• How to survive and succeed at conferences as an introvert

    Hello, my name is Jochen and I’m an introvert. This isn’t easily apparent because when I meet people I can draw from enough self-confidence and eloquence to appear open and communicative. But deep down, I often feel more or less uncomfortable with people I don’t know well.

    As a business owner, being an introvert can be quite a challenge. Especially at conferences and business meetings, you are supposed to engage in smalltalk, connect at lunch or dinner, meet new business prospects as well as existing clients, and generally present yourself and your company in the best possible way. You meet many different people, many of them for the first time, and each has their own personality. This is the arena of the extroverts, the High-I’s of the DISC typology, who enjoy the limelight. But for an introvert, it’s tempting to stick with who you already know and then leave sooner rather than later.

    I was at the airport, waiting for my flight to the Drupal Process Meetup in Amsterdam, when I read an article in Harvard Business Review by Lisa Petrilli titled “An Introvert’s Guide to Networking”. In this article, Lisa talks about her natural aversion to networking, her realization that she’d need to overcome it to get on with her career, and the strategies that helped her to do so. It immediately struck a chord with me because I had been anxious for days in advance how I would be able to blend in at this conference where I didn’t know most of the people yet.

    It took me a few minutes to read the article and then a few more seconds to buy and download her ebook “The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership” to my Kindle. I read it on the flight and with every page, I learned more on how to make my trip to Amsterdam a worthwhile business expense.

    “Introversion is simply a preference for the inner world of ideas because this is where we get our energy.”

    Her explanation why introverts feel uncomfortable in crowds made immediately sense to me: We draw energy from the creative process, from developing and refining ideas. On the other hand, opening up to others drains our energy. That’s why we often feel especially spent after an intense conference day.

    Lisa has got a great tip how this can be mitigated: When you’re in a networking situation, engage in one-to-one conversations with a single person. With this tactic in mind, I was able to take many opportunities during the meetup to get in touch with other participants and always had great conversations.

    She also urges her fellow introverts to overcome the fear of introducing themselves to others, especially to people to which they feel somehow inferior.

    “I learned over time that when I extended my hand with a smile and an introduction my effort would be reciprocated, even when I approached executives above my rank.”

    This encouraged me tremendously to approach even the executives of million-dollar companies that were at the meetup. It was one of those CEOs that was the first to connect to me via LinkedIn shortly after we talked.

    Thanks to Lisa’s explanation how introverts gain and lose energy, I felt comfortable to excuse myself from the pub tour after dinner and to instead recharge for the next conference day all by myself in a comfy chair in the hotel lounge.

    After a great conference experience without feeling uncomfortable once, I now happily look forward to the next one in two weeks! The trip already paid for itself – and so did Lisa Petrilli’s ebook.

  • Internet, my much better radio

    I’m not very sophisticated in regards to music. In my early years, I relied solely on my favourite radio station to provide me with enjoyable songs, so my taste developed quite mainstreamish.

    Thanks to the Internet, it’s getting better. Spotify is very useful to quickly check recommendations of interesting artists and bands I find in magazines or online.

    What I find very interesting is how YouTube plays an increasingly important role in my musical education. Recently, I’ve came across very creative works that I never would have heard on the radio.

    A good example is two very different cover versions of “Somebody That I Used to Know”. I’ve actually never heard the original by Gotye, but I suspect that these two cover versions are both more creative and more entertaining.

    The first version is by the awesome Walk off the Earth and features many people playing one instrument:

    The second version has one person (Ingrid Michaelson) playing many instruments:

    But it doesn’t have to be cover versions. Here’s “In Your Arms” by Kina Grannis:

    The song doesn’t impress me so much by its musical qualities as by the effort that went into producing the video:

    So, thank you, Internet, and keep the great music suggestions coming!

  • Travel light, travel relaxed

    I spent this weekend in Amsterdam at the Drupal Process Meetup, and it’s been a great experience! I had many interesting talks with other Drupal business owners, learned a lot in the Openspace-format discussion rounds and enjoyed having dinner together in downtown Amsterdam. As I’m writing this article, I’m reclining in an Eames Lounge Chair and listening to relaxing music at the amazing CitizenM hotel near Schiphol Airport.

    Since I intend to do much more business trips this year, I put some thought into making my travel as stress-free as possible. I flew with EasyJet who let you print out your boarding pass in advance. When I arrived at the airport, I could go directly through security without having to check in (and pay for) baggage because I was able to fit everything I needed into my backpack. I had it on me all the time, so I didn’t have to worry about my stuff getting stolen. After landing in Amsterdam, instead of having to wait at the baggage claim, I went directly to the hotel and arrived there completely relaxed.

    Packing light means to consciously limit yourself to the things you’ll actually need. That you need fresh clothes for every day of your journey doesn’t mean you need different clothes for every day. I didn’t have that realization until recently; before, when I prepared for a 5 day vacation, I packed 5 T-shirts. This time, I simply packed a tube of travel detergent. By washing my stuff, I can get by, for example, with three pairs of socks: One to wear today, one for tomorrow and one that’s currently drying after doing the laundry. Especially outdoor and travel clothes will easily dry over night.

