RE’s 2nd Pivot

Since Mike has moved on and Scott and I have been looking for a replacement, we have also been closely evaluating our current business and technical model. At this time, we no longer believe it to be feasible within our current level of resources to pursue resume synchronization; we will be changing our focus and moving down the ATS route.

Be warned, this is a bit of a long post. I’m writing it to explain what is happening, why it is happening and what to expect in the future both to everyone already involved with the project and to the other people who had signed up to try the service but had not yet gained access. More after the jump.
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Passing On Founder’s Institute

As mentioned previously, I have been considering joining Founder’s Institute. I was accepted, but I will not be attending. Below the fold are the two primary reasons why, one old and one new.
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Been Quoted In CIO Update On Xoom Tablets

In the article 10 Reasons To Buy Xoom (And 2 Not To) as compared to an iPad, I talk about the walled garden aspect of the iPad.

Xoom is built to be hacked to serve enterprises’ specific needs. Within days of release, message boards were filled with gloating reports of just how easy it is to modify the Xoom’s guts, even over-clocking the CPU for blazing speed. “Sure, a company could jailbreak their iPad fleet but that has significant support and warranty issues associated with it,” said C. Scyphers, chief technical architect at Daemon Consulting.

I actually went a bit further than that in the original interview. Here’s what I said at the time:

There are four large reasons why a CIO should closely examine the Xoom tablet:

  1. The iPad may been cheaper and may have more penetration, but a company can develop an application for the Android tablet and have it ready instantly, as opposed to going through the rather opaque approval process of Apple.
  2. A company can also create an Android tablet application and distribute it quietly amongst their employees, instead of posting it on Apple’s App Store for all the world to see.
  3. Sure, a company could jailbreak their iPad fleet, but that has significant support and warranty issues associated with it.
  4. If your company intends to sell items through the tablet application, Apple takes 20% more of each sale than Android does.

The common thread with all three of these points is openness. Apple is a closed ecosystem; Android is not. I believe it’s better to go with the more open platform from the start.

I say this as an owner of an iPad, but not a Xoom. Perhaps a bit hypocritical, but I didn’t pay for the iPad. It’s been a decent enough tablet, but I still do not believe it to be ready for prime time business use. Yet.

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Considering The Founder’s Institute

Almost everyone has heard of the startup accelerators these days; the most famous of them are Y Combinator and TechStars. If you’re lucky enough to get into one of those programs, you’ll meet with some amazing mentors, learn from some of the best in the business and almost certainly get funded. Good things, you might think, so when will you be applying?

I’m not; both programs require founders to move to their location (Silly Valley for Y Combinator, lots of places for TechStars but not DC) for the several month duration of the program. It’s not fair for me to uproot my family (two small children, as some of you may remember) for a relatively short duration, nor is it fair for me to abandon with wife with those same children for several months. Even if I were so inclined, the other members of my team would not be so, as they also have children, mortgages and the like.

So that leaves startup accelerators in the vicinity of Washington DC. TechStars is doing something with the federal government, but, so far, there’s not much to it in the DC area other than press releases and promises for something not-so-defined sometime in the future. LaunchBox Digital were involved in DC at one time, but they no longer seem to be around.

The Founder’s Institute is still in DC, though. I have been considering FI, but I’m actually quite nonplussed over their affairs. FI differs from the other accelerators I’ve encountered in some notable ways:

  • All accelerators take equity in the participating startups; I’m fine with that. The difference here is the other accelerators pay people for attending. Y Combinator goes in for about $15-$20k, TechStars for $18k. FI requires founders to pay for the learning experience ($900 for the DC session) and then takes $4.5k out of any funds subsequently raised.

    In my experience, when someone tells you they want to help you start a business but first you have to give them money, that’s usually a big ol’ red flag for a scam.

  • FI positions itself apart from other accelerators; that works both for and against FI
  • FI includes in their agreement a pretty stringent confidentiality clause:
    The fact that a person is participating or has participated in the FII program shall be considered Confidential Information hereunder.

    page 3, section 4.A

    Clauses like this have made it quite hard to do due diligence on FI. How many companies were involved with the last DC session? Were any of them funded? What’s the drop out rate? I couldn’t tell you. I might have been accepted into the program and could be going to the first sessions in March; according to the contract, I can’t tell you one way or the other. Contrast that with this public analysis of the companies that have been involved with TechStars.

    And, while we’re talking about comparing TechStars and FI, here’s a good chart, if somewhat dated.

