Opinion on the Amazon S3 Outage; Checklist for Dealing with Outages

My journalist colleagues at Wired.com published some of my comments related to Amazon S3.1 Wired also posted another article titled Customers Shrug Off S3 Service Failure. I agree with the views of many of the customers expressed in the article. Don MacAskill, CEO of the popular photo hosting site Smugmug, wrote an understanding post about it.

My entire career working for media companies, I’ve held firm the belief that the uptime, reliability, performance, scalability, performance and security of commercial Web sites is of paramount importance. When sites that I’ve been responsible for have had issues, my colleagues and I have given our personal time and energy to resolution. With my teams, I spend considerable time on proactive measures. I’ve had the honor of working closely with and learning from some who do an excellent job running technology operations.

Experience has taught that things can and sometimes do go wrong. Sometimes calculated risks don’t pan out. Sometimes mistakes cause problems. We are human. We should strive for perfection; we can get close to it, but not fully attain it. We should be prepared for such scenarios. When they happen, we should work diligently and expeditiously on resolution and have frequent and honest communications with stakeholders and customers. Such communications during the incident should include:

During-Incident Communication Checklist

  • Current status
  • What is the full impact?
  • Estimated time to resolution
  • Any recommended workarounds until resolution, if practical
  • Assurance that it is being worked on
    • It often helps to mention who all are working on it and what they are doing

The post-incident communications to stakeholders and customers should include:

Post-Incident Communication Checklist

  • Summary
  • What happened, how and why it happened?
    • Including full description of all impact
    • Do not blame2 third-parties or say things like “beyond our control”. A technology leader takes responsibility equally for both insourced and outsourced products and services.3
  • How it was resolved
    • If the resolution is temporary or long-term
  • Next steps
  • Plan for eliminating or minimizing this and similar incidents from happening again
  • Thank all those who helped resolve and the customers for their understanding
  • Mention the monetary credits you plan to give as per the Service Level Agreement (SLA)
    • Specify any additional ‘make goods’ or returns you plan to make to the customers above and beyond the credits as per SLA, if appropriate.
  • Double check each recipient’s email address to make sure you are sending this memo which may contain confidential information to the correct person and not someone else with a similar name in your address book. You don’t want your memo published on Gawker.
  • Speaking of Gawker, in the event someone does leak your memo outside the beyond the intended recipients, take care to not say anything in it that would be an embarrassment. That’s another reason to be honest, own the problem and solution, and not pass the blame.

Stakeholders and customers here refer to internal customers of the technology operations team (e.g. the concerned folks in editorial, marketing, sales, finance, legal and other departments). External communications to the public Internet should be handled in consultation with legal and public relations.

S3’s outage (or any outage) isn’t to be taken lightly, but I have faith Amazon and their customers will learn from it.


  • As explained in the terms of use of this site, any opinions expressed on my personal Web site do not reflect those of any employer, past or present. My Web site and I in my personal life neither represent nor speak for any corporation.
  • I have no affiliation, financial or otherwise with Amazon.com. I happen to be a user of their products and services, some of which I like and some that I don’t.
  • Personal Web sites like this are exempt from the performance requirements of corporate Web sites :-) My personal Web site is for expressing, learning and R&D. It also happens to be hosted on Amazon EC2 and S3.
  1. Silicon Alley Insider and ValleyWag have amusing spins on it. :-) []
  2. There may be extreme instances, especially when criminal activity or malicious wrongdoing was the cause where it would be appropriate to blame someone. []
  3. It is ok to mention service providers, or describing external events for explaining what happened, but don’t do it in a “it was their fault, not ours” tone. The technology leader should factually describe what happened and take responsibility. []

Management & Technical Career Growth Tracks

Described here is one way to enable technologists to grow their careers in your organization while still allowing them to focus on the type of work they are best at and enjoy most.

The typical management career growth path does not suit some technical people. These information workers need to grow in their careers (gain greater compensation, responsibilities and influence) without having to become managers of other people. A good way to achieve that goal is to create a technical career growth track in your organization.

The following diagram and table illustrate management positions alongside technical positions of similar levels.

Click on the diagram above to view it as a zooming presentation.

