It’s late 2001 and I’ve finally managed to find a group of like minded people who enjoy computers, games and all things that I felt ashamed of liking for the better part of my teenage life. We’re gathered at a friend’s house to have a LAN as this was long before the time when broadband was a common thing in Australian households. As much as these gatherings were a hive for sharing ill-gotten files they were also the beginnings of my career in IT as often we’d be experimenting with the latest software just for laughs. It’s at this very gathering where I had my first encounter with the latest operating system from Microsoft, Windows XP, and little did I know that I’d still be encountering it for the next 13 years.
Today marks a day that we have known was coming for a long time but many have refused to accept: the day when Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft. You can still get support for Microsoft Security Essentials on Windows XP until July 14, 2015 but Microsoft will no longer be providing any updates, free or paid, to the aging operating system. For administrators like me it’s the ammunition we’ve been using for the better part of 2 years to get people to move away from the old operating system as nothing scares corporate customers more than the possibility of no support. Still though out of the total Windows market share XP still claims a staggering 27%, meaning almost 1 in every 3 Windows users is now on a system that won’t have any kind of official support. Many have criticised Microsoft for doing this but in all honesty it had to happen sometime or they’d never see the end of it.
The reason behind XP’s longevity, something which is usually unheard of in the high technology industry, can be almost wholly attributed to the utter dismal failure that Windows Vista was. Prior to that Microsoft customers were more than happy to go through the routine upgrade process every 3~5 years however the fact that Vista didn’t deliver on what it promised, coupled with it’s astoundingly bad reliability, meant that the vast majority of organisations got comfortable with Windows XP as their operating system. The time between XP and Windows 7 was long enough that the pain of moving forward became too great and many opted to wait until there was just no option left for them. My most recent project was a great example of this, migrating a large government department to Windows 7 from XP which only barely missed the deadline that was hit today.
This is the prime reason behind Microsoft’s recent change from a longer product cycle to one that’s based around rapid innovation. Whilst it’s true that Windows 8 is shaping up to be the Vista of this current product cycle, with Windows 7 adoption rates still outpacing it, the vast majority of the hard work will be done if users finally move to Windows 7. The upgrade paths from there are a whole lot more forgiving than coming from XP and moving from 8 to 8.1 takes about as much effort as installing a patch. I’m quietly hopeful that Windows 7 won’t become the next XP but at the same time I know how readily history can repeat itself.
So it’s without a heavy heart I say goodbye to Windows XP. It will not be missed by anyone in the industry as it was supposed to be dead and buried a long time ago and it was only through the stubbornness of the majority that it managed to stick around for as long as it did. I’m hoping for a much brighter future, one where Microsoft’s quickened pace of development is embraced and legacy systems are allowed to die the swift death that they so rightly deserve.
It’s every system administrator’s dream to only be working on the latest hardware running the most recent software available. This is partially due to our desire to be on the cutting edge of all things, where new features abound and functionality is at its peak. However the reality is always far from that nirvana with the majority of our work being on systems that are years old running pieces of software that haven’t seen meaningful updates in years. That’s why few tears have been shed by administrators worldwide about XP’s impending demise as it signals the end of the need to support something that’s now over a decade old. Of course this is much to the chagrin of end users and big enterprises who have still yet to make the transition.
Indeed big enterprises are rarely on the cutting edge and thus rely on extended support programs in order to keep their fleet maintained. This is partially due to the amount of inertia big corporations have, as making the change to potentially thousands of endpoints takes some careful planning an execution. Additionally the impacts to the core business cannot be underestimated and must be taken into careful consideration before the move to a new platform is made. With this in mind it’s really no surprise that corporations often buy support contracts that go for 3 or 5 years for the underlying hardware as that ensures that they won’t have to make disruptive changes during that time frame.
