Entries from July 2008 ↓

Diversity at EMC: Forcing Engineering’s Hand

(This is part of a multi-post series on Diversity at EMC.  See all posts in the Diversity category here.)

In my last post, I talked about the background I bring into the diversity conversation as a member of an engineering organization within EMC.  You should realize that I’m not claiming that we are “better” than anybody else at this, though.  In fact, if you look at the history of the situation, you’ll see that we have plenty reason to be humble.  That doesn’t mean there are no lessons to be learned here, of course.

The Labor Shortage

You’ve probably heard one of the many stories about a lack of technical workers in the US.  It is generally understood that a company cannot compete in today’s market without bringing in skilled workers from overseas.  You can read more about this at Wikipedia, and see the number of H1B visas granted to overseas workers by major US tech firms and universities.

If you’ve been working in the tech industry for the past decade or so, you’ve seen a steady growth in the number of people from around the world who are employed at US companies. This isn’t because hiring managers suddenly got more open-minded about diversity.  No, it’s a matter of necessity.  In order to hire qualified engineering talent, companies have to broaden their horizons.

In some ways, this is true about any way that a hiring might be discriminatory.  When it’s hard to find good talent, good talent gets hired, regardless of race, gender, cultural background, sexual orientation, religion, and so on.

The high-tech workplace of 2008 is diverse, or it’s not competitive.  A company simply cannot afford to discriminate.

The Global Workplace

At the same time, companies are being forced to operate globally.  Even if a company isn’t looking to cut costs by moving development offshore, there are benefits to having a global presence.  If you want to sell your product to the world, you better be prepared to show the world you are global.  EMC is a global company, but the organization I work in is relatively focused — we “only” have sites in 3 countries working on core ControlCenter components.

Our Hands are Forced

These two factors have, over the past decade, really forced the hands of our engineering organization, and probably many others around the world.  Individuals have to learn to operate in a diverse environment, or they can’t survive in the organization.  Whether you like it or not, your team will be made up of people who you probably otherwise would never have met.

You Can’t Force Hearts

The thing is, our hands have been forced, but our hearts have had to follow at their own pace.  You can have a diverse office without having an office full of people who value diversity.  I happen to believe, though, that years of having our hands forced have led to an environment where the hearts have followed.  Going “up the ladder” from new hires through low-level management finds a true melting pot, not just of ethnicity but of gender, lifestyle, religion, and age.

I listen to the people I work with, and I hear more and more often what sounds like heartfelt enthusiasm for our diverse culture.  People want it more diverse!  When we see something we don’t know, we actively move towards it and try to understand it (“What’s that you’re eating?” “What holiday is this that you’re celebrating?” “Can you explain Cricket to me again?”).  It wasn’t always like this!  I remember when it felt forced.  But it doesn’t feel forced now.

I feel the front lines of Engineering (at least in my immediate surroundings) are among those that “get it” at EMC.  But even Engineering is much bigger than the small part of it I see, and the company is much bigger than just this.

In future posts I will dive deeper into the issue, and bring in some perspective from people who are exposed to a lot more of the company than I am.

Diversity at EMC (Introduction)

You want long-term success?  Diversify.  That’s usually financial advice, but the corporate world understands it applies in a much broader scope.

I remember my first mandated corporate diversity class — we learned all the reasons it made good business sense to be diverse and learned about the law as it related to discrimination and the workplace.  We had it pounded into our head that not only was it the law, it was a Good Thing.

Years later, I work in one of the most diverse offices I can imagine.

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We’re all in this together

There’s a lot of competition in the workplace.  Individuals compete for recognition and salary increases, teams compete for budget, products compete to stay alive, companies compete with each other.  It’s very easy to find yourself believing that seeing others fail is somehow good in that it protects you.
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2.6 Upgrade

I’ve upgraded to WordPress 2.6.  Please let me know of any strangeness you see on the site!

Team Navisphere

Steve Todd recently wrote about the experience of building EMC Navisphere from the ground up.  His discussions of the Connect Library and the Factory Classes really brought me back to the mid-late 90s.

While Steve talks about the technical aspects, I thought I’d talk about some of the other reasons why the product was successful, and why the development team that worked on it was so engaged in the product and its success.  I had dinner the other night with a teammate from those years, and though we’ve both moved in quite different directions since then, we both agreed our team was something really special.  So maybe there are some lessons we can take from it, a decade later.  I apologize in advance for any rose-colored glasses involved in looking back at this time.  I invite the other team members to come and correct me!

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Who do you work for?

Here’s a bit of a “professional checkup” question.  Do you know who you work for, and do you act like you work for them?

I don’t mean who you report to.  I certainly hope you know who that is (though in the world of matrix management, sometimes that answer can be tricky to arrive at).  I mean who you work for.  Who are the people without whom you would not have a job?

Another way to ask this question is “Who are your customers?” (and if you have zero customers, well, congratulations and condolences, I guess!).  It’s important to know who these people are, because regardless of how well your manager thinks you are performing, it’s ultimately your customers who decide your fate.
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Can’t you sleep like I do?

We all look to ourselves first, when trying to model the people around us.  It’s not a bad start, doing unto others as we would have done unto ourselves.  But it is just a start.

I have been reminded of this in the past two weeks, as I learned how differently my wife and I handle the stresses of having our sleep schedules disrupted by a new baby.  My wife needs as many hours of sleep in a day as she can get, but has no difficulty interrupting them and spreading them out.  I think she could live on five 2-hour naps a day if she needed to.  I, on the other hand, need fewer hours, but I have trouble waking during those hours, and am groggy and difficult when I do finally wake.  I can’t nap at all, my mind won’t let me fall asleep mid-day unless I am totally spent.

We aren’t the same, even if we have the same basic needs.

It was very early in my management career when I first realized I had to apply this to my team members, but it’s a lesson I have to relearn all the time.
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Posting to resume July 8

I will resume posting on July 8.  For the next quarter or so, I may limit myself to a single post a week as I adapt to the schedule of a new father.  The uninterrupted evening time I usually use to fine-tune my posts is rapidly disappearing :).