This system isn’t meant to be rigid. It is designed to find a good balance with most organizations. That balance, i.e. how many “levels of authority” there are will differ across organizations. The focus of this article is to provide a technical track as an alternative to management tracks, whether there are 3 levels or 13. There are pros and cons of having fewer “bands” or ranks. (As a side note, some organizations like the military1 require lots of ranks.) Ranks need not signify a strict hierarchy where one can only go from one rank to the one immediately above. The ranks could simply be used as “salary bands” and the levels of “hierarchy of authority” could be fewer.

In this model, for example, an architect role is at the same compensation and influence level as a manager role, assuming that the particular manager and architect being compared add similar value to the company. To accommodate more ranks, a senior architect would be at the same level as a senior manager.

If the organization prefers consistent titles for levels regardless of track, the system could name them like this: vice president & fellow, senior director & architect, etc. In the case of a fellow who is at an SVP level, they could be named SVP & distinguished fellow.

Here is a definition of the fellow role from WikiPedia:2

Large corporations in research and development-intensive industries3 appoint a small number of senior scientists and engineers as Fellows. Fellow is the most senior rank or title one can achieve on a technical career, though some fellows also hold business titles such as vice president or chief technology officer.

Such a technical career growth plan brings many benefits to your organization.

  • It helps retain good technologists who want to grow in their careers, but want to do keep doing the type of work they are best at and enjoy doing: technical work.
  • It avoids brilliant technical people from being “pushed” (by themselves or their supervisors trying to “reward” them) into people-management responsibilities.
  • It reduces situations of having too many people-managers but not enough people-management positions over time as people get promoted.

Care should be taken to recognize that some technical people do enjoy making the transition to people-management roles and the presence such a technical track should not discourage them. Having an alternate career growth track option is about presenting employees with more than one choice.

Similar system are also used to enable non-managerial career paths at editorial and design departments at newspapers, magazines and other newsrooms.

Related Articles on Other Sites

Some updates to this article are published at http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2012/12/17/tech-career-tracks-v2/

(Thanks to Brian MurphyBobby Chowdhury, and Janet Kasdan for their contributions to this system.)

(Updated: 2012-Dec-17)

  1. US Military Ranks []
  2. Definition of Fellow at WikiPedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fellow and Wikitionary http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/fellow []
  3. IBM or Sun Microsystems in information technology, and Boston Scientific in Medical Devices for example []

Interviewing By Putting To Work

I’ve found this to be an effective way of evaluating potential hires compared to just interviewing in a question/answer format: Put them to work for a few hours (or even days/weeks/months as contractors) and see how well they perform.

Having someone do the job as a short-term temporary contractor before hiring them is one of my favorite ways of testing them for the job. However, sometimes this isn’t practical. In those cases, having the candidate work on a short test assignment for a few hours can be very telling.

For example, when interviewing a software programmer, set them up on a computer and give them a programming assignment representative of the type of work they would do on the job. Give them reasonable freedom as you’d give an actual employee. If they need to research references / solutions on the Web, let them. If they want to call a friend for consulting help, that’s fine. If they ask for your or their “coworkers” for help within reason, that’s okay too.

Hiring a journalist? Give them a reporting, writing, and/or editing assignment. Hiring a web site producer? Have them build a mini-web site or edit a copy of an existing site. Hiring a designer, have them design a logo for a business or product. (This will help determine how well they can relate their design skills to the business aspects.)

While this is a simulation, the more realistic you can make it, the better.

For information worker type jobs, coming up with a realistic assignment is easier than one for a management or executive leadership position candidate. Another challenge with this is that a manager and leader’s job requires significantly more interaction with others. That means this simulation will consume a fair amount of your and your team’s time. However, remember that manager and executive leaders are very important hires, so the time spent in finding the best possible hire is totally worth it.

Some factors to consider in your evaluation. How resourceful is the person? Do they communicate with the customers? How do they interact with the customers? Do they get the job done? Do they seek help beyond their own resources? Do they become a drain on others’ productivity? How is the quality of their work? What’s their balance of being a team player and contributing individually? How is their planning? How is their presentation? Do they document their solution? How well do they explain their solution?

