We need more mentoring in IT

Introduction

In an earlier post on strengths and weaknesses, I briefly talked about a general lack of mentoring in IT. Having given this some further thought, I thought I’d tease out some more salient points on the topic.

I like the following definition of mentoring so will be basing my post on this:

Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be– Eric Parsloe, The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring

What is the problem?

The diagram below (FYI, produced in PowerPoint thanks to this great little video) broadly represents the distribution of knowledge in our wonderful field of technology.

Bell curve

Note the following observations:

  1. Nobody knows nothing
  2. Nobody knows everything
  3. There is a certain level of knowledge at which the numbers drop off steeply
  4. There is a clear grouping near the middle
  5. The graph also provides a reasonable model of the speed at which people acquire knowledge. The y-axis represents that speed

The first two points are worthy of further discussion:

Point 1 essentially means that everybody has something to teach somebody else.

Point 2 is the same as point 1 but flipped on its head. Everybody can learn something from somebody else.

Yet the theme of this post is that there is a lack of widespread mentoring going on in IT. By that, I simply mean that it is far from being the norm and would benefit from serious improvement.

How to address the issue

If you work somewhere that encourages people to mentor others (which is lovely!), it is likely that the people who sit towards the right of the graph above are mentoring people who fall further to the left. If you are less fortunate, you might find that it is longer serving people mentoring people who are less time-served, which isn’t always useful. Of course, who gets to mentor who might simply be decided by the length of one’s beard, which is wrong for a whole number of reasons, a key one being that some of the most knowledgeable people I’ve worked with are unsurprisingly incapable of growing a beard.

However, one can combine points 1 and 2 above under the following statement:

Anybody with knowledge should be able to mentor somebody without that knowledge– Vegaskid

As well as strengthening people and teams across your business, with all the benefits that brings (happier staff, increased productivity, personal and business growth, innovation, collaboration, etc.), a common business risk is also mitigated i.e. the risk of a ‘key master’ walking out of your company with unique knowledge that nobody else knows. I’ve seen this happen in a number of companies and it puts unnecessary strain on those who stay and can stunt growth, both at the individual and company level, whilst the gaps are filled.

Building on the foundation

So, having read this far, are you ready to have a think about what you are knowledgeable about and offer to transfer some of that wisdom to somebody else? Or even just to offer support at any level? It needn’t be in a more formal format if that isn’t your style. It could be as simple as emailing snippets of information, or posting to your Intranet. Or writing a blog post to a wider audience. Or simply walking over to somebody’s desk and having a chat about what they are working on.

Businesses should enable and encourage this behaviour and make it part of their culture. Reward people who do it, at the very least by acknowledging it and giving them the time to do it. That is often all that is required.

Beyond our own companies, I would love to see an industry wide movement to help foster a mentoring mindset. A combination of bottom up and top down approaches could really help across the board.

Summary

In this post, I’ve deliberately steered well clear of the reasons why people don’t mentor up to this point because in my experience, it usually has something to do with either the culture of the business or individuals having a fear of losing some level of perceived control or worth by sharing knowledge with others.

I think the best way to address starts somewhere in the middle i.e. businesses enabling and encouraging their people to share knowledge whenever they can. The rest is up to you.

Till the next time.

 

Working with strength and weakness

Introduction

Do a search online for “people’s strengths and weaknesses” and you’ll get a deluge of advice that tends to throw more weight at dealing with weakness than fostering strength. This post briefly adds to the deluge, but turns that approach on its head.

Strength > weakness

As individuals, we often get hung up on weaknesses, both our own and of those around us. There seems to be an unrealistic expectation, especially in technology, that we should be experts at every level of the stack.

This expectation is not helped by less tech-savvy friends and family.

You work in IT, can you fix my house alarm?-Dad

It is also not helped by colleagues who are more knowledgeable than us, but don’t know how to mentor. And it is most certainly not helped by working environments that are clueless how to address weakness and end up creating teams of mediocre generalists.

Everybody has the potential to be great at something. It is quite heartbreaking to think that the vast majority of people who never find that thing or at best never really get to develop it to their full potential, fail because of an unproductive focus on their weaknesses rather than their strengths.

Weakness

Often, this is self-inflicted by people who beat themselves up for not being great at everything they put their mind to. It is also down to external factors not nurturing people’s strengths and rather than counter their weaknesses by balancing them across a team, choose to focus on them, again, an often unproductive path.

