It Works on My Computer

The new job is going great, no actually it is going awesome. The days go by so quickly because there is so much to do that I am putting more hours in than I have since I worked on the first start up back as a recent graduate, but I don’t even look at the clock. The work is not easy, it is pretty challenging and the list of requests is daunting, but the attitude of lets get as much done as we can the organization has makes it simple to jump on board and want to make a difference.

One of the things that has already made a huge difference here is that my friendliness is appreciated. The way we treat our customers (which in my case are all internal) is what makes this job so enjoyable. It is one of my directives to make sure people are being listened to as well as their needs met. I am glad that not only my technical skills are important but also my people skills.

Last week was specially busy with several deliverable by the team creeping up at the same time. I am glad that I can jump in and help out with some of them, but we were almost at the point of just letting one of the balls just drop because there was no other way. It was frustrating, but we have to do what we can with our current resources… I never realized how hard it can be to hire overseas help. After a long day of feeling like no matter how much we accomplished we were just going to be way off with timeliness, I decided to go have a second look at some small thing a user reported.

As it turns out the user had the issue before and it just kept on coming back months later. The issue seemed very random and nobody could reproduce it. The details are boring and it had something to do with working remotely, but I asked her to do something very simple next time she was working from home.

The next day rolled around and on top of all the other deadlines we had some hardware go bad. Coordinating vendors both for software and hardware is no easy task, and the day was just getting longer than it should have been. Then a message from that user popped up thanking me and the team for our diligence on staying on top of her program and how the simple steps I gave her made her able to work with no problem.

I think most of it was that her issue was resolved, but I think the personal touch of being able to listen to her issues and actually care to fix her problem made the difference. I think that being personable and establishing relationships with those that work around you should always be encouraged. You do not have to party with your coworkers every weekend, but being able to have conversations and really listen to them as people can make us IT people not seem like socially inept people that speak using binary code.

First Day At Work

So the journey started on Saturday morning. I started the journey a little later than I wanted to but still early enough to get to the Chicagoland area before five. After an afternoon of getting food and catching up with the family I got tons of sleep. Sunday was a day of rest and getting ready for the week ahead.

If you have never been to Chicago, the city is overwhelmingly huge… but the Chicagoland area now extends from Chicago to Winsconsin and pretty much all the way to Joliet and almost all the way to Rockford. Just look at a map.

I know a lot of the Chicagoland area as if I was a cabbie, however the north side and suburbs beyond are kind of a black hole in my map. Sure I know Glenview because a friend from college used to live there, but we did not hang out there too much, only went there for great family cooked dinners. So besides on main street and a couple of bowling excursions with my northsider friends I used to see it as the exits you pass to get to Six Flags Great America.

I knew an hour drive today was pretty much a given, so I double that to make sure I had plenty of time. Surprisingly I did the trip from where my sister lives to the office with enouth time to spot for an actual sit down breakfast. I had missed family restaurants like the one I got to enjoy this morning.

I am working now for a large corporation, and just like in the past I am not going to tell you were exactly. Lets just say that they are global and have at least 3 letters on their name.

I met my supervisor who was nice enough to take me for a little lunch excursion, you cannot be mad at paid lunch. We discussed a lot of information that I am still digesting, but the coolest is that I can probably just telecommute on Fridays if I chose to. He does not come to the office every day and most of my team is all over the world, so besides one other person in my team most of the interaction will be technology based. I am pretty used to this from my time in the consulting world and love that there is no micromanaging. You know what you have to get done, as long as it is done there are no issues.

I will have to adjust my pace to a big company, which moves a lot slower in some aspects; like I am probably not going to be able to VPN until Wednesday, but already lighnight speed on others; I am already part of a huge number of projects and getting tons of e-mails.

It is a nice to be back in the content management world and the Senior Analyst does have a good ring to it.

My Perspective on GM

*What is written below is purely my point of view, or better yet, my fictional account. I don’t feel like getting sued. GM stands for GoodWingum Motards.

