Thursday, 2 July 2020

How I found my flame by reflecting on my past to reinvent my future?

A recent post on LinkedIn that I casually commented on by sharing my own personal story about the time I hitch hiked a lift, travelling 600km overnight on a long-haul truck just to make a job interview on time. I commented on LinkedIn without giving it much thought actually. It nevertheless struck a nerve that made me realise I need to go back into my past, dig up the old memories to help ignite the fire-in-my-belly, thus provoking me out of a slumber zone that I found myself recently experiencing (even before covid-19). 

The theory: by reflecting on my past stories, building blocks that "made me ME", I would be encouraged to continue moving forward with a renewed sense of energy and purpose. To become that bold, daring & courageous individual again. Someone who always went against the grain, never one to follow the herd or play-it-safe. An owner of my path, unafraid of uncertainty or the unknown, with a sense of curiosity in all things life & work, not swayed by people be they corporate executives, colleagues, friends or family. Equipped with my reliance on God and my confidence in my own strengths & abilities, having a strong sense of faith and fine-tuned instincts...daring to be different! How do I find that guy again? 

After all, I have indeed successfully navigated through many challenges and obstacles in the past despite my background, to get to where I am today of which, I am immensely proud of, so why should I settle now?  Should the next 20 years not be filled with even more?? But it seems my flame was dying out, so  I began to ask myself whatever happened to that flame? How do I re-ignite it? Whatever happened to being that lion? Have I settled for a life of ease and comfort? Am I comfortable doing routine work? Why do I need to play the system, be under the radar just because I'm close to having made it? What's so important about job title anyway? Does my work really define my identity?

I needed to find my story again and was sure the clues were waiting to be found hidden in my past. I'm sharing this because just maybe, I'm not alone in this boat - that this exercise might be something others could find useful too, in helping you with instigating the change you seek. When I did travel back it time, it occurred to me how much my work or career defined my life!? Victim of circumstance or not, it was quite revealing that my profession which stemmed from being conditioned by the system of Life programming to work hard and survive - shaped my life's choices.

Still, I contend that over the years we tend to forget who we were (sometimes it could be argued this is a good thing depending on one's past circumstances). We also lose touch of our inner core. To some extent possibly even forget our own roots. We thus enter either a comfort zone of complacency or living life through wilful ignorance. That is, who we are today is not so clear anymore because we've forgotten our past!



My inner voice shouts!!

Have I really arrived? It can't be, but I'm still quite young!?

One of my greatest fears is to reach a point in my life where I'm resentful, i.e. of having regrets about missed opportunities. Taking the safe path instead of the uncertain, uncharted one. As we get older, start a family, climb the career ladder, the less inclined we are to taking risks, to upsetting the balance or causing disruption to our family's lives or to breaking away from accepted social/cultural or even professional norms. 

There are indeed times when we need to be patient, be wise, show grit and resilience by deferring rewards for later (delaying gratitude), but this tactic too if used too often or unwisely, may just only be a crutch that we hold on to - because actually, deep down, we're afraid to admit that we fear the unknown, so we often settle for the safety net of waiting for that retirement pension as an example, to only then start enjoying life. In another LinkedIn post, I described this as Life Programming.

We seek out excuses, governed by rationality or play the sacrificial card of putting our own personal interests last, ahead of the rights of our family, spouse or children. We may have created a personal value system that expects self-sacrifice. We may make our worlds larger than what we can neither control nor influence (like we should be so grateful because others have it much worse than us, why chase the world when you're got it good now, look at the trouble in other countries, better to be thankful and let it be, don't be too ambitious, etc?). Sometimes we use our religion and faith in a way that promotes static stagnancy than taking on risks (why should I be an ungrateful servant by chasing this world of "dunyah"?). Sometimes we compromise our core values and passions because the money is just too good to resist. Sometimes we place unusually high notions about rights of the companies we work for, or attach sense of loyalty to our bosses or the teams we lead or work with. In our minds, this sacrificial attitude conjures up feelings of goodness, almost a saintliness, that can be blinding us from the hard truths...self-preservation is not necessarily a selfish act, after all, this world is fleeting, and we must therefore not waste ourselves with our limited time on earth, we each deserve an experience worth living...and to do so, action, re-action & forward momentum is needed IMHO.

Personally, I've been riding this roller coaster for some years now, so I created a model called RAGE, to help provide guardrails to prioritise the various streams in my life & help with decision-making rules (I'm an engineer after all). This tool has served me and others (friends, family & colleagues) quite well, I've received some good endorsements...

