Beating the odds: how STEM women succeed

{:name}I recently read Kelly Simmons and Patty Rowland Burke’s Beating the Odds: Winning Strategies of Women in STEM. I have known Patty for decades, first meeting her when she worked at Regis McKenna back in the go-go days when PCs were first coming into businesses. They have written a business book for everyone, especially those men that have filled tech companies with their toxic “good ole boy” bro culture. It takes the unusual approach of talking to several dozen women who have succeeded in STEM careers and studied the common elements of why they have done well while others have failed. Spoiler alert: it mostly isn’t their fault, and the hard part will be fighting this culture to affect real change.

Many younger people, both women and men, don’t remember how bad things were in the 1980s and 1990s, when corporate events included pretty raunchy moments. (I will spare you the details, but you can probably imagine.) Unfortunately, we haven’t really progressed much from these days. I remember when I was in engineering school in the 1970s, having a woman in any of my classes was a rarity. Having more than one per class didn’t happen. Sadly, while there are more women in STEM now, it still isn’t anywhere near where it could be. And where it should be.

One tech CEO — presumably male — told a female engineering manager this: “every company needs someone who is the API between the business and the technical. That’s really hard to find, and not often valued in Silicon Valley.” That is a good point, and I have often found myself in this API role in many of my writing and consulting efforts.

“One woman jokingly described the anxiety she felt in the workplace as ‘like being Jamie Lee Curtis in a Halloween movie, you never know when the guy in the mask with the knife will show up.”

Granted, many women appear at first glance to be less technical and suffer from impostor syndrome. This is usually defined at paranoia that you are a fraud and don’t deserve to be in a position or credited any of your accomplishments. But this isn’t exclusive to women. When I took my first job as the Editor-in-chief at CMP to start Network Computing magazine, I suffered from impostor syndrome myself. I had never started a publication, never held the EIC position, and hadn’t hired many staffers or even knew how to produce a publication. Fortunately, I had a great set of mentors at CMP to help me learn these things and the magazine is still around today, albeit in an online format. I went on to run several other publications as a result of this training.

This reminds me of another Jamie Lee Curtis movie — True Lies — where she doesn’t have impostor syndrome but manages to save the day and win Arnold back (who plays her spying, lying husband). Anyway, back to the book.

It dives into a very important area that I haven’t seen much of in other business books. “We have learned what makes successful women tick, why some of them persevere to lead major technical organizations and teams, and why others drop out in frustration. A senior technical women should not be an astonishing exception.”

The book is also filled with plenty of suggestions to help technical women succeed. One important aspect is to develop male allies and role models. The lack of these prevents many women from pursuing STEM careers. These include men who aren’t enlisted in the “boys club” network and  can support technical women in the company. This can also counter the feelings of aloneness and feeling of “otherness” that can cause frustration and lead many women to resign their positions.

Another helpful idea is to set up a form of reverse mentoring, where younger women are mentors to senior managers to help them better understand their experience and points of view. This is particularly helpful to root out work processes and routines that were designed for all-male environments, and have become so embedded in tech companies. Just search for Uber’s early history if you need further convincing.

So read this book. Send a copy to your manager, and make him read it as well. Only by changing one dinosaur at a time can we evolve as a species. And perhaps be more inclusive to not just women but other under-represented people in STEM too.

FIR B2B podcast #135: TIPS FOR TRANSITIONING TO A HOME-BASED WORKFORCE

As the coronavirus spreads throughout the world, businesses are being faced with setting up policies and procedures to enable everyone to work from home (WFH). Doing this presents several challenges, some of them brought on by new demands on your IT department and some by demands of a new way of working that you may not have anticipated. A good reference point for the complexities involved is this Twitter thread about what Slack did to move to 100% WFH model. In this podcast, Paul and I draw upon their own decades-long experience as sole business owners. Among our advice:

