Stephen Orban found an old TI-99 in his uncle’s attic when he was eight years old. The first thing he did, he says, was take it apart to learn how it worked. Soon he was writing programs to make things move around on the screen. He knew since then that he wanted to work with computers. Throughout his career, he has brought exponential technology to many traditional organizations, such as Bloomberg and Dow Jones. He is now leading AWS Data Exchange. Listen to Pioneering the Cloud and DevOps Paradigm with Stephen Orban.


Killed by Traditional Technology

It was during his tenure at Bloomberg that Stephen became infatuated with cloud computing. He relates to Barry O’Reilly that they were experimenting to create new businesses. However, the traditional method of trying to build best-in-class technology was making the process slow and expensive. We were building too much into disaster recovery and business continuity for things that might not even be there tomorrow, he says. He recognized that cloud computing would allow them to test and scale on demand, only using the resources they needed. When he moved to Dow Jones he pushed towards using cloud technology and dev-ops methodology, which allowed them to create a more agile organization. [Listen from 3:00]

Unlearning Leadership

Massive technology changes come with people changes. Stephen soon realized that the way he led at Bloomberg would not work at Dow Jones. Barry comments that it’s almost a reflex to use the behaviors that brought us success in the past. However, those same behaviors may not yield success in a new context. Stephen says that he failed as a leader for the first six months. His advisor told him that there’s no glory in being the only one at the finish line. From that day, he says, he learned to be more empathetic and open instead of the top-down leader he previously was. He wanted his team to buy in to his vision. [Listen from 14:25]

In order to share their wins, he increased communication with employees from quarterly to monthly town hall meetings. Team members were invited to share what they were doing and how it was aligned to the broader vision. Barry says that when you recognize that you’re not driving the outcomes you want, the first step is to acknowledge it. He commends Stephen for the subtle but impactful changes he made. [Listen from 18:10]

Building Cross-Functional Teams

When Stephen decided to change the siloed IT functions into two cross-functional teams, he expected everyone to be as excited as he was. Each team was responsible for a measurable customer outcome. This required unlearning silos and learning cross-functional team behaviors. Stephen relates that the engineers were not pleased. It was hard for them to understand this new paradigm, and Stephen comments that it was hard for him to lead through the change. Barry comments that a first step is to help people feel successful as fast as possible. If they have some quick wins, they would be more willing to embrace the new behaviors. [Listen from 22:10]

To reinforce the paradigm shift, the IT department was renamed Dow Jones Technology. Respected persons in the company started to share positive stories about the impact of the new changes, and the metrics showed that the new methods were working. Barry agrees that metrics paired with local success stories leads to breakthroughs. [Listen from 27:50]

Looking Forward

Stephen now works at Amazon, an organization that has a very high performing, well-prescribed culture and operating model. He is excited about the pace of innovation that’s going to happen. Those who can’t move fast enough will feel the impact on their profitability, he says. Don’t be stuck in analysis paralysis, he advises; there are lots of opportunities to start and learn what works and what doesn’t for your organization. You can’t think your way to a new culture, Barry adds, you have to act your way there. [Listen from 34:55]

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