Month: September 2014

The CIO

Frequently young people ask me what it takes to be in IT or even the CIO.

Over thirty years of OJT has taught me a thing or two about management.

When I was working in Corporate America, often times I would do things that were for the “good of the company,” that my subordinates may not have liked.

In one of my previous post I speak about documentation being the bane of IT people.  As a manager of this group, documentation is key.

Many times I go into a situation to “trouble-shoot” and when I ask for the network documentation, I am met with blank stares.  If I task you with driving from Baltimore to LA without a map or GPS, the odds are good that even with the occasional road sign to assist you, you would make a few wrong turns along the way. While this is a real simplistic metaphor for the problem, you get the point.

While I encourage the creation and continual update of a “run-book,” most IT people laugh. One of them even told me straight up “that will never happen.”  He was terminated soon after that remark.  Attitude is a key component of any employee, and crappy attitudes I can do without.  It happened, it just did not happen with him.

The data center and the associated infrastructure does not belong to you the geek; but the company.  You are entrusted with its care and feeding.  The direction of how, when, and why, comes from somewhere else. Understanding your role in this universe is salient advice, that I would give any techie that wants to stay employed.

While I have stepped on a few toes over the past 30 years; most of my previous employees would follow me to a new company if I asked; and have done so on many occasions over the years.

What does it take to be the “guy in charge?”

It takes a person who firstly loves technology.  Eating and breathing the newest technology I believe is a trait that is indicative of a successful CIO.

Second, it takes business acumen.  Technology is great; having the business prowess to realize that there is a bottom line and in order for the company to stay viable, purchases should be made with business objectives in mind.  I cannot tell you how many times I see things that were ill-advised purchases, which were no longer in use, and lost revenue.

Having a vision of where the company is headed is key to purchasing the correct hardware and software.

If you have read any of my other blogs you know that I believe in leading by example.  Gaining the mutual respect of your employees is paramount.  Sometimes a new broom must sweep clean, and that too has been the case on a few occasions.

Be smart enough to utilize a VAR.  The business case is simple…

Yes, they markup their products that they sell you however; you gain the expertise of their staff who see what works and what does not.  They are in multiple businesses and have the advantage of working with all of the latest and greatest. They stand behind what they sell you.  If it breaks, they deal with it.  They deal with all of the major vendors and know what is coming down the road.  Having access to their insight is invaluable.

Never buy from internet “cheapie” stores and here is why?  If they have it and it is discounted, there is a reason.  It may be buggy or is no longer supported or outdated.

If you want to take a chance for your home stuff, go for it.  Business applications are more traffic intensive than your home network or pc.  If you have routing issues or excessive collisions at home, the odds are good that you will never know it unless it becomes critical.  In business, you have possibly hundreds of computers hooked to the network thus stressing the networks ability to perform.  Do you really want to do that with cheap, no-name or outdated hardware?

If you want to shop your toner, go for it, other office supplies; have at it.  Networking equipment, do not be tempted.  The few dollars you “think you saved” will most probably cost you big time in the end.

Realize that there are things like hardware asset management and make sure you follow through.  Repairing and putting new software on old hardware is a fool’s mission in that the license most likely dies with the hardware.  Old hardware is already outdated and slower than what you would have today.  There is also S.A.M. or software asset management, which also is a key element to the bottom line.

  • Desktops last no longer than five years.
  • Laptops, around three years.
  • Smartphones about two.

Since the software cost much more than the hardware you can see how keeping that old boat anchor alive is probably not a good idea.  XP is dead, get over it and move on.

This is one reason why leasing for large companies might make good sense.

I once worked for a CIO who did not even have a PC at home.  He reminded me of the old guy that did not even want a cell phone as there was nobody he wanted to talk to bad enough to have one.  My point is that you must have a balance between the financial aspects of the business at hand, and the technological aspects.  This guy cost the company millions of dollars because he was so inept where technology counted.  While he did not have an abacus on his desk; he definitely was old school and inflexible.