I admit this is too time consuming to do for everyone who applies for the job. You do need to filter the list down to between three to five candidates for this working interview. There are a couple of ways you can do this. For contract-to-potentially-hire positions, you can rely on a trusted vendor to do the filtering for you according to your guidelines. For others, you do need to review their resumes, see who has recommended them, do phone interviews and give them tests. Computerized tests are a good way to save you and your team some time during the initial screening, provided you present the test in a way that is not demeaning to the candidate. The time/money invested in setting up an automated online test is worth it. The test needs to be respectfully presented as a part of the standard process and should not feel like an entrance exam or impersonal screening.

So next time you have a position to fill, consider using a working-interview.

Software Products: Own vs. Rent & Create vs. Get (Incorrectly Called Build vs. Buy)

Understanding the issue

Technology executives are often asked about their preferences on build vs. buy. This question would be better articulated as two separate questions: 1. own vs. rent and/or 2. create vs. get.

Why? The usual problems a company is trying to solve when they ask this are:

  1. How can we have the products, features and/or functionality we want sooner?
    • This is a create vs. get question, i.e. Will it take longer to build it or to get an existing product then install, integrate and configure it?
  2. How can we have a product that not only meets current requirements, but is also more likely to continue to develop to meet future requirements (foreseen and unforeseen)?
    • This is a own vs. rent question, i.e. Who do we think is more likely to innovate, continue to invest and do better future upgrades to the products: us, or a vendor?
  3. Which is the more economical and cost-effective option?
    • This is a create vs. get question, i.e. Which option has better ROI, in-house or a vendor?
  4. Which option will give us more business flexibility?
    • This is a own vs. rent question, i.e. Which option will give us a product that we can later decide to use for other purposes (e.g. sell or license to others)?

Building and buying are often part of the same concept of owning. For example, Google (the company) bought Android, Blogger and YouTube. Android, Blogger and YouTube programmers (builders) became Google employees. As a direct result of Google purchasing (buying) and thus owning YouTube, Google now builds and maintains it. In this example, buying and building are the same thing!

When people ask about companies buying software, they are almost always referring to licensingleasing or renting software.

So instead of calling the debate build vs. buy, which is inaccurate, ambiguous and confusing, we should consider it in two dimensions: own vs. rent and/or create vs. get. Even these distinctions aren’t complete, however, because there are different types of ownership (e.g. owning a product vs. owning a license to use it) and different types of rental or leasing agreements.

Owning a product is different from owning a license to use it. For example, you don’t own Microsoft Word (unless you are Microsoft). You own a license to use it on a certain number of computers. Another example: While you may own the physical DVD disk, you don’t own the movie on it: the rights holder1 does. You only own a license to play the movie for personal, non-commercial purposes. You are not allowed to play the DVD in a theater where you charge people to watch it. Nor are you allowed to distribute the film via a file sharing service. You are also not allowed to copy a long scene from the movie and use that video footage to create an advertisement for a product you are selling.2 These examples are relevant to the incorrectly named “build vs. buy” decisions, because the type of ownership governs what you can do and cannot do with the product. That has consequences for the future of your business.

Open Source Products

When asking the own vs. rent question, using open source products falls in the own side, because open source licenses permit you to do as you please3 with your copy of the open source software and no one can take it away from you. Open Source software licenses grant you rights similar to those you’d have if you owned it.4 Open source makes owning even better. It enables owning and sharing at the same time, which benefits the community at large.

When considering create vs. get, however, open source products fall in the get side because just like paid products, open source products are developed by someone else; are already made; and they can be implemented and supported by third-party vendors.

The popularity of open source products is another reason why build vs. buy is not the right question. Open source products are both “build” and “buy”, in the ‘own’ and ‘get’ senses respectively.

Having a preference is a good thing

Sometimes technology executives try to answer this question in a way to avoid seeming biased. They claim they have no preference towards either owning or renting software. However, a preference (a good thing) is not the same thing as a bias (a bad thing). When a person provides such a noncommittal answer, it might indicate they lack leadership, vision and a clear philosophy, or the courage to give an honest answer.

