Tag Archives: Reinventing Nerds

Duncan Davidson: Managing an Empathy Wobble



Joanie interviews Duncan Davidson, CTO In Residence at Microsoft, Berlin.  He provides service to and is a liaison between Microsoft and the CTOs at start-up companies that Microsoft supports through the ScaleUp accelerator program at Microsoft for Startups.

What’s great about this interview is that Duncan shares his own experience with what he calls an “empathy wobble” when his company was acquired.  He shares insights into how it happened, what the impact was, and what he needed to change within himself to grow as a leader.  This is an incredibly impactful episode.  Duncan is candid and authentic.

Highlights:

Q: What kinds of things do you do as CTO In Residence at Microsoft?

“I provide tools for the technical people who are in or end up in the CTO role.  It’s everything from what are three reasonable architectures for running a in cloud computing, to how do you scale up from two people to twenty to 200, and how do you act as a technical leader in these situations?”

Q: Where were you before Microsoft?

“I was at hired at Wunderlist as senior developer on staff underneath the CTO/VP Engineering.  I was there to influence where we were going from a technical standpoint…  We were able to launch our product without a hiccup.  It was the most boring launch I’ve ever done.  Then we got acquired.”

“We had to go through due diligence for the acquisition.  Microsoft’s risks were much larger than ours because, if we brought in a bug, we could cost Microsoft billions.  We went through the process for six or seven months.  We went from having thousands of issues to a hundred to none.  In the end, we were pretty satisfied.  We thought the hard part was done.”

Q: [Ominous music] What happened once you were acquired?

“My goal was to have a successful integration, one where our team was seen as successfully contributing to the new company so we could buy our way into being relevant to the new company.  If we could guide the group through a transition like that, then we could write the rest of our story within Microsoft.”

Q: How did the integration go?

“What made sense to us from a logical perspective wasn’t something that a large number of people on our staff wanted to do.  Our team was made up of open source Linux geeks running microservices in different development languages and they were badasses at that. Microsoft had big enterprise things that had been around for twenty years, like Exchange, which were almost anathema to the people on our team.  We found that we didn’t have the alignment we needed in the organization.  As we went through this, we had a lot of friction in the organization.”

Q: How did you manage the friction?

“I found that I had an empathy wobble.  I picked up the term from a TED Talk by Frances Frei on how empathy wobbles can destroy trust.  Here’s where I ran into something interesting.  The logical side of where I came from was never a problem.  My authenticity seems to do pretty well.  But where I had the wobble was in empathy, being able to motivate people to get on board during the integration. I didn’t think I had a problem in this arena, but…”

Listen to the episode to hear Duncan’s gripping story of his empathy wobble…

Words of Wisdom:

“An empathy wobble impacts trust.  The decisions you make seem arbitrary to the people on the other side.”

“Culture is not defined by what you put on a piece of paper.  It’s the behaviors you tolerate in an organization.”

“We postponed a lot of things we should have acted on.  It’s in those kinds of situations where you find you’re not the good guy.”

Contact Duncan Davidson:

Email: duncand@microsoft.com

Website: https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/advocates/duncan-davidson


Mike Nowland: Solutions to your Leadership Problems



Joanie interviews Mike Nowland, whose purpose in life is to help managers be better, do better, and live better. Joanie met Mike when he was working as the Corporate Training Manager for the Americas at ResMed. Now he’s the president of Enriched Learning and Development, LLC. Mike shares tips for technical people who move into leadership roles.

Highlights:

Q: What kind of nerd are you?

“I’m probably the least technically proficient person you’re going to meet, at least on this podcast.  Numbers and I have been enemies since middle school.”

Q: What did you do at ResMed?

“ResMed was smart enough to keep me away from the medical devices and let me focus on the leadership aspects of leadership and development.  There, we improved the health of people through better sleep.”

Q: What are you doing now?

