Hello, World

“Hello … Hello? Is this thing on? Testing … 1 2 3 …”

Joining a company is always an interesting experience, one that I find tends to change somewhat as I get older, but that nonetheless has a very definite pattern to it. First comes the dating process – perhaps you already have a steady relationship, but it’s just not doing it for you, and when someone new comes along, the wheels start to turn. Is this a company that you’d not mind spending a significant percentage of your waking life with? Are they challenging, intriguing, have good products, services or clients, or are they staid, predictable and stable (and perhaps a bit dull)? It’s rare to find both, and the real struggle that you may face is that at different points of your own life, where the sweet spot is will change. Will they give you the freedom to experiment, or are they rigid in their expectations?

Of course, this goes for the company as well. The exciting companies (especially in this day and age) are often exciting for a reason – financial stability is far from assured, and every decision to bring on a new employee, especially more senior employees who might change the shape of the company culture significantly (all employees change the shape somewhat), needs to be weighed against that issue. Often it’s more than just the money aspect – does the prospect bring a reasonable value to the company? Does he or she have problems that can’t be resolved, just waiting off to the side? Will this person prove a spur to innovation, cause major disruption, provide wisdom and guidance to others, just do their job and nothing else?

The dating phase is always a dance, in which each side tries to get close enough to learn about one another but without necessarily being so close that if there are signs that it won’t work out that the cords can be severed easily. Curiously enough, this is the same dance that a consulting company and a potential client go through as well … we humans are hard wired that way, no matter the corporate trappings.

So both dance with one and other and decide if, yes, love (or at least a job) is in the offering, or whether his bad breath and her noxious laugh are just too much to deal with long term. The marriage then is consumated by the obligatory signing of contracts and the similar obligatory lunch between new employee and his or her supervisor and cohorts. Again, we’re hard wired that way … we celebrate by feasting. In my experience, failure to take a new employee out for lunch is often a huge indicator about how long that person will end up sticking around when things get hairy (as they always do), because it’s often a reflection about how the company feels about their employees in general.

The honeymoon is typically short – the clock is ticking, there’s work to be done, and again the faster that a company can work towards getting someone up and running, the more likely they are to be able to get that employee working at full potential. It is also, admittedly, a testing period for the company – seeing whether the photo posted on Facebook was in fact an accurate reflection of the real person, or was photoshopped heavily with half-truths and little lies. Significantly, the same holds true for the new hire, although less experienced people don’t often recognize that. A fancy website and household name does not always equate to a good job experience, and at the same time, that corporate culture thing also gets a good workout, as people react to the new person in their midst.

After a few weeks, or a few months at the outside, it’s usually pretty obvious whether someone’s going to work out or not, and like any other relationship, once established the employer/employee relationship takes on a life of its own … but that’s discussion for another day.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that I’ve done the dance with Avalon, and they with me, and I believe at the end of the day we seem to be satisfied with it to make it permanent. For those of you (most likely most of you) who don’t know me, I’m a writer and information architect who spends a great deal of time working with and thinking about the way that we store, search, display, and transmit information around with one another and with our computer proxies. I do a lot of writing on XML and HTML; (and am an Invited Expert with the World Wide Web Consortium, meaning I spend a lot of my time on the telephone arguing about standards), and recently have also branched out into areas such as Drupal, Hadoop, the Semantic Web and Mobile development. I like making XML Databases such as MarkLogic; and eXist-db sit up and beg, and I hope to be doing more with taking enterprise and government information and making it both available and interactive over the web.

About Avalon Consulting, LLC – Over the last few months I’ve danced the dance many times, coming close a few times but feeling that there were aspects of the way that they worked that just didn’t work for me.  I’d actually talked with Casey Green of Avalon about a year before, on a more informal basis, but the time just wasn’t right for me. This time around, I was impressed by the fact that despite their not exactly being a household name, when I mentioned their name in the XML circles that I normally travel in, many people had heard of them, usually in glowing terms. They were also large enough to be beyond the immediate nail-biting stage of startups, but not so big that they had become hide-bound to process or, were a subsidiary of another company that controlled the purse strings and their destiny. This meant an opportunity to make my mark, a culture that was willing to be innovative when it mattered but was not distracted by the “oh, shiny!” ADHD that seems to be a calling card of new startups still trying to determine what they were good at.

I also like their focus on MarkLogic as one of the big technologies that they’re building practices around. As an XML-type, I naturally tend to gravitate towards XML solutions, but have to admit that I think MarkLogic will end up being the Oracle of the 2010s. Their eponymous server is fast, solid, and feature rich, and establishes the paradigm of what a fourth generation XML Database should be – a full-bore development platform that transcends what the world has in the past thought of as XML Database. The new CEO of MarkLogic, Ken Bado, announced in his first news conference recently that, among other exciting initiatives, MarkLogic is moving towards becoming Hadoop enabled, meaning that you could actually run map/reduce type operations on clusters of MarkLogic servers, up to an including virtualized servers running in the cloud. This is consistent with the vision of outgoing CEO Dave Kellogg’s vision of MarkLogic as being the embodiment of a NoSQL database – one that enables Data as a Service, and that makes that vision a reality for the petabytes work of XML and related semistructured data that is emerging ever faster from both government and corporate database systems.

As an information architect, I am hoping that I can work with the talented and knowledgeable people (from CEO Tom Reidy and co-owner Casey Green outward) here at Avalon to build solutions that address these needs, from textual data analysis to semantic web technologies (which MarkLogic is also exploring) to robust interactive analytics. What’s more, the people here do not believe in being bodies for hire – they believe in being partners with their clients, using deep thinking and solid expertise to craft solutions that not only meet the needs of their clients today, but that also will satisfy those needs for the foreseeable future. That kind of thing is all too rare, but it is, in my mind anyway, one of the hallmarks of a good consulting company – the belief in the importance of integrity.

I hope to be blogging here regularly in the future on some of those deeper technical issues, but in this post I just wanted to say that I’ve found a home, and that home is Avalon.

Kurt Cagle About Kurt Cagle

Kurt Cagle is the Principal Evangelist for Semantic Technology with Avalon Consulting, LLC, and has designed information strategies for Fortune 500 companies, universities and Federal and State Agencies. He is currently completing a book on HTML5 Scalable Vector Graphics for O'Reilly Media.

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