Friday, September 23, 2011

Windows 8 thoughts

I frequently watch the Twit.TV video podcasts and one of my favorites is Windows Weekly. It was on this podcast that I discovered the Microsoft Build conference held in Anaheim Ca. last week and with it the availability of the Windows Developer Preview (Windows 8).

I downloaded the 5.1GB full development package, followed the directions for setting up a bootable USB drive and then found that I had to find a compatible version of bootsect to let it complete the process. I downloaded and attempted to create the bootable USB on a 32Bit Windows XP pro system so the process of creating the 64Bit bootable USB drive took this extra step.

What I found once installation was done was an OS that at first blush was more about the user interface than any great leap forward in OS design. If you have two monitors as I do the system will automatically configure itself to display a familar desktop environment on one screen and a series of "tiles" on the other which open a number of programs and system utilities when clicked.

In this permutation of Windows you figure out fairly quickly that the familiar desktop is merely another application. In fact it shows up as another "tile" in the so-called "Metro" interface.
The look of Winows 8 closely mimics the UI of Windows Phone and as I understand it that's by design. This new version of windows is designed to be uniform across platforms from the lowliest IPAD competitor to full featured PC's.

It's a common fact that notebook pc's have surpassed desktop pc's in sales and a portion of those are pc tablets designed for touch sensitive applications. Windows 8 is a "touch first" experience with traditional mouse and keyboard controls available but not obvious.

It's been mentioned elsewhere in the blogosphere so I won't dwell on the next point but it needs to be mentioned nonetheless. Up till now Windows was an unimpressive tablet interface. Touch was eschewed in favor of a stylus to control many functions of Windows. That's great for handwriting recognition but can get tedious if you're just trying to move around the interface.

Conversely, Windows 8 is all about swipes and drags and taps with nary a stylus in sight. Anyone familiar with newer smartphones like the IPhone, or Android phones will feel right at home with navigation. Windows 8 has been designed to work on small tablets as well based on ARM processors.

Thus we finally have a Microsoft entry into the IPAD and Android based consumer tablet wars.
That's great for a consumer device but what about a business pc?

I've heard that there will be a business version of the OS that is more focused on the desktop and less on the "tiles". On the other hand i've also heard that the only change to the OS will be improved or at least more obvious keyboard and mouse shortcuts to navigate through the UI.

Microsoft wants developers to move toward designing for the Metro interface and leave the desktop for legacy application compatibility. Unfortunately this wreaks of another push to do things "The Microsoft Way".

To expect a business customer to conform to an OS interface designed to be a consumer offering is more of the same old, "My way or the Highway" thinking from the past.

I put it right up there with the reliance on Powershell in Exchange 2007 and 2010 and the horrible filesystem organization in Vista and above. In both cases Microsoft was attempting to force a change in user behavior for it's own rather then the customer's benefit.

I still find no great innovation in Server 2008 (outside of better 64 bit compatibility) that would force a move off a well functioning server 2003 deployment. If Windows 8 Server offers little more than a more annoying interface what's the impetus to upgrade?
Management functions tend to get less intuitive with every iteration of Windows Server. Windows 8 and it's Server counterpart (also recently released to MSDN subscibers) continue this trend. What works great on a consumer device isn't necessarily going to be ideal in a business environment.

Another thought comes to mind. If I deploy a version of Windows 8 to my desktop clients that has a deprecated Metro interface then I'm basically left with a shaky Windows 7 installation. In that case it's pointless to do the upgrade.

I heard last week that support for Windows XP Service pack 3 has been extended for another 3 years (approx.) That means there's still enough of a user base to merit Microsoft continuing the support of it. That also means that Microsoft trying to be all things to all platforms may not be the best approach to bring those holdouts on board. Reliability and performance will always trump a pretty interface.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The IT Job Posting Code...(updated)

When times get a little rough in consulting I look for "regular" work to tide me over for a while.

You know my penchant for project and consulting work so when that fails me I end up resorting to the 9 to 5 grind.

The popular 80's phrase of "work smarter not harder" is important to keep in mind when reviewing job posts.

