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Austin’s International Footprint Just Got Bigger!

by Brenda Hall

F1-Racing-012Formula 1 was a big success for Austin, Texas. I heard multiple languages being spoken on the streets Saturday evening after the first qualifying rounds. Ferrari’s and Porches had their runs on the track before the big race on Sunday.  Restaurants were clogged, bars were pouring the spirits, and parties were everywhere.

Austin has been an international city for many years, going back to the early to mid 1990’s. During that timeframe, many large corporations had already or were in the process of setting up their headquarters and/or major branch offices here – companies like IBM, Dell, AMD, Motorola and others. They were all doing international business from the beginning. Of course, our university system with The University of Texas, McCombs School of Business, St. Edwards University and the Austin Community College all had opportunities for students to follow global business pathways.

It’s just that no one ever really thought of Austin as a being a “global” city as it is surrounded in a state with Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Those of us who live and work in Austin seldom think of ourselves as very ‘international’, but we are. The success of Formula 1 has brought global eyes to Austin. And now, Austinites are beginning to see the international vision as well. The vision and mission of bringing this major sport to our city is a large step in the right direction for Austin. I don’t know all the specifics of how our City Council, Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Governor Rick Perry and others put it all together, but I’m very impressed with their efforts and commitment.

I’m looking forward to next year when, hopefully, we’ve ironed out some of the wrinkles with moving massive numbers of people into and out of this venue.  Yes, I got very dirty (as well as my car) from parking over 2 miles from my seats at Turn 5.  And yes, the shuttle buses need to be more organized and numerous.  But at the end of the day, there’s nothing like the sound, excitement and exhilaration of watching professional drivers take their Formula 1 cars through time trials on a beautiful track — for the track is truly a wonder and very beautiful!  It was a perfect “international” weekend in Austin.

Thank you Formula 1 fans for coming to town, enjoying our “global” city and giving us a successful event we can all be proud.

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Why You Should Think of People as Raw Materials

by Phillip Smith

Those of us in the service industry do not always have something tangible to show as a result of our work. Compare us to people who build things (like roads, or boats, or furniture) or to people who refine, grow, weave, or clean (to provide fuels, clothing, or foods) and we’re quickly at a loss to point to anything physical that is the result of our efforts. Extend the comparison a bit further to folks who perform, write, invent, or design, and we still fall short in terms of having a tangible product. However, that does not mean that we, specifically those of us who sell or provide a service, are not building something.

Consider the absolute best outcome of a good day’s work in the service industry: the result is a new or improved “relationship.” Yes, people who work in sales and service are building; they are building relationships.

To the casual observer, it may appear that they are explaining the features of a product, or in the case of something closer to my daily work, deploying high quality software into your business environment. And that is the day-to-day picture of what we do. However, the observer who is looking a bit deeper sees us doing more than filling a role in order to put food on the table. We are building expectations, trust, and ethical standards that result in long lasting high value relationships. In these cases “tangible” falls short of being a good measurement of value because the end result is anything but an end. Solid relationships, new processes, better standards—these have a ripple effect in the way people do business, and even if the work didn’t result in the next greatest invention, it’s still the kind of stuff that changes the world.

I’ve not presented anything revolutionary in this article. I’m hoping however, that I caught your eye with the title and that you’ll be willing to think about your hiring, training, and culture in a slightly different way. You would not assemble furniture using an unreliable design or with poor quality components. You should think of the people in your service company the same way that you think of the materials that you might use to make a salable product, with the exception that you are using these people to build relationships that make your business successful.

Are they the best people you can find? Have you trained them well and set them up for success? Are they true critical thinkers, not satisfied until they’ve found the best way of doing something? Have you set the right example with the relationships that you maintain with your clients and with your employees?

Have you communicated the right message to your employees, so they understand how to win repeat business? A smile and a willingness to view the service from the client’s point of view is a key ingredient to repeat business, and it’s not always something you can teach. The people that do your smiling are doing what they love, caring about the results and invested in the outcome—and they are the equivalent of the grapes that go into a fine wine.

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18 months and No Reports of Zombie Attacks

by John Kulas, Bridge360 Software Security Analyst

This month of November marks the 18-month anniversary of the warning by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (better known as the CDC) that everyone should be prepared for a zombie apocalypse. Apparently everyone is well prepared, and the zombies must know this because the zombies have not shown themselves.

All silliness aside, there really is a serious point about to this post, and that is to talk about Business Continuity Planning (“BCP”), which addresses how to continue your business operation during and after a disaster. I’d even add “before a disaster,” because sometimes there is fair warning in advance of an impending disaster, like the recent Hurricane Sandy event.

In the past, people used to focus on Disaster Recovery (“DR”); however if all the focus is on recovering from the disaster, then there probably is no planning done for how to continue serving customers during or just prior to the disaster. In fact, in the business world the term “disaster” is being replaced by a more accurate term: “business continuity disruption event.”

In the event of a business continuity disruption event, if your competitors recover faster than you, or perhaps they are not even affected by whatever disrupted your business, then your customers may go to your competitors for service while your business is not operating. In that case, what happens when your business resumes operation? If there are no customers wanting your services, then your business fails.

With the focus now on BCP, and with DR now a subtopic of BCP, your business can put measures in place to continue serving customers before, during and after a business continuity disruption event. Your level of service during a disruption event may not be as spectacular as usual, but you are sufficiently meeting customers’ needs; meanwhile your business can work on recovering (DR) to normal business operating speed and capacity.

The zombie theme is not entirely silly for training purposes. A security company (the Halo Corporation)’s annual counter-terrorism conference (October 29 – November 2), usually attended by hundreds of Marines, Navy special ops, soldiers, police, firefighters and others (at a $1,000 entrance fee), is utilizing the CDC’s zombie theme. The watchdog organization “Project on Government Oversight” has said they do not see this as frivolous government spending, and they agree with CDC’s point about a zombie scenario being a useful teaching mechanism.

A well constructed BCP is not focused on a particular type of disaster. A well constructed BCP is flexible enough to address any type of disaster. There are three general categories of business continuity disruption events: loss of buildings, loss of personnel, and loss of technology. I’ll discuss more about those in later posts.

Are you a Developer or a Tester?

by Nadine Parmelee (Definitely a Tester)

In the current business environment, companies are looking for ways to run leaner and meaner, and sometimes this means some people are working multiple roles. The line between Developer and Tester has been thin in the past and nowadays the line is even thinner. It’s not uncommon for an applicant to show up for an interview of what appears to be a QA job and get tested on how much Java they know.  Historically, QA and testing work has been one path in to development and since automation work is a mini development project of its own, it’s easy to see how companies are blurring the lines even more these days.

The fact is, though, there is a difference between developers and testers, especially in how they approach a project and how they think about a project. Assuming a project starts with good requirements, a good developer will look at those requirements and start to think of how they would build the code and the functionality to meet them. A good tester, on the other hand, starts to think about the questions the requirements don’t answer, the “what if the user does this?” scenarios. A developer tends to look at the “happy path” of the code when testing it, and it’s easier for them to miss issues because they build the code based on what they expect to happen next. A tester tends to be more contrarian, watching for the unexpected—and trying to make the unexpected happen.

Generally we tend to be more suited to one role or the other, but there is some role crossover. A good developer needs to be able to test their work to a certain extent, and it helps a good tester to be able read code and step through it to find and debug an issue. It is pretty rare to find a really good developer who is also a really good tester. It happens, but it’s the exception, not the rule. Both roles are critical to a quality software project and it is important to make sure your project team has strengths in both roles.