Sunday, October 27, 2013

the name matters

It has been perhaps 4 months I have been officially switched from the applications team to the infra team and while I was thinking about what sort of transformation will make meaningful use to the organisation, it occurred to me that perhaps a name change will help.

The applications team is called Application Services, and the head is called an Application Service Manager. The infra team is called Technical Services, and the head is called a Technical Service Manager. On paper it seems fine, but let me put up my case.

Firstly, by naming Technical Service for a team implies that the other team is potentially not a Technical Service. I was lucky to be roped in for some interviews in the past few weeks and while I was browsing through resumes (yes, it's my first time browsing resumes), I realised that there are some "Project Managers" who are not technical. What I mean by not technical is that they do coordinating, resource planning, admin work, and the technical work such as writing documentation, designing the system or interfaces are done by "technical or application consultants". Hmph!

Secondly, by naming Technical Service for a team that does infrastructure work, means that the expectation is higher than the capabilities available in the team. When I was in the application team, the only work I assign to my infra team is to buy servers, test connectivitiy, and clear firewalls. I take care of all architectural aspects, interfaces, system design (both hardware and software), security, policy compliance, facing the grumpy users, contracts, vetting documentation, etc. When I joined the infra team, the PM I support pass me stuff like "performance test plan", "security test plan", "functional specs", to vet. When I was a PM myself, I never passed those docs to the infra team because ... well, it's under the scope of the PM, or so I thought. Hmph!

Thirdly, when I asked for expectations of me, I recalled my apps boss told me that my switch to the infra team will help the apps team a lot, and it's because I will be able to do system architecture design and ensure security compliance, which is something he expects the infra team, I mean Technical Service team to be doing. When I asked him whether he feels helpless (because he isn't technical enough) when there are enterprise architecture design issues that are creating down stream system issues, he said no, his job is to find the right resource to do the work. When I spoke to the infra boss, he told me that the apps PM is supposed to be technical, and Technical Service does infra stuff - server and network. Enterprise architecture and application security shouldn't be a Technical Service scope. I tried to ask to do a project to set up a common authorisation interface for systems to adopt in the apps team and I was told that it's the other team's job, and when I went over, and stated my wish, I was told that it's the other's team job. Hmph!

For the longest time, there has been a no man's land between the two teams, and I think I have found the answer. It lies in the name, doesn't it?

If we change the name to Infrastructure Team, then both teams need to be technical.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

the nightmare in the IT backroom

The switch from the application team to infrastructure team has been quite seamless, and by seamless, I mean, my work for both sides still function just like any other day, and no impact is felt for everyone except maybe for the infra boss. Almost everyday has been spent revealing secrets and presents hidden all over the network. :P

Treasure hunting could be a competency by itself.

When I first started out in the application team, my first 2 months in every project given to me were treasure island expeditions. I will say that it's no different at the infrastructure team. Which team has it easier? The level of difficulty is the same to me, both are average, not too difficult, not easy as well.

If we look back at the OSI layers, I am just so thankful that layers 1 and 2 are done extremely well. I visited the data centre, checked the cables, switches, patch panels, racks, everything was labelled well, design was systematic, and tracing of the network is really a breeze. Whoever was in charge of it, I am quite sure doesn't exist in our team now. LOL.

I can't say the same for layers 3 to 7. That's where our nightmares are created.

We have strange relationships in the network:
- Configurations for standalone networks are correct at one end, but ended up rout-able at another end.
- Managed-networks with legs in un-managed networks.
- Un-managed servers with legs in managed-networks.
- Bypass-able firewalls because of above 3 points :P

So far, I haven't encountered any blackhole where I feel totally incompetent and unable to understand. Common sense has been the order of the day. Google rocks too.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bayley III scales of infant development

If this is too long, just scroll to the last paragraph.

I jumped right into volunteering yaya to be a research subject in a study on infant brain development. The study is a sub study of the main study known as GUSTO, which studies prenatal and external factors that influence infant development.

Apart from getting $100 out of each time yaya participates at 6, 12, 18, 24, 36 months, and getting $20 for every survey that I fill in, I get to learn a lot about child psychology, through the test cases. For those interested in how much I have gotten out of this research, I think it's about $500 so far? but the examiners have been encouraging me to continue to participate, possibly due to people dropping out of the research, stating that there will be an unknown "gratuity" sum at the end of the 4 years research participation. I am into the 3rd year now.