  1. Think about printing, email and sharing files and the IT services that will be needed to support that activity. Be careful about SaaS services such as Dropbox; if users aren’t trained property they could expose your corporate data unintentionally.
  2. Make sure your infosec is up to par. A VPN isn’t just the only thing you need to worry about it. Is your home router secured with an appropriate password? Do you encrypt your network traffic across the Internet? Has your laptop been screened for malware? These and other questions need to be addressed before rolling out any work-from-home solution.
  3. Does your staff have the right tools? Just because everyone has a laptop doesn’t mean anything, particularly they’re used to having multiple monitors and great audio/video gear. You may have to purchase additional accessories to make your staff productive.
  4. Make sure your staff has a separate workspace that is isolated from the rest of the house. You want to minimize distractions and unplanned family “visits” during the workday.
  5. Get a good mic (I use the Blue Snowball, Paul uses a Logitech wireless). You should be able to get something decent for $50-$100.
  6. Standardize on a video conferencing supplier (we both like Zoom at the moment, although there are privacy issues you might want to consider) and make sure all your gear provides solid audio quality when you use it.
  7. Make sure your home bandwidth is sufficient. Pay attention to upload speeds, because these can impact your latency and video quality.
  8. Learn new video conferencing etiquette, review our previous podcast on some of our tips here.
  9. Set up a shared scheduling tool for everyone to use and standardize on a corporate instant messaging tool, too.

Listen to our 15 min. podcast now:

So you wanna buy a used IP address block?

For the past 27 years, I have owned a class C block of IPv4 addresses. I don’t recall what prompted me back then to apply to Jon Postel for my block: I didn’t really have any way to run a network online, and back then the Internet was just catching on. Postel had the unique position to personally attend to the care and growth of the Internet.

Earlier this year I got a call from the editor of the Internet Protocol Journal asking me to write about the used address marketplace, and I remembered that I still owned this block. Not only would he pay me to write the article, but I could make some quick cash by selling my block.

It was a good block, perhaps a perfect block: in all the time that I owned it, I had never set up any computers using any of the 256 IP addresses associated with it. In used car terms, it was in mint condition. Virgin cyberspace territory. So began my journey into the used marketplace that began just before the start of the new year.

If you want to know more about the historical context about how addresses were assigned back in those early days and how they are done today, you’ll have to wait for my article to come out. If you don’t understand the difference between IPv4 and IPv6, you probably just want to skip this column. But for those of you that want to know more, let me give you a couple of pointers, just in case you want to do this yourself or for your company. Beware that it isn’t easy or quick money by any means. It will take a lot of work and a lot of your time.

First you will want to acquaint yourself with getting your ownership documents in order. In my case, I was fortunate that I had old corporate tax returns that documented that I owned the business that was on the ownership records since the 1990s. It also helped that I was the same person that was communicating with the regional Internet registry ARIN that was responsible for the block now. Then I had to transfer the ownership to my current corporation (yes, you have to be a business and fortunately for me I have had my own sub-S corps to handle this) before I could then sell the block to any potential buyer or renter. This was a very cumbersome process, and I get why: ARIN wants to ensure that I am not some address scammer, and that they are selling legitimate goods. But during the entire process my existing point of contact on my block, someone who wasn’t ever part of my business yet listed on my record from the 1990s, was never contacted about his legitimacy. I found that curious.

That brings up my next point which is whether to rent or to sell a block outright. It isn’t like deciding on a buying or leasing a car. In that marketplace, there are some generally accepted guidelines as to which way to go. But in the used IP address marketplace, you are pretty much on your own. If you are a buyer, how long do you need the new block – days, months, or forever? Can you migrate your legacy equipment to use IPv6 addresses eventually (in which cases you probably won’t need the used v4 addresses very long) or do you have legacy equipment that has to remain running on IPv4 for the foreseeable future?

If you want to dispose of a block that you own, do you want to make some cash for this year’s balance sheet, or are you looking for a steady income stream for the future? What makes this complicated is trying to have a discussion with your CFO how this will work, and I doubt that many CFOs understand the various subtleties about IP address assignments. So be prepared for a lot of education here.

Part of the choice of whether to rent or buy should be based on the size of the block involved. Some brokers specialize in larger blocks, some won’t sell or lease anything less than a /24 for example. “If you are selling a large block (say a /16 or larger) you would need to use a broker who can be an effective intermediary with the larger buyers,” said Geoff Huston, who has written extensively on the used IP address marketplace.

