be found at ”Side-by-Side Execution of the .NET Framework”.

By putting the file excel.exe.config in the same directory as my excel.exe file I am able to once again use Visual Studio 2003 to debug an Excel application.

And here are the contents of my excel.exe.config:
<?xml version="1.0"?>
<supportedRuntime version="v1.1.4322"/>
And I am now able to debug my Excel sample.

But that wasn’t all; there is more to Excel with .NET 1.1 code-behind. I wasn’t able to instantiate an object that was defined by the Digipede Framework. The DigipedeClient object in particular. I got the following message:
An unhandled exception of type 'System.Security.SecurityException' occurred in digipede.framework.dll

Additional information: Request for the permission of type System.Security.Permissions.StrongNameIdentityPermission, mscorlib, Version=1.0.5000.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=b77a5c561934e089 failed.
What this means is that my Excel project wasn’t given the permissions it needed to run. So I had to go into the .NET Configuration 1.1 Wizard and add my Excel project under “Runtime Security Policy\User\Code Groups\All_Code\Office_Projects”. Once I had the correct .NET libraries in use and the security policy problem cleared up, I was good to go.


Business: Why I Hate Microsoft

Update: So some friend’s pointed out that people who scan will think that I actually do hate Microsoft. I don’t really. Not on an emotional level or a I hate Brussels Spouts level. I started this posting after reading a bunch of Microsoft bashes which seem to be everywhere. Microsoft NEEDS to be respected. They are a major player and that is a fact. Hating the top dog and cheering on the underdog is the American way; it’s how we watch football games, reality shows, and each other. The under dog only gets those votes of confidence while they are striving to over come impossible odds. If you still don’t know what I’m talking about...rent “Miracle on Ice” about the 1980 US Men’s Ice Hockey team’s quest to win the gold medal. If you don’t get it after that...then there is no help for you.

I’m an ex-OS/2er...so to say that I’m a huge fan of Microsoft’s would be a lie. When the war was waging between Windows 3.1 and OS/2 I was pretty angry about Microsoft’s misleading advertisements and I blamed Microsoft for the demise of OS/2. But I’ve learned over the years that IBM is more to blame for the death of OS/2 than Microsoft. IBM made assumptions and they made mistakes.

Now let’s put this in a hockey context. When you’re playing hockey you work hard to gain possession of the puck and then you work hard to convert your possession into a goal. If two players are scrapping for a loose puck, the player that wins the pucks is going to be the one who wants it more. Not just more at that particular moment but more enough to practice and stay healthy. IBM expected to win the puck; consequently they didn’t stay focused and didn’t put the time in. So the hungrier Microsoft team came in and took it. Now Windows is the dominate OS instead of OS/2. Microsoft deserved that win because they earned it. It sucks that OS/2 software vendors had to go down with the IBM OS/2 ship. But that is competition. I’m learning to deal with it.

Linux vs. Windows. Apple vs. Microsoft. Google vs. Microsoft. These battles will be won or lost by how each of the companies or groups plays the business game. And we, the consumers and users, will decide the winners. We are the referees and judges and we vote with our dollars and our time. I hate Microsoft because they are the best team. And you should always hate the best team and pull for the under dog, it’s more fun that way. As a coach I’ve learned that to win you have to understand yourself and your competition. Hating the best team provides an emotional drive to try to beat them. And if you’re paying attention the best team is going to be the team you learn the most from. They make you better and more competitive.

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Just Say NO: To Flamers

Now I’ve got a bee in my bonnet because Robert Scoble is getting flamed by some guy about Apple. Here is the link, make sure you read the comments. This type of thing bugs the hell out of me. What is Mujibur’s point? He isn’t having an adult back and forth but an adolescent flame on. I don’t see a link to Mujibur’s blog where we can read about HIS technical adventures and opinions. He doesn’t even have an email link. Just a name that may not even be real. No last name, nothing that would tell us who this guy really is and if his opinion has any merit. I’ve been reading Robert’s blog for awhile and I haven’t seen anything from him that looks like Apple bashing. If anything he writes very nice things about the Apple products. It’s easy to stand in the dark and take potshots; it would be nice if flamers had the courage to expose themselves. Or if they just feel the need to get attention why don’t they just strip down naked and run down the middle of the street? That will get them out of our hair and perhaps expose them to some much needed therapy.


