Diary of a Network Geek

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

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.

10/22/2019

Everything Is Sales

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

I work in IT because I didn’t want to do sales.

The only problem is, everything is sales.
Even though my degree is in Marketing and my very early career included a commission sales job that was so profitable for me I was able to write a check for my first used car, I prefer to work with technology. In college, I actually took classes in sales and salesmanship. My father, who was an inveterate salesman by both nature and trade, always used to tell me that everyone sells and everything is sales. I decided to follow a different career path, though, when I saw what a good salesperson had to do on a daily basis. I’m pretty self-directed, but even the best salesperson deals with more rejection in a day than I probably handle in more than a month. But, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t, ultimately, embraced the reality that everything is sales and I’m selling, one way or another, every day of my life. The thing is, so is everyone reading this, whether they realize it or not.
Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it.
Any time in the past month, have you had to convince anyone that your plan for whatever you’re working on at the office is better than someone else’s? Maybe you’ve tried to convince someone that your restaurant choice is better than theirs? Those are both selling. The thing that people who haven’t done it don’t understand about sales is that you don’t sell products. You sell the idea that your product is the right product for the customer. Or, in my line of work, I sell the whatever idea I have about how things should work in an IT Department, or how IT can solve a business problem and how I’m the right person to implement that idea. Am I successful every time? Of course not, but I am selling every time I step up to pitch a project or procedure to my direct supervisor, my peers or other stakeholders in my company. And, the better I am at selling my ideas, the more work I get to do and the more interesting that work is to me. After all, given the choice, I’d much rather work on things that I think matter, are important or that teach me something new. Before I can do that, though, I have to sell my manager on the idea.
The other thing to keep in mind about selling, though, is that high-pressure sales doesn’t really work. There are still dedicated salespeople who will try those techniques, but that time, thankfully, has passed. All my training and experience has taught me that the single best way to sell, whether insurance or technology or patio furniture, is to sell the customer, or manager, on how I can solve their problem, whatever that may be. That, of course, means I have to talk to the person I’m selling to and find out what their needs are so I can show them how whatever I have will help. And, on the rare occasion that I don’t have something to sell them to fix their problem, I have to be smart and honest enough to acknowledge that and move on, or point them toward someone who can solve their problem, if I can.
Selling is one of the most challenging activities in my work day. In retrospect, even though I work in IT Infrastructure, I’m glad I have the experience and training of a salesperson. It turns out that my Dad was right after all; everything is sales!

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

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.

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