Why use a broker? When you think about this, it makes sense. I mean, I have bought and sold many houses — all of which were done with real estate brokers. You want someone that both buyer and seller can trust, that can referee and resolve issues, and (eventually) close the deal. Having this mediator can also help in the escrow of funds while the transfer is completed — like a title company. Also the broker can work with the regional registry staff and help prepare all the supporting ownership documentation. They do charge a commission, which can vary from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the size of the block and other circumstances. One big difference between IP address and real estate brokers is that you don’t know what the fees are before you select the broker – which prevents you from shopping based on price.

So now I had to find an address broker. ARIN has this list of brokers who have registered with them. They show 29 different brokers, along with contact names and phone numbers and the date that the broker registered with ARIN. Note this is not their recommendation for the reputation of any of these businesses. There is no vetting of whether they are still in business, or whether they are conducting themselves in any honorable fashion. As the old saying goes, on the Internet, no one knows if you could become a dog.

Vetting a broker could easily be the subject of another column (and indeed, I take some effort in my upcoming article for IPJ to go into these details). The problem is that there are no rules, no overall supervision and no general agreement on what constitutes block quality or condition. IPv4MarketGroup has a list of questions to ask a potential broker, including if they will only represent one side of the transaction (most handle both buyer and seller) and if they have appropriate legal and insurance coverage. I found that a useful starting point.

I picked Hilco’s IPv4.Global brokerage to sell my block. They came recommended and I liked that they listed all their auctions right from their home page, so you could spot pricing trends easily. For example, last month other /24 blocks were selling for $20-24 per IP address. Rental prices varied from 20 cents to US$1.20 per month per address, which means at best a two-year payback when rentals are compared to sales and at worst a ten-year payback. I decided to sell my block at $23 per address: I wanted the cash and didn’t like the idea of being a landlord of my block any more than I liked being a physical landlord of an apartment that I once owned. It took several weeks to sell my block and about ten weeks overall from when I first began the process to when I finally got the funds wired to my bank account from the sale.

If all that seems like a lot of work to you, then perhaps you just want to steer clear of the used marketplace for now. But if you like the challenge of doing the research, you could be a hero at your company for taking this task on.

FIR B2B podcast episode #134: Fred Bateman on the evolving role of PR in a fragmented media world

Fred Bateman has been around the tech world as long as Pual Gillin and I have: At the dawn of the PC era he worked for various PR firms and then founded the Bateman Group, which grew to 90 staffers doing tech-focused PR and content marketing. Fred recently announced that he will sell his majority ownership to his three co-owners, who have re-branded the company as Mission North. He plans to partner with nonprofits to teach disenfranchised groups of people the business, writing and communications skills required for a successful career in tech-focused PR.

Paul and I spoke with Fred about how far the PR profession has come sine the dawn of the Internet era, how PR and content marketing people need to work hand-in-hand and how branded news sites such as Adobe’s CMO.com have created new avenues of influence for marketing organizations. Fred also reflects on the skills that distinguish the best PR pros he’s worked with from all the other and the complex role of influencers in today’s media landscape. You can listen to our 20-minute discussion here:

FIR B2B podcast #133: How to Construct a Compelling Case Study

This week we discuss case studies — both ones Paul Gillin and I have written and others we like. The best case studies are really about the storytelling, having a solid narrative arc with a beginning, a resolution and a moral. They bring to life a hero – or in some cases an anti-hero – and describe the drama that led up to a crisis point and how the situation was resolved. The best ones are simple, don’t burden the reader with needless details and have a news hook that makes them compelling during the time surrounding their online posting.

My own story about the Avast CISO Jaya Baloo, who faced a security breach on her first day on the job, was instructive at showing the conflicts over how to respond to a breach and how to rally her staff to fix the problem, but it also provided insight into her personality and her leadership strengths. Paul’s story about the rise of Domino’s Pizza from whipping post to Wall Street darling starts out by describing customers who described Domino’s’ product as tasting like cardboard. It’s an unusual way to start a story but a nice narrative for a turnaround. The chain took control over its digital technologies and saw a 50-fold increase in its stock price as a result.

