My name is Don Jones. I’m in the information technology (IT) industry. I’m a big fan of Microsoft’s Windows PowerShell. I'm a Curriculum Director for IT Ops content at Pluralsight, a PowerShell MVP, and a longtime author, speaker, and journalist in the IT field.
Do you, or did you ever, feel like trends in IT are really just driven by fashion and trends? With that in mind, do/did you ever find yourself worrying that your trajectory with your career is heading/headed towards obsolescence? As someone who tries to pay attention to the news, trends, and the latest updates, I sometimes find myself feeling crushed by the information, constantly worrying about keeping my skills up-to-date, but simultaneously feeling like every job outside of working for a startup or in DevOps ends in a cul-de-sac.
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Eh, sort of. IT doesn’t exist in a vacuum, though, right? All of business is kind of driven by trends. Let’s take the recent upswing in interest in DevOps, a term which has itself been around since at least 2013, and as a less-formal practice for years before that.
Prior to 2007, the word “app” didn’t really exist; Apple gave it to us. And prior to 2008, 2009 or so, mere mortals couldn’t write apps – it wasn’t until iOS 2 or 3 that we got an App Store, right? On desktop computers, people didn’t refer to apps either, even though they were clearly using them. Product cycles ran 4-5 years, deploying updates was painful and cumbersome, and operating systems and users focused on the desktop as their main interface to the computer. App(lication)s ran on the desktop, right?
Bounce to now, and nobody cares about the desktop. Apps are updated weekly, if not more often, and deployed more or less invisibly. That’s an environmental change, and it’s what made Agile more feasible, and it’s what created the demand for DevOps as a discipline. This wasn’t so much a trend for IT as it was a shift in how the world itself wanted technology to happen. IT merely responded.
Let’s maybe rephrase your question: Do you feel that, from around 2000 to 2012 or so, IT has basically unchanging and stagnant? Yeah, I do. When I look back at the level of “churn” happening in the late 1990s, the introduction of Windows 2000 was pretty much the end of major innovation and change for a long time. I think a lot of people took that as the norm, but it honestly is an aberration if you look at the whole swatch of IT history. It happened because, in large part, a ton of companies who’d never had IT suddenly had IT, but they wanted to treat it like an HVAC unit that you replace every 15 years. So the pace of change was anchored by customers.
So let’s talk about how this affects your skills.
In the Stagnant Years, a lot of people came into IT, which is great. But a lot of them didn’t come in with solid foundational skills. This is unsurprising, because companies like Microsoft, through their certification programs, were the main pushers of those skills, and they quit doing it. Remember your “Networking Fundamentals” test for your 2013 MCSE? No, you do not, because Microsoft quit requiring it or even offering training on it. That’s too bad, because having those foundational skills is what enables you to pick up more, higher-level skills, on-demand and at-need.
Take me. I don’t specialize in PowerShell, although that’s probably where you first met me. I also know Visual Basic (.NET), C#, PHP, KiXtart, Objective-C, and Python, if not a few more besides. I’m skilled in general programming and have been doing it since I was 12 or so (I ran a C-64 BBS back in the day and coded my own magazine-on-floppy-disk for a local user group). I know TCP/IP networking down to the wire level. I know that basically every Internet protocol like HTTP, SMTP, SSH, you name it, are all just gussied-up Telnet, under the hood. So I rely on those foundational skills to get me through. I can easily pick up a new language, a new networking thing (iSCSI? No problem), or whatever the moment calls for. I don’t specialize in “Exchange;” I stick my nose into everything. I can support SQL Server, SharePoint, whatever. I mean, I’m not an expert at this things, but I could get a job and quickly get much more-expert if I needed to. I’m very good at technical aptitude-level things like troubleshooting, stuff that always helps a new skill develop more quickly. And I have a strong focus on business outcomes, which means I’m valuable to businesses that don’t want IT for IT’s sake, but rather want IT to help accomplish something for the business.
My career will never be obsolete because my career is IT, not Active Directory or PowerShell or some other of-the-moment thing. And technology is all about “of the moment.” Like, remember KiXtart? Probably not, but you definitely don’t use it today. It came, had its time, and left – and although it was all I did all day, every day, at one point in my career, I’m still fine.
This is where you have to examine the actual value you bring to a business. Is your value, “I’m the one who knows where the buttons are in the Exchange console,” then you’ve got a limited shelf-life. My value isn’t tied to a product or to a technology. It’s tied to the fact that I enjoy change, I enjoy new challenges, and I enjoy moving on to do something I’ve never done before, and never looking back. My value is that I’m an engineer at heart, and given a problem I can come up with a solution. Yes, it’ll take me some time to research and investigate and prototype, but that’s what engineers do.
