Category Archives: IT Philosophy

Why I care about Women in Monitoring (and IT)

(originally posted Feb 10, 2015)
(image credit Josh Rossi )

I started a thread on Twitter asking Who are some awesome women in monitoring? One of the common reactions (privately and respectfully, I’m happy to say) has been asking me why I started the discussion in the first place. I thought that question deserved a response.

Because, I’m a feminist. Yes, Virginia, Orthodox Jewish middle-aged white guys can be feminists, too. Because I think that anything that can be done to promote and encourage women getting into STEM professions should be done. Full stop. Because people from different backgrounds, cultures, and environments see the world differently, and if there’s one thing you need in a “the order entry system is down again” crisis, it’s as many experienced perspectives as possible to get that sucker running again.

“But why ‘women in monitoring’?” I’m then asked. “Why not ‘awesome women in I.T.’ or just ‘awesome women in STEM’ ?”

Because on top of all the “Because”-es above, I’m also a MONITORING enthusiast. I think monitoring (especially monitoring done right) is awesome, a lot of fun, and provides a huge value to organizations of all sizes.

I also think it’s an under-appreciated discipline within I.T. Monitoring today. The current state of monitoring-as-a-discipline within IT reminds me of InfoSec, Storage, or Virtualization about a decade ago. Back then, it (infosec, virtualization, etc) was a set of skills, but few people claimed that it was their sole role within a company. Fast forward to today, and IT departments would dream of not having specialists in those areas. I think (and hope) that in a few years we’ll look back at monitoring and see the same type of progression.

I want to see monitoring recognized as a career path, the same as being a Voice engineer, or cloud admin, or a data analytics specialist.

Of course, this all ties back to my role as Head Geek. Part of the job of a Head Geek is to promote the amazing—amazing solutions, amazing trends, amazing companies, and amazing groups—as it relates to monitoring.

One reason this is explicitly part of my job is to build an environment where those people who are quietly doing the work, but not identifying as part of “the group” feel more comfortable doing so. The more “the group” gains visibility, the more that people who WANT to be part of the group will gravitate towards it rather than falling into it by happenstance.

Which brings me back to the point about “amazing women in monitoring”. This isn’t a zero-sum competition. Looking for amazing women doesn’t somehow imply women are MORE amazing than x (men, minorities, nuns, hamsters, etc).

This is about doing my part to start a conversation where achievements can be recognized for their own merit.

I know that’s a pretty big soapbox to balance on a series of twitter posts, but I figure it’s gotta start somewhere.

So, if you know of any exceptional women in monitoring: Forward this to them. Encourage to connect – on Twitter (@LeonAdato), THWACK (@adatole) or in the comments below.

MovieBob and Magneto

(Inspired by the article: “Magneto was Right” which has subsequently been taken down, but the video is here)

I really liked the character of Magneto in X-Men 1 and 2. The character had a point and a purpose and an inner consistency. He wasn’t “evil” any more than most of us are, he simply framed things differently than Xavier and acted based on his own values.

It’s like this: The power goes out in my neighborhood and some people think “candle light block party” while others lock the doors in case there’s looting and riots. Neither option is totally far out, it just depends on how you see the world.

Coming back to Bob. I got picked on in school. Most of the people I associated with got picked on too. Depending on the day and context, it was because I was a band geek, or a theater dweeb, or a fashion train wreck, or socially inept, or somehow being “an easy target”.

At least, that’s what I’ve always assumed. And since it was me getting picked on and not me picking on them, I assumed there was a flaw in me that invited the abuse.

But I think MovieBob is truly onto something, and not just because he’s using comic book characters as his foil.

My favorite point:
Bullies pick on us NOT because “we’re different” (MovieBob says “I can attest that they came in all shapes and sizes. A veritable rainbow coalition of torment.”).

NO, the thing we all suspect deep down is that it’s not that we’re different, we’re BETTER.