My theories are also shared by others, take for example Bernadette Jiwa, author of Story Driven, what she has to say about this topic:
We're so busy trying to connect the dots looking forward, we overlook the opportunity to learn from the experiences, not just the mistakes, of the the past. We don't spend as much time looking back as we should. I don't mean just to reminisce about fond memories or to regret stupid mistakes. But rather, to reflect on the significance of our stories, remind ourselves of our resourcefulness and reinforce our sense of identity. History, heritage and hindsight are powerful teachers. But we're in too much of a hurry to reach higher ground to learn from them....
I started my thinking & writing on this topic long before reading Jiwa's book, I'm really glad I did though. There's much more work on self-awareness that I need to unpack, for instance, Part Three "Developing Your Story-Driven Strategy" is packed with some of these soul-searching questions. 
I'm still processing these questions in the background in the context of my RAGE model; and may just follow-up with another blog post, sharing them here for you to help your reflection:
What's the hardest thing you've ever done?
What did doing the hard thing teach you about yourself?
Who are the two people who have had the biggest impact on your life?
What did you learn from them?
What was your first job and what valuable lessons did you learn there?
What's your proudest memory? Why?
When are you at your best?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would that be? Why?
What's the one thing you wouldn't change about yourself? Why?
How can you bring more of that thing you wouldn't change into your work?
Go back in time five years. What's the thing your old self would be most proud that you've achieved?
How would you like to be remembered?

The exercise: How to find the flame again & then make it stick?

  • Go back in time, rewind the clock to trigger memories that you think have shaped & molded you...just write whatever comes to mind...then study, analyse and look for common themes. 
  • Take those themes and create affirmations (this is where it gets private and personal).
  • Write those affirmations down, keep them with you wherever you go.
  • Start your day with repeating those affirmations out loud to yourself.
  • Whenever you're in doubt or feeling glum, use your affirmations to get you out of that funk.
  • You should notice a change, soak this in, observe yourself in this moment.
  • Use this energy to immerse yourself in solving/creating your next challenge / opportunity.
  • Do this together with keeping track of your RAGE plan & journal your experiences.
Does this thing work? Is this some mumbo-jumbo new age thing?
Maybe, but all I can say this has certainly worked for me - so much so that I'm now out of my funk. This has helped me create yet another defining moment in my life that I'm living through right now as I write this...

My affirmations

I trust in God, have hope in God's Mercy & Generosity always.
I am always thankful to God. With God by my side....I...
I love my parents and am grateful to them, love my siblings and my family.
I love my wife & 3 children, my anchors in life. 
I am driven, self-motivated & brave.
I choose courage over comfort.
I hustle.
I am a survivor.
I don't blame anyone for my circumstances.
I am not afraid of the unknown.
I am comfortable with uncertainty.
I have overcome many challenges in life.
I have shown grit, patience, perseverance.
I am determined to succeed.
I make calculated decisions.
I am bold. 
I take chances. I dive in, sometimes in complete darkness, but I go anyway.
I am always moving forward, never looking back to "what ifs".
I break stereotypes.
I dare to dream.
I question the status quo.
I remain curious. Curiosity is a good thing.
I have taken chances in my life that paid off.
I tend to go against the mould.
I persevere.
I am relentless.
I keep going.
I have never depended on help from anyone unless help is extended.
I hold myself accountable for my own life.
I don't seek hand-outs, ever.
I value my relationships with trusted friends.
I seek their council & can count on when in trouble or difficulty.
I am grateful to all who played a part in helping me.
I help others in need whenever I can.
I have a responsibility to pay it forward to my family, friends and others.
I have always been responsible for my future.
I take responsibility for my life.
I fear no man.
I believe Nobody owes me anything.
I contend that Not everyone needs to like me.
I am comfortable with myself. 
I am only in competition with myself.
I hold myself accountable to high standards.
I loathe mediocrity. I am always learning to improve and grow.
I remind myself often: The only one keeping score is myself, no one else.
I seek counsel from people but take full responsibility for the final decision.
I have confidence in my abilities.
I become an expert in a subject in a short time. 
I know that every new endeavour will at first be uncertain and difficult.
I gain comfort in past memories.
I have what it takes to accomplish anything I set my mind to.
I trust my gut instincts and intuition. 
I have initiative and drive - my past speaks for itself.
I have proven myself more than capable on many fronts life-and-work. 
I am world-class.
I am an innovator.
I have walked away from many an opportunity when it just didn't feel right.
I started from zero a few times in my life, I can do it again if need be.
I do not hang around for the safety of a pay cheque.
I have walked away from many a past opportunity with no regrets. 
I pave my own way, make my own path, with the help of God.
I strongly believe: Taking the safe, comfortable path has never been my way.
I alone am responsible for shaping my future career. 
I cherish and nurture the networks I've created.
I look deep into my past to shape my future - adaptability is key.
I love and respect my roots, no matter humble.
I am who I am, my past is mine to own, my future is mine to create, my present is mine to act. 
I know the only obstacle blocking my path is myself. 
I hold myself accountable to my own value system, not other peoples'.
I am self-aware.
I am mindful of my ego & keep it in check always.
I am humble but I don't tolerate nonsense.

