Finding your inspiration

WIT Leadership Awards

L to R: Julia Wilton, Dagny Evans, Emily Walter

Last night I had the pleasure of once again attending the Women in Technology (WIT) Leadership Awards celebration. This event “honors professional women who have exemplified leadership while promoting the WIT mission of Advancing Women in Technology from the Classroom to the Boardroom.” Maureen Bunyeen, long-time Washington news anchor, was our emcee. Not only to I get to connect with old friends, I leave inspired from the stories of the women finalists and winners.

This year the event opened with two special recognitions. First, Kathryn Harris recognized Maureen Caulfield with the WIT President’s Award for commitment and leadership as WIT Sponsorship Chair. Next, The Leadership Foundry, WIT’s board training program, recognized First United Corporation for leading the way in diversity of their corporate board with 33% of their board identifying as women. Then, STEM for Her, a local nonprofit focused on empowering young women to pursue STEM careers, recognized their 2017 cash and experience scholarship winners.

This brought us to our main event, honoring women across nine categories: corporate large-market, corporate mid-market, corporate small-market, government, rising star, small business/entrepreneur, technical leadership, unsung hero and women in defense. Each winner was humbled and inspired to be surrounded by amazing women. This year, winners shared their inspiration by reading quotes from people they admire. We heard about the importance of fathers in setting the path towards STEM related careers as well as having role models to emulate and aspire towards including Walt Disney, Ada Lovelace, Katherine Graham, Katherine Johnson, and Grace Hopper to name just a few.

Congratulations to all the winners! And thank you for raising the bar high!

What makes DrupalCon different?

DrupalCon BaltimoreOver the course of my career, I’ve been to a few conferences. Most were technical and most were related to the legal industry as that is where I spent the majority of my career so far. The last two years, I attended DrupalCon. Drupal is an open source platform for managing content and delivering websites. My business partner and husband Carson has been involved with Drupal for the last 6 or 7 years. Previously, I would travel to whatever city was hosting DrupalCon and would site-see while Carson participated in the sessions. Usually I would meet up with him at night for some of the social fun.

Last year, we decided there would be value in me attending the conference to participate in the business summit, learn a bit about Drupal and maybe pick up a few project management tips. I did all of that and more. You can read about that experience here. But, what made me go back?

When you run a small business, it’s really hard to take time away at conferences. Often, you still need to facilitate project work since you don’t have the luxury of a bigger team to pick up that work. Additionally, no work, no revenue. With all those considerations, we still both attended DrupalCon North America in Baltimore, MD. Why’d we do it?

  1. Proximity to DC and Opportunity to network with government contacts – While Baltimore isn’t our first choice for where I want to spend a week, it’s close enough that we didn’t really need to work for it. We drove up Sunday night and returned on Thursday evening. We also figured that the location would draw more government attendees. Since we live and work in the DC metropolitan are, we thought it would be a good networking opportunity.
  2. Global community – DrupalCon North America had more than 3,200 attendees from all over the world – Europe, Australia, India, South America.
  3. Willingness to tackle hard subjects – The Drupal community has been undergoing some serious scrutiny and challenging times as it relates to people’s choices and the perception & reality of that as it relates to an open source community. Many volunteers spent numerous hours coordinating community discussions, leading sessions and BOFs (birds of a feather) on diversity & inclusion and how to be an ally. The annual Women in Drupal event was the best one yet. We were glad to be sponsoring it again this year.
  4. The un-conference components – I can think of several parts of the conference that reduce the formality of the conference. Let’s start with the annual pre-note. This is fun, engaging sketch comedy formatted event that precedes the official keynote. It is usually comprised of drupal-themed songs, colorful costumes and a cast of characters. Then there are the BOFs, or birds of a feather sessions, are participate driven areas of interest to gather like (or unlike) minds to discuss. We can also include the unofficial “official” hallway track. I had numerous conversations with people this year about how they come less for the technical training and more about the community. Everywhere you looked you could see hugs, reunions and of course, the making of new friends. This year, one sponsor distributed flowers for the purpose of using it to thank someone who helped you. It was a little reminiscent of 8th grade or high school valentine’s day, but the sentiment was nice.
  5. Openness – Drupalcon always reminds me of the openness of the community. From the most basic example of vendors not being particularly elitist about who attends their large, very expensive parties to the level of details organizations are willing to share about how they run their companies and how they make decisions.

