Tag Archives: challenges

How HR can help with a digital divide in the U.S.

Technology is often a solution to modern HR challenges, but HR executive Robin Schooling was quick to point out that tech can also be a problem for employees without equal access or related skills.

For example, according to a Purdue University report released earlier this year, “Job and establishment growth between 2010 and 2015 was substantially lower in [U.S.] counties with the highest digital divide.”

Schooling, who is vice president of HR at Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge, La., will speak about the digital divide in the U.S. at the forthcoming HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas. SearchHRSoftware is the media partner for the conference.

In a preview of her remarks, Schooling outlined the challenges and explained why her three-person HR team sometimes takes an old-school, hands-on approach to everything from training to benefits enrollment.

This interview was edited lightly for brevity and clarity.

When you talk about the digital divide in the U.S., what do you mean?

Robin Schooling: The tendency is to think, as we automate more and more things, that people and job seekers are just going to go right along with all of it. We think that all job seekers or employees have the same level of technology at their disposal. We think the knowledge base is there and that they have the sophistication to go along with the online journey, from job searching to applying for jobs to the onboarding programs. And then, once they’re in-house, they’re ready for any online training.

Robin Schooling, vice president of HR, Hollywood CasinoRobin Schooling

We’re sort of assuming everybody in the workforce is at a desk in a high-rise and that technical knowledge is at [their] disposal. There is an entire group of workers and industries that I fear are getting left further and further behind. It’s the technology haves and have-nots.

How does email play into the digital divide in the U.S.?

Schooling: In my particular world, I have less than 20% of my employees who have work email or access to network drives. They are not at a desk; they are on the floor in front of customers, and they don’t use technology day to day in their jobs. So, they don’t have company email addresses.

If you go back further, a lot of my job applicants don’t have personal email addresses. I probably have, on average, two people a week we talk to who apply for a job using somebody else’s email address. We discover when get hold of them they never got our email and that the person whose email address they used ‘didn’t let me know it came.’ Or, people make up email addresses.

As we talk to people, we find out there truly are people who just don’t have email. It’s not an age thing. I see people who are 22, and I see people who are 70. We get a lot of calls.

[When we get a resume emailed to us,] we have auto reply, but sometimes it goes to a spam folder, and they don’t know how to check a spam folder. We have applicants who don’t have desktops or tablets. Their phone is it. And they don’t know how to navigate email addresses even if they have email. Instead, we get a lot of calls. It’s like 1989.

So, we’ve tried things with texting. We’ve tried a cellphone call. But it gets back to the low-wage, entry-level worker with a pay-as-you-go phone. They tried to apply, but we can’t reach them on it. It’s a challenge. I don’t know the answer to the problem. But we have to look at finding multiple ways to connect with people on the applicant side.

There’s a digital divide in the U.S., but change has to start somewhere. What are you doing in the office to help the tech have-nots?

Schooling: As we have automated, we enhanced some of the offerings through the system we have for our employees, because we don’t have folks who sit at a desk. We can put things out in the cloud to our employee self-service portal, but we’re still struggling with employees getting access if they’re doing it through their phone.

We have banks of computers in the break room, but many employees have challenges accessing them. They don’t know how to use a keyboard or a mouse. That still exists. Everybody doesn’t work on the East or West Coasts, and we’re not all on Slack.

And it’s not just the tech providers [that contribute to the digital divide in the U.S.]; it’s the HR service providers. Every year since I’ve been here, as part of our wellness initiatives, we have a third party come in and do biometric screenings. You get a checkup and sit with a nurse practitioner who logs you in to your account. We do this so that we get you into this wellness tracker for follow-up steps. In order to do that, you have to set up your own account, and that requires an email address and two-factor authentication.

Here’s the challenge: I’ve got a good 30 employees that do not have a personal email address. They may have access to their mothers’ or their wives’ or their sisters’ [email addresses]. I told the vendor that people coming in can’t set up an account because they do not have a personal email, or they are using a family member’s [email] who is not there to do two-factor authentication. How do we do that? How do we serve those people? The provider didn’t quite believe me.

We know the people that don’t have email. How do we solve this? As an HR team, what we do for our population is we try to help people as much as we can to set up accounts. We spend quite a bit of time amongst the team going to Gmail to set up an account and set it up on their phone for them. We try to help them create passwords and show them how to remember where it’s stored. It’s a challenge to do this one-on-one to help our folks as much as we can, but I think it’s important.

In my particular world, I have less than 20% of my employees who have work email or access to network drives.
Robin Schoolingvice president of HR, Hollywood Casino

It’s like old-school HR. It’s very hands-on and in your face. If you have a small or midsize business and your workforce is all in one place, what you can do there is kind of what we do. It’s handholding and bringing along one person at a time. Sometimes, it’s even just stopping and asking: If we are going to communicate something or expect an employee to go to a website to accomplish something for a job, are they equipped to do that?

When we think about the digital divide in the U.S., what can be done to help narrow it?

Schooling: This is an issue that worries me. We are just getting further and further away from thinking about those people who need to find jobs or are working hard, but are sitting in companies that don’t realize that perhaps there are folks being left behind. These are people who can’t do a really cool learning module on their phone.

I have people that are not hipsters — they have a flip phone, but don’t have a data plan. And if there is Wi-Fi, they need to have someone show them how to hook up. They can’t sit at home and do onboarding videos or learning snippets.

At the end of the day, I’m thinking about it from [different] sides. Are the vendors remembering when creating products to include the whole audience? Are HR practitioners aware that you need to do more than meet them where they are, but actually bring them with you?

