Episode 97: Frank Zinghini on Creating Visual Software Solutions

On the latest episode of DevOpsRadio, Frank Zinghini of Applied Visions explains how visual software solutions can help solve complex problems within an enterprise.

Brian Dawson: Hello, welcome to another episode of DevOps Radio. I'm your host, Brian Dawson, and today with me I have Frank Zinghini, the founder and CEO of Applied Visions. Hello, Frank.

Frank Zinghini: Hello Brian. Nice to meet you.

Brian Dawson: Nice to meet you as well. I'm excited to talk about software development, your vision and charter and offerings at Applied Vision and you know, better understand how we can people adapt to the digital age, but before we dig in, hopefully you can start by giving our listeners an overview of what your role at Applied Visions is today and tell us how you got there. What's your background?

Frank Zinghini: Well, I'm always excited to talk about this stuff. I got here – I sort of stumbled into this position. I founded this company I'm sorry to say 32 years ago. I was a software developer and electrical engineer myself. I'd worked for a couple of companies building a variety of different products.

I built aircraft simulators, nuclear power plant simulators and then I got into the television broadcast technology industry and built all kinds of equipment for that and kind of stumbled into an opportunity to do some software development as a consultant for somebody and I liked that independent nature and I did another one and then another one and then I started hiring people and we got more customers and grew a service business around this concept of building mostly products but all manner of software and in some cases even hardware systems for customers and helping people build their businesses around technology and have been doing that ever since through all different waves of technology enhancements, improvements and transformation.

Brian Dawson: Oh, awesome. Awesome. Now, I'm curious to ask and there's a lot that I'll dig into in terms of your tenured career right, in various verticals over years of changes and shifts within the software development industry, one thing I'm curious is over time as you were doing contract or consultative software development, have you found that there's been an increase in people seeking outside capabilities or a decrease considering that now more and more across non-traditional or I guess I would say traditional non-technology oriented industries, people are agreeing that software is a key differentiator.

Frank Zinghini: Oh, absolutely. I guess I would answer that by saying that this sort of technology, what we all loosely call digital technology or digital business or whatever words you want to hang around it, has become so important to so many businesses and to people in the economy that has naturally just grown tremendously as a discipline, as work that needs to be done. You know, we've gone from me in my basement to me and four other people in my basement to now I think we have about 72 people doing this in the company.

So you know, absolutely there's more and more people asking for this kind of capability as part of their business and you know, more and more people looking to outside help for that. You also have the fact that now that help can be gotten either from me here in New York or from somebody in India or Russia or Belarus or anywhere. It's now a global environment for doing this work. So yes, tremendous growth in this space.

Brian Dawson: Well now before we move into kind of the nuts and bolts of what you do as well as some of your work, I'd like to ask you about – I do want to dig in to ask what was the transition like. So of course yours was gradual from being a software developer/EE to being an entrepreneur, to being a business, to leading a team. How was that transition for you?

Frank Zinghini: Well, I think I called it accidental before. Let's just say it was gradual. You know, some people have the big idea and they quit their day job and they set up in their garage and they pursue that idea, but no, I kind of eased into this just for love the work, really, and for love of the people that I work with.

It just kept getting bigger and bigger and there came a moment and I was in my basement with like four or five other people coming to work there and I realized that it was time to turn this into a real business and build a staff and get an office and I did that and hired I guess what we used to call a grey beard, an experienced business executive who advised me on how to build the business and we moved into in fact the same building I'm sitting in now, which we've expanded out to fill the entire building over the years. And that was kind of the transition point and I guess that was probably I'm going to say about seven years into it.

Brian Dawson: Okay, so just between you and I though, do you sometimes wish you can just lock the door in a dark room and sit in front of a monitor and bang something out?

Frank Zinghini: You know, it's funny 'cause there's times when I miss writing code. And , you know, you talk about nuts and bolts and I don't get to handle the nuts and bolts anymore. I'm mostly just doing the higher level stuff. I miss writing code and building things until I actually try to do I again and then I kind of realize that I've – you know, it's beyond me now. Part of it is that the technology has changed so much over the years, and I do envy my people as they build things and I listen to them talk and I see what they're capable of doing with the tools at their disposal now versus the, you know, stone knives and flint locks that I had to deal with when I was doing it. But I don't really miss writing the code anymore.

Brian Dawson: Well, that's good. You've resolved. I'm still on the journey. Right? It's been a good couple of years since I've done anything effective on a keyboard. For years over my career I did – and I hear my staff and peers talk about issues, spinning up clusters and how do they structure their application for resiliency. And I'm like, I want to get in that conversation. But I've been out of it. Now I've developed more of the, you know, old curmudgeon take, well, you kids don't even know what a registry is. You know, there's no language like procedural – assembly is what real people program in.

