Robert Christiansen: The New Paradigm of Work | Sumo Logic

Robert Christiansen: The New Paradigm of Work

VP, Cloud Strategist, Cloud Technology Partners, HPE
January 28, 2019 39:44
"We have generations coming up that don't know how to talk to each other"
Robert and Ben discuss a tectonic shift going on in the technology industry and how leaders will be successful in this new world.

Show Notes

Ben: Welcome to the Masters of Data podcast, the podcast that brings the human to data. And I’m your host, Ben Newton. This episode was a lot of fun. It isn’t often I get to interview another podcast host and someone with a breadth of experience and background of our guest. Robert Christianson is a VP and cloud strategist at Cloud Technology Partners, which is now part of HPE, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Robert has had a long and interesting career starting his own companies and building world class organizations. Robert is also passionate about people and helping them succeed, and I think you’re really going to enjoy our conversation. So without any further ado, let’s dig in.

Welcome, everybody to the Masters of Data podcast, and I am very excited for my guest today. We actually met at an event that we were both at recently, AWS Reinvent, which I’ve actually talked about on this podcast, I think, once or twice, and I was very excited to get him on. It’s Robert Christianson. He works with Cloud Technology Partners, which has recently got acquired by HPE, and he’s the VP and cloud strategist over there. So welcome to the podcast.

Robert: Thanks, man. I’m happy we got a chance to come together after Reinvent.

Ben: Yeah, absolutely. And as I’ve been learning more about you and doing some research, you’ve got your hands in all sorts of different things. You have your own podcast and you’ve really had a long and interesting career. So as I always do on this podcast, I love just to start off and get to know the person and bring the human story into it. Tell us a little more about yourself. I mean, how’d you end up where you are? And what drove you to get involved in this part of the technology industry?

Robert: That’s a great question. When I was 16, my dad suggested that I take a basic programming class in high school. It was in Virginia. And at the time it was an HP3000, and it had a teleprompter and you would be able to type in your basic commands, and it was in high school. And my first programming job ever was to build an invitation on the computer for a party at my house. We were 17 and back then in Virginia, the drinking age was 18, so it was pretty loose and wild back then. And 300 kids showed up at our house and just totally trashed my dad’s place. I thought it was insane, but that was my first experience with programming a computer. And then, so of course I loved it. And then I went to Chico State up in Northern California, and Chico State is this … What I didn’t know about it … I was really naïve. Chico’s known for being the world’s number one party school back in the 80’s.

Ben: Oh, really?

Robert: Oh yeah. No, it was named number one Playboy party school, but I didn’t know that. My dad didn’t know that either, so he sends me there because it was a really top ranked computer school. It was top ranked, world class. And so, I went there for computers and found out there was a little bit more going on besides computers, and man, I face planted my first semester. I was so unprepared.

But pulled it out, ended up becoming pretty good at computers, and got programming jobs when I was newly out of school. I took on one of the very first C programming jobs ever available on PCs back in the 80’s. And I really liked it, like PCs a lot. So I never had any mainframe, I never had any of that stuff. I learned on card decks and stuff like that, but rapidly got into the advancing technologies and I’ve been in entrepreneurs and startup companies ever since. So my first real job was with a startup back in the 80’s. A company called [Ordained 00:03:36]. It was called a database machine with a backend machine, database server.

And then, so fast forward. Got into professional services in the mid-90’s. Lot of sales leadership, that type of stuff. And then started my own companies and I had the world’s largest fly fishing website in the early 2000’s.

Ben: Oh really?

Robert: Yeah. 2002 to 2006 I had a company called The Mighty Fly, but I’m a big fly fisherman. So I saw fly fishing on the internet as my holy grail of my freedom to never have to work for anybody again. And that didn’t quite pan out, but it was a great exercise. Learned a ton about online marketing. A ton. Early days, right? Back in the days when you … Something called overture. It was this first pay-per-click system that came out right around Google was overture, and it was-

Ben: Oh, yeah. I remember that.

Robert: Remember those guys? That was owned by Yahoo, and you used to be able to download … They used to give you all their analytics for free. And so, I did that. Got really good at it. The dot bomb hit. I bailed out of the technology industry, went to … Started a mortgage company for about four years. Did that and got out of that around 2004, 2005. Eased my way back into technology again. Did a bankless bank called Bank Freedom. It was a competitor with a ING Direct. So we funded that startup, sold my assets in that one. Did another startup called Cloud Nation. That was a citrix for rent platform on AWS. It was one of the first ever VDI, virtual desktops on Amazon back in 2011, 2012.