  • Keeping the membership confidential also lets FI cherry pick their published results. One answer on Quora lists four successful graduates; FI’s website lists 72 launched companies and claims another 200 or so. That’s well and good, but 275 out of how many? And where are those companies now? Did they go public/get acquired/still in the running/crater/just fade away?

When it comes down to it, I believe it’s the FI asking me to pay money — hard earned money in which my startup is not exactly swimming — potentially to learn from their mentors and absolutely to sell some of hard earned equity in the company without providing lots of independently verifiable justification that the money will be worth the opportunity cost. Maybe it’s worth it, but that’s the sticking point, if I had to put my finger on it.

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#TechCocktailDC It’s Usual Thing

Last night, I went to the DC TechCocktail for the second time. It was fun, much more so than the last meetup I attended. The DC TechCocktail showcases about a dozen local startups, both for exposure’s sake and (ostensibly) for possible fundraising. My experience, however, has been that the events are long on equal parts people offering services (lawyers, PR firms) and other startup people (usually looking for funding or just straight networking) with a fair number of job seekers and a few friends/supporters thrown in for good measure.

Of the startups present last night, three seem to be solutions in search of a problem, two are wading into a very saturated market (good luck with that, guys), and the others are not offerings that particularly speak to me. A shoutout to CampusSplash, though, who had the good presence of mind to snap up Anton (a fellow LeanStartupDC member).

I don’t regret going to this sort of thing; it’s a few times a year and it’s nice to meet my fellow entrepreneurs in a social setting. But don’t kid yourself; this is pretty much a “social only” event. If you’re looking for a more serious, business oriented event where there are people with checkbooks in the DC area, try GrubStake

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NYEBN Meetup A Bust

Last night, I hopped a train to NYC and went to the NY Entrepreneurs Business Network Networking Event on behalf of my startup. There were good and bad things about this particular meetup. More after the jump…
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I Am Certifiable

As many of you know, I’m not a fan of technical certifications — it seems like they reward people who can regurgitate technical trivia rather than the ones who can actually do the work (but may not be able to recall the canonical port number for LDAP traffic, as a quick example from both a past interview and a past exam). Having said that, last fall Oracle offered to select partners the opportunity to beta test some new certification exams. I signed up for about five and have gotten results back for most of them. So far, I’m three out of four (want to know which ones? Look here).

Here’s the thing: I signed up for two exams where I knew absolutely nothing about the product outside of what I have read on marketing slicks (Exadata and GoldenGate). I have since had the opportunity to do a GoldenGate deployment; still starting at zero with Exadata. I almost passed the GoldenGate one and did pass the Exadata one. So what does that say about the certification exam that I am now certified on a product I’ve never used?

— Update —
And now I’m four for five (although database security is a bit of a gimme for me…)

— Update 2 —
I reached out to Oracle about my Exadata exam result, and this is their response:

The problem arises from the cost and limited availability of Exadata Database Machines. Although most implementation exams require hands-on experience, we could not expect partners to purchase a Database Machine to prepare for the exam, and we don’t even have very many of them for courses and practice in house. This situation was amplified by the fact that many of the key features of Exadata just work – they are not configurable.

Because of this, the decision was made to make the “Implementation” exam for Exadata a detailed technical exam. Someone who understands how the Exadata technology works will be in a good situation to properly use the machine, and this corresponds with the course and test material.

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How Not To Do A Migration

Over the weekend, LinkedIn migrated their data center from Chicago to LA. To do this, LinkedIn offlined their service. In short, this was the wrong way to do it.

LinkedIn initially scheduled the outage to be five hours but it turned out to be much more (the official LinkedIn twitter account asks people to hold on just a bit more at the six hour mark and the official blog post about the migration has a comment from someone claiming the site is still down at the 13 hour mark. In today’s world of highly available computing, there is no reason why this had to happen.

From what I can tell, LinkedIn did a complete exchange of data centers; they apparently shut down the world to test the synchronization between the two sites. This just has me scratching my head. LinkedIn is a rather large enterprise, and I’m sure they have a few bucks they could set aside for a redundant testing environment which would eliminate the need for a complete outage.

Off the top of my head, there are four others ways I would have solved this problem. Check them out after the jump.

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My Experience At Gilbane Boston

Today, I flew up to Boston and spoke at the Gilbane Boston conference. It was a long day, full of way more planes and taxis than I would like in eight hours and I learned several things today; some good, some not so good, but lessons none the less.