Frank Zinghini: Right. I try to avoid that kind of stuff. Back when I was doing this work, we only had 16 _____. I actually have – I have the opposite. There's a name for the syndrome I think what do they call it, the imposter syndrome or something. I sit _____ worried that they're going to realize that I don't have the faintest idea of what they're talking about.

Brian Dawson: _____ _____.

Frank Zinghini: I try to look interested and but yeah, much of that stuff is over my head and I regret that part, but that's just the way life goes.

Brian Dawson: You've shifted your skill set. And don' worry, this is between you and I.

Frank Zinghini: Oh, I'm sure. There's nobody listening to this podcast.

Brian Dawson: Right.

Frank Zinghini: Actually, I'm actually quite open and I tell these people here when we have these meetings, I say, "I really didn't understand any of that, but I'm sure jealous that you get to do it."

Brian Dawson: Right, right, right. So, all right, nuts and bolts, nuts and bolts. You and your team at Applied Vision in doing some research came across a concept that you're introducing and that is the three modalities of building tech or building software. I'd like to learn a little more about it. Can you explain to me what the three modalities are?

Frank Zinghini: Well, what's behind this, I joked before that I don't really get to do the nuts and bolts anymore. Really what I do is I communicate to people. My goal is to help clients or potential clients or anybody who cares to listen to me to understand what's best for them in dealing with this technology.

And it's always a challenge because you know, obviously I have my own interest in these relationships and it can be due to self-serving, but I actually take my responsibility pretty seriously to help people understand what is the right path for them, even if that path takes them away from me. And I've searched for a long time for just different ways to get these messages across and spent a lot of time studying customers and business owners and understanding what's important to them at what time in their particular timelines and these modalities grew out of a lot of that as to when I'm speaking to someone in whatever context I'm speaking to them, whether it's a casual conversation or they've approached me as becoming a potential client, what we found is it helps to sort of bucket people into these things and it's more of a what is your – I think we call it a mindset base. What is your mindset, how are you approaching this? Why are we even having this conversation?

And in the terms of the types of businesses I deal with, it kind of settled down into these three categories. People will come to me if they're in crisis. Something bad happened. And there's a really long list of bad. Sometimes it's they are just completely unprepared for the digital economy and they've been muddling through, but some event arose, whether it's a competitor who appeared in the landscape who got digital technology right or more often than not what happens is it's a business that has built up around a certain technological platform that has gotten the job done for a long time, but something happened and it just can't keep up their _____.

We see a lot of this, mostly in the middle market, there's business out there who 15 or 20 years ago had somebody write them a Visual Fox Pro app to do some things and they've –

Brian Dawson: Oh wow.

Frank Zinghini: This happens all the time. They built their business around it and they started to succeed and maybe now they're an eight, ten or fifteen million dollar a year revenue business doing whatever it is they do and this visual Fox Pro app is just sitting there in the back room doing what it always did and then something just breaks it, whether it's a technological problem or some update to Windows keeps it from working at all or it's a business problem where some vendor says, "We'll give you a million dollar contract if you can integrate to our back office system. It's got this _____ API. Should be a piece of cake," and they look at me like, "What's that?" There's something that triggered a crisis.

And it's never a good place to be in the world in general to be in crisis because you don't really have the luxury of time to really think things through, to think about the right way. You're just like, it's almost a panic and that's hard and it's a hard conversation to have with people and I work with them on it and I get them through it and we strategize ways to deal with their issues both in the short term and the long term, but that's a very common thing.

What causes somebody to look outside of their own business for this kind of technological help and crisis is always one of them. Sometimes we feel like the plumber that you're calling because there's a leak in your basement.

Brian Dawson: Yeah and there's probably, you know, it's bittersweet. One is, look, there's a clear problem to solve and you can come and save the day, but of course you then adopt the same pressure that they're under. Now –

Frank Zinghini: Oh, absolutely.

Brian Dawson: To help me track, so is this what we'd call mode one? It's kind of crisis mode?

Frank Zinghini: Yeah, I guess – we didn't number them, but I always start within crisis. It's because it's the one that people can usually resonate with the best because we've all been in crisis in one way or another, whether it's, like I said, it's a leaky pipe at home or some business crisis. I think people understand crisis. It's never a good place to be, whenever I get the chance to talk to people who are not in crisis, I try to get them to think about what might put them in crisis. And that's like the middle modality at which, you know, if you picture a bell curve, this is probably where most people are, it's just getting them to talk about it that's hard and we just call worried.

