Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

10/9/2019

Value vs Expense

Filed under: Career Archive,Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning or 10:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Sometimes, the raw numbers don’t really tell us how expensive something is.

One of the regular struggles we have in IT is that we are an expense. The bottom line is that, for most businesses, we don’t generate revenue and are strictly a cost center. And, unfortunately, in my experience, because we’re a cost center, spending on technology is resented almost as much as paying the electric bill or paying taxes; a necessary evil. What gets lost, I think, is the value provided by technology. To start with, much like electricity, business generally doesn’t work at all without IT. Technology runs the point-of-sale systems and the Accounting systems that even make it possible to collect and track money. Without it, business would simply halt. But, beyond that, the cost of the actual technology often overshadows the value provided.
Not too long ago, I had this same argument with a fellow IT professional who was mired in the numbers. To their credit, they were examining a potential equipment purchase from a strictly financial point of view. Since the Accounting Department or CFO are often the final decision-makers on technology purchases, seeing this process through their eyes can be beneficial. The problem is that the full potential value of upgraded equipment can easily be forgotten in the drive to spend the absolute least dollar amount possible. Don’t get me wrong! Technology costs absolutely have to be kept under control or IT people will focus only on getting the newest toys to play without considering the cost to the organization. But, the actual spending has to be appropriately balanced with the value provided by the purchase. As technology professionals, it’s part of our job to present not only the minimum and best options available, but what advantages there may be to making a particular purchase. Sometimes, the value of upgraded technology goes well beyond the dollar value.
Take, for instance, the opportunity to upgrade from a standard two server, one storage area network system, that was new technology fifteen years ago, to a hyperconverged system that spreads computing and storage capacity across four servers or hosts. It’s absolutely valid to look at the raw cost of the two solutions. And, you will absolutely see that buying two classic servers is less expensive than buying four modern hyperconverged nodes. But, if you stop there, you don’t see the added value of less downtime due to a hardware outage that can be avoided by upgrading to a newer, redundant technology. Or, the increased speed and efficiency gained by upgrading to a modern system purpose-built to run in a cutting-edge datacenter. Maybe there will be more opportunity to add capacity to the new system as the company grows. Or maybe there are business continuity advantages to a hyperconverged system beyond additional, redundant hardware. Though, to be honest, I think that’s reason enough!
Regardless, my point is that as technology professionals, we need to clearly communicate all the risks and benefits, expenses and added values, of our purchases. As subject matter experts, it’s in everyone’s best interests for us to educate decision-makers beyond the dollars-and-cents bottom line, to give them a true understanding of the value to be gained beyond the simple expense of a purchase.

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

9/26/2019

Customer Service

Filed under: Career Archive,Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning or 10:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

It never stops being important.

I think of myself as lucky in many ways. I trained in sales, but fell into IT work early in my career and found that I was good at it. I also was lucky enough to win a free training course and series of tests that got me my first big IT certification. But, I think the luckiest thing that happened to me in my early career is getting trained in customer service by Hyatt Hotels, known the world over for their excellence in service and training.
Of course, I’d worked retail jobs before working for Hyatt so I had at least some idea what it was like to work directly with the public, but Hyatt’s training really drilled us to be always thinking about the customer. I was taught to be thinking about the guest, or customer, as soon as I was visible in public areas, which in the hospitality industry is called “front of the house”. The last part of my uniform I put on was my smile, because, regardless of how I felt, I was there to do a job; make the customer feel welcome and important. But, there were the little things, too, like how we’re all part of a team serving the customer and if we saw trash in the guest areas, we should pick it up and not wait for cleaning crews to get to it. We were taught to work as a team, all the time, to make our customers feel as though we cared. And, the funny thing is, the simple act of pretending that we cared eventually meant we did.
As an IT professional, I am still in a customer service role. Even if I’m working with department heads or C-Suite executives, in the end, I’m still providing a service and need to pay attention to my customer, internal or external. But, don’t think that Accountants or Sales Managers or Truck Drivers or any other person delivering a good or service doesn’t have a customer and that those customers deserve good service! It’s something I think is forgotten or ignored. As an employee, I always have someone who is benefiting from my work; my internal customers, if you will. And, those people are entitled to me helping them to the best of my ability with as much friendliness and cheer as I can manage.
I know the idea is old-fashioned and falling out of vogue, but I still believe that good customer service, regardless of who my customer may be, is just the final layer of professionalism that can set us apart, as individuals and organizations.