Business: The Economics of Wealth

When Adam Smith wrote “The Wealth of Nations”, wealth was created from the land. Men and women worked the fields, forests, mines, and labored over hand-built products. Then the Industrial Revolution happened. Some men and women continued to work using the old production techniques, but many started working in the factories. It wasn’t that the materials they were using had changed. It was that the production processes evolved. Today economists have written that we are in a new economic era called a Knowledge Revolution. Wealth is now created out of our heads through technological innovation.

When I read news articles about the economy I am troubled because most of the writing I’ve seen for general consumption assumes that one system entirely replaces another. But there are still people who make a living off the land, there are still people working in factories, there are the knowledge workers, and there are the risk takers. It’s not that one system replaced the other one. All these systems co-exist. Isn’t that what we are talking about when we still need migrant workers to harvest our crops? And we need the illegal aliens to clean our offices and work in food processing plants? How about the unionization of workers? Each American and all our illegal aliens fit into one or more of the economic theories, one theory doesn’t define our entire economy. The Knowledge Economy sits on the Industrial Economy which sits on the Land-based Economy. We need all these systems for the US to function.

Now about the Knowledge Revolution. There was a short span of time when knowledge workers could look forward to being able to generate wealth with their minds. But with India and China joining the Knowledge Revolution, the knowledge worker has been devalued. We can still make a living, but not like before. So I think we have worked through the Knowledge Revolution or perhaps it’s just flattened out. So what comes next? We are seeing a creativity boom on the Internet. It’s fast, easy, and cheap to create and get feedback. Is that what’s next? A Personal Creativity Revolution? I don’t know.

Now the question I always ask myself is how can I make more money? How can I get some of that wealth? Let’s look at Oprah Winfrey. Is she a knowledge worker? I don’t think so. She is not a technologist and I just don’t see her building spreadsheets. What I do see is a very creative woman, who uses knowledge workers to enable her creativity. What about Bill Gates? Steve Jobs? Andy Grove? Michael Jordan? Etc... What do they have that the average person does not? The courage to take risks. Just like a hundred years ago when the farm boy had to have the courage to go to the city for a factory job. The key to wealth creation lies in having courage and taking the right risks. I think living a passionate life helps tremendously. I think that people who have built their own empires from the bottom up love their products or something about their products. They also hire other people from the other economic realities to build those empires. They don’t do all the work themselves. And looking back through recorded history, this really isn’t anything new.

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Business: What I think about a Drive-through Starbucks

BusinessPundit asks if Starbucks adds drive-throughs will that cause brand confusion for them? And since I used to be a huge fan of Starbucks I’m going to talk about what I loved about Starbucks and why they are currently on my blacklist.

Starbucks drinks are way over-priced. You can buy the same or similar drink from other locations for less money. I went to Starbucks because of the experience. The place was clean, the people very friendly, the service usually fast. And for those times that there were problems with the machines, the staff more than made up for the wait by their friendliness. All these nice, good, homey feelings drifted to all the other customers. We talked to each other, were courteous, held the door open, etc...

But recently I had two bad experiences. These experiences did not occur in the Starbucks store that made me fall in love but in two other stores. The first situation occurred at a store in Piedmont, CA. I swear the Barista was stoned. Either way, I waited a VERY long time for my Mocha while he talked to a friend (who was an off-duty co-worker) and played with a camera phone. Yes, taking pictures and joking while the place was filling up and no drinks were being made. I asked a waiting customer if she was a regular and she said yes. So then I asked if it was always this slow and she said yes. I decided to scratch that Starbucks off my list.