And it’s important to remember it’s not a generational thing. Some folks coming out of school, college grads even, find themselves in this boat. They come from low-income families, and they’ve gotten higher ed, but they struggle with the access to the tools and the tech and the knowledge of how to use them.

Meet Lucas Joppa, the man on a mission to save the planet by democratizing AI – Microsoft News Center India

Can mankind’s greatest technological advancements help solve the biggest ecological challenges facing planet earth? Can technology help accelerate biodiversity conservation? Can it predict global warming to reduce the potential impact? Can it help conserve fresh water? Can it help achieve global food security? These are some of the existential questions that have kept Lucas Joppa awake at night for more than a decade.

Today, as the first Chief Environmental Officer at Microsoft, Joppa leads AI for Earth, a five-year, $50 million global program that blends ecological science and cutting-edge AI to solve some of the planet’s most pressing environmental challenges. We caught up with him to learn more about the program, his experience with technology interventions for environmental advancement, and his vision of deploying AI to advance sustainability across the globe. Here are some edited excerpts from our conversation.

You’ve a PhD in Ecology and have worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi. This is not exactly a profile of someone who’d be working at a technology company. How did you decide to join Microsoft?

My educational background is in environmental studies. After completing my undergraduate degree in Wildlife Ecology, I spent time in the Peace Corps working for Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife. Then I did my PhD in Ecology. What all the work on the environment side taught me was just how serious environmental issues really are.

The science shows the seriousness of the issues, but the work also highlighted just how monumental the task is actually going to be, to find our way to sustainable solutions where the human species can exist in a more sustainable manner, with the rest of the life on earth. As soon as I began to truly realize the enormity of the challenge, I started panicking a little like everyone does. But it also got me thinking that there’s got to be some way to get out ahead.

I began to see that there was one thing that was accelerating exponentially and potentially even faster than the degradation of our planet’s natural resources. And that was technology. Thus, I decided to drive my career towards leveraging advances in technology to address the negative effects of human activities on rest of the life on Earth and started focusing on the computational aspects of ecology. I joined Microsoft Research to focus on and lead research programs at the intersection of environmental and computer science. What enthused me was that Microsoft, about a decade ago, had realized that this was where the real challenges were, both for society and the technology sector.

How did you transition to the role of the Chief Environmental Officer at Microsoft? How did the AI for Earth program come about?

I pursued research programs for about eight years at Microsoft Research. That experience prepared us to step back a couple of years ago and see the progress we had made in research from an environmental and technology perspective and how we could place it all the way into shipped products.

I put together all those learnings into one document, which I called “AI for Earth”. It laid out the opportunities I saw for Microsoft to really make a more concerted, company-wide effort, than simply a research program, to leverage our 35 years of ongoing investment in AI research and technology and focus all those efforts on the four key areas of agriculture, water, biodiversity, and climate change.

From my experience at Microsoft Research, we knew what the problems were, and we’d done enough on the technology front. So, it was time to put it into action. Last year, I left Microsoft Research and started serving as the company’s first Chief Environmental Scientist leading the AI for Earth program. That position recently expanded to Microsoft’s first Chief Environmental Officer, which allows me to oversee the whole environmental sustainability mission and mandate across the company.

When you want that job, tell them your story – Microsoft Life

Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.

Question: I feel like my résumé doesn’t really show the real me. How can I help people looking at my resume get a better idea of who I am?

Answer: Humans have relied on storytelling forever to share their experiences and journeys and to connect with each other. Not only does storytelling pass along useful information, but it conveys emotion and helps uncover universal themes that others will relate to. And you can even use the power of storytelling in your job search.

“Your story should reflect your truth, your authentic self, and the great work you’ve done,” said Chris Bell, an executive recruiter at Microsoft. “We’ve all had life and professional experiences that have helped shape our unique perspective on the world and our personal impact.”

Storytelling is a skill in and of itself, he points out. “Through your résumé, LinkedIn profile, and interviews, your communication and selling skills are demonstrated. Plus, when you tell a story, you’re displaying your ability to create an emotional connection.”

Here are Bell’s top recommendations for how to use storytelling techniques at every checkpoint (i.e., résumé, LinkedIn profile, interview) of your job hunt.

Infuse your résumé with narrative

When writing your résumé, don’t rely on keywords and jargon to tell your story. Think of using your skills and background as a starting point and then creating a narrative, Bell said. Avoid speaking in shorthand and relying on sentence fragments.

For example, he often sees experience statements such as, “Drove benefit packages, negotiating multiple options for benefits at a cost reduction of 29 percent.”

“What does ‘drove benefit packages’ mean?” he asked. “Was this person the benefits administrator or the individual selling or selecting benefits packages?”

Take a look at his expanded example, which adds context and answers an interviewer’s potential follow-up questions at first glance:

“I was responsible for the company’s benefit package selection process that entailed driving the RFP process with five vendors. I led a collaborative team that negotiated a multi-option benefit package that exceeded our employees’ needs while reducing benefit spend by 29 percent.”

By telling the job highlights narratively and focusing on impact, job seekers avoid vagueness and open the gates for a deeper conversation about how they approach their work and why it’s successful.

Don’t over-focus on résumé length, Bell said. While the standard recommendation is two pages, Bell believes that focusing first on storytelling will ultimately lead to the most readable version of your résumé. “Write what’s relevant; people will read,” he said.

Tell a story with your LinkedIn profile

Don’t be afraid to show your personality and call out your professional identity with your LinkedIn profile, Bell said. One place you can do this is with your profile headline. Bell shows a bit of personality with his own headline: Definitely a Recruiter | Leader and Learn-It-All.

