Blog RSS Changes

After fighting the last few weeks trying to get Feedburner to work, I’ve decided to revise a few things. First off,  the new RSS feed for my blog is http://jdhitsolutions.com/blog/feed. The old link will remain active but eventually slowly die.  But what I really hope you’ll consider is signing up for my mailing list. Yeah, I know another mailing list and more spam.  Well, I don’t have time for any of that any more than you do. The email list will get daily RSS notices. That’s the primary purpose for the list. However, I might on occasion send out an email about something I’m up to which I think you will be interested in such as a new book, course or conference appearance.

I’m using MailChimp so it is easy for you to manage your preferences and opt out.  If you are interested the sign up form is simple. You will need to confirm your email address.

Finally, I probably don’t say it enough, but thank you for taking the time to read what I post here, buy my books, come to my conference sessions or watch my Pluralsight courses. Without you I’d just be an old man sitting in a room by himself all day.

How Hard Are You Working?

031313_1656_WordBlogDem1.pngRecently in the PowerShell community on Google Plus, there was a discussion about software for creating graphical PowerShell scripts. This is a discussion I’ve seen many times over the years and extends beyond something to create graphical PowerShell tools. Sadly, the root issue of this discussion centers on the mind-set of today’s IT Pro, and probably by extension to management of these professionals. Here’s my two cents on the subject based on years of experience as an IT Pro and my involvement with the IT Pro and PowerShell communities over the last 10 years or so.

The general argument is that an IT Pro wants a tool to help them do their job but don’t want to spend that much (if any money). In PowerShell this discussion most likely is centered on products from SAPIEN Technologies. [Disclaimer: While I have worked for SAPIEN in the past, and am a fan of their products, this article is my unsolicited opinion alone.] Compared to other products in the market, SAPIEN solutions appear to be expensive when looking at the total in your shopping cart. But it could be application “Great Balls of Awesomeness” from Vandelay Industries. It doesn’t really matter.

What often happens is that the IT Pro says while they like product X, it really needs to cost half as much or they are looking for a free alternative. Don’t get me wrong, I like free as much as the next professional, but realize you are still “paying” something. Often you are “paying” in the way of limited features and/or limited (if any) support. Sure, they may get the job done, but do they accomplish everything you need? How often is the product upgraded? What can you do when you run into a problem?

The larger issue in my opinion, is that IT Pros have been “trained” to get by with very little. Whether it is a piece of software that can make them more productive or a little training. If an IT Pro wants something, they often need to find an inexpensive, usually free, alternative. Contrast this with what I’ve seen and heard about in the developer community. If a developer needs a piece of software for their job or need to get some training it seems to me they have a much easier task. I don’t mean to pit IT Pro against Developer. I’m merely pointing out that there appear to be cultural differences which I can only attribute to respective management layers. Perhaps, in many organizations developers are seen as adding value and IT Pros are a fixed cost. I can only hope that as the DevOps culture spreads, this will change.

Since I can’t do anything about your corporate culture let’s look at this from another angle. My Mom always said, “You get what you pay for” and I’ve generally found that to be true. Yes, Great Balls of Awesomeness or PowerShell Studio may command a larger asking price than you think you want to spend. In this case you need to take the time to calculate your own ROI. I’m amazed at how many IT Pros (and probably managers) look at the dollar sign and immediately dismiss it as “too expensive”. Don’t be that person.

In terms of software, most products offer a free trial period. In SAPIEN’s case it is 45 days. And that is usually 45 days of complete functionality. Take advantage of it. Install the product and explore all of the features. Are there features you would take advantage of that perhaps you weren’t aware of at first glance? What features do you not need. If the latter list is greater than the first, then this probably isn’t the right product for you. But then take it a step further. I’m assuming you are looking at a product to solve some problem or task. Let’s take PowerShell Studio as an example. While it is a very feature rich program, many PowerShell pros are looking at it to help create graphical scripts.

First, create a simple graphical PowerShell script manually or using other free or less expensive tools. How long did it take and what is the quality of the result? Repeat the process using PowerShell Studio. Compare how long it tool and the quality of the end result. In this scenario, based on my own experience I’m betting you could easily spend 4 hours working on a script manually yet accomplish the same result with PowerShell Studio in about an hour. Now do the math. To keep the numbers easy let’s say your time is worth $50 an hour. This means you spent $200 creating something manually. Using PowerShell Studio only cost you $50 or a savings of $150. Rounding up you spent $500 for the product and support. By the 3 or 4th script the product has paid for itself. Plus you now have 3 hours to devote to something else! While I was using PowerShell Studio as an example you plug in any product.

But I don’t want you to take my word for it. Take the time to do your own research. Come up with hard numbers especially in dollars or euros or whatever. If you don’t take the time to recognize the value to your work, you are probably working much harder than you need. This type of ROI testing should also make it an easier “sell” to management.

IT Pros have long shown a reluctance or inability to spend money for tools and services that can make them more productive and save the company money. This is something that needs to change. I hope you’ll do your part.

So…am I totally out of touch with reality? What do you think? I hope you’ll let me know

Will Verizon FiOS Change My Life?

fiberoptic I work at home and for the longest time this has meant cable service for Internet access through Time-Warner Cable. Sadly, there was never a viable alternative so I always felt trapped. I need broadband speeds for work but had no choices, until now. Verizon recently decided to resume building out their FiOS network in my area, including my neighborhood. As you can imagine I was quite excited about the prospect of at least having an alternative. But given the promised Internet speeds and pricing it seemed like a no-brainer to switch. And I have.

The TV part of the bundle is nice so far, but personally for me it’s all about the speed. So I prepared a little before and after video.

