The grandiose IT ego

If you work in IT or work with IT then you probably know what the “grandiose IT ego” is.  Since it is a phrase used to describe something or someone technical then I guess we have to refer to it using an acronym (huge eye roll):  GITE (and I don’t mean a holiday house in France).

I rarely encounter the GITE but when I do it is something that ranks high on my list of unpleasant experiences that I would gladly trade instead for moments of crawling on my belly through deep muck in a scary jungle infested with disease, flesh-eating insects and cannibalistic tribes.

I write this post because a typical GITE made the news recently for doing something that a typical GITE does:  publicly mock people who ask “stupid” questions.  Not cool.

Unfortunately, I cannot offer sound advice on how to deal with GITE’s since my method is that of ignoring them on an epic level.  I am proud to say I am an Olympic champion in the arena of ignoring and, unless you are at this level, I do not recommend it because bottling up that kind of frustration could cause your head to pop off if you are not properly trained on how to internalize such things.

There is one thing I can do if you are a new IT up-and-comer.  I can offer a few tips on how to prevent becoming the dreaded GITE:

  • Your clients are paying you for an IT service for a reason.  They either do not have time to do the task themselves or they do not know how to do it.  In either case, they are going to ask you questions.  If some of these questions are questions you classify as silly, avoid mocking them for asking such questions.  This is the most important rule to carry with you in any field of study or business setting.  Mocking others quickly propels you into a spotlight of unflattering light that can be seen for miles.   Poking fun is something you do in private with your friends when you are letting off steam.  Keep it private and anonymous and remember this: you ask silly questions to, you just do not realize it.
  • Avoid the urge to lecture others on how they should be doing something.  Work on your delivery by offering suggestions or just appreciating others as they are instead of a scene like this:  hovering over someone’s shoulder as they drive and sighing and rolling your eyes as you tell them how slow they are and that they should be selecting Ctrl-C to copy text instead of selecting “edit” > “copy” from the top menu.  There are 1200 different ways to do anything on a computer, no one cares that you want to be the Overlord of Copy Commands.

 

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Scrum and Agile Project Management: meeting and scope creep wasteland (maybe)

I really like seeing happy people; it makes me feel better about the world when I see happy people.  Kindness, great attitudes, respect for others and hope for tomorrow are a huge part of what make communities and workplaces thrive.  My appreciation for happiness is why it has taken me so long to write this article because I feel like I am complaining about happy people.  For this, I sincerely apologize.

I have worked in a few IT shops that have attempted the Scrum and Agile process.  From my limited exposure to this process, I have noted a few disturbing similarities:

  • The crazy amount of face time chatter that occurs in multiple planning meetings with coworkers. I can look past this because, as a long time introvert, I am highly skilled in tuning out humans that are speaking yet saying nothing. I bring work to these meetings that I can delve into when the clock passes the time limit of 10 minutes and extends into 90 minutes of giggles, jokes, complaining, etc.
  • The unusual and frequent “sprints” of activity that seem to exist for the sole benefit of providing eye candy to clients. From what I have witnessed, this activity does not keep clients in the loop; it only provides a platform for clients to add more requirements to an already agreed upon set of requirements.  I am all for scope creep because we are human, it keeps me coding and I am giving clients what they want.  However, enabling extreme scope creep means you are promoting an environment where no one has to sit, think and plan before meetings.   I rarely see extreme scope creep, but when I do it is when participants have to attend many meetings and they arrive at each meeting unprepared where they then rattle off unrelated and messy concepts about processes.
  • The Agile and Scrum process seems to attract feverish support from the more social application developers. They talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk about anything and everything and at the end of the day, there is no code.  I appreciate this type of developer for their great attitude but when they are in charge of Scrum and Agile processes, they end up keeping many people in meetings with them each week that far exceed what is needed.

The to do list, client and IT communication, and weekly accountability of the Scrum and Agile process are WONDERFUL but these are things I already do so I don’t really have a solid argument for Scrum and Agile due to what I have experienced to date.

If you are in the midst of implementing the Scrum and Agile process, my advice to you (based on my meager experience with it) is:

  • keep the 4 billion meetings to a strict time limit
  • ensure the welcoming of scope creep does not promote lazy preparation for documenting processes and determining requirements
  • avoid thoughts of destroying happy people, they are critical for the survival of the human spirit

Good luck.

ACRONYM

Dear ACRONYM,

Thank you for your consistent overuse in the workplace.  Side effects of no pharmaceutical drugs in our solar system can compare to the thick atmosphere of confusion you create on a daily basis.

I particularly enjoy pausing at various points throughout my workday to reference copious amounts of old documentation in a futile attempt to find your true meaning.

