Thu, 04 Sep 2008
In the past I've written up a small list of general goals to help measure my technical progress. Over the last few years I've become a lot busier and this habit fell by the wayside. But no more! I've got a quarter left and I'm going to try and complete...
- Write and publish a technical article.
- Attend two technical events.
- Read and review 3 books.
- Write and publish two Perl modules.
- Create a personal Debian repo
- Create 4 Debian packages, at least one of which should contain other peoples code.
- Write 30 blog posts - at least 15 of which should be technical.
- Choose the programming language I'll be learning next year.
Considering this is one of the busiest times of the year I have no idea how far I'll get but I do think it's worth at least an attempt.
Mon, 07 Jan 2008
Three out of Three - New (contract) Job
Thanks to everyone who sent me leads and links to relevant job adverts but since I posted that I was out of work I've started a two month contract that began this week and runs until the end of Feb.
It's my first contract role (and it's not a typical one by any stretch) and it's taking a little time to get used to considering I've spent most of my working life as a permie. Still, it's got good people and pays the bills so I'm glad I accepted the offer.
It does mean that I won't be hitting LCA this year though, which is a shame because last years was excellent. On the plus side not spending money on the travel and flight means I can consider taking two/three months off and catching up on all those little things I keep putting off until I'm not quite as busy; a time that never arrives.
Tue, 01 Jan 2008
New Day, New Year and New job - Well - Two out of Three
As of 6PM yesterday (or midnight - depending on how you interpret my employment contract) my current role is redundant and I'm no longer a member of the working world. It was a mostly good 28 months and I was lucky enough to work with some damn smart people.
This wasn't unexpected. Between the Register articles and a generously lengthened consultation period most of us were pretty sure we'd be on the market again soon. My initial plan was to take a couple of months off (it's been nearly five years since I had more than a week and a half off in a single block) but there is a permie job that sounds very cool and a short term contract I'm interested in (and should hear about today) so I may have to delay the skiving a little longer.
One of the nicer things to come out of this being over is that I can start getting involved in external projects again. I think I'll spend more time this year annoying the people writing some of the projects that should make up my tool chain over the next year or two. I still like Puppet and after a little playing around with Cobbler I quite like it. Especially if the "Debian breed" stuff works. Of course, this means I'll need to learn at least basic Ruby and Python so there goes that extended holiday I was going to take. Unless I lug a pile of books to the beach :)
Now to spend the day lazing around, recover from a late night and enjoy being a drain on society for a whole day. Happy New Year.
Mon, 11 Jun 2007
A tech friend of mine has spent the last four months in Chennai doing the ground work for his first VC backed start-up. He's got a years funding (at Chennai costs), he's just got the building (including decent aircon and a generator - which were apparently harder to get than you'd think) and now he needs to grow his tech team from five to about thirty over the next couple of months. Having been at startups that have tried this before... it's going to be a challenge for him.
Joe loves India, he spent a couple of years living out there after the dot com crash (savings go a lot further that way ;)), as far back as I've known him he's only dated Indian girls (wonder why he set up near the big dance unis?) and amusingly he has almost no tolerance of spicy food. For the last year he's been consulting on different outsourced projects as their "cultural advisor"; guess all those techy pub crawls paid off in the end!
He was in London at the weekend catching up with people and tidying up before he fully moved over so I met up with him (and his lead DBA, Ayesha) for what was probably our last drink together for a good while. We chatted about what we've been up to for the last six months, places we used to work, start ups we've done (and where they went off the tracks) and where the industries going. Oh, and he offered me a job.
The product he's working on (which is actually very cool and I can see myself using it in a couple of years) falls inside a couple of my skills and he's looking for someone to run the infrastructure team and flatteringly he thought of me. He wants the old deal, you eat, sleep and breath the company for a year or two; anything less than that's seen as part time. The work sounds very interesting, the job comes with a paid for apartment, and pretty much anything else that's cheap and gets you in the office more. It's a promotion for me (although I've never really wanted to manage) and a chance to make some real money.
So why ain't I blogging my acceptance? Their are some drawbacks. Firstly moving to Chennai, I'm in the middle of a big estate dispute and I need to be here for that. Secondly I'd be paid at (damn well for) local (India) rates - which means my legal fees in the UK would kill me financially. I also know what working hours are expected of me and there'd be no weeks back in the UK until we either make it or shut the shop down which means no seeing my family for a year or two.
He's given me a week to think about it and I'm giving it decent consideration. A couple of years ago I'd have said yes on the spot and he knows it but my life's changed a lot and things are annoyingly more complex now. I'm not sure this is change for the better.
Mon, 13 Dec 2004
Be Nice to your Manager
Because if you have a good one you won't realise how good they are until you get a complete doozy. A while ago i had the luck to work for a very insightful manager, lets call him Mike (his parents did). It took him about an hour to figure me out and from then on he played me masterfully, always the right amount of trust to ensure i was confident about my work but with enough challenge to both make me think about what i was doing and push me into giving more than the pay rate warranted. At the time i never even considered myself managed, thats how good he was.
