Graeme Thickins on Tech

Reflections & analysis about innovation, technology & startups, with a focus on Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes

Category: Design (page 1 of 2)

Our Times Call for Multiple Careers

I believed it then, and  believe it even more now. It was a poster I first saw in my early working years in the advertising and marketing business, and it hit me hard. I thought, yeah, that totally makes sense — I don’t want to be tied down to one thing for my whole working life, one aspect of this exciting, crazy business. I had already improved my lot quite a bit by moving on to a couple of better-paying jobs after I left college, and I was feeling pretty good about that… buying a house, buying nice cars. I figured I was just getting started! I had way too many interests, too many things I wanted to do, to be tied down to one kind of marketing job, or (God forbid) one company. I had a whole world of options in front of me.

About this time, I had become really interested in design, too (not just writing). I was learning a ton from some smart colleagues I worked closely with, and I loved everything about design. Bought books, read a lot, studied it in my spare time. Wasn’t out to become a designer — just built a really good appreciation for it.

This poster (which I still have hanging in my office) was designed by Milt Glaser, an uber-famous graphic designer in New York whom I had come to admire. (Seriously, click on that link — this guy earned true rockstar-designer status!)  His poster struck me then as having an important message, and it’s continued to inspire me over the years. As in… don’t be pigeon-holed, resist being narrowly defined, always keep learning, keep doing, keep trying new things. And, yes, as the illustration shows, juggle all those options, as many skills as you can acquire, and learn all the tools you can to make yourself invaluable to employers or clients.

Unlike the prevailing wisdom at the time, I could see early in my career that working for the same company one’s whole career was a ticket to nowhere. I knew it wasn’t for me. I learned the only job security was what was between one’s ears. I worked about two years average for a company or agency, then moved on to a bigger challenge and more money. A dozen years into my career, I made the big jump to being a self-employed consultant and never looked back. And that, let me tell you, became the ultimate “multiple-career”… 🙂

The  philosophy encompassed in this simple poster has proven to be right for me, as it has for many others, I’m sure. For me, it’s been about multiple careers within a single discipline (marketing), but for some it can even mean switching disciplines. I’ve managed to keep reinventing myself over and over, in varying degrees. Part of that has been a result of getting myself involved in so many new fields of technology, as I’ve been lucky enough to be out in front of innovation in my chosen field of self-employment — as a consultant to early-stage tech startups. Never a dull moment in this business! Always something new to learn, some new milestone to reach. Never sitting still, forever juggling, constantly reading, always having fun, constantly surfing new waves — and, most importantly, moving the ball, to use another sports analogy (I played football, too!). Net-net: making things happen. It’s a great way to go through life.

How many “careers” have you had? How many will you have? I wish you many!



Defrag 2013: Day 2 – The Search Continues… #defragcon

Defrag-PurplePodiumNever one to back away from my incessant quest to discover what's happening next in tech, I of course was right back in the big room on Tuesday morning, even early, ready for more of the firehose. It helped that Eric had scheduled this day's kickoff an hour later, to accommodate those of us who had some extremely important late-night partying meetings. Why I got up early to come hear an opening talk called "The Sands of Time: How Cloud is Changing the Role of the CIO" I have no f-ing idea, in retrospect. But, you know, it's that crazy search/quest thing of mine, I guess. Where will I next learn something new?  Unfortunately, when I saw the small size of the type on the slides, I immediately zoned out and started working on my Day 1 blog post. For the love of God, couldn't someone at IBM create slides that can be read a large room like that? I was in row four and could barely make them out!  I just don't want to work that hard to focus first thing in the morning.  Call me crazy, but I look at the slides, not so much the speaker. (Note: for full-size versions of the images in this post, hit my Defrag Flickr set.)

Anyway, I made some headway on my blog post and was ready for an excuse to stop writing — perfect timing to learn something! Enter a new topic for me: "The History and Future of Calm Technology." This
AmberCasewas a talk delivered by researcher Amber Case of Esri — who thankfully had some awesome slides. Yes, with pictures! … I was so ready for some of those. What the heck is Calm Technology, you ask? Turns out it's another one of those John Seely Brown things, and most certainly must have a Wikipedia page, if you're so inclined. But the key point I garnered from Amber was this: it's "technology that gets out of the way when you don't need it." Brilliant — who cannot love that? Somebody asked her at the end if, like, Google Now would be a calm tech, and Amber said yes. Okay, check — gotcha. It just happens in the background. Amber delivered a great talk, and I understood why Eric has been trying to get her to speak at Defrag for years.

Then it was into the breakout sessions — three talks to chose from, in three successive time slots, across three rooms — so nine talks, pick any three. Always hard. I first chose to hear Bart Lorang of FullContact talk about "Influencers or Normals: Who Do You Ignore?" — sexy title, but it really didn't pay off for me. I think I got oversold. The message was really "know who you customer is" — and FullContact can help you do that.  Okay, fair enough.

