10 Ways to Survive as an IT Manager

IT ManagerSo after five and a bit years of being an IT Manager here is some advice I have learned along the way in no particular order. On the whole I have enjoyed myself but it has been a real challenge at times.

1. Figure out what plates are still spinning

Being an IT Manager is all about keeping everything running all of the time. A bit like spinning 5 or 6 plates. You have plates for your servers and network infrastructure, you have plates for bespoke databases that you maintain, you have plates for your staff (including any external contractors), you have plates for any websites or apps that you develop. That is a lot of plates to keep spinning and that before you start thinking about what your boss wants you to deliver. Make sure you know what is happening with all these plates, which ones are happy, which ones are on the way to the floor and which ones you need to get the glue out and repair.

2. Make it someone else’s problem

If you can blame someone else do so. If your internet goes down it is your ISPs fault. If your website dies its your hosting company’s fault. Take responsibility for problems but if when something goes wrong you can pick up the phone and ask for help, it will make your life easier.

3. Hire good staff

Hiring poor staff wastes time and money and makes you look bad by others. Demand the highest salary band for new staff that you can afford and don’t agree to hiring anyone that you have doubts about. It is easy to bow to the pressure to get someone quickly but this will always result in worse problems in the long run. Once you have a good team do your best to keep them, and warn upper management of the problems if staff leaves (basically make it their problem not yours!).

4. Learn, Learn, Learn

You may or may not have the opportunity to go on training courses. Whatever your situation spend time learning new stuff that will benefit the company and yourself. You can learn a lot by reading online, you can petition for training from your managers, you can fund training yourself, you can ask for help from your different suppliers. The more you learn, the more you can do and the more useful you can be to the company, plus the more interesting you will find the job.

5. Say No!

Don’t be afraid to say no. You will always be asked to do the impossible and if something is impossible say so at the start. It wastes everyone’s time if you spend a lot of time trying to do the impossible. Always give your reasons for saying no, and if you always say no people will think you are unhelpful. A better way to say no is to come up with a better solution. No I can’t do it your way but here is a better solution.

6. Don’t give estimates

If you are asked how long something will take you don’t answer straight away or give an exaggerated estimate. Go away and spend some time thinking of everything that is involved before replying. There will always be something that you forgot to consider when first asked about it and looking at the different components will help plan out the work needed as well as provide an estimate.

7. Know what to tell your boss, and what not to

This is a hard one to get the balance right for. You need to tell your boss enough so that they appreciate all that you do, but too much and they will stop listening and accuse you of talking in technobabble. I have never got the balance right with this one. I have always aired on the side of not telling my boss enough, and hence they don’t realize that I saved the day on Sunday night as everything is working again on Monday. Do repeat yourself. If your server is running low on resources start asking for replacement hardware early, and increase the frequency and the panic in line with the problems it is causing.

8. Understand the problems of the business

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Businesses need to make money. If the one you work for isn’t making enough money you will soon be looking for another. If you work for IT you will quickly start to see the problems of the business, think about what simple changes IT could make to improve things that would benefit the whole company. Some of your suggestions won’t go anywhere, but some may have a massive impact. I can think of a few changes that IT have spearheaded that I am very proud of, upgrading our internet connection, simplifying or automating processes and delivering new versions of software.

9. Ask for help

Don’t be afraid of asking for help. There are lots of places to look for help. Other departments could take more on, you could recruit extra help, you could hire external contractors. You can ask questions on support forums like ServerFault or StackOverflow, many software re-sellers or other suppliers are a good point of contact for questions about things they supply. Microsoft Support was also invaluable for a server issue.

10. Think about disasters

Write a disaster recovery plan or backup policy. Yes there will always be something more important that needs doing, but just stop for a moment to think how you would feel if everything died on your watch. The one thing you can rely on with technology is that it will fail at some point. A back of the envelope plan of action is better than no plan at all, even better is a detailed plan of what to do when each and every service you rely on fails. Plan additional services with an idea of adding extra redundancy. Always have multiple Domain Controllers, think about what data you could run from the Cloud. VMs could be replicated to the Cloud, and servers could be run from there.

