August 30, 2011 12:05 AM
Posted by: Matt Heusser
I’ve been writing about trends in IT Staff — how the traditional role of the full-time staff is giving way to staff augmentation and services outsourcing, and how the more tech savvy crowd is supporting themselves.
Meanwhile, economic trends aren’t in our favor.
Yes, most developed nations are struggling with low employment numbers, but it’s the why of those numbers that is most ominous. Many large organizations have been choosing to grow through mergers and acquisitions for years.
Why is that so ominous?
Yes, some companies try to merge in order to gain customer lists and cross-sell, or to enter to new markets. However, in many, if not most cases, one of the compelling factors is cost savings.
If the two companies merge, they will suddenly have redundant HR departments, redundant Purchasing departments, redundant finance departments, marketing departments … and IT departments.
Hence the term “made redundant”.
On the one hand we have business forces squeezing out the IT department, and on the other, well … business forces squeezing out the IT department.
Eight years ago, I wrote a little article called “After the Coming Bust” for a website called, ironically enough, AngryCoder.com.
As the saying goes: Friend, the party is over. The long run is here: It’s time to get sober.
It’s time to talk about you.
* Get really close to your customer. If you work at a large business, you probably service end customer — people who want the printers, and the email, and the Sharepoint server to just work. The IT literature in the 1980′s and 1990′s was all about insulating the department from those pesky people; by having a helpdesk that took the calls and routing them. By separating ourselves from the customer, we became a ‘service’, the kind of thing one pays for … and switches when things aren’t going well. If you want to keep your job, don’t abstract yourself from the end customer – connect with the end customer. Be “Bob, the guy who solves my problem.”
* Work for the outsourcer. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. ISPs, Hosting Providers, and Domain Registrars need people too. HP, IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, Yahoo, and other top-flight companies all have data centers, and data centers need IT staff. Or work for a smaller, local company offering IT services to comparable-sized companies. Once you figure out how it’s done you can …
* Provide your own managed services. Three of the people in my small circle provide independent IT services. Instead of working as part of one company, they have three to thirty clients, all of whom only really need part-time IT Services. One good place to look is startup companies that don’t develop software, just coming off an incubator or just becoming big enough that they need formal help. Between setting up the website, managing the social media, connecting gmail and google docs to domain they’ve purchased, and supporting any devices that get flaky, you might just find a niche. (And yes, you can fill in end-user support too.)
* Chase the niche. It may sounds as if IT jobs are “going away”, and some are, but the reality is much more complex than that. Large organizations, like banks, insurance companies, and government and military organizations have inertia. Even if some new online, cheap Software-As-A-Service alternative for payroll magically appears, the State of California would need to extract it’s payroll data in order to convert, and it would be cheap (at least this year) to keep the DBAs, sysadmins, developers, and testers in place on the existing system than to covert — at least this year. Those same forces will be around next year too.
* Do Project Work. The economy may be ‘hollowing out‘, and companies may be outsourcing and cutting staff. But have you noticed that there is still work to be done? Somebody has to keep WebSphere running, and somebody needs to figure out the disaster recovery plan, and somebody has to figure out the backup plan for sharepoint, and routinely apply security patches to the web server. Some of these things can be defined and done part time; others will be project work. Companies will continue to need this work done, and smart companies may develop a network for freelancers they turn to in order to get these goals accomplished.
In the end, all of these approaches have one thing in common: In the next ten years, we in the IT field have got to get closer to our customers, or else we risk becoming irrelevant.
I’m putting my money where my pen is: Four months ago, I went independent, and now I contract directly with companies to solve their problems, not to respond to tickets from a queue.
What about you?
August 3, 2011 9:25 PM
Posted by: Matt Heusser
We’ve been dancing around the idea IT staffing, discussing both augmenting with contractors when demand gets high, as well as outsourcing with a model like IS Lite.
Let’s talk a bit more about IS Lite.
Yes, last time I criticized the idea as it was typically practiced. That’s not a criticism of the idea; it’s one of implementation.
The idea with IS Lite isn’t to shift to managing a bunch of contractors for IT services. It’s to identify the services that can be provided by the free market, and find partners to provide those services.
