Friday, August 4, 2017

How Do I Get the Most Out of My Software Firm?

When engaging a technology vendor there are absolutely some things you can do that will help ensure you get the most for your money while getting a quality product and even having some fun in the process. Let me share with you some advice, of sorts, on how to maximize your return when working with a vendor that is building software for you. These have worked for me when I've procured technology vendors for companies like Coca-Cola, CNN and Dollywood.

1. Hire a partner that is smarter than you. Then trust them by listening to them. These vendors have smart people working for them that have had tons of experience across different verticals. Capitalize on that! They have perspective that you don’t because they’ve been working with varied industries. Some of them win awards for your competition! Get them to bring the good stuff to your brand. Get a firm to bring you their best.

2. Tell them what you want, not how to do it. Your partner needs you to give requirements not technology directives. Good firms will approach this subject with you professionally when needed. Weak firms will do what you say even though you are wrong. Stay away from the "Yes Men" firms. Stick to explaining what you need the software to do and let the vendor decide the details of how to build it. Remember, you hired a smart partner….didn’t you?!

3. Pay your bills on-time. In a perfect world, this shouldn't matter but this world is far from perfect. If your Account Manager doesn't have to deal with past-due invoices they have more time to deliver quality and drive velocity on the Development Team. Enough said here.

4. Be nice. It's that simple. Actually, I should have made this number one in this list. Project Managers will fight for you if you’re nice. There are tech firms with tech people that will give you far more than you paid for if you are easy to work with. Trust me on this one! 

5.Connect with your vendor on a personal level. That Project Manager at your vendor has personal interests and they may even be the same as yours. Get to know the vendor's senior leadership as well. It starts to get real interesting for you when you find out the CEO of your software vendor has season tickets to your favorite team. The main thing here though is not what you can get out of them but rather you and the vendor will work better together if you make a connection on a topic other than software.

Let me share with you one last thing that I think is really kind of the "secret sauce" of getting the most bang for your buck with technology vendors. This is not an opinion everyone agrees with but it's just my advice: Don't be the smallest client your vendor services. 

If you are the smallest client then you'll tend to expect more than your budget will allow for. The vendor will try to give you the same service that they give Disney but let's be realistic. I've seen it happen. Even the best software firms struggle with this. Your Account Manager will have to fight to get resources for you and the contract will always be pulled out in meetings. Smaller shops have less depth to their talent but he bigger shops send their top talent to work on their biggest accounts. Wouldn't you rather be the marquee client for a smaller shop than the smallest client of a big shop?

You and your brand deserve the best experience possible from your technology partner. So make it a true partnership! Partner with the right shop, get in and get personal, give it your all and expect them to give their best as well. Be nice, pay your bills and have fun along the way. Go build something great together! 

This article also appeared on the SOLTECH blog in August 2017.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Quick Thoughts for New Runners

Okay, first let me say a couple of things that are obvious:

1. There are TONS of websites with advice for new runners. How to train, how to eat, what to wear, everything...... I'm not the first one to come up with the urge to jot some notes down for other runners.

2. I'm no expert. Oh I run. I run a lot. I also eat a lot of graham crackers with frosting on them and make a lot of excuses as to why I can't run today, blah, blah, blah.... So consider that I'm just a Dad living in a small town in Georgia that likes to run and that is putting his advice out for new runners to read.

Now, with all that having been said, I wanted to spit out my thoughts on a couple of things that I feel like new runners should keep in mind. If you just decided to run your first race this is for you. If you're moving from a 5k distance to a 10k or from the road to the trail I can share different insights with you. This post is really just for you guys and gals that want to feel the satisfaction of having trained for and run your first race!

Have a plan. Make sure your plan has you running realistic distances with realistic increments of time/distance to reach the day of your race. If you train too hard, too quickly you will hurt yourself. I'm sorry, it's just how it is. Number one rule that my buddy taught me is to show up to the starting line un-injured. If you injure yourself training you just defeated the purpose.

I would suggest running/walking 20 mins at a time a few times a week and increasing it over a few months to 30 and then 45 minutes. It's about getting the time on your feet at first. That's it. By the way, if you can make it 2 - 2.5 miles the week before your race you will be able to do 3.1 miles on race day. The adrenaline and excitement will carry you that last stretch.