My biggest problem – and this has come up in more than one job, so I know it’s a real thing – is that I hate maintaining things. Give me a problem and I’ll build a solution, but then I want to hand it to someone else to maintain. I hate working on the same thing for years on end. So if you don’t hand me a new problem, I’ll usually go looking for one, like a little problem-fixing Energizer Bunny, and not everyone in every company appreciates that “initiative” on my part. I can be a little disruptive, in other words. So seeing IT start to become more varied, more dynamic, and more of-the-moment… I dig that shit.
And yeah, a lot of jobs do end up in a cul-de-sac. That’s because most companies are run really poorly. Nobody notices because it’s kind of a level playing field – most companies are run pretty poorly. IT is seen as overhead, not a strategic asset, and so IT is asked to just mind the fire instead of being asked to partner with the business and innovate. Companies are holding onto bullshit, zero-value-added technology tasks like messaging, for God’s sake, instead of focusing on the things that make the company unique, special, and competitive (never own your own utilities; focus everything you have on what makes you you). Companies who outsource IT – and I’m not talking about moving to O365 for messaging, because that’s not outsourcing; I’m talking about moving major tasks to IBM or something – have essentially “given up” on IT. So yeah, it’s not always thrills and excitement, because these companies are treating IT like a utility. But that’s okay! Because there are plenty of lower-skilled or less-motivated to fill the positions those companies need. If you’re not one of them, though, you’re going to have to work harder to find a place for yourself, and likely do that again every few years. IT itself if your career; not your current job.
(And I don’t mean to imply that everyone working for a company like this is low-skilled or low-motivated; I know there are a lot of reasons that keep people in a job that they might not be delighted with. But I also have personally met many folks who are just happy to do whatever the job asks and then go home and play Xbox, and that’s fine, too.)
And I never feel crushed by information. I swim in it. I love it. I love learning, I love writing about what I’ve learned, and I love sharing that with other people, and doing so helps me learn even better. Sure, sometimes I have to triage and make decisions, and I’m not longer really active in the Developer world, for example, although that’s the world I started speaking at conferences in. I don’t track the SQL Server world as much, although for a while doing SQL Server consulting was a big deal for me. So you do have to pick your battles, and server infrastructure (not even desktops, because users, ugh) is my current battle. That. helps me triage the information flow.
This turned out longer than I thought but I hope it’s offered at least a useful perspective for ya.
As I work on the 2019 Edition of Be the Master, I’ve decided to add a chapter on bringing Mastery, often in the form of mentoring, into the workplace. After all, our own colleagues are often the easiest and most obvious potential learners that we can serve, but there often are hurdles within our organizations.
So I’m writing a chapter specifically to address it. I’ll paste the draft below (pardon the Markdown formatting), and I’m very interested in your feedback. What do you feel it does not address, that it should? Leave a comment right here in the blog, and I’ll gather all that up as I continue to work on this piece.
Don’t worry about typos and such; this hasn’t even been through a cursory check, yet. I’m after substantive feedback on what this could additionally address to help you better.
Please respond by 23rd March 2018, in order for me to incorporate your feedback into my next draft.
Part 7: Being a Master at Work
For many of us, our most easily accessible and obvious audience of apprentices is at work, often in the form of junior colleagues. This Part of the book is intended to help you address that audience, and overcome the many challenges that often present themselves when you try to bring Mastery into the workplace.
I do, however, want to stress that work isn’t your only possible audience. If you’re really thinking broadly about the things you can teach, then it’s always worth looking outside the workplace, too. Just because work is the easily accessible audience doesn’t mean it’s the best audience, nor does it mean it’s the place where you can have the most impact. Yes, teaching outside the workplace will mean extra time, since you aren’t teaching as part of your job, but sometimes that extra sacrifice is well worth it in the long run.
So even if work is the right place for you to start serving as Master, don’t let it be the last place you serve.
A Word on “Mentoring”
I need to preface this “Mastery at Work” discussion with an acknowledgement that, in discussing this with your superiors and colleagues at work, you’re going to end up using the word mentoring a lot. You’ll do so because it’s a work they already understand, and so I’m going to use the word liberally in the next couple of chapters.
But I don’t use the word a lot myself.
In greek mythology, Mentor is the name of various characters, including a son of Hercules and Asopsis, one of the sons of Eurystheus and Antimache, the son of Alcimus, and so on. It’s that latter one that most people refer to when they use the word mentor, because in Odyssey, Mentor was a tutor to Telemachus. The word mentee is both a modern invention and a stupid one; the student of Mentor is not “Mentee,” it’s Telemachus. That’s the main reason I don’t like mentor as a verb or a noun. You’re not mentoring someone, you’re tutoring them, except adults these days equate tutoring with not doing well in high school classes, and Heaven forbid we make anyone feel uncomfortable like that.
As near as I can tell, mentor (lowercase “M”) has been a thing since at least 1699, though, so I suppose I just need to let it go.
The Pitch for Mastery at Work
There are a lot of good, and extremely valid, business reasons for reviving the old apprentice/Master relationship in the workplace.