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

9/10/2019

Internal Customers

Filed under: Career Archive,Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning or 10:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

The metaphor of “internal customers” is unfortunately falling out of favor.

Lately, I’ve seen articles criticizing the idea of having internal customers. It’s a shame, really, because the people who are so willing to abandon that idea seem to be doing so because they don’t understand why it’s so powerful. The criticisms I’ve heard fall under two basic categories; accounting-focused people who don’t want to “charge” departments for internal services and people who seem to think the need for collaboration with other business units removes the need to provide customer service to end users. They’re both coming from some incorrect assumptions and, I’d argue, a misunderstanding of what services IT provides in an organization.
As technical people, in most organizations, we provide support functions. Any service-based group absolutely must pay attention to the service provided to those who use that service; their customers. People who incorrectly think that the old practice of charging the cost of internal IT services back to the departments who use them is a reason to abandon the entire idea of internal customers are losing sight of the goal behind the metaphor. The goal is not, as they seem to think, to make sure everyone pays equally to support the IT department. The goal is to remind technical personnel that the systems and networks we manage aren’t defined by the hardware and software, but rather the end-users who actually use the technology we provide as tools to do their jobs. When we forget that, we forget that our goal is to serve those end-users, not the systems. That sad, mistaken idea is clearly expressed in the old system admin joke, “My network would run perfectly if not for the users!” I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard technical experts grumble about what a waste of time user requests are instead of seeing how it’s our only reason to exist. As a technical expert, my only reason to be employed is to solve other people’s problems, to provide service to my customers, the end users.
And, that leads directly to the second misunderstanding I see used as an objection to the end user as customer metaphor; technical experts cannot collaborate to provide solutions AND be mindful of customer service at the same time. We would do well to remember what the genius R. Buckminster Fuller said about solving problems, “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” If I “solve” a technical problem for a user, but they wrestle with my solution so much that they never use it, then I haven’t actually solved their problem at all (ie. It’s not a “beautiful” solution to the problem.). A perfectly workable procedure that the user doesn’t understand or finds too difficult to use regularly is as good as useless and I’ve failed my customer. I can’t make my internal customers happy every single time, but I ought to be trying because the only reason I’m employed is to solve their problems well and in a timely fashion.
I could go on a great length about all the ways I’ve seen technical people abuse their internal customer, the end user. In the old days of “big iron” mainframes, it was unfortunately all too common. Today, we should know better and embrace our roles as service providers making business run more smoothly, efficiently and well. Let’s stop making customer service a joke and help our users be better.

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

6/9/2017

Are We Becoming Obsolete?

Filed under: Career Archive,Fun,Geek Work — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

Are We Becoming Obsolete?

There’s lots of talk in the news of artificial intelligence replacing humans.

I don’t put much stock in it though, because, frankly, we are a ways off from that becoming a reasonable and less expensive alternative to most jobs humans do. Not all, to be sure, but, most. And, granted, automation has replaced a lot of jobs already, but artificial intelligence has to improve a LOT before robots can replace people in positions that require critical thinking skills, like, for instance, Network Administrators. On the other hand, most banks seem to have all but replaced tellers with ever more advanced ATMs. And, there’s been more talk about having kiosks for ordering fast food, too.
Okay, so maybe, as a tech who, according to the site Will Robots Take My Job?, has just a 3% chance of being replaced by robots and, in fact, has a projected growth of 8% in the next thirteen years, I’m a little smug.
Want to know how safe your job is? Hit that link and see. Probably, if you have the critical thinking skills to read my blog on the regular, you’re going to be safe. Or, you’re already unemployed. Either or.

