So Many Roles in IT

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by computers and technology.  Back then, I knew what programmers were and that was about it. At some point I learned about DBAs but I put that into the programmer bucket since I heard they wrote scripts to manage a database. I always knew about sales and at some point I found out about technology sales but just the thought of commission-only sales still gives me stomach pains.

My first real job out of college was at the Apple Retail Store.  I worked there for almost 4 years and slowly learned from my coworkers and customers about some of the many jobs and roles in IT.  At some point, that Apple Store closed for about two weeks for renovations. Near the end of the renovations, a guy came to work on the network rack.  I can only guess what he was there to do but it fascinated me.

With new technologies constantly being created, new roles are being created to manage those technologies.  Some of those technologies stay around for a while and others quickly disappear. The technologies that stay around for a while will eventually fade away but they never seem to fully go away.  Since they never seem to fade away, those roles never seem to fully go away.

An example is Cobolt.  It seems there will always be a need for Cobolt programmers even though it has been decades since anyone wrote new Cobolt code but someone has to maintain those ancient Cobolt applications.

Now when I think of the IT industry, it’s usually just IT infrastructure and even that is huge now.  Networking, servers, voice, virtualization, data center, security, storage and wireless now adds video, containers, SD-WAN, automation and the cloud.  Each one of those sections has numerous sub-sections and some roles combine multiple of those topics listed above.  We still haven’t even mentioned where everyone starts, the backbone of every IT organization, the helpdesk.  Finally there is the Network Architect that has to bring it all together.

The IT department provides more than just email.  Now it is expected to provide so many services and be available from anywhere on any device at any time.  It will take all these groups working together to make it happen. In order to do that we need to be more friendly to our fellow IT folks, building up walls around our territories is counter-productive (See the Datanauts podcast for more silo-busting).  Also, we need to be welcoming and help train others.  The machines are coming for your job but before that happens, there is a lot of work to do and we need all the help we can get.

Be Honest about your Network Resiliency

Everyone would love to have a network that is always up and available.  The problem is that few people want to design it and absolutely no one wants to pay for it.

There are many ways to make your Network more resilient.  Some are necessary for your organization, others would be nice to have and some are overkill.  A difficult part is to know which solution goes into which bucket (necessary, nice-to-have or overkill).  Then those pieces need to implemented, monitored and maintained.

One example that I have seen at dozens of companies is about the uninterruptible power supply (UPS).  A UPS has a battery that is supposed to “kick in” when the normal power source goes out, kind of like a fancy generator.  The goal is for the critical equipment to stay alive and the non-critical to power-down gracefully.  Most companies have a UPS at their sites but they are not ready for two main reasons, the battery is dead and/or it isn’t cabled properly.  Just like any other battery, over time it won’t hold as much of a charge so the battery needs to be replaced.

Another example is if a branch office invests in two ISPs for redundant internet, make sure everyone knows exactly how redundant it is.  If both ISPs use the same physical path to the branch office, they aren’t as redundant because the same backhoe will still take them both out.  Or if the network isn’t setup for proper failover and failback, then it isn’t as redundant as we thought.

A competent network designer should be able to tell with a high degree of certainty just how resilient the network is and in which ways.  Probably the toughest part is to explain to upper management the pros and cons of the new proposal and get their buy-in.  Management needs to listen and understand what all the scenarios are and their impact so everyone will be informed and aware of the possible situations.  Those meetings are time consuming and can be very boring but they are necessary.  The other option is for the engineer to write all this up and email it out but we all know that no one reads anymore.

T-Mobile Sprint Merger

The FCC should approve the T-Mobile and Sprint merger.  The main argument against it is that the US Wireless market would go from 4 to 3 major carriers and that would lessen competition.

I think allowing the merger to go through would actually increase competition because in reality, the US Wireless market currently has 2 major players, Verizon and AT&T.

T-Mobile and Sprint as of today are too small to be on the same playing field as Verizon and AT&T.  If the T-Mobile Sprint merger went through, the US Wireless market would go from 2 to 3 major carriers and that would lessen competition.  Fewer overall player but an additional player in the top round.  Ask most sports fan, the top level of play is the only one that really matters, almost no one cares about the minor leagues.  The lower levels don’t move the market.