The second experience was in Mineola, NY over Christmas. It was morning, I had the kids in the car and Starbucks was my breakfast. I ordered my drink and when it came up...there was a flat lid on it. Sorry they said we ran out of tall lids. I thought okay I can deal with this. But when I opened the drinking hole, whipped cream squirted out of the cup all over my clothes. I asked for a cloth to wipe up my clothes but neither of the staff ask what happened or showed any concern. To top it all off the lid helps the cup maintain its structural integrity and it was very hard to drink a Venti Mocha in a car without that support. Well my clothes ended up being stained and I am pissed. Now two things should have happened. One they should had told me about the lid BEFORE making my drink, they should have put in less drink to avoid the explosion factor, and they should have been concerned and apologized when the accident occurred. I was the only customer so they had plenty of time to do all of those things but they didn’t.

So, since to me Starbucks is the experience and not the drink, I see no reason to continue to give my money where it is not welcome.

Is Starbucks the corporation responsible for each Starbucks store? I say yes. Consistent user experience is important. And ultimately the person at the top is responsible. I’ll be very curious whether adding a drive-through to a Starbucks store improves business or doesn’t make a difference at all. But one thing I’m sure of is that it will change the Starbucks experience and they better have enough tall lids!

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Software: Workbook to Workbook Copy & Paste

I’m playing around with some stuff in Excel using VBA code behind and I ran into some problems with workbook to workbook copy & pastes being very slow.

Using the technique of:

Open Data workbook
Select data.
Do Selection.Copy
Open Computation workbook.
Do Selection.PasteSpecial
Close Data workbook.
Do calculations

worked fine for the first few files but as the file count got higher and higher it was taking longer and longer to perform the Copy & Paste functionality. Opening Task Manager I found that Excel had generated over 186,000,000 page faults. The memory was fragmenting and the time required to copy/paste for each additional files was going up. Doing a little research I discovered that the Clipboard was involved in my copy.

Further research identified a better way to do the copy:

‘Create reference objects to the Compute workbook
Set oCompBook = Workbooks("ComputeResults.xls")
Set oCompDestSheet = oCompBook.Worksheets("Sheet1")

‘Create reference objects to the Data workbook
Set oDataBook = Application.Workbooks.Open(DataFile.xls)
Set oDataSrcSheet = oDataBook.Worksheets(1)

'Copy the data from the Data workbook to the Compute workbook
range1 = "A2:F56000”
oDataSrcSheet.Range(range1).Copy oCompDestSheet.Range(range1)

‘Clean up
Set oDataSrcSheet = Nothing
oDataBook.Close (False)
Set oDataBook = Nothing

The new algorithm eliminates the Clipboard resulting in a solution to my page fault problem. This significantly sped up my Compute Workbook’s execution time; from several hours to a few minutes.

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Grid Computing: But What About MEEEE!

Today Greg Nawrocki posted ”6 vendors to watch in enterprise Grid in ‘06”. Over the next few days he promises to tell us why he likes those companies and I am really looking forward to the articles. One reason is to better understand which grid computing problems they address and another is to hopefully get a feel for how they address them.

At Digipede our grid solution is built entirely on .NET which means that we are targeting Windows boxes. The Digipede Network focuses on distributed computation and application scalability.

I like that the APIs in the Digipede Framework SDK (both .NET and COM) are simple and easy to use, and most important to me (as a developer) is the Digipede grid solution is an extension of my development experience in that I don’t have to learn a new programming model. That is just the programming interface. The Digipede Network also provides a GUI, Digipede Workbench, which allows a user to click her way through the creation of a job. We have found that many of the people who manage distribution via command-line scripts liked having the option of building jobs with a GUI. Not everyone wants to write code. Digipede Control, which allows an administrator to configure the Digipede Network, lives in browser so the administrator can change settings from what ever machine she is at. Convenient. And Digipede provides forums for users to interact with us, exchange ideas, and problem solve. We understand how important a community is to helping people have a positive and productive product experience.

And we just got a 4 Star review in Software Development magazine. You can read the article here for free, “That Parallel Beat” by Rick Wayne.