There's no end - and every business book you read, every consultant you talk to always tells you to always think about the things that you'll be worried – you know, you'll do a SWOT analysis, strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats. All of that stuff is around getting you to worry about the right things. The people who have reached that point of worry in my little corner of the woods are the ones who, you know, they're doing okay. Their business is okay, but they kind of see that those problems are out there on the horizon.

They kind of see how things could turn south for them. Maybe they recognize that they don't really have a good web presence. They're running on some in-house on prem thing and they can't really integrate too well with their suppliers or their customers. They're downloading a lot of XML files and emailing a lot of PDF files and they're starting to see that their competitors have just a better digital presence. Maybe they don't – they don't even have a mobile app and people are starting to ask, "Well how do I get your mobile app?" And they have to say, "Well, we don't have one of those."

So they're starting to get the message or they've gotten the message that they have to rethink their digital presence. And that goes all the way from their website to their cloud presence to their mobile app, all the things that the outside world is beginning to ask of them and they don't have a good answer, whether it's their customers or their suppliers or whomever, their business partners. And we get a lot of that, you know. "I've got people asking me about my mobile app and I don't have one of those. What does that mean? What should I do?"

Brian Dawson: And so does this manifest as, you know, kind of the worried, the middle modality is people are coming to you and asking you to help them figure it out and chart a path.

Frank Zinghini: Yes. Absolutely.

Brian Dawson: Into this new economy. Okay.

Frank Zinghini: Yeah, exactly. And we can have lots of constructive conversations around that. We can help people build a roadmap. You know, it's kind of like when I finally broke down and went to a gym and asked a trainer, "What should I be doing to make sure I keep alive a little longer than I'm currently on the path for?" You know, you can have a constructive conversation with somebody who's worrying and it's very helpful for them to see that there is, in fact, there's a roadmap. There's a path that you can follow. So it helps them prioritize those things.

Brian Dawson: So this is where you're worried. So kind of the crisis modality is, you've had a minor cardiac incident and then now you need to figure out how to get over it. The worried mode is, the love handles are growing. I'm worried I'm putting on a little weight. I may be getting less healthy. Hey, Applied Visions, you're my trainer. Help me figure out how to get to where I want to be.

Frank Zinghini: Or even worse, I get winded by a flight of stairs. You know, you're really feeling the mornings _____.

Brian Dawson: Okay.

Frank Zinghini: The in crisis, it might be more than a minor heart attack, it could bel a major one. And yeah, we could stretch this metaphor pretty far.

Brian Dawson: Right, all day long. So I'm trying to see how you're going to be able to stretch it to the other modality.

Frank Zinghini: The important thing about the worry part is, you know, the whole thing, you can't deal with a problem till you recognize it. People who are in that bubble recognize that they're at some form of risk and now's a good time to do something about it because they're kind of going okay. Their business is going okay. They're making money. It's like, nothing's really wrong. Let's actually take advantage of that and plan for the future. And that's, like I said, that's probably the largest audience. And I love talking to people like that because many people are receptive to it, the discussion of this is where you can go.

And the third one is kind of exciting, it's the going for growth, we call it. And this is the audience of people who, they got past worry. They got it. They know where they need to go. They're energized. They have their ideas. They have their plans. They're willing to invest. We have a customer like that, which this customer kind of went through all the stages, which is always interesting and rewarding. They started out in crisis. We got them through the crisis. They were already worried about what was beyond that crisis. Where would they go? But they immersed themselves in the technology and the platform. They had an older technology platform that wasn't keeping up with their growth. They learned about what SASS means on their own. They studied the industry and the technology. They had a handle on what they needed to achieve and they came to us and they said, "We want that. We want that SASS stuff. We want to be _____ those platforms. We want to dominate our industry the way we see other industries dominating theirs because they followed that path."

So that's an exciting place to be and that's everywhere from people willing to invest their own funds to people willing to say, "Look, can you help us get financing for this? We understand what's available in the venture community. We understand we need a technology partner to be able to tell our story and to show how we're going to achieve it, and we do that with people. We partner up with them and we help them build their pitch deck and we go to pitch meetings with them and we talk about the tech side of it.

You know, we talk about how we can build this for them and then transition it into their own team as they grow. That's the exciting end and it's kind of the tail of the curve. There's not a whole lot of people with that kind of mindset, but when one of those finds me, it's a lot of fun and we have a couple.

Brian Dawson: Yeah, that's what – so, you know, first we talked about this kind of in the context of the state or stages people are in when you encounter them, right, in your role as applied – go ahead, sorry.

Frank Zinghini: Well it the mindsets because everybody – you know you always have a mindset in everything you do in life. What is your mindset. Are you worried? Are you this? Are you that? Are you happy? Well, these are the key mindsets to the type of work that we do.