First, all organizations suffer from a problem called institutional memory. This is the day-to-day “how we do stuff” that gets handed down from employee to employee, but never gets documented. In reality, few organizations could afford to spend the time actually documenting every little detail of their business. For example, my first career was as an aircraft mechanic for the Navy. The Navy documents everything. I mean, Every. Thing. All the things. For one kind of airplane, we had an entire 2,000 square-foot room full of documentation. Even so, that documentation was rarely enough to actually put one of the damn things together. You had to know, for example, that the F-14’s engine intake ramps couldn’t be installed unless you greased the side seals with petrolatum, and that you needed to use the white plastic side of the rubber mallet to beat them into place so that you could attach the actuators. Nobody documented those tidbits, but you literally couldn’t do the job without them. That’s why I was an apprentice, shepherded by several journeymen and Master mechanics, who passed on those bits of lore. It was far cheaper, and more effective, to pass those bits of craft down through oral history than it was to expand the documentation by 20% to include all those little tips.
Second, while formal training in your craft has its place, it’s not the best way to teach all things. Most carpenters’ unions in the US, for example, have regional education facilities and teach continuing eduction classes for their members. These classes often focus on new materials, new code requirements, and so on. Those topics are often best taught in a formal setting like a class. But that doesn’t stop the carpenters from maintaining their apprenticeships, because the fine techniques of the craft are still best passed down on-the-job, with an experienced journeyman or Master overseeing an apprentice. The same applies to any company.
Third, and this is a big one that a lot of organizations overlook, is sustainability. You know what one of the highest paying jobs in the information technology industry is? Mainframe programmer. It’s not sexy, dealing with code originally written in the 1970s and 1980s, but it pays a lot, because most of the people doing it are in their 60s, and companies are terrified that the only mainframe programmers on the planet are going to die any minute now. And it’s a valid fear, because you basically can’t get formal education in mainframe programming anymore. Nobody runs classes. You can’t even find teachers on the topic, in most places. Had these terrified companies engaged in apprenticeships a decade ago, though, they’d be fine. You see, your most senior people represent an immense investment and brain trust, but it’s all locked up in their brains. If you don’t let them – nay, demand that they – pass it on, then at some point, you’re going to lose all that and have to start over.
I spent some time working for Electronics Boutique, which was later known as EB Games, which was purchased by a company called Game Stop (I point this out only in case you’ve heard of one of them). When I started at EB, as we called it, I was a lowly sales associate. But my store manager had a very “apprenticeship” mindset. She didn’t have the “key holder” concept that a lot of small retail stores do, wherein only a few trusted individuals are allowed to open or close the store. Everyone in our store, even most of our seasonal part-timers, knew how to do everything in the store. Stocking. Cleaning. Opening paperwork. Returns. Closing paperwork. Everything. Ugh of it was documented in writing, but plenty of it was handed down from other employees. As a result, we were all easily promotable elsewhere in the company, and our store was in fact known as a place that new assistant managers came from. When someone left, the manager didn’t have to rush to replace them, because we all knew how to do every job. The company benefitted massively in both the small scale and large, because of her attitude.
What amazes me is that more organizations don’t insist on having Mastery be a part of their workplace.
Hurdles to Mastery at Work
Companies don’t always understand the benefits of making Mastery, and apprenticeships, part of the workplace. In writing this book, I reached out to friends and colleagues and asked what hurdles they’d run into. I’ll use their (unattributed and somewhat edited) quotes to drive some of this conversation.
Here’s one of the most common organization objections:
The objection I’ve run into is, “If we let people become mentors, they won’t have time to do the job they were hired for.”
I hear this a lot myself, and it’s especially common in the US, with our nose-to-the-grindstone, profit-minding mindset. I approach it in few ways:
Don’t think of mentoring as a time-suck, think of it as a force multiplier. If the person doing the mentoring is being paid more than the people they’re mentoring, then it’s a way to get those lesser-paid people doing more. Suddenly, that one mentor can do the work of many people, because they’ve created apprentices and journeymen to help out. Perhaps those apprentices and journeymen will demand more pay at some point, but the business can decide at that time if they’ve room for more productive, more effective employees. The right mentor can reduce or eliminate the need to hire.
If the counter-argument becomes, “we don’t want to teach people more, because then they’ll want more money and we don’t want to pay them,” then you need to seriously consider the life choices that led you to work for a company that actively wants to hold people back from personal and professional growth. This is not an organization that will “have your back,” and you might point out how that’s going to look to people.
Mentoring is the best way to get employees to work, and behave, the way the organization most wants them to. It’s a way of preserving the “institutional memory” that all organizations have – the stuff they never right down, but can’t run without. You can’t hire people who know exactly how you want things done, but you can raise them that way. Mentors can also pass down better work ethics, and companies that engage in mentoring tend to have lower turnover and higher overall productivity.
