Welcome!

@CloudExpo Authors: Pat Romanski, Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White, Ed Featherston, Dana Gardner

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Agile Computing, @DXWorldExpo

@CloudExpo: Article

The Communication Challenge | @CloudExpo #API #Cloud #BigData

Is a hammer a tool or a weapon?

The question in a recent #CIOChat tweet chat (Weekend Edition) was, "What are the hardest tech skills to find for your IT organization? Do you groom them or recruit them?" A recurring theme that quickly appeared in the responses was communication skills. This was not surprising, as it is a frequent theme and topic of discussion. The ability for technologists to be able to communicate well with the business is critical to the overall success of an organization. We all speak the same language, so what makes this such a difficult challenge? Surprisingly, I came across a great movie this weekend that helped focus on that question.

Context and perspective are key
"The Arrival," which came out this weekend, is a science fiction movie about the sudden arrival of 12 large alien ships at different locations around the globe. One of the key plot lines revolves around the various governments efforts to communicate with said aliens. The movie does a great job portraying the challenges and nuances of communication between two groups that have no context or understanding of the other's language. Eventually, the main characters' start developing an understanding of the alien vocabulary. Even with that understanding, there are still challenges. The linguistics expert brought in by the U.S. government tries to articulate the challenge to the military leader of the project. She asks him a question, "Is a hammer a tool or a weapon?"

Think about that for a moment. One's first reaction might well be, of course it's a tool, but it could be used as a weapon. Is it that simple? If we are talking a claw hammer used in construction, yes, that's obviously a tool. What about a war hammer, like Thor's hammer Mjölnir from the comics and movies (yes, I am that geeky)? Suddenly, things are not so black and white. If the alien says ‘use hammer,' are they asking you to pound in a nail, or attack someone with a weapon? Context and perspective are key to answering that question.

Technologists Are from Mars, Business Is from Venus
Language is a complex and nuanced creation. Even when people speak the same language, communication is hampered by the same challenge highlighted in the movie. Even though technologists and the business speak the same language, there are times where each side thinks the other is from another planet, that they are just not getting it. When I am training new consultants, I constantly tell them, "The business knows what they need, but they may not be able to articulate it in a way you understand. Your job is to bridge that gap in understanding." It is important to develop good communication skills in order for all in the organization to be successful.

Developing your communication skills
Developing good communication skills is hard work, and requires lots of practice. Just look at the mass of miscommunications that happen in this world on a regular basis, to prove my point. There are a couple of key factors that can help in developing those skills.

  • Be an active listener - This is a critical piece to good communication. I know, almost everyone would response ‘I listen'. The reality is, most of us hear what is being said instead of listening. We do this in order to plan a reply/response. We are not actually listening to what the speaker is saying, we are listening for key points/phrases to trigger responses we want to be sure enter the conversation. It's human nature. To be an active listener, you must:
    • Focus on the speaker. Not just the words, the non-verbal cues, the body language, the tone. These all will help you in understanding the context and perspective they are coming from. (This is a challenge in today's remote work mode, especially with audio conference calls. You can still at least get the tone and emotion in the voice.)
    • Avoid interrupting and redirecting. This doesn't mean allow things to go off topic. If it does, allow them to finish, then politely acknowledge their point, and recommend it be placed in the ‘parking lot' for later discussion.
    • Paraphrase for clarity. In order both to show interest and understanding, take the point being made and paraphrase it back. "If I understand what you are saying....". Do not say word for word. Rephrase it to demonstrate both that you were listening and understood what the individual was talking about. Always ask for confirmation, "Did I get that right?"
  • Be an engaged speaker - Communication is a two-way street. As well as listening, you must make sure you are being understood. When you are making a point, make eye contact, again watch for non-verbal clues and body language. You can tell whether people are connecting or understanding with what you are saying a lot easier that way.
    • Be sure to check-in. As with active listening, this becomes more of a challenge in audio conferences. In those situations, I try to take pauses, and do a checkpoint with others on the phone ‘Am I making sense, or is this out in left field?'
    • Personalize your topics, put in terms others can relate to. Instead of ‘If the customer did X, the system does Y', I go with ‘If I, Ed Featherston, as a customer, wanted to do X....'. Bringing it to a personal level pulls people into the conversation, it will engage them in the discussion.
    • Use humor when appropriate. This does not mean turn the conversation into a stand-up comedy routine. When appropriate is entirely subjective and dependent on the audience. When describing ideas and scenarios, adding small touches of humor can help the mood and the engagement of others in the conversation. I usually connect it with the personalization I already mentioned.
  • Leave emotion out of the discussion. There are topics we are all passionate about, and displaying passion is fine, but avoid getting so emotionally attached to a point that you ignore the active listening and engaged speaking. Nothing will turn off the communications channel faster than if others think you will not even listen to their points. If you feel like you are getting a little hot under the collar, pause, take a breath, and admit to the passion, but that you want other perspectives. Be self-deprecating. It will go a long way to maintaining the communication channel

The communication challenge is never easy
Just like in the movie ‘The Arrival', communication, and with it, understanding is not any easy accomplishments. It is hard work. I will be the first admit, I do not always succeed at my own suggestions and recommendations above. Honing good communication skills is never a once and done, it is a constant learning process. As technologists, it is incumbent on us to work to ensure those communication channels with the business are open and clear. That way when the business says ‘use hammer', we will know if we should be pounding in a nail, or going to war.