Thanks again to all the Drupalcon Baltimore volunteers and association organizers for putting on an amazing event.

Recap & Top Lessons Learned from DrupalCon New Orleans

DrupalCon New Orleans was the epitome of “work hard, play hard.” The days were spent in intensive, thought provoking sessions, the nights were spent at the multitude of social events.

Business Summit

Monday was spent as expected, at the Business Summit. Susan Rust coordinated this year’s event and focused on 3 key areas: recurring & repeat revenue, killer marketing & new clients and leading with ease. The day was planned with presentations by corporate industry leaders followed by small group discussions and subsequent presentation of the key take-aways.

While the information was interesting and valuable, the business summit tended to raise more questions than provided answers for us as a micro-business. For example,

  • How do you ensure that you don’t exert too much emotional (or other) investment on too few customers?
    • How do you do this when the same resources are working in and on the business?
  • Do you find or grow your talent? And how do you do this without distracting from the revenue that keeps your business afloat?

Two critical sentiments resonated with me for most of the conference:

  1. Scaling your business is about process, tools & business infrastructure.
  2. Spending too much time working in the business will prevent you from long-term health & success.

We closed out the day by attending the Opening Reception and started collecting our DrupalCon swag (for me it was t-shirts and some awesome drupal socks).

Conference Session

Tuesday was the official opening of the conference. It started with some early morning global entertainment with costumes, Drupal parodies & skits followed by the official kick-off keynote by Dries Buytaert.

My first session was all about data structures in Drupal. This is a pretty fundamental component, and plays to my internal data geek, so I thought it would be a good place to start my technical Drupal education. Ron Northcutt did a good job of describing the structures and providing guidelines for making better decisions. If you ever get tripped up on the terminology or want a starting point in your Drupal education, this presentation would be good for you to watch.

For the remainder of the day, I stuck mostly to the business track. I attended the critical metrics for your drupal business session, hosted by Michael Silverman (DUO) and Dave Terry (Media Current). These guys dove into resources, tips and metrics we should all understand and track for our businesses. Some key points and resources include:

  • Know your goal or exit plan from the beginning
  • “Master the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm” by Verne Harnish
  • “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel Pink
  • “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” by Gino Wickman
  • Don’t forget to measure your culture (presentation highlights ways to do this)
  • To scale your business, you need to be accounting on an accrual basis
  • Sales Tools: Geckoboard, CRMs, templates
  • “A Win Without Pitching Manifesto” by Blair Enns
  • Recruting Tools: JAZZ, DISC, Perform Yard
  • “TopGrading” by Brandford D. Smart
  • “Bo’s Lasting Lessons” by Bo Schembechler
  • “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie

I also attended Jeff Walpole’s session on why and how enterprises get involved in the open source community and the drupal showcase GE and FFW case study. I briefly attended the birds of a feather “BOF” (adhoc session) for small drupal shops before I had to head over to the Women in Drupal event. Approximately 200 people showed up before heading off to the other parties.

On Wednesday, I played hooky in the morning before attending Jeffrey “Jam” McGuire’s session on the value of Drupal 8 technical features. This was incredibly valuable to me and I would recommend taking the time to watch this presentation if you aren’t already immersed in Drupal 8. I also attended the diversity in tech session by Nikki Stevens and Karyn Cassio. They shared valuable stats and practical actions we can control in our own behavior, before opening the floor for an honest discussion.

Thursday is the official last day of the conference so is a bit shorter, leaving room for the closing ceremonies and time for contribution sprints. I attended Aimee Degnan’s session on prioritizing your scrum product backlog for Drupal work. The focus was balancing “keeping the lights on” with new product features for a site or group of sites over time. The biggest insight for me had more to do with how to apply a similar model to working on the business and working in the business.

  • Your business (like a single site) is comprised of: primary value creation; supporting systems with direct impact to value creation and supporting systems with indirect impact to primary value creation.
  • Like a project, there is some overhead associated with running your business as well as the application and review of reporting.

We often apply agile methodologies to our projects, but we haven’t been as effective on applying them to our business.

