Standing on the Edge of the Unknown

Tomorrow, I start working for Amazon Web Services!

In order to put my excitement in context, it’s important to know where I’m coming from and where I’m looking to go.

Five years ago, I started working for EMC.  EMC took a risk hiring me, but it paid off.  I was new to the workforce with no experience in storage and completely naive to the trends that shape the IT landscape.  I didn’t even know what they were asking me to do.  What does a pre-sales engineer do, exactly?  During my five years, EMC gave me access to all the resources I needed to be successful.  When I finally figured out how to do my job well, I had a new perspective on career and the IT landscape as a whole.  I will never forget the people at EMC who helped me along the way.

Now that I saw things in a new light, I started asking myself how I could do it again.  This lead to a multi-year search that ended two weeks ago with Amazon.  My criteria was as follows:

  • I must be able to provide value day one.  I’m good at understanding complex technologies, mapping the value of the technology to business needs, and message this value to different stakeholders.
  • They must have a sound strategy.  I was searching for a company that has the potential to be a market leader (or is one), and having a poor strategy won’t get you there.
  •  Located in Boston.

I profiled hundreds of companies and only four made it through my filter.  I didn’t obsess over my search, but I was always looking.  If anyone ever mentioned a company I hadn’t heard of, the next thing I would do would investigate them.  My notebook is filled with dozens of companies that didn’t make the cut.

Then I got the call.  Amazon wanted to talk to me?  I didn’t even have a warm introduction!  This was like MIT or Harvard approaching me to go to their school — I just couldn’t believe it.  I’m still having a hard time believing it.

There is always a degree of uncertainty that comes with changing roles.  I won’t have a support network and I know I don’t know a lot of things that I need to know to be successful at Amazon.  But I trust in myself to build my network within Amazon, educate myself on the gaps I have with the technology, make some friends along the way, and have fun doing it!

With every new piece of information I get my hands on, I am more certain that this is the right decision for me.  Have you read anything that Jeff Bezos has said?  Have you seen the new drone video Amazon just released?  Are you aware of just how many web services AWS offers?  AAHHHH, YES!!!!

Blue Origin employees celebrating a rocket land.

Blue Origin employees celebrating a rocket land.  This happened after I accepted the offer! (source:

Today I stand tall.  The energy is surging through my body!  I’m off to memorize Amazon’s Leadership Principles before my first day.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

How I solved Aristotle’s Puzzle in 1 Hour (no spoilers)

I was given Aristotle’s Number game as a gift this Christmas.  The difficulty on the back read “Nightmarish”, but I wasn’t scared.  That said, my title may be misleading.  It took me 3-4 days to figure out all 12 solutions, but my script only took 1 hour and 3 minutes to run through the 250m permutations I was able to break it down into.  How this puzzle is solved without a computer is mind boggling.  gameBoard

The rules are simple.  You have 19 hex pieces that have a number 1-19 on them.  They need to be placed on the board, seen above, so that all rows sum to 38.  That’s in any direction, leaving 15 different rows that need to sum to 38.

I started as anyone might start.  Manually plugging away.  After getting ‘close’ a few times and failing, I figured I could brute force this, so I opened Excel.  That tactic turned out to be laughable.  With 19! possible combinations, I needed to narrow down my search.  How many tiles did I need to solve to figure out the rest of the puzzle?  Well, after some failed attempts, it’s possible to take the 15 equations that should sum to 38 and reduce them down to 12 equations with 7 independent variables!  That means we will only need to solve 19!/(19-7)! iterations.  The process to derive these equations is called Guassian Elimination.  Huge props to hwiechers (Careful, this link contains a spoiler!) for showing me these equations — I had to take them at face value given my limitations in this area.

Once I had these equations it didn’t take much time at all to write the script to take the iterations, solve the equations, and check if everything added up.  My code can be foundhere:

Boy am I happy to be done with this puzzle!

Cheers and have a happy New Year!



