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Interview: Tom Diederich, Cadence Design Systems

Tom Diederich
Social media/Web community Manager,
Cadence Design Systems

An experienced corporate communications professional, project manager, journalist, and teacher, Tom was drawn to online communities during the Internets early days. He began blogging in 1996 (though he called it his online journal) when working in Tokyo as a journalist to keep friends and family informed of his adventures there. Since then, Tom has worked to build online community at various companies including Intuit and Symantec, and now, Cadence.

CB: What fascinates you about the web?
TD: Its simplicity and complexity. Its evolution. I got “online” in 1995 and was blown away that first time at the monitor of my Mac when I logged in. All that information at your fingertips! I was working in Tokyo at the time and that first experience reminded me simultaneously of the movie “Blade Runner,” which was filmed there, and the novel “Neuromancer,” which was set in nearby Chiba City — where I also lived a couple years earlier.

CB: What would you change about it?
TD: I’d make it easier to work with – the ability to create a rich, natural, interactive experience with an intuitive interface for both users and the builders of Web sites. Create what you want, how you want, and in your own style. No limitations. And to make it “aware,” that is, the site is able to learn, grow and evolve based on how it is used.

CB: Youve been blogging since before the term blog was coined. How has blogging changed since then and what makes it important to you?

TD: I started my “online journal” in 1996. (Here’s a link to that first entry – since moved over to another server). It was very much a blog, though I didn’t think to post comments from the friends and family who sent them to me via e-mail. Back then it was just the fastest and most cost-effective way for me to stay in touch with them from the other side of the world. Today blogs are more than a novelty. Anyone can start a blog, at no cost, and in just a few minutes with tools like Google’s “Blogger.” And they are interactive. A blog is a conversation.

I have two blogs today: one is a continuation of the “Diederich Journal” that began in the 90s; the other is a blog called “Conversations Matter,” a group of marketers, community managers, product managers and ordinary people who work in some capacity with social media.

How else have blogs have changed? They are becoming an important part of doing business – they enable smart companies to cut through the noise (jargon) of the formal marketing message and deliver, for example, a particular employee’s point of view in everyday English (or whatever language you speak). That’s powerful, as it adds a level of credibility. It also enables customers and potential customers to join the conversation and make up their own minds whether or not they should take that business seriously. But for me, the most important thing that blogging is changing is the freedom and voice it gives journalists. I’m a journalist by training and spent a decade as a reporter in the ‘90s. I’m old school in my belief that journalists should be objective – totally objective. “Just the facts, ma’am.” The reporter then presents the facts in a manner that enables the reader to make up his or her own mind. Fox News, more recently CNN — and now a growing number of formerly respected news organizations – have agendas. Their reporters have agendas. Why? They are owned by mega-corporations and those execs dictate what is and what isn’t news. Nowadays you often get a one-sided (or slanted) perspective on very select topics. Blogging, when in the hands of the independent journalist, cuts through all of that crap. They get the facts and then present all sides of a story. Of course, they don’t always check facts as carefully as journalists did in the old days — which is also very dangerous — but in those cases the readers generally come in and, like the editors of old, make the corrections via comments.

CB: What technology has had the greatest impact on how you do your job?

TD: Like technology, my job has evolved over the years. I was a journalist; then a marketing writer; then an internal communications manager – and the leap to “social media” came naturally when I got my first experience working with a user community at Intuit. If I had to pick one, the technology that has had the greatest impact on how I do my job nowadays is associated with “online community” platforms, namely discussion forums and blogs. Companies specializing in enterprise community platforms include: Lithium, Telligent, Web Crossing, Jive, LiveWorld. There are many others. Getting the right platform is key to a successful community.

CB: Who has influenced or helped you the most in your career?

TD: Three people: The late Phil Porter, who was my first journalism instructor at Ohio State. Later that summer I was an intern at his newspaper, covering Ohio politics and general news. Phil taught me how to ask the right questions, organize my thoughts and then put together a decent news story from my notes. A fringe benefit was that I went from getting Cs to As in English courses immediately following his Journalism 101 class. Also, Michelle Glover, my boss at both SGI and Intuit. She taught me how to survive in the corporate jungle. And how to write (and think) from the corporate perspective. Finally, Scott Wilder, the guy who started Intuit’s first online community – and today manages several of the company’s customer communities.

CB: What makes you uniquely suited to your role at Cadence?
TD: I’d have to say my life experience (as corny as that sounds) and my experience building and managing a successful customer community at Symantec, the Symantec Technology Network. Plus all of the great stuff I learned from Intuit’s online communities.

CB: What makes Cadence a cut above its competitors?
TD: Our new website puts community front and center – right on the landing page of I don’t think there is another company in our industry (or many others) that does that.

[Editors Note: I was first introduced to Tom after he commented on my recent blog post reviewing the new Cadence website. ]

CB: If you had one sentence to pitch your latest and greatest idea, what would it be?
TD: Plastics.”

Just kidding! (OK, this will have to be when technology catches up with my brain): The creation of an online community platform that learns and evolves naturally based on user activity – like the human brain learns things such as how to play the piano.”

CB: I believe that everyone has a specific and unique talent that comes in handy at just the right time. It might be something most people know about you or something very few know. What is your super-power?

TD: This sounds like some new-age hooey, but it is “empathy.” I can tune-in to a person, or a group of people (even a huge group like an online community) and pick up on their vibe or “personality.” If I work at it, I can fit right in and do it very fast – in any situation or environment. That’s how I got along so well in the Peace Corps, and then working in Japan for seven years (I never did experience the culture shock that seemed to affect several of my fellow expats). This “super-power” works well in the trenches of Silicon Valley, too.

CB: If the worlds technological and economic systems were to collapse and revert society to locally-focused, agrarian communities, what role would you assume?
TD: I’d get an old-fashioned printing press and become a newspaper publisher and literacy advocate/teacher. When the light of the Roman Empire was extinguished and the Dark Ages reigned, the general population slowly lost the ability (and desire) to read and write. Just imagine if we had not lost the collective knowledge stored at the Library of Alexandria… Mankind stagnated for centuries during the Dark Ages and illiteracy was, in my opinion, one of the main reasons.

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