Gary Allison's Leadership Blog

Effective Software Projects and Leadership and Teams26 Nov 2012 10:18 am

What does this have to do with Software?

When some of my old favorites play on Pandora or Myxer, it seems as I listen to them years later I hear something different than I did back then. One great example is “Jack and Diane” by John Cougar or John Mellencamp, depending how old school you are.  This song came out ironically when I was 16 and had a special fierce meaning for me.  Now, I hear it through the ears of my daughters wanting them to hold on to 16 as long as they can. Another great one is Long Time by Boston.  Every season of my life I hear that song it adapts to a new deep meaning for me.

So it is with leading software teams. Early on in your career, you are young and know the answer to so many questions instantly. As we go on, year after year, project after project, and team after team, you come to realize the wealth of experience that you gain along the way leads you to ask more questions.  You come to know the difference between the really important decisions and the urgent unimportant ones. You come to know the value of your strongest players, how to spot them, how to mentor them and when the time comes, how to bid them well on their next great adventure.
I am thankful for the great leaders that have mentored me, the great teams I’ve had the good fortune to lead and the people I’ve been able to help along the way. I’m grateful for life teaching us that even the same old tune means something new if you take the time to listen.
Agile Software and Effective Software Projects and Leadership and Teams01 Oct 2012 09:29 pm

Last year I wrote briefly about the importance of having a great culture in this post, but it deserves a deeper dive.  Early in my executive career I had the great fortune to work with a terrific CEO and mentor. One of the many things I learned from him was the power of culture and the way it can work to juice your team. The power of a competency culture in particular was something that I grew to understand under his mentorship.

In a nutshell, this taxonomy would classify cultures as control, collaboration, competency, and cultivation.  The importance of these comes down to how decisions are made and specifically, how quickly the organization can act. We are all familiar with control cultures – all decisions are made by “the boss” according to a structured authority framework where successively important decisions must be made by higher levels of management. In a control culture, all decisions made by lower levels in the org are subject to being overturned at a higher level of management.  The fall out of this culture is that the people responsible for implementing decisions often never really buy in, resulting in little empowerment and innovation.

In a collaborative culture, decisions are made by consensus.  This requires nearly unanimous agreement and the process for reaching an agreement on complex issues can be lengthy.  The advantage of course is that everyone buys in to the decision and is committed to its execution.  Great buy in, but slow.  Not a compelling recipe for innovation.

A cultivation culture is fairly uncommon in business and is more identified with a religious system, where the organization exists for the focused purpose of growing the individual with a higher purpose in mind. Which brings us to…

It is the competency culture that drives the engine of the most successful tech companies.  This is an empowering culture where authority and responsibility both are pushed down to the lowest levels in the organization.  Decisions are made quickly, by owners.  The owner’s responsibility is to involve stakeholders in the decision making process. Once all input is considered, and  the decision is made, it is everyone’s role to commit to the decision.  It is ok to disagree with the decision, but in this culture you disagree and commit.  This culture depends on you hiring the very best people available, and giving them all the responsibility they can handle, plus a little.

Everywhere I’ve worked since, I’ve tried to build a competency culture. When it works it really is golden.  People thrive and grow and suprise you with innovation.  Teams live and breathe ownership, commitment, and teamwork because they know they personally can make a difference.  I don’t know why I’ve taken so long to write about something so core to my management philosophy but here it is.

For more information on these cultures and how they can determine the fate of your organization, I recommend this document by Dr William Schneider.

Leadership28 Aug 2012 05:38 am

Growing up my heroes were Neil Armstrong and the intrepid explorers braving the unknown to go where no man had gone before.  This past weekend we lost Neil and it caused me to reflect on the differences in heroes from then to now and how it has troubled me for some time.


Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin despite all challenges, always managed to emerge from the blackened Apollo capsule in the middle of the ocean surrounded by an entourage from a nearby aircraft carrier.  I watched each launch with wonder and amazement as Walter Cronkite would so clearly enunciate the magnitude of the unfolding events and enormous national pride we felt but couldn’t otherwise quite put into words.  Even when things went terribly wrong with a mission as they did occasionally and continued so in the 80s, we knew that the men and women in the space program embraced those risks willingly and knowingly. Just as heroes always do.