So when HP announced recently that it would be requiring customers to have a valid warranty or support agreement with them in order to get updates I found myself in two minds about it. For most enterprises this will be a non-issue as running hardware that’s out of warranty is begging for trouble and not many have the appetite for that kind of risk. Indeed I actually thought this would be a good thing for enterprise level IT as it would mean that I wouldn’t be cornered into supporting out of warranty hardware, something which has caused me numerous headaches in the past. On the flip side though this change does affect something that is near and dear to my heart: my little HP Mircoserver.
This new decision means that this little server only gets updates for a year after purchase after which you’re up for at least $100 for a HP Care Pack which extends the warranty out to 5 years and provides access to all the updates. Whilst I missed the boat on the install issues that plagued its initial release (I got mine after the update came out) I can see it happening again with similar hardware models. Indeed the people hit hardest by this change are likely the ones who would be least able to afford a support plan of this nature (I.E. smaller businesses) who are the typical candidates for running hardware that’s out of a support arrangement. I can empathise with their situation but should I find myself in a situation where I needed an update for them and couldn’t get it due to their lack of support arrangements I’d be the first one to tell them so.
Indeed the practice isn’t too uncommon with the majority of other large vendors requiring something on the order of a subscription in order to get product updates with the only notable exception being Dell (full disclosure: I work for them). I’ll agree that it appears to be a bit of a cash grab as HP’s server business hasn’t been doing too well in the recent quarters (although no one has done particularly well, to be honest) although I doubt they’re going to make up much to counter act the recent downfall. This might also spur some customers on to purchase newer hardware whilst freeing up resources within HP that no longer need to support previous generations of hardware.
So I guess what I’m getting at is that whilst I can empathise with the people who will be hard done by with this change I, as someone who has to deal with warranty/support calls, don’t feel too hard done by. Indeed any admin worth their salt could likely get their hands on the updates anyway without having to resort to the official source anyway. If the upkeep on said server is too much for you to afford then it’s likely time to rethink your IT strategy, potentially looking at cloud based solutions that have a very low entry point cost when compared to upgrading a server.
If you’ve worked in the IT industry it’s safe to assume that you’re familiar with ITIL or at least however it’s manage to manifest itself within your organisation. It’s probably one of the longest lasting ideals in IT today having been around for a good 20+ years in its current form, surprising for an industry that considers anything over 3 years archaic. Indeed anyone who’s been involved in implementing, maintaining or attempting to change an ITIL based process will likely call it that anyway and whilst I’m inclined to agree with them I think the problems stem more from the attitudes around these processes rather than the actual processes themselves.
Change management is by far the best example of this. The idea behind it is solid: any major changes to a system have to go through a review process that determines what impacts the change has and demands that certain requirements be met before it can be done. In an ideal world these are the kind of things you would do regardless of whether an external process required you to or not however the nature of IT tends towards many admins starting off in areas where such process aren’t required and thus, when they move onto bigger and better environments, processes like these are required to make sure they don’t unintentionally wreck havoc on larger systems. However change management is routinely seen as a barrier to getting actual work done and in many cases it is.
This is where the attitude problems start to occur. ITIL based processes (no one should be using pure ITIL, that’s crazy talk) should not be a hindrance to getting work done and the second they start becoming so is when they lose their value. Indeed the reason behind implementing an ITIL process like change management is to extract more value out of the process than is currently being derived, not to impede the work is being done. Essentially it should only be an extension of work that would be undertaken in the first place and if it isn’t then you either need to look at your implementation of the change process or why your current IT practices aren’t working with it.
Predominantly I think this comes from being far too strict with these kinds of processes with the prevailing attitudes in industry being that deviation from them will somehow lead to an downward spiral of catastrophes from which there is no escape. If these ITIL process are being routinely circumvented or if the amount of work required to complete the process outweighs the actual work itself then it’s not the people who are to blame, it is the process itself. Realistically instead of trying to mold people to the process, like I’ve seen it done countless times over, the process should be reworked to suit the people. Whilst this is by far more difficult to do than simply sending people on ITIL courses the benefits will far outweigh the costs of doing so and you’ll probably find that more people stick to it rather than attempt to circumvent it.Indeed much of the process revolution that has happened in the past decade has been due to these people rather than process focused ideals.