Get good shoes. This is so important. You don't have to go to the Big Peach and buy shoes though I recommend it. Shoes there will run you about $100 - $130 but they will put you in the right shoes for your feet and your stride. Also, they will take the shoes back, period. They will take them and give you different ones if you have problems with them. No questions asked. I've worn shoes for a year and in TWO MUD RACES and they took them back.

But like I said you don't have to go to a running store. You can buy Asics or Nikes or something inexpensive and reputable for your first race. I did. I ran in Asics from a department store for a year. We'll talk after that if you need to upgrade. No problem.

Run with a buddy. I've run for many years and I still like running with my friend Matt. When we run together I train harder and I'm more disciplined. Get a friend and walk/run with them. It's safer and more enjoyable. You'll stick with it longer and you'll be happier.

That's really it, new runners. OF COURSE you have to stay hydrated and you have to use some common sense regarding safety and you have to eat right but the biggest problems I see are outlined above. People tend to not have a plan, train too hard or not enough, run in bad shoes and get demotivated and quit. If you stick with some of these basic principles for having a plan, getting some good shoes and being accountable to somebody you will do good! Let me know (if you're in Georgia) and I'll run with you sometime! : )

Happy running - Scott

Monday, February 8, 2016

It's okay if you don't like the band Red.

I did some research and looked into the lyrics of the songs from the band Red. You know, the one that people either love or hate. : )  So that it's been said, I love them. But here's what I've found. 

When I look at the lyrics of the songs across the past several years (Until We Have Faces, Release The Panic, of Beauty and Rage, Innocence and Instinct) I found a few common themes. 

1. The general theme of the band's music is dark. It's brooding and not very 'gleeful'. I think this is one reason why a certain demographic group doesn't care for this genre of music. Middle-aged, middle-class parents tend to not be a fan from my limited discussions with other people in my demographic. 

2. The lyrics are typically related to somebody in a low spot in their life that doesn't feel like they fit in or there is hope. The lyrics are also typically from the perspective of God that loves that lost person and wants to save them. 

Here's what I believe. I believe that this band is liked by young people today (much more than adults) because of the plight of a lot of teenagers now. Teenagers have always been confused, concerned and negative. Teenagers TODAY are even more-so dark and brooding and of the mindset that 'nobody understands me' or 'nobody cares for me'. THIS is what Red is trying to reach....or rather who they are trying to reach. The teens that are alone and reaching out to find hope. Red's songs give them an answer and hope. They really do. I've read the lyrics of dozens of songs and listened to 4 complete albums by Red. 

I've come to the conclusion the band isn't bad. It isn't even shallow or meaningless. It's just a band that is trying to reach a different age and personality type and me. : ) I'm glad they're connecting with those kids that I (and maybe you) can't successfully connect with. I can think of a few kids right now that we all know that maybe should be exposed to this band and their message of hope and their lyrics. 

By the way, it's ok, those brooding teenagers probably feel the same way about some of the artists you like as you do about Red. To each his own. Thank God for them all being so varied because we sure are varied in our personalities as well aren't we?

Friday, October 16, 2015

I do course-correct every 20 years......whether I need it or not.

So I had a real epiphany this morning while talking to my sister, Jamie and then in a follow-up conversation with my wife. Shocking, I know that I shut up long enough to listen to two people. : )

One of the biggest things, if not the biggest thing, that I struggle with is my job. I have a great job......please hear that. I make good money, I sit at a desk and listen to Spotify and eat junk and use my brain instead of my back. Many people wish they had my job. I also have benefits and all the time off I want to take. (translation: We don't have a vacation policy. You take off what you want to take off.)

But, here is my struggle: I'm never happy. Let me tell you why.

So here is how I look at things. In a job, there are priorities:

1. Pay (because that's why we work, to get paid)
2. Benefits (because if there's going to be something 2nd on this list, for a family man, it needs to be benefits)
3. Vacation

And my job has all of these in quite sufficient supply. Again, I'm not complaining. In 4-10 below is where I struggle. (in no particular order)

4. Training
5. Culture
6. Happiness
7. Co-workers
8. Fringe benefits
9. Growth
10. Environment (desk, office, computer, etc.)

I have always had, since I've been in technology, the top three. I have been truly blessed with good pay, full benefits for my family and all the time off I want to take. But where I end up changing jobs every year or two is I let 4-10 get me all upset and push me out the door. Silly, I know. "Be happy about the first three Burkey!"

I'm always kind of chasing to get all of the first three PLUS all (or most) of the last 7. It won't happen in my opinion. There is no job that satisfies all 10. I need to get over it. This is good stuff if you're me. It's a real revelation!

