A Semi-Dynamic Duo

Before I came to Cisco, I covered federal government IT as a reporter and editor. Maybe that’s why I didn’t find Zach & Jack as weird as some seem to.

Of course, I also didn’t expect my first major project in my new marketing career to be writing a comic book script either, but there it is. (I sometimes think there should be a superhero who defeats his enemies using rhetoric. His name would be Irony Man. He’s not in the Zach & Jack comic.)

Zach and Jack look like the generic men on public restroom doors. They’re featureless, not quite stick figures, but hardly fully realized characters. They inhabit a surreal world that’s half cartoon, half (sort of) real, and they talk about federal IT. A lot. Like they have almost nothing else to talk about. Because their 20-year friendship has become comfortable and easy, like an old pair of shoes.

Well, anyway, those are things I think about when I think about them. See, before I was here, Zach and Jack were born as a way to tell very simple — some might say, simplistic — stories about federal IT. In this version, Jack was a hapless loser and Zach always got IT right. (Think Goofus and Gallant from Highlights Magazine for theme, the Dick & Jane primers for style.)

My task was to help turn this iteration of Zach and Jack into something more sophisticated, more realistic. We wanted to make them characters with some depth, engaged in projects and facing problems that our federal government customers can relate to. So I went off and wrote a script in which they were drawn with full realism and battled Hacker Mack, the evil mastermind trying to break into their agencies’ networks.

That turned out to be a little too realistic.

The second pass got us closer, making the characters both competent and hard-working. No longer is Jack the dunce, the Peter Tork of the pair. He’s just in need of some guidance, some direction to the solutions to his problems. Once he knows what he needs to do, he does it well.

And here’s why they work for me: From more than a decade of observing federal IT leaders in action, through two presidential administrations and half a dozen changes of Congress, I know that Zach and Jack are realistic. Not in how they look or the bizarro world they inhabit, but in how they face the challenges of their jobs. In reality, of course, no one is always Zach or always Jack. But there are always some who need a solution and some who know what can work, who can guide from experience.

Zach and Jack are taking on federal government digital transformation. They’re finding ways to modernize systems, implement effective analytics and build a weatherproof sensor network in an Internet-of-Things project. They’re finding secure hosted collaboration solutions, and most importantly, they are talking.

They talk over dinner, or on the tennis court, or during phone calls and visits to one another’s offices. Zach and Jack both know that the key to success is the sharing of information and insight. And because they’ve been friends for 20 years, having met at Burning Man 1997, they know each other very well.

Friends don’t let friends fail when they know how to help them succeed. So as your friend, I’m making sure you have access to Zach and Jack’s new EBook – Don’t Risk Public Sector IT.


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