The Madness Begins – a 30 year old “New” Car

1984 BMW 6-Series

All my friends know that I love to tinker on cars. Very much by chance, I came across an old car that had been sitting for over 5 years, inoperative. The car was originally owned by a dentist in Santa Cruz and was a one owner vehicle. The dentist had passed away and left his home and a few cars to his kids and his grandson. The car did not run and the grandson (who inherited it) didn’t know what to do with it. So he put it up for sale as a “Mechanics special”. I like a challenge like that.

I went over to check out the car and thought it looked pretty good considering that it’s 30 years old and hasn’t run in 5 years. There was potential. I made a deal that if I could come work on the car over a few weekend and get it running, I would buy the car. If I couldn’t, then they get a lot of new parts and free service.

This was the car when I first saw it after the cover was removed. It looks pretty good. I like it!

This was the car when I first saw it after the cover was removed. It looks pretty good. I like it!

Here’s the rear 3/4 shot of the car. Classic lines and a pretty rust free and straight body was hard to resist. Open the door (when the keys and locks actually work) and decades of old gas, oil, drying leather and a few rodent droppings permeate the air. Yuck! This will need a thorough cleaning.

The lines are nice and all the bits are there. Hmm.

The lines are nice and all the bits are there. Hmm.

So I kept my word and spent a day on each of the next 2 weekends fixing up the car. After lots of research on the web and some falling back on my general car knowledge, I updated the following.

  • New battery
  • Change several hoses in the cooling system.
  • Changed the thermostat.
  • Flushed and filled cooling system.
  • Changed the oil and oil filter.

To my delight, on the second day, I turned the key and it fired right up with the 5 year old gas in the tank. True to my word, I purchased the car.

Now getting it home was another matter. It was not licensed so a special permit was needed. It belonged to a deceased guy, so lots of paperwork to be filed. No one knew if the tires, brakes or electrical was any good. The driveway was blocked by a dumpster that wasn’t moving for a few weeks. It was going to be an adventure.

Fast forward 2 weeks. I get all the paperwork done and I need to move the car as the owners are having a moving sale. The only time I can move it is going to be at night. Hmm, do the lights even work? What about the rest of the electrical not to mention the very old brakes. Oh, and the tires are an odd metric size that is very difficult to get. New wheels and tires will be part of the equation. I’m still excited to get it done. Will I get stranded at night in a 30 year old car?

I arrived in the evening and quickly discover that many lights are not working. Luckily I brought extra bulbs. I changed them by the light of a flashlight and then check the coolant and oil levels. What? The coolant tank is empty. I thought I fixed the leaks! Darn, I fill the tank with plain water and cross my fingers that I’ll make it home.

I fire up the car and start to back it out into the streets, hoping that the brakes actually work, the old tires don’t explode on me and the suspension is still ok. Slowly I drive it along the residential streets before venturing onto a freeway. It’s at this time that I realize that the speedometer and lots of the instrument lights are dead. Oh great, top that off with a flashing warning light on the dash and this is a recipe for fun.

Well, that was a long 15 minute drive to my house. The good news is that I made it. The car is safely in my driveway and I go out there on occasion and make a long list of things that need to be fixed. This car will fill my spare moments for the foreseeable future.

Interior is rough but serviceable. I always wanted to learn upholstery work. ;)

Interior is rough but serviceable. I always wanted to learn upholstery work. ūüėČ

So the madness begins. There’s so much that needs to be done to this car, but the important thing is that it is relatively rust free, accident free and it runs.

Major things to fix:
1. Instrument Cluster.
2. Fix the door locks – keys don’t work in them!
3. Upgrade wheels and tires.
4. Fix the A/C, fix the fan control.
5. Fix the radio, speakers, pods, etc.
6. Sunroof and headliner (falling)
7. Get power seats working fully again.

Yeah, it’s going to be a project. Let the madness begin!

There’s something really great about bringing an old car back to life. Come back and visit for spurious updates on the progress with this car.

Safely parked in it's new home. I will have to give this car a name. Hmm.

Safely parked in it’s new home. I will have to give this car a name. Hmm.

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Women on Board!

Gender diversity has been quite the hot topic in Silicon Valley. After Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”, there appears to be a steady stream of talks, conferences and news stories about this topic. At our company, Equilar, ¬†we are building a product that allows a company to assess their Board of Directors. One of the factors is gender diversity. Even with all this attention only 19% of Board members in US companies are women.