Coursera: A Survival Guide

It was the first week of the new year and in the spirit of resolutions and new beginnings, I wrote down my all my goals I could think of.  After some refining, one of my goals was to take an online class.  I had a few classes in mind, and settled with the class that had the earliest start date.  Now that my class came to a close, I want to share with you my tips on surviving and how to get the most out of it.

Iconic pencils

Iconic pencils that you won’t be needing.

The class I settled on was called ‘Computing for Data Analysis‘, offered via  The reason this class was on my short list was because it applied to my professional life and my personal projects.  This class teaches you the basics of the statistical programming language ‘R’.  For those of you not familiar with R, it is basically a command line interface for spreadsheets that makes it ‘easy’ to generate graphical representations of your large data sets.  My definition is a simplified one that doesn’t do R justice, but for the laymen, I think it does the job.

Professionally, I wanted to be able to have conversations with Data Scientists.  My personal projects include manipulating and deriving value from VC/Angel and startup data, and do so in a repeatable fashion.  I wanted to be able to take data collected via APIs, excel spreadsheets, and websites to manipulate in order to answer questions.  Basically, I have multiple pools of data that I needed to sift through to answer some very specific questions for myself.  If you want more details, Jamie Davidson wrote a really cool article that tries to answer “How much venture money should a startup raise to be successful?”  He even published his R code so you can reproduce his research — cool stuff!  The point being, you need some motivation to get through this (or any) class.  If you don’t care about the content being taught, then you aren’t very likely to complete the class.  I was fortunate enough to have selected a class that was offing a “Signature Track”, which basically means that the school administering the class, John Hopkins, acknowledges your work in the class and you can add a line item to your LinkedIn page.  This wasn’t a motivator for me, but since I already resolved on completing the class, spending the $50 to earn the certificate was a no brainer.

So the class is set on a weekly schedule that goes something like this:

  • Weekly video content published.
  • Weekly quiz available.
  • Weekly programming assignment available.
  • Repeat.

Candidly, I’m not a programmer or a developer or a data scientists.  I was definitely in over my head, and very thankful to have taken the Python course offered by Codeacademy prior to this course, so I knew a little about syntax and how to ‘talk to a computer’.  The 3-5 hours estimated per week was very low for my learning curve.  I needed to get up to speed and fast.

Without a doubt, the most difficult part of programming is knowing how to ask your question.  Too many questions are asked with hidden assumptions and misaligned expectations.  For this reason, the class forum can be a very noisy place and often, if you know how to ask your question correctly, not the best resource to help you get your answer.  That’s why official documentation and established forums are my go-to resource for specific questions.  The forum is great because it is moderated by class TAs that can help answer theoretical questions or help you rethink your problem to get you to the right question.  Lastly, if and only if you know what you don’t know, you can leverage the IRC chat rooms.

So if you have a desire and the right resources available to you, I think you’ll be fine.  The last thing I want to part on you is networking.  If I went to Grad School, a big reason would be for the network.  I want to meet people with a passion for success who are on their way up.  The same holds true for online courses.  I took it upon myself to start the ‘Computing for Data Science – Class of 1/2014’ group on LinkedIn.  If your class is small (under ~50 students), you could just share your LinkedIn credentials, but trying to connect with 70k other students is a big data problem in and of itself…  So if you are taking a course, setup a place for your class to network with each other after the class is over.

I would recommend ‘Computing for Data Analysis’ for anyone interested in data manipulation, data science, or big data.  It is a Signature Track and also gives you credit toward Coursera’s ‘Data Science Specialization,’ which could be a differentiator on a resume.


Looking good is half the battle!

Growing up my father used to say to me “Looking good is half the battle.”  For too many years I interpreted this the wrong way.