I also tested my Yoga 2 Tablet over my wireless network. Granted, the wireless will cut down on my throughput. Here’s the before:

Yoga2-SpeedTest-1And here’s the after:

Yoga2-SpeedTest-2If I am in the same room as the access point the speeds are almost identical to my laptop.

Clearly FiOS speeds win and overall I don’t think I’m paying much more than what I was paying Time-Warner and I’m definitely receiving better value overall thus far. Verizon says to keep your old equipment and account for a bit to make sure you are happy. But I see no reason to go back.  On one hand I realize I might be trading one necessary evil for another, but for now I think I’ll enjoy the honeymoon.

Friday Fun – Let’s Play a Game

BingoCard-smallToday is going to be a lot of fun. A few years ago, back when we were still running PowerShell 2.0 everywhere, I created a module to run a Bingo game in a PowerShell session. I primarily wrote the module as a learning tool for beginners wanting to know more about how to construct a module. The module also includes examples of some techniques such as a custom format file, exporting (or not) members from a module and splatting.

Enough time has passed since I first worked on this that I decided to revisit and update for PowerShell 3.0 and later. I’ve gone through and cleaned up things that I had to do in v2 that now are better handled in v3 like ordered hash tables. I’ve also fixed a few bugs I missed the first time and added at least one new feature.

When you load the module, you can start a new bingo game by running Invoke-Bingo. I wanted to stick to an official verb for the function. But to make life easier, the module also defines aliases, Play-Bingo and simply, Bingo. Stick to standard verbs with your functions but feel free to add aliases to make your commands more user-friendly.

When you start a new game, I have a function that creates a custom object for the Bingo card. The old version launched a separate PowerShell window to call the numbers, but I have incorporated that into the main output.

bingo-1

You keep entering numbers as they are ‘called’ until a winning card is detected. There are separate functions for calling numbers and testing cards.
bingo-2

In this version I also added a parameter that will create a Speech object so that your computer can speak the called numbers to you! If you want to play multiple cards, open up separate PowerShell windows and run Invoke-Bingo -Cardonly.

bingo-3

This is also handy if there are several of you wanting to play. Only one person needs to be the caller. I should get together with Boe Prox and figure out a way to run this over a remoting session!

If you want to try this out, and I hope you do, download this zip file and extract to your modules folder. As always, I hope you pick up something useful. Or if nothing else you can kill some time waiting for that server reboot to finish.

Enjoy!

[Update: A slightly revised version of this module is now on GitHub.]

I Wanna Be Like You

orangutan Growing up, one of my favorite Disney movies was their adaption of The Jungle Book, and perhaps my favorite scene was King Louie’s production number “I Wanna Be Like You.” I think what really makes this song work is that we all have a desire to be like someone else, perhaps a role model or someone who is living a life you’d like to have. I’ve been living my life as an IT Pro for quite a while now and I must have crossed a threshold because I often am asked, “What can I do to become like you?” So I thought I’d share some thoughts on the subject.

First, let me state out right that what I do isn’t an easy way to make a living. I work for myself, from home and certainly put in more work hours than I would at a “normal” IT job. While working several projects at the same time, I am also developing future work plus dealing with all of the paperwork like invoicing, bookkeeping and taxes. Perhaps most importantly, I am able to do what I do because my family supports me and my wife has a good job with benefits. If you are the sole provider for your family, you might want to reconsider a life like mine unless you have substantial savings or lottery winnings.

Still with me? Ultimately I think if you want to pursue a career like mine it all comes down to reputation. I can only do what I do because I have spent years establishing a trusted name, reputation or brand. Whatever you want to call it. I did this by blogging, getting speaking engagements at conferences, finding opportunities to write online, contributing to forums. Anything that would demonstrate I was competent and trustworthy. Actually, it is more than that. You need to demonstrate to your community, that you are at the forefront based on quantity and quality of your contributions. That is the secret I think to becoming a Microsoft MVP, which I’m also frequently asked. Being an MVP definitely helps with your credibility and reputation, but it is a bit of a chicken/egg proposition. All I can tell you is that you have to put in the time demonstrating to your community and Microsoft that you are a valuable asset and a leader.

Today, social media is a much bigger presence than it was when I first started. You should be contributing valuable content on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google Plus and more. This takes active work on your part and it will take time.

You also need to find avenues for more substantial efforts through writing, training, or presenting. There are many user groups looking for speakers. You can even start locally. Find places where you can contribute written material. It probably won’t pay much but it gets your name out there. Submit session proposals to conferences. Not comfortable speaking in front of people? Then create video clips and build a following. At the very least, blog and blog frequently. One important point about content: quality counts. It may seem obvious, but don’t post or create something that is a re-hash of a help document or something without explanation. The whole point about reputation is that you need to demonstrate that you know what you are talking about. So don’t post a blog entry with a 1 line PowerShell command. Explain it. How did you arrive at? What are the alternatives? Why is this a good solution? In some ways, this is like good customer service – you have to exceed expectations.

All of this takes time, probably even a few years. And even then, don’t expect to take 1 month vacation in the Caribbean every year and have a 6 figure salary. I’m not saying you can’t set that as a goal, but know that will take a great deal of time and work to reach that level. Personally, the journey has been just as rewarding as where I am now. I’ve met some terrific people along the way like Don Jones and Mark Minasi as well as IT Pros who have attended my conference sessions and training classes. I like what I do now and appreciate the flexibility of being able to work almost anywhere. But I had to pay my dues and you will too, but hopefully you now have a better idea of how much that will cost.

If you are starting down this path, I’d love to hear your story, your plan or any words of advice you have for others.