I generally prefer owning over renting. This applies not just to software, but to other things in my life like owning a home and owning a car. There are other people who prefer to rent apartments and lease cars. Neither philosophy may be better in general than the other, but one of them is always better depending on the circumstances. That’s where leadership comes in. A leader has learned from experience and from others and thus has preferences, principles and a philosophy. Good leadership is based on evidence, research and science. Leaders who prefer either one of owning or renting can be equally successful in the same organization and circumstances.

The nine main reasons I often prefer my organization to own the software it uses for its core business functions are:

  1. Competitive advantage via exclusivity, if desired.
    • You have an advantage over others who don’t have your software. They can’t just buy the products and services from the same vendor as you.
    • When an employee leaves your company to join your competitor, they can’t do the same thing they did for you there without your software.
  2. Business flexibility. When you own the software you use, you can:
    • White-label and license the products and/or services implemented using it to other companies, generating revenue.
    • License some of your software itself to other organizations, generating revenue.
    • Open source it, giving back to the community (a charitable thing to do)
  3. Economy and cost-savings when growing. When you own the software you use, you can use it without buying additional licenses for:
    • Companies that you acquire in the future
    • Implementing new products
  4. Control over your data.
    • When a vendor manages your core business data, in most cases you have practically relinquished control of your data even though your contract may say on paper it is yours.
  5. Superior integration and Time to market
    • When you own the products you use, it is often easier and cheaper to integrate with your other systems.
  6. Faster time to market
    • Your timelines are less at the mercy of outside vendors whose interests may or may not be aligned with yours at any given point in time.
  7. Superior integration
    • When you own the products you use, it is often easier and cheaper to integrate with your other systems.
  8. Choice. When you maintain a great software engineering team in-house:
    • You keep your vendors on their toes, knowing that they are not your only option.
    • You have the in-house expertise to evaluate the vendor products, solutions and claims. The in-house folks’ interests are best aligned with your company’s.
  9. The most successful companies have great software engineering teams that develop their core software.
    • Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Netflix, etc.: They all have great software engineering teams who build their core products.

The practice of renting too much of its software used for core business functions has run many companies into trouble.5 There are numerous examples of vendor solutions in search of problems. A vendor will often wow a team of executives with a product presentation and demo. The company will agree to rent the software not anticipating the cost increases over time. Later, the company will find it wasn’t worth the investment.

Vendor Evaluation Checklist (Starter)

When you do decide to use a vendor, consider using the following checklist.

When you meet a vendor trying to sell you a product or service, you must manage the meeting, instead of letting the vendor manage it. Ask the vendor the following questions.

  1. What business problem does your product solve?
  2. Who are your competitors?
    • If they claim they have no competitors, be cautious since it is unlikely to be an honest answer. Never assume that have no real competition like they claim. Do your own research on this regardless of how they answer the question. Compare their answer with your own findings.
  3. Please give us a live demo.
    • Do they use another customer’s data in their live demo? If yes, did they have permission from the customer to show it to you? If not, it implies they are callous about data privacy and how can you trust them not to show your data to others in a demo or even use your data for other purposes?
  4. We’d like to try before we buy but with no obligation to buy. Are you willing to do a test implementation (spike) with us at no or minimal cost to us?
  5. Explain your pricing in detail.
    • Ask for this at the first meeting.

This is a just a starter checklist. I plan to write a more thorough vendor evaluation checklist in a future article.


My preference to own applies only to software products for the company’s core business functions. For non-core back-office functions like corporate email, human resources, financial management, etc., I prefer to license software instead of owning it.

The future shape of software is changing.6 With Web-based applications and utility computing (“cloud” computing) becoming popular, even home users may increase the practice of renting software on a pay-per-use basis. I may write on that subject in the future.

[Authors Note: I expanded this post in July 2013 to provide more detail, but I purposely didn’t “update” it in the sense of making it current with respect to the times because I want to preserve this as a record of the philosophy I had back in 2007. To reflect the evolution of my thinking on this topic, I may write a separate article in the future.]

