Breaking The Routine

Since the global pandemic started, many of us have been working from home, keeping to the same time zone and meeting colleagues on zoom calls. Since the spread of SARS-CoV-2 you fell into a routine that is great for productivity but not ideal for creativity.

So when the crew asked who is up for a session of #CoffeeOutside it was a great opportunity to break the routine and start the day very differently. Instead of the typical morning routine, you got on the bike, packed a coffee kit and field stove, some home made cookies, and rode out to a lake to meet the crew.

The weather was perfect and the lake blue as the sky. Everyone brought food from home such that a smorgasbord breakfast outdoors was formed. 6 coffee kits were set out and a great chat was had by everyone.

On the way home, you feel rejuvenated. It was only an hour outdoors with about 30 minutes ride to the lake and 30 minutes ride back. That little change in the routine, seeing some people in real life, enjoying coffee next to a lake, are all the ingredients of a small change that leaves a large impact. Having a routine is great. One can only break the routine is one has a routine.

Edging to the Edge

Orange, the incumbent operator in France, and Google Cloud announced a partnership that’s worth some closer inspection just yesterday. Ray Le Maistre had a good explanation about the initiative on TelecomTV.

The problem that Orange is trying to solve is that it needs/wants to roll out a 5G network. That network upgrade is astronomically expensive and is a multi-years investment. Orange announced in time for MWC 2018 that it was running 5G trials both in Romania and France for example. It will take time.

What Orange is trying to do is to find ways to monetize the roll out as it is happening. Instead of waiting for a complete coverage, it makes sense to start now, gain experience, see where the business opportunities are and where can Orange innovate. In fact, unlike past mobile technology upgrades, reading from a large network operator that “we need to figure out how to make money and we are asking Google for help” is a pleasant display of humility.

The key to exploring the business model that Orange and Google are trying to build together is the last sentence of the press release introduction: “The collaboration will also pave the way for the development of new advanced cloud, edge computing and cybersecurity services that will open up business opportunities for both Google Cloud and Orange.” This goes back to democratic computing and providing access to application developers at the edge of the 5G network. The statement also clearly points out that this is about both companies’ monetization. Google is not in the charity business.

Google know how to handle the scale and agility required to operate infinite amount of compute power and Orange is banking on two key assets it has:

  • License to operate mobile network in France and other countries as well as frequencies allocated to them.
  • Brand trust. Orange is a French company which, especially in today’s political climate, is likely to have more trust around data sovernity by the French consumer than Google. Data and AI-based services that can ensure the data remains in France and follow EU and French laws, will help build unique capabilities while leveraging google technologies.

We live in exciting times. 5 years ago, the notion that a European operator will forge strong technical collaboration with an American hyperscalar were unimaginable. In 2020 these announcements are becoming the norm. As someone who cares deeply about connecting people and democratizing compute power, this is a welcomed announcement.

GSMA Operator Platform

In a white paper published earlier this year, the GSMA, the organization responsible for mobile standards and development, introduced a new project called Operator Platform. The white paper is available here. The idea is to provide a cohesive and global Telco Edge Cloud platform with a unified infrastructure and consistent APIs for application providers.

The key to the initiative is the target consumer of the Operator Platform. The initiative is aimed at the folks developing applications (or services) that depend on capabilities that can only be met by the advances provided by 5G and the abundance of computing power at the edges. You can call it democratic computing.

The introductory white paper dives very deep very quickly. It clearly focused on the point of view of the operators rather than the application providers which will be the actual consumers of the Operator Platform. That is understandable since the initiative comes from the GSMA – an organization led by network operators rather than developers of mobile applications. Initially, the white paper must convince other operators that this idea has merit.

The really interesting part of the white paper is the holistic vision of APIs. The APIs to be developed under this project will consider every direction.

  • Northbound – towards the the application provider. This is key for monetization. One can think about this API in the same way that the App Store works on an iPhone or Google Play on an Android phone. In essence both stores provide a unified API ensuring that an App will run on the mobile device. The Northbound API should address security, deployment requirements, charging and monitoring.
  • East-West – This API will focus on other Operator Platforms. It is meant to provide the global coverage we all are used to from our mobile devices. For example, if a self-driving car drives across Europe, we can not expect it to stop just because it crossed from Poland to Germany. So the Operator Platforms have to be federated and publish to each other which capabilities they have. One can imagine an API stating “eMBB Yes/No” to indicate bandwidth capabilities of the mobile network.
  • User-Network – This interface focuses on the user equipment (UE). UE is one of these common terms in the mobile world to indicate the mobile device. These days this is not longer just a mobile phone. it seems that this interface will allow UE to request capabilities from the network.
  • Southbound. This interface connects the OP abstraction layer with the actual Telco Cloud Edge.

This is a much needed development. If successful, it will enable network operators to offer a global platform for application developers which could end in everybody winning. The operators will have a new revenue stream to help pay for the astronomical cost of rolling out 5G; application developers will be able to consume these new capabilities and develop new services, tools and games; and the end consumer will benefit from a brave new world with compute power everywhere.

It will take time, but this is a step in the right direction.