Now, that is what I worked out with my sister on the phone. Here's where my wife took it three-dimensional. My wife said that in the list of my priorities (which you can see here) I'm really messed up. Here is what she meant.

I'm letting DETAILS...UNIMPORTANT, SECONDARY DETAILS from my #4 priority steal my joy and rob me of time and attention on my first three priorities.

Mind = Blown

I'm so caught up in not liking some co-worker or my monitors not being big enough that I chase around new jobs and in the process........I forget about God and our relationship. I upset my wife by changing jobs all of the time. I run my children through the ringer with my mood swings........ it's pitiful, I know.

Now. I don't know what to do about this but I have to believe that this 'awakening' moment today is a start. Not the end, but just a start and being able to do a personal inventory and adjusting your course and attitude is key. It's key my friends. I will be further contemplating this over assured. Let me know your thoughts on this if you're still awake at his point. : ) Scott

Monday, September 14, 2015

Engaging Students on Sunday Morning

Getting middle schoolers to open up and talk is difficult. (Boys especially....) One of the classes I took recently at a local training session was on engaging students in small groups. Too often we talk for 45 minutes to the kids and then expect them to retain everything we covered. (and have fun while they're learning!) Kids oftentimes have an attention span of less than 20 minutes when sitting and listening to a speaker. 20 minutes at the most! We also expect that we can put two chatty kids next to each other and they will not talk to each other. : ) 

One quick thing before we start the list. A key take-away from the instructor was that "anything between you and the students is a barrier." What he meant is podiums, tables, printed materials or a lot of distance is a physical and mental barrier. Get close and speak naturally. Be comfortable and confident. Know your material and make eye contact with the kids.

Here are a few ideas that came out of the training:

1. Learn to be conversational. Talk with your students, not 'at' them.

2. Observe other teachers. Much is to be learned by a wise teacher from observing other teachers' styles and applying some ideas into your own style.

3. Practice your teaching actions. There's nothing wrong with practicing engagement in smaller settings or in personal conversations.

4. Use inflection. When you speak, vary the pitch and emphasis (and volume) of your voice. I also use a lot of hand gestures and motions, but I'm normally pretty caffeinated.

5. Exaggerate conversations. Use relative stories and examples that get the students' attention.

6. Focus on individuals. Call students by name and use relevant examples of things that are of interest to the students.

7. Ask questions. Using a few well-planned questions that start conversation can be great to get the students thinking and talking! When you ask questions....let them answer! Giving them the answer is paramount to letting them off the hook. It's okay for them to think. It's okay for them to look up and research answers. It's even okay for them to disagree. Talk about differing thoughts and opinions. Be sure you circle back around to land firmly on the truth before moving on to the next concept.

8. Provide visual aids. Lots of boys learn through seeing and visual aids like videos, graphs and white-board drawings are things they can relate to. Girls in middle school are competitive and a little more mature than boys their age, typically. Activities are always good like lists or games.

9. Arranging your chairs in the room is something to consider as well. Get at eye level with the learners. If you are sitting with them or at approximately the same eye level as them they will be more receptive. Put them when possible in a semi-circle and sit in front of them.

10. Teach less. You heard me right. If you cover a few key points, engage the students in lively conversation and keep driving the points home multiple times you'll leave a lasting impression on them. Repetition is key! We'd all rather that the students really learn one or two key points than be flooded with 15 points that overwhelm them and cause them to tune out.

One final thought is that we see a lot of kids on Sunday morning that are half asleep and their mind is on food. Sometimes the students come in with Dr. Pepper or candy that their parent has allowed them to have. (Before 9:30 a.m., yes, I don't get it either!) But I digress. I am encouraging each of you to contact your students' parents soon and ask them to help you teach by making sure their students come in on Sunday with a full night's sleep under their belt and a good breakfast in their routine on Sunday morning. Parents want to help and this is a very important way for them to do just that!

I'm leaving out some of the suggestions and I hope you will take a minute to share your suggestions in the comments below. Let's work to really speak love and truth into the hearts and minds of these young people. Thank you for teaching this year!

Scott Burkey

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Four C's

One of the things I've always said is, "You may not agree with me but you'll always know where I stand on things." This blog post is no different. I make no apologies for my priorities in life though I know everyone doesn't share my philosophy. That's okay. You should come up with your own 'guiding principles' that you live your life by though. Try it!

