Changing of the Guard (and letting it down at the same time)

Onward into 2012....
The new Gig -- Now at Infoblox

I want to wish a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012 to you all.

2011 was one of those years where the more I try to explain it, the less it seems to make sense. The early part of the year was challenging and full of potential; the latter half of the year a roller coaster of stress and futility.

What I can talk about now that the dust has all settled is that 2011 started with me actively interviewing, after some rather unfruitful discussions with HP about role and salary. I was, in fact, in discussions with one of the big silicon valley companies that build things you probably have in your data center about coming on board to architect their social media policies when HP did an unusually smart thing and hire Richard Kerris. Richard and I sat down, and he outlined his plans for DevRel and where my role mattered, and he promised to fix as many of my issues as he could, and asked for time to try. He impressed me enough, and the product and team were important enough to me, that I pulled out of my interviews and dug back in for yet another round with the forces of webOS chaos.

For the record, he did solve most of them, except for the employee publishing rules and the salary. And he tried on both of those, but Ruby was strongly against allowing employees to also publish apps, and ultimately, a flotilla of HP Vice Presidents got overruled by a lawyer on that one. And salary, well, once again, HP bureaucracy is in some ways reportable to nobody, including vice presidents. Good luck, Meg. You’ll need it, because when lawyers and clerks set policies the overrule your executive management, good things rarely happen.

(how was life inside the webOS bunker? Let me put it this way. during my tenure at Palm/HP — just under three years — I had six direct managers, averaging about 5 months per, ranging from a first level manager to directors to a couple of VPs. I reported to, or up to, eight different VPs in that time. One of my direct managers (the last one) and two of those VPs are still with HP. Does that give you a sense of how well things were going in the organization? yeah, I think it does. Apple in the worst of days — the dark, damp days of Spindler that made you want to wake up screaming, but you couldn’t because you weren’t asleep — were never as bad as these last few months in Leoville. Seriously).

But early on in 2011, we had hopes. We really were thinking that the TouchPad wouldn’t suck. It shipped. Reality: it didn’t suck. It was a decent 1.0 product. It also didn’t sell. Disappointing. Frustrating. Recoverable. Something to build from, which we were.

And then we woke up one morning, and Leo had decided to take PSG, the PC hardware division, out behind the barn and shoot it. And evidently because the webOS group also had hardware, we got taken out behind the barn and shot, too. Just in case. However badly it was implemented there is in fact a rational reason behind his decision on PSG, although as Meg found out when she ran the numbers Leo didn’t do, it’s the wrong decision. I can’t for the life of me understand why he shot webOS hardware as well, or remotely think that he understood what he was doing of the implications of it. And from that point on, the year turned into a movie based on a Kafka novel.

A kafka novel with what seems to be a happy ending. I gave it a month, expecting HP to get its act together and sell us, hopefully to Amazon. When that didn’t happen and it seemed increasingly remote that it would, I decided it was time to get out and started ringing up the network. And now I’m at Infoblox.

I’ve been there just long enough to meet my cohorts, start learning names and find the bathroom. I haven’t talked about it much because there’s not much to say right now. They have some interesting technologies, they need some social media and community things done, and the building is full of fun and interesting people. So we’re going to go off, figure it out, get it built and make it happen. I’m going to mostly keep it off stage here for now, because there’s really not much to talk about.

My change of venue does change the dynamics of this place somewhat though. My self-imposed restriction on talking about Apple is dead, given I no longer work for a direct competitor and there’s no longer that patina of conflict of interest (but let’s be honest, we were never a competitor of Apple. Maybe worried them a bit at times, but we never remotely put enough units in the market successfully or sustained our momentum to be considered as competing). Ditto wading into the whole mobile space. How far I’ll wade into both topics, I haven’t decided. But I do expect to.

But one thing I’ve come to realize is how — careful — this blog’s gotten. If you look at the blogs I posted as influencing me the other day you’ll see one common trait is that they aren’t afraid to have an opinion and an attitude. Just by sheer necessity I was always fairly careful about what I said when I was at Apple (mostly), and that caution was encouraged at Palm and HP as well. For a company that paid me to be out there  and conversing with the developers, they were usually worried about losing control of the discussion, so “don’t say that” was a common refrain heard around the offices. I think that bled out onto my personal blog, too, and it’s gotten pretty bland. I need to change that, re-inject my personality and opinions into it more.

Over the last few months I’ve been working with a couple of people to help them understand what I’ve come to call this life of “typing without a net”, the part of marketing where there is no script, you don’t rehearse and ultimately, you can’t control the message, merely influence and contribute to it. this new world of social marketing scares the absolute crap out of traditional marketing folks, and some of what I’ve tried to do is help them understand how to leverage the interactivity and conversational aspects of marketing. With some success, I think.