So I’ve been involved with the cloud for quite some time, whether you call it ASPs or cloud or virtualization, whatever, for quite some time. And we sold that company Cloud Nation. I sold it. Did okay. Was able to pay off a lot of debt and buy a house and settle my wife down. She was getting pretty upset with having to eat mac and cheese every night, wondering when we were gonna pay payroll. So I think about that, Ben, about my path here to where I am.

So we sold the company and I joined Cloud Technology Partners in 2013 to help establish the public cloud practice. And our first engagements were primarily with Capital One and we were doing some pretty good stuff on security and building the platforms with them back in 2014. We built a global practice, they became world renowned and we set some really big hairy audacious goal, some [BHAG 00:06:04] goals that were … We wanted to be the number one security company, professional services company for security and for implementations globally on public cloud, and we set that goal and I think we nailed it.

Ben: That’s great.

Robert: Yeah. And we got acquired by HP last year, so they’ve asked me to stick around for a while to help them transition and do that. So that’s what I’ve been doing. And I handed off the global delivery roles back in November, the beginning of this year. I mean, November this year. Excuse me. So I really wanted to move into more of a strategist role. And at the same time I’ve been building a professional coaching practice where I help technology folks try to find their way through this industry at the same time. It’s pretty interesting. So that’s it in a nutshell. I think that was a long resume on the podcast.

Ben: No, no. I like that. So the 30 year desk job is not really your thing.

Robert: Oh, no. God, no. That’s one thing I know about my makeup, and that was really important, I think, Ben. I think that you know who you are. I’m an explorer. I’m a tinkerer. I like big picture stuff. I don’t know if it was a gift or not, but I just do not get nervous in front of a microphone, whether it’s on stage speaking in front of a thousand people at an event or doing a podcast. I just feel natural doing that, and that’s a pretty rare skill, I’m finding. So I’ve leveraged it. I liked speaking like communications, like helping people.

Ben: I think that’s great. And one thing it reminds me of, too, is now that I’ve been doing this podcast for … I think it’s about nine months now. And there’s a few themes that have been coming out, and one of those is this idea that I’ve … The polymath. I think there’s a few other words out there for it, but it’s this idea that people touching a lot of different areas in their careers have moved around and they’ve been able to learn a lot of different skillsets, and it sounds to me like you’re a perfect example of that, because even the way you describe your curiosity and the desire to tinker and … There’s one woman I interviewed over at L’Oreal, [Cher 00:08:10] [DeVonzo 00:08:10], and she talked about this idea of tinkerers. And she has some funny ways I … She calls them pokers and lickers and something like that. But she has this idea of people that love to explore. But it seems to me like that skillset that you’re talking about, that she’s talking about and that you’ve lived, is going to be absolutely essential going forward for if you want to be successful. I mean, does that makes sense to you?

Robert: It does. So I have this recurring thought that just doesn’t want to leave me. It’s like gum on my shoe, right? I just can’t seem to get it off me, and the thought is this. When everybody has access to the similar technology, what’s the differentiation? So let’s think about it. Ben, let’s say you and I decide we want to go out and compete in the big data space and some AI and some machine learning and create a consulting company. We can find five or six or seven other folks, either Stanford or MIT PhDs, whatever, it doesn’t matter, and we can create a company. And now let’s say we want to go after gene therapy. We could literally compete, at least from a technical basis, with Pfizer or [Allegan 00:09:20] or Merck or whatever, and we’d have access to the same technologies that they do, if not better because we’re not encumbered with legacy systems. We’re not encumbered with the rigidity of those systems. And so, when that’s the case, Ben, what’s the difference in the competitive world?

To me, it’s the building of those skills that you just said. How do I free myself of the rigidity of it? How do I free myself from the sacred cows that I personally think that I can’t go do anymore because we can’t do that? How do you free yourself of that stuff? If we pivot a little bit into your company, I know you’re with Sumo. You guys are breaking glass every day. I mean, you’re literally going after glass towers with hammers. I swear to God, man.

Ben: Such a vivid analogy.