With IT Lite, you don’t pay a contractor and a license for MS Exchange; you find a company willing to service and support email. And internet. And your login service. And your print service. Helpdesk. And Hardware.
No, again, don’t look at me like that. I’m not saying the company should sign some huge outsourcing agreement with a big vendor, layoff the IT staff, then have the vendor hire the same people back at half the pay — though that has been done before.
No, I’m talking about real services that can actually be outsourced.
That means the services will either need to be very horizontal (“the internet”, “website hosting” and “basic IT support” come to mind), your business better be very simple technologically speaking, or the partner is going to have to get to know you very well. That might be good for the vendor, but to the hiring company, that might end up looking a whole lot like “vendor lock-in”, which is a fancy way to say that the sourcing partner can hold your company hostage.
This is not kids stuff. It’s easy to get wrong, hard to get right, and very well might have a direct impact on your career in lots of ways.
But before I take a look at your career, let’s digress.
Personal IT Verses Corporate IT
Consider, for a moment, just how wildly different personal IT is from corporate IT.
In the personal world, if you want an app, if it’s email or a spreadsheet, word processor, invoicing application, billing application, bookeeping or blogging, you can probably go get a free application right now. At least, it’ll be free for thirty days or so. Then, bam, you’ve got the software, delivered as a service.
If you don’t like facebook, you can go try GooglePlus. If you don’t like GooglePlus, switch to twitter, or flikr, or whatever.
I work with one team that did just that. The company had a standard for project management online – It came from Microsoft and it’s title was SomethingPoint. The team decided to sign up for PivotalTracker, which is free for the first sixty days, try it for a month, then ask for the four dollars per person-month to use the application.
Now imagine you have to work in “IT” in such an organization, or maybe one where the CEO brings in his shiny new iPad, and if IT won’t support, IT is the one with a problem.
Fight this, and you become irrelevant amazingly quickly.
In fact, some of the Software As A Service vendors have given up on selling to corporate IT entirely, selling directly to the end customer with budget.
Lines like “face it, corporate IT is dead” may be a bit dramatic, but think of it another way: The SAAS vendors are selling services, in the same vein as IT Lite.
Let’s go beyond pivotal tracker. Think about the Gen-Y journalist brining in his own iPad to work, who uses his own blogging service, google for email and google docs or Socialtext for collaboration, with basecamp for project management. How can IT serve that kid?
We’d better find some way to do it. Because there will be more of him.
To survive, we folks who consider ourselves corporate IT need to either provide some different services, or go work for services companies, or find ways to stich together existing services and sell convenience, or else, perhaps, re-invent our role in some other way.
More to come.
July 25, 2011 11:25 PM
Posted by: Matt Heusser
Last time we looked at trends in staffing, and found that they fluctuate. This causes a problem with hiring, because, well, it takes time to ramp people up, and laying them off is expensive. As a result, companies that rely on IT with only full-time employees tend to find themselves occasionally understaffed, occasionally overstaffed, or some of both.
One classic answer to this is to use contractors and other temporary help.
No, don’t look at me like that.
Consider Shotz, the Milwaukee Brewery where Laverne and Shirley worked in 1973. At Shotz, the work itself was broken down into repeatable jobs you can learn in an hour. If the pace of orders picked up, the company might hire more employees … but if the pace of orders was cyclical, the hire/layoff cycle would become very expensive, in terms of unemployment insurance, severance packages, and damaged relations between the employees, management, and the community.
No, better to hire some temps. After all, temporary workers can take two-thirds the pay of full-time employees, cost no benefits, no vacation time, and can be let go at will, without any stigma or implied social contract.
Of course, it’s all tradeoffs — you might argue that such a model is bad for society. But it doesn’t have to be. Shotz might try hard to find a temporary workforce that is perfectly amenable to this; say, for example, new high school graduates trying to decide if college is right for them, mothers who are considering returning to work, but just a little bit on the fence, starving artists and musicians who are trying to decide who they want to be when they grow up. Some of these folks might decide to leave the work force in three months; I expect all of them would be grateful for the opportunity to try and decide later, without stigma either way.
I hope you might agree, for a certain type of job of Shlotz, this kind of hiring practice could be done in a way to benefit the workers and the company. (With low unemployment, it could also be a manipulative scare tactic. I’m not talking about that.)
