Michael Bryant, VP Public Sector Strategy: Three Life Lessons from Flight School

Michael Bryant, VP Public Sector Strategy: Three Life Lessons from Flight School

More than 25 years ago, I completed flight school. For me, it was something I had no model for—I didn’t know any pilots, and had never seen how an airplane worked. It’s not nearly as easy as driving. The first time I was in a plane, I had no idea what I was doing, but I continued gaining experience and knowledge, and now can take these learnings and apply them to the air. My personal favorite flight route is from Northern Virginia down to the tip of southern Florida, exploring the Keys (and of course, grabbing a slice of key lime pie). 

Regardless of the time that has passed since I graduated flight school, the memories and experiences endure. I’m always remembering the lessons it taught me throughout my daily life and in my role at Effectual, and I’ve arrived at three great ones that are worth sharing. 

Never Let the Plane Take You Where You Don’t Want to Be

You could fill an entire room with motivational posters containing life lessons from flight school, and my favorite is never letting the plane take you where you don’t want to be.

Think of the last time you were at an airport and it was raining outside. The flight was delayed because of inclement weather, and people were grumbling about how “the pilot doesn’t want to fly” because of the rain.

Well, that’s true; flying into a thunderstorm or a blizzard can be tricky. And if you can wait a few minutes—or, if you’re already in the air, navigate to a different altitude—to avoid those difficult situations, you’ll make that decision every time. Not only will it lead to a smoother ride for you, but it will also provide a safer experience for the whole airplane.  

This is also applicable to business. When you’re interacting with a customer, you can direct the conversation to where it needs to be. Once you understand their goals and objectives, being able to steer the discussion in a way that addresses those goals is an important skill to learn.

The Day You Decide to Land on the Center Line, You’ll Never Miss Again

Very early in my flight school experience, I’d always land to the left of the center line by 10 feet. My instructor called it out and remarked that I would “always land in the same spot every time.”

I thought about it, and he was right. I still landed the plane safely but it was just always a little left of center.

Then my instructor told me something that’s stuck with me: “The day you decide to land on the center line, you’ll never miss it again.”

Once that was called to my attention, I realized I could put the airplane on the center line every time—I just had to decide I wanted to.

How do you hold yourself accountable? If you adopt a mindset of “well, I’m here, so I guess I’ll do this,” it can lead to sloppy mistakes and oversight of a factor critical to getting the job done well. But if you decide you’re going to focus on the task at hand and truly give it the attention it deserves, you may be surprised by what you can accomplish.

Slow Down to Go Down

When I was learning to fly a multi-engine airplane, a major reminder they drilled into our heads was that the first action in an emergency will be the thing you have to work on the longest to undo. 

Let’s say you have an engine out emergency. When there’s a failure, flight instructors teach you to put both feet on the floor, both hands in your lap and evaluate the situation until you know everything that’s going on. It may not sound like it, but an engine going out is a deferred emergency, not a crisis. 

The National Transportation Safety Board has research revealing that when people react quickly—even when they’re trained—they make a significant mistake that has a dramatic impact on the outcome. Instead, just sit there and evaluate the situation and identify the actual problem. Then, when you’re sure, take an action. There’s even an acronym for it: IVFR, which stands for Identify, Verify, Fix, Recover.

In my work with the public sector at Effectual I always ensure that I thoroughly understand what’s going on, either internally or with a customer, and assess the situation before jumping to a conclusion or decision. 

Serving Effectual’s Public Sector Customers

This has come up for me in business situations countless times throughout my career and in my work with the public sector at Effectual. I always ensure that I thoroughly understand what’s going on, either internally or with a customer, and assess the situation before jumping to a conclusion or decision. 

This approach is how we help customers map their path to modernization. Taking time to assess your on-premises and cloud-based workloads allows us to identify existing risks and potential roadblocks. Once we’ve got a clear view of the issues, we can start figuring out how to land safely at our destination in the cloud.

Regardless of the situation, slowing down a moment to evaluate the actual issue in front of you, and then taking your first action has much better results in the long run.

If you don’t, you may never take flight — and you’ll miss out on seeing a lot of great things.