Apparently, This Was An Off Year

I’ve never been to Gilbane before. It’s my understanding that they are one of the larger conferences dedicated to content management. Perhaps; I have no frame of reference on the subject. However, as I was talking with a number of attendees, they universally talked about how fewer people were there this year and the ones that were tended to be from the Boston area.

From my perspective, the talk at which I presented was very sparsely attended. As we got started, the ratio of presenters/moderator to audience was 1:1 (this changed about halfway during the session when another person came into the room). On the one hand, that’s actually a nice challenge and an opportunity to learn what does or doesn’t work. One of the things I’ve learned from playing music is that it’s much easier to play for 4,000 people than 4 — if 2 people leave in the first case who cares; if 2 people leave in the latter case, that’s half your audience. So you have a very good chance to make connections with your audience and get immediate feedback on what does or does not work.

This Was The Wrong Conference For Me

Content management is an important area of technology; it’s just not my area of technology. I’m a big data guy; this conference was all about enterprise systems of managing content from a high level, end user focused point of view. As opposed to optimal ways to store/index/search/process the content.

This Was The Wrong Topic For Me

I spoke on federated queries. The way I have implemented federated query systems and the way the content people were talking about implementing them were not the same. It’s a good thing that I spent most of my time talking about the political issues surrounding a federated query system rather than specific technical implementation.

I Did Meet Some Interesting People

The people I met at the conference — and the two gentleman who were nice enough to share the stage with me — were quite interesting and knowledgeable. If for no other reason, the trip was worthwhile for that alone.

Delta Between DCA & BOS Is Overallocated

The 9am flight to Boston had 7 people on it. Seven. After the attendants gave us the nod, we drew straws and six of us moved to first class. The 5pm trip back was a bit better, in that there were about 20 people on the plane. Perhaps Delta might want to cut back on flights and, you know, lower prices a bit rather than burn all the fuel for seemingly no good reason?

Still, I don’t regret going. The more speaking I do, the better at it I get.

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The Politics Of Federated Queries

As this is being published, I am probably on stage at Gilbane Boston, participating in the Applications Of Search In Sharepoint panel discussion. Which is interesting, as I am not a SharePoint person. I do know data, though, so I’m talking using federated queries to search both structured and unstructured data.

In a departure from my more typical technical deep dive, this chat is more about the politics of implementing a federated query system. I’ve deployed federated systems for a few federal clients and the politics of each process were far more challenging than the technical issues. Tackling semantic search is a breeze compared to trying to get a forty year holdover from the LBJ days to loosen his grip on his precious, precious data.

But I digress.

The deck is available on Slideshare. I believe Gilbane will be publishing a video of the panel; I will update this post when that occurs. Thanks again to the Gilbane Group for giving us the opportunity to speak!

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Great Article On #Teradata & Oracle #Exadata

Daniel Abadi of Yale (and, for me, of Hadoop World fame) has a great article about a Teradata white paper focusing on Oracle’s Exadata:

I recently came across a whitepaper from Teradata, written by a senior consultant for Teradata, Richard Burns. This is a very well written piece, and has one of the best overviews of Exadata I’ve seen. I did not notice any obvious inaccuracies in the description of Exadata itself, and even the anti-Exadata arguments (presented after the overview), though at times biased and misleading, do not have many clear factual errors. Hence, it is quite a professionally done whitepaper, even though it is devoted to attacking a competitor. Reading it will probably make you smarter.

Both the original whitepaper and Daniel’s commentary are worth your time to read.

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Been Quoted By has an article about ways to getting out of the canned customer service script.

One shortcut to a supervisor is to ask a question at the beginning of the call, says C. Scyphers, a former customer service representative who currently works for Daemon Consulting: “Ask if you’re allowed to record the call.” You don’t necessarily need permission to tape, since some states require only one side to consent to record. “Most first-tier support person are going to hear that question, quickly decide the caller is going to be too much hassle and then transfer to a more senior person just to get them out of their hair.”

Way back when, I got my start as a technical support rep. The above thing only happened to me once or twice, and it was always an immediate hand off to the tier two support team. It usually works for me when I try it.

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Been Quoted In IT World

This time, it’s about two occasions in which I hired the person who waited on my table for the companies where I was working at the time. Both people went into various forms of customer service (one in tech support, the other in the more traditional customer support); in both cases, it worked out very well. Good customer service is good customer service, regardless of the industry, and I have found it usually translates well.

“Good customer service is good customer service,” Scyphers says, reflecting on his recent restaurant-inspired hires. “[The waiters] were very charming, displayed excellent attention to detail and were well-informed about the world in general.”