Favorite Podcasts

This is a list of my favorite podcasts. I love listening to podcasts and therefore I listen to a lot of them.  Hopefully you all will get as much enjoyment out of them as I do.  Or atleast use it as jumping off point to find something that you do love.  Podcasts are mostly very friendly and therefore are known for promoting each others shows so I’m always finding more stuff to fill my ears.

One question I often get is how I can listen to so many podcasts. The answer is that I listen to most of them at between 1.5x and 2x speed.  Also, most of them are only weekly.

The list is broken up by categories. Not everything fits neatly into one single category but I tried.

I left off several podcasts that are no longer producing new episodes, that had very short runs and/or I only listen to certain episodes.  I will only include it on this list if I listen to almost every episode but I will still stay subscribed to it.  Also, I omitted podcasts below about politics and religion for hopefully obvious reasons.

Finally a new website should launch soon that promises to be the IMDB but for Podcasts, it is PodChaser.

Updated Oct 2018

Sections
History
Sports
Technology
Media Recaps
Miscellaneous

History

15 Minute History – Link
History professors and grad students from UT Austin

Hardcore History – Link
One of the best and most entertaining Podcasts. The podcasts are so long, they are basically audiobooks, amazing juicy audiobooks.

History on Fire Link

BackStory – Link
American History

Bowery Boys – Link
NYC History

The First: Stories of Inventions Link
Another series from the Bowery Boys

History Author Show – Link
Interviews with authors about new History books.

Historical Figures – Link
45 minutes Biographies of famous people

10 US Presidents featuring Roifield Brown – Link
In depth interviews about the US Presidents and the history of the US Presidency

Stuff You Missed in History Class – Link
High level overview of most history topics in a laidback style

Ben Franklin’s World Link
Early American History

In The Past Lane Link
American History

Scene on Radio Link
American History

Slow Burn Link
American Political Scandals

Fierce City: A London History Podcast Link

Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History Link
Malcolm Gladwell “will go back and reinterpret something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.”

Hit Parade Link
Music History and trivia

Way of Improvement Leads Home Link
American History

Mike Duncan Website
Revolutions Link
History of Rome Link

Brad Harris, professional historian, big picture
How it Began Link
Context Link

Lindsay Graham
American History Tellers Link
American Scandals Link

Patrick Wyman
Fall of Rome Link
Tides of History Link

Lillian Cunningham Website
Presidental – 45 minute bio of each US President Link
Constitutional – Creation and major changes to the US Constitution Link

FAQ City Website
Random questions answered about Charlotte NC

Away Message Website
Remote spots in North Carolina

Mental Floss magazine’s Favorite History Podcasts Link
Website with a list of History Podcasts Link

Sports

Baseball Tonight Link
Daily Baseball show from ESPN’s Buster Olney

Baseball PhD Link
Get your PhD in life through Baseball

The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap Link
Mini audio documentaries by the wonderful Jeremy Schaap

Bill Simmons Podcast Link

JJ Redick Podcast Link

Jonah Keri Podcast Link

Technology

PacketPushers Website
Podcast Network with lots of podcasts focusing on the Enterprise Networking Industry. Some of my favorite podcasts from them are:
◊◊ Network Break Link
◊◊ Datanauts Link
◊◊ Full Stack Journey with Scott Lowe Link
◊◊ IPv6 Buzz Link

Zigbits Network Design Link

Network Collective Link

Relay.FM Website
Podcast Network that describes themselves as “an independent podcast network for people who are creative, curious, and maybe even a little obsessive – just like its hosts.” Some of my favorite podcasts from them are:
◊◊ Analog(ue) Link
◊◊ Clockwise Link
◊◊ Subnet Link
◊◊ Under the Radar Link
◊◊ Ungeniused Link
◊◊ Upgrade Link

ATP Link

The Talk Show with John Gruber Link

Vector with Rene Ritchie Link

Internet History Podcast Link

Exponent Link
Two MBAs discussion the technology industry from a business perspective

The Tesla Show Link
Tesla as viewed through the lens of two technologists

Media Recaps

The West Wing Weekly Link
Recap of West Wing Episodes

The Rewatchables Link
Movie Reviews

Myke at the Movies Link
Movie Reviews

The Incomparable Link
Movie Reviews

Robot or Not? Link
Jason Snell asks John Siracusa to rule on the meaning of various words and concepts.

