The Caboteria / Main Web / TobyCabot / InformalResume (16 Jan 2004, TobyCabot)
I wrote this in early 1999 to an old friend who was trying to get me to join his company. You'll notice that this was before the Lucent sellout. Things went downhill pretty quickly after that although I did manage to hang around for almost a year.

It's been a while since we saw each other (and even longer since we worked together) and I don't even have a resume but I thought I'd put a brief CV together so you and the others at ... can get a feel for what I've been up to.

After you left I hung around firmware for another few years, and eventually was the "Group Leader" with 3-4 people working for me. Things were going OK but the woman who was running the embedded group in Software left to become a full-time Mom, so I talked to {the VP of software development} about taking the job and he gave it to me.

I had 12 people working for me, so this was my first "real" management job, what with the scheduling, project tracking, budgeting, layoffs, performance reviews, etc. It was pretty hectic but I was still able to keep my hand in technically, at least in terms of the architecture and design, and I understood what the engineers were doing well enough that they couldn't pull the wool over my eyes. I had a boss at that point who was very good at the technical aspects of management: planning, strategy, estimation, budgeting, etc. so I learned quite a bit about how to use Excel and Project.

When we had a round of layoffs I had to do my part, and fired two of my staff. One deserved it but the other one was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a very sobering experience and I viewed it at a personal level as something of an acid test. To that point everything had gone great and had been very easy. I got through it OK and, in retrospect, feel that it was a good learning experience. I will never invent an excuse to have a layoff. If people need correction than they should get it, but I've always felt that that particular layoff was pretty gutless, and was engineered simply to get rid of some people, who probably wouldn't have been hired in the first place if people had been paying attention.

After that things went OK, though. I moved up in the world when the head of the "host" development group left to join a little internal 'startup.' The group was the same size (around 10 people) but as you may recall host programming was a much higher prestige and profile activity than embedded programming so it was a step up. A few more of the group left to join that startup (called Transactive) so I had to re-build the group around a few core members who had stayed around. It was pretty interesting: since I didn't know much about the VAX and had never programmed the GOLS host it was a different experience than what I had been doing in the embedded group. Managing was more about what I "felt" or "reasoned" and less about what I "knew" from previous experience. By that time I was working for Steve Beason who taught me a lot about the personal/political art of managing people. Steve was a student of the political aspects of management so it was useful training.

Life was good! Vicky and I bought a cute little house in East Greenwich, she got a great job in fundraising at a small prep school there. I was doing a lot of sailing, both with my Dad and brother (we were N.E. Multihull Association champs in 1992) and also with some guys from work (we were bad but had a lot of fun). Tory, our daughter, arrived in 1995.

Changes were afoot at GTECH, though. First and foremost it was growing into a big company so there were lots of Vice Presidents to play power games, and since there was no real competition in the Lottery business there was no common enemy to make people pull together. Also, Guy and Victor were coasting into retirement so there was much less of a sense of mission and purpose. Most of the old-timers were still there but we were finding it harder and harder to get any useful work done. This culminated in 1995 when G&V hired a guy named Bill O'Connor to run the place. For some reason he decided that GTECH was in need of rescuing and that he was going to rescue us. He showed us lots of videotapes of how Chrysler turned themselves around and called lots of status meetings. I got picked to be on a team called the "Roadrunner" team which was going to re-invent the way GTECH did everything. We started by going on retreats and building things out of Erector Sets (twice). I kid you not! Every day the Dilbert cartoon looked more and more like GTECH.

I can't really say that I had made my mind up to leave but in retrospect I was spending way too much time surfing the Web. I still got great reviews and a pretty spectacular counter-offer, but I felt that I wasn't really accomplishing much, unless you consider learning Powerpoint to be an accomplishment, which I don't. So when Kenan called I was curious and drove up to Cambridge for an interview. As it turns out, I didn't really like the job that they had brought me in to interview for, but I met a guy in another group and we clicked. He indicated that his development manager was leaving to go back to B-school and I would have a shot at his job when he did. In the mean time we thought it would be cool if I set up a Benchmarking and performance tuning group, since Kenan had the desire to build big billing systems but they really didn't have much of a story. My first job when I arrived was to organize the first really big benchmark of Arbor/BP, at Hewlett-Packard's lab in Cupertino, CA. The benchmark went really well and based on the results we were able to claim a capacity of 10 Million residential subscribers, which was a 10x improvement over the previous year.