I actually worked on a couple of projects for GM. One is big and secret and I really cannot discuss it. Partly because I was part of developing the process and how it related to other manufacturers later on. The project that I can talk about is one that had to do with looking at one of their many databases and finding out what the reliability of the data was.

I am also a GM customer and have been for my last 3 vehicles which have all been Monte Carlos. I love the car for many reasons, and my only complain is that the position of the sit belt is not adjustable like it is in other cars and it can be annoying at times.

While working with GM I learned a lot. I have worked with statistical analysis of databases quite a bit before. I enjoy finding patterns on numbers and how they relate either back to the business or to people. Projecting trends is something that clicks quite easy in my head once a understand a process.

The project I did for GM was quite straight forward and very successful. We presented our findings and they were very happy. However, the reason behind the project is what kind of baffled me.

I have seen companies make bad decisions throughout my career. Most of the time this happens when the person making the decision is too far removed from what is actually happening or what is being implemented. In my opinion this was the case here. The system that was being installed was moving forward, and what the project that I did prove had nothing to do with the final outcome of the project that was being pushed elsewhere.

Looking at GM’s Renaissance Center on the news is what brought many of the memories. I had to go there for meetings sometimes. I actually remember my first meeting there like it was yesterday, and a picture of the building being my very first mobile picture in the now defunct TextAmerica website.

What amazed me the most about the GM project was how inefficient a company that had so much invested in a company was. Their security was pretty tight, but it made getting data from the a nightmare that would take days just for a single file. What made it even more frustrating was that it was not obtained from GM directly but from another vendor. So it was vendor talking to vendor and then getting approval from someone in GM to make the transaction happen. If the data was wrong… well many layers of bureaucracy had to be wrestled with until the data was finally obtained.

I learned a lot from this project about GM. Even more than the other secret project that we most not speak of now… on that one I got to learn a lot more about how state governments work. That I just refuse to post about completely.

Seeing a company from the inside is interesting, and now that they are filling for bankruptcy it does not surprise me one bit. Even though it was only a portion of what they do and actually not directly related to manufacturing, seeing how inefficient they were was a big red flag for me. It is easy to say now that you would not want a job there, but I knew that even back then.

I still love my GM car, and would probably buy a GM in the future as they restructure because the product to me is pretty good. Working and living in Michigan taught me many things about the automotive industry and its failure to react to change. I guess like anything that gets to big, it also becomes slow. I am eager to see what happens with the company, and hopefully it will eventually become independent and publicly owned. I do know that if they want to survive and flourish tons of changes will have to be made. Maybe in their next iteration, they will actually stop creating more bureaucracy and become more agile in every aspect.

CPU = HARDRIVE = COMPUTER

I am one of those mythological creatures called “IT Guys.” Even though my actual area of expertise is so far removed from hardware, that sometimes I wonder why people automatically relate me to it. Sure, I started my career being a Computer Operator/Systems Administrator assistant, and I have built my own computer and fixed quite a few along the way. However, most of my career has been spent in the Business Analysis and Consulting arena. More recently I have gone back and picked up coding again which is enjoyable because I love wrestling a bug to the ground and killing it… yes I know they are some big bugs.

However, today I want to talk about a misconception that I continue to encounter. People seem to have a hard time with the concept of what a computer actually is.

A computer is a machine that manipulates data according to instructions. Those instructions are basically what programs are. Personal Computers come with an Operating System or (OS) that makes it easier for users to access their information and perform tasks. Hardware are the parts that actually allow you to access that day. Keyboards and mice are input devices, printers and monitors are display devices, but when it comes to computers you will be surprised how many people start to get confused.

A CPU is not the same as a hard drive or a computer. That box that sits on the floor is the actual computer, and inside of it it has a hard drive, a CPU, memory and other nifty cards that you might never hear about until one breaks or has to be upgraded. The CPU or Central Processing Unit is what actually does the calculations, it is also known as “THE CHIP” and its kind of arrogant that way since there are other chips in there. Nothing to do with “CHiPs” either. You have heard of “CHIP” makers like Intel and AMD… well maybe, but basically the more Gigz that little thing has, the more calculations it can perform and the “faster” your computer will be.

