And now time for some self depricating humor…Yesterday I was trying to set up a few new devices at our house so I needed to connect them to the wireless network. I spent literally 4 hours trying to troubleshoot why I just could not get it to connect. Along the way I commented how I “was awesome like Rain Man” in that i could remember the wireless key code off the top of my head. I disconnected r…outer, rebooted devices, uninstalled and reinstalled things, sat next to the router thinking the signal wasn’t strong enough….only to finally realize I was entering the wrong wireless key for the past 4 hours.
I felt like Clark Griswold putting up his lights…I then got to hear from my 7 year old how hilarious it was that I was typing the wrong password the entire time. I tried to spin it that I was trying to teach him a lesson in persistance…I don’t think he bought it.
This week marks one of my favorite weeks of the year professionally. It is the week where the students in the Applied IT program at George Mason present their final projects for the Capstone Program. I have been a member of the Industry Advisory Board now for over 3 years and one of the ways I help out is by sitting on the judges panel for their final projects.
The goal of the program is to teach students the skills they need to be successful in the work environment. The Capstone Class specifically places the students into teams who then go off and work with real businesses to identify areas in which Information technology can improve the business. The team operates as consultants for the business by learning about the business and identifying some potential areas for improvement in the 492 class. Then in the 493 class they develop working prototypes of their solutions and present them to the judges.
It is always impressive to me to see the ideas the students come up with and the quality solutions that can be developed over the course of just months. More impressive to me though is how interested the class is in learning from the feedback they get from the judges and how professional they act towards their the judges, their clients, their professors and most importantly their peers.
Often times owning a business can be a very frustrating endeavor with government shutdowns, budget cuts and other items that have a way of sucking the energy and motivation out of me. Things like the Capstone program serve as a means to re-energize me professionally and remind me that I really do love what I do. The energy and excitement the students show during this week is contagious and for that reason I am excited to be volunteering this week.
We are now more than halfway through the year and to sum it up in a word …Frustrating. It has been a year unlike any other for us in our ten years in business. I believe this year has not only been frustrating for Dave and I but also for our staff. For Dave and I it has been frustrating because we have a lot of goals we want to achieve for the company; Work we want to pursue, growth targets we want to reach, etc. For our staff it has been frustrating because it has been 6 months riddled with unknowns and uncertainty.
Many different elements have caused these frustrations but mostly the budget situation in Washington, the Sequester causing a lot of anxiety on the part of our staff because they didn’t know if their jobs would be safe from day to day, rising health care costs (32% hike in premiums), as well as delays to many of the contracts we are on, or contracts we were bidding on. All of these things together have added up to a pretty frustrating few months.
However, since I try to be a glass half full kind of guy (sometimes), I am trying to put a positive spin on the first 6 months. We are still essentially the same sized company we were when the year began. Most companies in this region cannot say the same. We have begun a new relationship with a great organization (Washington Literacy Center) and continued to be involved with existing groups (mainly George Mason University). We have also submitted more proposals thus far in 2013 then we had this time in 2012 and we had options picked up on both of our prime contracts for next year. We have just finished a rollout of a brand new intranet that is such a huge improvement on our prior site. We had two awesome team building events (iron chef and computer repair night at the WLC) and have 2 more coming up in the next month or two (company picnic and Nationals game).
So yes, it’s been a long first half of the year. And yes, as my wife can attest I am already counting down the days to our vacation at the end of August. But, we have largely weathered the storm this year which many others can not say the same. 2013 will still prove to be a year of growth for us over 2012. It is just a year with less successes than we are accustomed to….maybe that just means that we set a pretty hight bar for ourselves.
About a month ago our friends at the Washington Literacy Center told us that their students got word that we were going to be helping out the Center with their IT needs and asked if we could help fix their personal computers. This definitely wasn’t our initial intent but we immediately worked with WLC to set up a night where the students could bring their personal computers to class and leave them with us while they were in class and we would work on them and have them ready for when class ended. Tonight was the big night.We were greeted with hugs from our friend Christina (yes we get hugs at the WLC!). We arrived about an hour before their class started to find that several students had already stopped by and dropped off their machines with notes for us outlining what needed to be looked at. Soon after more and more students started dropping off their machines for us to check out. Before we knew it we had over 20 machines that needed to be hooked up or diagnosed in some fashion.
I could not be prouder of our employees that volunteered their own time to help these people out. For three plus hours we worked on their machines with only a short break in the middle to have some pizza with all of the students and the instructors. It was great to see us all work together to help these people out. We all work for different customers at different sites but tonight we were a team. It was great to see. Amanda took the lead for us. She was our organizer and came up with a system to track all the equipment and what was wrong with all of them and what we did to fix them. Without her we would have had machines all over the place without any idea of who they belonged to or what the issues were with them. Chris, Tim, and Pete were our brains who did a lot of the trouble shooting on the machines. Pete joined us even though he is on vacation this week! It was fun watching Chris talk to computers as he tried to figure out how to get the viruses removed. Tim was able to help one of the staffers there set up remote access on her laptop so she can work from home now sometimes. We later found out she takes the bus 1.5 hrs each way to work everyday and will now be able to avoid this a few days a week because of this. Now THAT’S making a difference.
