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.
One of the most common bits of career advice that I’ve been given is that you have to make yourself valuable to the company or organisation your working for. The thinking goes that if you’re valuable then it’s more likely that you’ll get a promotion and much less likely that you’ll face the chop if things start going south. It’s a good little nugget of advice however I find that many people get the idea of what constitutes value completely wrong, to the point of thinking that they’re valuable when in fact they’re being anything but. I found this to be especially true in the field of IT, especially in the areas that tend to be more insular and less socially apt.
Most often the idea of being valuable goes hand in hand with the idea of being irreplaceable. Usually this happens when someone either designs some system or process that does what is required of it but for all intents and purposes is a black box for anyone but the original creator. This person, although it can be multiple people, now feels safe in their job as since they’re the only one who knows how it works (and how to fix it when it breaks) and this gives them the feeling of being valuable to their company. For a short time they are but in the long term they’re being extremely detrimental, both to themselves and who they work for.
Their negative impacts on the company are pretty obvious. A system or process that relies on a specific person in order to keep it functioning has a major single point of failure. Whilst the system is working and that person is available everything seems fine, but take the unfortunate notion of them getting hit by a bus (commonly referred to as the bus factor). How long would it take an outside person to deconstruct the system or process in order to be able to understand it to the same level that they did? That amount of time is usually quite high, especially if this kind of behavior is allowed to continue unchecked for years. Thus these people who thought they were invaluable to their place of work are really quite harmful, but not just to their place of work.
Making yourself irreplaceable like this however is extremely toxic to your future career prospects. If you’re the most important cog then it’s far less likely that your superiors will want to promote you, why would they want to take you away from a critical process that you’re the expert on? Quite often people mistake getting looked over for a position as their value not being properly recognized when in fact it’s that same “value” they created which keeps them firmly rooted in their place. This also usually goes hand in hand with a lack of skill development meaning that the skills that were once valuable (like in the creation of said system or process) are now no longer so highly sought after, making them an undesirable candidate on the open market.
This is exactly why I’m always working myself out of a job, which I’ve actually done once before. Back when I was working at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority I was hired with a specific purpose. A year later I had designed, implemented and fully documented the system that they wanted to the point where they couldn’t find any more work for me to do. Since I was a contractor I was under no impressions that I would have a job at the end of it and sought employment elsewhere before my contract finished. In the end they did find additional work for me to do, but I had already signed on to my new engagement. It might seem like a bad career move to make yourself redundant, but if you’re a skilled individual there will always be more work available and the reference from the place you left will speak volumes to your worth.
It all comes down to the misguided notions of value that people tend to hold and the idea that being replaceable somehow diminishes your own value. Realistically given enough time and resources anyone is replaceable so it is far better to assume that your job could be done by someone else than believing you’re immune to being usurped. Personally I find the idea to be quite liberating as it has led me to pursue many different avenues with which to improve myself in order to differentiate myself from the crowd. If I had simply made myself irreplacable I’d probably still be working at the same place I was 7 years ago, and that’s not a thought I relish.
Anyone who works in IT or a slightly related field will tell you that you’ve got to be constantly up to date with the latest technology lest you find yourself quickly obsoleted. Depending on what your technology platform of choice is the time frame you have to work in can vary pretty wildly, but you’d be doing yourself (and your career) a favour by skilling up in either a new or different technology every 2 years or so. Due to the nature of my contracts though I’ve found myself learning completely new technologies at least every year and its only in this past contract that I’ve come back full circle to the technology I initially made my career on, but that doesn’t mean the others I learnt in the interim haven’t helped immensely.
If I was honest though I couldn’t say that in the past I that I actively sought out new technologies to become familiar with. Usually I would start a new job based on the skills that I had from a previous engagement only to find that they really required something different. Being the adaptable sort I’d go ahead and skill myself up in that area, quickly becoming proficient enough to do the work they required. Since most of the places I worked in were smaller shops this worked quite well since you’re always required to be a generalist in these situations. It’s only been recently that I’ve turned my eyes towards the future to figure out where I should place my next career bet.