  1. usually a studio []
  2. …except as allowed as fair use under copyright laws. []
  3. within reason []
  4. except the right to restrict its use by others []
  5. E.g. Vendor Lock-In https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vendor_lock-in, Abandonware https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abandonware , etc.  []
  6. Konary, Graham & Seymour; 2004; The Future of Software Licensing: Software Licensing Under Siege http://www.softsummit.com/library/white_papers/futureofsoftwarelicensing_idc.pdf  []

7 Tips for Effective Email

Some tips for making better use of email at work and in personal life

  1. Realize that busy people may skim your email instead of reading it thoroughly, especially if they notice that they are among one of multiple recipients of the email.
    • When speaking to a specific person or people in the email body, highlight their name using bold, italics or color so that they notice it.
  2. When you send an email to multiple people asking for a response or assigning a task, specify by name in the body text who you are asking for a response or action from. Otherwise people may read your email and assume one of the others will act on it.
  3. When sending a very short message via email, put it all in the subject line and put EOM at the end of the subject line. EOM is a special convention and abbreviation for End of Message signaling that the body text of the email is empty and can be skipped.1
  4. Avoid using the bcc feature in a sneaky way to tell someone else (e.g. the main recipient’s boss) only your side of the story without telling the known recipients.
  5. At a workplace, when you send announcements (i.e. when your goal is for you to disseminate information and not to start a discussion), send the message in a way that recipients do not reply-all.
    • You can do that by either using a mailing list that only authorized people can send mail to, or by putting the actual recipients in bcc: field and using a placeholder address in the to: field. That is a legitimate use of bcc:. You could also request in your message that recipients do not reply-all to this message and instead for example, report issues to an alternate address.
    • Managers sometimes cringe when after they send a positive message to a large number of people, one of the recipients replies-all with a negative message that either diminishes or distracts discussion away from the original positive message. An employee who does reply-all to a positive message with a negative one is being foolish or a jerk (usually both). You should avoid giving such people a pulpit and opportunity to lower others’ morale and/or start a flame war. (When you have such employees who don’t stop doing this after being told, fire them and hope they get employed by your competitor.)
    • If you are the recipient of an announcement, do not do a reply-all, unless you have a relevant, positive message to add that adds value to and strengthens the original message.
    • I am not suggesting that you don’t voice your disagreements, corrections, cautions, constructive criticism and other comments. You should express them, but not via reply-all. Communicate them to the appropriate person(s) only, typically that would be the sender of the announcement or your supervisor. If you find an error in someone’s announcement, give the sender the courtesy of an opportunity to send out a correction by letting them know first.
  6. Give people reasonable time to respond to your email, even if they have mobile devices (like BlackBerry or other email enabled phones).
    • Realize that some people are overwhelmed by email and you should occasionally reach out to them in person or via phone for certain important matters. Email is not a replacement for all personal communication.
  7. Avoid checking your email on a mobile device when interacting with other people in person except when absolutely necessary, for example in a meeting. It is rude and it implies you are not focusing on your job in the meeting.
    • If your job requires you to be on alert for certain messages, set up alerts via mail filters that will sound or vibrate the device to inform you of messages that require you to interrupt your current activity.

Further Reading

Please read, follow and share these tips about using email effectively:

  1. article on LifeHacker: How “EOM” Makes Your Email More Efficient  []

Project Management: Time to Market, People & Teamwork

Starting early, not driving recklessly fast

People who have worked with me are familiar with my trait of challenging the team to bring products and solutions to market as soon as possible. I’m a strong proponent for quickness to market and love to deliver sooner than the initially projected timeline. In this article, however, I present a different viewpoint for balance.

In product development, the question often comes up: How can we be quicker and faster to market with our products? We should ask instead: How can we be earlier to market with our products than our competitors? We should also ask: Is it more important to be early, or to deliver good quality and innovation?

For the medium and long term good of your organization and in the best interest of your customers, it is more important to deliver a high quality and innovative product than to deliver it quicker.

In most cases, successful companies are not the ones who are fast or early to deliver products, but those that deliver better products.

Take Google for example. They were a couple of years late to the Web search engine market and were reinventing a product that had already been established by others. Many thought the search engine market was already saturated. Remember some of the early ones like Infoseek, Lycos? Where are they now? Consider Microsoft and Apple: most of their products are not early, but they often succeed. The iPod came years after the early portable digital audio players. MySpace.com came up to dominate online social networking a couple of years after Friendster, Tribe and Orkut were already established.