My heroes were men like larger than life John Wayne who stood on the black and white side of justice and never lost a fight except to Santa Anna and cancer. While his characters consistently fell well short of perfect, he embodied what it was to be a man and a Texan: strong, determined, fiercely independent, uncompromising in character, and to “never surrender or retreat”.


And then there was and is my Dad. Growing up, he was often away protecting this country which he loves so much.  When I was small, he seemed a giant of a man, in so many ways the real life incarnation of that John Wayne.  A true Texan, blazing his own trail – making his own rules and pushing them as far as the military would allow. I’ve learned almost all I know about leadership from the man and I hope to be half the leader and hero to my kids that he is to me.


Today, where are the heroes? My kids seem to more idolize DanIsNotOnFire and other sarcastically witty youtubers who have managed to turn their mindless ramblings into a pseudo career than any role models that exemplify the preceding qualities.  Personally, I feel that we could use a few more role models walking a bright line between right and wrong.  Life is not an everyone gets a medal for showing up affair. Life is full of tough challenges and real choices that test your integrity.  We need leaders and people who will stand for doing the right thing even at great personal cost. Those leaders of tomorrow must necessarily come from the generation of youtube, and it’s pretty concerning.  We need more Neil Armstrongs. We need more John Waynes. We need more men like my Dad.
Agile Software and Effective Software Projects and Leadership and Teams19 Jan 2012 04:57 am

Last night, I read a passage in the Steve Jobs Bio recounting a conversation between Steve and Mike Markkula as Steve was contemplating his return to Apple.  The passage was about reinventing a company, and struck me as very poignant as I had just spoken to my team a few weeks ago at our 2012 kickoff about reinvention.  The passage

They spent the rest of the time talking about where Apple should focus in the future. Jobs’s ambition was to build a company that would endure, and he asked Markkula what the formula for that would be. Markkula replied that lasting companies know how to reinvent themselves. Hewlett-Packard had done that repeatedly; it started as an instrument company, then became a calculator company, then a computer company. “Apple has been sidelined by Microsoft in the PC business,” Markkula said. “you’ve got to reinvent the company to do some other thing, like other consumer products or devices. You’ve got to be like a butterfly and have a metamorphosis.” Jobs didn’t say much, but he agreed.

How prophetic. Also evident in the book is that not only did Apple have to reinvent itself, Jobs had to reinvent himself to a degree in order to become an effective CEO.

Reinvention is the key to all success and the path forward. For teams and companies to grow, they must recognize that the things that worked in the past which made them successful, will have to change, be reinvented, to continue that growth.  Since growth = success in our measurement system, then change requires reinvention.  Approaches, processes, technologies, teams, communication – it all must be reinvented all the time.

Five years ago, I wrote a blog about leading through change.  Rereading this now, I feel it is still on target.  At the time I was thinking about change that is sourced from the outside.  Reinvention is sourced internally.  The same strategies apply.

Everyday Tech and Mobile Computing and Tech News21 Dec 2011 09:47 am

Yesterday, a decision was reached in the Apple/HTC lawsuit in which Apple claimed infringement on 10 patents.  In the sound bite headlines making news yesterday, one could walk away with the impression that Apple emerged victorious and HTC (plus all other android phone manufacturers by proxy) would be severely impacted in their ability to produce smart phones.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  This article shows that out of the 10 patents in question, only 1 patent was upheld.  This patent was extrapolated to cover the feature of having a phone number in an email be clickable to auto dial that number.  Not a show stopper guys.

Not surprisingly, HTC is already testing new phones to workaround this issue.  And, since they can sell existing phone until April, this victory amounts to a huge number of legal hours on both sides with HTC essentially able to continue cranking out great phones.

The gap between open source android capabilities and the proprietary iPhone capabilities has closed.  This ruling is good for competition and thus good for innovation.  Apple is an amazing and innovative company.  So are Google, MotorolaGoogle, HTC, Samsung, et al.  This all bodes well for mobile internet innovation for years to come.