The question is: Does it work for IT?
Whether it works or not, people have been willing to try; perhaps the best example of this is a strategy developed by Gartner known as IS Lite, or sometimes IT Lite.
IS Lite: What is it?
The basic idea of “IS Lite” was that IS performed three essential functions:
* Driving Innovation
* Delivering Solutions
* Managing Services and Sourcing Relations
In the future, IT would perform only the ‘middlin’ bits of the functions, as some functions would be absorbed by outsourcers, and some by the business units. This idea was ‘captured’ by a drawing something like this:
That said, my experience with IS Lite has been less than stellar.
The right side of the equation, I can understand. Once you have IT set the technology policies, you need content for your websites, product descriptions, graphic designs … the kind of thing done by marketing, sales, and other things traditionally considered “the business.”
Having IT provide the utility, the “Grid”, that independent business units can tap in to — like I said, I get it.
But then you have the left hand side of the equation, and we are back to Laverne and Shirley.
The classic model to do outsourcing, the one we discussed in Part I, is a bit of a staff augmentation model. When your company has needs, you hire temporary workers, which you take away again when the needs go away.
The problem is, predicting those needs is hard to do. Once you can predict the needs, you’ll have to hire staff — and unlike the factory worker in the brewhouse, the job can’t be learned in an hour. So you have to interview.
And interview, and interview. Because, sadly, the folks who are most available, who most desperately want a job, that are willing to take temporary wages … those folks generally don’t have the kind of high-end skills you need to get new projects rolling.
‘Quick’ staff augmentation might work to deal with increased demand on a helpdesk, but for a linux server farm? Forgetaboutit. Your worker is going to need to know plans, policies, procedures, passwords, and, likely, a host of custom systems and commands. (One company I worked with did the math, and came to the conclusion that, once you count search, interview, and training time, anything less than a twelve week contract simply wasn’t worth pursuing.)
The companies I know that have pursued something like a staff-aug IT like generally end up with a professional staff of liason-people — the “systems analysts” who exist to create clear, unambiguous requirements for the outsourced help, and to manage the project. In my experience, the ratio of systems analyst is often as high as one-to-one — that is, you could simply staff the project will full-time employees actually doing the work. And it gets worse.
In these kinds of organizations, when someone is retained in such a staff augmentation role, the relationship isn’t so much temp as it is contractor. In theory, contractors are paid more than employees — one bonus for not getting vacation or time off, another for not getting insurance, and a third bonus for, well, being disposable. That’s all well and good — the problem comes when the company extends the contract for years, then pays a small army of liaison people that wouldn’t need to exist if the contractor were just an employee.
The good news is, this isn’t the only way to do outsourcing — and it certainly isn’t the only way to deal with the problem of fluctuating needs for staff.
More to come.
July 19, 2011 10:40 PM
Posted by: Matt Heusser
I’d like to start a new, short series on IT staffing, looking at the issues from a slightly different angle.
We’ll start with the typical IT shop. It may be the kind that Nicholas Carr suggested will go away, but right now, it’s likely the most familiar to you and me.
Let’s look at the staffing needs of that IT shop over time. If it’s a healthy organization, the staffing needs look something like this:
Yes, I know, it looks all over the map, but that’s okay. The up-and-down motion you see above corresponds to a natural cycle of projects — starting off with a few key people making planning, then leading to a ramp-up in staff to do the work. As the go-live approaches, the technical staff begin to slowly trail off, until, eventually, we only have a few people left to keep the lights on. Then some executive gets a new idea, and the cycle begins anew.
To simplify just a bit, if we try to fit the curve to a line, we find something like this:
Of course, this assumes one project at a time. Most larger organizations have multiple projects, dozens of projects, hundreds of projects at a time, each with an ebb and flow. The company may have a portfolio management organization, or PMO, who’s only job is to keep straight the staffing and skills needs, and try to keep the company running at 100% capacity.
That said, no matter how hard they try, I find organizations have this kind of natural ebb and flow.
Until they understand the flow, in my experience, companies tend to think about hiring in one of two ways. They can either peg hiring to the minimal needs, or to the maximal needs.
