What Comes Next?

At work we have a cultural of growth. And by that I mean, for most roles, if you’re in them too long, you’re seen as not growing. In general, I agree with this philosophy – and my resume proves it. Every 3 years or so I’ve changed jobs. For some employers that rhythm is problematic. For this one its expected. Year one you learn the job, year two you rock the job, year three you look for the next job. I’m coming to the end of my second fiscal year. My manager wants to know where I’m going next.

For the first time in my 12-year professional career, this is an issue for me, because I’m resolved not to have a plan. I realised, somewhere along the way, that God’s been in control despite my plans, and I’d do better to just surrender to that.

That said, I’m debating modifying my “railroad theory” a little bit to allow for high-level goals. Goals aren’t plans –  and they mustn’t be allowed to become idols. Instead they’re a rough idea of what direction you’re facing, and a framework for pursuing equipping and preparation, informed by others who have gone a given direction.

However loose I’d like to leave that, my manager still wants an answer, and at the very least I think stewardship requires an idea of what to work on. With that in mind, I’d like to record both my goals and what I think my next stop might be…

Many of the leaders in the space I work in – the ones I respect the most, anyway – were former engineers, transitioned to a commercial role (read “sales”) successfully, then to leadership of a company. They’ve covered the gamut of roles, earned their stripes in each of them, and now lead from a position of wisdom and insight. Some of them then made an even better transition, and took what they learned about functioning globally, leveraging technology, working with people, influencing people, and finally setting a vision and leading groups, and moved from helping business to helping others.

Christian business leaders who become influencers and partners in helping developing nations can bring to the international table both God-honoring, compassionate, healthy discipleship practices, and clear, ethical and impactful tools and ideas for growth and development – but even more exciting than that, they get to be pushed and reshaped and informed by people and concepts beyond their experience. They get the opportunity to both lead and learn.

This, then, is where I’d like to be some day: using the equipping and experiences God has blessed me with to partner with others who seek to help the hurting, build up the weak, and point toward the One who loves greater than we can comprehend, while learning and experiencing new things, new ideas and new places that reflect the creativity and majesty of the Creator God.

Which means the next step looks like technical sales.

That may seem like a big jump of logic, but I’ve earned my chops in software development. (Canadians don’t seem to agree with that, but the rest of world seems to express no hesitation in respecting my resume.) I’ve moved, with reasonable competence, into a more commercial role in the past year and a half – one that bridges the technical realm with leadership and influence without too much pressure. My choices from here are to drill back down in product development, and work toward a leadership and vision-defining role for product development; certainly an attractive option, but one that wouldn’t seem to lend itself toward the aforementioned longer term strategy, or to move to the next level of abstraction above the raw tech, and sell what others make, expanding my efforts in influencing and working with people, rather than code.

This comes with risk, of course. If my current role has performance based stress, sales would be even more so. The pay would be better, but at this point money isn’t a big push factor. The reality that I could fail at this, and having abstracted myself from engineering, made myself unemployable in a less commercial role is certainly a scary notion. But staying put comes with risk too, and I’d rather gamble on growing and exploring, than on complacency and boredom.

Of course all of this is dependent on an opportunity, on continuing to mature within my current role (and this year is shaping up to be a stressful one for that!), on God’s leading in our lives, on the growth of our little family, and on numerous other factors I’m sure we’ve yet to consider (and some we will not entertain that others might.) But this, along with my part-time Seminary pursuits, seems to be a logical set of efforts to work toward at this time. Where that takes us… well, we’re happy to leave that up to Him.

A Busy Month

Monday I’m off to San Francisco for a partner’s Users Conference.
The week after that I’m throwing an Executive Briefing for another partner in Seattle — pulled together almost entirely by myself, from speakers to catering, all from home.
Then there’s a potential architecture day for another partner in Cincinatti, and a (interesting) new partner being added to my portfolio too!
Then I’m planning to be home, and stay home until the baby arrives — on or about April 28. Mom comes home on the 19th, so hopefully we’ll all be present for the big day.
Somewhere in there we’re launching “Church at Home” with live streaming provided by IIS Smooth Streaming and Silverlight!
Last night I delivered a presentation on Cloud and the “post PC era” to this little group I run. I thought it was interesting — I’m not sure about the audience. Although I did learn of some pretty cool local networking opportunities that I’ll have to check out soon…
Congrats to our good friends Chad and Jen, who just had baby #2! Welcome to the world, Chase! We hope to bring a little playmate over to visit you soon (but not too soon!)
Speaking of birthdays, today is our Abigal’s third! Happy birthday, sweet girl!

Spring is Finally Here!

This winter held on hard! Every time it looked to be warming up, we’d wake up to fresh snow on the cars. But finally this week we got a break, the sun came out, and the snow melted and stayed melted. The kids broke out their rubber boots to stomp through the muddy, wet grass and daddy fired up his motorbike — once the incident with the frozen battery was dealt with. Apparently the trickle charger got disconnected some time in the past couple months.

