You Say You Want a Resolution

It’s that time of year again: time for resolutions. I’m a fan of the exercise, even if this makes approximately the fifth year in a row I’ve resolved to do a single pull-up without succeeding. The process of deciding what matters and the struggle to achieve something new is worth it.

To that end, I have many job counseling sessions with colleagues across the industry who want to make a change, who feel stuck, who are frustrated at the plateau they’ve reached. We have the pleasure of hearing success stories on the Geek Whisperers podcast every week, but we get to hear the journey stories as well, the questioning, the doubt.

So here is some free and unsolicited advice I received during my first career pivot, maternity leave. My boss at the time (a father of four), understood what I did not—my life was getting ready to change dramatically and it was an opportunity.

Here’s the secret: Decide on a task to put down and don’t pick it back up upon return.


Rime of the Ancient Mariner, rewritten in Doge

Sounds too easy, right? How could this work?

I’m a realist, so you can’t put down the pager if that’s your role, or quit expense reports in a dramatic pull the inflatable slide and jump way, but there’s something that you can put down or manage differently. What is it? What is the extra weight you’re carrying that is keeping you from going where you want to go in your career?

Will you need to pick something else up? Absolutely, but now you have a free hand to do so, and you’ve left an albatross behind.

Maternity leave forced me to do what I hadn’t been able to do on my own (twice)—let go of less important work and focus on more important and more fulfilling work. I shifted from traditional publishing (10 years of my career!) to technology after my second maternity leave, which gave me more growth opportunities and led me to work and an industry that I love.

Ask yourself what work you do that both makes you happy and serves the company you’re working for right now. It can be an uncomfortable question, full of lizard brain roadblocks about how “they’ll never let me do that.” Or “if only,” then . . .

New Year’s Resolutions are meant to challenge you. If you move incrementally closer to personal and professional happiness at work, mark that in the 2016 win column. Why wait? What’s your resolution?


Mentor State of Mind

For months I’ve been meaning to sit down and craft a blog about being mentored, but my need to be mentored outpaced my ability to document the process. So big thanks to my mentors one and all for helping me transition into the new and expanding role.

As I am vocal about the value of my fleet of mentors, I’m often asked how to go about finding them.

Step 1: Look for people whose career paths, management style, technical acumen, etc. you admire.

Step 2: Shut up and listen.

Anyone can be a mentor.

Anyone can be a mentor.

Pretty simple.

Everyone can teach you something, and you don’t have to be formal about it. If your workplace has a formal mentoring program, by all means use it, but don’t feel like that is the only path forward.

Being mentored is far more about your state of mind than a magical bullet of wisdom.

However, there are a few guiding principles:

1. Be humble. You can’t learn if you know it all. Prepare yourself to really listen. Anyone can mentor you if you pay attention to what they have to teach.

2. Be ready for tough love. Great mentors build you up, but deliver the tough assessments and advice as well. If you want nothing but good news, seek minions or sycophants, not mentors.

3. Use the word “mentor” with respect. If you identify someone who is helping you with your life and career, honor them with the word and treat them accordingly.

4. Learn in secret. If you don’t have a formal or close relationship, or if someone you admire “doesn’t have time to mentor,” learn by watching, asking questions, and modeling your behavior. These people are still your mentors, but if the word causes distress, keep it to yourself.

5. Be prepared to work for it. Mentors are doing you a favor, acknowledge it. Taking good advice is often hard work. Duncan Epping has a great blog on the topic: “How Do I Get to the Next Level?” (It’s not all unicorns and stroopwafels!)

How do you find and honor your mentors?

The Next Chapter

So changes are in the air. At the end of 2014, I’ll be packing up the unicorn and bacon show and heading over to SolidFire as Director of Influence Marketing. I’m excited. I’m terrified. I’m quadrupling the number of times I’ve ever been to Colorado in my life.

New year, new pairing.

New year, new pairing.

First, huge thanks to the innumerable amazing colleagues and friends at Cisco, and to the tech community at large. It has been a lot of fun these last few years.

Just like on Engineers Unplugged, not every unicorn was beautiful, but they were all special.


From humble beginnings, vBacon, WaffleStack, BaconIT, and many other community events grew from a few beers with friends to a tree of bacon.

From a Tower Grows a Tree!

From a Tower Grows a Tree!

Apparently there is such a thing as a bacon seed. I have had the privilege to get to know so many amazing technologists, to ask questions, to document, to learn.

We have come a long way.

We have come a long way.

But now it’s time to take a leap, to practice what we preach on the Geek Whisperers every week, and to challenge myself to something new.

