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The Best Career Move I Ever Made May 11, 2011

Posted by General Zod in Storytime, Tech.
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Back in 2004, I was hired by a rather large corporation to do the Systems Engineering for one of their sites.  One of the first things I’d asked for were details on deployment standards, so that I could make sure that any new systems were being deployed properly.  My manager pulled me aside and explained to me that our site was what was known as a “Delivery Center” that was separate from the company’s global network and were used to host any customer facing servers.  Unofficially, this meant that we were the “black sheep” of the company… and I was instructed by my manager to “make it up as I go”, because we weren’t held to the same standards as the other sites.

This news explained so many things.  Not only could I barely find any consistency with how the site’s servers were deployed, but I found each rack to be more annoying than the last because all of the physical cabling had been deployed using the spaghetti-method of cable management.  Since I actually found it embarrassing to claim that I managed such a mess, I made the decision that *I* was going to dictate a new set of deployment standards for all servers, racks, etc.

I spent the first couple months re-running every piece of cabling I could find.  Then, over the following year; I documented guidelines on hardware standards, OS deployment consistencies, tape backup expectations, and disaster recovery procedures.  After about a year or so, I considered the data center at our site to be MINE.  I owned it because I’d paid for it with blood, sweat, and the occasional pound of flesh.  Then, for the next 2+ years, I was very pleased to let others work and play in my data center provided that they follow my deployment guidelines.  It was a good system and absolutely no one objected… until the reorganization.

With very little prelude, my site was transferred from one organization to another within our corporation in late 2007.  I suddenly found myself working under a huge collection of people who all seemed to think that they were my boss.

Before you start to think I have a big ego at work here, please let me clarify… I have always strongly believed in the chain of command.  Orders should filter down.  Things stay much more organized that way.

However, I suddenly found my phone ringing off the hook because there were about 20 different people (from a huge array of different time zones) who were all trying to dictate policy and procedure to me directly.  My direct IT Manager, Todd, was trying to shield me from these folks and I honor him for it… but he could only do so much.  Needless to say, it was a huge headache for both Todd and myself.

Under the new organization, the first thing we did was change physical sites.  A new building was selected and a new data center was custom built for the purpose.  Unfortunately, it seemed to me that the data center was the very LAST thing that was given consideration by those making the decisions.  The available floor space was cut to one-third of our original size (which made fitting all of the existing servers into a much smaller room an interesting puzzle).  There was next to zero air flow through the room because all ventilation came through a single hole in the wall (so we had a huge fan sitting nearby that we had to break out about once a week).  Honestly, I think someone had gone out and bought a book called something like “Building a new Data Center… on the Cheap… for Dummies”… and then used that to calculate the ultimate costs required… and then cut that value in half.  The entire process was very painful.

However, it wasn’t all bad.  We got a whole new network infrastructure out of the deal.  We got brand new routers and switches, slick new firewalls, and really nifty packet shaper devices… all of which were put under my management.  I learned lots of new things during that time, and was sent out to some really interesting training courses.  I learned a lot, and had fun playing with all the new toys.

Once we were in the new building and officially “settled in”, the next migration began almost immediately.  We were ordered to migrate all of our servers, workstations, and users to our new organization’s domain… and to deploy all of these servers using their pre-defined set of standards.  No problem!  I love it when an organization has actual defined standards, and I was more than pleased to become known as a team-player for my new team.  I reviewed all of the steps and requirements that they wanted completed, calculated how long I thought it would take to complete all of the tasks, and sent a response which detailed what I’d believed to be a reasonable timeline covering a 9-month period to completion.  That’s when the sh|t hit the fan.

I suddenly found myself on the receiving end of an IT conference call enema.  Five different “senior” Engineers had a meeting about my site… who then decided that I needed to be conferenced into it blind.  For about an hour, I was lectured to and talked over by people whom I didn’t even know, but who apparently thought that it was their job to tell me how to do my job.  Then, I was informed that I had a little under 2 weeks to get all the necessary work done.

I found this to be completely unreasonable and told them so.  They insisted that I had no choice, and I insisted that we needed to discuss the situation with my manager on the line.  My concerns were immediately dismissed.  Finally, I simply asked them to put their preferred timeline into an email… (ALWAYS GET IT IN WRITING!!)… so that I could have something to send to my direct manager.  I was told that no further discussion was necessary and to stop wasting time.  Finally fed up, I instructed them to put it in writing to me… and then hung up on them.