Sometimes stories – like Paul’s piece on J.C. Penney’s attempted turnaround – don’t bear the test of time. While Penney’s tried to restart its brand with members of a team that led the successful digital transformation at Home Depot, the story shows that sometimes hope is not the best marketing strategy.

And sometimes stories have anti-heroes at their core, as this piece that Kaspersky ran last year about the increase in the number of cities that have suffered ransomware attacks. It drew our attention as a reminder of how devastating these attacks have been, and why they continue to be attractive to hackers, using storytelling as a hook.

Finally, case studies can have a visual element, as this piece on rebranding cranberries for the millennial generation did. The folks behind marketing this seasonal fruit used the fascination that millennials have with taking pictures of their food to put together a nice social media campaign last Thanksgiving that moved what many consider a boring traditional dish into the spotlight.

Listen to our 12 min. podcast here.

FIR B2B podcast #132: Worst PR Nightmares of 2019

This week we take a moment to reflect on the past year’s major PR blunders. Thanks to the folks at Crain’s Chicago Business, we have five doozies to relive with you. They run the gamut from Hallmark’s lesbian bridal spot to Sallie Mae’s Hawaiian junket to the various missteps of Boeing’s now ex-CEO.  All have a few things in common:

  • The companies were culturally tone-deaf, whether to gender, racial, or other sensitive topics. Being woke isn’t just a fixed state of mind but a commitment to keep up with the cultural norms and mores and memes in this diverse world.
  • They failed to talk. The first hours after a crisis are critical and require a response — even if it is “We are working on a response and will get back to you.” Crickets will just inflame passions and create the impression that the business fails to understand its mistakes. “An organization is more likely to survive a crisis with its reputation intact if it immediately speaks for itself rather than allowing others to speculate about its motives and behavior,” Crain’s wrote.
  • They reinforced stereotypes. The Peloton ad would have worked if it had showed the woman gifting her husband, not the other way around. Why not run these ideas by impartial third parties who can identify the land mines? Hire a couple of journalists to poke holes at your message.
  • The companies waffled in response. Hallmark first pulled then reinstated its bridal TV spot. The ad was bold and progressive. Why not stand your ground instead of yielding to criticism that you know is coming?
  • Don’t be Facebook. We have beaten up repeatedly on the social network over the past year (#117 on alternatives  and #102 on how to fix some of their most egregious flaws).  Crain’s gives Facebook a dishonorable mention for stating that it won’t vet political campaigns ads.

You can listen to our podcast here:

Lessons tech startups can learn from the history of 3Com

Many tech startups of today just assume that the Internet is ubiquitous, that bandwidth is plentiful, and that everyone can connect anywhere and at anytime. Well, that wasn’t always the case, and back in the day when I was a young IT professional, we didn’t have the Internet. We didn’t have Wifi. And we just barely had PCs on our desks.

Then a company by the name of 3Com came into the picture, and our world changed. Never heard of them? They were the early innovator of Ethernet computer networking, and back then you had to use wires to connect computers together and special circuit boards that had to be installed inside a computer, not to mention special software to run it all. Those early networks required skills to get all of this setup properly. 3Com figured this all out, and the company existed for 40 years before eventually its assets were sold to HP for $2.7B a few years ago. They had a good run for the first ten years of their corporate life until they started making major mistakes in the middle 1990s.

If you are involved in a tech startup, there are lots of business books that you can read. But Jeff Chase’s 3Com chronicle will be one that can help guide you. He takes us through their founding, their success, their collapse, and their eventual end with a lot of insider information, which isn’t surprising given that he worked in their corporate audit department for nearly a decade. What is also important is how he describes the many lessons to be learned from this history of the company, how it took advantage of the early networking technologies and then squandered this lead.