Hiring to the minimum
Hiring to the min, or ‘below the line’, means drawing a line at the bottom of the demand curve. This guarantees you’ll never have excess capacity. It’s also cheap — at least, cheap in the short run. Companies that hire this way simply can not accomplish the goals they set, thus the products are late and buggy, the customers unhappy, the sales goals unmet … so next year, there won’t be money for additional staff.
We can all guess how this turns out.
The obvious alternative to hiring below the line is to hire above it. Believe it or not, some companies actually do this.
Hiring to maximum demand
The blue in the picture above is waste — or at least, undirected team capacity. While some companies like Google embrace ideas like 20% time, the fact is that much blue will make many a CEO wince.
There are some rare companies at a place in the growth cycle where they are constrained by people, but by money; where the company can throw a hundred thousand dollars at people and get two hundred thousand back from the marketplace. So this strategy might just work for Google in 2008, Groupon in 2009, or AirBnB in 2010.
For the rest of us, though, it seems unlikely.
The Third Way
The “classic” HR solution to this problem is staff permanent employees to the bottom line, but fill in the red with contractors, temps, staffing agencies, and ‘partner’ organizations. Now we could talk about the true cost of ramp-up for contractors, but, for now, let’s assume that strategy works.
Do you want to be a red person or a blue person?
It may sound like a silly question, but there’s a method here.
Think on it: The blue people (for lack of a better term), are the people above the sliced line. They will be creating new systems, setting up servers, creating policies, adding new capacity, teaching to fish. These people are, to borrow a phrase, the pioneers.
To blue people, projects are “new every morning”, and, to be clear, risk and change are just a part of life.
The red people — the ones below the minimal staffing line — are operational people. They come in, know what they have to do, do it well, and expect a paycheck and some permanence. The red people are farmers, creating accounts, resetting up passwords, troubleshooting, doing predictable, well-defined work.
Note that I’m not talking about personal politics, or the details of your organization. Yes, it is possible that your boss likes you because you are willing to dive into new technologies, and that gives you job security.
Instead, I’m talking about the personality types that will tend to fit into different roles if companies take this approach.
And mind you, they are taking this approach.
If you know which type you’d rather been, you can steer your career in that direction.
If you don’t steer, you’ll likely end up wherever someone else, some levels of the chain above, decides you ought to be.
As Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Take the wheel.
More to come.
July 13, 2011 10:48 PM
Posted by: Matt Heusser
, cloud adoption
, Enterprise Cloud Adoption
Note: This is an interlude. I want to talk more about the future of the IT profession, but I just checked my account summary from Amazon.com, and I feel sort of like Adam Savage from Mythbusters, when he accidentally carried some razor blades on a plane and no one noticed.
You see, I thought I was on a new tier, called the Free Usage Tier, that gets you 750 hours of CPU time a month along with 30 GB of data transfer per month, all for the first year. My back-of-the-envelope math says there are 24*31, or, at most, 744 hours in a month. In other words, unless you have the demand to spool up multiple machines, there is really no possible way to get dinged. So, while they want your credit card, there really is no financial risk.
But, like I said … then I got the bill.
I mean, yes, my editor told me that he done his own exploration, and forgot to turn something off, and got a small ding on his credit card, but that just a good warning for me. I would be extra careful to turn everything off, and warned everyone else to do the same.
And I was.
I ended up taking a small hit anyway, $8.41 for the month of June. It seemed odd, but that’s no big deal. I went back in, turned off an inactive server that I could have sworn I killed off in the past, and let Amazon have a couple of discount combo meals, on me.
Just to be sure, I checked again today. Guess what?
Another $1.82 of charges so far for the month of July. $1.81 is labelled “Electric Compute Cloud”, and one cent is for bandwidth. What’s that about?
Taking a closer look, I see two things:
(A) It’s 61 hours of fees on a WINDOWS machine — capital W Windows.
(B) The one penny is a ‘regional data fee.’
The windows machine fee I can sort of understand; it turns out the personal AWS license only covers Linux Machines. This makes sense to me, as Microsoft likely back-bills Amazon for the operating system, whereas Linux is free like water.
Also notice the sixty-one hours of charges.
After I got the previous bill, I immediately turned off my single EC2 instance … but that immediately was some time after I got the email, which, likely, was some time after the time cutoff for the fee. If that total was around two and a half days, well, that’s sixty-one hours.