They wanted a complete overhaul of our data center completed in 2 weeks?  Why so little time?  How could they expect me to do so much in so little time?

Well… I eventually found out why they thought it was plausible.  See… the bulk of our new organization’s data centers were located in Mumbai and Bangalore.  It was explained to me that the average annual Systems Engineer salary in India is about 100,000 Rs (Rupees).  This sounds like a lot of money, until you convert it to US dollars… which is something close to $2,250.

If the India sites needed extra hands to get a project completed in a hurry, then they’d simply send out for more personnel… and it would get done fast and cheap.  So they probably thought that we’d just do the same thing.  It wasn’t until much later that someone finally realized that we did not have the ability to pull in tons of extra people without seriously dipping into our budget.

So anyway… for the next 2 days, I refused to answer any phone calls (except those from my wife).  They even tried calling the other folks on my team to recruit them into cornering me, but I’d already warned them that I wasn’t taking any calls…and instructed them to tell anyone who called for me to send an email and I’d get back to them.  They finally caved and wrote out what they wanted me to do in an email which I promptly forwarded to my manager.  With this documented timeline, Todd and I were finally able to start a dialog with the executive-types in which we detailed why things would take longer to finish.

About a week later, we were paid a visit by one of the Senior Engineers who wanted to “negotiate” our 9-month timeline versus the 2-week timeline.  Todd and I spent 2 long days in a conference room with this gentleman, scribbling on a large wipe-board and debating how long things should actually take to complete.

At the end of the 2nd day, I thought he was more reasonable than the folks from India… but not by much.  I had conceded that I could probably get the work completed in as little as 6-months, assuming that I cut some corners and let some of my usual daily duties slide.  Senior-guy had decided that I was to be allowed 3-months to complete the necessary tasks… while doing my usual daily needful and managing a new network infrastructure that I was still learning about.  It was also decided that Francis, one of the desktop support guys, could be dedicated to help me during that time.  I did think well of Francis’ work, and knew that he would be willing and capable… but the time for this learning curve would be a hindrance as well.

So for another hour, we debated back and forth on the timeline… 6 months!  No, 3 months!  Can’t do it… I need 6 months minimum!  Nope, you’ve only got 3!  Back and forth.  Volley, volley!

Finally, feeling a bit slap-happy… a funny notion struck my brain and in my tired state I had thought teasing them a bit would be entertaining.  So in my tired, frustrated state… I walked over to the wipe-board where Senior-guy had detailed his 3-month strategy which detailed the migration steps from the end of January 2008 through April 2008.  I picked up a red dry erase marker, and inserted the following into his timeline:

 

February 1st – Update Resume

 

Well… Senior-guy didn’t find that very funny… and Todd’s eyes got really wide (probably because he knew me well… and suspected that I wasn’t kidding).  What can I say… I was tired of arguing with these people.  Maybe I was missing something… maybe they were.  Who knows!  I only knew that in a few short months, everything I’d worked for and done over the previous 4 years had been tossed aside… and I was being ordered around like a rookie or a servant.  So I made the decision to quietly start job hunting… while I started working towards trying to complete needed work within the 3-month timeline.

For the next 3+ months, I did what I could to push forward the migration.  I rebuilt servers, organized the user migration strategy, built new infrastructure services, etc… while hoping for a miracle to help us achieve our 3-month migration goal.  Meanwhile, each night I would spend an hour or two typing out cover letters for my resume to be mailed the following morning.

Needless to say, we did not meet our 3-month goal, but I tried my best.  And we still hadn’t finished everything when I finally left in the company in June.  I did feel a little bad about it, because my departure had forced Francis to become the new Server Engineer.  He had learned a lot during the previous 3 months, and I had faith in his abilities.  However, I suspect that the idea of being solely responsible for the servers might have scared him half to death… (but I’ll bet he learned more in that first month after I left than he had during the bulk of his career.)

It’s been nearly 3 years since I left that company… and I have to say that leaving was the *BEST* career move I ever made.  Not because I wanted to get out, but because I absolutely fell in love my new job.  I’m having a madding love affair with VMware.  I even convinced my management to pay for classes to help me get VCP4 certified!  Plus, I really like the people I work with and adore the really short commute from my house.  This is the best job I’ve ever had… and I sincerely hope I never stop doing it.

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