at work i take great pride in what i do. i love working in the server room, a unique physical environment where the computers that run the company live. i enjoy building new infrastructure, and tuning systems. at my current employer, i’ve written scripts that succintly summarize backups, automatically provision monitoring, and completely prepare a system for production after the operating system is installed. i think my role is one of the most thankless jobs in IT, behind networks and email. but that’s ok. i like being the back end server guy. i like being esoteric, orchestrating data movement with custom scripts or rolling out new systems with the push of a button.
i am always trying to improve my processes. i try to keep everything clean and predictable, a conservative approach that works well when your systems are the foundation upon which the business runs. not quite so conservative, maybe, compared to the vms systems wew use to run the manufacturing floor. my specific area of unix administration is very close to that.
i even take pride in how my systems look.
therein lies a bother.
for a long time i’ve had an issue about work that’s been difficult to put my finger on.
i had this discussion with a consultant i’ve worked with over the past several years, that got me thinking.
i am on the cusp of changing jobs. it’s been an emotional experience, which has its own consequences. but for now, what i’m thinking of is my role in this company, my role in the new company, and what i really want my own role to be.
when describing problems with work, i realize i keep in mind concepts such as.. “we have no clear requirements for this sytem (what are the long range plans?)” and “we have no performance benchmark (what is fast, or fast-enough?)”.
a few times a year, i will be involved in some project that requires an intense period of activity for me. i deliver, since doing the higher levels of my job is what i enjoy most. it is the easiest part of my job (to me, figuring out how our business systems can recover from an alternate site is easier than walking someone through changing their login password). i have a stack of awards and certificates in a moving box in my office, thanks to the projects i have been involved with.
i am fairly embarassed by the attention. i write it all off as “doing my job”. i believe that if some who is competent in what they do carries pride for the output is a state of work nirvana. if i didn’t have some pride in what i did, am i really in the best fitting job? this ignores things like hardships and mental or physical inability, i suppose. but the formula is simple: be good at what you do, be proud of what you do. it seems like common sense to me.
very interestingly, my manager has a phrase to describe this. he says, “common sense is not common.” it is a clever phrase and i think it is profound. but is it good or bad?
i strongly believe an IT group should be treated as a consultancy. the nature of unix systems is simple single-function tools put together to make larger systems. this way of thinking forces you to look at the big picture and dissect it into smaller, more reasonable pieces. server folks are used to streamlining processes, finding shortcuts and distributing workload. these days, out of necessity they are trained to find and adapt free tools to solve problems. how great would it be, if a customer with a problem met with an internal resource who knew the existing systems and could integrate free tools or established tricks? there are so many products out there today that are built on free tools. many of those underlying tools are already known by server folks. there are also new technology based products that can perform profound functions. if server guys can move applications between hosts (or even geographical locations), clone entire systems and present them elsewhere with a few commands, and replicate backups on disk as to offset the cost of traditional backup tapes and offsite storage.. what is really possible? getting business people and technology people talking together seems like it would bring the onset of IT nirvana.
on the ground, i live in a world of systems. we pay a premium for hardware because it fails less frequently. and when it fails, it is easier to operate on. it is built by companies that stand behind it, and are generally there for us when we need them. in my world, people are taking ideas and writing them down and sharing them to better the world for all of us. i measure everything, i look for trends to identify the overall health of systems. i find clever ways to monitor components, so i can detect when a subtle issue occurs. it is a world of known quantities, and of striving for perfection.
my consultant friend told me my problem is perfection. i work for a company whose projects get shoved to our department with no clear requirements and benchmarks. despite efforts over the years to insert ourselves into the genesis of projects, we are still getting demands like “we need a machine this week to run an application we’ve already chosen and purchased.” it is frequent that we see processes in place that could be automated, eliminated, or otherwise replaced. if only they would just consult with us.
the phrase my world is really accurate. i dive deep into it, and a complete understanding of it and constant finger on the pulse is what generates a lot of my pride.
but there is a real world. it smacks me in the face constantly, in the form of (seemingly) silly requests, unrealistic timelines, and mismanaged projects. there is an ever-growing dichotomy that i am now realizing. i have already identified a few differences between my world of discrete parts and fucntions.
is this why i am frequently disappointed at work? is this why i am frustrated with projects? i am not exactly sure what is going on with me and my world in this matter. if it is something, i am not sure what can be blamed on it. if there is cause and effect, can it be resolved?
as i continue to understand the world and myself more, i am taking this seriously. it is bringing up so many questions for me.
come to terms with mediocrity, my friend told me. embrace it.
give up this rose colored view of things i have? is common sense really that uncommon? what happens if i give up on perfection, will that change who i am? would i be happier but less unique? is my silly fascination with discrete components and perfection holding me back?
the advice i got was to embrace the real world. use it to elevate myself up the ranks, then use my passion to better others.
is that how great technical managers are born?
i have a lot to think about.
i am on the last hours of my career here at my current employer. i see so many “common sense” things that could be changed. but i’m not sure change can come from the bottom of the totem pole. so i need to elevate myself to be able to affect change? can i trust those above me to develop my ideas, collaborate with my peers, and affect change on our behalf?
can there really be a workplace nirvana?