Technical Vision

I was drawn recently to an article in the InternetNews announcing that Paul Maritz, current CEO at VMWare was the recipient, for the second time,  of the CEO Vision Award. Midway through my career at Microsoft I had a one on one meeting with Paul to prepare him for a briefing with one of my customers CEO’s.  At the time he was definitely one of the sharpest people we had at Microsoft and a close confidant of Bill Gates.  He would be a primary driver of Microsoft’s Server and Tools Business, creating the next billion dollar business for Microsoft.  He then went on to create something called Dotnet before retiring and riding off  into the sunset.   However great technical visionaries can never sit on the sidelines too long, they always comeback. To this day, as is evident. he retains that unique technical and business ability to see the direction the industry is headed and get out in front of the curve.

Companies come and go in the tech industry but one thing is certain those that can see the mid-term and long-term horizon stand a much better chance of success than those that simply just follow the lead of others.  A lot of companies start with a mission statement – most I believe is because a company thinks they must have a mission statement.  In the world of tech there are two pieces to a successful mission statement.   First it has to be long terms and have an end goal.  A good example is  the original Microsoft mission statement created back in the mid seventies “A PC on every desktop and in every home”.  One it is long-term it would take over 20 years to realize this dream  Another thing I like about this is nowhere does it mention the business Microsoft is in, software.  Software is implied because of the use of the term PC.  The second piece of a great mission statement is having great and credible people behind it.  In this case you had Bill Gates and Paul Allen and a whole bunch of great technical luminaries who were part of the company at the time (including Paul Maritz),

What if you don’t have those two things?  Well the same company I just referenced does not have those things today.  They live-on as a cash cow.  Not a bad place to be, but long-term it raises questions.  Every company needs to dedicate time to think through a few simple questions: Where will we in 10 years? 15 years? 20 years?  Where will the industry be in that same timeframe?  And how do we participate in those changing trends and stay out in front rather than lag behind?  In technology not an easy thing to do.  When Microsoft launched Windows 95 the future seemed clear and the role the PC would play was going to become greater.  About one month later the internet burst onto the scene and  the whole industry, let alone the world changed.  These type of game changing scenarios keep happening over and over again.  Apple launches it i-devices,  Google jumps out way ahead in search.  Social platforms like Facebook and Twitter come forward, Amazon sees the cloud before the rest and jumps ahead of the curve.  The examples are plentiful.  They are like freight trains leaving the station, catch them before they gain momentum otherwise it is near impossible to stop them.

In politics it is often said if you want to find out about something, “just follow the money”.  In technology I would say just follow the technical talent.    When talent starts leaving Google to go to Facebook, one should ask “why?”  When talent just starts retiring the same question should be asked.  Does a company have the ability to attract new talent?.  When you look across the industry today you see a lot of movement as people try to catch the wave of the next big opportunity or social network.  Once upon a time there were just a few companies that attracted a lot of talented people, now there are hundreds of companies to choose from.

I have been fortunate throughout my career to hear and meet some great technology luminaries in the industry.  I worked at a company with one of the greatest, Bill Gates.  But there are new young guns out in the industry such as Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook and Sergey Brin at Google.  The old guard is still around to guide those passions and promise,  Eric Schmidt, CEO at Google has the business acumen to guide that young talent at Google.  Paul Maritz is still very able and capable, just look at the performance of VMWare, despite increased competition.  My one question to my readers is if you are in the tech industry who is guiding your company to the future?  If you can’t answer or don’t know it may be time to abandon ship, before it sinks.  One thing I can guarantee without a technical vision the boat will sink.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 7, 2010

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