Is there a serious skills shortage around devops space?

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As devops adoption picks up pace, the signs are everywhere. Infrastructure as code once a backwater concept, and a hoped for ideal, has become an essential to many startups.

Why might that be?

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My theory is that devops enables the business in a lot of profound ways. Sure it means one sysadmin can do much more, manage a fleet of servers, and support a large user base. But it goes much deeper than that.





Being able to standup your entire dev, qa, or production environment at the click of the button transforms software delivery dramatically. It means it can happen more often, more easily, and with less risk to the business. It means you can do things like blue/green deployments, rolling out featues without any risk to the production environment running in parallel.

What kind of chops does it take?

Strong generalist skills

For starters you’ll need a pragmatist mindset. Not fanatical about one technology, but open to the many choices available. And as a generalist, you start with a familiarity with a broad spectrum of skills, from coding, troubleshooting & debugging, to performance tuning & integration testing.

Stir into the mix good operating system fundamentals, top to bottom knowledge of Unix & Linux, networking, configuration and more. Maybe you’ve built kernels, compiled packages by hand, or better yet contributed to a few open source projects yourself.

You’ll be comfortable with databases, frontend frameworks, backend technologies & APIs. But that’s not all. You’ll need a broad understanding of cloud technologies, from GCP to AWS. S3, EC2, VPCs, EBS, webservers, caching servers, load balancing, Route53 DNS, serverless lambda. Add to all of that programmable infrastructure through CloudFormation or Terraform.

Related: 30 questions to ask a serverless fanboy

Competent programmer

Although as a devop you probably won’t be doing frontend dev, you’ll need some cursory understanding of those. You should be competent at Python and perhaps Nodejs. Maybe Ruby & bash scripts. You’ll need to understand JSON & Yaml, CloudFormation & Terraform if you want to deliver IAC.

Related: Does a 4-letter-word divide dev & ops?

Strong sysadmin with ops mindset

These are fundamental. But what does that mean? Ops mindset is born out of necessity. Having seen failures & outages, you prioritize around uptime. A simpler stack means fewer moving parts & less to manage. Do as Martin Weiner would suggest & use boring tech.

But you’ll also need to reason about all these components. That’ll come from dozens of debug & troubleshooting sessions you’ll do through years of practice.

Related: How to hire a developer that doesn’t suck

Understand build systems & deployment models

Build systems like CircleCI, Jenkins or Gitlab offer a way to automate code delivery. And as their use becomes more widespread knowing them becomes de rigueur. But it doesn’t end there.

With deployments you’ll have a lot to choose from. At the very simplest a single target deploy, to all-at-once, minimum in service and rolling upgrades. But if you have completely automated your dev, qa & prod infra buildout, you can dive into blue/green deployments, where you make a completely knew infra for each deploy, test, then tear down the old.

Related: Is AWS too complex for small dev teams?

Personality to communicate across organization

I think if you’ve made it this far you will agree that the technical know-how is a broad spectrum of modern computing expertise. But you’ll also need excellent people skills to put all this into practice.

That’s because devops is also about organizational transformation. Yes devs & ops have to get up to speed on the tech, but the organization has to get on board too. Many entrenched orgs pay lip service to devops, but still do a lot of things manually. This is out of fear as much as it stands as technical debt.

But getting past that requires evangelizing, and advocating. For that a leader in the devops department will need superb people skills. They’ll communicate concepts broadly across the organization to win hearts and minds.

Related: Will Microservices just die already?

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Can daily notes help you work better with clients?

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Years ago I was working at a customer for a few weeks. There was some confusion as to what was going on, in terms of progress. Things weren’t moving as quickly as they expected.

After a lot of back and forth, I suggested I could provide detailed notes of what I had done.

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After I put together my in-depth notes the customer was really happy. It seems these notes had highlighted a few problems that they didn’t know about. What’s more they even highlighted some people issues, where communicate was blocked. Whats more the notes underlined what I was doing, and this really improved the customers confidence in the work product.

1. Visibility

Keeping daily notes is a habit I found useful over and over again. If your client or customer comes to you and says, why are we paying $X, you can provide the notes as a detailed explanation of what they have gotten for their money.

Related: Are generalists better at scaling the web?

2. Transparency

Transparency is a door that swings both ways. As I mentioned above it can be great when the customer is not sure how much work was done, or what the bill is for. But it can also highlight things they may not want done. For instance perhaps you were investigating a problem authenticating to a server. You determined that it was an important piece.