Aaron Dhir's book

Aaron Dhir’s book

Recently I attended a talk at the Stanford Law School entitled “Where are the Women: Strategies for Increasing Board Diversity“. The conversation included the Aaron A Dihr, the author of the book “Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity” and Deborah Rhode, a professor at the Stanford Law School. These are the notes and thought that me and one of my colleagues took away from the discussion.

Spoiler Alert: Trying to force gender diversity is extremely difficult. Similar to socio-economic movements like racial equality, it’ll take decades to radically change. In fact, it may take a new generation of workers to fully implement true equality.

At the current rate of adoption on corporate boards in the USA, it will take about 70 years to achieve a 50/50 split. hardly encouraging.


The Way in Norway:

One on of the interesting anecdotes was the state of corporate law in Norway, where companies are required to have 40%¬†female board members or risk dissolution. Aaron used Norway as a case study in many of his discussion. Could forcing gender diversity by law enact change? In the early days of the law’s passage there were companies desperately trying to get women, any women, onto their boards. This gave rise to a few not so nice terms like “Trophy Directors aka Trophy Wives” and “Golden Skirts”. Even then, the women hired were those that would most likely vote with the rest of the board. So diversity didn’t really change the vote, but it did re-distribute power. Over time, the women started to engage more and challenge the status quo. Sixteen countries now have a quota, but the USA lags still.

Stanford Law School hosts a talk about gender diversity

Stanford Law School hosts a talk about gender diversity

Interesting Anecdotes and Jokes:

Deborah indicated that women are thought to be more adverse to risk. If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, they might still be around today!

Much research has been done, but has not proven that diverse boards will perform better financially. This has been one of the key problems facing this movement.

There are only 2.8% women in the Fortune 500 boards. Why? Some reason offered are:

  1. Not enough qualified candidates
  2. Women are just not as interested
  3. Interested but not being selected.

Culturally we expect men to be better leaders. There’s an unconscious bias to look in socially similar networks. These happen to be closed networks. We need to look outside the traditional CEO/CFO titles for candidates.

The funny thing is that in a recent survey, 79% of respondents say that past CEO’s are not good board members because CEO are used to pushing to get their way. They are not as open-minded.

In a survey of the Fortune 500, less than 50% even talk about diversity in their proxies. When they did, they talked about diversity in experiences and not gender. Surprisingly one of the most well known and progressive companies, Amazon, openly says that they do not think about gender diversity at all. This surprised Dr. Rhode.

What can we do?

We as a society expect more of the BOD since the 2008 meltdown. Diversity will be a slow trickle down effect. If shareholders can force diversity disclosures on the ballot and the SEC can demand disclosure, that would be a beginning.

Another idea is to have tenure limits to force board refreshes at a set interval. As we pass through a few generations of BOD members, new thinking will emerge.

As we look for members for a BOD, look outside the traditional past CEO/CFO roles. Look to lawyers, accountants, academics and people who have been on non-profit boards. This will grow the available pool and will invariably include more women.

Look to examples of success in diversity. Surprisingly the NFL and Military are great leaders in this area. They have more than tripled the % of women coaches and generals in the past 10 years.

Not surprisingly, one of the goals of our upcoming product offering is to unveil relationships and broaden the pool of candidates for board members. During our Summit in June, all will be revealed!

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The Power of a Mission

Often times I am reminded that a job is so much more than something to do or a way to  make money. In order to really be passionate about what you do, you need to believe in your mission. In fact a recent story came out about how some of the nations best computer scientists (yes out of Stanford), normally do NOT take the job that pays the best. ( Why new Stanford Grads Turn Down $150K salaries) They want a mission. An ideal that they believe in.

Recently our company was working on a Mission Statement. That seemed so cliche and it was so difficult to get agreement, but we did. Here’s our mission:

Equilar Logo

“To empower, engage and enable executives throughout the world”

Ok, sounds aspirational, but why should our employees care? This post is my interpretation of our mission and why it’s important.

The Realization

The largest public companies in the USA are our customers. The data and the analysis that we provide are used to make sure that they can attract and retain the best management. These companies and their management have a disproportionate effect on their communities, the environment and the lives of their employees. We (a group of 100+) people sitting in Redwood City, CA are creating the intelligence being used to make these management hiring decisions. The right CEO makes sure their companies give back to the community. They get compensated based on their performance. We help to inform these critical decisions.

