Diary of a Network Geek

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

11/8/2020

Burner Email Addresses

Filed under: Red Herrings,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:57 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Because having a disposable email means having privacy.

I hate spam. I mean, I really hate spam and spammers with a passion. As a system administrator, which is what I really am no matter what fancy title I may currently have, I can tell you that dealing with spam is the single most time-consuming and irritating thing about having an email server. The last time I checked, spam accounted for something like 75% of all email communication. The problem is, a lot of the time, to get the one thing you want from a site, you are forced to sign up for an email newsletter that you don’t really want. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually like email newsletters. I subscribe to several and I’m even working on setting up one of my own. But, for those times you really just want the one “free” download a site is offering and don’t have any intention of coming back, what are you to do? Or, what if you’re not even sure that it’s a legitimate download or website? Maybe you’re afraid that a hacker has set up a site just to collect personal information, what then?
Well, then, you use nBox by notif.me to setup a free, anonymous and private “burner” email for any site you want to sign up for. You can then choose how and when you’re notified when they send something out. You can even delete the addresses you’ve used for sites you don’t want to be bothered with any more and *poof* they’re all gone, all at once.
And, yes, it’s free. How? Well, it’s free because it’s notif.me’s way of advertising and getting the word out about their service.
So, why not try it and take control of your email notifications this fine Friday?

10/16/2020

Questions for Job Hunters

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

Or, things I’d want to know before I seriously applied for, or took a new job.

The other day, a recruiter emailed me a super vague job description and we had a brief exchange about it. It was a little interesting, but, mostly, it was a mystery, because they just didn’t have a lot of details. Frankly, it sounded like the client wasn’t quite sure what they really wanted, except that they wanted to move all their IT support in-house instead of continuing to pay a managed service provider to maintain their systems. I made a post on r/ITCareerQuestions asking the question “What do you want to know before considering a job?”. I shared in that post these questions that I’d want answers to before being submitted for an open opportunity:

  • How many users? And how are they distributed at multiple locations? (IE. How many end users in what city and state?)
  • How many people are going to be hired, ultimately, to be in the IT Department? (I generally think one support person per seventy-five or fifty end users is a good ratio, if I can swing it. I always seem to support more than that, but it’s a goal!)
  • What servers are they running? What do they all do?
  • Where do those servers reside? (ie. On-prem or offsite data center or cloud)
  • Are they ALL virtual? On what? If VMware, what version? What OS are the virtual machines running?
  • What kind of physical host or hosts are the virtual machines on? Is it a cluster? Is there shared storage (ie a SAN)?
  • If there is more than one site, how are the sites connected?
  • How is email being handled now? On-prem Exchange? Hosted? Office 365?
  • What is the IT budget currently? How do they expect to see that expand?
  • Where is the main business headquarters? What’s the commute if I’m coming from [part of town where I live]?
  • How have they handled COVID-19?
  • What problem am I being hired to fix? Why are they looking for someone?
  • What does the compensation look like? What are the benefits? Is there a 401k and how much matching is there? What does the health insurance look like? Is there a bonus structure and how is that determined?

Hopefully, I wouldn’t have to ask them all of the recruiter, since the job description would normally include some of this information. Also, these questions assume that I wouldn’t be relocating across the country. So far, one Redditor came up with just one additional question that I’d want to know the answer to; How often are performance reviews done and what does that process look like?

So, dear readers, what about you? Anything you typically want to know about a job before applying?


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us."
   --Helen Keller

10/9/2020

Office 365 Management via PowerShell

Filed under: Geek Work,GUI Center,MicroSoft,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Not quite DIY DevOps for Office 365, but a good start.

