Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Wireless Update - The Relentless March of Technology

Those who know me are aware of my love for gadgets. My foray into the gadget tech field began as a wireless developer in 1999. The RIM 957 with a wap web browser from GoAmerica was my first toy. I received FREE service as a result of my involvement in a Sales Force Automation project across multiple companies.

The original 957 model utilized the then Bellsouth network, while the 857 RIM used the Motient system. Irrelevant pieces of information.

Zooming forward to 2005: I dropped my beloved Treo 600 into the toilet. Bloop Bloop Bloop. It lasted about five seconds. I fished it out and put it in front of the blow dryer on low for about 45 minutes. Then, I put it in the back window of my car and let the sun bake out the remaining moisture. A few weeks later, I fired it up and it worked, sort-of. I could only make speaker-phone calls because the ear speaker was fried.

I bought a palm lifedrive to replace my Treo and grabbed a backup GSM phone off the shelf at home. I used T-Mobile and keep about five phones around the house just in case. I carry one extra with me when I travel.

The lifedrive is a new palm based on the Tungsten T-5 with the addition of a 4gb harddrive. It's turned out to be a disappointment. It has Wi-fi and bluetooth, but it simply is not ready. It's too bug ridden and my list of problems are not worth repeating.

My employer offered a unique plan from Nextel wherein they give me $50.00 and a new blackberry 7520. I couldn't turn them down. One big reason for the change is that most of my family has Nextel. Since I live in Hurricane Central (Florida), the thought of at least having direct connect available when everyone else has nothing is really appealing.

I've decided to keep my Blackberry off of the corporate infrastructure. This means that instead of synching with our corporate system in real-time, I will sync with my laptop. The advantage is that I can still hook into our company email along with (yes count-em) nine other mail accounts. The drawback is that the reply-to looks like it is from BearingPoint. But, since this is primarily for business, it is appropriate. Now, I never lose another appointment, task or other nuance of my job.

But, the Blackberry cannot completely replace the palm. I have documents-to-go premium edition which permits the creation and editing of word, excel and powerpoint templates on the palm. I also have an external keyboard which makes typing fast and easy. I use SmartList to Go which allows you to sync to a datastore on your desktop. I also had a copy of quicken and a chat client on the palm. Both I used quite often.

I am experimenting with a new chat client called "IM+" for the Blackberry. It allows users to login (one logon per type) to AOL, MSN, Yahoo, Jabber and ICQ. I'll let you know how it works out.

For me, the 7520 has allowed me to use a bluetooth headset and keeps me in the know with my corporate and private email.

Another big reason for my change was a lack of TMobile signal in Washington DC. Nextel has 398 of the top 400 cities covered.

I highly recommend it.

Hurricane Katrina (not webMethods)

I usually write about webMethods related topics, but this blog is about the occasional musings of a consultant. I've been thinking a lot about the destruction left behind by Katrina. I find it interesting that there is no more focus on Miami, where over 1.1 million people lost power and where flooding was rampant. I can hardly blame the news teams for focusing on what everyone wants to see: Someone else's problem.

I don't watch a lot of television because I don't believe in the sensationalism of other people's plights. Looking at the footage from New Orleans really brought me back to 1992, when Andrew hit Miami.

I worked in South Florida from 1988 until 2001. In 1992, I was just out of college and working for a large service firm in Ft. Lauderdale. Our area reached from the tip of Florida to Jupiter (N. or West Palm Beach.)

When Andrew hit, a good majority of our service personnel lived in affected areas. Some lost homes, some did not. No one had electricity for a long long time.

Looting was rampant and even the military experienced robberies from street thugs. For the first time ever, a US Military unit was activated for a National Cause. The 82nd Airborne Corp deployed to South Florida. The active military was not allowed to carry bullets and as a result, they experienced the loss of several automatic weapons. The National Guard on the other hand, had bullets and were not accosted.

Some of my Army Reserve buddies lived in the Homestead area and told me about arming themselves to keep others from robbing and looting.

Once things became orderly, it was a matter of rebuilding. Some of my employees paid deposits to crafty con artists and never saw any work performed. These devils passed themselves off as contractors or handymen.

BearingPoint had their global employee call and it was refreshing to hear that the company immediately deployed resources to the area to physically track down each and every employee in the New Orleans office.

This tragedy is going to mirror the grief produced by the world trade center. Many many lives have been lost. No one can even count those in New Orleans because the city is underwater.