Leadership and Teams13 Dec 2011 10:13 am

Sunday, an article appeared in our local paper that has everyone buzzing over a talent shortage in Austin. I agree a talent crunch may be looming in the near term, and we’ve been working to prepare for it. Rather than describe some of our recruiting strategies here for continued growth through this crunch, I thought I’d share a few simple things that we do to take care of the people we already have. I’m comfortable sharing this because they are so simple, but require so much effort and constant attention, our competitors will likely not follow this advice anyway.

To sum it all up succinctly: ensure people have meaningful work, that they work with truly excellent peers, put them in control of their efforts, recognize their success both individually and as a team, and keep them pointed towards a compelling vision. Simple, right?

The challenge in the above is that you have to create a culture by which all of this is possible. This culture creation is the extremely challenging aspect – it requires years of investment and continual nurturing. And, since this culture drives even more success, you have to be able to scale the team and yet retain the culture.

So, a talent crunch is likely indeed coming. When the COO of facebook is out encouraging students to study computer science, you can be sure there’s an issue. But those companies without the culture I describe here will be far more crunched than those with one.

Cloud Computing and Effective Software Projects and Leadership and Teams27 Nov 2011 10:28 pm

Last week, one of my team members forwarded me a link to this blog by Savio Rodrigues, entitled Why devops is no silver bullet for developers.  It’s a well written blog and Savio makes some good points, namely that environments that the Devops team hopes to build on need to be standardized. He comes so close to hitting some important topics right on the head, and then just misses the mark slightly, IMHO.

Savio nails it when he points out

“One thing I’ve come to understand is that these two groups tend to think differently, even if they are using the same words and nodding in agreement.”

Bingo Savio.  He goes on to say,

“It’s no surprise developers want to adopt tools and processes that allow them to become more efficient in delivering new applications and continuous updates to existing applications. Today, these two tasks are hindered to a degree by the operations teams that are responsible for production environments”

But then, he misses an opportunity to drive the point home and starts a discussion about standards. I agree standards are important, but what needs to be reckoned with are the very different culture, goals, and reward systems between the two disciplines of Engineering/Development and IT/Operations.

How are these teams measured and rewarded? The answers to these questions tell you many things about the team’s culture. A Development team is typically measured and rewarded by amount of innovation, quality of their deliverables, timeliness of delivery, and responsiveness to market.  An IT team is measured and rewarded typically by uptime, stability, security, and control.  (Note rewarded can mean “not punished due to failure” as well as more expected definitions of reward).

All of the above seem like good things! We want uptime, innovation, quality, stability, etc!  Right? I envision one could draw a Venn diagram for the Dev culture and the IT culture and there would be overlap, but there would be just as much outside the intersection.  Innovation is often at odds with stability.  Responsiveness to market can be at odds with uptime, etc.

We’ve had the good fortune of having a few opportunities to implement a new Devops model.  When everyone is rowing together the boat certainly moves faster in the desired direction. But it is difficult. It requires continual investment in the Devops team because at the core, these two very different cultures aren’t going away anytime soon.  Savio sees it too when he says, “This isn’t a technical issue. It’s a cultural issue.” I’d suggest we spend as much time looking at the measurements and rewards as we do thinking about standardizing platforms.

Cloud Computing and Everyday Tech27 Nov 2011 08:38 am

Recently, a tragedy hit one of the members on my team where he lost his home.  Our team has rallied around him and his family and have done what we can to help – that’s just the kind of people I’m fortunate enough to work with.  In talking to him, one of his regrets is that he didn’t have his photos backed up offsite.  He said he looked into it, but then just didn’t get around to it.  That was inspiration to get me moving…

I investigated a number of commercial solutions first, and the best I found was Carbonite.  One yearly fee to backup all your documents, music and photos (no movies), $59. That is hard to beat for those with a significant amount of photos or music.  (With the ever improving CCD imaging of digital cameras, everytime you buy a new camera, the photo files are larger. Is it a plot between the hard drive makers and the camera manufacturers? LOL) Sounds like a great deal, right?