The second session I chose was my analyst buddy Larry Hawes, of Dow Brook Advisory Services, speaking on
IndieWeb-logo"People and Purpose in the Bigger Network of Smaller Things."
Another title that intrigued, but the content was a surprise: it was an overview of a phenom I wasn't really too aware of, but should have been: the IndieWeb movement. Who would have guessed how big this thing could become, after just getting its start as a barcamp in 2010? Larry gave some examples of IndieWeb projects — get this: WordPress, OpenID, diaspora, p3k,, idno, owncloud, IndieAuth. (Here's a recent Wired story on IndieWeb by Klint Finley.)

I then caught Phil Windley's session on "Programming With Personal Clouds," where I got to learn more
Fuse-Kickstarterabout the cool new Kickstarter project from his company Kynetx. It's called Fuse, and it's about "connecting your car with the rest of your life."  It's a smartphone app that gives you a second dashboard, an off-the-shelf gizmo that plugs into your car’s diagnostics outlet, and a personal cloud to connect your car with the rest of your life. Your own personal cloud — imagine that! No, don't imagine it, cuz it's here.

Then it was back to the main room for a pre-lunch keynote from Pivotal
PivotalLabs-BareFeetLabs, a company with such a cool culture that EMC found 'em and bought 'em in 2012.  They're based in SF and have several other locations, including Boulder, where they continue to grow and create great software. Their talk, given by a Boulder-based engineer (in bare feet!), was entitled "A Sustainable Software Engineering Culture" — now, how Boulder is that? So, if you're a software professional who's always wondered what life would be like coding in a funky, laid-back, sandals-wearing, bike-riding mountain town, you may want to check out Pivotal Labs. (Notice I said that without ever once using the word hippie.)

After another luscious lunch and more mad networking, it was back into the big room for an afternoon of all-API, all-the time. It was nonstop talks about how
API_Economy-BIGAPIs are taking over the world, and you'd better be ready, or things will, like, you know, get all outta control. We heard about the new API Commons initiative, which is "a simple and transparent mechanism for the copyright-free sharing and collaborative design of API specifications, interfaces and data models." We also heard from Intel's API/Big Data CTO, Andy Thurai, about his company's API platform for enterprises. The CEO of Mulesoft, Uri Sarid, told us about his company's many API initiatives, including its backing of RAML, the Restful API Modeling Language and how it's bringing desktop publishing to APIs — really cool stuff.  (I had also learned previously at the Mulesoft booth about some exciting new developments at Programmable Web, which it recently acquired — stay tuned!)  Layer 7, which was recently acquired by CA, got up on stage and gave an API "State of the Union" talk.  The money quote: "If data is the new oil, APIs are the pipeline," said Ross
APIs_EverwhereGarrett. LOVE that, being that I live close to North Dakota and all. Hey, if these talks didn't convince you this API thing is for real — well, you must have been writing a blog post and not paying attention… hey, I swear I was!  Totally enthralled, mouth gaping open.

Good thing there was an afternoon break at this point, or brains would have been seriously exploding. Freshly calmed down with iced tea and cookies, we got back to hear a really crazy, wild talk called "Existence as a Platform: Quantified Self Meets the Internet of Things," by Chris Dancy.  Eric Norlin said this guy was the most wired guy he knew.  He was also very funny — he could be a stand-up comedian!  Except he
SW-Defined_Everythingwas totally serious about "getting intimate with data."  Then a popular returning speaker got up and gave us a look into the future: Joe Burton, CTO of Plantronics, the original wearable-technology firm. His talk: "Invisible Infrastructure, Prescient Technology, Meaningful Data: Communications 2025 & Beyond."  Okay, science fiction is really coming true — Brad Feld, you are right, dude!

Plantronics-pyramidBut wait, there was more — underwater robots were about to take the stage! David Lang, cofounder of OpenROV, told us an amazing story of how he and his partner kinda accidentally launched, from a modest Kickstarter beginning, a whole new movement. His talk: "The Rise of the Citizen Explorer." These robots of his, hundreds of which have been sold now, are being deployed in
OpenROV-robotoceans, lakes, and rivers all over.  What really got them tons of attention was a NY Times piece about how the duo participated in the exploration of a remote underwater cave in California, which legend held had a cache of stolen gold.  Here's a short Men's Journal video of them telling a bit of the story. Wow, all this created out of a garage in Cupertino, after Lang, a UW-Madison grad, had moved West to do something big, he told me, originally wanting to sail around the world. Instead, he ended up creating a whole new Human-Computer Interface / Internet of Things product category. How freaking cool is that?

You'd think that would be enough for one day, wouldn't you?  No, no, no — not for Eric, not for Defrag.  How could we break for beer without hearing about the Big Data Daddy of them all: healthcare.  Yessirree, 17% of our economy.  And who to deliver a talk about how screwed up or behind healthcare is from a tech
GenomeCost-chartstandpoint?  No, not a doc or healthcare professional of any kind, but John Wilbanks — who was a philosophy major, which he said "taught me how to think."  But Wilbanks has acquired some serious healthcare chops in recent times. Check out his 2012 TED Global talk, Let's Pool Our Medical Data, and a program he launched called Consent to Research. He noted the dramatically declining cost of genome sequencing. John is definitely a guy to follow for anyone interested in how big data and technology advances of all kinds are impacting healthcare. And who isn't interested in that?