Basically, Bayley III has 3 major parts: Cognitive, Language and Motor. The infants/toddlers (depending on how you classify them) go through a 2-hour test, and augmented with a 30 min questionaire that I had to answer. The questionaire looks at Social Emotional and Adaptive Behaviour development. The fast and cooperative ones, like yaya, finished everything in 30 minutes. The examiner said that some took as long as 3 hours. The duration to complete the tests actually shows up in the results as well. Here's yaya's highs and lows:

High 19/19
- Cognitive (toddlers are given items that examine how they explore new toys and experiences, how they solve problems, and their ability to complete puzzles)
- Motor - Gross Motor (toddlers are given items that measure their ability to crawl, make stepping motions, support their own weight, stand and walk without assistance)

Low 2/19
Adaptive Behaviour - Social (getting along with other people, including skills such as using manners, assisting others, and recognising emotions)

Low 6/19
Adaptive Behaviour - Health and Safety (knowledge of physical dangers), Motor (manipulation of objects)

Average 8-12
Language - Receptive Communication (how well the child recognise and understand spoken words)
Language - Express Communication (how well the child communicates with sounds, gestures or words)
Motor - Fine Motor (stacking blocks, drawing simple shapes, placing small objects in a slot)
Social Emotional (assess child's ability to take action to get their needs met, ability to imitate others in play, how the child uses words to communicate)
Adaptive Behaviour - Communication, Functional Pre-Academics, Self-Direction, Leisure, Community Use, Home Living, Self-Care

From the above psychological terms, and grouping, with a bit of common sense, I would like to draw your attention to the big categories like cognitive, motor, language, social emotional, adaptive behaviour, which can be applied to work. Translated to "working" terms:

Your child can tell you these:
cognitive - capacity, intelligence
motor - how fast you learn how to type, assemble a watch, deploy a laptop, clean the toilet
language - team dynamics, communicate, expectations

Your child is observed for these:
social emotional - job satisfaction
adaptive behaviour - worked experience, learning from mistakes, skill sets

Moral of story: Pay attention to what you can control (cognitive, motor, language), and be aware of what you can't control (social emotional, adaptive behaviour) because it's how others observe you.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

the strategic thinker

Yesterday, over lunch, I decided to poll my lunch attendees for their opinion towards whether strategic thinking is a skill that could be taught. Without a doubt, everybody nodded that it was a skill that could be learnt, but needs to be nurtured by someone else to develop the skill.

To me, it's not a skill that could be taught, and is just another way of saying how intelligent you are in bigger game of enemies and environment, until this key statement was made that "you may be strategic, but you may not be always right". That really made me think about all the different competencies in the world, and why certain competencies are given the bias of being one where mastery is expected and taken for granted.

For example, if one's competency is "cooking", the societal norm accepts that one may not necessarily be good. However, if one's competency is "strategic thinking/planning", the societal norm expects that one is good at strategic thinking/planning. It may be argued that there are various levels of competencies, for example, amateur, pro, expert, but assuming the highest level, the bias is still present.

When our political leaders assume positions requiring "strategic thinking" competency, I can just imagine what "courses" they will have to attend to build up this competency if they are lacking in judgement accuracy. I am also assuming that some other higher up management will be thinking that the heart, attitude and passion for the job cannot be taught whereas "strategic thinking" can be taught.

With this scenario of lacking in judgement accuracy as a by product of "strategic thinking" going more wrong than right, shouldn't we then also assess the strategic thinker competency with "judgement"? However, judgement isn't a competency, or shall I rephrase, that nobody really teach you how to judge other than a law degree? It's dangerous to also ignore the "strategic thinking" competency and just go after someone with a high "judgement" competency.

(There are many lawyers in our cabinet as well.)

Another conversation I had yesterday was also on the high number of scholars in our defence ministries and its stat boards, sucking away talent from all other industries (like IT for non defence-related industries, or transport, or healthcare). And we can't answer why there are many ex-military in our cabinet? I am sure they are kidding. If all president scholars join SAF, and president scholars are what the country needs, then naturally they will end up in the cabinet, in a matter of time, so it's a no brainer why there are so many ex-military at the top.

Is it desirable? To me, no. It's a clear imbalance of talent distribution that is detrimental to the overall growth of the nation.

And for that matter, those who distribute the cream of the crop talents to the military, shouldn't be expecting the other industries to produce similar talents at same rate as the military, because there will be insufficient talent seeds at the management level to grow any talents.

Therefore, the cabinet will still continue to have a large proportion of ex-military personnel, who are the strategic thinkers, bright, intelligent, no doubt about that, but may not have been in an environment to test their judgement because they spend their whole life doing table top exercises.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

a user's confession

We were all gathered for a meeting this morning, with the agenda being sent out to our mobile phones at 11.09 pm yesterday night, saying we need to discuss the various ways to work as one, how to build trust, come with an open mind without prejudice.