Too many times I have been in companies where the CEO or owner wanted to play IT rather than run the company.  The CEO did not get there by being stupid but, IT is not his forte’; it is yours.  Unlike we “the nerds of the world” who eat breath and defecate this stuff on a daily basis; he or she may read something in some periodical and think, wow this looks good “do this!”

Your relationship with this person should be on a solid enough footing where you can tell them the truth of the matter.

Falling back to re-group and gather pricing, TCO and an ROI is always a crucial part of the decision, not to mention, does it make business sense to do it in the first place.

Don’t be afraid to tell the truth.  I have had a yes man working for me that I had to get rid of.  I depend upon my subordinates to debate with me if they think that I am wrong.  They might very well loose anyway but, differing opinions are necessary, and crucial to the process. Having the humility to listen to them is part of being a good CIO.

Project management is a key part of being an IT manager.  Yes, you can hire a project manager but let’s face it; it is really not all that difficult.  We have all of these certifications for everything in the world.  While a piece of paper gives the clueless hiring entity a metric of your ability, it is not the end all be all.

I have inherited “certified employees” that were academically sharp but, not able to do the job at hand. They can read and regurgitate information but could not turn a screwdriver. Book sense and practical; not one or the other.

I was a project manager before there were such things, at least certified project managers.

I ran as many projects as 30 at one time, most in a spreadsheet, well several spreadsheets.  I knew what it was going to cost and how much I was going to have spent on each and every milestone.  I knew who would be doing which task at what time and how long it should take.  If I can do that in Excel, do I really need to hire a PMP?

In order to be a good manager having the ability to do each and every job, makes life much simpler.  You cannot be “BS’ed.  Can you do it as fast as someone who does it day in and day out?  Probably not but, you could do it if needed which gives you a leg up and makes each and every employee under you “expendable.”

I don’t mean to sound harsh.  There is this attitude among most IT guys that if they are the only person who can do it, they are sacrosanct. So, they don’t document their job and of course they don’t let on their tricks or where the bones are buried. Nobody in any company should be untouchable.

This is dangerous for you the CIO and damned hazardous for the company.

This is why the owner or CEO of any company should have a disaster recovery plan and test that plan with people other than his or her employees.  If a technical group of people can bring your company back from the brink, in an offsite location, in a short amount of time, than your documentation is solid.  If not, than your guys have some “splainin to do.”

Plans such as these rarely work perfect the first time and I expect that.  That is the process by which the documentation is refined in such a way that it will work.  No one can get every detail the first time around but eventually you can nail it down in such a way that the company would survive if a disaster was declared.

These have been my precepts from day one of management.  There are lots of things that go with this but you can see the logic and of course you can see how this would intimidate the person who may be out of their comfort zone to start with.  This is one of the problems that I am forced to deal with when I am called in to do a DR plan.  The employees are seldom on board with giving me information, which means that I have to go and get it. This is where I end up stepping on toes.  If I have to go dig it up, it is much more costly and it extends the project time.  Nobody wants their “mess” exposed during the audit so it is seldom easy to get through this process.  Even though upper management is on board, the employees are most of the time, evasive if not truculent; and unwilling to share.

So my last thing that I would offer is patience.  Weekly meetings with upper management your progress will ferret out issues like, uncooperative employees.

-Best to you and those that you care about.

Bash or ShellShock!

Bash!

Sounds like something out of Batman.

This however is no lighthearted matter.

Bash is a UNIX shell that has been exploited in a most dangerous manner.  Shellshock, a program “virus” written to take advantage of a Bug in Bash could be used to take over millions of computers world-wide.

I talk a lot about anti-virus software and why you should really buy the best that you can but, still, “day in and day out” I get computers that are infected with tens of hundreds of viruses.

“Free anti-virus software is not worth what you pay for it!”