The next session was Jody Hamilton’s talk on growing your own talent. Jody shared her experiences build Zivtech’s talent. She provided tactical tools & tips on on-ramping, quality, recruitment methodologies and evaluations. The key to doing this successfully is process. The biggest argument small shops have for not pursuing this is struggling to balance workload capacity with training resources. Jody challenged this assumption, pointing out that focusing on the work at hand is a short-term initiative. For long-term viability of your business, it’s imperative to think long-term.

  • Developing the talent to keep your culture, philosophy and work are a requirement to scale your business.

My final session selection was easy. I attended Susan Rust’s margins & maseratis talk. There were so many key points in this talk that I think you’ll need to watch it. Susan started with these 3 directives for successfully scaling your business:

  • Be data driven
  • Measure over time
  • Develop processes

From a practical perspective, I learned we have a lot to do including:

  • Documenting everything we do to deliver value to clients
  • Document the tools we use to do them, measure them, report on them (yes, document ALL the tools..)
  • Measure everything..per project, per person, per organization
  • Make sure to focus (aka specialize). Don’t be everything to everyone.
  • It’s all about the margins! Businesses that want to grow focus on revenue where businesses that want to scale focus on margin. It’s not that revenue isn’t important, but it’s more about changes in revenue that are most critical.

And lastly, we attended the closing ceremonies and the Drupal 6 funeral procession, with brass band and police escorts as we shut down New Orleans streets.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my adventure at DrupalCon New Orleans. I know from others that there are quite a few sessions I missed. I’m planning on watching the recordings of those over the next couple of weeks. I’d also love to hear about your experience and take aways.

Big Data: The Promise and the Peril

Last night, Women in Technology hosted an amazing panel on Big Data for their monthly WIT.Connect. Carol Hayes (Navy Federal Credit Union), Carrie Cordero (Georgetown University), Kim Garner (Neuster Advisory Services Group), Rashmi Mathur (IBM Global Business Services), and Stacey Halota (Graham Holdings Company) joined moderator, Susan Gibson (ODNI) for a discussion on the promise and perils of big data. I’ve compiled my notes to share with you.


How Do we Define “Big Data?”

The first stop in the conversation was for the panel to define “big data.” Carol provided us with a brief history of the term, starting with the 1997 use by a group of NASA scientists who primarily were referring to memory & disk space issues. The term was further legitimized in 2014 when it was added to the Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries. This usually requires at least 10 years of use, which alludes to even earlier usage. The panel definition refered to the 4 Vs – volume, variety, velocity & veracity. UC Berkeley researchers are now pushing to include elements of analytics & security.

Does Big Data Live Up to the Hype/Promise?

Much has changed about data over the years. Not only have we seen significant increases in the volumes of data, about 80% of big data is unstructured. Historically, data has been very silo-ed. The struggle for most businesses is figuring out how to use the data to make business decisions. The goal for many is to form a 360 degree view of the customer.  Technology is constantly improving to help tackle this challenge.  Some of the specific use cases discussed included fraud detection and marketing.

This week’s news brought us word of IBM’s $2.6 billion acquisition of Truven Health.  Susan wondered if investments of this size are worth it. Rashmi challenged us to look beyond a single investment and focus on the broader IBM initiative to use data to improve health, and view this acquisition as part of a broader healthcare ecosystem.

On the topic of whether small businesses get left out of the big data conversation, we were reminded that all businesses have very valuable data. Leveraging the data you have with 3rd party data can significantly increase the data value. For small businesses, the bigger challenge tends to be having the internal resources available to drive the business questions and analysis.

What About the Perils? Privacy? Security?

In thinking about the perils, privacy & security of big data, we need to consider it from the point of housing, aggregating & sharing it. Stacey challenged us to answer the question “how much data are we deleting” on a regular basis. She recommends at least having an annual discussion. Before that, you should have already done your data inventory to document what you have & why you have it. Stacey cautions us to be straightforward in thinking about the data you should (or shouldn’t) have. For those working with their client’s data, it all begins with the business question. Once you know what the business goal is, you can decide what data you need. You will need to consider the balance of risk, opportunity and cost.

The collection of data outpaces laws & compliance. This has resulted in a decade of breaches. Protecting information is a governance issues not a technical issues. Governance should drive protection. The enhancements in big data technology has resulted in newer technology including the security measures from the beginning (versus adding it as an afterthought).

