I try to spend a week every year in Silicon Valley, meeting with vendors, catching up with colleagues, soaking up the atmosphere and drinking the very special water. On this year’s agenda are Cornerstone OnDemand (with a huge thanks for coming to the Valley), SAP and SuccessFactors, Oracle, and Workday, a major gathering of EIs (with a huge thanks to Ray for hosting us), and so much more.
Ron and I lived out there when we were first married, first in San Mateo (after a couple of months in a San Francisco boarding house — but that’s another story) and then in Sunnyvale, from mid-72 through mid-77. This is the period when the term, Silicon Valley, was first used and referred literally to all the chip and hardware manufacturers located there. As an electrical engineer, Ron’s job opportunities in the Valley were terrific; he worked happily at Varian the whole time we were there.
There was a lot to love about Silicon Valley, but the dry climate, distance from my family, and Ron’s desire to get his PhD in communications systems theory (with the best program in the country at the time at George Washington in DC) took us back to the East Coast and Northern Virgina (mid-77 until we relocated early-99 to Fort Myers). But it wasn’t long before my new employer, AMS, sent me back to the Valley.
I went to check out a couple of major HRMS vendors, Tesseract and Integral, with an eye on AMS buying our way into that market. My AMS colleagues decided that they could build something better (which they never did) than the HRMSs I reviewed, but that trip in the late 70’s (or early 80’s?) began my 30+ year friendship with and respect for one of the greats of enterprise software, Dave Duffield. Little did I suspect then that I would be meeting the software pioneer who would take our industry from the mainframe to the client server era, a change that left those vendors unable to make the leap fast enough stuck with essentially unsaleable products. That shift from mainframe to client server also provided a ton of startup energy as the cost of entry, for vendors and buyers alike, came way down.
All these years later, I continue to prepare carefully for such vendor meetings, like those I’ll be having next week. Imagine yourself in a room full of the smartest architects, developers, product strategists and more from some of the very top vendors in our industry. Wouldn’t you be just a little nervous? Just a little intimidated by the collective knowledge of the folks with whom you’ll be meeting? Very mindful that you’d better be prepared and respectful of their time. And ready to give as good as you get?
I’m very grateful that these folks give me their valuable time; the very least I can do is to be prepared to contribute some fresh thinking to the dicussions. And to push for clarity about everything from product roadmaps to architectural and object model strengths (or weaknesses) and on to the challenges they face in getting buyers to use their products well. Sometimes there’s “creative tension” in these meetings because I’m pushing an idea that doesn’t fit that vendor’s business model etc., or because they want me to accept their point of view instead of my own. When surrounded by such talented and knowledgeable people, I’m inclined to make allowances for honest differences of opinion, but everyone with whom I’m meeting knows me well enough not to let “corporate speak” enter the room.
I expect to learn a ton, contribute as much as possible, and be exhausted and with my brain exploded by the end of the week. Then it’s off to Oregon for a Wallace family reunion and on to Jackson Hole so that I can take an illustrated journaling workshop. I would so love to be able to illustrate my own blog posts, but I think that’s some ways off. I do plan on doing some blogging “from the road” about my adventures in Silicon Valley, so please stay tuned.