Category Archives: Other

Showing Your Scars

One summer I was hired to help build scenery for a local summer stock theater venue. The problem is that I had been trained as an electrician, so every task in the wood shop required that I learn new skills on-the-fly. Because this was a job not a class and I was expected to know what I was doing, I didn’t ask enough questions and ended up making about twice as many mistakes as necessary on everything. Most of those mistakes weren’t life-threatening.

But one of the times, I was working on the table saw had my first experience with kick-back (for a video of what this looks like, see here. No, that’s not me.).

Similar to the video linked above, I was lucky that nobody was hurt, but then something weird happened – everyone started showing off their scars.

Guys who hadn’t even been in the wood shop when my accident happened came down from ladders, up from trenches, and over from across the park to show me scars that decorated their arms, fingers, hands, legs, and torsos. Each one came with a story, and the stories were remarkably similar:

“I was doing this thing… I was standing in the wrong place… I stopped paying attention for a second…  and BOOM!”

This story was followed by “And that’s why from then on I always make sure I <fill in the name of the safety procedure>”.

In addition to being thankful that no one was harmed, I was grateful for them everyone not making me feel like I was a complete numskull for letting this happen. Apparently it can (and does) happen to everyone.

But I also wondered why nobody thought to tell those stories on the FIRST day. Like I said earlier, this wasn’t a teaching environment but I could imagine some sort of first-day ritual – the showing of the scars – where everyone lists their  experiences (in effect, showing their scars) and sharing the life lessons they learned from them.

Because not EVERYONE has had EVERY mishap, but in a team of 5 or more professionals, collectively the group has seen a lot.

At the time I thought that if every scene shop adopted a custom like that, more people would learn better lessons and have fewer scars (not to mention more severe injuries) to show for it.

I was reminded of this episode in my life the other day, when someone tweeted about reconfiguring a remote network device, only to find they had messed up one of the commands and the entire site was no longer accessible. A 2 hour drive was required to get on-site and fix the issue.

Immediately after the tweet came an outpouring of advice:

“Cisco’s ‘reload in’ command is your best friend.”;
“Always test your config in GNS3 first”;
“Never update a config until another set of eyes has looked at it first”
…and so on…

It reminded me of everyone coming down to the scene shop to show me their scars.

The next time you are sitting with your colleagues at the office – maybe you have a new face on the team; or maybe it’s YOUR first day; or maybe you’re starting a new project. Think about ways you can initiate a “showing of the scars”. Go around the table and list out your worst mistakes and the lessons you learned from them.

I’m willing to bet that you will grow closer as a team; that fewer “rookie” mistakes will be made by everyone; and that even the most grizzled veterans will probably learn a few things they didn’t know (or possibly had forgotten).

More people learning better lessons with fewer scars to show for it.

Day 04 – Understand More

Last year I discussed how some areas of technology were in (and others were out) of the range of our understanding – depending on what area of focus we have ourselves.
And the guys from Gesher Academy ROCK!
 
I still think those things are true. We need to be willing to understand, and simply prioritize based on the available time and importance.
 
However, a blog I read recently reminded me of an important aspect – we also need to know why.
 
In an essay titled, simply enough, “Why”, Derek Sivers points out that you need to understand WHY you are doing what you are doing. And the answer is not a panacea. By asking and answering “why”, certain aspects of life will become more important, and others less so.
 
If your goal is to be famous, then you may have to make sacrifices to family life or even money. If your goal is job stability, then career growth may take a back seat.
 
This is the ultimate form of understanding. It is the meta-understanding. Once you nail down the fundamental reason for your choices, you can make them faster and with more confidence that they will ultimately get you where you want to go.
 
Derek summarizes by saying:
 
“That’s why you need know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Know it in advance. Use it as your compass and optimize your life around it. Let the other goals be secondary. So when those decision moments come, you can choose the value that you already know matters most to you.”
 
Shakespear famously wrote “To thine own self be true”. But this is impossible unless you first take time, as Siver suggests, to really understand what you want.