When the customer sees this in your notes they may say “Oh we don’t need to deal with that system. Please leave it alone” or they may say “We actually have Rakesh available to help us with that piece, so please communicate with him and he can resolve that”.

Related: When clients don’t pay

3. Trust

Most important of all, keeping detailed notes helps build trust. Many customers, hiring managers & CTOs are not command-line technical. And that’s perfectly normal. However looking over a long list of notes like these provides great insight to them as to what you do from day-to-day.

Do they need to know what every line means? No. But the visibility goes a long long way toward building trust in the consultant client relationship.

Related: 5 conversational ways to evaluate great consultants

Week 1 April 1 – April 10

Here’s a sample of the kind notes I keep. Actually they cover a ten day period, but that’s because the initial day was towards the end of a week.

Friday April 1st
o coord with Jake on getting started
o dropbox for password, creds & server docs
o reviewing system network diagram
o reviewing techlist excel doc
– techlist
– server list & access
– database access
– projects -old
o reviewing systems access.docx
o testing AWS login credentials
– issue with permissions
– coordinating with Jake on Admin access
o testing AWS creds again
– access to all AWS services
– IAM for seanhull user
– enabling MFA for user
o questions for outgoing op Roger

Sat April 2nd (no hours)

Sun April 3rd (no hours)

Mon April 4th
o coord with Jake to get onboarded
o sending W9 form to Acme Inc.
o setup slack
o plan for today
– review aws servers
– review dg servers
– questions for Roger
– review docs
o coord with Roger on VPN access
– reach out to Larry
– emailed Larry CC Jake
– Larry requests Acme access CC to mgmt
– turns out VPN access isn’t required
– can just whitelist IP inside the relevant security groups
– coord with J, going ahead to add whitelist 1.2.3.4/32
o updating Acmemedia-sandbox security group
– trying to reach host, coord with Roger
– asked to drop ssh key onto servers
– asked about .ssh/config file – Did you get from Jake?
– found the AWS PEM folder that I overlooked ๐Ÿ™‚
o configuring .ssh/config file
– copying up to iheavy.com
– setting permissions 600 on pem files
– ssh to sandbox successful!!
o adding whitelist to Acmemedia-prod security group
o updating Jake – access is working

Tue April 5th
o coord with Jake on todo list for today
o verifying mysql access
– review security groups
– no whitelisted IPs
– can reach from webserver?
– test db1 MySQL access via webserver, OK
– test db2 MySQL access via webserver OK
o reviewing monitoring system
– testing nagios access
– locating configurations
– reviewing dashboard
– understanding tests
– down system db1 – 108 days – why?
– down system p1 – LB1 sailthru check down for 85 days why?
– down staging – 174 days why?
– emailed nagios questions to Roger
– request to add me to nagios notifications group
o coord with Roger on questions
– nagios setup & stopped checks
– add to admin group
o github access for sandbox details doc
o login to Acmemedia wp
– check list of 25 plugins
– review recent backups on abc (8)
o login to DDD wordpress
– check list of 33 plugins
– review recent backups in abc (8)
o login to EEE wordpress
– check list of 31 plugins
– review recent backups in abc (37)
o login to FFF wordpress
– check list of 35 plugins
– review recent backups in abc (8)
o login to DDD
o login to EEE
o login to FFF
o emailed Roger – request details about Glasgow server
o review various Acme github pages

Also: The art of resistance or when you have to be the bad guy

Wed April 6th
o coord with Jake on todos for today
o reviewing github pages docs on various system processes
– git deployment server page
– git deployment process
– new deploy process Nov 2015
– wiki pages are a bit sparse overall
o tested jenkins login
– found API cache clear
– found varnish cache clear
o understand separation of dev & production
o digging into Jenkins docs
o understanding build process
o tried login to EEEv2 wp login, don’t have pass
– coordinating with Jake on that login
o checking on nfs disk full nagios alert
– can’t reach box
– notified Jake & Roger via slack
– slack with Lester
– yes nfs01 space 90% is normal
– new launch of EEE tomorrow & old stuff will be deleted then
o updating nfs security group
– ssh login working now.
o getting diskspace error on prod04
– messaged Lester, related to EEE launch tonight
o email from Jake – local dev & test environment setups are slow
– very overengineered for simple wordpress site
– not using multisites, so have FOUR SEPARATE setups
– different plugins on each install
– four sets of logins
– four places to update
– four places to test/qa
– migration may be complex based on custom Acme plugins
– shortcodes compatability across four sites
– not using ithemes security plugin
o discuss with Lester on slack
– API is hosted on datagram
– single point of failure for the site currently
– outage there would take the site down
– migrate to AWS using internal loadbalancer & webservers in 2 AZs

