The phrase “Hello World” has been in widespread use throughout computer programming circles since 1973. Eventually, it would become the phrase that all beginning programmers would first learn to output when they were learning a new programming language. In the modern age, its successful output acts as a sanity test for proving that a programming language’s compiler, development environment, and run-time environment are configured correctly.
Over the last forty + years, “Hello World” has achieved an almost mythical representation of the starting place. For the beginning. For the infrastructure being in place for something truly impressive to follow.
Considering how long I’ve been in technology, shepherding a company that has been growing organically for the last thirteen years, I chide myself for not recognizing earlier all we have to learn about business success from technology. In technology, having the right infrastructure in place is everything. The art of getting proficient at assembling the foundation and its respective components is what makes everything else possible. We need compilers, development environments, production environments, uptime monitoring, and checks and balances.
Only then, can the software run and achieve its goals. It’s the bottom rung of Mazlow’s pyramid.
In business, we see the same need. The pieces must be in place. We must become proficient at assembling the board, including putting people in the right places, giving them the right instructions, and giving them the tools to expand their own personal code base.
To me, getting the infrastructure in place is everything. In addition to being CEO at Commerce Kitchen, I frequently consult as a fractional CTO for clients and partners in the community. This includes startups without funding, startups with funding, and established businesses in laggard sectors looking to transform their approach to business using technology. Quite frequently, There is an overlapping, detrimental mindset shared across these organizations that proclaims “targets” are the best way to move employees and an organization forward. It could be a financial target: “We will make $1MM by the end of the year.” Or an outreach target: “We will conduct 200 demos in the next quarter.” Or a code quality target: “We will reduce our number of bugs per lines of code by 25% in our next release.”
The problem is that these goals do nothing to establish infrastructure. I believe with some fervor that it is not sufficient for a leader to set targets that others must reach and then do nothing else. Often targets have little bearing in reality, and in the spirit of complex systems, business environments are too complex in the modern era to know how a system will or should perform in advance of immersing yourself and seeing what learnings emerge.
Rather, it is a leader’s job to build infrastructure. It is a leader’s job to create the sanity tests that prove successful integration has taken place, and create the conditions that allow the Hello World moment to surface.
To me, this means establishing the standards of performance that everyone in the organization must meet, in terms of concrete, tactical details and detailed expectations of skill. It means creating a culture where an inexorable work ethic fuels continued improvement. It means creating an unfaltering loyalty of everyone in the company to everyone else in the company. Everyone must be equally valuable, regardless of their percentage of ownership, their title, or their pay grade. We must be wholly committed to open communication, and be committed to learning and teaching. And it means putting the team’s welfare and priorities ahead of mine.
And this is just the start. That is the sanity check that is required for the program to run successfully. And when the program runs as a result of the proper integration of all the disparate infrastructural components, then the targets are met. Then the sales numbers are met. Then the code is clean.
Then the goals are met, as if the program was running in the background the entire time, without the need to berate, shame, or be swallowed by the monstrous fear of failure that drives so many organizational leaders.
On our bad days, we have trouble trusting each other’s domain knowledge and remembering that our teammates have thought it all through. We struggle to focus on the real problem. We think that if something goes wrong, one person is to blame, rather than the whole company.
On our good days, I walk into the firehouse on South Broadway – the home of our talented team of technologists and strategists – and we are demonstrating character by doing right by our clients. We’re making recommendations that may mean we don’t get more billable hours, but save our clients time, money, and heartache. We are going the extra distance with the software we’re building, and maintaining an abnormally high level of focus. We understand the bar we’ve set for ourselves, and practice every detail until we get it right. We respect and trust each other implicitly. And I can feel what success is. I can hear the proud whisper of our organization becoming more than the sum of its parts.
I hear the call, and the challenge.
I hear the declaration in the voice of this team as it all comes together:
Hello World. Now our work can begin.