“If you think about any business.  I don’t care if you’re a heart surgeon or designing a CPAP device or if you’re in the military, you’re dealing with human nature…  It’s a human being business.  If you’ve got people, we’ll work well together.”

Q: What is the difference between managing and leading?

“We have to do both.  In the normal execution of our duties every day, there are things that we manage.  We manage people’s arrival times and departure times, deliverables, performance reviews, and all these processes we manage that execute the performance of the organization.  At the same time, we lead people to understand what stellar performance looks like in this organization, how they contribute to the outcomes in the execution of their duties and how they fit with the outcomes of the organization.”

“Both are important, and both can be taught.”

Q: What kinds of challenges do people who are technically savvy and leadership challenged typically face?

“One is, because they don’t know how to effectively communicate expectations or how to train others in the skills that got them promoted, they almost double down on their workload.  They think: ‘I’m not comfortable training someone on how to do it.  I’m going to do it twice as fast.  I’m going to lead by example.’  Frequently, it’s not developmental for someone on the team.  And, in 3-6 months, they’re burned out.”

To hear all three typical challenges as well as solutions, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“Most managers are managers today because they were strong individual contributors. It can be very frustrating to make that transition.”

“Other people were probably performing pretty well when you got promoted. You don’t have to do their work for them.”

“When you get promoted, you get a grace period to ease in.”

Contact Mike:

Email: mike.nowland@crestcom.com

Website: Enriched Learning and Development

 


Calie Hendrickson: Systems for People



Joanie interviews Calie Hendrickson, who is a systems engineer at Engility Corporation.  Calie acquired her people skills along a roundabout path to the aerospace industry.  She capitalizes on these skills to communicate with her multidisciplinary teams of engineers.  Calie also talks about how she mentors across disciplines and the surprising benefits of cross-disciplinary mentoring.

Highlights:

Q: How did you get to where you are now?

“My path to get there was puddle jumping.  I started out with an arts and science degree and moved into biotechnology…  Then I moved across the country and did interior design.  That’s where I got my people skills.”

“I came to be known as a specialist in data management engineering, which is managing the accessibility to data.  Rather than having something in a giant database, you can categorize it and have it at your fingertips.”

Q: How do you organize data logically?

“We rely heavily on use case.  It’s very user feedback driven.  When I personally build a database, I’m likely not the person who will be using it day to day.  Even though I think it’s perfect, the user may look at me like a deer in the headlights.”

Q: How do you learn what users do?

“I will go and sit with the person and observe them.”

Q: How do you engage in multidisciplinary communication?

“Especially in dealing with aerospace engineers—that can mean very different specialties ranging from thermal to avionics and software to structural to propulsion.  We’re all engineers.  We all have similar thought processes, but we have different things we focus on. It’s important to find a similar language so you can communicate with someone in a meaningful manner.”

Q: What does it mean to use a similar language?

“Anyone in any background has their own vocabulary.  You need to be cognizant when you do that yourself, so you can clarify.”

Words of Wisdom:

“When someone uses an acronym you don’t know, ask what it is.”

“Seek feedback from trusted coworkers.”

“Study faces.”

Contact Calie:

Email: keepincontactwithcalie@gmail.com

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/calie-hendrickson-93468010a


Rich Yumul: Website Therapy



Joanie has a conversation with Rich Yumul, a web designer and CEO of Sage Tree Solutions.  Rich calls himself a “website therapist” because he helps clients have better relationships with their websites.

Highlights:

Q: How did you come to start your own company?

“I started out being a freelancing contractor.  I got so much work, I started adding people.  That’s when it started to become a full-fledged company.”

Q: How do you find a customer like Comicon?

“They actually found us.  They were looking for somebody who could help them with a Drupal website.  That’s our specialty.”

Q: What’s a website therapist and how can people have a better relationship with their website?

“Often when we deal with clients, they’re in a state of distress.  Their budget has gone way over budget or time.  There are three things to have a good relationship with your website.”  Listen to the episode to learn more.

