The IT world is losing its soul.
Or at least its buried in a avalanche of files and folders.
The game just a few years ago was Paradigm-Shifting and World-Changing. But that was then. These days new IT solutions have all the pizzazz of my dad’s ’66 AMC Classic sedan. Apparently things are so mediocre that, when cool new ideas DO show up in the data center, they get a certain designed-by-committee look before the first update can even come out. The result. . .
Bland as a Suit From Sears.
Can anyone name anything that’s delivering what was promised?
The nadir of lost dreams is data…Irrational, unstructured, tiered or virtualized, we’re hoarding it like demented ants. Storing the junk we just can’t throw away is invading everyone’s job description. Vendors aren’t keeping pace, leaving us squeezing and parsing the bits until they’re packed together like teens at a Harry Potter book release. Desperate times.
Here’s my personal rogues gallery of recent disappointments:
Where’s the infinite bit-bucket? Sold as the soon-to-be home of all our stuff, to be replicated and available anytime & anywhere. Turns out the high cost (surprise!) of perpetually storing our photos and PDFs doesn’t make for a good business plan. Where’s the bandwidth? What with pasty guys in headphones and joysticks clogging the pipes with multi-player war games at all hours, we push hard to get the data through what narrow spaces are left.
We know there’s no rhyme or reason for tiers and backups of data that we “may” need. We even buy systems to explain why we have the stuff we have, when we don’t really know WHY we have it (SARBOX, to be blunt, sucks).
More drives mean more power needs (irrational data is not Green), which is why we have “power committees” to decide if we can plug in yet another NAS box. Even the big Internet players are so starved for juice to keep the drives spinning that they build data centers in Appalachia, just to be close to the belching power plants.
Shared File Formats
Does this bug anyone else? We were supposed to arrive at a file-sharing standard, but today there are dozens of file types are still bashing around the Ethernet like angry bees, and the file-endings are a spaghetti bowl of choices: .CSV, .TXT or .XML for data exchange; TIFF, JPG and creaky old BMP for posting or printing; .DOC, like comfort food, is ubiquitous but getting old – it’s time for DOCX. A flood of data and we still can’t just digest it, we have to chew first, converting, filtering and exporting back and forth until something gets corrupted and we’re back to the beginning.
Antivirus/Anti spam/anti-this/anti-that. Either they’re all defending our files from cyber evil, or (my opinion) the industry creates a hall of mirrors, where vendors and crooks are locked in mutual dependency.
We’re left paying protection money, adding firewalls on top of firewalls and spending zillions supporting fat-client installs to guard the integrity of that morass of data. Then, after all that effort, one valued employee clicks OK in an email link and it’s moot. The barbarians aren’t at the gate, suddenly they’re coming through un-patched Windows. And somehow we’re to blame for their behavior.
Yet we carry on fighting the digital Battle of the Bulge; while the pin heads back at HQ keep dreaming up ways to buy half-baked solutions.
As we’ve said for 40 years, if we can put a man on the moon, we should be able to [fill in the blank], that is to say, store the important stuff and toss the junk.
This isn’t new, this idea of integrity. I was there decades ago when a promise was made, and with focus and leadership it got done. Granted, it was on the moon, but even through the 60s with all the chaos and bad hair, a promise made was a promise delivered. No spin, no agenda, no ambiguity.
Today, whoever can execute and deliver on a promise to clean up our mess-o-data may not be in the headlines, but we’ll know they have the right stuff.
Liftoff of Apollo 11 (“Eagle”) From the Moon’s Surface, July 21, 1969
Avoid the derisive laughter!
Remove these 10 unsightly blemishes from your file and get back on the job!
No, I didn’t make all of them up. . . just ask the HR folks.
1. URL to your “Timesheets: Copy-and-Paste tips” blog
2. College Diploma from a .biz domain address
3. Current Certifications in any of these:
– Luggable Computers
– CB Radio
– Windows ME
Actually I have that last cert, but like a certain birthmark, not many people know about it
3. Karaoke awards (Vegas gigs not withstanding)
Spock started it all, ca ’68, but that’s no excuse. His song wasn’t as good as Data’s ODE TO SPOT, also a trend setter for impromtu performances of a geek nature.
