The Dangers of Experts Writing Documentation: A Real Life Example

There are some real, tangible dangers to having experts write documentation. Experts have the perfect tools, skip steps, know where things are based on experience, use jargon, have spare parts so mistakes aren’t a big deal, and as a result make terrible time & work estimates. This leads to confused, and subsequently angry, people, which is probably not what you wanted. I was thinking about all this as I entered my fourth hour of installing a trailer wiring harness on my Mazda CX-9 today. It’s a unit from Curt Manufacturing, kit #56016. When my CX-9 was in the shop for an alignment a few weeks back I had them put a hitch on it. They got squirrelly & weird when …

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How Not To Quit Your Job

I’ve thought a lot lately about Michael Thomas, a moron who caused criminal amounts of damage to his former employer in the process of quitting. From The Register[0]: As well as deleting ClickMotive’s backups and notification systems for network problems, he cut off people’s VPN access and “tinkered” with the Texas company’s email servers. He deleted internal wiki pages, and removed contact details for the organization’s outside tech support, leaving the automotive software developer scrambling. The real-life BOFH then left his keys, laptop, and entry badge behind with a letter of resignation and an offer to stay on as a consultant. More than a decade ago I did some consulting for a company that had this happen. They fired their sysadmin and …

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Standards, to and with Resolve

As the holiday season has progressed I’ve spent a bunch of time in the car, traveling three hours at a crack to see friends and family in various parts of Midwestern USA. Much of that travel has been alone, my family having decided to ensconce themselves with my in-laws for the full duration of the week. That has left me ample time to sing aloud in the car, take unplanned detours to collect growlers of beer from esteemed breweries, and to think. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I’m not against them, per se, but I just think they’re too conveniently abandoned. I like the noun form of “resolve” better — a firm determination to do something. I aspire to …

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Tech Bloggers: Punctuation Goes Inside Quotation Marks

One of the biggest differences between writing code for machines and writing English-language text for humans in the United States is the use of quotation marks. When you’re programming a computer a set of double quotation marks indicates a string, which is an atomic entity. As such, punctuation goes outside the quotes to delimit lists and whatnot. #include <stdlib.h> string animals[4] = {“Goat”,”Sheep”,”Cow”,”Platypus”}; This is not how it works when you’re writing in the English language. Periods and commas always go inside the double quotation marks in English. Incorrectly punctuated sarcasm: We all know how that piece of software “works”. Correctly punctuated sarcasm: We all know how that piece of software “works.” Incorrect: Her number is “867-5309”. Correct: Her number …

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Minimum Vacation

Sysadmin1138 has a post today on minimum vacation policies, an interesting twist on the unlimited vacation policies many startups now have: The idea seems to be a melding of the best parts of unlimited and max. Employees are required to take a certain number of days off a year, and those days have to be full-disconnect days in which no checking in on work is done. Instead of using scarcity to urge people to take real vacations, it explicitly states you will take these days and you will not do any work on them. Sysadmin1138 expounds on several ways this is a cool idea. I agree. There are real benefits to forcing employees to go (and stay) completely away for …

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The Right Way, The Wrong Way, and The Way It Is

I hate purists. You know the type. They’re in all IT shops, in all projects. They’re the people who won’t do any work unless they know exactly how it’ll all look in the end. They research, endlessly. They’re pedantic. They sit and poke holes in your work, claiming that they’re just playing Devil’s advocate. They rarely start an answer with “it depends,” opting instead for condescending phrases like “if I were you” or “if it were up to me.” And they wouldn’t know a minimum viable product if it bit them in the duff. Nobody knows how a project or product is going to look in the end. And even if you do have a great vision, nobody really knows the …

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What Clients Don't Know (and Why It's Your Fault)

“Whether you work with outside clients or whether you’re part of an internal team your job is always, always going to include having to convince someone of something. Because your job isn’t just making things. Believe it or not, that’s the easy part. You’re going to spend 90% of your time convincing people that shit you thought up in the shower this morning is right. Your job is to figure out whether something should be made, how it’s made, and always, always, always work to convince someone that you’ve made the right choices.” That’s a quote from Mike Monteiro’s presentation at the Event Apart Austin 2013 conference, a presentation that seems suited to system administrators, IT consultants, and IT professionals …

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System Administration/DevOps/Cloud and Developer Positions Open @ UW – Madison

If you’ve ever thought about working with the people & organization who basically eliminated rickets by discovering how to boost and synthesize vitamin D, who took a bunch of spoiled sweet clover hay and turned it into the most popular blood thinner ever (and the most popular rat poison ever, ha!), or who isolated human embryonic stem cells so that research could happen without destroying embryos in the process, here’s your chance. The Morgridge Institute for Research on the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus is looking to hire: two build & test workflow system developers, one database developer, one software security specialist, and two system administrators, among some other positions, as part of the Software Assurance Marketplace, or SWAMP. …

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"Because awesome things sometimes look a lot less awesome from the inside"

Alasdair Allen hits it right on the head: We’ve built a culture where it’s hard to acknowledge that you don’t know something, because knowing things is intricately linked with the doing of awesome things — which in turn is linked to our stature with our peers. Something I’ve noted, talked about, and tried to work on for years: being able to say “I don’t know.” I work with some folks that just cannot say those words. There’s stuff you know you know, there’s stuff you know you don’t know, and there’s stuff you don’t know you don’t know. The last category is dangerous. The last category is where people who always have an answer, right or wrong, put you and …

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"A Stronger Team, Not a Weaker You"

Greg Ferro has Ethan Banks’ “Five Things About Mentoring” in in his link post today, from which I’ve stolen the title of my post (sorry Ethan, too good to pass up).  Mentoring is a big part of being a successful system administrator, and Ethan is dead-on in his points. Go read it quick because I’m going to comment: “Not everybody wants to be mentored” — time management & prioritization of tasks are probably the biggest things IT staff should work on. Properly identifying a coworker as a waste of time seems harsh, but you’ve got better things to do. I suggest heavy automation as an appropriate answer to a coworker that has given up. A script can learn new things. …

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