Now I know in this economy one should be willing to take any job just to get by but I'm a long-term thinker. It does no good for my reputation or my resume to land a job that ultimately makes me miserable, doesn't improve my skills and in general just wastes everyone's time. It runs contrary to my own little personal crusade of ridding IT of the "Frauds" who make life miserable for the rest of us striving to be more "Fundamentalist" in the field. If you're not engaged you're not really contributing anything so when looking at job postings keep these tips in mind:

1. If a posting doesn't fit at least 80% of your skills or experience don't bother with it. (Or Know Thyself...)

Recruiters (company or agency) have little punch lists given to them by the hiring manager. Hey, they're HR people not tech geeks and they won't understand any of your technobabble explanations about equivalent skills. If most of the posting looks like greek to you don't bother with it. Even if you landed the job I can guarantee you'll end up miserable and likely be out the door in less than 6 months. Of course that would let you list those new buzz-words on your updated resume but then you'd just be heading down the road of a "Fraud" which is ultimately unfullfilling.

2. Buzz Words ( Or fitting what you DO know into their little punch lists)

This may seem contrary to the previous guideline but it's not. Since these little punch-down lists are so important to HR recruiters it's important to give them what they want if you're actually qualified for the job they're advertising. Remember they're not tech people they can only go off what's in front of them on their list. So, if the posting says something like "Day to day administration of Windows Server 2003 and 2008 servers" Don't put "Windows Servers" on your resume. You're going to have to match their little punch-lists if you want a shot. If you have Server 2003 and 2008, list that skill.  

Otherwise you could be sending the impression that you're not confident in the platform they use. Often resumes are scanned for content and those without matching buzz-words are eliminated. Don't end up in the round file because you got lazy with your listed skills. Conversely, don't overload your resume with skills either. Nobody has the time to read all of that crap. Think newspaper articles. Get the important stuff they're interested in right up in their face and don't waste space on skills they don't care about unless they have some relevance. For Example, if you're a system admin with real experience in VMWare make sure to put it down if the posting happens to mention virtualization of any type.

3. Scan the posting carefully. (Or watch for the ambiguous)

I hate these types of posts. They remind me of classified ads for used cars (you know "Clean, runs good".) but nothing substantial about the job itself. It usually starts off with something like, "We need a Windows System Administrator with SQL Server and some Web development skills for our busy office in North Wonderfulville." Which is usually followed by 2 paragraphs about what a wonderful company they are and how great the benefits package is. You get a commercial for the company and almost nothing about the job. In this economy why are they selling themselves so hard? It's an immediate red flag that the hiring manager doesn't have a clue about the job or what they're looking for. I've responded to ads like this only to find out the job wasn't a System Admin but a web developer. I've actually had to explain that to the interviewer too. At the end I felt like I should have billed them for my time. Approach this type of posting at your own risk.

4. Dealing with employment agency and head hunter posts

You're more likely to deal with an employment agency or head hunter when getting a job these days. The previous guidelines apply with a few caveats. First, know that you're dealing with a middleman. It's not unlike the car salesman on a dealer's lot. Promises will be made that won't always be kept and when you discover the truth expect to be left holding the bag. It's not that I hate agencies, I just have a low tolerance for BS. It's actually worse to deal with an agency that it is to deal directly with an employer's HR department. Agencies get the same punch list and try to match it to their own skills database which may or may not be relevant to the employer's needs.

Turnover tends to be high in employment agencies and I've actually had my recruiter leave in the middle of an assignment and been dumped on another recruiter who has no clue about the employer you're assigned to. In that case they fall back on the basics of whatever the agreement is and you have virtually no representation from them if a problem develops. If something goes amiss they'll drop you like a hot potato and you'll never hear from them again. You've become a "difficult placement" which makes you a pariah even if you've done nothing wrong. Agencies are in it to make as much money on your labor as they can. Anything that gives the impression of threatening that throws the kill switch. Unless you love the job and expect to stay there after the contract is done, don't expect any long-term love from an agency.

Also watch out for long-term temp to hire contracts. If you're involved in a contract for more than a year know that you probably won't get paid vacation, medical benefits or any of the normal trappings. After a year it can be kind of rough to not have any benefits but all the responsibilities. On the upside you usually get a better hourly rate. Of course you have to question an employer that takes more than 6 months to commit to hiring someone. That's why I like contracts with a definitive end. I like to do my thing and get out before I go postal :)

5. The liars

Wow, that's a strong statement here's what I mean by it.