Have a great weekend!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words

9/2/2016

Building Resumes

Filed under: Career Archive,Geek Work,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

No, I’m not talking about building the skills that go on resumes, but the resume itself.

For reasons that are best left unexplored, I’ve been thinking about resumes lately.  Specifically, writing them and formatting them.  It’s a chore.  And, it’s hard to do well, frankly.  For example, I’ve been using the same basic resume format since I made my first resume almost thirty years ago.  Granted, I’ve moved some things around and dropped some of the earliest jobs, especially those that don’t relate to my current field, but the basic resume hasn’t changed.  I’ve started to wonder if that works against me, making me look antiquated and out-of-date.
So, I nosed around a bit and found two resume-building tools that might help me reformat all that, and, of course, I’m sharing them with you so you can get the advantage of my research.  Besides, let’s be honest, it’s about time to update your resume any way, isn’t it?

Well, no matter how you feel about your resume, here are the tools.
First, there’s Standard Resume.  It’s a free web-based app, but it does require a login which collects your email.  The interface is pretty simple and about like every other job search or resume related form you’ve ever filled out.  What’s nice about it, though, is that when you’re done you’ll have printable PDF copies of your resume, a web-based version which you can link to from a webpage or email to an interested party, and they even make the web-based version mobile friendly for viewing on the go.  For free, that’s pretty impressive.  I’m not sure how they’re paying for all this, so I’d expect they’ll be either advertising to you directly or selling your information to someone.  Still, it might be worth it for the super nice looking resume that’s consistent across print, web and mobile.
The other tool is Creddle, which is similar to Standard Resume, but with some important differences.  For example, while Creddle used to have a direct import from LinkedIn that no longer works due to changes in the LinkedIn backend, they can still take your exported LinkedIn resume in PDF form and import that information, saving you the hassle of retyping it.  The interface is a little more challenging, also, but gives you much greater control over your finished product.  Creddle also adds cover letters to the mix, to help you get started with that as well.  Frankly, I find the prospect of writing cover letters almost as daunting as trying to sum up my entire career in two pages or less, so that’s real added value to me!  Finally, just like Standard Resume, Creddle requires an email to set up an account and will also give you a link to a easily sharable webpage of your resume.

So, there you have it, two helpful resume building and formatting tools just in time for a long weekend of revamping your work life.
I hope they help!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words.

3/10/2016

Re-Organizing

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:29 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

It’s time to clean up my act.

Seriously.
My wife is a professional organizer and decorator, so those of you who know me well know how she suffered when she first moved in with me.  I hadn’t devolved into a complete hoarder, but I had gotten an unfortunately significant start.  She dug me out.  Honestly, I wish I had her ability to let go of things, but I tend to hold on to too much.  Naturally, when she asked me to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I just about had a panic attack.  But, I did read it and, once I got past some of the ways the author talks about discarding things, I could see why my blushing bride loved the book.  In spite of whatever reviews you may have read about the extreme method described, it’s really not so terrifying.  The essence of it is to get rid of the things that you don’t use or need or want any more, to make room, both literally and figuratively.
I’m not saying that it’s been easy for me to do, because it hasn’t, but I do find myself thinking about what I really need and use quite a bit.  The reality is, I have too much stuff to really keep track of it all.  So, I’ve been taking some of the time I have, while I wait to get connected to my next work opportunity, to reevaluate and clean out.
I have told myself for a long time that I don’t like change, that I’m not good with it.  But, that’s not really true.  Sure, I like to control change, but in many areas of my life, I’m constantly changing, growing, trying new ideas and methods, keeping what works and discarding the rest.  One area that I haven’t been working at as much lately is my personal organization and scheduling.  I’ve been very reactive and not nearly proactive enough to suit me.