Oh well, my two classy old girls are on the road, engines still thrumming perfectly despite having a median age between them of 21 years, and I suspect I’m enjoying playing with my outdoor toys again just as much as the kids are.
I guess it’ll get a little chilly again next week, but winter knows its lost the battle. Spring has sprung!
Update: spoke to soon. Now we’re buried in snow waiting for it to melt…


Last week I got to attend two conferences solely for my personal interest. Conferences are a part of my job, so I do them pretty frequently and often enjoy them. But its pretty rare that I get to go to one just because I want to.

Gurus, held just outside Chicago, is a regular conference for church media and technology, held by Willow Creek church. Our church at home is starting up a video ministry, and although I have a fair bit of experience with that, from our stint in New York, its been almost 3 years since I was deeply involved in building a video ministry, and things have definitely changed! I got to learn from some actual professionals some concepts in video editing, terminology and ideas in video directing, and fill in lots of big gaps in my understanding of video transmission. Examples were discussed covering everything from live broadcast over KU Band satellite uplink, to on-prem distribution with a time delay, to IP-based streaming. The latter two are mechanisms we’ll be using at some point in the not-to-distant future with our church at home.

TEDx Waterloo (where x = independently organized event) was held the day after Gurus, so I flew back early to make sure I could get to that. It was well worth it!
TED, which stands for Technology Entertainment and Design, subtitled “Ideas worth spreading” is an annual event held in California where the world’s best, brightest and some of its most interesting come to talk about whatever ideas they’re exploring at the moment. Tickets are $6000, and the talks are fascinating – although I can only afford to watch them online, and even if I had the $6k to spare, probably wouldn’t be qualified to attend.
TEDx was a smaller version of that, featuring many impactful and interesting Canadians. You had to apply to attend, but I don’t think the requirements were very high. The conference itself only cost $40, and was worth every penny, and the half day I spent there.
Speakers included a teenager who tried to be the youngest person ever to sale around the globe, the multi-degreed Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut, Vincent John Vincent a Canadian researcher who developed motion tracking two decades before the Kinect came out, Edwin Outwater, one of the finest conductors in Canada, and about a dozen others. Most had a distinctly humanistic value system, that leaned toward proselytizing at times (Mr. Outwater seems to believe that Beethoven wrote his religious music to “the world” and not to God – or maybe he felt like the audience wouldn’t appreciate a religious suggestion) but it was still thought-provoking and fun to participate in. I practiced mingling, and got to meet some interesting people.

There’s at least two more work related conference coming up before the big summer one – including the Vegas trip. I don’t like Vegas and it falls too near our due date, so I think I’ll wriggle out of that one. The other may end up being a year maker/breaker at the end of March, so I think I’ll be at it!

I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate…

When we pulled the plug on cable TV somewhere around 5 years ago, I always said that as soon as there was a viable, legitimate alternative to downloading TV, I would stop using BitTorrent. Yesterday we pulled the plug on BitTorrent: it seems that network-endorsed Internet TV delivery has finally reached critical mass — as long as the telcos don’t succeed in pushing usage-based billing through, and knocking us back 15 years.
Granted, the mechanism isn’t quite what I had hoped. I hoped for a swarm-sourced, to-your-home delivery of portable media files (with DRM if they have to) like BitTorrent provided. But Internet providers are at war with BitTorrent, finding new and creative ways to choke, throttle and block it (even while claiming they’re not) and video providers can’t seem to be convinced to be quite as enlightened as the music industry finally agreed to.
What we have instead is TV content delivered mostly by Flash — possibly the worst, most lossy codec on the web — to your browser, and only your browser. Add to that a few closed-system marketplaces with device support, like Apple TV and Zune for XBox, and finally NetFlix, which although it has a library of often questionable value, at least is determined to let you watch that content on any device with an Internet connection.
No, it’s not ideal. But it mostly works, most TV networks have at least a reasonable commitment to getting their stuff on line at a decent pace, and its finally in Canada — although we haven’t quite escaped from commercial interruptions (which are now slip-streamed awkwardly into our favorite shows in the form of clumsy product placement.)
Here’s what we’re using to get our (legitimately provided, non-gray market) TV fix without paying the cable company. Note that this info is Canada-specific (although some is applicable in the US):
BoxeeBoxee is software (or you can purchase a device dedicated to running the software) that collects web content into a remote-friendly user-interface that looks great on a TV or computer monitor. A wide array of Canadian network content, including many popular American shows, can be found in this slick environment. Quality varies, but is generally Flash/browser based, and therefore not great.
NetFlix – If you haven’t tried NetFlix yet, you probably have no excuse. It works on your PC, your Mac, and any of the current gaming devices you probably already have hooked up to your TV. It also works on iPhone/iPad, Windows Phone and Android. Each version of the app is tuned for the appropriate interface, so its mouse/remote/finger friendly depending on where you’re watching. The content is getting better every week, and it only costs $8 a month. Quality is determined by your connection speed, but can be up-to HD (at a high compression rate.)
In Your Browser – Canada doesn’t have Hulu to pull it all together, but three of our major networks have decent sites where you can watch recent episodes of their best shows right in your browser. Its not the most TV-friendly approach, but a laptop hooked up to the big screen works fine for us in a pinch. Check out Global, CBC and CTV – as well as their properties like Space and Comedy. Quality is good enough for sitcoms, and other content you don’t care too much about.
XBox Zune Marketplace, PlayStation Market, AppleTV – All three have roughly comparable libraries of TV content and movies at roughly comparable prices. Both XBox and PlayStation require you to purchase credits you can use to buy shows, which is clearly designed to make it difficult to determine how much you’re spending. We’ll do a few “season pass” purchases of shows we’d like to see in high quality, out of our entertainment budget. Quality is high, up to HD, depending on what you spend.
I’m watching Boxee with interest, as they’ve begun partnering with other online content providers, like NetFlix. Right now its a bit of a niche, but as it matures, I can see putting a Boxee box on each TV where most people would put a cable box. For now the XBox is our primary device connected to the TVs, since it also plays games and DVDs, and a laptop, or the computer in our room lets us pull the rest of our content.
I’ll admit, its not as slick (or as open, or as extensible, or as interchangeable) a set-up as the “gray” content acquisition mechanism we’ve been running for years. But its a start: the industry is trying to embrace change (albeit slowly and often stupidly) and as a consumer eager to see the old ways die, I’m going to go out and meet them where they’re at, with the hopes that they’ll see that this market is worth responding to.
And if we tell them this is what we want, maybe my kids won’t grow up with an idiot box. Instead they can grow up in a world where information and ideas really can be exchanged freely and easily, where an individual voice can participate in the same marketplace of thought as big media conglomerates…
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU&w=480&h=390]
Do you get it? The Internet, if we fight for it, puts NBC and the Numa Numa guy on the same playing field. For better or worse, this is real democracy of information. The ‘net has to be neutral. Its the only sustainable system we’ve ever invented, and as the world’s population, specialization and technology explode, this fabric has to be protected.

