Friday, July 29, 2016

Happy sysadmin day!

July 29, 2016 is System Administrator Appreciation Day! I wanted to share a special shout-out to our system administrators at my office.

Also on a day like today, I'd like to reflect on my background as a systems administrator, long ago. My first job was managing Apollo DomainOS/AEGIS, HPUX, and SunOS servers and workstations for a small geographics company (we made custom maps for businesses). I was fortunate to have a wonderful boss who respected me and took me under her wing. She was my first mentor.

Every sysadmin has a story when they accidentally mis-typed a command or clicked on the wrong control and took down an important system. And after I'd been with the company for about nine months, I did that; I hosed a system with an rm -rf * in the wrong directory. I thought I was in the temporary directory, but I was in a system directory instead. I immediately freaked out! I went to my boss and told her what happened. I'm sure she was disappointed, but instead of yelling at me, she explained that in IT this happens to other people, and now it has happened to me. I wasn't the first to make a mistake like this. There was a way out of it.

She had me take a step back from the console, calm down, then think out loud about what we could do. I couldn't "undelete" the files, but I realized we had other servers exactly like this one. As long as I didn't shut down the system, the server would continue to function. I just had to copy over the files from another system like it, and make a few edits that were local to the system.

Over the next hour, I focused on repairing the system, which stabilized things. By the end of the day, I'd brought the system back to normal, and I was confident enough to reboot the system for a test. And it worked!

That was a scary moment, but I made it through with my boss's support.

I have since moved on to other companies as a system administrator, and never repeated that accident. Whenever I or someone on my team made an oops, I repeated the same thing my first boss told me: this has happened to other people, they fixed it, you can fix it too. I've moved into management and leadership roles, but I will never forget my first boss. As I've managed system administrators in my own teams, I hope I've provided the same support.

Happy system administrators day to you!
image: Christian Cable (cc-by)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Partnership, Innovation and Excellence

I wanted to share this excellent article by my friend Helen Norris at Chapman University about how IT leaders can achieve top level service and support, at the CIO Talk Network. Go read it now.

In her article, Helen discusses adopting a "Life of P.I.E" approach, summarized here:
"The Life of P.I.E approach is a combination of a business model and lifestyle that revolves around continuous Partnership, Innovation, and Excellence. The three fundamental pillars create a robust foundation that helps bring the [control] framework theory into play and also enables a lifestyle that IT leadership can adopt as they serve their clients, organizations, and team members."
image: CIO Talk Network

Monday, July 25, 2016

Reflections after six months

I have been in my new position for just over six months now, and I love being part of Ramsey County! I am excited to come to work every day! We have made several key changes over the last six months, and we still have a lot of work to do, but we are doing it together. I consider myself fortunate to have a wonderful staff, leadership team, and colleagues at Ramsey County!

At about six months into the new position, now is a good time for reflection. Allow me to share a selection of my responsibilities at Ramsey County:
Direct and manage all aspects of Information Services for Ramsey County. Lead the vision, strategy, and governance for information technology in the County, ensuring alignment with the County's vision, mission, and goals and industry best practices.

Selected Responsibilities

• Through an Information Technology Plan, lead the strategic direction for IT and guide all staff in the achievement of this vision for Ramsey County.

• Create and maintain highly professional, customer-oriented, innovative, and future-focused IT capabilities in the department including operations, enterprise applications, information security, and project management office.

• Ensure the provision of secure and stable IT services in a cost effective manner to support business outcomes through effective risk management strategies.

• Ensure physical and logical security of all County computing assets, including data.

• Direct the development of and promotion of policies and standards covering County-wide IT related functions including procurement, technical infrastructure, information security, records management, and projects.

• Manage the development of IT annual budgets and monitor performance against established budgets and plans; communicate on behalf of IT to state auditors.

• Continuously and proactively seek ways for IT to deliver value to the County, including identification of new sourcing opportunities. Help the County realize new IT enabled business opportunities.

• Direct IT governance for the County. Serve on County-wide committees including the County Manager's Senior Management Team, and chair the County's Technology Governance Committee. Participate in planning and policy making at the executive level.

• Direct and perform special studies for the County to identify areas of potential improvements in IT and across the County's IT delivery structure.

• Maintain liaison with other public and private organizations.
Colleagues from my time at the U of M have asked me "What's it like in government?" I find it is very much the same. We have the same processes, the same structures, the same governance, the same committees, the same org chart … it's just labelled differently!
image: Ramsey County website

Monday, July 18, 2016

I'm thinking about writing an ebook

I am thinking about writing several ebooks. The ebooks will span a range of topics from leadership to usability to open source software. Several will be based on my blogs, others will be contributed chapter compilations in collaboration with different authors.

