Anyone with more than a few months in IT knows that troubleshooting is an art form. For simple tasks, you guess at what the problem might be, then conduct an experiment. For more complex tasks, you aren’t experimenting to find out the problem, but instead to narrow down the problem.
For example, if I think the problem might be the network, I can yank out the ethernet cable and turn off the wireless. If the problem persists, I can stop worrying about the network and look elsewhere. If the problem goes away, then I have to find a new experiment, to narrow the cause down further. The great skill of troubleshooting is coming up with the cheapest experiment that is most likely to narrow the problem.
Today I’m going to apply this kind of systems thinking to the “occupy / 1% / 99%” discussion – to use troubleshooting skills to understand and pin down a movement that Mad Magazine parodied with a protest sign that read “We demand sweeping, unspecified change!”
On September 10th, the story was that an “anonymous hacker”, security lead for the internet group ‘anonymous’ has hacked into GoDaddy, taking down as many as 52 million websites. The New York Times ran the story that Anonymous used a Distributed Denial of service attack by taking over millions of computers, then directing them all to route traffic to GoDaddy sites, creating an influx beyond the capacity of GoDaddy’s servers.
Except, three hours later, the hacker collective Anonymous claimed, through several twitter feeds, that it was not them. and the hacker anonymousown3er was acting alone.
It’s just not true.
Or at least, it might not be true. We think. Maybe.
Then things get weird.
This morning I ran across a blog post by Ben Horowitz about managers who don’t have one-on-one meetings. In that post Ben drew a distinction between a ‘good organization’ and a ‘bad organization.’ According to Horowitz, people in bad organizations struggle to get anything done; the expectations are unclear, and the company culture fights any sort of forward progress.
Now believe it or not, I’m not going to say that, if you find yourself in a bad organization, you should immediately polish up your resume and move. There are just too many bad organizations for that; you’d be jumping ship every two months.
Instead, I’m going to assume that you are trying to stay, and hear some niggling, tingling voice in your ear that life is too short for this.
There are some things are are a bridge too far, that indicate, to me, it’s time to leave or transfer. Here are my top three.
I spent last Friday and Saturday at BarCampGR, an un-conference hosted at Calvin College; one of the sessions was on how to make your own e*book.
For those unfamiliar with BarCamp, it is a conference with no pre-planned agenda. You start out with a blank sheet of paper, a few hours before the event starts. The organizers divide the paper into time and location slots, and invite potential speakers to propose something. (If you are really ambitious, you can propose your idea on the reddit a few days before, to see if anyone expresses interest.)
Ideally, by the time the conference starts, you’ve got a full plate of events, something like this:
This is the actual schedule from BarCampGR 2012, and, yes the talk in the upper-right was on how to publish an E*Book, by my friend, Steve Poling. More than any E*Book, Steve promised to help you put your document in the right format to sell on Amazon – with no special royalty fees. Steve had just finished posting his second e-book on Amazon and promised to reveal all — I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
It’s been four and a half months since the last post about my story as a digital migrant. (If this is new to you, you might consider reading the original essay, then parts one and two of my story, before checking out that last post.)
A lot can happen in four months.
Before I get to my update, though, I’d like to talk about a common aspect of digital migrant work — the systems upgrade.
In my Informations Systems Policy Class in Graduate School (yes, they have classes for that), outsourcing was one of the hot topics of the day. Specifically, outsourcing of business process. The basic idea was to clearly identify services, then cut cost by moving them to low-wage areas. We even had impressive, triangle-shaped strategy graphs that talked about what to outsource and how to outsource it. I ended up doing my master’s capstone work on the subject of outsourcing; it still stands up to scrutiny today.
But I have to admit, when the Washington Post ran an article on Indian Companies setting up call centers in the United States, I was as surprised as the next guy.
There is a lot of confusion going on here; a lot of doubt and mis-understanding.
I’m going to try to clear it up … and let the opportunity show through.
Ian is a fascinating case-study. A self-taught technologist, he moved up the ranks to do tech support at Pizza Hut’s corporate headquarters, then taught himself enough web-slinging to create an e-commerce website at the height of the dotCom boom. My last post ended with Ian leaving one employer, the largest Catholic Bookstore in Denver, after created their e-commerce site, and starting his own website/business in Colorado Springs — the physical store would come later.
It’s time for the rest of the story – the challenges, risks, advice, and the long road to profitability.
Ian Rutherford is a technie; someone just comfortable enough in IIS, SQL Server, HTML and ASP to make a ‘real’ e-commerce site – or at least comfortable enough to learn.
Last time we talked about Ian’s back story, and left him with a tech support position at Pizza Hut Corporate Headquarters in Texas, learning the skills he would later use to start his own business.
Iwanted to ask Ian how he decided to move to colorado, start his own business and how it went.
It’s time for part II of our story.
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
In this column I like to talk about people do what Thoreau is talking about: Advance in the direction of their dreams.
I endeavor to make that discussion realistic, to talk about not just the dream, but what they had to give up to get there, how it turned out, and the stumbles along the way.
Please allow me to introduce you to Ian Rutherford.
Ian has no technical degree; he actually has a political philosophy degree from the University of Dallas. Self-taught from the start, he landed a tech support position out of school, and taught himself network support, and quickly earned a set of certifications, including A+, MCSE, and a Novel Certified Engineer. (Those of us with a little grey hair remember a company called Novell that wrote the first operating system that allowed personal computers to talk over a local area network. Those of you without, i’m sorry, and please keep off my lawn!)
But that is not why I asked if Ian would interview for the blog.
In 2002, Ian quit his day job, moved to Colorado Springs, and, with the help of his family, opened Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, a small independent bookseller.
Writers tend to be painfully aware of confirmation bias — at least, the good ones are.
This bias happens any time we look for evidence to support our beliefs and ignore or reject any facts that might lead to a different conclusion.
Just yesterday I published a brief piece on Amazon.com’s new employee tuition assistance program that told only the good stuff, the story the company wants to tell.
In a way, it’s kind of like a bad photoshop job.
It looks great, until you put it up under some scrutiny. After that, you don’t know what to believe. (Consider the photoshop job at left, from izisSmile.com. Oh, come on. Spoiler at the end.)
The official story, the one I told yesterday, is that Amazon.com has a new tuition assistance program for warehouse employees, to study not what Amazon needs, but instead whatever field of study the employee is interested in that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics agree is a high-growth, high-demand occupation. So go be a nurse, or mechanic, an electrician, an accountant – on Amazon’s dime.
In my excitement for the program, I compared it to the G.I. Bill.
Let’s talk about the rest of the story.