Category Archives: what I do

My History in Customer Service

Note: I had largely forgotten about a review I wrote in 2010 of Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. More importantly, I had forgotten that it included a history of my philosophy of customer service, which I think deserves separate billing. So here it is: I have cared about good customer Read More…

Note: I had largely forgotten about a review I wrote in 2010 of Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. More importantly, I had forgotten that it included a history of my philosophy of customer service, which I think deserves separate billing. So here it is:

I have cared about good customer service, both receiving and giving, for a long time. Starting in 1993, I provided great customer service for Incat and Adaptec by being visible and responsive in early online forums (Usenet, email, discussion lists, newsletter). Eventually I was allowed to scale my efforts by hiring a couple of guys who could answer questions as well as I could. But there were huge obstacles to great customer service, such as the lack of communication and data-sharing between the internal groups at the company who dealt with customers. This siloing within companies seems to happen a lot and be considered normal, so it was difficult to get my colleagues to understand that customers neither know nor care about a company’s internal systems and power struggles. To customers, it’s all one big entity, and they are understandably frustrated when the customer service team doesn’t know what sales or support are doing or, worse, they all contradict each other.

There was a smart VP who immediately understood the problem when I presented a graphic showing all the different information stores at the company and how they did (and didn’t) connect to each other. He wanted to try to fix the situation, but soon we were all sidetracked by the spinoff of Roxio, which required us to build new systems and sites from the ground up. As webmaster, I spent 14 hours a day on that for many months, but (as I dimly recall – it was a crazy time) still tried to keep in sight my long-term goal of creating a great customer experience right across the company.

I was ahead of the curve. Long before “user community” became a fashionable term, I realized that our community of customers could help each other far more effectively than we could ever help them: there were simply far more of them than us, and they were using our products in ways than we couldn’t test in the lab. We just needed to help them to communicate with each other, and put some human intelligence into organizing the information they produced.

The kinds of online forums in widespread use today were not well known in 2000, but I designed some nascent social media features into the new Roxio website, and tried to make it a showcase for our users rather than just brochure-ware for our products. I also worked closely with our new tech support organization, trying to keep us all heading in the same direction.

For personal and professional reasons, I left that job in 2001 and went back to Italy (where my family was), so I never got to see whether my ideals of customer service were realized at Roxio.

A few years later, at TVBLOB, I chose “Director of Customer Experience” as my title because I hoped to instill in this new company, from the beginning, a culture of great customer service. We were trying to introduce an entirely new kind of technology to a mass audience, and I felt we would succeed or fail on how our end-user customers felt about us. This would, in turn, be a function of their entire user experience, from product interfaces to sales calls to technical support; it would be critically important to have all these areas aligned behind the same vision of how things should look to customers. I’m not sure whether this could have been achieved in that particular company, but personal and professional considerations took me out of that job before we even had end users.

In summary: I have long cared a a great deal about treating customers well, but realized that truly great customer service would require a corporate culture and mindset quite different from the ones I found myself immersed in. Though I tried very hard for years, I alone could not effect the changes needed. I was left with a vague hope that, somewhere, someday, some company might get it right, and I might even be part of making it happen.

Videos: Introduction to Parallel Programming

Someone recently ran across my list of archived technical videos, and asked if I could find the ones on parallel programming. So far I have managed to locate five of them (now in a playlist): A series of seven video modules presented by Ruud van der Pas, covering various aspects of parallel programming in C, Read More…

Someone recently ran across my list of archived technical videos, and asked if I could find the ones on parallel programming. So far I have managed to locate five of them (now in a playlist):

A series of seven video modules presented by Ruud van der Pas, covering various aspects of parallel programming in C, C++, and Fortran on multi-core and multi-processor systems.

3: Parallel Architectures

4: Parallel Programming Basics

5: Distributed Memory and MPI

6: Shared Memory, Auto Parallel, OpenMP

7: Hybrid Programming Model and What’s Next

How I Shoot Video in 2015

Current Rig (This is an update of what I used to use. I have ditched the Beachtek adapter, though it might still be useful in some situations, and the Rode VideoMic, ditto.) Camera I am still faithful to the Canon Vixia models, though I’ve finally made the switch from tape to memory cards. (Which I am Read More…

Current Rig

(This is an update of what I used to use. I have ditched the Beachtek adapter, though it might still be useful in some situations, and the Rode VideoMic, ditto.)

Camera

I am still faithful to the Canon Vixia models, though I’ve finally made the switch from tape to memory cards. (Which I am now completely paranoid about losing.) A good-quality consumer camcorder now costs around $200.

Mics

I still love the Sennheiser mic sets like this one – at least, when I have a corporate budget to buy them with (these have not diminished noticeably in price since I first began buying them around 2008). But, for home and personal use, I make do with the camera’s internal mic and it’s usually fine.

Tripod

It’s worth buying something a little better than the cheapest possible tripod, to try to get a smooth swivel in the head mount for when you’re filming a speaker who moves around a lot, or panning a room to get focus on different people speaking in a panel or group. My current work tripod is a Manfrotto compact model, because it’s handy to be able to stash it in a backpack or carry-on. I’m not entirely satisfied with the swivel on this one, however.

Filming on an iPhone

In a pinch, I use my iPhone. It’s not my favorite option, because:

  • The zoom is hard to use, and noticeably diminishes video quality.
  • Just because of the way it fits your hand, an iPhone is harder and more tiring to hand-hold and keep steady. However, in a situation where I’m reduced to using it, I’m also not likely to have any kind of tripod available. (Yes, there are tripod mounts for iPhones, and you should certainly get one if you’re going to use a phone for extensive filming.)
  • You have to have plenty of storage space free on the phone to shoot long videos and, when you’re in a hurry, it can take too long to clear stuff off your phone to make room.

But I have used iPhones to film in many situations, including a full-length OSCON talk.

Paris, November 2014

I was in Paris for work. Many things happened that week. You might also like: KLM Makes Up, and Other Airline Experiences Airline Usability KLM Tries Harder… But Fails Dancing Horses: The Lipizzaner Stallions

I was in Paris for work. Many things happened that week.

Marketing Your Tech Talent (at OSCON)

In early 2013, I submitted a talk to OSCON entitled “Marketing Your Tech Talent.” It was turned down, but soon after I was honored to have it accepted for Monktoberfest, where it was well received. I was amused and flattered that, as soon as I finished the talk, Laurel Ruma jumped up to congratulate me – Read More…

In early 2013, I submitted a talk to OSCON entitled “Marketing Your Tech Talent.” It was turned down, but soon after I was honored to have it accepted for Monktoberfest, where it was well received. I was amused and flattered that, as soon as I finished the talk, Laurel Ruma jumped up to congratulate me – and suggest that I submit it for OSCON. So I did, it was accepted, and I delivered the talk at OSCON 2014.

The Monktoberfest version was aimed more at tech marketing departments or individuals who need persuading that letting technical staff speak for themselves is a great way to market technical products. For the OSCON version, I spoke directly to the techies themselves, encouraging them to market themselves and their talents because “there’s no IMDB for geeks – you are responsible for your career.” The video here was done by OSCON; they don’t share all OSCON talks on their YouTube channel (they’d like you to pay for a viewing package to see them all), but they do allow individual speakers to share them ourselves.

The slides for both (in notes and non-notes versions), as well as other talks of mine, are available on SlideShare.

Both conferences are fun to attend, great ways to learn a lot on many topics, and meet interesting people. As a speaker or attendee, I recommend both.