It’s agreed that privacy & security issues impact businesses of all sizes. Unfortunately, the smaller organizations take on higher risk as a result of limited structure & longevity. It is much harder for a small business to survive a hit to their reputation breaches can cause. We need to ensure that employees get the education needed to handle data. There should be no distinction between programming and secure programming. Ideally, security becomes so engrained in our business process that it just happens without the need for separate functions.

The panel recommended these 5 actions for getting ahead of compliance issues:

  1. Review the California recommendations on breach of personal information
  2. Review the ISO 27001 information security standards
  3. Establish an Incident Response Plan that outlines point of contacts, forensic partner(s), lawyer, etc
  4. Have a plan & test it
    • there are incident response simulation consultants to assist you
    • the general process is to answer a list of questions & receive checklist of legal & custom actions to take
  5. Share incident information with other companies within the industry

Inherent in housing, aggregating, analyzing and sharing data is risk. How much risk is too much? That will depend on the nature of the organization and the data. IBM has the business group respond to a simple questionnaire that helps drive that assessment during the initial phases of new projects.

While the discussion touched on global compliance for companies, this is currently in a bit of flux at the moment. The Safe Harbor framework that allowed US companies to self-certify that they handle data in a way consistent with the EU requirements was recently challenged. Privacy Shield is the new framework being developed to outline the new requirements. Global companies should be watching these decisions closely.

Where Will the Future Take Us?

  • Tell me before it happens – Companies are leveraging historical data to predict the future. More often, companies want to be told what will happen, before it happens. Insights will get crisper as we begin to hone in on relevance.
  • Data journalism – the ability to tell stories with data is the wave of the future.
  • Natural language and machine learning will make people smarter. It’s all about enablement.
  • Threat intelligence – the sharing of information becomes more critical.
  • Regulatory compliance – inequality and accountability of government versus private sector will converge.

Any Parting Words of Advice?

The consensus is that big data yields plenty of opportunity. It’s one of the few industries where there are plenty of educational opportunities, and negative unemployment. “Any career with ‘data’ is good.” Be sure to look at degrees and certifications, but those aren’t required. Natural curiosity can nicely lend itself to the human side to data analytics. Deliver “the art of the science.”

One final Afterthought

No good conversation about big data occurs without having a mention of veracity of data. Long before modeling or analysis begins, significant time is spent on ensuring good data exists. Thought and care needs to go into cleaning the data, filling in missing data, ensuring the data makes sense.

My Take on the Data & Women DC Inaugural Event

It’s been a while since I wrote about women in tech, but I attended the Data + Women DC Inaugural Event last night, hosted by CHIEF (check out their blog for their monthly events) and was really inspired by what I saw and heard. In some ways the format was like all other meetups, networking followed by a program, but this group did something a little bit different by splitting into smaller groups for more intimate discussions. It was definitely easier to get to know people, and as one person in my group said “maybe all meetups need to treat each event like it’s an inaugural one, and give everyone a smaller forum to be heard.” I tend to agree.

Unfortunately, or given the aforementioned feedback, fortunately, I was coming from another appointment so missed the networking. I caught part of the panel discussion and then all of the small group discussion. We hit on quite a few pieces of advice or considerations that I wanted to share.


One of the most critical points made in response to the question about what you and/or your company can do to help advance women was about bragging. Often we are uncomfortable with other people bragging about our work, especially if it’s unexpected. It’s important to promote the work you do, and if you’re not comfortable doing that, then maybe having your friends and colleagues do it for you, will help make it more comfortable. One participant said she was going to take that recommendation back to her corporate lean in circle.

Emotion & Passion

We definitely touched on not allowing your emotions get in the way of your passion (or lack their of). Several participants shared their experience creating a goal to accomplish X to prove you could, then realizing part of the way that you didn’t want/like this. In the same vane, if something isn’t working for you in your current role or with your current company, it’s within your right to fix it. And if your company isn’t willing it work with you, then it’s time to fulfill that somewhere else.

Confidence & Competence

We had a fairly extensive conversation about women’s confidence & perceived competence. There have been many studies that show men interview for potential (what they believe they can do) and women interview for performance (what they know they can do). While the overall consensus was that we wanted to be true to who were are, and what are capabilities are, but still acknowledge what you can do. Some discussion occurred around how frustrating it is to work with people who say “they can do everything”, but in reality can only do some portion of it. This conversation brought to mind the differences I see in male and female developers. Many male developers I know will say they have experience in language a, b, c and therefore have learned the programming methodologies and frameworks and feel they can do languages d, e and f. Female developers that I know tend to put more weight on what they have done (i.e. language a, b, c). I hope female developers will become comfortable enough to take the same stance as men, extrapolating from their experiences to speculate what they can do.

