Leadership

Your Company’s Diet

I like to think of a company as an organism (legal representations aside). Like any healthy organism it is important to maintain a healthy diet, and that starts with the people you bring into your company. Having now worked for a variety of organization types, there are a few consistent needs I’ve noticed:

Define your organization’s values. Not only will they set expectations with your existing employees, they will serve as goal posts for hiring new employees.

Remember your mission. Everyone you hire in the organization is, or should be, working towards the same overall goals.

Skill is only one attribute. You can hire smart people, but if you can’t work with them effectively, they’re useless or can actually cause harm.

Your culture is sacred: treat it that way. That means addressing people issues immediately to protect the organization as a whole.

Easier to implement when your organization is smaller and/or growing, but vital nonetheless. Keep your company healthy.

 

 

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Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Technology

Time to Make Some Magic

Ever since I was a kid (am I no longer a kid?), I have been fascinated by technology and its applications. I was one of those people who took apart and (sometimes) put computers back together. I would experiment with materials and technology to see how these things interacted (I once created a liquid plastic that permanently hardened when exposed to air for a few hours – that carpet needed replacing anyway, Mom). At the same time, I was a heavy reader. I would read mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, non-fiction – books that transported me to other worlds or other parts of my world and stretched my imagination. Those experiences, however, were confined by the instruments through which I engaged in them: books, screens, physical facilities, instruments, etc. But what if the only limits to our experiences were those we established for ourselves? That would be beyond amazing – that would be a dream. The same would be true for the opportunity to help build such an enabling product.

That is why I am thrilled to finally announce that I have joined Magic Leap! For those who are not familiar with the startup, Magic Leap is fundamentally shifting how we humans interact with our environment, real and imagined.

Picture yourself in elementary school sitting in your classroom learning about fish and watching those very animals swim above your head. Envision battling your friends with little digital monsters in the real world like you dreamed about doing as a kid. Imagine interacting with characters from one of your favorite sci-fi series‘ at a famous cantina. New technologies are enabling these types of experiences.

And while I cannot yet reveal exactly what I am working on, I can say that this technology and the experience of using it is not hype – this is happening, and I am honored and excited to be a part of the team. 

Time to make some magic.

The opinions expressed herein are those of Brien Buckman and are not necessarily the position of Magic Leap. 

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Community, Leadership, Technology

Hacking MasterCard (Culture)

It was a cold afternoon in January. Six small teams of MasterCard employees gathered together in the company’s NYC Tech Hub for the first internal hackathon focused on building innovative applications using MasterCard APIs. We had yet to receive a budget allocation for these types of events but were able to scrap together funds from different groups across the company in order to host the event. It turned out to be excellent and resulted in a wide range of technology solutions being created.

As we reviewed feedback from participants, we started to think of what the next iteration of the event would look like. Initially, the idea was to stream the NYC event presentations to corporate offices around the world so that the entire company could be involved. Very quickly, however, we realized that this was an event that needed to be experienced and not just watched, so we decided the best option would be to engage our MasterCard Labs unit with a proposition: work with us to take what we did in NYC and make it global and institutional. Fast forward, and the company’s first global internal hackathon was created.

Creating a global standard for local office facilitators and organizers to use and leverage, we created a fantastic platform for the event now and moving forward. Incredibly, we were able to host approximately 5% of the company’s employee base in the Tech Hubs of Dublin, New York City, St. Louis, San Carlos, Baroda, Pune and Singapore. Yes, nearly 5% of the entire company participated in this event. Teams of up to five individuals competed over the course of two days (many slept in the office, if at all) to build the best prototype focused on payments, security, and data solutions. Of course, we had a lot of fun throughout!

It was truly inspiring to see the excitement and solutions come out of this two day event from employees around the world. Not only were highly executable solutions created for the company, but we inspired employees to work together on projects they were personally passionate about. Embracing the identity of a technology company has to come at all levels of the organization, and this (now institutional) event has certainly helped MasterCard achieve that goal.

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Leadership, Technology

Building a Developer Program (In Brief)

APIs. If you haven’t heard of them, then start reading. They will be the foundational fabric that binds the next generation of the web, and in many ways, they already are. Think about how many apps and website are connected to your favorite social network like Facebook or tools like Google Maps – those are powered by APIs.

