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Episode 13: Career Nation show with Don MacLennan

Security is interesting in many ways as it is absolutely necessary for any company, especially companies that are becoming more digital, go undergoing a digital transformation, says Don MacLennan in episode 13 of Career Nation Show.

Here are some highlights from this episode:

Don MacLennan is the SVP of Engineering & Product at Barracuda. And he shares great perspectives on the Tech landscape and shares amazing career advice.
Here are some highlights from this episode:

+ How to develop customer-centricity and customer empathy

+ How subscription business model shift is happening in tech

+ How to find great mentors and be a great mentor

+ How to build and develop skills

+ How security careers are evolving

Career Nation:
Career Nation, welcome back to the Career Nation show. Today, it is a very, very special guest. Today we have SVP of Engineering & Product at Barracuda, Don MacLennan. Don, welcome to the show.

Don MacLennan:
Thanks, Abhijeet. I’m really happy to be here and I’m hyper caffeinated.

Career Nation:
That’s awesome. So am I. So let’s dive into this. This is going to be a super intense session. Don, why don’t you fill us in a little bit about yourself? Sort of your background and your current role at Barracuda.

Don MacLennan:
Sure, yeah. Gosh, I’ve been in the software industry from right out of college, which is over 30 years ago. I would say the simple version of my career is two chapters. The first half of my career was in field operations. So I started in sales, carried a quota for many years. Going into sales management, business development alliances, channels, and so forth. That was about the first 15 years of my career. And a while I was working for a tiny little startup in Boston, I got tapped on the shoulder to move out of sales and into marketing, which at the time felt like kind of a form of failure. But really it was the opening of a door for me. And, that’s informed everything I’ve done since because I soon took over marketing for the startup and product management. Product management has been a common denominator in everything I’ve done since for the last 15 years. And in the more recent past, I’ve had responsibility for leading engineering organizations. For example, I was a startup founder and CEO. And the last couple of roles I’ve led large engineering organizations for established companies like McAfee and now Barracuda networks.

Career Nation:
Oh, that’s wonderful. I love that varied, you know, experience because you’ve gone from sales, marketing, product management channels, entrepreneurship, and now product and engineering. You’re basically seen the whole gamut. That’s fascinating. And I think, in fact it’s probably adds a lot of strengths to your skill set, right? It seems like you’ve been always developing and building on top of your skill set, which is pretty phenomenal.

Don
Well, I appreciate the compliment. I mean, the cynic would say I’m just professionally restless. But, yeah, I do find myself drawing on all these past experiences, these diverse experiences, in the role that I play at my current job, but really all of them.

Career Nation:
Fantastic. Yeah. And Don, you had mentioned you’ve been in software since the start of your career. And, now we are in the world of software where software is delivered as a service SaaS, right? And Cloud. And are we, in your opinion, sort of still sort of early in the innings for SaaS or are we at peak SaaS? What’s your perspective on this?

Don MacLennan:
Probably closer to early headings than peak SaaS, for sure. You know, cause there’s really two transformations that are happening simultaneously and, or maybe a decade of 15 years in, but just getting started. So transformation number one is the form factor, right? By which software is delivered. So it used to be the case that you would install software, you’d put it on your laptop, you’d install it in infrastructure, in a data center. You’d put stuff in your network. In fact, the history of Barracuda is we started as a company where the appliance as a physical form factor was how you bought our product. You might remember us as the airport signage people, right? We were advertising these pieces of equipment that you could buy and so we’ve completely transformed our business as many software companies have where the form factor is no longer installed software or an appliance, it’s running cloud native.
Everything we build from here forward is deployed into public cloud infrastructure. So that’s a massive technology transformation. But the other transformation that’s happening exactly in parallel in lockstep is the business model transformation. You know when I started it was all about selling perpetual software. And each year you might charge 15 or 20% for something called maintenance, which entitled you to bug fixes, product updates, tech support, and the like. That tended to be a very predictable revenue stream. These days, of course with SaaS, the business model has transformed as well into annual subscriptions and code. So customers have a decision point every single year. And in some cases every single month whereby they get to decide. Do I still want to keep this software? Do I still want to invest in the next subscription term? You know, I love, for example, a lot of the thought leadership that’s come out of Zuora in this regard, right? Defining the subscription economy. And so when you ask about are we in the early innings of cloud and SaaS as it relates to this concept of the subscription economy, ah, we’re in an incredibly early innings cause think of all the places that’s yet to arrive.


