I’ve gone on record saying that whilst the cloud won’t kill the IT admin there is a very real (and highly likely) possibility that the skills required to be a general IT administrator will change significantly over the next decade. Realistically this is no different from any other 10 year span in technology as you’d struggle to find many skills that were as relevant today as they were 10 years ago. Still the cloud does represent some fairly unique paradigm shifts and challenges to regular IT admins, some of which will require significant investment in re-skilling in order to stay relevant in a cloud augmented future.
The most important skill that IT admins will need to develop is their skills in programming. Now most IT admins have some level of experience with this already, usually with automation scripts based in VBScript, PowerShell or even (shudder) batch. Whilst these provide some of the necessary foundations for working in a cloud future they’re not the greatest for developing (or customizing) production level programs that will be used on a daily basis. The best option then is to learn some kind of formal programming language, preferably one that has reference libraries for all cloud platforms. My personal bias would be towards C# (and should be yours if your platform is Microsoft) as it’s a great language and you get the world’s best development environment to work in: Visual Studio.
IT admins should also look to gaining a deep understanding of virtualization concepts, principles and implementations as these are what underpins nearly all cloud services today. Failing to understand these concepts means that you won’t be able to take advantage of many of the benefits that a cloud platform can provide as they function very differently to the traditional 3 tier application model.
The best way to explain this is to use Microsoft’s Azure platform as an example. Whilst you can still get the 3 tier paradigm working in the Azure environment (using a Web Role, Worker Role and SQL Azure) this negates the benefits of using things like Azure Table Storage, Blob Storage and Azure Cache. The difference comes down to having to manually scale an application like you would do normally instead of enabling the application to scale itself in response to demand. In essence there’s another level of autonomy you take advantage of, one that makes capacity planning a thing of the past¹.
It’s also worth your time to develop a lot of product knowledge in the area of cloud services. As I mentioned in my previous blog cloud services are extremely good at some things and wildly inappropriate for others. However in my experience most cloud initiatives attempt to be too ambitious, looking to migrate as many services into the cloud as possible whether there are benefits to be had or not. It’s your job then to advise management as to where cloud services will be most appropriate and you can’t do this without a deep knowledge of the products on offer. A good rule of thumb is that cloud services are great at replacing commodity services (email, ERP, CRM etc.) but aren’t so great at replacing custom systems or commodity systems that have had heavy modifications to them. Still it’s worth researching the options out there to ensure you know how the cloud provider’s capabilities match up with your requirements, hopefully prior to attempting to implement them.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and realistically your strategy will have to be custom made to your company and your potential career path. However I do believe that investing in the skills I mentioned above will give you a good footing for transition from just a regular IT admin to a cloud admin. For me I find it exciting as whilst I don’t believe the cloud will overtake anything and everything in the corporate IT environment it will provide us with some amazing new capabilities.
¹Well technically it just moves the problem from you to the cloud service provider. There’s still some capacity planning to be done on your end although it comes down financial rather than computational, so that’s usually left to the finance department of your organisation. They’re traditionally much better at financial planning than IT admins are at capacity planning.
My post last week about the trials and tribulations of sorting ones media collection struck a chord with a lot of my friends. Like me they’d been doing this sort of thing for decades and the fact that none of us had any kind of sense to our sorting systems (apart from the common thread of “just leave it where it lies”) came at something of a surprise. I mean just taking the desk I’m sitting at right now for an example it’s clear of everything bar computer equipment and the stuff I bring in with me every day. The fact that this kind of organization doesn’t extend to our file systems means that we either simply don’t care enough or that it’s just too bothersome to get things sorted. Whilst I can’t change the former I decided I could do something about the latter.
So my quest last week proving fruitless I set about developing a program that could sort media based on a couple cues derived from the files themselves. Now for the most part media files have a few clues as to what they actually are. For the more organized of us the top level folder will contain the episode name but since mine was all over the place I figured it couldn’t be trusted. Instead I figured that the file name would be semi-reliable based on a cursory glance at my media folder and that most of them were single strings delimited with only a few characters. Additionally the identifier for season and episode number is usually pretty standard (S01E01, 2×01,1008, etc) so that pulling the season out of them would be relatively easy. What I was missing was something to verify that I was looking in the right place and that’s where I TheTVDB comes in.
The TV Database is like IMDB for TV shows except that it’s all community driven. Also unlike IMDB they have a really nice API that someone has wrapped up in a nice C# library that I could just import straight into my project. What I use this for is a kind of fuzzy matching filter for TV show names so that I can generate a folder with the correct name. At this point I could also probably rename the files with the right name (if I was so inclined) but for the point of making the tool simple I opted not to do this (at this point). With that under my belt I started on the really hard stuff: figuring out how to sort the damn files.