At the moment, I'm thinking the ebooks will be made available for free, also available on the Amazon Kindle bookstore, and probably Apple iTunes Bookstore and Google Play Bookstore. Distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution license, contributors can submit a previous work or write something new. Authors retain the copyright to what they submit, and can re-use their contribution elsewhere.

These are the ebooks I am considering:

Open Source Usability
Open Source Usability
An ebook about how to examine and improve the usability in free and open source software. While many books exist about usability, none specifically focus on free and open source software. Intended for developers, this ebook will discuss what usability is, different ways to examine usability, how to measure usability, and ways to integrate usability test results back into the development stream to improve the next versions of the software. See my blog: Open Source Software & Usability.
Coaching Buttons
Coaching Buttons
An ebook comprised of about fifteen chapters from my Coaching Buttons blog, about Leadership and Vision in Information Technology. Organized into several themes of leadership, this ebook will be interesting to current and aspiring leaders.
Why FreeDOS
Why FreeDOS
An ebook about the FreeDOS Project, how it got here, and who contributes to it. Comprised of about fifteen contributed chapters, organized chronologically by date of first contribution, this ebook will be interesting to open source developers and others who want to get involved in free and open source software.
Focused Leadership
Focused Leadership
An ebook aimed at emerging and rising technology leaders. About fifteen chapters written by contributors at various levels of leadership, from team leads to CIOs and CEOs, in higher ed, government and industry. Chapters will be organized into three sections with about five chapters each to discuss roles that are primarily Lead, Lead+Manage, and Lead+Do.

I'm not sure what the audience would be for these ebooks. What do you think? Would you read these ebooks? Let me know in the comments, or send me an email.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Career ladders

A few years ago, I served on a committee to identify new career ladders for our IT teams. This work originated with a document I wrote about how to "level set" the compensation and seniority for our operations and infrastructure staff, many of who had joined our team as part of IT consolidations from different parts of the organization. In that document, I set a new career progression, from "junior" to "staff" to "senior" to "team lead," with compensation ranges for each. This document was going to be the basis for a re-organization of my teams.

My director liked the idea of planning for career levels, and we moved the idea forward to our HR department. From that concept, the career ladders committee was formed. The career ladder committee expanded on my original plan, and established a new organizational structure for IT staff, in different categories.

I have since used this career ladder concept as a basis for organizational planning. The document provides a simple overview of technology teams and how job areas are aligned and related. Our work was expansive. We defined eight separate career tracks, with different levels within each:
  1. Development
  2. Database Management
  3. IT Security
  4. Systems Analysis & Administration
  5. Network Analysis & Administration
  6. Business/System Analysis
  7. IT Management
  8. IT Generalist

The picture below represents the organizational structure based on that list. The picture should be read from the bottom up, representing the infrastructure, to systems, to development, to support of the end user. The usefulness of this picture is to ensure that our career ladders do not miss any key areas or functions of IT work, requiring significantly different skill sets, work knowledge, and responsibilities; specifically, a different career path.

Enduser/desktop/helpdesk supportManagement
Code Migration
Change Control
Software Admin
Application Support
Systems DBAApplication DBA
Systems AdminSecurity
NetworkData CenterOperationsAutomation

How do you manage career ladders at your organization? Do your staff know how they can advance? Every organization has "star" performers who excel at what they do, and who want to do more. How do you reward these employees? How does your organization invest in them?

It's often said that the best reward for hard work is more work. And that is true to a point, and gets you pretty far with many people. But you will eventually need to consider career progression for these top performers. How you engage them in their careers goes a long way to retaining your top talent.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Take a vacation

I've previously written about maintaining a work-life balance. I'd like to talk about this again.

Vacations are important. In local government, as in local higher ed, we have a very generous vacation policy, and I encourage everyone to use their vacation wisely. Don't try to "save up" your vacation—use it. After all, studies tell us that taking a vacation can not only improve your mental health, but help you live longer as well.

For example, I'm planning some vacation time for myself: I'm taking the next two weeks as vacation. We'll be hosting a visit from family, then I'm taking some extra time off. There's a work conference at the end of that time, which worked out well.

When on vacation, you should enjoy your vacation. Unplug the electronics. Turn off your mobile phone. Allow yourself to relax and recharge.

While time off is important, coordinating with coworkers is also important. I ask that you plan ahead for your vacation. Discuss your vacation plans in advance with your teammates and your manager, so everyone knows when you will be gone, and for how long. It's very disruptive to everyone if you don't plan ahead, if you suddenly take a day's vacation because you would "lose" vacation time if you didn't.

Take a moment this week to look at your vacation balance, and plan a well-earned break.
image: Sunny Ripert (cc-by)