My Backstory

Here's some stories that are helping me re-ignite my flame...
  • I grew up not rich, not middle-class, not poor and not in poverty either. My ancestors came to South Africa from India as indentured labourers most likely to work the sugar cane fields in Natal, I don't know where from since there's no paper records to trace back to. 
  • So I was exposed to the reality of the system of economics & social inequality as I grew up in apartheid. So I was always reminded about the reality "unfairness" of life, practicality, hard working humility, from an early age. We could not afford a car until I started working professionally, neither did we spend our childhood enjoying family vacations away from home. We sometimes didn't have the means to enjoy even the small pleasures of school excursions, school photos or even attend my final year farewell party of high school. Despite the lack of financial means, I can't fault my parents, family & friends for not sheltering us from these realities and filling our house & hearts with love, warmth & protection. My childhood was a blessing upon reflection, our elders did a great job providing psychological safety & groomed us to survive whatever challenges came our way.
  • My late father was indeed a blue collar shoe factory worker, a machinist, one of the best actually, who won many awards for his craft. Although earning just above the minimum wage for much of his life - he taught me so much about hard work, dedication, setting goals, patience, humility, honour, respect, bravery & frugal money management - that I never really had a chance to thank him in this life though.  I was much too hard on him. In fact, I was quite naive! To the extent of living my life with a purpose of "never to become like my father" as I saw his lack of ambition and drive as a weakness not a strength. How naive was I!? I went through life with blinkers on, driven to be better than my father, to never become that guy who settled...alas, how ignorant was I, only to realise years later that I've got so much to thank my father for!!  
  • Despite our financial difficulties growing up, I honestly can't fault my parents for not providing a safe, secure, humble, warm and loving home. Home was always our sanctuary, it still is - every time I go back to my parents home (which is now taken care for by my brother and I), I am reminded of where I started: the tiny room I spent my life studying in, the small house that was never really empty, always bustling with visitors, our food table always welcoming to many guests, the wonderful conversations I'd have with my elders about their past, discuss world politics and should never forget one's roots, home is where the heart is...whenever I need to recharge and remember who I am, I find solace back home...
  • So I grew up with a practical head, my eyes wide open to the realities. I knew I needed to study hard, do my best at school. I started working part-time in high-school (following my elder brother's lead) whilst my friends were enjoying their teenage freedoms. At the age of 11/12, I was responsible enough to do grocery shopping & pay the bills, I knew what my father earned and the total running costs of the household. I grew up knowing that my duty was to take care & support my parents, siblings, etc. That I needed to pay it forward for my siblings and their children as well. I helped my father get his drivers licence and bought him his first car. My parents have been overseas, an idea that would've been impossible to even dream about growing up. 
  • During high school, I had applied to hundreds of institutions for bursaries and scholarships, consistently for four years since grade 10, all through facing rejection but I never once gave up trying. I did this on my own, without help from anyone. I went to the library, enquired about bursaries, photocopied all the forms (there was no internet then), and I would send letters and apply to literally hundreds of companies (back then we just transitioning out of apartheid, the companies were not as diverse as they are today, and most of the bursary/scholarship forms were still in Afrikaans and had conditions like military service). I tried my best in high school, although I thought I could have scored more As, but I couldn't afford to send my papers for remarking and so settled with my grades, it was an A aggregate which was still nevertheless excellent. Even with these grades, it was a proud moment to be accepted to medical school...
  • I learnt through persistence. I taught myself computers by reading books even though I did not own a computer at the time. In high school, students were only allowed one computer lesson starting in Grade 9, I on the other hand, camped out the computer room everyday until the teacher granted me access, from Grade 7/8, break times, afternoons, etc. Later in high school, I would persistently complete the maths syllabus in advance, and learn new concepts in programming too. I demonstrated the same curious energy when I worked part-time at the retail store. Starting in sales, moving to finance clerk then made my way to the IT department, to being given freedom to run POS installations in branches by myself. Took the same persistence wherever I landed - be it in Dublin, where I closed the gap on my computer science, or in UK where I innovated a Talking TV EPG for the Blind, a personal project of mine. I took initiative, met with customers & spread the word inside the company, throughout the 4 continents, later landing the best, highly coveted technical position in the advanced technology division. 
  • At the end of high school I was successful in getting placed at Wits medical school, but had to turn the offer down, because I lacked the financial means, couldn't get financial aid not even a bank loan. 
  • At 18, that was quite a defining moment for me: A phone call determines my fate in medicine, I realise I really have no one to back me up, I had to do things on my own. That was the first major turning point in my life, bringing it all home - that I'm alone in this fight, it's up to me to work my way out. There were no adults in my family or friends that ventured to stand guarantor for a bank study loan for me. So I thought I'd just continue working and try to find a way to study part-time.