Brian Dawson: And so taking it out of the context of the type of work that you do, is this also representative of what you may see within leadership within somebody that has their own in-house development capabilities?

Frank Zinghini: Well, I personally think that these mindsets apply to anyone. I mean, first of all, they apply to everything in life.

Brian Dawson: They apply outside of software . Right.

Frank Zinghini: Yeah, in any business context, I think these three modalities apply. You know? Even if you're just – if you're making chees, you know, you can see how these things would apply to you at various points in your timeline even if you have no technology whatsoever.

Brian Dawson: So yeah, so to ask you in terms of the overall makeup, this is something that nags here, right, so starting from kind of your observation of the mindset that people are in, starting with who you encounter and who you help, but we can transfer that like you said, to making cheese or we'll narrow it down, right, to probably most organizations engaging with or embarking on this digital journey are in one of these mindsets.

Now, we often right here on DevOps Radio and kind of in the space I often participate in, we spend a lot of time talking about the people in that growth mode. Let's talk about all the people that have adopted continuous integration and continuous delivery. They have automated pushbutton deployments. They have a couple deployments. They have a cloud native strategy. But something I hear a lot of is that we end up in an echo chamber, at least in my space. Right? And we start to believe that most of the world is in that third mode. What is your take? What are you seeing?

I think you sort of alluded it to you earlier, but putting that in context, are we in an echo chamber? Are more of the people in and I'll just number them for the sake of my logit in the mode one or mode two, when it comes to their digital journey?

Frank Zinghini: Oh yeah. You're absolutely right because here's the thing. The ones you described, the going for growth ones, the people who get it and who throw themselves into it and who've made the investments and you've done the work and they've succeeded and they tell a great story and those are the stories that we hear, and it's – you know, all the way to – you hear about all the successful entrepreneurs about their – you hear about Facebook and Twitter and Tesla and all those things because those are the ones that succeed and you get to hear about those. You don't hear about the countless ones that are still struggling or never made it. I don't know that I would accuse you of being an echo chamber.

I think it's vitally important for people in technology to hear these stories and to know what they should aspire to and to know it's possible. I do agree that even in the DevOps space, the people who have reached that level that you describe are the happy few. It's hard to get there. It's rewarding to be there. It really changes the way a business lives digitally.

If you're in a position where you can crank out twelve updates a week to keep up with your customers and keep up with your market and test out new ideas and _____ everything work and, you know, you've got your security posture down so you're practicing real DevSecOps and if you're doing that, god bless you. You did a great job.

That is really – that is nirvana in this context and it's hard to get there and the people who get there deserve their success because they have taken a lot of risks, they have made a lot of investments, they have bonked their shins on the coffee tables of life. They worked it and they've earned it and I respect the people that do that. Full disclosure for what we do, we build these systems and we do that sort of thing on a small scale as we transition work to our clients, but when you get to the scale you're describing, you know, we help transition this into those teams and they take it over and they run with it. And I've witnessed that in our relationships with some of the bigger companies and I totally respect what they've achieved.

Brian Dawson: Yeah, yeah. Kind of the teach a person to fish. Well, you know, back to that nuts and bolts thing we leaned on earlier. We've talked about the three modalities, right, crisis mode, worry mode, growth mode. Based on identifying what mode you're in, are there particular approaches that you or other people should then take to creating software, to solving their technology problems. How do the modes inform or the modalities inform how they approach a problem?

Frank Zinghini: I don't know that this is as helpful to the people to know that oh, you're in crisis mode, you know, here's what you should do kind of thing. I mean, it always helps to categorize things. It's like the seven stages of grief or whatever. You just recognize that you're not alone. I talk about these modalities more from the perspective of how the person attempting to solve the problems should interact with the people with the problems.

If somebody's in crisis mode, they don't want to hear about how there's this vision of being a SASS platform with a DevSecOps process that lets you – that's a lifetime away from them. They don't want to hear about it. They want to hear how to get out this problem they're in.

So in that context, kind of knowing where you are on this little stack of mindsets helps you to some extent inform how you look at your problem If you recognize that you're- I mean, people know they're in crisis mode 'cause they say, "I've got a crisis." If you even see that there is this sort of taxonomy of mindsets, you can say, "Okay, see where I could get to." But again, I don't give myself credit for being as good as some of the other steps of mindset that exist in our culture.

Brian Dawson: Yeah. No, I think it makes – you know, as I think about the portability of viewing things in these modalities, I mean, I actually – you know, look they can apply to a software developer responding to a problem brought to them by their manager. It can be your software organization responding to a request from the business and inform the way you engage and handle that.