I only made a single mistake while working at that job, i ran an ls over a deeper directory, answered a question and then without rechecking my location on the system ran a recursive permission change. I went white and made a little choking sound that can't really be described as cute. I'd nuked the permissions on our backup HPUX server.
I expected to be shouted at or dragged off in to a dressing down, instead i got a pleasant surprise (although it wasn't until later i understood it was the best possible thing for a manager to do). "Can you fix whatever you just did?" "Yes, it'll take about half-an-hour." "I'm going for a coffee, we'll talk when i get back." I spent the next half an hour working with our QA guy as my spotter and put the settings back based upon the live box. Forty five minutes later my boss came back and asked if all was well. I sheepishly nodded yes and the only mention of the fact I'd screwed up was: "You know what you did. Learn and see it doesn't happen again." That was pretty much three years ago and i've never failed to double check my location again.
A big mistake or failure needs to be acknowledged, looked at and learned from. The important part is how the issue is dealt with, if you spend an hour having the same thing gone over and over all that the employee brings away from the meeting is a destroyed morale, diminished confidence in both their own ability and the managers trust in them. Be a smart manager, know what needs to be said and what doesn't; if the worker is a professional he'll be beating himself up about it.
As for me, next time i get an understanding manager like Eric Sink or Mike I'll be a little nicer, a lot more appreciative and a bit slower running chmod.
Tue, 02 Nov 2004
The Nature of the Beast: Sysadmins
While I'm in this navel gazing mood (which shouldn't last very long) I thought I'd say a little bit about the oddness of being a system admin in a corporate environment; it might be the same in academia but I've never done that.
Firstly you have the contradictions, in most companies, and heavily so in a small team/company, you are supposed to be open and approachable. But you also have to manage your time, their requests and the sanctity of the live environment. Saying 'no' a lot doesn't make you very popular. It is also this last one that causes the most grief, ensuring the service is running correctly becomes your responsibility. You have to become seriously paranoid, pessimistic and suspicious about any changes that need to be made while also understanding that the system is there for a reason; to be used.
I've mostly had this discussion with management and developers, the quality assurance team normally provide some support, once you've had a failure and 'requested' that whoever wants the change added is present for as long as you are things typically get better. For a while anyway.
Something that also deserves a mention is the sheer agony of joining a new company where not everything is perfect, or as we call it, all of them! You have to be prepared for everything to go wrong. Inconsistent naming, multiple copies of config files (and of course you need to edit the one in the non-standard location), lack of documentation and being expected to work at the same speed as the people that have built the system all add up and combine with the paranoia, pessimism and defensive instinct.
Being a good sysadmin and a well balanced person seem to be mutually exclusive goals. No wonder there are so many social groups for geeks, not only do we need to escape from the server room but we need to socialise with 'our own kind' ;)
Drive, Motivation and Restlessness
"You described them as teenagers."
"But I don't think teenagers are the way they are because of their age. It's because they have nothing to lose. They simultaneously have a lot of time on their hands and yet are very impatient to get on with their lives."
Quote: Neal Stephenson - Cryptonomicon
This is an odd thing to post about online, especially considering that this is a public blog and that I know at least two of my co-workers read this site on a semi-regular basis, but I need to get this off my chest and see where it leads me; and it's my site dammit! I've recently been suffering from a lack of motivation, while I've still been working my way through the daily task list I seem to have lost the ability to get 'in the zone' and clear a weeks worth of simple work in a day and a half. I can't even remember the last time I looked up from my desk, found it was nine thirty and thought "just another hour and then I'll leave."
I've spent a fair bit of time on the tube (for the foreign readers -- a moving torture chamber you share with hundreds of other people while travelling underground with the heating on) thinking about the reason behind this and I'm not sure I've found the problem. I'm actually working in a team of nothing but seriously clued people for the first time in ages and so I should be too busy learning new stuff to actually notice how un-motivated I am; but it never seems to work that way.
Is it the fact that I'm not really learning anything new? While I am learning how the new place does things and how the systems work I'm learning more about their conventions and habits rather than anything really new and shiny. Again I can't even remember the last time I worked on something original inside of work or out.
That leads me to another point, I always considered myself lucky to get paid to do what amounted to my hobby. From my early days in IT as a developer to my more recent roles as a systems administrator I've always tinkered with the same kind of technology at home as I did at work (although typically a generation or so ahead) but the downside is now becoming apparent; what do you do at home when your hobby gets dull?
So now the whiny bit is over where to from here? Firstly I'm going to try and recapture some of the enjoyment of what I do and lose some of my preconceptions and change my perception a little, the Stephenson quote at the top of this entry appealed to me when I re-read it for pretty much that reason. Secondly I'm going to try and get involved in projects that actually have an end. It's nowt but a hunch but I suspect working on open-ended projects that never seem to finish or have any real milestones has a negative effect on me. Thirdly I'm going to start playing with unfinished hacks, script and projects. Just not on the production system; honest!