Shhhhh, the Geeks are Whispering.

Shhhhh, the Geeks are Whispering.

Why SolidFire? The community answered that question: great people and a great culture. I’m a fan of smart and nice. Simple words, huge impact on daily life.

Great mentors. More on that in a later post, but when I made my decision spreadsheet (and yes, I made a spreadsheet), I included a row for mentors and champions. I believe in the apprenticeship model and having a champion makes all the difference in being effective. You can’t go into battle alone.

Unicorns Beware! It's Game Time.

Unicorns Beware! It’s Game Time.

New challenges. Large vendor to small start-up—yes, that should keep things interesting.

I believe you should never run from, but go to—that is certainly the case here. I’m thankful for an extremely supportive management chain in my current job at Cisco, and one of the best co-workers in the business. They will rock 2015. Congratulations to the incoming class of Cisco Champions. I’ll be watching with pride.

Community FTW! #feartheears

Community FTW! #feartheears

Lastly, another sincere thank you to the many many people who have taken the time over the last 4 years to break bacon, go on camera, shoot a ridiculous selfie, answer a serious question, share an opinion, hold a purse (#feartheears), and generally be awesome.

With that, I raise a SolidFire pint glass to you all in 2015. 😉

Consume and Be Thankful

These last few weeks have involved a lot of discussions around different ways to grow and be a part of community. In our content-driven marketplace, too often there’s a hierarchy of engagement that looks like this:

Publish or Perish!

Passive engagement gets the pejorative “lurk” tag. Publishing content, feeding the machine, is held in the highest regard. I’ve definitely been guilty of perpetuating this myth.

In fact, I’m sort of doing that right now by breaking a vow I made to my mentor: shut up and listen.

Well perhaps he was kinder in his phrasing, the directive was stop producing and consume. Consume content like you’re starving. There are even check-ins about this, like an accountability group. My name is Amy, and it’s been 5 days since I created content.

This forced production break has been awesome, and I’m looking forward to another content consumption binge over the holidays. I’ve been reading this:

Reading Creativity, Inc makes you a unicorn.

Reading Creativity, Inc makes you a unicorn.

Which made me think about this episode of Engineers Unplugged with Josh Atwell and Gurusimran Khalsa, where GS drops the mic by reminding us that being part of the community can be as simple and powerful as saying thank you or asking a question:

Which inspired me to document this:

Remove the Hierarchy!

If you would like to consume the brainstorm in shortened PPT form, I’ve posted Influence Marketing 201: Shut Up and Listen on SlideShare.

So go forth and pay some compliments, ask some questions, and consume some content! And thank you for listening.

Why Unicorns?

Sometimes you pick your memes, and sometimes they pick you. So select wisely. Why do unicorns appear so often in my Twitter stream and on whiteboard worldwide?

Unicorns are rare indeed.

Unicorns are rare indeed.

Let’s start with some functional definitions of a unicorn. At it’s core, it’s a mythical creature. Yes, breaking news, unicorns are NOT real. The mysticism and search for perfection is at the heart of the connotation of the word.

The tech world has long embraced the term to mean everything from a perfect but unattainable solution (e.g., a single pane of glass management solution) to a super high-functioning team member (see also, “rock star”) to the individual who possesses a heady blend of tech prowess and communications skills.

“Unicorn” can be used adjectivally (that’s a unicorn solution you’ve just proposed), but is most commonly a noun (see, “Interview with a Unicorn“).

A quick search led to some fun results charting common usage:

Since I need to be working on a PPT slide and not writing this blog, I’ll let someone else hunt the first use of the term. I couldn’t find it, but feel like it was coming into prominence within the last 2 to 3 years.

Beware the dark side.

Beware the dark side.

Now turn back time to the Summer of 2012 when I was developing the Engineers Unplugged concept with Brian Gracely. By developed with I mean he told me to stop being boring and produce something.  We whiteboarded out the basic concepts that very afternoon.

Brian challenged me to find some connective thread through the narrative of varying tech talks, something everyone could do and that would set the tone of an otherwise serious and technical show.

Secretly, watching highly intelligent people scramble to draw a unicorn is both highly entertaining and disarming.

The unicorn challenge was born in the second episode.

I didn’t create unicorn lingo, I just borrowed it from the community I was joining. For the record, I never owned a single unicorn-themed anything as a kid. Now I have a rich variety of unicorn items and toss the word around like a native.