Thu April 7th
o call with Jake on EEEv2 launch today
– general observations of Acme sites & architecture
o reviewing access.Acmemedia.com
o discuss with Jake
– hosting media files on S3 vs nfs
– using multisite
– using wordpress through API only
– javascript based static site builder
– moving API to amazon EC2
– create slave MySQL db of master MySQL currently in datadotnet
o discuss with Roger
– launch plan
– two vhosts new.EEE.com
– old.EEE.com
– simply restart apache to enable switch
– refresh maxCDN after launch
o review EEEv2 deploy steps
– pre-deploy steps
– DNS for old.EEE.com
– add vhosts EEEv2.conf
– restart apache
– restart varnish
– clear maxcdn
o verified login to access.Acmemedia.com
– API log is in /var/log/httpd/production-access.log
– login as sandy & root
o not able to login to dashboard.Acmemedia.com
– tried admin & pass in datagram docs

o meeting onsite with Jake & Roger
– discuss deployment process
– discuss legacy systems
– discuss NFS vs S3 for media files
– discuss plugins & management
– discuss wordpress version upgrade process
– discuss plugin version upgrade process
– discuss Jenkins access, configs, success & error logs
– discuss managing secrets file
– script that takes webserver out of load balancer while apache restarting
o met Rachel, Louis, Lester, Rick, Stuart, Jack

Fri April 8th
o testing Acme stage build
o emailed Roger further questions
– where is secrets file configuration & process
– composer is PHP dependency management
– what are the steps to upgrade plugin only
o summarizing & notes on Acme
o put together steps for complete firedrill
– questions for Roger, requesting help with process
– build webserver with varnish & apache
– should setup separate NFS server
– should use Acmemedia.com bc it uses API heavily
– setup copy of API server & db
– setup mysql instance for wordpress
– setup amazon cloudfront for content
o outline additional questions for Roger
– how to upgrade plugin only
– composer for php dependency management
– how are secrets files managed & deployed outside developer access
o secrets management
– asked Roger for clarificaiton
o plugin-only installs
– reviewed jenkins configs
– various questions to Roger
– composer:install seems to be the key change (not just deploy which does all?)
– why is STAGING PLUGIN DEPLOY for ORIM different?
o what happens when github account is disabled!!
– jenkins changes for new github deploy account
– THIS WOULD BREAK ALL DEPLOYS & CI/CD pipeline
– capistrano changes?
– any other changes on sandbox
– any other dependencies for Roger github?
o email step-by-step outline to add a plugin
– reviewing steps with Roger
– making sure no missing pieces

Sat April 9th (1 off-hour)
o receiving nagios alert for p1
o emailed Roger, Jake about issue
o slack messaged Jake
o raises question about off-hours coverage

Sun April 10th (2 off-hours)

o p1 still throwing errors
o coordinating with Lester & Ralph on Slack
– reiterated this is *not* an issue with NFS
– because of large number of nagios alerts, p1 lost in the shuffle
– p1 is new error, 97% so more dire than the NFS issue
– Lester attempting to login, fails because of AWS security group
– adding his *own* home IP as whitelist (devs have access to AWS console)
– first time logging in from home?
– Lester deleted old DDD logfiles to clear up 1.2G
– plan to touch base again tomorrow about issue
o emailing Jake about status
o questions for Jake
– how to manage on-call & alerts
– how to manage developer access
– Roger mentioned secrets files are not shared with devs
o Lester questions, comments on servers & diskspace

Related: When you have to take the fall

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Can i get more done by taking some dream time?

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When I have a long todo list and a million things on my plate, my usual tactic is to just plow through it. Take short break to eat, but then get right back to work. My feeling is, if it’s weighing on the back of my mind, I won’t enjoy downtime anyway.

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Recently though I had a very different experience. And it surprised me.

1. Too much to do

A colleague of mine asked me to meetup for beers. We planned to talk technology, and to catchup on what we were both working on.

As the night rolled on he had some delays, and I wanted to cancel too. After all I had a ton of work to do, and didn’t think I would enjoy myself. I really felt like I’d be worrying about all this work on my plate. It’s like taking a vacation when you have a deadline. It doesn’t feel quite right.