#BlogElul 02-Act

An excerpt from an essay I wrote for an upcoming issue of “Data Center Journal” was especially relevant to today’s post. The essay is titled “Data, Information, Action”:
The saying, “you can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data,” may never have been so blindingly obvious or true as it is today. We are awash in seas of data, fed by thundering, swollen tributaries like the Internet of Things, mobile computing and social media. The goal of the so-called “big data” movement is to channel those raging rivers into meaningful insight.
For almost 20 years, my specialty within the field of IT has been systems monitoring and management. Those who share my passion for finding ever newer and more creative ways to determine when, how, and if a server went bump in the night understand that data versus information is not really a dichotomy. It’s a triad.
Of course good monitoring starts with data. Lots of it, collected regularly from a variety of devices, applications and sources across the data center. And of course transforming that data into meaningful information—charts, graphs, tables and even speedometers—that represent the current status and health of critical services is the work of the work.
But unless that information leads to action, it’s all for naught. And that, patient reader, is what this article is about—the importance of taking that extra step to turn data-driven insight into actionable behavior. What is surprising to me is how often this point is overlooked. Let me explain:
Let’s say you diligently set up your monitoring to collect hard drive data for all of your critical servers. You’re not only collecting disk size and space used, but you also pull statistics on IOPS, read errors and write errors.
That’s Data.
Now, let’s say your sophisticated and robust monitoring technology goes the extra mile, not only converting those metrics to pretty charts and graphs, but also analyzing historical data to establish baselines so that your alerts don’t just trigger when, for example, disk usage is over 90 percent, but rather, for example, when disk usage jumps 50 percent over normal for a certain time period.
That’s Information.
Now, let’s say you roll that monitoring out to all 5,000 of your critical servers and begin to “enjoy” about 375 “disk full” tickets per month.
That, sadly, is the normal state of affairs at most companies. It’s the point where, as a monitoring engineer (or, at the very least, the person in charge of the server monitoring), you begin to notice the dark looks and poorly hidden sneers from colleagues who have had “your” monitoring wake them one too many times at 2 a.m.
So, what’s missing? The answer is found in a simple question: Now what? As in, once you and the server team have hashed out the details of the disk full alert, the next thing you should do is ask, “What should we do now? What’s out next step?” In this case, it would likely involve clearing the temp directory to see if that resolves the issue.
And the next logical step from there is automation. Often, the same monitoring platform that kicks up a fuss about a server being down at 2 .m. can clear that nasty old temp directory for you. Right then and there, all while you’re still sound asleep. Then, if and only if, the problem persists, will a ticket be cut so a human can get involved. And said human will know that before their precious beauty sleep was so rudely interrupted, the temp directory had already been cleared, so it’s something just a bit more sophisticated than that.
This type of automated action is neither difficult to understand nor super complicated to establish. But in the environments where I’ve personally implemented it, the result was a whopping 70 percent reduction in disk full tickets.

#BlogElul 01-Prepare

(This post is a day late. I guess you could say I wasn’t prepared to post it during the long holiday weekend. ON the other hand, posting it then would have caught people ill-prepared to carve out the time necessary to read it.)
Preparation implies forethought, knowledge, information, capability, and (as I mentioned last year) choice (http://www.adatosystems.com/2015/08/16/blogelul-day-1-prepare/).
Prepare is wonderful. Prepare is beautiful.  In the world of IT, preparation is the work we hope we get to do every day. It is the hope we have as we drive to work.
The idea of “prepare” has an ugly underbelly though.
To borrow a concept from “Stranger Things” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stranger_Things_(TV_series)), the “UpsideDowns” of preparation, where everything that we know and find familiar is a dark, twisted, and toxic mirror image, is “reaction”.
And THAT is a term that IT pro’s know all too well. Managers will chide us that “we’re being too reactive”. As if ignoring the system outage, network spike, or looming disk capacity issue is going to make it go away, or teach it a lesson that it needs to wait its turn.
“Let it wait” is the phrase non-IT people say without realizing it translates to “Do what *I* want now and I don’t care if the event punishes you doubly-hard later.”
So how do you avoid the demogorgon of the UpsideDown of IT?
Partly, by doing what the kids in the NetFlix show did – huddle up your posse of friends, identify the enemy for what it is, be relentless in saving each others’ butt, and rising to the challenge no matter how tired or drained you feel.
But that’s only part of the answer. The other answer is “I don’t know”. After almost 30 years in IT, I still find myself running full-tilt through horrific architecture landscapes not of my choosing, trying to evade the ravenous monster that gamely pursues me.
If there are better answers, I’m open to them. As are the comments below.