Amy Guion, Service Delivery Manager: Building a Human Connection in the Cloud

Amy Guion, Service Delivery Manager: Building a Human Connection in the Cloud

My entire career has been focused on customer service. As a service delivery manager at Effectual, my top priority is cultivating a strong customer relationship and interacting with multiple internal teams to ensure everyone’s needs are being met and we’re delivering on our commitments.

In past work lives, I have worked in hotel operations and in the point-of-sale industry before jumping into the data center and on-premises world, which quickly became a shift toward cloud computing.
Regardless of the industry, customer service has always come first and technology comes second. This is a philosophy that has shaped my entire career.

My top priority is cultivating a strong customer relationship and interacting with multiple internal teams to ensure everyone’s needs are being met and we’re delivering on our commitments.

Learning as a community volunteer

I volunteer with two different groups that have taught me so much about building human connections. Participating in these organizations not only helps me get out of my comfort zone, but it also showcases different challenges in a new light.

The first group is Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), where I work as an advocate for children in foster care and the court system. These are children in the court system who, through no fault of their own, have been removed from their homes due to neglect or abuse. I meet with my assigned child once a week to see how they’re doing, and then every six months, we go in front of the judge to provide an update.

One of my responsibilities is to write a report for the court and make recommendations because I’ve had the most contact with the child — I’m in the home, seeing how they interact, and getting to know them. This experience has shown me the resiliency of kids, and how they handle difficult situations better than most adults.

The second group I volunteer with is the Johnson County’s Sheriff’s Department for its cadets and patrol division. I primarily get to roleplay in different citizen scenarios, such an active shooter situation or patrol stop, to help train cadets and patrol officers on how to handle each unique scenario should it unfold in the real world. This is a type of stress inoculation and is an important part of the training process.

For example, I might play someone who is being pulled over by an officer. In some settings, I comply with everything the officer says. In others, I get to be a bit wilder, or maybe I have a character trait that adds a layer of complexity to things. I’ve played the part of someone with a hearing disability as well as someone who didn’t speak English.

These experiences have helped me better understand the connections we have as humans. No two situations are the same — whether in our personal or professional lives. At Effectual, I am working with commercial and public sector customers and learning about their challenges and pain points, their familiarity with the cloud, and how our solutions can best fit their needs. 

The importance of transparency in relationships

Though every situation is unique, I’ve found transparency to be the most important element to building trusted, positive relationships. 

In one of my previous roles, I was helping deliver a point-of-sale system that needed to go into a restaurant. There was a serious mix-up, and we were going to miss the installation by about four days. Even if you’ve never worked in a restaurant, you can imagine four days without being able to sell anything would be pretty devastating!

A colleague asked me to handle the situation and tell the client because they didn’t want to deliver the bad news. I called the owner and told them that I was going to be transparent with them. Their reply? “We know we can trust you, because you can handle delivering both the good and bad.”

Embracing one of Effectual’s core values

No matter what challenges you encounter, it’s important to stay level and communicate. At Effectual, we see ourselves as your partner. This means we earn your trust by taking ownership of challenges and accountability for the results. It’s one of our core values. That is why I aim to be as transparent as possible in my conversations with customers. While gaining someone’s trust when everything is going smoothly may be easier, keeping their trust when issues arise can be difficult unless you maintain open, honest communication.

Amy Guion is a Service Delivery Manager at Effectual.

Jeff Finley, Sr. Cloud Architect: Traveling the Road Less Taken

Jeff Finley, Sr. Cloud Architect: Traveling the Road Less Taken

There’s a motorcycle corridor in the Pacific Northwest that’s a part of the Trans-America Trail. It runs through areas of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The route is a trail system that rides over the mountains without ever needing to get on the highway. It’s an entirely off-road system providing stunning views and a beautiful sense of clarity.

I love hitting that trail on my motorcycle, or paddle boarding with my wife and kids along the Deschutes River here in Central Oregon. In both cases, you never know exactly what the trail, sky, or water conditions will be, so it’s a unique experience for every person coming through.

That sense of variety has been a big part of my personal life, and it’s also helped guide my professional career.

Finding my footing in technology

Since my early teens, one of my favorite things to do was taking electronics apart and putting them back together. I’d find items like old rotary telephones or drones, disassemble them, and then see if I could rebuild them. I took auto shop classes that provided similar situations, taking cars apart and rebuilding them — sometimes making them more efficient than before. That led to my interest in motorcycles too, since I better understood how they worked.