Related: Can a growth mindset help you recover from setbacks?

2. My surprise

We ended up meeting anyway. At first I wasn’t totally relaxed, but then we started talking.
Our conversation turned to the evolution of datacenters. How they used to be on premise, then there were lots of hosting companies. And then Amazon changed everything!

We talked about evolution of tooling & automation. Although system administrators of old have been writing bash scripts forever to make their jobs easier, the proliferation of tools for deployment has allowed smaller ops teams to control fleets of servers. As my friend & colleague was newly starting a job on Amazon Web Services, a lot of this cloud stuff was new to him. So talking about it from a teaching vantage point, made me realize how strong I was in a lot of this stuff.

We talked about docker & containerization too. Even the origins back in the late 70’s with Unix chroot all the way up to Docker today. I explained to him that he could think of a container almost like a unix user, but with a more self-contained view of the whole system. In many ways a container acts like a vm, with it’s own filesystem and processes.

We talked a lot about aws, how S3 was an evolution of FTP in the old days, but much much better, how VPCs worked and the virtualization of networking, how VMs in the AWS world match with bare metal or not, how they share EBS storage. How Amazon has built a database service RDS around popular platforms like Oracle, MySQL & Postgres.

We shared a lot of ideas & brainstorming. About coding, C versus Java versus Python, package management, dependencies and on and on. He also mentioned he needed to build a test script to talk to an Amazon queue. I explained that it should be quite easy, and which libraries to look for.

Related: How I use terraform & composer to automate wordpress on AWS

3. Breaking through hurdles

It’s funny how dramatically different I felt after we got together. I all of a sudden had tons of new ideas bouncing around in my head.

Instead of waiting for the next day, after our get together, I went straight to the terminal. I quickly finished a coding challenge I was working on and struggling with. Easy peasy!

After that I felt inspired further. I created an Amazon SQS queue with the dashboard, and then wrote some python code to talk to an Amazon sqs

I created a git repo & checked in my code. All within a couple of hours!

I was just sitting there laughing. Because I felt such relief that I’ve made progress.

It was a big surprise that such a circuitous route got me there.

I guess the takeaway is that mental play or dream time is important to making progress. Otherwise you’re just working in a vacuum!

Related: What I’ve learned from 10 years of blogging

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Why would I help a customer that’s not paying? The reason might surprise you

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I just received an email. It was from a woman building a website, and wanted help with AWS. She wondered if I might be able to provide any assistance.

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Having a popular publicly facing blog, I get a lot of leads that seem to come out of thin air. This is the good problem of publicity. ๐Ÿ™‚

I followed up with her and asked what she was building. “Nothing” she explained, I just want to learn about AWS. I was a little confused at first, but as we talked further, it seemed she was just beginning to branch out onto the wild world of the internet, and didn’t know where to start.

I explained that to build an e-commerce site, she could use a service like Shopify, and would likely not need to use AWS directly, and certainly wouldn’t have to learn it. That might take five to ten years learning computing first!

I realized I was telling her she didn’t need the services of someone like me, and further giving her half of a solution. Though I couldn’t help her build a product, the information could surely help her sell it.

Then I thought to myself, why would I do that? Why give away your time & advice for free?

1. Find time to followup

LESSON: a quick call is always worthwhile networking

Yep it’s true, I’ve learned over the years it’s always worth your time for a quick call. I even talk to recruiters on occasion though I don’t work with them.

You’d be surprised how often you learn from someone, especially when they don’t work in your domain. You learn from the way they frame questions, how others might view or search for you. You learn how better to explain & sell your services to future customers too.

Also: When clients don’t pay

2. Be helpful

LESSON: Provide some real help or value

In a call like this one, it costs me very little to “drop some knowledge” as the cool kids like to say. ๐Ÿ™‚ Sure my time is worth something, and yes I’m giving something away for free. But in this case it was someone who currently doesn’t have the budget for my services so isn’t my target audience anyway.

Read: When you have to take the fall

3. Pay forward

LESSON: Always be networking

Be patient. As Keith Ferrazzi likes to say “Never Eat Alone”! I’ve taken hundreds of calls like this one over the years, and some later get funded & call me back. They’re eager to put me to work, already sold on my integrity & personality.

