Because we are coming up so quickly on Cisco Live 2013 in Orlando, and because it is a Sunday evening and I cannot find a single thing I am motivated to write about, I decided to build a photo gallery of some of my photos from last year’s Cisco Live conference in San Diego. Some of these photos are blurry; some are of things you don’t care about; others are of people you do not know. That being said, please enjoy and I look forward to reuniting with the social media crew in a few short weeks.
My wife and I were reviewing our post-Cisco Live plans (hint: we’re Disney junkies) and came across a nifty deal that we were unaware of. We’ve already made our plans, but this might be useful to some of you out there who may be thinking about visting the mouse during or after Cisco Live in Orlando.
Some good deals there exclusively for Cisco Live attendees. Maybe your spouse or significant other wants to have something to do during the day, or maybe you want to hit some parks before or after the convention. Either way, check it out.
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“You don’t burn out from going too fast. You burn out from going too slow and getting bored.” – Cliff Burton
I used to wonder how a person can “burn out,” get bored, or otherwise grow tired of doing something they absolutely love. I really never understood the premise, and I didn’t understand the people to whom it happened. Until it happened to me.
To be fair, after having been diagnosed with a pretty rare form of cancer midway through last year, it’s not retrospectively surprising that my focus would change; that I would want to spend more time with family and less studying to the nth degree the various technologies I love. That wasn’t it, though.
I felt tired. An almost depressed kind of tired, to the point that I was just going through the motions but with no particular excitement about any of it. The books from Cisco Press and INE, the stacks of RFC printouts, and the hundreds of pages of white-papers on this or that technology sat in my office only occasionally moving when one of my oddly overweigh cats clumsily knocked something over in a vein attempt to gain higher ground.
In short, I was done; done with the arguments about Apple vs. Microsoft, or Android vs. iPhone, BSD and Linux, Emacs and Vi. I started spending my free time watching more television with my family thinking that meant quality time, when it mostly just meant passing time. I began a couple of hobbies, started planning more vacations to warmer places, and generally found myself just being.
Just recently, however, I had a revelation. It wasn’t that I was burned out on the whole of IT, I was burned out on two things: stuff that doesn’t matter, and maintenance. To wit:
The little things that I was burned out on were all of the little, petty, fairly unimportant things that everyone in IT gets hung up on at some point: the “this vs. that” arguments that inevitably devolve into quasi holy wars. To be honest, I couldn’t care less which phone you have or which operating system you use; if it works for you, great.
That’s a minor point, though. The big point of burnout for me was the maintenance–the daily grind of resetting passwords, looking at endless streams of alerts, scheduling maintenance windows, negotiating with management, budgeting, re-budgeting, etc. This is what I’ll call the cat-herding part of my world. This is the part that was burning me out.
I sat down one night and started reading one of the classic self-help books–which one escapes me this second, but probably Dale Carnegie or some such–and I started thinking about what it is that I actually enjoy about IT. What is it that drew me in when I was much, much younger and sustained me for so long?
The short answer? Projects. Figuring stuff out, implementing new technologies, making something work that solves a particular problem. That’s what gets the proverbial juices flowing. That’s what I needed to get back to.
Throughout most of my career I’ve been a bit of a designated hitter. What do I mean by that? I mean that I’ve done a lot of post-sales implementation, and pre-sales engineering, and a lot of evangelizing of different technologies. In short, I’ve been the guy who helps a company fix a particular problem.
For the last few years, however, I’ve gotten away from that. I’ve become a successful Sr. Network Engineer and IT Manager of a multi-national company and I’ve spent almost 7 years rebuilding an entire world wide network from the ground up. It’s been thrilling, challenging, and frustrating all at the same and different times.
Now, however, the network is almost all done. It is built. The problems have all been solved, and now we’re in a maintenance mode–where the focus shifts from expanding and problem solving to maintenance and cost-cutting. And therein lies the crux of the issue.