While I’ve always had that curiosity about how technology operates, I stumbled into a tech career somewhat by accident. I was working at the front desk of a company, handling a lot of admin work. After six months, an IT position opened up and, knowing my interest in tech, the company tapped me to fill it. 

At first, I worked primarily on dumb terminals and mainframes (and no, I’m not quite as old as that makes me sound). That role continued to evolve as the company grew and expanded into more locations. I went from a server admin to running the whole IT department, and then into a CTO role for the company.

Stepping into leadership as a CTO and cloud architect

Being a CTO was new to me. For a while, I thought I didn’t want to be a CTO and take on that kind of IT management role. I took a year off and returned as a developer. However, I soon realized working on one project for eight hours a day isn’t in my nature — I’m not one to do the same type of thing over and over. Just like there’s always a new trail to hike or ride or a new part of the water to explore, when you’re a cloud architect or a CTO there’s always a new business challenge to solve using the cloud. 

That’s something I encourage people to figure out early on: are you at your best when you’re focused on one main project? Or do you need diversity in your work? 

For me, it’s the latter, and I’m fortunate to be at Effectual where I can help on every project. Those opportunities — getting to see a problem in front of me and working to build a solution — are the things I enjoy most. I get to assist our customers on a variety of challenges in different business verticals. 

A sense of variety has been a big part of my personal life – and it’s also help guide my professional career.

Building customer success through Modern Cloud Management

Within the past month, I’ve shifted the bulk of my focus to our Modern Cloud Management offering. I’m working with every part of our business to build up the underlying way we deploy and support managed customers.

In most cases, customers come to us because they realize the cloud is a core need for their business. We’re not a shiny new pair of tennis shoes that might get you a compliment while you’re out on the open road — we’re the foundation for your business and your livelihood. They need experts to make sure they’re doing cloud right.

Just like driving through the mountains provides a unique experience each time, we take a unique approach with each customer. Nothing is cookie cutter; there are always trade-offs to be made. 

For example, if a company is running a certain number of instances for redundancy, that increases their cost. Having fewer instances reduces the cost but could lead to longer downtime if something goes wrong. A company needs to determine what level of liability they’re comfortable with, and that’s where I can help as a cloud architect. 

Making informed decisions along the cloud journey

There are times on the road where I decide a certain route isn’t for me that day. There’s nothing wrong with that – the important thing is making an informed decision. 

Those informed decisions are key for the cloud, too. When we work with customers, we start with where they are now and learn where they’d like to be, then help them forge the path to get to their destination. And that’s a beautiful journey. 

Josefina Amaro, Cloud Data Analyst: Making the Cloud More Accessible Through Data Analytics

Josefina Amaro, Cloud Data Analyst: Making the Cloud More Accessible Through Data Analytics

When I first became interested in coding, I was working as a senior accountant creating month-end financial packages. Half of my month was working as an accountant, while the other half was spent performing business analytics and building intricate dashboards in Excel. I quickly noticed a lot of my deliverables required a dynamic approach to accurately tell the data’s story.

Ultimately, my research focused in on analytical strategies and the power of using a variety of input fields and statistics to create formulas specific to the department’s unique variables. My coworker and boss at the time supported my potential and recommended I seek out training in a technical field, which is when I discovered Data Analytics. Confident and driven in my decision, I left my job as a Senior Accountant to commit myself to Columbia University’s certified Data Analytics program.

Even though it felt like a gamble and I was faced with an overwhelming amount of knowledge, languages, and software to learn, pursuing my education left me feeling empowered and positive that my hard work would lead to a brighter future. 

Now that I’ve found my place at Effectual as a cloud data analyst, I’ve been introduced to so many new opportunities and always volunteer to take on ambitious tasks. My programming skillset also strengthens my ability to make the cloud more accessible for Effectual customers.

Rethinking your cloud spend

The cloud can sometimes seem like an unapproachable, ethereal concept, but it often only requires a mindset shift in how we approach it.

As a cloud data analyst, I get to dive into how different companies are using their cloud spend, or how they’re preparing for a move to the cloud. I like to tackle the cloud like I tackle a coding project: by looking at the problem I’m trying to solve and seeing if there’s a more efficient way to do things.