Bob uses images from Revenge of the Nerds in his discussion, and that might be the most accurate. The narrative of the geeks realizing their own self worth and playing to their strengths may be a fantasy, but it’s definitely a satisfying one as well as one that is actually playing out in reality with more and more frequency.

LINK: Do what you love

And thanks to Doug at http://www.asknice.com for pointing it out.

http://www.paulgraham.com/love.html
How to Do What You Love
January 2006

To do something well you have to like it. That idea is not exactly novel. We’ve got it down to four words: “Do what you love.” But it’s not enough just to tell people that. Doing what you love is complicated.

The very idea is foreign to what most of us learn as kids. When I was a kid, it seemed as if work and fun were opposites by definition. Life had two states: some of the time adults were making you do things, and that was called work; the rest of the time you could do what you wanted, and that was called playing. Occasionally the things adults made you do were fun, just as, occasionally, playing wasn’t– for example, if you fell and hurt yourself. But except for these few anomalous cases, work was pretty much defined as not-fun.

And it did not seem to be an accident. School, it was implied, was tedious because it was preparation for grownup work.

The world then was divided into two groups, grownups and kids. Grownups, like some kind of cursed race, had to work. Kids didn’t, but they did have to go to school, which was a dilute version of work meant to prepare us for the real thing. Much as we disliked school, the grownups all agreed that grownup work was worse, and that we had it easy.

Teachers in particular all seemed to believe implicitly that work was not fun. Which is not surprising: work wasn’t fun for most of them. Why did we have to memorize state capitals instead of playing dodge-ball? For the same reason they had to watch over a bunch of kids instead of lying on a beach. You couldn’t just do what you wanted.

I’m not saying we should let little kids do whatever they want. They may have to be made to work on certain things. But if we make kids work on dull stuff, it might be wise to tell them that tediousness is not the defining quality of work, and indeed that the reason they have to work on dull stuff now is so they can work on more interesting stuff later. [1]

Once, when I was about 9 or 10, my father told me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up, so long as I enjoyed it. I remember that precisely because it seemed so anomalous. It was like being told to use dry water. Whatever I thought he meant, I didn’t think he meant work could literally be fun– fun like playing. It took me years to grasp that.

Jobs
By high school, the prospect of an actual job was on the horizon. Adults would sometimes come to speak to us about their work, or we would go to see them at work. It was always understood that they enjoyed what they did. In retrospect I think one may have: the private jet pilot. But I don’t think the bank manager really did.

The main reason they all acted as if they enjoyed their work was presumably the upper-middle class convention that you’re supposed to. It would not merely be bad for your career to say that you despised your job, but a social faux-pas.

Why is it conventional to pretend to like what you do? The first sentence of this essay explains that. If you have to like something to do it well, then the most successful people will all like what they do. That’s where the upper-middle class tradition comes from. Just as houses all over America are full of chairs that are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of chairs designed 250 years ago for French kings, conventional attitudes about work are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of the attitudes of people who’ve done great things.

What a recipe for alienation. By the time they reach an age to think about what they’d like to do, most kids have been thoroughly misled about the idea of loving one’s work. School has trained them to regard work as an unpleasant duty. Having a job is said to be even more onerous than schoolwork. And yet all the adults claim to like what they do. You can’t blame kids for thinking “I am not like these people; I am not suited to this world.”

Actually they’ve been told three lies: the stuff they’ve been taught to regard as work in school is not real work; grownup work is not (necessarily) worse than schoolwork; and many of the adults around them are lying when they say they like what they do.

The most dangerous liars can be the kids’ own parents. If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. [2] Maybe it would be better for kids in this one case if parents were not so unselfish. A parent who set an example of loving their work might help their kids more than an expensive house. [3]

It was not till I was in college that the idea of work finally broke free from the idea of making a living. Then the important question became not how to make money, but what to work on. Ideally these coincided, but some spectacular boundary cases (like Einstein in the patent office) proved they weren’t identical.
… read more here: http://www.paulgraham.com/love.html

Don’t Tell Me “It’s Complicated”

HT to my hero and writing inspiration Seth Godin. His post here got me started, and his style is something I have wanted to emulate for years now.