 

#BlogElul: ZeroDay

tl;dr version

A daily blog-athon running from now until Oct 3rd, with hundreds of people writing a daily post on a specific theme. You are invited to participate. I am.
Source Code
Coming up soon (the evening of Oct 2nd, to be exact) is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.
As I mentioned last year (http://www.adatosystems.com/2015/08/16/zeroday-introducing-blogelul/), between now and then is a time to reflect on how the past year went so that you can commit to making adjustments in attitude and behavior so that we continue to improve as people.
To help with that, a bunch of folks from all walks of life participate in #BlogElul: A daily writing exercise that could be a single sentence, a haiku, or an 800 word essay. Each day a single word is provided as the theme, and people take it from there.
If you missed this series last year, you’re probably thinking “Leon, this is a Jewish thing and completely outside the scope of my experience.” Yes and no.
If you have worked in IT for more than 15 minutes, you’ve probably been involved in a large development project, system rollout, or upgrade. And as the date for the big cutover approaches, there are usually daily status updates. I’m taking this opportunity to set up a standing meeting and report on my progress toward the upcoming release called “MyLife, 5777”
If you are interested in joining in you can find more information on the blog of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, the woman who started it: http://imabima.blogspot.com/2016/08/blogelul-and-elulgram-2016.html
If you have suggestions on what I should include for any of the days, let me know!
Meanwhile, here is the word list I’ll be following:
Elul 1 (Sept. 4): Prepare
Elul 2: Act
Elul 3: Search
Elul 4: Understand
Elul 5: Accept
Elul 6: Believe
Elul 7: Choose
Elul 8: Hear
Elul 9: Observe
Elul 10: Count
Elul 11: Trust
Elul 12: Forgive
Elul 13: Remember
Elul 14: Learn
Elul 15: Change
Elul 16: Pray
Elul 17: Awaken
Elul 18: Ask
Elul 19: Judge
Elul 20: Fulfill
Elul 21: Love
Elul 22: End
Elul 23: Begin
Elul 24: Hope
Elul 25: Intend
Elul 26: Create
Elul 27: Bless
Elul 28: Give
Elul 29: Return

eBooks For Your 2016 Reading List

As we tip over from the mad rush of December and prepare to ease into another year, I like to take a minute to appreciate the hush and calm that comes after the rush and bustle of various holidays.

This week after New Year I like to take a few moments to pause and regroup before diving into the new year. A chance to take stock, reflect, and think.

And so I’ve held off until now to officially promote the fruit of a few of my 2015 labors. If your resolutions for 2016 include making time to do some reading that doesn’t break your stretched-too-far-after-all-those-gifts budget, I want you to know that I’ve got a few eBook recommendations for the busy IT Pro. Each is available for Kindle (on Amazon) and also as a free PDF download.

Monitoring 101

Despite the relatively maturity of monitoring and systems management as a discrete IT discipline, I am asked – year after year and job after job – to give an overview of what monitoring is.

This book is my attempt to address that question in a more structured form, published with the assistance of the amazing folks at SolarWinds.

Intended as guide to help bring new team members (often fresh out of college or a technical program) up to speed with monitoring concepts quickly, this ebook (or portions of it) can serve as a good introduction for a variety of audiences.

Click here for the Kindle Edition | Click here for the PDF version

 

“Technically, These Are Some Random Thoughts”
Around September every year, Jews all over the world celebrate Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. However, it’s not – to put it in business terms – a year-end review. It’s a job interview. the month before Rosh Hashana (called “Elul” in Hebrew) is the time for getting one’s balance sheet in order. To help with that, a bunch of folks from all walks of life participate in #BlogElul: A daily prompt provides the theme and people riff on that – sometimes a few hundred words, sometimes an image, sometimes a poem or just a single sentence. It’s something I’ve done for a few years now. I thought I’d add a twist and also do an I.T. Professional’s version of #BlogElul and post the essays on my technology-specific blog: http://www.adatosystems.com. A reflection on each of the daily prompts and what they mean in an I.T. context. You’re probably thinking “Leon, this is a Jewish thing and completely outside the scope of my experience or interest as an I.T. Professional.” To which I emphatically reply: Yes and no. If you have worked in I.T. for more than 15 minutes, you’ve likely been involved in a large development project, system roll-out, or upgrade. And as the date for the big cut-over approaches, there are usually daily status updates. Consider this the notes from my status updates before the roll-out of “TheWorld v.5776”.