Inherent Bias in Open Source and Software Language Naming

Our group shared some interesting experiences with the open source apps and software language naming conventions. One participant was recently using an app and came across very male gendered language in the examples and documentation. In pushing the issue on social media, she was able to get some changes made, but no clear alternatives to the problem. Another participant introduced the topic of software languages named for females tend to use very comfortable, personal first names (Ada, Ruby, Julia). That’s rather interesting when you apply the aggressive “wrangling”, “manipulating” verbs towards it.  I can’t say that I had observed either of these first hand. I wonder if I just don’t notice.

I had a great time connecting with my small group. I hope I represented our conversation well. And I hope to see everyone again.

Size Matters: How Fast to Grow your Business

Last night I had the pleasure of joining Jennifer Key from Chief and Heather Cox from Mighty Little Web Shop at the DC Web Women Speaker Series on growing your business. We all came at it from a different perspective, highlighting our unique experiences. I spoke about my experience at different startups and how their growth decisions shaped their conclusions as well as my decisions. Jennifer talked about her personal journey grounded in intention, culture and risk.  Heather spoke about the flows and ebbs of business, which ultimately led her to focus on a very specific niche.


I consider myself an entrepreneur, but Digital Ambit is really my first business. I guess I’ve been closer to a entrepreneur groupie, or maybe just entrepreneurial employee. I’ve had several opportunities to come into businesses early on and help them grow. Some took VC funding, and other self-funded. Some suffered their demise by way of the exuberant spending of the dotcom bubble. While others sold for a hefty profit or pivoted and continued on as a smaller, boutique offering.

Jennifer opened her talk by mentioning that she can’t tell others how to grow their businesses as she doesn’t know them or their businesses. However, she can outline the drivers of her growth, which contributed to the growth of the businesses she’s been involved with. There are 3 critical components she comes back to when evaluating opportunities: intention, culture and risk. Every day, Jennifer starts her day by setting her intention. While these days these are focused on gratitude and kindness, they do fluctuate. By setting your intention, you ground your decisions. Business culture is what drives employees and founders to do what they do every day. Businesses need to decide what their culture will be, and as they grow will need to figure out how to sustain that culture. Sometimes the culture isn’t sustainable, and that’s ok. Although a loss or change in culture may shift employees away. Lastly, business (or personal) growth is about risk. Jennifer herself is risk adverse, but she surrounds herself with mentors and friends who encourage her to take calculated risks.

Heather wants to be a rockstar when she grows up, singing her songs and playing the guitar. In the meantime, she’s focused her business on a niche market and learning what she needs to in order to grow her business. For a long time, Heather didn’t have to market her business. The leads just flowed in. She started this business to engage her dream of building websites and developing marketing strategy for her customers. She opted for packaged pricing so she’d never have to write another proposal. She also participated in some extensive marketing and accelerator programs to learn what she needed to know. Heather is quick to admit she sticks to the basics of understanding her numbers, but has clear size, revenue and margin goals she focuses on every day.

Overall, i saw some clear themes in our stories.

  1. Optimism – Although I wouldn’t consider myself very optimistic, I do have confidence that I can learn and conquer anything I want. “They aren’t problems, they’re possibilities” and “there are no obstacles, but rather opportunities” were a few of the catch phrases of the evening. They definitely highlight the optimistic nature of being an entrepreneur. Some days are scary, but you need to fundamentally believe you can reach your goals.
  2. Mentorship -We all talked about people we worked with that gave us their time and expertise when you need it. Jennifer reminded us to that we need to value our mentors time and make sure to set an agenda so you can work on what you need. There are formal and non-formal mentoring programs, but any opportunity for networking is an opportunity to find one.
  3. Culture – Heather has really molded her business around the things she likes to do, removing or outsourcing the things she doesn’t. That will make for a very deliberate culture. Chief is known for community engagement and built that into their office space. They have a space dedicated for entertaining and host numerous meetup and other groups on a regular basis. I’m building this business with my husband to drive the culture and lifestyle we want. The choices we make in our business will all come back to why we started it and what we want.
  4. Know your numbers – It’s imperative to understand what’s going on in your business. Without that how do you know if or when you can hire? How do know what’s success? or slow down? You don’t need to be the accountant, but you do need to keep an eye on your critical metrics. Identify a few critical ones that tie to your goals and watch them closely.