It was a conversation that came up between me and a colleague of mine whilst I was on a business trip with them overseas. He asked me where I thought were some of the IT trends that were going to take off in the coming years and I told him that I thought cloud based technologies were the way to go. At first he didn’t believe me, which was understandable since we work for a government agency and they don’t typically put any of their data in infrastructure they don’t own. I did manage to bring him around to the idea eventually though, thanks in part to my half decade of constant reskilling.
Way back when I was just starting out as a system administrator I was fortunate enough to start out working with VMware’s technology stack, albeit in a strange incarnation of running their workstation product on a server. At the time I didn’t think it was anything revolutionary but as time went on I saw how much money was going to waste as many servers sat idle for the majority of their lives, burning power and providing little in return. Virtualization then was a fundamental change to the way that back end infrastructure would be designed, built and maintained and I haven’t encountered any mid to large sized organisation who isn’t using it in some form.
Cloud technologies then represent the evolution of this idea. I reference cloud technologies and not “the cloud” deliberately as whilst the idea of relying on external providers to do all the heavy lifting for you is extremely attractive it unfortunately doesn’t work for everyone, especially for those who simply cannot outsource. Cloud technologies and principles however, like the idea of having massive pools of compute and storage resources that can be carved up dynamically, have the potential to change the way back end services are designed and provisioned. Most importantly it would decouple the solution design from the underlying infrastructure meaning that neither would dictate the other. That in itself is enough for most IT shops want to jump on the cloud bandwagon, and some are even doing so already.
It’s for that exact reason why I started developing on the Windows Azure platform and researching into VMware’s vCloud solution. Whilst the consumer space is very much in love with the cloud and the benefits it provides large scale IT is a much slower moving beast and it’s only just now coming around to the cloud idea. With the next version of Windows shaping up to be far more cloud focused than any of its predecessors it seems quite prudent for us IT administrators to start becoming familiar with the benefits cloud technology provides, lest we be left behind by those up and comers who are betting on this burgeoning platform.
When you’re implementing an IT system there’s usually a couple well known paths that you can follow that will ensure it operates pretty much as expected. In the past this was what a good IT administrator would have been hired for as they would have been down these paths before and would know what should and shouldn’t be done. Over time companies began producing their own sets of guidelines which they would refer to as best practices, serving as the baseline from which administrators could create their own. With systems ever increasing in complexity these evolved from simple articles that would fit in a blog post to massive how-to manuals that detail nearly every step required to make sure you don’t bollocks up a system. This was the point where the excellent notion of best practices turned into a manual for those who had no fucking clue what they were doing and it shows with the level of competence I’ve seen in the various IT departments I’ve been privy to over the years.
Nearly every good system administrator I’ve met has been, for the most part, self trained. It usually starts out with a general interest in computers at home where they tinker away with their machines and usually end up breaking them in the most catastrophic fashion. This natural curiosity is what drives them to figure out the root cause of problems and is essential when they get involved in larger systems. Whilst training courses are all well and good they are unfortunately narrow in their focus and are, for the most part, designed to give a set of rules to use when first approaching the problem. After that the skills required (critical thinking, logical deduction, et al.) can’t really be taught and those seeking a career in this space lacking such skills typically didn’t make it past second level support.
However the distillation of industry knowledge into best practice documents has blurred the line somewhat between those who have the necessary skills to work at the third level and those below. The documents themselves aren’t to blame for this, indeed they are actually responsible for the industry as a whole becoming more reliable in delivering repeatable results. More it is the use of these documents by those who would not otherwise have the knowledge required in order to perform the tasks that these best practices outline. This is because whilst best practices give you a good idea of which direction to head in when you’re implementing or troubleshooting an IT system they do not cover the issues specific to your organisation. They can’t simply because they are unable to account for the almost infinite number of possible configurations and that’s were those key skills become a necessity.