If mentoring is something that you, in your career, are ready for, and if it’s part of how you define yourself and define your success, share that with your organization. Let them know that while you value your position, you need to have mentoring become a part of it. You don’t need to make this a threat of quitting, but make it clear that you need things from your job, and you’re willing to incorporate those things with their permission.
Address the time-suck problem head-on. Ask for two hours a week, or some other reasonable, nominal amount of time. Track that time, and make the most of it. Track your results, too: are you able to point to improved performance, broader job responsibilities, or other growth in the people you’re mentoring? That can help show that the investment — those few hours a week — is generating a return, and open the door to further investment.
More broadly, start to ask why aren’t we hiring people who can be mentors to our teams? It seems like one of the most obvious things to want to have on staff, so why isn’t it built right into the job description of more senior-level employees? How much more self-sustaining and stable would the company be if it embraced a culture of education and helping, without having to constantly spend money having outsiders do that training? Especially when outsiders don’t know the company as well as its own employees do?
If the real fear is, “we’re afraid that you’ll only be teaching, and won’t do any of your original job,” then manage that. Schedule and assign teaching time like any other task. Track it, track the results, and start building a culture of mentorship.
This particular quote is most obviously applicable to consulting companies, but it has meaning to other kinds of organizations, too:
We really embrace mentoring. The problem is that while on a customer side, it’s hard to be seen mentoring your own team when you’re all on the customer’s dime. So we now mentor customers’ employees and our own team members, at the same time.
This is so brilliant I almost don’t even know what else to say. But what’s really happening here is someone learning to expand their apprentice audience. It’s really tackling a problem head-on, too, which I’m a big fan of. “Hey, we want to mentor our people, but it’s making us look kind of awkward.” Well, okay, let’s engage in some empathy: what exactly is the customers’ problem? The problem is that they feel they’re being charged to train the consultants that they hired. So the ultimate problem is that the customer feels like they’re paying for something they’re not getting. Fine, let’s give them something! We’ll mentor their people, too, which is both objectively valuable, and shows that we’re okay with them becoming more self-sufficient and reducing their reliance on us as consultants. This is an incredibly professional and forward-thinking approach that probably wins the consulting company more business.
I want to know more about the life of Don Jones. I’ve followed much of your work, and am quite inspired by your success and the path you’ve taken to get there. But I don’t know much about you beyond the technical side of things other than what I’ve read from Be the Master. I don’t mean to pry or get TOO personal here; just wondering what a week is like in the life of Don Jones. This is more so a way for me to gauge and then improve how I am balancing and spending my time. How early do you have to wake up or how late to go to bed in order to have time for work but also dedicate time to your family? You mentioned adapting to a gym routine – and how fo you fit that in to your day? Is there ever any time for recreational hobbies or things outside of your normal work routine you don’t have time for, etc.
Good thing I don’t feel like doing my actual job today ;). I’d start with my About Me page, if you haven’t. It’s fascinating and has jet fighters in it.
I’m kind of a morning person. I’m usually up around 6:30am, 7:00am, partly because a lot of the people I work with are an hour or two ahead of me (time zones), so I kind of align my work day to theirs for convenience. Three times a week (usually), I hit the gym in the morning with a trainer, and I usually try to go an additional day or two on off-days. Gym gets blocked on my calendar, so everyone respects that time. I’m usually in bed by 10pm, although sometimes I’ll “go” to bed earlier and read for a couple of hours.
From there, my day kind of breaks into one of two models. Some days, it’s a heads-down effort on a single thing, usually writing. Most days, due mainly to the nature of my job, it’s flitting from task to task and decision to decision. I schedule out the heads-down days, so people know not to bother me unless it’s important. I live by my calendar; if someone needs something from me, they schedule a time. We use Slack at Pluralsight, so even though I’m remote I can still largely participate in the kind of ad-hoc conversations that keep the business running every day.
Because I was independent for so long (around 13 years), I have a real fear of being entirely disconnected for my work. We do take an annual 2-week vacation to either O’ahu or Aruba, but I tend to take some work with me. I’ll write in the mornings (or record an audiobook), answer a couple of emails, and just keep an eye on Slack throughout the day from my Watch. See, for me, it’s less about the holiday – being away from work entirely – and more about the vacation – vacating my usual scenery for something different. I get plenty of relax/pool/bar/beach/whatever time, and the compromise keeps me from getting stressed about my backed-up Inbox toward the end of the trip. We do a third week to Puerto Vallarta every year which is a true shut-off-the-devices holiday. Change of scenery is a big deal to me; it keeps me fresh. We bought/inherited a Fortress of Solitude Cabin in Utah, which is about a 3.5 hour drive, and we escape there frequently in the summers. It’s got Internet, so it’s basically my second office. Again – the change of pace, scenery, and schedule is what’s important, not the lack of work. I like my work.
