Evangelism lessons, from my Grandmother

Here are a few things I learned from my Obaachan (Grandmother in Japanese) who sadly passed last year at the age of, 110.  No, that’s not a typo.  One hundred and ten.  No condolences please, she lived a long and happy life.  So, a few life/Evangelism lessons I learned following this nearly five foot tall woman around all my life.

Get out – we spend a bunch of our lives behind the keyboard or at meetings sitting in rooms or in the car heading to… another meeting.  She’d be up puttering around in the garden or doing folk dancing.  It didn’t matter who the “folks” were, you name the culture, she’d try it. The only time I ever saw her sitting down was eating or playing cards with her card circle.  Yeah, I didn’t learn this lesson very well myself…. but get out, meet face to face and do your thing.

Be up, with people –  As Evangelists we deal with people, really not technology.  My grandmother was relentlessly positive and always collecting people.  Malcolm Gladwell calls these people “connectors” and by his standard she was a mega connector.  I swear she invented the concept of “meetups” in her kitchen, she could pick up the phone and make things happen that were fascinating and amazing.  Evangelists do this everyday online, on conference calls on webcasts…

Own it – We all try to make our work interesting to others, well, make it interesting to you first.  She’d take something ordinary and turn it into something of her own with surprising results.  A flowering cherry tree she had me plant as a kid in her garden I noticed while in college had fruit!  Apples, cherries, I can’t remember what else.  She grafted so many shoots on it that she couldn’t remember it originally was a cherry blossom tree, it was now in essence an “Obaachan Tree”.  Are your demos just the SDK sample code, if so, you really should make them your own.

That’s it, file this in the “are Evangelists born or is it something learned” chapter.

Onwards!

Ok, I’ve been a bad blogger for several months….

Suffice it to say that at BlackBerry, a day without change is, well, something that doesn’t happen.  The most recent change is moving from my seat in Developer Relations to the QNX Software division of the larger “BlackBerry”.  Yes, this is the same team of OS wizards who built the kernel running under BlackBerry 10.

Yes, this is the same team at QNX being started by Alec Saunders, and no, not we’re not doing Evangelism, rather, building a new product.  I’ll be working on a new M2M/IoT cloud based system, more on this as the story unfolds.

However, DRG and the App  Ecosystem team led by Marty Mallick have been merged, now it’s one App Ecosystem and Enterprise Developer team under Marty.  So if you work with someone on the BlackBerry DRG team or people you follow via the blog, twitter or forum posts, chances are they’ll still be delivering you the same great information, just with a new team name and maybe, well, I’ll wait for my old team to share their news.

I am planning to get back in the saddle and start blogging again, most likely with a broader focus than primarily product Evangelism.  Lots to discuss re: M2m and IoT…. but you know I’ll be watching what’s happening out in the Ecosystem.

How’s it going? Better than we ever admitted.

Up until this week, we’ve reported that our BlackBerry 10 App Ecosystem was the fastest growing for a new smartphone OS launch, namely 70K apps at our announcement, and 100K a month later by the time actual phone hardware shipped.  This week, we announced our growth rate continues, we’re up to 120K Z10 apps available in our BlackBerry World catalog today.  Impressive work by our great Ecosystem, 50K apps added since BlackBerry 10 announce!

This however is only part of the story.  Yesterday my boss Alec Saunders disclosed the other half, when you combine all the apps the team acquired last year, it’s over 250K apps for BlackBerry 10, BlackBerry OS (our old OS) and PlayBookOS!  This is in one year, with the same team, both launching a new platform and continuing to work with existing app developers.

What did we learn during this last year?  I’ve already covered many of the lessons here on my blog, but in this case much of the credit for BlackBerry OS goes to our great worldwide BlackBerry Developer Community, who’s commitment to share their BlackBerry OS expertise with others was truly outstanding.  Many of these Community members are part of our BlackBerry Elite, recognizing the top BlackBerry App Developers around the globe.  So, without working closely with our Developer Community, this last year would never have been possible.

Investing in your community pays multiple dividends.  They are your best advocates and Evangelists, and by investing in them, they will reward you with strong support like we saw at BlackBerry.  Do you have a Community recognition program?  If so, do you talk to them every week?  And more importantly, are you listening, they’ll tell you how things are really going out in your Ecosystem.

Technical Evangelists: Forces of Nature or Products of Nurturing?

I’ve been having a fun on again, off again background discussion with a few super experienced Technical Evangelists (TE) about whether it’s possible to train someone to become a successful TE, or are they really born with the skills in the first place?  Truth be told, I think we all agree it’s a little of both, but, there’s not a simple “it’s nature” or “nurture” answer.

When I think back over my own experience, each Evangelism or Ecosystem org I’ve been in has required a different mix of skills based on the type and release stage of the product, maturity of the ecosystem and whether the team itself is new or existing.   Because of this, it’s hard to describe an exact profile of the TE you need to hire and what to look for in the wild, or even what skills to help them polish up.  I also realize, this is probably a multi-part post, today I’ll describe a general background profile that I commonly see in my most successful evangelists.

  • Development skills – this is a given, all my TE’s are first and foremost experienced developers, maybe not just of mobile apps or services, but are highly technical.
  • Connectors – ala Gladwell’s Tipping Point book, they participate in people oriented things, meetups, groups etc.  Usually they lead one or more of these group activities and are known in their locale for doing so.
  • Entrepreneurs – my most successful TE’s have either been a founder of or have run a startup, which makes them well suited to talk to other startup devs or startup wannabes.
  • Social media – they constantly use these tools for info sharing and ideas are the principal currency of exchange in their  interactions via social media.