A classic example of this that’s rife within the IT industry is the implementation of ITIL. Serving as the best practice to underpin all best practices within IT departments the ITIL framework has found its way into nearly every organisation I’ve had the pleasure of working for. As a basis for IT processes it works great, serving as a reference point that anyone who’s been trained in it can relate to. However by its very nature ITIL is just a framework, a skeleton of a what an IT department or organisation should look like. However too many times I have seen ITIL taken literally and business processes shoehorned into the bare bones framework with little thought to how much sense it makes to do so. Realistically whilst it is desirable to be ITIL complaint it’s more desirable to have business processes that work for your organisation. That is the difference between using best practices as a gospel and using them as a basis for a functional baseline on which to improve on.
The blame can’t be wholly aimed at those administrators either as it is the business’ responsibility to hold them accountable when the system doesn’t deliver as expected. Unfortunately too often best practices are used as a convenient scapegoat which wrongly puts the blame back on the business (“It doesn’t work like you expected? But it’s built to industry best practices! Change your process.”). In reality tighter specifications and rigorous testing is required to ensure that a best practice charlatan doesn’t get away with such behaviour but that unfortunately adds cost which doesn’t pass muster with the higher ups.
In the end those best practice sticklers are both a boon and a curse to people like me. Because of them I’m able to find employment anywhere and at a very considerable rate. However when I’m working with them they can make doing the right thing by the customer/business next to impossible, instead insisting that best practices be followed or the house of cards will come tumbling down. Thankfully due to my chosen specialisation being quite new there’s not a whole lot of best practices ninjas floating around and actual experience with such technology still reigns king. However with time that will change and I’ll be forced to deal with them, but that’s long enough into the future that I’m not worrying about it yet.
By then I’ll be working for myself, hopefully 🙂
If I were to rewind back a couple years and ask my past self where I would be at today the answer would probably be something like “living overseas and applying for various MBA programs”. It seemed ever since part way through university I had my eye on being in some form of upper management role in a large company, reveling in the idea of a high rise office building and being able to make a positive impact. It seemed every year I was doomed to delay those plans for another year because of other things that would crop up, with me finally admitting that anyone with a 10 year plan is deluding themselves.
Despite that my aspirations have not changed. I still lust after that high flying lifestyle that I attributed to the ranks of C-level executives and still yern to travel overseas as so many have done before me. However I’ve grown disillusioned with the idea of attaining such goals in the annals of an established company. My illustrious career, spanning a mere 6 years, has shown me that there’s little joy climbing the ranks in such environments with games of politics and tit-for-tat deals the accepted norm. The engineer in me was languishing under the idea of being suppressed for years whilst I played these games on my way to the top where I could finally unleash it with the power to make a difference. At the end of last year it finally broke through and gave me the dreadful clarity I needed to finally change my way of thinking.
I needed to make it on my own.
It was around this time that I’d started to get an interest for the curious world of technology start ups. You see here in Canberra where everyone is employed by the government or doing work for the government there’s no place for technological innovators, the captive market here just isn’t interested. Thus the idea of lashing out on my own in the only field I knew was always put aside as a untenable notion; the environment to support it just isn’t here. Still the idea gnawed away at the edge of my mind for quite a while and my feed reader started gathering information on all aspects of starting out on your own and how others had done it before me.
At the same time I had begun working on Geon, primarily as a eating my own dog food exercise but also as something to give back to my readers who’d been loyal over the fledgling months of this blog. The idea had legs though and I continued to work on it off and on for many months afterwards with many iterations making their way onto this site. After a while the notion of building my own business and my hobby of building something to satisfy a niche that was going unserviced began to merge and the dream I had once become disillusioned came back with a thundering vengeance.
There’s always going to be that part of me that nags at the corner of my mind telling me that any plan I make is doomed to failure, and I’ve learnt to come to terms with that. When I can talk about my idea with someone for hours on end and walk away with countless ideas about where I can take my project in the future I know the work I’m doing is good. That voice at the back of my head keeps me honest with myself, ensuring that I apply critical thinking to all the problems that I encounter. In that respect my fledgling inner skeptic makes sure I don’t bullshit myself into a corner and for that I’m eternally thankful.