An Epiphany

When I was about 25 years old and a Systems Engineer for a company called Borland, we were meeting with the largest corporations in the world and explaining to them how they should roll out their desktop application strategy. They were moving from a Mainframe/dumb terminal type environment into the new world of desktop computers.

I remember sitting at a¬†huge conference room at Coca Cola world HQ in Atlanta, waiting for their senior executives to arrive. One by one, the executives and their assistants made their way to the large mahogany table that was polished to a mirror shine. After a brief introduction from my manager, he turned to me and told the assembled group, “And now Song is going to explain how you can modernize your operations with desktop applications.”

I realized that no other industry in the world would an assembled group from a Fortune 10 company executives sit still to listen to the advice of a 25 year old kid! That was a great empowering feeling. I realized that I liked technology! I’ve been at it ever since.

So What?

When I learned what we were doing at Equilar, I had a distinct feeling of Deja vu. Here were are, a small company in Silicon Valley effecting the destiny of some of the world’s largest corporations! We help them create the best management staff and boards by making sure the compensation and incentives align with company goals. Many of our employees are right out of college. It reminds me of that moment in my career when I had the Epiphany.

So, take our mission to heart and realize that like a “butterfly effect“, we can make the world a better place with the product that we deliver!

Goody bag to enforce mission statement!

Goody bag to enforce mission statement!

If you are not an Equilar employee, check out our Career Listings!


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Tech in Motion – Our First Meetup

Equilar sponsored a Tech in Motion Meetup at the SP2 restaurant in San Jose, CA. It was a first for us as our HR department has embarked on a mission to get the Equilar brand out into the Silicon Valley tech scene. Silicon Valley is one of the most vibrant economies and it attracts all types of people. Whether you want to learn tech, get into a startup or make a career change, a meetup is a fantastic place to network and meet other like minded individuals. Our company was there to recruit!

Cross promoting the meetup on LinkedIN mobile.

Cross promoting the meetup on LinkedIN mobile.

During the days leading up to the event, we sent out tweets and posts on Facebook and LinkedIN. We watched as the RSVP list grew to 164 people! I had high hopes for this event. Later at the event, I was told by the event organizer that some of their larger events can grow to as many as 500 people. It’s a sure sign that these things are working.

The Venue – SP2 Communal Restaurant

Deep in downtown San Jose, this restaurant is very spacious with a great patio and a nice room in the back where this event was held. It looks like this part of downtown is¬†under some serious renovation. When I Googled Mapped the location, there was an empty parking lot across the street from the restaurant. Now there’s a multi-story building being built in the area across the street where the parking lot used to be!

Our company had premium billing at the event. As you walked through the patio into the restaurant, you are drawn to the room just past the bar where the Tech in Motion event was being held. Here’s what it looks like as you approach.

Entering the Tech in Motion Event.

Entering the Tech in Motion Event, 6:06pm it’s just beginning.

Now note the girl in the red jacket behind the sign. She’s actually talking to Megan, our SR. HR person at Equilar. Our table was right behind the sign. You had to walk right past it as you entered the venue. ¬†From the inside you can get a better idea of what the setup looked like. Here’s the view from inside the room looking towards the entrance. See the red coat girl?

Megan (in black) talking to the girl in the red jacket.

Megan (in black) talking to the girl in the red jacket.

The People I Met:

Once I walked into the room and grab a beer, I started talking to people. People from all walks of life and all kinds of interests. There was a guy who just moved from Indiana. He wanted to break into Tech and was trying to figure out how to get going. I met an engineer who was a one man startup. He was launching his on demand video chat service and looking for a partner. A few people showed off the apps that they had written on their phones and wanted to know what we were looking for in the two positions described (Engineering Lead & Automation QE). Then there was a more mature gentleman who had spent 10 years creating online training and was looking for a new venue for his skills. A great surprise was an old friend who had moved to Australia was in town! He had dropped by the event and surprised me. What a small world! Then, of course, there were lots of recruiters!