“Family time” happens all the time. I’m kidless (by design), but my partner (we just married, and technically I’m “Gannon-Jones” now, but I’m keeping “Don Jones” for work since that’s what I’ve been known as for so long) and I go out several times a week after work’s done. We’ll walk down to a local bar, see a movie, or whatever. We’re both very much engaged in my overall career, so many evenings we’ll hash out the details of the next PowerShell Summit, or talk about where my career is going, or whatever. Partner isn’t a convenient euphemism; it’s a very literal description of how we work together in life. I can’t stress enough how significant that’s been in my success, because we actually have two people working on that success, not just one. We don’t run into a ton of couples in that situation.
I don’t have a ton of actual hobbies. We get to a Disney park at least once a year, usually Disneyland; Walt Disney World is an every-other or every-third year trip. When I was still independent, we’d have the odd year now and then where we just did really well financially, which enabled us to pick up the timeshares we use at WDW, and in Aruba and Hawaii. Those have made the fancy vacations possible, because our lodging is essentially paid for. We can hit a grocery store to reduce eating-out expenses, and usually use Amex miles to defray the cost of the flight, and so they’re actually cheap vacations. That was a deliberate plan, because then even in down-years, we can still afford to go somewhere nice, even if we can’t party it up while we’re there.
Writing is actually a hobby, as well as part of my job, so that works out really well.
In terms of “how do I focus on where I want my career and life to go,” I actually have a workbook I write in every week for that purpose. It’s a really specific life-planning exercise, and I’m building it into the 2019 edition of Be the Master, which you’re welcome to take a look at. There’ll be an actual workbook, too – I’ve got a dozen folks going through the routine now to see if I need to change it to make it a bit more broadly applicable and useful.
Hope that helps but please feel free to ask follow ups!
This 9to5Mac.com article is a fascinating illustration of a powerful business maxim. Businesses should build for themselves whatever makes them special and competitive, and buy or rent everything else. This isn’t meant as an Apple dig, and if you’re an Apple hater, please just settle down. I can give you examples from nearly any company.
Microsoft’s purchase of Opalis to create System Center Orchestrator, for example. Terrible idea that many in the company still wince over. If Microsoft can’t build systems management software, then WTF is the company for?
Google’s acquisition of Nest all but killed Nest. Google was making a play for the smart home market, and in this case they were buying what was essentially a boutique, high-design player and expecting them to suddenly become a mass-market commodity vendor. Didn’t happen. Cultures clashed. One has to imagine Google would have its own “HomeKit” platform already if they’d just gone that way to begin with.
The Siri example shows what often happens with this kind of acquisition. Big Company sees opportunity in a space where they have no base. They think, “we need to be in this space, and fast, and this acquisition will do it for us.” They buy the other company or technology for $$$$$$. They quickly realize that while the other company had great ideas, their actual code is fragile and doesn’t scale to Big Company size. Big Company looks bad, and spends just as much $$$$$$$ building a knowledge base in the topic and rebuilding everything almost from scratch. Net result, Big Company didn’t really “get there” any quicker, and made themselves look stupid or incompetent in the process.
This happens so often that I’m starting to think human brains are somehow wired to not be able to remember that this happens. I’ve lived through it in a few companies myself, and every time, it’s like, “um… we just did that. Are we really doing it again?”
You should take note of these lessons. See, as I have this kind of discussion with people, they automatically leap to “oh, that’s [Big Company Name] for you, [disparaging follow-on comment],” which isn’t the point at all. The point, the lesson to be learned, is that businesses who plan to do something which sets them apart should build it themselves. You can very rarely acquire a competitive advantage.
It does happen sometimes. Hotmail was a good example for Microsoft. YouTube was a great example for Google. But it’s rare. And arguably, neither Hotmail nor YouTube made their new parent companies any better; they just landed them into a new market and remained run as essentially standalone properties. If Google didn’t own YouTube today, for example, the site would probably still do quite well.
My new book, Be the Master: Achieve Success & Help Others is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats, and you can participate in the “next edition” at Leanpub.com. For full details, visit BeTheMaster.com.
How come cmdlets don’t act the same – or better yet, why is the syntax for similar things different? When I run Get-AzureADUser -All, I have to append a boolean $true for it to work. I would expect the switch to return true, if I append it to the cmdlet in the first place. Comming from Get-MsolUser that is pretty frustrating and pretty hard to explain, when spreading the good word.
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You’re not going to love this answer, Axel, but it’s because people suck. The fact is, you’re right: A switch like -All should be a switch, but it isn’t. It’s defined as a Boolean parameter. That’s wrong. But programmers don’t always take the time to grok PowerShell’s subtleties, and so we wind up with weird artifacts like this. Even within Microsoft, where corralling 50,000 developers into a single set of practices is as practical as getting the planet in general to stop using Hungarian notation for variable names (it’s been dead for a decade, folks, move on).