Q: How do you help clients decide what they want?

“I had to learn to translate…  Don’t assume because you’re using the same terms, you’re right.  The client’s paying the bills.”

Q: How do you bring empathy in to dealing with clients’ distress?

“I invested some time in learning about business.  Usually the people we deal with are business directors or marketing people.  Understanding business helped me understand how business problems create distress for them.  I help them get to a better place.”

Q: What kinds of problems come up in working with the engineers at work?

“One thing that served me very well was to learn to not take things personally.  When people are stressed out, they may be heated.  Have the awareness if you’re starting to feel triggered, to take a step back and really try to listen to the message.”

Words of Wisdom:

“Be open to being educated.”

“Be a vocabulary detective.”

“Email is the worst way to communicate because so much can be read into the words of the message.”

Shout Outs:

San Diego STEM Ecosystem: sdstemecosystem.org

Toys for Joy: toys-for-joy.org

Contact Rich:

Email: rich@sagetree.com

Website: https://www.sagetree.com/


Elisa Yu: Start-Up People Skills



Joanie interviews Elisa Yu, a business coach who started out as a biochemical engineer.  Elisa talks about the people challenges she’s faced in running a startup company and being a business coach and what skills she has developed to succeed in these different roles.  She also gives tips for leaders from her business coaching practice.

Highlights:

Q: How did you come to move out of biochemistry?

“I did some soul searching and realized I was not interacting with people as much as I would like to.  I saw that ‘Field Application Scientist’ seemed like a good sidestep to make that happen.”

Q: What people challenges did you run into moving to a startup?

“There are two main people challenges.  One is dealing with the founders.  The second is dealing with employees.”

“The main challenge was we all have different personalities and we look at things differently.  Throughout the process, we built a level of trust.  We could have arguments.  We could have disagreements.  But we knew we were working to the same goal and we were not going to screw each other.”

“Retention of people is a huge challenge for us.  What we realized over the years was to deal with our mindset before dealing with employees.”

Q: When you hire people with good people skills, what do you look for?

“When we hire people, we hire for good fit.  Just by hiring the smartest person might not be the best for the team.  Sometimes you have a team of very smart people but it’s a very dysfunctional team.  Because everyone’s personality clashes, they don’t have a unified vision.  It may not be the best for the team to have everyone fit into one mold.”

Words of Wisdom:

“When someone in Silicon Valley calls you to join a startup, it’s not something you say ‘no’ to.”

“You learn on the way when to insist and when to give in.”

“When you say you cannot, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Contact Elisa:

Email: Elisa@actioncoachsc.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elisa-yu-mba-9032001/


Brian Dersch: Engineering Good Customer Relationships



Joanie interviews Brian Dersch, the president and CEO of Dersch Design & Engineering.  Their mission is to design power and lighting systems for construction projects with an emphasis on renewable energy, customer service, and employing engineers that you can hold a conversation with. Brian is no exception!

We start out a little bit differently in this episode because Brian is able to articulate how his keen awareness of what was going on around him led to his career and business and success—a great lesson for all nerds!  He also shares insights into how he developed his people skills, manages virtual teams,

Highlights:

Q: How did you get into your field of business?

“I noticed there weren’t a lot of people going into large-scale power engineering.  I thought, ‘There’s a gap here and ten years from now, someone could end up inheriting it.’”

Q: How did you come to start up your own company?

“I got married and my wife had a dream of becoming a travelling nurse.  She said, ‘You can either stay in San Diego and work or come with me.’  So, I quit my job…”

Q: How did you come to create a company where engineers can have conversations with customers?

“I am an engineer first, and a business person second.  Positioning the business for success, that was learned from trial and error.”

Q: How did you develop your people skills?

“I thought I was shy in high school.  I joined the speech team and theater and I broke out of my shell.”

“One of the skills I developed was public speaking skills.  I needed more architects.  I put together an educational presentation for architects to connect with them.”