Prioritizing from the Get-go

As you may know, I believe many corporate resourcing & delivery issues stem from not properly prioritizing customers & projects. You can read my recommendations on how to approach those in my prior blog post. Today, I’d like to take a step back and look at prioritization from the onset of customer project introduction. In government contracting, this is called the gate review process.

A business faces immense pressure to succeed these days, facing obstacles from all directions. This might be driven from competition, or budget reductions and uncertainty, investor return or simple from cash flow concerns. Amidst all this chaos, the only real thing the business can control is how they behave. It is up to the business to pursue the business, then accept the business and support the business. Ideally all parts of the business are in sync about the choices being made. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. In my experience, most businesses pursue any prospect of business with a vigor and stubbornness, minimizing any negative feedback or concern. Many times this is done by simply not including other parts of the organization in the sales process.

These challenges can be overcome by simply asking the right questions (and following through with the outcome regardless of the answer) throughout the process. This process does not need to be too tedious. However, it should be thorough enough to have all pre and post involved departments participate in the conversation, being able to have their concerns heard, acknowledged and if possible, mitigated. Three simple questions you can ask during this process are: Can we do it?, Can we win it? and Can we make money?

Can we do it?

Fundamentally this is the first step. This step is really about reviewing your capabilities as and organization and determining whether you can deliver. Some ancillary questions include:

  • Do you have the resources? Can you get them in time?
  • Do you have the applicable skills?
  • Have you done this before?
  • Can you identify and mitigate the risks?

Can we win it?

This step is determining how you stack up to your competitors. It is also about doing an honest assessment of the work involved to ensure you can price within the required range to win it. Questions to consider include:

  • What is your existing relationship with the customer?
  • How do you stack up against the competition?

Can we make money?

While there may be reasons to pursue opportunities with limited margin, the answers to this questions should be most honest. Businesses exist to make money. Continuing to pursue opportunities where the prospect of doing so is limited puts the whole business in jeopardy. This discussion will put some key business assumptions to test about efficiencies, repeatable processes, or the reality of custom work. Questions to consider include:

  • What is the customer’s budget?
  • What is the contract type? Where does the risk lie?
  • Where do your competitors end up with price?
  • Can you mitigate the financial risk?
  • Are their efficiencies you can gain?

It is at the intersection of “yes” to all three of these questions where the optimal place exists for your business to pursue new customers or projects.  It becomes a slippery slope when only two questions result in “yes.” You may strategically choose to pursue business when you have two out of three, but these come with very severe risks. Wasted resources and degradation in customer success are two potential outcomes.

Prioritization is critical to business success. Having checkpoints at multiple stages throughout the sales & pipeline, customer success and PMO processes significantly improve your ability to work on the right projects for your customers. It also helps your ability to delivery and make money from your initiatives.

I want to thank David Stearman for his presentation on Gate Review Decision Making at the Association of Proposal Management Professionals-National Capital Area (APMP-NCA) Mid-Atlantic Conference last week. This blog post is a compilation of my notes and thoughts regarding project discovery & decision to move forward.

Be a resource, not a commodity!

I had the chance to see David Belden (founder of ExecuVision International) deliver his keynote at yesterday’s Association of Proposal Management Professionals-National Capital Area (APMP-NCA) Mid-Atlantic Conference. The topic of the keynote was “Relieving Anxiety in the Procurement Landscape.” At face value this didn’t sound particularly interesting, but just a few short minutes into the presentation I found myself taking my notebook out to starting taking notes. The key take away for me had less to do with anxiety and more about positioning ourselves to be resources, or risk being reduced to commodity status.

We all know that selling on price is not the ideal position. We also know that the pace of business has significantly increased. Unfortunately, only these two things matter when you are a commodity. I think we also know, at least conceptually, that adding value to your customers is how you differentiate yourself. Often we attempt to add value by sharing our methods and solutions for free. While these points are not new concepts, Mr. Belden really drove home the idea that every product or service is on the path to commoditization. He further concluded that our inherent reaction to differentiate ourselves results in becoming the commodity we feared we would become. Customers begin to know, or think they know, enough to comparison shop your solution. These are sobering thoughts as we work to grow our consulting company.