So, it’s been a while since I posted professional geek content on any of my blogs, so I figure I’m overdue. I’ve had a lot of titles over the years, but, at heart, I’ll always be a system administrator. Back in the olden days before any marketing genius came up with the idea of calling hosted services “the cloud” or calling system administration automated with scripts “DevOps”, guys like me were automating routine tasks. I’ve used everything from batch files to bash scripts to Perl, but, on Windows servers, I’ve learned to use PowerShell. It’s powerful and there are a lot of resources for the neophyte to learn, so I’ve applied myself to it to make my life easier.
For instance, I wrote a script that removes users that are disabled and haven’t logged on in more than 90 days, which I shared in a comment on r/PowerShell. Naturally, I started with someone else’s script and modified it for my own purposes, and added in the email feature from another script. Then, I added that to the scheduled processes to run once a month, just to keep Active Directory cleaner. The other day, I was on r/sysadmin and read about someone having a problem on Office 365 with stolen credentials. I hate to say it, but it’s becoming a more and more frequent issue with everyone working from home. The only way to fix it, really, is to get some kind of multi-factor authentication. But, in that thread, someone referenced a script from Microsoft’s GitHub repository for Office 365 scripts meant to quickly help remediate the breach and close the hole left by the compromised credentials. It’s pretty slick, though I think I’d modify it to accept a command-line variable with the username instead of coding that in, but it’s a pretty slick script that can mean the difference between a few spam emails and hundreds. Also, it automates a lot of the standard stuff we do by hand when a breach occurs.
If you’re a sysadmin, it’s definitely worth a look and the rest of that GitHub repository has scripts to do all kinds of things with Office 365 by way of PowerShell. It’s a great place to start building your own scripts and automating your workflow.

So, that’s my geeky PSA for the professional geeks among us.
Enjoy!

7/24/2020

Programming Widgets

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Fun and Games,GUI Center,On Creativity,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I’m anything but a professional programmer, but occasionally, I make stuff.

Sometimes, in my day job, I have to solve a particular problem and the only way I can manage that is via some small bit of programming. Usually, it’s just a little script of some kind; PowerShell or Perl, mostly. I taught myself Perl seventeen or eighteen years ago, in an attempt to stay busy at a job that severely underutilized my talents. Demonstrated, I think, by teaching myself Perl in my downtime. A lot of techs I knew would have just scrolled a news site or played solitaire or some other useless thing. I tried to expand my portfolio of skills. I learned a long time ago, though, that I need a project to guide my learning. It almost doesn’t matter what the project is, as long as it gives me problems to solve and obstacles to overcome. Solving those problems, with the new thing I want to learn, is what teaches me. Granted, I don’t always learn the best way to accomplish my task, or at least not the most commonly accepted way, but I still learn the skills involved in a way that embeds them pretty deeply.

Since I’m mostly self-taught in IT, which is my chosen professional field, I’ve had to find ways to keep learning on my own interesting. Having personal projects is one of them. So, projects are how I teach myself new things. As I work toward a larger goal, whatever that may be, I find problems and solutions to those problems and my knowledge extends into new areas. I did that with Perl a number of years ago. First I tried to teach myself Perl for extending MoveableType, the blogging software that I used to use before their licensing debacle. But, that was a bit too arcane and involved a place for me to start. So, several years later, I found some simpler scripts that did some language processing and were useful for another low-key hobby of mine; conlanging. (That’s constructed language making, for the less geeky.) And, so, I had a project to work with that was within my skill level. In the end, I made those scripts something that could run on a webpage and it drove massive traffic to my site. It was sweet! But, it crashed the server because it was so popular and it drove TOO much traffic to that site. Ultimately, I had to take them down. By then, though, not only had I learned Perl pretty well, but I had moved my blog to WordPress and started looking at this fancy new language for the web called “PHP”. That mostly ran in a way that didn’t put a strain on the servers, so it was better for high-traffic sites. The only problem was, I couldn’t move the functions from the Perl scripts to PHP easily. So, I started looking around for projects to teach myself PHP.

