Whitehill a fading star? Hardly…

Yesterday, an article was posted in the Telegraph Journal about Whitehill Technologies entitled Moncton Tech Star Fading. This article presented the legacy of the Whitehill story in a somewhat negative light, more so than I think is appropriate (NOTE: I had nothing at all to do with the article – no one from the paper spoke to me). This article has also led to some fairly rancorous response by other former Whitehill executives.

First off, nothing was said by any former Whitehill employee I know “biting the hand that fed us”. Comments regarding the staffing levels at the former Whitehill office are simply a statement of fact. As opposed to the blog post referenced above, no comments made in the article involved personal or professional attacks towards any individual or organization related to Whitehill Technologies or its subsequent owners.  

Secondly, I think the article itself somewhat misses the point in regards tothe Whitehill legacy. Did things change in the Moncton office after the acquisition by Skywire? Of course they did. Were there more changes after the Oracle acquisition? I would assume so – though I have no visibility into the organization now. The fact is, change is constant in this business. Companies evolve. They are acquired. The economy goes up and down (and hopefully back up).

What has happened at Whitehill, both during the time I was there and since, is just part of the natural lifecycle of a technology startup.  

The Whitehill experience, shared by all of us who poured a lot of our lives into it for the better part of a decade, grew a pool of extremely talented, dedicated people into a pool of potential entrepreneurs and business leaders. After the Whitehill years, many or these people have gone on to start other businesses,   adding to the long term value brought the region by a startup such as Whitehill. The legacy extends far beyond Whitehill itself.

That is how you build a thriving, growing private sector – people start companies, grow them, take them as far as they can, and then they move on and do it again!

PS – the people I have worked with at Whitehill (including those who are still in the Moncton office) are as good a group as I have ever worked with.

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Transitions

So, today I am moving on from Whitehill Technologies (now Skywire Software). I do so with many mixed feelings. When I look back on what I have achieved here, many things stand out. Helping to grow the company to the point where it became a meaningful acquisition target I think is a tremendous accomplishment. We have also developed a great deal of very cool software, and more importantly, software for which real people were willing to pay real money. To have accomplished this from Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, is a great demonstration of what we can achieve in this region, and is something which I hope to repeat in the future.

The most important aspect of the journey, though, is the people. Having spent the better part of 9 years here, I can honestly say that there are very, very few people I have known here with whom I would not eagerly work again. I would also like to think that I have contributed to the growth of many developers (and other staff). When I joined Whitehill, the development team was very young. Most had only a couple of years of experience. It is extremely gratifying to me to see what has grown out of that team – people who have become technical leaders, managers, and all-around leaders. I cannot express the respect I have for what this group has become. I like to think that I contributed in some way to that growth.

Looking back, there are many people who stand out. I miss the early days with Bob, and Bonzo, and the excitement of working with a small, tight team. Then, of course, there was the winter in a construction trailer in the parking lot with 8 other guys, porting Transport to Java.

There are too many people to list all of them here. First and foremost, I want to thank Steve Palmer. Steve has always been the epitome of professionalism, respectfulness, and generally “doing the right thing”, and I consider Steve to have been an important mentor to me. Among the early developers, Shawn Hogan, who had leadership written all over him 8 years ago, has fulfilled that potential and more. Jerome Sabourin, Greg Clouston, Andrew Sharpe, Anita Richard, Rob Stote and too many others to mention. I am very proud of, and have the utmost respect for, all of you.

It has certainly been an interesting ride.

All of you, take care. I look forward to seeing and working with you all some day in the future.  

Ok, so now what?

I will let you know, right up front, that this is going to be a largely self-indulgent post. I am basically just thinking out loud, and doing it in public. Kind of like standing on a street corner talking to myself, I guess.

You see, I am on the verge of a life changing moment. Or maybe I am in the middle of it – it is a long moment. It started when I received notice on October 11 that my services were no longer required. Maybe it started even earlier, when the acquisition of Whitehill by Skywire was announced, and I was pretty sure that my time here was coming to an end. No matter, since I do know when the moment ends – December 15.

This transition period has been very complex, emotionally. I have, after all, spent close to 9 years at Whitehill – a considerable portion of my working life. I have invested a great deal of emotion and energy into it. And of course there is the people side of things – I have worked closely with a group of people for many years now.

On the other hand, I have been feeling for some time now that it was time for me to move on from Whitehill, and do something new. For the past year or so I have been semi-actively working on other ideas, plans, schemes, etc. I have been held back, however, by inertia, fear, complacency – all the usual things. So, in a way, being laid of could be viewed as a good thing – forcing me past these issues which I may never have overcome on my own.

So, I am now presented with an opportunity to do something new. I can do something a little bit new, like finding a similar role in a different company. Or, I can go all the way and completely reinvent myself again (I have done this twice before in my working life). I am taking this situation as an opportunity to re-evaluate what I do, how I do it, and most importantly why I do it.

As is typical for me, this evaluation has involved a great deal of reading. Even before the transition at Whitehill became concrete, I had been reading a number of books on starting my own MicroISV, including Eric Sink on the Business of Software and Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality, both of which were extremely useful. Recently I have been reading Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, which is a very interesting read and has some cool ideas, though not all of them I see as being good ideas.

In addition, there are the various blogs I follow, such as Escape from Cubicle Nation (which has had a couple of interesting, relevant posts recently – Excellent reading for those paralyzed by fear of leaving their job and Tips on cutting the ties and saying goodbye from Psychology Today) which in turn led me to 10 Remedies For “I’m Starting My Own Business And I’m Paralyzed With Fear!”, which of course has a 10 links to some other interesting posts.

I must admit that even now, when I know I am leaving, i still feel paralyzed with fear a lot. I swing from be optimistic about the future, to wildly ecstatic about the possibilities, to absolutely terrified that life will collapse in six months. Part of this, I know, is because I am moving outside of my comfort zone. This will be the first time in 20+ years that I will not be employed by someone, for even one day. That is a bit creepy!

So, getting to the title of this post, what now? I really do not know at this point. I have opportunities out there already, and I have no shortage of my own ideas. I have been asked by various people what I want to do. About the only thing I can say for sure right now, is that I want to do something “new and interesting” – I just have not decided what yet.

I have decided that as of December 15, I am going to take a few weeks to “decompress”, and to unclog my brain from all the Whitehill clutter that has built up. The last thing I want to do is to jump into something instantly. I know with certainty that once I am away from here for a few weeks, my thinking will change dramatically.

All in all, it promises to be a very interesting new year!

Another Big Day for Whitehill

It was announced yesterday the we (Whitehill Technologies, Inc.) are being acquired by Skywire Software. This represents another big day in the evolution of Whitehill as a software company. It is also another great example of a successful, viable, important software company being born and grown right here in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. If you want to read more about the deal, you should look at the news releases – there are lots out there. I think congratulations are in order for Paul McSpurren and all the others who put this deal together. Well done.

It is an interesting time for me to look back over the last 8+ years I have been at Whitehill. At the time I joined, we were barely out of the “startup” stage, having only about 30 employees, and probably a similar number of customers, 1 product, and a lot of heart. A large number of people have stayed with us for the whole ride (this continuity I think has been a major factor in our success). It is amazing to me to see how far we have come.

I would like to thank everyone with whom I have worked at Whitehill all these years. Well done, everyone. It has been a wild and interesting ride to be sure, but I am proud to have been part of it, and to have worked with all of you (not that I am going anywhere – just feeling sentimental!). Everyone involved, past and present, should feel proud as well. 

I am also looking forward to the future here – and to all of the challenges and opportunities before us.