Frank Zinghini: Absolutely. And in any discipline where you're providing a service to someone else, it helps to think about these mindsets. I use the – I threw in the parallel of a plumber before, but, you know, it's the same thing there. If you're in any of the kinds of trades and somebody comes to you and, you know, if they're in a crisis, you'll know it and if they're like brainstorming some big thing, you'll know that too and you really should approach them differently depending on their current mindset. Somebody comes to you and says, "There's this water squirting on the wall," you don't want to come in there and look and say, "Oh, this is a mess. We should replace all of your plumbing in the house."

Brian Dawson: Exactly what I was thinking.

Frank Zinghini: Oh, you've got lead pipes here. No, first you stop the leak. Right? You get that settled down and then you, "So you know while I was in there, I noticed you've got lead solder in your pipes. This is a really old house, isn't it? Maybe we should make a plan for how to fix that." Now you're worried. Right? You're no in crisis anymore. The leak is stopped, but now you're worried 'cause I guy just told you there's lead solder in your pipes. "Oh, okay. I guess we should do something about that."

Brian Dawson: And then you take care of that, and now we can move on to dealing with the fancy new tankless water heater or –

Frank Zinghini: Yeah, exactly. Then you can drift into the going for growth thing. So, it's a fairly universal thing.

Brian Dawson: So let's go ahead and shift continuing on this, you know, digital discussion of digital journey and digital transformation, I do understand that you had recently hosted a webinar series that interestingly enough was aimed at baby boomer businesses focused on helping them with the adaptation to a digital landscape.

Frank Zinghini: Yeah. That was a lot of fun. I don't know if I qualify as a baby boomer, but I'm close. But we landed on that in talking to a lot of people and I touched on this briefly when I was describing the in crisis cohort before when I said there's a lot of businesses out there that grew up around some VB app or some Visual Fox Pro app or something and I've encountered many, many businesses like that and the whole baby boomer tie in is really just a timeline thing.

These are businesses that were started by people 15, 20, 30 years ago which very often is the baby boomer generation. These are people who grew up in the very early stages of technology growth and they founded their business just as all this stuff was taking shape and computing at their scale became a possibility and a reality and they got to a certain level of success and they also achieved a certain age where maybe that whole go for growth thing, you know, you got over that. I don't feel like running a marathon anymore. I just want to take a walk around the neighborhood.

And there's a lot of people out there, and maybe they're now looking toward the horizon at the possibility of retirement and selling their business and, "What's next for me in my life." And then someone comes along and maybe they look at their business and maybe they want to get a valuation and see what's my business worth, and they have somebody come in and do a valuation and they say, "Well, what's your SASS strategy."

And the guy goes, "My what?"

Well, in your industry, all of your – we've looked at your three largest competitors and they all have a SASS platform where they're doing this and this and that. What's your strategy?" And now the worry starts to set in. Right? It's like, I don't have one of t hose. What is that?

And what people have been seeing and I've experienced this with a few clients, is what they viewed as this lofty valuation of this business they worked so hard to build and they had their sales numbers and their EBITDA numbers and they said, "Well, this is the multiple in my industry and I'm doing great." When they actually get into having people look at it, they're questioned about how well they are participating in the digital economy and if they're not, or if they're not doing it well, that's, you know, one or two strikes against you and that can be a little bit painful to hear. And then they started saying, "Well, what do I need to do to get it," and maybe they had somebody build them a website a couple years ago and – or even worse, before that, somebody built them something in Dreamweaver and they've been running that for the last 15 years and they don't really have a web presence that works.

They certainly don't have an ability for their customers to do self-service on that website. And they certainly don't have a mobile app. And they just don't have what is expected to participate in our digital economy. And the challenge is, customers come to you with their own expectations based on their other experiences. How often do you go to a website to buy something and say, "Oh, this website's crap. I'm going to Amazon."

Brian Dawson: Oh yeah.

Frank Zinghini: Well, the same thing is true in business and if I'm a supplier of, you know, I don't know, yarn to mills or something, and I've got three customers, all of whom have really beautiful digital interfaces where I can book orders electronically and track this and that and the other thing and then somebody else wants me to place an order with me and they say, "What's your fax number?"

And I go, "My what?"

You know, it's necessary to keep up with the state of how business is done and there's a very large group of business owners out there who just didn't get the memo and need to start thinking about this stuff. And that's kind of where that whole baby boomer series came from. And we had a lot of fun doing it and talking about these things and it got – it really resonated with a lot of people and we've got customers now who are like, "Help me at least catch up enough to get the kind of valuations that I think I deserve for this business I spent 30 years building."