I have no idea what the one cent is for. I have no visibility into it; I can’t explain it, don’t know how I could have predicted it. More than that, I can’t even talk to a human and ask — at least not without upgrading to a premium plan. For now, I paid the penny, sent a cancellation notice, and intend to check vigorously and often for new charges!
Now imagine that the bill is not for a proof-of-concept demonstration of the cloud, but instead an actual enterprise service.
How do you know how much it will cost? How do you budget? How you do you prevent hidden fees?
Suddenly the pain point of heavy load has shifted.
In the old days
We had a different risk. The classic example of the old days was the IBM commercial, a team launches a website with Champagne and Caviar. The team howls with glee as the ticker shows more hits — and keeps howling as the ticker goes crazy. Slowly, eventually, the howls die off as the team realizes the site is too popular; it will quickly become overloaded and crash.
With tools like EC2, the crash won’t come to your site.
Instead, it will be to your checkbook.
Yes, there are tools that are coming to address this, even services like the one discussed on this Amazon EC2 Forum post.
But doesn’t it seem strange to have to set up your own scripts to monitor momentary charges, and warn on the event of a spike, or to have to pay yet another party to monitor cloud usage? I mean, if your utility bills suddenly spike, they should call you, right?
The cloud is young. We’ve got new risks, and plenty of work to do.
Speaking of work to do …
Next time: More on the future of the IT profession, and how we can thrive.
July 7, 2011 12:42 AM
Posted by: Matt Heusser
In May of 2003, then the editor-at-large for the Harvard Business Review, published an important paper in the Harvard Business review titled IT Doesn’t Matter.
Notice I said important — the paper is all of even pages long, so it won’t take too long to read, and it costs of of six dollars and fifty cents to download as a PDF from Amazon.com for a digital download. The Amazon PDF also includes seventeen pages of commentary.
If you haven’t read it, go buy it and read it now. If you have heard of it but haven’t read it, go buy it now.
I’m serious. It’s all of six bucks. I can wait.
… time passes …
The basic premise of Carr’s article was that IT services were turning into commodities; that it would be harder and harder to wrangle competitive advantage by throwing money at technology. In fact, if you follow Carr’s logic, it might even make sense to find the work that can be done the same by anyone, and outsource that work to a strategic partner who could work for many customers and offer economies of scale. (That’s fancy talk for “cheap ‘cuz he has a lot of customers.”)
I dare say I’m a little more familiar with this than most folks, because when I was finishing up my master’s program at good ol’ Grand Valley State University, our advisor decide to make that very article the theme of capstone for our entire cohort. In other words, about fifteen of us, group in twos and threes, all had to write papers to respond to Carr’s article.
Some folks chose to write about technologies they believed could still offer advantage — there was a paper on six sigma, one on Enterprise Application Integration, and one on Mobile IT that I could actually find, mostly because the name “Mobile IT Matters” is a play on words.
Then there was our paper, “The Outsourcing Equation.” (That one you can download free.)
In our paper, we took the opposite position to many people in our class; that in some cases, IT is not a strategic asset and should be outsourced. Our paper provided a value chain, from simple repeatable work (basic IT helpdesk) to moderately complex work like systems maintenance, to high-value work like developing the software your company will sell directly.
We argued to outsource what you can, but keep the functions that give you competitive advantage. Then our paper provided advice on how to figure out where to draw the line.
Back to Nicholas Carr.
His article was important, but I must say, it didn’t drive much change. Or, at least, the change wasn’t super-visible. People grumbled and disagreed, but the article came out in May of 2003, and we were just starting to pick up the economic cycle. Yes, outsourcing was picking up, but every practical conversation I had about outsourcing was driven by promised or expected savings in cost, usually by a difference in the hourly cost of labor.
The big thing I noticed, at the time, was that even if you could outsource some things, you’d still need a datacenter, still need air conditioning and cables, boxes and power. On this, Carr’s electrical analogy falls down; there was no grid.
Thing again … maybe he was just early.
Consider the typical small IT shop, for a decent-sized manufacturing company today. Sure, they need a website, but they probably rent one from GoDaddy. They might need accounting software, but Intuit offers quickbooks for what, twenty-five bucks a month?