One of us said he always remembers our boss' line "please remember to bring your brain when going to work" and she said that it's not a nice thing to say in this context.

I then said, aren't we already working as one? She said no, we are not one. There are times where we are one when everyone contributes without comparing who does what. (read: without comparing how much work she does)

When I said that I still think we are all working as one and she could call it blind faith. Her response was "blind faith does not help as it is blind. Faith builds on honesty works far better". (whatever this means)

Then she said goodnight to everyone, and "we will definitely make it a meaningful meeting for everyone".

The goosebumps kept me away till past midnight, and it didn't help that I was jolted out of bed before my alarm rang.

Our user started her confession, like things are moving too fast at the working level for her to keep up (read: she is management level not working level), she knows her roles and responsibilities but maybe we do not know, she needs a team to work, she cannot be the user PM herself, she has always worked in teams (read: teams have to work for her), she is very involved in the project (like vetting emails, engaging users, etc), yadda yadda yadda...

Seven of us sat there like the seven deadly sins, listening to the human heart.

Towards the end, I finally heard what I wanted to hear, she said that in the past, she had to pressure the IT team to ensure the systems are delivered properly. Now that she is in the IT team, she "cannot be nasty to the IT team anymore".

That unlocked the mystery to her confession - she is being suppressed and cannot be nasty to others.

Monday, February 25, 2013

luck of sorts

It was another lucky day today. I was fiddling about some DB2 drivers to transfer the data from the DB2 to MSSQL. Well, I didn't have to do it, but I just thought that I had been blessed by lots of luck these few days especially, so I need to return some favours.

I started with 1 driver that was using port 446 for the database connection and the error message said connection failed. Network-noob-me went to ask the network admin how to check whether the port is blocked. He took out a spreadsheet, checked a two records and said port is not blocked. I was impressed. Server-noob-me then went to the server admin to ask him how to check why I cannot telnet, he said telnet isn't installed by default from win server 2008 onwards. Network-noob-me went back to ask the network admin why after installing telnet, the connection still could't be established, he said because the other server isn't listening on that port. Ah ha, slapped myself for not knowing network fundamentals. Server-noob-me went back to the server admin to ask him how to check what ports are listener on the source server, and within a few clicks, there you go! A bunch of ports, except 446, so I looked through the list of ports used by the DB2 and picked port 50000.

Googling the port actually revealed that I was using the wrong driver. I was lucky to get the right port 50000. It's quite enlightening actually because DB-noob-me usually has an expert-DBA to help me with all the database connectivity and setup but there was no DB2 DBA this time round. A few more googles, I set up my drivers to connect to the DB2 DB but had problems mapping date fields. Googling didn't help that, so, call-a-friend.

The vendor PM, acclimatised with my incessant random questions and all, found a way out and the DB2 to MSSQL test concluded in just under an hour. Don't I just make things sound so simple? I think it's luck of sorts.

I will need to do my good deeds to return this luck; or maybe I had been doing lots of good deeds to receive this luck; or maybe ...

Friday, February 22, 2013

as an isolationist

The past 2 weeks was possibly one of those weeks where I had dreams every night of all sorts of strange events. I was jolted out of bed once in the morning at 6+ am by a vibration of my phone (silent mode) that was one metre away from me, and I normally wouldn't have noticed. I was woken up at 5+ am almost everyday because yaya was choking over her cough in her sleep. I met up with a network vendor today, the vendor asked why my namecard says applications, and said that nobody will know that I don't have any infra experience. Passed.

So I was just looking back at all the events and thinking about how different I am from others, prompted by a HR guy asking me what kind of education I went through to produce a someone like me (apparently word of mouth has spreaded that I have proven that any applications person without network/infra background can learn and pick up the knowledge easily), because he wants to hire more people like me, which was flattering, but at the same time means I have a higher market value. Hmph.

Background: I was assigned a new role 2 months ago, covering both application and infra (server and network) security, so it's like a third dimension to my work.

I also got hooked on a book, Susan Cain's Quiet, that really helps me understand myself better, and I will extract some content here:

Tom DeMarco, a principal of the Atlantic Systems Guild team of consultants... noticed that some workspaces were a lot more densely packed than others. He wondered what effect all that social interaction had on performance. To find out, De Marco and his colleague Timothy Lister devised a study called the Coding War Games. The purpose of the games was to identify the characteristics of the best and worst computer programmers; more than six hundred developers from ninety-two different companies participated. Each designed, coded, and tested a program, working in his normal office space during business hours. Each participant was also assigned a partner from the same company. The partners worked separately, however, without any communication, a feature of the games that turned out to be critical.