The Carbonite app installed smoothly and ran well. It seems one key to their business model is to control bandwidth. Or, perhaps the service is very popular. They warn you that the initial backup could take several days.  Well, after more that a week, mine was still less that 50% complete.  About that time my trial period and patience both expired.  If you don’t mind leaving your computer on for a month, this still looks like a very good option.  They also have a switch in their UI where you can use less bandwidth on the upload.  This will make the backup take even longer, but will allow the kids to still watch YouTube while you are taking your backups. Lastly, they have a web UI where your can explore your backed up files from anywhere. It’s a viable solution IMHO.

I started looking at other Cloud Backup solutions for my Mac (not the kind of cloud backup they get in Kentucky where it just seems to rain all the time). Amazon S3 seemed like the natural next choice to investigate, but what is it going to cost? Looking at S3 pricing, currently it runs:

Standard Storage Reduced Redundancy Storage
First 1 TB / month $0.140 per GB $0.093 per GB
Next 49 TB / month $0.125 per GB $0.083 per GB
Next 450 TB / month $0.110 per GB $0.073 per GB
Next 500 TB / month $0.095 per GB $0.063 per GB
Next 4000 TB / month $0.080 per GB $0.053 per GB
Over 5000 TB / month $0.055 per GB $0.037 per GB


So, this is more than Carbonite at my data volume, but more reasonable at the “reduced redundancy” pricing.  Reduced redundancy is perfect for my use case since I backup all my files to an external hard drive already and this really is a disaster recovery scenario.  So for me, this will run around $84 dollars a year.  Still expensive, but S3 prices also go down at least twice a year historically.  We’ll see how it works out. At the very least, it’s cool.

Another option worth considering is Amazon’s new “Cloud Drive“.  The prices are lower than S3, with 5Gb free and other tiers at $10/Gb per year.  The tools are a little clunky right now as it is really aimed at working with music.  If you are mostly worried about backing up music, Cloud Drive makes it completely simple with their music upload and streaming tools.  For other file types its a little more manual.  But, the price it right.

Back to exploring S3.  First, we need to check out tools available for managing S3.  At this point, I was feeling very cheap since the storage costs are a little more than I wanted in the first place.  There are some good tools out there like jungle disk that would likely make this much easier, but I was looking for cheap as opposed to easy.  With jungle disk, you could take the complexity of the rest of this solution down considerably.

First step is to go to Amazon and create an Amazon Web Services account.  You probably already have an account and you can use the same login.  Then login to Amazon Web Services and create an S3 bucket.

For syncing files to S3, I found an attractive free option in s3sync, a Ruby gem that gives us a command line way to sync between my Mac and S3.  Here’s a great blog entry on the Ruby gem installation and config, so I won’t repeat that part.  Then, to backup your files, use a command similar to this:

s3sync -r -v /Users/YOURUSERNAME/Pictures/iPhoto\ Library/Originals/2011 yourbucket:iPhotoBackup/Originals

The above will copy the photos out of iPhoto on your Mac that were taken this year (2011) into your bucket in the folder Originals. You’ll need to create the folder structure iPhotoBackup/Originals before executing this command.  You could also leave off the “/2011″ and the /”Originals” like this to back up your entire iPhoto library, but this is going to take a very long time to upload to S3:

s3sync -r -v /Users/YOURUSERNAME/Pictures/iPhoto\ Library/Originals yourbucket:iPhotoBackup

With the -v option you see each file listed as it is uploaded.  Like Carbonite, this will also take quite a while, and during the upload, a lot of your internet bandwidth will be consumed such that Netflix on demand, web browsing, etc will be slow for everyone in the house. Not surprising, just thought I’d throw that out there.  This is a good reason to do it directory by directory perhaps overnight until you have it all complete.

The net step is very important to save you $$$s.  You need to go to your Amazon Webservices Console, explore your S3 bucket, right click on the folder you just uploaded, and select Properties (or select Properties button at top right).  From there, you need to select “Reduced Redundancy” and Save.  This will then iterate through all the items in the bucket and mark them for reduced redundancy.  There is no way to select this as the default for all files uploaded to a bucket.  Hmmmmm, I wonder why?  Greedy a bit Amazon?

