What We Can Learn From Werner Vogels - InformationWeek
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12/22/2008
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John Foley
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What We Can Learn From Werner Vogels

To be recognized as InformationWeek's chief of the year, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels has obviously done a few things right. Following are five takeaways for other IT pros.

To be recognized as InformationWeek's chief of the year, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels has obviously done a few things right. Following are five takeaways for other IT pros.First, the IT world needs more leaders who can cut through the hype around cloud computing and articulate its business value and how it works. Vogels explains the cloud in a way that people understand, including the technical nitty gritty. There are still more cloud skeptics than believers out there, and I'll bet some of the skeptics work in your company. More IT pros need to be able to explain what's different about cloud computing and where it might be applied to do new things at lower costs.

Second, customer service has moved beyond CRM and self-service Web applications to something deeper and more significant, especially in this tough economy. Vogels describes himself as an external-facing technologist and talks of "customer-oriented development" and "customer-oriented architectures." Does your company think and act in those terms? It should. It's a way of ensuring that customer requirements are deeply rooted in your company's business-technology strategy and infrastructure.

Third, surround yourself with good people. One of the first things Vogels did upon learning he had been selected as InformationWeek's chief of the year was to acknowledge, via this post titled "Teamwork," the contributions of his colleagues to the success of Amazon Web Services. At InformationWeek, we already had figured that out, which is why our Chief Of The Year magazine cover featured Vogels alongside Andy Jassy, Charlie Bell, and Adam Selipsky, three of the other key executives behind AWS' success.

Fourth, engage peers outside of your company. Vogels launched his All Things Distributed blog seven years ago while a researcher at Cornell University, and that's made him accessible to a worldwide audience. I asked a software architect with a cloud computing company if he knew Vogels, and he responded, "I've never met him, but I've read his blog for the past five years." Nearly 1,900 people follow Vogels on Twitter. This type of community building is rewarding on a personal level, and it has all kinds of intangible benefits for your IT department and company, as well.

Finally, big ideas and technical execution must go hand in hand. Vogels made the transition from computer science researcher in academia to CTO of the world's biggest e-retailer, and Amazon continues to push the envelope on scalability and reliability as it opens its data centers to customers in the form of Amazon Web Services. The challenge ahead for Vogels -- and for other CTOs and CIOs -- will be to ensure that cloud computing works as promised as usage grows.

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