First, let’s look at their major successes:

  1. A key recipe for any business’ success is whether or not teams have an emotional commitment towards their managers. This is something that 3Com had in spades and was noted for its staff loyalty. One reason for this is the company had a very open and transparent culture, sharing weekly results at all-hands meetings every Friday, even numbers that were generally only known by top executives. Contrast this with many tech companies that are very secretive today.
  2. Understand your go-to-market and channel strategy. One 3COM CEO, Bill Krause, put it this way: “All our VCs thoughts that if you were going to sell networks it had to be done through their IT departments. We were determined to sell our products through computer stores because they were easy to install and use. That turned out to be successful.” That was an understatement. Back in those early days, this was ground-breaking.
  3. 3Com didn’t only develop and commercialize Ethernet products, but it also developed new distribution methods and innovative manufacturing processes to make these products. It kept up – for a time – in advances in network speeds and contributed to the open standards that made Ethernet the only networking technology to survive to the present day.
  4. They understood innovation, at least for their first decade. They had the patience to trust their instincts and initially took the right bets to stay ahead on Ethernet innovation, with the caveats mentioned below. They also understood that they had had sticky products that were put together well, and drove loyalty in their existing customer base.
  5. 3Com was one of the first companies to go global in a meaningful way, hiring offshore R&D talent and focusing on partnerships with Chinese companies long before either of these became fashionable. They coined a term for the later, “China Out,” which enabled them to enter the Chinese market, license their technology to a leading Chinese networking company, and re-energize the company in its later years. How this happened is worth reading these chapters alone.

But here are their major blunders:

  1. 3Com blew a major decision to upgrade to Fast Ethernet and gave away that market to Cisco. The two companies had big differences in their focus on sales, marketing and engineering. 3Com failed in the Fast Ethernet market, was late to recognize its role and never recaptured its lead as an innovator that it had with its early Ethernet products. Part of the problem here was that they focused on their most profitable products, ignoring potential game-changing disruptive new technologies. But part is that they rested on their laurels with their Ethernet business and stopped innovating, losing ground to others.
  2. They didn’t carefully plan their acquisitions. Early on, 3Com had a few successful acquisitions based on complementary strategies and product lines. But then in the middle 1990s they blew it with the US Robotics/Palm purchase. 3Com bought the modem company for $7.3B, eventually spinning off the Palm subsidiary for an IPO that generated $1B in cash profits. But 3Com was never the same after this acquisition, and it led towards their eventual downfall.
  3. It lost its vision, misunderstanding its customers and what their priorities were. They became tactical, not strategic. They forgot about their customers which were the major banks and largest enterprises in the world, and what they purchased and how they bought their equipment. In essence, they basically exited the large enterprise market in 2000 and could only recapture this in later years with great difficulty.
  4. They had a strong CTO (Paul Sherer) but when he left the position wasn’t filled. In the book there is this delightful story about how Sherer had to come in over one weekend after he resigned and help fix a bug that no one else could quash after weeks of work.

Spend some time learning from the successes and failures of 3Com if you are working for a tech startup. You will find them instructive, and Chase’s book a worthwhile read.

How the Red Cross provides social media leadership

I have been volunteering for the past several months for the American Red Cross and I came across a series of documents, policies, and training about how they use social media that I thought I would share with you. I actually have two very different volunteer jobs with them. First, I work for our local chapter to drive blood to various hospital blood banks. And I work for the national office in DC to help produce a monthly webinar that is attended by hundreds of volunteers and employees involved in their disaster relief efforts. Note that these thoughts are my own, and not necessarily that of the Red Cross.

One thing that I am continually impressed with the Red Cross is how well it partitions and structures the workflows of its volunteers. Even if you volunteer for a relatively low-level position, such as a front desk receptionist, there are manuals that guide what you do and when you do it. This isn’t surprising, given how many of us volunteers there are and how many volunteers are in key leadership roles directing its critical operations. Think about that for a moment: many non-profits give their volunteers the scut work (file these papers that have been lying around here for months). The Red Cross does the opposite, and it is often hard to distinguish between volunteers and staffers when you first meet someone.

A good case in point is my wife, who volunteered in their Santa Monica office years ago after the Katrina floods. Within weeks she was attending staff meetings and eventually she was hired as the chapter’s development director.