  • I had worked part-time at Asmalls in Pietermaritzburg as a teenager growing up selling shoes, clothes, working for retail, doing finance admin as a clerk and IT support. This hard work and "not standing still", got me noticed by the owner of this retail store, interviewed me and agreed to finance my studies when he learnt I was not studying. He took a chance on me. I am forever grateful. I chose engineering not because I had tinkered in building stuff growing up, but because it was the sensible degree to choose on paper as the next best thing to medicine, better than computer science (which was really my passion), providing the best of both worlds. Also, engineering jobs paid more, and I could start earning money as usual, with no one else to guide me, I made what I thought as the practical sensible realistic choice.
  • I never gave up hope for bursaries or scholarships. This consistency of purpose paid off that in my 3rd year, I got through and landed a bursary from Vodacom. This enabled me to live independently and experience freedom (which wasn't always a good thing). I moved out of boarding with family to sharing a flat with fellow students, and thus learnt what it meant to live responsibly. 
  • Eventually I would work for Vodacom during vacations setting up mobile base stations and doing drive-by quality of network experience testing. Vodacom was great in supporting me, unfortunately there was no automatic placement post graduation.
  • As much as I did not quite enjoy half of electronic engineering topics because my intended software courses dropped away, by that time I was very much fully committed to seeing the degree through in four years, so no turning back. I couldn't whine about it, just get on with it. I was thankful for the bursary and committed to work for the company even though broadcast/radio was not my thing, and assumed the job would naturally follow upon graduation, but it didn't. Even on completing my engineering degree, I turned down three jobs before landing a job in the field I'd studied! I did not want to waste my hard slog of four years by not at least experiencing the job of an engineer! 
  • Eventually I would land a real engineering job with UEC outside my home city. I would bunk in the lounge at my student friend's flat, later would end up boarding at a distant family's residence, closer to the work. Ever ready to adapt to changing circumstances. UEC experience was great, no limitations as long as you took initiative. It was fun, stressful and sometimes quite intense. UEC set me up to take the leap to my life overseas.
  • After just one year of engineering training, I took a chance - responded to an advert in Sunday Times for engineers in Dublin, Ireland. I applied, without thinking what it actually meant, all I knew was that my best chance of earning money was overseas, and best chance of knowledge to work on core software engineering was definitely not South Africa. I left my home with one suitcase and R5000 in savings, landed in Ireland without having any contacts there, absolutely zero, apart from support from the company, S3. I was on my own, first time out of the country away from home, unknown everything and I started from scratch. In one year, I had made a life in Dublin, made new friends from all over the world, my eyes opened up to life, I wasn't the introvert I thought I was. I also adapted to a new lifestyle in Dublin very well, best social life experience, honestly, I never felt like leaving Dublin, ever! 
  • Working in Ireland, in the "first world" was a real eye opener for me. I became consciously aware of my incompetence. My knowledge of software engineering was lacking compared to the "first world", I was a little behind my peers and lacking some depth of computing principles I either would've learned at university if my courses hadn't been dropped; or if I had studied Computer Science.
  • I had to ramp-up and teach myself all the things I should've learnt at university (if the courses weren't dropped). I ended up on a project that really stretched my ability, but I did not give up. Instead I dug in deeper and through this I had also secured a placement to study my Masters in Computer Science, from a world-class university, that would then bolster and take my South African education to another level, I hoped.
  • I also experienced my first-and-only layoff in Ireland, made redundant, something I wasn't expecting it. I was gutted. My world was about to shatter. I was just settling down to a nice routine, enjoying my work, good social network. Without much opportunity left in Ireland, I applied to UK since I did not want to return back to South Africa. Using my savings wisely, I remained in Dublin until I found a job in UK. 
  • In between I got married. I completely funded the wedding myself, including the relocation to UK, etc. It was a simple, down-to-earth wedding, but I do take some pride that I did this all by myself, without asking anyone for any financial help.
  • One of my proudest milestones has to be raising my engineering skills to become recognised as a Principal Engineer in the UK, as a result of my innovating text-to-speech technologies to make a Talking TV, as a side off-the-work-books project. 
  • Following closely behind was gaining my Masters in Computer Science from a world-class international university. These are important to me because coming from South Africa, it certainly means a lot. I remember some colleagues in Ireland and UK just scoffing sarcastically when I shared I worked for an SA company which they had previous interactions with (they held SA engineers in low regard at the time). The UK being  a serious meritocracy where competition is tough, meant getting that job as a principal engineer for me was quite vindicating! 
  • To know that I could hold my own amongst senior engineering peers, architects and managers who - I felt small compared to them - who had also applied for the same job as I, felt really good! Working with a small group of engineers, who's day job it was think up big ideas disrupting the market bootstrapping start-ups, was a dream come true for me. 

