The Culture I’m Looking For

As I continue my job search, I’ve realized that a culture fit is the most important thing for me.  I have seen bad cultures, cultures that have soured over time, and best of all, great cultures.  I have a good idea of what I want, and what I want to avoid.  I’m very open with potential employers when I speak with them.  I have two basic requirements: a culture fit and a smart team doing interesting work.  I’d like to use this post to dive into the first.  Culture can mean many things and is one of the more subjective aspects of a company.  This list are the traits of what I consider an awesome culture.

Transparency

A good culture is transparent from top to bottom.  Decision makers should expect to explain why a decision was made.  Dictating direction without context should be avoided.  People shouldn’t be intentionally excluded from conversations and instead should be intentionally included.  Don’t fear disagreement.  This approach creates engaged employees who buy in, even if they don’t necessarily agree in the conclusion.  Keeping the process above board and out in the open is critical.

Trust

Team members must trust each other.  This trust manifests itself in a number of ways.  One way I always look for is how team members comment on their peers’ work.  Does the recipient respond angrily or dismiss the critique?  Is the critic genuinely looking to improve the solution or is he undermining the author?  Trust is required in both directions – the critic needs to trust the author will listen and the author needs to trust the critic’s intent.    

Growth

There must be opportunity within the team.  Emphasis should be placed on both technical and soft skill growth.  Leadership opportunities should be provided as often as possible.  A manager’s focus should be making her team successful.  Success should be measured not only in project deliverables but also in employee growth.  Teams that focus only on business outcomes will falter and lose people.  Individuals need to see growth and opportunity to stick around.

Collaboration

The team needs to work well together.  A collection of individuals working in silos never results in a high performing team.  Similarly, teams working in silos never result in a high performing organization.  We’ve all seen examples of fiefdoms in our professional lives; people who wrap their arms around “their stuff” and guard the walls.  That never makes for a healthy team.  Instead teams should work openly with adjacent orgs.  Trust that the best solutions will result from including others.

Accountability

Team members should expect to be held accountable.  Being held accountable doesn’t mean being flogged for failures.  It means that people take responsibility and learn from their mistakes.  It also means that leaders learn from missteps, better understanding how to position the team for success.  The team tries to do better the next time, constantly evolving and improving.  In the extreme, low performers are managed out and are not allowed to hold the team back.

These are the traits I’m looking for in a company culture.  These are also the qualities I try to instill in the teams I manage.  I believe they are critical regardless of the work we’re doing.  These are attributes of highly successful teams but aren’t easy to foster.  As a leader you must demonstrate them consistently and make sure your team is overtly aware.  If you are trusting someone, tell them.  If you have expectations, tell them.  If you’ve failed, tell them.

So how do I figure out company culture in an interview?

It is very hard to assess these qualities during the interview process.  These are some of the questions I use to suss it out:

What is the culture of the team?

Go after it directly.  If the interviewer stumbles or can’t describe it, red flag.

Is there someone who has left recently because they weren’t a culture fit?

Pay attention to why the person wasn’t a fit.  Is the interviewer factual or subjective in responding?  A response without emotional judgement is a good sign.

How does the team make decisions?

1:1 with an individual contributor?  Peer discussions?  This one speaks to collaboration.

Can you tell me about someone who has advanced her career here or elsewhere as a result of coaching?

Speaks to growth.  A good manager will be happy for someone who grows, even if it means it is somewhere else.  Sometimes there simply isn’t internal opportunity (for a management role as an example).


Do you have other cultural traits you look for?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks
Chris

Continuing My Search

It has been about a month since my last post and my job search is ongoing.  I have gotten on site interviews and phone screens at a number of places.  Some of the roles have been very exciting, others not so much.  The hunt has become a bit monotonous so I figured I would take a break and recount some observations I’ve made.  Looking for a job is hard.  When it gets me down, these are some of the techniques I leverage to give me a boost.

The wheels of talent acquisition turn slowly

This has been perhaps the single most frustrating piece of the process.  Resumes submitted to a job posting get tossed into a black hole.  People take weeks to get back to you, if they ever reply at all.  As a candidate, this is possibly the first interaction you’ve had with the internal workings of a company and it normally doesn’t leave a good impression.  I have taken to finding folks with “recruiter” or “talent” in their title on LinkedIn.  I’ll write a quick note asking for more information on the role I have applied for.  More often than not, this gets me past the automated resume screening and to a real person.  From there, interviews take days to set up while you’re sitting at home thinking, “Call me right now, I’m ready!”  Remember that they’re working and have other stuff to do.  Understanding this can help relieve the frustration you’re bound to feel.

