Inform, Educate and Entertain

For all the reams of advice written on how to “do” social media successfully, I’ve read nothing that beats Lord Reith‘s description of what the BBC was created to do

“Inform, Educate and Entertain”

Okay, so you might not be running one of the world’s greatest broadcasting networks but if you want to engage an audience, any audience, follow this maxim and you won’t go far wrong.

Why your engineering department needs a tech blog

If you know me it’s no secret that over the last few months I’ve been looking for a new challenge (stay tuned for more on that later!). While I was doing this I was struck by just how many organisations still don’t have blogs written by their technical department.

At a time where social media is EVERYWHERE this seems almost perverse. With the dependence on the web and mobile almost every company is now an internet company to some degree. An airline is in the business of moving people around in flying boxes but they have an enormous technical infrastructure. Banks are in a similar position and so are pretty much every company that sells something. Okay, not everyone is going to have a large development organisation but almost nobody has zero and because of this all companies will suffer similar issues around:

  • How do you attract quality technical staff?
  • How do you communicate complex technical issues that have a fundamental impact on the business with a wider audience of laypeople?
  • How to inspire and fulfil technical staff?

These are notorious hard problems to solve. High quality tech staff are far more productive than average tech staff and you only want to hire the best. Technologists are notoriously bad at communicating their domain to non-technical people, both internally and externally, and also tend to be driven by different motivations.

So why does having a technical blog help?

  • It’s free advertising for recruiting technical staff
  • Transparency drives quality both in the product and in the engineering culture
  • You are upskilling your technical staff for very little cost and can produce content for talks at conferences/whitepapers
  • You are engaging with your community and raising your profile which is turn means free brand marketing

Examples of the companies that do this best are Twitter http://engineering.twitter.com/, Linkedin http://engineering.linkedin.com/blog and Etsy http://codeascraft.etsy.com/category/engineering/.

Admittedly it’s only my experienceand not a rigorous survey but there does seem to be a fairly strong correlation between companies with a good engineering culture, i.e. places I would want to work at, and having a good tech blog. If your technical staff don’t have a voice what are we to think? That you don’t value or trust them or that the standard of your technology division is fairly low and you don’t want to expose just how bad they are? Either way, my interest in working there is going to be non-existent.

It might sound harsh but if you are in a technical leadership position you owe it to your company to have a blog written by your technology staff. I would go as far as to say that every technical person should have “write a blog post” in their yearly objectives.

If your technical department does not have a blog you might as well be announcing to the world that you are second tier and are happy to stay that way.

So are you?

Regarding Quality

“I’ve noticed that them that has it in them to shine will shine through six layers of muck, whereas those who ain’t shiny won’t shine however much you buff them” – Nanny Ogg in Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time

The traditional engineering organisation structure is dead according to Yammer – why they are right, and why they are wrong

There is a brilliant article here written by Yammer’s VP of Engineering Kris Gale. The article is covers a talk that he did at Hack+Startup on why the traditional engineering organisation structure is dead.

The truth is that in many ways he is absolutely right. The rise of Agile, Lean, DevOps and Continuous Delivery all show that the landscape has moved wildly within the last few years and the structure of engineering organisations needs to adapt to this.

Kris points to a new engineering organisation which follows the following rules:

  • Small teams (2 to 10 people) doing small projects (2 to 10 projects)
  • All projects have a definite end date
  • Team members only assigned to one project at a time
  • Prevent specialisation
  • No code ownership
  • Bug fixing is done by everyone

In his talk that went along with the article, he mentioned that he was deliberately contrarian and wanted to make people think and he’s succeeded and I agree with almost everything he says. Traditional engineering organisations need to follow this approach when it is right. The issue is that it is not always right.
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Conferences and Social Media

I stumbled across a conference yesterday via twitter. I say stumbled across because it was the least tweeted technology/information conference I have ever come across. From over 160 delegates, vendors and conference organisers there were less than 20 tweets by the middle of the last day and only 1 delegate was actively tweeting with the official hashtag (and a big hat tip to that gentleman since his tweets were how it popped up on my radar). Given how simple it is to do and how effective it can be at driving interest it was almost like they wanted to avoid attention.

