The Tech Trailblazers caught up with Trevor ( @cakeis_not_alie ) to find out what he is seeing as hot in the enterprise tech market, what tips he can offer entrants and who has most influenced his career.
Tell us about your experience and what makes you an ideal Tech Trailblazers judge?
I’m not an ideal Tech Trailblazers judge! I’m not really an ideal anything. And perhaps that’s part of why I’m a Tech Trailblazers judge.
In a perfect world, Tech Trailblazers would have a judging team of top category experts to comb over submissions that were accurately submitted to the right categories. Ideally, there would be enough categories and enough judges to be able to slot each potential entrant into a neat little box.
The real world isn’t ideal. Technology, especially, is messy. There is a lot of overlap. There are many places where technologies, companies, products and expertise cross over.
I am a small business systems administrator. I don’t have the luxury of being a specialist in a narrow field. I need to configure the storage, the virtualization, the network, the applications, the operating systems, the printers (*sigh*), and $deity knows what all, all before lunch.
I’m not an ideal anything. But I’ve spent a lifetime neck deep in tech, blindly fitting the jigsaw pieces together. Even when what’s required is jamming the square bits into the round holes.
Which categories do you specialise in?
Of the Tech Trailblazers categories available, my experience and expertise could be said to cover Cloud, IoT, Mobile, Security, Storage and Virtualization.
What trends and disruptive technologies are you seeing in this/these areas?
Virtually all trends in tech intersect the categories of Cloud, IoT, Mobile, Security, Storage and Virtualization. There are precious few startups that would not have a tendril into some or all of these areas and that makes isolating truly disruptive trends, technologies and innovative ideas difficult.
Is Yet Another Hyperconvergence Startup innovative? Maybe, maybe not. What are they bringing to the table that others haven’t already? Adding flash to things isn’t really innovation these days, nor is slapping an API on something and handwaving away compatibility with a “the community will handle it”.
Increasingly, it seems like simple honesty is a disruptive innovation these days. Telling the truth to one’s self, to one’s investors, to analysts and ultimately to customers. Sometimes the baby is ugly. Sometimes one’s great idea has been done before.
And sometimes the innovation is in doing the same thing everyone else is doing, but without cutting every possible corner.
Technology is interwoven into every aspect of our culture. Disruption can and does occur not only from a new technological innovation, but also from business innovations around the provisioning of that technology or associated support.
The human species long ago stopped evolving sharper teeth and more powerful claws. Our evolution became one of internalizing social instincts and even basic ethics so that we could operate as a group. So too are many of today’s tech disruptions less about ever higher peaks of performance. Integration, interoperability, compatibility and cooperation are just as disruptive – and just as welcome – as adding another zero to some statistic.
What challenges need to be addressed over the coming years in these areas?
Do you know everything there is to know about technology? How about your systems administrator? What about the top paid datacenter architects in the world, the pinnacle of the craft: do you think they know all there is to know about tech?
No. We have long since moved beyond the point where any one person can know everything there is to know in tech. This is a very real business problem.
What’s needed are tools to make documenting, monitoring and automatically remediating basic infrastructure problems easier. Documenting and sharing knowledge needs to be easier. Recovering from the loss of an employee or an entire team needs to be easier. Working together needs to be easier.
These are hard problems. Human problems. They aren’t about blinking lights and spinning disks and things that go “bing”. The things that bottleneck technology today are the same that caused the explosion of modern IT in the first place: making the lives of humans easier.
With a few exceptions, startups have carefully ignored this. It’s easier to make a startup that makes what other machines do easier or more efficient. It’s hard to make the lives of humans easier, or make interfacing with technology less painful.
As the low hanging fruit of machine-to-machine infrastructure and communication is largely harvested the challenges that remain are the difficult ones. The worthy ones. The ones that make technology companies household names and can even change the course of human history.
What markets do you see as emerging in importance in enterprise technology?
Emerging markets such as sub-Saharan Africa intrigue me the most. Western cultures have become indolent; not through laziness, but due to increasing pressure to meet unrealistic productivity requirements.
As a collection of societies, we Westerners have become obsessed with the manipulation of virtual reality; virtual data, virtual machines, virtual intelligences. We live and breathe the hypothetical and eschew the concrete. We are societies of concepts, disconnected from even our own bodies, reliant on technology to “hack” ourselves so that we might remember we are relevant.
Emerging markets are different. The world is more real. People interact with other people and they are still largely focused on the application of technology to solving tangible, real world problems.
Emerging markets are going through a metamorphosis similar to that which Western nations undertook, with one critical difference: they have our mistakes to learn from.
Consider China: their use of mobile technology has exploded, and they use their mobile devices in very different ways. Why? Because by the time technology really became pervasive amongst consumers and small businesses the world was already exiting the desktop era. China is a world of mobile connectivity, IPv6 and mobile innovation Westerners can barely even comprehend.
Sub-Saharan Africa intrigues me for similar reasons. Only now is connectivity more advanced than SMS becoming truly widespread, and there are many indications that Africa’s computer revolution will be something new again.
Internet of Things devices are blossoming, but not as we see them here. An off-grid renewable powered IoT device might form a node in a mesh network, act as a sensor and provide access for a local web terminal. Connectivity and power are frequently fragmented and development is occurring without the very Western assumption of “always on” connectivity or power availability.
If the West showed what technology could do and China showed how it could truly infiltrate every aspect of everyday life Africa is showing how that same technology can be made reliable, easy to use and serviceable not by a room full of experts and PhDs, but by everyday craftsmen, educators and even children.
What will make a startup stand out in your opinion?
Startups that stand out to me follow three basic rules:
- Their marketing is an exercise in telling the truth rather than confusing and misdirecting.
- Their products are exceptionally concerned with ease of use.
- When I play the “drink a shot for every buzzword” game while reading their website I don’t go blind.
Give an example of someone in technology who has inspired and helped shape your career? And what qualities made them such a good mentor or champion for you?
I am not sure that I can pick just one person. Day to day coworkers such as Peter Washburn and Josh Folland have arguably had the greatest impact on my career, and my life. They are a sanity check, an emotional buffer, a professional sounding board and more.
There are niche experts whom I look up to, personal heroes such as Howard Marks or Mary Jo Foley. These people inspire due to the depth of their knowledge, their professionalism and their expertise. If I ever grow up, I hope to be 1/1000th as competent and capable as they are.
There are truly exceptional individuals, such as Phoummala Schmidt, who inspire not only because of their exceptional technical skills but because have overcome adversity and bigotry in order to demonstrate their right to claim a place at the pinnacle of our profession. I can never hope to compare myself to such individuals, I can only be honoured to have stood briefly in their shadow.
And then there are true mentors, such as Rich Pappas. The quintessential “parental figures” who guide brash young pups not only through the halls of tech politics and vendor intrigue but force us to face up to our own misanthropy, cynicism, arrogance and ego.
There are dozens of others I would love to name drop. People of exceptional skill, professionalism, capability and humanity. I hope they all recognise the impact they have; on my life and that of the others they inspire.