Teams > individuals

The key to dealing with weakness (and conversely strength) is to build teams that complement each other, based on a number of key factors:

  • Manager’s/leader’s ability
  • Company’s hiring process
  • Candidates honesty on CV/in interview as to what their strengths and weaknesses really are

The first two points refer to how good the workplace skills and processes are to firstly determine the existing strengths and weaknesses in the teams and what strengths would both complement them and the future strategy of the business.

The third point is something I’ve not heard discussed much due to a get the job at any cost attitude but as somebody who has been in a hiring manager role previously, I’ve seen CVs come across my desk which simply beggar belief. People claiming to be a mythical unicorn in terms of skills and experience and when they’ve come in for interview, they’ve not been able to back up the claims under a modicum of pressure.

If you land yourself a role by being overly economical with the truth regarding your skill set, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that at some point, you are going to be expected to carry out tasks which fall in to your “weakness zone”. You need to be prepared when that time comes, one way or the other.

Summary

As individuals, I think people would be far more productive if they focused more on their strengths than weaknesses. Sure, address those weaknesses that are holding you back in your chosen path, but if you work in the right team, in the right company, the balance of the team should allow you to flourish regardless.

Companies take note too. The best teams have members who have roles that play to their strengths, those combined strengths blending together to negate any key weaknesses across the team

Till the next time.

 

To recertify or not

Introduction

I counted them up the other day and I’ve done over 30 exams since I’ve been working in IT. Mostly in Microsoft and Cisco, with a CompTIA Security+ thrown in to upgrade my MCSE 2003 along the way. Most of those certifications have expired, having either been upgraded along the way or left to die with a modicum of dignity. This post looks at some key reasons why you might want or not want to recertify/upgrade your certification when the time comes.

Why certify in the first place?

Whilst some people in IT go all in on the certification train, others never take an exam in their career. So what reasons do people have in each camp? There are probably as many reasons as there are people I’m talking about, but some possible answers might be:

The aye’s

  • Like to measure their knowledge against a known standard
  • For vendor partnership levels and incentives
  • For the kudos amongst colleagues and peers
  • To gain vendor best practice knowledge
  • To aid them in their day to day job
  • A requirement of their employment
  • Looks good on the CV

The no’s

  • They either know what they don’t know and pursue it in other ways or they don’t know and have no wish to find out
  • Not keen on the pressure or format of exams
  • Exam blueprint not relevant to their role
  • Got better things to do

In short, IT certifications are for some people, not for others and some just get forced to attain them.

Recertify

Why recertify?

However, the point of this post is around recertification. Once you’ve proved you have the knowledge to pass an exam, what drives people to recertify at some point in the future, sometimes three or more years later?

Again, a list of contenders would be:

  • To make sure you prove your knowledge with the new blueprint
  • Maintain that kudos
  • Maintain partnership levels and incentives
  • …in fact, the same reasons for getting the certification in the first place

Although, here is my issue with IT certifications:

  • The blueprint never matches my day to day job. It usually has a good 25-50%+ of content that I’ll probably never use
  • The whole IT certification business is a gravy train. Vendor A are selling me their product and then charging me on top to learn how to use it and more money still to show that I can prove I can use it? And we need how many ABCDs to get gold partnership? Too much hoop jumping. There is a fear that letting certifications expire means previous investment in knowledge is just lost
  • Once you’ve been in the business for a few years (let’s say 10+ for the sake of putting a number on it), I’d like to think that my previous experience and endorsements count for more than a transcript

Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones. – Sherlock Holmes

Summary

I did 75% of my 30+ exams in the first half of my career. As time has gone by (ok, and possibly as my brain has grown older), I’ve come to the conclusion that focused knowledge that can help me in the short to medium term is far more valuable than certification blueprint knowledge that might, in part, serve me for the next three years. Time is of the essence, I don’t want to be studying things I won’t use anymore.

I’ve taken this approach for the last three years and have no regrets about it at all. It has allowed me to learn many things that I would simply not have had time to if I had focused only on certifications that I needed. Don’t be afraid of jumping off the certification train.

Having said that, my CCNA (R&S and Security) was due to lapse next week and this was always my favourite exam, so I caved in and did the resit. The reason? See the list above 😉

Till the next time.

Games for the family

Introduction

I know a lot of nerd types that like playing games. To be clear, I’m not talking about mind games or computer games here, but good old-fashioned family games that usually involve a board or pack of cards of some sort.

