All Posts in “IT Career Advice”

Sometimes you have to create your own penis showing game – by Shane Walton

Shane (pronounced “Shawn”) Walton is a retired federal employee currently working as a systems engineer for a startup cloud service provider.  A collector of certifications, he is attempting to add Cisco CCIE Data Center.   He has previously been a member of the United Stated Air Force and completed 25 years of combined federal service.  He is contrarian in nature so don’t be offended if he disagrees with you on twitter despite the probability that he actually agrees with you.  When not doing “network stuff” you will usually find him building hash cracking rigs and sniffing the airwaves for anything of interest.

I am sure most people are aware of the 2005 movie Waiting… While the restaurant industry and IT have few parallels, job satisfaction and trying to find a way to make the day to day grind interesting and challenging are a central tenant to any career. In the movie we learn that moral was very bad and no one was happy until a new employee was hired and implemented a game which is described enough in the title and won’t be described further. If you’re that interested, you can rent the movie. The point is they took it upon themselves to find a way to make work interesting and fun again.

I found myself in this dilemma after 25 years working in the same organization. For those 25 years I was lucky enough to always have interesting work. Nearly unlimited budget, an organization that was forward leaning with regards to technology adoption and always had a large project flanked by several smaller projects.

Then I left the government… I know what I described above does not sound like a government agency. Government agencies are slow to adopt, risk adverse and have almost no people capable of technical innovation but we were lucky enough to have leadership that was interested in pushing the envelope.

We were the first Federal organization to implement Cisco Nexus in our data centers. We learned so far forward we all but forced ourselves to be chosen as a location for one of the Air Force regional data centers. But that was all gone and I found myself working for a small company providing professional services (PS). That’s where I met Mike. I enjoyed working for the company. I traveled like most PS engineers, moving from project to project but nothing like I was used to. I wouldn’t say I was not satisfied but I wasn’t fulfilled. Soon I took the opportunity to stay on with a company I was contracted to.

This new job was with a small startup cloud service provider and I was REALLY happy. I had great pay, really good benefits that they paid for 100% and a culture that I loved with no travel, supporting internal engineering. Then things started to get stagnant and I wasn’t unhappy I was just bored. There were days I would sit with different configs up on all three of my screens and that would be how I was 6 hours later contemplating going home because it was obvious to me I wasn’t going to get anything done.

I wasn’t looking to leave but a friend of mine called me and said I need you to engineer and implement the first Cisco ACI capable device in the federal government. Not just the DoD, the whole public sector. I couldn’t have signed up any faster. I was chasing the great project. It was four phases, implement the hardware and test VXLAN followed an alphabet soup of new technology insertion with SDN, VMware NSX, Cisco ACI, automation and orchestration galore. It was literally a dream project with a period of performance that would provide stability for a very long time. The client was my old agency. I couldn’t have been happier.

It turns out though that sometime government contracts get hung up and back to back projects don’t always get funded in a timely manner. What I didn’t know when I took the job was that although my division of the company was making enough to float all of us on the bench for months the company was basically imploding financially everywhere else. As soon as the contract didn’t get awarded we started getting furloughed and eventually were given a choice to find our own work or be furloughed full time until we were billable. At this point I was going to take a contract with Cisco advanced services but that would have only lasted as long as that contract and continue making money for my titanic of a company so I very sheepishly contacted the cloud service provider to see if I could get my old job back.

I am now going on my 6th month back with my old company now and I am really happy. Not only am I really happy, I am not bored. Now I am building labs, working on new potential service offerings and taking it upon myself to push into different technology areas. I am going to finally take the time to finish my CCIE. I’ve finally found what I was missing in my search for post government job satisfaction.

It was always up to me to challenge myself and while it was nice to be in an environment that didn’t require me to look for interesting things to do I don’t need to jump from company to company to find it. I learned much like Ryan Reynolds and the rest of the gang that it isn’t the 100% responsibility of the company to ensure I am fulfilled in my job. Sometime you really do have to create your own penis showing game.

