America Is Great

First off this is not a political post but I will come out and say it. Make America Great Again is a stupid slogan. I admit there are problems with the middle class but America is great. Period.

Why? Because of what I wrote two years ago. It’s as relevant today as it was back then.

Startup Land

Two years ago I wrote a LinkedIn article on a train ride home titled I believe in America.” I was trying to be cute, tying in a Godfather movie reference in there to make a catchy title. I had just spent a few days at the CIC building in Cambridge, MA, and was just utterly overwhelmed with inspiration. The CIC building is an incubator with every floor bursting at the seams with startups. Even reading what I wrote two years ago still gives me goosebumps.

The CIC boasts that it hosts the most startups in a single location, anywhere on the planet, and I believe them. Floor upon floor is filled with startups, incubators, talent, and raw brainpower the likes of which I’ve never seen. The hallway discussions I overheard, the mathematical proof scribbles on whiteboards, and the presentations I saw as I was rushing to a meeting made me feel like I was witnessing the future of America – and it’s exciting! The startups in that building epitomize the qualities that makes America great, and I was a part of it.

The reality is that a handful of these startups are going to make it. Even fewer will make it big but most will die. They’ll fade away or explode in a ball of fire. Those are the breaks but isn’t that America? The freedom to take a risk and show the world why you’re idea is awesome. This is why America will remain great today and continue to be so tomorrow.

Hug an Engineer and punch a Banker

Howard understands this too and his recent blog post caught my eye.

America is greater than ever in 2016. We live longer, we have awesome drugs, Shake Shack, sushi, uber, free trading, open borders, the social web, Amazon Prime, Google maps, an eye on cancer and Alzheimer’s, and engineers up the ying yang.

You won’t believe how important my iPhone is and how much I use Uber and Google Maps. Entrepreneurs build empires on the back of Apps. Big Data and Data Science will continue to move into primetime and affect everything it touches. Blockchain and Fintech will revolutionize business as we know it. The world will continue to connect more, be more open, and be hyper-aware of bullshit.

Yes, I’m bullish on America and Tech.

It’s no longer just ok to hug an engineer and punch a banker. It’s hug an engineer, hoard designers, suck up to centimillionaires and punch a banker’.

You got that right Howard!

What Works, What Doesn’t Work

An important lesson I’ve learned while working at a Startup is to do more of what works and jettison what doesn’t work, quickly. That’s the way to success, the rest is just noise and a waste of time. This lesson can be applied to everything in life.

Data is your friend

We generate data all the time, whether it’s captured in a database or spreadsheet, just by being alive you throw off data points. The trick is to take notice of it, capture it, and then do something with it. It’s the “do something with it” that matters to your success or not.  Your success can be anything that is of value to you. Time, money, weight loss, stock trading, whatever. You just need to start capturing data, evaluate it, and take action on it.

This is where you fail

Many people fail by taking no action on the data they captured and evaluated. They hope that things are going to get better or that things are going to change. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t but you must act on what the data is telling you now. NOW!

My Examples, what Works/Doesn’t Work

  1. My $100 Forex experiment worked really well for a time, then it started to flag. The data was telling me that my trading method was no longer working. Did I listen? Nope. I blew up that account. This didn’t work for me.
  2. Writing RapidMiner Tutorials on this blog ended up getting me a job at RapidMiner. This lead to an amazing career in Data Science. Writing and taking an interest in things works.
  3. Day trading doesn’t work for me. I blow up all the time. What works for me is swing and trend trading. Do more of that and no day trading.

Keep it simple, stupid

The one thing I’ve also learned working at a startup is to keep things simple and stupid. You’re running so fast trying to make your quarter that you have no time for complex processes. Strip things down to their minimum and go as light as you can. This way you can adjust your strategy and make changes quickly, you can do more of what works and jettison what doesn’t.

Elastic CEO reflects on Amazon spat, license switch, and the principles of open source | VentureBeat

“As a company, we never treated open source as a business model — open source is not a business model,” he said. “The first principle of open source is around engaging on GitHub, for example — you use open source to engage with the community, you use open source as a way to create communities, you use open source to collaborate with people.”

Elastic CEO reflects on Amazon spat, license switch, and the principles of open source | VentureBeat

Open Source Exploitation

Elastic Search NV, the company behind Elastic Search and its companion product Kibana changed its license from Apache 2.0 (fully open source) to a Server Side Public License (SSPL) and the Elastic License in 2021.

SSPL is often described as a ‘faux open source’ license and the Elastic License dictated that its software is limited in the following ways:

You may not provide the software to third parties as a hosted or managed service, where the service provides users with access to any substantial set of the features or functionality of the software.