When crafting your headline, consider the role you seek, relevant keywords, the type of company you see yourself working at, your personal brand, and the story you’d like to tell. Bell calls out that his field is recruitment and that he’s a leader who’s constantly learning and finding ways to improve his craft.

Next, consider the Summary section, which gives people a deeper snapshot of who you are, where your passions lie, and what you bring to the table. This is also a space where you can link to other places online where recruiters and hiring managers can learn even more about you, such as social media platforms, a podcast you run, or a blog that you manage. Keep your bio succinct, personable, and relevant, and continue to create the narrative with first-person phrasing. Tell the story of who you are.

The Experience section of your LinkedIn profile allows you to be more granular about your goals, learnings, and successes in each role. Bell advises that you steer clear of the résumé format in this section and take this opportunity to tell the story.

For instance, rather than say “I managed five events each year,” connect the dots between the work you did and who you are. Here’s an example:

I love processes and data. Yes! I admit it. Plus, I enjoy taking opportunities to train others.

At A-Z Event Planning, I made it a personal goal to create event strategy processes to make my and my colleagues’ lives easier while making our clients’ smiles bigger. While my charter was to run five events per year, I also took it upon myself to use my forecasting experience to develop a more “on the nose” event performance dashboard to predict attendance rates. This allowed us to plan better and make cost-saving recommendations to our clients. I also created an “event in a box” program that we rolled out to our international offices. This not only simplified the overall company’s processes, it also led to consistent, industry-leading programming across the board.

I absolutely enjoyed this job because it allowed me to tap into my hidden talents and learn more about international event planning. Since I spearheaded the programs, I was also asked to train my colleagues across the country and internationally.

In this example, the job seeker showcases their personality, drive, and skillsets. You want readers to feel your passion, enthusiasm, and knack for getting the job done.

Tell your story in an interview

“Everyone should be able to tell their own story,” said Bell. “And it is important to practice.”

When you are asked “tell me about yourself,” this is the moment to tell your truth, but keep it focused on what’s relevant to the job. For example, this is not the moment to explain that you were raised on a farm with five siblings—unless your farming background is relevant to the job you seek (maybe the company you want to work for creates technology solutions for farmers); if so, by all means connect those dots.

Keep your answer under two minutes, he said, but offer details about key roles, learnings, and personal experiences that tie into the role that you seek. Try to use a narrative arc to show your evolution as an expert in your space and to explain how you’ve built on your experience to get you to this point. Again, practice makes perfect.

Also have a narrative ready for anything recruiters or hiring managers might zero in on, such as short stints in a role or gaps in employment. “In any interview, you want to come across as polished, not stumped or appearing as though you have something to hide,” Bell said.

A popular question to anticipate and approach through storytelling is, “Tell me about a time when you failed. How did you handle it?”

“People fail,” said Bell. “But, many people don’t have a cohesive story to explain the situation.”

As with any behavioral question, he suggests that job seekers use the STAR method to talk through their answer. To make the story more interesting and relevant, Bell suggests that you also explain what you learned and what you would have done differently.

Don’t treat your responses as answers, but as stories that support the idea that your unique experiences, passions, and drive make you the best person for the job.

Bring the whole story together

Bell said that through storytelling, you can make an emotional connection that helps position you as memorable and indispensable.

“The right words and experiences help convey your story in a way that emotionally connects with others,” said Bell. “Remember, this is your story.”

Building on experience: a framework for cybersecurity policy

Each year, more and more governments are developing policies to address security challenges presented by an increasingly digitized world. And to support those efforts, I’m excited today to announce the release of Microsoft’s new Cybersecurity Policy Framework, a resource for policymakers that provides an overview of the building blocks of effective cybersecurity policies and that is aligned with the best practices from around the globe. Nations coming online today, and building their cybersecurity infrastructures, should not—and need not—be burdened with the stumbling blocks that characterized previous generations of cybersecurity policies. Instead, such nations should be empowered to leapfrog outdated challenges and unnecessary hurdles.

For years, Microsoft has worked with policymakers in advanced and emerging economies, and across many social and political contexts, to support the development of policies to address a wide range of cybersecurity challenges. This new publication captures and distills the important lessons learned from those years of experience partnering with governments. And as increasing numbers of countries wrestle with how to best address cybersecurity challenges, the Cybersecurity Policy Framework is an indispensable resource for the policymakers joining this work.

According to the last analysis provided by the United Nations, half of the countries on earth today either have or are developing national cybersecurity strategies. I have little doubt that in the next decade every single outstanding country will add its name to that list. And this trend highlights the importance of this new resource. The policies established today will impact how technologies are used for years to come and how safe or dangerous the online world becomes for all of us. Truly, there is no going back, only forward.

The Cybersecurity Policy Framework is not one-stop shopping for cybersecurity policymakers, but it does serve as an important “umbrella document,” providing a high-level overview of concepts and priorities that must be top of mind when developing an effective and resilient cybersecurity policy environment.

Specifically, this new resource outlines:

  • National strategies for cybersecurity.
  • How to establish a national cyber agency.
  • How to develop and update cybercrime laws.
  • How to develop and update critical infrastructure protections.
  • International strategies for cybersecurity.

We at Microsoft have been at this work for a long time and have developed a wide variety of resources to help those who are working to position their industries and nations to capitalize on the benefits of new technologies—so many that they can often be difficult to find! And this highlights another strength of the Cybersecurity Policy Framework, while it is not one-stop shopping, each section does provide an overview of a critical policy topic as well as links to the associated and more in-depth resources my team has developed over the years to assist policymakers. In this way, this new resource serves not only as essential, high-level guidance, but also as a key to a broader catalogue of resources built on years of experience partnering with governments around the world.

