I’m Not Your (FREE) Personal Assistant


Volunteering in the community

As active community member and MVP I spend a lot of time and effort sharing information and experiences with the community. I also assist colleagues & peers across the globe when they have questions or issues I might be able to help them with. It’s part of sharing and caring. Just like my fellow community members & MVPs I blog, record video’s, web & screen casts, present at conferences & user groups. I hang out for the Ask The Experts moments of opportunity at both local and international. When possible I also attend the ChalkTalks nights like the one that local user group WinTalks organizes where people can bring their questions or problems to discuss.

The impossibility of answering the questions

I share a lot of information, ideas, opinions and experiences. Asking me directly, repeatedly, to give you quick & fast solutions for your current issues, problems and consulting challenges is not the way to go however. For one the complexity of the issues and the situation as exists is often ignored in these question. So it’s impossible to answer them in that fashion.

Also, as is the case with most of us, I’m a very, very busy man. A tremendous amount of knowledge many of my peers and I share is freely available to the community and we absolutely love doing that. If you ask a question on a blog post or contact me I will try and answer if it’s not too much work & is relevant to the blog post. It benefits everyone to see the question and the answer. But for real support you have forums and vendors service desks that are a lot better suited and have dedicated staff or thousands of volunteer eyes. For consulting engagements to solve the complex issues you’re running into you’ll just have to hire the expertise or make me an offer way too good to decline. When hiring expertise, you do get what you pay for if you do it smart. I’m not to blame and will not pay the bill for your previous bad hires, pseudo experts, marketing based decisions that got people into a pickle.

Keeping it real

We all have jobs with lots of work that we need to do to pay the bills. So we cannot be a free support desk, ad interim engineer, consultant or strategic advisor. This means e-mails and DMs with consulting questions or easily searchable questions are ignored unless the problem is personally interesting to me as a learning experience or it’s indeed “the opportunity of a life time”. The latter is highly unlikely.

You need to realize that you need to design your solutions to whatever level of complexity you can handle or afford. Many make this mistake. I understand all the issues around acquiring, building, maintaining, retaining & hiring expertise. Really I do, I do not live under a rock in the wilderness. It’s hard to find expertise and it’s hard to market expertise. So basically we end up with “best practices” & partially mediocrity. For good reason, that’s where you have to be and stay if you’re not willing/capable to pay for expertise. For a lot of commodity solutions that’s how it should be.

If you need better support & consultants than you currently have you should really consider hiring some of my fellow MVPs via their companies but don’t be surprised to be paying anything from € 200/hour and up for proven highly skilled experts for short very specialized assignments. Don’t balk at this, Ever hired MCS? Or a plumber? Right, these people are true consultants, not what passes for them nowadays but what is actually contracting or body shopping. Nothing wrong with temporary augmentation of your labor force, but is not high expertise consulting. Microsoft PFE/MCS aren’t expensive for the value they provide and the time and effort they put in. Next time you need to pay a plumber after a DIY project has gone wrong you’ll realize this.

You don’t have to engage experts. But if you do, you’ll need to bring a big wallet. You need to understand that your unwillingness to pay does not dictated rates, let alone value. Banks, doctors, shops, government … they only accept money and they laugh at me when I tell them I’d like to pay with some ones else’s gratitude.

Some of the people in my network know I have helped many in the past and know that I do this as a service to the community and learning experience. That benefits everyone out there, just like I benefit from them. That’s my choice, in my personal free time. I can assure you that neither those people or I  take this sort of help for granted, let alone demand it.

I can’t fix you being stupid, lazy, cheap or any combination of the above.

  • You’ll have to do your own searching of the internet via Bing or Google for you.
  • You’ll have to read the articles, blog & documentation.
  • You’ll have to analyze your own issues and come up with an plan of action.
  • You need to realize that developing yourself and skillsets is a time consuming, sustained effort. I understand you have other priorities, but that doesn’t mean I have to pick up the slack and put my own aside.
  • You’ll need to face reality. If your business needs something, they’ll need to make sure they are profitable enough to afford it.

Conferences On My Roadmap For 2014


Here’s a little roadmap of conferences on my radar screen for 2014. Some I can’t attend because of conflicts in my schedule and other priorities, but I list ‘m here for your consideration.

DELL Enterprise Forum

If you’re working with Dell technologies, either hardware or software this is for you. It very interactive and you get provide feedback to the product teams as well as briefings on what coming. Some are under NDA, some not.

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TechEd North America 2014

I’m attending, everything has been arranged. So if you’re a blog reader/twitter follower give us a ping.

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E2EVC 2014 Brussels

This is a non marketing event by experts in virtualization. So these people design, implement and support virtualization solutions for a living.  E2EVC Virtualization Conference is a non-commercial, it does not run a profit for the organizers or speakers. Everybody volunteers. The attendance fee covers the costs of the conference rooms, coffee breaks and such. The value is in the knowledge sharing and the networking.

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See http://workinghardinit.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/e2evc-2014-brussels/

OSCON 2014

I love watching the OSCON presentations on line and it’s one of my never attended that on my must attend list. Whether that will happen this year remains to be seen.image

TechEd Europe 2014

It runs from October 27th to October 31st 2014 in Barcelona. I hope to meet you there and I hope they are ready at that time to talk about vNext Winking smile. It’s a great opportunity to network and talk shop with so many of my peers I’ll most definitely try to be there. Any vNext information would most certainly make it a not to miss event. They announced it a bit late and they already have lost some of the potential attendees to TechEd North America. Not their best move ever I must say.

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E2EVC 2014 Barcelona

Details have yet to be announced. But if my schedule allows I will attend and present!