The project I found to let me dig into PHP was a random generator. No, not some random piece of electronic equipment, but a little web toy that randomly generated things. It’s pretty simple, really. You have something, like a title or a sentence that has variables, like nouns and adjectives, like Mad Libs. Those variables become, well, variables in the program. So, I just need to list a bunch of whatever that variable is into the program which randomly chooses those and fills them into the sentence or title and then gives me the result. Sounds simple, right? Okay, it kind of is, which is why I started with that. But, then I went about making it complicated. I added more variables and started reading them in from external sources and getting fancy with the output formatting. But, what it did was let me learn, bit by bit, PHP. You can see a bunch of those at my World Building page at Fantasist.net. When I got good enough at it, I dug back into WordPress and started looking at ways to use my new PHP skills to modify WordPress. What I came up with was the Dale Reckoning Calendar Plugin. For its time, it was pretty good. Now, I look at it and, well, I’m not quite embarrassed by it, but I’m not as proud of it as I was. It does work, but it requires the user to modify their theme and, essentially, become a bit of a coder themselves. That never sat well with me. And, I wanted to have something that would randomly, or semi-randomly, conjure up weather conditions for a particular day. Why? Because, if you’re gaming in a big campaign, things like weather start to matter a little. And, it was fun. It let me use old skills and old code and extend them to something new and stretch my learning even more. So, that’s why I kept coming back and eventually came up with the Forgotten Realms Weather Widget. It works better as a widget in the sidebar than as a daily update on posts. Though, I may still revisit the idea and see if I can’t improve my old plugin to not require the end-user to modify their theme to make it work. Again, for no real reason other than it’s fun to me and it would make my brain work more on something technical, which I’m already good at, but not for my day job. Mostly, though, because it would be fun to me. Oddly, it wouldn’t be fun if I had to do it for a paycheck. By the way, in moving some of the code from the old plugin to the new widget, I did find some ways to tighten the code a bit. I’d still be a little embarrassed to have a professional coder look too closely at it, but at least I’m improving.

And, I’ll keep working on it, though I’ll need to set some better boundaries so that I don’t get so obsessed that I miss much more sleep working on it. In any case, you can see the results for yourself at Forgotten Realms Weather Widget.
It’s free and only for WordPress and there may be bugs that I haven’t seen yet, so let me know if you use and find any. I can’t promise when I’ll fix them, but I promise that I’ll work on them.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!  And, that’s where you should leave any comments or bugs you might find.

6/12/2020

SysAdmin Software For Your Budget

Filed under: Life Goals,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,News and Current Events,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Everyone’s IT budgets are shrinking this year, and probably next year, too.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been through a down-turn in the economy. And, every single time, no matter what the industry I’m in, IT and software purchases are some of the first casualties. Unless you work in an industry that is really deep into software and systems, it can be really hard to sell a software purchase to upper management, even under the best of circumstances. SO, now, with things as tight as they are, it can be almost impossible. One of the reasons I almost never worry about being unemployed for long is that I’m blessed with a reputation of doing more with less. I’m the kind of guy that will use PowerShell and batch files to build middleware. And, I’m absolutely the sort of geek who’s willing to put in some effort to use free, open source software to fill a need when a budget gets tight. So, since I’ve mostly been posting new content at my other blog, I thought I’d share something appropriate to Diary of a Network Geek, the first blog I ever started.
I’ve had this link for a couple of months at least, but there’s been a lot going on lately, so I haven’t shared it, until now. This week, I’m suggesting you take a look at Awesome Sysadmin, a curated list of amazingly awesome open source sysadmin resources, which is a fork of the older Awesome Sysadmin, a curated list of amazingly awesome open source sysadmin resources inspired by Awesome PHP. (I know, those names are confusingly redundant and vague.) I have to admit that I’ve only used a few things off these lists, but Clonezilla and NAGIOS were both solid tools for me when I had a shoestring budget and had to get stuff done. In fact, I still use Clonezilla because, frankly, it works so well. We use it to image Windows 10 machines without any issue. Laptops or desktops, either one works fine. So, if you’re in the network plumber business, as I refer to system administration, these lists are a great place to “shop” for free, open source software that can help you add another tool to your digital tool bag. And, yes, they may take a little extra time to set up and configure or may require reading some documentation, but that will just help you sharpen your skills.