Reading through this new resource, I am proud of the work we have done in pursuit of a safer online world. Important progress has been made and these foundational principles underscore much today’s cybersecurity discourse. However, we have—and will always have—more work to do as a result of the changes and innovations in technology always on the horizon, and their implications for cybersecurity. I’m glad to put this resource forward today to support a new generation of policymakers and also look forward to partnering with them to tackle the new challenges we will face together tomorrow.

Download your copy of the Cybersecurity Policy Framework today.

Don’t stop dreaming: you’ve got the job, now what? – Microsoft Life

Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.

Question: I landed an exciting job. Now that I’m settling in, I don’t want to lose my momentum. What should I do to keep my career moving in a positive direction?

Answer: You’re right—your career is a moving target, so it’s a good idea to be open and willing to develop yourself for what lies ahead. Whether you’re new to the workforce or have been with a company for years, one role probably won’t be the end of your journey.

Microsoft recruiter Heidi Landex Grotkopp believes that developing your career can be an illuminating trip into self-discovery, skill development, and building strong relationships. Here are some of her top recommendations for staying sharp and ready for what’s next, whenever it might come.

Give yourself time to settle in

It can take about a year to get fully ramped up in any role, Landex pointed out. Before you begin to set your sights on the next gig, give yourself time to get to know your work. Spend time with your peers and managers to learn more about the business, the expectations, and the customers.

As you build relationships in your role, ask for periodic check-ins—with managers as well as with peers—to ensure that you are on track with agreed-upon expectations or areas of improvement. This tactic helps you build a rapport, while gaining visibility within your team and organization.

Landex said that your ramp-up is the perfect window to gain insight from others—and yourself. In this ongoing process, consider what you’re doing in your work and how you’re doing it. This will help you notice how you are evolving in your role, reflect on challenges you have taken on, and figure out how to keep growing, she said.

“Ask yourself, if I had been a bit bolder, what would I have done differently?” said Landex.

Fill in your skill gaps

As you continue to gauge your strong suits and identify areas of development, focus on your strengths, but don’t be afraid to know and publicly acknowledge your areas of opportunity. Those may be the very areas that could lead you into something new and exciting, something unexpected.

“Let’s say you don’t have a specific skillset or it doesn’t come naturally to you, but you love 90 percent of the rest of your job. You might be in the right role, and you should get mentoring and training to ‘skill you up’ on the 10 percent that you are concerned about,” she said.

Go to your manager and have a conversation about the identified gap. Landex suggested communicating about your growth area but that you know it’s a skill you can improve. Then lay out a plan to execute that: a training, a long-term class, or help from a mentor.

“Your manager should be able to help you identify someone in the organization that would be a great help,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a local mentor. It could be someone in a different job or different location than you. The idea is to find someone who you can shadow a bit, in person or virtually, and ask questions about how you can improve within your specific scenarios.”

And remember, Landex said, “You might not be the strongest in a skill, but never look in a mirror and think you’re not good enough.” Everyone can improve once they set their target.

Build connections beyond your role

Landex also believes employees should seek a sponsor or champion.

“A sponsor is not a mentor but someone who can help you in your next career step,” she explained. “Let’s say you don’t have all the right skills or the right technology, but you have the right effort and capabilities to get there. With the right sponsor, they will help you connect with the right people and opportunities to get you to the next stage of your career.”

Be your best data keeper

Having a record of your career path can be surprisingly insightful. Landex said she does this in two ways: by documenting her accomplishments, and by asking colleagues to share their feedback about her.

The personal document is just for you. “It can be 10 pages or no limit,” she said. “Put in all the different roles you’ve had. Write in your achievements and how you managed. Keep it chronicled and make note of what’s relevant.”

Then revisit it about once a year or as your accomplishments happen. Continue to think about how your direction changes, and adjust your entries to showcase relevant details.

This personal document is a great way for you notice trends in your accomplishments and pinpoint new, in-demand skillsets that you’ve obtained. Also, by calling out how you got there, you’re making note of your way of thinking through a problem or project.

Landex also suggests collecting unsolicited feedback. Whether it’s a kind note from your manager about a project you rocked or an appreciative hallway chat with a peer about your work ethic, save it.

“I actually capture my feedback on LinkedIn,” said Landex who feels the Recommendations section of the platform is an underutilized tool. “When I get good feedback from someone other than my manager, I ask the person if they could share their feedback as a recommendation on LinkedIn.”

Understand that your career is evolutionary

With every great role, you’ll find great lessons and potential successes. By chronicling your experience, expanding your connections, and showcasing your well-earned accolades, you are setting a solid foundation to nurture your career development.

Never treat a new role as the “end all, be all.” It’s simply a milestone of your career evolution.

How thinking like a recruiter can open more doors in your job search – Microsoft Life

Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.

Question: I’m interested in a role that I found on a job site. I reached out to a recruiter at the company through LinkedIn, but I didn’t hear back. Did I go about this the wrong way?

Answer:  If you’ve spotted the perfect role on a job site, you may be tempted to run a quick LinkedIn search, identify a recruiter who works at that company, and reach out. Sometimes this approach works, but more often, you never hear anything back. Why?

While LinkedIn is a great way to connect with others during a job search, you may be going about your networking in the wrong way—or even with the wrong person.

Microsoft recruiter Mike Maglio offers a simple approach to using LinkedIn to increase your chance of getting a response and making a meaningful connection. His secret? Think like a recruiter.

