What a long, strange year it’s been… Year one at Cisco

I’m writing this post on June 23, 2015, from a hotel in Boston. On June 23, 2014, I walked into building 9 on the Cisco campus in San Jose, taking my first job in almost 20 years with no hands-on sysadmin responsibilities. I’ll admit, it was terrifying in a way.

Tell me more, tell me more…

I had just come home a month earlier from Cisco Live 2014 in San Francisco. When I got on the train to go home that Thursday afternoon in May, I couldn’t have told you that it would be my last sponsored visit with Tech Field Day, or my last trade show as a regular customer. But when I woke up the next morning to a voicemail from my soon-to-be manager at Cisco, I made the decision promptly and prepared to hang up my oncall pager.

In the year between last June 23 and this June 23, I seem to have built a personal brand as a big data safari tour guide, complete with the safari hat you see in my profiles around the Internet. I’ve presented to internal sales engineering teams, my VP’s leadership team, partners and customers, vendor theatre audiences at Strata+Hadoop World and Cisco Live, as well as keynoting three Big Data Everywhere events. And in the highest honor so far, I was chosen to give a breakout session at Cisco Live earlier this month in San Diego.

I’ve brought context, proportion, and no small amount of humor to the topic of big data at Cisco, as well as sharing my experience with systems management and real-world Cisco UCS deployment, and while I’ve still got work to do, it’s gone fairly well so far. I’ve had customers say “oh, I’ve read your blog, we’d like to talk to you” and “if you’ve got the hat with you, could you put it on?” I’ve been told that VPs are noticing what I do in a positive sense. And once again I’m pretty well known for my coffee addiction as well.

There have been a couple of downsides… seeing as I’ve gone over the dark side (and still can’t find the cookies), I can’t be a Tech Field Day delegate anymore. I also lost Cisco Champion (although I’m still a Champion Emeritus and a supporter of the program whenever I can be) and PernixPro (for reasons I’m not 100% sure of) status. And of course, the free Disney parks admissions went away very quickly. But the benefits of the change definitely outweigh the downsides; I still get invited to the TFD parties, and I can buy my park hopper passes when I need them.

So where do we go from here?

When this trip is done, I’ll be home for about two months, and will be focusing on some of the more hands-on technical stuff I’ve postponed, with the help of a couple of spare electrical circuits for my home lab. I have a couple of speaking engagements likely on the horizon, and probably some booth babe duty as well.

I’ll also be catching up on my Interop coverage from last month… I feel bad about neglecting a couple of those interviews but a couple of work obligations came up and ate most of May. I still have that citizen-analyst role to play from time to time, even though I don’t have mouse ears to take off to play that role anymore.

But for now, I want to thank everyone who’s made this year of incredible growth possible, from the bosses who (perhaps unintentionally) convinced me to prove that my message had an audience, to friends at Cisco who convinced me that there might be a place for me here, to the leaders and colleagues and partners who continue to remind me regularly that what I have to say matters and helps people both inside and outside Cisco.

I’ll leave you with what was an unexpected cap on the end of year one… I gave my “What could possibly go wrong? Tales from the Trenches of Big Data” talk a third time at Big Data Everywhere in Boston this morning. A reporter from CRN, the channel marketing website, was in the front row taping and taking notes… and my “plan for failure” message resonated enough to get mentioned on CRN today.

I may not be a vice president, but I’m still doing work I love, with people I admire and respect (and who often reciprocate), and who knows, I may end up in your neighborhood soon using 20th century pop lyrics and terrible puns to make sense of big data. See you real soon….

Three traps to avoid on the Internets

I have gotten into the habit of tweeting every few weeks about some of the most common basic misconceptions on a couple of buzzwords.

1. The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data.’

The first one still stands. And if you’re wondering, it’s also not ‘big data’ either. Or ‘data science.’

No matter how politically advantageous it may be to extrapolate a small number of observations as “proof” of a hypothesis, it just doesn’t work that way.

As Neil deGrasse Tyson mentions on the new Cosmos, humans are wired to find patterns where there are none. Sometimes, we decide the pattern we want to “prove” and only pay attention to the data that backs up that pattern.


But if you’re getting ready to use that one study, or those two or three incidents, to express ‘proof’ of your hypothesis… think about whether there are other hypotheses that might be just as valid. Or better yet, go get more data. Very little in this world is cut and dried, other than flowers. And jerky. So don’t be jerky.

2. If you have to tell people you’re disruptive, maybe you’re not.

This one was also a painfully obvious observation for me. If storage vendors say “we put a flash drive in our array, look at us, we’re disruptive” in 2014 (or even 2013), you’re not going to take them seriously.

The term has some value in moderation, but maybe find a less dramatic synonym for “innovative” or “unexpected” next time  you’re writing a blurb.

When you tell me your company, product, CEO, or incredibly attractive animated mascot is “disruptive” I think of a 2 or 3 year old in the middle of the room howling and throwing things around. And I’m the neighbor/friend standing there feeling bad for that kid’s parents who aren’t handling it very well. Is that the image you’ve spent beaucoup bucks trying to cultivate?

3. Give the absurdly long and pointless lists a break

cosmo-listsOkay, I’ll admit this was a stretch. I wrote the headline and had to make the data fit. See what I did there?

I know all the Social Media Gurus say that you have to have long lists of things to get people’s attention. And they each have one anecdote of when that actually worked. But how many of them can really make use of 16 new sex positions, or 173 ways to make your toes really sparkle, or 5,150 unbeatable ways to increase traffic to your website?

Keep the lists to a minimum, and remember that you’re probably far more interested in the list than anyone who might see a retweet of it in the next decade. But on the upside, your list is (probably) clearly anecdotal, so you’re dodging trap #1 above.

So where do we go from here?

Well, first, some of you might not know where that tag comes from. It’s a an old classic I heard on the Dr Demento show decades ago called “Spock On.” The video is below, or you can skip to the pertinent bit here.

(To debunk another classic faux pas… very few of the songs usually attributed to Dr Demento were “sung” or performed by him. He just made many of them famous, including Weird Al Yankovic and Elmo and Patsy. The one you might have actually heard the good Doctor on was his revision of “Shaving Cream”)

And now that your day is brightened a little bit… don’t make your readers step in a big pile of shaving cream (unless you are a disruptive SCaaS provider).

What terms are bugging you these days? I would add “game changer” (which is great if you’re running the boardgame room at a convention) and guru/ninja/rockstar, but I’m hoping for a cheerful and upbeat Friday so I’ll leave my gripes there. Chime in on the comments if you like.