Careernation:
I mean, you’re absolutely right because, you painted an amazing picture of how the subscription shift has happened in tech, especially in the form factor business model. And you’re absolutely right. I mean, there’s so many other industries where the subscription model is starting to take shape. We see that in media. Disney’s going subscription and we see that in so many other consumer. Our products as well. So you’re absolutely right on. One of the things that sort of comes out of that as you look at SaaS is, you know, in addition to sort of the business model shift is sort of how do we add value to customers continually. And you mentioned that, you know, customers have a choice at the end of the subscription term. They could choose to not renew or renew and companies have to keep adding value to customers. And what’s been your sort of, work around, you know, being customer centric? And I’ve known you for some time and you’ve always been customer centric. You are so focused on understanding what the customer is looking for, and the sort of the articulated and the inarticulate needs of the customer, et cetera. How do we become more customer centric as a person? As a company? Is that like, should we run more surveys? Should we go talk to customers? What’s your perspective on this?


Don MacLennan:
Yeah. Well I think that, those formative years of my career out in the field in front of customers every day having delivered or been part of hundreds of demos, right? You start to get this innate sense of the value of that feedback? I like to think about customer centricity more in terms of customer empathy. So the word I’m using these days is empathy, not centricity because empathy kind of denotes something a little different, you know, maybe a deeper level of understanding. And when I think about what is the approach you take towards developing customer empathy? I think you have to kind of think about it in micro and macro terms. Macro terms would be, Hey, what are these patterns that described your customer base as a whole, right? Micro terms, meaning can I really understand how an individual user of my product does their daily work? And in doing their daily work, what does success look like for them in the job? Don MacLennan: (07:10)
Like how is their boss going to give them a great performance rating and a pay rise if not a promotion at the end of the year. And if I work back from that level of empathy, meaning how are they measuring success in their job, I can start to understand that role my software product plays in helping them achieve it. Sometimes it’s the case, they’re gonna spend, you know, minutes and hours using my product and the given day. It’s so critical to the role. And in some cases, more often than not, my product is a tool for them to get something done, but in the least amount of time possible because they’re busy and they’ve got other stuff to do. Bless you. So the path, in my opinion, to developing customer empathy is to really think of ourselves as carpenters. And good carpenters have tool belts. And carpenters have tool belts where they carry around a lot of tools, right?


CareerNation:
Oh, there’s so many nuggets there Don. That was phenomenal because I, I think the way you describe it was also sort of you’ve got this great tool set and in your tool belt and then you can use the tools that you want. And I love that example of sort of follow the customer where you have a team of people just go in and see what the customer’s doing because so much of that what the customer does is not just with your particular app or your particular technology, but it’s sort of other things and it’s sort of also the context in which the customer does that work. Because the customer might be trying to solve an internal company problem, an external customer problem or you know, trying to gain more process efficiency or what have you, right? So that context becomes super important. So what we’re now doing is we’re taking in a user experience designer and a buddy. And the buddy is often somebody from the engineering team. And we’re asking to go observe a customer as they work in their cube or office for two or three hours, hours at a time. And not even ask them any questions until the end. Just watch them do job. The job, not using our product, but the job. And it’s amazing the kinds of insights you get when you’re in their workplace. Just watching, you start to understand the role of your product in ways you couldn’t have known through these other techniques. So yet another tool. All of it together gives you kind of that maximum context and leads to understanding the customer and empathetic terms.

Career Nation:
Yeah. I love that. And I think you’re so right about failure. And actually, thankfully in Silicon Valley at least we have a culture that celebrates failure a lot of times, which is great. And that actually is very helpful for companies that are trying to innovate, break glass and move forward quickly. And having that inclusiveness for failure is super helpful. Do you have any advice for, executives, managers who are, who would like to encourage their team to innovate? And at the same time there might be a little bit of them failing. And how do you, how can one develop an appetite for a certain level of failure while as we go through our innovation cycles?