You probably noticed I don’t look for individual skills like “public speaking”, “great PowerPoint” ability or “sales” skills, these are skills that can be polished.  Sure, the candidate needs to be able to do stand up talks, but, if they are “connectors” they’re already doing this, albeit maybe to smaller crowds than my team typically addresses.

So back to my conjecture, are they born this way or is this learned?  I think from the profile it’s clear that it is both, learned skills and experience and a predisposition to work well with others.

When you’re looking at the resumes in front of you, have a framework in mind to quickly assess whether this person is a great developer, a great networker and a business builder.   If you check off all three, my guess is you’ve found a great candidate for your next TE.

In the US & ROW, Software Engineers in high demand

Like many of you, we at BlackBerry are competing to hire great Software Engineers in our locations around the world.  So, it’s worth noting just how in demand they are, in this report from US Labor Department data makes it pretty clear:

Electrical engineering jobs declined by 40,000 in the first quarter, and the unemployment rate in the category rose to 6.5%, based on an analysis of U.S. Labor Data by the IEEE-USA.

At the same time, the data showed that jobs for software developers are on the rise. The unemployment rate for software engineers was 2.2% in the first quarter, down from 2.8% in 2012, IEEE-USA said. Some 1.1 million software developers were employed during the first quarter.

What’s surprising to me is the increase of the unemployment rate of EE’s, given the growth of embedded devices one would suppose there would be a corresponding growth in hardware design skilled engineering as well.

In an earlier post I discuss all the countries we’ve received BlackBerry 10 apps from, as well as meeting with University officials, Computer Science is a highly sought degree everywhere in the world, hope to see it gain in popularity among US students.

Our takeaway as evangelists is to make our programs accessible to students and work closely with University Computer Science departments.  One example, we’ve found that hackathons are very engaging for students, and that working with student or University organizations make hackathons way more attuned to the students than our stand alone events and have been great sources for recruiting as well seeing all the great innovative app ideas.  This is good news for the Ecosystem.

iPhone most vulnerable platform, for now

BGR reports that iPhone is more vulnerable than Android and Windows Phone and BlackBerry, snippet follows:

A new report suggests that Apple’s (AAPLiPhone is more “vulnerable” to attacks than Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry (BBRY) smartphones. According to a study from SourceFire, the vast majority of all mobile phone vulnerabilities that have been discovered so far have been found in Apple’s smartphones. The firm found 210 vulnerabilities in the iPhone, giving iOS an 81% share of known mobile phone vulnerabilities, while Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry devices combined to have a 19% market share.

Yves Younan, a senior research engineer at SourceFire’s Vulnerabilities Research Team and author of the report, revealed to ZDNet that the results were “surprising.” He added that it was also “interesting” because Apple has continued to implement additional security features in new versions of iOS.

I’m not sure why this should be surprising to anyone, any platform that hits a sufficiently large number of users will fall prey to attack.  The many lessons that we learned on the PC platform are happening, albeit at an accelerated pace, on the smartphone platforms.  This is something that we all have a stake in and every business and consumer smartphone customer will need to be responsible for “securing their end point device”, i.e. your phone,  just like you have secured your PC.  No platform is truly immune, active measures are called for.

At BlackBerry we’ve built in several features to help, BlackBerry 10 has built in support for our Fusion MDM product to remotely manage and more importantly to remotely wipe sensitive corporate data.  We’ve got Balance, essentially separate “personal” and “business” partitions built into the platform keeping work and personal data and apps separate and secured.  Our BlackBerry World store has “Enterprise Store” capability, allowing businesses to select, manage and distribute only the applications they’ve approved on the business partition.  Finally, we’ve also announced our relationship with Trend Micro to keep our BlackBerry World stores malware free.

I wish that it were the case that all the features and services we’ve built for BlackBerry 10 were enough, however, you’ll need to take additional steps to insure your apps, services and phones are secure for your customers and employees to the best of your abilities.  This includes preparation, education and implementing sound policies and procedures.   This is our shared responsibility in the smartphone ecosystem.

Great Vision, Great Execution

I may be BlackBerry’s Evangelism Team’s Sensei, but I’m not the Sensei of all things smartphone or even mobile devices.  Lucky for me, I get to work every day with colleagues who literally invented the smartphone category.  For example, I just had dinner with colleagues from the Enterprise Products team at BlackBerry and gained insights about how the requirements of operating mobile devices connected to the Enterprise lead to what we think of as core BlackBerry strengths re: security and manageability.

What I’m struck by as I’ve learned more about the evolution of BlackBerry’s Enterprise products is how the team’s very forward looking initial product vision continues to make product feature decisions easy to make even in today’s BYOD world.   In fact, it appears to me this makes BlackBerry the most “BYOD Ready” platform on the market today, yet “BYOD” wasn’t on the radar when the team crafted their product vision many product cycles ago.

What can we learn from this as Evangelists?  As a team, a strong shared vision and mission provides clarity for the team every day, but especially in moments of crisis or indecision.  At BlackBerry our team’s mission is to “Make BlackBerry the best business partner for App Developers.”  Period.  To begin with, this means many different things to us, like are we making things easier, faster and more profitable for our developers?  Are we helping them see additional opportunities worldwide with their apps?  You get the idea.

Up front clarity of vision and mission enables you see more clearly your desired end point, hence, helps you reach your destination faster and with fewer detours and false starts.

What’s your team’s vision and mission?