Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Smartmatic Dragons' story: Acknowledging excellence and profesionalism


Edgard Zorrilla

Acknowledging personal, company, corporate, spiritual and mystical success is very important for every individual, but also for any corporation that considers Human Capital its greatest asset.

At Smartmatic, some 8 years ago, when we started growing faster than we had during the 2000-2003 period, and after the mega battles that were the two Venezuelan elections of 2004, we decided to find a way to acknowledge the valuable human capital that had grown and matured together with the company. 

I remember that during that time (and this is still true now) the subject of technology was so powerful, and the youthfulness and energy that was in the air at Smartmatic were so contagious, that it was practically impossible to say “no” to any challenge ahead of us, whether it was some sort of technical deployment or logistical services, for any real or prospective customer: Venezuela’s CNE and Banco Plaza, Mexico´s Banco Santander-Serfin, etc.

It was a time of great inspiration. From Antonio, Roger, Alfredo Anzola (RIP), Paul Babic, Eduardo Correia, to all the extremely gifted and talented employees in the company, everyone was particularly excited, committed, in some sort of technological non-stop that had synergy to spare; they wanted to meet the challenge of setting up two elections in less than three months. 

You could feel the magic in the air, the strength and technical capabilities coming from every single engineer in the company. There were no schedules, one day blended into the next one, nights were gone and no one seemed to mind the sun; Smartmatic as a whole was a great lab, a great battlefield, where the challenge at hand required absolute understanding. Absolute understanding of electoral matters, of the technological challenge posed, of the client´s expectations, in order to finally produce “the solution”. And so we did, while we also understood that we were making history. 

Two massive voting processes were completed in the most critical year in the history of contemporary Venezuelan voting and democracy, 2004.  

We had many collaborators and strategic alliances, much experience and knowledge, brought to the table by veterans of many campaigns such as Bob Cook, Jorge Tirado and his “Team Uncles”, etc. Together with our corporate alliances with telecommunications company Cantv, the Italian Olivetti and many others, we could meet our challenges.   

So, in several conversations both formal and informal, we decided to acknowledge the heroism and professionalism of our Smartmatians, who with their great efforts, dedication and inspiration had succeeded in making a great difference and building a great corporate “trampoline”: we went from being a 20-engineer company to a 200-engineer one, with projects involving the hiring, training and coordination of thousands of operators and technicians; strategic alliances of great transcendence for the manufacturing of the SAES–3000 (the first voting machine with printed vouchers used in a national election); and the training of coordination of software developers responsible for robust, secure and powerful solutions found nowhere else in the world, and which withstood the testing of geniuses, scientists and international experts that came to prove that we  “must’ve done something wrong”.   

But neither our human capital nor our technology did anything wrong. It was wonderful to see all the responses and verdicts in favour of our creativity and the technology we created at Smartmatic for a demanding client, in a complex country and under a unique political situation, in an atmosphere of instability that turned our project into a trial by fire of Venezuela’s democracy.  

Writing after 8 years, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it seems easy to describe these moments of great technological advance and premature maturity reached by Smartmatic’s leaders and engineers, who overcame these challenges and completed all their scheduled tasks. In reality, it was far from easy. 

From my own perspective, as the “spiritual white-haired mystic” of the team, I tried to understand the psychology of my engineer teammates at the time; I thought that by understanding Roger, Antonio, Alfredo and the rest of the team, we could find a way to give some recognition to these outstanding efforts and the giant steps we took. 

One day I saw a very excited Roger playing “Magic”, a viral Internet RPG. I decided to understand what was going on, who the game characters were, the logic behind it; I wanted to know how these wizards and dragons affected the outcomes of the game. Roger, as an expert Magic player, explained to me the differences between wizards, dragons, colours, special powers, the general rules of the game, etc.; we understood that what Smartmatic pulled off in 2004 somehow resembled the wonders and spells taking place in Magic. To this day I’m convinced that viral technology and these complicated real-time Internet-based games help young minds to move in a world of multiple dimensions, simultaneous realities and huge challenges, where they have to stay alive, conquer their foes, be competitive and differentiate themselves from others as much as they can to find success.   