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Dell World 2014

No details as of yet but for partners & customers this is a valuable opportunity to talk to the product teams, directors, marketing mangers and engage in some serious conversation about technology and where DELL fits in your road map.

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Microsoft MVP Summit 2014

I will NOT miss the MVP Summit Smile. No details as it’s all NDA.

We Need Your Opinion On This Strategy, Vision, Management Issue …


Could you give us your opinion on this?

Lately people, managers, have asked me to give advice or at least my opinion on how to organize & manage IT. In the broad sense of the term. Infrastructure, software, services, support, on premise, cloud, data protection, security …  “Just think about it a bit”.

That question “Could you give us your opinion on this?” is a hard one for me.  I could say “read my blog”, the non technical posts. But my opinion is often too high level and they don’t they actually want that. They want a solution. And it’s not that I don’t think about it or don’t have an opinion. But I can’t focus on areas out of my expertise, my control and priorities.

Basically I cannot help them. Not because I’m that stupid or the matter is beyond our control. It’s because the way managers and organizations think is getting more and faster obsolete by the day.

The Issue

Our world, both privately and work related, is becoming more and more connected every day. That means there is a tremendous amount of input, leading to an ever continuing increase of permutations of ever more variables that come in to play. In short, complexity is on the rise at an enormous rate and will overwhelm us. Even worse is that this complexity only shows itself after things have gone wrong. That’s bad but, that also means there are probably many more relationships of cause and effect that haven’t even shown themselves yet. That kind of sounds like a time bomb.

How do you deal with this? Not in the way so many are asking for. And I’m not here to tell my managers or customers what they want to hear. I’m in the business of telling them what they need to hear as I deal in results, not services or studies. More often than not they are looking for processes and methodologies to keep central control over planning, execution, operations and change. All this while the rug is literally pulled away under their feet. There’s the problem.

Situations, technologies, solutions, frameworks, processes all have a time limited value that’s becoming shorter. So the idea that you can plan and control for many years ahead is obsolete in many areas in our ecosystem. There are just to many moving parts, that are changing too fast. So how do we manage this? What kind of leadership do you need? Well there is no easy answer.

How do I deal with this?

Personally I deal with this by working, collaborating & cooperating in a network, in “the community”. My insights, knowledge, help and support come from my network. Some of my colleagues, the contractors and consultants we hire are in that network. A lot of colleagues are not. Most managers are not. Why is that? They are stuck in a hierarchal world of centralized command and control that is failing them fast. At best they achieve good results, but very slow and at a very high expense. We can only hope that the results also don’t turn out bad. They want procedures & processes. Predictability & consistency but I deal with complexity in wide area of expertise that cannot readily be put into manuals and documentation. Not in a timely fashion. I’m in a dog fight (insert “Top Gun” theme). The processes & logistics provide the platform. Learn where procedures & methodologies work and where they’ll kill you. The knowledge and the skills we need are a living thing that feeds on a networked collective and are very much in flux.  I’m so much more better skilled and effective at my job through participating my global community than I can be tied into the confines of my current workplace they’d be mad not to leverage that, let alone prevent me from doing so. You can’t do it alone or in isolation.

An example

Yesterday was an extreme example in a busy week. I started work at 05:30 AM yesterday to set up a testing environment for questions I needed answered by a vendor who leverages the community at large. That’s required some extra work in the datacenter that I could have done by a colleague that was there today because I found out in time. I went to the office at 08:30. I worked all day on an important piece of work I mentioned in my network and was alerted to a potential issue. That led to knowledge sharing & testing. Meaning we could prevent that very potential issue and meanwhile we’re both learning. I went home at 18:30, dinner & testing. I was attending an MVP web cast at 20:00 PM till 21:00 PM learning new & better ways to trouble shoot clusters. I got a call at 19:10PM of a mate in Switzerland who’s running into SAN issues and I helped him out with the two most possible causes of this through my experience with SANs and that brand of HP SAN.  We did some more testing & research until 22:00 after which I wrote this blog up.

We don’t get paid for this. This is true mutual beneficial cooperation. We don’t benefit directly and it’s not “our problem” or job goal. But oh boy do we learn and grow together and in such help each other and our employers/customers. It’s a true long term investment that pays of day by day the longer you are active in the community and network. But the thing is, I can’t put that into a process or manual. Any methodology that has to serve centralized command and control structure while dealing with agile subjects is bound to fail. Hence you see agile & scrum being abused to the level it’s just doing stuff without the benefits.

Conclusion

This is just one small and personal example. Management and leadership will have to find ways of nurturing collaboration and cooperation beyond the boundaries of their control. The skillset and knowledge needed are not to be found in a corporate manual or in never ending in house meetings & committees. Knowledge gained has to flow to grow As such it flows both in an out of your organization. You’re delusional if you think you can stop that today and it’s not the same a leaking corporate secrets. Hierarchies & management based on rank and pay grades are going to fail. And if those managers in higher pay grades can’t make the organization thrive in this ever more connected, faster moving world, they might not be worth that pay grade.

I assure you that employees and consultants who live in the networked global community will quickly figure out if an organization can handle this. They will not and should not do their managers job. In fact they are already doing managers areal big favor by working and operating the way they do. They are leading at their level, they are leveraging their networks and getting the job done. They are taking responsibilities, they solve problems creatively and get results. It just doesn’t fit easily in an obsolete model of neatly documented procedures in a centralized command and control structure. They don’t need a manager for that, they need one that will make it possible to thrive in that ultra-connected ever changing fast paced world. Facilitate, stimulate and reward learning and taking responsibilities, not hierarchies. That way all people in your organization will lead or at least contribute to the best of their ability. You’ll need to trust them for that to work. If you don’t trust them, fine, but act upon it. Letting people you don’t trust work for and with you doesn’t work.