Don MacLennan:
Yup. Yup. I have Terry Hicks to thank at McAfee, my former boss, for really bringing this message home. You know, we were doing it before he arrived at McAfee in my tenure. But we probably weren’t doing it at the scale that he encouraged us to do it. And I think it brought all the other disciplines because we were getting really good at quantitative analytics of our products usage. They brought in another dimension to, understanding it. So, I’m a believer.

Career Nation:
That’s awesome. And that’s great because you’re doing all the quant work with analytics and you’re doing the qualitative work and put those together. You got art and the science.
Oh, you got us. You got it.
That’s wonderful. And Don, you’ve been in the security business for some time. And you’re currently leading product and engineering for a major security company. Security is interesting in many ways because in some ways it’s absolutely necessary for any company, especially companies that are becoming more digital, go undergoing digital transformation. They need security, right? And, you know, on one hand, security is required. Most companies have many security products that they buy. And on the other hand, if you look at the talent for security, there is a lot of demand and not enough supply of top talent and so security has been one of the, and based on just feedback that I get in the field is people want to get into the security domain. They want to build a career in security. And if today, let’s say they’re not doing security, but they are generally in tech, what should they look at to get into the security domain? What should be their approach? What you recommend?

Don MacLennan:
Yup. Well, I think the sad fact is the bad guys keep winning and it’s perpetuating the growth of our industry. So, yeah, it is a tremendous career opportunity because security is not going away. And as all things get more digitized, right? Security considerations, just keep on arriving in new ways. I’ll give you a crazy example. We’ve got customers now that are putting all sorts of IOT devices out into the wild, right? Smart everything, smart meters, smart light poles. We’re starting to deploy firewalls, physical firewalls into these devices in little tiny boxes that are, you know, six square inches, 12 square inches. So yeah, I mean security is kind of becoming woven into the fabric of a lot of physical devices beyond what we think about as traditional security, right around networks and applications. So it is the case. It’s a very, very vibrant industry.
It continues to grow because the bad guys are really smart, sadly. And you know, in some respects they keep winning. So, you know, the question about how do you get into the industry, I think there’s times when the domain expertise can be a little bit overstated. You know, if we look to hire a developer, for example, to build a product, they don’t get screened on the basis of whether or not they know the security domain. First and foremost, we’re looking for great developers. And, the security domain is knowable, right? It’s a craft that can be taught. There’s a lot of other attributes about being a great employee, whether you’re a developer or otherwise that are, that can’t be easily be taught, right? There’s these inequalities about you as a person that make you a great team member, that you know, relate to your growth mindset and so on and so forth.
I always look for that and deemphasize the domain expertise given my druthers in terms of, you know, the ranked order of criteria by which to bring somebody into the company. That said, if you’re looking to understand the domain, there’s some really, really good and mature and robust, frameworks out there as it relates to security best practice. So that’s really well understood. There’s a professional certification, called CISSP that’s got a ton of foundational concepts around security. And still very relevant today. There’s a lot of best practice frameworks out there. Cloud Security Alliance has published frameworks. There’s the SSA 16 frameworks, SOC2 Type 1, SOC2 Type 2. You can learn what’s inside of those. They’re basically controls frameworks. There’s ISO 27001 and 27002, which is kind of the mother of all best practice frameworks. There’s the MIT… Sorry, the MITRE att&ck model, which sort of documents how the bad guys can infiltrate on infrastructure and exfiltrate valuable data, right? So all these frameworks are pretty easily understood in sense if you want to put the time into studying them, you can learn the domain.

Career Nation:
That’s so important to learn those frameworks and whether it’s a DDOS attack or some other types of attacks from the bad guys, quite frankly, these types of frameworks would be super useful. So thank you for sharing that because a lot of times people try to figure out and once they sort of know these type of framers, they can get a path towards getting into a security career. And you’re absolutely right. It’s the sort of the whole stack of skills and quite frankly, sort of experience and competencies that are required to become a great professional, not just a security professional. And, you know, one of the things I’ve observed about you, and you’ve talked about that on your blog and in events is this topic of sort of mentorship. And you’ve mentored a ton of people over the years and, do you know one of the questions that people have is like, you know,, how do we get mentors? Like, is there like a signup form somewhere? Should I just barge into your office and say, Hey, can you please be my mentor? Is it like going out on a date? Like what is mentorship? And like how do I sort of get great mentors?