When the results came in, they revealed an enormous performance gap. The best outperformed the worst by a 10:1 ratio. The top performers were also about 2.5 times better than the media. When DeMarco and Lister tried to figure out what accounted for this astonishing range, the factors that you'd think would matter - such as years of experience, salary, even the time spent completing the work - had little correlation to the outcome. Programmers with ten years' experience did no better than those with two years. The half who performed above the median earned less than 10% more than the half below - even though they were almost twice as good. The programers who turned in "zero-defect" work took slightly less, not more, time to complete the exercise than those who made mistakes.

It was a mystery with one intriguing clue: programers from the same companies performed at more or less the same level, even though they hadn't worked together. That's because top performers overwhelmingly worked for companies that gave their workers the most privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments, and freedom from interruption. 62% of the best performers said that their work space was acceptably private, compared to only 19% of the worst performers; 76% of the worst performers but only 38% of the top performers said that people often interrupted them needlessly.

So you know my secret - isolation.

Hint: When your interrupt-ers (irritating-like-hell-mates-or-users) are on leave, you will be able to perform better.

Friday, February 1, 2013

can i have your email address?

Yesterday I received a call from a guy who claimed to be from HP.

Him: Are you the IT manager?
Me: Who are you looking for?
Him: I am looking for the IT manager.
Me: How did you get my number?
Him: Your CTO gave me your number.
Me: What is his name?
Him: *gibberish*
Me: Sorry that's not my CTO.
Him: Sorry I am from India and I am not good with chinese names.
Me: Spell it to me.
Him: *spelt wrongly*
Me: Whose names did he give you?
Him: Lee which is this number and another person *he got the name and number right*
Me: Ok, why didn't you talk with him?
Him: He said he was busy and told me to call you instead.

*running through my head was - my account management scope also covers getting redirected calls when my user is busy*

Me: What do you want?
Him: I want to know whether you have any problems.
Me: What problems do I have?
Him: Do you have any server or network problems.
Me: No.
Him: Are you looking to buy any servers in the next 6 months?
Me: Yes.
Him: How much is your budget?
Me: I don't know.
Him: How much do you intend to spend in the next 6 months?
Me: I don't know.
Him: How big is your company?
Me: Are you really from HP?
Him: Yes I am from HP.
Me: Our account manager should be able to tell you how big we are because they meet us every month.
Him: Are you able to give me a rough estimate?
Me: No.
Him: 100, 1000?
Me: What is our account manager's name?
Him: Ok nevermind. What is your name?
Me: *gave my name*
Him: And your job title?
Me: I thought you said I am the IT manager?
Him: Are you the IT manager?
Me: Well you said the CTO said I am the IT manager.
Him: Ok. Can I have your email address?
Me: How do I check that you are from HP? I would want to confirm your identity before I release my email to you.
Him: Ok I am Frank.
Me: What's your email address?
Him: You don't need my email address, you just need to give me your email address and I will email you our product brochures.
Me: I will email you my email address. What is your email address?
Him: I don't have my email set up yet.
Me: You said you will be emailing me, but you don't have your email set up yet?
Him: We will send you from another email.
Me: Ok, then what is your email address?
Him: I don't have an email address.
Me: Will you be able to give me your colleagues' or boss' email address?
Him: I don't have anyone with me right now.
Me: How am I supposed to believe you?
Him: Ok I will get someone else to call you.
Me: Ok.

He hasn't called back. Maybe his HP doesnt stand for the HP we know of. Did I say I must also thank the CTO for giving my number to an unknown fella.

On this topic, I received a call from supposedly Fuji Xerox few days back. The receptionist called me and said that a lady from Fuji Xerox said that he was looking for a guy called Kelvin who is in charged of printers but she can't find such a guy in our directory. I took the call. As I am the so-called account manager for the receptionists as well, I get called to collect gifts for my boss when his secretary isn't around, and I also get called when they can't find who is in-charge of whatever they need to look for. Anyway, back to the story:

Her: I am conducting a customer satisfaction survey and would like to check whether I can have your email address to send the survey to you.
Me: I may not be the correct party, what product or service is it regarding?
Her: It's for the xerox printers.
Me: I don't think we have a contract with you for xerox printers. Do you have the contact person's name and telephone number?
Her: The person is called Kelvin and the telephone number is the main line.
Me: Ok I don't know any Kelvin who looks after printers.
Her: Can you call me back after you have found the person?
Me: Ok.
Her: *she gave me her number*

I didn't call back.