I had an argument with the CEO of the first company I was working for.  His mantra was “Look Sharp,” and that extended well beyond clothing and included being clean shaven and punctual.  My argument was that performance should be based solely on performance, especially since I wasn’t “customer facing”.  Needless to say, I lost that argument, but I didn’t learn my lesson until after I had moved on.  I had two major mental blocks that I needed to overcome: I didn’t understand the importance of how other people saw me and I didn’t understand who my customers were.

The importance of how others see you cannot be understated.  Especially at the beginning of a career where the best strategy of high performers seems to be fake-it-till-you-make-it.  How can you fake competency without a good first impression!?

The 7% – 38% – 55% Rule:

55% of messages received and processed by your brain are based on your body language. This means that you are actually judged more on your physical stance and facial movements while communicating. A high percentage makes it imperative that you are aware of the way you look when communicating.  For example, you can say that you forgive someone while they are apologizing, but if you have your arms crossed over your chest, this puts up a barrier between you and the other person. Their brain will not accept your forgiveness because it doesn’t look like you are open to their apology.

38% of messages are processed based on your tone of voice. How you say something is more important that what you are actually saying.  While communicating with someone, if your voice is not expressive of the emotion you are trying to convey, the meaning behind your words will be lost.  Take the forgiveness scenario, if your tone of voice expresses a lack of enthusiasm when accepting the apology, the meaning will get lost.  You must sound forgiving and understanding if that is what you want the other person to feel.

Only 7% of your received meaning will be based off the words you are saying. This low percentage means that saying the words “I forgive you” means little when your tone and body language do not reflect forgiveness.
The functions of nonverbal communication are very important. Since there is so much importance on how we look and sound when communicating a message, it’s important to understand the functions of non-verbal communication. What makes this form of communication so important?


Ergo, you’ll need to look good to succeed.  It shouldn’t have taken me as long as it did to learn this.  This is the exact lesson my father was trying to teach me; I just wasn’t willing to listen.

The second flaw in my thinking was assuming that my company’s customers were my customers.  When I was arguing with my CEO, my position was IT engineer.  Primarily, my role was to support the business — meaning my customers were not the SMBs buying my company’s services, but the employees that were building our products.  How could I have missed this?  If I wasn’t taking myself seriously in front of my customers, how could I expect them to take me seriously?  Again, a lesson that I shouldn’t have had to learn the hard way.

Call to action.  Clothing is an investment.  You need to build a minumum viable wardrobe.  There isn’t a ton of items to consider when building out a Minimum Viable Wardrobe (MVW).

The MVW essentials:

  • White non-iron shirt
  • Blue non-iron shirt
  • Black pants
  • Shoes
  • Belt
  • A tie with blue in it (you can wear this with both shirts)

Want to step up your game?:

  • Add color
    • Shirts – light yellow, blue stipes, light pink, etc..
    • Pants – Blue, khaki, grey
  • A classy watch
  • Sports coat
  • Tailored Suit
  • Brown shoes

At the risk of making this sound like an advertisement, I am going to personally recommend my favorite brand, Brooks Brothers, for the following reasons:

  1. Service. They helped me find clothing that fit.  Pants and shirts that aren’t baggy.
  2. Shape.  The clothing lines that they have fit my body nicely.  I have a small frame and it is very hard to find good fitting clothing
  3. Quality.  I can’t stress this enough.  Quality wrinkle-free shirts are a godsend.  They last for at least a year or more and I never wrinkle them or bring them to dry cleaning.
  4. Price.  Yes, BB has a premium, but avoiding ironing alone is enough to sell me.  That said, if you are lucky enough to be on a corporate plan, BB has 30% off sales ~twice a year.  (If you’re around Boston and want to piggy back on my discount card on next sale, let me know!)

If looking good is half the battle, than we’re 25% of the way there.  To get the remaining 25% you’ll need to have a haircut that fits your style as well as facial hair maintenance.  When in doubt, tell your local barber “high and tight” and clean shave your face.  Lastly, don’t forget to have clean shoes.

That’s about it.  Am I missing anything?  Let me know!