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Friday Philosophy – The Best IT Person I Have Met September 24, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
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I’ve had the pleasure of working with and meeting a lot of talented and capable people in IT – some of them have even been nice people too :-) {In fact, most people I have met do not match that annoying myth about IT’s reputation for social awkwardness). However, for me one person sticks out in my mind as the best person I have worked with in IT.

It’s Barry. I’m pretty sure none of you have met Barry, and in fact as I knew Barry back in 1996 I’m not so sure I would recognise him (or remember his last name) if I met him now.

Barry and I met when I got press-ganged into a Unix system administration team. I was just getting started at being an Oracle Performance person and knew very little about Unix Sys admin. But, for reasons I won’t go into now, I went home on the Friday as an “Oracle expert” and came in on the Monday to find my desk had been physically lifted and moved into the Unix sys admin corral andI was now a “Sys Admin not-expert”. My protestations were listened to – and then ignored, with the information that if I did “not knuckle down and get on with it”, the money would stop flowing. So, rather dazed and just a tad unhappy with the situation, I sat – and sulked – at my desk. And sat next to me was Barry.

You are probably expecting me to now tell you that Barry knew Unix sys admin inside out and how he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. Well, he didn’t. I have no idea where they got Barry from, I think he was a pro-C developer, but he had been similarly abused by management and he knew even less about being a sys admin than I did. I at least knew my way around a few monitoring commands like top, w, ps, “glance” etc.

Barry was also not very quick with IT. Don’t get me wrong, he was not stupid, but he was not one of these people who just had an affinity for technology and spent all his spare time building their own media server when CD-ROMS for PCs were still quite new. In fact, he seemed to find the whole of IT to be something of a challenge.

What Barry had though was enthusiasm, commitment and curiosity. Not in an annoying, bouncing all over the place crying “this is great” way, but more a case of “OK, server Falcon has run out of disk space. What can I do about it? How do I find out where the storage has all gone, who is using it and can I get it back off them?”. And he would set to. He’d start with what he knew (which was little more than the “Man” (Online Manual} command in the first week) and work through it. Every few minutes he’d be tapping me on the shoulder and saying things like “Look, you can get information about disk usage here, and map it to the real physical disks by greping for this”.

It was Barry’s attitude that made him stand out, and also his ability to infect you with the same attitude. I started off in that team furious and demoralized, determined to find a new position and resign ASAP. But Barry got over his annoyance and started working. He asked me for advice and discussed the issues over with me, even though I was as clueless as him. When he found something he showed me it. When I found something, he was keen to learn it.

Between us, we got by. We knew very little and it was hard work, but because Barry was not daunted and would keep working on the problem until he had it sorted, he dragged me along with him. I would still be there with him into the evening, sorting something out, when everyone else had gone home. He did not take on every problem people came to us with, he would stick with what he felt was the biggest issue until it was sorted, and he would keep with it, and ask for help, and try what you suggested.

{oddly enough , the worst person I ever worked with was already in this team. Maybe that is why the others left and Barry and I were pulled in!}

It only lasted a few months as we both escaped to jobs more suited to our skills, but I learnt a few things. One was that a crummy job could be made a lot better just by your attitude and another was that some people (Barry, not me) had a real talent for enthusing people and thus getting things done. And also, that you did not have to be highly intelligent or knowledgeable to do a very good job. That’s lucky for me, then :-)

Advert – MI SIG on 5th October September 13, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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The next UK Oracle User Group (UKOUG) Management and Infrastructure SIG is coming up in a few weeks – 5th October in the Oracle City Office. You can find the latest agenda here. If you do not know what we (the MI SIG) cover, it is basically technical topics at a slightly broader level. So not so much example code but how feature X works or how to use Y over 100 databases plus. We also touch on management issues, which I always worry will put some potential attendees of,f but in fact nearly always goes down very well.

We have an excellent line up of topics and presenters for this meeting. Does Exadata work in the real world? Peter Scott will be presenting some of what he has learned doing this. Want to know about oracle’s latest licensing options and how to save money? Alex Sandercock from Turnstone Services will be talking about that. Confused about how storage is changing and how the database interacts with it? James Moorle will cover that one.

It has been a real struggle getting the agenda together for this meeting, I can’t believe we have ended up with such a strong one in the end. I mean, I am not even having to bore everyone with my voice again.

The first problem was I just failed to get the organising started. As the Chair, it is my main function to sort out the meetings. It was always “tomorrow” as I had so much on for every “today”.

The second problem was we were up against Oracle Open World. We had a few people “in hand” who had indicated they would be happy to do a talk for us, but were scheduled to do OOW. I thought it was a bit mean to turn us down for some obscure vendor event in the US. So we moved our event by a month.

The final problem was that we still had trouble with speaker availability, as it was now so close (it might not seem close if you are considering going to a meeting, but if you are being asked to sign up to preparing and giving a presentation, 5 weeks is not a lot of notice).

It all came together in the end, with the help of the co-chairs, especially Neil Chandler.

I know I have said this before, but I struggle to understand why SIG meetings are not flooded with people coming to them. It is free training in effect (if your organisation is a member of the UKOUG – £80 otherwise, I think). All the presenters are experts, often presenting similar talks to those given at Oracle Open World or the UKOUG Conference. OK, it is a day not working in the office but as well as the “free training” you meet up with other people who have similar work issues as you. I find it invaluable to have a circle of external people I can occasionally say “What do you think of this” to. The meeting other people is aided by us retiring to a pub after the event, for those inclined to do so.

I try to get to SIGs when I can and in fact, if I was not at my own on the 5th, I’d like to be at the modelling and architecture one – I’ve been meaning to get to that one for ages.

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