Techies and Consultants Collide

A few lines from the epic office-life satire Office Space were quoted in an August 29th Valley Wag blog about Yahoo hiring consultants to support their reorg:

TOM: We're all screwed, that's what. They're gonna downsize Initech.
SAMIR: Oh, what are you talking about Tom? How do you know that?
TOM: They're bringing in a consultant - that's how I know."

As a former consultant, I’ve heard just about every joke about the profession there is (see one of my faves below a la Dilbert), but the sentiment expressed by Valleywag struck a cord in me, as I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the great divide between the tech world and the consulting world. Most large consulting firms have had trouble gaining significant traction at today's tech giants, such as Google, Yahoo, eBay, etc. Why is this?

I have a few hypotheses, represented by this fictional exchange of blatant stereotypes:

Consultant: Let us come work for you. We have the brightest people around; I have an MBA from Wharton
Engineer: I have a PhD from Caltech

Consultant: I have deep expertise in your field that could be extremely valuable
Engineer: Then when aren’t you using it yourself?

Consultant: We know what all of your competitors are doing and can help you learn from their experience
Engineer: But we're better than them already

Consultant: We bring disciplined problem solving techniques to your toughest dilemmas
Engineer: I have an ode to the scientific method tattooed on my lower back; disciplined problem solving is my middle name- seriously, I had it legally changed

Consultant: I'll push my business analysts tirelessly; they'll never stop working for you
Engineer: I can offer them a fifth of your rates and they’d be thrilled to come work for me- and never stop

Consultant: Mommy

Okay, so this might be a bit extreme, but after all, tech firms do have a lot of incredibly bright people (including numerous hired-away ex-consultants), with strong work ethics who take a disciplined approach to their jobs. To make matters worse, high-tech is known for having a healthy disrespect for conventional wisdom and competitive analysis- something other industries explicitly hire consultants to provide.

But that said, I still believe there’s a role for consultants as trusted advisors in high-tech. For one thing, tech firms are notorious for being horrible at knowledge management and leveraging cross-functional efficiencies, due to the high degree of secrecy demanded by the rapid pace of product development and obsolescence. Consultancies, on the other hand, are rather skilled at finding new ways to build bridges across organizations- and generally are better positioned to see opportunities by looking from the top down. Secondly, tech shops are beginning to converge with other industries at lightning pace (media, financial services, etc.)- a phenomenon that begs for some outsider perspective on those industries’ business models and competitive dynamics.

What other opportunities do you see?


Networking 1.0 --> Networking 2.0 --> Networking 1.0

I'll be the first to admit I'm a junkie when it comes to online social networking; if you know me, this comes as no surprise. I'm on facebook, Linkedin, Orkut, Doostang, Sportsvite, Friendster, MySpace (albeit barely), InCircle and countless other sites who are implementing networking capabilities (YouTube, Hot or Not, etc.). Yet, as much as I love Web 2.0 apps, I can't help but think that something is lacking- namely, good old-fashioned physical interaction.

Many start-ups and VCs agree, and have placed big bets on social networking that leads to real-world experiences. Sportsvite is one such example, where the network is really just a means to get people together, not an end in itself (a la facebook, MySpace). This morning, another example was brought to my attention...

Always early adopters and ones to eat their own lunch, Silicon Valley techies have begun using technology to, well...eat each others' lunches. Today's Wall Street Journal features an article, The Power Lunch, Cafeteria-Style, explaining how an unspoken trend of sneaking into the valley's infamous gourmet cafeterias has turned into a validated phenomenon called Lunch 2.0. In typical valley fashion, top internet companies have taken what others would view as a threat (outsiders inside our walls, eating our food for free!) and turned it into an opportunity, hosting Lunch 2.0 sessions as recruiting and product promotion opportunities..and, in true, never-really-left-college engineer fashion, techies are eating it up- literally.

Thank you to Megan for providing the WSJ article!


Fidel Castro Dead - Along with American global awareness

Today, rumors erupted on the Internet that Fidel Castro might have died. As of this post, I'm unaware of an official confirmation or denial and the country will hold its collective breath until the answer is known...

...or not. Americans, careful never to be made fools by faulty intelligence, have decided to just not care. According to Google Trends, the story of Castro's alleged death was "On Fire," but still ran a distant second to "Miss Teen USA." And, even then, >20% of searches came from Miami and New York, cities with vibrant Cuban-American populations. I guess America has just had its fill of infamous dictator deaths this decade; cute teenagers who sing showtunes and pledge to save puppies around the world, however, will never get old.


How much time do you waste online?

Thanks to Forbes (and Megan for forwarding me this article), today I discovered Not Working, one Brit's solution to social networking addiction. The simple gadget tallies up the time you spend at work, but not working, and the associated $ value lost to your company. I'm not sure how I feel about this for a few reasons:

1. Time spent online is not necessarily wasted. Social networking, used properly, can increase one's long-term value by exposing them to new people, opportunities and ideas and deepening their ties to others. I firmly believe these activities add substantial value to one's self- and employers.