  • I am grateful I was able to climb up both the technical and management career ladder in the UK and not in South Africa. IMHO this is because it is somewhat difficult in SA to decipher if your promotion was based fully on merit or whether a "previously-disadvantaged background quota filter for equity and diversity" actually influenced the decision making process. Despite South Africa being "free" for 25+ years now, there's still so much to fix in the corporate world. Let's just say, there's still a lot of biased perceptions going on in this country. Non-white people are still doubted here which is sad really, actually quite frustrating at times! So yeah, I actually derive great personal satisfaction and comfort in knowing I actually made it entirely on my own in the UK, based on my own merits, in what is probably the hardest parts of the world when it comes to high-performance "world-class" output. So this achievement is still my story worth cherishing.
  • My career was spent learning-on-the-job and through self-study. Whenever I started a new role, I would become expert in the subject matter, by reading & learning from others. I was not afraid to jump in the deep end, challenge status quo and be different. Always self-aware, I had a sense of what I needed to improve, but I never doubted myself. I remember a few internal interviews where I shared my ambition of being a Jack of All Trades, Master of Some, of running my own company one day, I was told I had too high ambitions, but that feedback never deterred me! I can indeed claim to be a generalist with specialist skills, I am indeed a Jack of all trades, master of some!
  • After 10 years overseas, I decided to return to SA. It was a scary decision to make - leave the life we were building that promised a good future for our kids, we had given up SA citizenship (the thought of returning to SA was alien to us for many years), then we made a U-Turn to return back to SA!! 
  • I had zero savings, no private pension to cash out, which meant starting from zero again, but this time in debt, with a wife and three kids to support. To boot, the job I landed in SA was a junior one as well - but I returned anyway, I embraced the uncertainty nevertheless.
  • The decision was emotionally biased as well, dispelling much logic or rationale. I recall coming close to a nervous breakdown realising missed opportunities in SA as one example. So I felt we needed to return home to be closer to family. I also wanted to allow my kids to open there eyes to real world problems and challenges they wouldn't normally be exposed to had they continued to grow up in UK. At the time UK felt boring and perfect, whereas Africa felt more vibrant and alive!
  • After experiencing work in South Africa, I soon realised that my education, training and work-experience was on another higher level compared to the local talent. I could provide much more value working at higher levels, close to director / CTO level. I thus quickly gained respect and credibility to get promoted to running pretty much the entire project end-to-end. Yet another personally rewarding experience for me, since in the UK I would've been a couple levels below  that of program director, but in South Africa, I became THE CHIEF Program Director - how exciting!! I realised that whilst I sacrificed financial rewards in UK, my knowledge, skills, experiences gained there, paved my way forward to own and confidently perform senior roles in SA that would've taken me a few more years to reach had I been in UK. It was also quite eye opening in terms of the skills gap and opportunities in South Africa. Equally revealing was that I could in fact, return back to the UK with senior management/executive experience, something that would've taken me far longer to break through had I not left the UK in the first place. 