The companies represented were equally varied. I met 2 people who were Googlers working on open source projects that were soon to be monetized. Unfortunately they were not looking for a new job. I met hardware engineers designing systems for cars. One of these people worked with Mercedes Benz and was investigating human/car interactions. A professor at Carnegie Mellon was in the crowd as well as a QA Manager that looked like “Pit Bull”, the singer.

After a few brewskies I realized how busy¬†the room had become. I just moved from group to group shamelessly asking people what they did, who they worked for and if they were looking for a new challenge! Hey, when you have to work a crowd and only have about 30 seconds with each person, there’s no time to waste!

At about 8pm, the room was buzzing!

At about 8pm, the room was buzzing!

It looked like there was at least 75-100 people in the room at any given time. I would occasionally look over at the Equilar table (you can see our vertical sign – left of center in the picture above) and see how Megan was doing. She was just as busy as I was and sent a few people my way. She was all smiles and chatting up a storm telling people about our company and the positions that were available. Every once in a while if I noticed someone was taking too much of her time, I’d go over and run interference. You have to watch out for your¬†team member!

Megan talks to a guy inquiring about our job postings.

Megan talks to a guy inquiring about our job postings.

It was surprising how fast the time passed. The event was scheduled to go from 6-8pm. I was talking to another attendee when I noticed that Megan was beginning to break down Equilar table. I took a quick glance at my watch and realized that it was close to 8:30pm.

I helped to pack up the table and take the boxes to Megan’s car.

When I returned to the venue, there were still at least 15-20 people milling about.

By this time I was getting a bit hungry and decided to stroll downtown and find a place to eat. I found a nice gastro-pub and had a nice dinner as I pondered what I had learned in our first ever meetup sponsorship.

Tonight, a lot of people got to know what kinds of services our company provides. We talked to as many people as we could in the time we had. An even greater number of people got to see the new Equilar logo and branding. Even if they didn’t find out what we did, they will begin to recognize our name and brand when it inevitably comes up again.

Do MeetUps Work?

The HR goal of gradually getting the Equilar¬†brand into the minds of a new cross section of tech professionals had been achieved. I’ll have to follow up with the several people I met at the event.

On my way home, I noticed 2 LinkedIn requests to connect appear on my phone  from people I had met. While I was writing this post, I was sent the resume of a Automation QA Engineer I met this evening who is currently contracting on a project at Google. Yup, meetups work.

Overall, it was a great time. I really encourage you to goto a Meetup in your area. It’s a fantastic way to experience the pulse of the people who make up the tech scene. And you never know, you my find your next startup partner or company employee!

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The Right Way to Deliver Software

This evening I attended a Tech talk at’s HQ in Los Altos. Not only is Box a great product, they will be our neighbor in Redwood City soon as they build their new HQ by the Caltrain station.

Driving up to Box HQ

Driving up to Box HQ

The topic of the evening was near and dear to my heart. “The Right Way to Deliver Software”. The speaker was Jocelyn Goldfein. She led the engineering team at Facebook that created news feeds and photo and then headed up their pivot to mobile. She was an early engineer at VMWare so she understands enterprise software sales. She was a CS geek at Stanford. So I figured she’d be someone I could learn from!

Box’s Office:

I parked underground and then walked up to their version of the “Lair”, which is what we call our common space in Equilar’s offices. It’s where we hang out, have lunches and coffee, and do company meetings. Box’s Lair had a cool tablet wall that was interactive.

Interactive tablet wall

Now their Lair was a little larger than ours. Here’s the view of the space from stage left. There were some nice moleskine notebooks on the table and a buffet at the right as you came in.

A Nice Industrial Chic place for a meeting.

A Nice Industrial Chic place for a meeting.

The Presentation:

First, here’s a spoiler. There is no panacea for creating software there are tons of dependencies to consider. Everything is a tradeoff and you have to understand the market you serve and the product you are trying to deliver. This is where experience and understanding comes in .

Jocelyn kicks off the presentation

Jocelyn kicks off the presentation

It’s all a TradeOff:

You have to prioritize and decide what is most important to you. In this slide she lists some pretty high level items.

  • Features – this one is self explanatory I think.
  • User Experience – wonky or slick and modern?
  • Performance – how fast must it respond?
  • Reliability – are we talking five 9’s or is it ok to have intermittent outages?
  • Breath of Platforms – she was referencing the Facebook mobile app here.
  • Schedule Predictability (“Ships on Time”) – believe it or not, this isn’t so important in FB’s case.

