I think one of the strangest parts of success is that the more of it that you achieve, the more you realize how fragile it all is.
Don’t get me wrong, it absolutely takes all the things you see on those cat posters to make it (and without things like grit, determination, empathy, hard work, and focus, it’s unlikely that you will achieve your dreams) but there is also a small hidden piece of success that goes unnoticed that is every much the reason me and GCS are where we are at. In fact, at least for me, you can sort of call this the Higgs-boson of my professional career and in all honesty, probably my personal life as well.
After all, without this, I very much doubt I could be typing this while enjoying a great cup of coffee on a cool Fall day overlooking the mountains, reflecting in pure joy on where I am right now in life.
I wish I could come up with a fancy word (even better would be one I could #hashtag because my kids love my use of hashtags) but it’s pretty long. How about #TheSmallDecisions. Or, for my ok boomer friends, it’s how a few small, fortunate decisions have changed my life.
Decision #1 — the one my parents made for me, to stay in school.
The first big decision was one that I didn’t even make for myself, or better put, the ones my parents simply made for me.
In college, I had taken a co-op (long internship) at a local chemical plant to help with my electrical engineering degree. This job was the typical internship job for a student in engineering and mostly consisted of me helping with help-desk and IT support for a large chemical plant. I was what they called in those days a runner which was a fancy term for a person who would actually run around to all parts of the plant to fix problems. It was the typical hardware, software, and network support of the late ’90s (yes, Y2K was actually a thing), fixing printers, doing installs, etc.. It wasn’t something I was terribly interested in, but it paid $1200 every 2 weeks and for a 19-year-old in college in southern Louisiana, that was the equivalent of a billion dollars.
Even more, I became incredibly good at this. In fact, I started taking some certifications and in a month or two, realized I could just do this for the rest of my life. After all, I knew this chemical plant would hire me and with the money I was making now, I felt pretty good about everything. Why not just quit college, get MSFT and Novell (yep) certified and just start working. Seemed like a solid plan.
My parents, especially my mom who had spent her career in the chemical industry, disagreed, with prejudice :). They kindly informed me in so many words that I needed to get my butt back to school. I’m sure I argued but I didn’t prevail and that path was ended only after a few steps.
At first, I attributed this to just parents being parents but as I got older, I realized how important this was. After all, I had the opportunity, in 1998 as a 19-year-old, to make over $50,000 in a large company with great benefits, 5 minutes from my home town. For many kids in southern Lousiana, this was the whole point of college and for many, was the ultimate success story for a parent.
But my parents must have known something and despite all that, they made me go back to LSU which led to decision #2. They believed there were bigger things in store for me…and they were about to be proven right.
Decision #2 — The nerdy superhero of FlashCaillet
First of all, thankfully no one calls me FlashCaillet. In fact, that word is not one I’ve heard in over a decade easily but it’s a part of the story that still makes me smile to this day and for the 3 people that still remember it, maybe they will read this and smile too.
The year after my return from my internship, I found myself pretty bored honestly. I was always a pretty social kid but not one to go out and get into clubs, frats, or any organization on my own so while I had plenty of friends, I always found something missing.
I always sort of enjoyed working to some degree and had gotten quite used to the money from my internship so I got a copy of the school paper and browsed the help wanted ads. In there, was a job for a Macromedia Flash project from an investment company. I called to ask about the job and they said they needed someone to create a multimedia presentation highlighting their company and to come tomorrow to talk about it.
Now, at this point in my life (and really still today), I knew very little of flash, animation, programming, sound, or video so naturally, when I showed up to ask about the job, I would tell them No right?
Nope, I made a decision that would ultimately be my calling card moving forward. I told them not only could I do it, but I would do it for $500 (number pulled completely out of my rear end) and in a couple of weeks. I had no requirements, no contract, no storyboard, and most importantly, no skills but yet for whatever reason, I knew I could do it. Confidence in yourself is as much of a muscle as your bicep..it needs to be worked out, used, broken down, and rebuilt back up.
During this project, I needed to set up an email to test and I happened to select firstname.lastname@example.org. Wes, a stockbroker early in his career, fondly took to calling me FlashCaillet, and the brief legend was born.
So, I did what I still do to this day, I put my head down, bought programming books (yes, this was what we did back then), stayed up late nights, and made it work. Was it sort of amateurish in parts — absolutely but the client was happy, I was happy, and that introduced me to a whole world of business opportunities and side hustles? It was around 1998 and there were plenty of companies looking for shopping carts, online registration form, and simple reports that, with the help of some people I met at this investment firm, I began to start my first side business. Armed with my first experience of over promising a customer and having to deliver, I began charging people $40/hr to build what is now known as B2B solutions.