Robert: What do you think about it? I mean, I don’t want to pick on the central IT teams like that, but if you really think about the data … Those data lakes and those centers of gravity inside those large organizations, man, those are … You want to talk about just rigidity … And they know that they’re rigid. They know that, but they don’t see a way out. And so, gaining those skills at least gets you to the point where I can question and not feel somebody is attacking me. I can get a bit more alligator skin on my body around being able to be more flexible and questioning because I have access to resources, and it’s not just a conversation that’s pointless. You go back three or four years, we have these conversations today, people are going to say, “Why even have the conversation? It’s pointless. We’re locked into this big infrastructure. We’re not going anywhere.” That’s not the case today. That’s not the case at all.

Ben: That makes a lot of sense. The barrier to entry. And even something like a larger part of what you’re talking about, going back to what you said about careers and people in the technology space or whatever. Because I do a lot of training here in trying to explain to people what’s going on, and I think sometimes we miss the forest for the trees, as you would normally say, because there’s a tendency to think about, “Oh, well, they’re having this problem with this piece of technology. They’re having this problem with this processors. They’re using this way of thinking versus that way of thinking.” Where there seems to be this much … There’s a larger societal change going on, which is just being manifested in the technology industry in something … Maybe call it Dev Ops or whatever you want to call it.

But the point is is that there’s a transition between these rigid hierarchies where people get told what to do and you build these elaborate systems that amass that hierarchy, like Conway’s Law, and then that’s shifting to these much more fluid learning organizations, and you yourself have to be fluid. And it seems like there’s not always a recognition in general … Maybe that’s changing, but there’s not always a recognition in general for the people in the middle of what’s happening. They tend to think, well, I’m dealing with this day to day, but actually you’re really part of this massive tectonic change going on in the way we do work. And the companies and the people that are going to thrive are the ones who recognize that and take advantage and adjust.

Robert: I totally agree. So one of the things that’s a personal passion of mine is advocacy of technology people. What I mean by advocacy … I want to say within the last few years, but we really didn’t have to worry about advocacy of technology people because so much of the day to day IT motions, the infrastructure that’s in place, the procurement processes, the compliance governance and risk, all these things that go into the behaviors of the fundamentals of processing data globally are a pretty set. There was a lot of refresh motions going on and stuff like that. People were pushing new barriers around the various things that they can build. This tectonic shift that we’ve been experiencing has dramatically changed it such that the decision making processes that many of the folks today … Those decisions are being made by data.

So back to, how does the data influencing the day to day changes in not just technology folks jobs, but a broader economy … We are at the precipice of the outsourcing of jobs to automation, and it is not mechanical automation. We’re seeing the replacement of key fundamental roles and jobs and stuff like that that were happening internally with more automated processes that the public cloud and other places are going to be bringing to the table. So as a result of that, people are really scared. I mean, privately I get technology people literally coming up to me and saying, “I don’t know what to do next. I don’t know what job I should take, where I should go, who I should go work for. It’s moving so fast.” They thought that the landing zone for the next 10 years for them to retirement was well in place and that’s not the case anymore.

So a personal passion of mine, Ben, is to help create some advocacy for technology people. Who do they go to, not just me personally, but who do they go to broadly? Where do they go to to get noncommercial advice? Oh, join this XYZ company because it’s the place to be because we’re the best. Put the brand on it and promote it, and put [inaudible 00:15:04] all over it. That’s not what we need as a community. What we need as a community is transparency and some honesty that says, “No, we don’t have it all figured out and we may not know everything right now, but we can make some really good decisions based on some true north values about what’s the right thing to do.” And so, now you’re getting into my other side of the world which is all about personal goal setting and stuff like that. And that’s a whole nother conversation.

Ben: Well, even as you’re saying, because I was listening to you talk on the way coming in on your podcast about retaining top talent. It was great to hear your perspective on that because you’re getting at the human side of what we’re talking about. It’s that we’re in this constantly changing landscape. There’s so much going on. There’s a lot of opportunities and a lot of excitement, but there can also be a lot of … It can be nerve wracking that people across the board are finding that the sand underneath their feet is shifting.

So a lot of what you’re talking about is building these organizations where people can feel challenged and feel appreciated, and they feel like they’re able to achieve their best. And a lot of that is around building more of these learning organizations, these teams that actually … What’s the right word? Building each other up and working together for a greater goal and things like that. But it’s part of that same shift. And it’s the people need to change themselves, but also the organizations need to change and the leaders need to change. That seems to be a lot of what you … A big passion of yours, it sounds like.

