Tag Archives: technical leaders

Sean Ferrel: Growing a People-Oriented Company



Sean Ferrel founded Managed Solution in 2002.  They provide consultative IT services for small-to-medium and enterprise clients. Sean tells his story of literally growing the company from his living room to a flourishing downtown San Diego enterprise. Hint: it starts with, “I was going to be a lawyer…” Within 3 years, the company was recognized as one of San Diego’s 40 fastest growing companies, awarded one of the 40 companies with owners under 40 years old and recognized as the 27th fastest growing IT company in Southern California. His secret sauce? Keeping it people first.

Highlights:

Q: How did you come to found Managed Solution?

“When I got out of school, I realized what I loved was people.  If I applied my people skills, I could take into any business, but what did I do in college?  I really got into the tech thing.  Tech was really interesting at that time, around 2002, and I started Managed Solution.  To be honest, I hadn’t done anything else.  We started with the idea of let’s find great people.  I was looking for three things: (1) soft skills, (2) accountability, and (3) technical skills.  And we started hiring.  I printed business cards in my dorm room.  I hired my best friends, who lived on my couch, and family members.  Then we realized we had to get serious.”

Q: How did you decide you needed to get the people skills in early on as a priority?

“I’ve always believed if you do the right thing in life, the money will come.  That means acting with integrity, being accountable, and teamwork.  Whether it’s in sales or in engineering, we want everyone to find themselves accountable to customers.”

“We follow the concept of RACI—responsible, accountable, contributor, integrator.  It’s a term we use in business to say, who’s accountable for this customer we’re dealing with?  Or who’s a contributor for a project for this customer?  You find the person who is responsible for the customer receives the credit and that makes them happier.  That’s what gets them driven to do better in our business.”

Q: How do you find people who have these skills?

“The first thing we do is look internally.  We look at recruiting like sales.  We need to attract good people.  Most of our people come from recommendations from people we know.”

Q: What do you do to train people?

“There’s a lot of burnout for engineers, if you’re doing the same thing for a long time.  We give them a lot of opportunities to train, to earn different certs and vary what they do.”

Listen to the episode to learn more about what Sean does to develop his people and himself to be and even stronger leader.

Words of Wisdom:

“Our success is driven by our people.”

“In so many ways, running a business is like running a family.  You have to nurture, grow, and enable people to do great things.”

“Employees get better on the tech stuff because they feel empowered.”

“When people feel you’re going to take care of them when in need, that’s the best gift ever and that’s what creates culture.”

Contact Sean Ferrel:

Company website: managedsolution.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sean-ferrel-6427a45/

Or stop by anytime!


Will Marshall: Improving Your Relationship with Your Lawyer



Will Marshall is a co-founder and partner of UBM Law Group. He drafts and negotiates commercial contracts, especially SaaS and traditional software licensing agreements and takes care of all sorts of legal things that come up for businesses.  He is also especially knowledgeable in issues that come up with small businesses and startups.  If you are avoiding talking to your lawyer, have ever had a bad experience with a lawyer, or are curious about the issues that can come up when technical people deal with lawyers, listen to the episode.  Will gives tips for technical people on how to communicate with lawyers and save money by doing so.

Highlights:

Q: Tell us your story of how you came to work with tech companies.

“I had an unusual career where I started as a General Counsel of a company—so I did the whole startup thing—and then I went into private practice, for about the last 10 years or so.  Usually, it’s the reverse.  That’s important because I learned to be a lawyer in a business context with limited resources.  Even though my company was a technology-based manufacturer, not a tech company, I seemed to gravitate toward tech companies when I started my practice, doing software as a service and software licensing and that sort of thing.  I can’t say why that went that way.  Maybe I just liked that type of work or maybe I did a good job of it.  I’m not sure.”

Q: Why do technical people interact with lawyers?

“Sometimes it’s them coming to me and sometimes it’s me coming to them.  It can be pure technical matters, like negotiating an agreement for technical services.  It could be dealing with employee issues.  It could be dealing with raising money and startup-type issues.  It could be implementing policy issues, compliance.  There’s a whole slew of things where I might be interfacing with technical people.  Sometimes the technical person is the founder so they have a broad view of all the legal issues and sometimes they’re a junior technical person where we’re hammering out a lot of really technical issues and granular issues.”