5. Quotes from Jobs, Gates, or Ellison (unless it’s Harlan Ellison)
Which would be way cool
6. The words “Enron” “Madoff” or “PC jr.”
There are plenty of other great failures, not the fault of IT, but does that matter?
7. That firewall change you did during your (former) CIO’s conference call with Mumbai last year
Yes, this really was confessed during a job interview.
8. Former Webmaster of DotCom bubble corpses Yadayada, GovWorks, Flooz, or Peapod
And of course Pets-dot-com, birth of the billion dollar sock puppet
9. Job titles “Junior Interruptor” and “Non-resident Futurist“
I have no words for this nonsense
10. Salary requirements – before the 2008 crash
2007 seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?
I asked my college-age daughter Lindsay, to post her Father’s Day thoughts on having a dad who does IT. Here’s her response.
Greetings, blogosphere! Wow, this is great, you guys are really great. It’s so nice of you to come out and read this stuff. You’re beautiful.
I know you’re all here to check out my dad’s newest inspiring, intriguing, or simply witty commentary on the world of Information Technology. I understand he’s the star here, but guess what? It’s Father’s Day Weekend. As my father, I’d say he deserves a break. For better or worse, he’s left the task of entertaining you all to me, his eldest daughter, Lindsay. Nice to meet you.
My dad has quite a job on his hands. I’m not talking about the work he’s getting paid for; I’m talking about his role in our household as the go-to computer guru, our very own cyberspace superhero. Faster than a speeding modem! Able to conquer hours-long Google searches in a single click! And I don’t care what you say about Apple vs. Microsoft: whatever system you’ve got, no malware is safe under his bespectacled scrutiny!
I have been severely spoiled in this way; I have the knowledge and research skills of an entire IT department on the family phone plan. All my life, trouble-shooting consisted merely of calling my father over, and poof! Things work again. Now, I myself am fairly technologically illiterate. I don’t know UNIX from Linux. Still, I do know enough from watching my dad to understand what those my age who are “in the know” are capable of. In an age where hacking is a hobby my generation pursues when there’s nothing on TV, this information is key to my survival in the silicon jungle.
His love of all things analytical has rubbed off on me, too. Our shared adoration for the limitless possibilities of science fiction (I grew up on Star Trek shows – resistance was futile) has led to my own unhealthy obsessions with things like Mythbusters and Joss Wheddon’s Firefly series, not to mention a compulsion to keep Wikipedia open and ready on the screen at all times. Other genetic maladies include a severe lack of melanin and the itch to press “Ctrl+F” every time I’ve misplaced my car keys.
Stereotypes and generalities aside, having a tech-savvy dad has been a blessing. It’s not just having an efficient, dependable help desk on hand (which, let’s be honest, is a phenomenon defying all precedent). It is true intelligence. It’s having a father who understands a much bigger world than most even try to see, and isn’t afraid to explore and share it with the family he loves, who love him right back.
Hats off to you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.
And happy Father’s day to all the 24/7, in-demand tech guys who still find time to nurture a child.
It is remarkable how easily we…fall into a particular route and make a beaten track for ourselves. Thoreau, Walden Pond
People are like cats. I know dog is man’s best friend, but people (meaning me) aren’t like dogs, even though we like to think we are…all “jump right in”, eager to sniff whatever comes through the door, “bring it on”-ish. But we really don’t like surprises. Change jolts our senses.
Cat’s hate change. If you move the furniture they pee on it. They sleep in the same place every day, eat the same food, and repeatedly hack up hair balls on the nicest rug in the house. So how is that different than those of us (me) who get cranky every time the cable channels are rearranged? It’s our inner cat coming out. We love routine: Our hair is combed the same every day; we have a favorite chair at the table; Need a grande-skinny-double-shot-latte-extra-hot-no-whip every morning, timed so precisely at 7:25 AM that the barista already has it hovering at eye level when we stumble in the door.