Click here for the Kindle Edition | Click here for the Nook Edition | Click here for the PDF version

4 Skills to Master Your Virtual Universe

For some IT administrators, virtualization might not be a primary responsibility. Without the opportunity to learn and gain experience as part of their daily routine means these admins are getting a late start in the virtualization game. So why should IT admins, who don’t consider virtualization to be a critical part of their job description, care about virtualization? Because virtualization spans every data center construct from servers to storage to networking to security operations. Add in the fact that it is used in practically every IT shop and you have a perfect IT storm. So while you might have been hired to administer one of those systems, virtualization’s dependency and abstraction of those resources means you’ll need to bridge the
virtualization knowledge gap.

In this book, my fellow SolarWinds Head Geek Kong Yang describes the 4 key skills needed to gain mastery of your virtualized environment.

Click here for the Kindle Edition | Click here for the PDF version

 

Net Use: It’s Geek-Speak for “I Love You”

This year, SolarWinds started publishing a video series called “Geek Memories”, where the Head Geeks and other IT Professionals share flashbacks from their past, moments which defined or exemplified their geekiness and showcased a lesson that we who have made our careers in technology can relate to.

One particular memory of mind appeared recently, and I wanted to share some additional thoughts about it. You can watch the video here.

It’s no secret that I love language. I collect words and phrases the way some people collect colorful shells at the beach. I love the connection between language and culture, how one defines the other and vice-versa.

In looking back at the way “Net Use” has become a secret phrase between my wife and me, I realized this is a phenomenon that all IT Pro’s should be aware of and use to their advantage.

What I mean is that language is, first and foremost (and perhaps only?) a bridge between two parties. The golden rule of communication is not “communicate unto others as you would have them communicate to you”. Instead it is “Communicate unto others as they want (need) to be communicated to”.

Saying “Well, I prefer email, and therefore I will only use email to communicate to the other teams.” is as poor a choice as saying “Well, I prefer to speak French, and therefore I will be using French in all of my conversations.”

That idea applies to everything from the mode of communication (email, sms, face to face, phone) to the length of the conversation to your use of graphics or not. You must Know Thine Audience and tailor your information accordingly. After all, you wouldn’t ask Notepad to open and edit a Photoshop file. Don’t ask your (accounting) customer to speak fluent OSI model.

This concept also means avoiding un-necessary jargon when possible, or defining it (repeatedly if necessary) when it’s unavoidable. This is such a simple thing and yet I find IT pros who think this is tantamount to lobotomizing the entire discipline they’ve devoted years to becoming experts in. Trust me on this one – not using your favorite buzzword or acronym doesn’t make you any less of an expert. In fact, the real experts are the ones who can explain a concept, design, or plan without resorting to any specialized words. Don’t believe me? Check out “Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words” by Randal Munroe (creator of XKCD) for a fantastic (if comical) example.

Recently, Seth Godin commented on the comic that inspired that same book. In that essay, Godin points out that using words, even if they exceed the 1,000 most commonly used words (or the 20,000 word vocabulary most of us have) is a one of the things that identifies us as a true professional.

I couldn’t agree more. I’m not talking about whether or not you know a word, command, programming function, etc. I’m talking about whether you can put those words into context for the listener. Can you give listener a meaningful frame of reference so that they remember the ideas you are sharing because you’ve made them relevant, have impact, and connect to their own experience?

Which brings me to my next point. The story about me and my wife and “Net Use” is cute because our experience informed the phrase with meaning. I’m not saying that you should go to work and start using arcane technical commands in place of common every day ideas (“hey boss, grep s/hungry/lunchtime/”). Instead, I believe we need to understand and appreciate how experience informs understanding. It’s not enough to give a definition of RAID1+0 or EIGRP or hybrid cloud. It’s far better to allow people to experience those things in some way and then provide the term to describe the experience they are having.

