Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Engineering is the way to bring jobs back to America

We are facing an ongoing threat to America's global economic leadership and increasing the number of engineers in our workforce is one powerful way we can change our destiny as a country.

In Silicon Valley we have one engineering job open for every two engineers that are employed - this means it is hard to find enough qualified workers and so companies move jobs offshore to India and China where they graduate many more engineers than we do. Today we simply do not have enough people trained in the "STEM" areas to staff the technology build up that is happening (STEM -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

When Steve Jobs met with President Obama earlier this year he made this case strongly. From Walter Isaacson's new biography... "Jobs went on to urge that a way be found to train more American engineers. Apple had 700,000 factory workers employed in China, he said, and that was because it needed 30,000 engineers on-site to support those workers. 'You can't find that many in America to hire,' he said. These factory engineers did not have to be PhDs or geniuses; they simply needed to have basic engineering skills for manufacturing. Tech schools, community colleges, or trade schools could train them. 'If you could educate those engineers,' he said, 'we could move more manufacturing plants here.' "

But today not only do we not graduate enough engineers, women are a huge untapped resource. Less than 10% of our computer engineering graduates are women, and less than 20% of our total engineering bachelors are women - a criminal loss of potential contribution from half our workforce.

Technology is an area that is a wonderful example of American leadership. Leadership, innovation and the place where we can say "Made in the USA" with pride. Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook - all are growing, innovative global technology leaders. All are changing the world today in dramatic ways. All are essentially American and all need more engineers. Google and Microsoft both invest heavily in change agents like the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology precisely to change the ratio of men to women in engineering and so produce more qualified engineers to grow their businesses.

Just as in the Second World War we had a national shortage of skilled workers for manufacturing, today we have a critical shortage of technology workers. Women and education are the two keys to the solution.

Seventy years ago the Rosie the Riveter campaign moved 6 million women into the workforce. These women were trained and they showed that they could do the work - building the planes, ships and munitions necessary to win a devastating war.

Senator Gillibrand of New York talks about a revival of the Rosie the Riveter campaign to galvanize women to become more empowered and she speaks about the need for women to get Off The Sidelines and get more involved in politics. She's right, and it's bigger than that. The low percentages of women who graduate with technology degrees in the US shows the untapped resource. Getting women involved and into technology creates more jobs for both men and women in manufacturing and the ecosystem around the technology jobs.

We are in the middle of a 100 year technology revolution, analogous to the industrial revolution that dramatically changed the Western way of life through the 18th and 19th centuries. This technology revolution is taking us through a series of engineering inventions - the computer, the microprocessor, software applications, the internet, mobile devices and there is more to come we can only imagine.

It's time for Rosie the Engineer and Robert the Engineer. I'm a Silicon Valley high-tech CEO and I see the need first hand. We need our political leadership to invest in STEM education, and especially for our girls to bring them into the technology. It's time to put programs in place to motivate our students to get technical degrees so they can get jobs when they graduate. We need engineers, the technology jobs pay more, and they create more jobs in America for everyone.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Teamwork is about alignment of interests

Teamwork comes in all shapes and sizes... and species. It's about knowing that your goals are aligned and you have to cooperate to reach your goals.

For example, if you don't share the plate nicely you don't get to share in the plate cleaning. And even if you are a cat, if you've been raised with dogs since you were a kitten you quickly figure out how to think like a dog, and act like a dog so you get the same treats as a dog.

It's All about Expectations folks

I have a pet peeve that got me thinking. My peeve is people who say "I'll call you" or "I'll email you some times to connect" and then don't. It's the modern equivalent of the Hollywood brush off "Let's do lunch". One of my service providers did this to me last week and it's annoying and unprofessional, and it got me to thinking again about how important expectations are.

Satisfying other people really is all about setting their expectations, and it's especially true in business.

The ultimate is meeting your quarterly numbers. AAPL was slammed because they missed their financial expectations even though profits had grown dramatically. If you say you are going to report X and you report X-1 you are going to get dinged in today's short term market. It's a no win for the public company CEO and the great ones understand it's a long term game, but the CFOs make their stripes on setting expectations right consistently.

Next is product schedules. There is discipline to this skill. You want to be aggressive to stretch the team and yet hit the dates you set because the rest of your business team is planning on it. Literally. Planning customer roll out, planning PR, so major delays play havoc with customer expectations. I very much admire my business partner YY and her ability to think through every aspect of the product release, set the company's expectation at 95%, consistently deliver that 95% and sometimes deliver the upside of 100%. Everyone's needs are met and our products leap forward every month.

Then there is your relationships. Californians seem very friendly at first, and then are hard to get close to. The English are frosty at first and then warm up. In business, be clear about your relationships. Are you work colleagues or friends... can your companion truly be him or herself in all his or her dumbness at times, or do they always need to be wary ? Are you loyal or fickle at heart? Obviously you can't signal this early in a relationship but there comes a time when you can, and it's just more efficient.

Arrive when you say you are going to arrive. Being late is the ultimate in bad manners - it says you think your time is more important than my time.

And if you tell me you are going to do something for heaven's sake do it or don't tell me in the first place! It just makes me grumpy.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A 1959 view of the race between India and China

Re-organizing some drawers this morning I was intrigued, and very distracted from my cleaning, to find a newspaper page under the drawer lining from the (London) Times on May 5, 1959.

Page 10 (the page I have) is full of the new rift between India and China. The crushing of the Tibetan uprising had just happened, the Dalai Lama had just fled to India and Mr Nehru was deploring the first time peace had been broken on the India - China border in 2000 years.