How to do this is a managers & leaders challenge. Not mine. I know when I’m out of my depth or when not to engage. The grand visions, the strategic play of a company is their responsibility. Getting results & moving forward will come from your perpetually learning, and engaged workforce, if you don’t mess it up. And yes, that is your responsibility. Cultures are cultivated by definition. So if the culture of the company is to blame for things going south, realize you’re the ones supposed to make it a good one. People don’t leave organizations, they leave managers ;-) And to paraphrase the words of Walt Disney … you’re in a world of hurt if they leave you but stay at their desk and on the pay roll. It’s called mediocrity, which also serves a purpose, providing commodities & cookie template services whilst letting others shine. But if you want to be a thriving, highly skilled, expertise driven center of excellence … it’s going to take lot of hard and sustained work and it’s not a one way street.

New Year, New Challenges


Time flies. 2013 is almost done and I’m always reminded of the fact that time is the most precious resource. We need to keep that in mind, always, lest we waste it. It’s been a busy working, learning, playing (homo ludens, gamification is nothing new Winking smile) & community work. For the latter there was a lot of presenting, attending conferences (Storage Forum, TechDays, MMS, Hyper-V.nu event, “Best of MMS 2013 in Belgium”, TechEd, E2EVC, Dell World), several think tanks, 2 MVP Summits, studying, doing labs, helping out others by sharing our experiences & learning form others sharing theirs. I hope 2014 will continue that way and I’ll do what I can to make it happen.

Windows Server & Hyper-V is a growing force

Some still dismiss it, but Hyper-V is going places, as it’s a fully free hypervisor. It’s also the cheapest choice when it comes to virtualizing Windows. Management tools you say, the cost & complexity of System Center? Well if you have better options, use them, go for better, cheaper solutions whether is scripting, tools or frameworks. There is no obligation. Free advice to VMware: make your hypervisor free. Until you do that you’re stuck at producing more for free as your prices can’t go up anymore and you’re missing out on all other frameworks as nobody will eat the licensing cost if they don’t need the management tools around it.

On the Microsoft side of things, 2013 was about Windows Server 2012 R2 which we deployed the day we got the preview bits. The pieces of highly capable & scalable cloud OS are all coming together for the best possible performance. We did some great experiments & POCs  with RDMA / SMB Direct. This was fun, had a challenging learning curve and produced some very nice results. This work will pay off, more on that in a future blog post. vRSS was another big item for us, I just love its capabilities. We also got to leverage UNMAP & ODX and when combined with the above and the enhanced capabilities of VHDX it really makes Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V shine.

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We’ve also been busy evaluating on whether private & hybrid clouds are worthwhile investing in and if so in what way, where and how much, how far and how long. My hybrid cloud is not your hybrid cloud. Many approaches exist and they do not mean by definition buying every single product or service in the catalog. The fact is that some private cloud and certain hybrid clouds approaches require an economy of scale that many don’t have. The toolsets themselves are not helping those without this scale benefit either. Optimized/dynamic IT with public cloud & some hybrid cloud might be your best bet especially when one considers data gravity. Ouch, blasphemy? Not really, common sense. As an advisor you cannot just rehash sales brochures & buys stuff. Independent thinking is a requirement.

The wars for control of the Datacenter Abstraction Layer / Software Defined Datacenter is on. Everyone is fighting for control as this is a big future revenue generator. Now hardware vendors are not that great at software & vice versa. So nobody has won yet. Meanwhile “cloud only” (Amazon, Google) players are probably smiling as they don’t need that fight that war  at least not that hard, that direct.  They fight for the new territories like robotics, AI, …

On top of that a lot of cloud thinkers see a (very) limited use case for IAAS in the long run. If they’re wrong, the ones gaining control could become very dominant. But for now, it’s still a very much an immature, in flux, effort. Building one now is very expensive & maybe not worth while unless you have the economies of scale to make it so and it is long-lived enough to get the ROI.

Storage wise the landscape is in full flux and I hope a lot of companies big & small keep kicking & pushing for better, affordable solutions. The ones opposing that know all to well why. I’d love Storage Spaces to make a real big dent just to get some of the bigger players to focus on the real needs of their customers.

What about BYOD, COPE,  CYOD, CLEO VDI & app virtualization? It’s still very expensive, requiring diverse solutions and a lot of effort. There is a lot of money to made catering to it, but not in buying it, unless you are in that segment of the market where it makes sense (retail, sales, logistics, medicine …) which all happen to be markets that are highly regulated or process driven without much deviation & a measurable benefit . i.e. there is a ROI that mitigates the TCO. Not saying that it can’t, it can if you do it right. But too little understanding of benefits, costs and risks will get you in a mess. There’s a reason it’s going into the “Trough of Disillusionment” right now.imageFor many, without clear goals & benefits, my advice would be to let that market mature and I can see the solutions available in completer solutions in the public cloud at better prices. Play and experiment with mobile devices and see what works and what doesn’t, but don’t spent too much time and money on them if you don’t have a clear, well defined objective. And I hear you about the paperless office, but the first thing you need to do there is get rid of the readily available printing capacity. A smartphone or a tablet will not reduce paper usage. It just adds more paperless use cases, which is not a reduction. At best, you’re diluting the issue and make it look better. Make printing more expensive & less available & see what emerges to deal with the absence of the capability.

As interesting technology to watch (I’m not involved right now) I had fun with 3D printing, robotics, drones,  …  The production & execution capabilities might shift  the entire political, economical landscape, if we play our cards right & eat some cost (it’s called investing) for long term benefits.

