The end of last year I was given the news that I had been selected for an internal Atos program called “Gold for Experts”. This program is targeted towards employees with a technical background, who also like to speak up when it comes to things like strategy and future vision. My manager signed me up without my knowing, so it was kind of a surprise to get into the selection procedure and eventually into the program itself. Thanks again, Luc 🙂
Because the program is still new-ish (this was the third intake), I decided to blog about it a bit so that colleagues and people outside of Atos get an idea of what it’s all about. This post is the first of at least three, because the program consists of three weeks. The first and last week take place in Cambridge, UK. The second week is all about technology and takes place in Paderborn, Germany. The universities of Cambrigde and Paderborn both contribute to the program, along with Atos colleagues.
Day 0 – Sunday
After an early morning flight and a taxi drive on the wrong side of the road we arrived at Cambridge somewhere around 10AM. Freshened up a bit and then went for a town walk, sightseeing all of the beautiful college buildings they have here. The town center is really great. It breathes a university atmosphere like you know from the movies, which is probably not that strange because I recon some of those movies where shot here. Made some crappy cellphone photo’s and bought myself a fridge magnet which has become a habit in every town abroad I visit.
Apple tree in front of what has been Newton’s office. Although some apples fall from this one, this is not “the tree”.
We returned back to our hotel / conference center after lunch and at 16:30 it was time for the official program kick-off. We were told some things about Cambridge and the university in general, along with some more detailed information on the program. The first real exercise was one of teambuilding: dropping an egg from 3 meters keeping it in one piece using just some sheets of paper and glue. Naturally our team excelled and tied for first place with one of the other teams, after our egg had survived the plunge.
Day 1 – Monday
The first real day of the course was all about “the big picture”. Where is this world going? What place do we have in it? Should we do something about that? And to be honest, I was already kind of into these questions before the program. So I was delighted to see a video of professor Hans Rosling in the first presentation by Dr. Wayne Visser. I already knew the subjects Rosling talks about, you can spend a day watching his talks on YouTube without getting bored (at least I can). Check out this video (and the related ones) when you’re interested.
Themes like economy, sustainability, oil and much more came by. Even if a topic like sustainability would not be a priority for Atos (which it is) it still can be for our customers which means it will matter for us as well.
Next was Dr Finnbar Livesey who updated us on megatrends. Having a group discussion around trends was pretty interesting, opening my horizon a bit for trends that my colleagues signal which I might not have thought of in the first place. Also interesting to see is how global companies can shift. Where a lot of the top 500 companies in 2005 were US based, that number shifted a great deal in 2011. So even though you might stay in the same place, the world around you can still change.
In the afternoon we learned a bit more about the programme, and how to apply it to Atos. Using roadmapping methodology, we mapped our visions to the coming years. Mapping beyond 2 years is harder than one might think.
Day 2 – Tuesday
After a good start on the first day it was now time to get down to business. We did a little reflecting excersize in the morning, which thought me that I have to take some more & better notes. Guy Lidbetter, an Atos colleague who is a leader in the Scientific Community, came over to tell us about the Scientific Community and its work. It was good to see that some of the trends we came up with were also on the radar of the scientific community. As for the community itself, I’m still struggling a bit to give that a place within the company and my vision of it.
Before the program started, each of us had to hand in a project proposal. Six of these proposals were elected to be executed and today we found out which those were. After a somewhat difficult selection procedure I ended up in the project of a colleague from Brazil. His idea is about digitalizing cheques and the process behind it, which could be a service implemented within Atos Worldline. It was not my first pick (many had also chosen my first pick), but still it should be a fun project to do. I know cheques only because my parents used to use them, but apparently it’s still a big thing in Brazil. We’ll find out in the coming months.
When our project team was formed, we plunged into the “city car” exercise. This was all about teamwork; creating a self-driving car and launching it onto the market. I was in charge of programming the car (Lego Mindstorms), others were handling the project management, finance, marketing and so on. At the end of the afternoon, we had to present our prototype and sell it to the distributors (which were the same teams). Unfortunately as it’s a bit too often with software; what worked “on my machine” didn’t work in real life and so our car failed to pass the tests it had done flawlessly in testing a few times. I was obviously pretty bummed about that as I was responsible for that coding.