I guess it all comes down to not knowing where you’ll end up in life. 6 years ago I had my whole life planned out until I was 30 (and a bet with an old friend of mine I haven’t forgotten) and today I’ll happily tell you that I’ve got no idea where I’ll be at 30. That idea would be frightening for many people but for someone like me who thrives on making the most out of his time it’s extremely liberating. No longer am I locked into any preconcieved notion of what I need to do to get where I want to be. All I need to do is work in the moment to achieve the best I can, and that’s exactly why I believe I’ll succeed.
As an IT contractor I’m really just another faceless item in the meat market of IT skill sets. Every 6 months or so I’m usually in the midst of a couple of hundred other contractors all of whom are looking to either extend their current contracts or are dutifully lining up for each new job that comes along so that our prospective employers can look us over and select the best one of the lot to throw to their various project wolves. We’re still treated like real employees for the most part but we trade off things like on the job training and annual leave for the almighty dollar, usually in the hopes of coming out better off overall at the end. Consequently we’re slaves to the market as for every person that’s charging X to get Y done there’s a slew of them who will do it for a fraction less and coupled with the Gershon report there’s every chance you’ll be usurped by one of them before you know it.
Market value is the key metric by which us contractors define what rate we charge our employers. It’s a rather complicated metric to define as there’s no definitive source of contractor rates (although contracting agencies do have some on their own contractors) so for the most part it’s done on secondhand information, industry rumors and a whole swath of guesswork. Still for any given position you can come up with a reasonably good figure for how much someone in that position would be charging give or take about 10%. Of course budgets play a big part in what people are willing to pay for certain types of work meaning in places like Canberra when the end of financial year comes around we’d start to see an upward trend in rates as all the government departments spend all the leftover dollars they have.
However the term market rate doesn’t seem to apply if you’re looking to extend your contract. Now I’ve been through a few of these myself and every single time when I’ve asked for a rate increase I’ve been knocked back. I can lay a fair amount of the blame squarely at the Gershon report for that as it was responsible for devastating the contractor market initially and continues to keep our rates in check. That’s not a particularly bad thing as for a long time departments were hiding large staff costs by using contractors (our cash comes from another bucket) and the Gershon report forced them to come clean on the matter. Still when you get someone in a position and they’re doing the job aptly it makes sense to keep them at their market rate, lest they start eying off positions elsewhere. Contractors by definition are not bound to any employer and are more than happy to wear the risk of being unemployed if they feel a better deal is to be had elsewhere.
You could write that off by saying that my market rate was what they were paying me in the first place but unfortunately after leaving a previous contract and gaining the rate rise I had originally requested I knew this not to be the case. Granted at the time they had told me that they wouldn’t extend me (I had completed all the work they needed me for and I saw this coming months out) but after landing the new position they asked to retain me at the same rate, fully knowing I had already sourced employment elsewhere. My last request for a rate rise was also rejected purely on the basis of the Gershon report. I was willing to wear that one though as I’d only been there for 6 months.
I can understand the reasoning behind wanting to keep costs low as any department caught spending big on contractors doesn’t look particularly good. Still research shows that replacing an employee will cost you about 1.5 times their current salary meaning that the paltry increases that they may be asking for above CPI are mere peanuts. I have yet to find any organisation that understands this as most, whilst disappointed to lose good staff, have never made a concerted effort to retain me. Many would argue that my now long list of past employers would be a detriment to finding future work, but they’ve been saying that since I started job 3.
Maybe I’m just bitter about having to jump jobs every year because my current employers never want to give me a raise, but talking with my other contractor buddies it doesn’t seem to be isolated to just me. I turned to contracting over 2 years ago as it suited my style of work and with the hopes that my employers would then recognize the value I was providing. More and more it seems though that I’m just another employee paid from another bucket of money and if I believe that I’m worth more than what they’re paying me for my best bet to realize that is to continue the ship jumping I’ve been doing for the past 6 years. It’s quite possible that I’m just one greedy son of a bitch but my long list of satisfied customers would appear to say that I just severely underestimate my own self worth.
