August 29, 2009
I thoroughly enjoyed John Allison‘s visit to our Executive MBA class at Wake Forest University this morning. Mr. Allison is the Chairman and former CEO of BB&T, and has recently joined the faculty at WFU.
Mr Allison’s discussion was focused on the values that he help ingrain into the culture at the bank:
We had the opportunity to discuss the sub-prime mortgage crisis and how BB&T really got screwed by being forced to take TARP money. The real takeaways from the discussion, though, were the perspectives of a principled leader. The values described today seem on the surface like any other set of values you might see on any corporate bulletin board. When you study them in detail (and hear Mr. Allison describe them), it’s clear that these are the virtues of humanity, and not just a set of characteristics that might assist in business goals. The most poignant set of the values are the ones centered around objectivity and fact-based management. The most memorable quote from today’s session is that the number one reason a small business will fail is because the leader evades reality. You have to know your place in the real world around you.
BB&T has put a focus and premium on individualism, which could be a real risk. However, because the vision and goals are clearly defined and permeated through the organization, the individualism should ultimately lead to creativity and innovation, rather than anarchy. As Mr. Allison transitions to academia, I think he knows and can have confidence that his company is as well-poised to weather any shocks and disruptions as a company can be in these times. This is another example to me how the people in business are more important than any product or technology for ensuring long term value.
April 16, 2009
I was present at today’s NCTC event in Roanoke – Coffee with Senator Mark Warner. The first order of business was to announce the nominees for the upcoming TechNite banquet next month. I regret that I will not be able to attend this year’s event. Congratulations and good luck to the nominees.
The second order of business was an brief Q&A session with Senator Warner. He gave a brief recap of his first 90 days at the Capitol. It was clear he is humbled by the change of scenery between being top of the heap in Richmond and “Junior Senator No. 91 with a basement office” in Washington. Even so, he seems to be glad to be serving on crucial committees such as Commerce and Banking.
He asked all questions to have a theme: “How can he help the greater SW Va Technology and Business community?” I felt his answers were tempered with reality. For a question regarding the credit freeze on seemingly creditworthy, established business, his answer wasn’t “Don’t worry, everything will get better because of TARP”, it was more along the lines of “The banks need to rebuild their balance sheets with the TARP funds. It’s not all going to waste just because it’s not directly being lent out. Give them some time to show the market that they are managing themselves better and can inspire confidence.” This is what I want to see from our politicians: reasoned, pragmatic hope.
Another question that arose was centered around the effectiveness of a particular grant selection process. The Senator’s response was that he couldn’t be concerned about one particular entity’s concern about fairness, but if collaboratively as a group, the community represented by the NCTC could make a case that there was a systematic disadvantage in any bid process, he would track it down. Again, this is what I like to see from a politician. I don’t want promises that seem like our representation is trying to please everyone. I want realism and an appreciation of the common good. It’s also clear that the Senator understands the scale of the Roanoke Region relative to the rest of the country. There was an interesting juxtaposition at one point with comparing Pulaski County to Roanoke/Montgomery Counties followed by a comparison of the RNR to Fairfax/NoVA. It was a somewhat sobering reminder to remind us of our pecking order, but the Senator’s enthusiam towards the region should reassure us that we do have a voice on a national stage.
The event ended with s brief opportunity for handshakes and one-on-one questions. I used my opportunity to express my approval to him.
I’m proud to be associated with the NCTC today. I enjoyed the event, but more importantly, I feel like we have a voice where it matters. I feel the mutual respect that the members have for each other and the intrigue that outsiders have for the sophistication of technology development in this region. Having an advocate on Capitol Hill who appreciates this as well can only mean good things for our future. Senator Warner’s background in technology business, gubernatorial experience in Virginia, and thoughtfulness and realism make him a great advocate for the NCTC and RNR region.
February 13, 2009
We sent one of our developers, David, to represent Vision Point Systems at Tuesday’s Software Developer Forum in Blacksburg hosted by Mailtrust. Here’s what he had to report:
The forum started off with a discussion of using OSS in businesses as a way to reduce costs. Mailtrust uses open source code for the base of their products. Additionally, OSS was also mentioned in support roles like word processing (OpenOffice) and ticket tracking (Trac). The main point being that companies can leverage these products as a reduced cost and can modify them as needed, sometimes contributing changes back to the project. Then the discussion moved to the topic of making money on OSS. The main way discussed was selling support for the product. Both Red Hat and MySQL were mentioned as examples of this. Another way was the accepting of donations, however it was pointed out that a large userbase works best. The rest of the discussion did not focus on business talk, but on Open Source as a whole. Topics ranged from the awareness of open source in the mainstream to how the government should/could use it. The most interesting bit of this was the discussion of open standards in regards to medical records. If there was a standard format for how medical records should be, then each state could use or reuse the software that they wanted. The government bit was the most intriguing section of the night because there is, I believe, a great potential for change and savings on a state and federal level. Caution is warranted because just because something is OSS does not mean it is of high quality. Sometimes and in some applications, closed source programs just work better.”
That’s a pretty good summary of OSS as a whole and corresponds with the last roundtable discussion I attended on the topic at an NJTC event last spring. I’m going to try to reach out to a contact at EnterpriseDB that I had met there at that event to try and set up a discussion in this forum on MySQL vs PostgreSQL.
For my MBA cohorts, keep this in mind when we cover this topic in IT Management class later in the semester. I’m interested to see how consistent the academic view is with the real world usage.
January 1, 2009
Brian Alexander and I manned the booth for Vision Point Systems at yesterday’s 2008 Roanoke Holiday Career and Lifestyle Fair put together by the City of Roanoke and Stuart Mease. My takeaways from the event really boil down to the following:
- The industry we are in – Software and Business Consulting – is definitely not a good representation of the general population
- There is very little trained talent out there for software related work that don’t already have good jobs.
- Yes, there are a lot of people who are jobless, but a large percentage of those people are nowhere near suited for anything resembling a professional career.
In all of the business association and groups I participate in, it’s always a common topic that recruiting for tech jobs is near impossible, especially in the Roanoke and New River Areas. Yesterday’s event did nothing to dispell this thought. The only attendees that had specific experience or training in computer related fields consisted of some computer/electrical engineers with specific experience on a narrow field, and at least one college student studying technical writing. The vast majority of people were noticeably intimidated and quickly ran away any time I mentioned “design specification”.
I don’t know how unique VPS’s position really is, but we’re getting ready to hire multiple people going into 2009. I know many other local tech companies are looking for similar recruits, as evidenced by the NCTC Job board. I think this again shows that there is a dearth of talent stateside, especially in this region. I hope that one of the result of the pending “correction” in the economy is to get our youth into programs in the universities that would be helpful to the NewVa Corridor Tech community.
My other point about the preparedness of population for work really centers around professionalism and, frankly, laziness. I know the lifestyle is different in the white-collar, shake-hands, business community I’m a part of, but even if I was interviewing to be part-time dishwasher at a famous fast food franchise, I still don’t think I’d meet with the hiring manager wearing a Nascar jacket and cut-off shorts. I’m embellishing a bit, but not much. I don’t know how things got this way, but you’ll never see the local news channels comment on the people who apparently seemed to show up to the fair expecting jobs to be handed to them.