What’s more she may run in different circles than I do, bump into a colleague or recommend me at some point. If your openness really stands out, it’ll leave a memorable impression long into the future.

In a place like New York where we’re often singularly focused on profit & personal gain, it’s easy to stand out by a small act of kindness.

Related: A look at the serverless hype cycle

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5 data points I track for reputation & career building

When I tell people I’ve been independent for two decades, they often look at me surprised. How do you do that? How do you keep business coming in?

recent linkedin views

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As a freelancer you surely have to be on top of changing trends, and where the wind is blowing. But whether you’re a CEO or CTO of a larger firm, or a developer, HR or marketing director, you can also benefit by actively tracking yourself. Career building never ends…

1. Real Leads

This is probably the hardest metric to track, but the most important. A lead is anyone who may potentially hire my services. These can come from Linkedin, newsletter subscribers, or via a Google search. I track how they reached me, and how warm the lead is.

I do also track when recruiters reach out, as I think this can serve as a useful barometer as well. Also as my blog has grown, I get a lot of SEO bloggers, fishing for sites they can post backlinks on. Although I rarely entertain them, it is a useful reflection of how popular your site is getting.

Also: Are we fast approaching cloud-mageddon?

2. Newsletter signups

I think of the newsletter as an extension of my blog. I invite everyone I’ve ever touched in business. This includes coworkers, to colleagues at meetups & conferences. I invite recruiters & headhunters as well, because name recognition & reputation building is also important.

The newsletter is a way to show up in the inbox of everybody you’ve ever worked with. Month after month, year in and year out, you’re plodding away & doing your thing. It’s a reminder that you’re out there, and colleagues, CEOs & CTOs refer me all the time. It’s been very valuable over ten years.

newsletter signups

I also track email opens & email clicks. Those range around 25% and 10% respectively. I know when I’ve hit a topic that resonates & try to have that inform future content direction.

Related: The Myth of Five Nines

3. Linkedin Views

Linkedin is super valuable too. They provide a nice graph of how many times your profile was viewed weekly through to the last 90 days. This is super useful to find out if your resume & profile is keyword rich.

I like to actively tweak my profile, for the latest trending terminology. For example in the 90’s Unix Administrator or Systems Administrator was common, but nowadays everyone likes to say SRE. What’s that? Site Reliability Engineer. Yes it’s a buzzword, and as it turns out people use trending terms & buzzwords to search for people with your skills.

So get on it, and edit those terms!

Read: Is Amazon too big to fail?

4. Website Visitors

In a services business you don’t usually sell widgets on your website. However, I like to think of a web presense as my business card. So in that light, more visitors means more renown. That projects your personal brand, and builds it long term.

website visitors

Also: When hosting data on Amazon turns bloodsport

5. Klout Score

Klout score is a rough measure of how active you are across social media. Twitter is a big one, but it also finds you on Linkedin & other platforms as well. Although the score is far from perfect, it does give you a sense of reputation & noteriety, which do ultimately translate to business.

Also: 5 Things Toxic To Scalability

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What Deborah Tannen taught me about conversation & interruption

tannen you just dont understand

I was recently invited to attend a charity event in Washington DC. Dinner was a catered affair of 300 with a few senators & Muhammad Yunus there to talk about micro financing.

After dinner we broke up into some smaller groups, and had great conversations into the night. It was interesting to me as I don’t often rub elbows with lobbyists & political animals. While we were all talking, the subject of language came up, and in particular how different people’s styles affect how they come off.

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I became really engaged, as this topic has always interested me. I was introduced to the ideas of Deborah Tannen. She’s a professor of linguistics from Georgetown University, and an expert on the topic.

Afterward, I went straight to my kindle & bought here seminal book “You Just Don’t Understand”.

Boy do I understand a lot more now.

1. Conversational style varies by culture & gender

Across cultures, from europeans to Asians, North to South Americans, conversational styles vary. Some pause longer between breathes, while others make briefer pauses. Some deem conversation more like judge & jury, where each should be afforded carefully the chance to take stage, while others prefer the casual chance to jump in, and constant overlap.

These differences lead to the sense of pushiness versus interest, interruption versus dominance. Interest versus boredom. Since all these cultures have a different style, it can get rather complicated interpreting someone’s intentions if you’re not from that culture.

What’s more these vary quite a bit between men & women.

Also: What I learned from Jay Heinrichs about click worthy blog titles

2. Report & rapport talk are different

Report talk is in public, perhaps at a lecture, or out with a large group of friends around the dinner table. There stories & conversation revolves around a larger group.

