In less than three days, I recently passed through five airports using six planes to meet with three very important teams. Not a single Uber (because fuck Uber), 14 meetings/calls later, and a collective 9 hours of sleep. Before I let the normal hurricane of work-life sweep these events away, I want to distill learnings.
In 2017 after an exhaustive job search, I found myself talking with an SMB CEO about what my goal was. I said then, as I still say now, that one of my primary goals is to “be in the room”. Rooms where decisions are made; not only internal decisions, external ones too. You have to prove your value at the table in these rooms, and this is what I do.
During these past three days, three very meaningful things happened.
One: an F100 customer I’ve invested a ton of effort in for the past 6 months demonstrated how impactful that work has been to their strategic quarterly planning in front of two very important people in the full-time company I work with. This took me by surprise, but is exactly what happens when you’re doing things right (I think). People benefit so much they want to share it with others. I see this as a positive characteristic of humanity.
Two: another F100 prospect I’ve invested a ton of time with confidentially shared how the internal dynamics of their big-picture financial strategy over technology funding underscores the importance of having a flexible approach to the acquisition process for software vendors and GSI partnerships. I would never have had the opportunity to learn this in school, at prior software jobs, or without the support of an amazing business team (incl. key individuals in leadership, partner channel, sales, and product management).
Three: I got another very private F100 customer to discuss patterns, practices, and industry trends with a senior researcher at a major analyst firm. Early in my career and for many people in what I refer to as ‘shallow engagement work patterns’, this would be impossible; but I believe in value-first relationships, referring to how Tim O’Reilly puts it: “create more value than you consume”. Really doing this with your customers takes more than an ask, it takes gives which make asks pale in comparison.
These and other things happened the past almost-three days, but took sustained efforts. The same statement applies every day inside my day job. Some things happen overnight. Some things aren’t under your control. That leaves the universe of possibility to things that happen over time and are totally under your control. This is very good news for us “busy brains”.
Self-control is a characteristic people pick up on subconsciously, but lack thereof most certainly triggers conscious flags. I have a few habits…nail-bitten fingertips, post-its written everywhere, late-night emails…that I think qualify for the latter. In contrast to the last sixty hours, I’m going to scale back these and other habits over the next sixty days. This will take effort, sustained and supported with the help of others.
A colleague said to me last month: “don’t wait for your doctor to tell you”. Habits are something that can be changed. Trust takes time to build and can be lost overnight. Observing people’s habits can accelerate identifying trustworthiness. Being someone I know is trustworthy, I want to seek ways to accelerate others’ trust in me. Controlling habits is my immediate actionable.
If you’re ambitious, curious, and capable, tech is a fantastic sector to be in. Things move very fast, money too. Five years ago, I very deliberately pivoted my career from writing code all day to observing and directing the code that people operate by. In retro, I could have done this in my early twenties, but at least it’s happening now.
Since 2018, the rooms I’ve gotten really good at working in are typically at an F100. Under the surface, things in F100s are so complicated and fucking messy…I love it when things are messy…but on the shiny topside in rooms with egos and initiatives and collateral on the line, dialogs have to be squeaky clean. The trick is how to bring the room together with anything but the mundane, with active listening, informed point of view, inspiring next-challenges, and most importantly, sincerity. Effective communication and collaboration takes experience, and experience takes doing. This is what I’m doing all the time now, honing and refining.