Please keep up the good work.  Continue to blanket my world in meaningless character combinations until one day I snap and speak only in numbers for the remainder of my days.

Sincerely,

 

TCTIGTKY

 

Web Applications – make this clear to users at all times: where they are and what they are using

When a user experiences a problem using an application, the list of possible issues can be lengthy depending on the complexity of the environment(s) and dependencies.  If the user is unable to clearly articulate to the help desk what application is broken or where they are when issues arise then this is a clear indicator that the training, documentation and application itself are not all using the same language.

Make things easy for your users by following these simple steps with every application your write and/or support:

  • Give the application one name and one name only. In this example we will give our application the name “Blue Safari”.
  • Place the name of the application prominently on every page of the application. This means “Blue Safari” is on every page of the application.  (not “Bls Version 2.0” but “Blue Safari” or “Blue Safari Version 2.0”)
  • If your application is a web application, try to place the name of the application somewhere in the url if possible.
  • All shortcuts or hyperlinks that take users to the application should be the name of the application (i.e. “Blue Safari”)
  • In all documentation and training for users and support staff, refer to your application with the same language. This means all references to the application will be stated as “Blue Safari”.

If you give your application several different names then several problems arise:

  1. The user either doesn’t know what to call the application when he or she calls the help desk to report the problem or the user calls the application by a name that no one at the help desk recognizes.
  2. A significant delay occurs before the issue is resolved simply due to the time spent sorting out the confusion over what exactly is broken and where it is.

Avoid contributing to the overall mayhem of our existence, it will only end badly, we both know that.  Unless of course your help desk gives out free ponies and chocolate ice cream with every call, then maybe as a caller I will not care so much that I am unable to clearly tell you what is broken.  Now I want ice cream.

Are you in IT and stressed out of your mind? Just skate it out.

Any recreational sport will do when it comes to alleviating stress (unless you choose alligator wrestling and then you realize you can’t swim) but if you ask me I am going to push you out on a sheet of slick ice wearing sharp metal blades for stress relief because THAT is living:)  If you are game, here are all the details (note: I am a computer programmer, not an ice skating pro – this is information I have learned over the years as a recreational ice skater and it might help you get started):

As an adult, avoid thinking you are too old, too set in your ways, too gorgeous, too skinny, too freaky looking or too overweight for ice skating fun. Professional ice skating coaches know what they are doing and these coaches are able to train focused and dedicated skaters using safe techniques that slowly build up to a solid skating skill set.

If you have no ice skating experience, and you really want to learn to ice skate, then keep reading! Ice skating is not only insanely fun but the ice skating community is comprised of wonderful and supportive folks no matter your skill level, age or size.  Like many other sports, ice skating can be very dangerous therefore proper planning, equipment and training are essential.

When you are ready for the ice:

Sign up for a beginner class, they are usually once a week for a few months (and then you should go one more time per week during the public session to practice what you are learning). Don’t freak out if you are the only adult in the class, just do it, you will be glad you did. Don’t expect too much too soon. Your skill set builds slowly (it seems to go faster for children, do not let this discourage you). Expect that you will fall so always stay in a safe position when skating (knees bent, chin up, shoulders square, back straight and slightly forward, arms out to each side and don’t look at the floor) so you have a chance at a safer landing should you fall as opposed to when your legs are straight and stiff which may lead to violent falls backward or forward with head injuries.

Falling is unsettling to say the least, especially if a fall results in substantial injuries.  If you fall, and nothing is broken, then get up immediately to avoid injuring others who may be near you or coming towards you and also as a way to shake off what just happened.

Don’t worry about having your own skates for the first class, just put on what they have at the rink.  If you find yourself looking forward to each class as the weeks go by then definitely invest in a pair of your own skates.  Your coach can give you advice on the best type of skates to purchase.  Back when I started I purchased a pair of skates at a local sporting goods store for $50.00.  Those got me through many years of beginner classes and when I moved up to fancier skates I passed the $50.00 skates onto another newbie, they were still in excellent condition (I am a figure skater, this advice may or may not not hold true for purchasing hockey skates).

 

Linux Server Freakout Day (aka Friday)

It is a seemingly normal Friday morning and, like any other morning, from your Windows pc, you attempt a Putty session into a Linux backup server to check the status of your backup tapes in NetBackup.

You enter your login information successfully then something quite sinister occurs.  You enter the command to get NetBackup going and instead of NetBackup opening you instead see this message: “Missing MAX_MEMORY parameter X connection to localhost broken (explicit kill or server shutdown).”

Say whaaaaa?!