Then thing is they obviously weren’t trying to hide themselves away. They had a hashtag and an official account that tweeted upcoming speakers in the previous weeks, the opening night of the conference and a piece of media coverage on one of the keynote talks. Unfortunately that was almost the sum of their activity. From what I could glean it seemed like a fascinating conference but I had no idea; I didn’t go and could only see a single piece presentation.

So what should conferences do here?

Simple: you use your social media presence to entertain, educate and inform your audience. How you use each particular channel is up to you but facebook, twitter, blog posts and slideshare are all givens. Advertise your conference on facebook, live tweet breaking news on twitter and drive interested people towards the presentations on slideshare and indepth analyses on blogs.

This is hardly ground breaking stuff.

Each time I’ve spoken at conferences either I’ve put my presentation on slideshare or the conference organisers have done it for me. Even better is when conferences record the keynote presentations and get them on youtube for all to see. If you want to recoup costs there is nothing stopping you from being able to sell a DVD of all talks separately but holding on tightly to all the content is just bad business as you waste a perfect marketing opportunity. By all means charge for premium content but if you just have a look around at any of the top conferences in this space like Velocity you will see how it should be done.

If you are going to all the trouble of creating a conference or summit it seems plain contrary not to use all the tools that are out there. Your conference benefits, your speakers and attendees benefit and your audience for next year say “I’m going there next year”.

Starting Afresh

Well it’s been a whirlwind couple of months. After 3 years working at Betfair in London I have decided to move on and seek a new challenge.

This new challenge was never just going to involve only some small change since it was always going to involve moving my family from UK to Australia. I’ve lived in London all my life and the opportunity to live in Sydney and see friends and relatives I haven’t seen for years was too good. Upping sticks was never going to be easy but even with the amazing friends I have left behind I think I would have regretted staying and not taking on this adventure.

My entry into Australia has been eased by doing some consultancy for the Australian arm of Betfair which has lessened some of the traditional concerns of the newly arrived – like paying the bills! While it’s awesome it’s also only (and deliberately) a time limited arrangement since I feel it’s time to look for something new and it would be too easy to stay with what I know.

So here I am on the North Shore of the Harbour City, rocking out in the gorgeous weather and wondering what’s around that next corner. Whatever it is, it’s gonna be great!

Can you measure your social media impact and more importantly, should you care?

Social AnalyticsThe recent spat between Peoplebrowsr and Twitter raised the profile of one area of the social tech scene that is sometimes ignored – social scoring. Peoplebrowsr own Kred a social analytics company which offers social analytics and scoring to individuals and companies. Klout is another famous example of this and there are also Adobe Social Analytics, TrackSocial, SproutSocial, Kontagent and many others in this space. You might even remember BackType, who were famously acquired by Twitter in July 2011.

The unholy combination of social graphs, big data, nosql and massively parallel algorithms sounds like a winning hand in recruitment bullshit bingo but these paradigms/technologies form the core of this industry where the interactions and relationships between interconnected entities (people and companies to you and me) are parsed and analysed.

If you are a brand, then these companies offer real insight into your presence in the social media. If you are a person, then you probably don’t give a monkeys. Yes yes I know that having a Klout score of over 50 gets you into the Singapore Air lounge at SFO but lets be honest, if you are the sort of person that can take advantage of that benefit you are highly likely to have access to lounges anyway so hardly a deal clincher.
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Failing productively

I was in the Facebook offices in London recently. Very cool offices in a very nice location but what one of the things that struck me most was the signage on the walls.

I have to say that I absolutely love this.

It’s one thing to hear this at conferences (which sometimes seem to exist for the express purpose of making us aware of our own incompetence!) or from coworkers who have your back anyway. It’s another thing to have this as fundamental aspect of the culture corporate and just a million miles away from the lip service that so many companies pay to this idea. You know the sort of company, they maybe have a nice motivational picture of an eagle along with a pithy comment about attitude and altitude and think they are being daring. If you are lucky your direct boss embraces the idea that being able to fail is a good thing and if you are really lucky your boss’s boss does too but the whole company? Really?
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