The last one was particularly interesting to me. Facebook (Web) ships 9 times a week! Twice daily and once on Tuesdays. Since they test and iterate so much, there isn’t a set feature release target.

Things that factor into a product release.

Things that factor into a product release.

Underlying Principles:

Cost¬†is¬†dictated by the tech stack. If you are deploying on your own hardware or data center, it doesn’t cost so much to get your application to the customer. If you are deliver a mobile app, there are a lot of steps before it gets into the hands of your customer. This takes time and time is money. What about the environment stack? It costs a lot to test multiple platforms and hardware configurations. This is one of the things we love about web apps.

Benefits is dictated by the business model. If you sell a high dollar product, then you must have a more reliable and predictable release cycle. It also better be available at all times. Surprisingly, the more consumer and free it is, the UX becomes more important for retention.

Cost of a Mistake:

This was a very interesting concept. Depending on the product you are creating, the cost of doing something wrong can vary widely. Let me explain the diagram. The vertical axis is “Enterprise $$$” on the bottom and a “Free / Ad Supported” product at the top. On the horizontal axis we have an “operating system” (think Windows or VMWare) on the left and “Web” based app on the right.

Beware if you are in the bottom left!

Beware if you are in the bottom left!

If you have an enterprise based OS to sell (think Windows or VMWare), your release cycles are long and having to do it over because of a mistake could cost you 100X the cost of shipping it right once. On the extreme opposite is a free web app. If you screw it up, many folks won’t go crazy, users will not lose money and doing it again only cost 1X. Then we have the two other quadrants at 10X. My company’s products fall in the lower right quadrant at this time. Because of this we cannot just release whenever we want, but we must test and have a pretty predictable cycle. This of course implies increase cost as compared to a quick web based startup.

Another way to look at the diagram is to compare it to a release process. The star in the middle is a reminder that no matter what you do, you must beta test.

Length of release processes

Length of release processes

The FaceBook Mobile Transition – a Culture Shift:

Facebook started in mobile creating a completely web based application. They thought that this would give them the fastest release cycle at the lowest cost. They soon realized that the best experience could only be achieved if they went with a native mobile application.  It took them years to make the transition because of a culture divide. Web(HTML5) developers went fast and iterated often. They could get feedback in hours and release again. There was not release cycle set in stone.

Initially they thought that going to native would be the same. Bad mistake. A cycle in mobile took 8 weeks from creation to final delivery to the user and then acting on the feedback received. It was a culture shock to the mobile team. In fact, most members couldn’t make the transition. Facebook hired new developers and had a few “acqui-hires” instead. It was a hard lesson. Each group thought the other group did things wrong. If you need to make a radical shift, be ready to change the team.

In the end, the “North Star” was focusing on what the users need and not what the employees needed. The focus on the best thing for the user dictated how and what was built.

Now What? 

So how do you apply the things learned. Jocelyn wrapped it up with a few key takeaways.

Take Aways

Take Aways

  • Understand your priorities before you¬†optimize the release process.
  • If you have to pivot, be prepared to address culture issues.
  • Take advice with a grain of salt. Each product is a little different. It’s not one size fits all.
  • Hire for experience? Conclusion was that this is important if you know exactly what you are going to do. Otherwise, hire for the right DNA that fits with your company.
  • Onboard thoughtfully – know what culture and processes will be needed and train early.

The best people are those who are malleable and do not have absolute dogmas. You need people who are willing to learn and change. These are the best hires.

Here’s my favorite quote of the night.

“All adult learning comes from pain.”

What you say? The premise is that when you are a child everything is new and you just accept it and learn. As you grow up, you start to gain opinions and internalize data and experiences. Everything starts to get measured against that. The only thing that can really change your attitude and what you have learned is if it was painful when you didn’t change.

Oh, and it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t post a food picture. Box served us Chicken, sauteed vegetables and rice. I washed it down with and Indian Ale.


One of the things I love about the valley is that there are so many great people, places and opportunities to learn. I really encourage you to find the meetups in your area and network! You get free food, meet new friends and sometime even learn a thing or two!

And speaking of meetups, our company ( is sponsoring a meetup on April 9th in San Jose California. Here’s a link below to all the details. I’ll be there so come find me if you are in the area.

Tech in Motion: Social Tech Mixer


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