This is proof that working contract jobs isn’t natural for humans. It goes against our highly evolved cat sense, which is the sense to sleep 17 hours, eat our kibble, and stare out the window all afternoon. And although that may be my career goal it doesn’t play well in the modern IT workplace. Today it’s all about mobility and movement, like Sniff and Scurry trying to find out who moved the cheese.
My latest gig is clearly designed to screw with my cat senses. There are several buildings, nicely arranged with similar layout inside. When the meeting in building A is over, it’s a quick hike to building H, which lets me stop in…building C, to pick up an afternoon version of a double-shot latte. But on my way, the morning coffee comes calling, usually about when I hit…building D, where I look for the water closet (euro-speak for toilet, which is French for bathroom, which is nicer than saying “john”, especially around my brother-in-law John).
But if I’m not in building D, then the john, which is on the left in almost every building, may instead be on the right for no apparent reason, which means I have to stop my routine long enough to inspect the sign for the picture of the guy with the pants, not the other guy in a dress. The dress is for females. I know this because I don’t have a dress on, I checked.
Sure it’s just a cryptic restroom sign, but the steady drip-drip-drip of little changes are what make IT work so unnatural. In fact, not only do we deal with constant change, we are harbingers of change. We continually to plan to disrupt and disorient the very people we are there to empower. At first we automate all that drudgery right out of user’s jobs so they can be “knowledge workers”. Then we “upgrade” (code for rearranging the icons, changing the menus and generally moving all the digital furniture). Fortunately users don’t react like cats to change, but metaphorically speaking, getting sprayed by user anger can leave a stain.
So even in the middle of this chaotic economy, where the old promise of job stability in return for loyalty seems as outdated as a down payment on a mortgage, we look for routine. Maybe that’s the reason for the proliferation of coffee and food chains. They offer the comfort food and drink that keeps our inner cat satisfied.
One thing is for sure. No matter where we go, people, like cats, want familiar things around them. Like men in pants.
One of the challenges of job hunting, maybe the hardest one, is to stay motivated. Not the motivation that comes from sales calls during dinner, which provides the motivation to flush the phone down the toilet. True motivation comes from something more personal. It’s the feeling we get from looking back at our accomplishments, including the ones we left off the resume on purpose, and our sometimes less-than-perfect coworkers.
Working in IT just a short time can create plenty to look back on. I remember a PowerPoint our small team put together for company executives in the late 90s. It began with a picture of a single computer, and had the caption: “In the beginning there was one computer.”
We were quite creative really.
My coworker Don contributed, since he was there from the early days. He had come up from the computer room, became a friend of the CIO and ended up running the storage group. He smoked constantly, was often awkward around others at work, and was only really happy during happy hour. People liked him though, because he was a good guy; someone who could stay up all night on a migration task, drag himself in before lunch and still be amiable, if a little bleary and smoke-stained.
After 20 years at the company, he lost his job. I lost track of him, in part because I don’t hang out with the regulars at the bar, but I also didn’t want to get involved in his problems. Even with his skills in IT work, and being a dedicated father, he was a wreck. Nothing ever seemed to be quite right in his life.
Quirky and difficult people are easy to find in IT, of course. Being antisocial is accepted in a place where the machinery gets treated better than the workers, so having no life outside the data center can be seen as a badge of honor. In that sense both of us fit in pretty easily, if you catch my drift.
Over the years though, in spite of our close working relationship, I kept Don at arm’s length. Looking back, I was the one being difficult, pretending that not hanging with the same crowd meant there was no connection between life at the office and our lives outside. But there is life outside, real life, and it can hit hard.
Don was in touch last month for the first time in years, having lost a recent job in December. He wanted me to be a reference, which I cautiously agreed to do. My management skills kicked in, and I wrote careful prose that was a model of professionalism. The recommendation was fairly non-committal and was less supportive than a friend would expect so I felt a bit awkward, but I hit send and returned to my own concerns. I was busy trying to build my own future after all, so I figured we would catch up some time more convenient for me.
Monday morning I got a two word email: “Sad news.” was all it said, with a link to a newspaper obituary.
The obituary was for Don.