Keep learning professionally

You can’t surf Indeed and LinkedIn all day every day.  You can’t apply to jobs, tune your resume, and write cover letters from dawn to dusk.  Take a break and keep your skills sharp.  I’ve found Udemy to be a great resource for some cheap training.  I’ve completed a course on Kubernetes and am in the middle of a course on Python.  I’ve also completed a professional certification: Amazon Web Services Cloud Practitioner.  All are associated with my skillset, but only the AWS cert was based on professional experience.  The other two are totally new topics to me and gave my brain something else to focus on while rounding out my knowledge.  Searching for a job is draining and having a distraction for your mind is important.

Keep learning personally

Lounging about is fun and while I certainly do that on occasion, I try to focus on keeping active.  Whatever your passions, devote time to them with intention.  While being unemployed sucks, it is also a time of freedom.  I’ve picked up a new hobby, a vegetable garden, and spent extra time with my chickens and bees.  I also brew beer and work on my 1979 Land Cruiser.  I’ve learned a bunch on small engine repair (my lawnmower busted) and have dropped a few trees that were over shading the backyard.  The last one wasn’t a passion exactly but who doesn’t like using power tools?  You have the time to pursue your passions – do it!

Don’t lose heart

A job hunt can be depressing.  There’s no way getting around it – the majority of places you apply will reject you.  Sometimes you’ll understand why, sometimes you won’t.  It is important to remember that it isn’t personal.  Employers don’t know you well enough and make decisions based on your CV or a LinkedIn profile.  You can’t let it get you down.  I’ve been rejected from ~20 roles at this point, about twice a week.  I wasn’t all that jazzed about all of them but there were certainly some I was excited about.  It is really hard to be told “no” over and over again.  But I know the right role will come along and I’ll be better for it.  As I said in my last post, I can’t settle.

You can review my LinkedIn profile here:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopherhendrick/

Do you have some other suggestions for keeping positive during a job search?  Please leave them in the comments below!

Thanks
Chris

On The Job Hunt

I’m about a month into my active job search and it is interesting to say the least.  I was prepared for this task as I left DellEMC voluntarily and had many weeks of hiking to figure out what I wanted to do next (of course, I didn’t).  This wasn’t a surprise for me an yet, I’ve found my job search to be very challenging.  I’m not all that experienced in selling myself to complete strangers.  It isn’t a skill I’ve acquired in my career.  And that makes it intimidating for me.  That said, the last few weeks have taught me a lot about finding a job and while I haven’t landed anywhere yet, I’m confident in my approach.  I’m using this post to share what I’ve learned thus far.

I have never really had to look for a job in the past.  My first position at Genzyme was an intern to perm offer with little in the way of interviews because I had proven my skills doing the job.  For my second role at EMC, a recruiter found me.  Sure I had to interview but I didn’t need to generate interest.  That came without me trying, which was nice!  I’m in new territory and am learning as I go.  The following are a few techniques that I’ve started to employ.  It is too early to say whether or not they are successful but I’m hopeful.  In no particular order…

Leverage Your Network

At one of the resources I have used, workitdaily.com, founder J. T. O’Donnell states, “Your network is your net worth” for a job search.  I believe this is the case and you need to take time to cultivate those relationships.  I am very confident that my next role will come from someone I know personally rather than a random recruiter seeing my profile on LinkedIn.  I’ve reached out to a lot of folks I know in the IT industry and have asked them about their current or past employers.  I’m trying to get a sense of the cultures within these companies before I even start to investigate potential opportunities.  It’s critical to have these conversations for a couple reasons.  First, you get an insider perspective rather than the /whoweare page on the company’s website.  Second, and probably more importantly, informs the second item on my list.

Know What You Want

It is critical to have a good understanding of what your goals are.  These could be excitement and pace, visibility, salary, location, color of the company logo – whatever is important to you.  For me the culture of my new organization is critical.  I have left both of my previous jobs in large part because the culture evolved into something that didn’t align with my values.  Full disclosure, I went through two acquisitions – you can read more about those in this post.  Because of those experiences, I know how critical culture is to my personal job satisfaction.  That puts culture high on the list of things I need to investigate and why the conversations with my network are so important.  But culture isn’t the only thing on the list.  There are other considerations that will be different for each of us.  It’s important to know what you’re looking for before you can find it.