And, with all the money you save on software, you can afford to donate to causes that support a United States of America that is truly free and equal for all of her citizens, like the ACLU or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or some other civil rights cause that scratches your political itch. Not everyone may be willing to risk their life or incarceration to protest injustice, but a monetary donation can help support those people who are fighting that fight.
Or, if you still can’t afford a straight donation, we can support more minority businesses. There’s a great list of resources for Black freelancers at Freelancers Union that include lists of Black businesses we can support.

And, of course, we can continue to educate ourselves, because it is OUR responsibility to educate ourselves as to the condition of our fellow citizens, not theirs. If you’re not sure where to start, this list from the Chicago Public Library can help. We can read books from lists like that and continue to educate ourselves because this is an issue that we can’t ignore anymore, no matter who you are or what you do for a living.

5/29/2020

Embracing My Inner Geek

Filed under: About The Author,music,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

Because, that’s who I really am.

So, this week I was going to write about the error message I’ve seen filling up my logs which is due to some issue in the AuthorWrite theme I use here. But, thanks to some prodigious sleep procrastination, I was able to find the error and the fix it last night, with the help of Professor Google. Apparently, there are some security and encryption salts that are technically optional, but really should be added into the config on WordPress that I hadn’t done. Frankly, I blame that on being so far out of date on WordPress development that it’s ridiculous. The joy of it is that I don’t need to be up to date. Back in the old days, when I was running MoveableType, I had to know how it all worked because there was no one who was going to help me figure it out. But, now, with how popular WordPress has gotten and how many great programmers are working on it, I hardly have any issues. And, when I do have an issue, it’s almost always related to a theme or plugin that needs to be updated. In a couple of cases, plugins have been abandoned, and don’t work because the underlying architecture has changed and there’s no one updating the plugin code. That’s sad because there are some great plugins that I’ve had to stop using due to them not being supported and causing issues on my sites. Yes, I can almost always find a replacement for them, but, sometimes, the old plugins have nice features or an easy-to-use interface that I miss. Oh, well, life is change. Either way, the issue is resolved.

But, all that nerdy goodness got me thinking a bit. Being a computer geek is absolutely built into who I am now. It’s funny because back in high school, I was a little obnoxiously well known for hating computers because I already saw so many of my peers relying on them instead of thinking for themselves. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider that I graduated high school in 1986. Of course, some of those people I went to school with are now big shots in the technology industry, but, hey, I still prefer to think for myself. Not that I mind making a living off malfunctioning computers. It provides me and my family a pretty damn good living. But, I do find myself gravitating toward the, well, shall we say, darker side of computers and networks? When I attended DEF CON 20 in 2012, it was pretty life-changing. It truly opened my eyes to a whole new world of computer security. But, it also showed me that I already knew more than I was giving myself credit for! Beyond the security aspects of things, the idea that computer geeks might also be gun geeks or music nerds was sort of a new idea. My buddy, famous artist Mark Flood, knew about the hacker rappers that performed at DEF CON, but it was news to me. And, apparently, there’s a whole slew of nerdcore music and musicians that I’ve not heard of before. It’s an event he and I still talk about on a regular basis. Things we saw there are still trickling out into the mainstream, like smart car hacking. It makes me a little sad that DEF CON is Cancelled this year, at least in person. I still hope to get back one day to experience it all live and in person, but, if you have the time, this year’s virtual event August 7-9 is a great opportunity for you to safely check it out. Just make sure you’ve got all your antivirus and security patches up to date! (Just kidding! I’m sure it will be 100% safe! Trust me!) And, I’ve already ordered two DEF CON is Cancelled t-shirts, which will get here in a couple weeks. They’ll pair well with my Guy Fawkes COVID-19 mask that I should have by the end of the day!

And, if you just want to relax a little, not think about big issues like computer security and nerdcore music and COVID-19, then try unlocking some browser games with help from Lifehacker. Yes, all three major browsers have them, though some are easier to get to than others, not to mention more fun.

