Fascinating People, Forming Relationships
I’m in Bangalore for a week or so. I’m here for a couple of purposes: I’m spreading the word about our new Application Vulnerability Assessment programs. And, I’m here to talk about Security Architecture as a practice, as a career. Our security department’s team here in Bangalore are wonderful engineers, young, full of energy, enthusiastic. But there aren’t any Security Architects here. So, our global security architecture practice is hampered by the lack of presence in this theater.
Hence, I’ve been here explaining, demonstrating, yes, stumping a bit.
I’ve been staying with a friend from work who’s here managing this team. He’s been hosting me in his home – I much prefer getting to know his family rather than staying in a hotel, no matter how plush the accommodations. A bed and a shower are about all I require. There’s no accounting for personal tastes, eh?
And, here’s where my story takes an interesting turn.
Traffic is tough in Bangalore. You’ll be crossing a congested bridge, and cars and especially motorcycles supposedly on the other side of the road will take one or more lanes out of your side, oncoming, willy, nilly. Driving lanes are not respected; as many vehicles as will fit side by side, with inches to spare, will be filled. Beware of any empty space, as it will be filled by vehicles trying to get a leg up, crowding to the “front” of the line. Though in this traffic, where exactly would be the “front”?
So, I’m happy to be driven by an expert in this traffic. And, our company does not allow staff posted to work here to drive. The company pays for a driver. The risk of accident is just too high. It’s cheaper to let a professional do the driving.
I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations with my host’s driver. And his story is what I want to share. Let’s call the driver Raju (to protect him and his privacy).
Ragu is a wonderfully sweet man, mid-thirties, dedicated to his family, hard working and conscientious. His driving, at least to my eyes in the rather chaotic and dangerous Bangalore traffic is highly professional, careful and as considerate as one can be here where traffic courtesy is taken as a sign of weakness of which to take advantage. The traffic here is scary to my West Coast USA driving habits. I would not get behind the wheel of a vehicle here, glad to let someone else handle it for me.
So, one might assume that Ragu is satisfied with his life, basically, as a chauffeur? Yes, and, here’s where some of the most important principles of Security Architecture comes into play.
- Never assume what you don’t know: dig deeper, get the whole story
- People matter; we are not replaceable objects
- Effectiveness = Relationships
- Trust is built
- Authority is earned
I’ve been reminded about the importance of being an advocate for the success of people we meet. Let me tell you about Ragu.
Being a chauffeur is a rather new occupation for Ragu, a couple of months only. He has done many things:
- A guitarist
- A real estate finder
- A builder
He’s faced down a local gangster group who threatened his family. Whew! But that’s not all.
Ragu was supervising the building of a home for someone else. In that area, he payed the women working for him a living wage, comparable to the men on the job. Then, some of the local villagers threatened his life for paying those women enough to survive. The villagers preferred the usual state of affairs where women are beneath men, kept in servitude, unable to make a living.
These villagers literally surrounded Ragu with big sticks, beating on his vehicle, threatening his life. Yikes!
So Ragu has seen some life, been through serious challenges. Perhaps a bit more than facing down a couple of enterprise Directors who don’t like one’s risk assessment, don’t you think?
OK. So why am I sharing this?
Because this is not the whole story.
Ragu is a product of the child labor market in India. His very poor family pulled him out of school at 9 years old. He was sent to a clothing factory to labor for 5 rupees each week, 1 rupee for a whole day’s work, at the tender age of 9 years old.
Still, the human spirit is indomitable.
Ragu is working on his bachelor’s degree. He continues to study the guitar. All this while driving a family around and raising his own children.
And, Ragu and I had a great conversation about getting started on a technical career. Ragu has aspirations. Because, it is impossible on a chauffeur’s salary to purchase a home in India.
I won’t go into my ideas about shifting into a technical career track.
What is important to me is that I’ve helped someone perhaps see his way to achieve his goals. And, what may not be obvious is that I’ve established a firm relationship which time and distance can’t destroy. Who knows? I may never see Ragu again. And that’s fine.
Still, through seeing the whole person, taking the time to understand, not the surface, but the whole story, I’ve established relationship. Rather than taking things at face view, I was curious, concerned, and one Ragu’s side for his aspirations.
I hope that I can say that Ragu and I are friends? And friends help each other.
Now please understand, I don’t think at this point that I need much from Ragu. His job demands that he drive me where I need to go, anyway. That’s not the point of this writing.
I’ve got a friend, a compatriot. I went out of my way to understand, to give what I have, little or great, to look through Ragu’s eyes. And I know in my heart that we can help each other, and that we will, if called upon.
And that value cannot be purchased. It has to be earned.
So it is in the practice of security architecture. My relationships are more than 50% of my practice. Trust is always earned. Relationships are built. I’m here at a conference on Enterprise Architecture put on by The Open Group. I’ve run in to one of my work compatriots, Srikanth Narasimin. We’ve walked together through some very difficult moments on projects. We have rather deep earned trust (I hope he would agree?).
So, we can at a very fast pace, figure out a problem (we just did on this on a troubled huge initiative on the job) There’s a lot of shared reference and resonance.
One achieves this kind effectiveness, I believe, by stressing the human side as much as technical depth and leadership. Srikanth and I can move fast because of our relationship, a relationship built up through projects, efforts, trust, listening to each other, seeing each’s point of view, understanding background information and how that influences that which is under discussion. Srikanth knows that I’m on his side, even if we disagree in this moment about a particular thing. Our larger resonance gives space for conflict resolution.
Again, you can’t purchase a relationship like this. A fancy title conferred by management won’t build this authority. These are built and earned.
I like to say that Security Architecture is at least one half people-centered. If you don’t like people, you won’t be happy as an architect. One has to be able to effectively interact with and influence:
- Other system architects
- Project Managers (“PM”) and others driving projects directly
- Those charged with executing procedural operations and those charged with creating procedures and processes
I interact with these categories every day. If I specify something that cannot be done, it won’t get implemented. If I don’t understand the viewpoint and needs of each stakeholder, there’s no way that I can specify security requirements that will meet business need and which will be acceptable.
Interacting with Ragu reminded me that my effectiveness is directly related to my ability to form and sustain relationships. And relationships are built not by what I know, but what I hear and understand, my interest and concern.
As a practice, if I can, I make a practice of finding out about the personal life and concerns of the people with whom I work, as they choose to share. It’s a beginning place from which to start.
And, circling back to Ragu’s story, he told me, “I will never allow my children to be forced labor. They will get an education.” And so the world changes, yes?
/brook from Bangalore, India