  • After a couple years working in SA, I was not happy with the work. I felt I needed to operate at a much higher level really. The work began to feel very routine and no longer challenging, because I was operating on skills & expertise from UK on autopilot. The projects I was running, whilst "state-of-the-art" for South Africa, was quite old news to me since I'd done them before, years ago. I considered myself an expert in that field of work (set top box engineering) and therefore I needed to change. 
  • Me being the hustler I am, I convened a meeting with the executives, pitched my offering to them, explained I could provide so much more value to the group if I was set free, used the "tamed lion" analogy - and successfully negotiated an exit agreement that saw me start my management consulting gig. It was a win-win for both sides, as I'd continue to support the business as a consultant, and be free to branch out to other technology & business projects within the group & external non-compete companies as well. I took a chance, was brave to leave comfort of a secure, stable job...but it paid off!
  • So I decided to leave the comfort of a permanent, secure job and good career progression; to become a management consultant into unknown territory! This opened up a few opportunities, expanded my network and also exposed me the the bigger world of business. In a relatively short-period of time, I cleared my ALL my debt, and our lifestyle started to surpass that which we had in the UK, although I've remained very disciplined not to let my lifestyle follow the gains made. So leaving the comfort of a permanent job, trusting in my ability to venture on my own, taking chances, building professional credibility did pay off. 
  • I would again later leave management consulting and rejoin the collective again to take up a challenge of being CTO, yet another change that stretched my potential. Why did I do this? I had a safe consulting gig, with a good pipeline of work, in control of my own time, working at times a four-day week, and earning good money. I was relatively independent and free. Then I decide to join the matrix again, become part of the collective. Why? Because I wanted a new challenge and was becoming bored of consulting. I also wanted to prove to myself I could switch career tracks again, go back into technical, and prove myself & the sceptics wrong. I am very glad I did so, got to work with a great bunch of people, learnt so much & achieved very good results. The experience provided everything that was missing in terms of my next career jump - and in terms of the original goal I'd set myself, i.e. to be a Jack of All Trades, Master of Some, equipped with the tools to run my own start-up company one day, I believe I've done it. I have the ability to run a company if I wanted to, or lead very large teams as CIO/ what's my next challenge then?
  • I tend to get bored once I feel I have acquired mastery or proficiency in an experience. I usually give the job a minimum of 24-30 months to acquire a high level of competency, anything longer ranging between 3-5 years (depending on the project or requirements of the role), I consider  optional or sufficient time to reach a higher level of mastery. I do try to finish what I've started or at least aim to leave at a point in time where I know it is safe to let go and pass the baton on.  
  • I do take care not to burn bridges, this is very important. I've learnt that having the courage to leave it all behind and walk-away is actually not so bad, in fact my experience has taught me it is  quite a healthy thing to do! I've hit reboot a few times already and it wasn't so bad. Life & work goes on - one should never feel one is indispensable, that's just pure hubris! Life is about exploration, standing still can't be an option.
  • As I've recalled these stories from my past, I felt the energy build up creating a burning desire to do something different yet again! I have accomplished many feats in the past, so I can definitely accomplish much, much more into the future! I decided again to not settle nor to stand still. The next twenty years I have left in my life can definitely be as interesting, if not more exciting and rewarding than my past twenty years!! It is indeed time for another change! I'm about to fill in the gaps in my life/work plan that I shared previously.... 
continue reading here. 

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Sometimes we need a reminder

I often remind myself about this:

You will die at any time...but as long as you're alive, you still need to live - so Do!

Love life and live not in ignorance but fully aware your time is limited. 
You will definitely die, it's a reality, a certainty, impossible to avoid or predict. 
So watch where and how you spend your time, be mindful of what you'll be leaving behind. 
This world is temporary. Period. 
Your profession should never become an obsession at the expense of life.

But you must believe in yourself and you will move mountains.
You are responsible for your life, don't blame anyone for your situation. 
You can't change what people think of you, so don't bother wasting energy on that/them.
Live by your own rules not by what others think of you. 
Have no expectations from others apart from yourself. 
Hold yourself to account to your own highest standards and values. 
Believe in yourself and you will move mountains.
You can have Faith but you still need to put in the effort, and trust in God.
Most importantly, trust in your own ability - find the confidence within.
No man has power over another man.
No company owns you.
Only you know your story.
But sometimes we forget our own story.
So you need to go back in time & rekindle the fire that was your story.
Let no one tell you otherwise.
You owe it to yourself to constantly check if you're going through life asleep.
If this is the case, awake from your slumber & make change happen!
Rekindle the sparks that created your story.
Get that fire burning again.
It starts by doing - one small step is all it takes!
Then another, and another...
But remember, your time is indeed limited, so spend it wisely!

Thursday, 28 May 2020

On: The Office Life

another one of my #thismightnotwork posts (inspired by Seth Godin)

Deep down...
We know that nobody owes us anything.
We know that we are just cogs in a machine, replaceable.
We know that company loyalty does not really exist, no really, it IS about the bottom-line!
We know that we are only as good as our last project, even though ten projects earlier, we shot the lights out.
We know that no matter what we like to believe, most relationships in the office are simply transactional, although we would like it to be deeper.
We know that it does not matter how much we try, we can't (neither should we care to), change people's perceptions or deeply entrenched biases.
We know that mediocrity can be contagious if we stick around for too long, and unable to really influence change in performance and behaviour.
We know that tribes, cliques and clubs exist, it's natural (especially in Africa when it comes to racial divides), but we either feign ignorance or hope it gets better.
When a company value is "give benefit of the doubt" and we don't see it in action, what taste this leave us with?
We know that we are so much bigger than just our jobs...or do we really now (hint: count the number of times per day you find yourself immersed in thoughts about the office, even during your personal time)?

