Friday, March 17, 2017

The Wikileaks CIA Leak: Nothing shocking, but still interesting


Last week, leak website Wikileaks published more than 8,000 documents supposedly leaked from the secret files of the US Central Intelligence Agency. The leak organization says that those pages are less than 1% of what it has and that it's going to publish more as time goes by and they've had time to review the full leak for both accuracy and potentially damaging information that should not be made public. While you probably remember the 2013 leak of NSA documents by Edward Snowden, you also probably notice that public reaction to this leak has proven to be very different.

For the most part, the public, the media, and the government, haven't reacted strongly to this leak at all. Sure, there was some sabre rattling by the government about 'bringing the full force of US law' on Wikileaks and a few officials officially condemned the leak, but it was definitely not met with the shock and immediate reaction that Snowden's leaks were. Snowden's leaks forced several massive changes in the industry while the Vault 7 leaks will likely only effect a fairly small segment of the industry and a handful of companies. What's the difference? Why have the CIA leaks been so...trivial?

Because they confirmed what we pretty much already knew.

For over a decade, we've heard rumors that the CIA had cyber-capabilities that could do things like hack cars control smart televisions, break into phones, and of course, bypass the security of operating systems like Microsoft Windows. And, while we all knew it wasn't supposed to be happening, we knew the CIA probably didn't limit its attacks to foreign enemies. Just about everything in the CIA leaks is nothing but a confirmation of what we've known for a long time. Nothing new to see here. We can move on.

To me, what will be more interesting than the leaks themselves is how the companies effected will respond to the leaks. Now we don't just have confirmation that attacks are happening but how those attacks are being carried out. This gives companies a unique opportunity to step up, fix those vulnerabilities, and protect their users. Sitting back and watching how companies deal with these issues and how quickly and decisively they deal with them will be a telltale sign of how serious they are about keeping our data safe and, really, who's "side" are they truly on. Watch carefully, dear reader, there is much to be learned here.

Eventually, as Wikileaks releases more information into Vault 7, we might learn something that shocks us or creates the waves that the Snowden leaks did years ago, but I don't think we will. We know the CIA is shady, secretive, and doing all sorts of crazy experiments to forward their missions. This is an agency that's admitted to human experimentation in the past. Why would we be shocked that they go after our personal information or devise new ways to spy on us?
In the end, the biggest part of this story is how little people are actually shocked by these revelations and what that lack of shock says about our trust in our own government.

Friday, January 20, 2017

An Open Letter to President Donald J. Trump

Dear President Trump,

Today was a historic day. Once again, the wheels of our democratic republic turned and you became the 45th President of the United States of America. While I haven't always agreed with you, I eagerly tuned in to watch you take the oath of office and, while I admit that I am a bit nervous about our future, I am also filled with hope, pride, and a grand vision of the future. Every four-years, we Americans give one person the opportunity to unite 350 million people and change our part of the world for the better. In 2017, you, Mr. Trump, have been given this awesome opportunity.

Your campaign was often filled with divisiveness, vitriol, anger, ridicule of your opponents, and late night Twitter rants against your enemies. Now is the time for you to begin the hard work of repairing relationships, building bridges instead of walls, and bringing together a country that is bitterly divided. It is time to lead by example and 'bury the hatchet' with rivals and show how presidential you really can be. It is time to show that you understand that you are no longer the CEO of a successful organization or a reality television host but you are now the leader of one of the most important nations of the world. Instead of having the well-being of a few thousand employees of Trump Organization in your hands, you now have the well-being of hundreds of millions to worry about. It's a huge responsibility and, honestly, one that would leave most men paralyzed with fear and uncertaintity.

As I watched you take the Oath of Office today, I saw a man of confidence, a man sure of his future course and the course of the powerful nation that he now leads. I took heart in the fact that you are smart and know to surround yourself with the best people who will help you lead this country. I, like millions of others, am willing to put aside my uncertainty and give you a chance. You have the chance to either make this country amazingly successful or a total failure. You now have that power in your hands. How will you use it?

Lastly, while I don't always agree with you, I am not willing to stand in total opposition against you. Eight years ago, I stood against the Republicans and gave a little know Senator from Illinois a chance and it was the right gamble. As an American, I owe the same to you and I will proudly give you that chance. I'll be watching and I will be praying for you, but I will give you a fair chance.So welcome, President Trump. Welcome to the toughest leadership position that you will ever hold. Today, I stand with you as a proud American, a little bit scared, but filled with an unyielding home for our future. You are my President now and I, and millions of others, do not wish to see you fail. We stand ready to do our part to "Make American Great Again".

Are you prepared to lead?

Sincerely,
A Hopeful American

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Giving up the sale to gain customers and their trust

I run a small custom software development company in Oklahoma. Our bread and butter is to consult with businesses and help them determine what software they need to best achieve their goals. Sometimes, we end up writing something new from scratch. But, more often than not, we find something that's cheaper and fits their needs almost perfectly. I believe that every software developer faces these situations in multiple client encounter. While those times might not end in a high-value sale, the do provide an excellent chance to build trust and rapport with both your existing and new customers.