Brian Dawson: That's an interesting take I hadn't thought of. Again, there's parallels right? It's a space or a segment or a constituency that honestly in my day to day we don't apply a lot of thought to, but there are a lot of parallels to what people are doing. The world's sort of moved on. I'm sorry, you were going to say though?

Frank Zinghini: Yeah, no, I agreeing with you that there are many parallels. And one of the parallels I try to draw in people's minds, business owners' minds is that business owners, those of whom have physical facilities or manufacturing facilities or whatever, innately understand the importance of modernization. You know, you can't – unless you're come artisanal producer of, you know, hand woven sweaters in Brooklyn or something and your proud of the fact that you're using a 19th century loom to do that, if you're trying to make something in volume, you're going to keep up with the modernization of your factory and you're going to reinvest in your capacity and you're going to upgrade your equipment and you're going to constantly reinvest in your physical infrastructure or you're going to fall behind and lose your business to the competition that did modernize.

And people just sort of get that. But they don't look at their digital infrastructure as being equally important to their physical infrastructure. They just sort of take it for granted. It's like, "Well we have a website. Why do I need a mobile app? Why do I need this? This has been working fine." It's the same syndrome that, you know, if you didn't upgrade your manufacturing capacity, you're putting – your cost per unit is high and your volume is low and your competitors are just going to take away your customers because they're doing it faster and cheaper. Same thing happens with how you _____ business digitally.

Brian Dawson: Yeah, well it's – yeah, there's a couple of analogies to spin off of that, you know, and a comment, but you know, one is yes, look, while technically bits don't degrade, any digital infrastructure you have, just like the frame of your house, just like any functioning unit over time it needs attention. It experiences a level of wear and tear and that could more directly and accurately have to do with the underlying hardware, computer resource utilization or it could be because the baseline or bar, right, of where technology is moved, but yeah, absolutely.

And the interesting thing about the, you know, the upgrading your manufacturing capabilities analogy is, and I'm sure this came up in your baby boomer discussions, but it's a reality of where we're at, and that is to engage, you can hand weave artisanal sweaters. But even that business needs a digital interface to the rest of the world.

Frank Zinghini: Right.

Brian Dawson: To your point, if you plan on any growth, if you plan on any valuation, matter of fact, probably if you plan on just sustaining where you're at, you need to tend to that digital interface to the world. Right?

Frank Zinghini: Absolutely, especially if you want to sustain where you're at because if you don't, it's one of those things where if you don't move forward, you move backwards.

Brian Dawson: Yes. Well said.

Frank Zinghini: And that's what happens.

Brian Dawson: And you've got to have an Etsy storefront. You've got to know how to use Shopify. Yeah, it's really funny that you brought up Visual Fox Pro and Dreamweaver and where we talked about earlier about kind of that bell curve of those modalities and who fits in them. The reality is, you know, Visual Fox Pro, Dreamweaver, what have you, if we look at the volume or the vast amount of small business, medium business, and traditional business. Those legacy or heritage footprints probably exist more widely than most of us tend to think about.

Frank Zinghini: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. There's a lot of AS400s out there, so _____ way.

Brian Dawson: Yeah, matter of –

Frank Zinghini: And my heart goes out to people in these conversations because you know, their attitude is, "It's been working great for all this time. Why do I have to change? Why doesn't it work great anymore?" And that's why I always try to go to the example of the factories and whatever.

Things move ahead without you and you need to keep up. I mean, it's a silly, trivial example, but for my own behaviors, if I'm shopping online and I go to a site and there's something that I want to buy and I go to check out and the site doesn't support PayPal or Apple Pay or Amazon Pay or any of those other things and I have to actually type in my credit card number and go find my credit cards, I'm going to go see if I can get that on Amazon instead because I know I don't have to type in my credit card on Amazon. You know?

It's a silly little behavior, but it's an example of how if your competitors are doing things to make your customers' life easier, you better do the same things.

Brian Dawson: Yeah. Kind of a torch that I've been carrying as a recent, to reflect back, and the industry has as well, is when we talk about differentiation, really in practically any business you have, honestly, even if you're in an IT organization delivering internal business systems, the customer is king/queen and underneath that convenience is king/queen. Right? When people encounter friction in most cases, they will only bear that friction for so long before they seek alternative solutions. Back to your – if you're not moving forward, you're moving backwards.

Frank Zinghini: Yep, I agree.

Brian Dawson: I think that's – I think that's great.

Frank Zinghini: People's tolerance for that friction is worn really thin.

Brian Dawson: Yeah. Well you should sit at my house with my wife and I when we order something or get on our mobile phones. "I'm done with this." You know, look, function is still important. Right? But software, technology, computer science, I mean, this actually goes all the way down to hardware implementation, speaking to an EE has moved to the point that we expect the function as the baseline. Now we want the form. Right?