Be Kind To Yourself

A job search can be frustrating.  You’re forced to put yourself out there in hopes that people will like what they see enough to want to talk to you.  And then you’ll have to convince even more people to want to work with you.  This will all take weeks and months longer than it should (be better corporate hiring process) and it will weigh on you.  I’ve found that I need to take time for myself.  I don’t look for a job 8+ hours a day.  Finding a job isn’t my job – I don’t really enjoy it.  So I’ve got a lot of other things I’m doing.  I’ve started a vegetable garden, hang out with my chickens and ducks, tend my bees, and got my old FJ40 (1979 Toyota Land Cruiser) street legal again.  I’m also volunteering, brewing beer, and watching all the crappy action movies I can find on Netflix.  Whatever you do for a hobby or to pass the time, please do it even more as you’re looking for a job.  This hunt is terribly stressful and I need to find joy elsewhere.

Don’t Settle

As my job search lengthens, I know that my instinct will be to take the first offer that comes along.  I have a family to support and as a single income provider, that pressure is all too real.  But I need to resist that temptation because I know that if I get into position where I’m not happy at work, I won’t be happy at home.  So in the short term, the finances will be better but in the long term, I won’t be any happier.  I need to make sure that the next role I take aligns with what I want in many dimensions, not simply the salary.

So those are some of the things I’ve learned on my job search thus far.  I’m sure new insights will come to light as time passes but that’s where I am a month in.  I hope you’ve found it useful.  If you’d like to connect to discuss in more detail, please find me via my LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopherhendrick/

Chris

Back From My Career Break

One of the hardest things I have ever done in my career is handing in my resignation to DellEMC.  I didn’t leave for another position but rather to hike the Appalachian Trail.  I departed work on April 6, 2018 to pursue an item on my bucket list.  I left behind a team that I adored.  They were vibrant, smart, motivated, and kind – best of all, they put up with me!  Saying goodbye on that team call was very emotional and heartfelt.  But, truly, I would do it all again.

I have been working for nearly 20 years in IT and have held positions with only two different companies.  I suppose it is four if you count being acquired – Genzyme by Sanofi and EMC by Dell.  In my experience, staying for long periods of time within organizations is rare in the technology industry.  Folks seem to move around a lot.  I stay put because I like to cultivate relationships.  The bonds of a team don’t form in a year or two and I believe that as a leader, you need to be in it for the long haul.  These relationships are what made leaving so difficult.  But it was something I needed to do.  I felt burnt out, stressed, and wasn’t able to give my best to the job anymore.  For a lot of reasons, a simple vacation wasn’t the answer.  I had tried that and couldn’t get the fire back.  I owed better to my team.  A change was needed and a drastic one at that.  I needed to take a break from working, a break without worrying about returning to a job.  I tried to get a Leave of Absence / Sabbatical but that didn’t work out.  At that point, I decided to resign.  For why I chose to hike the AT, you can check out this post on midlifehiker.com.  Suffice to say, for the first time in my professional life, I was unemployed.

And now I am back.  I cut my hike short because being away from my family proved to be more painful than the joy hiking brought me.  I hiked the southern half of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to the West Virginia / Maryland border.  I learned a lot about myself in those 1000+ miles.  I believe I have returned a better father, husband, and person.  Being free from the responsibilities of daily life, focusing only on one foot in front of the other, was amazing.  It is easy to get caught up in the frenetic energy that surrounds us – be it work, home, or whatever.  We are generally busy people and slowing down brings that chaos into focus.  It allowed me to put everything aside for 10 weeks and just walk.  All I had to worry about was food, water, and where I was going to pitch my tent that night.  I certainly found a lot of other things to worry about, but the simple essentials were what centered me.  I also learned to be grateful for what I had, for others lending me a hand, and for my family and friends for their support.  I didn’t realize the network of care that surrounded me until I had to rely completely upon it.  I learned to be extremely thankful.  All of this has made me more intentional about the balance in my life.