So, we wanted to celebrate the heroes of the hour and we decided that the best way to do it was by creating a symbol: Smartmatic’s Dragon. This dragon needed to have certain physical characteristics and colours that showed its tenacity. It had to be a representation of the technical and operational excellence that engineers and specialists had shown; all our managers, coordinators and analysts who were immersed in great challenges and pressure, but who created the excellence that defines Smartmatic, excellence which seems to have no bounds.

Dragons possess a natural force that cannot be ignored. By definition, they are mythological beings, powerful and transformative, which go beyond human nature. They are avatars.

Dragons are also associated with yoga, since they represent the stream of universal energy that flows through the spine of all humans, called kundalini. Being visited by a dragon in dreams, or being drawn towards a fire-breathing one can signify the beginning of a spiritual and mystical awakening. 

We at Smartmatic have experienced great changes, we have accepted incredible challenges, we have conquered new borders and countries; we have reached an international and global presence, with offices and operations that grant us a worldwide reach, and the opportunity to strengthen electoral and democratic processes in many countries. 

We’ve come a long way from 2004 Venezuela. We’ve undertaken impressive challenges such as the Philippines in Asia, Zambia in Africa, Belgium in Europe, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, USA, etc. in the Americas. We’ve expanded our operations with centres of technical and operational excellence in Panama and Taiwan, headquarters for the top management and the internationalization and globalization strategists in London and Amsterdam. We keep growing, conquering and winning new bids. All of this because what make this corporation different are its people: its professionals and technicians, its , and the clients in the electoral world that gave given us great support and credibility as we continue to conquer it.

Acknowledging excellence is very important,executives strategic, and flattering for those who earn the recognition with their great efforts. As they get this award, they show their partners and teammates that it can be done, that the effort is worth it, and that the corporation values them. Because of them, because of our achievements, we are proud to work at Smartmatic.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Innovation and the jobs of the future


Image: Alamy
In these times we live in it’s not strange to hear or read about the importance of innovation as a propeller of the economic development of nations. The search for new and better ways to do things is one of the  engines that pushes hundreds of companies (ours included) to research, develop and try ideas, products or solutions that transform processes, improve efficiency and ultimately change our life and our world for the best. 

Working in an IT company that has innovation as one of its values forces us to see beyond what is known, what is considered as standard. We must constantly anticipate what is coming, what the world needs, and how we can materialize better solutions to satisfy those needs.

So, when I read this article on FastCoExist a few days ago, where they discuss the “8 new jobs people will have in 2025“, it was inevitable to think about the diversity of jobs that will originate from innovative technologies like ours, which daily change our surroundings and ways to do things, to the point of transforming the work itself and creating new job categories that seemed inconceivable before. 

"Digital Detox Specialist, Corporate Unorganizer, Digital Death Manager” – when reading these “future” job descriptions one may think it’s all a joke. Some may not materialize after all. But the idea behind the article is fascinating because it shows us that: 1. technology is an element that is intrinsically linked to our lives, to the point that it influences and will influence the way we communicate, study, the jobs we choose, job hunting and their execution. 2. innovation isn’t only a concept that we apply to a product, a computer program or a design, but it also involves transforming roles at the workplace, and changing us in the process. We need to keep looking ahead, anticipating the coming changes, learn new work methods and, why not? unlearn others.

As a company that develops technologies to create  a deep social impact, there is no doubt that many of these new jobs will spring from the need of having professionals capable of tackling the big challenges our future brings: an urban shepherd that oversees the proper operation of city infrastructures, and who knows how to handle resources; a vertical farmer that knows how to tend to vertical gardens designed to save space; a climate controller that manages and modifies weather patterns; a sustainability officer that implements eco-friendly policies in several environments. There will be dozens of new jobs that will require something more than a well prepared individual for their execution. Innovation will be a key quality in our lives. 

This is just the beginning!