Robert: It is a big passion of mine. That podcast and that article … I think I have an article with it too. Is at the core of a leadership tenant that I believe in. One of the things that we did at Cloud Technology Partners, with some really great guidance at the rudder of the ship, a guy named Chris Greendale, John Rounds, and Bruce Kaufland. These were some of the key founders of the leadership. They put the wellbeing of the individual first, and this was hugely important because they believed at a very, very deep level that if you took care of the individuals, the community will thrive. Instead of putting the community first and the individuals second.

And that context of a individual first contacts is hard to absorb when you … We’ve been habitually trained to to say, “Hey, the company has got to come first.” And we all have to make money. We all have to run a profitable organization and we have to do some things. So those are those true north pieces, but what are the actual tactics day to day that you can do to support that? Well, when you put the person first, meaning that I am here to look after your personal wellbeing first above all things. It may be here at this company, it may not be here at this company. You may do better at another company, but when you have that transparency with somebody and you talk about that in a way that they’ve never had a conversation with managers before, they do things that are really counter-intuitive. They don’t go anywhere. They tend to stay because they’re not getting that attention anywhere else.

And so, we saw some exceptionally low turnover rate. I mean, in a hyper scaling market we’re expecting at least having 10 percent turnover. We had less than four percent over a four year period. It was ridiculously low. So we had a good team of people who really cared about it, and we launched out people who didn’t fit pretty quick. They just bounced out because they were not putting the other people ahead of themselves when it came to objectives. They were very much me, me, me people. So we moved those folks up and out, but … I wanted to ask you a question, if you don’t mind. If we can talk about that, Ben.

So what’s that cultural shift like inside your organization? I personally see Sumo Logic as being one of those … It’s not just cutting edge. You’ve always been questioning. You’ve always been questioning status quo. You guys have a hammer looking for glass to break, right? But what’s that cultural change like inside your organization? How do you bring people in and get them acclimated to your guys’ world?

Ben: It’s a good question. I’m not used to my guests asking me questions. I like that you’re keeping me on my toes. No, it’s good. Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, it’s changed over time because one of the reasons why I joined Sumo Logic personally sounds similar to some of the things you’ve done in the past, that I wanted to go to a place where I felt like I could make a difference and it was a smaller team. And as we’ve grown, I think the manifestation I guess you could say of what we’re talking about changed. Because early on it was in the few dozens of people. You’re talking about a team where everybody knows each other by first name and you see each other every single day. And I think a lot of that culture could be said directly by the founders.

So our founders always had a … We talked about the company being a family and about caring about the individual people, and I think that was pretty clear. I mean, there was several situations where there were a couple times where I made some mistakes and [inaudible 00:20:18] was like, “Well, you made a mistake. We learn from that and move on. But you’re part of the family and we want to keep you part of the family.” And so, it was a very good environment to learn and grow there. And I think as we grew, part of the thing we had to learn was that you couldn’t just have word of mouth value.

So this transition we went through is like, how do you actually establish those and document those? So I remember, I think it was about four years ago now, maybe, we actually documented those and clearly put them out there and tested them. And now they’re on our windows and they’re a big part of our training process. But that also took awhile because we also went through a transition where we weren’t necessarily hiring according to our values. We had to adjust. And I feel like at this point, our CEO does a really good job and people below him to maintain that culture. It’s part of our hiring process.

Robert: You actually hit on something, and I think it was Malcolm Gladwell’s book Freakonomics. He spoke about something called the Dunbar number. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about that.

Ben: I vaguely remember that.

Robert: So a Dunbar number is 150. So primates can hold together social context without hierarchy, without role definitions, etc. up to about 150 or so. And this guy Dunbar figured this out. So you see companies like Gortex never having an operational unit bigger than 150 people, and they’ve been able to have a multi billion dollar company because of that. Now, at CTP I literally watched it happen when we clipped over 150. All sorts of stuff happened. Communications got exceptionally harder. The wheels came off the ship for a few things. Sales struggled. We weren’t connecting the dots. It was incredible to watch it happen, and that’s a rough patch for companies. So having documented, would you call it the-

Ben: Core values?

Robert: The core values, yeah, but you had named it something else. Beyond talking core values, I think is what you had said. It was actually written down.

Ben: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It’s like word of mouth.