We’re not on Greg’s list, but if you live in a Windows world, you’ll want to watch out for us anyway.

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Marketing and Sales: Why We Want the Big Fish

A few days ago Walter S. Mossberg wrote an article "Computer Makers Cater to Big Business Slight the Rest of Us”. Basically he points out the computer companies either large or small focus on enterprise level IT department needs rather than the individual consumer or SMB IT department needs. And I agree with him. I just want to take a look at the situation from the computer vendor’s perspective.

Running a business is a balancing act between expenses and cash flow. Notice I didn’t say income. Income is counted before the money is actually in hand. Cash flow is the money you’ve got available to pay your bills (rent, paychecks, taxes, etc...). This is the number business owners need to keep a close eye on. Failure to do so can sink your company even when your books indicate that your income is more than enough to keep the doors open. To keep on eye on cash flow, companies will often have a budget. Sometimes each department gets their own budget, sometimes it’s a running budget. Either way the majority of companies will try to plan how they can optimally use their part of the projected cash flow to meet corporate strategic and tactical objectives.

When deciding which market segment to focus marketing and sales budgets on, companies realize one important factor. Sales and marketing cost money. The key is to spend the least amount of money to generate the most amount of revenue. Therefore one of the elements the marketing department will identify is which market sector is going to provide the most bang for the buck. Working with the sales department they will narrow that down. And this is why many software and hardware companies focus on enterprise sales. Enterprise sales generally provide the most bang for the buck. I like to see sales departments that are set up with a telemarketing arm, reaching the SMBs, a sales force arm, reaching large corporations, and when applicable a distribution arm, reaching the individual consumer.

While I was at Kaseworks I got to see the importance of understanding how marketing and sales tactics directly affect cash flow. When I started I was told that Kaseworks had $2 million in the bank and was growing. We were doing pretty well. Because we were small and our product was a new innovation we had a telemarketing department that directly targeted individual programmers. (Kaseworks had been Caseworks and had the first graphical code generators for both Windows and OS/2.) At some point Joe, the owner, decided that he wanted to, “take the company to the next level”. I assume that he was going to try for an IPO. He brought in several executives from large companies: IBM, Dun & Bradstreet, etc... These guys decided to change the sales model from telemarketing to “deep carpet sales” and they jacked up the price of the product and converted our telesales department into an enterprise sales force. One year after this experiment was started...Caseworks had become Kaseworks, we had several rounds of layoffs, and some of us were sold as assets and converted into consultants. I believe the biggest mistake the executives made was that they didn’t understand the importance of cash flow in a small company. I think their second biggest mistake was to eliminate a revenue stream that was working. I agree that going after enterprise level clients is a very good idea, however I would say don’t shut off a revenue stream that is working. Build an enterprise sales force from a core of experienced enterprise sales folks. And don’t make the mistake that things are going to happen over night. Enterprise sales take a little longer.

Companies focus product improvements primarily for the enterprise IT departments because that is who the sales folks are talking to. So the data coming back from the field is coming from the targeted enterprise customers. Those very customers identified by the marketing and sales teams. Sometimes companies are able to split their products so that they target different size companies, but that requires good planning and is far more expensive. Even if you can do it from one code base and one engineering team, your configuration management, testing, and documentation teams might need to be expanded.

So why computer based companies target the enterprise IT departments is simple economics.

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Welcome Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki has joined the Blogsphere. If you don’t know who he is, his bio write up is pretty thorough, ”A Brief History of Mine”. In brief, he is currently a venture capitalist, one of the founders of garage.com, a speaker, and an author. I have several of his books (and yes I did read them!) and he is a well known figure in Silicon Valley. One of the things he mentions in the “Art of the Start” and on his blog is that he is a fellow hockey player. Alright! If I could make a living playing or coaching hockey I would, I love it so much. So it’s great to see not only a person whose insight I would love to read but also another hockey junky writing a blog. So check out his blog, “Let the Good Times Roll”, I’m really looking forward to it. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.