Podcast Appearance: Packet Pushers Heavy Networking #623

I was a guest on this week’s episode of the Packet Pushers Heavy Networking podcast. Of the many wonderful podcast series from the Packet Pushers, Heavy Networking is the original that started it all.

This episode is about the career progression from Junior to Senior Network Engineer and it was recorded about a month ago.

Please check it out here.

Podcast Appearance: The Hedge #74

Earlier this week I was a guest on another episode of Russ White’s podcast The Hedge Ep 74. On this episode we discussed a quote from Michael Collins’ autobiography about test pilots helping to create new Fighter Jets. I though the quote also applied to creating and using networking gear so we discussed.

I was honored to be a guest on Russ White’s wonderfully nerdy show. Here is a direct link to the audio file Link or just go your favorite pod-catcher and subscribe to get all the other great episodes.

I didn’t think I was nervous but once the Zoom recording started, I indeed got very nervous and tripped over my words on at least one occasion. I really thank the editor of the podcast for making me sound a lot better.

Podcast Appearance: The Hedge #64

Yesterday, I was a guest on my first official podcast1. It was Episode 64 of Russ White’s podcast The Hedge. On this episode we discussed burnout. I was honored to be a guest on Russ White’s wonderfully nerdy show.

Here is a direct link to the audio file Link or just go your favorite pod-catcher and subscribe to get all the other great episodes.

1FYI, I was on a group Zoom call back in April of 2020 and that was posted as a podcast. Link I sorta count it, you’ve gotta start somewhere.

My Photo Backup Strategy

This is what I do to try to ensure I don’t lose any pictures. 

The first obvious step is I take a picture.  I take all of my pictures with my iPhone.  My wife takes her pictures with a combination of her iPhone and her Canon camera.  

Next, I upload all the pictures to the computer.  I use a cable to connect the phones to the computer and import the photos to iPhoto on our family desktop iMac.  I take the SD card out of the Canon camera and import those photos into iPhoto as well. As iPhoto imports those photos, they are all placed into a central location on the hard drive.

After the photos are imported into iPhoto, several things happen in the background.  The first is that Google Photos looks at that central location on the hard drive and it starts uploading them to their cloud service.   Next, once an hour, the Mac’s built-in backup utility takes all of the new files and adds them to the external hard drive sitting under the monitor.  Finally, every few hours BackBlaze takes everything from the desktop and backs it up to one of their datacenters in the PST. With BackBlaze, I pay every 2 years so it is a nice chunk of change but it works out to be only a few dollars per month.  Having an offsite, full backup is priceless to a neurotic nerd like me. 

When I take pictures on the iPhones, the photos are automatically geo-tagged but any photos from the Canon camera need to be manually geo-tagged.  I have tens of thousands of photos in iPhoto and only a few are not geo-tagged, I am very diligent about doing that and making sure it is as accurate as possible.  I am not as diligent about the “facial-tagging” in iPhoto.  iPhoto can be really hit-or-miss on picking out a face and then knowing which person it is.  I know that small sample size isn’t an issue, it has thousands of pictures of the people in my immediate family.  Google Photos is almost perfect at picking out faces and knowing who it is so I’ve stopped worrying about managing it in iPhoto. 

I am very diligent about getting all of the photos off my phone within a day or two of taking the photo.  That’s not a big deal since I hardly take any photos.  My wife is constantly taking photos and I normally go weeks or months before I can connect her phone to the computer.  So what I do is every few days I will open the Google Photos app on her phone and have it sync to the cloud so they are not only on just her phone.  I’ve noticed that Google Photos has a great deduplication algorithm so if it sees that a photo was already uploaded from the phone and it tries to upload it again from the computer, it will only keep one copy. 

Conferences and Meetups

My two favorite conferences to go to are the Carolina VMUG in Charlotte, NC every June and the Triangle InfoSeCon in Raleigh, NC every October.  Last week I went the Triangle InfoSeCon 2018 and as usual, it was awesome.

I used to go to a lot of local meetups about all kinds of topics but my available time outside of work keeps shrinking with a growing family.  So I try to go to fewer things but make them higher impact.  Also, I am far enough along in my career that I now can get something out of those conferences.  That’s why now I only go to big conferences.  I’d like to start going to some local meetups but with a more narrow focus.

I love going to conferences and meetups so I can meet new people and get new ideas.  At work we sometimes get into a rhythm of doing the same things over and over again.  Hearing how other people are solving the same problem is very cool.  It is ever better when I hear about problems that I’ve never heard of.  It would be nice if there’s a solution to it but I still want to hear about it.

At Tech conferences, almost all of the talks have the same format and they sound like there were written by the marketing department. Part 1 is how something is broken, Part 2 is how our product can fix it.  It makes it even worse since every company has the same handful of major problems so it gets really repetitive.  Most of the conferences are paid for by these vendors so I understand they want to at least break-even, maybe even make a few bucks but can they try and make it a little more interesting.  My favorite talks have funny and/or interesting stories with some product placement sprinkled in.

I know I shouldn’t complain so much because the vendors cover most of the costs.  But I don’t think anyone is going to buy your product if the presentation was so boring that they don’t know what the product does even if they were awake for it.

Most of the time I like a live demo and I don’t care if it goes perfectly.  I know how difficult it is to do a live demo and I really appreciate the effort.  I learn a ton about the product from the demo whether it is successful or not.  An unexpected error with live troubleshooting can turn into presentation gold if handled properly but it is at least entertaining either way if it goes really badly.

Overall I’m really glad that I get out of my shell and go these events.  Hope to see you soon IRL (In Real Life).

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.