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Speaking At GilbaneBoston

I will be one of the speakers for Gilbane Boston this year. My particular contribution will be “Pitfalls & Profits In Federated Search” with a special focus on Sharepoint. More details after the jump.
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Hadoop World 2010 vs Oracle OpenWorld 2010

Now that both Hadoop World and Open World are done, let’s compare and contrast:

Hadoop World 2010

Oracle OpenWorld 2010 Logo

Cost To Go $300 $1800 and that’s early bird
Location NYC, NY San Francisco, CA
Number Of Attendees 900 41,000
% of women 5%. At most 30-40%
Laptop Use
During Talks
33% 10%
Typical Dress Jeans &
Company / Logo Polo Shirt
Business Casual/Suits & No Ties
General content Either very technical or sales/marketing What’s this technical thing of which you speak?
Vendors In Expo Hall / Number Of Halls 12-14 / 1 ~600 / 5
Number of concurrent sessions 4 26
Sessions Filmed & Available Online All Keynotes Only

In the spirit of the NoSQL/OpenWorld comparison of last year.

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Hadoop World 2010

Today was Hadoop World 2010 in NYC. Put together by the good folk at Cloudera, this conference was a long day focusing on big data, analytics and the Hadoop ecosystem.

All in all, this was a good conference. Hadoop and I were decent friends before today, with me being pretty good on how it could be used, where to use it and (generally) how to implement it. I’m now on a much stronger footing on all items, not to mention learning about some of the new tools. Well, new to me, at least.

Recap after the jump.
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“Oh, Thank God Oracle Has A New Rivalry”

That’s the title of a great article in TechCrunch about Oracle, HP & Andreessen (yes, him). The main thrust of the article is Oracle does better when it has a serious rival on to which it can focus it’s competitive attentions.

Only — pity for reporters– Ellison seems to have tired of the spotlight. Few magazine covers, no billion-dollar hostile takeovers, no wacky press conferences, no weird Shakepearian dramas with former proteges. Just a well-performing stock and growing business. Yawn.

Part of that is because Oracle either bought or trounced arch-rivals with its buy-not-build application strategy, and like most companies, Ellison becomes more interesting when he has a foil. It looks like that new foil is HP. Hallelujah, enterprise software is getting interesting again.

Because without that foil, we end up getting such brilliance from San Mateo as Beehive and the network computer.

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Another take on Oracle’s #Exalogic

Some of the more “established” players in the cloud marketspace take a potshot at Oracle’s Exalogic over on ReadWriteWeb today (I say “established,” because the market is far too young to have any truly established players as of yet). Essentially, their gripe is the “cloud in a box” marketing metaphor Oracle is using to push the hardware. Specifically, John Considine says

The Exalogic server is a contained set of resources that is purchased, operated, and maintained as part of the enterprise infrastructure. You can scale your applications up and down within this solution, but in the end, you are limited to the number of cores, amount or RAM, and size of the storage you purchased. While you can add more racks to the solution, you are stuck paying for the whole thing independent from what you really use – not exactly elastic or pay for only what you use.

To which I say, “Um, yes. And?” Oracle isn’t marketing Exalogic to startups who want to host their environment on the cloud; Oracle seems to be marketing Exalogic to large companies who want to provide their own internal cloud to host their own applications. Once you look at Exalogic from that perspective, then the criticism stops being very persuasive. Any cloud platform is going to be limited to the numbers of cores/RAM/storage available; within any cloud platform, you can scale up and down only within your available resources; if you need to add more capacity, you have to pay for the entire gamut of capacity you want to add, not what you actually use. This becomes a somewhat standard capacity provisioning problem at this point, one of which can be simplified by the unified forklift install of Exalogic.

Don’t get me wrong; I see lots of things wrong with Exalogic. Not the least of which is my view that Oracle is fighting off the coming disruption (of an inventor’s dilemma type) of a commodity everything cloud (hardware/software/infrastructure/VMs/etc where “good enough” gets by cheaper) by trying to sell the performance side of their engineering genius. But John’s comment isn’t one of them.

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Oracle, OpenWorld And The Airbrushing Of History

Oracle releases their recap of the last five years of Open World highlights. Strangely, they left Beehive off. Sorry guys, I was there; you were pushing it pretty hard. That it didn’t work out doesn’t excuse airbrushing away that little speck of unfortunately history…

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Oracle Open World Recap, Day Five

Sorry for the delay in this post; I was a big jetlagged this morning from a late flight into IAD. Anyhoo…
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