If you are a Windows user, you may want to check out Cloudberry Explorer.  They have a nice S3 interface that supposedly can mark each file for reduced redundancy after uploading for you.  Looks like an interesting option.

There is quite a bit more to know about S3 than contained in this blog.  For example, you can make selected files or folders public and hand out URLs, etc.  Also, Amazon doesn’t charge you for transfer bandwidth on the upload, but does on the download.  There are many other considerations to think through in choosing a cloud backup solution that is right for you, but hopefully you find this informative and useful.


Leadership and Teams24 Nov 2011 08:46 am

This is unquestionably one of my favorite times of the year – surrounded by family and tradition, all the memories of Thanksgivings past flood back over me.  I am so Thankful for my amazing family, that I have been able to celebrate another year full of joy and challenges, seeing my daughters grow up and change so much, and still being able to share these things with my Mom and Dad. I’m Thankful for my good friends of various and assorted funny nicknames and for them helping me smile when I am overly stressed.   I’m very Thankful for my amazing and supportive wife who gets the pleasure of seeing all that stress as well, handling it with grace.  Finally, I am so very Thankful for the talented, brilliant, and dedicated people I have the privilege of working with every day.  To every engineer, support tech, IT engineer, sales person, account manager, web developer, product manager, marketing professional, trainer, and fellow exec, you really are changing the world and making it a better place.  Thank you for letting me be a part of it.

Tech News11 Sep 2011 06:59 am

I remember like it was yesterday.  It was a Tuesday.  We were having our leaders meeting as we did every Tuesday at 9am back then.  I recall Matt walked in a little late and feeling a little irritated as I was preoccupied with the issues of that software project when he says “something’s wrong, have you heard”.  It really didn’t register with any of us at first what had happened. There was a TV on outside our conference room and the first tower was burning.  We stood there in silence, not really understanding, and feeling a little cold and numb.  It was very quiet as more and more of the team started to gather around the TV.  Not knowing what else to do, a few minutes later we went back to our meeting and discussed the things that at the time we thought we important. By the time the meeting was over, the second tower was burning and we knew.  The rest of the day is a blur to me, but I remember I couldn’t wait to get home to see my daughters.

Later that day, we learned of the heroics of the passengers on Flight 93.  In this speech yesterday, President Bush commemorates a new memorial to their heroism in Shanksville Pennsylvania.

America will never forget the attacks of September 11th, 2001.  We must also never forget the words carved in stone in this photo: Freedom isn’t free.  The heroes on Flight 93 serve as an inspiration as we are grateful for their sacrifice.

Agile Software and Cloud Computing and Leadership and Teams31 Aug 2011 08:30 pm

Reaching the Summit

Today was an especially good day.  Few things can compare to seeing the combined efforts of a large team who has worked so hard together towards a shared vision finally reach that goal.  Like hikers on a long trek finally reaching the summit, today we took time to survey the terrain we conquered, thought a little about the road ahead, but still enjoyed the moment.  Building SaaS based products with Agile process can result in a relentless pace, so these moments are special.

I’ve had the pleasure of leading terrific teams of very talented people in delivery of software projects, and this day, I have the privilege of leading the best of those.  The scale of innovation, integration, and imagination that as a team they delivered is a tribute to their commitment to our company and our clients.  For me, it is a huge thrill to see what months ago was a set of ideas turned into a quality solution.

Today, in our team meeting, I tried to convey the importance of this accomplishment.  Ten years from now, each of us may look back on this day, proud and maybe a little amazed of what we did together.  There’s a very good chance many of us will never deliver so much innovation in one day again on this scale.  I’m proud of our team, grateful for their efforts, and hopeful many non-profits will benefit from their hard work.

Mobile Computing and Tech News15 Aug 2011 08:05 pm

Already on a tear by far surpassing Apple in market share for smart phone devices, Google today announces the acquisition of Motorola Mobility. What a software company will do with all these hardware handset assets is interesting, but the strategic move of defending their intellectual property turf by buying 20,000+ patents is shear genius. Nice move Google.