Related to Hyper-V, virtualization & * Cloud is the fact that the capabilities & scalabilities needed are here with Windows Server 2012 R2, so we’ll see some serious growth in 2014 for Hyper-V. There are some hurdles. Some Microsoft will need to fix, others are the learning curve both with customers & the channel. Now the landscape has changing and some struggling. And as none will ever admit to that we come to the next subject. Being an expert.

Experts

With so much power comes also responsibility to wield it wisely or suffer the consequences. It fun to work with experts. They know how little they know and how much they don’t know. So they spend a lot of times testing, discussing, thinking & experimenting all this in all kinds of way. It’s never ever a nine to five job. Becoming and being an “expert” is a sustained, long term, continuous effort and is not done in the isolation of a cubical or flex work spot.

Howtobeanexpert

© Kathy Sierra at http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/

You keep at it until thinks break, until you get it wrong. That goes for bot ideas and designs. It’s often not about doing it right all the time but about figuring out what works and what doesn’t. To come up with creative answers that work when the landscape changes. Here’s a hint for you: it’s not in a glossy sales brochure, a sales rep’s advice or the manual. Most experts have failed a lot more than they got it right but they did it when it didn’t hurt as much. The probably failed a hundred times more than mediocre, play it safe, quick buck driven types who’ll never learn what could be. But, remember, being a reckless idiot will only get you killed. I know and have worked with a lot of industry experts this year and I’m looking forward to working with them in 2014.

The good

There is an amazing amount of talent out there of hardworking engaged people. I have had the pleasure of talking & working with many of them. We have have a slew of technologies at our disposal to support them and businesses. Both the talent and the people are available and can be leveraged.

The bad

If there was a negative it 2013 it was the harsh reality, more often than I feel comfortable with, that more resources don’t necessarily lead to an equivalent amount of more results. It’s fascinating & sad at the same time noticing an ever diminishing return on investment. Just spinning wheels in the mud. Lot’s of noise, lots of dirt, lost of burnt gas and a stench of burning fuels without much progress to show for it. All this while most people are drowning in work in an era of do more with less. Talk about turning things around Smile. Perception is everything.

The ugly

There are a couple of major threats to IT in business today. These are not new and no, cloud is not one of them. They are lack of leadership & independent thinking. While the CEO of CFO are now in charge in order to better aligning business and IT this is not a panacea. For one the misalignment is a artificial problem, and they probably where involved creating it. But they or IT are not the (only) one to blame, it’s not that simple. Brainwashing by glossy magazines marketing & sales affects everyone. As a advisor, the real value of IT is in giving the business what it needs, what doesn’t necessary match what they want, the trick is making them think it is.

Technology itself is not the biggest challenge, but managing all the moving bits in an ever faster changing landscape. Combine that with management approaches that are based on “that’s what I read & hear everyone is doing”. Add cost cutting as a goal in itself and things start to look pretty grim. We’re surrounded by point solutions that are sold very well but make little difference to the game.  It’s like a child playing with a chess board a without knowing even as little as the rules.

Sometimes, when bean counters get in control or IT initiatives are even put under facility management, directly or indirectly, you know the differentiating role if IT at a company is as dead as a dodo. In some cases that’s where IT belongs and I won’t argue against that. Yes, not all companies have the same needs.  But if you need IT to make a difference, you’d better not do that. If you do, at best, IT moves to a parallel circuit where it can make a difference as a shadow force. Yes, IT also does “Shadow IT” to get the job done … call it asymmetric warfare & counter intelligence to keep the boat floating if you will. They do what they have to do to live & fight another day or perhaps some genius created that to get thing moving fast Winking smile. False economies for short term gains in an arena where simplicity rules, yet where artificial complexity is introduced, are ensuring IT will never ever be a real an enabler. Meanwhile ever greater “economy of scale projects” to cuts costs take way too long, are way too expensive and often use the wrong technologies. That’s an indicator the wrong people are calling the shots. In todays IT landscape, where we become ever more myopic, we need to act short term effectively, while moving ahead & thinking long term (i.e. get some glasses, NVG, IR, …)

To some IT seems destined (or doomed) to be only a commodity that, while needed, is worth very little. Can you spell “Maginot Line” or are you to busy weeping about the demise of the Brown Bess musket in the 20th century? IT needn’t be that way. “IT doesn’t matter” only holds true if you do it wrong. Done right, both in time, location & execution, IT can be very cost effective, useful, differentiating & even disrupting. Alas in many environments not even the commodity stuff is cost effective. Lack of insight & strategy will more likely bleed the company dry by “friendly” but wrong advice. The biggest mistake one can make with commodities (except for turning them into boutique items) is letting salesmen & consultants decide for you what’s the best value for money. As a child, for some reason, your mother has told you not to talk to stranger or go with them, especially not if they promise you candy. As an adult they’ve turned that into a business model and now trust perfect strangers with the livelihood & the future of the company. Go figure. When people tell you to do X or look at Y, think about their agenda.  Please read “The Prince”.  If need advisors, do it like the mob. Get one or more great consigliere, reward ‘m well for results. Dispose of them when those don’t arise, make sure your advisor has no profit from not delivering results.

High Speed, Low Drag, Fast Results, Backwards Compatible & Future Proof IT

Choosing a dynamic and scalable IT infrastructure solution in combination with a flexible and integrated development platform is extremely important. It provides one of the pillars for the successful implementation and support of business applications. Today this is not just an opinion or even option. It is a prerequisite of success in modern business. It is a necessity.

The need to provide long term backward compatibility, support for current and new technologies, facilitate agile development and allow easy deployment and maintenance throughout the life cycle is paramount. These considerations are valid whether we are looking for a single line of business application or an entire infrastructure solution. This is a continuous process and it needs to be taken into account with every action taken.