It’s no surprise that recruiters use LinkedIn’s search tool to find potential candidates for their open jobs. The trick, Maglio says, is for job seekers to use the same search tool to find recruiters who might be hiring for the jobs you want.

“In their profile, a lot of recruiters will explain what they do and what organizations they cover to show up in searches more accurately,” he said. You can find them by doing your own search.

For example, if you are a software engineer who is passionate about working on Azure technology, search for “Azure AND recruiter AND Microsoft.” Maglio suggests job seekers use Boolean search logic with terms such as “AND” to yield more relevant results with a more accurate listing of recruiters in that space. “Use filters such as current company, location, etc. to get even more relevant results,” he added.

“Even within a product as big as Azure, you still want to get as specific with your search as possible,” said Maglio. “The more targeted you are, the better.”

Check out the profiles of the recruiters you found, and then choose a couple who work with your specific qualifications, such as software engineer, recent graduate, and Azure solutions.

Now that you’ve located the right recruiters, it’s time to introduce yourself. Craft a message that is concise, precise, and offers information that explains who you are. “Recruiters get many messages, so being direct and specific increases the likelihood you’ll get a response,” said Maglio.

Use a warm welcome, such as “Hello [Recruiter Name]” and then be clear about what you are seeking (e.g., referral for a role, connection to a team, information, etc.). A recruiter is going to look at your profile, so you don’t have to send a full resume or  write an introduction with all of your experience.

Do you have a mutual connection? Mention that person in your introduction—or better yet ask your mutual connection to make an InMail introduction between you and the recruiters, Maglio suggested. This gives you an automatic “trust boost” because the recruiters are familiar with the connection who’s referring you.

“If you are reaching out about a role, include the link to the job posting. Let the recruiters know that you’re interested and would like to be considered for the role,” he said. It will also help recruiters connect you with other recruiters or hiring teams, in case that specific role is handled by someone else.

If you are simply wanting more information, be clear about that. If the recruiters can help, they might potentially schedule time to chat with you or even refer you to someone in the organization.

Recruiters need to understand who you are beyond your resume and LinkedIn profile, so use your chance to show them what you can bring to the company or job.

“You should be able to demonstrate your value and show you are a knowledgeable applicant, but be concise,” said Maglio.

“You could briefly speak to a relevant article or press release that ties into your passion. Or—if possible—call out a patent, applications you’ve built, or a slideshow of projects that can be viewed,” he said.

These examples show your passions and interests, beyond just your resume. “But keep it short and sweet,” Maglio said. “The last thing you want to do is bury that kind of info.”

If you’ve followed these steps and haven’t been able to connect with the first set of recruiters you’ve identified, keep applying and refining these steps.

The right connection is out there, along with the role of your dreams.

CEO outlines Data Dynamics StorageX trends, future features

Data Dynamics CEO Piyush Mehta admitted he could not have envisioned the customer challenges his company would need to address as it marks its six-year anniversary.

The Teaneck, N.J., vendor focused on file migration when Mehta founded the company in 2012. But the Data Dynamics StorageX software has since added capabilities, such as analytics and native Amazon S3 API support, to help customers better understand and manage their data as they transition to hybrid cloud architectures. 

The StorageX software enables users to set policies to move files from one storage system to another, including on-premises or public cloud object storage, and to retrieve and manage their unstructured data. New features on the horizon include container support, NFSv4 namespace capabilities and greater integration with Microsoft’s Active Directory, according to Mehta.

Mehta said Data Dynamics StorageX currently has more than 100 customers, including 25 Fortune 100 companies and six of the world’s top 12 banks. He estimated more than 90% of customer data is stored on premises.

StorageX actually goes back to 2002, when it was developed by startup NuView for file virtualization. SAN switching vendor Brocade acquired NuView in 2006 and tried to use StorageX for a push into storage software. After Brocade’s software strategy failed, it sold the StorageX intellectual property to Data Dynamics, which relaunched the software as a file migration tool in 2013.

In a Q&A, Mehta discussed the latest customer trends, upcoming product capabilities and recent pricing changes for Data Dynamics StorageX software.

How has the primary use case for Data Dynamics StorageX software changed over the one you initially envisioned?

Data Dynamics CEO Piyush MehtaPiyush Mehta

Piyush Mehta: What ended up happening is, year over year, as customers were leveraging StorageX for large-scale migrations, we realized a consistent challenge across environments. Customers lost track of understanding the data, lost track of owners, lost track of impact when they moved the data. And we realized that there’s a business opportunity where we could add modules that can help do that.

Think of this as ongoing lifecycle management of unstructured data that just keeps growing at 30%, 40%, 50% year over year. The second aspect to that was helping them move data not just to a NAS tier, but also to object storage, both on- and off-prem.

What are the latest customer trends?

Mehta: One theme that we continue to see is a cloud-first strategy regardless of vertical; every company, every CIO, every head of infrastructure talks about how they can leverage the cloud. The challenge is very few have a clearly defined strategy of what cloud means. And from a storage perspective, the bigger challenge for them is to understand what these legacy workloads are and where they can find workloads that can actually move to the cloud.

For born-in-the-cloud workloads, with applications that were started there, it’s an easy starting point. But for the years and years of user and application data that’s been gathered and collected, all on-prem, the question becomes: How do I manage that?

The second thing is a reality check that everything’s not going to the public cloud, and everything’s not going to stay local. There’s going to be this hybrid cloud concept where certain data and certain applications will most likely — at least for the foreseeable future — reside locally. And then whatever is either not used, untouched, deep archive, those type of things can reside in the cloud.