Free software is not taken care of remotely as well as that which companies that take in revenue can afford programmers to keep on top of it.  Using free is foolhardy at best; and dangerous at worst.   Why?

Let’s say that your computer becomes infected but, not to the point to stop you from working with it, maybe it just slows it down a little.

Meanwhile, lurking within the bits and bites of software there is a Trojan waiting to be activated from some nefarious ne’er do well.  This person or people could use yours and millions of other computers to simultaneously attack systems in other countries, our country, and so forth.  They might target government systems or air traffic systems etc.  With so many computers attacking a system, it would most certainly bring it down.

My argument that I am trying to make here is this.  Every day we hear of new virus’s that are being released or discovered.  Using the “best” anti-virus software is not only a good idea for you but, it is also patriotic in that you really don’t want your computer to be attacking some government server.

Practice safe computing, use good anti-virus software and pay attention to your computer if it starts acting “wonky!”

Yes, “Wonky” is a technical term.. Ok, maybe not but, you know what I mean.

A trick that I do is run the little widgets that come with Windows 7 and 8 that display memory usage and CPU usage.  When your computer boots from a fresh installation take note at where those needles are setting during normal usage.  This is much like the gauges on your car.  When you are going down the road, you know where the temp gauge should be and where the RPM, voltage etc should be.  When they are acting “wonky” (not in their usual spot) you get it looked at.  Your PC is no different.

“Shellshock” is particularly dangerous in that it affects UNIX systems, Mac’s and even Smartphone’s that use the Android operating system.

A lot of servers run UNIX; this might explain the recent hacks pulled off against Home Depot, and nude pictures of celebrities being taken from their personal accounts on “The “Cloud.”

Some of these programs can go un-noticed and sit idle for years before someone notices them.  Generally when some “hack” is perpetrated than “White Hat Hackers” are called in to find out how.  Forensic computer guru’s who know what each and every little file in a UNIX system is for example, and what it should look like, size and usage, might be called in to see; “what is wrong with this picture.”

The days when your Mac and your Linux / UNIX system were relatively safe are gone.

Do your backups and test them.  No backup is complete until you test your backup!  Make certain that your anti-virus software is of good quality, and up-to-date.

 “Which is the best”

I know, I beat you to the punch.

First off, I buy my entire anti-virus software’s full price and am not in bed with anyone!

I have many different flavors as there is no silver bullet.

I use Esetnode 32 on my main system and, I use Trend Micro on my backup system.  I also use Norton on my laptop although I have seen way too many machines which run Norton infected.

As far as mobile and iPad and iPhone, I use Trend Mobile.

Having said this, please understand that there is no warranty expressed or implied by this blog.  For legal-ease, you should consider this and all my blogs “entertainment.”  There are no warranties of usability or anything else.

Isn’t it simply pitiful that we live in such a litigious world that disclaimers have to be put on “blogs?”

All opinions here are my own, unless otherwise stated.

Now go take on the day!

-Best

Transportation Security Administration or “taking stuff anyway”

TSA

Transportation Security Administration or “Taking Stuff Away”

I must confess of having mixed feelings about this “administration.”

You really have no idea if they are screwing with you because it is purely: random” or they either don’t like something that they see, or they are bored, or they see someone that is attractive so they screw with them as a matter of spending a few more minutes with them.

I have written before how they have turned my luggage into a mixed up mess of what was once cleaned and pressed laundry into something that looked like they cleaned the hanger floor with it, and then shoved it back into the case.

This last trip I purchased the TSA approved lock and installed it onto a brand new piece of Sampsonite luggage. As this trip required clothing for ten days and all types of clothes needed for different events, I once again made certain that everything was packaged in such a way that I would have to do minimal ironing once there.

On the first leg of the trip I noticed that the brand new TSA approved lock was missing.

$17 locks labeled “TSA approved” gone missing is simply bullshit!  I was loath to go and get another lock as frankly I think that the TSA locks being sold on eBay in lots could most probably be traced back to some TSA or airport employee.