There is a lesson here. In spite of all the disruptions through job loss, company failures and economic churn, we have control. We can choose to stay connected with those we were lucky enough to have worked with. If we lose the 401k, the benefits, the paycheck, there is still something left. The community we create on the job can only be lost if we allow it to slip away.
The lesson is that there is not Life, and Work. There is only Life.
- “Revenge is wicked, and unchristian and in every way unbecoming…(But it is powerful sweet, anyway)” Twain
All those recruiters, interviewers, HR personnel, team leads, managers, and evil receptionists we deal with in the job market are the ones standing between us and a regular paycheck. Let’s rate them!
If justice prevails in the world of the working stiff, then I’m looking for one of these in my inbox any day now:
We want to hear about your recent interview experience. Your feedback is valuable to us, as it will help us decide whether to continue talking to applicants, or simply post all future resumes on Twitter for us to Tweet.
Use the scale of One to Five, with “1” being the most degrading, and “5” being, well, Better:
Please Rate the comfort of the chairs in the conference room:
1) Stonehenge 3) Tire Swing 5) Aunt Bee’s lap
Please Rate the appeal of our workplace:
1) Bagdad 3) Scranton 5) Playboy Mansion
Please Rate our Job Website experience:
1) Spam 3) Blue Screen 5) Star Wars
Please Rate the sincerity of our employees:
1) Ryan Seacrest 3) Shoe Salesman 5) The IRS
Please describe your response to the interview in the following ways:
Expecting a follow up phone call ___Yes ___No ___I wasn’t born yesterday
Willing to work for bread and water ___Yes ___No ___Butter or Margarine?
Felt queasy on the drive home ___Yes ___No ___Bean Burrito not helpful
Please tell us about the interview process, sharing all your thoughts and feelings, and put it all in haiku form:
For thirty minutes
You held my life in your hand
While sipping coffee
Here’s a breakout idea. Stop meandering through the employment universe pinging off Monster and veering into random sites. Gather up loose ends, get a clean sheet of paper and Start a Project. I don’t mean the usual untamed IT monster spawning more and more projects like a Möbius strip. This one has a definite ending.
It ends when we get hired.
A friend recently loaned me one of those 3-ring binders (is there any less attractive package than a plastic and metal book?). But this is a great little guide for running your job search like a (well run) business project.
Unlike our real life, work is upgrade-hell, forcing us to manage time and resources with care because there’s always another coming over the horizon. It’s the never ending cycle of life in IT:
Years and years in upgrade hell,
Pushing the stone to the top of the hill
Where it rolls right back with the next service pack
To be pushed up the mountain again.
But outside of work it seems less than human to manage our lives like projects. It’s more normal to react with emotions of fear, anger, or frustration when we hit roadblocks and delays looking for work. But that is not how we get important projects done, is it? We learn to swallow our stress, and manage not just tasks, but personal feelings. We succeed best when we remove emotions – let the facts stand on their own.
(Then maybe enjoy a nice adult beverage…” There’s no crying in the data center “ )
But things are different for us at home. Unemployed and looking at job listings, I mostly get anxious, excited, irritated or sad. I feel bruised and unhappy from all the rejections in my inbox, making decisions based on being happier instead of what works.
Enter the “Managing Your Job Search” manual: A simple project planning tool that removes the emotion and follows a logical progression, returning at least some control by following the classic “phased” project method, namely:
- Define a SCOPE,
- Then use that to create a PLAN,
- Begin EXECUTING that plan,
- REVIEW progress and adjust accordingly,
- and CLOSE the process when it’s over.
Apologies to PMI fans reading this…
1. Scope is not mouthwash. Define a vision by gazing into the future, and detailing what you want to create. And not just what the ultimate goal is, but also what it isn’t. I don’t, for example, plan to be a barista, thus not looking to improve macchiato-making skills.
2. That frames a Plan. Perhaps it starts with a list of sites and locations best for posting resumes, or how often to follow up on pending applications and what people or groups might help out. Write those down and budda-bing, we have a strategic plan.
