Things I get asked at work

I am the CIO of a multi-billion dollar diagnostics & technology company.

If you don't know what a CIO is, that's ok. My mother doesn't either. It's shorthand for 'Chief Information Officer'.  If that explanation didn't help clarify much, see the previous comment about my mother.  It basically means I am responsible for IT, and all that computer and software stuff. I help automate, and create new ecommerce channels, and drive supply chain efficiencies, and new mobile apps, and other software kind of things. 

Which sounds fancy. But the most typical question I get asked at work by my colleagues? 

'How many pigs DO you have at home, anyway'

One of our senior recruiters asked me that yesterday. She followed it up, sort of awkwardly with '... my 4 year old son wants to know.' 

It's a hard question to answer. I have zero pigs. And one pig. And two pigs. 

Zero: the number of pigs currently alive in my backyard. 

One: the number of pigs buried near the woodline

Two: the number of pigs in my freezer(s) or hanging to cure. Well. More or less. I've been working on cutting that number down lately. I just made ~18 pounds of mexican style chorizo (the soft kind you fry up with huevos for your tortilla), as the Critter pointed out that we hadn't made any in a while, and I had a lot of sausage trim ready for grinding.  (That's not me in the picture above, by the way. But that's about the size of the batch I made).  This weekend, I'll be making two different kinds of bacon - both English, wet cure and smoked streaky bacon. 

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Pigs are born in the spring, raised during the summer, and go to slaughter in the fall. Unless you're intending to keep a breeder, there's no reason for a pig to see its first birthday. You can read more about this in a fantastic book I picked up recently on the history of the domestication of pigs, Lesser Beasts

'Er... I'm just going to tell my four year old that you'll be getting some new baby pigs in the spring.'

Wait. Come back. Why are you walking away? I am your CIO!  We haven't talked about pigs feet and pork pie yet... 

And then there was that one time I was invited to the White House

Yeah. That White House. 

Last week, I was going on vacation. I hadn't taken any time off since Christmas, and what with the house renovation, the new job and all, I was feeling pretty vacation-ready. We had dropped off the kids at camp over the weekend, and were truly kid-free for the first time in about 13 years. 

I was seriously looking forward to time away. 

I told my assistant at work before I left, 'Don't call me for anything. I don't care if the place burns down. If that happens, I'll figure it out when I get back and I see a pile of ashes.'

On Wednesday, my Bride and I were driving our way out into the loveliest parts of Vermont to a beautiful inn for a few days. When we got there to check in, our room wasn't quite ready, so we wandered over to a restaurant for a leisurely late lunch on the porch.  My phone buzzed with a text from my assistant.


I sighed, and pulled out my phone while my Bride gave me a nearly-tolerant glare. 

Um. Ok. That makes the cut. 

Let me back up a moment. 

When we moved to Maine last year and I took up my new role as CIO at IDEXX, I spent the first few months drinking from the fire hose. Learning a new industry (it's awesome). Learning a new team (they're terrific). And engaging with a new community in Maine & the Portland area (I love it). 

Early days, I had the chance to get to know a partnership program established a couple of years ago called 'Project>Login' - a joint effort between the university system across Maine and a number of companies in the state to create & highlight new paths to technology careers. I've always been a passionate believer in the value of internships, and was glad to add my voice to the conversation around what new skills are needed in the industry, to help degree programs continue to shape and evolve the skills of graduates & make them an ever more valuable pipeline of talent. 

That's good for them, as it increases their market value. And it's good for me, as a guy responsible for making sure we've got the best talent we can get. 

More recently, Project>Login launched an effort to create new opportunities that stretch beyond the typical university path. Identifying veterans, or those with a less traditional education, but with a knack or experience-based learning that builds technical expertise. 

Since I'm both a veteran (5 years Army active duty as a translator) and a person of a less traditional educational path (I completed about 2 full years at Georgia Tech before I ran out of money and joined the aforementioned Army), I told them they could certainly count on me for whatever support I could provide. 

So they wrote up a grant application for Federal support, to which I was able to add some specific commitments from my organization. 


The White House liked it so much, they chose to recognize Maine as a 'Tech Hire' community, and provide support & development services to aid the training, apprenticeship and awareness efforts under the program (along with a few others like it across the country). 

When the recognition came through, the program sponsor asked if I could join him as a representative partner from the industry side. 