It may be that I’m some sort of masochist, or extreme type-A personality, but I have an almost narcissistic, obsessive need to be fixing something. With me, it is not a case of “if it’s not broke, don’t touch it,” it is more like “if it’s not broke, I don’t care about it.”
To wrap it up for now, it seems as if what I’ve been dealing with is not a case of burnout at all; it is boredom. And that, my friends, is much more insidious. I’m much more aware now of all that boredom can do: It drags you down, it robs you of the joy of moving forward, and it takes the fun out of what used to sustain you.
The good news, however, is that with this awareness comes a better, move revived focus, and I’m starting to come alive again. I’m starting to look forward to the conventions, to the new technologies, and to some of the inevitable arguments and technology holy wars. In the meantime, I’m off to reset some passwords and work on some budgets… at least until the next big thing comes along.
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“Life is hard. It’s harder if you’re stupid.” – John Wayne
I know it must have hurt you to find out that you were not selected for the position you interviewed for with my company. I know that based partly on my own experiences looking for work, but also by the way you attempted to high-five me when the interview was over. Rest assured, the fact that you almost punched me and that I had to get my glasses adjusted (turns out they aren’t made to hit the wall that hard) had no direct bearing on you not being asked to join our team. I feel a certain sense of duty, however, and would like to see you succeed in the future. To that end, please consider my topical suggestions for improving your interview performance below.
Timeliness–I understand that unforeseen complications can arise at any place, and often at the most inopportune times, which is why I didn’t cancel the interview when you were 35 minutes late to meet with me and the rest of the interview team. Life can happen to anyone, and I was feeling a little forgiving that day. Thanking me profusely for allowing you to interview was a good start, but explaining to me how drunk you were last night probably wasn’t your best move, strategically speaking.
Clothing–I know that in several print and other media outlets it is a well-hackneyed meme to eschew the idea of wearing a suit to a job these days. Some even say that you shouldn’t wear a suit to the interview. I tend to disagree, but I do understand that now that I’m in my late 30’s I am officially an old codger from your perspective. Let me just say this, then. Showing up to the interview in a wrinkled gap shirt, a pair of what I have to imagine are extremely uncomfortable jeans, and some oddly colored shoes that may have been made out of recycled rubber boots was a regrettable choice. You can probably skip the tie if you need to, but you may want to consider a pair of good slacks, a button-up shirt, and a coat. You may be a fresh-out-of-college hipster, but some of us aren’t.
Confidence–I admire confidence in people, I think it’s a good trait. Confidence during a job interview is also a good trait, and I’m glad to see you have it in spades. You should consider tempering that confidence just a bit, however, and perhaps relegating your stories of other-worldly deeds to things you have actually done, and not just things you have heard about. Also, the phrase “back in the day” should probably not be used to describe something I remember implementing less than 10 years ago.
Questions–I have to admire the way you showed absolutely no interest in my company… none, nada, zip. It takes a remarkable amount of focus and dedication to remain that entirely disinterested in a company you, ostensibly, are interested in working for. I have a hard time hitting that level of indifference on topics as mundane as toilet paper color, so that’s something. For future interviews, however, you may want to come armed with some basic questions that show you are at least aware of the company name. Start slow, then work up to more detailed questions like:
(1) What kind of company is this?
(2) What do you make? Or sell? Or do?
(3) Will I be paid?
(4) Am I expected to wear clothes?
I do applaud you for having questions at the ready, and for asking them in a serious manner, but I do question the content a bit. For instance, the few minutes we spent discussing what it *really* means to take a random drug test, whether they’re truly random or not, and how much notice you’d be given were insightful to say the least. Your concern about background checks was also good to see, though perhaps not in the way you might have hoped. The story about your wrongful arrest was colorful, if not helpful to your cause, and was 10 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.
Salary Negotiations–Here is an area where you really shot for the moon, and that is commendable on some level. Your tenacity in maintaining your worth to my company, despite all evidence to the contrary is a model of confidence and self-worth. The fact that your last job was as a help-desk technician for the local chapter of the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God society, that you had responsibility for two computers, and that you spent the majority of your work week in what I’d charitably call the custodial industry notwithstanding, you stood your ground and demanded a six-figure salary. As a quick aside, I have to apologize again for blowing coffee out my nose at you during this discussion. I assure you it was simply a lingering illness and nothing to do with our conversation.