Whilst ITIL might be getting a little long in the tooth many of the ideals it touches on are fundamental in nature and are things that persist beyond changes in technology. Like many ideas however their application has been less than ideal with the core idea of turning IT in a repeatable, dependable process usurped by laborious processes that add no value. I believe changing the current industry view from focusing on ITIL based processes to people focused ones that utilize ITIL fundamentals would trigger a major shift in the way corporate IT entities do business.
A shift that I believe would be all for the better.
It was glorious, we started to see the beginnings of a rational discourse over the whole lack of a R18+ for games and there was hope for an overhaul of our decidedly archaic and convoluted classification system. I was happy, thinking I would soon be living in a country that had cast off the shackles of its past in favor of adopting a more progressive view of the games industry. A country that recognizes that games are predominantly not for children anymore with the vast majority of gamers now grown up, wanting the medium to grow up with them. Realistically I knew it was a small issue, but the fact that it could get dragged out over such a long period of time was the driving factor behind my outrage. I just couldn’t (and still can’t) understand why it has been so difficult.
It was over a year ago that what appeared to be the final wall standing between us and a more rational future was Senator Atkinson came tumbling down with his retirement. We still lost one title to the dreaded Refused Classification black hole in this time but I consoled myself in the fact that soon all of this would be a distant memory, a blip in Australia’s history where it stubbornly refused to modernize for no reason in particular. The news shortly afterwards that reformation was on the horizon was confirmation of this fact and made my spirit soar once again, only to be dashed by this recent news:
LONG-AWAITED reforms of Australia’s censorship of computer games look set to fail after Victoria declared its strong concern that the move will legalise games with ‘‘high levels of graphic, frequent and gratuitous violence’’.
Backed by a groundswell of support from the gaming community, the Gillard government is determined to fix the classification system for computer games, which allows unsuitable games to be rated for 15-year-olds, yet bans popular games for adults.
But the Baillieu government’s Attorney-General, Robert Clark, has echoed the concerns of the Australian Christian Lobby, putting him on a collision course with Canberra, which requires the backing of all states and territories to change classification laws.
The article goes on to say that coalition wants to put the matter to “careful scrutiny and public debate”, happily ignoring the fact that it’s been hotly debated for the last 2 years and had a public consultation that was overwhelmingly positive with 98.2% of respondents supporting the cause. Opponents also ignore the fact that Australia is one of the few modern countries that lacks a R18+ rating for games yet has such a rating for books, films and TV. I probably shouldn’t be surprised as the facts haven’t been the opposition’s strong suit in trying to cut down the R18+ rating in its infancy.
I’ve said it time and time again, the R18+ issue provides nothing but benefits to Australia and it’s gaming populace. The R18+ rating would make parents aware of material that isn’t appropriate for their children, allowing them to regulate the consumption of such materials. It would ensure proper classification of games as well, rather than shoe horning many games into the MA15+ rating that in reality belong in the R18+ category. A R18+ rating would also make Australia far more attractive to developers who are creating games targeted towards adults (I.E. the majority of the consumers in the games industry) instead of them shying away from us for fear of the dreaded RC rating.
The reason that the R18+ rating has languished in this political shitstorm for so long can be almost entirely blamed on a single lobby group: The Australian Christian Lobby. Wherever opposition to the rating is found you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re involved some how, and I’m not just saying this for dramatic effect. Whilst I won’t link to any of their tripe directly, since I don’t think they deserve the attention, a simple search for “R18+ acl” brings back dozens of articles of them supporting the demise of the R18+ rating. Indeed they’ve also been major proponents of other, more aggressive censorship efforts such as the Internet filter going so far as to label my views as “extreme” back when I was heavily involved in the No Clean Feed movement.
The ACL is of course in the minority here since the Australian public is overwhelming in support of a R18+ rating for games. Yet they keep managing to swing people in key positions leaving the battle for the R18+ rating effectively hamstrung. Thankfully the recent ultimatum on either a R18+ or a classification system overhaul (which would be far more painful for those in opposition to endure) shows that there are people willing to stand up to this vocal minority who has shown they can not act rationally when it comes to people doing things they don’t agree with.