Q: What hesitations and concerns do technical people have with lawyers?

“First of all, there’s the cost.  The costs when you’re working on an hourly basis can run up, particularly if you don’t know how to manage your lawyer and use them efficiently.  That’s really about building trust.  I cut my teeth as a co-founder, paying outside lawyers and seeing their invoices and knowing what aggravated me about them.  So, a key part of my customer relationships is building the trust that I’m as worried about spending their dollars almost as much as they are.  For example, I’m not going to suggest that they burn up all the profit on the deal having me make the perfect contract if it wipes out the profitability of the deal.”

“The other concerns are that law can be very confusing and not jive with common sense and, when lawyers aren’t doing their job right, they can be the sales prevention unit or the Doctor No.  When you’re talking to startups, for example, they have their foot on the gas and anything that stops them is terrible.”

Q: How do you help technical people understand the legalese?

“That’s more of a contract drafting scenario.  Legalese can be archaisms, like whereas, witnesseth, and that stuff.  Those things just need to go away.  If your lawyer is saying witnesseth in your contract, you need a new lawyer.  The other part of it is not as obvious.  Contract language needs to be precise, to a level of precision that is not common, certainly not like when we talk to one another.”

To hear more about navigating legalese, managing your lawyer to be efficient, and how to communicate effectively with them, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“When we talk, we say things that are 10 ways ambiguous.  In a contract, we don’t have the luxury of doing that.”

“Employment law: it’s not a risk until it blows up in your face.”

“Technical people don’t like to be told how to do things without an appreciation of the complexities; lawyers don’t either.”

“Be careful when you grind your contractor or your attorney on fees because you might become the disfavored project.”

Contact Will Marshall:

Email: wmarshall@ubmlaw.com

Website: ubmlaw.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/will-marshall-9979242a/


Alex Balazs: The Benefits of Inclusive Leadership



Joanie interviews Alex Balazs, Senior Vice President and Chief Architect at Intuit.  Alex shares the story of his transformation from being a quiet engineer to becoming a communicative leader.  He also shares his insights on inclusion and describes how he is supportive of women in tech.  Being inclusive is key for Alex and he shares why.  He is also on the Board of Lead Inclusively, Inc., a company that helps companies be more inclusive.  We cover a lot in this episode, so be sure to listen to the end.

Highlights:

Q: Tell us the story of how you came to work at Intuit.

“I was born in Ohio and was raised in the Midwest. I always had this feeling that I needed to expand my horizons.  Post graduate, I moved to Northern California and worked for Carl Zeiss.  My first professional program language was Assembly.  I went to work for a startup in Boston and it didn’t work out, but a mentor from Carl Zeiss had just bought a small startup called Intuit and invited me to interview.  I started at Intuit in 1999.”

Q: How did you branch out of being a quiet engineer?

“I was a total introvert growing up.  I was always confident in my personal ability but didn’t know how to communicate.  There was a dissonance between what I felt I could say and what I felt was coming out of my mouth.  And it led me to not say things.  I was afraid I would say something stupid.  I felt the need to be the smartest person in the room and if I didn’t feel I was then I didn’t say anything.”

“There were a couple of events in my early Intuit career where my leadership moved on.  This was the leadership that was responsible for communicating to the rest of Intuit and figuring out which projects we should be working on.  When they all left, I said, ‘Now what am I supposed to do?’  I felt really sorry for myself.  I was afraid. I was angry.  I was upset.  And suddenly I just said, ‘This is an opportunity for me, and I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to transform myself into someone who can communicate.’  Through that process I learned that I had to start putting myself out there.”

“The last part of the transformation for me was the transformation from hoping I was the smartest person in the room to expecting I was the dumbest person in the room.”

Q: How does surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you improve your leadership?

“I do think as you get into leadership roles, it is the only way to be successful.  I’ve seen leaders who’ve tried to be leaders and the smartest person in the room, and it doesn’t work.  Smart people don’t want to work for you.  Smart people with ideas don’t want to speak up.  As an engineer, your job is to assert and to take up space.  I realized as a leader, my job is to create space so that other people can step into that space.”