I looked across the lunch table at my Bride and asked her if she'd mind a bit of an interruption to our vacation schedule. You know. Just this once. Because: White House. 

She's a pretty generous girl. She said I could go.

In the morning, we arrived in Washington, and the program director and I had the chance to go sit down with Senator King, who is also the former governor of Maine. I had met him before not long after I moved to Maine, along with a handful of other senior leaders at my company when he came to tour our new campus facility. 

We talked a bit about hiring talent in Maine, our support for internships and other paths, and what we're doing to attract and retain good people. I had the chance to thank him for his past leadership in Maine in creating a program where every middle school child is given a macbook for their school work, and the digital tools are incorporated into the learning agenda (first program of its kind across the US at that comprehensive level). The Critter - now going into 8th grade - was a beneficiary of that program. 

We took the obligatory picture together, and he asked us to walk with him to his Senate Armed Services Committee meeting, where they were going to be briefed on the proposed Iran treaty. It wasn't asked for, but I asked him as a constituent, a veteran, and a former member of the intelligence community to please consider voting in favor, as my best read of the alternatives kind of suck.  He provide a very thoughtful response, indicating that at least for now, he was leaning that way. 

Damn. It felt good to interact that way with a Senator. 

The event at the White House included a few hundred people, and a list of thirty or forty start ups from all kinds of industries. Technology. Health Care. Civil Service. Bow Ties. There were entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and agency representatives from local, state & federal levels. 

And after a bit, in came President Obama to greet & talk about what was needed to continue to lead the market place & discover new talent from all walks of life, and the support we all needed to come together to provide to ensure that those opportunities exist for small businesses and new ideas to succeed.  

Look. I didn't vote for this guy either time. I'm more or less a small-government, leave-me-alone Republican.  But I'd gladly buy the guy who gave this speech a beer. Because this was on point, and right in line with what I was glad to be present to support. 

I didn't get to shake his hand, or to meet and greet - a few, select chosen were staged behind him to get that honor. But I was one of the ~400 or so in the room that got to sing 'happy birthday' to the man who holds the office. (it was actually his birthday). And that was pretty cool. 

And then, I came home to continue my vacation. Which at the moment, mostly consists of unpacking boxes now that the house is finally certified & ready for us to live in. 

I haven't written as much of late because, well, it's been busy. But I will share more of the house renovation shortly, now that it's all complete.

It's even more amazing than the White House. 

Well. Pretty close, anyway.

Our government not working at internet speeds

Our first little iPhone app, VaxTrak was first published 4 years or so ago (remember this?) . An app to help parents and families keep track of immunizations received, recommendations, find their nearest flu clinic, and generally keep your kids (or self) safe from preventable diseases. 

The VaxTrak video - acted by my friend & colleague Anna

The VaxTrak video - acted by my friend & colleague Anna

This was probably one of the professional contributions I'm most proud of, even now, as it came from a very personal place in our family of having moved around enough to have lost that little yellow paper booklet the pediatrician entrusts you with when your child is first born. 

If I had realized that importance placed on that little yellow booklet, and that it would almost certainly be the deciding factor in whether or not your child would be admitted to the graduate school of their choice or spend the entirety of their lives asking if you'd like the egg white only breakfast McMuffinator. we'd have probably taken better care of where we put the Suddenly Important Yellow Booklet.

Look doc, we were new parents, still trying to figure out which end of this baby you just plopped on our laps is doing the squalling, and which the pooping. Seriously. Your medical judgement in putting another helpless human into our completely unprepared care is questionable at best. I'm not sure if I managed to dress & bathe myself the first year of parenthood, let alone keep Little Precious clean. 

So coming up with a way that my company at the time - squarely in the vaccines-supplying business - could help parents out with their job of vaccines-keeping-up-with efforts, was pretty cool. 

Cool enough that Novartis filed a patent on our behalf. 

Never mind that the filing is several years old, or that the app was discontinued last year, a little ways before Novartis sold off their vaccines business to GSK.  The patent continues along its merry way through the halls of the US patent office, and may, someday, actually be approved. No doubt just before we all ditch our smart phones in favor of a embedded chip that shoots lasers into our retinas and tells us where we need to go. 

Whatever. This week we got some paperwork from Novartis basically to sign away the rights to any money made from the (always-published-for-free-on-the-App-store) app (that-is-no-longer-available). 

It's just nice to see "Inventors" there in black and white, with our names listed.