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A partner with Persistence

by | Dec 9, 2020 | Nat King Cole, partner, Persistent

The NeXT team was integrated, with both Ops (now) and engineering (the future) in the same small team.  This meant those engineering the future were also living with the actual issues day in and day out.  As our prestige grew, I stepped up into engineering for all Unix systems, along with my partner who ran all of Ops.  He was a phenomenal leader, and was cut out for the day to day crises that characterized real operations people.  Calm, steadfast, and also very clear in his communications.  And I can take credit for hiring him, as he was first a contractor for me in my very first role at Fannie… 

… in addition to training 75 programmers on Object-Oriented Programming, we were to build some reusable components that would be embedded in our systems… ALL of our systems.  Like Legos, software would be “constructed” not “handcrafted”… and as such, I knew that configuration management was a key capability.  I needed to know what versions of the “legos” were where, and how to change them out quickly with new versions.  I had no headcount so I hired contractors from the Aerospace world who knew how to do this with their eyes closed.  This person came in as a contractor, and quickly developed the systems and standards that we started to utilize, and was building a great reputation for clear communication and direction…

The King Cole Trio continued to gain popularity, and soon they were signed to Capitol Records, one of the premier studios even in the early 40’s.  He started to exercise his competition skills and had a hit with “That Ain’t Right” in 1943.  His father being a minister, he had lots of opportunities to listen to and internalize sermons, leading to one of his earliest hits in 1944, and charted at Number 1 on the Harlem Hit Parade for 10 weeks.  

A young man in the northwest patterned his playing after the early jazz records they recorded, and was like Nat, an amazing jazz pianist.  He started singing also when Nat did, eventually meeting him who said “… it is really nice that you’ve patterned yourself after me, but I have to tell you in the end, you’re going to want to go your own way.”  And that gave him the freedom to develop his own style – Ray Charles. 

… a “peer” of mine noticed this phenomenal leader’s capability would be great to add to “his” team.  As he had a headcount, not only did I lose the person, I lost the function to that group, which he promptly turned into a profit center 😉  It sorta pissed me off, now PAYING for what I started, but I didn’t have any alternative, and I was actually glad to have him in the organization.  We both continued to work closely together over the years, and now we were back to back.  He had things that broke today, tomorrow, and the day after… on the 4th day, it was an Engineering problem, and it was ours to figure out what the heck we had done… It was a great meshing of talents as my team and I were good at patterns, and also building/testing systems, and his was great at dealing with things right now. 

My father had a saying “The only thing you have in this world, son, is your word”  My peer was one of the most upright, honest people I have worked with.  His Persistent focus on character and how to develop it in others was something I admired and learned from.  He lived that out daily in every transaction.  He eventually tired of the day in day out job of ops, and as we all tired from some of the ethical short cuts we saw, was one of the first to leave, and landed at another company in the area….that eventually became… VeriSign.  I was sad to see him go, but also was heading out shortly after him. 

It was a Persistent connection long enough to help other team members land there… and then, he left, again after finding ethical challenges.  I would slowly lose touch over the years, but that reading on that organization and its leaders… served me as I went there as my last gig.  I had been warned by his experience to watch out for what I would soon see myself.  His guidance was spot on, and I was able to mostly navigate around the ethical issues until I started to hear my own call to pay more attention to this new career. 

Partners, the right ones, bring out your best, consistently.  They are there to support you, and also to challenge you… and that doesn’t happen without a Persistent focus.  You have to be open to feedback, and also be willing to give it – clearly, openly, and in a spirit of helping them grow, typically in areas that you see strengths they don’t.  And vice versa.  It is up to you but together, that focus on growth will help you both achieve many things back to back you couldn’t alone.

He was also a great lover of jazz, playing the trumpet, and intended to do that in his retirement, which he also had a Persistent focus on… knowing exactly how many years, months, days, and hours it was ahead of him.  I was privileged to go to his Retirement party a number of years back, and wonder now how his trumpet playing is going?  But I can tell you whatever he is doing, I am sure he is doing it all the right way.  I was honored to have a partner that Persistently modeled… Straighten Up and Fly Right.

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