Before you freak out, race to the server room for visual checks of the server, and tear up over your life flashing before your eyes, do the following:

  1. Watch this Hamster Meditation video, it will calm you down:  https://youtu.be/Op-7bYoAdQ0 – it is one minute and 20 seconds of pure tech Zen
  2. Close your Putty session.
  3. Exit Xming (aha! Xming wasn’t even running was it? The error listed above will always occur if you forget to start Xming before you begin your Putty session).
  4. Start Xming.
  5. Start your Putty session and try again.

I hope this helps:)  If not, check out http://www.redhat.com  – they are the Mack Daddy of sweet documentation.

Invest zero time in toxic complainers (TC’s)

Unfortunately, many organizations have at least one TC: a person who complains endlessly about everything but offers no clear explanations regarding the actual problem and offers no potential solutions.  The person just seems to enjoy yelling and complaining in general.  The person will often throw in tears, threats or violence to juice up the drama.

If management is paying attention, TC’s are easily identifiable by how they react when discussing other employees or issues they have encountered during the workday.  It is best that TC’s are dealt with immediately because their lack of clear communication skills, lack of patience and lack of respect for others in the workplace have a severe impact on morale and work performance.

A few suggestions on how to best deal with TC’s is as follows.  Please note: these suggestions have not been tested on actual TC’s.  I’ve only attempted these strategies when working with my hamster Mr. Snowflake Brownie:

  • Remove all communication devices from the TC’s office (phone, email, instant messaging, and internet web forms) so the TC is stuck with only one method of toxic complaining: verbal, in person.
  • Hire someone to be the liaison between the TC and any other human within the organization for times of the verbal, in person toxic complaining.  This liaison would stick to a “young child” approach when dealing with the TC.  The liaison would use methods such as baby talk when the TC begins a tirade, petting the TC on the head to calm him or her down and ordering “time outs” during extremely heated toxic complaining sessions.

Eyes tired? Have your computer read documents to you!

In IT I often have to read copious amounts of crazy boring PDF documents regarding servers or applications I support.  Some of these PDF documents are in excess of 300 pages.  In order to save my sanity and my eyesight, I often take advantage of the “Read out loud” feature in Adobe Acrobat Pro.  This feature allows me to absorb the content of the PDF through audio while I perform other tasks.  Follow these steps to give your eyes a break today:

  1. open a PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro
  2. select View
  3. select Read out loud
  4. select Activate Read out loud
  5. select View
  6. select Read out loud
  7. select Read to End of Document (Adobe will begin reading the document to you)

If you do not have access to a tool like Adobe Acrobat Pro, their are other options available.  Other tools are called screen readers, some are available for download for free.  Please note: if you download a screen reader for free, please consider donating funds to the organization supporting the screen reader because screen reader technology is imperative to visually impaired computer users. The development and support of screen readers must continue, they provide an extremely valuable service to users.

Avoid relying on one IT person in medium to large organizations; this is an extremely inefficient method of obtaining IT assistance

In organizations with many employees, IT departments often rely on a helpdesk main phone number and a helpdesk ticketing system to:  ensure timely responses to clients, ensure issues are directed to the appropriately qualified IT staff, keeping IT work organized, building a knowledge base for future IT employees and clients, and for simply maintaining some semblance of order.

If clients and IT stray from this process frequently, the end result is inefficiency.  An example is when clients attempt to reach his or her “favorite” IT person directly instead of calling the helpdesk number or submitting a helpdesk ticket.  A “favorite” IT person is rarely going to be qualified to properly address every issue the client encounters (ex. a computer programmer in IT may not know how to fix a network router issue).  This strategy only wastes the time of the client and IT by prolonging the time it will take to route the issue to the appropriate IT personnel for resolution.  It is also often very difficult to reach a “favorite” IT person directly because many of them are on the phone addressing helpdesk call issues or are troubleshooting helpdesk ticket issues being experienced throughout a building (other offices, server rooms, conference rooms, etc.).  These inefficient scenarios can be avoided if IT and clients stick to the orderly method of using a helpdesk main phone number and a helpdesk ticketing system.

Unfortunately for IT and for clients, it may be difficult to maintain proper usage of the helpdesk main phone number and the helpdesk ticketing system, here are a few tips:

  1. Ensure proper coverage of the helpdesk main phone number.  If no one answers, then users will stop calling and go back to dealing with a favorite IT person.
  2. Ensure proper attitude.  If the employees answering the helpdesk main phone number are rude or combative, then users will stop calling and go back to dealing with a favorite IT person.
  3. Ensure proper training.  If the person(s) answering the helpdesk main number has no idea who works on what then users will stop calling and go back to dealing with a favorite IT person.

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