Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Leadership, Defined.

Well, it's happened. It took a few years longer than I would have liked, but I've successfully made manager. The story takes some time to tell, but largely it's about a GM getting fired, and my whole organization bumping up a level to fill in. My direct manager went from 30-40 employees to over 130, which is a great reflection on the work we had been doing.

I'd delivered the cloud optimization dashboard within IT, been around the world demo'ing it and showing teams how to get control over their cloud infrastructure, and even writing public articles about how IT does cloud optimization.

It was clear this project had more legs- the whole industry was going to hit this problem about 12-18 months after we did. Getting me closer to the development and BI team was important, so we could deliver faster and push the designs to other teams. Several teams across the company reached out and asked to work with us on the logic and data. The Azure product group even finally came knocking to take this prime time.

So I was moved to our engineering arm of the IT infrastructure division. I was also given the Cloud Consulting team, a small team of brilliant cloud architects that help the rest of the company with tough design challenges. Saying "Given" is of course poor word choice. The consulting team does a lot of what the optimization dashboard does, with a much higher technical ceiling, and an emphasis on design.

So here I am, reporting to a new manager, with a new to me team. Almost all of the team members have more tenure than me, and most are the same level. Heck, since I was promoted so recently, I'm barely even their peer.

Now here's my opportunity to take my passion for leading, growing, serving, and putting it into practice. The last few weeks have been crazy. Some of the employees like to have long running discussions with me daily, others have spoken to me once. I've been transparent, honest, and open about this situation- I am young, I am a new manager, and I am new to this team. I committed to them that I will do my very best to support, learn, and enable each person. I want everyone on the team to feel empowered to go achieve the goals they have, and to truly enjoy their work. The consult team has the unique opportunity to essentially work on whatever projects they want to. There is no shortage of cool things to go help design and build around the company, but there is definitely a shortage of talented cloud architects.

I think the team was tentative the first few weeks. With any new manager, there comes a general sense of unease. Humans are change averse. Was this change made to deconstruct the team? Why did they put such a young engineer in charge? Is he going to make us all work on his own projects? After sitting down with them, doing a fair bit of listening, and chatting about the value I see in their work, I think things are starting to relax a little bit. But one thing I know is, building trust takes time. Building relationships take time. Building a cohesive team takes time.

This afternoon, my manager told me the way I handled the team in the first staff meeting was as if I had been doing it for years. That blew me away. It reminded me- I am ready for this. I have prepared for this. I have taken the training. I have spent countless hours reading books, discussing leadership, learning from great mentors, and so much more. I am ready for this.

Bring it on, Microsoft. We will reinvent you as a passionate, people focused company that focuses on loving individuals, not software.

Senior Service Engineering Manager, Rick Ochs

Saturday, February 04, 2017

The Cloud Revolution is about people.

A couple of days ago I got to witness a pretty cool keynote talk from one of the leaders in IT. It was part of a summit in India that I had also presented at, and it was the end of the day. Half of the attendees had found their way out of the summit by that time, but those that stuck around were definitely the ones that wanted to hear the vision and leadership thoughts. Our journey to the cloud as an organization has been quite the wild ride over the last few years, and it's been one of those transformations that only comes about once or twice in a lifetime in technology. To redefine the very way we design and build, and go about our day jobs so fundamentally in such a short amount of time has been mind boggling.
I was sitting up in the front during this closing keynote, watching this leader give a little piece of his heart. He talked about the freedom engineers now have, and he compared it to the US incarceration problem. Granting freedom alone does not create innovation. Granting vision and empowerment does. Engineers, with cloud technology, have the power to design and solve nearly any challenge they face. Any challenge their customer faces. And not in some 6-12 month long project- in a matter of days. The speed at which you can write some small feature that delights thousands or removes some archaic process is orders of magnitude faster than it used to be.
You see, IT's role over the last few decades has been to design and run these massive data pools, things like sales data, contract data, HR data. Single, large, slowly moving bodies of information that served huge business needs. Changes were once or twice a year, and the time spent planning the feature was about equal to the time spent building it. Engineers spent a great deal of their job replacing tires and changing oil to keep these great machines running. The complexity is staggering, and you need some of the best people to keep them humming along.
Throw all of that away. Our job is now to reinvent IT. Our job is not to run and maintain these global machines. Our job is to delight people. To find really cool problems, and solve them. To talk to people in other organizations, learn from them, God forbid, build something together.
As this leader talked about our new job, I looked around. I saw people on the edge of their seats. I heard people asking questions about what the next challenge is. About what tough old-school IT design to remove next. As with many such keynotes, it was quite insightful, and very encouraging. I think the teams walked away with something tangible- they have been given vision, and permission, to go change their world.
The next day, as I was wrapping up my visit with my friends in India, they spent a good amount of time talking about the closing keynote. I could see they had caught the fire. Previously, I've seen them catch direction, and find good tasks to go do. To see them have the fire in their belly for embracing this cloud first freedom was even more inspiring to me personally than the keynote had been. But it showed me something- the leader's desire for IT to grow, to reinvent itself, to lead the way. This leader's passion for each individual to embrace the freedom, to not only be freed from incarceration of ITIL, waterfall, monolithic datacenters, but to be inspired to do something with the freedom.
This leader loved the people. He loved the journey. The empowerment, the freedom. You don't sit in front of a monitor cutting tickets all day long anymore. You create. Take your paintbrush, and make something that wows people. Take your job and turn it into a beautiful painting of designs and ideas.
Microsoft IT is a fun place to work.