Robert: Word of mouth. That’s it. Word of mouth core values. Because after you hit 150, that falls apart. And so, from a structural point of view, I find it just fascinating human behavior, human nature, that these are some of these limitations that we have built into us, and that I don’t blame … I was trying to communicate to our team. I said, “Don’t blame yourself for these things right here. This is a natural problem area. This is going to happen, and we have to figure out new ways to manage through it.” And fortunately we did, but I have to say it was a struggle for us, a real struggle to get there.

Ben: No, absolutely. And I think to that point, is you can see if you’re not careful, then different. I remember I saw that that 150 number somewhere else. It’s this book called Tribal Leadership. I’m forgetting off the top of my head the authors, but it was a good book and they talked about the same thing. Because you form these tribes within a company that they overlap, but they’re never going to be bigger than 150 just by the nature of humans. And so, they separate, and your culture will actually change between those if you’re not careful. And I don’t think that’s easy to manage. And they’ve done a good job of it here, and I’ve been other places where I don’t think they did a good job of it and tried to establish it top down.

It goes back to what I was saying before that I’ve definitely seen that proved out here with this whole change in the way an organization works, because when I first got into the workforce we were just coming out of that command and control. And I remember, as part of this company I worked for, got acquired by EDS and went into EDS. And they were literally … It was so visibly part of that transition and they were just coming out of this sense where you wore suits at work, they turned up the air conditioning so you could wear your suit. People just assumed you were in a hierarchy. I remember coming into that and it was … I worked for this startup called Loud Cloud-

Robert: Oh, I remember those guys.

Ben: Yeah, it was a fun place to work. I mean, Marc [Jason 00:24:35], Ben Horowitz, those guys.

Robert: Yeah. The Hard Thing About Hard Things. He wrote that great book.

Ben: Yeah, exactly. It was fun reading that from his perspective. I’m like, “Oh, that’s what you were thinking.”

Robert: That’s awesome. Anybody who’s listening to this podcast, you have to go pick up the book The Hard Thing About Hard Things.

Ben: It’s a good read. It definitely is.

Robert: It’s a good read, but I think there’s some … What’s the word? You’ve got a little bit of rose colored glasses because it turned out the way it turned out, and you tend to not see everything that you might want to see.

Ben: Yeah, exactly. It must have been right because it worked out.

Part of the company got acquired by EDS and I was part of that company, and I remember it was such a classic culture because we have the $5,000 cappuccino machine that I learned how to operate so I can make myself lattes in the morning. And we had a refrigerator full of beer. And then EDS comes in and is like, “We don’t allow alcohol on the premises.” And so, of course then being the kind of team that we were on, I think there was … They just came and drank it all. They’re like, “Okay, that’s fine.” So it was just a very different culture. Huge clash. And I remember going over there and it was just funny.

They would have these potlucks and literally as soon as it was announced, the entire company would rise from their cubicles and descend upon the potluck. And it was just the strangest thing. And I remember coming out of that and it was … And they were good people. I met a lot of wonderful people there, but it was just this deep cultural sense of how a company is run. And definitely when I went to a later start up later, that was one of the things I was looking for is a place where I didn’t feel like I was being put in some cubbyhole somewhere to fulfill some particular need that was defined five levels above me

Robert: It’s interesting, Ben, is that there’s a lot of people in technology that like that. They like that predictability. They like that stability. They want that routine in place. And a lot of technologies that are the core of business today, that are what I call the cash technologies, they’re a part of the whole cash flow cycle, whether it’s front end accepting orders, taking orders, marketing, that front end stuff, all the way back through recognition of capital, the accounting systems, you name it. Anything having to do with, how much money are we making? Those systems relatively don’t move very quickly. The front end stuff does, but that backend stuff doesn’t. So there’s a whole group of people … I estimated using a number of sources, but it’s about 28 million IT professionals that are in and around that kind of work globally. It’s a lot.

Ben: Oh, that’s crazy.

Robert: That is the target of the public cloud. They literally are targeting that group. And so, you think about all of the Indian outsourcers and what they’ve been able to accomplish over the years. It’s just miraculous if you really think about it that they’ve been able to pull off what they’ve done. And then what’s happening to all of this nationalization that’s happening around data in Europe and throughout the world. Just so much upheaval and change. And then we’re back to, again, how does someone navigate this? How do they get out of this world and change? So if they are in a culture like what you just talked about where they’ve been used to staying in one spot, you can see why they’re scared. This is coming and it’s coming at speed. It’s not coming slowly.

