Cut to my first job as a software developer. I was in my early 20s and working for a tech startup creating software that helped run manufacturing plants. Without our software, your yogurt may not have the right mix of ingredients, mass market books might have missing pages, and your car may be missing a critical part.
Given my lackluster performance as a developer (I could create bugs just by thinking about them) and my passion (yes, I am using that word) for connecting with our customers, I was anointed the company’s first product manager. One of my jobs was to create mockups that show how we will evolve the product from smaller manufacturing plants to support larger, integrated systems. In other words, I created a lot of demos to show customers.
One year, we hired a new marketing manager who wanted to make a splash on the market, so we invested heavily on a massive new booth at a major manufacturing conference. I created slick demos to showcase “on the floor” at the booth and worked night and day to create future product roadmaps for strategic customers.
Getting to this trade show was quite the undertaking. We spent so much money on the booth, we did not have money to hire a company to handle everything for us, so we packed up a U-Haul truck and made our way to Washington D.C.
The trade show was a huge hit and we made so many new sales, the owner of the business quickly invested in another event just six months later that would take place in San Jose, Calif. Our new marketing manager was busy working with publications and revamping our brand, so he told me I would manage all the logistics for the trade show. This time, rather than two computers at a booth, we would have six. Some of those computers would even be portable (they looked like carry-on luggage back then), to show that we are on top of the latest technology.
Even better, I had the budget to vastly improve current demos and customer presentations to showcase ourselves as market leaders.
I’ve been away so long. I may go wrong and lose my way.
Well, by the time I left, I wanted to be away for a long time and, oh boy, did I lose my way.
When I arrived in San Jose (my first business trip on a plane), all the computers were to arrive at the hotel so I could get them to my room and prepare them with any last-minute updates. The computers did come and the hotel did have the UPS receipt.
As it turns out, the hotel had the computers from a lot of other companies attending the event too, so mine were stored in the kitchen’s walk-in refrigerator. Can you guess what happened? Someone accidentally basted them with butter? No. Were the keyboards used as plates for the artistic chef to serve her haute cuisine? No. Did you say “someone got wind of unwatched computers cooling in the walk-in and took off with them via the loading dock?” Yep.
The computers were $3,500 each (I will never forget that number) and under my watch, $21,000 worth of equipment went missing — and that was Day 1.
Moving on to Day 2, I searched for computers far and wide. Even in Silicon Valley, you could not just walk down to a store and buy computers like that. You had to order them and that took weeks. Also, my company credit card had a limit of $5,000 and the owner was not about to extend the purchase. Finally, I found a company all the way in San Francisco that could rent me the computers. I was out of the woods and began setting up the booth.
On Day 3, I had the booth ready, and the computers were coming in as planned. We set them up, and they worked great! They were even the same model of computers we used before, so I knew the software would work on them.
But wait. I have the demo disks (we had these things called floppy disks, look them up), but our core software was not in with the booth equipment. Apparently, the person shipping the computers put the disks for our software in a box with one of the computers and not with the booth as planned. I missed it; he missed it, I was scared because the show started on Day 4.
The only option was to wait for new software to be sent to me via FedEx from our East Coast offices. My manager called me and asked why the (multiple expletives) didn’t I bring backups of the software with me? Why didn’t I have that as a contingency plan? Why didn’t I create hard drive images so we weren’t installing software on the day of the trade show?
Naturally, these were all good questions and I was more upset than he probably ever was. Unfortunately, he was right. I still had to install an operating system on each computer, install our software that hopefully would arrive on time, and then install and run all our demos. To do this, I would have to swap something like 20 disks across six computers and do all that before the doors swung open for our event on Day 4.
You know how people always joke about salespeople will suck the life out of you but never return the favor? No? Well, I have heard that once or twice in my life, but it is just not true.
One of the salespeople flew in the afternoon of Day 3 to help finalize booth readiness and do whatever needed to be done. When I told him the story and where we stood, he did not yell at me or get flustered. He told me to hang tight while he “takes care of the situation.” Two hours later, the doors to the conference floor swing open, blinding light emitting from behind him, angels singing in chorus, and clouds opening from above (true story).
When this mystical salesperson found me at the booth, he handed me a massive stack of disks. They contained multiple copies of our latest software and some copies of the operating system (DOS was not exactly hard to copy back then). I blinked a few times staring at him and asked, “How the (multiple expletives) did you pull this off?” Turns out, we had a customer nearby who was all too happy to give up a few copies of the software and get us up and running.
After learning that lesson, I make sure backups are part of everything I do. My computers are backed up, the projects I manage have a backup and recovery strategy, and I make sure our vendors do the same.
Today, backup and recovery are more important than ever. Your cloud vendor may or may not back up your data (without a fee), your internal systems may not be backed up, and when something bad happens, you need to get your systems back up and running quickly.
In today’s TechGenix T-Suite podcast, I interview Doug Hazelman of CloudBerry Lab, who talks about the past, present, and future of the data backup and recovery market. (You can also find out more about Doug at his Twitter page or CloudBerry at its Twitter page.) He shares some important stories along the way and I was particularly excited to speak with him because of the importance it holds for me.
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