Even when analyzing products whose success was due their being early to market, we find that early does not imply fast. These projects often started early and were executed at a comfortable, smooth pace.

As the saying goes, when you ask for quick and dirty, you get both. The benefits of speed to market are for the short term. In some cases, it does make sense to go for quick, short-term solutions. In all cases, however, one must give serious thought to whether that’s the correct path to choose considering the medium and long term goals.

People & Teamwork

In projects, working fast is often a recipe for failure, especially after starting late. The overwhelming majority of projects are not like 100 meter races, where speed results in victory. They are like football games, where factors like teamwork have much greater influence on winning.

The greatest factor affecting the success of projects is not speed, not technology, not even process or planning. It is people. Invest your time, energy and resources on your people and they will make your projects succeed more than anything else.

Whether you are a leader, manager or information worker, I recommend learning more about the people factor and practicing better people related activities at work. Here is a quote I like from a book: “People under time pressure don’t work better; they just work faster. In order to work faster, they may have to sacrifice the quality of the product and their own job satisfaction.” — Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, 2nd Edition, Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

Keep in mind this order of descending significance of factors in projects’ success:

  1. People & teamwork
  2. Priorities
  3. Planning
  4. Process & operations
  5. Products & technologies
  6. Pace & acceleration

Technology, Innovation and Business Decisions

Nowadays, it is becoming fashionable to belittle technology. I hear people say things like “technologies should not drive business decisions“, “define your requirements without worrying about technology and ask technology [people] to deliver them“. May sound logical at first, but is it? Consider this imaginary conversation between Bill, a technologist and Plato, a Platonist businessperson.

Bill: How do you commute to work?
Plato: I drive.
Bill: Why don’t you fly or teleport?
Plato: What do you mean?
Bill: Why do you use a car that drives on the road, why not a personal flying machine or a teleporter?
Plato: Because they aren’t invented yet.

Defining business needs without consideration of technology is impractical. It is being quixotic and ignoring the current reality. Leave the dreaming for the innovators since they and businesspeople are usually different people.

Think about ten important inventions that changed the world. How many of them were created with a business plan? How do you think the wheel was invented? How was fire discovered? Did someone create this World Wide Web with a business plan? Many important things were created with a business plan. The point here is not that business is unimportant, but that technology is important on its own merit.

Sound business practices have an important place in this world. Technology and innovation have a place in this world. One is not master to the other.

Craigslist & eBay: Community sites founded by programmers

Great businesses are often started by people without a formal business background but with passion, vision and the ability to execute.

Neither Craigslist nor [founder and chairman Craig] Newmark benefits financially from the deal. EBay and Craigslist both were started in 1995 by pocket-protector-type programmers; each became wildly successful in its own way, attracting fervent communities of people who wanted to make a deal of one sort or another.

Over the years, Newmark has turned down numerous offers to sell all or part of Craigslist to outside investors. In a posting on his Web log, Newmark said the sale to EBay was conducted by a former employee to whom he had given some equity “with the idea of establishing checks and balances, mostly on myself.”

Over two months of meetings, EBay assured Newmark and Buckmaster [Craigslist CEO] it would not pursue the deal unless they were happy about it, Buckmaster said. Both men said they felt that EBay CEO Meg Whitman and founder Pierre Omidyar “showed that they were interested in us for all the right reasons,” as Newmark put it on his blog.”Once we knew this equity interest was likely to change hands, we can’t imagine a better outcome than the one we’ve gotten here,” Buckmaster said.

Full story in the San Francisco Chronicle:

What is Leadership?

Victory is not defeating others. Victory is winning others.

The three skills that people in an organization have are leading, managing, and working. Every person has a combination of all three. I refer to a leader as someone who is strongest in leadership, a manager as one who is strongest in management and a worker as one who is strongest in workmanship.

To understand better what leadership is, let us first discuss it in the context of what leadership is not.

Leadership is not equivalent to managing others. A leader manages him/her self while teaching and guiding people to manage themselves and others.

