Today’s Guest is Tory Kulick and we’ll be talking about how he made the transition from a large company to a smaller company and the challenges he experienced in this transition. We’ll discuss how he is able to apply the skills he learned in a large environment with rigor to a smaller, nimbler company…without impacting quality or culture. Also, Tory will share the cultural differences in such a transition and his thoughts on how anyone can approach a similar situation or the reverse.
Early to mid-2000s, he graduated from Penn State University with degrees in Information Science and Technology and a minor in Telecommunications. Got his MBA as well in 2010 from elsewhere. Been in IT overall for 15+ years.
After graduation, Tory Joined GE in 2005 at Corporate in the Information Management Leadership Program (IMLP.) This consisted of 4 separate 6-month rotations in different roles. The transition from role to role gave him exposure to Product and Project Management in lower level engineering with worldwide influences.
Tory worked in the telecom team and worked on billing and expense management services for personal service to optimize spend and drive out costs in the business. This resulted in $10M in cost savings. He cut his teeth on business intelligence tools and database environments during this time. Tory drove internal solutions and efficiencies for the corporate business unit. He took roles on Project Management for wireless & mobile phones and tele-conferencing. Tory owned mobility services, wireless services, personal telecom procurement including the front end and backend. This included expense analysis. Towards the tail end of his career at GE, Tory ran enterprise mobility and lead software as a service (SAS.) So, he has 13-years of a career right there at General Electric and is well versed in personal transition management.
Linode Cloud Provider
Today, Tory is at Linode. He joined last year around August. Linode is a cloud hosting provider focused on Linux virtualization. They have 400,000 customer instances globally. This was a big change for Tory with the transition from a large environment to a smaller environment. His scope of current responsibility’s is Operations and Security and he manages 4 independent verticals: DevOps and Development; Infrastructure and Engineering; Project and Program Management; And finally, Information and Security compliance.
As a cloud hosting provider, Lindo provides Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS) and Platform as a Service (PAAS.) Linode focuses on the individual developer or a small to medium business. They can provide solid state storage and capacity as well as block storage and node balancers (their version of load balancers.) Linode has a lot of critical items in the pipeline to close their gaps with their competition.
Level Two – Personalized
Essentially, from a high-level, is Linode is like Amazon, but more niche provider? Sort of. Linode is frequently compared to Digital Ocean, AWS, Azure and other similar providers. Their core competencies are cost, simplicity and ease of use. Support is also part of their core. Linode provides a personalized support experience as a 24x7x365 shop in Philadelphia.
What advantages does a Tier 2 provider like Linode offer? A more personalized experience with a higher touch. They can work directly with support agents and product managers. Linode can also interact with customers directly to better shape what they want. This provides an inclusive experience. While Amazon offers a lot of services, it’s not for everyone. So, Linode focuses on the 20% vs. the 80% of business needs.
When Tory made the transition from a large GE environment to Linode, it was a huge culture shock. The framework wasn’t there in Linode like it was in GE. He knew what a small company was like from a position prior to GE, but his norm had become the GE process. So, applying the GE process towards everything was his standard since he was there for so long. This rattled him a bit going into Linode as there were surprises. Surprises and challenges. In Linode, he was able to operate outside titles to get things done. In large enterprises, you largely needed to stay in your lane more so than in this type of smaller environment.
The transition was obviously a different experience. Company culture and what was built into the company was different as is its boundless format. The physical office environment was different as well and a little jarring. Tory spend the last several years at GE working fully remote with some business travel. So, he has his comfy hoe office setup. Linode required going into a physical office again but, with an open office floor plan. Going into an open office environment was a very different experience and he appreciated it over time.
In this environment, it is great being able to affect change more quickly through the organization. You can go to whomever you need to get things done. The downside of this however is, it’s too easy to have a type of synchronous interaction. It’s very hard not to just walk up to the person who can make a change. Contacting the person on Slack or just walking up is great but, it makes it hard to manage your time. Being in a state of growth makes this more difficult as well.
Would Tory recommend this type of change to others? Going from a large environment to a small environment? – Yes. You should continually challenge yourself to grow personally and professionally. Pivoting this way was scary and eye opening all in one but, it was the kick start he needed to bring his own career to the next level. Would he recommend going the other way for people as well? – Making a transition from a small environment to a large environment can give well roundedness, which seems to be lacking in some circles these days. “It’s important to know how the world works and it’s hard to know how the world works if you only know one or two things.” If you know a multitude of things, it adds a lot of context in how the world works. There are then best practices you can take to different areas in your career.
Is there a one to one mapping for the processes Tory is bringing from a large environment to a small environment? Do they require a lot of modifications? What kind of challenges are there? – The beauty of a transition from a high process and high rigor environment to a low process and low rigor environment is you can find the middle ground of what makes sense. You can introduce things that add structure but not overhead…or low overhead. It’s easier to see what does make sense to utilize after the experience of a large environment. You can extract the items that make sense while introducing a decent level of process and rigor without those being too much.
It’s always a balance. There may those who will resist, and resistance is good. Pushing back is fine so long as it is with rationale instead of just feelings. This helps shape the end process for the business for the better. It’s always a challenge in IT and in running a business.
Large to Small
What advice does Tory have for shifting from a large environment to a small environment? – Soak it all up and apply what you have learned and where you have failed and see what and where you can apply your knowledge. Leverage what you have learned and apply it forward. When Tory left GE, he was told by a mentor to use this opportunity as a chance to look back and reflect. What worked well and what didn’t? The further distance he got from his old job, it gave a different perspective on things. What he viewed as bad at the time now doesn’t seem as negative. So, a brief reset button is useful when making a transition between jobs. You develop your own toolkit as you work at a company for an extended period. Your toolkit can then be leveraged in any new role.
