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Sometimes It’s All Fun And Games

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Mike, HATED that.

What?

In the Riverton building we used to have a mini basketball hoop. Mike and I sat next to each other and this stupid basketball hoop was right on the other side of our cube walls. It would literally rattle our desks when people played it.

And don’t forget the noise!

Oh yeah, it had this annoying buzzer when the timer went off. At one point we switched to nerf balls to try to make it quieter. 

And then the nerf balls started shredding, so I had nerf dust all over my desk!


I was recently at a work party. We’ve worked together for several years and many of us have moved positions or buildings. This party was a chance to come together and meet each other’s spouses and families. Even years later, the basketball hoop is famous. 

Ironically, although Mike and I both sat by the basketball hoop, it never bothered me. I have 13 children. If you couldn’t get stuff done in a noisy environment, nothing would ever get done at my house. It was fun to rib Mike about it though. 

IT, in fact the computer industry in general has a fascination with toys. Maybe it’s because many of us grew up in the video game era. Maybe its that we’re still kids at heart. For whatever reason, toys and computers seem to go together. I ran RESMARK a small startup staffed with twenty-somethings fresh out of college. The least productive week we ever had was when I bought some miniature RC cars and gave them to the team. 

For the next week, the team went a little crazy with the cars. They raced them, of course. But someone figured out that you could buy an entire track. Then, someone else figured out you could upgrade your cars. He even called around the country to find a Radio Shack with the engine upgrades. 

On the surface, this looks highly unproductive. We are at work to work, not play. And the boss in me sees that. But, I also understood that I was competing for talent. I couldn’t pay the most, I tried to make up for it with an enjoyable atmosphere. Also, IT work is unconventional. I work many weekends and nights, and am on-call 24×7. In that type of an environment, it helps to have a chance to play. 

Think about your office. Maybe you work in a marketing firm, or a call center, or a production floor. I’m guessing you don’t race RC cars with your coworkers. At the same time, I would guess that you have a chance to relax. Maybe it’s a friendly poker game after work. Maybe it’s an office football pool. Maybe it’s a mini basketball hoop. 

Whatever it is, the best workplaces provide an opportunity for employees to get together and have fun. Embrace it in your workplace. Just try not to have the desk next to the basketball hoop. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Programming With A Loaded Gun To My Head

Here, hold this.

I stared at the pistol that my friend Dave had just handed me. It was a loaded Glock 9mm. This pair programming session was not starting out the way I had expected. 

When I was 16 years old, my mother started a CPA business in our living room. After a career in state government and several other white collar jobs, mom had gone back to school and studied accounting. After successfully passing the CPA exam, she hung out her shingle and started Bliss CPA. As a small business owner, it wasn’t just mom who was working. All of us kids also got to share in the joys and pains that are a business startup. 

I remember spending hours doing bookkeeping. This was in the early days of computers. I used a spreadsheet program to painstakingly input the transaction information for a client’s ledger sheets and then check to make sure that column A equaled column B. Often it was income vs expenses. The worst experience was when the two columns were off. If they were off by an even amount, say $1.50, you would look for an entry that was half that number. Did a $0.75 charge get put into the income column instead of the expense column? Then, it was a careful review of every.single.line. . .looking for the missing entry. 

But, even worse than an even numbered mismatch was an odd number. The columns had to match exactly. Being off by $0.01 meant that I had to look at every entry in both columns to figure out if I had mistyped an entry. It was excruciatingly painful. I often thought,

I will just PAY the stupid penny out of my own pocket if it means I don’t have to go over this list one more time.

I  learned two things. First, I learned to pay careful attention to detail. Second, and more importantly, I learned I never wanted to be an accountant. (My brother eventually bought the firm and it’s now Bliss & Skeen CPA.)

I studied programming in college. I discovered that, for me, programming is very much like accounting. I can do it, but it’s not something that comes easily to me. Recently, I decided to take a programming class as part of a continuing education program I’m working on. My friend David Brady, is a brilliant programmer. I asked him for some help. 

Understand, I wrote the program first by myself. I created the classes. (The code is in Java.) I built my data models. I created my test cases and worked on formatting my output. I would say, I was 80% of the way there. I asked Dave to help me push it over the finish line. 