Yet another reason on the towering pile to get into business for myself, then I only have myself to blame if I don’t get paid enough. 😉
I’m a stickler for solving problems, much to the dismay of my better half. I’d blame it wholly on the fact that I’m male and an engineer so anything that comes to me in the form of a gripe or whine instantly sets itself up as a problem, just waiting for the right solution to come along and fix it. It’s gotten to the point of many people not wanting to discuss any kind of problem with me, lest they get a volley of solutions when realistically all they wanted was a sympathetic ear and 10 minutes of my time. This became quite obvious last night when I spent a great deal of time working on another project of mine which was created out of one of my own problems: my incredibly disorganised media collection.
Far be it from me to actually spend a day or so rifling through the hard drive cleaning everything up and instituting a filing system (that would be the easy way out!). No instead I decided to build an application that would do that and 100 more things for me, neglecting the fact that I really should be dedicating my time to other, more mature projects. Still I’ve managed to come up with yet another project that has the possibility of being something rather cool and useful to a select bunch of people (HTPC nerds currently) and subsequently felt another chunk of spare time disappear into the ether.
The easy solution would be to just not do anything and take the easy option out (either doing nothing or just organising my damn files). Being the egotistical person I am though I can’t really let this slide since I’m always telling people to act on their ambitions rather than putting them off for another day. I can’t stand feeling like a hypocrite and the second I start talking to people about an idea I have I feel compelled to start working towards its realisation. It’s quite disasterous for my work ethic since I always feel like my time would be better spent on my own projects, rather than fixing someone else’s problems. It all comes back to that idea of scratching your own itch, since the reward for solving your own problem is infinitely higher than solving someone else’s problem.
Taking a step back for a second I could also reclassify this as a function of time. Right now I spend 40 of my prime time hours working for someone else mostly so I can pay the bills and keep enjoying the lifestyle that I’m accustomed to. The last 6 months have seen me attempt to put into motion several plans to try and alleviate this requirement with the hope to spend a solid 3+ months on developing and marketing my own ideas. That would’ve worked to, save for my desire to travel to the US to see the last shuttle launch (budgeting is a bitch when you forget to account for something like that!). Putting this all together it becomes rather obvious that I’ve managed to get myself tangled up in a web of inspiration, workaholism and my own ego.
Some say that for all the problems I could myself tanlged up into this one is probably one of the best. I’d have to agree with them as I’m never starved for something to do (unless I’m at work, of course ;)) and when people are interested in what you’re doing there’s a real sense of achievement. I’m still a long way from the dream of working in my own startup but as I said over beers with a group of friends recently “Shit’s starting to get real”, as the roots of everything are starting to take hold. The rest of this year is going to be interesting to say the least and I can’t wait to see how everything pans out.
I’ve been heavily involved in many online communities for a long time now, probably the better part of a decade. Still many of the nuances of having an online presence escaped me until a few years ago when social networking started exploding and people started putting all sorts of embarrassing things up for the world to see. Thankfully I have a standing agreement with all my friends that nothing embarrassing or incriminating gets put up anywhere mostly because if they do decide to do it I have a whole arsenal of juicy material to use, so it’s a kind of mutually assured destruction of the social kind that keeps us all at bay. After setting up a website however I became increasingly interested in the presence I could create online rather than the one that was carved out for me by the giants of the social networking world.
For most people the only presence they will have online will be their Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/MySpace pages as anything else would require a bit of effort from them and unless you’re in the business of doing things online there’s really no need. As long as their public facing pages are relatively tame they won’t face any repercussions from potential employers and in fact it might help them, serving to verify that you are who you say you are. Even the myth that you can’t get security cleared positions if you have a social networking page are false too, as I know many people with high level clearance who are my friends on Facebook.
