I was apprehensive when I heard our Presidio Exchange conference would be held on a cruise ship in 2016. I had never been on cruise, but I had toured historical Navy vessels and mentally I had extrapolated their cramped halls with periodic bulkheads to step through to the very dissimilar luxury liner we were destined to travel on. That misconception paired with abundant jokes about bad weather, hurricanes, Zika, a last-minute schedule change to drag sessions into Saturday, abandonment of private island excursions and the prospects of having the UN’s defined fundamental right to internet access revoked for days collectively had me anticipating a lackluster and melancholy voyage. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I woke up at 4 am Thursday to gather myself and arrive at the airport early for my 7 am flight to Miami. I worked furiously in the terminal to burn down as much work as I could before boarding the flight and then I started to detach from routine as I took in Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn’s book I’m The Boss Of Me about self-improvement and grabbing life by the horns. By the time we landed I was five cups of coffee in and ramped up for the day. Then the gears jammed; the flight was early, the shuttle to the airport was fast, the ship wasn’t ready. Hundreds of Presidio employees packed into the Norwegian ship terminal for hours waiting to board the vessel. The terminal lacked both entertainment and food save a pair of vending machines, so everyone was very hungry and very anxious to board the ship. By the time boarding started, the time allocated for lunch had come and gone and general session is what many had to sate them.
After acquiring sustenance it was easy to get myself into conference mode and soak up the positive outlooks promulgated by our amazing leadership team. Listening to the thoughts, insights, strategy ideas and initiatives our executives have put together never fails to get me excited about our company, about my relationships with my customers, my career and technology in general. The positivity these sessions induce is contagious, and in a confined space like a cruise ship, I believe it is greatly amplified. Like bringing hemispheres of plutonium together, when the mass of people who make up Presidio are put together and positive force is applied, criticality is achieved and we explode in optimism and camaraderie.
Particularly encouraging to me was the last admission that a developer’s mindset is something every engineer will need moving into the future. I believe this has been an 800-pound gorilla in the industry for years and that many have been terrified of making it angry. To tell the large, talented and diligent workforce of engineers that they need to need to adapt or perish has been to risk backlash for a long time, but no longer. It’s a brave new world and we all need to start thinking at a higher level and abandon the ways of the trench digger. Those themes were made very clear during Exchange and I couldn’t be happier.
Just as encouraging as the inspiring orations of Thursday was the volunteerism of Friday. Orchestrated by Tony Kaperick and a team of leaders, the Presidio team engaged in extensive Hurricane Matthew relief efforts after arriving in the port of Nassau. Some went to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army to break down pallets and pack food boxes, and I and many, many others went to Clifton Heritage National Park to help clear the beach. After a long tour of the devastation as we traveled through the island to arrive at the site, our team was confronted with what seemed to be an insurmountable task. There were tree limbs and branches all over the beach. Many of these were buried in the beach itself as a result of the slurry of sand and sea water swirled well above normal levels. Many were impossible to pull from the ground and had to be dug out with shovels. Some were still mangled and interwoven with the trees that remained and had to be extracted. Dispersed throughout the beach were assorted trash, roof beams, broken glass, tires, pallets and other non-organic debris all of which made clean up dangerous. Piled up closer to the current shoreline and extending its entire length was seaweed piled 2-3 feet high in places all of which had similar trash and branches entangled within it. The stench the seaweed emitted was nauseating as it rotted in place.
Presidio employees tackled the challenge head-on. Men and women, young and old, muscular and no quite so all went right to work grabbing everything conceivable and moving it several yards off the beach and into piles that could be more easily removed from the site. We had diggers shoveling sand off of larger limbs so that they could be extracted more easily. We had pickers who grabbed everything from twigs to forearm thickness branches. We had crazies with no regard for personal safety (myself included) lift entire trees in Navy Seal fashion to overcome the lack of access to chain saws. We had meticulous cleaners with rakes who gathered smaller pieces of debris into smaller piles to be gathered and removed.
After a few hours of hard work by all, the condition of the beach was much improved. At the conclusion of our service, we were met by Mario Steele of the Clifton Authority Board of Directors who thanked us profusely for our efforts and indicated that the hundreds (dare I say thousands) of feet of beach we cleaned up saved them weeks of man hours in a time when many were still rebuilding their own homes. More important than that, we helped them move closer to reopening the park which helped put money into their economy via eco-tourism. Mr. Steele even offered to provide anyone who returns with Presidio identification a personal tour and lunch! We were also thanked extensively by our very lively tour guide on the shuttle, Vivien Wiley, who is descended from the slaves who worked the land at the Wiley plantation that is now the park. I believe we all felt a great sense of pride, humility and love when we were all done.
Saturday was the day that felt the most like a traditional conference day with a series of shorter sessions focused on individual topics. As is normal for me at all professional conferences, I attended a wide array of discussions ranging from collaboration discussions to DevOps to network forensics to cloud services. While everyone had something great to discuss, some of it is governed by NDA and can’t be shared with a public audience. One thing I am very comfortable sharing is probably the most profound five words I heard at Exchange. I was compelled to write it down at the time and I am compelled to share it with you now. “Open up and be vulnerable.” These words were uttered during the DevOps session in response to someone expressing concern about neophytes being too embarrassed or anxious to ask elementary questions about programming practices.
In this brave new world of automating our lives, we need to start checking our egos at the door. We need to ask questions in search of knowledge and doing so requires that we discard our fear and not be intimidated by the social responses of our peers. The simple fact of the matter is, none of us are experts, if we were we would be coders and not engineers. None of us has experience with DevOps practices. We need to abandon our fear of failure. To quote Cisco executive Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn in her book I’m the Boss of Me, “Success takes practice and, by definition, always starts with multiple failures or mediocre results.” I for one look forward to rolling up my sleeves and setting the Shark Tank in my sights. I have ammunition embodied in some ideas I’ve long held back because of fear of failure. I have resolved to abandon my apprehensions and go full steam ahead not only in pursuit of financial rewards, but to make manual tasks less painful and more expedient, which will facilitate higher level thinking.
One full week removed from Exchange, I believe the experience was tremendous and that it is a great time to be a Presidio employee. I entered this week with unbridled optimism, and it seems to be sticking. The persistence of communication among our teams after the conference seems to be a departure from conferences past where everyone returned to their daily grinds and abandoned the heady notions they had before Monday deflation. I look forward to continuing to write. I look forward to transforming my long shelved development ideas into reality. I look forward to helping others as I help myself grow. I look forward to the future.