Managing Infrastructure Products

Product managers are used to collecting requirements from their users and hopefully from the customers. In fact, in talk after talk, Product Managers always explain how “listen to your customers” is the most important aspect in the life of a product manager. This is a great advice that works really well for a product company. If one is a product manager for an ink pen, understanding what are the customer pain points and creating a better ink pen (make the tip thinner, ensure that I can see when the ink runs out, make the cap chewable…) is the thing to do.

The customer pays the vendor to use or own the infrastructure. They are the ones that are stuck with the bill as well as having to manage the infrastructure and maintain its life cycle. By the above definition, these are the folks that should be providing pain points and requirements for your road map. That’s true but they are not the only ones.

The users of the infrastructure are equally and almost more important than the buyer of the infrastructure. Even though they do not pay for the thing that is being made, often, they are the reason that the customer bought the infrastructure to begin with.

Let’s look at an example of infrastructure: servers for a data center. People who buy servers for data centers are buying them to do something with them. These people have very hard requirements. They want the server to be powerful and have loads of CPU cores and memory and fast storage. They also want the least amount of power consumption since they have to pay for electricity. If they invest in immutable infrastructure, they know that they will never upgrade or touch the servers, so they want everything including “future-proof” Network Interface Cards (NICs), modern BIOS and ILO boards. As a product manager, you can understand these requirements and can work tirelessly to fulfill them.

These amazing servers that you are product managing are going to be used by your paying customers to host applications and this is where the story gets interesting. These applications actually have requirements. For example, an application that is very heavy in CPU cycles, will need to maximize the number of CPU cores per socket. A networking heavy application will want to make sure that it never crosses a NUMA boundary to get the most out of the server networking capabilities. An even heavier networking application might need to leverage NIC offloading capabilities.

As a product manager working in any infrastructure company, your job is therefore to listen to your customers and listen to your customers’ other suppliers and then harmonize the requirements to ensure that when you deliver, your customers are happy and their suppliers are ready to go on top of your infrastructure. It might be a bigger ask, but the reward is actually 2x. You get to delight both your customers and your customers’ other suppliers.

Working Remotely Part 1

The spread of the SARS-CoV-19 virus brought in a new reality to our lives. Offices closed, air travel has been reduced or even grounded to a halt and Zoom stock value, along with daily active users, went through the roof.

Companies such as Twitter, Google, Amazon and other West Coast Tech giants have all announced that they will allow their staff to work remotely until the end of the year or permanently. Even large European companies are following the trend. Siemens just announced that they will let all their employees, all over the world, work remotely 2-3 days a week. Siemens’ CEO Roland Busch stated that “these changes will also be associated with a different leadership style, one that focuses on outcomes rather than on time spent at the office.”

As someone who has been working remotely for the better part of the last 5 years, there are a few tips and tricks to help you keep your sanity.

1. Be selective with your camera use. It is sometimes funny to see the whole team on camera. It’s nice but there is little value in having pages and pages of Zoom panels with your entire BU on video. You can not see everyone’s faces anyway so why bother? Use video for 1:1s religiously or for a small brain storming session, but be careful when trying to use video with a big crowd. Speakers should always use video.

In recent months, you had a glimpse of many colleagues bed rooms. While it is a nice way to increase the team’s trust and cohesion, it is also perhaps one step too far. Tools such as Zoom and Teams have a way to add a virtual background. Use it. Your colleagues do not need to see what your bedroom looks like.

2. Keep a routine. Let’s face it – you used to travel non stop and was jet lagged for large parts of each month. Now, you are at workin from one timezone, you get to sleep in the same bed every night, you can easily build yourself a routine. Morning routines are especially important as they set the tone for the day and typically (hopefully) the morning time is the quieter time. Scott Young has an excellent short article explaining the idea here.

3. Make sure your colleagues know your timezone. In a distributed workforce, knowing one’s timezone is essential. Make sure you let your colleagues know your location. You can just add this information to your email signature, providing some examples: “I work in Central Europe which is 9 hours ahead of California. Your 8AM is my 5PM.”

4. Keep your calendar updated. Let’s face it, many people have a hard time keeping their calendars up to date. A great best practice is actually to block the time you plan for family activities, meals, sleep and sport. Help your colleagues trying to find time to discuss something with you by making your availability obvious and easy to schedule. Most team calendars have a function that searches for a good time to meet. Keeping on top of your calendar will help you connect with your colleagues.

5. Focus on outcomes. Yes, Mr Busch from Siemens (this is funny for a German) just discovered that management should focus on outcomes. But this has been a best practice for a really long time. It just works. If you deliver, consistently and repeatedly, the location from which you work will make no difference to your manager.

6. Call it working remotely. Stating that one is working from home cheapens the work. The location from where one works should make no difference, so call it what it is “working remotely.” You may work from home one day and the next day from a co-working space and later in the week from a coffee shop. No one needs to get a location update every time you make a change, but your colleagues still need to know that you are working remotely. So keep it simple.

Many of us are not going to see the inside of the office in 2020. Some of us will very rarely see the inside of an office in the future. In 2013, Marissa Mayer, then CEO of Yahoo!, announced that “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side, that is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.” That did not help Yahoo! improve productivity (it was eventually sold to Verizon), innovate or collaborate. These days, where there is no alternative to working remotely, we can all use the opportunity to find more productive ways to communicate, collaborate and to work side-by-side…virtually of course.