Chat with Phil McKinney

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I was lucky enough to yes, have an hour and a half of time with Phil McKinney.

Don’t know who he is?

He’s the CTO of the biggest technology “elephant”, HP. That’s pretty cool.

We talked about multiple things:
Innovation, what people want, and what happens at the HP labs. I learned a couple of cool things. During that conversation.

The innovation thing stuck with me.

I asked him if the level of innovation was the same at an elephant like HP as it was at a startup (which I found out he had run a couple of those). His answer was basically that at a giant, good ideas have more funding and therefore have more flexibility. The downside however is that it runs very slowly. Another thing that I learned about this by listening to his podcast (Creating Killer Innovations) is that at a larger company, you get a bunch of people together to brainstorm ideas, and someone writes them all down. After, they email it to everybody and what happens next? Nothing.

At a startup though, it’s different. They don’t have as much flexibility due to funding, but they can roll things out pretty fast because there are usually less people for the ideas to run through. Personally, I work at a startup Cooliris (cooliris.com) and I create ideas. I use gopogle docs to document them and it is shared with the CEO and the QA assurance. There see only a few engineers so it could be handed right to them in the office. Within a couple of months, those ideas are probably in the software.

I also learned that being the CTO is more than just about coding. You have to integrate the technology into everything else and find new ideas for products. Knowing how to code is handy, but knowing marketing and EVERYTHING else is also very important.

Another cool fact: The LED was invented at HP, and whenever someone uses them HP gets royalty. ironic, because my iPad and MacBook both use LED backlighting. LOL!

Also, one of his duties is to figure out what people want in a product. He told me about these best buy studies he does. He goes to a best buy and watches people and listens to their conversations while they are looking for a monitor or a computer to get (Id be a little creeped out, personally). When his “subject” finally goes to check out, he goes over to them, hands them his business cards, and asks them to go through his browsing process to see why he eventually purchased that product. I still find this a bit creepy, but hey, it’s for a good cause!

Another thing I asked him about was if I should learn any coding.

Yes, I don’t know how to code.

I’ve asked many people this question before, and what I usually get is that I should start with Java.

Phil had another idea. he recommended that I stared with HTML5, because that’s where everybody is moving to: The web. I know a tiny bit of HTML, which will help me in learning this. Also, if you have any recommendations for an HTML 5 book, all are welcome in the comments section!

Along with that, Tony Welch (or Richard Welch or Frosty Welch, whichever you choose) took me around a couple of floors in the building. I saw their equivalent to telepresence (which I was quite jealous of at first sight), and I saw some other cool stuff that I don’t think I should tell you about juuust yet (sadly, there were no slates :’-[ )…

Along with that, Tony showed me the Blackbird, which was made by VooDoo (which was recently acquired from HP). That thing is quite the computer, with liquid cooling and the whole chutzpah. he also gave me quite a nice handful of VooDoo schwag (free stuff) including a VooDoo Edition Razer Tarantula keyboard, three Blackbird USB keys (two of which I RAIDed, blog post on that coming soon!), a Blackbird T-shirt (like all other t-shirts i’ve gotten from companies 3 or so sizes too big), and a few VooDoo temporary tattoos (“CAUTION: may deliver a bad-ass appearance temporarily” was on the packages…). Expect a review on that keyboard soon!

I was walking to my car and Phil gave me his creating killer innovations CD. Thanks Phil!

Just wanted to thank all of you HP people including Tony, Ann Finnie (Phil’s PR gal), and of course, Phil. Had lots o fun! Here’s a picture:

  • sergey

    yes, you should start with java. but it might not hurt to start out with a little bit of html beforehand. i have a couple good books on java and on html and i can recommend you to a foothill college online course.

  • http://www.schoolgrantsnow.com/ school grants

    My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

  • Adam Helweh

    Nice write up Max. Sounds like you got a lot out of the visit. I believe Phil was in another position at HP a while back because I realized that I used to listen to his Killer Innovations podcast a few years back when I got my first iPod. Phil hosted one of the 3 primary podcasts I always had in rotation. He is one smart cookie.

    How has this visit made you look differently at the technology you own and use on a daily basis? Or has it?

  • Rich Berlin

    Max:

    If you really don’t code at all, I would suggest you start by looking at Scratch and Alice 3. Both are available for free download. The basic concepts of programming can be learned with any modern language, and both Scratch and Alice are set up to give you interesting visual results. The first hump that every beginning programmer has to get over is learning to translate the desired result into the steps that the language provides. That’s the kind of skills acquisition that depends on the fundamental human skills development process: try, evaluate, adjust and retry. The higher the quality of the feedback your program gives you, the better the learning experience. I think you’ll do better with Scratch or Alice because they’re designed to give visual feedback.

    Alice 3 uses Java syntax, IIRC, so you’d essentially be learning Java anyway, and includes some really nice graphics assets from EA. Scratch is a drag-and-drop interface and you might be on the cusp of aging out of its target demographic, but there are two very interesting features that may still be worth it: (a) it is an event-driven model which I think would make JavaScript and HTML5 feel natural to you afterward, and (b) the official/only way to share Scratch programs is as source code, so everyone in the community learns from everyone else.

  • admin


    Adam Helweh:

    Nice write up Max. Sounds like you got a lot out of the visit. I believe Phil was in another position at HP a while back because I realized that I used to listen to his Killer Innovations podcast a few years back when I got my first iPod. Phil hosted one of the 3 primary podcasts I always had in rotation. He is one smart cookie.

    How has this visit made you look differently at the technology you own and use on a daily basis? Or has it?

    Well, I think it changes how I look at the future and new ideas, but not the present.

  • http://mcdevzone.com/ Mike Cohen

    You might want to start with Objective C, since there’s lots of good sample code you can play with, and xcode’s built-in templates give a good starting point for understanding the code. You can start out designing the layout in Project Builder and add code to make it functional.

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