Don MacLennan:
Yeah, yeah, great question. Um, I had, I think I told this story in your presence a few weeks ago where, uh, I was at an eternal conference when I was at McAfee earlier this year. And, um, somebody came up to me, um, probably after I spoke in the panel or something, this young woman came up to me and said, Hey, Don, I really enjoyed your talk and what you have to say. Will you be my mentor? And it was kind of awkward, right? Cause I didn’t otherwise have a relationship with her. Um, but obviously I understood the, her intent, right? She was very hungry and eager to learn. Um, I’ll give a couple of practical suggestions. First is I wouldn’t, um, think of your boss as your mentor, right? Your boss can be an incredibly important person in your professional development, including giving feedback. But there are things that your boss just won’t say or know about you because you’re not going to necessarily reveal your total self to your boss.

Don MacLennan:
There’s a power structure there. And uh, and it has an effect on, uh, the employee, you know, manager dynamic. So mentors can come from elsewhere in company, especially larger companies, right? Because you want a little bit of distance and you want that distance because as a mentee, you want to be vulnerable and you want to be comfortable and you want to be trusting of that individual because the best mentorship relationships are the ones where you’re revealing yourself so as to be able to get that kind of feedback and understanding of return. So if you’re going to find a mentor inside your own company, um, make sure that they’re distant enough from the work you do, that what you say to them, right? Can’t necessarily affect your day to day work. And a good sense, even better mentors are the ones that are not inside your company at all.

Don MacLennan:
So practical suggestion would be think about your former bosses, right? They’re often really good mentors for two reasons, one of which is they come to know you in the workplace. So they’re a source of really good feedback because they do know you and second is you’re not working for them anymore. And so the ability to go be vulnerable and the ability to establish that next level of trust, right? There’s not, there’s no downside to it in the way that you might experience that with somebody that is at your current company. So former bosses in my experience are great mentors. I’ve got two or three mentors that are exactly that, and another one who didn’t come to me that way, but started with a more formal professional relationship and it evolved into mentorship. So maybe that’s my last point. I budget, which is, um, mentors are so seldom the way you start a relationship. It’s an evolution of a relationship that begins on some other basis, whether it’s a boss or a friend and in time can develop into mentorship. And I think that’s an important concept. You can’t kind of rush it or force it.

Career Nation:
Oh, that’s a great, uh, that’s a great way to get into mentorship. Like it could be a boss, it could be a colleague, it can be a friend, and over a period of time that person becomes a mentor. Um, I love that concept and uh, that’s something that quite frankly, I would love to practice as well because I’ve got some former bosses who I ping from time to time. I’d love to, uh, you know, have an ongoing relationship and hopefully they get something out of that relationship as well because it’s not just the mentee, but the mentor also probably gets something out of it. They get to learn a few new things as well.

Career Nation:
Great. Don, this is the part where we shift gears a little bit and we get to know our guest a little bit better. Are you ready for our Favorites Game?

Don MacLennan:
I hope so.

Career Nation:
Good. Well let’s start with this. Let’s start with your favorite app.

Don MacLennan:
Oh man. You know, anyone asks me a favorite, I almost never will give them one answer. You know, it’s like, do you remember the movie High Fidelity? It was about this guy who was like… Yeah, John Cusak… And he owned a record store and he was obsessed with music and then, you know, they would spend all day developing top five lists. And he would never give you the top five records of all time. You’d have to ask the context, right? Like, well, is it, you know, am I at home or I’m on vacation or am I with a girl. And so, you know, I’m going to give you one of those qualified answers. You know, I love Facebook, the app. I don’t love everything about Facebook, the business model, but I love the app. So let me explain it. Somebody at this stage in my career, I’ve come to know a lot of people all around the world.