Try to enjoy your weekend and week and do something you love.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

5/15/2020

Escape The Confines Of Your Mind

Filed under: Fun,Fun and Games,Stimulus and Production,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Feeling a little trapped? Me, too.

So, I usually have a theme to these Friday posts, but even I have to admit they’ve gotten pretty thin lately. And, while I’ve started working some days back in the office, I’m still home more than I’m not and I can feel the mental pressure some days. I haven’t gone quite so far as to ask the dogs for advice about IT management. Honestly, I think if they could, they’d have some good ideas. At least, they can’t have any ideas worse than some I’ve heard out in project meetings over the course of my career.
In any case, until those animals start to talk, I’ll have to contend with the rest of the circus animals walking around talking up a storm. It’s enough to make me want to flee the scene. Actually, that’s a pretty common day-dream fantasy of mine; packing my life into a van or boat or something contained and portable and just, well, running away. I know it’s possible, because Brian and Karin Trautman have been living on a sailboat for 10 years, and they love it. I, personally, lean more toward the camper van or tiny house thing, but, hey whatever works. It’s the idea of being portable and light and having fewer attachments. I have a lot of attachments and absolutely recognize that the source of all my real problems come from those attachments. But, hey, knowing is the first step, right?
One other way I escape from my own brain is to lose myself in movies and books. But, weirdly, I need my escapism to feel real. I know, that’s a bit of oxymoron, but, well, as old Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, I am large. I contain multitudes.” So, with that in mind, I really enjoyed watching a former FBI agent reviewing mobster movies and, conversely, a former mob boss reviewing gangster films. It’s a nice contrast. It’s funny, because I remarked to an old friend just the other day online that for whatever reason, ultra-violent gangster movies are very calming and soothing to me, especially if they’re about the yakuza. Go figure.
And, since we’re talking about movies and, well, everyone is working from home these days, I thought I’d share this disturbing, but also fascinating mashup of The Office and The Matrix. Watch it!
And, finally, for the word nerds out there, like me, I have This Word Does Not Exist, a site that creates a new word and defines it for you. I think we should all pick one of those generated words and work it into our everyday conversations until we get someone else to adopt it. Because I’m bored with email and video meetings. And, I want to lead you astray.

I’d have had better links and a better post for you, but it’s been the busiest week of the pandemic for me. Seriously. I’ve barely had time to eat lunch most days. On the plus side, I have been getting up earlier and writing Morning Pages. Though, I’ve been doing it via the keyboard, which is verboten by the traditionalists. The average length of a page of a trade paperback is about 500 words, I’m told, so I’ve been doing 1500 words. It may not be the officially sanctioned method, but, hey, it works for me. I’ll try to remember to let you know how it goes.
See you all next week!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

5/8/2020

Today, More Than Ever…

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun,Personal Care,The Day Job,The Network Geek at Home,Truth and Consequences — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

In these troubled times, we’re all talking about the same thing in the same way.