When these commands live in the open source world, you can and should log a bug on them for these kinds of design decisions.
So, does this make PowerShell look bad? Meh. Sure, PowerShell’s number one selling point was to provide the consistency you’re lacking, here, but on the other hand, we do live in a big, squishy world with edge cases and weirdness. I mean, the Linux people have gotten on for decades (counting Unix) with the least-consistent set of management tools the universe has ever seen, so we’ll probably live. And remember, consistency isn’t the shell’s only selling point!
This is a request: treat this as an “Ask Me Anything.” I’d like questions from you. Ideally, ones you think I can answer, but given a running start I’m sure I can come up with some answer <grin> to whatever you might ask.
Head over to my HMU page, and drop me a question. Anything. Well, I mean, ideally not something super-niche-technical, but otherwise, anything. I’m going to use these questions to construct a series of blog posts, maybe start some discussions here, and so on. I ask that you let me use your first (given) name only, when I publish your article. Tell me a bit about yourself, if you like, or just drop a question in.
If you can, help me spread this around on social media a bit – I’m very much looking forward to a big variety! And, you’re more than welcome to ask multiples – you can do so in one comment, or multiples, whichever works better for you.
Back in… jeez, 2015, which seems like forever ago, I started DSC Camp. At the time, Desired State Configuration was brand-new, and there were very few people actually working with it int he ran world. I wanted to get as many of those folks in a room as possible (it was about 15) for a weekend, and just brain-share what we knew.
Of course, sitting in a room isn’t always the best way to get your creative sharing juices flowing, and I didn’t want it to just be another conference-y thing. So we made it fun. Sure, we spent plenty of time in a hotel meeting room exchanging information and stories, but we also spent plenty of time at my house. Great pool, some booze (the tea is vodka!), and some awesome BBQ that my partner, Chris, whipped up for the occasion.
It was a huge success. Some Microsoft folks attended, and I tell you, you just can’t imagine the amount of hard facts that flew around that room. It was so useful, and so much fun, that we had like an 80% return rate, plus some extra new folks, for the 2016 edition… and an even bigger return rate for 2017.
People would constantly ask on Twitter, “will this be recorded?” which has become a standard line anytime someone is doing a cool event that not everyone can make it to. For Camp, the answer is no. And that’s because it’s not something you really can record. Sure, there are presentations – nearly every alumni talks for about an hour, sharing what they’ve been doing, sharing solutions they’ve developed, and so on. But that’s only half the value – pool time created this kind of constant, Brownian-motion conversation. Tug was literally born in my pool. New-resources were deemed up, hashed out, and all but coded while eating BBQ in my back yard. Keeping the group to around 20 people kept it functional productive, and fun. My Campers became an elite group of kick-ass DevOps samurai. Like, if you can get even one of these guys or gals in a room with you for an hour, do it – but Camp is all of ’em.
Sadly, times change. I’ve sold my house (like, I closed yesterday) and my new condo doesn’t support the environment Camp needs. Plus, my own work has just left me without a lot of time to continue it.
But not all good things must come to an end.
In a move that has made me prouder than I can tell you, three Campers – Jason Helmick, Jeffrey Bernt, and Mitch Kruzel – are taking Camp upon themselves. And “upon” is a serious thing – you have to commit to some serious monetary spend to make one of these things happen, and so these guys have taken that risk on themselves, to continue doing something that they see is valuable to their community. They’re taking on the time-suck than event planning represents, and taking on the responsibility for all of the gritty details.
DevOps/DSC Camp 2018 will still be in Las Vegas, and tickets are now available. The hotel has changed, but it’s still a very affordable, off-but-near-the-Strip location. It’s got a pool. And I’ve promised to drop by and bring s’mores or something.
Let me make something clear: if you’re working in the Microsoft-centric DevOps field, and/or working with Desired State Configuration – and I mean really working with it, not just dabbling or wishing you worked with it – then this is the place for you to be. It’s not a conference. There’s no expo. There’s usually not even an agenda until the last minute. It’s just the most amazing, intimate, and interconnected information exchange you can possibly imagine. No sales pitches – just real people, sharing real solutions that they’ve implemented in the real world. They share their problems, too, and everyone pitches in to offer ideas and directions.
And here’s another thing to consider: while it’s not cheap, most Campers pay their own way. The guys are working hard to keep the expenses as low as possible, because they know attending is a valuable career move. Maybe it doesn’t benefit your current job, but Campers are smart enough, and experienced enough, to know that you own your career, not your boss, and sometimes you need to feed your career on your own. No investment, no return, right? And that’s why so many of them fund their own way to Camp – because it’s worth it. In at least one case I know of, demonstrably worth it, when that Camper got a massively better job and paycheck thanks to the experience Camp helped them earn.
So. If this is your field, think really hard about whether you shouldn’t be Camping with everyone this summer!