For the past year, I have been working with our growing team at MasterCard to ensure we build awesome developer products and programs. This has been a great opportunity for a variety of reasons:

  • The identity of the company is rapidly evolving from a legacy financial services company to a cutting edge technology company. APIs are one way the company is doing that.
  • Employees and customers alike are excited about this. I am often approached excitedly at developer conferences and literally thanked for being there representing the company.
  • There is a tremendous amount of value that a company like MasterCard can provide, whether in be in the areas of payments, fraud and risk mitigation or data services, for example.

I thought I would share some recommendations from experiences I’ve had along the way:

Internal Education

If you’re working within a relatively large organization where many stakeholders are responsible for ensuring (and/or allowing) the growth of your group, then take the time to properly educate them on what you are trying to do and the importance of it in the context of the market. Once those primary stakeholders are excited about what you’re doing, that excitement will spread throughout the organization, and your efforts will be more easily accomplished and more rewarding.

Building the Right Products

At MasterCard, there is no shortage of API products that we could build. Like any individual or organization, however, there is limited capacity. Make sure you build products that prospective customers will actually use. Perhaps the best option is improving services you already have rather than creating new ones. In any case, you need to understand your own goals and plan appropriately.

Having a Capable Platform

Similar to building the right products, a platform capable of managing your API products is essential. US-focused products, for example, will require very different architectural support versus global products in terms of both content and usability. When building platforms, it is important to take a long-term and realistic view of your requirements. Your platform construction will also depend heavily on your product architecture. For example, if you are building a service that requires a server to make several calls to your API per use case it may make sense to test your own platform against a relatively high transaction per second (TPS) scenario – you don’t want unnecessary call failures because of the popularity of your product, after all.

Engaging Where It Matters

In my mind, there are primarily two different types of API customers who can be engaged: in typical sales / business development scenarios with larger companies, or within the general developer community. The former may very well be a continuation of existing processes. Just tell your sales people that they can sell products with similar or the same value propositions as existing ones but with significantly lower integration costs for customers and they will be all for it. The latter type of engagement is much more difficult, however, and could probably take up a post on its own. The best way to be successful is to be present in the developer community in a grassroots way. Attend meetups. Go to those demo days. Be recognizable. Be branded (not quite NASCAR-style, but not too far off, either). Build a community around you and the products you represent.

Support Can Be Tough

Supporting developers who are trying to or are currently using your API products can be extremely encumbering on both sides, but there are ways to make it easier and good things can come from this type of engagement. When it comes to in-person support, thorough understanding of the products and major languages is necessary. You can decrease the amount of support required by having awesome, humanized documentation. In-person support provides a great opportunity to help inform your development roadmap, as well. Digital support is best provided expeditiously. That means using Twitter, email, web chat, etc. Don’t forget about regional differences – while most software development occurs in English, there may be language barriers linked to (non-software) language.

Recruiting and Deploying the Right Talent

Everything about APIs is technical – the platform, the product, the documentation, and the customers. It is important, therefore, to have a team that knows or has the capacity to learn technical details. Everyone on the team doesn’t need to code, per say, but everyone must be able to communicate with each other clearly. You also want people on your team who want to be doing what they are doing and want to do it in the best possible way – as Steve Jobs said in 2005, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

Measure

This goes for any type of product management, but it is very important to measure as much as possible. There has been a lot of material written about measuring success. I recommend watching this GV presentation on OKRs and reading up on the subject. Measuring correctly will allow you to quickly make course corrections as you build and scale your developer program.

What are your thoughts on building successful developer programs? Tweet at me with #dev, and let me know!

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Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Book Review: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Practical. Insightful. Honest. I was highly impressed by Ben Horowitz‘s book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers.” This is a must-read for anyone interested in the business world – startup or not.

Ben does an excellent job of not just describing a series of events and points of recommendation but of illustrating the emotion behind the same. He does so in a very realistic fashion, as well. Reading the book, I felt as if I was experiencing a fraction of this emotion, appreciating both elated and dark moments. With his recommendations, Ben was not afraid to show both sides of an argument. His examples were not hypothetical or academic, but built on real experience, making the read much more enjoyable.

On top of the content value, Ben is also donating 100% of the book earnings to the American Jewish World Service.

I strongly recommend this book.

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Community, Leadership, Technology

Introducing the Commerce Forum

I am very excited to announce the launch and first event of the Commerce Forum. I am very thankful for MasterCard’s willingness to support this initiative.