Dave is a big fan of the Agile programming method. Agile involves many aspects, but one of the most unique is “pair programming.” In pair programming, both developers sit at a single keyboard and look at the same code base. This being 2016, we actually were using Dropbox to share the codebase and making realtime updates from two locations. But, those two locations were both in his home office. And that’s where the gun came in. 

I had just finished explaining to Dave what the program needed to accomplish. This is included in a document called the Design Specification. It’s not a complicated program, but since it is for a training class, the grading criteria, called the testing rubric, is pretty specific. I had just finished with my explanation when Dave handed me his pistol.

What’s this for?

I just wanted to test the hypothesis that I would rather hand you a loaded gun than help you write code. 

Okay. . .

Think about it, your friends might SAY they’d rather hand you a loaded gun than help you. But, they are just speculating. I have empirical evidence.

(No programmers were injured in the writing of this article. . .and I passed my class. Thanks Dave.) 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

The Hero Of Penelope (A Business Allegory)

The following is a monologue I wrote for a Toastmasters speech. It’s the story of an unnamed war hero in a future space war. I wrote it after a work experience best described as “No good deed goes unpunished.”

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The Hero of Penelope

The holder of the order of the sun and stars

 
So, today is the day, huh? Yeah, you lose all track of time in here. I guess they had to wait for the treaties to be prepared.  How many worlds do you think will be watching this? It’s not every day they execute a war hero, huh?

Oh, I know, they stripped my medals and history. Can’t just kill the hero of the battle of Penelope and the holder of the order of the sun and stars. I’m sure you’ve heard the charges, huh? Battle of Hera: Dereliction of duty, cowardness, insubordination, unnecessary violence.

Unnecessary violence – – as if there is an acceptable level. Kill the bugs . . .just not too many of them.

Hera and Penelope, they always said that women would be the death of me. Have you ever been on a drop Sargent? Aphrodite? I heard that was pretty rough. Well, Hera was worse. It wasn’t that different from Penelope, you know. You never heard the story? Well, I’ll tell you the truth. In fact, I’m probably the only one who can. Even those idiots with the medal committee didn’t have the straight scoop.

The truth is, Penelope was a screw up. The thing is, screw up badly enough and they’ll give you a medal for it. We came in late. The bugs opened up on us almost before we hit the atmosphere. When you come out of those drop-ships in your steel coffin, you can’t see a thing. But, over the roar of reentry, we could hear and especially feel the guns. We did what any platoon does in that situation, we junked the flight plan and started juking all over the sky. We were blowing chaff and shedding armor as fast as we could work the controls. I landed about 15 klicks outside the city. . .on the wrong side. My men were scattered all over God’s half acre. Except God’s half acre was about 500 square miles.

The rally point was between me and the objective so I headed for that, picking up guys as I went. We hit their first patrol just as we hit the city. Well, I should say they hit us: projectiles, energy weapons, I think a few were even throwing rocks. We went to ground returning fire. Our blaze-rifles cut right through them, you know. Of course you know. But for every one we cut down, five more took its place. They were pouring out of that mound city like ants. We were in danger of being surrounded and overrun. Have you ever seen them capture a prisoner? Be glad you haven’t. They literally tear you limb from limb. I’m not ashamed to say I started to feel a little panic. We had no backup. We had little cover and they were coming for us.

Fall back? To where? The planet was theirs. The rally point and the pick-up point were our only way off that hellhole. So, I figured any death was better than being ripped apart. I called in an orbital lance strike. Yeah, they mentioned it in the commendation. Called it in on my own position. But the things is, I didn’t. I was trying to call it for the city. I screwed up. The lance killed more of my men than the bugs. But hey, I’m a hero. Saved the day. Turned the tide.

The war wasn’t going well at that point. They needed a hero to keep up moral. I was the guy.

But, wars change, right? We pushed them back, world by world, system by system. Eventually we recaptured nearly all our previous territory. They sued for peace. We switched. No more taking new territory, instead we were holding our positions. Just a few engagement still going. You know, we had to let them know we were willing to reengage if needed. Mop up.
Except the troopers on mop up duty can die just as easily. On a bugger world, if your helmet cracks, the foul air will cook you in your suit just as quick.