Don MacLennan:
In my professional life, traveled extensively, worked for multinational companies. I love the fact that I can still maintain a sense of connection to those people through Facebook because otherwise I really don’t know how I would be able to achieve that, right? In practical terms, I can’t call every friend every two or three months to tell them what’s going on in my life. And so that app really does make me feel connected to friends that are in Israel, in the Czech Republic, where I once lived. And people I’ve met in Japan, people in Australia, Canada, you know. It’s really cool for that purpose. Sometimes I have to hold my nose in terms of understanding the business model and some of their other practices. But I do love the app and I’m a regular user of it despite all of those reasons. Slack in the workplace.

Don MacLennan:
I brought Slack to my organization when I was at McAfee. When I showed up at Barracuda a few months ago, I realized that they were heavy users of Slack. So that was a big, happy moment for me. Because it does what it does really really well. Yeah. I think the common theme for me in terms of things I love is app is simplicity, right? You know, they do just enough but not too much. And I think Slack is a good example of that because when you kind of pull that thread of collaboration, you can end up with really complicated applications with a bunch of features that just aren’t useful. They might exist in Slack, but they don’t force themselves on you. You can discover them and activate them. But if you want to use Slack in its most simplest way, right around just messaging, you can do that.

Career Nation:
And you’re right. I mean, even this normal user, if you will, gets a lot of value, not just the power user. So that’s phenomenal. Thank you for sharing that.

Johanna Lyman:
Yes. I actually had one that was on my wall for 10 years before I figured out what it really meant. “I’ve been absolutely terrified every day of my life, but I’ve never let it stop me from doing a single thing” by Georgia O’Keeffe.

Don MacLennan:
I got one last one for you. This is more a place for me nerding out in my personal life. There’s an app called Plane Finder 3D. So where I live in Silicon Valley, a lot of planes go overhead as they’re making their final approach to San Francisco airport. And I’m kind of a plane nerd. I dunno why I like to travel. I’m interested in airplanes. And so when they fly overhead my house, I’ve gotten kind of used to trying to spot what they are like, what, what flight is it, where’s it coming from, what model. And this plane finder app called Plane Finder 3D. It’s literally a 3D representation of that plane on its flight path. So you can kind of see the glide slope and how it descends and when it makes a turn, it’s unbelievable that if 3d application can even function on an, you know, a smartphone, it’s a really cool app.

Career Nation:
Oh, that’s phenomenal. Maybe we can also use that to track the 787 Max Boeing planes.

Don MacLennan:
Yeah, yeah. As in when they might get in the air again.

Career Nation:
Exactly. Don, thank you for sharing that. That was fascinating, especially with the plane part. do you have a favorite quote that you either put up in your office or use or you’d like to see on a billboard somewhere on maybe Highway 101?

Don MacLennan:
Gosh, here’s another one. Like I don’t have a single favorite quote. Maybe the one that comes to mind is, ‘continuous improvement beats delayed perfection’. You know, I often had, have in my organization, you know, some big monumental challenge that we’re trying to overcome. And the first thing I tried to encourage my organization to do is deconstruct the problem, right? What is it that we can do? And 10 successive steps to ultimately find a solution as opposed to trying to figure out how to solve the whole thing at once. Because it’s almost never available to you as a solution. So you’ve got to deconstruct it into some journey. And a lot of times it actually means you’re recognizing the fact that it’s gonna take a little while to deliver that capability. People get infatuated, right? With the idea like, ‘Hey, we only just surged on this, and a month time we’d have this amazing capability’. It’s almost never the case, right? Almost always great capabilities in the form of products take a long time to develop. And so I try to help people understand how you can deconstruct that, maybe do kind of a work back and know that I take 10 discreet steps to actually build that capability.

Career Nation:
I like that Don. Because it not only makes it easier to do bigger things, but it also is sort of creates this compounding effect over time if you’re continuously improving even a little bit every day, your compounding result is much much higher.

Don MacLennan:
That’s the key. You keep at it for a few months or even a year, and those small incremental improvements when you look back in the rear view mirror, like, Holy smokes, things have really changed and it’s hard to sense in the moment. But yeah, that’s almost always the way that I’ve been able to deliver transformative capabilities is exactly that approach.