I used to be a “to do list” fanatic.  Every day I’d start my day with a fresh list, carrying over the things I didn’t finish from the previous day, and adding to it.  On Friday, I’d set my list up for Monday before I left the office.  First thing Monday, I’d review the list and see if I thought of anything else to add over the weekend, because my brain just will not shut off and stop thinking about work.  It’s how I’m wired, I guess.
Mainly, though, I loved crossing things off my list.
I know, it’s a strange thing, but the idea of crossing something off my list actually gave me a little thrill.  And, when I’d get to the end of the day, I’d see all the things I’d crossed off and think about how great it was to get all that stuff done.  Somewhere, though, in all the jobs and the “life stuff”, like getting married, divorced, beating cancer and getting married again, I lost that habit.  I tried to “leverage technology” and my smart phone to get a to do list app that would synchronize with my computer, but, frankly, nothing ever worked to my satisfaction.  And, of course, it was a convenient excuse for why I stopped doing it.
Some time back, I read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen and I sort of made a half-hearted attempt to set some of his system up, but, honestly I never put enough effort into it. At the time, his book didn’t have a lot of technological help for geeks like me that wanted to use the cloud to keep things synched up.  I need to find out what’s changed, because the time is ripe for me to re-read that book and, as my wife and I reorganize our physical space, get my mental space in order and prepared for a new job.  This is the perfect time to get reorganized and have my system in place, ready to go, before I land somewhere and have an endless stream of projects to track.

So tell me, gentle readers, what do you use to stay organized?  If you’re a fan of the GTD method, what tech tools do you use to stay on track?


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The only difference between saints and sinners is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future."
   --Oscar Wilde

3/8/2016

Unemployment Payment Requested

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:41 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

For the first time in almost fourteen years, I’ve requested a payment from unemployment.

I’ll be honest, it’s not a great feeling.  I’d really rather be working.  Not that I think I don’t deserve the payment or that I begrudge anyone else their benefits, either.  I paid into that system for more than twenty years, if you include both Illinois and Texas, and I am well within my rights to get my fair share back out of it.
But, I’d really rather be gainfully employed.

I have a friend who shakes his head in dismay at how eager I am to work hard.  I think that’s what he finds so incomprehensible; that I want to not just work, but work hard at what I do.
It’s not that I really enjoy long hours or wrestling with budgets or any of those things, though I have to admit I do love wrestling with technology and bending it to my will. I love getting things done.  Sure, most of what I do professionally can be undone with a couple of keystrokes, but, still crossing things off my to do list or watching the closed ticket count stack up gives me a sense of satisfaction.

I hate being out of work.
The last several times I’ve changed jobs, it’s mostly been under my control.  At least once, in the past fourteen years, I interviewed just before a project failed and I was out on my ear.  I was out of work for all of a week, not even enough time to actually request payment.  And, it could have been less, but I wanted a bit of a break before starting the next thing.
I honestly could barely relax at all that week.

So, here I’ve been out of work for three, full weeks and I’m done.
The Texas Workforce Commission requires that I perform at least three job-search-related activities per week to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
I do that much every week before 8:30AM on Monday.
I know I love work, but that bar seems pretty low to me.  Keep in mind, that doesn’t mean just applying for three jobs per week, but talking to a recruiter, or having a job interview, or going to a job fair, or even searching for new jobs on a job website all, apparently, count toward that requirement.  In my job search log, I only record actual job applications made or email or phone conversations with recruiters or potential employers.  I must seem like a real over-achiever to the Texas Workforce Commission staff.

Yes, I have the benefits coming.  And, yes, I feel perfectly justified in requesting them.  But, honestly, I’d rather be working.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"You may give out, but never give up."
   --Mary Crowley

2/26/2016

Interview Questions

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:11 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I’m prepared to answer these, are you?

So, I’m still looking for work, but at two weeks, I suppose that’s to be expected.
I’ve had a couple phone interviews and I’m waiting to have a couple more.  Generally, if I can get an interview with a technical manager, I can sell myself well enough to get a job I have the experience to actually do.  Often, I can sell myself well enough to land I job I don’t know how to do, yet.
In either case, the only way to do it is preparation.  Know the questions I’ll be asked and know my answers.