The car with the money next to it was obviously ours. Too bad it tried turning around inside of a garage…
Anyway, it was a very useful exercise and we as a team got to know each other a bit better. After finishing the project and some reflection; the night was all about teambuilding. We went into downtime Cambridge and ended up in the Eagle bar (again). Had a great dinner, some beers and good talks.
Day 3 – Wednesday
We started the day with a session by Steve Evans who once more touched upon the topic of sustainability. Even though we already knew the world is in pretty bad shape, Steve kind of frightened us even more with the figures he showed. I’m really convinced that we need to act and we need to do it now. One thing I came up with; when we have data centers with fabric to abstract IaaS from PaaS layers, why do we not turn off the hardware that we’re not using? Having scalable cloud models usually means there is equipment in idle mode, why not turn it off until it’s needed? Hmmm… something to consider.
Next up was Tim Minshall who took us back in time. Tim brought some nice toys like an old Nokia phone (the “portable” one), a palm pilot and some other stuff. He talked about evolution and how markets and products mature over time. Some interesting insights detailing why Kodak was the first with a digital camera, but ended up going out of business because of it.
The afternoon started with Judith and Michele – our recurring tutors – teaching about presenting for CxO’s (but to be honest, for any audience) and performing SWOT analysis. Again some very useful tips which I will definitely apply to my own style of working.
To top things off we had a new Atos colleague presenting about strategy. Pierre Barnabe is the COO of the new Big Data & Security service line within Atos which was formed after the acquisition of Bull. This was a very interesting session because I honestly had no idea what Bull as a company was bringing to the table. As we found out: a lot! Not only do they do high performance computing (aka super computers), they also have numerous other products. Things like encryption and security for homeland services and border control. Passport scanning for the new e-Passports. Secure communications using mobile phones or police radio’s. It was all very interesting and I very much liked the attitude with which Pierre answered some of our questions. One thing we might have to think of though is the CO2 footprint of it all….
After a lot of information it was dinner time again. This time we were invited to go over to Emmanuel College. We were sat in a nice historic looking room with paintings of old people on the walls. I tried finding out who they were, but apparently they only gave their money to the university. A bit disappointing after having dinner at the site where the discovery of DNA was first announced.
Day 4 – Thursday
The morning was all about business modelling. Not something I’m familiar with at all, so I found it pretty interesting. Having the details explained in the first session, the second was all about our projects and the way to applied the lessons learned to those. This was an interesting exercise since it forced us to think about some aspects we hadn’t really thought about yet. Both sessions occupied the entire morning, but without getting dull.
In the afternoon, the emphasis shifted from our projects to us again. How do you build trust with your relations? What brings trust in a relationship? Although interesting I believe a lot of this can come naturally and ‘forcing’ it is more a skill for sales people in my opinion. There also was some focus on body language, how to behave when in company, and so on. Networking, not my biggest hobby but again: sometimes you just need to do it.
We closed the day with a session on Atos brand management. I still struggle a bit on this topic; what does being a “business technologist” really mean? It still feels like a label thought up by communication, not something we breathe and feel. The presentation didn’t really convince me, so I guess I still have to struggle a bit more.
Day 5 – Friday
Day 4 ended with what was presented as “a traditional English diner” by our UK colleagues: an Indian Curry. As we were also warned, I ended up waking up in the middle of the night having quite a thirst. Ah well, after breakfast and some coffee things settled down again luckily.
We were heading home in the afternoon, but the program was still packed up to 3PM. On the progam were strategic technology management, technology roadmapping and visual communication principles.
Again very interesting sessions, especially the roadmapping one. I always like roadmaps, but you should always keep in mind that they’re about the future and the future is always uncertain. We were tought how to come up with a roadmap and how to handle all the dependencies you might introduce while doing so.
The final session on communication principles was a fun one, which was good because my atention span was considerably lower than during the beginning of the week. We ended with some reflection again and then quickly got in a cab towards the airport.
This first week has been quite an experience, it is absolute great to be able to participate in such a program. Next week will be in the beginning of March in Paderborn. Looking forward to that, although we still have quite some work to do on our project. By the way, I moved my blog and it’s working properly again now, which hopefully will mean I can post some stuff semi-live when in Paderborn. So when interested, stay tuned because more is coming your way!