Are customers more interested in using object storage in public or private clouds?

Mehta: It’s a mixture. We do see huge interest in AWS and Glacier as a deep archive or dark data archive tier. At the same time, we see [NetApp’s] StorageGrid, [IBM Cloud Object Storage, through its] Cleversafe [acquisition], Scality as something that customers are looking at or have deployed locally to tier large amounts of data — but, again, data that’s not necessarily active.

Do you find that people are more inclined to store inactive data than implement deletion policies?

Mehta: I still haven’t seen the customer who says, ‘It’s OK to delete.’ You’ll have the one-off exceptions where they may delete, but there’s always this propensity to save, rather than delete, because I may need it.

What you end up finding is more and more data being stored — in which case, why would I keep it on primary NAS? No matter how cheap NAS may be getting, I’d rather put it on a cheaper tier. That’s where object conversations are coming in.

Which of the new StorageX capabilities have customers shown the most interest in?

Mehta: We have seen huge interest, adoption and sale of our analytics product. Most customers don’t know their data — type, size, age, who owns it, how often it’s being accessed, etc. We’ve been able to empower them to go in and look at these multi-petabyte environments and understand that. Then, the decision becomes: What subset of this do I want to move to a flash tier? What subset do I want to move to a scale-up, scale-out NAS tier?

Then, there is what we call dark or orphan data, where a company says, ‘Anything over 18 months old can sit in the active archive tier‘ — and by active, I mean something that’s disk-driven, rather than tape-driven. That’s where we’re seeing object interest come in. First, help me do the analytics to understand it. And then, based on that, set policies, which will then move the data.

Does Data Dynamics offer the ability to discover data?

Mehta: We have an analytics module that leverages what we call UDEs — universal data engines. In the old world, when we were doing migrations only, they were the ones that were doing the heavy lifting of moving the data. Now, they also have the ability to go collect data. They will go ahead and crawl the file system or file directories and capture metadata information that then is sent back into the StorageX database, which can be shared, as well as exported. We can give you aggregate information, and then you can drill on those dashboards, as needed.

Does your analytics engine work on object- and file-based data?

Mehta: It works only on file today. It’s really to understand your SMB and NFS data to help determine how to best leverage it. Most of that data — I would say north of 95% — is sitting on some kind of file tier when you look at unstructured data. It’s not sitting on object.

Where is StorageX deployed?

Mehta: The StorageX software gets deployed on a server within the customer environment, because that’s your control mechanism, along with the back-end databases. That’s within the customer’s firewalls. From an infrastructure standpoint, everything sits in central VMs [virtual machines]. We’re moving it to a container technology in our next release to make it far more flexible and versatile in terms of how you are scaling and managing it.

What other capabilities do you think you’ll need moving forward?

Mehta: More integration with Active Directory so that we can provide far more information in terms of security and access than we can today. From a technology standpoint, we are continuing to make sure that we support API integration downstream into local storage vendors — so, the latest operating systems and the latest APIs. Then, from a hyperscaler standpoint, being able to have native API integration into things like Azure Blob and Glacier are things that are being added.

Data Dynamics updated StorageX pricing this year. There’s no longer a fee for file retrieval, but the prices for analytics, replication and other capabilities increased. What drove the changes?

Mehta: The costs haven’t gone up. Before, we were giving you a traditional licensing mechanism where you had two lines items: a base license cost and a maintenance cost. That was confusing customers, so we decided to just make it one single line item. Every module of ours now becomes an annual subscription based on capacity, where the cost of maintenance is embedded into it.

The other thing we learned from our customers was that when you looked at both an archive and a retrieval capability, we wanted customers to have the flexibility to manage that without budgeting and worrying about the cost constraints of what they were going to retrieve. It’s hard to predict what percentage of the data that you archive will need to be brought back. The management of the ‘bring back, send back, bring back, send back’ becomes a huge tax on the customer.

Now, the functionality of retrieval is given to you as part of your archive module, so you are not paying an incremental cost for it. It became subscription, so it’s just an auto renewal, rather than worrying about it from a Capex perspective and renewing maintenance and all of that.

Expert questions funds for interoperability challenges in healthcare

One expert says the $2 million in funding ONC is offering developers to address interoperability challenges in healthcare — although commendable — may not be enough.

“I applaud ONC for recognizing this challenge and making funds available for development of interoperability platforms and solutions,” said John McDaniel, senior vice president of innovation and technology for health IT consulting firm The HCI Group. “However, based on the work we have done with vendors that offer interoperability solutions, I don’t believe $2 million will address the issue.”

ONC funding offered in two areas

ONC will provide up to $2 million in funding to two recipients focused on developing innovative and breakthrough advances in two areas: expanding the scope of population-level data-focused application programming interfaces (APIs) and advancing clinical knowledge at the point of care, according to ONC.

For expanding the scale of APIs, ONC wants to see projects that reduce provider burdens associated with reporting through API technology, as well as assessing trade-offs associated with various big data formats and challenges to the scope of FHIR-based APIs.

As for advancing clinical knowledge at the point of care, ONC hopes to see “emerging innovations” in clinical medicine, as well as data-driven medicine infrastructure and legal and policy implications for innovative approaches, according to the ONC news release.

Additional funding may be available

ONC will fund up to $1 million per area of interest by 2019. After the funds are awarded, there will be a two-year project and budget period, but applicants are encouraged to submit responses based on a five-year project and budget period because additional funding for three to five years could be provided based on the availability of funds and “meaningful progress.”