As I return to the workforce, I would like a role working toward an end that I believe in – helping people, solving problems, making a difference in a true and meaningful way.  A company churning out generic widgets to make a buck isn’t for me.  I need an employer that values a balance between work and home.  My family is hugely important to me and I am a devoted father.  I am also a loyal and passionate team member.  I want to bring my rediscovered energy back into my work.  I will run through walls for my team.  I’m hoping to find a role leading a smart group of people doing exciting work in technology.  I am confident in my abilities and know that I will make a positive impact on any organization that I join.  If you believe I might be a fit for a role you have, I would love to speak with you.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopherhendrick/

– Chris

EMC World Round Up

By all accounts, EMC World was a tremendous success for vLab!  We saw great buzz around the show and on social media.  Attendees were excited to gain access to EMC’s new products and visited vLab as a result.  vLab executed a total of 3847 labs which was up 17% YoY.  The system itself had 100% uptime, with only a few small hiccups along the way.  The automation of the system was going full bore for most of the week, provisioning 24,902 VMs over the course of the show.  That’s 10.6 VMs provisioned per minute!  If you include the tears downs, that’s nearly 50,000 provisioning / deprovisioning actions in the four days of the show.  Simply tremendous!

As the show wound down, the team had a feeling of relief.  It is a very stressful experience, even when it went as well as it did.  Thursday was busier then normal, with a few stragglers hanging on even as we tore down the room.  We had to do setup in reverse – tearing down all the thin clients and monitors, boxing them all up, squaring with the equipment rental company.  Even when we’re done delivering labs, there’s more work to do!  Once we were done with that, the show setup crew comes in and begins to tear down the walls.  Within the space of a few hours, its as if we never existed.  Amazing the transformation these convention spaces go through!

Once the show is completed, we have some time to relax before we all travel back to our homes for a well earned weekend.  We all went out to dinner together and shared a few more hours together.  This team is really amazing.  Every person is dedicated to the success of the show – and it shows.  We come from separate organizations but those lines disappears for this effort.  It is and amazing experience and is what I believe teams should aspire to be.  We’re all in this together.

 

 

 

Thanks for reading!  If you found this post but haven’t read the earlier ones, links are below.

Day 1 – Wheels down in Vegas
Day 2 – Gotta have snacks!
Day 3 – As ready as we’ll ever be…
Day 4 – Release the hounds!
Day 5 – Keep It Between the Lines!
Day 6 – Technical Overview of vLab

vLab Technical Overview – vLab at EMC World – Day 6

We usually aren’t that busy in the latter half of the show but today has surprised us.  We were totally full on the main floor and had to open all three Guided vLab rooms to students.  At peak, we were serving up right around 200 labs.  This is certainly the busiest we’ve been this year!  I’m going to use this post to go through a little of what makes vLab tick under the covers.  How is it that we support such a large event?

vLab relies on the capabilities of XtremeIO, Cisco UCS, VMware vSphere, vCloud Director, and custom software.  I will walk through the stack from the bottom up…

The underlying hardware starts with a 6x40TB XtremeIO cluster.  That is hosted in EMC’s facility in Durham, NC.  The array has amazing capabilities and truthfully, it is not overly taxed during the show.  We also run a fair amount of additional compute capacity off the same array during the other 51 weeks of the year.  It’s actually busiest when we run our unmaps, and we’ve only had to do that once (the night before the show started).

On top of the XtremeIO, we run Cisco B240 servers, most with 512GB of RAM each.  There are a few at 256GB RAM and we use those for content that is CPU, rather than RAM, intensive.  We are leveraging 192 such hosts to support the show.  They live in Durham as well and provide the raw horsepower necessary to run the show.  88TB of RAM seems like a lot but with some labs checking in at over 200GB RAM each, it gets burned through fairly quickly.

We run a mix of vSphere 5.1 and 5.5 for our hypervisors.  The requirements for this layer are driven by the content.  Many of the Virtual Storage Appliances we run have specifics needs that lock us into one version or another of ESX.  Other portions of our infrastructure run 6.0 but not for EMC World this year.  On top of ESX, we are running vCD – it handles our orchestration.

We break our capacity into widgets – groups of 32 hosts.  Each widget gets divided into two oVDCs / two vCenters and gets its own vCD instance.  This may seem like overkill but in addition to the physical resources required to run the labs, we must also provide the automation bandwidth to support provisioning and tearing down potentially hundreds of vApps per hour.  In fact, we peaked at around 700 vApp provisioning / deprovisioning actions / hour.  Multiply that by and average of 6 VMs / vApp and we’re performing 4200 VM provisions / deprovisions per hour at peak.  More than 1 VM / second for you math geeks!