Leadership is different from management in several aspects. While a person can be a good leader as well as a good manager, the two are two different talents. A President & CEO needs to be both a leader and a manager. The Chief Architect can just be a leader. A Project Manager can be just a manager. A programmer can just be a worker. A manager often needs to make others do things, but rarely needs to do those things her/himself. This does not imply that a manager’s role is less significant. The manager does the important work of making the workers successfully do their work.

A manager does not need to be an innovator, but a leader needs to be. A manager follows the rules and makes workers follow the rules. A manager is most effective when things are going according to plan. A leader on the other hand, is equally effective when things are going according to plan or not. A leader rewrites the rules when necessary. A leader guides the manager in coming up with a new plan when needed. A leader often realizes it even before a new plan is needed. A leader is a visionary. A leader imagines great things. The leader formulates a high level plan. The manager creates a detailed plan from that and manages workers to implement using that plan.

To be a leader does not mean being a high and mighty boss. A leader is a servant as much as a commander. A good leader cares about others. A leader must lead others to success. If a leader’s goal was to achieve success only for one’s own self, then I’d call him or her a climber, for one who climbs to success, but not a leader. A leader who does not benefit others serves no purpose in an organization or in society.

Being a leader sometimes requires sacrificing ones own interests for the good of others.

Contrary to some beliefs, a leader should be generally popular and liked. A leader does not do just what the leader thinks is best for others, but what the team decides is best for the team. A leader provides results and enlightenment (as in understanding of those results). If people consistently do not understand what or why the leader is doing, the leader needs to be replaced. A leader realizes that people are intelligent and gives them appropriate credit.

A leader is not merely a teacher. A leader is a student and an instructor.

Leadership is not easy. It is not for everyone. Can anyone become a good leader? Yes. Should everyone become a leader? No. (As an illustration consider the question: Should everyone become a carpenter? No.)

(Note: In his career, the author has been successful and won awards while working at various levels of Programmer, Manager, Regional Director, Vice President and External Consultant. The knowledge presented here is compiled from those experiences and by learning from others. The author does not claim these ideas as original.)

Business Travel Checklist


 Clothes & Shoes

For a trip longer than 1 week, carry 1 weeks’ worth of clothes and plan on using laundry and dry-cleaning services.

 1 suit (2 suits for 3 or more days’ trip)

If carrying more than one suit, it should be of a color that the same shoes and belt can go with it.

 1 tie (2 ties for 3 or more days’ trip)

 1 leather belt

 1 shirt (+1 shirt for every additional day)

 1 set of cuff links

I like to wear shirts with cuff links

 1 set of undergarments for each day

 1 pair of formal shoes

I’ll be wearing one pair of shoes during travel, so pack the other in the suitcase.

 1 pair of workout/hiking shoes

I prefer Vibram FiveFingers for this. They are lightweight and take less space.

 1 pair of merino wool socks for every 3 days

Merino wool socks are comfortable, versatile and can be worn for 3 days without causing odor.

 spare shoelaces

I’ve had shoelaces break during trips before.

 shoe bags

 1 pair of jeans

Jeans can be used as workout pants, hiking/trail walks and for casual wear.

 cloth (or plastic) bag for used clothes

Cloth laundry bags are preferable as they are better for the environment and less noisy than plastic bags.

 bathroom kit

 comb or hairbrush

 hair product



 razor handle with 2 blade cartridges

I use Dollar Shave Club’s “Humble Twin” blades: http://shaved.by/zMvP

 shaving cream or shaving soap

Solid shaving soap bars are more economical than shaving creams: http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2010/04/17/cleaning-soap/

 bath soap bar

Solid soap bars are more economical and easier to carry: http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2010/04/17/cleaning-soap/


 nail clipper

 First-aid kit

 Empty space to bring back things acquired during trip

Whether on personal or business trips, I always end up acquiring and bringing back things. Be sure to keep some space in my briefcase empty for them.

▾ ☐ Briefcase/Backpack

 MacBook Pro

I’ve found that my iPhone and iPad (even with physical keyboards) are not yet satisfactory for my content authoring and editing needs on business trips.

 iPad (optional)

 Kindle (optional)

If I am planning to read books in sunlight, then the iPhone and iPad are not suitable.