Companies will often look to reduce their cloud spend. But that’s not always the right choice – you don’t want to spend less money if it means you’re not progressing. Instead, I look at where inefficiencies can be shored up.

I like to tackle the cloud like I tackle a coding project: by looking at the problem I’m trying to solve and seeing if there’s a more efficient way to do things.

For example, many AWS users are familiar with Amazon RDS or Redshift Database and use them frequently. As AWS continues its rapid pace of innovation, it regularly releases new services that might be beneficial for certain projects.

One of those new releases is Athena, a query service where you can gather data from Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3). Alternatively, you can use Kinesis Firehose or Elastic Map Reduce; all those services let you process data without using a database. If you can have your data in S3 and use that mixture of services for your end product, you can reduce the processing time needed – and thus, streamline your costs for the cloud.

By looking at where inefficiencies lie, you’re increasing the accessibility of the cloud to help where it would be most impactful. Taking a step back and really looking at the “why” behind your solution is critical.

Putting your data to work

Once you have that understanding of your cloud spend, you can also look for other ways to make your processes more efficient. For example, a lot of us working with infrastructure are building services that could be standardized, so we’re exploring AI and machine learning solutions. Those solutions use infrastructure as code to build without having to involve an entire cloud ops team.

At Effectual, we also use AI and machine learning to help us make agile projections that aren’t normalized merely based on what a customer has shared. Of course, our solutions are tailored to each individual customer, but that doesn’t mean they need to be misinformed.

By looking at customers with similar platforms or customer bases and using data from those situations, we are able to make better recommendations for that customer when they’re moving to the cloud. And we present those recommendations in ways that are easily understandable and demonstrate why our strategy is the correct decision.

Continuing worldwide growth

One of the reasons I love working at Effectual is the way we empower companies to come into the market. I’m always excited to hear about new customers getting into the cloud or expressing an interest in coding or data analytics. Even if it’s a smaller business or a government agency, we want people to feel like the cloud is accessible.

For new developers looking to get into the field, this work can be challenging at first. But when you get into it, you can own your skillset and create unique solutions.

Despite not having the most “traditional” background in coding, I’ve always felt welcomed and invited to be a part of new projects and groups in my career, and it’s taught me more than I ever would have thought.

I’d encourage everyone with any interest in technology or learning how to code to go after those passions — you never know what you’ll build!

Josefina Amaro is a Cloud Data Analyst at Effectual, Inc. 

Josh Dirsmith, VP of Public Sector: Leadership – An Essential Trait for Cloud Success

Josh Dirsmith, VP of Public Sector: Leadership – An Essential Trait for Cloud Success

Early in my career, I served as a Platoon Sergeant and Network Manager in the U.S. Marine Corps under Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. I was stationed in Egypt, and one aspect of my role consisted of doing network checks every morning before we headed up to parts unknown in the Middle East.  

My interactions with General Mattis, who was a one-star general at the time, were brief. They were mainly two-minute conversations where we made sure everything was good to go for the day, talked about general training and discussed our Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs). The conversations never really veered from these topics. 

On my 24th birthday, however, General Mattis stopped me before I left. “Hey, Josh,” he said. 

I was shaved bald, but if I had hair on my head and neck, it would have been standing up straight. Marine generals do not address Marine corporals by their first name, so I merely responded, “Sir?” 

“Today’s your birthday, isn’t it?” 

General Mattis had me sit down and we talked about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Then, he wrote me a recommendation for Officer Candidates School. It was one of the finest moments of my career, and I still have that letter framed. 

We had never had a lengthy conversation before, but him knowing that it was a special day for me and gifting me that time showed me how much he cared about his team. I’ve carried that mindset with me throughout my career.  

My number one job is setting my team up for success, learning how to leverage their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. 

Mission accomplishment, troop welfare

The U.S. Marine Corps has a mantra of “mission accomplishment, troop welfare.” That’s what drives me as a leader. My number one job is setting my team up for success, learning how to leverage their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. 

I’ve had people I’ve worked with previously come work with me at Effectual. I think that speaks volumes to the respect they have for me as a leader. 