Frank Zinghini: Yep.

Brian Dawson: This is actually a good point. I'd love kind of digging into again call out the references, AS400, which by the way I'm – we recently last year I had sooner do a session on how to apply automation and DevOps to your AS400. Right? People are trying to bring those things forward. Dreamweaver, Visual Fox Pro. You've had experience, so I expect or hope for an interesting answer to this question. This is a segment of DevOps Radio that we call Dev-Oops. It's not Dev O-P-S, but Dev O-O-P-S like Oh sh – S-H, I messed up. What is a challenge that you've experienced in your career, technical or otherwise, where you made a mistake or you learned something the hard way, but you've been able to carry that lesson forward and hopefully you can share with our audience.

Frank Zinghini: I don't know if we have enough time for all those.

Brian Dawson: Get the book out. I hear the pages flipping.

Frank Zinghini: Yeah. No, I mean, you know, mistakes are the name we give to our experiences. Right?

Brian Dawson: Yeah.

Frank Zinghini: But there are so many. What would be a good one for here? Well, you know, we started this whole conversation about how I talked to customers and potential customers and so forth and this whole modalities thing and I think probably the most consistent mistake that in my particular corner of the world we make and this is going to sound counterintuitive, but that's why it was so important to learn and that is you don't always listen to the customer. It took me a while to realize that my responsibility is to tell people what they need and not respond to what they want.

Brian Dawson: Right.

Frank Zinghini: And I have made that mistake several times and tried to faithfully deliver on what they demanded, even if I felt it wasn't the right thing and more often than not, that was the wrong thing to do and it failed in one way or the other and my responsibility at the time, which I shirked, was to push back, explain why I thought what they wanted was not the right thing and if they insisted, say you're going to have to hand this screwdriver to somebody else because I won't be a party to this.

Brian Dawson: Yeah.

Frank Zinghini: And that was hard learned and I practice it more now because you know, as a small business providing services, you kind of – you know, you work for food. You don't really want to say no to anything. But I have learned to recognize when a potential customer or even a current customer is just insisting on going down the wrong path and I have to stand firm and say, "That is the wrong way to go and if you insist on going there, you're going to have to go there with someone else."

And I've done that since. I've learned and I've done that since and never looked back, but you know, yeah, we shed a lot of blood over situations like that. And I think it's an important thing for anybody in any service position to remember is that if you think it's the wrong move, then it probably is the wrong move and it would be wrong of you to take it and just say no to the business and look for the next one.

Brian Dawson: Right, right. If we even – I start to put my _____ insight, great lesson, give the customer what they need, not what they want. I think for a lot of those in an individual contributor service position, right, where hey, look, they're not Frank. They can't make the call for the business. It is – it is equally valid, but probably sometimes harder to figure out how to navigate.

Frank Zinghini: It is and I was about to say the same thing. You just nailed it. It's – I sympathize and I've been there. I've had regular jobs before I started this company. And I sympathize with people in an organization who find themselves in that situation. You know, I had various forms of public visibility. You have the classic politicians or whomever resigning rather than – _____ military officers resigning rather than following an order that they question. And that's noble and I respect that and I think more people should do that. But you know, if you're just some schnook in an organization and your boss is telling you to do something and you know it's wrong, really your only chance is to, well, write an e-mail, get it on paper, say this is the wrong thing, but we'll do it anyway, and salute and do the job and see what happens.

Brian Dawson: Yeah, yeah. That's _____ it's funny, we all are in different situations, but and maybe still idealistically I'd like to say to everybody, to myself as well, speak up and sometimes you speak up and you have to march in that direction anyway. But at least have some confidence in your knowledge and understanding perspective and add a voice to that.

Frank Zinghini: Yep. Absolutely.

Brian Dawson: So awesome. Thanks. That was – that was a nice path to go down.

So again, you know, I think leaning on your preview and your experience another common element of our podcast, Frank, our identifying a key resource that our audience can take to help them learn to be better as a leader, as a coworker, as a practitioner so to that end, do you have a book, a podcast, a person you follow, some other resource that you would strongly recommend our audience go out and consume?

Frank Zinghini: Oh yeah. I've got – I don't get to read as much as I would like. But I interestingly stumbled on an old book that I'm rereading and finding still relevant even though it was written in think the nineties and it's Andy Grove High Output Management. And I guess I'm really dating myself talking about visual Fox Pro and AS400s and now I'm bringing up Andy Grove who was the CEO of Intel in the 90s and has since passed, but he was a brilliant writer and what he wrote about running a technology business still resonates today and that – I just happened to have picked up that book at someone's suggestion recently and am reading about how he handles one on one meetings and things and it's just an excellent book on managing technologists and it still applies to today. And the other one, go ahead. You wanted to say something about Andy Grove?