 Power Adapters Kit

 MacBook Pro Power Adapter

 iPad/iPhone/USB Wall Charger

 iPad/iPhone/USB Car Charger

 iPad/iPhone/USB Portable Battery Charger

 iPad/iPhone Lightning Charger Cable

 Micro USB Charging Cable for Kindle, Android Phone and Motorola S-11 Wireless Headset

 Power strip with surge protector

Useful when only 1 power outlet is available or convenient to me, which is often the case during travel.

 Audio headphones

I use Motorola S-11 HD Bluetooth headphones.

 Documents & Information

These could be all in digital form on my smartphone, but if so, should be quick and easy to find on my iPhone.

 airline tickets and schedules

 hotel reservation info

 car rental reservation info

 addresses and directions to and from key places

 to do lists

 complete contacts info / address book

 contact info of people in the area grouped together

 tourism info for the area

Carry a physical tourist guide book only when traveling internationally. For domestic travel within the U.S., use my smartphone.

 Backup eyeglasses

 Eyeglasses cleaning cloth and liquid

 Paper tissues

▾ ☐ Additional Wallet for Travel

 100 business cards to give out

 Passport, if traveling internationally

 Global Entry card, if traveling internationally

 Foreign currencies, if traveling internationally

Keep cash in a separate wallet in the unfortunate event of being pick-pocketed or robbed.

▾ ☐ Miscellaneous




Even though I don’t need my keys during the trip, I do need them upon return. Keep them in my briefcase upon commencement of travel.

▾ ☐ Do Not Carry

 More than one physical printed book to read unless necessary

I haven’t gotten time to read all the books I carry on trips in the past. Too many printed books are a burden to carry. Examples of unless necessary include textbooks for classes, book gifts for someone

 Bulky audio headphones

I’ve personally not experienced a need for bulky noise isolation or noise canceling headphones. To me, they are not worth the bulk of carrying.

 Digital Camera, unless required for an event

These days smartphone cameras are good enough for many types of casual photography. Carry a digital camera only if I need it for taking high quality or low light photos at and event or when visiting family or friends. If carrying my digital camera, also pack my camera accessories pouch.

 Portable GPS unit, unless traveling internationally

If traveling internationally (even to Canada), consider carrying my Garmin nuvi with international maps loaded. Using data on my smartphone internationally is expensive. I should also research a navigation app that pre-downloads maps and can work without using data internationally.

 Food to eat on the plane or train

On a business trip, meals are reimbursable and carrying food is an unnecessary hassle, especially considering the risk of food leaking in my bag.


While sometimes needed on personal trips visiting family or friends, a towel is not needed on business trips since hotels provide them.


I have switched to paper tissues as they are more hygienic.

 Anything else of value that is not necessary for this trip

Avoiding carrying things that are not necessary for the trip keeps the weight and space manageable and reduces chances of loss or damage.

▾ ☐ Before leaving, do the following

 Change voicemail message at work. provide alternate contact person and number.

 Enable email out-of-office auto-response at work. provide alternate contact person.

 Ensure that any tasks one-time or recurring that I had scheduled for the duration I’m away are assigned to alternates.

 Plan itinerary, including confirming meetings including personal visits.

 Reach out to some family and friends in the places I’ll be visiting.

 Back up and secure portable computer I’ll be carrying with me in case it is lost or stolen.

 Back up and secure smartphone I’ll be carrying with me in case it is lost or stolen.

 Allocate a pocket or pouch in my briefcase dedicated solely to storing receipts required for reimbursement of business related expenses.

 Ensure that will, insurance and emergency plans are in place and communicated to immediate family.

▾ ☐ After returning, do the following

 Change voicemail back to usual message.

 Disable email out-of-office auto-response.

 File for reimbursement of business related expenses.

Document updated:

  • 2014-Feb-09: Revision 4. Updated to keep up with the times.
  • 2010-Jan-24: Revision 3. Updated to reflect changes due to technologies like smartphones.
  • 2001-July-20: Revision 2.2.