What’s my secret? I treat them as people. I respect them and their goals, I set them up to succeed, and we have a bit of fun doing it. 

The value of leadership within the cloud

That leadership serves me well in the public sector as I work with federal, state, and local governments, educational organizations, and nonprofits. Leadership is an essential trait within the cloud. When we work with companies and organizations, we start by assessing where they are. Again, it’s getting to know them, their strengths, their weaknesses, and figuring out what’s best for their unique situation. 

Once we’ve determined that, we’re ready to move them into the cloud through some combination of professional and managed services. But that move doesn’t go smoothly without the measured leadership of someone who fully understands their challenge areas and objectives. 

You may not know your exact mission within the cloud just yet, and that’s okay. Partnering with someone who can get you there is the first step. I’m excited to continue to grow, refine and expand our customer partnerships, and introducing the public sector to all the cloud can help them achieve. 

Josh Dirsmsith is the Vice President of the Public Sector at Effectual, Inc.

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Stephanie Lanning, Director of Channel Sales: The Importance of Keeping Good Company

Stephanie Lanning, Director of Channel Sales: The Importance of Keeping Good Company

I’ve been at Effectual for almost a year, but I have a long history with the leadership and engineering teams who founded the company. I followed the company’s story from the start, because I knew the people here were talented and I always appreciated how communicative and transparent the leadership team was when we worked together in the past. I also knew this was a group of people I wanted to work with again.

I am inspired by the people around me, and it is easy to find that inspiration given the talented people I get to work with every day. We all value collaboration and know how important it is to share information. It gives us constant opportunities to learn from each other, making the overall team stronger. One of our core values is having a “Can Do” attitude, and it is immediately apparent that part of that is built on a foundation of working together. Collaboration is truly how you find the best solution to a challenge.

I am inspired by the people around me, and it is easy to find that inspiration given the talented people I get to work with every day.

People who are drawn to IT seem to have a strong thirst for learning. I have that thirst and like to understand how things work, so a career in technology has been a great fit for me even though I have a different set of skills than some of my colleagues. IT changes quickly, and that’s not news to anyone. Being successful in this industry requires a broad skillset to fully grasp technology’s potential. You need to be willing to constantly learn and expand your skillset to remain relevant.

It’s great to be surrounded by so many intelligent, ambitious, and enthusiastic people you can trust – people who share your same professional goals, motivations, and appreciation of technology. It helps you keep pushing toward self-improvement and continual learning. You’ll realize you can push beyond what you thought were limits and you’ll keep growing, day after day.

Stephanie Lanning is the Director of Channel Sales at Effectual, inc.

Todd Helfter, Director of Database Services: Lessons Learned as a Long-Time Remote Worker

Todd Helfter, Director of Database Services: Lessons Learned as a Long-Time Remote Worker

Working remotely is not a new concept. Until the Industrial Revolution, most people didn’t travel for their livelihood. It was only when production shifted from farms and local workshops to mills and factories that the nature of work changed overnight. It wasn’t until the Digital Revolution when new technology once again allowed us to reevaluate how (and where) work was done.

I’ve been working remotely full-time for over 15 years, and it’s significantly easier now than it was back then. That’s not to say there aren’t challenges, but the technology we all rely on for telecommuting is a lot more advanced than it was even just a few years ago.

I’ve been working remotely full-time for over 15 years, and it’s significantly easier now than it was back then.

When I started working remotely, VPN and remote desktop technology didn’t have the necessary capabilities to properly support telecommuting. Instead, we had to put together our own solutions to fill in the gaps however we could.

For example, we customized open-source instant messaging tools to allow people using *nix operating systems to communicate easily. Even having an office phone took a little ingenuity. We used double-sided tape to attach a dedicated VPN router to the back of an office phone to create a secure tunnel. We called it “The Frankenphone,” but it worked!

Today I can do more on my smartphone than I could on my old desktop, and I even have a comparable work experience because the tools are designed for multiple platforms. I definitely don’t miss the experience of working with email attachments on an old BlackBerry. I’m thankful we have all kinds of SaaS tools to keep us connected and properly equipped to do our jobs.