It was on Hera. The drop went fine. We were moving pretty good toward the rally point when it happened. We kicked over an ant hill. We hit a nondescript looking mound that they use as buildings. Before we knew it we were in the fight of our lives. These were crack troops, too. The bugs I mean; rigid armor, heavy weapons. We were cut off immediately. I formed a perimeter. That wouldn’t hold them for long. So, I called in an orbital lance strike. This time the targeting was spot on. We started taking out their buildings one by one. Dust was everywhere. Bodies, troopers and bugs were everywhere. It broke their lines. We scrambled through shooting anything that moved. I lost a third of my company. A success, right? Less than on Penelope. We turned the tide. Saved the day.

It was only later we found out that we had hit a kind of hospital. The entire complex was a nursery. It put the whole peace process at risk. The buggers were ready to walk out. We had to give them something. The Butcher of Hera, that’s what they are calling me. I’m the sacrificial lamb to save the peace. Saved the war and now saving the peace. Ha Ha. It’s what happens when politicians take over running the war from the generals.

Well, we’d better get on with it. They say more than five hundred billion will be watching. The treaties will be signed right after it’s done. Try to never be a hero, Sargent. You’re only good to them when you’re dead. And avoid those Greek goddesses.
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Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

 

Stopping Bad Management Practices Isn’t Enough

Allen was a bad manager. He didn’t mean to be. He was just new. He made some of the typical bad manager decisions. 

  • He told his people how to do things instead of telling them what to do and letting them innovate
  • He sprung bad news on his people (like they had to work late) with little or no warning
  • He assigned projects but then ended up taking over and running them himself

His people were frustrated. 

People join a company because of the benefits package (Salary, vacation, 401K, etc.) They leave because of a single reason: Their manager.

We’ve all made management mistakes. If you’ve never made a mistake in leading your team, you aren’t really leading them. The trick, like everything in life, is to learn from your mistakes, fix them and continue on. The first step is to recognize that you made a mistake. 

As a manager, I tend to overshare. Not that I share personal information, or break confidences. I tend to share as much information as I can with my teams. Especially if the information is going to impact them, I want them to be as involved as possible. We were moving buildings one time when I was working for Microsoft. I was in charge of the move map for my 6 trainers. Our office space was part of the bigger Exchange development team. 

As we got closer to the move. The move map changed. Offices were added and removed. I would pass these changes on to my team. Finally, one members said, “Rodney, please stop. I don’t want to see another move map until it is the final one.” 

As a manager, you manage to the team, not the other way around. This trainer wasn’t interested in being part of the process. I corrected it and moved on. 

That’s a simple thing to correct. Allen had some more serious issues. It’s hard sometimes to “manage up.” Whether you are an experienced manager who now finsd yourself in an individual contributor role, or you just know what you like in a manager, providing feedback to your imediate supervisor can be challenging. 

Fortunately, Allen was willing to make changes. Through a couple of suggestions from the team, he realized that he needed to loosen up a little and give his team some more control. 

But, Allen then found himself at a critical juncture. It’s hard enough to realize you have an area of weakness. If you truly want to be an effective manager, you must acknowledge it. It’s not enough to simply stop the “bad” behavior. You have to replace it with “good ” behavior. You have to speak up. 

Here’s why. If Allen takes the feedback to heart but never talks to his team about the issues, they will not know if he’s actually changed, or if he’s simply distracted. They will be constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a natural tendency to not want to advertise our weaknesses. It’s easier to say, “Hey, I’ve fixed it. Let’s move on. We don’t need to dwell on it.”

But, it’s critical to your team to let them know that you “get it.” To let them not only see your actions change, but hear you explain your reasons. And it doesn’t have to be overly negative. 

I realize in the past, I’ve been very involved in the day to day workings of many of your projects. I’m planning to make a conscious effort to disengage at that level. If you need me, feel free to bring me in, but otherwise, I’m going to step back and let you run your projects. 

It’s important to not make it too much abou you. The reason you are changing is to help your team do better. Make sure that your explanation focuses on what is in it for them. 

