The Leap

I’m taking a leap. I am leaving Cohesive Networks and headed to BreakFree Solutions as a Solutions Engineer.

I feel a bit like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade where he takes the literal “leap of faith” – jumping from clue to clue on invisible stones. Plus, there’s a test on the other side!

What got me here

At GreenPoint, I learned project management and tracking skills from someone more technically focused. I didn’t realize it then, but the sticky notes on the wall approach was some early kanban board stuff.  Also, I rapidly absorbed some LEED Green stuff, took the 2 tests, and got LEED AP+ accredited. It helped the project and  was a nice thing to prove that I know what I was talking about.

At Cohesive, the CEO took a chance on me. He saw that LEED AP and asked me “can you do the same thing – learn new things and apply it – but about technology?” Uh, yeah? Hired.

I’ve been lucky enough to work at small start ups where I could sponge up everything, and quickly. When I started at Cohesive I’d never even used a Mac before!* Cohesive started me in a “cohesive class” to get everyone on the same (or closer to the same, in my case) level of understanding of the industry, products, and the technology. Definitely a key characteristic at Cohesive is “elasticity”—a dynamic and flexible ability to learn.

Luckily, Pat saw that in me. It took me years to get comfortable clicking around in AWS, talking about networking capabilities, and still don’t consider myself a technical person. What I did realize was that to be a better marketer, I needed to better understand both the technology and the reasoning behind it.

Documents as marketing

I’ve also learned that documentation is some of the best – and most undervalued – marketing tools. People search for solutions to their problems, not for a certain product. One of my most valuable projects was updating documentation into both video and HTML formats. By actually doing the documentation for videos, I had to learn what the heck I was doing, and find a way to explain why.

Developers tend to know the mind of the user. They create tools to make their lives easier, so they see the solution side. Developers are wary of sales people, and usually tune out if it’s more product than solution. Sales folks usually try to move up and over developers to the budget-holding C-suite. Hopefully this dynamic will change. With the documentation project, I realized the earlier developers can get involved in the sales (or on the other side’s on-boarding) the easier it is for everyone.

AWS Chicago – not just pizza

As the organizer for AWS Chicago, I get to hear a lot of smart people talk about how they use AWS. I also hear a fair amount of sales pitches.

In 2014/2015 the AWS group in Chicago was dormant, my CloudCamp group was limping along, and 2 new groups tried to start AWS ‘cloud groups’ in Chicago. I knew everyone involved, so I brought the organizers together to split ‘cloud groups’ from the 2 AWS groups. Eventually the 2 AWS groups merged, and my buddy Upso and I organized.

Upso and Scott were motivated to do more, bigger, and better events. With their motivation and my powers of organizing, the AWS ugroup has been meeting monthly since mid-2016.

I wanted to prove that I could do more than order the pizzas, so I decided I should get AWS Certified. I took the test with minimal studying at re:Invent 2016 and did NOT pass. I tried again, this time by studying, and passed in Jan 2017. Getting certified and running the ugroup has pushed me to be more active in using and understanding AWS. I’m still far from an expert!

Sharing the knowledge

Somewhat concurrently to studying for the AWS test, I decided I should take up the project we’d talked about but had not create – a certification for networking and VNS3 for Cohesive customers. I’d written tons of blogs. There were white papers that predated me. Videos and documentation were floating around out there. All I had to do was pull it all together.

My first mistake / major learning experience was picking OpenedX. I didn’t want to pay for some outside-hosted learning management system (LMS), and I wanted to use some things familiar to Cohesive. I picked openedX because it’s free, open source, and uses RabbitMQ (created by Cohesive founders).  The downsides of open source is that you’re on your own!

I had lots of help, and I got edX up and running on an AWS-based Ubuntu server. I had to SSH into the box to do a fair amount of editing, so I got to learn that. I also got to learn the things that go with that – command line on iOS, vim, a little Django. On the edX side, I got to mess with a fair amount of HTML and their CMS/LMS formats.

Learning and teaching at the same time was pretty fun. I can say that now that I’m done with the project! I enjoyed putting new knowledge to work immediately, and I felt really useful dredging up older content that might help someone some day.

Putting it all together

Leaning in to the technical parts has really been an uphill struggle for me. It’s kind of like my math classes in school – extra hard for me to learn and work on, but rewarding when I solve a problem. In my search for a new gig, I wanted something that could blend my new skills with the marketing, sales, and community side of what I’d been doing. I don’t want to do marketing forever – and I believe it will be increasingly automated.

At BreakFree, everyone I talked to “got it” that I didn’t want to keep doing the same thing. I want to keep learning and helping others, and I get that vibe from everyone I’ve met. I am impressed with the small, agile consulting group with an eye on bigger projects. I’m excited to join the team!

* I was super embarrassed when I locked myself out of my new Mac on day 3 and only the CEO was there to help me. Yikes.