This really started everything for me and while my GPA dipped to a 3.2, my real-world knowledge of being a software professional skyrocketed. I learned more about creating solutions in those first couple years than I did at any point in my life and in fact, one of those clients is still with me today at GCS, over 20+ years later!!!
Note: I know superhero movies are all the rage so anyway who would like to buy my movie rights to this, let me know ASAP. Engineers are the new cool people right???
Decision 3 — If you are ready, I am ready…
The two decisions prior really set the foundation for some of the intangible qualities that have served me well. I had learned confidence, grit, perseverance, risk-taking, and maybe as importantly, what it meant to be a service-based business. For you that know me well, you know how critical those qualities are to me and GCS now, but there was another career-defining decision that forever altered my path.
I had gotten a really great job (Fortune 5 company) after college but continued to itch for something more. That led me to a medium-sized (~$80M) contracting company in Houston that provided maintenance and turnaround solutions for refineries. They needed an entire set of software and I was hired as their first developer to build “everything” from the ground up. It consisted of the normal HCM, operations, accounting, purchasing, and project management modules, not unlike those same solutions we deliver today actually.
At one point, the current Access databases being used to manage their workload crapped out (literally, a repair and shrink operation too familiar for those who used to used Access 15 years ago) failed and the company was down while trying to onboard 100+ employees that day. This company’s lifeblood was quick hiring and the CEO called me directly and the conversation went something like this.
Joe: “Hey Cody, this is Joe (Joe was sort of a legendary figure and still is in the industry), aren’t you building us a bunch of software for dispatching?”
Cody: “Yes sir, working on it now. I’m actually in HR right now.”
Joe: “We got to do something and I’m tired of waiting. I’m not sure if you heard about the mess over there hut how soon can you have it ready? “
…now at this point, the software is months from being complete, touched 3 different business units, and by every reasonable guess, at most was 50% ready for production. At the same time, the business needed something to help them.
Cody: “Well Joe, what I have is better than what happened today and if you are okay with a few bumps, I can have it in 3 days. It will be ugly, but we’ll make it work. ”
Joe: “Sounds good, let’s do it. Thanks.” <hangs up>
Cody (calling my colleague and technically my employee): “Mike…umm, we got some work to do. I need your help.”
Now, at this point, the current infrastructure group got a phone call from Joe to go live and Joe proceeded to tell them what I had promised. Naturally, this didn’t sit well as they were not ready and had procrastinated for months on getting the servers ready. It was really their fault for not being ready, but even so, here is the president/founder/CEO calling you and rather than say we’ll take care of it, they took the alternate strategy of complaining. Needless to say, this did not sit well with Joe, and my cowboyish attitude did not sit well with them. I had gone over their heads and promised them something that I had no authority to do. But hell, this was the big boss calling me. He asked a simple question, I gave an honest answer. I was 25 years old and playing IT politics wasn’t part of my playbook. I assumed we were all on the same page of helping the company grow. Wasn’t that the whole point of our paycheck?
That night, 4 hours after I promised Joe, my hard drive crashed and I lost everything from the last 60 days. I didn’t have source control and since it was just me working, I had not had a reason for constant backups or code sharing. I was terrified. I told my wife that if I could not get the data back, I would resign Monday. I had put everything on the line, upset the apple cart, and made some big promises — and I just did not have it in me to show up without a solution.
Fortunately, a young tech intern stayed up with me until 5 am to retrieve the data and the project was live by Monday. It was bumpy but became the start of a career defined by creating solutions that made a direct immediate business impact rather than fake promises on paper. I became associated with a business solution, rather than an IT solution.
I started to really learn what it meant to take a calculated risk and to not be afraid to ship software early, get feedback, and repeat that until a solution was reached. I learned to understand how valuable the 80/20 percent rule was in software design and was doing Agile years before it became cool to do so.
Maybe most importantly, because of Mike (later joining me to start GCS) having my back, I learned the truly invaluable force that exists when you have reliable and trusting people on your side.
Joe, the company, and many of the people in that story went on to be very successful and I’ve been fortunate to continue to be part of their journeys, which directly led to where GCS and I are today. That company was one of my first two clients at GCS and we are still helping many of that same group of people today one way or another. Probably most impactful were the relationships, friends, war stories, mentors, and hard lessons I learned throughout that journey, all of which would not have happened without that day.
Don’t get me wrong, there are dozens of other events and people that have made me what I am today. It would be too long to list them all but when I think of my journey, I think of these three events as such a foundational piece of where I am that I felt it important to share.
Believing in myself and having the confidence to take risks got me started.
Hard work and grit kept me going.
Creating value for other people, in turn, made me valuable.
and most importantly, having the right people helping me and advising me made it all possible.