Allen realized that his own insecurities were creeping into his management style. He’d been a great engineer, that’s why he got promoted. But, the skills needed as an engineer were different than the skills needed as a manager. Once he recognized how his actions were impacteding his team, he was able to back off and give them more room to work. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

The Gift Horse Killed The Golden Goose

Good news. Google has a program for non-profit volunteers. We can use a version of privately branded gmail and give our volunteers all over the world email accounts.

Do they understand we have 58,000 volunteers?

Absolutely. They don’t have any restrictions on the number of people we put on the system.

What’s the catch?

No catch. We just need to sign their standard contract for non-profits.

As you might imagine, there was a catch. The contract. I was working for a large non-profit managing their email team. We had both employees and volunteers. For the 30,000 employees, we used Microsoft Exchange. Even with Enterprise licensing, it was a significant cost of doing business. For the volunteers, we used an ancient email system called NetMail. It was extremely unstable, and our volunteers had to dial into a local computer in our datacenter in Utah. The licensing costs for extending Exchange to those additional 58,000 volunteers would have been prohibitive. 

Google was going to not only improve the stability, but the features, and even lower our costs. It was almost too good to be true. 

Okay, it was too good to be true. 

Even though we were a non-profit organization, we were also a 30,000 strong business entity. We had everything a for-profit business has; IT (my department), Operations, Human Resources, Accounting and of course, Legal. Our lawyers took Google’s standard contract and started requesting changes. We sent our revisions from our offices in Utah to Google’s legal team in California. 

The important thing to remember is that Google was offering a free service. We had to write code to link our identity management system to Google’s system, of course. But, the technical hurdles were really pretty simple. We had them all worked out and tested in just a couple of months. Meanwhile Legal continued to send and receive revisions for months. 

I don’t know what our lawyers were making per hour, but I’m guessing that Google was paying their legal team even more. And we were forcing them to spend hours and hours and days and weeks working on a contract for a free service. We were costing them a whole bunch of money to offer a free service. Eventually, six months later, the two sides had finally reached an agreement. 

Hey, Rodney, you know how I told you that Google had no limit on their non-profit email program?

Yeah.

I just looked. They’ve now capped it at 5,000 users.

Was that our fault?

I don’t know, but the timing lines up.

Neither we nor Google got everything we wanted out of the contract. We got any dispute discussions moved to Utah. They got a five-year period for the contract. After five years we would have to renegotiate. And given the new limitation of 5,000 users, the next time we talked to them, we would be paying for licensing. 

I left the non-profit several years ago. In fact, it’s probably been about five years since we rolled out that email project. Sometimes, it’s better to keep your Golden Goose out of the gift-horse’s mouth. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

How My Perfect Score Screwed Up My Job

Rodney, congratulations on getting a 10 from the client. Unfortunately, there’s going to be some negative fallout from that.

Huh?

I work for a large telecommunication company. I’m dedicated to a single account. I’ve worked on this account since we acquired them as a client three years ago. Every year, my company reaches out to all of our clients and asks them to give us a rating. The scale is 1-10, although anything less than an 8 is considered a fail. My scores have been pretty good The client rates us in different areas. In the IT area, the area that I control, I got a 9 the first year and then an 8 last year. This year, the results came back as a 10. I was thrilled, as you might imagine. I work as part of a team. I’m the face of my company to the client, but there are dozens of people who work on the IT infrastructure with this account. Everyone did an amazing job and the score really reflected the combined work of the team.

I joked to my VP that with a 10, I’m not going to be able to exceed my efforts next year. “It can only go down from here.” He laughed. I laughed. It was supposed to be a joke. Then I discovered the true cost of getting a perfect score. 

So, are we still planning to take our engineers to Kansas City to visit the client next month?

I’m not sure that’s still in the plans.

The client invited us a year ago. We’ve had travel budget approval for the past 6 months. What’s the issue?

Well, the thinking is if we got a 10 from them, do we really need to send engineers to visit?

“No good deed goes unpunished.” I had worked hard, not just to get a good score, but to make sure I was taking care of the client in an exemplary manner. I started to see that pushing hard to achieve outstanding results, didn’t win you any resources. That high level of results simply becomes the new normal. 

Well, you managed to get a 10 without having a dedicated network or telecom engineer. I’m not sure we can justify the expense of dedicating these resources like we talked about. 

This is not what I expected.

