Starting at WANdisco: Gordon Vaughan, SDM

Hello world.

So, I’ve been asked to write a blog about my experience of starting at Wandisco. It was only 5 weeks ago, but it still feels a bit weird to write about it because it simultaneously feels like yesterday and a year ago, in equally positive measures. I’ll try to give an idea of why that is, and why I’m happy that I chose WANdisco as the next step in my career.

With my previous employer, I’d had a brilliant time for around 3-4 years; working my way up, gaining experience, pushing myself to go above and beyond every day. It was fantastic. Then, after a great run, things started to slow. The business got quite staid, opportunities to learn dried up and instead of progressing we were living in a perpetual ‘firefighting’ limbo. At the same time, my employer was owned by a larger organisation that was gradually, but perceptibly, making changes that impacted on the way our business performed. I’m sure many readers will have seen their employer go through similar absorption, and felt the tremors themselves first hand.

After a couple of years of stagnant career progress, albeit in a comfortable and fairly happy setting, an opportunity was pointed out to me at WANdisco.

It’s important at this point that I make something clear: I am not a technical expert. I’m one of those people that complete novices think are magical because I know how to use Google. On your initial Googling of WANdisco, that could seemingly rule you out because they talk in confident terms about their MultiSite products, enabling active-active replication of development environments across the globe at LAN speed with… Nope, I’m lost again… When I stepped away from Google and thought in isolation about what it was they were saying, it made a lot more sense. A change management system, that runs globally as fast as locally, that’s the same wherever you access it from. We forget sometimes that massive files take ages to download over large geographic areas, and if that’s happening all the time then how much time is lost waiting for updates? That, plus the fact MultiSite means, by its very nature, having multiple copies, you also have effective disaster recovery. I suddenly found myself interested.

Have to admit that Big Data was the product that made me really excited. Some of the stats around production of data are mind-blowing. By the time you have read this far down the page, it’s likely the amount of data globally recorded outstrips anything from the early 90s back to the beginning of time. All that data needs to go somewhere and it’s probably all usable, but how? I mean, physically, how? I saw a video by David Richards, the man who started WANdisco, explaining that Big Data had been used in the automotive industry to accurately predict the failure rate of components on cars to make pro-active repair possible. The video went on to mention how that could apply to healthcare, and then that wave of realisation hit. Big Data could well be the biggest thing to happen to this world since the Internet itself. How *amazing* would it be to help our customers build and shape that product to their own specification? Notice the ‘our’ in that sentence – I was already on board in my mind 🙂

After polishing my CV, having a shave and a haircut and all the other prep you would normally do for an interview, that ‘our’ became a reality 6 weeks later.

The role I fulfil is that of Service Delivery Manager. In title, that meant doing exactly the same thing as I did in my old workplace. In reality, it was everything that role should have been, and more besides. We perform quarterly service reviews with our customers, whether they have needed our support team or not, to talk to them about how we’re doing from a global support perspective, how the product is working for them, if there are any challenges or changes coming up, etc. That’s a mandated part of the service and not a nice-to-have – unless of course the customer chooses not to have them! What’s key is that we’re always talking to our customers, always looking for the next hurdle before it hits us, always being open and honest about our performance. It’s that approach that we believe will provide us the valuable intelligence we need to keep evolving, and showing our customers that we’re listening and adapting constantly to their needs.

The thought of having these kinds of conversations with customers without product knowledge was, frankly, terrifying. Thankfully, WANdisco had a full induction plan in place to ensure I had a full days’ worth of training across Subversion, MultiSite and Big Data to get the basics, and since then it’s been topped up by more in-depth sessions, particularly on Big Data. What I think is brilliant about the industry we’re in is that a lot of the software and processes we work with are open source, and there’s a wealth of information available on them. It’s not like the textbook models of old; it’s seminars, product demonstrations, lectures and other learning tools presented in engaging formats across the internet. YouTube has been a fantastic resource for learning; where previously I’d used it solely for watching Nanners and Sips playing various games, now I find myself lost in hours of concepts and theories that are still sinking in. It’s the diversity, yet relevance, of the information available to you that simply boggles the mind, and it’s all so new and rapidly changing that it’s compelling. WANdisco provide a good proportion of that content, either themselves or via exposes/conferences, which really makes you feel like you’re part of an important player in the community.

Of course, it’s very early days for me in learning, and there’s a strong chance that I’ll never have the knowledge that some of the people around the business hold. I wouldn’t have it any other way though; I love that we have so many brilliant minds across multiple sites. The culture within WANdisco is very similar to that of the open source community as a whole, in that we share, we collaborate, we discuss, and everyone learns. Everyone is approachable, and you can bet if the first person you speak to doesn’t have the answer, they will be able to walk you over to someone who does. In my role it’s vital that I have access to that knowledge quickly and easily, so it’s fantastic to have that ‘resource’ so accessible.

At this point I need to confess something: it’s now 13 weeks since I started, and it’s taken me 8 weeks to write this because I’ve been so busy. I’ve loved every second of it, and I love the fact that when I see a clock say 4pm I now think ‘where has the day gone?’ instead of ‘oh no, there’s still 2 hours left…’ There aren’t enough hours in the day, genuinely.

I’ll sign off there, but if you’re looking at WANdisco as a potential employer, or even if you think you’re happy where you are but find yourself reading this for some bizarre reason, do take a look at our careers site. It’s a great place to work, a great place to learn, and simply a great place to be.

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