On the economic side, the city will lose substantial conference revenue. Mississippi will lose untold millions in taxes paid through casino operations. I can't even think of how many people have no place of employment to go to. Additionally, the hurricane knocked out eight petroleum refineries which had the capability to produce about 1.5 million gallons of gas per day. Across the nation, we will all feel this.

What I like to focus on is the sensational acts of bravery that somehow make it through the news wringer. On the front page of the Wallstreet journal, an article talked about how a "Mr. Cooks" commandered an abandoned boat, put his family in it and then went house to house looking for people. He spent untold amounts of time kicking his way through rooftops freeing people. One particular person he freed had been standing up all night with her head in a little hole in the attic trying to breathe as the water crept up higher. If he hadn't of found her when he did, she would have drowned.

I will continue to sift through the wreckage of news reporting to look for the positive signs from Katrina. It'll be a difficult task.

TO be or not to Be - An Architect that is..

Someone recently asked me what it takes to become a top-notch architect. I think if you ask that question to five people, you will receive five different answers. Here's my answer.

To break it down, here are some high-level traits you need to look for. Either from the hiring or self-development standpoint, these are the must-haves:

1) Technical Competence. The individual must have experience and knowledge relevant to the level in which they seek to Architect. Most of the architectural engagements I deal with is at the Enterprise level. There's different set of criteria relating to Enterprise-wide designs a Systems Architect or Client/Server architect. There is much more topology to consider when making a decision. For example, if the system in question does not deploy single-sign on, then how will that impact your solution. What happens if the system does use single-sign-on but your system does not support the implementation? You need to fit the level of experience to the level of architecture. A client/server architect has less topology in general to be concerned with. Enterprise-wide architects have security layers, messaging layers, etc. along with the typical people-politics.

Moving past technical competence, what does this leave us to ponder?

2) Clear Communication. This is a major concern and a difficult issue to address either from the interviewee or personal standpoint. First, can the individual articulate clearly in the given language? Does the individual create clear and concise emails or documentation? Does the individual have poor communication skills? Is this apparent in written communication as well?

On my trip to China to work with our Global Development Center, I realized, often too late, that I speak too quickly and use English terms that were not understood. Rather than clarify or ask probing questions, I assumed that I was understood. After a couple of misunderstandings, I changed my approach and was much more successful.

3) Listening Skills. Can the individual listen? Don't confuse the inability of the individual to speak a given language (shyness) with their ability to listen. The skill to listening is tricky and can be difficult. Think of the car salesman who only wants to sell you a car. No matter what you say, he ignores you and persists with the sale (effective sales technique.)

Sometimes, we listen but our brain registers something else. A good way to make sure that what you are hearing is what is being said, is to ask a clarifying question like, "So what you are saying is ____________?" or "So in other words, you mean _____________?", "Is this correct?"

I usually reiterate back a list of bullet point take-aways from a meeting to insure that I do not bungle this important facet of communication.

4) Presentation Skills.

If the architect is presenting an architecture to a client, boss, team or other group of people, the presenter must be able to clearly explain their ideas, defend them, and win over the audience through presentation. You will not win all of the battles, but ultimately, you need to win the war.

I am currently working with an individual who is trying to transition from a lead developer position to an architect position. This is someone who has spent a long career in support and development roles and wants to move up the technical ladder.

While he is technically proficient on webMethods, J2EE, database and other skills, he cannot present his ideas with clarity. He isn't quick on his feet.

So, I had a brainstorm one day, and I had him look up Toastmasters International. They have local chapters all over the US. Their primary function is to meet and help others develop or polish their presentation abilities. He is now attending Toastmasters and has started to understand what it will take for him to achieve his goal.

5) Business Vision.

Many architects or architect-wanna-bees lack the ability to present or defend their ideas. It doesn't mean they aren't capable. Sometimes, this is because they lack business vision or do not understand how a business works and therefore cannot understand the reasons why certain steps exist in a process. Or, they miss an entire spectrum of thought for a decision process. Developers often do not need to worry about specifics above their part of the puzzle. People are inclined to stick with things within their comfort level, or stick to technologies that they know inside and out. This precludes them from learning or accepting new things.

If an MBA school is out of the question, here's a few tips that will help all of us to understand how businesses operate:

a) Subscribe to free Industry magazines. I subscribe to about 15 different magazines, most of which are free. Some of the top magazines are CIO, Oracle, DB2, Baseline, CRM, VAR Business, wired, INC, Forbes, Government VAR and Government Executive. Since I still work in the government space, I try to keep abreast of government projects, procurement, etc.