I know you are kind of on call 24×7 for technical issues, and we were going to hire another TAM, but that headcount got reallocated to a struggling account. Sorry about that.

Yeah, me too. 

We talk about the “squeaky wheel gets the oil.” But, I didn’t realize that the efficient wheel loses out. And here’s the irony, if I work very hard to maintain the perfect score, next year, I set myself up for even less resources. The logic seems to be, “If you can achieve and maintain perfection, you have too many resources devoted to your account.” 

I’ve never felt so terrible about doing so well. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

The Check Engine Light Is Making Me CRAZY!

I don’t know why people don’t do home canning as much anymore. You know, like our grandparents did.

For the same reason that people don’t change their own oil or fix their own cars.

Oh, why?

Tools.

I love tools. I like the feel of a solid combination wrench. If you get up into the 18, 19 or 24mm range, there’s a heft to the wrench that just feels solid. I’m guessing you don’t own a 24mm combination wrench. I didn’t for a long time. I finally bought one because it fit the drive shaft bolt on my 96 Lexus. I was tired of not having the right sized wrench. 


How long does it take to change your oil at one of the many speciality shops? Fifteen minutes? (Less if you say NO to the added services they try to sell you on.) For $50 and a quarter of an hour, you can get your oil changed and back on your way. How long do you think it would take to change it yourself? Well, first you have to get the oil. Then, you have to get a pan or a bucket to catch the old oil. Oh, and don’t forget the filter. Now, you’re ready to start. You need a wrench to take out the drain plug. (It’s not going to be 24mm. Probably 1/2″ or about 15mm.) Then, while the oil is draining you will need another wrench, called an oil filter wrench, to remove the oil filter. You might have a 1/2″ wrench, I’m guessing you don’t have an oil filter wrench. It doesn’t even look like a wrench. It looks like this.


Tracking down all that stuff and buying it? Nah, it’s quicker to just pay to have it done. Except that it takes me about 10 minutes and only the cost of the oil and filter. I’ve even started having my kids do it. How can we do it so cheaply? Easy – tools. 

My point is that even if you how to change your oil. Even if you know the specific model number for the filter. Even if you know where the drain plug is located (it’s under the car just back of the engine slightly.) Even if you know all of that, you still need tools. And lacking the tools, the knowledge does you no good. 

You know that annoying Check Engine light? Yeah, I used to think there was something magical about it. Something that only the mechanics who had been initiated into the Secret Greasy Wrench Society knew about. Nope. It’s just an indication that your engine has something to say. You can buy a code reader and check and clear those codes yourself. 


It’s canning season in Utah. We’be done applesauce, peach jam and more applesauce. Yesterday we picked concord grapes. Today, we are canning them. the process is simple. 

  • Wash the grapes
  • Put them in a steamer
  • Draw out the juice
  • Put in canning jars in a steam canner for about 15 minutes

It’s simple. So, why don’t more people do it? Of course, there’s the question of where to get the grapes. (Thanks, Aunt Sharon!) But, once you have them, you need a steamer. In addition you need a bunch of canning jars. . .and rings. . .and lids. And then you need a steam canner. 

All for a couple of quarts of grape juice? No thanks. It’s way cheaper to buy it in the store. So, why do I can grape juice? The same reason I change my own oil and am rebuilding the engine on my Lexus. The same reason that your IT guy goes home and builds his own computer. Sure, he has the knowledge to do it. but, honestly, with youtube, everyone is 15 minutes away from being an expert. Find a video and they will walk you through the processBut, even if we get that knowledge, it’s the tools that make a difference. 

A few years ago my wife said, “Why don’t you buy some fishing gear and take the kids fishing? ” 

What are all of these WalMart charges? There’s like $150 worth?

Fishing gear.

I knew how to fish, but there are poles to buy. Bobbers and weights. Hooks and jigs. Powerbait and worms. Knives and hook removers. The tools needed to go fishing are important. Now when I want to take the kids fishing, we stop and get some worms and head for the river. It was expensive the first time. Now? Not as much. Why don’t more dad’s take their kids fishing? They lack the tools. 

Every hobby, every profession has it’s own set of tools. Tools without knowledge are just shiny paperweights. Knowledge without tools is frustration. As frustrating as driving around with the Check Engine light on. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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