This post covers off some of the Thompson family favourites that we keep coming back to, to keep our minds sharp and gently take the mickey out of each other.

Family games

  • Uno. This card game was introduced to us by a family we met on summer holiday in 2014. We still play it now, and we still keep in touch with the family. In fact, we went on holiday to Spain with them in 2017 and played Uno every night whilst drinking the all-inclusive gin. You basically discard one of your cards when it’s your turn to match the colour or value of the card in the middle, with various special function cards such as change colour, skip a go, reverse direction, pick up two (for the next player). This game provides the perfect blend of luck and skill to allow all ages to play together.
  • Frustration. A board game, based on the older game Ludo. Instead of a handheld die, there is a clear dome ‘Popamatic’ in the middle that you push down to make a satisfying pop and spin the die (in newer versions, the outside of the board has a mini paddle for each player that flicks the underside of the dome for the same effect. Again, thanks to the random die factor, this makes for a great game for all ages.
  • Dobble. We only recently discovered this card game and it is as fun as it is frustrating. The pack comes with 55 cards and there are a number of alternative game options you get instructions for (you can probably make up your own too). The premise is that each card has a fixed number of symbols on it (tree, sun, igloo, etc.) and that any two cards only have a single symbol in common with each other. The common theme with the game types is being able to recognise the common symbol between the cards the fastest. This sounds simple enough, but the symbols appear at different sizes on cards and as symbols are matched by a , some of the cards are removed/replaced by others and so you get this manic panic going on (might just be me, evidence suggests otherwise!) where you are trying to spot the common symbol and somebody gets to it before you, then you have to start again. Great, fast paced mind game, again for all ages
  • Backgammon. Still trying to get my 10-year-old daughter in to this, but my wife and I love playing this ancient classic, especially with the doubling cube to add that extra level of skill

Less popular alternatives

There are many other games that we sometimes drift back to from time to time e.g.

  • Cluedo
  • Monopoly
  • Pie Face (doesn’t really have longevity, but good fun for larger family get-togethers)
  • Speak Out (in the same ilk as Pieface in terms of longevity
  • Bingo
  • Various quiz games inc. Trivial Pursuit

Summary

I’d love to hear from other people who spend a lot of time playing these type of family games. If you have other suggestions, or comments on mine, please do leave a comment below. We’re always looking for that next time-consuming game that lets us turn the telly off and put our electronics down.

Till the next time.

Azure Stack – my take 01-18

Introduction

In the first few months after Azure Stack was announced, there was quite a bit of buzz around what it promised.

A true hybrid cloud experience, allowing workloads to move seamlessly between public Azure and your private Azure Stack data centre.

If anybody could deliver this, you’d think Microsoft could.

Later than expected, it has now been released under General Availability. This post takes a look at a couple of factors that I believe are key to the success of Azure Stack.

Scalability

Azure Stack is a fixed size hyper-converged platform. That is, the compute, storage and networking are tightly integrated with an overlaid software architecture. The fixed aspect refers to the fact that when you buy a Stack, you are buying a fixed number of nodes e.g. 4, 8 or 12.

I’m not a massive fan of hyper-converged infrastructure unless it’s dedicated to a well known workload that you can scale the nodes to. As soon as you put inconsistent or unpredictable workloads on there, you run the risk of, as an example, having to buy a new node (with all that compute, RAM and storage) just for the additional storage, even though your CPU and RAM utilisation might only be at 30% and 60% respectively. You can’t just buy more storage.

For me, one of the key definitions of cloud is scalability and flexibility. If you have an 8 node cluster, you don’t want to have those nodes sitting at 40% utilisation. You want them at near capacity, taking N+1 in to account.

I feel that the ‘pod’ approach that Azure Stack takes amplifies this problem even more. You can’t currently buy a 4 node pod and add another node when the cluster fills up. You need to buy another pod. That doesn’t come cheap.

I wonder, once the platform matures further, if Microsoft will allow single nodes to be added. It would mitigate the concern, but you are still limited to specific workloads if you aren’t going to be wasteful with your resources.

Feature parity

The big promise of hybrid cloud is running workloads in either your private data centre or the public cloud (Azure Stack and public Azure for the purpose of this post), migrate freely between the two, with a consistent experience regardless of where your workloads were.