I know the isolation is getting rough for all of us and it’s definitely giving me more days where I feel like my brain has more in common with moldy cottage cheese than the evolutionary advantage I’m told it is. In fact, I’ve been trying to write this post for days. Normally, I queue up these weekly posts with plenty of time to spare, but, lately, I’ve been writing them closer and closer to my self-imposed morning deadline. Honestly, I know in part it’s because I’ve been just as busy as I normally am, if not busier, but also because my creative thinking is just weak and stagnate. That’s been made no better by the posts on LinkedIn telling me that “…[if] you don’t come out this quarantine with: -A new skill -Your side hustle started -More knowledge you never lacked time, you lacked discipline.” For one thing, that’s bullshit. If you have time to do any of those things, you’re unemployed and worried about finding work and healthcare, which is not conducive to actually accomplishing any of those things, or you’re stealing time and resources from your employer. Either that, or you’re about to be laid off because you’re normally so unproductive that you have all this spare time and just needed to be able to more sufficiently hide that from your supervisor by not being seen. And, even if you aren’t doing that, but for various reasons are legitimately employed and legitimately not stealing time from your employer, you may still be massively depressed because of all the chaos and fear and stress at all levels of society. Saying that we should all just get our collective shit together and magic up some of that toxic hustle that the magical thinking, next-wave, would-be Napoleon Hill’s have been trying to sell us for the past decade, is about like telling a person with clinical depression they should just try to be happier. That’s not how it works. If that’s all it took, we wouldn’t have a multi-billion dollar antidepressant medication industry. Granted, those faux inspirational messages all seem to come from marketing companies who, traditionally, make more money when they can sell people things to fix problems we don’t have until the marketing companies convince us that we need to fix them, but it seems like it’s been really bad the last couple of years. Really, it’s just the latest “get rich quick” scheme meant to fleece the unwary and desperate. Of course, the truth there is that the only way to get rich quickly, is to sell someone else the “sure-fire method” of getting rich with little to no work. (Spoiler alert; those are all scams!)
And, for me, the added stress and strangeness of working from home has made everything seem flat and repetitive. Surely, you’ve noticed that all the commercials lately sound the same, right? According to the Boing Boing article titled “Every COVID-19 Commercial Is Exactly The Same”, part of my challenge may be something called “semantic satiation”, which is “…a psychological phenomenon in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener, who then perceives the speech as repeated meaningless sounds.” And, that’s officially the excuse I’m using for why it feels like nothing anyone is saying any more matters. And, that’s true for news stories about the ailing economy, too. So, basically, what I’m saying here is that I feel massively overwhelmed by this entire situation, as do, I imagine, the two other people who probably still read this blog, as well as everyone else in the country. We can’t keep track of what day it is, or what we should be doing, which are both signs of stress and depression, by the way. And, I seriously think that just maintaining my “day job” is impressive enough.
The thing is, the world is changing. Of course, the world is always changing, but, right now, we are all very, very aware of the fact that it’s changing and that the changes are pretty much all out of our control. Honestly, that’s how it is pretty much all the time, but, right now, we just can’t avoid that particular truth. And, you know what? That’s a really scary thing to wake up to and it’s okay to be scared or whatever you may be feeling by all this. It’s okay. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and like it’s super hard to do anything that really matters. It’s okay to just want to have a hobby that’s fun and not going to result in some monetary gain. It is okay.
For me, that’s been photography in the past. They way I like to do photography takes a lot of time, though, so I haven’t done as much as I’d like. If you feel like you’d like to get creative and learn a little photography, for fun, but haven’t known where to start, I have good news. Now you can get some free, thanks to the Photography Life YouTube channel, which has all kinds of video tutorials meant for beginners. (I do have to admit, I found them thanks to PetaPixel.)
If that’s too much, then go ahead and try a game. In the past I’ve talked about Universal Paperclips, which is still a good choice, as it mostly runs in the background after a certain point. But, there’s also a new game that looks fun, based on this article on Engadget, Who knew I’d get obsessed with a spreadsheet game?.
And, if you just need to have some soothing music in the background while you try to work, try Robert Fripp’s Music for Quiet Moments series. Each is about 50 minutes of gentle, peaceful music. For something a little more unnverving, try the AI-generated music based on famous artist’s original work. It’s a little odd, but certainly interesting.

Finally, I’d like to share something with you that I personally find helpful and uplifting; Pema Chödrön on SuperSoul Sunday via the Oprah Winfrey Network YouTube channel. She’s a fantastic Buddhist teacher and her talks and books are incredibly valuable teaching for me in “these uncertain times”.

So, like I promised, things are getting weird. Next week, I’ll be in the office a bit. My co-worker and I are coming in every other day, to try and help keep the potential for exposure to COVID-19 to a minimum for us. I pray that it goes well.
Check in next week to see!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

11/19/2019

Managing Up

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 a Third Quarter Moon

“Managing up” has to be one of my least favorite business buzzword phrases, and the most condescending.