Now the hard drive or hard disk is what stores information inside that computer box or case. They are about the size of 1/4th of a brick now, but I remember the days when they were the actual size of a brick and weighted a lot more. The “bigger” the hard drive, the more data like movies and pictures you can store. There are also internal and external hard drives, but they are essentially just places where you store information.

Last but not least I want to talk about making your computer faster, and those informational that promise you better performance by just downloading something to your computer. If you want your computer to perform correctly you need to keep it clean. Every piece of software that you install and adds itself to your start up list will eat up resources. Resources (disk, memory, bandwidth) are limited, and the more things you have fighting to take them, the slower your computer will run. Your computer will only be as fast as your slowest resource. All the memory in the world will not make the internet faster if you have a slow internet connection. All the CPU computing power will not make your computer perform faster if you do not have enough memory and information has to constantly be read from disk.

I hope this answers some questions, and don’t be shy and send me your questions. I can always protect the person that asks by making them just another “user” ;)

Also if you are new here, read my article on password security.

The Orangutan Architect

One of my most successful articles was the IT Animal Kingdom piece I wrote a couple of years ago. It was picked up by both BlogCritics and Internet Duct Tape. I wrote the article based on many of my past experiences in the IT world and even though I made fun of the Orangutan Architect, I am starting to understand him that character a little more.

In that article I defined this animal as the ones that…

create the most complex systems for simple solutions. If you have ever had a conversation with someone that talks in circles, never getting to a point, you might have encountered an Orangutan. Like their conversational skills their code is extremely hard to follow and it resembles a bowl of spaghetti. Somehow they are also backed by the predators, I believe because of their uncanny capability to confuse.

If you had to study its DNA, it would have come from two of the great software architects I have worked with in the past. The tone of the article only captured the funny and satirical side of what an architect is, however it did not talk about their brilliance when it came to being able to see systems as a fully integrated machine where they were aware of the skeleton and many other pieces inside of it. Now that I have 10+ years of experience in the world of IT I find myself becoming more and more like they were.

When talking about software development there are many schools of thinking. Some of them are almost like religions and you can encounter people that blindly follow a methodology even it if leads them into dead ends. One of the most dangerous is how configurable and flexible a software has to be. Most architects that I have met love making something so generic that we can use it for any widget. I still think this is the wrong approach for most solutionas and adhere myself to the mentality that it has to solve the problem first and then become generic, not build something generic that also solves the problem. Neither approach is wrong all together; finding the happy medium is what good designers ultimately have to do. It also varies greatly between internal IT shops and people that write software to be packaged. The closer the IT shop is to supporting the software and have ownership of it, the less generic you the software tends to be.

Now we get to the part where I am becoming more like the orangutan, and it has some to do with time management. Every architect I have met does not have time to explain details to others and they want to be trusted fully by everyone in the team. I personally lean more towards the business analysis side where I want to be close to the problem that is at hand and providing the right solution. Some of it can be attributed to the many small environments that I have worked inside where I saw my user all the time. That made me a better analyst, but it also tends to make me more reactive. The right thing to do is to compromise between talking and doing, and I have slowly come to realize that if you talk too much, meet too much, plan too much, you end up not doing a lot.

Navigating the sea of users trying to please them as well as the decision makers is quite a task. I have learned from the architects that being good at it is not just about being able to describe the big picture, but at the same time understand all the details that make it up. That skill develops being involved in various projects and being able to see things coming that others never expect. It is great to know methodologies and know how structures get built on top of solid frameworks, but the architect should plan for the pitfalls that others don’t see. It is not a perfect science, but it is something good architects do well.

After writing the article two years ago I thought about what it really meant. In some ways I was trying to see what traits I did not want fall pray of as my career started to get to the next level. Business Analysis and Software Architecture are both things that I have been doing for some years now, but it is recently that I feel confident that I can play in both of those realms with some authority. The key to all of it is not only experience, but realizing that you truly need a full zoo to really run a successful IT shop.

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