I’ve begun the long journey toward the 2nd Edition of Be the Master, slated for an early 2019 release. Yeah… a long journey, given that it’s a spare-time project.
For those of you who obtained the book on Leanpub, you’ll begin seeing the 2nd edition in draft form Real Soon Now, with periodic updates throughout 2018. The original 1st edition will remain available in Kindle and paperback format on Amazon.
If you’re interested in seeing the 2nd edition as it’s written, pick it up on Leanpub soon. The Leanpub minimum price will rise in March 2018. Prior to March 2018, Leanpub still has the complete 1st edition, which means you can download it and squirrel it away somewhere, so you’ve got a complete copy to work with versus the draft editions that will start appearing in March 2018.
The second edition will be released on Amazon for Kindle and paperback in early 2019.
All the news has been focused on are the “plunges” in the US stock market, with headlines pounding home the fact that “the stock market” has had “historic” drops this week. Before you sell off your 401(k) and hide in the basement, let’s consider some less-hyped facts.
First of all, the US stock market is an incredibly big, complex, and barely regulated beast. It is almost impossible to measure its performance in any meaningful way, which is why various companies, notably Standard & Poor, create indexes to try and represent the overall state of the market. The most storied of these is the “Dow,” actually the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This “average,” in existence since 1896, includes only 30 stocks. Now, I’m not statistician, but I’m pretty sure 30 is a pretty small number compared to the 1.4B stocks traded on the NYSE alone, to say nothing of the NASDAQ.
The other thing you have to remember – especially when the news media would rather you not do so, because you’ll stop panicking and change the channel – is that “points” in the Dow are an arbitrary unit of measure. A 100-point drop doesn’t, in and of itself, mean a whole lot to the average working Joe. Percentages are far more useful, if you’re going to use any index to measure the performance of the entire US market. Keep in mind that, prior to the 2008-era US econopocalypse, the Dow had just teetered over 10,000 points, and throughout 2008 it was subject to double-digit percentage drops.
Let’s put that in context: if you have $10,000, and you lose 12%, you have lost a notable amount of money. If you have $100,000,000, and you lose 12%, it’s perhaps notable but not anywhere near as epic. In fact, the larger a system gets, the more volatility you should expect at the point level; you start looking at percentages to decide when you’re in trouble. A 5% drop in a system containing 10,000 units is perhaps bad; a 5% drop in a system containing 20,000 units is probably not as bad. To put it another way, a 5% drop in 2008 was twice as bad, at a unit level, than a 5% drop today, because there’s twice as much in the system today to absorb the shock. And to put it another way, when a system gets to be as historically gigantic as the Dow has, you should expect its fluctuations to also be historically large on a point basis.
Context: On October 19, 1987, the Dow suffered its largest percentage drop, of 22.61%, in a single day of trading, closing at 1,738. That was only 508 points, which is only about a third of this week’s biggest single-day drop, and it was bad for the market. If you lose 22.61% of the cells in your body in one day, you’d be dead. If you lost 5%, you’d probably make it. The 2.54% drop of February 2nd, 2018, barely squeaked into the top 20 in terms of percentage.
The other really critical thing to remember is that the Dow does not provide a meaningful measuring stick of the market health. The news focuses on it because they’re used to doing so; the S&P 500, which is massively larger than the Dow, has had much smaller percentage moves, and it still only represents a vanishing fraction of the overall market.
It’s also worth looking at why the Dow and the S&P, along with other indexes, have dropped. A mere drop should not even be reason for news; the reasons for the drop are what’s newsworthy, or should be.
One reason is the US’ approach to historically low unemployment. This means that businesses are going to start facing an employment crunch, making labor more expensive. This is bad for stockholders, who can expect to see returns diminish, and good for literally everyone else, because low unemployment. Income taxes can afford to drop when more people are paying taxes, for example. Less will be spent on social benefits programs that help to protect the unemployed. Yes, the stock market will take a brief dive, but a healthy labor pool will inevitably let those stocks recover sustainably. I say “inevitably” because this has happened at least two dozen times on record that I can track down.
Another reason for the stock market dip is the bond market. You see, if you want your money to make money, you’ve really got two options: buy bonds, or buy stocks. Bonds are literally a loan, typically to a government, and when you buy-in, you’re more or less locked into a rate of return. Recently, this return has been shitty, and so anyone with any sense has avoided buying bonds. The low bond yield has been great for people borrowing money, meaning companies could get access to capital super-cheap, both by borrowing, and by selling their stock, since in a crappy bond market people sink everything into the stock market. But the bond market has started creeping up. That means borrowing money will become more expensive, so corporate stocks slide, because “more expensive borrowing” means “lower profit margins for stockholders.” It also means people want to sell some of their stocks to get back into bonds, what with bonds finally paying better. Again – this is actually good for the economy, because you want a better balance between stocks and bonds. The stock market has been a little runaway recently, and this recent movement is more or less just putting down the whiskey and taking a good, hard look at its life.