No server, no license, no data center, just buy a cable modem and pay-per-month.
They need project management software, and there’s BaseCamp. Want to stich together an e-commerce site? There’s Amazon and PayPal, or E-bay, or … take your pick.
Suddenly, eight years later, you can stitch together a bunch of services. Oh, you might have to manage a dozen logins at a time and have problems when people are hired or quit, but they are surmountable problems.
Software As A Service can step in to provide the power grid for IT.
At the same time, there are those millennials. Those kids are tech savvy. They’ll go ahead and sign up forthe freemium version for the product, get it working, then ask for budget thirty days later.
So you’ve got the services to work remotely, and the employees with the tech skills to set things up without IT.
What’s the poor IT manager to do?
More to come.
July 1, 2011 3:19 PM
Posted by: Matt Heusser
Last time I introduced Andy Lester and his book Land The Tech Job You Love. Today we return to ask about the specifics of the book; what Andy recommends to job seekers, and where can go to learn more about it.
Matt: Tell me about the book; how is it structured?
Andy: It’s in two halves: Finding the job and then applying and interviewing.
The first half is about the part of the process that’s entirely about you, that you do by yourself. The second is the parts where you are actually interviewing with the company.
I made a point of splitting the chapter on resumes into two chapters. The first discusses the words that you’re going to put on your resume, and the second talks about presentation and format. One of the things that I’ve seen from years of reading Slashdot and Reddit is that people think primarily about formatting on the resume, and pay very little attention to what they’re actually saying. I hope to help people get past that.
I’m also emphatic that you don’t have a resume, just one resume you send out for every job. You have a base resume that you then modify for every job for which you apply. No two jobs should get the same resume, because no two companies and positions are the same. For one company, you may want to emphasize your database skills, and for another, your educational background is the most interesting. Yes, it takes time to tailor every resume you send out, but hey, you want the job or not? Besides, if you don’t have a job, what else can you be doing that’s more important than everything you can to get a job?
Matt: How do you find the company you’d like to work for? It sounds like you are not suggesting the “numbers game” resume approach …
Andy: There aren’t 200 jobs out there that will make you happy, so why are you sending out 200 resumes?
Instead of going scattershot looking for any position possible, start looking for the types of companies that you’d like to work for, or doing the kind of work you’d want to be doing as well. Talk to whoever you can. Ask for pointers on what kinds of companies might be a good fit. For instance, if I was looking for a job, I might drop you an email saying “Hey, Matt, you know I’m big into automated testing like you are. Can you point me at any companies that are strong in that area, or could use help getting ramped up with testing?” Note that I’m not asking for a job, but just help along the way. When the requests you make of your contacts are small and non-imposing, it’s much easier to ask for help.
Matt: You mentioned the second half was about interview tips. I expect that all of our readers know to show up ten minutes early, to get a good nights sleep, and to dress a level higher than the job would generally require. Could you share a few tips that have a bit more, well … depth?
Andy: Actually, you might be surprised by how many people don’t know those interview tips. I”m finding more and more that the people raised on the Internet have apparently never picked up a book on job hunting of any kind. I often tell job hunters who are completely new to the job hunt to go to their local public library and start there. You’ll find dozens of books that will have a solid overview of the process.
My #1 tip for interviews is to have stories to tell. The interviewer is going to be asking about your skills, and a story is the best way to do it. Don’t just say “Yes, I know Oracle’s PL/SQL” when you can say “I’ve been using PL/SQL for three years, and I had to implement a Foo system in it, and convert a Frobnitz application from Postgresql to PL/SQL.”
The first answer says “yes”, the second answer says “Yes, and here are details to support it.”
The #2 tip is to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. What is it that she wants to know about you? What problems does she have to solve? The hiring manager wants to hire you. She wants you to be the ideal candidate, so she can hire you and then get back to the rest of her day-to-day job. She is on your side. What you have to do is tell her the things she wants to know so it’s a slam-dunk decision.
Matt: Let’s say someone is living in a medium-sized area, and there are tech jobs, but he lacks some specific buzzwords and doesn’t want to move. How can a person in that situation land a great job? Do you have any advice?