It’s not tied to any paradigm, architecture, technology or trend. Sometimes that means moving fast and aggressive. Sometimes it means slow and easy. Sometimes it means wait, sometime is means run. It depends on what we’re working on. How to achieve this isn’t new at all actually.

There is a reason that the Art of War, Machiavelli and other classics are popular with managerial types. This isn’t new at all. Unfortunately many of them fast forward through the boring parts and end up being opportunists and not leaders. While business is like warfare, the effort is often focused to heavily on the internal politics, not against the competitors. Where in the old days we had runners to relay information, the speed in IT today is more like a frantic dogfight in the 21 century, where even an F16 cannot deliver the capabilities to dominate air combat in the long term, which leads me to Observe, Orient, Decide & Act (OODA). Sure Boyd was a hard one to work with for the careerist hierarchy, but he defined the successful strategies & tactics for air combat that only came into the public eye during the 1st Gulf war. He never made general, he was way to non political for that, but he’s name is still known far outside his chose profession while most air force generals have faded away in to a oblivion or perhaps got shot before the fight started in earnest.  For a strategy needs to be defined by you or by real trusted advisors, not sales men. This strategy needs to be executed and tactics defined on how you do that. Finally you can decide on a plan for what to use and when to do it. Way to many people that claim to have a strategy don’t know what it is. It’s hard enough to be successful with a good strategy let alone with a mediocre one, or even worse think you have one while you don’t know what defines a strategy. And trust me, without one, you’re toast or blissfully ignorant if you’re lucky. Often between C level decision making & execution we see lots of actions to shape things up. Processes, analysis, methodologies, reporting, rules, regulation but there is something missing. But tools are just tools and having a race car doesn’t make one a NASCAR driver, it just gets you in a car crash. Bean counting and ITIL means nothing if you are not using it at the right time, the right place, for the right reasons, in the right way. Some parts of your business should be a total free fire zone, while others should be process based with a vengeance. Choose wisely. I have a presentation on that Smile by the way.

The road ahead

One has to keep moving forward. And guess what? There are many roads to travel and beautiful sights to see, great experiences to be had.

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While I‘m a hands on technologist & will be one for a long time I’ll spend more time in 2014 on strategic roles that involve technology. There is a clear and present need, coupled with a demand. It’s an opportunity to deliver value. I see way too much many examples of quick, dirty & clueless “solutions” that are just waiting to become a stinking cesspool of technology debt at best another nail in the coffin. Remember that even the best designs and implementations have a time limited value and will rot away over time as they age and the world changes. So what does that tell you about the mediocre ones? Perhaps you need a consigliere?

Take care and I wish you all a great, healthy & prosperous 2014! May it bring you  interesting projects, lots of opportunities & practical nuclear fusion for a cheap, easy and “infinite” source of clean energy.

Quality Of Life, Being Valued, Standby, On Watch, Over Time, Emergencies, Arrogance & Entitlement


Pointy Haired Managers

Time for an entry in The Dilbert® Life series, which are post on corporate culture from hell and dysfunctional organizations running wild. This can be quite shocking and sobering to those who take themselves to serious. So these blog posts need to be read with a healthy dose of humor and be put into perspective. If you can’t do that, leave now.

I see my part of corporate bullshit & a total lack of real insight, let alone vision. To be fair, the amount of crap managers gets to see from their employees is also considerable Smile as you can read here. I do not expect all managers to be a genuine leaders, that would be overly ambitious of me. But some common sense might come in handy. Every now and then, when some managers feel the need to make a name for themselves, an entire process tends to repeat it self. Part of that is the need to improve things and services in ways that have no real value & only seem to have a cost. The good news about this is that responding to this is very economical as you can just reuse all your previous e-mails & notes debunking it. Their game plan for the above is never ever original, but sometimes it does contain a secondary agenda.

Command & Control

First thing that always pops up is the old & long wish list of making pigs fly as requested by other middle managers, i.e. their peers This caters to the needs to be perceived as “being able to get it done”. This is also a drag but it isn’t difficult to deal with either. It’s like singing the same song over and over again, but heck we know the tune & the words by hard.

The second thing is planning. Schedules, vacation, capacity planning, resource allocations. It’s the need to assert control or at least the illusion. Be in charge of the sheep. This is a double edged sword as flexibility works both ways. What you take away form employees, you lose too!  While some managers are ridiculously blunt at it, some show more finesse but in the end it aids in showing some “executive power” to their peers as well, as they got a grip on the ‘IT Crowd’  who are seen like I described before in The do’s and don’ts when engaging consultants Part II:

“Well those IT people are a tough crowd. They are opinionated and don’t communicate to well. Hell those guys & gals prefer to work with machines! They are not up to speed with what is politically correct or fashionable, hate faking, can’t stand save asses and don’t tolerate kiss asses. Good IT people live by the sword and die by the sword. It’s all very direct. Either their solution works or it doesn’t. You can’t hide behind reports, gold plated words or lies when you work in IT. The evidence is there every single second of every single day, staring you right in the face. So basically it’s no wonder that weak management and incompetent employees can’t get along with them very well, they are a bit too direct.”

That’s all fine. But I prefer leaders over managers, as one manages resources, not people. In that respect I consider the term “Human Resources” a huge mistake. I prefer to work at places where I get the freedom & flexibility to produce great results.  If they can’t offer that, things tend to become mediocre, their choice. Control works both ways and the more control you exert, the less flexible employees become as the race to the bottom sets in while your best “opt out”. Not that I have any illusion of being important, but I digress Smile.