Based on the work we have done with vendors that offer interoperability solutions, I don’t believe $2 million will address the issue.
John McDanielsenior vice president of innovation and technology, The HCI Group

The funding opportunity will be open for three years, allowing for the possibility that ONC will issue additional awards to other eligible applicants for future “priority areas of interest.”  

ONC expects the funding to “further a new generation of health IT development and inform the innovative implementation and refinement of standards, methods and techniques for overcoming major barriers and challenges as they are identified.” Though he questions whether $2 million will be enough to address interoperability challenges in healthcare, McDaniel said he has seen ONC be successful with similar initiatives in the past, such as establishing incentives to motivate healthcare organizations to implement EHRs, which enabled the digitization of patient care documentation.

The full scope of interoperability challenges in healthcare

Now, McDaniel said, the challenge is to enable full interoperability to not only digitize retrospective patient data, but to “capture and use real-time patient information coupled with cognitive computing to assist care providers with decision-making and best practices given the full view of all relevant patient data.”

“Developing interoperability between EHR’s is a good start, but since only a percentage of relevant retrospective patient data is maintained in those systems, we need to establish interoperability standards for dynamic exchange of data from all source systems, including IoT, EHR’s medical devices, personal health devices, etc., to enable precision and predictive care models,” McDaniel said.

How to ‘come out’ as an LGBTQ+ ally at work – Microsoft Life

Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.

Question: I want to help my coworkers feel respected for who they really are. But sometimes I’m not sure what to do or say to show that I’m an ally, and I don’t want to mess up or hurt anyone’s feelings. How can I be a better ally?

Answer: The first step to becoming a better ally is wanting to be one—so you’re on the path already! There are many ways to be an ally in your professional realm, including connecting with coworkers to learn what they face and care about, stepping in when someone isn’t being treated with respect, and educating others. These Microsoft employees, who are all allies or members of the LGBTQ+ community, have some advice.

Know what an ally is and why you should be one

An LGBTQ+ ally is someone who respects equal rights, gender equality, and LGBTQ+ social movements; stands up for members of the LGBTQ+ community; and challenges homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. Allies increase protection, safety, and equality.

“Coming out” as an ally in the workplace sends a powerful message of affirmation and support to LGBTQ+ employees, which can help them feel more respected and able to do their work.

Spend a little time thinking about why you want to be an ally—and think about why allies are needed and how you could make a difference, said Andrea Llamas, a senior human resources advisor.

Often, the motivation to be an ally comes from personal stories and connections.

“Everyone has a friend or family member that is part of the LGBTQ+ community,” Llamas said. “To make the world a better place for the people in that community, [we need to get to the place where] sexual orientation or gender identity is not important.”

Once you know why you want to be an ally and what you might want to accomplish by being one—whether it’s as simple as making another person feel comfortable or as big as becoming a vocal advocate for change—you can figure out how to do it.

Set out to learn more

Many people feel unsure of their role as allies in part because they aren’t familiar with the experiences or realities of LGBTQ+ people. Don’t worry if you don’t know what a term means or if you aren’t familiar with an issue. Research is where to start, Llamas said.

“If you don’t have the information you need and if you are curious, ask,” she said.

If you do ask a coworker who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, make sure that you pose your question in a respectful way and perhaps in private. First and foremost, communicate your openness and desire to learn so that you can support.

If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing to LGBTQ+ coworkers—such as using the wrong pronoun—respectfully ask them how they prefer to be addressed or how you should refer to something. You might also ask how they would prefer that people address mistakes when they happen, suggested Michael Tan, a Microsoft manager of a transgender employee.

But don’t rely on LGBTQ+ people to educate you on everything; do your own research. Morty Scanlon, a business program manager, suggests using resources from Straight for Equality, The Human Rights Campaign, and Outstanding to learn more.

Members of Microsoft’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group GLEAM, which stands for Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft, have helped create resources and workshops for coworkers who want to be allies. Find out whether your company has similar resources, suggest that they be created, or even help compile them, said Scanlon, cochair of GLEAM.

“When people have resources at their disposal, they can see a path toward their own allyship to materialize,” he said.

As you do your research, look at your own assumptions. Take the opportunity to recognize and move past bias. Use these questions as guides:

  • What assumptions have you made?
  • Do you know if they are true?
  • How could you find out?

Show support and speak up

Some gestures by allies might seem small, but they can mean a lot. For example, Llamas said, “Don’t hide any relations you have to someone in the LGBTQ+ community, such as friends or family members.” Talking about your gay brother or transgender cousin the same way that you talk about any family member or friend shows that you value people equally regardless of their identities.

You can also communicate your support in simple ways, such as by putting stickers on your computer or signs at your desk, by attending LGBTQ+ support events, or by joining an advocacy effort. These actions show people who have faced challenges or who have previously not been accepted for who they are that they have your support in little and big ways.

“Remember that there are many ways to let people know that you are an ally,” said Llamas, who serves as the GLEAM Mexico lead.

Being an ally also means speaking up when some voices aren’t heard, when someone is excluded, or when something harmful is said. Listen fully to others’ ideas, contributions, and stories. Intervene when someone is being discounted or ignored or if harmful language is used. If someone has been treated with harm, approach them to see what they need and offer support.

And people who need allies themselves can also be an ally to others, Scanlon said.

“In the same way that allies are essential to the LGBTQ+ community, we also have a responsibility to be allies for others. The lessons I’ve learned in working to be a better ally to the transgender community are lessons that I can apply to evolve my allyship beyond my own community and apply more broadly to the workplace: examining my assumptions, listening to understand, identifying and addressing my blind spots, and being brave.”