Brian Dawson: Oh no. Oh yeah, I'll jump in on Andy Grove since I – so, if it makes you feel any _____ as we talk, sitting in front of me on my iPad in Kindle is that book. And I still believe it's highly relevant and I just want to add, the title is arguably misleading. Right? There's a lot that on, you know, kind of anywhere in the organizational ecosystem you can draw some insights from the book, though it's called High Output Management. I just think it's a fantastic way to, whether you were leading the org or whether you're in the org to understand how an org can best operate.

Frank Zinghini: Well, if you think about it, in the abstract, absolutely everybody in an org is a manager of something, even if that something is just their own time, they're managing it. So, and I think that's the spirit of the title there because right down to the bottom of the tree, you're managing something.

Brian Dawson: Yeah. Great point.

Frank Zinghini: The other, and you asked about following podcasts and things and the whole mindset thing that we've been talking about was all motivated by Kristin Zhivago, who is somebody I've been following since the '90s. She's a great writer on marketing technology. And I don't mean the technology to do marketing. I mean marketing of technological things. I subscribed to her newsletter when it came on paper and I follow her blogs and her book, Roadmap to Revenue gives me – see, my role in advising people how to build roadmaps for their own business and how to use technology in their own business means I need to understand how their business works.

And Roadmap to Revenue is a great book for getting into the head of a business owner and how they look at building their own business and this mindset stuff came out of some of her writing, so I have to give her full credit for that. And she's great. Kristin Zhivago, like Dr. Zhivago – Z-H-I-V-A-G-O. She's great.

Brian Dawson: Phenomenal. Thank you for that reference. I'm going to go look for it. I was trying to figure out if I was going to comment on the newsletter on paper. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to comment on it by saying I'm not going to comment on it.

Frank Zinghini: Okay.

Brian Dawson: Right, but no, that is – that is cool. I think, you know, the one thing I'll say, we've played around with this, you know, kind of heritage or legacy kind of pre-digital transformation and what I really do want to underscore with the references is while the nineties may feel like, well, I guess it is decades ago, but it may feel like decades and decades ago, there's really nothing new under the sun. Right? I think oftentimes, we think we're starting green field, not looking back at previous resources, previous learnings and then applying those to today's challenges 'cause the reality is right, the problems we were solving with Visual Fox Pro just to continue to lean on that reference, have a relevancy to the problems that we're trying to solve today.

Frank Zinghini: And, you know, I take a different tack on that. I try not to sound like the grizzled old veteran saying, "Back when I was programing, we only had ones. We didn't even have zeros or any of that sort of that stuff."

Brian Dawson: I'm going to use that one.

Frank Zinghini: I happen – when I do get to read, I like historical nonfiction. I like reading about – I just read a whole book on the steel industry and the Carnegie and _____ and the problems they solved and when steel was invented. People don't realize they had to invent steel. Right? It didn't just appear. And you can go as far back as you want. One of my favorite books is called, The Pillars of the Earth, which is a novel built around the stonemasons of the eleventh century building cathedrals and how they did that. And it's not so much to say that, "Oh, the stuff you guys are doing is the same stuff we did 100 years ago." That's not the point.

It's the problem solving. It's how you address the challenge of doing something today that had never been done before or making due with the tools you have and achieving things that you never would imagine you could achieve with the tools you have at your disposal until you actually try and do it.

I mean, I look at the Brooklyn Bridge, which is one of the most beautiful bridges every built and it was built in I think 1860-something with the tools they had at their disposal then and I look at it today as I drive across it with a 2012 car, you know, it's like, this is still here, it's still standing. How did they do this? They didn't have computers. How could they possibly build a bridge? You know?

So it's a good reminder that it's not so much that none of what you're doing now is new. It's not that. It's that you're standing on the shoulders of people who've solved problems for hundreds and thousands of years and you have to learn from how those problems were solves and apply them to the tools you have now and solve the problems you have now in the spirit of how things have always been done. And you can learn so much from the history of problem solving, of engineering, of invention, of whatever you want to call those things. It never pays to ignore the history even if what you're using now is just a fantastic new tool.

Brian Dawson: Well Frank, that was wonderfully said and frankly, a great point to end on. Frank, I enjoyed the conversation. I appreciate your time.

Frank Zinghini: I had a great time.

Brian Dawson: Yeah, yeah, love that. Now hopefully we'll get to stay in touch. So thank you, Frank Zinghini, the founder and CEO of Applied Visions, for joining us on another episode of DevOps Radio.

Frank Zinghini: It was a pleasure, Brian.

Dorra Bouchiha

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