But let’s talk about social media, and my first point is the Red Cross’ social media guidelines, which take up all of a single page but have lots of good advice. I thought I would share some of them with you as an example of what you should create for your own business. During my last webinar, Megan Weiler, the senior director of Social Media at their DC HQ gave a presentation on these guidelines and pointed out their six core principles of being a good social citizen:

  • Be human, meaning “be your friendly self and use good manners” – too often we tend to post from frustration or to try to right a wrong.
  • Be engaging, find others of similar interests and encourage thoughtful discussions.
  • Be accurate, make sure news items are verified and give credit for the content you got from someone or somewhere else.
  • Be honest, meaning if you mess up, fess up and do so quickly.
  • Be considerate, don’t start flame wars. If you have to disagree with someone, do it politely. Also, stay focused on the topic at hand.
  • Be safe. Protect your privacy and “be mindful of what you share online.”

These are all great things to keep in mind when you create your own social media posts for your company. What I like about this list is that it gives you the responsibility and boundaries to be successful at delivering messages using social media. Having written and spoken about these topics for more than a decade, I found it a very refreshing take. Too often corporations are heavy-handed about directing their employees’ use of social media. That heavy hand results in social media misfires or sock puppetry that doesn’t serve anyone well. (Take as a case in point of the Twitter account of a certain former White House staffer earlier this month as an example.)

Some corporations were early advocates of social media like Dell, who subsequently put together a central social media command center at its corporate offices outside of Austin. That may work well for them (I wrote this analysis of Dell’s effort back in 2011) and indeed the Red Cross has its own digital operations nerve center to help with its disaster relief efforts. But this is just one aspect of what the Red Cross does and managing their gigantic global volunteer staff at the Red Cross has some other circumstances and wider implications. They actually understand that social media engagement is a critical component of their operational DNA and sharing a volunteer’s personal story is part of their mission.

You might wonder why I am driving blood around town. My reason was simple: it was an extension of the many years where I donated blood and I liked being more involved and getting to understand their infrastructure to bring blood units to those who need them. It isn’t intellectually challenging – other than keeping track of where in each hospital the blood labs are located – but it deepens my involvement. (Did you notice how I just shared my personal story here?) BTW, for those of you that donate blood, thanks for helping out!

Finally, the Red Cross has a half-hour online training course on social media basics that are only available to volunteers. The class walks you through what social listening is all about and how to get you more engaged in participating in social media as a Red Crosser. The class also makes a distinction between a volunteer implying they are running an official Red Cross social media account, versus their saying that they only represent themselves. That is an important distinction.

The class goes into further details:

  • If you post anything about the Red Cross, make sure you disclose your role and use your real name. Disclose any vested self-interest and write about your own expertise.
  • Respect your dignity, privacy and confidences. Be sensitive to the community you are serving, be cautious about sharing information before it is vetted.
  • “Remember if you are online, you are on the record.” This is probably the most important aspect of social media that many of us tend to forget.
  • Understand that your personal social media accounts are your identity. You should certainly include your corporate affiliation in your online bios but shouldn’t construct your Twitter handle around them. For example, create a handle such as @dstrom, rather than @redCrossStrom. Maintain the balance of what is personal and what is professional. Some companies want you to operate their social media accounts – while that could work in certain circumstances, the Red Cross wants you to be you.

FIR B2B podcast #131: How to Run Webcasts and Video Calls

Both Paul Gillin and I have run and participated in various webinars and online meetings over the years. For this podcast episode, we share some of their best practices. There are several things you can do to have great meetings. First, is preparing your speakers and in planning for the presentation. Do you have the right kind of slide deck? With our in-person speaking gigs, we try to minimize the text on our slides and provide for more of an experience and set the mood. For a webinar where you don’t necessary see your audience, your slides are more of your speaking notes, so your audience can take away your thoughts and remember your major points.

I produce a monthly webinar for the Red Cross that has a dozen speakers and an audience of several hundred. To pull this off with minimal technical issues, my team has put together a lengthy document that recommends how speakers connect (watch for poor Wi-Fi and don’t use speakerphones) and describes the various roles that different people play during the conference call (master of ceremonies, moderator, time keeper, slide wrangler, presenter recruiter, chat and notes helpers). Paul and I both suggest using a common slide deck for all speakers, which means getting the slides in order prior to the meeting. Also, with more than a couple of presenters you should test your speakers’ audio connections too; both of us have had more problems with wonky audio than video. And settle on a protocol for whether or not to show your face when the meeting starts (and check to see if you are appropriately dressed).