Rapport talk on the other hand is at home, among intimates.

She says that women tend to prefer the latter while men prefer the former. So in different circumstances it can appear that one or the other has “nothing to say”, when it actually revolves around their preferences of when to speak.

Related: Is automation killing old-school operations?

3. Like & respect

Women’s behavior & style of speaking is rooted in the goal of being liked. So there are many cases where they may downplay themselves, to reach a more equal state with those around them.

Men’s behavior & conversational style is based around seeking respect. This can often mean emphasizing differences, and not parity.

Read: Do managers underestimate operational cost?

4. Contest or connection?

Men often see the world through the lens of contest, especially in relationships with others. Women on the other hand tend to see it as an interconnected network. By building bonds you strengthen that network.

These two styles inform dramatically different behaviors in similar situations.

Also: Is Reid Hoffman right about career risk?

5. Interest or independence

Here’s another example of how men & women may see things differently.


When men change the subject, women think they are showing a lack of sympathy — a failure of intimacy. But the failure to ask probing questions could just as well be a way of respecting the other’s need for independence.

So it seems styles & priorities inform intention & interpretation of a lot in conversations.

Although all of this doesn’t resolve or put to rest these differences, being informed can certainly help a lot towards understanding.

Also: What I learned from the 37 Signals team about work & startups

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Why I use Airbnb chat even when texting is easier

airbnb

If you’ve ever traveled & stayed with an Airbnb host, you know that once you book you can easily switch to text messaging. Sometimes this is easier. But as I found out, it’s smarter to stick with a channel that we all can share.

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I had a similar experience with a recent consulting customer. The lesson was much the same.

Choose your communication channels wisely, for you may need them for other reasons later on.

1. Not what I paid for

I’ve been hosting travelers off & on through Airbnb for some time. It’s a fun past time, as you can meet some interesting people, and share a little bit of *your* city. That and there’s a little bit of extra income too, which doesn’t hurt.

One visitor I had wasn’t particularly happy with the setup. I’ve hosted dozens of people before, so I know that the space is popular to most. However this one guy seemed unhappy from the start. He didn’t read the fine print that it was a shared space with separate rooms. He was unhappy with the specific location too. And later he complained about a bicycle I had loaned him.

Also: Is Amazon too big to fail?

2. How Airbnb chat helped

At the end of his visit he asked for some of the fee to be refunded.

As I dug through our Airbnb chat, I copy/pasted our various communications, and in the end this helped clarify & remedy the situation. It also didn’t hurt that Airbnb themselves were there behind the scenes and could review all these messages as well.

Having a third party to arbitrate can make a big difference. Lets hope it doesn’t come to that, but if it does, you want a communication channel they can also see.

Related: 5 Reasons to move data to Amazon Redshift

3. Consulting engagements & corporate emails

Over the years I generally use my own email for projects & engagements. However recently I took on a longer engagement. At the start there was some insistence on using an internal email for communications. I was hesitant, but eventually conceded as it tied in with google calendaring and various internal aliases.

As the months went by, I tried & failed to use both emails for correspondence. It was a habit that was hard to change. What’s more forwarding *all* emails to my own was also difficult. With an ongoing barrage of [email protected] messages numbering in the hundreds, it simply blew up my email account. That wasn’t sustainable either.

Read: Do managers underestimate operational cost?

4. After you leave

You may not be thinking of after your consulting assignment at the start of it. But you should be. You’ll engage in many communications, about a lot of different topics. Some about what is & isn’t in scope. Some about deliverables & timelines.

You’ll also have communications has things unfold, and as they are delivered. All of these are crucial to the engagement, as evidence of what was done when. If after you leave, all those emails are gone (at least that you can reach), it can be problematic.

What’s more once you set a precedent communicating one way, it’s hard to change habits. Best to set the precedent strongly up front.

Also: Are we fast approaching cloud-mageddon

5. Your channel is your paper trail

In todays mobile-heavy world, there are tons of channels we can use to communicate. From Whatsapp to Slack, Hipchat to email & text. They all have their strengths & weaknesses.

But sometimes we need to choose based on future needs. Leaving a paper trail can be important. Having future control over those past communications can bring legal benefit.

And all of these communications can help avoid misunderstandings if they’re available for review later.

Also: Which tech do startups use most?

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What’s the luckiest thing that’s happened in your career?