As for the preventative strategy, Mr. Belden challenged us to listen closely to our clients and prospects, with special attention paid towards their anxiety. Embracing your client’s anxiety allows you to become a valuable resource to them and can open up other areas of opportunity for you.

My first Drupal GovCon

I went to my first Drupal conference Drupal GovCon, last week. I have been to other conferences, primarily on the vendor side, but this was the first one I went solely as an attendee. Carson (my husband) is an expert in content management systems and has been working with Drupal for quite a while. I have never worked with it, but since we are highlighting it as a core competency of Digital Ambit I thought it was time to get some more exposure. I had 3 goals for the conference: give back to the Drupal community; make some of my own contacts in the Drupal community; and expand my technical knowledge of Drupal.

Unfortunately, I got called to an on-sight client meeting on the first day of Drupal GovCon. I was disappointed to miss Angie Byron‘s (webchick), keynote on Drupal 8. Not only is she iconic in the Drupal community, I’m sure it would have done a bit to lessen the knowledge gap. I had also hoped to catch Forum One’s Drupal 8 for non-developers. That didn’t work out either. It’s a good thing all the sessions were recorded so I can catch up on everything I missed.

I did make it to the opening reception. I met some nice folks from 4Site Studios and reconnected with Sleight-of-Hand Studios. We had some pleasant conversations about the highlights I missed as well as discussing our respective businesses.

Day 2 and 3 started early for me with my volunteer stints at the registration desk. Due to the venue, this was a free event. This resulted in quite a few no-shows, late additions and tickets transfers. There were hiccups, as there are always are, but we worked through them. I met some really passionate organizers who put on a really good event.

The day 2 keynote was a general discussion on open source, including advocates of civiCRM and joomla. The day 3 keynote showcased how Drupal was being used for the NIH 3D print exchange. I did end up making it some sessions, but primarily stayed to the business track. I may have done this because this is the track I feel most comfortable. In retrospect, I probably should have gone to a few more of the technical Drupal ones. Each session was identified as beginner, intermediate or advanced. I had some initial concerns that some of the more technical Drupal sessions were going to be beyond my expertise (having never touched Drupal before). When Carson asked me to attend the intermediate Drupal site auditing session, I found out that those descriptors had more to do with general technology familiarity rather than Drupal itself. With the exception of a few specific Drupal modules, I followed the presentation.

Ultimately, I view the entire experience as a positive one. I learned a few things too.

1) Be confident in my general technical knowledge – As I approach new technologies, I need to remember that I have ~20 years of experience working in and around technology. While I haven’t had my hands in every new software that’s been introduced, I can have the technical knowledge and skills to be able to understand the framework’s and follow the discussion. While I’m not ready to spin up my first Drupal site yet, I feel comfortable that I could  figure it out if I needed to and most definitely could manage a Drupal implementation or migration.

2) Participating in after hours networking is critical – When you attend conferences as a vendor, or simply as an attendee, you have an agenda. There is some list of goals you are trying to fulfill. It may be education, or it may be finding employee candidates or business partners. Regardless, you have limited time to really get to know people during the day. The after hours networking is where you have that extra time to ask more questions, and find more common ground. Having been on the vendor side, I know how much work it is to host those events. Please know that they are worth it and all the attendees appreciate it.

3) Open source is more than the technology, it’s the community – Carson learned this lesson at Drupalcon LA. It was the first time he attended Drupalcon on the side of the business (versus as a developer) and he was really blown away by how open the business leaders were about sharing their processes and KPIs. It’s one thing to hear about it, but it’s another to experience it. NIH provided the venue, but required the event be free. Lots of people gave a lot of time to organize Drupal GovCon. And even more shared their time and expertise to host sessions or run all-day trainings.

4) DC has women in tech – For all that I’ve shared about women in tech, I was really excited to see how many turned out to represent at Drupal GovCon. I believe that there were definitely more than the industry average of ~22% in attendance. Maybe it was the “free” component, but I don’t think so as I have been at other free tech events and not seen the same turn out. Or maybe, it was just that this was an awesome event and they had to be a part of it. Whatever it was, I was happy to see it and be a part of it.