While I was there I noticed that the development environment was extremely unstable so I started helping with that, too. Before long I was running what passed for an MIS group at Kenan. It was basically two Unix guys (who I hired) and one NT guy (who I inherited). It took us about three months but we were able to whip the infrastructure into pretty good shape. At least the development machines didn't crash anymore (they used to crash at least once every two or three days). We also moved over from Novell to NT (in retrospect not that useful a change) and from cc:Mail to an SMTP-based system (cc:Mail fell over and died so we didn't have much choice). As a side note, the two Unix guys turned me on to Linux, which was great because it gave me a hobby. I got into computers because I thought they were just the most interesting machines I could imagine, but when I worked on them all day long they weren't much fun anymore (with the exception of the Amiga, which unfortunately went away). I've been running a Linux box at home for a while now and it really is an incredible OS, and a lot of fun to mess around with. We at Kenan have been waiting around for NT 5.0 (since 4.0 is a joke) but now that both Sybase and Oracle support Linux we're seriously thinking about supporting it, at least for the Internet market.

Back to work: after the infrastructure was pretty stable I handed over the reins of that group to one of the guys and took over the Cambridge product development group (which was why I had joined in the first place). It was about 10 people and pretty chaotic. The big issue here was growth. For example, at the end of 1996 (I took over development in November 1996) we had 5 systems in production, in three countries. By the end of 1997 we had over 25 production systems on 6 continents, had moved away from 32-bit arithmetic and had the done most of the work that allowed us to support Oracle as well as Sybase. So we were hammering the product both in terms of its features and its fundamental architecture, all with very high quality. By the time I left there were 97 production systems!

We sold our house in January 1997, broke even (well, not quite) and moved up to Dedham. House prices are ridiculous around here so we're renting and praying for a nice juicy recession to trim some of the absurdity from the real estate market. Last fall Vicky finally relented and let me get a motorcycle since we're too far away from the water for a boat. It's been fun to learn a new skill from scratch and it's refreshing since it's important on a bike to concentrate on the task at hand, which has nothing whatsoever to do with billing systems.

By this spring my part of the development group had grown to about 25 people and I was pretty well mired in day-to-day management bullshit. I was pretty stressed out. Kurt (my boss) suggested that it would be cool for me to spend a few weeks working in our London office, and offered to fly Vicky and Tory over there, too, so I went for it. We were setting up a product development group, and had some real problems in a custom development group, and I was able to help with both problems. We were also doing a big benchmark in Geneva so I was closer to the action. In all I spent 6 weeks working in London, and then we drove around Scotland for two weeks. It was my first vacation since Tory was born and we had a great time. The only downside was that we had to leave the dog at home since the British have very strict quarantine rules.

NOTE - After this email was written we found out that our second daughter was conceived on the vacation that I described above. Quite a souvenir!

One of the objectives of the trip was to see if the group would collapse in my absence and I'm proud to say that it didn't, which gave me some options in terms of what my role in the organization would be. So now I'm doing a few things. I'm still technically the co-manager of the development group, but I anticipate that we'll formally hand the whole thing over to my buddy any day now. I'm also still the head of the benchmark group, because it's fun to play around with really big computers (and I'm good at it).

Where I'm focussing my time and energy, though, is being the "Internet Technical Architect." We're making excellent progress in the Internet and VOIP markets but we're still far from being a 100% solution. I'm in the process of working out an architecture and a roadmap to get us there. It should be pretty cool: I get to do some deep thinking about how things will look in a year or two and then I'll help build it. I'll have a few guys working for me but not so many that managing them becomes all-consuming.

I'm also taking a more active role in the sales process, mostly for big or strategic accounts. I go places, meet other architects, and try to talk a good game. So far the feedback has been positive. We're winning the deals we want to win and I think we've got the momentum from our competitors (in the Inet space it's a company called Portal). There's a big one who will decide in the next week or so, and if we win that one then we're on a roll.

So, my coding's probably rusty, but I was good at it once. And I can build and/or manage a group if that's what's needed. It's actually more important to me to figure out whether there's a good personal and cultural fit, and if that's the case then we can chat about what I'll do exactly. I've been amazingly lucky with my career choices so far, especially given that I've taken a highly intuitive approach. I need to have fun at work; if I didn't I'd probably go for the big $$$ at Fidelity.

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