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I was browsing through Career Dean recently, a site that facilitates professionals to share knowledge & experience with more junior & recent college grads about the work world. It’s a great site. I saw the question What’s the luckiest thing that’s ever happened for your career?

I read in John Adam’s AMA his “million dollar piss” (www.careerdean.com/q/howd-you-get-the-job-twitter), which he sowed the seeds of his success basically during a piss. That’s a 1 in a million kind of story I know. I’d like to hear if anyone else has ever experienced anything remotely lucky in that way? =) something fun to come back and read if anyone answers.

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Here’s how I responded…

I moved to NYC & worked at a tiny startup in the mid-nineties. Got to do Mac stuff, windows & Sun Solaris unix as well. Jumped on an Oracle project where I was a bit underwater. The firm hired a consultant to assist me for a few days. I watched what he did and learned like a sponge. Within a few months I dove into Oracle consulting and never looked back.

I felt this was an amazingly lucky opportunity to for a few reasons.

1. DIY

I’ve been consulting for almost twenty years now. And I get asked all the time how to get into freelance or independent consulting. For me the jumping off point was working for a really small ten person startup.

An environment like this is very different from a large corporation where you do one thing. At a tiny shop, everything is very do-it-yourself. You have to be self-serve & lean. It’s a constant challenge to teach yourself what you don’t already know. It’s a very vibrant environment as you enter your career.

Also: 5 Things toxic to scalability

2. Generalist

I also found that I had the chance to really apply everything I learned in computer science. It’s a hardware problem? It’s a software problem? These kind of silos that you experience at university don’t apply. One day you can be doing windows, mac, or Unix operating system configuration, the next you can be writing code. And on the third day you can be doing dba work.

In today’s terminology, this role was site reliability engineer or SRE, fullstack developer, tech support, evangelist, CTO, DBA, scalability & performance lead and more.

Related: Are generalists better at scaling the web?

3. Cutting edge

Startups to be sure are on the bleeding edge. They’re constrained by budgets, and through sheer will & experimentation, are cutting their teeth on the newest technologies out there.

These days that might be Cassandra & Kafka, Docker, MongoDB, hdfs, Redshift and so on.

Read: Do managers underestimate operational cost?

4. Ok to Fail

In larger enterprises, a lot of politics weigh on decisions, and exotic technologies are risky. When you’re at a startup, and by design you are entering uncharted waters, it’s sort of a given that it is ok to fail. This encourages learning, as there is less risk of failure.

Also: Is the difference between dev & ops a four-letter word?

5. Iterative & Agile

We talk about being agile, and lean at startups. At a very small place like this, you have one or two developers, and you deploy code constantly. It’s agile by default. And that’s a good thing.

Also: Is high availability overrated? The myth of five nines.

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Best of Scalable Startups Consulting Content

strawberries

I’ve been blogging very regularly for the past four years. In fact the blog itself has been around for over ten years! Time flies!

In that time I’ve posted a lot of evergreen content, some that google finds, and some that could be dusted off.

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So here’s a peak into the archives, of some of the very best of scalable startups. Enjoy!

1. I blog about consulting

When you spend years doing consulting, professional services & freelance work, you learn all sorts of things. You stumble, you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, you learn. All that makes great fodder for blogging about business, and war stories. So here’s some of my best writing on the topic.

I had one experience where a prospect was still on the fence. That may be positive spin, as the title was
When prospects mislead. It turned out to be more a case of free consulting advice than anything else.

At networking events, I meet other freelancers, and consultants. There’s always debate about this topic, so I wrote
Why i ask clients for a deposit. There are reasons for both client and consultant, and I touch on the lessons i’ve learned.

It might seem strange that I’d write a post titled
Why I can’t raise the bar at every firm but there are prospects that aren’t the right fit for me. Here are some of the pre-qualifying questions on both sides of the fence.

Sad to say, but every client & consultant relationship isn’t a love story. So I wrote
When a client takes a swing at you about one such relationship and how I handled it.

I ask the question,
Does weekly billing increase time pressure? I think it does change the dynamic in some positive ways and I discuss those.

You’re ready to hire a consultant. What’s next? As it turns out, professional services is more a peer relationship with CEO’s, CTO’s & managers. So the typical, “send me your resume” and so forth may not be best. Here’s
5 conversational ways to evaluate consultants that provide an alternate approach to finding the best services.