You may not move, change, disable, or circumvent the license key functionality in the software, and you may not remove or obscure any functionality in the software that is protected by the license key. – via Elastic License

This change was done because Amazon was selling their open-source software as a service (SAAS) and not “sharing in the revenues.”

This happens quite a bit with the open-source world if what you and your team create is really good. You and your creators push out the software, it gets adopted all over the place, and you start getting support questions. So you start selling enterprise support but only a handful of people pay for it.

The reality is that giant organizations exploit your kindness, take your work, bundle it into a platform or other software, and then sell it to people, and never pay you for support. If there’s a bug in the software they’ll ask you to fix it for free first.

So what happened when Elastic Search changed its license? All hell broke loose for a while.

CEO Shay Banon was asked about what to expect and his response was great:

“we totally expected it to happen,” Banon said — but Elastic had already bolstered its commercial offering to protect it against any future open source kerfuffles. – via VentureBeat

Amazon forked the repo and said they’re going to build their own version of Elastic Search and called it Open Search. Some Elastic Search users did not make the move either and forked the repository too. There was even discussion amongst the group of companies on how to “co-develop” this going forward.

Other users of the ElasticSearch ecosystem, including Logz.io, CrateDB and Aiven, also committed to the need for a fork, leading to discussion of how to coordinate the open source efforts – via Wikipedia

This cracks me up but makes me mad at the same time. Here are the same companies that relied on Elastic Search and have been exploiting that software for free and the countless hours that software developers put in, now scrambling to push off the development costs a “consortium.”

LOL. That’s all I have to say.

Here’s the simple thing, Open Source is not free. If you’re a multi-billion company and use open source technology in your products or offer a service with it, you should pay. You should buy Enterprise Support or you should provide royalties or some other agreed-upon compensation for everyone’s hard work.

Corporations have gotten used to exploiting many powerful open source products and not giving back anything to the community or those developers. The nickel and dime you to death and then expect you to fix bugs for free, as the lead developer of the Apache PLC4X project explains:

As a last attempt to keep the lights on, I am switching the mode I am providing support for PLC4X: I am no longer implementing features users might need, I am no longer instantly fixing bugs for free. Especially I will not invest my private money to buy expensive hardware in order to implement or fix stuff I am then giving away for free. – via Github

The moment you stand up and say, “what a minute, this isn’t fair, I’m being exploited” the exploiters throw a hissy fit, grab their ball and go home.

Here’s what I say, feel free to fork it. Feel free to build whatever “consortium” you want, but it’s going to be a futile effort. You won’t be able to use the original name in your forked product or service, so you won’t get brand recognition. You won’t have an in-depth understanding of the codebase or the years of experience that the developers, maintainers, and makers have.

Don’t void the social contract that is open source, if you get value from it then put money into the pot.

Street Photography and Startups

If you’ve been following my blog posts, you’d know that RapidMiner isn’t the first Startup I’ve worked for. My first one was straight out school for an engineering firm in New Mexico. It was the best of times and the worst of times. I am who I am today from the lessons I learned there.

What many people don’t know about me is that I like to take photos in cities. I fancy myself a hobby street photographer and I like to roam around and capture small slices of life in the streets. It’s a very personal and lonely endeavor but I’m fascinated by the undercurrent of people interacting with places, people, and things.

Port Authority EscalatorPort Authority Escalator

It’s also very therapeutic! It gives me time to think when I roam around AND it sharpens my senses to opportunities. You have to be quick to get that shot!

I recently stumbled across some street photography tips by a prolific street photography blogger, Eric Kim. I watched this kid” go from shooting bad street photos to shooting really good ones. He experimented, he networked, he tried new things, and dropped things that didn’t work. Now he’s traveling the world and hosting street photography workshops. He’s like this own startup” and despite what all the haters say, I like the guy!

I gleaned a few of his tips. Some of them contradict each other, but I can overlook that. Why? Because life is one big contradiction. What ultimately matters is learning to see an opportunity, evaluate it, and then take it if it makes sense.

Fulfill Your Personal Maximum

I am certainly not a master” myself; just a humble student dedicated to a life-long pursuit of learning.

The Startup is you and your people. Without all your brains, you’d be dead in the water. Life long learning is important to keeping all those brains sharp and creative. Always remember, your employees want to contribute to something larger than themselves and if they feel like their work becomes to rote, then you’ll lose them. Invest in life long Learning.

Shoot 25% more than you think you should

If you see an amazing character once in your life, realize that you will never see them ever again. So live life without regrets and make the photograph.