Pod4Ham Link
Hamilton Podcast

The Hamilcast Link
Hamilton Podcast

Broadway Backstory Link
Behind the Music for Broadway shows

Miscellaneous

Freakonomics Radio Link
New ways to look at world from smart people with data

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know Link
Fun and brainy game-show from the Freakonomics crew

Hidden Brain Link
Similar to Freakonomic IMHO

99% Invisible Link

The Memory Palace Link

The Longest Shortest Time Link
Parenting Show

After On Podcast Link
Interviews with scientists who are at the tops of their individual fields

Responsible Code

At an increasing rate, software now controls our lives.  A few examples are credit scores, loans, stock trading, releasing people from jail, new job screenings, getting into college and just about everything else.  Those decisions have major impacts on our lives.  Since they have such a huge impact on our lives, they need to be done properly.

An example of hugely important and impactful software is self-driving cars.  People’s lives directly depend on it, therefore it must be properly and correctly.  This is not like building a database, people’s lives are at risk. Lots of lives are at risk.  This is not something where someone should just fail-fast and then fix it.  But mistakes in production should not be acceptable.  Mistakes will happen, that is inevitable but it needs to fail gracefully.

No one enjoys unit testing but it is necessary for quality software.  There are so many different driving scenarios that they all can’t be accounted for and coded in.  Data needs to gathered from a wide variety of sources (such as still images, videos, radar, lidar), then it needs to be put together and analyzed.

In addition, no one enjoys government regulations but when it comes to self-driving cars, those regulations need to be followed.  All regulations need to be followed, I’m sure that some of them are ridiculous but please don’t skip them.  If they are ridiculous, object to them but still follow them while the laws are on the books.

I’m not saying this is easy.  This is a very hard problem that requires a lot of smart people working really hard.  I just want the people involved in this and other software projects to remember that this isn’t just an academic thought problem but people’s lives depend on this software.

I also think that technology can solve so many of the worlds problems.  I am optimistic,  not pessimistic, about the future of technology.  I do not want us to stop innovating.  We cannot stand still, we should always be moving forward but we need to proceed with caution.  The new and innovative technologies of today will become the foundation of tomorrow.  I want to make sure we have a solid foundation for everyone in the future.

This post was inspired by The Tesla Show Podcast, episode 85 about Comma.ai, “the Android of self-driving car companies” Link

 

Why Network Engineers Should Learn Programming

A typical network engineer starts off in a NOC and does break / fix work and that doesn’t require them to know how to write code.  But it would be great if they did AND it would help them advance.

Most other IT infrastructure engineers need to know either how to write basic scripts or at least edit or debug other’s scripts. Networking Engineering folks should learn about coding to expand their tool set and to better understand their Software Engineering brethren.  Even better to work better with the programmers that we are supporting.

An example is Powershell.

Powershell is a necessary skill for folks who work on servers, Exchange, Active Directory and Office 365. Lots of networking folks who want to dabble in other disciplines will  need to know Powershell and basic coding to keep up.  Here is a link to Greg Farro from the PacketPushers.net talking more about this very scenario.

Here are a few examples off the top of my head that other IT infrastructure engineers routinely perform.

Server / Storage Admins
•Automated backups
•Datacenter failover script
•Automatically setup new VMs and resources
•Linux Linux Linux

Security Admins
•Writing Firewall rules

Voice Admins
•Phone tree scripting

Architects
•Switch failover rules
•Pings sweeps
•SDN
•Device auto-discovery script

The IT world is becoming more and more automated.  That automation is done by scripting and coding. The networking world is far behind storage and servers in terms of automation.  Better for you to automate your own job away before someone else does… and it will happen eventually.  We’ll be examining automation in the IT world in general more in another post.