U.S. News and World Reports has a great slideshow of the ten most common interview questions, with some advice about answering them.  That’s a great place to start.
Glassdoor expands that list to fifty of the most common interview questions, and while I certainly would recommend reading those, having answers that are prepared without looking memorized is the real key here.
Monster.com takes that list even further, to 100 interview questions, and goes way beyond the common ones.  While it certainly can’t hurt to peruse them, I’d really focus on the short list.
If you need help preparing, check out How to Ace the 50 Most Common Interview Questions on Forbes.com.  There’s a brief video on that page that auto-plays, so be aware.  Frankly, I really respect Forbes and they give some great advice about how to answer questions in an interview.

In the end, it really comes down to preparation and practice.  Sadly, I’ve had a lot of practice on job interviews.  The important thing is to be honest and consider how what you say reflects on you and whether or not your prepared answers will show your true colors.  Also, practice with a friend who can give you honest feedback.  Or, barring that, record yourself so you can see what you look like while interviewing and hear how you sound in giving responses.  It may be enlightening!

If you’re out there looking for work like me, I wish you the best of luck!


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The fact that no one understands you doesn't make you an artist."

2/19/2016

Job Search Log

Filed under: Career Archive,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Sheep which is in the early afternoon or 2:48 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

So, I was laid off Tuesday.

I wasn’t surprised by it, for sure, since they’ve been laying off two and three people a week for the past six weeks or more.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, though.
A couple weeks ago, another sort of IT person, who’s here from the real parent company in China, was sent over to my location to gather up all the passwords and access I had.  Probably to make a copy of my laptop, too, but I kept that with me or locked up.  I know they were trying to be sneaky or subtle when they did it by distracting me with a phantom project, but, really, when someone is sent for the passwords, there’s really only one thing to think.  Then, when I asked why the theoretical project I was supposed to be working on hadn’t been implemented when it was first sent out for bid 18 months ago, I was told that it was due to lack of funding.  If there weren’t funds then, when the company was doing well, where were the funds going to come from now that so many people were being laid off?  I got the answer to that question on Tuesday morning, so I went in and packed up my desk, just in case.  You see, ever since I worked for a company that got liquidated, I’ve kept my personal belongings at work limited to what I can easily put into one, small box, which I keep under my desk.  Just in case.
Apparently, the fact that I went into my final interview with a 99% packed desk shocked the people firing me.  But, then again, they were always underestimating me at that job anyway.

So, regardless of all that, when I got home Tuesday afternoon, I applied for unemployment with the Texas Workforce Commission.  I was able to go on-line and sign up, which is an improvement over the last time I was out of work, when you had to call or go in person.  Sadly, I won’t be able to apply for a payment until the 28th, but I’ve started my job search.  Well, really, I’ve just intensified my job search as I’ve been looking for about a month.  And, while I’ve had a couple phone interviews and at least two really good prospects, I still need to keep the requisite job search log.  The Texas Workforce Commission has a downloadable form on their website, but, honestly, I kind of hate it.  So, instead, I made my own spreadsheet.  I’ve shared the blank one at the bottom of this post.
Some of the columns have drop-down choice boxes in them and the form has gotten kind of big to accommodate all the new fields they have on the original form.  It is, however, formatted to print all on one page for easy verification should it be requested.  And, yes, for those of you wondering, I verified with the Texas Workforce Commission helpline that a spreadsheet is just fine for recording your job search activity.

So, grab a copy of the form and good luck in your job search!

jobsearchlog-blank

4/24/2015

Tools to Escape the Rat-Race

Filed under: Career Archive,Fun,Geek Work,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Don’t we all dream of being wealthy and independent?

By the end of the week, haven’t we all gotten a little fed up with our jobs?  Don’t we dream of being our own boss, an independent contractor or consultant who charges big money for sounding off with our opinion about how things are done?  No?  Just me?
Well, if you’ve ever contemplated it and have thought about how much you need to charge an hour to make your same salary, or more,…
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