Career Nation:
Awesome. That’s brilliant. I’m going to, I’m going to probably pinch that in a future meeting.

Don MacLennan:
No worries.

Career Nation:
Don, do you have a favorite book?

Don MacLennan:
Yeah, I guess one of the most, impactful books, in terms of thinking about my career and being a leader, started with a keynote that I saw many, many years ago. I was at an internal leadership kickoff meeting when I was working for RSA security. It was a division of EMC at the time. And there was a keynote speaker, a guy named Marcus Buckingham. And he came on stage and, he’s a really really good public speaker and he basically said, ‘Look, I’m here to tell you that the entire human industry, or the human resources industry is built on a mountain of BS’. So everybody kind of like leaned back and said, ‘Okay, what do you mean by that?’ Because we had some great human resources leaders in the audience. And he goes, ‘the HR industry is built on a false premise, which is that by giving feedback to employees about the ways in which they’re supposed to improve, we’re basically setting them up for failure.

Don MacLennan:
Because if there’s something they don’t know how to do, they’re probably never really going to learn how to do it’. He said, it’s like a conspiracy where we’re just creating these negative reinforcement loops around people. And he said, I’ve done 20 years worth of research into the topic of what makes high performing teams perform well. And the basic findings of this very robust research were twofold. First of which is in every high performing team, every person on the team, is playing a role designed to their strengths. So that all of these innate talents and capabilities they have, that’s the job. They can feel joy, they can feel mastery, and they’re not required to do stuff they don’t actually know how to do. And the other secret ingredient of a very high performing team is that the manager, whether explicitly or implicitly new that that’s how they were supposed to design the team.

Don MacLennan:
That by having all these actors playing highly complimentary roles, that the team could cover all the functional requirements that the team owned, right? But it may be a diverse array of individuals each playing to his or her strengths. And so he went on to write a series of books about this one was called First Break All the Rules. The next was called Now Discover Your Strengths. That just clicked for me. Because I started thinking about my job as a leader and that was to constantly try to discover my teams, innate strengths and constantly try to evolve their role towards one where they only get to play to their strengths. And I’ve never put them in a position of having to do stuff they’re not capable of mastering. So it was a really influential book and talk. Actually I saw the talk first, then I read the books and that was, coming on to 14 years ago.

Career Nation:
Yeah. I mean, Marcus has created an amazing body of work around this and thank you for sharing that. I will make sure that we put that down in the show notes because that’s an amazing resource for anybody to get their hands on. Especially how to find your strengths, et cetera. That’s just invaluable as individuals, as teams, as we formed teams too. Yeah, it is a great work.

Don MacLennan:
One of the ways I apply that before we move on is… So I’ve done these assessments. Every time I have a new member to my team or I show up into a new team, I give them that information. I hand it out. In fact, I went further and I wrote something called The User Guide to Don, which is about a two page document that’s kind of a synthesis of, you know, all of my forms of self awareness and just kind of put myself out there and say, Hey, do you want to get to know me? You know, here’s the road-map. And a lot of it was derived from, some of the assessments that I took, you know, from his books and his body of work.

Career Nation:
Oh, that’s wonderful. And I’m not just do sort of double click on that a little bit.

(28:41)
Have you, have you seen more success in terms of getting more self aware through sort of electronic tools that sort of have the survey based sort of questionnaire and, or have you seen sort of better results through sort of in-person when you actually go sit down with someone and say, ‘Hey, can you share insights about me? Don’t worry about any repercussions. This is sort of a neutral zone. Just give it to me so that I can improve as a individual, as a person, as a professional’. What’s been sort of your go to tool and which one do you prefer?

Don MacLennan: ell, I’ve used both. I definitely rely on these tools where I find value in the assessment. Because there isn’t that vulnerability on the table. You know, sometimes to your point, having that face to face conversation where your soliciting feedback about yourself from somebody else. I can put them in a very uncomfortable position because they may have the feedback to give to you. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re comfortable giving it. And you know, it comes from the right place in their heart, which is to say, Hey, I don’t want to say something that’s going to hurt this person’s feelings or harm them in any way. Right? So it’s a barrier and it can take time to develop enough trust that someone’s going to share with you that authentic feedback. So, when it happens, it’s magical. I tend to use these tools in addition to try to develop some baseline of self-awareness. I really like a 360 feedback. Because it’s an anonymous process and if you get, you know, 15 or 18 responses from higher ups and subordinates and peer relationships, that collection of feedback tends to reveal some pattern about you, that you might not have known before. So yeah, there’s a time and a place for the tools to the extent you’d get somebody giving you that, you know, face to face authentic feedback, even better, kind of hard to come by in my opinion.