It seems my dream of an Australia that finally brought itself into the 21st century are still a long way from being realized and the thorn in my side that was Senator Atkinson has since been replaced by Attorney-General Clark, but there’s still hope on the horizon. One day I’ll be able to buy games built by adults that have been designed to be consume by adults and the ACL won’t be able to say anything about it. Until then however I’ll continue to angrily blog about any development in the R18+ space until it gets fixed and I’ll put in every effort to make sure it becomes a reality.
I won’t let the irrational vocal minority win.
I’ve been in the world of IT for quite some time professionally but I’ve been an enthusiast for much, much longer. I can remember the days of doing everything through the command line in DOS, eagerly hunting down the games that my father had installed. My first taste of a GUI wasn’t in the form of windows it was a rather esoteric program called XTreeGold which provided many of the base functions found in Windows 3.1. In my time with these wonderful beasts we call PCs I’ve used every iteration of Windows that’s been available and I’ve never seen such fervent devotion to any version of Windows than that seen with Windows XP.
From a technical standpoint XP wasn’t really anything new. It was the first version of a Microsoft consumer OS that shared the vast majority of its core functions with its server counterpart and the vast majority of the tech (Called the New Technology Kernel). It was a good move and all following versions of Windows have continued to share a common base with their server cousins. Still at the time many users were tightly wedded to their Windows 98/SE installations and the early adopters who tried Windows ME weren’t in any mood to trust Microsoft again. Still XP managed to overcome this hurdle and for the past 8 years or so it’s been the defacto OS on the vast majority of computers around the world.
However it’s an aging beast in the fast paced world of IT. A computer considered top of the line 10 years ago is less powerful than your run of the mill smartphone today. Windows 7 is truly an OS worth upgrading to with the vast number of improvements it makes in performance, usability and functionality. Microsoft has tried hard to get people to move across to the new system with them finally disowning Windows 2000 and XP SP2 (more on that in a second) by killing support for them:
Today is the last day that Windows 2000 and Windows XP Service Pack 2 will receive support and patches from Microsoft. Starting tomorrow, Service Pack 3 will be required to receive support and hotfixes for Windows XP.
In the past, the end of support for a service pack would mean that Microsoft would refuse to offer any kind of telephone support or troubleshooting assistance. This policy was relaxed a little in April; limited support will remain available for those organizations sticking with Service Pack 2. However, any hotfixes or security updates will be restricted to Service Pack 3.
Customers on Windows 2000 will not even have this option. The operating system is now out of its extended support phase. This brings an end to any and all hotfixes, security updates, or even paid support options. Fewer than half a percent of Internet-connected machines appear to use Windows 2000, and with the end of support, it is now open season on that minority: Microsoft will take no action to provide fixes for any security issues, regardless of their severity.
The fervent dedication to XP is wholly due to the failed product refresh cyclethat was Windows Vista but with the release of Windows 7 no one really has any excuse not to upgrade anymore. Still the corporate world is a slow moving beast and skipping the last product cycle has meant that many of them have relied on Windows XP’s backwards compatibility to keep older applications functioning. Thus the cost in transition is far higher than if they had made the switch to Vista back when it was first released as the differences between Vista and 7, at least in terms of application breaking changes, are minimal. Thankfully most organisations recognised the need to move away from Windows 2000 a long time ago and Windows 2008 enjoys quite wide adoption. I credit that mostly to Windows server editions being reserved for us caretakers of IT infrastructure since we’re usually more inclined to try out the latest tech.