Ben: We invited a speaker to come to our kickoff, and she had a quote about somebody talking about that, but it really struck me because it was very personal because they basically … The quote described these people that have … Basically a guy who spent the last 20 plus, maybe 30 years of his life learning how to program this particular piece of hardware like AIX or something from HP or whatever it was. They were an expert on that. And they had been told to be an expert. They’d been told to specialize and they had specialized and they had done exactly what they were encouraged to do, and now the organization is coming around and it’s like, “Well, actually, we’re going to throw all that out. You’re going to learn this new operating system, Linux. You’re going to go and do it in the cloud. And you’re going to do that tomorrow.” And it’s like, “What? What am I supposed to do with that?”

And then basically it said that … And the quote I think was from the managers like, “Well, we have to deal with that specialization and we manage through attrition. So basically saying getting rid of the people. And so it’s hard and there’s a clash of cultures here and there has to be room for different operating models for how people want to work and being able to adjust it. You can have a dynamic learning organization without everybody basically having career ADD like I do. There’s gotta be a balance there and I don’t think it’s … You don’t find many organizations that have found that yet, I think.

Robert: We haven’t. One of the things I struggle with personally is I see things coming that most people may not see, and I have to be careful as to how much I let out of the bag when I step into organizations. So if I go and I meet with a team that’s looking to transform their organization … So whether it’s an internal organization like central IT teams that are responsible for all the main systems, or it’s the business units who are losing market share because of a competitor that’s much more nimble and doesn’t have the legacy concerns or the things that are holding them back, the legacy systems. Both of them, they often don’t have a realistic view of what’s happening in the marketplace.

And I’ve learned over the last couple of years that if I share transparently with … You guys are in trouble. This is happening right now, and the more that you dig in and delay and kick the ball down the [inaudible 00:31:03], the more that your job is likely to become under attack and then we’ll flat out disappear. Because the folks will … Who at the end of the day are chartered to run the company based on some margin or operating profit of the organization, they’re going to make decisions that if they see an opportunity to send something elsewhere for less money that will get them what they think would be a comparative result, they’re going to do it. And at the end of the day, technology is in place to consume itself. It will always consume itself. And I just think that at times we’re not being very honest with ourselves when it comes to what’s next and how do we adjust to what’s next. So as a result, I’m just really interested to see how this is going to shake out. It’s just a really interesting time right now. It’s really interesting.

Ben: I agree with you, and one maybe final point here that I’d be interested to hear what you think about … Because we talked a little bit about decision making with data, and one thing that comes to mind is I’ve had a couple of different conversations with different people about … It seems to really come down to experience versus the data, because there’s a tendency now … On one hand we talk about learning organizations, but then sometimes there’s an almost slavish adherence to whatever you think the data says. And there’s not always a recognition of experience too, because what we’re talking about right here is sometimes the experience is applicable, sometimes it’s not.

And particularly this one guy, Christian Roseburg, talked about like the levels of mastery, which I always found really interesting because he talked about it as a musician and he and I talked … I got to find a way to work in music somehow. He talked about when you’re learning an instrument, you learn it first and you’re following rules and you’re learning the rules, and then you follow those rules to the T because that’s the way you can play. And then over time, as you master the instrument, you’re able to walk away from the rules because the rules are in you. They’re part of your makeup and it becomes intuition and things like that. And so, you can take in basically massive amounts of data is what it amounts to, process that data and then react to that data.

So he talked about in terms of jazz. I think it was Miles Davis he quoted that said, “You play what’s not there. That’s how you jam together. You don’t just copy what everybody else is doing. The new musician just tries to keep up. The more experienced musician fills in the gaps.” So it’s part of that too, I think, what you’re seeing here as well. Because it partly seems like you’ve got to learn new skill sets, but there also has to be a transition where we can take the experience and the intuition that people build over years to allow them to process more data and be able to take advantage of that as well. I mean, does that make sense to you?

Robert: It totally does. So back to that conversation with Miles Davis. It reminds me of a saying I heard. The music is always between the notes. I think about some of my most famous musicians that I know … I’ve either played with or I’ve gone and watched them. They were the ones that always allowed the music to breathe. It was always the space between the notes that was always, to me, the best. And what you’re talking about here is the sublime, and the sublime is fundamentally the thing that is so large or so big that we as humans can’t comprehend it. It’s what you called instinct or that intuition that says, “I feel like there’s something else here.”