When I was younger, I worked in the Electronics department at a Walmart store. At least a few times a day, I'd encounter a customer asking for something they either didn't really need or that we didn't carry. It would have been very easy for me to squeeze them into buying something that wasn't "quite" a fit, but ended up in a sale for the company. But that's not what I did. In those cases, I would openly tell the customer that we either didn't sell what they were looking for or that they didn't actually need what they thought they did. But it didn't end there: I then worked to help them find a solution to their problem that actually fit their needs. Sometimes, that meant sending them to a competitor and sometimes that meant selling them a different, and cheaper, product. But, over time, I noticed something happen: my customers began to trust me. They knew that I wasn't all about the sale and that I genuinely cared about what they needed. I started to see them come directly to me for advice on their electronics purchases, treating me like a trusted consultant, sure in the knowledge that I would always do what was in their best interest, even if it cost Walmart a sale. They even started to send their friends and families to me, asking for recommendations, help with things they didn't understand, and tough purchasing decisions. It got so common that, for a while, my bosses thought I was running a business from the department and threatened to fire me! Still, I remained loyal to my customers and not the sale. The sale was secondary. Trust was paramount. You know what happened? Sales went up for my department!

It sounds counter-intuitive to think that putting the sale second would increase business. Every business book you read tells you to "Always Be Closing" when you're dealing with customers. But customers don't buy from businesses, they buy from trusted partners and nowhere is that more true than it is when they are buying high end services like software development for their company.

As a technical consultant, it's easy to scam customers. They come to us with vague ideas of what they want, no idea of time or costs estimates, and often put us in positions where we are able to waste tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Being able to set the sale aside and say to your customer 'Mr. Customer, I could spend $250,000 of your money easily by building a custom solution. But that isn't what you need. There is an off-the-shelf package that either meets your needs or could be customized much cheaper" is a super hard thing to do. But, in the end, it will build a trust with your customer that no level of technical expertise could ever develop. Your customer will stop seeing you as 'that consult' and start seeing you are 'a partner'. That is where the magic happens. It's there, where it's dollars versus ethics, where relationships that last a lifetime are build and you have a fantastic opportunity to tap into that.

Lastly, don't think this article only applies to software sales. It applies to any kind of sale where the customer is at a disadvantage to the salesperson (which are most sales).Show ethics, show that you're watching their bottom line as carefully as they are, become a trusted partner instead of a salesperson. Only then will you be sure to have customers for life and that's where the money is truly made.

Friday, January 6, 2017

It's better to be boring than rich than cool and poor

Software entrepreneurs are an interesting bunch. It seems that we're always chasing after the next "big idea"; the idea that will bring our nascent companies the billion-dollar valuations of Snapchat, Instagram, and their ilk. We have a surplus of 'really cool, world-changing' ideas but can't seem to catch the money that should follow such a revolutionary company.  The truth is that your company is not going to ne the next Snapchat or Instagram. Facebook or Twitter aren't going to come calling with buckets of cash in the trunk and throw in a lucrative six-figure "aqui-hire" deal to buy your diamond among the rocks. But you want to know a secret?

That's totally OK!

Most of us didn't get into business because we wanted to be 'cool'. We got into business because we wanted to make money, pay the mortgage, send our kids to a good school, secure a retirement, travel and have freedom.  Many of us, especially in the software world, got seduced by the cool guys, the jocks of our industry, the people who design a web app in their basement and sell to Facebook in six-months and walk away with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. It's a tempting call, isn't it? Who wouldn't want to be invited to all the big parties, hob-knob with the stars, give talks at the major conferences, and be the envy of every small-time guy out there? But none of that matters if you spend 10 years trying to be cool and your business fails.

Entrepreneurs, not just software entrepreneurs, often overlook the non-sexy places that are begging to throw money their way. No, not the glitzy eyed million-install consumers constantly glued to their iPhones looking for an amazing app, but things like local and state governments, local stores, and small companies needing a one-off solution to solve an internal problem. None of that is Snapchat-sexy, but all of it will make you rich. You won't be cool and rich but, personally, I'd rather be boring and rich any day.

The question could be asked that, if you can be 'boring and rich', why aren't more people doing it? I believe the answer is simple: it takes real work. These are not hundred-billion-dollar markets where million dollar sales are the norm. These are small, slow, markets that require a lot of hand-holding and actual work. It's not a market where you're going to design an app in a few days, put it in an app store and ignore support requests while the money rolls in. These are markets where you'll make under $20,000 (sometimes way under) sales to individual locations and you'll get stupid questions from completely non-sexy users all day long. You'll have to work for the money you make but that money could be enormous. That kind of software isn't 'cool' by any means. But you know what it? Never having to worry about money. Being able to travel with your family to exotic destinations a few times a year. Sending your kids to good schools and focusing on the joys of life instead of constantly chasing something that you might never find.

So the next time you find yourself thinking 'man, I really need to come up with something sexy like Snapchat', swallow your pride and think smaller, less sexy. Think about how you can help your community, small businesses, and the like. The money is there. They are begging you to take it from them. Why would you want to walk away from that just for the thrill of the chase?

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