My career in technology was built upon creating and supporting infrastructure solutions in large Corporations.
A good chunk of the late 1990s involved deployments of PC networks replacing legacy mini and mainframe environments. Migration and coexistence was an engineering feat that was, in hindsight, the most rewarding part of the job. Protocol conversions, bridging networks, terminal emulations, dual stacking sessions are all in the past, but that was the challenge that I enjoyed. Seamless connectivity was the end product of each project.
A 6 year stint in the reseller industry as a senior engineer and consultant engineering innovative networking technologies on Novell, Microsoft and many other mainstream technologies of the time on a large scale for many enterprise customers was certainly a milestone and high point in my career.
My technical skills were up to date consistently with certifications and I was in a place where I jumped out of bed to get to work and found it difficult to tear myself away at the end of the day.
I’ve worked in IT departments and for resellers providing technical services and solutions for customers, both internal and external, nationally and internationally. I’ve seen many evolving technologies. I’ve kept up with the fast pace of change and embraced it. I’ve seen technology become extinct and I’ve seen the birth of many others and I’ve loved every minute of it. I will continue to.
I remember hearing Dr Andrew Grove say in the late 1990s that we are not even half way through the information age and those of us in the audience commenting that if that was the case we are in this industry for life.
The late 1990s into 2000 was about entrepreneurial spirit and opportunities were not scarce. I joined the wave and went out on my own contracting with a view to starting a consultancy services company. I mastered on Electronic Mail, I knew that would be a ‘killer app’ and a service that was to kick start this event we now call globalisation. I was proficient in the major messaging systems of the time, Lotus Notes, WP Office/Novell Groupwise and MS Mail/Exchange. A skill that was in demand and growing.
Looking back, I kind of wish I had continued with this strategy, but in 2001 laws for contractors changed, my accounting knowledge simply did not improve, I was not ready to start building the business just yet and an opportunity to head up the global messaging environment in an investment bank was offered to me.
I took the role after much deliberation; it was a good offer and also one that involved doing what I do best and what I was passionate about. What more could I ask for?
One day, a few years into the job, my manager at the time said to me, you need to make a choice if you want to progress in this role. Technical or Managerial? That to me was incomprehensible. I am a techie; I never had aspirations of becoming a manager. Is there such a thing as a technical manager? Back then, these questions were difficult to answer. I’m not too sure I was asking the right questions.
Throughout my career, the management level was the most dispensable level in any organisation and at the time I had seen many organsiational restructures through cost saving efforts and through acquistitions. Why on earth would I want to position myself there? According to him, that was the best way to move up in this business. We’ll see.
Overtime in the role my responsibilities grew and the scope of the role expanded to a point where I found myself involved in less technical aspects and more logistic managerial duties. I put that down to a mixture of events. Firstly, the environment I was in was fragmented and to evolve my team, my product and my services each year was an uphill struggle filled with competition, bureaucracy and defects. It still is, but I’ve learnt how to embrace and combat it at the same time, but at the expense of my core strengths.
I felt that I lacked business knowledge to succeed in this environment, I felt that in order to overcome my weaknesses I needed to further my knowledge and turn those weaknesses into strengths. With that I chose to study for my MBA. This was a big decision for me, because it was a commitment where there was no turning back.
Full time employment, a growing family and a masters degree is certainly a tall order, but not an impossible one, besides, everyone else on the course was in the same boat and working towards the same goal. As long as that was the case, I knew it would be achievable.
Over a two year period I worked hard, studied hard and gain the support from my family to achieve my goal. My wife embraced my ambition and assisted me in increasing her role at home.
There were rough and smooth periods where my priorities had to change; Family, Work, Study – Work, Family, Study. In the summer of 2005, on a family vacation I set myself that final sprint pace to complete and submit my dissertation. At the same time, a high profile project at work was running into difficulties both with rising costs and failing hardware. This was the most difficult period for me.
All three things in my life I was passionate about needed attention! My family on vacation, my dissertation, the conclusion of over two years works and my project, one that was going to provide me with a new wave of innovation and one that would, in the long term, benefit my organisation, my teams future and my career.
During one of the many project conference calls I attended whilst on vacation, I received a blow from senior management. I sensed I was being pushed into a corner and decisions were being made for me against my will and against technical justifications by unqualified personnel. I was not in the office to defend or get involved and my my team and project manager were being manipulated. From there I predicted that my job/role would be at risk. There was little I could do whilst on vacation, but most of all, I could not let it get to me just yet.
I immediately increased my focus on the remaining priorities in my life at the time, my family and my dissertation. As a result, my family and I enjoyed the remainder of the vacation and I completed and submitted my dissertation. Feeling quite satisfied I returned from the summer break, feeling refreshed and focussed.
I immediately embarked on a plan to somehow rescue my career and my project. I met with senior management and entered into talks about the issues at hand. Things were looking up. I had a plan and I think they felt that I was back with commitment.
Until one day, one of my team handed me what turned out to be a dossier compiled about me by a bitter manager. This dossier had one purpose and that was to remove me from my job. There was very little evidence of rogue behaviour or any breaking of the company rules in any way. I have never received any warnings; verbal or written, my records were clean. This clearly was a piece of fiction that was used to implicate me with no defence as I was out of the country. I later learned that the author had managed to recruit/sell the idea to four other managers in the organisation with the purpose of expanding their reach and their teams. Quite underhanded, totally unexpected and extremely foreign to me.
Over the next month, I had to get through this slight set back. I refrained from taking legal action as advised by some and refrained from retaliation as advised by others.
I simply retreated to compose a proposal to senior management that satisied both parties, not that I was accepting what was in the dossier, but to fight it could do more harm than good and will consume time that I didn’t have. I figured that I could tackle that issue at a later date. I was turning a threat into an opportunity.
After a few weeks of talks and planning, my proposal was accepted by senior management to form a new team that would focus on new technologies and technology strategy. Late September 2005, I left my role as Global Head of Messaging and moved to my new team. Part of the terms included that I was allowed to complete my project, but this was reneged upon and ultimately moved elsewhere. another setback, but I dealt with it.
So, here I was, managing a new team looking at new technologies for the businesses with support of the senior management. Brilliant! No more operational responsibilities, no more working through the night or weekends to maximise uptime and ensure that the mail got through.
Slowly overtime this change in working habits began to grow on me and I accepted that this is the way forward for me.
In December 2005 I graduated and gained my Masters degree <yeah!!>. My turbulent year had concluded on a high note. The following year, 2006, was surely going to build on the success.