This tip reminds me of not missing a good opportunity AND under promising but over delivering. In the Startup world you have go above and beyond for your potential and existing clients. You are the reason they are taking a chance on your startup, so don’t blow it.

Kill Your Master

Remember that after learning from the masters, you need to know when to ignore them or when to go against their teachings.

As you journey through Startup land, will meet and have great mentors and influencers. I still talk to my old mentors, which I affectionately call Tor”mentors. They will have great wisdom share but what you need to do is learn as much as you can and then chart your own destiny. You’re the captain of this Startup, you take their teachings and set out on your own into uncharted waters.

Kill Your Ego

By detaching your ego from your photos, you can judge them more honestly and objectively.

Don’t get hung up on something and lose your objectivity. I see this happen a lot when teams are formed to make new products. They lose themselves in the product that they forget who it’s really for, the customer. If you can’t honestly and objectively evaluate how good or bad your product is, well then you got a problem. Be prepared to kill your creation.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

Many photographers become jaded after years of shooting. They lose a sense of their hunger and passion. This is what leads to artistic death and stagnation.

This is a tough one. At times you can get tired and things just seem to be going all wrong in your Startup. You have to be vigilant against losing your hunger and passion, because it’s really tied together by a thin thread. If you feel jaded or burnt out, take some time off and detach for a bit. Then come back and be a force to be reckoned with.

Create A Relationship with your Subjects

By getting to know your subject, you connect with them on a deeper and emotional level, which might help you uncover some hidden truths about them, which might manifest in the photos that you take.

This is about your customer or clients. You have to get to know them to understand why they’re involved with you. Don’t be that selfish lover than only thinks about your orgasm, think about theirs. Once you build a strong relationship, everyone feels in it together,” and that goes a lone way to building your brand.

Unlearn

I want to leave you with the last lesson it would be this: unlearn.

If something doesn’t work, toss it. Start again. Don’t be tied to dogma.

A day in the Life of a Sales Engineer

If you asked me 2 years ago if I’d be working in Sales at a high tech startup, I’d say you were nuts! Fast forward to today and that’s exactly what I’m doing. Today I’m a Sales Engineer at an advanced analytic startup.

What exactly is a Sales Engineer? Wikipedia defines it as a hybrid between Sales and Engineering, an interesting combination indeed. I live in a Goldilocks world of solving problems and selling the solution. This suits me just fine. Coming from the engineering world, solving problems is in my blood. Couple this with learned public speaking skills (i.e. Toastmasters), making presentations in a Sales environment makes me happy. I’m in my sweet spot.

What’s my typical day like? Hectic! Unpredictable! Cool! Most of the day I’m on discovery calls with customers discussing how our platform can help them. Next, I could be making a presentation with an Account Representative to a board room. After that, I could be on a WebEx with a customer helping them troubleshoot a process. This could, and has, happened all in one day.

What does it take to be a Sales Engineer? It takes a lot of skills and creative ability. I’m not just saying that to make myself sound awesome, it’s a tough job and can be stressful at times. Despite that, Sales Engineering is a rewarding career. As I said above, I’m in the Goldilocks zone! Sounds great, right? Ready to sign up at your local startup as a Sales Engineer? Not so fast, there are a few things you need to know to be successful at it. Let me share with you 6 key thoughts I’ve learned if you’re considering becoming a Sales Engineer.

Tips on being a Sales Engineer

Know thy product – Yes, you need to know you’re product inside out. You need to know what it can do and what it can’t. You need to know how to set it up in a customer’s environment or be able to find the right resource to help in your company.

Be creative – If you have a flexible product, you will need to be able to use it in creative ways. Likewise, you need to misuse it too. Sometimes the customer has strange requirements and you need to figure out how to get it done!

Stamina – You’re going to be busy. Prepare to take calls after hours, before hours, on a train, in an airport, etc. I joke that my life would end if I lost my mobile phone.

Attitude – You must have an open and engaging attitude. This I can not stress enough. Learn from peers, learn from competitors, learn for everyone in your company. Have a can-do” attitude and never shy away from hard problems.

Persevere – Sometimes after a great proof of value (POV), a customer will go dark.” You thought this was a sure win and then everything becomes anticlimactic. Like a pregnant pause, you need to help your sales team push through this and reengage your customer.

Understand what Value means – Perhaps the most important item is the magical term “value.” Boy, do I hear this term tossed around like a bowling bowl in a rowboat. I will dedicate a separate post to this topic but what you think is valuable may not be valuable to your customer.

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