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If it works for the business and that’s where they make the money & profit, well done, who am I to argue? What isn’t fine however is when middle management only talks the talk but never walks the walk in regards to being on call, standby, whatever you want to call it. If done professionally, well organized, with insight and purpose it’s perfectly fine and acceptable on a voluntary and compensated basis. You know, the kind of job where you know what you get into. However, often the services aren’t well defined, let alone that is known what is needed to support them and if that is even feasible. But they bring up that subject as every now and then, some of the talking heads get off on buzz words like SLAs, 24/7 economy, etc. It must be the self aggrandizing thrill of being in control of mission critical systems I guess. All that while knowing that often the one and only really time critical & very specialized app has been running on the dedication & voluntarism of exactly one guy for the past decade at that place (I kind of hope he wins the lottery). Please, unless you’ve got you purposely designed application running as SAAS on Amazon/Azure in different global regions or on premise in 3 different locations you’re not really mission critical. That means you should not even consider trying to do this. The manufacturing industry can learn you something here. Pay good people good money to do well defined work in weekend/night shifts. Don’t combine this with normal hours, it’s a recipe for failure. It trying to reap the economic benefits of crisis efforts as a normal way of doing business.

Put Up or Shut Up

Basically that’s my answer to being on call but in an ever so diplomatic way. My and your time is limited. It’s truly something you can not recuperate, resurrect or create. It’s never ever coming back. So when I’m asked (or I some cases told) I need to be on stand by or on watch, then we must discuss terms & conditions. But first of all I remind them that if they don’t have their act together and have designed for 24/7 they will fail at achieving their goals.

What is my role?

  • Architect
  • Leader & Coach
  • Advisor / Consultant
  • Virtualization Expert
  • Systems Engineer
  • Storage Engineer
  • Network Engineer
  • Operational Employee

I can and I do combine many of these roles with great success. But one cannot do everything for everyone. Some skill sets come at a cost. You pay me to be a systems engineer and you’ll get a very good one. Just don’t expect me to throw in architecture & strategic advice for free. You are either willing to pay for that or you’re not. That is your prerogative, as it is mine not to accept an offer. But being on call isn’t in that list as a role. It’s a feature that comes at a (high) cost both in money and in time and it impacts my ability to perform certain roles full or part time. So unless you’re willing to pay top dollar, my diplomatic answer is that “I’m not available for the next 6 months”. I don’t do low ball rates. It’s the same as in consulting or jobs. I’d rather work 40 hours per week in a well paid interesting job with 6 weeks vacation instead of 60 hours first level support for low ball rates and 2 weeks off. But this answer won’t work when you’re already an employee. In that case you need t explain it a bit more.

If you’re not willing to pay, why would I?

Regarding being on call. You are limiting me in my free/spare time. Time when I’m not supposed to be working for you as I have already done my part (often more).

I can’t enjoy a glass of wine at a party or BBQ. I can’t go on a spontaneous day trip or weekend. I can’t work on another project or hobby. I need to stay in the neighborhood of a phone, laptop, internet connection and transport. Darn, perhaps I’ll even need to buy a car as currently in this digital age I don’t really need one. I can work very productively from anywhere in the world.  But basically standby means I’m grounded.  So if you want me to be on call in a weekend for 48 hours that is going to cost you money, time or a combination of both.

  • My hourly rate, that’s what you pay for my skill sets. You’re buying my expertise and  not only time. This rate reflects my value, not your willingness or capability to pay them. My rates are high. The good news is that you probably don’t need me.
  • As I have to reserve my time exclusively to you during those specific hours (whether you need them or not is your risk, not mine) has to be compensated in time, money or both. That’s the cost of retaining me.
  • The fact that those hours are also evenings and at night make them more premium as you have a serious impact on my other engagements & opportunities, both personal & professional. That’s extra again in either time, money or both.
  • I get to bear increased responsibility and stress without any long-term reward. You just add this to my plate while you hope that I’ll keep shining in all roles mentioned above. But you’re undermine my capabilities to do so by being on call and you’d like me do some management on top of that to convince others in the team of this worthy cause.
  • You limit my chances at promotions. You might not want to lose the person who does this.
  • What you get for free or this cheap is rarely valued, so it’s a very bad investment for me.
  • You are going to make me walk out on my loved ones, family, friends, etc. for
    € 5/hour. What kind of message does that send? Hey my bosses have a 24/7 mission critical system I need to go deal with raking in a whopping € 5/hour (don’t laugh). So I’m out of here! Really? Is that what you tell your wife & children? I actually love my family Winking smile.

Why on earth would you even think I’d agree to this whilst you love a scheme where I’m not even being paid if nothing happens? And if something really critical happens that can’t wait and I work throughout the night for 10 hours the value of saving decades of work, half a billion in data and make sure there is job to come back to for hundreds of people is worth € 50? Really, I think it can wait till Monday morning my friend. And if it’s really a crisis and we were able to help we have always done so, through the nights, in weekends for free, voluntarily. That’s our commitment on record, where is yours? So no we’re not being assholes. But I resent the cheap ease with which some people want to take control of my non working hours. You see most people who want this don’t really need it and are not organized to run 24/7 mission critical operations. It’s a bolt on, on top of the 40+ hours (I wish) one puts in.