A reality of this kind of work is that if you slip and screw up, you fall a long, long way. Just ask certain people who found that out the hard way in the last week. I’ve come to realize there’s a flip side to that, though. If you allow yourself to get too careful, you may never slip, but you lose a lot of your ability to motivate and influence, either. So one change to the site I plan on bringing because of my change of venue is to get a bit more energy and opinion to my writing again. No risk, no reward. And now, there’s no real reason to be so damn careful.

So we’re going to try to liven this place up a bit; not be so paranoid about subjects that might upset folks or get me one of those “why did you say THAT?” emails from PR… and we’ll see what happens.

welcome to 2012. I can’t decide which I’m happier about — that 2011 is finally over, or that 2012 is a blank slate just waiting to be scribbled on… either way, let’s go!

Your (not so) humble servant,

Chuq

(p.s. — a couple final notes on HP and webOS, and then I’ll close the book on that for a while and look firmly forward instead: while it’s been fairly trendy among the webOS fans to blame HP for all of webOS’s problems, in my opinion, most of the damage was self-inflicted. If you want to assign percentages, give 70% of the failure to the Palm side, and 30% to the HP side. And realize that if HP hadn’t stepped up and bought us, we’d have run out of money and failed. Any other buyer most likely would have grabbed the patents and run, so at least HP gave us a second chance to make it work. which we flubbed. HP has a set of challenges that I think are going to make Meg’s life challenging for a while — but Palm had a legitimate chance to make it work with HP’s support, and couldn’t. Mostly, blame us for that. And you’ll have to buy me a beer some time to get my opinion’s of why, at least for now…

And I know it was frustrating to many that it took so long for Meg to decide to keep webOS going and open source the technology, but to be honest, she did the right thing, and she took the time to understand the situation. Leo made some amazingly stupid decisions in haste, without appropriate research to understand the implications, and in reality, I don’t think anything was going to “fix” webOS by the time he was retired out and Meg stepped in — it was seriously damaged by those moves, and while it was painful to live in limbo like we did, she couldn’t fix the problem by making the same mistakes and making decisions quickly in ignorance of the details. So she gets full credit from me for taking the time to make the right decision, not a fast decision, even if waiting for it wasn’t fun. And I think she has the strategy most likely to give webOS a shot at returning from the dead again — but it’s going to take time.  It may not work, but the alternative was to give up and go home, and HP is investing a hunk o’ money in giving it a shot. Give them some credit for that, and support in helping them try to make it happen…)

 

This entry was posted in About Chuq.
  • Kirstenp

    “Over the last few months I’ve been working with a couple of people to help them understand what I’ve come to call this life of “typing without a net”, the part of marketing where there is no script, you don’t rehearse and ultimately, you can’t control the message, merely influence and contribute to it. this new world of social marketing scares the absolute crap out of traditional marketing folks, and some of what I’ve tried to do is help them understand how to leverage the interactivity and conversational aspects of marketing. With some success, I think.”

    Extremely well said. You clearly get social media, both the drawbacks and it’s power.

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  • Anonymous

    “… 
    a flotilla of HP Vice Presidents got overruled by a lawyer on that one. And salary, well, once again, HP bureaucracy is in some ways reportable to nobody, including vice presidents. Good luck, Meg. You’ll need it, because when lawyers and clerks set policies the overrule your executive management, good things rarely happen. ”

    Having dealt with similar madness, and seen the unmistakeable scat signs of it in many environments, I think an argument can be made that such silliness is a key indicator of the disease that has sapped U.S. industrial might over the decades. MBA’d and lawyered to death. 

    Thanks to everyone in the webOS world who did as much as they could, given all constraints.

  • http://twitter.com/Anenoso Oscar Kingnoso

    You make a great solo artist. Sometimes you have to break up the band. I look forward to the new edgy you. I would love to buy you that beer.

    Great post, BTW!

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  • Carl de Cordova

    Glad to hear you have found a good place to land.  

    I have enjoyed reading your thoughts on WebOS…  its always tough when companies fumble the future.

  • Jason K

    Looking back on 2011 myself, I realize I owe you a thanks for keeping this blog going and blogging about a variety of subjects. Have a great 2012 and keep it up.

    Here’s a post on my end http://www.webomatica.com/wordpress/2012/01/01/more-year-end-blogging-thoughts/

  • Pingback: More Year-End Blogging Thoughts - Webomatica

  • http://twitter.com/chuckgoolsbee chuck goolsbee

    Looking forward to hearing your voice again.