What is your background?
I actually started my career in a sales position right out of college. I got my Bachelor of Science in Botany and very early in the process was interested in the medical field. However, I quickly realized I didn’t want to spend that much of my life in school, and had to figure out what to do with all the science courses without starting over. So I decided to get into sales, and ended up selling chemicals to greenhouse growers and nurseries, which is what brought me to California from Florida. After a year in California, I got an opportunity to work in Chicago, and ended up living there for about three years.
In Chicago, I realized that sales was not where I wanted to be, so I changed careers and began my journey in IT. I started taking computer training courses and eventually learned of some open positions within the organization. I worked during the day and continued classes at night, eventually receiving certifications, including MCSE, A+, and CCNA, and over time I worked my way up from a support position to IT Manager.
I ended up moving back to southern California for an opportunity with the same training organization, managing the day-to-day operations of their Burbank location. There, I was quickly promoted to IT Manager, responsible for three corporate locations. I gained a wide range of experience. After being in management roles spanning several years, I decided to strengthen my technical skills and took a senior systems engineer role, and then eventually moved into consulting. In 2008, when the economy took a turn for the worse, I ended up having to travel a lot so I decided to move back into a management role, but this time, with a consulting firm. Over a six and a half year tenure, I was able to accomplish quite a bit including growing the business unit from 5 to 35 team members, and implementing processes and structure for scale and growth.
I resigned from my position and took some time off this past summer to spend with my family and reflect. I received a call in late November from a recruiter about an opportunity at RapidScale. I ended up meeting with [Mark Szotkowski, President], Sales and [William Hiatt, CTO], and eventually our Senior Cloud Engineer, Cory Pechon. I came back a second time to meet with [Randy Jeter, CEO], and things went very well. What was supposed to be a 30-minute meeting turned into an hour and 15 minutes. I was aligned with his vision and growth strategy for the company.
How long have you been with RapidScale now? Describe your position and responsibilities.
I officially started working for RapidScale at the beginning of January, so about three months now.
At a high level, I am responsible for IT service delivery, which includes both support and engineering. This service delivery life cycle includes onboarding and migrating new clients, supporting and maintaining client environments, and building relationships and driving the client experience.
Due to our exponential growth over a short amount of time, we’ve relied heavily on our people to get things done quickly and wear many hats. However, in order to scale, we have to operationalize and be able to adapt quickly to the market. I’m working on hiring differently, improving processes, and enhancing our technology, which is all part of the vision of improving the client experience.
The IT department has traditionally been known as the “no” department, because we feel that we have to be in control by locking systems down to prevent incidents from occurring. IT folks have also traditionally been fairly reactive – very responsive. Something breaks, and they’re quick to jump in and solve the problem, but they’re not necessarily preventing these problems from occurring in the first place. Shadow IT was born from this traditional approach to service delivery.
However, the expectations of businesses and clients today is that IT is both proactive and able to adapt quicker and move faster to meet demands.
That is the direction that we’re moving and we cannot be that traditional IT department. It is critical that we are a business enabler by being more proactive, getting to know the customers’ businesses, and understanding what they do and why they do it so we can adapt quicker and move faster.
From a first glance, how do you see RapidScale positioned in the market place and how do its strengths offer a unique competitive advantage?
I believe we’re positioned very well in the market place. Based on my experience, there aren’t very many cloud service providers that truly offer fully managed solutions. The majority of the providers offer a platform with the infrastructure in place to build whatever you want to build, but you have to support it yourself. RapidScale helps you design what you need and migrate over with support throughout the entire life cycle. This is a huge competitive advantage from my perspective.
Our white-glove service, customer care, and support of all solutions is a huge competitive advantage, rather than just providing a platform and letting the customer or local IT deal with it.
What goals does the engineering team have for this year?
We have two focus areas, and then specific goals that tie into them. The two focus areas are improving the employee experience as we grow, and being able to scale that and improve the customer experience.
Some of the goals we have are to clearly define career paths and growth opportunities for team members. We want to bring in talent as Level 1 and have them work their way through Level 2 and 3, including moving from support into engineering, all the way up to an architect role. This process will include:
- Career paths
- Cross training
- Process improvements
We have goals around more clearly defined training, collaboration and knowledge sharing, with a focus on a unified team that focuses on the customer. We are constantly striving to improve our processes and have specific goals around adding more structure around change management and project management.