Surface Book Review

en-INTL-PDP0-Surface-Book-CR9-00001-P2I have just bought myself a new laptop, but it is not just any laptop it is a Microsoft Surface Book.

I think this is probably the first time I have bought myself a top of the range laptop and after a few days of use I am loving it.

The Surface Book is the latest in Microsoft’s Surface line of tablets but the first to feature a keyboard and be more like a traditional laptop. The keyboard is detachable from the keyboard so you can use the Surface Book like a tablet.

As it is a top of the range laptop, it was not cheap, so if price is a significant factor in your laptop choice this is not the machine for you. Microsoft are trying to compete with Apple’s Macbook range.

So what did I get for my money:

  • Windows 10 Pro
  • 16Gb RAM
  • 512Gb SSD (Formatted Size nearer 474Gb)
  • 6th Generation Intel Core i7 Processor
  • Surface Pen
  • 13.5-inch touch screen

I have only had the device for a few days but these are my thoughts so far. My primary reason for buying this is for doing development work with Visual Studio and SQL Server.

I really like the Surface Pen. This is a feature that I didn’t think I would use much. The Pen connects via bluetooth and allows interaction with the touch screen. The pressure sensitive screen allows all sort of touch actions to be performed.

I especially like the choice of keyboards that are offered when the physical keyboard is detached. You can have either a on screen keyboard which you can type with pen or fingers, an on screen keyboard that splits in half or you can write with the pen. This is an amazing feature. My handwriting is not good but most of the time it understands my scrawl. With this option you can hand write a tweet or fill in a form on a webpage. For speed I would not recommend this form of input for large amounts of text, but for browsing the web of when you are just clicking on links it is great.

Windows Hello – I can unlock windows just by looking at my screen. How cool is that! It was really easy to setup, it just takes a photo of your face and next time you login all you need to do it look at the screen. Note if you are working in tablet mode, make sure the tablet is the correct way up.

It’s not all brilliant though. Detaching the screen is fiddly and sometimes takes a few moments to do. A few times I have felt I needed another hand but I am sure the more I do this the easier I will find it to do.

Battery life isn’t great especially when running off the tablet only. This is due to the machine having two batteries, one in the base and one in the screen so with keyboard attached you have much longer use times. Actually I am finding the battery is lasting longer now that I have used it for a few days.

The screen has a very high resolution 3000 x 2000 but using clever zooming technology everything is still readable and not tiny. However I use Remote Desktop a lot and this caused me a problem. When RDPing the remote session used the host screen resolution which made everything tiny on my servers. The solution to this can be found on SuperUser and involved using Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection Manager, a cool bit of software for managing multiple RDP sessions. This is actually an improvement on the way I usually work, but until I found the answer this was annoying.

Another minor annoyance with the keyboard is that you can’t press Ctrl-Alt-Del with one 20160226_082809 (2)hand. Normally this isn’t a requirement but if the screen locks while I have my son on my lap I am stuck, but I won’t blame the surface book for this.

When I got my Surface Book I was also given a Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter. I am not a fan of this bit of tech as I can’t get it to work. I briefly got my old laptop to connect but my Surface Book keeps telling me NO!

Overall I like the Surface Book. It is certainly the nicest laptop I have ever used. Now that I have the docking station I can connect two monitors, have a wired internet connection and it becomes a proper work horse. What does everyone else think? Better than Apple’s range of laptops?

New Horizons Pluto Spacecraft

_84270464_p_lorri_fullframe_colorTo explore Strange New Worlds, well today the NASA spacecraft New Horizons has been doing just that. This is the most detailed photograph yet of the furthest planet we have ever explored, Pluto.

New Horizons was launched on 19th January 2006. It has been travelling for 3463 days (9.5 years).

In 2006 we were still using Windows XP and Office 2003. In 2006 I wasn’t even working in IT. As a software developer it is hard to imagine writing software that won’t be used for another 9.5 years.