I’m grateful I don’t hear this phrase as much as I used to earlier in my career. The last time I heard someone use it, they were commenting on how little they thought about their direct supervisor’s ability. When you think about it, the phrase, and the idea behind it, is pretty insulting. The implication is that I know better than the person above me in the company organization chart and, essentially, have to do their job for them because they’re incapable of managing me. For one thing, it starts from a false premise, though one that a lot of technical people seem to buy into, namely that my work requires knowledge and abilities beyond the management layer above me. I’ve never found that to be actually true.
I prefer the term “managing expectations”. It’s more accurate and applicable to all levels of the org chart. It’s also something I do regularly. For instance, if I’m working on a project for someone, I want to make sure they know what’s involved and the kind of time that might take so they have some idea why I’ve set a delivery date. Or, more importantly, why the delivery date the stakeholder might expect is unreasonable. There are times, of course, that I find myself able to deliver well within the expected time, but, unfortunately, that’s much more unusual.
The other way I manage expectations is in what can be delivered at all. I will grant that to many the computer systems I work with on a regular basis are a bit like magic. Black boxes of mysterious abilities that miraculously produce information and reports when working correctly. Or, evil, possessed infernal machines that are blamed for keeping some other department from producing results when they aren’t working well. Obviously, my goal is to make sure the technology in my care is always working well, but that’s not always possible. And, when I’m asked by someone to produce something new, I want to give them an accurate idea of what precisely I’ll be able to deliver to them on whatever timetable is likely. Of course, like most technical people, I follow the lead of Montgomery Scott, Chief Engineer of the starship Enterprise and do my best to set expectations low so that when I am able to exceed them I seem like a miracle worker. Like the time I told someone I’d “do my best” to recover some of the more than three terabytes of engineering drawings that the previous IT person had lost to a cryptolocker virus, then found a decryption tool after everyone else had left early for a long holiday weekend that restored all the lost data.
Yes, I worked what seemed like a miracle, but before I did, I set the expectation that the data was going to be lost because the last tech hadn’t tested the backups. So, rather than “managing up”, manage expectations of what kind of results, and when those results, can be delivered. Everyone, not just your managers, will appreciate it more.

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

11/6/2019

Project Success

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

Clear goals make for more successful projects.

There is no way to guarantee a successful project, but I can sure tell you the best way to make one fail; don’t set a clear goal.
When I was in Boy Scouts, I earned my Eagle Scout award. That was a long time ago, and I know some things have changed since then, but one requirement that hasn’t changed is running a successful service project. At the time, the bar for success was set pretty low, and, of course, I had lots of help from Scoutmasters and advisers on how to set up and run my service project. What I learned in Scouting, I carried forward into my working life and still use to this day. The single best way to stack the odds in your favor of success is having clearly defined goals that include a deadline. My goals, whether personal or professional, need to be so crystal clear that I can express them to someone not involved in the project in thirty seconds or less. If I can’t do that, I need to rethink whatever project I’m gearing up.
For instance, as a technical specialist focused on IT infrastructure, when I’m getting ready to refresh datacenter hardware, I should be able to tell my CIO or CFO what servers and drive arrays are being replaced, how the data will transfer from the old hardware to the new equipment, what the time involved will be and what my fall-back plan is in case of catastrophic failure at some level. Simple, clear and direct. And, I should be able to state that in a non-technical way for non-technical staff who might need to know. If I’m upgrading a wide-area network from a series of point-to-point connections in the old-fashioned spoke-and-star configuration with a software-defined WAN configured with a mesh of redundant connections, I need to be able to clearly describe that end result, with the advantages and disadvantages and any potential risks, to non-technical executive staff.
I need to be able to do all that not only so they can hold me and my department accountable for our success or failure, but also so that I can keep everyone on the project focused in the right direction. This is the lesson I learned so many years ago working on my Eagle Scout service project. A clear, concise goal is easier to explain and share with outsiders, but it’s also essential for project participants, to keep everyone focused on the same goal and headed the same direction. No one can lead a team, whether on a short project or on a larger team, without clear, shared goals and deadlines. A project without a clear, shared goal is doomed to failure because no one will be working together on the same shared goal, except by accident.
Success should never be an accident. It should always be a plan.

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

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