It's all about the bottom line....
It's business they say, you must develop a thick skin.
New age leadership is all bullshit they's capitalism and darwinism all the way man...power, politics and Machiavelli are role models of the day.
Empathy is so overrated, they say.
Empowerment? Let the team decide? What's all that fuss about? 
Humility, Modesty, Authentic, Integrity, Fairness...that's not leadership they say...but great for selling lots of books & makes for a booming consulting/coaching industry...but, kid, they won't get you through the real in the game is what you need, and be damn sure to fight to the death to protect it...
Attitude...attitude is good as long its conforms to groupthink aligned to culture (not the culture deck written down, but the real culture, yep they're different!).

...Yet knowing all of this, there are some people who still stick it out...
Wow, there walks about a man with grit & resilience they say... immediate assumption is: this guy must keep a cool head, he needs the money/income, responsibilities he has to his family, etc. comes first...just see it through, it will all be okay...

Dig a little deeper, and we often realise it's usually much more than just's quite personal actually, positively personal...sometimes deeply inspiring, confusing & at times bewildering...

Such people have a cause, they're fully in tune with their why, their self-worth and are completely aware of  not only themselves but of those around them. They know they stick out, are nonconformist, often mistaken as a threat to the status quo & risk being played out of the system...yet they still remain behind, firmly footed, digging their heels in - why, mostly because they take commitment seriously & sincerely. Such are those people, who believe in their craft, make their art, do things differently because they truly care deeply, and will not leave until they say "my work here is done, I've come as far as I'm willing"...they don't leave through external forces or pressure, instead they leave on their own terms, when they're ready to leave it all behind and never look back. And often to their surprise, they've built up a tribe, left a following behind...even though they didn't intentionally start out that way.

If you'd like to find out more about these people, check out Seth Godin & Simon Sinek's work...
Highly recommend getting your hands on:

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

LinkedIn Profile - probably a bad example

I spent a lot of time contemplating what should go as my "About" summary for LinkedIn, it's quite tough actually.

So I had this written down below for about 18 months as my profile, and I'm about to change it to just keep it simple and brief. Looking back, it's too much waffle..

Helping Africa's largest PayTV company build an internet TV platform, building local African engineering team & skills. This platform serves 50+ countries, multi-tenanted, multi-product & content packs. Scaled platform 6X through nurturing teamwork, MAU on a steady increasing trajectory, overall site traffic growing nicely YoY.

CTO for DStv Now, Box Office & Content Discovery Recommendations Tech stack, managing 100+ engineers: Enterprise Architecture, Software Delivery, AI/ML Scientists, Agile PMO, Infra/Networks & Ops/Site Reliability engineers.

I'm NOT strictly a builder anymore though. I haven't written code in ten years, but was once an expert coder. I don't do architecture anymore, but used to love models, abstractions, API design & authoring technical documents. I don't write or review test cases & test plans anymore but instead drive innovation & optimisation in automation & DevOps continuous delivery. I don't review code or do systems integration anymore but can write (have written) treatise on these software engineering topics.

Yes, I'm building an E2E tech stack commanding a v.large budget, in a fast-paced VUCA world.
Yes, I handle tech conversations & make tough decisions, engaging and challenging C-level executives.
Yes, I do write technical papers.
Yes, I can indeed get into engineering detail too...BUT...

I CHOOSE to LEAD through PEOPLE: empower, protect, listen, steer, guide, groom, mentor, coach, train, show & tell, nurture-to-catapulting NextGen leaders we so desperately need today...

Some people call me a turnaround specialist - rescuing distressed projects & teams...
Others have said I have a knack for making the complex look simple...
I've built full stack software from device firmware, middleware, apps to server-side systems.
I was once an expert technical project and program manager, but that too is no longer who I am...
I was also a scrum master, agile coach, devops & agile delivery release manager too...I was also a senior management consultant...

So who/where am I now??

I am now a builder of LEADERS, who happens to be a senior engineering guy with PI-shaped skills, who loves to solve perceived intractable problems and thinks big: org, people, radical ideas, disrupting, transformation.

I'm known to challenge status quo, ruffle feathers & doing things differently - radical candor. Sometimes seen as a threat to old-school thinkers.

Autonomy & Trust is where I thrive - democratising the workplace!

But I tend to get bored easily if I'm not stetched or challenged enough. Typical cadence is 3 years before changing! 

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

On: Never fight a battle you're not prepared to win

A topic that's been on my mind of late...

The thing with "Pick your battles"...
Everyone says, "Pick your battles," and they're right. But usually they only mean "Pick your battles based on whether or not you have a good chance to win." That's fine, as far as it goes. But we think you should be even more pickier. 
Only pick battles that are:
a) winnable
b) important
c) battles for which you're fully prepared to pay the price to win
d) battles you're damn sure you can afford to win

-- Quote from "Buck Up, Suck Up...and come back when you foul up" by Carville & Begala

So think and reflect on that deeply. Remember other anecdotes "If you want to fight, you have to get into the ring, it will get bloody messy but you can't stop until you give it your all". 