Still for the IT industry having your own image on the web can be quite handy. Apart from the obvious utility of having your own space on the web with which to do things (like being able to remote into your machines at home from work, great for testing things) being able to control what people will see when they look for you online is quite invaluable. Whilst this blog isn’t yet at the top of Google searches for my name, that honour still belongs to LinkedIn for some reason, it’s right at the top. It might not sound like much but when a potential recruiter/employer is looking for information on me they never go past the first few sites and when they come to mine things start to get interesting.
You see I run Google Analytics on this blog. At the most basic level it’s just a visitor tracking system that Google provides for free in exchange for knowing all sorts of wonderful data about my site, the people that come to it and where they come from. Just to give you a taste of the kind of info that I get from running this here’s a screen shot of the data for the past month for this site:
Probably the most interesting part is the traffic sources overview down in the bottom left hand corner. Clicking on that brings up a report of where everyone is coming from, whether it be from Google or Twitter or if they had a bookmark/typed the address directly into the browser. The most powerful part of that, for me at least, is the search term category which tells me what people searched for to get to this blog. For the most part there are certain posts that will get picked up a lot (you can see in the Content Overview what they are) but every so often I’ll get people searching my (or friends) names popping up, and that’s when the digging begins.
Now I’m not an Internet celebrity by any stretch of the imagination so my name doesn’t get Google all that often. Usually it happens when one of my friends is trying to show my site to someone else (although most of them remember the address now) or, more importantly, it’s a potential employer or recruiter checking up on me. Since I’m usually in shotgun application mode for most jobs it pays to see which companies are looking into me and how deep they go in their research, and the results are usually pretty telling.
The last one I can remember came to the site and checked out the home page and the about page, but didn’t check the lab or any of my post archives. I think they spent a total of about 5 minutes on the site which tells me they were doing a quick check to make sure I was who I said I was and to see if there was anything obviously wrong with me. They didn’t notice the work and career tags in the tag cloud to the right hand side which could’ve soured their opinion of me somewhat but most of my work related posts seem to go unnoticed, so I think I’m safe there 😉
What’s this all mean in the end then? Not a whole lot really, the Google that many recruiters do is just a modern form of the informal interview that a lot of places used to (and some still) do. The unfortunate part was that you, the person being looked into, stopped getting something back from them, I.E. knowing they were interested enough to look into you in the first place. Running your own personal website, if you’re into that kind of thing, is a great way to mold your own online presence whilst keeping tabs on those who would look you up. I guess I’m just a bit of an information vortex, I can never get enough of the stuff 😉
Look I know I’m fortunate to be in the position that I am. I’ve taken a lot of risks and almost all of them have paid off significantly, landing me solid jobs and even seeing my pay packet go up in the midst of a worldwide financial crisis. It’s because of this I’ve been able to do many things that people told me were next to impossible and I know I have the world of IT to thank for much of my success. Still all this wonder that has been graced upon me because I managed to fall into one of the most lucrative industries of our time didn’t stop me waking up last December and experiencing one of the most dreadful yet inspiring moments of my life: I hated my job, my career and where I was in my life.
Now anyone who knows me would’ve told you it was no secret that I wasn’t happy where I was. Pretty much every job I’ve had over the past 6 years has seen me come in with a kind of enthusiasm and vigor that only young whipper snappers like myself are able to muster. However over time that feeling was soon whittled away by lack of work, over abundance of bureaucracy and broken promises. For the most part though I consoled myself in the fact that I was making quite a packet for someone who hadn’t had the experience of 90% of the people in the market. That idea kept me going for a good 3 years and saw me past buying 2 houses, getting married and maintaining that I would one day leave the rank and file employees for the glorious world of management where I could finally seek the job satisfaction that had long eluded me.
