Thoughts on some of the roles that I could fill... (and slowly eroding my resistance to going the consulting route)
One of the most common reactions to my note last week about my impending employment change (outside of the truly amazing things people have said) has been some variation on the question - "so what is it you want to do?" or "what kind of roles are you looking for?"
Fair questions. And a bit challenging given that I have a diverse range of interests and abilities. But since I'm trying out this experiment in being very public about my employment search, I'll list some examples of the type of roles I'm ideally seeking - along with the caveat that all of them are interesting and so a role that involved several of them might be even more interesting. So here are some thoughts:
- Emerging Technology Analyst - A good amount of the work I did for Mitel was what I talked about in my note last week. Standing up in the "crow's nest", staring out at the horizons to identify opportunities and threats - and then translating that into internal communication within the company about what it might mean to the business. What's the opportunity with social networks? Facebook? What's the opportunity or threat with Skype? Asterisk? competitors? partners? Where do mashups fit in? I often created lengthy and detailed analysis which I circulated by email to senior management, heads of R&D and product management. I also posted those to an internal blog, did numerous presentations, gave web seminars/webinars and had started created internal podcasts as well. Similarly, if you look at the writing I do here and on Disruptive Conversations as well as the audio at Blue Box, so much of what I do is try to make sense of the changes that are happening as the ways in which we communicate are disrupted. What do those changes mean to individuals? to companies/organizations? Where is the business opportunity? threat? A role would be quite intriguing that involved continuing that ongoing exploration and translating that into reports (for internal or external customers), white papers, blog entries, podcasts (audio or video), conference presentations, etc., etc. (Naturally you can imagine I've made some inquiries at a few analyst firms.) I've seen some companies call this role a "strategist" as well. (A term which I fear is getting over-used.)
- Social Media Strategist - The reality is that the social media of blogs, podcasts, wikis, and perhaps even moreso social networks like Facebook are changing the ways in which we communicate and bringing in different challenges in terms of transparency, openness, immediacy, etc. There are tremendous opportunities for companies to engage in conversations with customers and partners with very little cost or technical infrastructure. Amazingly simple ways to stimulate loyal and engaged customers, energize customers as advocates, build better products, build a community around your products/services, build your brand and potentially save on costs (such as in creating a self-help community that might reduce support costs). But it's also a dangerous place if companies don't understand how to engage in that space. There's any number of social media campaigns that have gone wrong. Companies/organizations need a strategy... need to understand what their goals are, how to use the tools, etc. Jeremiah Owyang really outlines this best with his recent post "Applying a Social Computing Strategy to the entire Product Lifecycle". I've been blogging since 2000, podcasting since 2005, working with communication/marketing/PR as a component of almost every job I've had and this type of role is one I would absolutely welcome (both of assisting with strategy and also with execution of the actual media, i.e. producing podcasts, blogs, etc.).
- Community Developer/Organizer - I started working with BITNET and then the Internet back in the mid-1980's and pretty much immediately looked at them as tools to connect people of common interests and build online communities. Back in those days I was very involved in environmental matters and spent a lot of time running around the Boston area evangelizing a service called EcoNet and looking to connect activists so that they could be able to combine efforts. I've been helping build online communities ever since. The Linux Professional Institute grew out of a mailing list of a dozen of us into the world's leading provider of vendor-neutral certification exams really entirely through the online community we built, a whole lot of PR, speaking engagements at conferences, etc. (Yes, the $600K in corporate sponsorships we raised certainly helped, too.) I moved to Ottawa to join e-smith (which was then acquired by Mitel) in part because they were building a strong community around their brand/product and I wanted to be part of that and to see what could happen if a company really embraced Cluetrain. This is some of what I'm doing now to a limited degree with VOIPSA. Over the years the tools have changed (social media and social networking sites being today's version), but the ideas and benefits (if done right) are the same. Chris Brogan has written far more eloquently than I about this kind of role (largely because it's his role with VON): "Why Do Community Development", "Understanding Community Development Strategies", "The Long Tail of Community" That's the kind of role I've done and would love to do again. (UPDATE - See also Jeremiah Owyang's "Understanding the Community/Evangelist Role")
- Product/company Evangelist - It's perhaps just a variation on "community developer", but a good part of what I did for Mitel was to travel around to conferences presenting on behalf of the company, meeting with customers/users, listening to their input, trying to pass that back into the company. Being a voice for the company in some communities. In many ways, not terribly different from a community developer... but today some companies call this position an "evangelist".
- VoIP Security Lead/Prime/Head/etc. - Naturally roles that involve VoIP security are kind of an obvious one for me. But from the roles already listed above, you can imagine that I'm really more interested in a role that involves communication about VoIP security issues than I am in, say, doing penetration testing against VoIP systems. (Although there are certainly days when I'd love to just sit and try to break VoIP systems!)
- Standards Monitoring/Participating/etc. - I don't know the precise title that would be used, and I think there are very few people who have this as their full-time position (usually more of a component of another job), but there's a huge amount of work that goes on within open standards bodies such as the IETF. Companies have a choice: they can either be involved in the standards process; or they can choose to not be and wind up implementing the standards that are defined by the companies that are involved. If you are doing something in an area like SIP, it's really in your best interest to be engaged in the IETF process, to be monitoring the status of standards, attending the IETF meetings, engaging in the mailing lists, commenting on Internet-Drafts, submitting Internet-Drafts, chairing committees, etc. It can be an all-consuming role but the benefit is that a company can help drive "industry standards" in a direction that may be beneficial to the company. At the very least the company can ensure their viewpoint has been heard in the discussion. It's not a bad thing from a PR/marketing point-of-view either. But to do it right, you need someone who understands who the process works and can work well with counterparts from all the other vendors.
There's a handful of other roles of interest, but those are really the big ones. Hopefully that is helpful to all of those who have asked me "what kind of role are you looking for?" I should also note that in my ideal world, I'd like to find a role that let's me stay working virtually from Burlington, Vermont (and would presumably have some degree of regular travel to a headquarters, conferences, etc.). We moved here two years ago, have older family in the northeast US and have a young daughter absolutely loving the second year of a two-year kindergarten program. Our preference would definitely not be to move, although if the right opportunity were out there we wouldn't rule it out.
I had a bit of an epiphany, too, while out at Internet Telephony Expo this week in L.A. I went down to IT Expo to give my presentation but also to make connections about full-time employment. I had several positive discussions in that regard, but in the course of the days there, I kept having people who as soon as they found out I was available were very interested in engaging me on a consultant basis in one of the various areas I outlined above (as well as open source license compliance, another side interest of mine). To date, I have steadfastly avoided the consultant route, primarily because the cost of healthcare in the US for a self-employed individual and family are fairly insane (but that's a subject for another rant)... but over the course of my three days there my resistance began to erode. (Of course, the trick is to see how many of those expressions of interest turn into something real, eh?) We'll see. Right now I have another week of transition of my Mitel responsibilities and then we'll see what makes sense.
Thanks again for all of the support of so many of you who have left comments, emailed me, IM'd me, etc. It's been a true testament to the power of joining in the social media conversation and the larger network of people. Thanks.