There are many events in NYC that focus on products, often in demo day fashion. There are a few events with panel discussions focusing on general topics such as data or NoSQL. There are very few meetups, if any, that focus on individuals. My hope is that during these events, we will better understand the people who work in the wide field of commerce. It’s time for a different type of meetup – I hope you will join me for it.

The first event is planned for mid-January. Be sure to join the group to be eligible for a ticket!

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Leadership

My Day with the Chief HR Officer of MasterCard

Human Resources. Unless you’ve worked in the field or worked with someone in the field, HR can seem like a black hole where decisions on promotions, raises, and layoffs are made. “Don’t mind the man behind the curtain,” so to speak. But unlike in the Wizard of Oz, many employees do not have the ability or the will to discover what the world of HR is really like. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to do so.

Last month, the Chief Human Resources Officer of MasterCard was kind enough to host me for a day at the corporate headquarters. I spent the day attending meetings with him and was sure to record my experience. The following is a log of my day. All names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals, when appropriate.

7:20am – I get to the global headquarters a little early and find a comfortable chair to check my email in. My day is supposed to start at 7:30am, so I want to make sure that my host has time to go though his morning routine.

7:30am – Time to meet Ron. I go into the executive wing and find his office. He is at his desk, probably checking on emails as well. He greets me, allows me to put my things away, and makes sure I know where the secret kitchen is “just in case.” We spend a good amount of time talking about my history, my professional goals, and where I see myself going. We also talk about company culture, especially as it relates to the new NYC office. He tells me about himself, a little of his professional history, and describes his role at the company. It is interesting to hear about the different constituencies he serves and he often is the one to deal with intra-executive tensions.

8:40am – A quick break. I take the time to write some of these notes and catch up on email.

8:50am – Ron shows me some slides that he has previously presented to the company’s board of directors. They outline the status of the company’s people organization, and some of where we are headed. It is interesting to see the amount of tremendous diversity in the company, but we still have more to do.

9:00am – Gregory comes in to meet with my host and discuss some exciting new recruiting programs in the works. Again, it was interesting to hear about the different constituencies involved and the tensions that can arise between them.

9:25am – Simil pops in to tell my host about a recent hire. The person’s title is Director of First Impressions and can be found at the front desk of headquarters.

10:15am – Our next meeting, Angelica comes in to talk about an upcoming TEDx style talk she was invited to give. She is planning to talk about the value of reverse mentoring. We talk about the difference in work styles between different generations, and the need to expect differences and find common ground.

10:55am – Email break with a tweet.

11:15am – We stealthily join a feedback call on a new online training program for people managers; stealthily because we don’t want to skew the feedback. The group on the call were all beta testers, and provided both very positive feedback as well as a few opportunities for improvement. Someone brings up one of my (many) favorite quotes from Albert Einstein: “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

11:50am – Time for a walk. We visit the different HR folks around the office. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my host knows each by name.

12:05pm – We grab lunch and chat about our travels. My host gets something healthy and I do not. Enough said.

1:05pm – We have a meeting with the head of employee relations who also acts as my host’s human resource business partner. Essentially, this person is “HR for HR,” which is an interesting dynamic in itself. I can imagine the experience being relatable to a doctor’s doctor.

2:10pm – One of the things our CHRO likes to do is have a little fun once in a while, so we took the opportunity to prank call an employee we mutually knew well. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t pick up her phone, so we had to leave a prank message instead.

2:15pm – We have a short meeting about employee engagement and an associated program being developed.

2:50pm – We call back the employee we pranked. She said she fell for it for a couple seconds, but then started to recognize voices. All well, we tried.

3:00pm – Ron has a call with a potential high-level hire. It is an introductory call to see if there may be any good fits. I silently listen in, and we compare notes afterwards.

3:50pm – Another email break. Unsurprisingly since he is a corporate executive, and I getting us ready for an upcoming hackathon.

4:05pm – An interesting meeting between us, the CHROs Chief of Staff, and the head of internal communications.

4:55pm – The conclusion of a great day. I say thank you, promise to keep in touch with my host, and head home.

Overall, I had a fantastic experience with MasterCard’s Chief Human Resources Officer. My experience taught me that there is a lot of planning and work that goes into running a people organization. I would strongly recommend that anyone who is interested in running an organization take some time to learn how to manage and plan for a company’s most important asset – its people.

Continue the discussion by tweeting me with #HR!

 

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