At one point during the night one of the managers of the center grabbed me and asked me if I minded helping out with something. One of the students there wants to ask his current job for a promotion. She was hoping I could basically play the role of his manager and let him practice his pitch to me and give him feedback. It took maybe 15 minutes and most of the time was just spent talking to the guy. I gave him a few tips and wished him luck and told him to please make sure he lets me know when he gets that promotion. The guy then thanked me for taking the time to listen and for “making him feel good about himself today”. I can’t stop thinking about these words. 15 minutes spent listening to this guy and it made his day. Tim’s figuring out how to let someone skip 3 hrs on a bus a few days a week…made her day. It’s one of those things that reminds me why we do these things. Sure we would rather be home with our families but to see how appreciative everyone was totally made it all worthwhile.
The staff and the students at WLC were so thankful for our time and the pizza. It was really an awesome night and I cannot wait for the next one!
Last week we attended the Washington Business Journals award ceremony for the Best Companies to Work for in Washington DC. It was a great event, much bigger than I was expecting. It was a great opportunity to meet other business owners and network and more importantly it was a great opportunity to celebrate a job well done and a lot of hard work paid off. For us this was 10 years in the making. Since I started integrateIT, my goal was to have a company that people wanted to work for. We built it around a strong belief that our staff is our most valuable resource and I believe we do a good job of staying true to that value. Sometimes I am told by one of our employees how much they appreciate what we do for them or the benefits we provide them with but being recognized with an award like this makes us KNOW our employees feel that way.
As happy as we were to receive this award, as soon as we found out we had been ranked #18 among small businesses, Dave and I immediately faced each other and we were both thinking the exact same thing. How do we do better next year? Are we proud to be on the list? Absolutely…it’s a great accomplishment. There were over 400 companies that were considered for this award. It was a great accomplishment. This company went through a period where we were complacent and just happy to be around and doing well. Not any more. We don’t just want to be ONE of the best companies to work for. We want to be THE best company to work for. So we celebrated for that afternoon and then got back to work, thinking of new ideas for events we could hold for our staff, new ways to get more people involved, new ways to train our future leaders etc. This award served as a recognition of what we have been doing but it also serves as a motivation for us to do even better.
Last night I once again had the privilege of serving on the judges panel for final projects of the Capstone program at George Mason University. I serve as a member of the Industry Advisory Board for their Applied Information Technology program and everytime I attend anything associated with this program I walk away impressed. I am still amazed that more schools around the country have not adopted this type of program.
The goal of the program is to teach students the skills that they need to be able to apply their technical skills on a job site after graduation. These are things that most students will not learn until they are already in their first job and learn them the hard way. These are some skills most people think are understood or should not need to be taught but as many of us in business can attest are not. Things like working on a team, presentation skills, the elevator speech, etc. I know which students are a part of the Capstone program the minute I walk into the building…they are the ones wearing shirts and ties as opposed to ripped T shirts and jeans. They are the students that show up prepared and on time to the class.
Last night was the night they got to present their final projects to the panel. The students break into teams and work with a local business to identify challenges that business is faced with and then come up with ways to improve that business through the use of IT. They work with this business all semester and then present their findings on final project night. The panel, 3 or 4 individuals with a wide variety of business backgrounds including sometimes retired colonels or generals, then grill the teams with questions about their findings. Sometimes the questions are brutally honest and the teams are dealt hard lessons about their projects. One group in particular last night was dealt a hard dose of reality that the company they were trying to help needed much more than IT to help them survive. This was a company that is potentially weeks away from going out of business. What would implementing an Inventory Management System do for them? We could see the disappointment in their faces as this hit them. What will they use for their project next semester now? (semester 2 is when they actually implement their findings from semester 1). These 5 kids (I often have to remind myself that yes these are still just kids) impressed me to no end. When the presentation ended I had an idea for them for a new project that they could work on with my company. We sat around an extra half hour after class ended with the Dean of the school of engineering and this group and we discussed a plan of attack to get these guys back in the game. Their energy immediately picked back up and they were excited to get back on the horse and start working again. As I walked in my door last night at 11PM after a long day of work followed by these presentations I was tired sure…but those 5 students reminded me why I volunteer for that program. Those students are the future employees, team leads, and who knows…maybe even business owners. Knowing that they appreciate the time and are interested in learning makes the late nights totally worth it. As I sat drinking my coffee this morning I was thinking about last night and all I keep thinking about is what a powerful lesson for these students. Anyone that does anything in business knows that at some point you are going to be dealt a disappointing message about your project, your job, your company, or something else. How you react and deal with this is what defines you. These guys dealt with their harsh message like true professionals.
As most people that know me now are probably aware, integrateIT was recently informed that we will be featured on the 2013 Best Company to Work for List for 2013 when it is released by the Washington Business Journal next month (yes I am proud of this so forgive me). To many, this is just some stupid marketing gimmick. To me though, this is aknowledgement that a decades worth of work has been noticed. All of the reasons why integrateIT will show up on this list have been years in the making. They are the core principles of a company that was established in 2004 as just a pipe dream. It represents sticking to these ideals even after we have been told by several people that it wouldn’t work or that these things we cared about just weren’t that important to others. I am proud of our company not for this award but because of what this award symbolizes. It symbolizes that you can come up with an idea and if you stick to it you can make it work. Obviously you can’t do it alone and that’s what else this award symbolizes to me. That after nearly a decade in business we have it figured out. We have the right people in the right jobs and we are doing things the right way and this award also symbolizes to me that we need to continue exactly that…doing it our way.