3. Now it’s time for action. For me, Execution was first sending my carefully minted resume off to employers,. It improved through several drafts, although there were some (slight) lingering discrepancies. One HR manager laughed out loud, but I don’t want to talk about it…
4. Review is my word for rehearse. Get help with that “elevator speech” by doing it out loud for someone. Trust me, you’ll want to after stumbling through an interview or two.
Oh, and here’s a hot tip – insist that one of those clingy recruiters spend 30 minutes posing as an interviewer with you (thanks for that Dannie), either on the phone or in person. If they won’t, are they earning their commission?
5. Finally, you land the big one, and it’s time to Close the project. Gather up the detritus of a hard job search, the files, the inbox, the not-so-much Facebook friends. Sounds odd to still prolong the agony keeping all that when the job is done…unless…
- What about that friend or former coworker who’s struggling to find work? Wouldn’t this be useful to them?
- If someone helped out in a meaningful way, pass it on by handing over all those precious contacts to another job seeker.
- Begin to build on the community that grew up around you when you were “out there” looking yourself.
But mostly, get to know the new person you've grown to be through all the changes.
In my case, just having that structure gives me a sense of power over my life. Maybe the future isn’t completely out of control, and I don’t have to face this thing blindly.
It’s a unique gift we humans have, to see into the future and then try to create something new for ourselves. We try to see, if unclearly, what lies ahead because we must. Whether it’s a finely honed genetic trait – or a blessing from above – we prove again and again we have the skills to guide our destiny. For some, this might just be our finest hour.
I’m doing some contract work now – no more hanging out with the dog and the TV remote. Nice to be on the job, but working with this crew feels a little like signing on to a whaling ship. We’re all thrown together from the four corners of the globe for a few months; then we disband and look for the next Captain Ahab.
Call me Ishmael, I guess, the wandering neophyte who stepped aboard like a simple country lad, softened by life in a pastoral corporate IT, and hit the deck with this crew of landlubbers and scurvy dogs.
Arrrgh. Avast with the personal emails you sorry sons a’ pirates, get yur lazy bones to the meetin’.
Our crew does its best to support one another, comparing our yeomen’s wages and slim benefits while leaving unsaid how lucky we feel that we are among the few, the chosen, the re-employed. Cautious hope is mixed with an edgy wolf pack mentality, kept under a thin veneer of polite professionalism. We all know what’s at stake.
Don’t ye be caught a-textin’ while the master gives tha’ orders, neither, or you’ll be eatin’ dust balls off the data center floor, laddie.
Job security is out the window, it’s now about performing our duties well enough to keep the ship afloat. This sense of living on the knife edge of success or failure, served up by forces beyond our control…it must be similar to life below decks on every 19th century voyage. True, we aren’t risking body and limb, but still…we no longer control much beyond today’s assigned tasks.
Look sharp, it’s the Cap’n fur sure a’comin’ on the conference call so turn off those cursed ring tones!
The shipmate from the Far East is on board too, although without the exotic facial tattoos. Aggressive and skilled, brought here from overseas to serve the skipper for a few years with a contract and an H1B visa, the focus is on hard work and success. Although I sometimes wonder if, like Queequeg, there disenchantment with how the Darwinian struggle here in the West is the same as back home. But no one complains.
As if to carry the allegory along, Starbucks, named for Ahab’s first mate, is strategically placed right inside the lobby. No reason to jump ship! It works too, In place of a daily ration of grog, we grab our mugs and form up for a latte at 2 o’clock in the afternoon (4 bells aboard ship), with just enough stimulants to keep us working till nightfall. Only 3 shillings and no tips allowed.
Meanwhile Ahab, talking like a bipolar Mennonite (“With my last breath I spit at thee”), keeps a baleful eye on us as he carefully tracks our tasks by the hour. Not complaining of course. It’s kind of refreshing, how simple life is when survival’s at stake. We drop all pretense that a job is truly secure, or that we are entitled to have an income.
Maybe a new kind of pioneering spirit is kicking in, a sense of optimism and hope where none should be. Could it be that I am finding a small degree of the grit and determination my ancestors had that got me here? To survive they had to keep changing and adapting, growing and expanding, doing the hard labor.
Now I guess it’s my turn.