    Choosing equipment that makes traveling light easy does of course also apply to tech stuff. With my iPhone, Macbook Air and Kindle, I carried around both my complete office and my book shelf, all adding up to less than 2kg.

    These are two of many articles you can find on the Web about packing light:

    Try it out, you’ll be amazed how stress-free traveling becomes when you minimize your baggage!

  • Hacker movies: Unrealistic but inspiring

    I recently came upon an Irish Times article about a science week event in Dublin in 2010 about “Hackers and Hollywood”. In his talk, Damien Gordon explained how many hacker movies are based on the same formula as fantasy epics like Lord of the Rings: The protagonist gets a magical item and is guided by a wise figure before fighting evil. This is especially true for my favourite hacker movie of all time, Wargames (1983): David Lightman gets access to an (all too) powerful mainframe computer and, with the help of Dr. Falken, defeats the warmongering WOPR programme.

    Of course, hacker movies are intended for an audience that knows as much about computing internals as the film makers themselves. The actual hacking action in those movies usually ranges from “embarassingly unrealistic” to “hilarious if you’re able to spot the reference to real technology”.

    I started with computers in the early 80s when hacker culture had just begun to spread. I learned to program from day one (the VIC 20 manual was in fact a programming manual) and soon felt the power to force your analytic will onto a machine. Later, I hooked up a modem to my parents’ PC and discovered that networks like CompuServe and FidoNet allowed me to connect with people that I would never be likely to meet in person (and also that it only takes a few days to rack up a four figure phone bill…). Back then the foundation was laid that I have my own humble IT company today and am slowly losing my nerves because our DSL broadband has been down for two days now.

    Hacker movies mix existing and invented technology and exaggerate its potential to form an entertaining plot. Unrealistic as they may be, they can have an inspiring effect on young people, as Gordon pointed out in his talk. They certainly had in my case.

    That’s why I collected a list of computer geek movies from the last 30 years (WHAT, three decades already?!) that I like:

    • Wargames (1983) – At that time, any computer geek could relate to David Lightman. He felt bored in school, disconnected from his parents and insecure towards the other sex. After successfully breaking into the mysterious mainframe, he gets acknowledged both by the girl and his adult mentor, and finally saves the day. And you also got to see that there’s a fine line to becoming an ubernerd like the two guys in the data center…
    • Tron (1982) – This movie had high-end computer generated imagery and asked the question about what would later be known as “immersion”: What if you actually could become part of the game? (The sequel “Tron: Legacy” from 2010 isn’t nearly as groundbreaking, but its soundtrack is my favourite hacking music.)
    • Weird Science (1985) – Well, everybody knows that you can’t just scan in pictures of scantily clad women and put a bra on your head to create a totally hot woman (“like Frankenstein, only cuter”). But one can dream, can’t one? And there’s also the message that sometimes, it only takes a bit more self confidence to get ahead in life.
    • Sneakers (1992) – In this movie, we see both sides of hacking: The good hacker (who had to go underground) and the evil hacker (who became rich). It’s the one that has the social skills to enlist help from his friends that wins. Again, the technology portayed is unrealistic, but the villain’s insight isn’t: “The world isn’t run by weapons anymore, or energy, or money. It’s run by little ones and zeroes, little bits of data. It’s all just electrons.”
    • Jurassic Park (1993) – Hacking doesn’t have to be limited to computers, author Michael Crichton realized, and so this movie’s plot is based on hacking amphibian DNA. I wonder if I’d rather have been raised with SGI workstations instead of Legos, just like hacker boy Lex must have been (“It’s a UNIX system! I know this!”).
    • Hackers (1995) – This movie shows that hacking doesn’t have to be a solitary hobby. It can also be a team sport, in a subculture with its own language, cool code names and greeting gestures. And with Angelina Jolie.
    • The Matrix (1999) – The lesson here: When you hack the artificial intelligence that is enslaving the whole human race, you do it in style. And you use nmap to scan its ports.
    • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010) – Even after 30 years, the image of the lone but unstoppable computer expert is very much alive. I rather not share Lisbet’s past, but being able to spend high five figures at IKEA after some "transactions" must be fun.
    • MI4: Ghost Protocol (2011) – Today’s kids won’t relate to a David Lightman inserting 8“ floppies into an IMSAI 8080. In MI4, they see familiar iPhones and iPads as tools of the trade and listen to Eminem as musical background. Ah, that song in the first action sequence, you ask? That’s Dean Martin with ”A Kick in the Head". You’re welcome. Get off my lawn.
  • While the US struggle with SOPA/PIPA, Switzerland keeps its cool

    It’s not that the entertainment industry is completely content about their sales in Switzerland, they’re lobbying there like everywhere else. The difference is that the Swiss government looks through their thinly veiled grabbing for more power.

    End of last year, the Bundesrat researched the consequences of piracy on society in economic and cultural terms and concluded that there’s no need for a change of current legislation, under which downloading copyrighted material for personal use is permitted.

    The study further found that the money citizens over 15 saved by downloading pirated media eventually gets invested into visits to concerts and movie theaters as well as into games and merchandising.

    To the huge foreign production companies that complain the loudest about piracy, the swiss government suggests they check their business model and adapt to the change in consumer behaviour.

    I guess it’s the clean mountain air.