So for me, I cannot point to what it is that I see happening in the marketplace. I can look at it, I can probably grab a bunch of statistics, but there’s so much emotion in it that you cannot ignore it. You just can’t. It’s there. It’s palpable. But if I was to apply data logic to it, couldn’t do it. Can’t do it at all. But you and I are in total agreement because we both sense the emotion of it all. And so, that sublime or that space that data will take us to, that first level of mastery that you’re talking about is absolutely a mandate. But the true leaders of our world coming up now will take all those data points and then intuit the direction. To me. They’ll intuit that next … Those are going to be our great leaders coming up, and boy, if they don’t know how to communicate that …

This is one of my biggest worries, Ben, by the way, is that we have a couple generations coming up that don’t know how to talk to each other yet. They’re gonna learn. They have to learn because that’s human nature is communications. They’ve learned how to talk to each other over the internet. That’s fine. I’m gonna take a little quick detour. You think about what Congress did with the CEO of Google. He did his best to communicate with the Congress about what’s going on. However, he used terms and language that just flew right over their head.

Ben: Exactly.

Robert: And he was patient, tolerance like that. He did all the right things, but he still was unable to communicate the fundamentals of what they were doing and why they were doing them in a way that the other side of a very powerful organization must know, and that is what’s coming up in our culture. So how do we transcend that? That’s a people issue. And then, how are we gonna bring that forward? So those that will take this data are going to have to communicate it in a way that’s gonna make sense to the masses. Does that make sense? I mean, you guys are at the core of this right now and Sumo is at the core of the data accumulation and this logic and these assembling of these things, but somebody’s gonna have to communicate the results to the masses.

Ben: It absolutely makes sense. And I think that goes back to what I was mentioning before, and I think you actually connected a couple of dots for me. It’s great because I think partly that is the way … You cannot communicate to an audience that you have no experience with. So part of this is part of that idea of polymath or whatever you want to call it, and I’m sure that there may be different words for it, but the idea is that you have to actually go experience and you actually have to be immersed in it. Even in the way … Go back the way I think this guy [inaudible 00:37:39] said. It’s like, you can’t actually solve problems until you give a damn. You actually have to be invested and you have to commit.

Robert: That’s a really good point. I just learned something. You can’t solve problems unless you give a damn.

Ben: Yeah. It’s about caring. And there’s something very human about that. Very, very human about it. I don’t know if our artificial intelligence will ever do, but that idea … And I think you’re spot on. The next generation of leaders and the leaders even now moving up is that, can you step out of yourself and your own personal experiences and who you are, connect with these other groups of people, and that’ll help you both to lead and communicate. But it will also helped you to succeed in business because those people are your consumers. Those are the people who are actually going to be buying whatever it is you do, and you have to be able to make those connections.

Robert: Good stuff.

Ben: Yeah, I think that is a fantastic note to wrap this up on. This was a lot of fun. I really appreciate you coming on, and thank you for your time.

Robert: Well thank you for approaching me at Reinvent and connecting. That was a great show and I’m really eager to watch your company continue to move and influence the market too. So let’s make sure we stay in touch.

Ben: Absolutely. All right, and everybody, thanks for listening to this episode and check us out on iTunes or your favorite podcasting platform and be sure to put in a comment, like us, and give us some stars so that other people can find us. And thanks, everybody, for listening.

Speaker 3: Masters of Data is brought to you by Sumo Logic. Sumo Logic is a cloud native machine data analytics platform delivering real-time continuous intelligence as a service to build, run, and secure modern applications. Sumo Logic empowers the people who power modern business. For more information, go to For more on Masters of Data, go to and subscribe, and spread the word by rating us on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

The Guy Behind the Mic

Ben Newton
Director, Product Marketing

Ben is a veteran of the IT Operations market, with a two decade career across large and small companies like Loudcloud, BladeLogic, Northrop Grumman, EDS, and BMC. Ben got to do DevOps before DevOps was cool, working with government agencies and major commercial brands to be more agile and move faster. More recently, Ben spent 5 years in product management at Sumo Logic, and is now running product marketing for Operations Analytics at Sumo Logic. His latest project, Masters of Data, has let him combine his love of podcasts and music with his love of good conversations.


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