Wow, another mind-expanding day at Defrag. It's why I would
Defrag-EricOnStagenever miss this event, and you shouldn't either. I hope I was able to capture at least a bit of the flavor of this year's event for those who couldn't be there. Thanks to Eric Norlin and his crackerjack crew, and the entire team behind Defrag (including The Foundry Group in Boulder), for another great one!

Defrag 2013: On a Search for “What’s Happening Next”

Podium+SignGreetings from the 7th annual Defrag Conference in Denver. Yes, this is my personal seventh, too — I wouldn't miss this event! I've reported on every single one (which actually shows in my category cloud at the right). The first day of the 2013 version of Defrag is history now, and you can read lots about it at my Twitter stream here: @GraemeThickins. If you want the full firehose, the very busy hashtag is #defragcon. If you're into visuals, hit my Flickr set (you can view the visuals shown in this post in full size there).  UPDATE: I also posted a few video interviews on my YouTube channel. (Please subscribe to it. If I reach 100 subscribers, YouTube will let me live stream — woo-hoo!)

So, how would I summarize Day One? Well, you really had to be there, but here's a shot at the high points for me (in order of appearance):

Ray Wang of Constellation Research kicked it off with "The Identity Manifesto: Seven Points on the Future of Identity"… the money slide shown herein.

PaulKedrosky,KauffmanFellow, VC, frequent CNBC commentator, and perennial
speaker at Defrag, did another fascinating talk, this one called "Good
Question"…interspersed with his unique and crazy data/research insights. We got a whole run-down on the history of the "knee slide" in soccer, for example… 🙂 The net-net of his talk: "What makes good questions? Those that create an information gap."

Anjan Srinivas of Nutanix gave a really great talk on "SoftwareisEatingtheData Center"…in which he cited such trends as hypervisors being the new commodity, the rise of server-side flash, and the convergence of compute and storage.

StephenMesser ofCollective[i] delivered an absolutely fascinating Big Data talk on "UnpackingData’sBaggage:LessonsFromAirportSecurity" — a stark contrast between our TSA, which costs $43B and screens everybody vs. the approach of El Al Airlines, which has had zero incidents 1969-present, by focusing on anomolies and asking the right questions.

Jerry Colonna, former VC colleague of Fred Wilson's (now life coach) and Brad Feld, Foundry Group partner, bared it all on stage on "The Emotional Challenges of Enrepreneurship" — which really could have been titled "…the Challenges of Being a VC." Especially a unique one like Brad. Hey, do you think it's freakin' easy being Brad?? 
Brad+Jerry One of Brad's best lines during the talk:" "The machines are all laughing at us on some level." (Thanks to Robbie Jack for reminding me about that one.)

 • Klint Finley (@kintron), a writer for Wired and TechCrunch, did a talk on "Quantified Work: Tracking Efficiency Without Crushing Souls"… in which he asked, "What if you had an 'employabilty' score like a credit score?" We sure aren't there yet, as influence rankings are made for marketers, not employers, he said. He has some good links on this topic here.

Tim Falls, Director-Developer Relations, SendGrid, gave a talk about how developer marketing is best done by building relationships. He paid tribute to John Sheehan and Twilio, whom he said "were huge in helping his company us build our developer community."

Oren Teich, COO, Heroku/Salesforce, gave perhaps my favorite talk of the day. He called it "Great, Software Ate My World. Now what?" — but it was really about design, and its growing importance in our
Heroku-boothhugely techy world. Interestingly, I had earlier tweeted a photo of Heroku's booth, saying it was the best looking one here because of what? .. design, of course. His money quote: "Design creates delight… it's the thought that goes into the deep experience." Yes indeed, that's what matters today! Oren admitted he wasn't a designer himself, but that he had a really good one at Heroku. Yep!

Chris DeVore of Founders Co-Op gave a fascinating talk called "Industrial Entropy and the Future of Work" and asked, "what happens when work is decoupled from the enterprise?" I swear I heard him say that productivity advances are already no longer driven by enterprises. There's that theme of the free agent economy coming on strong again.

Ian Glazer of Gartner gave an amazing overview of the state of privacy, "Big P Privacy in the Era of Smaller Things." He said that for "liitle p" privacy play nice with "big P" privacy, preferences must travel with the data — a concept he calls "relationship context metadata." It's a really big deal, and Ian is the guy to follow if you want to stay on top of it.

• FInally, I call out Lorinda Brandon of Mashery for a very passionate talk on "The Geek Girl Imperative." She asked "why are we separating women out to learn about technology when we don't in other disciplines?"
LorindaBrandon Young girls should not be segregated like they can't handle tech unless they're coddled and shielded, like tech is some exclusively boys world. She also panned women-only adult networking as being not helpful, noting she's always avoided such things — and "I've had a pretty amazing career." Hats off to @lindybrandon for standing up and shouting, "Why aren't there more girls here?!?"

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