Weird really, how I see the same pattern in my job search. A company posts an open position through their own system or online, and within minutes I start getting emails and calls from recruiters.
Well, not really recruiters more like contractors, or those guys who used to troll through the breadlines looking for cheap day labor. They all apparently come to work and open lots of little windows on their desktop to Monster, Snag-a-Job, and wherever they can mine prospects and then scramble to be the first in, like jobs are a lottery and you just need to hit the right combination to win big.
Based on their behavior, I doubt that most of the recruiters have ever been hiring managers. They all circle around the online job sites or lay in wait for an unsuspecting employer to post, then they hit hard.
I haven’t had one call back from an employer going through recruiters or contractors. The whole process seems to hide a very simple but profound fact deeply buried.
As if there was a single database down in a mineshaft, maybe next to that crate with the Ark of the Covenant at the end of the first (and best) Raiders movie. Inside the black box is an ancient tape drive, winding slowly day by day, storing what has been distilled from all the internet job sites, recruiter listings, company HR portals, government web services and white boards used by VPs. It’s an old tape drive with limited capacity, because there really are only three jobs open anywhere in America.
That’s the real job market, hidden, exclusive, dark.
Meanwhile the rest of us are shooshing around the web, burning up cell minutes and creating sub-folders to organize all the versions of our resumes. The churn at the surface of the economy becomes our reality, while deep below at the edge of sunlight and night a quiet stillness greets the one or two authentic jobs that settle toward the bottom, waiting for the right crustacean to happen on them and gobble them up, beginning the circle of life we call unemployment.
Oh, sorry, that’s not the tone I meant to convey. Of course there aren’t secret government black boxes holding jobs. I’ve been on the US Government job sites, I know there are hundreds or thousands of openings, each carefully described, catalogued, rated, defined, classified and wrapped in all the legalities that encrust public service positions.
Unlike the private sector, these jobs might be filled, although that process is somehow even more mysterious even in its transparency. I can see them, they appear real. So can someone say they’ve actually interviewed for one?
The truth is out there!
Bargaining: To paraphrase some important Frenchman, “If you are 20 and don’t believe you can change the world, you have no heart”. Starting out in the job market, the future was mine, the world my oyster. But truthfully, in interviews I was learning more about myself than the employer, as I tried to looking him in the eye.
Now that I’ve had a few decades to marinate in company culture, the experience takes on a whole new feel. Being the applicant is an out-of-body experience where I am on both sides of the table. I seem to be asking the questions then answering them. Having interviewed dozens of people, I tend to anticipate the flow of discussion and start answering questions on the page two instead of staying on page one and stepping through them properly.
It’s a real effort to “explain how I see myself in this job” when I know in a few minutes I will have to “describe how to handle problems at work”. The two start to blend together into a long unbroken monologue in my head. I have to sip ice water to stay on task.
After being laid off, I mulled over my sorry interview skills and found my thoughts becoming a dialogue, bargaining with an unseen antagonist (silently of course). The voices in my head argued with each other like those little angels on a character’s shoulders in the movies:
“If I can just get another job fast, maybe no one will notice I got laid off”
“If you’d looked around and faced reality you wouldn’t be in this mess”
“But get me a job and I promise I’ll work hard on certifications and be more socially adept, and walk the dog daily, and eat right and exercise”
“You’ll be a slug in two months…please, just try to limit refrigerator visits to once an hour”
“No, really, if there’s any way I can get back to work in a day or two, the world will see a new me, a better man, a phoenix rising”
This is a natural step in dealing with the loss of esteem and the sad truth that I have to empty the dishwasher because I’m home after everyone else leaves for the day. Instead of trying to talk my way out of feeling abandoned, the rational response would be to just face facts and realize that my self-worth isn’t decided by what I do for a living.
In western society we always ask “what do you do” rather than “who are you”. For thousands of years humanity survived in tribes and families. Now our tribes are the workplace, our families the few transient members of our department. Losing them triggers those strong feelings of separation anxiety that made me such a basket case as a kid. This can’t go on; I’ll have to open up more to my family and stop talking to those little people on my shoulders. I am not a slug.