Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Book Review: The Innovators

The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital RevolutionThe Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will say unequivocally, anyone who is in the IT field - software, hardware, architecture, telephony, networking, management - you should read this book. If I ever have the chance to meet Sir Tim Berners-Lee, I am buying that man a beer and giving him a hug.

The Innovators is a very well written, historical narrative on the forwarding thinking and progressive thought leaders that brought forth the digital age. Most shockingly, the idea's and experiments that lead to the technology we use today started in the 1800's. The book goes on to explain the machines - and I mean physical gear turning machines - were developed to help add, subtract, and predict number sequences. At this time it was not only dreamt, but felt that it was within their lifetime that machines would become programmable devices that could be fed data (via punchcard) to instruct future mechanics.

Obviously, they were wrong on the timeframe, but incredibly forward thinking on the application! And that is exactly the insight this book provides, what and how so many individuals thought about technology at their time, and what it lead to for us to use today. Machine, programmability, electricity, microprocessors, system-on-a-chip, open architecture, closed architecture, software development, the Internet - that is in essence how this book flows. Isaacson shows how rarely one individual had both dreamt of a solution AND capitalized on it. Rather, one would have the idea, and others would find a way to provide the solution to the masses.

All in all, this book is a great tale of how teamwork and leadership played a role in helping even the brightest of the bright succeed. What I wish this book had done was provide more application in a business sense, just because I feel that this book was really a hundred mini history lessons. Again, it was well researched and written, but in a way each chapter, and some subsections of each chapter, were all in a ways independent of one another. I know Isaacson isn't one to write business leadership books, but if he had been, this would have been the perfect jumping off point. I also have a little concern for the technical nature of this book.  It’s not a science book in any way, but when the book makes periodic reference to TCP\IP, the importance of an Operating System, or perhaps readable\writeable memory, it may be a little cumbersome for a reader who is not inherently technical.  It’s difficult for any author, let alone Isaacson, to dive in and explain what TCP\IP is.. or it’s importance..  so these things need to be mentioned in order to give an appropriate history, but I do worry that at times the text can become a little tech-heavy.

I had read Einstein: His Life and Universe many years ago, and quite honestly it was the best book I've ever read. In some regards, it's unfair to compare The Innovators to Einstein. However, it is a worthwhile read, and ultimately I stand by my opening statement.. if you're in IT.. read this book! It will give you a great appreciation for the field your in and the insight so many before us had had that provides us with an opportunity to excel today.

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

How to gain and lose a customer

I had an interesting turn of events this AM. So much so, I thought it would be a great way to make my first post of 2015. I’ll get to the aforementioned events, but first.. the back story.

A little over 2 weeks ago, I was driving along in my car and had a thought pop in my head: “I haven’t had to change a flat tire in a really long time.”  Don’t ask me why I had that thought.. I have no idea where most of the ramblings that are going on up there come from.  I don’t recall driving by someone changing a flat, or talking to someone who had done so.. it just.. popped in my head.  Well.. the following week.. GUESS WHAT HAPPENED?

True story, not a week later and while on my way to work in single digit temperatures, I here the “wump, wump wump” sound as I start to slow down towards a stop sign.  Pulling into a nearby gas station and fearing the worst, I took a jaunt around the front of the car and see my tire all ugly and misshapen (like me!). Summoning my inner-man, I took a brief look at the car manual, jacked up the car and put the donut on.  Actually, I wish it went this smoothly.  It took me 15 minutes just to get the car jacked up, the lug nuts wouldn’t pop off, and a kind.. and burly.. gentleman had to show me how to kick the loosened tire out of the wheel well.  However.. I learned something!

rustyscrew The remainder of the week was too hectic for me to get out and get the tire changed, so I decided to wait until the weekend to take care of the issue.  I gave my local tire\repair shop a call on Friday (yesterday) afternoon and explained the issue.  They said it would be no problem, come in as early as I want.  So, this morning I did just that and got there around the time they opened.  Roughly an hour later they summoned me to the front desk, showed me “the culprit” – a broken off rusted screw that was jammed into the tire – and told me the best news of all – NO CHARGE!

I was taken aback.  Honestly, when’s the last time you had gone somewhere for any service, and wasn’t charged at least a “service fee” of some sort?

Even better, the company’s policy is a “free fluid check”. I brought the car into the shop for a flat and they patched the tire, mounted it, and checked a bunch of other items in the car… all for no charge.

I had two items on my list as I got up this morning, take care of my tire, and get a haircut.  I jumped into the car and took a 15 minute ride across town to where I’ve been getting my haircut the past few years. 

I’m kind of weird.  I suppose we all are in some regards, but I just don’t like change… and that makes me weird about certain things.  I’ll drive the same route to the mall that I took with my dad as a kid. I wear the same rotation of clothes to work every day.  If I go somewhere to get a haircut, I like knowing that I can go back later and they’ll remember how short I typically like my hair. 

When I got a new job a few years back, it was inconvenient for me to use the barber I had always used, so I found another place closer to home.  I’ve been going there for over 2 years now, but the woman there never remembers how short I like my hair – I always get the question “what number?” for the clipper settings. She’s always pre-occupied with her dog that she brings to work.  Her friends are always stopping by and lurking around.  Still.. I’m weird.. I found a place for a haircut and that’s where I’ll continue to go. 

howtomop This AM as I pull up for to the shop, I see her locking the door to  a walk and have a cigarette.  She looks at my car, checks the door once more, and then takes a walk. As I waited in my car for roughly ten minutes I started to ask myself “Why do I even come here?” and “Why am I waiting?”  All of this off the heels of having one of the better customer service experiences I’ve had in a very long time, I now feel like I’m wasting my time. I mean.. I’ve seen this woman on several occasions.. she’s cut my hair! What are the odds I’m showing up at her shop, with a mop on my head, and I’m not there trying to get a haircut?

Today was just one of those examples that show how the little things can really help earn you business.  A customer friendly policy at my auto shop didn’t bring me back there.. I didn’t even know it existed.  But now I guarantee you I go back there many more times.  Meanwhile, if anyone knows a good barber who wants a loyal and well tipping customer.. I know of someone who’s in the market…

* Forgive my gratuitous linkage to, but for anyone who lives in my area.. and for the great services I received today… I feel providing some linkage to their website is the least I can do…