That sounds like hybrid nirvana, but the current reality is less enticing. Stack was always going to deliver a subset of public Azure, but the feature gap today break’s the hybrid promise in their current state as far as I’m concerned.

The biggest difference is with the PaaS services. There are a number of hoops required to jump through to enable any level of PaaS services and requires licensing of additional VMs on the Stack to run some of those services, the latter point not really coming as a surprise though. For me however, PaaS is where the real benefits of migrating to cloud are reaped so this feels like a big bump in the road as it stands. A number of resource providers appear to be missing too. Again, I’m hopeful that as the platform matures, the capabilities gap will narrow considerably.

A great example of using a hybrid cloud setup is being able to DR your workloads from your private data center to the public cloud. You can currently do this with Azure Stack, but to fail the workloads back to your private Stack, you need to lift and shift them manually. This feels very much like a lock in to my sceptical mind. I can almost hear Admiral Ackbar shouting his warning out.

Microsoft are not offering any SLA on Azure Stack at the current time too.

Some of these shortcomings are likely to change over time but the key theme here for me is, what is the use case for purchasing Azure Stack? With no SLA, would you run your production on there? Would you use it for development on what is essentially a hobbled platform?

Summary

The idea of having a common interface to manage all your workloads, regardless of where they are hosted, is very appealing for obvious reasons. However, in its current incarnation, I can’t see a compelling reason to dive in to Azure Stack, although I have no doubt that over the next 1-3 years, it will mature to something that will genuinely be a game changer.

Have you deployed Azure Stack? If so and assuming you aren’t just talking about ASDK (the development kit that allows you to install Azure Stack on any tin), I’d love to hear what types of workloads you are running. How have you dealt with the shortcomings listed above? I’d love for you to reach out either on here or at my Twitter account to have a discussion.

Till the next time.

2018 – predictions in tech

Introduction

First of all, best wishes to all my readers for the new year. Keep learning new things, aim to be the best you can be and find your happy place.

January seems to be the month of the predictions post. I’ve largely stayed away from these in the past, usually posting something relating to my own resolutions instead but am bucking the trend this year with a slightly tongue in cheek look at what 2018 might bring.

Predictions

  • Stuff is going to get owned. Most likely some of your details. It seems that there is no end to the ignorance, or perhaps arrogance of some organisations when it comes to protecting their customer’s data. As more data gets stored, more of it gets leaked so expect 2018 to be a depressing year of getting emails from Have I Been Pwned, especially when Patrick Gray from Risky Business is on his holidays.
  • SDx. It’s only a matter of time before coffee becomes software defined it seems. Whilst most of the nomenclature is industry spin, I do think that SDN will really come in to its own this year. SDWAN, a subset of SDN, has already made good progress in recent times. I expect to see an exciting level of innovation in other areas of SDN over the next 12 months
  • IPv6. Prediction here is that it will continue to grow at the completely unexciting rates that it has so far
  • Cryptocurrency. Have recently invested in this myself and am already seeing gains, but to be honest, I’ve not got a Scooby Doo what it’s about, but am getting up to speed. Doesn’t stop it being good fun though (disclaimer: as long as you are playing with money you can afford to lose!). I think we’re going to see a tonne of cryptocurrencies become relevant this year
  • Skillset. Whilst I don’t think this prediction is going to be explosive, I do believe more traditional IT engineers are going to realise that they need to up skill in order to remain relevant over the next 5-10 years. This discussion is already at least 5 years old but I see evidence of some die hard dinosaurs starting to get it. You don’t need to be a developer. You will benefit from learning some basic coding skills/knowledge
  • Hybrid cloud. Standby for an article on my take of Microsoft Azure, but I think more players will spring up this year, offering true hybrid cloud solutions

Summary

Let’s see how accurate these predictions end up being in 12 months time!

Till the next time.

Taking the Python Challenge

Introduction

A few months back, I came across a cracking website called Python Challenge, which poses a number of increasingly difficult challenges.

Crazy and fun at the same time

This isn’t a site for complete beginners. It assumes you already know the basics of things like loops, branching logic, various data types, etc. It also assumes you have a specially wired brain so don’t be surprised if you run in to a few brick walls where you will probably have to cheat a little i.e. find a solution on line.

However, the best thing about this site is that each of the 33 challenges (current as of 28/10/16) covers a different skill set and gets you using different Python modules in creative ways e.g.