My time, my life & well being cannot be bought with ridiculous tokens of appreciation. I cannot produce or acquire time. It’s a fixed resource, and limited. Basically I don’t care whether you appreciate me or not in this particular case. If you want this effort from me we’ll need to discuss compensation in both time and money. Serious time to compensate being restricted at moments and serious money because your appreciation has never gotten me a raise, promotion or a discount at the grocery store or doctors office. You see, they only take money. I don’t get any kicks out of being a sucker who fell for this and the hot babes don’t fall for it either (that’s what I hear anyway). If you can’t afford that, you don’t need me, meaning you have other and better options. It’s that simple. Or you’ll need to realize your half baked 24/7 “mission critical” system isn’t up to it’s task and bleeding to death but you just can’t use me to stop the bleeding. I’m not a tampon but a “valued employee”. You are pretending to be mission critical and while I’m perfectly fine that you’re acting out your fantasies, I am not playing. I’m banking on the cloud and your monthly bill to help you realize what mission critical really costs which will mean you’ll decide that good enough is good enough or organize it properly.

Arrogant?

OK, so I do a full time day job and when it comes to studying, learning and being good at my job I’m above average. Now on top of that, let’s say that you want to pay me € 125 for staying on or around my home 2 weekends per month, and being on call 2 nights per week. Excluding holidays & vacation well call it € 1250/year. That’s a months pay extra for some. It is and that’s a hard reality. But it’s not during office hours, it’s added time & restrictions at low ball rates. That’s still nice you might say. If I only ever have to intervene a few times per month by clicking a few buttons and perhaps only have 2 real interventions per year totaling 16 hours per year. That might sound like an OK deal for some people and a manager (I’m assuming here that he really needs this). But that’s not what you want me for. You want me there because I can think on my feet, have serious skill sets and I’m your best hope of saving your business from disaster. And I have proven that by the way, numerous times. How much do you pay a real good consultant during regular office hours? Enough said. In reality every time stuff goes wrong who get’s an e-mail or phone call when decisions need to be made and executed? Who can‘t be reached in weekends when the shit hits the fan or has to be literally dragged away from their family? Right! Think twice before you call me arrogant. And most certainly do not use it as a reason why I should do it and be happy for the “opportunity”.

Am I an entitled piece of s* without any work ethic!?

Nice try. You just had to say this huh? Now you’re going to make my digress a whole lot. Look dude, before the industrialization of the world you had very limited career options which all came down to scraping a living day by day and dying by the truckload due to famine, disease & violence. Later on we got a slew of options which gradually became a better deal for “the working class”. After slavery we got “free” slaves in the factories & mines (Foxcon employees still have to get out of that stage) and after an equally industrialized slaughter of men during a couple of world wars we got the age of the baby boomers. They saw massive improvements to their quality of life thanks to unions & organized social/economic negotiations in an era when Communism was perceived a threat. Ah, that short time in history when social peace & a thriving middle class was worth something to big business and governments (literally money). They lived & died in the belief they got their fair share when they worked hard and they had a good work ethic. People were loyal to their companies, they got a pension, social security. Reciprocity. Life was good as long as you didn’t go crazy, or that’s the dream they sold you. But that’s not us anymore. That social peace and giving out a fair share isn’t worth that much anymore as it used to be to the powers that be. The current active generations (that would be us) are the ones with all rights, but much less work ethic. Entitlement? Perhaps, but politics & business lead by example so what do you expect? Mind you I did not say we work less, far from it. Some elderly people I know are appalled at the hours we really work versus what is says on paper and they don’t get the “always on” world. We have no prospects of things getting better. On the contrary, everything we have is under constant attack and it’s getting worse by the day. You might not realize it yet because it’s being buffered by social security & benefits in Europe. And while some might even get more incentives to work less instead of more the golden sixties are not coming back. While I’m a firm believer in a just & social, caring society, I’m afraid the way we use it to keep up appearances is not the correct answer to the threats by big money & power to the quality of our existence. But don’t worry about having to work until you’re 70. You won’t even be able to. The only end game here is you’ll get no or less pension. And if you take care of yourself and save for retirement they just steal it under your nose at 1.5% interest (do the math) or by downright confiscating it as a tax to save the EU or wherever it is you live. The wealth of the world is being transferred (it seldom disappears) in ever greater numbers to ever less people. Thanks to all the brilliant economic think tanks who “believe” they are doing science. But I indeed digress and here ends the history lesson.

economicsdemotivator[1]

This was about me potentially being an entitled piece of s*. Well saying that to employees who have saved companies from annihilation at -14°C on a snowy winter night, at +35°C in summer, at nights, in the weekends, voluntarily, because he valued the business and the livelihood of people isn’t very nice. But perhaps that’s not enough and you’d like more for peanuts? That means that you’ll now even consider robbing me of the time I need to enjoy what I have while it lasts. Take a hike, thank you. On your way donate your peanuts to the monkeys in the zoo, that’s where they belong, not in your business. The economy is down but it’s not that bad. Not yet anyway.

We can agree to disagree, but don’t insult me

Both you and me are not obliged to do this. We both have the choice. If and when you can find the people & skill sets you need for peanuts I’ll say, good for you! But when the next question is, without missing a beat, when & where the external service provider or employees you’ve found willing to do this can reach me all times, I’ll politely but decisively disengage as this brings us back to the start of the discussion and I don’t want to waste time on going over all this again. Not even to mention the fact that I take such inconsiderate behavior as an insult.

Good News

My current CEO gets this. So, no, it’s not a real issue for me as an employee. I hope yours does to, if not walk away. You seldom lose valued employees, you lose them because you don’t, which means you don’t care and probably don’t need them anyway. While consulting, it’s “easier”, your rates will chase the riff raff away and if not you just say that you’re not available for the next 6 months.

How To Save A Company From Death By Meetings


I had a very interesting discussion with a fellow virtualization expert & strategic advisor at E2EVC Rome 2013. We discussed many issues and the topic came up that we see way too many potentially strong organizations sub come to “death by meetings”.  Instead of fixing this they are treating the symptoms and are declaring the symptoms to be “illegal”. It’s almost pandemic. You really need to opt out of this this madness for the sake of the company and getting work done.