With COVID, more people are working remotely than ever before. If this is the first time you’ve spent a significant stretch working from home, you’ve probably noticed that the technologies and infrastructure available are more than capable of letting us do our jobs remotely. However, we are also facing the unique challenges of sharing our home office with children and partners adjusting to working and learning from home.

Even during these times, I think the most important aspect of making remote work successful is finding (and maintaining) your work/life balance. I know it can be difficult to step away from your computer when you work from home and you’re a stone’s throw from your desk – especially when you genuinely like what you do.

Even during these times, I think the most important aspect of making remote work successful is finding (and maintaining) your work/life balance.

Still, simple things like keeping regular working hours can make a huge difference. It was hard for me to do this at first, but I make sure to have dinner with my family every night. That’s not to say I don’t put in the occasional late night or early morning, but I prioritize keeping that balance. It can be really easy to fall into the trap of thinking “I must sit at my desk 100% of the time so that it’s clear that I’m working and being productive.” Be mindful of these thoughts and don’t feel guilty about taking breaks. You have to establish healthy boundaries and realistic expectations so you don’t burn yourself out.

Technology has made the world smaller, and as companies become more global their employees are likely already working with people they don’t see in person on a day-to-day basis. Telecommuting obliterates the limits of geography, giving people access to opportunities regardless of location as well as giving companies access to a much larger pool of talent. In addition, the same technology that facilitates remote work makes it easier to engage with customers.

I think the general perception of remote work has changed for the better. Companies are starting to realize what my team and I have known for well over a decade – if done properly, remote work won’t have a negative impact on job performance and can even result in increased productivity. Providing employees with the right tools (including SaaS- or cloud-based applications), maintaining consistent communication, and trusting them to do their jobs remotely has been proven to not only increase productivity and engagement, but can also reduce stress and increase general well-being. It’s win-win for companies and their employees.

I’m curious to see if the trend toward remote work will continue once people start feeling more comfortable working out of office spaces again. I certainly hope it does.

Todd Helfter is the Director of Database Services at Effectual, inc.

Shelby Cunningham, Director of Professional Services: Building High Performing Teams & Trusted Customer Relationships

Shelby Cunningham, Director of Professional Services: Building High Performing Teams & Trusted Customer Relationships

When I look back at my extra-curricular activities as a kid, I realize they were probably foundational for my current role leading app development teams at Effectual. From tap dancing to cheerleading, piano playing to water skiing, I learned coordination, team-building, creativity, and how to adapt quickly in a “fluid” environment. Most of all, they were both challenging and fun, which is how it feels to lead a large development team for a growing entrepreneurial company.

Tech has always felt like a natural fit for me. I started my career managing marketing and overseeing development teams for software startups, which evolved into having my own strategic consulting agency. Those experiences led to management roles in client success, partner relations, business development, and product marketing –positions that required a balance of tech know-how, business skills, and relationship-building with customers, partners, and employees.

I joined Five Talent as a program manager several years before the company was acquired by Effectual. As a custom software developer, we always had a high volume of projects with really diverse use cases. This pipeline and our partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS) made continual learning a strong cultural value for us. To deliver the best solutions for our customers, we had to keep pace with innovation. This is why our developers hold so many high level AWS certifications and why they continue to pursue this expertise as part of Effectual.

Today, I lead Effectual’s professional services app development team. My responsibilities include driving project management and continuous improvement as well as ensuring we are meeting (and exceeding) the expectations of our customers.

The best part of my role here is cultivating long term relationships with customers knowing that our team can build solutions that will have a real impact on the success of their businesses. From the time we start our discovery process to when we launch a product, I want our customers to know we are partners working towards the same goal. That kind of authentic collaboration yields amazing results, and it isn’t hard when your team includes some of the smartest, most talented people in the industry.

The best part of my role here is cultivating long term relationships with customers knowing that our team can build solutions that will have a real impact on the success of their businesses.

Our team is expanding fast as Effectual grows. Because of this, I am focused on building high functioning teams where people are engaged and challenged in their work but also have time to explore new technologies that interest them. Keeping up with innovation is critical to what we do here.

My new interest outside of work is riding motorcycles with my husband. I’ve got a Yamaha now but have my Harley picked out. It isn’t water skiing, but it’s the perfect metaphor for where I am in my career. Moving fast, enjoying the ride, with miles of open road ahead.