Caveat Emptor applies here. If you go through all the stuff I've already mentioned above you still have to be wary especially with an agency posting. Into this group I firmly place the resume stackers who operate on the shoot first, ask later principle.  If you've put a resume on in the past decade you've likely already heard from these types.  You know them, they're the ones who demanded your life history, mother's maiden name and social security number for a mid-level job that promised a CEO's salary.  Perhaps not that bad but it's a lie all the same.

Examples are usually more descriptive than paragraphs of babble so here's a good one....

I apparently applied for a position recently and the agency recruiter decided to get back to me on it. It took so long that I didn't even remember applying for the job so I was already at a disadvantage and the recruiter didn't help. There was no indication of when I applied, how I applied or who the job was for just a bunch of ambiguities..

Here's a piece of the posting and the email from the recruiter..

"I just left you a message regarding this opportunity. You had applied to my dice posting.
I'm going to include the job description for ease of communication.
I can be reached at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

Job Description
This position is not a laid back network/server monitoring position. This person must be able to handle the workload, corporate environment and interaction with executive level employees and global vendors. Candidate will be expected to be a leader guiding the network/server environment throughout the America's once they champion the PHX office. Previous corporate/enterprise experience on a team environment is important.

Any skills listed as required must be from hands-on work experience and not solely based on certifications or testing/home experience. This person will be a leader guiding the network/server environment throughout the America's once they champion the XXX office."

I looked over the job description and saw a couple of red flags right at the outset...
"This position is not a laid back network/server environment" Ok, That tells me one of two things. 

Either the management team is a bunch of insufferable jerks or they've been burned in the past. Either way

I can expect to be monitored like bacteria in a pitre dish. Great way to start a new job!

"Any skills listed ...must be from hands on work experience and not solely based on certifications or testing/home experience."

Ok, now I know they've been burned and have an attitude problem to boot. At this point I'm definitely NOT interested but wait there's more..

"The scope of the position also requires managing implementation projects falling under the scope of the Region for Liner and Logistics. Limited after normal business hours support responsibilities. Travel will be minimum."

Read that as "We own you" We all know there's no such thing as "limited after hours" when it comes to a global logistics company or any other company for that matter.  No thanks, that flies in the face of my "It's a job not a lifestyle" credo. The promise from the agency recruiter didn't even match up to her own job description as evidenced below...

The posting says "travel will be minimum" When I asked the recruiter about that she responded, "There isn't any travel------The company is global---it's a logistics company"


OK, Now I know I'm being lied to. How is travel NOT a requirement when it says it in the posting and requires you to be,"a leader guiding the network/server environment throughout the America's once they champion the PHX office. "?! 

That much use of the adjective, "limited" is always suspect.

This is a CYA move so the agency and the employer have an out when they start flying you all over the place and you start asking what "minimum" means. Sorry but that's a lie in my book.

The lie and the attitude turned me off. I wouldn't last a month in that kind of environment. I'd love to do some contract work for them but when offered, the agency turned me down. I guess I wasn't "humble enough".

Know thyself and you'll stay out of a lot of trouble. For me this wasn't an opportunity it was a noose...

6. You've landed the job, congratulations!  Don't get too comfortable...

Here's a little bit of advice that will make you life a whole lot easier.  Warning, this goes contrary to what most recruiters will tell you which is how you know it's true.  Remember, they're experts at placing candidates not doing the jobs they're trying to fill.

Here we go...

Treat every job like its a contract position even if its a regular full time gig.  It's rare to have one job for the rest of your life anyway unless you're self employed.  Most people move on to other positions every 3 to 5 years which doesn't exactly allow a lot of time to grow roots.  Be task oriented, take advantage of any new skills you can pick up and be ready to move on when the time is right.  Remember that loyalty comes from dogs not employers, don't be a dog.

Many people make the mistake of thinking their job is somehow a reflection of themselves. That's completely wrong, a "job" is one specific task to be completed and dismissed.  A career is compromised of a series of "jobs."  So don't be afraid to mix it up a bit.

There's an old adage that goes something like expecting to get a different result from doing the same thing repeatedly is madness and it is.

Life's too short to deal with other people's hangups for too long so keep your options open and save your loyalty for your own well being.