Andy: If they’re buzzwords that he wants to learn, then start by learning them. Spend an hour less a night watching TV, and read a book on the topic, and create a homemade project that uses that technology.
Want to learn Ruby? Or a new variant of SQL? Or HTML5? The technical knowledge is out there, and you can spent the time to learn it. You’ll just have to do it on your own.
Matt: I can see that working for open-source tools (I just did a tutorial post on how to get started with EC2), but can that work for large, expensive databases, or, say, administering MS Exchange? For that matter, have you seen a lot of people have genuine success with that approach?
Andy: A fantastic solution, if you can find it, is to join an open source project focused on the object of your learning. There’s a huge difference between putting on your resume that you’re teaching yourself Ruby, and that you’ve been contributing to the RubyWhatever project.
As you point out, this isn’t always possible. An alternative might be to take a class at your local community college that is at least in the same general area as the topic. You could also find a user group, say, the Des Moines Exchange Admin User Group, and attend meetings. Mailing lists are fantastic for this, too. Just join a mailing list and read the archives and learn from the problems and experiences of others. It’s not as good a learning experience as having your own Exchange server to play with, but it’s far better than nothing.
Matt: thank you for you time today Andy; where can our readers go for more?
Andy: You’re very welcome, Matt. If your readers want more, they can visit my blog about jobs and programming at petdance.com. I’m glad to answer questions from readers when possible, too.
June 27, 2011 3:19 PM
Posted by: Matt Heusser
It’s a tough world out there. Unemployment runs at 9%, but if you count the under-employed, part-time, or those out of work more than two years, the percentage could be twice that.
Then you have employers, a fickle lot, that like to require a very specific skill set, down to the level of sifting out people who have experience administering the wrong point-release of specific operating systems.
Then along comes Andy Lester, author of “Land The Tech Job You Love.”
Let’s be frank: The first part, “land the tech job” is hard enough, and here Andy comes promising the second.
I thought it was time to talk to the gentleman, man-to-man. (Plus I’d let you watch, because I’m that kind of guy.)
More seriously, Andy wrote a book about developing habits to get, and keep, a job suited to your skills and temperament — and offered to talk to us about it.
In Part I of this interview, we’ll talk about the experiences and motivations that Andy drew on to write the book.
Matt: You’ve been a programmer, manager, and technology evangelist. What inspired you to write a book such a human-resources-y topic?
Andy: Years of hiring programmers. I’ve had so many people interview for programmer positions with two big failures. First, tech people tend to not like to talk about themselves, and you have to sell yourself to get a job, because if you don’t, someone else is going to beat you to it. That’s not the entire problem, but it’s the tip of the iceberg. Second, I talked to many people who didn’t seem to especially care what job they got. They just wanted to come in and write some code and go home. This seemed like such a shame, because I figure that life is too short to spend working in a job that you don’t love. You spend as much time at the office as you spend waking hours with your spouse, so why not love what you’re doing?
Matt: You’ve been a hiring manager since about the time we first met, in 2003. Of all the candidates you’ve seen, what would you say is the #1 mistake you’ve seen?
Andy: I always ask for printed code samples before an interview. I want them printed so that the candidate and I can look at them in the interview together, and I can get a feel for the candidate’s design and coding decisions.
So this guy comes in at 9:10 for a 9:00 interview, which is Strikes #1 and 2 against him right there.
He doesn’t apologize for being late, and hands me an orange 3.5″ floppy disk and says “Here’s my code samples, my printer ran out of ink this morning.”
Never mind that I didn’t have a drive capable of reading a floppy, even years back when this happened, but he told me quite a lot about himself.
First, he was unable to complete his first assignment as directed. I said to do X, and he didn’t.
Matt: Let me guess — second — it told you that he was comfortable transferring his problems to you?
Andy: Exactly. Third, he waited until the morning of this important meeting to do the assignment. Fourth, he didn’t have the presence of mind to go to a Kinko’s and print off copies.
Matt: Can I ask, what were the top two or three things you’ve seen as a hiring manager that impressed you? What were the good things?