Career Nation:
Awesome. Thanks Don. And shifting to the next question on favorites, what’s your favorite restaurant?

Don MacLennan:
Oh man. I keep going to act to a place called Orens Hummus Shop. There’s a few of them. The original is on University Avenue Palo Alto. There’s another one down in mountain view. I’ve seen a couple of others pop up. I love middle Eastern food and some of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had was when I was traveling to Israel pretty regularly. And hummus and pita bread in Israel is quite different than here. And so Orens is founded by an Israeli ex-pat. And so just, in addition to loving the food, it created for me kind of a connection to these really fond memories of times I traveled in Israel. Food’s really good too.

Career Nation:
Fascinating. Well, we’ll drop a few links there in the notes as well. We’ll probably drive some traffic up to that restaurant.

Don MacLennan:
I have no financial relationship to that. Oh, I guess I do; I’m a paying customer.

Career Nation:
You’re a paying customer, for sure. Don, why don’t we get back to our topic on careers and if you can share some of the Don secret sauce. And what I mean by that is like what are some techniques that you use, on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, quarterly basis when you are doing certain things that you think, you know, you’re, it’s unique to you, you’re, you’re really good at it and I think it would be helpful to share with the audience. Let me just give you some examples. For example, do you have a, do you prepare for big meetings in a certain way or do you have a morning routine or you know, things like that. What would you like to share with the audience?

Don MacLennan:
Yeah, yeah. Actually, preparing for big meetings is a good one. I got some really specific training and mentorship, earlier in my career from a guy named Marcus Oskie who is my a manager at the time. And he described to me as all methodology for trying to arrive at an important decision because most meetings are some meetings at least are about taking a decision. And, it was really helpful the way I described it. Because I said, ‘Look, if you’re going to convene a meeting to take a decision, then that meeting is itself a ceremony’. In other words, you should actually know in advance what the decision is and who’s going to support it and the fact that you have consensus or a majority or whatever. Right? So it’s just a place to formalize a decision that you’ve already worked to create. And they worked back from that and said, okay, well what would need to be true in order for it just to be ceremonial?

Don MacLennan:
Well, you probably have to engage with every single constituent who’s going to be in that meeting. In fact, you might even have to engage with people who are going to inform the point of view of those constituents. Right? And he kind of worked back from that for the whole process of laying the groundwork of how you even get to a consensus space decision. And he sort of helped me understand that. You know, that meeting might be 20 conversations leading up to it in order to be sufficiently prepared. Where I get the outcome I’m expecting or wanting, right? Which is a yes to some, you know, decision I’m advocating for really enlightening.

Career Nation:
Oh, that’s great. And I think that helps, especially when the company is of a certain size and also sort of, I don’t want to say consensus based culture, but at least getting everybody’s viewpoints on the table to actually make a decision to move forward. And that approach is so incredibly valuable because you make sure that you hear every piece of feedback, you bake that feedback into your proposal and that way you’re not only addressing everybody’s concerns or you know, viewpoints, what have you. But you’re actually making a better decision. And, that’s phenomenal. Thank you for sharing that approach.

Don MacLennan:
You’re welcome. You know, to your point though, at the time we were working at a 60 person startup together. So his approach was highly applicable to that environment. You know, I’ve worked for much larger companies at other times in my career where I’d also say it’s got, you know, usefulness, maybe even higher utility. But it was a pretty small company where I watched him do this and he was really effective at it. SoI’m kinda believe that it probably has applicability to any environment in which you work.

Career Nation:
I like it. And it sounds like it’s more collaborative as well. You basically get everybody’s inputs into the process.

Don MacLennan:
That’s right.

