Curiosity and Luck

Being at the right place at the right time. Opening the door even thought you are not sure what is on the other side.

  • Saying yes to Brad when he asked you to come onboard a new research group at the San Diego Super Computer Center (SDDC) investigating “what does the Internet looking like” (1997).
  • Saying yes to the Very High Speed Backbone Network Service (vBNS) offer to come join the team (1999).
  • Calling an employer out of the blue and asking for a job interview even though they did not advertise any jobs (2005).
  • Saying YES to every Cisco, Juniper, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson project. Getting exposed to mobile networks, PCRF, IPTV, Microwave Backhaul, carrier Ethernet and every communication technology that came up between 2005 and 2015.
  • Saying yes to Margaret Choisi’s invitation to join the third ETSI NFV meeting to provide input on “how do we test this stuff”.


Sometimes you are lucky and sometimes you are really lucky. At some point during your very early years, dad walked into the apartment with what looked like a Singer sawing machine. It was not a sawing machine, but a computer. In fact, it was an Osborne-1. It was for sure a lot more mobile than the Control Data punch cards computers he spent his days with. And he brought it home. Best.Toy.Ever.

It must have been at some point between 1981 and 1983. Your memory is not exact on the year, but it does not matter. This was before you saved enough money for an Atari 800XL, that happy moment was 1985. But we digress, the Osborne-1 stood on the dinner table in the living room and was the coolest thing you ever saw. The keyboard opened from the bottom of the machine and it wad a tiny green screen. Way to get a pre-teen kid excited.

For some reason you think there was a game in there which was all the reason to learn how to operate the mobile computer. With rudimentary soap opera English at best and no typing skills yet loads of pre-teen time on your hands you still remember the excitement of getting the game to work (was it pong?) and the feeling of joy at figuring things out yourself.

Not much has changed. Building new things (teams, programs, products, solutions) and figuring things out, even the hard way, is, to this day, as exciting as getting that Osborne-1 to play a game.


If you have a modest home on a beautiful lake, why not put a full size transformer on your front lawn? Sometimes, you have to prioritize and sometimes you just go for it.

How Green Is Green?

The Deutsche Bahn (DB, the German train company) is running a campaign to increase the public’s perception that they are a “green company.” They advertise 150 new and specific actions around climate and nature protection as well as resources and noise protection. Trains are certainly a great environmental friendly mean of transportation.

But is it that green?

A few weeks back yours truly tried really hard to travel from Berlin to two different places with a bike on the train. If ever there was a green initiative it must be taking your bike on the train to another city. You can avoid taking any taxis in your destination and be even more green than just taking the train. Everyone wins.

As it turns out, the German train system has some serious limitations in helping customers reach this next level of “green.”

First, the DB Navigator app allows one to specify “carriage of bicycle”. This is great, but the option is hidden several menus deep. Unless one knows that the option is there, the app does not seen to provide an option for such esoteric condition. Once clicked, the app shows a large selection of connection. One can click through several options, including one nicely named “Continue to bookings”. The feeling of “yey, I am about to buy a train ticket for myself and the bike” washes all over when you click on the continue to booking button. There are a few more menus to click through and there, at the very end, once you get to the “payment” and have already clicked on the pay now icon, you receive a message saying that all the bike places are taken. You are even asked if you would like to continue with the booking just for yourself and not for the bike.

Mind blown.

Did the Product Manager ever speak to the UX designer? The app asking if you’d like to still book the train ticket, without the bike, is as close as you ever got to being insulted by an app. What was the expectation here? “Sure, I’ll leave the bike at home since I went through all these menus and you just told me at the end that I can not take my bike?”

What should happen? When a customer asks to buy a ticket for herself and a bike, the app should show all train connections that answer this simple criteria. The search algorithm should take into account from a to b with bike and only show the valid options. Why bother showing any connections that can not accommodate the customer ask?

In order to investigate the gravity of the issue, you actually swing by the central station to ask the service center if they can find a ticket for yours truly and the bike. As it turns out, the answer was….yes!  How? Manually. The system being used by the kind people at the Travel Center was no more smarter or easier to use than the DB Navigator app. The poor service person had to click each train to see if there were bike places available. “No worries, I’ll wait” yours truly proclaimed and the poor fellow just clicked slowly through.

Eventually, the bike and the rider made it, but not before spending way too much time for a very simple ask. Since bike places on a train are numbered, much like seating, it is unfathomable that building such a function is so difficult, Once this “feature” is actually fixed, the Deutsche Bahn can actually advertise their 151th green initiative: take your bike on the train without spending hours of compute cycles in trying to find a train.

Creating A Collaborative Culture

As teams grow in size, so do the artifacts that the team create. This year, slightly before the virus started spreading, and everyone was forced to work remotely, you experimented with the team in an attempt to increase collaboration.


  1. Accelerate time to results. The team was in the habit of shipping everything up to yours truly and then yours truly was expected to provide feedback. Mathematically, this is a loosing preposition. A team is built of more than one person and yours truly is exactly one person. So, by having all the material bubble up, you create a denial of service attack and the team was always waiting on feedback. Creating a collaborative culture, where a team member is encouraged to seek feedback from other peers and just review a document and provide input is a great way to increase the speed in which the organization operates.
  2. Build trust. Collaboration does not work when team members do not trust each other. The reverse is also true: collaboration helps build trust. Trust, in your peers, the system, the institutions, is a crucial element in safety and safety is the foundation of partnership. If one does not feel safe in the group, collaboration will suffer.
  3. Empowerment. In the corporate world, people hide information in order to gain the upper hand. To be, or at least feel, more powerful. If you know something that Suzanne does not know, you have more knowledge and therefore more power. That’s a great premise for a TV show, but this fails completely in the face of the path a corporation need to take to succeed: get in the same boat, row in the same direction, and reach the next landing shore. Imagine that the rower on the left has knowledge that the Eastern shore is the direction and the rower on the right does not have the same knowledge. How will we ever get to shore? Collaboration is empowerment. Even listening to new ideas, seeing a road map document and providing input, unsolicited, can only improve the product.

6 months into the experiment, the team is more collaborative, more open and way more productive. How did we get there?

  1. You responded to every email with attachment in the same way “sorry, I can not read this attachment. Please put it on our shared drive and send me a link.”
  2. Lead from the front. You created several directories, with names such as “Research” and “Road Map” and made them visible to everyone. You mark documents clearly as WIP (work in progress), but all the work is done in the open. So far, no corporate secrets leaked out and no one provided mean feedback. In fact, when asked “what’s the plan” you simply point to the document and state “here you go, look for yourself”
  3. Did Jack review it? Some habits are hard to kill so many folks still defaulted to sending material up the chain (this time as a link in an email). The way to enforce collaboration here was simple “did your colleague review it?” If the answer was no, you gently suggested that this should be done first and the rest was pure magic.
  4. You made all the files disappear to see how people respond. Well…lets say that the situation happened without you making it (everything was backed up of course), but the level of alarm the team showed was truly amazing to see. It was worth the small heart attack to realize that everyone had gotten so used to sharing files that no one had local copies anymore!

So now the team is much more collaborative. A recent launch worked so well, that 3 different folks contributed to the same partner quote sheet and were often fixing each other typos as the text was created – from three different continents. Another great example was a last minute preparation to an analyst briefing that included live editing of a deck which using a chat tool to agree on the content. The efficiency, trust and empowerment the team feels is a great testament to a collaborative culture.