So I'm a big believer in any team or company or organization (or family!) needs to have a plan or a target to hit. Every time somebody in that company or in that organization comes up with an idea for what to do it should be held up against the goal and questioned, "Does this idea or action take us towards our goal or distract from achieving our goal?" Let me share my priorities with you.

Relationship Priorities:
1. Creator
2. Companion
3. Children
4. Career

In short, I work to make sure my spiritual life is in order above all else and then I make sure that my partner Tessa and I have a strong relationship. I value my children who depend on me for so very much and then finally, lastly, I put time and energy into my career. In this order. 

Here's what I mean by the first one. The most important relationship I have in my life is with God. If I'm not right with Him I'm not right with anyone. Here's another thing I've found. (Again, it's MY experience.) Anything I put ahead of God in my life He removes it. 

That is a bold statement, I know. Stick with me. I believe that God wants a relationship with me and if I put, let's say, fishing or running or material things over Him in my list that He will remove that distraction. 

Now, what's become recently important to me is this; If I say my relationship with my wife is the most important human relationship I have but I don't treat it as such then I'm just paying it lip service. I have to, again, hold up my behavior and decisions on a daily-basis against this list and ask myself if I'm really treating my relationship with my best friend with the proper respect and importance it deserves. This is one of those introspective moments that comes up frequently where the men are separated from the boys. I either want to honor my relationship with my wife or I'm full of crap and I want to just say it but not do it. It's tough. Family leaders know this. 

My children come next. Though I want to add in here that this is not linear by any means. I don't say, "Well, kids, I'll play with you after I read the Bible for an hour and take your Mom out to eat." Sometimes I spend time with my kids when my wife and I had other plans. Sometimes I have to work late and I miss dinner. You know what I mean, it's not literal on a daily basis. 

My career. Oh.........what a love/hate relationship I have with my career. Guys, it's SOOOOO easy to work to avoid other things. It is so easy to work because the family finances are tilting the wrong way. It's so easy to stay just that much longer at work because the guy down the hall needs something and you want to deliver. Granted, sometimes you have to focus extra on work. I get that. God says that a man that doesn't work doesn't eat. (2 Thes 3:10) I'm with  you. My Dad always said that charity begins at home and that there is no shame in paying the bills. I agree. But I know when I'm putting my career ahead of my children and my wife. I know when it's in the way of my relationship with my Creator. They all know too. : ) It's obvious to everyone IF I'm honest with myself which leads me to my final point here. 

Regular self-evaluation and reflection is of vital importance.  I would imagine that John Wayne-types think it is silly to take regular time to sit and reflect and pray and meditate (listen). But then again I'd imagine John Wayne had a lot of time in the saddle on long cattle drives to reflect on life. : )  My point here is that I have to honestly ask myself if my priorities are in the right order or not. To do that and really evaluate it I have to be quiet physically and mentally. That take discipline and practice. Shutting my brain up is a difficult thing to do when my heart needs to speak. 

So there it is. That's what I think about, seriously, on a daily basis. Am I putting God first? Am I overworking? Am I building a relationship with my wife? Are my kids getting what they need from me? It's not simple work to ask (and answer) these questions but it's important for me to do so honestly.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Life is difficult.

A friend, who I didn't realize at the time was a friend, gave me a copy of "The Road Less Traveled" in 2007. I say I didn't know he was a friend because, at the time, I was too full of myself to think that anyone could do something really nice for me without a hidden agenda. He gave me the book because he obviously could tell I was full of myself. He highlighted the first sentence of the book.

You see I had (and still have) the best life anyone could ask for. But there was always a reason I was unhappy. Somebody else's fault, I thought. So I threw the book on a shelf and assumed that this was just another dude trying to make my life harder. I really read the book in 2013. I mean REALLY read it. I really enjoyed it and I recommend you read it too. But....if you just want my quick-take on it, here are the main points from the first couple of chapters.

1. We do ourselves no favors when we avoid walking through the painful times in life.

2. There is value in suffering. There is value in facing problems and there is value in feeling pain.

3. Delaying gratification can be almost spiritual. It builds so much inside of us that is of value we cannot understand.

4. (Now this.....this is my favorite one.) If we don't challenge and truly re-evaluate in an honest way what we believe periodically we are....just.....just.......cheating ourselves.

I'd love to talk to you about any or all of these points sometime. This book changed my perspective and thusly changed my life.