Punk Rock Unicorn: My Spirit Animal Phone Case

Punk Rock Unicorn: My Spirit Animal Phone Case

Another fun fact, in 6 seasons of shooting Engineers Unplugged, with an average of 12 episodes per season, no one has ever refused to draw a unicorn.

So the better question may be, why not unicorns?


Next Up: Why bacon?

Is This Seat Taken?

It’s August again, and for me that means both preparing for back to school and kicking off tech conference season. For my kids, it’s getting school supplies, new outfits, and a pep talk about dealing with getting shuffled in with a new bunch of students.

Warming up for conference season.

Warming up for conference season. #TBT (I hear cloud is going to be big.)

Ironically, for the tech conferences, it means getting new promotional supplies, new outfits (or at least a pair of heels I can run in), and a pep talk about getting shuffled in with a new bunch of community members.

In 2011, going to my first VMworld, I knew maybe 3 people, and that’s rounding up. I was the new kid in class. Another little secret—I’m actually a rather shy person, and 50/50 on every introvert/extravert test. So I ate most lunches alone that year and sat near the booth trying to convince people to go on camera for an interview series (before Engineers Unplugged!).

What brought me out of my comfort zone was knowing I had a job to do. I was being paid to attend this conference in large part to engage with other people and I was failing at it. So I smiled brightly and went for it, remembering the wisdom of a colleague: don’t ever sit with people you know.

Is This Seat Taken?

Is This Seat Taken? Anyone, anyone?

That was very easy, as I knew so few people. “Is this seat taken?” became my new catchphrase. The advice stuck, though, and became a bit of a personal quest. I work for a big company, so there’s almost always a co-worker to sit beside, but isn’t that what the office is for?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to spend face time with all the friends and colleagues I usually see on a small screen—but what about everyone else? After all, somebody out there is the new kid this time, just like I was. Lots of people don’t come with 20 co-workers in tow, it’s just them. If you want to become influential outside of your own cube, this is your chance! (This would be the “Show Up” part of the Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up.)

Trade secret for people who manage tech events: make it easy for people who attend alone to feel comfortable and you’ll have a great turnout. 

What's a v0dgeball tournament?

What’s a v0dgeball tournament? It’s charity dodgeball event run by EMC at VMworld, and a definite icebreaker.

If you’re the new kid at an event this year, please say hello, to me, to other people in the community, to a speaker you admire. If you’re an established community member or a seasoned conference vet, make this the year you shake things up by sitting with someone new every day at some point. Our community is that much stronger by growing.

I’ll close with sharing one of the first videos I ever made in my conference career, which led the handful of people who watched it and recognized me to yell “hey legwarmer girl” at the show. If you’re concerned you’ll make a fool of yourself trying to meet new people, take comfort in knowing I’ve already got that covered.

Tweet Anything: My Next Role

After a few years of working with the Data Center and Cloud community at Cisco, it is time for a new challenge–the very best kind of challenge, taking what we’ve built and engaging new communities!

Here’s my attempt to answer some FAQs:

Q: What do you do exactly?
A: I serve the community that uses, makes, and sells Cisco technology. I market to and with them. I am a professional unicorn herder and bacon consumer. I build content and relationships as part of an integrated marketing strategy.  For the last few years, I’ve focused primarily on the Data Center and Cloud worlds.

In my new role, I’m taking this practice to other communities within the Cisco portfolio. Look for a couple of guest hosts on Engineers Unplugged and an expansion of that platform. I’m always hunting for new ways to promote the Cisco Champions and connect them with the latest and greatest tech info and experts. I will continue to meet and greet on Twitter and find ways to gather the tribe IRL too.

Q: How do you get a job like that?
A: I saw a business need, made a case for it, and made it up as I went along. Here’s what it looks like in my head . . .


My comms strategy pre-Twitter.

My comms strategy pre-Twitter.

Lloyd Dobler: I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.

Q: So you Tweet for a living?
A: Yes. That’s what I do. Alas, “short-form copy writing” is but one aspect of my job. Like the rest of you, much of my time is spent building reports, pitching ideas, organizing and promoting content, and planning for the next thing. Think iceberg–the sparkly 20% you see conceals the 80% that looks a lot like work.

Also, every single one of my mentors that contributed to this new role I met because of Twitter.

Q: Is your job as awesome as it looks.
A: Yes, yes it is, and that’s 100% because of the people with whom I get to work everyday. Being paid to get smarter and geek out is the best. So thank you to everyone who has ever raised their hand to be part of the community, recorded a video or a podcast, shared your knowledge, or cheered your colleagues on.

Special thanks to the renegades in and around my management chain at Cisco who have agreed to take a chance on us!