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The New Role

In my last entry, I said that I would share a little about my new role at Novell. So here it is…but not without first a long Abe Simpson-esque preambulatory pontifications. Either grab a cup of coffee, or to skip over the bulk of what may be uninteresting narcissism, scroll down to just after “</abe simpson>”.

<abe simpson>
I came to work for Novell through its field sales force. (Before that, I had been a technical instructor at a Novell Authorized Education Centers.) The guy who hired me from field sales into corporate liked my edginess, and wanted me to help shake things up in Provo product management. He put me into a non-traditional role for a product manager, making me the product “evangelist” for ZENworks. The role fit me well. But, some years later, I fell into a more traditional marketing role.

I ended up in marketing as an odd kind of de jure gesture from Novell’s former excutive Chris Stone. At some point Stone got the idea that I was a “great” marketing guy. (I received it on decent authority that he had told at least one person that I was probably one of the best marketers at Novell. Coming from someone of Stone’s talents, that is pretty high praise. Unless he meant “marketer” as an insult. Or, perhaps he meant it as a dig against the other marketers at Novell at the time, in which case he was merely saying that I “sucked least.” Alas, Novell marketing has often been used as the punchline of a lot of cheap jokes. I hypothesize that Stone got the idea that I was good at marketing mostly because I can present with a kind of confidence that makes it appear that I really know what I’m doing, and maybe Stone found my confidence in front of an audience familiar, and that earned me his respect. Idle speculation, anyway. Hey look, we’re coming to the end of the parentheses!)

That landed me in the management role that I was in for about 8 months. After getting through the launch of Novell Linux Desktop–which was hard work, but a lot of fun–I immediately started appealing to my vice president to move me out of management altogether. (See, it turns out that a lot of marketing is hardly at all glamorous no matter what the company. A lot of it is understanding markets, which is actually interesting in itself, but the research you have to do to acquire that understanding can be extremely tedious. The creative parts that people notice most–say Apple’s fantastic feel good campaign for the iPod, or the never-gets-old lowbrow male humor that beer commercials constantly churn out–is really just an end product, done mostly by “creatives” inside advertising firms. Actual marketing work involves a lot more rather dry analytical work than most people may think.)

I injured my knee just as we reached the eve of our GroupWise 7 launch. Fortunately, another marketing director was just joining our group, and she grabbed the GroupWise ball and ran with it (whew!) just as I started to drop it.

My vice president realized that I was miserable in my current role (“You’re miserable in this role,” said he), and discussed with me what he thought we should have me doing. With that, I took a couple weeks of leave to deal with medical crap.
</abe simpson>

The new role gets me back to what I enjoy most: working with Novell’s most avid proponents, and doing a lot more public presentations. More than just getting to once again focus on doing what I enjoy most, I also have been chartered to lead a campaign to re-invigorate the once mighty base of die-hard Novell fans. In fact, although my manager and I had originally submitted the job title as “Novell Linux Evangelist,” our Chief Marketing Officer, Bill Hewitt, had the forsight to identify something that I had been thinking necessary but had not stated. He essentially said that he did not want me acting as a mere corporate mouthpiece, but wanted to make it clear that the role is a leadership role. Bill said that while he absolutely supports the term “evangelist,” the job title will be “Director, Novell User Communities.”

So my job is to foster our traditional user groups–those affiliated through Novell Users International–and newer user groups and forums–such as Linux User Groups–by better connecting them with what’s going on at Novell.

So right now, I’m putting in place plans for how best to do exactly that. While I have lots of my own ideas (and even more that I have pilfered from my esteemed colleague Jeff Allen), I’d love to hear your ideas. What kind of regular activities could Novell do that would help our users, proponents and advocates most? Send your thoughts to reverendted@(you-know-where).com.


P.S. Can somebody please submit in some OASIS RFC-thing or other a new XML schema that includes the <abe simpson>
tag for me? I think it should be defined as:

“We can’t bust heads like we used to, but we have our ways. One trick is to tell ’em stories that don’t go anywhere – like the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ’em. ‘Give me five bees for a quarter,’ you’d say.

Now where were we? Oh yeah – the important thing was I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn’t have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones…”


3 Responses

  1. congrats, Ted. first place i’d start? your user/support forums. i just paged through maybe 20 or 30 threads, and most just had the single automatic response. forums are the lifeblood of many a community effort. just my 2 cents, and again, congrats.

  2. Ditto on the contratulations. Sounds like work that would be both fun *and* fulfilling.

    I can agree that that the support forums could use a little bolstering.

    As far as regular activities to help us users, perhaps visit the largest NUI chapters, and throw a recognition party for the volunteer / sysop / developer / mailing list contributor nearest that NUI to say “thanks”. Maybe have a particular spiff, or declare the day “(David G) Appreciation Day” and put the notice up on the front page of the Novell web site.

    Essentially, you should ask your developers or other in-house staff, who volunteers the most, and are your biggest non-paid allies. Then make them Hero For The Day (so to speak). If you do that once per week, you get 52 people.

    My first nomination would be Trevor Harrison who runs the NGW List listserver.

    Wouldn’t hurt to do the same for paid staff, and bring them to NUI events. Not only does the employee get recognition, but the community gets to meet the person.

    Anyway – it is an idea. People like to be recongnized, and this might be one way to do it. In doing so, you would be earning the admiration of the people around them, too.

  3. Good comments. As the program manager over the Novell Product Support forums it’s good to see people interested in the forums. The forums are billed as being “peer to peer” support but I wish we had the bandwidth to answer every question that was posted. Unfortunately we don’t, but I can tell you what we are doing to eliminate as many of those “Automatic Replies” as posssible.

    1 – I’ve contracted with a number of customers who are product experts to provide technical assistance in the forums. (http://support.novell.com/forums/sysop_info.html) They have their day jobs (not working for Novell) so they can’t get to everything, but having them out there doing what they can helps.

    2 – We’ve provided much improved product specific support pages (http://www.novell.com/support/products) that are in place to help customers find answers to questions so you don’t have to ask them.

    3 – We’re piloting a new forum infrastructure that will tie in much more closely with the knowledgebase and will allow a much closer integration of forums with the knowledgebase/search.

    4 – New forums such as language specific, verticle market, education, community, etc. to provide a discussion avenue that makes sense for what the customer is trying to accomplish.

    5 – Last but not least, we’re going to be integrating the forums with our rewards program ( http://www.novell.com/company/rewards) so participants are encouraged to help when they can which will hopefully get more discussions going and more questions answered.

    I suspect we won’t get every question answered, but we’ll do what we can. If not, the automatic reply at least points users to some additional sources of help.–>

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