Let empathy lead

When Michael Tan, director of strategy, learned that a member of his team was transgender and would be transitioning, he set out to determine how he could help.

“My first role was trying to make sure that the work environment would respond appropriately and that people were respectful,” he said.

But he didn’t immediately know how to be an ally.

“I was in the camp initially where you’re so afraid of saying the wrong thing. I saw other people also so afraid of saying the wrong thing or using the wrong pronoun that they took the path of least resistance and didn’t reach out at all.”

Tan invited the Ingersoll Gender Center to talk to his group. The speakers shared firsthand experiences, background about the transgender community in the workplace, common challenges transgender employees often face, and guidance on how to be supportive.

Listening directly to people’s experiences sparked empathy, Tan said. However you can, seek out others’ stories—they will help you feel connected.

Try to understand the emotional journey that someone else goes through, he said. It’s a powerful display of support “to find out, and then do, what they need to feel comfortable.”

What being welcomed at work looks like – Microsoft Life

Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.

Question: I’m part of the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s important to me to work at a place that accepts me for who I am. What’s the best way to figure that out, even before I apply?

Answer: When you choose a job, you’re choosing more than the actual work you’ll do. You’re becoming part of a whole culture: the environment around you, the coworkers and leaders, and the role the company plays in the broader world. Our workplace becomes a significant part of our lives. And how we feel there can influence our focus, our ideas, and our sense of well-being.

As Claudia del Hierro, a senior program manager at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, puts it, “You’re going to live that culture every single day.”

Whether you’re actively seeking a new job or casually curious about what other companies are like, how do you decipher if a workplace is somewhere all employees, including those who are LGBTQ+, feel supported? We spoke with a few employees who have sought that answer for themselves. Here are their tips and advice.

Investigate the company’s track record

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) releases an annual Corporate Equality Index, a national benchmarking tool that tracks corporate policies and practices pertinent to LGBTQ+ people. Checking that index is a good place to start, del Hierro said.

“Is the company you want to work for rated? What’s its score? That alone tells you a lot about the culture. Some companies have jumped on the LGBTQ+ train for marketing or to gain consumers but don’t really live those values,” she said. “HRC digs into policies so you can assess more deeply.”

Don’t stop there, said Sera Fernando, an assistant Microsoft store manager in Santa Clara, California, who identifies as a trans female. Fernando already worked at Microsoft when she made the decision to transition. At the same time, a transgender friend of hers was also interested in the company and was asking her about its culture. Fernando set out to learn more about how the company approached transgender people, employees, and issues. She began to research both internally, where she found Microsoft’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group GLEAM, which stands for Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft and includes the entire LGBTQ+ spectrum and their allies, and externally, where she found helpful news coverage.

“Read news stories. Enter all the search terms. See what comes up. Do the research,” said Fernando, now the community codirector of GLEAM.

See how the company shows up

Supporting and participating in local and national Pride events and parades does not guarantee a welcoming workplace year-round, but it’s a clue, said Dena Y. Lawrence, a pre-sales manager for Microsoft in Dublin.

“When you’re out at a Pride parade, see which companies are showing up. You can see from a public corporate perspective which ones have embraced LGBTQ+ equality.”

Once you know whether a company lends its support publicly to the LGBTQ+ community, look closer, Fernando adds. Does the company advocate for equity, at events and in the public sphere?

“Are all LGBTQ+ groups being represented—nonbinary, genderqueer, transgender, intersex? Are those stories being shown and told? Are there signs that the company is in tune with the message year-round? Are they just rainbow-fying everything, or are there deeper commitments? What is the senior leadership team doing and saying—what is its involvement? Is it involved in the initiatives? How is the company amplifying efforts?”

See how it recruits

Beyond celebratory events, look at marketing.

Pay attention to how and where a company recruits, said Lawrence, who has served on Microsoft’s GLEAM board and has created a talk on how to assess how progressive a company is.

“Has a company taken the time and initiative to find advertising space in LGBTQ+ specific magazines or digital channels?” If so, she said, it’s an indication of a commitment to make those employees feel welcome and supported and to ensure that the company is recruiting all types of employees, she said.

See what it offers

Look as closely as you can at a company’s policies and benefits. Is there equity for LGBTQ+ employees? Are there family benefits and medical benefits that support the needs of LGBTQ+ employees?

“Go into the policies. Ask Human Resources for links to the benefits. Look closely at the language around leave, parental leave—does the language refer only to male and female partners? Updating that language means the organization has already done a lot of work internally to transform,” Lawrence said.

“If there are antidiscrimination policies that call out sexual orientation and—the holy grail—gender identity, then they have the core ingredients for inclusion.”

Talk to employees

If you have friends or networking connections who can put you in contact with employees—especially those who are LGBTQ+—grab the chance to talk with them.

“They live the culture every day. What’s on paper might not be the reality. Sometimes the reality is even better; sometimes it’s not,” said del Hierro, who serves as GLEAM’s Latin American director.

“Do they have an employee resource group that’s active? Could you be visible in that space if you wanted to be? Find people who are thriving; see what that looks like,” said Fernando.

See how the company responds to you

Don’t hesitate to ask directly in an interview about how the company supports diversity and inclusion. Take note of how those questions are received.

“There are so many companies embracing diversity and inclusion—you don’t want to work for a company where you can’t be who you are, in this day and age,” Lawrence said.

And if a company won’t support and welcome you, del Hierro said, you probably don’t want to work there.

“I was the cofounder for the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Mexico, and I started my college’s LGBTQ+ alumni chapter. It’s on my CV because it’s important to me and relevant to my experience. If someone won’t consider me because of that, then I would not want the job.”