Q: How do you connect with people?

“In networking events, I’m often the youngest person there.  It can be very intimidating to show up in a room where everyone is in suits and have grey hair…  All it takes is finding out what someone’s interests are.”

Words of Wisdom:

“In the small business atmosphere, there are no limits.”

“The more I practice, the luckier I get.” –Arnold Palmer

“Tell them the time, not how the clock was made.”

“You can’t beat face-to-face interaction.”

Contact Brian:

Email: brian@derschdesign.com

Website: derschdesign.com

Phone: 858-768-0867


Abby Malchow: Women Vets in Tech



Joanie interviews Abby Malchow, who was attracted to the dynamic, growing tech industry even without a technical background.  Intel recruited her because of her experience with supply chain management in the Navy.  She now is a commodity manager in software and cloud technology.  Abby tells stories about how she made the transition from military to tech and how she helps veterans.  For example, while others use Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to generate revenue, Abby works with AI to help prevent suicide.  You might also be interested to know that Intel has an “AI for Good” team.

Highlights:

Q: How did you develop your adaptability in the military?

“In Iraq, I had to work with people who didn’t speak English and who weren’t comfortable working with women.  In the beginning, they would try to spit on me.  When they saw how hard I worked, they respected me.”

Q: How did you earn your respect at Intel without a technical background?

“I reached out to as many people as I could to gain information.  I leveraged my veteran network here.  Having discussions with people was more beneficial than reading a book or a manual.  I learned what others did, what their mistakes were, what I should know about this industry.  Relationships were formed from that.”

Q: What kinds of people challenges did you run into?

“While some people were willing to talk to me, some were less helpful.  In the military we’re always so quick to help people.  It’s our duty.  At Intel it’s different.  Everyone has to focus on their own responsibilities first, before they can help someone.”

Q: Why is it important to talk to women?

“If I’m not seeing women in managerial roles, what does my future at Intel look like?  I wanted to know Intel was investing in women in these roles.”

Q: What kinds of challenges do women veterans face when they transition out of the military?

“They tend to disappear.  There’s less of a community for them than for men.  People tend to think of the military in a very traditional sense, that it’s male-dominated, and, because of that, facilities have been built to not include women.”

Q: How is AI being used to help suicidal veterans?

“AI has grown in several platforms, including Facebook.  Suicide prevention algorithms exist to generate pop-ups with suicide prevention information when suicidal language appears.”

Q: What challenges do you run into in trying to get multiple different types of organizations to work together on veteran suicide prevention?

“You have to get the buy-in from the company.  In the end of the day, you have to appeal to them on more than an emotional level.  You have to bring in the data.”

Words of Wisdom:

“In this industry you’re never going to stop learning.”

“Working in a male-dominated industry, I had to look outside of my group to find women to lean on for support.”

“Veterans sustain invisible wounds.”

Contact Abby:

Twitter: @AbbyMalchow

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/abbymalchow/


Geoffrey Mattson: People Strategies for Techno-Entitled Nerds



Joanie interviews Geoffrey Mattson, CEO of MistNet.  Geoffrey leads a team of software engineers who use artificial intelligence to detect digital security threats in real time to keep organizations safe from cyber-attacks.  Geoffrey shares his insights into how having such valuable technical skills can lead nerds to feel entitled and not bother learning people skills that are critical to success in the long term.

Highlights:

Q: What kinds of challenges do you see with people at work?

“There is a nerd privilege, or techno-entitlement…  In Silicon Valley, the perks that are available to young people are like never before.”

“A lot of nerds grow up like a ‘spoiled child’ and it’s gotten even worse in the last tech cycle.  You can learn a lot of patterns that are not very helpful for you, your team, or your company.”

“If your tech skills become cold after some period of time, you’re just a nerd with a nerd personality without hot nerd skills.”

Q: How do you get your team to have good people skills?