The day will soon come when Windows XP will no longer be a viable option for anyone to use and whilst a small part of me will be sad to see it go I hope that it will break the kind of mindless dedication that kept organisations stuck in the same world technologically for a decade. I made my career in a world that didn’t want to hear about the latest offerings from Microsoft as they knewit wasn’t worth their time. Windows 7 is making headway in that regard and is also breaking through the stigma of switching to 64bit, something which used to be compared to running Windows ME (think of the crashes, driver incompatibility and general “WTF are you doing?” looks you’d get from us IT folks for doing it). It might not mean a heck of a lot to non-IT folks, but it’s definitely something to guys like me
I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who say they work in IT yet have very little to do with anything in the field (apart from doing their work on a computer). Admittedly most of these people are in management so saying that they’re “in IT” is about as applicable as them being “in field X” where X can be any industry where you need to organise a group of people with another group of people for a common goal. Still there’s quite a variety of career paths in IT and as far as the everyman goes most of them get lumped into the same area “guy who knows computers”. I thought it might be interesting to take you down the road of a couple career paths that I have been down and where I’ve seen them lead people over the past half a decade or so.
This is probably the career path that everyone is most familiar with, those guys who fix computers for a living. Landing a job in this area doesn’t require anything more than any other entry level job you might find around the place but you’ll usually end up in one of those dreaded call centers. Good news is that for anyone looking to break into IT there’s always going to be positions like these going as the turnover rate is quite high for entry level work, somewhere in the order of 30~50% for most places. Still if you can stick this out for a good year or two (depending on how skilled you are) there’s light at the end of the help desk tunnel.
Funnily enough the next “level” of IT support is just that, Level 2 Support. In essence you’ll be one of the behind the scenes guys who has more access and more knowledge about the systems the front line people are taking calls for and will be the one they come to for help. At this level you’ll probably be expected to start doing some outside learning about products that you (or your company) haven’t had any experience with yet, usually in the hopes to move you up into the next level. Second level guys are usually not responsible for adding new things to the environment and are best suited to being support to the first level and being the conduit to the next level guys.
The final incarnation of the IT support person is usually referred to as Level 3 Support or Technology Specialist. After spending a couple years at the second level most people will have gained a significant amount of skills in troubleshooting various software and hardware issues and hopefully acquired some certifications in various technologies. At this point there are a couple options open to such people: continue down the support line (generalist) or focus on a specific technology (specialist). Both of these have their advantages as the generalist won’t have trouble finding a job in almost any organisation and the specialists will attract quite high salaries for their specified skill set. Generally most people become a generalist first for a year or so while they work out what they want to build their career on.
This is the level I’m currently at and I initially tried to specialize in virtualization and Storage Array Networks (SANs) however my current position uses neither of these skills. It’s a good and bad thing as whilst I’m learning about a whole lot of new technologies (like Hyper-V) my specialist skills go unused. In all honesty though my most valuable skills as an engineer have gone for the most part un-used since I got my degree back at the end of 2006 so it’s really not that suprising and traditionally I’ve found that the ability to quickly adapt to the requirements of your employer seems to land me more jobs than my skills in one area.
They did help me get my foot in the door though
Behind those who support the things you’re viewing this web page on are those who actually built the software that it runs on. In a general sense these guys are referred to as developers and there’s quite a few different types ranging from your more traditional desktop application programmers to the current rock stars of the programming world the web programmers.
Starting off a career in programming isn’t as easy as IT support. For the most part you’ll have to have some level of academic experience in the field before most places will give you a second look. Most programmers will have done a bachelor degree in either Computer Science or Software Engineering (or Engineering in Software Engineering for those true engineers) with a few starlets from the generic IT degrees making their way into the entry level programmer ranks. Junior programming jobs are a bit harder to come across but there’s usually good opportunities to be had in smaller firms who will help nuture you past this first hurdle.
Senior developers are someone who’s had a demonstratable amount of experience in either building systems of a certain type or in a certain language. They’re much like the second level of IT support as they’re usually responsible for helping the juniors out whilst working on the harder problems that their underlings would be unable to do. Again at this level there’s some expectation of training to be done in order to sharpen your skills up to match that of what your employer requires and this is the time when they should look to specializing.
Developers don’t technically have a third level like IT support however once they’re past the junior level specializing in one kind of development (say SAP customizations) becomes far too lucrative to pass up. There’s varying levels of specialisation available and this is when many people will make the jump into a field they’re interested in, say games or web, that demands a certain level of experience before taking them on.