Both of us feel you should always start your meetings promptly: you don’t want to be wasting time waiting for stragglers. We both don’t particularly like Skype for Business, although “regular” Skype is fine (most times) and we have also used GoToMeeting and Zoom, too.

Here is an example of a recent speech I gave to an audience of local government IT managers. I also has lots of other tips on how to do more than meetings and improve team collaboration here.

If you would like to listen to our 16 minute podcast, click below:

Good luck with running your own online meetings, and please share your own tips and best practices as comments. And enjoy the video below.

Bob Metcalfe on credit, gratitude, and loyalty

For Bob Metcalfe, many things come in triples. His most successful company was called 3Com is one example. I met up with him recently and he told me, “You will be happier if you give and enjoy but not expect credit, gratitude, or loyalty.” Before I unpack that, let me tell you the story of how Bob and I first met.

This was in 1990 and I was about to launch Network Computing magazine for CMP. I was its first editor-in-chief and it was a breakout job for me in many respects: I was fortunate to be able to set the overall editorial direction of the publication and hire a solid editorial and production team, it was the first magazine that CMP ever published using desktop technology and it was the first time that I had built a test lab into the DNA of a B2B IT publication. Can you tell that I am still very proud of the pub? Yeah, there is that. Bob was one of our early columnists, and he was at the point in his career where he wanted to tell some stories about the development of his invention of Ethernet. We had a lot of fun getting these stories into print and Bob told me that for many years those first columns of his had a place of honor in his home. Bob went on to write many more columns for other IT pubs and eventually became publisher of Infoworld.

In addition to being a very clever inventor, Bob is also a master storyteller. One of his many sayings has since been enshrined as “Metcalfe’s law” which says a network’s effect is proportional to the square of its users or nodes. He is also infamous for wrongly predicting the end of the Internet in an Infoworld column he wrote in December 1995.  He called it a “gigalapse”  which would happen the next year. When of course it didn’t come to pass, he ate the printed copy of his column.

Oh well, you can’t always be right, but he is usually very pithy and droll.

Let’s talk about his latest statement, about credit, gratitude and loyalty. Notice how he differentiates the give and take of the three elements: with Bob, it is always critical to understand the relationship of inputs and outputs.

Credit means being acknowledged for your achievements. “The trick is to get credit without claiming it,” says Metcalfe. Credit comes in many forms: validation from your peers, recognition by your profession, or even a short “attaboy” from your boss for a job well done. I can think of the times in my career when I got credit for something that I wrote about: a fine explanation of something technical by one of my readers, or spotting a trend that few had yet seen. But what Bob is telling us is to put the shoe on the other foot, and give credit where and when it is due — output, rather than input. It is great to be acknowledged, but greater still if we cite those that deserve credit for their achievements. Going back to Network Computing, many of the people that I hired have gone on to do great things in the IT industry, and I continue to give them props for doing such wonderful work and to their contributions to our industry.

Gratitude is getting positive feedback, of thanking someone for their efforts. Too often we forget to say thanks. I can think of many jobs that I have held over the years where my boss didn’t give out many thank yous. But it is always better to give thanks to others than expect it. Credit and gratitude are a tight bundle to be sure.

Finally, there is loyalty. The dictionary defines this in a variety of ways, but one that I liked was “faithful to a cause, ideal, custom, institution, or product.” Too often we are expected to be faithful to something that starts out well but ends up poorly. Many times I have left jobs because the product team made some bad decisions, or because people whom I respected left out of frustration. If you are the boss, you can’t really demand loyalty, especially if you don’t show any gratitude or acknowledge credit for your staff’s achievements. “Loyalty is what you expect of your customers when your products are no longer competitive,” says Metcalfe.

I would be interested in your own reactions to what Bob said, and if you have examples from your own work life that you would like to share with others.