Which battles are you fighting in your head?
What's keeping you up awake at night, causing you sleepless nights?
This could be personal or professional, or a professional work scenario that's starting to negatively impact your personal & family life, possibly causing anxiety and borderline depression.

Before diving straight into battle mode, it might be prudent to find a quiet space to brainstorm.
Mind map each scenario and use the four criteria above to map pros/cons, upsides/downsides, apply some rationality to the process. 
It will be hard to fight the emotions, but you got to try.
Be critical.
Be meticulous.
Be objective.
Play devil's advocate. Is it just your ego being bruised?

It's not about being safe and taking the easy way out, nor is it about being risk averse. It's about being sensible, a matter of calculated, smart survival tactics, at the expense of giving into emotions.
Sometimes one has to lose a couple of battles to win the war.
It's about the long game - envision a future where your current troubles disappear and replaced with victory & triumph. Keep doing this as often as you can to get through the dip.

But...sometimes, if not most of the time, emotion & gut instinct are indeed right! After thousands of years, we humans still have our lizard brain, the instinctive reflex of "fight or flight" has served  and continues to serve & save us.
My gut instincts have saved me more times than I can remember, so it might be perfectly okay to react too.
Going with your gut, embracing the emotion (anger, disappointment, betrayal, rejection, doubt, etc.) can be very powerful motivators for change...
These, coupled with your closely-bound value system, can be the only key indicators for you to decide to get into battle...when you do get into it, you need to be prepared for various scenarios...especially when the impact of going into battle has far reaching consequences other than yourself: you family, friends, loved ones, colleagues, your own reputation, etc. 
Another tool is to seek out close confidants, mentors and guides - the counsel "Shura" of other trusted parties can generally help you seeing things that you might be currently blind to (since all you can think about are the battles raging in your head).

After all of that, once you've processed the noise in your head, sought counsel, go back and ask yourself: What am I willing to walk away from??
Take a deep up courage....and take that first step (battle or not) and never look back...

another #thismightnotwork post

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

On 20th work-anniversary

This month marks my 20th work-anniversary as an engineering professional. Twenty years with the changing landscape of MediaTech PayTV Software Systems.

Looking back to how it all started: It took a few nervous months to land my first job after graduation '99. Getting anxious by-the-day after previously declining a forensics post at Deloitte; declined another Oracle DB admin at Vodacom as well, I waited for a pukka engineering role. I wanted to build stuff, my hard slog of 4 years studying electronic & software engineering should be put to good use after-all!

Altech UEC (which no longer exists today but was once SA's engineering darling) finally offered an entry-level engineer-in-training post. This introduced me to the world of digital TV set top box development. A year later, I was off to Dublin Ireland, working with Europe's top silicon & software design services house (S3 Group. now Accenture). 20 months later, off to Southampton UK, working with NDS (was Cisco, now Synamedia), the best engineering & management experience - we built some cool stuff light-years ahead of the times; and ran some massively complex projects. I spent 8 years there in UK, before returning home to SA (as a foreigner nogal!), to work with Multichoice, Africa's best storyteller, helping build NextGen Internet-TV products.

From engineer-in-training to CTO-Head-of-Technology in 20 years... Who could've thought, growing up in apartheid South Africa, underprivileged socially & financially, blue-collar family. Engineering was my 3rd choice, the practical one, the one that made most sense economically, after being accepted to medical school but not having the financial support to pursue...

Truly grateful to many-a-friend, family-member & colleagues for helping me get to see this milestone.

#gratitude shout outs to my past colleagues - you've left an impression I will not forget. #shoutout to all these great people that I've learnt so much from, thank you!
Waldemar Keyser David Siedle Rajesh Madhanlala John Maguire Cathy Guinan Hermann Wakolbinger Liam Friel Steve Taylor James Cunningham Brinton King David Dinsdale Stewart Towler Mike Palmer Salik Miah Gareth Bowen Tom Burnley Steven Coul Matthew Howe Matt Spencer James Wilson David Mandelzweig Shlomi Rosenberg Steve Williams James Field Nick Thexton Gerdus van Eeden Phil Nicholson Anand Govender Mark Rayner Graeme Cumming Bradley Daniels John Kotsaftis Bradley Eliot Farid Essack Andrew Dallas

#careeradvice - Work hard, have grit, patience & perseverance. Always do your best work. Only You can make it happen! Take chances. Take calculated risks. Switch jobs every 2-3 years. Switch domains every 2-3 years. Switch industry every 5 years. Always keep moving forward. I am a product of my time, 20 years is too long to be in one industry, stay a maximum 5 years before moving on....I do feel an itch coming on! My next 20 years is going to be different - 2021 should be the year of change!