2. Productivity is factored into one's wage, especially if a salaried employee. And if employees stop "wasting" this time, will employers fairly compensate them for the added value? Perhaps a better interpretation is that the user's "wasted" time valuation is the value they assign to their free time and long-term investment in social networking. I see an enterprise app developing from this that can help companies price overtime packages and set productivity-driven bonuses...

3. You could be working during hours otherwise spent online, but should you? Is the end goal of life to be a workaholic who spends every possible moment producing?

In short, this tool has some built-in moral assumptions I'm not sure I buy, but I am curious about it's practicality in helping to enforce discipline during times the user deems it necessary. So I'll test it out and report back.


Earth can't contain Google

Today, Good Morning America previewed the amazing new Google Sky feature for Google Earth. You can now relive that "wow" moment when you first opened Google Earth and began hovering over and descending upon the globe by navigating the known universe, including 100 million galaxies and 200 million stars!

And you thought Google was poised to take over the world...seems Larry and Sergey's sights are set a bit higher than that.


Crushing upset for Ivys

Today, graduates of Ivy League schools are reeling in defeat. Habitually among the top contenders in every "best colleges" ranking of note, not one Ivy appears on this year's list of the top twenty party schools, published by The Princeton Review.

When approached for comment, a prominent frat boy at my alma mater hung his head in shame, but then resiliently declared that he would fix this abomination. In related news, Penn's IFC announced a pop-your-collar-athon through the Fall semester, where the student with the greatest accumulated hours popped will win a free keg of Natty Light.

Other notable mentions on this year's list: once top dog University of Florida dropped to number 4, while arch rival Florida State University almost fell off the list entirely at number 18. Time to stop cracking the books and start cracking some six packs, 'Noles...


2007 Games Day Chicago

Just a quick update this time. Just today an interview was forwarded to me featuring a long-time friend, Adam Gershowitz. Adam was always a bit of a video game and design junkie as a kid and has found a perfect career for himself with EA Mythic. Follow the link to see him talking about progress on Warhammer Online at Games Day Chicago. Moments like this are exactly why I came out here- it's great to see good people getting recognition for excellent (and really really cool) work.


So Norcal...

My first two weeks out here have gone by like a blur. The multiple simultaneous adjustments- new job, new apartment, new time zone, new routines and new area- have left me in a slight daze, as I'm forced to adjust to NorCal living. This week, I thought I'd take a few moments to reflect on those small things that make a big difference, on the lighter side of my valley indoctrination.

1. The traffic really is that crazy- I live only 11 miles from my new job, but because of where I'm situated 101 is my only option to get to and from the office. Sounds crazy, but I've scoured Google Maps and there aren't any backroads to get me there without doubling my commute distance. I can generally make the trek door-to-door in about 20-25 minutes, provided I leave by 7:45. The days I've left any later than that, my commute has never been less than 40 minutes- and even up to an hour. I just don't understand how this type of instantaneous logjam is possible, but it seems to hold true day-in and day-out.

2. I miss my morning show- Do you know of a great morning show in the San Jose/San Fran area? If you do PLEASE tell me! Back in NYC I fell in love with Elvis Duran and the Morning Zoo. No joke, sometimes I'd wake up at 6 and work from home until 10, just so I could listen to their show twice (6-8 and 8-10 are essentially the same routine). For the life of me, I can't find a morning show to listen to out here. They're all far too subdued for my taste. Please someone, cue me into something mildly raunchy, boisterous and non-PC, because John Tesh is cutting it. Come back, Greg T!

3. Old habits die hard- In the world of consulting, I lived out of a suitcase 3-4 days a week and got very used to that habit, as well as all the idiosyncrasies of road living that come with it. For example, I've just about gotten used to using full-sized bottles of shampoo again (luckily Minimus.biz is just a click away if that changes), have cut down to checking my frequent flyer balances once a week and have stopped expecting to get a delicious pillow mint each night.

There are a few habits, though, I haven't yet broken: For example, I did the wash earlier this week and almost instinctively put my clothes away, directly back in my suitcase. As if that wasn't enough, I battled with the mirror for about 20 minutes one morning trying to convince myself it really was okay to wear a t-shirt to work. I eventually gave-in, but decided I would at least iron it...to get the travel creases out.

4. It's okay to talk to people - When my best friend Mike came to visit me in New York last year, we gave him a good ribbing because he kept talking to people on the subway. If you're from New York, you're probably shaking your head right now. You just don't do that. Subway interactions should be limited to elbowing for position and muttering under your breath about how the guy with garbage bags full of Prado purses is taking up too much space. Mike's a true southern gentleman, though, and had faith that humanity could exist, even on the 4-5-6. Well, I can't say he was successful in making New York all chatty, but now I need to take a page out of his book. On an almost daily basis I'm taken aback by other human beings' willingness to interact with me. You can say something to a stranger, or even introduce yourself, and they won't run away! It's crazy! It also puts a lot more stress on me to have something interesting to say, as the one liners I'd gotten so good at back east no longer qualify as my half of a conversation. I'm improving rapidly though; last night on a flight back from the east coast, I met a very nice man named David Anthony who wound up being a professor at UC-Santa Cruz. We chatted for at least a couple hours about anything from sports to an interesting book he wrote to the Bay Area housing market (look out for future posts on my apartment hunting adventures!).