Arriving at my location I went through the process of taking my clothes and making some sort of sense of them when I noticed that the zipper going to the lining inside the case was broken.  For some reason whoever took the lock broke the zipper on the inside of the case which allows you to remove the lining for cleaning or what have you.  No machine broke that zipper, that was some heavy handed person looking for something!

 

Usually when the TSA violates my stuff they leave me a nice little piece of paper inside, telling me that my bag was “randomly checked” …  This was not the case this time, no notification that my clothing had been searched other than it looked like some child had packaged it.

 

Traveling sometimes is a necessary evil.  Even if you are simply going on vacation, I must confess that I grow tired of submitting to “children with god complexes.”  I know of no government agency that is not corrupt and this recent IRS fiasco did not help, and this one is no different.  Why, they hire people who forget that they too are people, and should treat others the way that they would want to be treated escapes me.  From the cop on the street to the man in the top office in the country, they need to remember that we are their boss and they work for us!  While this in no way includes everyone; I would make the argument that it is becoming more inclusive than one hates to think.

 

If they are incapable of doing this, it may be time to privatize these things and hold these people accountable to us as the government seems to forget who their boss is!

 There is simply no excuse for violating ones luggage and stealing the TSA locks that they insist that we purchase.  If they break something along the way, they need to own up to it instead of just loosing the lock and not putting anything inside the luggage with an apology and some sort of claim form to get it repaired. Stuff happens and everyone understands that.  To just ignore that you did it and let it go is unforgivable. Its like hitting a car in a parking lot and hoping that no one saw you do it.  It is Bullshit!

 

All stations where this type of activity is performed should be under video surveillance so these people can be held accountable for their actions!  This is America, not some third world country and it is high time that Americans stand up and say “no more!”

If we must submit to this  level of scrutiny should the people doing the scrutiny not also be watched for abuses on their parts? I am talking about oversight.  You know like the VA should have had oversight or the Damned IRS should have oversight.  When you work for us you should be beyond reproach! 

 

One government web site offers an excuse for the missing locks…

http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/damaged-locks-alert

My question here is this. 

I have traveled for many many years using conventional locks.  Never has my baggage been messed up or the lock been torn away as this article suggest.  Now you are trying to convince me that because it is a TSA approved lock that somehow the conveyer belt tears it loose with no damage to the bag!?   What utter bullshit!  By the way, you are responsible! 

 

These signs disavowing responsibility or liability on the backs of trucks, or in parking lots, alleging the parking lot owners are not responsible to damage to your car, or the sign on the truck saying that if they loose something from their truck that damages your vehicle “too bad” is BULLSHIT.”  Their logic is if they tell you that they are not responsible, you will simply take your lumps and go away; is wrong.  The parking lot folks are responsible and must carry insurance to that end.  The truck hauling crap of any sort that comes off and damages your car is responsible and you can hold them accountable.  AND YOU SHOULD! And guess what TSA, you too are responsible.  The real question is, who is going to bring suite for a $17 lock?  Or a $200 piece of luggage? 

 

What if, I was to put a sign on the back of my car which said “I am not responsible for running over slow people who get in my way?”  Do you think that the courts would exonerate me because I had a sign?

I really hate being lied to.  Prevarication appears to be rife in our society and becoming the new American way! Every day, by people of all walks of life, lie to us; and it is Bullshit!

 We can do better and accepting accountability for our actions is a really good place to start. Demanding better from our feckless government is a MUST!

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Lot-of-8-Assorted-TSA-locks-Color-luggage-strap-TUMI-Cable-Lock-NR-/261587356934?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3ce7d24d06

 HEY DOJ, why not look into where these “lots of TSA locks on ebay, come from? 

I realize that it is small potatoes but you must start somewhere.  Americans need to regain some trust in the government and right now you guys are not doing so well.  The little guy always seems to take it on the chin and nobody gives a damn.  I do, and so should you.

 

-Best