The spacecraft carries two computer systems: the Command and Data Handling system and the Guidance and Control processor. Each of the two systems is duplicated for redundancy, for a total of four computers. The processor used for its flight computers is the Mongoose-V, a 12 MHz radiation-hardened version of the MIPS R3000 CPU. Multiple clocks and timing routines are implemented in hardware and software to help prevent faults and downtime. To conserve heat and mass, spacecraft and instrument electronics are housed together in IEMs (integrated electronics modules). There are two redundant IEMs. Including other functions such as instrument and radio electronics, each IEM contains 9 boards. The processor distributes operating commands to each subsystem, collects and processes instrument data, and sequences information sent back to Earth. It also runs the advanced “autonomy” algorithms that allow the spacecraft to check the status of each system and, if necessary, correct any problems, switch to backup systems or contact operators on Earth for help.Mission-Spacecraft-structure

For data storage, New Horizons carries two low-power solid-state recorders (one backup) that can hold up to 8 gigabytes each. The main processor collects, compresses, reformats, sorts and stores science and housekeeping (telemetry) data on the recorder – similar to a flash memory card for a digital camera – for transmission to Earth through the telecommunications subsystem.

Communication with the spacecraft is via X band. The craft had a communication rate of 38 kbit/s at Jupiter; at Pluto’s distance, a rate of approximately 1000 bit/s. To put this speed into context, the size of the image at the top of this page is 649kb and would take over 86 minutes to travel from Pluto to Earth, (I am sure the actual image was much larger and took even longer to reach us.) Besides the low bandwidth, Pluto’s distance also causes a latency of about 4.5 hours (one-way). The 70 m (230 ft) NASA Deep Space Network (DSN) dishes are used to relay commands once it is beyond Jupiter. It will take 16 months to send the full set of Pluto encounter science data back to Earth.

Most software encounters a problem from time to time, but the software on board this spacecraft has to keep running for almost a decade. Due to the distances involved its not possible to upload any code tweaks. Any commands that are sent to the spacecraft will take 4.5 hours to even get there so there needs to be a huge amount of autonomy and redundancy to cope with such a massive journey.

I can’t even imagine how you would begin to write the software to run such a craft. I don’t think I have written any code that is as old as is running on the New Horizons craft, and if I had I would guess the quality would be quite poor certainly not good enough to work non stop for a decade.

There are some incredibly clever people out there who have been involved in this project. Congratulations team you have every right on being proud as the data starts to trickle back to earth.

He’s really not dead as long as we remember him – Leonard Nimoy

Spock,_2293In the film Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan Spock sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise from destruction. What follows is a very moving funeral scene and his coffin is launched into space. McCoy tells Kirk that he is not dead as long as we remember him.

Yesterday the actor Leonard Nimoy passed away and millions of trekkies around the world are taking comfort in those words.color_nimoy_headshot

Reading social media it is clear that he affected the lives of millions of people with his portrayal of Spock. I have seen tweets from NASA and astronauts saying how they were encouraged by Star Trek. The chip manufacturer Intel even tweeted about his death. I am sure there are many in the science and technology space that could say Mr Spock encouraged them in some way.

The portrayal of science and technology in Star Trek had an affect on me. I studied Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics at school, I later did a Physics degree. All because the spark of curiosity about how stuff works was encouraged by a TV show. I remember one time while studying physics learning about the hysteresis curve, then Star Trek the next day mentions detecting changes in the hysteresis curve might solve some problem. Wow the stuff I am learning is in Star Trek!

Later in my life I got involved in working with computers, and as science officer Mr Spock was the first expert in computers I knew.

74cc28416b646ae6f87d5a502fbd03b7But Mr Spock was half Vulcan and suppressed his emotions. There have been times in my life where I have tried really hard to suppress my emotions. I can think of a time when a family member has died and I needed to shut myself in a room, similar to Spock in Naked Time, and wrestle with my emotions. In recent years I have had a more Data approach of exploring my feelings and my humanity as a Vulcan lifestyle of suppressed emotion is not healthy.

Thank you Leonard Nimoy for all that you gave us, although I never met you I can continue to watch and enjoy your work, Live Long and Prosper.