As Thomas LaRock said in an article titled “Telling Ain’t Training: How to transfer IT Skills”:

“Having knowledge is good. Sharing knowledge is better. But applying knowledge and sometimes adapting it to other scenarios is the best way to train yourself when it comes to new technologies”

That’s not always possible, but you would be surprised how many opportunities there are to link an experience to a concept and term. It is about, as professional educators say, finding ‘teachable moments’. Sometimes those moments come during a weekly department lunch-and-learn. Sometimes you can turn a routine problem ticket into a chance to say “Hey, people, check this out. I want to show you something I see all the time.” And sometimes the opportunity comes in the middle of a Sev1 emergency call. You need to take the opportunities as they present themselves.

It takes practice to find the right balance for your personality and work environment, but if you are able to do this consistently, you will find your ideas are better understood, your initiatives get more buy-in, and elusive tasks like “cross-training your coworkers” becomes infinitely easier.

After all, you are now speaking a common language.

#BlogElul Day 29: Return

RETURN is one of the most basic of all constructs in IT. Whether you are a programmer, sysadmin, network engineer, Virtualization architect, or something else, there is an almost 100% likelihood that you have needed to find out the RETURN code from one of your systems at some time in the past.

For that reason, I love that this is the last prompt for this series. It’s a way of saying “We’re all done here. Run garbage collection, write to the log files, and close this puppy down.”

It’s been a great run – by far my most successful participation in #BlogElul. Not only did I complete each and every one of the prompts this year, I did it twice – once on this blog and once on EdibleTorah.com.

For those who are long on time and short on inspiration, here’s a review of each of the essays.

Thank you for coming along on this journey with me.

RETURN 0
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// Every good programmer leaves an easter egg or two
// Here’s where I would like to thank a few people:
// First, I am blessed beyond measure to have had the chance to marry my best friend.
// without her, I would be lost adrift in the sea of madness and chaos.
//
// Second, thank you to Phyllis Sommer (aka “Ima on (and off) the Bima”) for kicking this // event off year after year and generating both writing prompts AND enthusiasm
//
// Third, to Rabbi Raphael Davidovich. This was his first year participating in #BlogElul, and
// I tried not to ape his thoughts too much. or without attribution. But like a good partner
// at the gym or a good chevruta (sorry, CHEVRUSA) at yeshiva, his work pushed me to do
// my best as well even when I might have been more lenient with myself.

#BlogElul Day 28: Give

If you work in IT, there are a few things which I know are true about your job even if I’ve never met you:

  • You are busy. You have enough work for you, your clone, and your clone’s cousin. Same goes for your coworkers (and their clones and cousins).
  • You know things. Maybe a lot of things. If you have worked in IT for more than a month, you have a few tricks up your sleeve that other people who “know computers” will never have heard of.
  • You hold the things which are known – by you, your coworkers, their clones, and cousins – in very high regard. The things you know are what make you valuable as an IT professional.

Knowing all of that, I understand how what I’m about to say may shock you:

Give. It. Away. All of it.

Despite being busy. Despite the fact that the person you are going to give away all your hard-won knowledge may not have “put in their time” or “earned their stripes”. Despite the fact that if TWO of you know the tricks, there’s a chance that you may not be as valuable. Despite all of that.

Because I know something else: You are wrong.

You are not too busy to give your knowledge – to write or podcast or vlog or just sit someone down and TELL them (ewwww! How ANALOG!). You are not too busy for that.

Because in sharing what you have, you will gain. In spreading what you know, you will never lose. In giving away for free the things which cost you in the precious coin of time and sweat and tears you increase rather than decrease the value of it.

In fact, giving may be the greatest gift you ever receive.

#BlogElul Day 27: Bless

As I’ve been writing each day this month, I’ve come back repeatedly to the idea that – if you choose a career in IT – it is important to find a niche (both in terms of the company where you work, the company you keep, and the work you do) that you love.

I realize this is far easier said than done. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean the effort is not worth it.

That would have been hard for me to prove until recently. I’ve been blessed this past year to have found a place as Head Geek at SolarWinds. It’s a job that engages so many facets of my experience – from my theatrical training in college to my love of writing to my years as an IT generalist, and of course my passion for monitoring. But it’s also a job that allows for the facets of my life which are not work related but equally important to me – my religious convictions, my family, and even the city where I’ve chosen to put down roots.

So I’m not going to drag this out. I have found my blessing in this work that I’m doing.

I hope in the coming year, you do, too.