Here’s a basic picture:

Couple notes on this picture… it refers to CEC-D which stands for Common Engineering Cloud – Dynamic.  This is an internal service – self service VM provisioning for EMC engineers.  Like vLab, it is engineered / supported by my team and runs on the same stack as vLab.  Also, we are leveraging NSX within CEC but are not yet using it within vLab.

Over the top of all this hardware and virtualization stands our vLab application.  Our application provides the user experience of vLab, lab scheduling / assignment, lab queue management, and interfaces with the APIs of both vCD and vC to control all the orchestration we need.

Starting from the layer closest to the virtualization… the vLab application divides our total population of widgets into cloud segments.  These segments provide a logical grouping of our capacity and provide buckets that we can fail between should something happen.  This is our “Plan B” for the show should something go wrong in the cloud segment we are using.  We have many of the labs pre-staged in another cloud segment and can fail over to that segment should something go wrong in our primary capacity.

For each cloud segment we have a “backend” application that ties directly to the vC and vCD APIs.  It is also this layer that controls the queueing we use to provide the pre-population of labs within vLab.  This allows us to have a vApp ready for a student when s/he sits down in vLab rather than having to wait for provisioning.  Once a student chooses a lab, it is assigned to her and the backend spins up another vApp to refill the queue.  This isolates the time / processing it takes to bring the lab into being.  Above the backend stand the adapter and consumer layers.  These components bring together multiple cloud segments and expose them to the upper UX layer.

The UX of vLab consists of a few major components.  HOLA (Hands on Labs Application) is the main interface that is in play for EMC World.  We also have a standard portal that’s available for EMC and Partner SEs to provide sales demos to customers.  There are additional admin interfaces for managing events and user sessions.  HOLA is fully configurable to include the specific labs intended for an event.  The user is presented with a series of labs and is able to choose one to run through.  It is a fairly clean interface and allows the user to review vLab’s whole catalog of offerings.

Categories of labs are down the left side and are essentially filters on the main catalog.  It allows a student to zero in on a topic / lab of interest.  We also show a bit of social media and other items of interest.  The general purpose is to get the student to select a lab and get into it as quickly as possible.  Once the user selects a lab, the consumer / adapter layer makes a request to the backend for a session (which is in reality a vApp designation and duration of the request, for example, a Unity lab for 2 hours).  The backend receives the request and assigns a running deployment of that lab to the session request.  This is then passed back up to the UX and the user is connected via RDP into their session.  If no deployment of the lab is available (pre-pops are exhausted), the backend spins up a new vApp and assigns it to the session request.  Our goal is to avoid that completely for EMC World and so far we have been 100% successful.  We don’t want students to wait!

We watch the entire stack with the Eye of Sauron, Zabbix, and the proprietary tools that accompany each component.  We monitor physical resources across all of our capacity as well as the resources consumed by every vC, vCD, and our application.  These resources are normally leading indicators of issues that will reveal themselves as performance problems on the show floor.  We also watch various other application components – internal queues, web service connections, RDP connections.  It all looks like this:

Thats a quick overview of how vLab does what it does – thanks for reading!

 

Chris and Joe Tucci

Keep It Between the Lines! – vLab at EMC World, Day 5

We finished up yesterday with over 1000 labs taken within vLab – 1075 to be exact!  It was a great day by all accounts.  We had a few hiccups here and there but no sustained issues.  The team recovered very well and on the whole, everything ran smoothly.  We expect another busy day today with keynotes and product announcements happening this morning.  We usually get a rush with attendees looking to get a glimpse of new and improved offerings.  We usually have about 60% of the seats full but after keynotes we can get filled to capacity.  When that happens, we have the option to open our Guided vLab classrooms for general use.  If we’re full and there isn’t a class going on, we’ll leverage that option.

Also I met this guy in the Expo:

Chris and Joe Tucci

It’s mid-morning and vLab is completely full!  We have even expanded the main floor into one of the Guided vLab rooms so we have a total of 150+ attendees taking labs.  Amazing stuff!  The backend is humming along just fine.

We are watching the big board in the NOC carefully to catch any issues before they become impactful to the show floor.  There are a ton of components to monitor and many multiples of each… all together they make up vLab so all must be watched.