Anyone worried about their 401(k) simply needs to ensure they’re in a good mix of investments. We call this a portfolio, and it’s meant to be diversified. 401(k) managers are helping create the stock market dip as they rebalance their holdings back into bonds, municipal funds, and things other than “just stocks.” Yes, your 401(k) value is likely to take a dip, but it’ll also pick up a gain elsewhere in a short period of time. I had a distant acquaintance fussing about this on Facebook, and he’s like, 30 years old. When you’re 30, just keep plowing money into your 401(k). Don’t worry about it. You’ve got a minute, and what the Dow taketh away, the Dow inevitably returneth in time.
Remember, during the 2008 crisis, we were constantly reminded that the Dow had fallen below 10,000, a level it has only recently retained. The sucker is over 20,000 now. The Dow comes back. All the indexes do, because the stock market always does.
This is also a good time to ask, “how does the US economy grow?” Economic growth equals better stock market, so how does growth happen? Unemployment doesn’t lead to growth. Consider this: suppose you make widgets. It takes one person to make 100 widgets. You can make 200 widgets if you hire two people. This is not economic growth; it’s merely revenue growth. Economic growth – essentially, creating money out of thin air. happens when you reduce the costs needed to produce the same output. Automation is a good way to think about that: if you get a widget-making machine that can be run by one person and produce 500 widgets, then you’ve created 5x economic growth.
Economic growth is so commonly driven by automation that automation is almost a shorthand for growth. And automation typically requires capital investment – you gotta buy machines. Companies have not been making lots of capital investments, recently. They’ve been sitting on their cash hordes and simply hiring up. That drives revenue, perhaps, but it isn’t growth per se. With a tighter labor market, they’re going to be forced to start looking at capital investment again. That investment is no longer going to be historically cheap, because the bond markets and interest rates are finally creeping up. So, investors start selling stocks, which triggers people’s stupid auto-sell bots, which creates a selloff. It’s fine – it’s an adjustment to a market which was frankly behaving like a six year-old with a box of sugar and a Red Bull. As the market goes back to creeping up, which it always does, the next phase of growth is likely to be more stable and sustainable, and to represent actual economic growth, not just higher revenues.
The media likes to sound the alarm on the stock market because it sells ad time. They know it works because of a human behavior called loss avoidance. Humans work about 3x harder to avoid loss than they do to achieve a gain; we get 3x sadder about loss than we get happy about a gain. Headlines about the stock market’s runaway success tend to fall on more or less deaf ears. Remember that headline about how the stock market has grown 50% since 2008? No, you do not. Stock market gains historic 10,000 points! Nope. But when it sheds 5% of that, everyone’s headlines make sure you know it. Ask yourself why that might be.
After the 2008 recession, the market started to recover roughly in 2010 (it depends a lot on what you mean by “recover,” but by 2010 the downward trend had reversed; the upward trend started in 2009). The was about 8 years ago. 10,000+ point gain in 8 years is about 1,250 points a year, right? So on Feb 5th, we lost a year’s worth of gains. That’s historical, but is it notable? Maybe. Maybe not. It only took about a year to recover most of 2008’s losses, which were far bigger as a percentage of the whole. The market, when it’s as large as it is, can move a lot, in either direction.
Anyway – I’m not suggesting you panic or not panic. I’m simply suggesting that it’s worth understanding the context around all this. Personally, I regard the recent drops as an imminently good thing, for two reasons. First, the damn market was overvalued. We were on an unsustainable upward spiral, and we were either going to see a series of smaller corrections (preferable) or a major recession again (not preferable). Second, the market was too expensive to get into. Now, it’s practically a fire sale, and with the absolute assurance of history that it’ll go back up again, it’s a great time to buy in – in a responsible, diversified manner. I frankly still think too many companies are overvalued and overcapitalized, and we may yet see some downward shifts as people move their investments from these risky, overvalued companies into safer, up-and-coming bonds. Again, that is a good thing if you understand how our total market economy works, and if you’re investing in a responsible, diversified fashion.
Here’s another analogy: suppose you’ve been eating at a really expensive restaurant, because all the cheaper places nearby were closed. This one restaurant, knowing they’re the only game in town, has been letting their food quality slide. The servers have become jerks. And the menu prices keep going up! That’s where the stock market has been – we’ve been a captive audience, locked into something we really shouldn’t have been happy about. Well now some of the cheaper places are opening, and we’re all walking out the door. Yes, that expensive restaurant is going to take a financial hit – but it’ll also force them to behave like a competitor, meaning they’re going to have to go back to earning our business. Oh, we’ll all go back in time, after they’ve returned to a more responsible and respectful way of doing business. But we’ve got options now, and markets operate better when there are options.
Have a great weekend!
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