I never got past the junior developer level mostly because I jumped into a System Administrator position before I had the chance to develop my programming career any further. I’ve kept my skills sharp though through creating automation scripts and various programs that served specific purposes but none so much as my current pet project Geon. I don’t think I’ll ever develop for anyone though as the last large project I worked on was more clerical admin work than actual programming.
Whilst not terribly distinct from the IT support career path those in the business of providing networks and communications links for the varying computer systems they deserve their own mention as their technology predates the first real computer by over 70 years. Ostensibly they will spend most of their career using computers but only to administer the communication technology they’re responsible for.
At the heart of the career path is the same 3 levels with the first level being an almost identical help desk hell. However instead of working on the computer systems that you know and love they work on the cables and interconnects that keep the information flowing around the world. The number of jobs available is heavily dependant on which brand of network devices you choose to base your career around with the largest one currently being CISCO. Specialisations tend even further down the telecommunications path with most of them either being things like CISCO Certified Internetwork Expert (with a test that has an 80% fail rate on the first try) or something like a PABX/VoIP (basically telephones) expert.
I have a minimum amount of knowledge in this area as I skipped out on my college’s computer networking course and found my career in IT support much easier
I’ve struggled to find people who understand the term Business Analyst but don’t work in IT. In essence these people are the interface between the real world who want some kind of computer based system and those of us who have the skills to provide them. This is yet another position which usually requires some form of academic accreditation before anyone will take you seriously, and even then some people might feel like you’re still getting in their way.
People employed as business analysts are probably the most removed from actual IT whilst still being counted as part of it. There’s very little technical experience required to become one but you do have to have a keen eye for identifying what people want, managing their expectations as well as acting as a glorified telephone between the everyman and the IT nerds. Interestingly enough this is one of the areas of IT where a healthy percentage of the employees are women, something that is quite rare in the world of IT.
The next step for business analyists is usually that of what is wrongly referred to as an Architect. These are the people who are responsible for setting out a strategic direction for whole systems and whose work is usually of a fairly high level. Traditionally these kinds of people work side by side with project managers to organise various resources in order to deliver their vision but that’s where the tenuous relationship to real architects ends. In fact its more common to find third level IT support people graduate to the architect position thanks to their grass roots level experience in delivering systems that were set out by architects for them.
I’ve worked with a few architects and for the most part they’re worth the top dollars they’re paid. The ones that weren’t just simply didn’t communicate with their experts and promised things that just weren’t possible.
Once you’ve reached a certain point in any of the previous career paths I’ve mentioned there’s always an option to switch over to the sales side of IT. Whilst this position isn’t highly suited to many who join the ranks of IT (high levels of social interaction? Say it ain’t so!) I’ve known more than a few who made the jump mostly because of the money and travel opportunities it provides.
For those who come directly from IT they’re usually placed into what’s called a Pre-Sales role. Rather than actually selling anything directly they’re responsible for getting into the client’s environment and working out what they need, much like a business analyst. They’ll then draw up a bill of materials for the system and then hand it off to their sales team to close the deal. The reason pure IT people are attracted to these kinds of positions is that you’re still required to have a high level of knowledge about certain systems but don’t have to be involved in their support, which can be quite refreshing after many years of fixing someone else’s problems.
For the softer IT career choices there’s the option of becoming a consultant or basically a gun for hire. Once you’ve achieved a high level of specialization it becomes profitable to work either freelance or part of a larger consulting group who will hire you to clients who have very specific requirements. Usually consultants are used in order to get an outside opinion on something or to analyse a certain system or process. It’s quite lucrative as there’s little overheads past what your basic entry level employee has, but the going rates for their time are almost an order of magnitude higher.
There are of course many more ancillary positions in IT but with this post dragging on a bit I thought I would leave it there. In essence I wanted to convey the breadth of careers that IT offers to people and how far away from computers you can be yet still be “in IT”. Maybe next time you’ll think twice before asking your friend in IT to fix your computer