One area that is prevalent in every organization, especially when experiencing high growth, is the need for improved and more effective communication. This is an area that we will be heavily focused on and investing time in. We will be utilizing a personal assessment model that provides a common language that team members can use to better understand themselves and adapt their behavior with others resulting in improved productivity, team work and communication.
What sets RapidScale’s service delivery apart from other cloud companies in the industry?
I hate to be cliché and say it’s our people, because I feel like a lot of companies say that. However, it’s our people! What makes a company great are the people. There’s a fine balance between letting team members fail and make mistakes that they can learn from, and keeping clients happy. It’s important to have that balance.
I think what sets us apart is giving team members flexibility and access to technology, great resources, and other very knowledgeable people. Not only technical knowledge, but institutional knowledge as well. For example, there’s a gentleman here who has been with RapidScale for a year as Level 1, and he wants to move up. He has stayed late every night for the last two weeks, working with a Level 2 engineer and one of our Senior Cloud Engineers, who are helping him. He built out a test client environment on his own, with some help and support along the way. He wanted to do that to grow. He made some mistakes, but it didn’t affect clients because it was an isolated, test client environment, and he learned a ton. Allowing him to do that and giving him the resources and support for it was important. We’re implementing employee lunch and learn sessions so it doesn’t always have to be on their own personal time. However, everyone is responsible for their own career and where they want to be and our job is to provide resources, time and support for these goals.
It’s definitely the people at RapidScale that set us apart, and their commitment to the company which all starts from the top. Our executives are an integral part of improving the customer experience, which is what we’re driving towards. We want to provide fully managed solutions because we know that sets us apart. If we didn’t have commitment and buy in from the top, then no one would buy in. It’s the commitment to that vision we have of providing the best customer experience.
How do the interactions between engineering and customers convey RapidScale’s overall business strategy – the best customer experience?
I think it starts from the introduction of a new customer that maybe didn’t know who RapidScale was. We start off with a kick-off call for a new project, and we introduce all the team players on our side and as well as the customer side with a goal of providing a white-glove customer experience approach. With the kick offs, we want to articulate that experience and lay the groundwork for what they should expect, how long it should take, what we need from them in order to make this work. It’s definitely a team effort and we need customer involvement throughout the partnership. Our goal is to set clear expectations, and execute and communicate along the way.
What I’ve learned over the last ~17 years of doing this is that anytime a customer has an issue, or the customer’s expectations are not being met, 99% of the time it’s because proper expectations were not set in the first place, and there was some sort of miscommunication. A dissatisfied customer doesn’t just have a technical issue – often it’s about communication or lack thereof. It took me a while to learn that.
Traditionally, IT folks are introverted and shy away from direct client interaction and communication. So, one of the things we’re working on improving is communication. At the last company I was with, I introduced the concept of personality profiles. We had every single member take the assessment, which produces a very detailed report providing more insight on your specific personality, what motivates you, what you like and dislike. But more importantly, it tells you how you prefer to communicate and how you prefer others to communicate with you. It’s not just for internal, but also for external communication with customers. It’s funny how everyone’s personalities are so different. When I was hiring people, I noticed that I’d naturally gravitate towards people that fit my style. So we had to consciously add other personality types to the interviews so we could attract other styles. We will definitely be implementing this model within RapidScale, which will drastically improve our employee and customer communication.
With the growth of the cloud computing industry and RapidScale, how do you see engineering’s processes changing and improving in coming years?
I kind of touched on it before, but it’s that same concept of: we have to move faster, adapt quicker and be more efficient. With any exponential growth, you have to be able to scale. At some point, if you’re not putting processes and structure in place, then you just start operating by the seat of your pants. This works for short periods of time, but not over the long haul as you grow and try to scale. As I’ve discussed earlier, we will be focusing on improving our processes to enable adapting quicker.
From a project management standpoint, right now we assign a particular project to an engineer, and that engineer takes care of everything for it. But with a more agile method, if we split those things out and play to more of people’s skill sets, we can be more efficient and accomplish more. The project should move along faster because we have the best technical skill sets for each particular area of that project, versus one engineer trying to do it all who might be lacking in one specific area.