One of the hardest things for engineers can be sales. Along the way to consulting success, I wrote
Can an engineer learn to love sales? Eventually it’s a skill that you have to improve at, if you want to stay in business for yourself.

Ever consulting engagement is not about your own triumphs. The conclusion isn’t always the wonderful things you’ve done for the firm. I wrote
When you have to take the fall after an engagement where it wasn’t a celebration at the end.

Sometimes in consulting, there’s what you’re hired to do on paper, and then what the real challenges are.
When you’re hired to solve a people problem addresses one such engagement, and how I handled it.

Believe it or not folks, sometimes there is a disconnect between management, and accounts payable. So I wrote
When clients don’t pay as a lesson & how I handled it.

Consulting is decidedly not the career path for everyone.
Why do people leave consulting
is my attempt to explain why some I’ve seen have left the business.

Everybody doesn’t love consultants. So
Do you heed John Greathouse – beware the consultant? That’s a question I attempted to answer.

Are you talking to Oracle or other technology sales teams about what solutions are right for your business?
Beware a wolf in sheeps clothing as it can be surprisingly dangerous field.

Another war story I wrote,
When apples & oranges bring down your business. Here a misunderstanding of semantics, means manager & dba make a severe misjudgement, and both pay the price.

After twenty years in the business, here are the
Top 3 questions I get from clients.

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When prospects mislead

MUHAMMAD ALI ROCKS GEORGE FOREMAN ON THE JAW

While a story is fresh in ones mind, it’s a great time to tell it. And so I set out to putting pen to paper about a recent consulting war story.

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A financial services firm reached out to me, asking about services. We discussed the project plan, and the day after the call I sent along a quote. I suggested three options, a weekly fee, a monthly one, or monthly with advance payment.

They decided to go with option C, and we arranged a kickoff meeting.

1. Level setting on trust

I’ve done this kind of work for so long, and worked with so many clients over the years, that it sometimes becomes second nature. I arrived, and we chatted amicably. I asked him about his wikipedia page, which he seemed excited to talk about.

I was surprised that there wasn’t a check ready, as we had decided on advanced payment in full, but didn’t make a mention right away. He then tried to dial in his partner, but that just went to voicemail. So we continued the meeting without him.

I don’t know how important the meeting was to both team members, but they were both on the invite & emails. His partner never called back through the meeting either.

Read this: When migrating from Oracle to MySQL Prepare to Bushwack

2. Negotiations is part art & dance

Interestingly I had met up with some colleagues the night before over italian food. I mentioned I was meeting a new prospect the next day, but had reservations about whether they had really decided to hire me, or were just still prospecting.

So during the meeting I was somewhat conscious of that question. Are we already in exploratory, discovery mode? Has the project even begun? That’s a question, and from what I sensed it was still an open one.

As the meeting wore on, questions about oracle licenses, versions, and EC2 configurations came up. Furious note taking continues.

Related: Which tech do startups use most?

3. Time & mismanagement

One thing that comes up for me in these situations is questions of time management. In order to work with a new client, I must clear my schedule, and make time available. That has a value to start with. When it turns out a project isn’t actually ready yet, it becomes an awkward stumble out of the gates.

Also: Is automation killing the sysadmin job role?

4. Can you research this one thing

As I raised various concerns about Oracle, the data loader portion, and unknowns around how that software worked, the prospect asked if I could do a little research for them.

This is where things started to crack. Rather than answer the question, I made a more aggressive nod to the question on my mind: Have we really started on this project yet? I explained that I was confused, and gathered from our email this this was a kickoff meeting. The tension in the air rose noticeably.

He then explained “Well we’re still waiting to hear back from a vendor about XYZ”. From there I began to gather up my things.

Check this: What can fashion week teach Chad Dickerson about Net Neutrality?

5. Watch out for those Rothkos

As I stand up I comment on the digs. “Is this shared office space, those look like Rothkos?” I ask. “Nope this is all ours, my wife is a collector & art dealer. We have some real Warhol’s too”. “Wow…”, I respond, “tough business to be in!”. With that he says “Well it is very volatile, we can be out of business in a month.”

My take away here isn’t to be wary of all new prospects. Each person or business has their own *style* of doing business. Rather, until you’ve established trust with a new client, consider that you may not yet be working on the project at all.

And with that the dance continues. While you may wish to demonstrate and illustrate your knowledge, and the solutions you’d recommend, beware of solving the problem before you’re even hired!

Read: Are SQL Databases Dead?

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