5. Technology is a real business- Many more posts to come relating to this topic, but suffice it to say that taking the internet by storm ain't easy. I'm not sure what exactly I expected, but suffice it to say that people here are impressively bright and the bar is high. As free spirited as most internet blockbusters appear, even the most relaxed UI has A LOT of work that went into building, marketing and fine-tuning it to be just what the user needs. But as I said, more on this in future musings...


Here goes...

Hello, world!

This blog is something I've been wanting to do for a while now. I can't tell you how many times I thought "you know, I should start a blog." But nothing came of it. Unfortunately, this became a theme for me- many things I've wanted to do or thought I would do, but never actually invested the time and effort to accomplish. That apathy ends today.

You see, today was a big day in my life. But in order to explain, I should back up a few years. Back in school, I studied engineering and business. I loved the program I was in and particularly enjoyed discussions about moments in history where technological innovation transformed human life as we knew it. I often dreamed of sparking such a moment- of changing the world for the better by unleashing the power of technology. I've had more ideas on how to do so than I can count, but often lacked the confidence and conviction to execute on them.

I became convinced that I was just shy on experience and that with a little "business" training, I would be ready to chase my dream. This lead me to the worlds of financial services and consulting- respectable professions and great training, but also quite conservative by their very nature. I often enjoyed my work- it was intellectually challenging and my coworkers were great. In a short time, I came to think that maybe this could be the path for me. But at the end of the day there was always something missing. I ploughed on for a bit longer, pretending to be content, but my frustration grew and became apparent, especially to those closest to me. And eventually, I just stopped getting excited about my work altogether. This killed me- I was never the type to not care; it just wasn't in my DNA. Then, one night, working late in a hotel room, I realized the core of the problem: I was settling.

So, I started interviewing in various fields I thought I might enjoy and could be successful in- VC, PE and the like. In the back of my mind, though, I still had these unshakable dreams of leading technological transformation, being on the cutting edge and seeing what others couldn't. I tried to convince myself that VC might be good for me, but the more I justified that was, the more I realized that exciting as VC could be, it would only be a half-step, another form of settling. VC can keep you up-to-date, but never REALLY cutting edge. By definition, to invest in something, someone else must have thought of it first. I just couldn't settle for "good enough" again.

My turning point came when an alumnus of my last employer asked me to interview for his group. He worked in strategy for one of the internet giants and I thought to myself "now, THIS could be cool!" I started interviewing with his group and felt an unusual sensation- after each interview I left, well, excited! I started talking about the opportunity with my friends and found myself going on and on about the state of the industry, although I seemed to always end with "granted, they're not [COMPETITOR], but who is?"

It didn't take long to realize how stupid that statement was. I idolized COMPETITOR. I wrote half of my thesis on them. I was an adamant user of their products. So why was I wasting my time with anyone else?

I pulled up COMPETITOR's website and began searching through job postings. Within 20 minutes I found five I was interested and I sent off an application. My odds of getting in were low. This company prides itself on taking the best of the best from the industry and I, well, I wasn't even IN the industry! My odds were slim, but I had to try.

Interviews went well with COMPETITOR and my dream company offered me a position- two in fact. There was a catch, though, they wanted me to leave New York and come to their headquarters in the valley. Professionally, the decision was obvious; personally, it was much more difficult. Most of my friends and family are on the east cost. My girlfriend of over two years is on the east coast. I weighed the pros and cons and kept hitting a stalemate. At the end of the day, though, I realized I could never really be whole and good for anyone else if I didn't take this chance. I'd always be left asking "what if?"

And so today was my first day. I have arrived in silicon valley.

Of course, this means I now HAVE to start the blog I've always wanted to- no self respecting techie can be blogless! This blog will serve a number of purposes. It will be pragmatic- a way to share my views with the world and to receive feedback, a way to become ever more in-touch with my community and to clarify my own thoughts. Even more so, however, this blog is a metaphor for my personal and professional transformation. It's about doing the things you've always wanted to and not settling for a job half finished.
This is only the beginning of my story. After all, this journey was never about getting a certain job; it was about becoming a part of a world that I'd admired from the outside looking in. It was about reclaiming bits of me that I'd lost by settling for "good enough." And, in the long-term, it's about achieving my goal of finding the cutting edge, living the valley. I have a lot to learn and many people to learn from if I'm to get there. And I'd be lying if I said I knew exactly how I'm going to do it; at this point I'm lucky I can even find 101. On many levels, I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. I feel like a virgin- confused, excited (though not sure why exactly), nervous and naive. But most of all, hopeful that a meaningful change in my life is about to happen and good things will come of it. I invite you to join me as I test this feeling and add to the story with comments of your own.