Adventure

2015, in Review

What a year! I have had some incredible professional and personal experiences in 2015 and I thought I would share a few of my favorites:

  • At MasterCard, we launched several new API services for a variety of customer segments.
  • We launched Masters of Code, a global hackathon competition from MasterCard that enabled us to work with some of the best software developers in the world.
  • We focused on expanding our customer base globally and ensuring that our global growth was sustainable through the creation of a decentralized process. This allowed me to work with some incredible technologists and organizations all over the world.
  • We launched the first ever global internal hackathon at MasterCard in which more than 5% of the entire company participated.
  • We worked with highly skilled and creative NYC developers at events such as the NYC FinTech Hackathon, TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon (at which a group of MasterCard developers won third place overall) and with Cornell Tech students at an internal event.
  • We facilitated Commerce Forum meetups in MasterCard’s NYC Tech Hub, bringing in a variety of speakers to talk about what’s happening in the commerce industry. This was in addition to our NYC involvement in great organizations such as the NY FinTech Meetup and the NYC TechDay.
  • I had the opportunity to represent MasterCard at fairly large events in the community this year, including an Inter-American Development Bank event, Front End of Innovation, AnDevCon, and more.
  • I was honored to be a formal mentor for a variety of organizations this year including XRC Labs, Techstars, Startupbootcamp, AngelHack Hackcelerator, and NYC Generation Tech.
  • I had a (short) conversation with and was retweeted by pmarca.
  • We closed out a successful year for Ignite Stamford (and will have relevant news on the organization soon).
  • I have continued to serve on my city’s legislative board and with my colleagues have continued to improve our community.
  • I was very excited to attend tapings of new talk shows that launched in 2015 including Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, David Letterman and Stephen Colbert.
  • I attended some games including those of the Yankees, the Red Sox and the UConn Huskies. I’m a fan of two out of those three – I’ll let you guess.
  • I attended a few concerts, my favorite of which was U2 at Madison Square Garden.
  • I saw the new Star Wars movie. Multiple times.
  • I am always trying to learn new things, so I took some time to study the fundamentals of quantum entanglement, machine learning, cloud architecture and venture capital.
  • I became engaged to an intelligent and loving woman.

Here’s to a great 2016!
CUGfCuTWUAATku9

Standard
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.

Standard
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!

Standard
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!

Standard
Technology

Is Your Body a Password?

Biometrics – data related to your physical body. Fingerprints, voice recognition, brain patterns… I have been seeing more and more biometric products in the market lately, often tied to wearables (Fitbit, Jawbone, and even Apple to name a few). I’ve even started to see clothing with integrated biometric sensors.

But going beyond the usefulness of inwardly insight, I am now starting to see biometrics replace the password. Look at Apple, a former employer of mine, with Touch ID. MasterCard, my current employer, even made a minority investment and product pilot in the space. But can this unique information replace passwords?

Traditionally, authentication has required two attributes: a username (which may or may not be public) establishing a user identity, and a password (hopefully known only by the individual) which allows access to that identity’s account. I would argue that biometrics replace the former of these two, but cannot solely replace the latter.

Think about it: what happens if someone steals or spoofs your biometric data? You can’t just log in and change your fingerprint or your retina image – they are forever unique to you (barring any unusual surgeries). Biometric identity will play a significant part of authentication in the future, but as a different type of user identification and part of multi-factor authentication.

What are your thoughts on biometrics and security? Tweet at me with #biometrics to let me know!

Standard
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!

 

Standard
Community, Leadership

Remember to Change the World

Remember when you were in elementary school and wanted to be President, a firefighter, or in a similar public-serving profession? How good-willed, we were… So what changes as we get older? Or does it? I’m not talking about the effect of disappointed parents whose children did not become doctors or lawyers or scientists (though I am sure that this has an impact) – more so the result of the introspection one goes through thinking about one’s “purpose in life” (not to be confused with the question of the meaning of life).

Similar to the argument that Sir Ken Robinson gave with regard to creativity, this type of altruistic mentality seems to be pressured out of us as we get older. In our careers, it becomes all too easy to slip into the mindset of promotions, raises, and position as well as the power, prestige, or utility that comes with them. But these two goals need not be mutually exclusive, even (and I would argue especially) in a for-profit environment.

Consider the example of Apple (a previous employer of mine). Built very early into Apple’s OS were accessibility features that enabled individuals with special needs to use Apple products (later iOS, as well). These core features help break down societal barriers for certain individuals. Coca-Cola, a company that produces relatively simple products, completed a project in Dubai and in Pakistan and India focused on helping cultures and families connect. MasterCard (my current employer) leverages technology to open financial accessibility to those who previously had none or little, helping individuals and families do things that many (but not all) westerners take for granted. No doubt these projects and associated stories were beneficial to the core business of these organizations, as well.

All of these projects, technologies, and initiatives were not made in some corporate vacuum – they were done by individuals who realized that there were opportunities for corporate and social good. It can be easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks, but from time-to-time it is important to remember and imagine the possibility of doing more for the greater benefit. Ample opportunities exist to make lives and societies better, but success requires people with the will to pursue them. Be one of those people.

Standard