I think we need to take this further. Bar reverting to the tactics of a UK manager who locked all meeting rooms and took the keys away whilst telling his staff to stop meeting and start working, we should implement these rules:

  1. There is an absolute maximum of 5 hours meeting per 8 hour workday. Work less than full time? Adjust accordingly. This is non negotiable for anyone. You must decline any meeting that violates this rule. You must not strive for this maximum.
  2. You must decline any meeting that has no agenda.
  3. No meeting can have more than 5 attendees unless a very valid reason and need is motivated in the agenda. If not, you have to decline the meeting.
  4. Meetings have to be planned in advance & cannot be made permanent. That is reserved for councils or meetings of the board.
  5. Everyone, from the lowest pay grade to the top manager hast to abide by these rules
  6. Teleconferencing is a perfectly valid way of meeting and is included in these 5 hours.

meetingsdemotivator[1]

People, really, stop meeting for 8 hours a day. It’s scary so many companies can’t get a grip on this. Your thoughts?

The Dilbert Life Series – A Bad Manager’s Priorities


As usual the normal disclaimer applies: don’t take yourself to seriously. Relax Smile

Where great managers can make a serious difference in many ways to both the success of a company and to the personal achievements of their employees the opposite also happens. Many types of managers exist. Dealing with or even controlling them, depending on whether you live above or under them is well documented. The aim of that is to get the best out of the resources and people available. The better the managers, the better this will work out. Perfection is not of this world and you won’t have the best possible manager for every possible position. That’s a given, just like they won’t have the best possible employee or consultant for every job or project. So there is no need to get emotional about it or expect perfection before calling something good. There is however one type, the bad manager, that should not be controlled. They should be dealt with in only one way which is termination. If that’s not possible you need to get as far away from them as possible. Mind you the latter is only an option if you’re a subordinate employee. If, as a boss you run away from bad subordinate manager than you really need to reconsider your career choices.

Me, Myself and I

A bad manager will never choose you over his or her own priorities, nor will they put the organizations needs first. The first is by definition. Don’t take it personal. The company does not exist for your needs. The second is more problematic as the organization’s needs are priority one. Let’s take a look their priorities in order of declining importance as determined by experience.

  1.  Me, myself and I. This is normal and it applies to everyone. But there is more to this than just plain self-interest. People who are given or rise to power, have a strong tendency to put their own needs and interests above those of others. Your manager’s ambitions & agenda (professional, personal and financial) will always take precedence of any need you might have. They need to fill their treasury and the pressure to “live up to expectations” of their overlords is on.
  2. Reputation. Managers need to be seen & act as very reliable, trustworthy persons who can get results. With some luck they are. But we all know about “perception is reality”. This is true until you hit the ground after jumping of the 36 floor because you pretend you can fly. Whether a bad manager actually delivers anything is irrelevant as long as the perception is there. Office politics are part of the game and they don’t take prisoners. Your boss is going to be more prone to protect his or her reputation than to protect yours. That’s why managers get pissed off about even only a perceived loss of reputation. In the dog eat dog world they’ll even ruin your reputation if and when needed as they can’t be seen as the root cause of problems. They’ll blatantly steal your work and take credit for all that goes well in the same way. You’re an expendable asset and you should never forget it.
  3. Their superiors. This is both hierarchical and functional. It’s not only the fact that a lot of people feel the need to please others for whatever reason. It is also just self-interest (promotions, ego) and self-preservation. So realize that your managers will almost always choose to follow their bosses or the peers they fear or need in order to gain a stronger or more favorable position with them. Yes, they will do so even if it is bad for the company or organization. This holds a warning: if you’re a functional superior to your managers than you’re a threat and they might try to get rid of you.
  4. Customers. You can forget about being more important than the needs of the customers. Whether these are external or internal customers is irrelevant. Your managers job is to serve the need of the customers. Your managers will not get ahead if he doesn’t serve their needs.
  5. The team. Yes the team, the assets are more important than you. As long as managers can have the team do what needs to be done, they have a way of serving the above priorities, which are more important. In that respect the ability of a manager to keep the team running is paramount. They’ll feed the teams just enough to keep them alive, hopeful enough to carry on and will challenges them to keep them sharp. Keep ‘m mean, lean & hungry.
  6. You. Sure you have some skills they needs. If not they might keep you around just to add another FTE to the head count in order to proof the importance or the weight of their jobs. So he won’t kick you most of the time and will even throw you a bone every now and then. Good doggy. But you know that saying “People are our biggest asset?” It’s a lie, especially to them.

How to deal with this?

The above is always true in a lesser way for all individuals and as such also for managers. The big difference is that the balance has totally shifted to the dark side with really bad ones. In essence you have a couple of options. Grow a pair of balls and make sure you have some power as well, play the same game and get them terminated. If your upper management is worth their pay they might be way ahead of you and that will bet the end of it for you. If it has to come from the bottom realize that this is not easy. Terminating a manager from lower in the hierarchy always upsets the powers that be. To them such an event is highly disconcerting and visions of guillotines, tar, feathers and pitch forks pop up. Another option is to take evasive maneuvers. You could do so by moving laterally or vertically in the organization out of harm’s way. Last but not least. Leave. Yes, that might not be fair on you and what you already accomplished at the company but life is not fair and is certainly too precious to put up with the above. In the end you must know your opponent and know yourself. Perhaps you can live with them and there are various ways of dealing with various types of managers, who all have their weaknesses and strengths. It’s a personal decision, but a real bad manager, that’s something you really can do without and shouldn’t tolerate ever, for your own health and well-being.