In closing, while you were not offered this position–or any future position, ever–I hope that my suggestions above will be taken under advisement and help you as you explore other opportunities with–and I can’t stress this enough–other companies. Oh, and the position was filled by a guy in a suit. He wasn’t as fun to interview as you were, but again, he had a suit.
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“If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.” – Samuel Clemens
It was 1980 when the most wonderful and magical thing that my then 6-year-old brain could imagine happened. I was introduced to the Apple II series computers at my very forward-looking school’s computer lab in 1980. They were absolutely stunning devices, replete with what must have seemed to me at the time to be bazillions of buttons–oh my god, the buttons! As I watched a demonstration by one of my first teachers, and saw what she was calling a turtle race around the screen, leaving behind it an ever-expanding trail of symmetrical shapes-come-art, I was hooked. A lifelong passion was born right there in that room.
Shortly thereafter, my parents brought home an Apple IIc–this was the newest portable model–and the real learning began. My parents were not particularly technical people, and so left the setup of the new system entirely to me. This was a big, important—nay, critical–job for someone my age, but I was determined not to cough up the ball.
Knowing no cultural norms that would preclude me from it, I did what seemed logical at the time, and began voraciously reading every piece of paper that came with the new computer. I think I even had the serial numbers memorized two days in. I wanted to make sure that I knew everything there was to know about the workings of the mass of wires, keys, boxes and new-smelling electronics–oh! That smell!
Fast forward to my teenage years running Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) on a series of “IBM” machines with chips like the 8088, and the pattern that would come to define me in many ways continued; everything, it seemed, required reading. Want to find out about a particular piece of software, or how to install it? You’d have to read reams of courier style font printouts, replete with the obligatory dot-matrix printer tear-off strips on the side, in order to figure out just about anything–and that was after you had spent a week searching for that document… and searching, and searching, and then searching some more.
See, at one time there weren’t any search engines, or the World Wide Web, or even the Internet as we know it today. If you knew some people, you might get lucky and get yourself connected to a large document repository, maybe even a library system of some sort, but those connections were few and far between. You also weren’t connected in the “always on” sense of the word that we’ve come to understand as today’s Internet. You would connect to a BBS somewhere, request a document, and that document might come to you days or weeks later–after the chain of nightly connect-and-exchange for things like FIDO mail, etc., had completed. So searching was a profoundly personal affair, and you learned to get good at it, and you learned to have patience. And you learned.
Fast-forward to today, and what in God’s name does it all mean? In means that after years of hiring people, managing and mentoring them, and sometimes letting them go, I’ve seen a trend that profoundly bothers me: a lack of desire to learn; at least, a lack of desire to do it independently of any training dollars, classes, or edicts from management. In other words: nobody wants to learn on their own–for the pure sake of figuring it out–any more. Everyone wants to be spoon-fed what they need to know.
Have we lost the desire to sit down at a terminal and bang away at it until we’ve figured it out? Or has the IT industry as a whole become diluted with people who, still reeling from the news coverage of the heady days of Silicon Valley startups, simply jumped in to an industry they saw as a path to wealth? I suspect the problem is the latter, and it just takes a lot more work now to weed out a pool of applicants. It’s no longer provable that you are a geek by your resume alone. You may be an interloper, attracted by money, and reasonably smart, but unwilling to do more than what amounts to a quid pro quo of sorts.
I have had several applicants for jobs tell me outright that they won’t learn new technologies unless they’re told to by a supervisor, and then only if it’s in the form of a training class. This attitude, while surprisingly common, causes me to worry about the future of the Information Technology landscape. Are we going to find ourselves with a small percentage of immensely talented engineers–ostensibly valued because of their almost superhuman ability to learn anything–supported by an ever larger group of mid-level support staff, doing only what they’ve been trained to do? Or are we already there?