Everything changed on that fateful day back in early December. I remember waking up and feeling quite lucid but there was this nagging feeling at the back of my head, something that just wasn’t quite right. Over the course of the next 30 minutes I began to question why the hell I was doing all this, getting up early in the morning and struggling to get ready to go to a job where I would only waste time until the clock struck closing time. Whilst my blog posts don’t seem to show this moment of frustrated clarity (they’re all surprisingly normal, which is even more freaky) I began looking over every possible option I had to get myself out of this situation I had put myself into. Remembering a project I had began some months before (which was making me on average $2/day) I resigned myself to scaling it up to income replacement level and thus The Plan was born. I spent every moment of the next 6 weeks implementing, testing and refining my strategy until on the 19th of January I declared the project completed and set the countdown clock for 6 months until freedom day.
Now I’ll forgive you if you think this sounds like a call for sympathy or a attempt to grab compliments, because its not. More it’s to tell my story in the world of IT that I know resonates with so many of my colleagues. Last night I tweeted about how jealous I was of my dad and his current embracing of retirement which spurred this reply:
(Yes that was a shameless plug to use the new Twitter quote feature, which unfortunately looks god awful on this theme, go figure EDIT: I’ve replaced it with an image because their CSS inheriting code doesn’t play nice with WordPress)
I’ve long had a post in my drafts folder titled “Post IT Careers” which was initially inspired by many a conversation over lunch with my fellow IT workers. Ask anyone who’s been in IT for a while what they plan to do in 3~5 years and most of them will say something like “hopefully not IT”. Whilst I’ve never had enough to talk about on the subject it begs mentioning here as most people in IT, but especially those in the under 30 bracket (which squarely pegs them as Gen Y) got into IT because it was easy, lucrative and at the time relatively interesting. After spending years being the equivalent of janitorial staff for the realm of computers the shine starts to wear off and the dizzying prospects that once danced in your head fade into the cold reality of resetting yet another user’s password.
It’s all made worse when I hear people talking about how they’re in the wrong career and they should switch to IT. Whilst its usually just belly aching after they hear about the amount of money some of us make they usually fail to consider that they’d just be trading their current set of problems for another set of unknown problems. It only seems more feasible to them since you know, anyone can do IT, they never say “I should switch to being an anethstatist” failing to see that (whislt there’s not as much time invested to become an IT professional) they require years of training to get to the level we’re currently at. Unless you’re willing to dedicate half a decade of your life to doing this sort of thing (and then thinking of your own post IT career) you’ll just put your career back at the start. Then again some people might be looking to do that anyway.
I had a feeling that it wasn’t just IT that suffered from this problem however, more it was our generation. Whilst my friends will say that I’m the exception to the rule it appears that most Gen Ys are happy to hop jobs like crazy, looking for the next best deal or a workplace that suits them better:
If there is one overriding perception of the millennial generation, it’s that these young people have great — and sometimes outlandish — expectations. Employers realize the millennials are their future work force, but they are concerned about this generation’s desire to shape their jobs to fit their lives rather than adapt their lives to the workplace.
Although members of other generations were considered somewhat spoiled in their youth, millennials feel an unusually strong sense of entitlement. Older adults criticize the high-maintenance rookies for demanding too much too soon. “They want to be CEO tomorrow,” is a common refrain from corporate recruiters.
You’d think I’d lash back with some quip about us being the future or some other kind of dribble but I completely agree, we’re entitled and we expect the world to change for us. The job hopping I’ve gone through is a testament to me trying to change my work situation, failing and then trying to find another suitable place to try again. Whilst it’s also provided the benefit of upping my pay packet considerably I happily admit that had I got caught in the right job at the start I’d probably still be there today. I think this was why I lasted so long back at Dick Smith Electronics, I had free reign there over pretty much whatever I wanted to do and enough gadgets and gizmos to keep me entertained for hours on end. The real world of work however is nothing like that and my employment history is a testament to that.
Maybe I’m just channeling my inner Tim Ferris and Tony Robbins but after hearing so much about what is possible I just couldn’t stand to be in my position anymore. I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life chasing the almighty dollar and now I believe its time to shift gears and start chasing those dreams that have eluded me thus far. So whilst my generation might be disillusioned with their careers I hope they, like me, have that awakening moment where they reconsider what’s important to them and start taking steps towards their ultimate goals.