  • re for regular expressions
  • pickle for (de)serialising Python objects
  • zipfile for working, unsurprisingly, with zip files

I found this approach really useful in forcing me to learn new tools to solve a problem, probably one of the best ways to get familiar with tools that you may need from time to time but don’t want to just plough through some documentation when you need it.

Summary

At some point in your path to learning to code, you’ll probably find yourself stumped as to what to do next. You’ve learnt the basics, you’ve applied them to some problems you’ve had but you aren’t sure how to widen your horizons.

Try out Python Challenge and see how many challenges you can get through before your head explodes.

Till the next time.

Ubuntu on the desktop

Introduction

I’ve tried a couple of times in the last five years or so to make the move to Linux on the desktop. Namely Ubuntu on my work’s laptop. Doing it on my own kit is easy, but as we’ll see, doing it on a corporate machine presents difficulties.

First question, why?

First of all, I like learning new things and having come from a Microsoft and networking background, the beardy ways of Linux were my weak spot. I wanted to force myself to use it in a way that running it in a VM wouldn’t let me.

Secondly, I wanted to see if the Linux desktop experience has matured to the point where migrating is viable.

Thirdly, I wanted to see if I could remove my working dependency on the Microsoft ecosystem, namely the extended Office suite.

Starter for 10

I’ve installed Linux of different flavours many times but regardless, installing Linux really is a piece of cake. The hardware was a Dell Latitude 5570, with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

I ran in to some initial hardware compatibility issues with my Dell docking station, which would cause my X-server session to completely reset each time I undocked, causing the laptop to shut all apps and loss of work. A quick look in /var/log/syslog showed the culprit service and a bit of Googling gave me some config to put in a file to resolve the issue.

I installed VMware Workstation 12 Pro so I could install my Windows 10 VM and whilst I found it to be performant most of the time, I did have strange issues with system sounds playing like a wasp farting in a tin can. All other sounds from both the VM and host played OK.

Playing about

The Unity desktop had a few quirks that annoyed me, namely the system tray at the top right appearing on all monitors so it would suddenly appear on top when I was clicking on menu bars in my Windows VM.

I installed a number of other desktop environments e.g. Gnome, KDE, XFCE but the latter in particular caused some strange behaviour and I ended up spending a good couple of hours removing all traces and reverting back to Unity.

I tend to use Python on server editions of Linux or my Windows machine but having it on a Linux desktop added that extra level of simplicity and ease of access.

Smashing Windows

I use Microsoft Office a lot. Outlook is not only my mail client but my main time management tool. I’ve not found a Linux client that comes even close, but Outlook Web Access gave me most of the functionality I was after. The same thing applies to OneNote, another tool I use extensively but can be accessed via OneDrive online.

Word and Excel proved more difficult, especially when people like creating fancy macros that aren’t compatible with OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

The biggest sticking point however is Lync, or Skype For Business as it’s now known. The sound quality was questionable but the worst point for me was that the mic would just stop working at random intervals. Reconnecting the USB headset would get it working again, only to disconnect within the next couple of minutes.

I got the Empathy IM client up and running with my work’s SFB server, but it wouldn’t show contacts and voice/video wouldn’t work. In short, a show stopper.

Summary

Ubuntu has come a long way since the last time I tried this experiment. My home laptop has Kali installed and will continue to do so, but due to the dependencies on Windows and drop in productivity, I could only put up with it for two weeks before reinstalling Windows again.

At the end of the day though, I can’t completely ditch Windows simply because of how entrenched it is in my organisation.

In terms of my goals for the experiment, I certainly used Linux a lot more, especially on the CLI, so am confident I’ll be using my Ubuntu server VM more than perhaps I have done in the past.

Till the next time.

The cost of self improvement

Introduction

In my earlier career, I measured my knowledge by how many exams I had passed and how much frowning I did throughout the day. I’ve lost the exam bug over recent years, mostly because the 700 page study tomes contain perhaps 100 pages relevant to either my role at the time or my future goals and with the pace of IT these days, I honestly have better things to be doing with my time.

That’s why I try to focus my learning goals myself, rather than be told by somebody who doesn’t know me is what I should be learning.

The Training Trap

The cycle of continuous training contains many pitfalls. First of all is the cost. Training courses, books, ,other materials, exams. The whole refresh cycle means that once you are committed to remaining certified, you are on a one way journey to Emptywalletville. Unless you are lucky enough to have a sponsor that will pay your way.