But the piece I found most fascinating looking back with today's eyes, is the piece on the need to ensure India succeeds in forming a democracy because it is the "bulwark" of freedom in Asia. It's chilling to read across the whole page stories so heavily influenced by the fear of communism. The reports range from French atomic testing in the Sahara (at which the French Prime Minister says that the health of the "local people and livestock will be guaranteed 100%"!) to Sir Winston Churchill flying in a jet for the first time to visit President Eisenhower in "a new time of crisis" - all written through the lens of English reporters.

Given how deep the fear was in 1959 it is truly marvelous to see the vibrant, powerful democracy India has become. It is still a young country, challenged by social unrest, corruption and dangerous neighbors, but for a country that was forged in fire only 64 years ago, it gives me hope for us all to see how democracy is thriving and rapidly improving the quality of life of the Indian people.

Here is the report:


Need for U.S. Aid

Vice-President Nixon and some leading Democrats joined to-day in urging economic assistance for India, lest failure in that country should lead to the downfall of democracy in Asia. The need to bolster India against the pressures of Communism, and particularly against China, was expressed or implicit in most of the statements; but Mr Nixon put this in clearer perspective in saying: "If there were no Communism and no Communist threat there would still be poverty, disease and need. Our primary interest must be the victory of plenty over want, of freedom over tyranny".

This was the first session of a two-day meeting sponsored by the Committee for International Economic Growth and it was address by the Indian Ambassador, Mr Chagla, and Senator Kennedy, as well as the Vice President.

Mr Chagla described India as the battleground for a great a decisive battle between dictatorial and democratic methods of solving the world's problem of poverty; if democracy failed in India, freedom would be the casualty over the whole of Asia and Africa. Senator Kennedy took up the same theme, giving a warning that India must at least equal the pace of China in moving from economic stagnation to growth. The United States must be willing to join with the other western nations in a long-range programme of loans and technical assistance designed to enable India to overtake China.

And the race is still on....

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why a CEO's personal blog helps the company

I was delighted that my blog was selected as one of the top 10 CEO blogs by Chief Executive Magazine this week. Given all the exposure and risk a CEO already faces why, you may ask, blog?

At the heart of my reasoning is that transparency is a good thing for a CEO. It's important the CEO is an active communicator, it's important that she is well understood by all her constituencies and a blog can be a powerful additive to the traditional communication platforms.

We have a FirstRain blog - MarketMine - on our web site. It's a good vehicle for us to comment on our industry, market developments at FirstRain, showcase customers, and for my team to write and share their views in an open forum.

But for a CEO blog Seth Godin set the bar high when he posted many years ago that blogs need
Pithiness and
Controversy - Does this sound like a CEO to you?"

I agree - this is a tall order - but if you can do it then it becomes both interesting reading and a vehicle for people to get to know me... my opinions on industry, technology, corporate boards, gender equality issues and, then sprinkled in just occasionally, a personal post about a vacation or a swimming race.

You can get to know me and what I care about very easily by reading my writing. You'll know where I stand on a number of business issues, what developments matter to me as CEO of FirstRain, and, if you want to, how to connect with me. It's a powerful recruiting tool for prospective employees to understand our culture, and many customers read it as a way of staying close to FirstRain.

More challenging is blogging on the Huffington Post if I think an idea is interesting to the Business section readers (I'm not qualified to write about politics or celebrities which are their highest traffic sections!). HuffPo has a huge readership and so posting there carries significant responsibility, but overall I get positive feedback from people who find it helpful and so I strive to share my experience, and expose readers to our business at the same time.

But it is not without risk. As a visible person (I sit on two public company boards) I do also have to be very careful that what I write never breaches confidentiality, while controversial is never in bad taste, and does not embarrass my companies even indirectly. This is hard at times - I am not without strong opinions! Sometimes I want to write on an idea that even I know is a little out there and I'll ask my team for advice - and so far they have corralled me well.

We are swimming in a social media world. It's one of the characteristics of today's Web that makes the need for FirstRain so strong in our customers. They need to understand, with great precision, what's developing in their markets. One of the best ways I can stay on top of the emerging trends is to be a part of that world myself - blogging and tweeting and collaborating so I understand first hand what the benefits and challenges are.

John Kador characterized me as " fearless in mixing the personal with the professional in her blog". I should have told him about the deep breath I take before I click on Publish Post each time!

Here's to the Crazy Ones

Mourning Steve Jobs.

To remind us all of his unique and powerful impact on the world, here is the 1997 Think Different ad with Steve's voice over, rather than Richard Dreyfus who voiced the national ad. Watch, feel the goose bumps and the tears well up.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Two of my loves just merged: FirstRain and the iPad

We announced the FirstRain iPad app today. Now normally I don't blog about FirstRain product feature this and technology that on Grassy Road, but this one is just too delicious to ignore.

Our new iPad app marries the elegance of the iPad with the precision of FirstRain's business Web. It's visual business monitoring - slick, fast, cool, beautiful, powerful - all the adjectives we can't use in a press release but want to say. I truly love it and it's now how I stay on top of my customers, our industry and everything else business wise that I need to know in a few minutes a day.

If you are in sales, marketing or purchasing, or you are a partner in a law firm, or a librarian, or a MI or CI professional, you are going to want a FirstRain subscription and this app. You are missing developments in your market, your customers, your vendors TODAY that you can now see real-time with the gentle swipe of a finger.

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