“I start with a good core.  Part of being creative is being charitable—wanting to contribute and give.

Q: What are “nerd impulses?”

“To always want to be right, to have your own way, to use any information you have to your own advantage.”

Q: How do you squelch them?

“With my team, we have an understanding after working together that we’re going to be very frank with each other and be very friendly with each other after.”

Q: How do you see AI technology affecting the way people interacting with each other?

“The problem with AI is people are much more predictable than they think they are.”

Words of Wisdom:

“All tech booms come to a bust.”

“It’s good to have a little bit of conflict to keep people awake.”

“People can be more productive, more creative, and get more work done if they think about the long term and not always being right in the moment.”

Contact Geoffrey:

Phone: 408-499-7582

Email: gmattson@mistnet.io

Website: https://www.mistnet.ai/

Twitter: @geoffrey_mat

 


David Wallace: When the Sparks Fly



Joanie interviews David Wallace, who talks about emotionally charged situations on this entertaining and enlightening episode.  David is the president of 5th Avenue Energy where he combines two of his passions, electricity and protecting the environment.  5th Avenue Energy is a San Diego based Electrical Contracting Firm that specializes in solar and renewable energy solutions in the Commercial and Industrial space.  David is a funny guy and this interview will certainly entertain you, but you will also get some valuable insights.  David has given a lot of thought to people strategies and he’s very articulate.

Highlights:

Q: Tell us about yourself.

“As a kid, I would ask for very expensive robotic toys and I would take them apart to see how they worked.”

“I am a lover of all things technical, especially renewable energy. The largest obstacle I find, is not non-technical people, it’s engineers.  They’re used to speaking about other technical things, but not the flow of electrons.”

Q: What’s the emotion you refer to?

“There’s an emotion that comes when you’re driven by something.  Frustrations can arise when it comes between protecting the budget versus protecting the environment.”

Q: What do you do to make a pleasant environment for negotiation?

“The first thing I do is check my ego at the door.  I ask questions and try not to interrupt.”

Q: How did you learn to read body language?

“I had to hone in my focus because I’m usually thinking of the next thing I’m going to say.”

Q: How do you prepare yourself for being in the right mode for different types of situations?

“It’s literally a robotic function of mine: which button do I push to get the right version of David?  I put myself in a box and I choose which box I want to be in and I don’t let myself outside of the box.”

Words of Wisdom:

“Passion can make or break a sale.”

“As nerds and technical people, we’re competitive.  We can see a discussion as a competition and it’s not necessarily that.”

“Getting someone to understand that you want to understand disarms.”

Contact David:

(951) 285-4605

david@5thavenueenergy.com

http://www.5thavenueenergy.com


Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker: Communicating Science to Non-Scientists



Joanie interviews Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker, an evolutionary biologist, business consultant, author, and speaker.  Dr. Tamsin helps companies look to nature for sustainable business solutions but not necessarily in the way you would think.  Tune in for an extremely interesting episode of Reinventing Nerds.

Highlights:

Q: How do you bring evolutionary biology to companies?

“I ask myself, ‘How would nature design a company?’”

Q: How do you communicate with non-scientists?

“As scientists, everything is hypothesis driven.  For laypeople, it’s not.  We’re hardwired to tell stories. I try to meet people where they’re at and bring them on a journey to a different world.”

Q: What have you done to improve your communication skills as you moved from doctorate candidate to keynote speaker?

“Letting go of details while still being accurate.”

Q: What’s your biggest challenge with people skills?

“I’m an introvert and I talk a lot about collaboration.  Tamsin also helps other introverts collaborate.”  To learn how, listen to the podcast…

Words of Wisdom from Dr. Tamsin:

“A lot of people were traumatized by science classes.”

“Ants aren’t sitting in traffic.”

Contact Tasmin:

Website: DrTamsin.com
Twitter: BioInspired_Ink
FB: Dr. Tamsin
LinkedIn: Tamsin Woolley-Barker