Career Ramblings and Announcements

Soccer is a game of speed and aggressiveness, especially at the youth levels. There is a great deal of strategy and mental awareness that goes into maintaining possession, playing the proper shape and moving the ball down the pitch. I coach youth soccer, two teams currently and I love every minute of it. I have also played soccer since I was a kid, and occasionally get involved in leagues as an adult.

The aggression and speed both apply to making career decisions in IT. Recently I was reading a friends blog post where they talk about their move from operations to the vendor side. With what was going on in my life it really resonated. Sometimes you need to have some inflection and look at what brought you to where you are and where you want to go. But sometimes you have to seize the opportunity in front of you and go after it like a defender attacking the ball.

I used to hire IT people and be a major part of the interview process at the past several jobs. I never asked where someone wanted to be in 5 yrs I asked, what is your career goal. Because it’s more important to understand that someone has a goal in mind. I would also look at the candidates resume and see how they had improved themselves while working at their last employer. Not just forced training but how they went out and did work on their own to gain skills.

My own move to the vendor side was a move from an Operations staff and IT reseller. It was time, but I hadn’t planed beyond that next step of moving to a vendor. I knew it was time but I had no clue what would come next. During my time at EMC I have realized that there are so many cool roles in the IT world. Some that were never exposed to me as a customer or a partner. The position of “Field CTO” was one that immediately caught my attention, and working with people like Paul Austin got me thinking that it was the path for me. I started looking at what I would need to do to obtain that goal. It came to me that experience working with product business units and taking feedback from customers to the BUs and helping to explain and shape the future of the company and product lines was going to take some work.

Ironically there was a confluence of events that led me to where I am today. But regardless of the how, I was presented with an opportunity to join SolidFire as a End User Solutions Architect and have accepted the position. The position is exciting and will challenge me, but the team I am going to work on is what I am most excited about. It reminds me of the vSpecialist team that I am leaving in a lot of ways, a bunch of type A, go getters, who work together, and understand and love community.  I couldn’t be more excited, I have to thank everyone at EMC who made my time here memorable and have taught me so much. I hope to remain in touch and to see you all at the various community events.

Mansplaining Must Stop

I once heard someone say “Daughters are easy when they are small, while sons are difficult but the reverse is true when they are teens.” I have one of each but they are both still pre-teen years. My daughter is now 10, and she loves computers and programming. When she has a day off from school and I am not on the road, she sits in my office on the floor and uses web based programming schools to learn and code. We are fortunate that her school is part of the hour of code program and she is naturally curious on how to make things work.

The problem is I fear her ever getting into the IT and engineering field. I have seen so much in my 15 years, and have tried to apply my upbringing to my interactions with others. I was raised that women are to be respected, and that we should treat everyone the same. Sadly this is not something that I have seen others do, or have been told how friends who are women have been treated.

Am I immune to this? Short answer is no, I am sure I have been guilty of “mansplaining”, I am a brash talker so I am sure I have used insensitive language and hurt peoples feels. I have very few feels when it comes to work so I don’t always get it.

The one place where I am overly sensitive is with my kids. My daughter in particular has me being a big softy. When she tells me a kid is mean to her, I immediately imagine my elaborate revenge.

I see a lot of emphasis being placed in recent years on women in IT, conferences, sub-conferences, and talks. I appreciate this movement, but I don’t know that it does enough. Ultimately we as men need to change our idiotic behavior. We need to stop pretending like we are better or superior, and when we see someone else behaving this way we need to say, “Dude, you are a dick.”

It needs to be called out, but not in a protective way. Don’t look at every woman in IT as your daughter. That’s just patronizing. Look at them as your peer, with the same sensitivities you have. They earned their way just like you, maybe you have something to share with them and maybe they have something they can share with you so you can both learn. But they aren’t there to be explained to, value every one equally and the results can be amazing.

Do it for yourself so you aren’t an ass, but do it for my daughter too, who one day soon will run a business because she has become a better coder than any of us in the job today.