Please

don’t tell me that it – monitoring – is complicated.

Don’t tell me you’re a snowflake – unique in your need for 1200 alert rules.

Don’t tell me “but our company is different. WE create value for our shareholders. Not like your other clients.”

Don’t tell me you can’t do it because…

Because

I’ve been creating monitoring solutions for over a decade.

I’ve designed solutions that scaled to 250,000 systems, in 5,000 locations

I work at a company that has written millions of lines of code to do this one thing, and do it well.

So please Don’t tell me it’s complicated.

Tell me what you need. What you want. What you wish you could have.

And then LISTEN to what I have to say. Because I’ve seen this before. I’ve done this before. And it’s NOT complicated. It’s also not easy.

But it is simple.

Colored Perceptions

I will freely admit up-front that I know little, if anything about businesses, startups or even management – except for the kinds of work environments and management styles I prefer to be an employee of/in/for.

Having said that, Bob Lewis’ recent article on the Phoenix principal (http://www.weblog.keepthejointrunning.com/wordpress/?p=2972) reminded me of Crayola.

In my mind, when thinking about how successful a company can be in the future, the starting point is “what do they do?” – well, “everyone knows” Crayola makes crayons. Everyone knows that.

[note: when reading over this, my wife quickly pointed out that “everyone” is obviously people who don’t spend a lot of time being with or shopping for kids. Because what I discovered below is pretty common knowledge in her circle of associates. As always, YMMV.]

As far as product diversity, my assumption was that their product line would include different sized boxes of crayons, and that they’ve branched out into washable markers. I figured they probably get some revenue from supplying those small 3- or 4-crayon packs to restaurants. After that, there’s not much to say, right?

Take one look at their web site though, and the whole theory is blown out of the water. This isn’t a crayon company. This isn’t even an art-supply company.

From what I can see, Crayola sells artistic inspiration, and it’s target consumer group is one which universally – to the last person – believes they are imminently talented artists. Kids.

The Crayola web site is completely focused on encouraging visitors to be artistic. There are coloring pages. Lesson plans for teachers. An e-card creator. An online calendar that lists events like National Wildflower week (May 4-8), International Museum day (May 18) and the Dragon Boat festival in china (May 28).

This point was driven home (hah!) when my wife showed me a sidewalk paint foam sprayer she bought for my son’s birthday.

A Sprayer. For paint. That foams. On your driveway.

That’s about as far from waxy crayons as you can get and still be in the same solar system.

Maybe I’m lionizing them and this is just good business (again, I’m not a business guy so I could be overly impressed by nothing). But it seems to be that this is a company that is thinking hard about their essential mission, and choosing not to be stopped by artificial boundaries with regard to “this is what we make”.

Someone once told me that Cisco bills itself (internally at least) as a software company. Not hardware, that’s just a means to an end, which is delivering the IOS (among other things) to customers. I have a few friends in Cisco now, and I’m not sure that’s really the case. But at the time it struck me as a novel way for them to look at themselves.

This realization has, in turn, made me think hard about what my mission is – in life, in business, in my usual work day. Do I really just fix computer problems? Is there (or could there be) something more noble to this, a higher purpose which would inform my choices?

I’m sure a lot of people may see this as a cynical exercise in re-branding – doing the same thing but calling it something different. But this has to be more than billing myself as “a sanitation engineer” instead of a garbage collector. This needs to be a change in focus and philosophy, or else it will be easily detected for what it is – a cheap marketing ploy.

So that’s it, my big idea for the week. I think I’m going to go crack open that package of glow-in-the-dark finger paints and see what kind of mess I can make.

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 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.

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.