Small Quick Growth
In a small company on a path to growth, what kind of challenges do you run into? – Asking how you can grow faster. This impacts resource pacing and impacts culture. Adding bodies while keeping pacing and culture in check is tricky. Linode has a good layout for the next 18 months currently. Thinking through it all and seeing how it will come into play is a challenge. Onboarding needs to be done properly and doing this with existing resources at 100% is difficult as they don’t have the time to fully onboard new hires.
Keep in mind, Linode went from 80 employees to 150 over the past year. This doubled the company size which impacts the culture. There was attrition but the total adds of employees were greater than the net employee adds. This slight turn over brought in fresh perspectives and provided a good opportunity for knowledge transfer and a fresh perspective to look at things. It’s a transition in culture for sure. The rules change and the environment changes, but overall, it’s a net positive change. 2 years ago, Linode was in the small town of Galloway, NJ. They just recently moved into Philadelphia. So, it was a physical transformation as well which also impacts the culture. Linode’s current location has technology neighbors and it adds to the culture.
In the next 1-2 years, Linode will be reintroducing Project and Product management, which will expedite services to their customers. Linode is in high growth mode and will add net new products to the customer base which will result in rapid growth in all departments.
What to keep
One thing Tory would like to see maintained in the culture during this period, is the sense of family in the workplace. When you are spending so much time with people at work, you want have a cordial relationship and maintaining the family relationship makes this much easier. Tory likes to have teams feel like families and doesn’t want to lose this during company growth. In large enterprises, you have silos and you don’t feel like you are on the same team and teams are working against each other. This sense of family can be maintained in smaller environments however.
What to change
One thing he would like to see changed in the current culture is the frequency of going outside the comfort zone for certain things. He would like to see Linode being less risk averse and focus on things they didn’t look at before. This could have the benefit of adding another core competency to their business list for example.
Deep and Broad
What’s Tory’s advice to someone starting out in IT? – “Go deep and then go broad.” There is so much stuff out there now, it’s easy to get frazzled and bothered by the noise or the hype. New things like blockchain, etc. for example. It’s important to get involved in things to change the business positively today vs. something with inflated expectations and a long lead time. That’s not say you don’t stay up on new technologies like blockchain. You need to temper thee new technologies with what’s needed now. Drive your level of personal core competency. Don’t go too quickly but, focus on the things that are here to stay.
Getting deep and broad is important in technology as well as in a business mechanics. You need a level of technical depth but you want to build a level of business acumen as well. Otherwise, you are running in a vacuum. It’s makes you a more valuable resource over time. These types of business learnings are likely more valuable when gained in experience than in being taught. So, soak up those business acumens as well.
It doesn’t matter if you pick up those business skills in a small or large environment. It’s more difficult for you personally most likely than anything as those skills likely go outside your comfort zone. But, you need to drift out of your technology lane. Understand how what you are doing works in a business forecasting or a budget perspective etc. Understanding how all that works really falls on you. You can get the experience in either a large or small environment. So, it comes down to your personality.
Rotate and Learn
Really, a lot of Tory’s experience in business acumen came from his rotation every six months at GE for the first 2 years. It was tricky to navigate personally but, very helpful to broaden his perspective on things and to learn what questions to ask. It established his personal foundation for how thigs got done.
Tory plans to integrate something similar to his rotation experience with his Linode staff. His talent pipeline begins with the support team and it’s growing. You get a deep level of technical experience in support and it gives you a launching pad to go to other areas in the company. Tony is looking at standing up apprentice programs at a low level to help people grow personally and professionally.
IT/Geek Speak this episode
- AI- Artificial Intelligence – Computer software designed to essentially “think” and generate possible outcomes based on the data it is given. Usually shown running amok in Sci Fi movies. I for one welcome our robot overlords
- Agile – Usually termed as an agile methodology – An iterative technique used to manage technology or other projects in a fast paced way. Focused on getting something built fast while taking feedback quickly and work towards improvements as time goes on in short bursts of 1-2 weeks.
- Linux – An operating system like Microsoft Windows or Apple’s Mac OS usually by very techie people. The big difference is how it looks and how many different versions (called builds) of it exist. One form of Linux or another is used in many different types of devices.
- Virtualization – A way to run more than one operating system on a single physical computer. You could have a single computer or server running many different virtual computers. This allows you to squeeze out as much of the power of the physical computer as possible for multiple uses.
- Operations – In this case, it’s used to describe the group of people who manage the day to day needs of hardware and software for a business or enterprise.
- DevOps – Short form of Development Operations. This is a joining of Agile and Operations. So, to allow Operations to use Agile principles.
- Block Storage – A means of data storage which is fast and redundant. The redundancy means if one physical storage device fails, the others pick up the slack and your data stays intact. Very good for databases.
- Object Storage – Sort of kinda like block storage but not really. Object storage is for unstructured files (so not databases) like plain text files or pictures. They take up a blob (yes, that can be a technical term) of space on a storage system. Because they are unstructured, they can be placed just about anywhere. It is a slower and cheaper way of storing info.
- Load Balancers (LBs) – Devices that split the load. Let’s say you host a website with thousands of visitors a minute so you need more than one server to handle that much traffic. The LBs split (or balance) that traffic around your different servers so no one server is carrying all of that load.
- Node Balancers – Another name for a load balancer.