Reading these industry rags helps in many ways. The most important item that I key in on is ROI and the business case. It's easy to postulate about a particular technology but it's harder to justify without all the facts and developing the business case for your presentation. I have found that those who do their homework from the business perspective rarely get cornered during a presentation.

Technically, it helps to justify your idea to a C-level individual when you understand all parts of the concept. Using the earlier single-sign-on example, what will be the required effort to establish single sign on? What is an acceptable workaround for those applications without the ability to work directly with the SSO product? Will the solution pass security audits? What will be the savings or ROI? Will it drive down support costs? Or increase them? Knowing and understanding a basic business case will keep you on sure footing.

b) Join network groups in your area. Even small towns have networking events. This is an opportunity to meet other people in or out of your profession. I believe it is just as important to commingle with those OUTSIDE of my profession as those within. By meeting with people on the outside, you gain insight to your profession by others with a very different perspective. The same holds true by networking with those within your profession. A government employee whose role is that of J2EE architect plays a far different role than a consultant to a multi-national fortune 500 company. Get those two together to talk about projects and I'm sure that conversation would yield some nuggets for all of us to grab. Understand not only the technical, but business reasons for a particular technology choice.

c) Attend events, seminars and conferences. This provides you with the capability to stay on top of your industry. Conferences generally provide a good networking atmosphere. In October of 2002, my company laid a bunch of us off. I decided to attend Integration World 2002 in San Francisco at my own expense. The networking opportunities were awesome. I met with Dan Green, curator of, and many many webMethods people. Less than five weeks later, I was on a plane heading to Sydney, Australia. I ended up working with the Australian contingent that I met at Integration World. I didn't win the job at Integration World, but it gave me the ammunition I needed to position myself for the work in Australia.

6) Lack of Processes. Individuals that come from smaller companies often lack rigid standards or processes. When transitioning from a small to large company, these processes are often viewed as archaic, cumbersome or outlandish. The ability to understand these process models can be a huge factor in the job you are trying to land. Software Change Management, version control, quality assurance are among some of the key processes that drive enterprise architecture and implementation.

A key ingredient of some large organizatations is the use of the Capability Maturity Model. This standard is met by most of the large defense contractors for the U.S.

The CMM standard was developed by a coalition of industry, government and the Software Engineering Institute to objectively assess the full range of an organization's software and systems engineering, program management and organizational management capabilities.

There are five levels of CMM maturity, each a layer in the foundation for on-going process improvement, designated by the numbers one through five with five being the highest. Higher maturity levels signify lower risks to successful program execution. The BearingPoint Global Development Center has achieved Software CMM level 5.

From the architecture, development and delivery standpoints, this requires more modular processes, more paperwork, very rigorous testing, but in the end delivers in a timely and highly successful fashion.

In the end, the ability to communicate effectively receives the highest level of scrutiny when I interview a candidate.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Integration World 2005 Educational Tracks - Fabric

I highly recommend architects to enroll in the webMethods Fabric Architecture Class that is scheduled for Sun/Mon 13-14 November.

I hear rumors that Theo Ezell will be the instructor. If that is so, then attendance alone is worth the admission.

If Theo were teaching how to shuck corn, I'd pay the admission fee.

For those of you NOT in the know, Theo has substantial tactical time in the field with the product and then became a trainer. He is EXTREMELY knowledgable and he will help even after the class is over. I have emailed him a few times over the years when I was really stuck and he came through every single time.

So, for those of you lucky enough to make the trek to this year's pilgrimage event, then make sure you pony up the extra $200.00 for the course.

Going to hear Theo Ezell talk about webMethods is like listening to Zig Zigler talk about sales!

Finally, after 2 years, Workflow Training

I haven't touched workflow for two years, (since AFLAC.) Now, I'm sitting in class, trying to keep my fuzzy logic working.

My current project will definitely use workflow, so I'm going after my instructor's brain with a pick axe. So far, I've come up blank.

This guy is a real instructor (academic), and as such, he doesn't seem to have any PS experience. We keep getting blank stares from him when we ask him technical questions outside of the curriculum.

Where's Theo when you need him??

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Mark "the man" Carlson

I finally had the honor to meet in the flesh: Mark "the man" Carlson.

Mark is a pretty laid back kind of guy so he won't agree with "the man" title.

It's not often that I get to meet a wmuser compadre in person.

I will be attending Integration World 2005 in Atlanta this year and look forward to meeting as many users as possible. (More on IW 2005 in a later blog.)

Mark, it was great to finally meet you after all the phone calls over the last few years. And a big thanks for all of the help as well.

Cheers mate!