The vendors love telling us how marketable these certifications make us too and we seem to eat it up by the bucketful. What annoys me the most is how these vendors lock businesses and individuals in to the training trap by insisting you need so many MCSx/CCNx/etc. people to maintain certain partner level accreditations. Just another set of hoops to jump through, another maze to remain locked within.

Same shit, different day

Every time I go to the supermarket or newsagents, I always have a browse of the magazines. Over the years, I’ve even subscribed to several of these covering Film, IT, photography and gaming, but none have lasted more than a couple of years.

With the ever expanding catalogue of available publications, it is easier than ever to see that a large percentage of these publications are simply regurgitating the same material in a cyclone of confusion and trickery.

The worst offenders seem to be the IT and Health sector magazines. The same top 10 lists, learn how to do this or that, absolute beginner’s guide to blah, blah, blah. Even within the same month, on display you can see magazines that have similar content to attract your hard earned money.

Another sector that is guilty as sin for this is the self-help book brigade with the same information commonly being thrown at us time and time again. Sadly, the target audience for these are often the most susceptible to the need to buy.

Suckers for or victims of punishment

One thing that is for sure, these publishers would not remain in business for long if they didn’t have a steady revenue stream. The way out is easy enough in this scenario and is covered below.

The more difficult scenario to disentangle oneself from is the vendor partnership scheme. For these, you need to ensure that the benefits you receive from participating outweigh the associated effort and cost, but you often have little leeway in this regard.

I’ve yet to find a magazine in the supermarket that contains information that is not easily and freely available on the Internet, within minutes from anywhere in the world where I can connect, or to download for later offline reading. The fact that I can dive deeper in to those articles by ‘going down the rabbit hole’ at no extra cost and end up with a much fuller understanding is another free benefit. Despite the electrical usage, I’m also a little greener by saving the trees.

For those people who argue ‘I like to feel the paper in my fingers’, my advice would be to count the bundles of cash you will save instead.

Summary

The wider field of self improvement, no matter which topic we are talking about has created a business sector which is growing year on year, with no signs of slowing down. For some reason, we buy in to their marketing as if we’ve briefly forgotten what a connected world we live in, just for those moments between the shelf and the checkout.

From a certification point of view, I’ll mostly only be recertifying and proving my knowledge via other means.

I like to think I’ve seen the light. At the very least, I’ve got a few more pennies in my pocket and a lot more time to enjoy the more meaningful things in life.

Till the next time.

The difference between inspiration and motivation

Introduction

I’ve heard people use these words in the wrong context before and it got me to wondering, are people looking in the wrong place to get things done? This brief post covers the difference between motivation and inspiration.

Inspiration

Inspiration happens from the outside in. That is, an external force triggers a reaction in you that causes you to behave in some way. Inspiration infers a positive force causing a positive reaction, at least for sane people with a love of life.

The reaction might be a smile, or pleasant thoughts or it could be something more active like going to the gym, doing some DIY and getting down to some studying. It could also be something more selfless, such as making a charity donation. Regardless, without the external force, the inspiration simply doesn’t happen.

Motivation

Therein lies the rub for me. Why wait for something external to have an impact before I decide to get something done? Motivation happens from the inside out. That is, an internal force triggers a reaction in you that causes you to behave in some way. You aren’t relying on external forces, just yourself. Shia Labeouf would love this post, I’m sure.

Let’s face it. Motivation is effectively self-inspiration. You need to inspire yourself to get something done and quite often for that, you will need a strong will and a very good imagination. But what you won’t need is to wait for any external stimuli.

Summary

Essentially, in this post I called people who rely on being inspired to get things done lazy and unimaginative. Own the trigger and just do it.

Till the next time.

Respect your future self

Introduction

Day in, day out, life is full of decisions from the mediocre, ‘which socks should I wear today?’, to the more life changing, ‘do I accept the job offer?’. Many of these decisions are made almost automatically whilst others, we pore over for what can seem like an eternity.

Having given this process some deep thought recently, I came to the conclusion that most people use a complicated set of factors and brain algorithms to arrive at the final decision, but that for the most part that decision is what is deemed best at that moment in time. People might use historical data to help drive the overall decision but we are very much in the moment when we make our choices. You only have to look at how late most people start seriously saving for retirement to see what I mean.