More Stories By Ed Featherston

Ed Featherston is VP, Principal Architect at Cloud Technology Partners. He brings 35 years of technology experience in designing, building, and implementing large complex solutions. He has significant expertise in systems integration, Internet/intranet, and cloud technologies. He has delivered projects in various industries, including financial services, pharmacy, government and retail.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@CloudExpo Stories
"Our strategy is to focus on the hyperscale providers - AWS, Azure, and Google. Over the last year we saw that a lot of developers need to learn how to do their job in the cloud and we see this DevOps movement that we are catering to with our content," stated Alessandro Fasan, Head of Global Sales at Cloud Academy, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
As organizations shift towards IT-as-a-service models, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and now cloud environments grows with it. Commvault can ensure protection, access and E-Discovery of your data – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud, or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enterprise. In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Randy De Meno, Chief Technologist - Windows Products and Microsoft Part...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that ICC-USA, a computer systems integrator and server manufacturing company focused on developing products and product appliances, will exhibit at the 22nd International CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO. DXWordEXPO New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City. ICC is a computer systems integrator and server manufacturing company focused on developing products and product appliances to meet a wide range of ...
Andi Mann, Chief Technology Advocate at Splunk, is an accomplished digital business executive with extensive global expertise as a strategist, technologist, innovator, marketer, and communicator. For over 30 years across five continents, he has built success with Fortune 500 corporations, vendors, governments, and as a leading research analyst and consultant.
JETRO showcased Japan Digital Transformation Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo® at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) is a non-profit organization that provides business support services to companies expanding to Japan. With the support of JETRO's dedicated staff, clients can incorporate their business; receive visa, immigration, and HR support; find dedicated office space; identify local government subsidies; get...
René Bostic is the Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America. Enjoying her career with IBM during the modern millennial technological era, she is an expert in cloud computing, DevOps and emerging cloud technologies such as Blockchain. Her strengths and core competencies include a proven record of accomplishments in consensus building at all levels to assess, plan, and implement enterprise and cloud computing solutions. René is a member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and a m...
In this presentation, you will learn first hand what works and what doesn't while architecting and deploying OpenStack. Some of the topics will include:- best practices for creating repeatable deployments of OpenStack- multi-site considerations- how to customize OpenStack to integrate with your existing systems and security best practices.
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Archi...
Digital transformation has increased the pace of business creating a productivity divide between the technology haves and have nots. Managing financial information on spreadsheets and piecing together insight from numerous disconnected systems is no longer an option. Rapid market changes and aggressive competition are motivating business leaders to reevaluate legacy technology investments in search of modern technologies to achieve greater agility, reduced costs and organizational efficiencies. ...
"With Digital Experience Monitoring what used to be a simple visit to a web page has exploded into app on phones, data from social media feeds, competitive benchmarking - these are all components that are only available because of some type of digital asset," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
It is ironic, but perhaps not unexpected, that many organizations who want the benefits of using an Agile approach to deliver software use a waterfall approach to adopting Agile practices: they form plans, they set milestones, and they measure progress by how many teams they have engaged. Old habits die hard, but like most waterfall software projects, most waterfall-style Agile adoption efforts fail to produce the results desired. The problem is that to get the results they want, they have to ch...
Organizations planning enterprise data center consolidation and modernization projects are faced with a challenging, costly reality. Requirements to deploy modern, cloud-native applications simultaneously with traditional client/server applications are almost impossible to achieve with hardware-centric enterprise infrastructure. Compute and network infrastructure are fast moving down a software-defined path, but storage has been a laggard. Until now.
Without a clear strategy for cost control and an architecture designed with cloud services in mind, costs and operational performance can quickly get out of control. To avoid multiple architectural redesigns requires extensive thought and planning. Boundary (now part of BMC) launched a new public-facing multi-tenant high resolution monitoring service on Amazon AWS two years ago, facing challenges and learning best practices in the early days of the new service.
HyperConvergence came to market with the objective of being simple, flexible and to help drive down operating expenses. It reduced the footprint by bundling the compute/storage/network into one box. This brought a new set of challenges as the HyperConverged vendors are very focused on their own proprietary building blocks. If you want to scale in a certain way, let's say you identified a need for more storage and want to add a device that is not sold by the HyperConverged vendor, forget about it...
Digital Transformation is much more than a buzzword. The radical shift to digital mechanisms for almost every process is evident across all industries and verticals. This is often especially true in financial services, where the legacy environment is many times unable to keep up with the rapidly shifting demands of the consumer. The constant pressure to provide complete, omnichannel delivery of customer-facing solutions to meet both regulatory and customer demands is putting enormous pressure on...
The best way to leverage your CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at CloudEXPO. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audienc...
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo, taking place November 12-13 in New York City, NY, is co-located with 22nd international CloudEXPO | first international DXWorldEXPO and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world.
With 10 simultaneous tracks, keynotes, general sessions and targeted breakout classes, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO are two of the most important technology events of the year. Since its launch over eight years ago, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO have presented a rock star faculty as well as showcased hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors!
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that the upcoming DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO New York event will feature 10 companies from Poland to participate at the "Poland Digital Transformation Pavilion" on November 12-13, 2018.
Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more business becomes digital the more stakeholders are interested in this data including how it relates to business. Some of these people have never used a monitoring tool before. They have a question on their mind like “How is my application doing” but no id...