“And when I did that, the notion of introvert/extrovert became a misnomer.  It wasn’t necessarily about me becoming an extrovert.  It was about me bringing in diverse thought and viewpoints from everyone, including many engineers who are introverts.”

To hear Alex’s tips on how to bring in introverts, how he is inclusive of all diverse people, and how he supports women in tech, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“Think of three concentric circles: your comfort zone, your learning zone, and your panic zone.  The only way to make your comfort zone bigger is to get into your learning zone.”

“Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.”

“I don’t know how a company can survive without being diverse.”

“Working for tech companies, we actually have privilege.”

Contact Alex Balazs:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexgbalazs/

Twitter: @alexgbalazs


Joe Molina: People Strategies for Techies and Vets



Joanie interviews Joseph Molina, the Executive Director and CEO of the Veterans Chamber of Commerce.  Joe draws from his experiences in the military, teaching at Cal Poly, being an entrepreneur, writing books, and working with veterans to bring us his lessons learned about the people skills needed to be an effective leader.  He talks specifically to veterans and techies.

Highlights:

Q: How did your varied experiences lead you to be the CEO of the Veterans Chamber of Commerce?

“I’ve been teaching since I was a teenager.  I always wanted to teach.  My first class was teaching adults how to get their GED, and I loved it.  Then life comes around and you start going in different directions and I started doing business and teaching business.  I always enjoyed doing business. It gave me the opportunity to try things out.  One thing I’m not afraid of is failing.  Learning has always been part of my life and I’m always moving forward.”

Q: Certainly, people in the military have had experience conquering their fear. How does that help them when they transition to the workplace?

“When we get out of the military, when the vast openness comes in and we go from having one, two, or three options to having a hundred, five hundred, or a thousand options, that becomes the challenge.  Regrouping becomes the issue and the mission.  We all feel that way. One hundred percent of people I talk to feel that way, of feeling lost, and wondering what to do now.”

“When we are in the military, we have a purpose.  We have an identity.  When we get out of the military, that identity has shifted and maybe even disappeared. Coming out you are somebody different.  It brings up so many questions.  That’s what motivates me to really, really want to work with veterans.”

“When we are in the military, we have a good support system.  We have a lot of friends.  The moment we cross the gate, we can’t go back.  For someone who has been in the military for ten years, when they go home, nothing is the same. Things have changed.  Friends may not be there anymore.  Lives have changed.  When we come out of the military, we become a ghost. The new community doesn’t know us. We’re not connected to the old community anymore. What do we do now?  One of the programs we’ve created at the Veterans Chamber of Commerce is to connect veterans to organizations.”

Q: How do you help techie veterans connect with organizations?

“If I’m the person who has the techie skills, I need to understand the person doing the hiring is probably an HR person who is not techie.  The first step in applying a job is the resume.  The resume should have what it is that I know how to do so that anyone can understand it.  Transmitting that message in the way that a nontechnical person can understanding it will give you a leg up.  Communication skills for the techie person, the nerd, are so important.”

Q: What can organizations do to support veterans, such as hire them?

“One thing that organizations should be aware of is that you get the best employees when you hire veterans.  You have individuals who are committed to reach the goal, together, with other people.  They know the team approach.  They always complete their tasks; nothing is left half-way done.  They always follow you; loyalty is huge.”

“When we’re talking about techie people, we know that this individual is going to perform 110%.  They’re going to follow the instructions given.  They’re going to complete the task or the mission the way it’s been presented.  This presents a challenge to the manager, because the manager needs to know how to communicate their message with their vision clearly so that others can understand it.”

Joe talks about much more than just veterans.  To hear Joe’s advice for leaders, like how to motivate techie people and how to delegate, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“There’s one thing that stops people from moving forward and that’s the “f” word—fear.”

“Anyone can be trained in a computer language but you cannot train someone in motivation.”

“You get the best employees when you hire veterans.”

Contact Joe Molina or the Veterans Chamber of Commerce:

www.vccsd.org


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