Career Nation:
Outstanding. I love that. as we wrap up here, Don, again, thank you so much for your time. Any parting thoughts, parting words of wisdom that you’d like to share with Career Nation? Because we have folks in our audience across the spectrum. We have early in career, later in career, in the middle of their career journey. And mostly are in tech, although there are some non tech folks as well. So anything that you’d like to share as we wrap up?

Don MacLennan:
Yeah. You know, a few parting thoughts. You know, the first of which is you own your career. You know, I’ve often encountered situations in my role as a leader where people look to me to tell them what their career should be. And my response is, you own your career, right? In other words, you own the understanding of where it is you want to go and you’ve gotta be able to articulate it. My job as a leader is to do what I can to enable that to become true. And so I’ll do it through a variety of techniques, you know, including, but not limited to mentorship, right? But, it’s not something you can outsource. You’ve got to have your own sense of purpose and needs and wants. It can take time. You know, some people earlier in their career don’t have a sense of what that looks like and that’s fine.

Don MacLennan:
It’s a job, not a career at that point. Some people have a very clear sense of purpose very early. And of course all of us may go through career transitions from time to time where we start, what we started doing, we don’t want to do anymore. And we’re kind of looking for something else, a pivot point. So I think you’ve got to have that sense of ownership over your career. The folks that I’ve seen succeed, you know, often have a couple of characteristics, you know. The label we put to it as sometimes growth mindset. If I was to double click, I think it takes on a couple of specific behaviors, you know, the first of which is self directed learning, right? Not being told what you need to know, but actually initiating that learning for yourself. I’ll give you a good example because, at one point in my career I began using this as a basis of how to hire people.

Don MacLennan: (36:53)
So we were, I was in the Czech Republic working for a company there. We were trying to hire a new design leader. And we were testing candidates for self directed learning, right? As we were interviewing and we’re asking for examples. So I asked this individual and said, ‘So tell me what you’ve been learning about lately, for the sake of your own professional advancement’. And he said, ‘Oh, well, I’m honoring a finance course right now’. And I’m like, okay, that’s interesting. You’re a design leader. Why are you auditing a finance course? And they said, well, I’m really trying to understand how to speak to executives about the financial value of what my organization does. I want to develop the vocabulary so I can tell them the financial benefit. I’m like, Whoa, that’s a really good answer. And he goes, Oh, I have one more example.

Don MacLennan: (37:35)
I said, okay, what’s that? And he goes, I’m studying ergonomics and physiology. And I’m like, why are you studying ergonomics and physiology? He’s like, well, you know, if I designed a user interface, it’s an interface to a computer. But then there’s a mouse and that mouse is connected to an arm and the arm is connected to a body. So if I really want to know what usability looks like, I have to understand the body that’s using the mouse it’s using the computer. And I was like, Oh my God, I’m blown away by these answers. I love you. And we ended up hiring years by the way, no accident. Right? So that self directed learning really really a key marker for advancement. And the other is global mindset. In other words, somebody who is curious to understand the world around them and appreciates, if not embraces the idea that, you know, from all of this diversity comes different viewpoints.

Don MacLennan: (38:18)
And that’s something to celebrate. That’s something to take into account as you do your work as opposed to kind of only looking for people that are like you. So when I hire, I look for people who have, you know, purposely sought out adventure, maybe lived abroad, studied abroad, worked for multinational companies, traveled. All these are markers for people who are able to pull the best rate from that diversity. That is, you know, the human construct. And I think if you pursue kind of those two patterns, you’re going to find yourself investing in your career, whether you call it your career blueprint or not.

Career Nation: (38:54)
Don, what a great way to wrap up this episode. Self-learning, diversity and being open to diverse thoughts. It’s so important for all of us to do that. And thank you for sharing your wisdom. This has been an incredible episode. And, I thank you again for your time. I know you’re a super busy guy and I appreciate all the wonderful wisdom and not only that, but also candor that goes along with that. Thank you Don so much, and you have great rest of the day.

Don MacLennan: (39:25)
Thanks, Abhijeet. Glad for the opportunity.

Career Nation: (39:28)
Take care.

Don MacLennan: (39:29)
Bye.

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