Now I could have cracked open the source of some other renaming programs to see how they did it but I figured out a half decent process after pondering the idea for a short while. It’s a multi-stage process that makes a few assumptions but seems to work well for my test data. First I take the file name and split it up based on common delimiters used in media files. Then I build up a search string using those broken up names stopping when I hit a string that matches a season/episode identifier. I then add that into a list of search terms to query for later, checking first to see if it’s already added. If it’s already in there I then add the file path into another list for that specific search term, so that I know that all files under that search term belong to the same series. Finally I create the new file location string and then present this all to the user, which ends up looking like this:
The view you see here is just a straight up data table of the list of files that Sortilio has found and identified as media (basically anything with the extension .avi or .mkv currently) and the confidence level it has in its ability to sort said media. Green means that in the search for the series name it only found one match, so it’s a pretty good assumption that it’s got it right. Yellow means that when I was doing a search for that particular title I got multiple responses back from TheTVDB so the confidence in the result is a little lower. Right now all I do is take the first response and use that for verification which has served me well with the test data, but I can easily see how that could go wrong. Red means I couldn’t find any match at all (you can see what terms I was searching for in the debug log) and everything marked like that will end up in one giant “Unsorted” folder for manual processing. Once you hit the sort button it will perform the move operations, and suffice to say, it works pretty darn well:
Of course it’s your standard hacked-together-over-the-weekend type deal with a lot of not quite necessary but really nice to have features left out. For starters there’s no way to tell it that a file belongs to a certain series (like if something is misspelled) or if it picks the wrong series to tell it to pick another. Eventually I’m planning to make it so you can click on the items and change the series, along with a nice dialog box to search for new ones should it not get it right. This means you might want to do this on a small subset of your media each time (another thing I can code in) as otherwise you might get files ending up in strange folders.
Also lacking is any kind of options page where you can specify things like other extensions, regex expressions for season/episode matching and a whole host of other preferences that are currently hard coded in. These things are nice to have but take forever to get right so they’ll eventually make their way into another revision but for now you’re stuck with the way I think things should be done. Granted I believe they’ll work for the majority of people out there, but I won’t blame you if you wait for the next release.
Finally the code will eventually be open sourced once I get it to a point where I’m not so embarrassed by it. If you really want to know what I did in the ~400 odd lines that constitute this program then shoot me an email/twitter and I’ll send the source code to you. Realistically any half decent programmer could come up with this in half the amount of time I did so I can’t imagine anyone will need it yet, unless you really need to save 3 hours 😛
So without further ado, Sortilio can be had here. Download it, unleash it on your media files and let me know how it works for you. Comments, questions, bugs and feature requests can be left here as a comment, an @ message on Twitter or you can email me on [email protected].
You’d think that since I invested so heavily in Silverlight when I was developing Lobaco that I would’ve been more outraged at the prospect of Microsoft killing off Silverlight as a product. Long time readers will know that I’m anything but worried about Silverlight going away, especially considering that the release of the WinRT framework takes all those skills I learnt during that time and transitions them into the next generation of Windows platforms. In fact I’d say investing in Silverlight was one of the best decisions at the time as not only did I learn XAML (which powers WPF and WinRT applications) but I also did extensive web programming, something I had barely touched before.
Rumours started circulating recently saying that Microsoft had no plans to develop another version of the Silverlight plugin past the soon to be released version 5. This hasn’t been confirmed or denied by Microsoft yet but there are several articles citing sources familiar with the matter saying that the rumour is true and Silverlight will recieve no attention past this final iteration. This has of course spurred further outrage at Microsoft for killing off technologies that developers have heavily invested in and whilst in the past I’ve been sympathetic to them this time around I don’t believe they have a leg to stand on.
All of Microsoft’s platforms are so heavily intertwined with each other that it’s really hard to be just a Silverlight/WPF/ASP.NET/MFC developer without a lot of crossover into other technologies. Hell apart from the rudimentary stuff I learnt whilst in university I was able to self learn all of those technologies in the space of a week or two without many hassles. Compare that with my month long struggle to learn basic Objective-C (which took me a good couple months afterwards to get proficient in) and you can see why I think that any developer whining about Silverlight going away is being incredibly short sighted or just straight up lazy.
In the greater world of IT you’re doomed to fade into irrelevance if you don’t keep pace with the latest technologies and developers are no exception to this. Whilst I can understand the frustration in losing the platform you may have patronized for the past 4 years I can’t sympathize with an unwillingness to adapt to a changing market. The Windows platform is by far one of the most developer friendly and the skills you learn in any Microsoft technology will flow onto other Microsoft products, especially if you’re proficient in any C based language. So whilst Microsoft might not see a future with Silverlight that doesn’t mean the developers are left high and dry, in fact they’re probably in the best position to innovate out of this situation.