For all those that firmly believe in the power of the bazaar over the cathedral, this is a very important news event!

Tech News30 May 2011 08:29 pm

Wanted to share with everyone a Memorial Day message from my Father to his family and friends…

Today is Memorial Day 2011.  For those veterans who have served and those active duty who still serve, this is a significant and meaningful day.  I fully understand that Memorial Day is not one dimensional, having totally different meanings depending on ones frame of reference.  Some citizens see it as a holiday–a cook out on the grill and a cold beer.  Others see it as a trip to the mall or to the lake.  For me, there has never been any ambiguity associated with this important day.  It is a day to remember all those men and women who wear or who have worn their countries uniform.  It is not so much about war and the attendant tragedy that accompanies it, but about those individuals themselves who were willing to step forward and be a part of this nation’s defense.  At least for me, when looking back, I do not so much remember all of the times, places, and events but instead those dedicated troops who were there to make that experience memorable.

Yes, Memorial Day has always been special, but this one has been extra sweet for.  My son and his family, who are from Austin, Tx., traveled here  where we linked up with my grandson who lives locally spending Saturday afternoon discussing the history of our nation, its wars, and the evolution of our military and its war fighting capabilities.  I discussed in considerable detail my own service and the thirty years spent in various locations around the world.  I placed particular emphasis on the war in Southwest Asia which was the one in which I was personally knowledgeable.  The three grandchildren, who are age 12 to 15, have a good retention ability.  It was obvious that they had a reasonably clear understanding of events as they were presented.  Since so many young people today will never personally serve in uniform, this timing offered a window of opportunity to provide some insight.

On Sunday morning, we traveled one hundreds miles south to my home town of Teague, Tx. to visit the Freestone County Veterans Memorial and my uncle Jimmy, who is 86 years of age.  As if it had all occurred yesterday, Uncle Jimmy described his experiences from WWII.  He spoke of the tremendous public support for the war effort, the individual hardships, rationing, shortages, frequent reassignments, and the ever present danger of injury and death that our determined men faced.  Men such as Uncle Jimmy are an inspiration to me.  I could easily see on the faces of the grandchildren that they had come to understand some of the sacrifices that were common to that era.

And finally, after lunch in Teague with my cousin Bill and his family, we went to the Veterans Memorial.  While not on the scale of those monuments in our nation’s capital, the people who have designed and built the monument obviously had a good understanding of historical events surrounding modern wars and a good feeling for the veterans who fought in those wars.  The monument affords great dignity to veterans of Freestone County.  The grandchildren viewed the wall and the names of veterans past and present who served.  Surrounding the wall is a ring of benches inscribed with the names of veterans and some small bits of historical information about their service.   After viewing the memorial and talking about some of those listed, we crowded around the bench dedicated to Uncle Jimmy, my deceased brother Raymond, and me taking pictures and exchanging final hugs.

And, then, the day was complete.  As we made our ways home, I felt that we had all took from this weekend something special.  While driving along, I remembered the inscription on the family bench–“freedom isn’t free-let freedom ring eternal”.  And, I thought how lucky we are as Americans surrounded by plenty and living in the land of the free.  Let us never forget our blessings.

Leadership and Tech News15 May 2011 08:00 am

This article is fascinating; I just couldn’t stop reading it: I have a lot of respect for Sony, but this is a classic story of the downside of closed systems, blunders that are so easy to make when trying to lock down proprietary systems, and the exact wrong way to respond to the market.  Sony has a huge base of enthusiasts, and instead of engaging them and seeing it as an opportunity, they continue to see it as a battle they must win so they can stick to their predetermined strategy.  A must read.

Tech News01 May 2011 05:24 am

I’ve been using the Touchdown app for the past week and it is working pretty well.  Its also possible to replace the stock Email application according to this post on the XDA forums: .  You need to root your system, then change the permissions for the /system/apps directory with a command that looks similar to:

mount -w -o remount /system

At which point you could rename your old Email files in /system/app and copy in from a USB drive the files attached to the above post.  Nice.

So at the end of the day, it looks like for whatever reason, Acer decided not to include native exchange connection for the A500 Email program.


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