Andy: I’m always impressed when a candidate has clearly done his or her homework and researched the company or me. I always give my name when I’m going to interview someone, giving them ample opportunity to find out about me on the web. If you can find blog posts or mailing list messages from your interviewer, it can give you insight into what he and the company need. This isn’t creepy. I’ve already Googled the candidate before calling them in for an interview, and they should have the foresight to do the same in return.
At the very least, everyone should find out as much about the company with which they’re interviewing before going in for the meeting. I wish it weren’t so uncommon that it impresses me when people do it.
Candidates who are well-prepared for the interview and work to tell about their value to their companies in past positions always make a solid impression. It shows that they know I’m hiring them for a job, not just for the heck of it.
In Part II, we’ll dig into the specifics of Andy’s advice for Job seekers, and where to go for more.
June 22, 2011 10:08 AM
Posted by: Matt Heusser
, Enterprise Cloud Adoption
So far, we’ve signed up for a personal Amazon Web Services Account, learned a little bit about the Amazon Management Console, and, yes, even created a server in the cloud. Now if only we could actually do something with it …
Suddenly I have an idea for a follow-up post.
Today I’ll show you how to connect to that server in the cloud, accessing it through Remote Desktop, run software on it, and finally, so your credit card does not get dinged, how to shut the server down.
First, you need to follow the instructions in the previous tutorial; you should end up looking at the Amazon Web Services Console, something like this:
Now things get interesting.
The green light there indicates that the server is booted, but it may not yet have all services running … especially the services we need to connect. The easiest way to get to our server is to wait, about a half-hour, for Amazon to make sure the server is ‘clean.’
In the mean time, we need something: Remote Desktop software to connect to our server. Remote desktop comes standard on Windows Vista and newer machines, but is you have XP or a Mac, you’ll need to download it. You can get that software for free online; both the WindowsXP Version and the Macintosh Version have a free download.
Once we have Remote Desktop, you’ll have to wait; my recommendation is a half-hour, for all the services to be up.
Now Get The Windows Password
Once the services are up, we’ll need to retrieve the the administrative password for the machine. To do this, check the checkbox to the left of the instance to indicate it, then click on instance actions and “Get Windows Password”. (See example below)
Once you click retrieve, you’ll be asked for a private key, in order to decrypt the password from the server:
Do this this you will need that .pem key file you created earlier. Once you upload the file you will get a windows password. Save that to a file, or at least copy it to your clipboard with control-V.
Whew. Now we can actually connect to the machine.
It’s time to Log in to our cloud-based server. Yay!
One more time — use instance management again and click connect. This should bring up another dialog box, and you’ll have the opportunity to download a shortcut file , with the extension .rdp. If remote desktop is configured correctly, you can open the file with remote desktop. (Otherwise, save the file to your hard drive, open remote desktop, and tell it to open the file.)
Once remote desktop has the file loaded, Click Connect on remote desktop and you’ll come to a login screen:
Paste the password, leave domain blank, and click ok; ignore any certificate warnings.
Congratulations — you are in your server!
But … what can we do with it?
Of course, the value of any server is limited to the application we had in mind. Our goal today was to have a server, which isn’t saying much.
Three things we could do with this server are to test in internet explorer 8, to test installing applications on Windows Server 2008 (if we didn’t have a box handy), or to use the server as a storage place for files.
And that;s the real rub of cloud computing. Without an application, ‘give us some of the cloud stuffs’ doesn’t really mean anything.
More on cloud-based apps to come, but today promised to keep things under an hour. Today we wanted to get a real, live server up and running in the cloud, and I do believe we’ve done that.
With this foundation in place, we can add more in the future. For now, though …
Off — Off — Turn it Off!!!
In control panel, select Instance Management->Terminate, then Yes, Terminate. Please do, this, you must do this. If you do not do this, expect a ding from your credit card in a year.
Closing the loop – what we’ve learned
If you followed the instructions in this tutorial, you create an AWS personal account, created a server, and got into it with remote desktop.
Congratulations; suddenly the “cloud” is a less mystical and magical place, and more a think you can touch and feel, or at least a little bit more of a thing.
You’ve also probably recognized that feeling of “my goodness, this doesn’t actually do anything”, and you’re right. That’s what those cloud application vendors I introduced you to earlier have been saying for years: Building applications on top of the cloud is expensive and time consuming, why build when you can rent?
Why build indeed?
More to come.