I’ve only ever been in a managerial type position 3 times in my whole life, and 2 of those were at university. The first was for the most part a success due in most part to a solid team of people with one star member who was able to complete work in minutes that took the rest of us days. The second was overall a success but my role as a manager was completely and utterly useless and the project would have done much better if I had just not bothered trying to manage my 3 team members at all. Whilst you’d think an experience like that might have turned me off management entirely I still held aspirations of being a project manager some day, only to get into said position and leave it 6 months later. So whilst I may not have been anyone’s boss for an extended period of time I’ve had a taste of the managerial world, so I know when people are, how does the Internet put it, doing it wrong.
For the most part I’ve seen 2 types of managers in my time: those who rose from the ranks of their former colleagues to become the managers they are today and those who were somehow born into management positions, either from an outside company or via qualifications. The first tend to have a good grounding in what it is like for their underlings and are usually pretty attentive to their wants and needs. However they also usually lack any formal managerial skills and tend to be too involved in day to day matters to make them decent managers. The latter are usually better at being managers in the general sense (shielding their underlings from the workplace politics) but will have more trouble interfacing with those they are supposed to lead. It then follows that these kinds of managers aren’t as liked as their rise from the ranks counterparts (and forms the basis of the Pointy Haired Boss character in Dilbert). Overall neither one is inherently worse than the other, they’re just different faces of the same coin.
Despite how they came into their position of power managers at all levels engage in what I like to call management theater. Much like its cousin of security theater, which details security measures undertaken to give the feeling of security without actually increasing security, management theater is the practice in which a manager appears to be managing a group of people but realistically they’re not. The management function that they provide is in some way usurped from either below (I.E. underlings managing their own workloads and fighting their own political battles) or up above (another manager doing the managers job for them). Whilst most won’t engage holistically in this behaviour many will in some way engage in acts that appear to be managerial when in fact that are nothing but.
Take for instance a recent event at where I work. The process was designed to give all the underlings, from the lowest ranks to the just under executive management, a voice with which to communicate their concerns to the entire section. In essence it was a good idea but as always the implementation was extremely lacking. The whole event smacked of management theater as the managers spruiked the fact that the goals set out then would be implemented by management, giving the illusion that the underlings had some power over their current work situation. Here we are over 4 months later and I’ve yet to see one of the ideas actually gain any ground or any reports from management about how all the wonderful ideas gained from the junket are changing the way we do our day to day work. The whole exercise was a pointless waste of everyone’s time that was done as a management theater exercise to make it look like they wanted to do something about everyone’s grievances, when in fact they never had any intention of following through.
I wish I could say that this kind of malarky was limited just to government agencies but it was rampant in the private sector to. A great example of this was back in my days at Unisys we were canvased for an opportunity to become CITRIX administrators with the juicy part being that we’d get sent on week long training for it. Seeing how much of a benefit this would be to both my current position and future career I put my hand up, along with 3 other people. The training was good and I was all geared up to take on some more work as a CITRIX admin but instead they hired 2 specialists to fill the role, neatly negating the need for the training I had just went through.
The management theater performed in this case was then to do with the managers wanting to look good for our client, saying that when the new system was installed they’d have 4 able bodied people ready, willing and able to take control of it. However with the project budget big enough to cover off 2 specialists when the system was in use by less than a few hundred people having a team of 6 dedicated to it was woefully inefficient and thus we were never called on to do any CITRIX administration duties. As time went on our skills in the area began to fade to the point of irrelevancy and my manager scolded me for leaving after they had sunk so much cash into me, oblivious to the fact that I hadn’t used one bit of the training since I received it.
All these reasons have culminated in the realization that I probably won’t be happy until I’m working for the one person I can’t disagree with, myself. The last 6 months have seen me attempting to build an empire out of my own skills and for the most part I’m being successful. Time will tell if I can leave the work a day world completely but when I can easily lose a day working on my own projects I know I’m doing the right thing. I just hope it will be enough to keep the bills paid 😉