Meet your future self

For the smaller decisions, that probably isn’t a big issue but if you sit and think about what your top five life priorities are, set goals for each of those and think how each decision you make helps you get closer to achieving those goals, even if it hurts a little in the short term, I believe you’ll make better long term decisions, especially the important ones.

For example, your top priorities might be health, family, career, travelling, music. To make it less abstract (some people struggle to see in to next week, let alone 10 years away), try to imagine yourself having a conversation with your future self. How would you justify your decision? How do you think your future self would react? If you see them shaking their head in disbelief or disappointment, you might want to rethink before you proceed. If your future self feeds back that you have looked after their goals well, then you are on the right track.

Don’t cave in to the temptations of the present with the ‘I can sort this all out at later time’ attitude.

Summary

Just to clarify, I’m not condoning being a boring fart that has no fun. I’m only talking about the important decisions that affect your top life priorities. Map those out now and consider how you will look back on these big decisions in the future before you dive in head first.

When you get older, you’ll be talking to yourself all the time anyway so why not get some practice in now?

Till the next time.

End of year review 2015

Introduction

What a crazy and busy 12 months. I’ve just noticed that five months have gone by since my last blog post and I honestly can’t think of when I had a spare slot to write a blog post in that period. The goals I set myself at the beginning of the year have been tweaked, dropped and completely changed along the way. With that in mind, I thought I’d review what I actually got up to.

So what got done?

I’ve been managing the network team at my current company for a couple of years now but I was keen to try and get back to my hands on roots this year to prevent those skills from evaporating.

The opening of our brand new data centre in Aberdeen gave me the perfect opportunity to do just that, running with the project from the design and planning phases, through procurement, implementation, testing and finally live operations as of October. Introducing new technology in to our portfolio and the importance of the project made this a very rewarding experience.

I’ve also dived in to a number of long lasting customer projects in the last 12 months, most notably taking the lead on a migration from another data centre in to our new one. The best two things about this project were brushing up and learning some new skills and collaborating with the customer team. I really enjoy having discussions with customers about how they can get the best out of technology.

Summary

With 2015 drawing to a close, I could look back at the goals I set at the start of the year and feel a sense of disappointment. After all, most of them were not achieved. However, I think being flexible in what you hope to achieve and finding yourself at the end of the year largely happy with what you did achieve is what the overall goal should be for anybody.

For 2016, I really want to carry on with my sleeves rolled up, working with great technology and people. I also want to try and be a bit more frequent with my blog posts!

Have a great festive period everybody and hope to see you all next year.

Till the next time.

CSI Cyber – drinking game

Introduction

I was a big fan of the original CSI TV series set in Las Vegas, my spiritual home town. CSI Miami had some of the cheesiest lines ever spoken on a TV show, probably on account of David Caruso being one of the producers. The New York spin-off never really grabbed my imagination and eventually, the ‘quality’ of the others dropped enough for me to drop them.

Enter CSI Cyber. The name alone was enough to make me realise the car crash that was coming but the fact is, two episodes in and I’m hooked. It’s awful, but it’s so bloody awful, its good. There is something, however, that can make it better; a drinking game. So without further ado, let’s get down to business.

Requirement

You will need booze. Lots of it. Preferably beer, spirits and shots and suitable glasses for each. Otherwise you simply aren’t playing properly.

Rules

  • There is no 1st player, everybody has to follow the rules below until there is just one person still able to code ‘Hello World’ in assembly
  • Every time somebody on the show says one of the following, drink 1 shot
    • ‘It can happen to you’. This is just to limber you up for the ride ahead
    • ‘Cyber’
    • anycolour-‘hat’, double shot where anycolour is not black, white or grey
    • description-‘web’, where description is dark, deep, dingy, dangerous or anything similar
    • ‘Firewall’
    • ‘Glitch’
    • ‘Breach’
  • Every time one of the following happens, drink two fingers of your favourite spirit or beer
    • Somebody uses their mobile phone, with a lovely HUD shown for our convenience
    • A dramatic change in the music
    • Somebody gives away a tell to Patricia Arquette’s character
    • Text on a screen morphs in some way
    • Main theme plays. Everybody needs a top up
    • Somebody gets killed

I’ll possibly update these as the series progresses, assuming I have the staying power to watch any more of this drivel.

Summary

Vegaskid takes no responsibility for anything that happens as a result of you playing this game. But I’d love to hear the stories. Drink responsibly…

Till the next time.