Travel Almost Anywhere You Can Go

California is nice, but when you travel to the same two office buildings in the same two cities, 4 times a year, it starts to get a little boring. Same goes for the Seattle area. So, after 2.5 months without significant time on the road, I hoped to mix things up a little. I’m blessed to get to have interesting destinations as part of my job, and I’m enjoying slowly getting the kids into that concept of life. The first stop, then, was with the whole fam:

Great Wolf Lodge, Niagara Falls

Our first (of what will surely be many) road trip in our new van. We took the kids and their two favorite babysitters to the Falls, and then stayed the night at a hotel and indoor water park. It wasn’t particularly cheap, but it was close, and something we could pull off with my old man’s back and Nic very pregnant. The kids had a good time, the girls got manicures, Nic and I got massages, and we all managed to do something in the water. Ben and Abi were too short for most of the slides, but they were able to go down one “big kids” slide with Jamie and Larry, and were terrified/in love with it. There was a wave pool, a lazy river, and a bunch of little slides too.

It was just a long weekend get-away, and I did have to do a couple conference calls from the parking lot, but it was a fun family trip – and a much needed winter get-away. When we got back, Nic and the kids stayed with the girls while I re-painted the living room – a project we’d been wanting to do for awhile, but couldn’t with a pregnant lady in the house! Pics will be in the side-bar when someone gets around to it…


Same two stops as usual – although they’re not usually both in the same week. I visited one office, then drove my rental car across California to the other one. It was 6 hours of driving, which became 9 when I spontaneously decided to detour out to the cost and approach LA via the scenic route. It was a long, but beautiful drive, and I saw parts of California I never would have normally.

A Vista Point off I-5 California


Home for the weekend, then off to Chicago. One of the campuses of the Willow Creek mega-church (Bill Hybel’s digs) hosts a “Gurus” conference for church technology people (audio, video, stage, and lighting) where they, and others, share what they’ve learned about creating a worship experience for the 21,000+ people who attend their services. I’d be surprised if major television networks could hold a candle to the kind of gear, people and expertise involved. It was positively jaw-dropping to tour their main campus, and so refreshing to see Biblical and Spiritual depth that rivaled the creativity.

There were 11 or so other folks from our home church in Canada going, so they picked me up at O’Hare and we all attended the conference together. We had a fun group – although it was a little odd sharing what felt like a business trip with a bunch of folks who clearly were not seasoned travelers (and who assaulted my ears with 80s music whenever we piled into the church’s over-sized van!)

I’m going to the TEDx conference in Waterloo, so I had to leave early, which gave me the chance to take a couple trains across part of Illinois to get to the airport and head home on my own.

The Canada Gurus!Elevator stage, 3 giant screens, 7000 people in 3 services every weekend

Mission Control monitors the whole building"NASA" is where they video direct 9 cameras and multi media sources


I try to only head into the mothership when there’s a clear benefit to being there, and when I go I like to stack as many activities as possible. This trip I’ll be a guest speaker at a Services meeting on partnering with other internal teams, meeting with my new manager, sorting out budgets for the rest of the year, and opening a mailbox in town. We’ve kept a mailing address in New York, but its high time we move that to a location I actually go to regularly.

This trip involves only 24 hours in-town, and after that I should only have two more conferences to participate in, or host, before the baby arrives.

Once we’re all settled into that season of life, it’ll be time to start thinking about some more international destinations again…