Know the technology, know the business

Introduction

As I progress through my career, I can’t help but find myself drawn to learning more about business, both as a general topic and specifically related to the company I work for and the customers I work with. This post covers some reasons why you should start learning some key business skills.

Cross pollinate

In my 10 Tenets of working in IT series, I blogged about cross pollinating although it was specifically referring to expanding one’s technical knowledge base.

At the end of the day, IT is a service that the business consumes and so it would be naive to think you could offer that service without better understanding the consumer.

The starting point should be to learn about the business you work in. Look at the org chart, determine how each of the business units interface with each other, what services do each of them provide to each other and to the business as a whole? Don’t get dragged in, but try to understand the office politics as this can offer a wealth of information you won’t find documented anywhere. Try and spend time working with each team to get a deeper understanding.

I’m not suggesting you spend a week on secondment with the janitor but some key functions to understand are:

  • Finance/accounts
  • Procurement
  • Sales/marketing
  • Project team

to name but a few of the non-technical ones. Once you get a good understanding of how your team fits in with all of the others, you should be looking to understand your customer’s companies too, although you will most likely be far more limited with regards to access.

As well as learning what other team’s and customer’s expectations are, you should learn their language too. For example, despite doing an accounting course at college back in the days of the abacus, the terminology used by the finance ‘speakers’ within the company was as much jargon to me as OSPF was to them. A couple attempts to try and get an explanation tended to muddy the waters and so I found it best to simply buy one of those ‘finance for non-financial types’ books which was far more helpful. The key is I can sit in on more senior meetings and grasp all aspects of the discussion as well as converting my technical knowledge to layman’s terms as required.

I think IT folks can sometimes become isolated from the rest of the business by their own perceptions and experiences but I think that is a mistake. To really progress beyond a certain level in IT, you need to better understand your customer, whether that is internal or external.

Summary

There comes a certain point in a techie’s career where understanding the business that the technology you work with supports becomes critical for you to offer any added value. Don’t be afraid to learn things you perceive as being outside your comfort zone. It will be a worthwhile investment.

Till the next time.

Preparing for failure in IT

Introduction

Question: what does a £5 USB pen drive have in common with a multi billion pound IT contract?

Answer: both will fail at some time, at some level.

As IT professionals and as organisations, a strong measure of our success should be how we both prepare for and deal with any such failures and everything in between.

Embracing failure

All too often over my career, I’ve seen individuals and companies go in to panic mode when something fails, even more so when it leads to a service outage. This usually exhibits itself through some/all of the following:

  • People asking questions during the outage that should be reserved for the post mortem
  • Fingers being pointed and voices being raised
  • People terrified to admit what they did, which prolongs the incident
  • Any resemblance of an incident management process being completely ignored
  • At the other end of the spectrum, an over engineered IM process crippling the repair effort
  • Incessant hovering by ‘do-gooders’ over the person trying to fix the problem

These should be familiar to most IT professionals with anything more than a couple of incidents under their belt even if, like me, you are lucky enough to currently be at a company that has a culture of embracing failure.

What do I mean when I say embracing failure? If I was to list some of the behaviours associated with that mindset, it would include the following:

  • Proactive monitoring
  • Capacity planning
  • Good documentation sets in place
  • Mock incident scenarios
  • Open, no blame culture

More importantly than anything else is that any failure, regardless of whether it causes an incident or not, should be nurtured as an opportunity to learn. Improve individual knowledge, find the holes in your processes, firm up your monitoring, help build confidence and relationships, etc.

Post mortem

The port mortem is perhaps the most important part of the entire process. You can get a tricky issue resolved in record time, get a pat on the back from the customer and senior management and then see the whole thing ruined by some prat who thinks the key requirement of the port mortem is determining which poor numpty is to blame. Inevitably, you end up with people’s confidence and willingness to take on more risky tasks nose dive.

The post mortem should be a relaxed affair where everybody’s main goal is to learn. Learn exactly what went wrong, learn how the process to deal with the issue could be improved, learn how to reduce the risk of the issue recurring, learn how to address other peripheral risks, learn where the knowledge gaps are in your team, learn what makes your colleagues tick…the list goes on.

Summary

Whether you like it or not, failure is something you will experience whilst working in IT. The key thing that should separate you from the headless chickens is how you prepare for, deal with and learn from failure when it inevitably happens.

Till the next time.