antipaucity

fighting the lack of good ideas

traveling consultant cheat sheet

“Join the Navy and See the World!”*

Perhaps one of the most famous recruitment phrases ever established in the United States.

And it’s not at all dissimilar form what a lot of budding consultants think they are going to do when either joining a services organization, or starting their own business.

I have been fortunate in that I have gotten to “see the world” as a professional services engineer – at least a little.

What the recruitment phrase fails to mention is that while you may “see” the world, you [probably] won’t get to do much while you’re “seeing” it. I’ve been to or through nearly 60 airports in the last several years. I “saw” the coast of Japan a few times when going into and out of Narita. I’ve “seen” Las Vegas – from a couplefew thousand feet. I’ve “seen” Houston – from IAD. And so on and so forth.

The far more realistic view of what will happen is something like this:

  • get call Friday afternoon asking you to be onsite in <someplace> Monday morning
  • book flight, hotel, rental car (if appropriate)
  • make sure clothes are clean
  • do as much Saturday and/or Sunday as you can, since you’ll be gone for a week
  • fly out Sunday evening or Monday morning (I’ll talk about this later)
  • get rental car
  • check into hotel
  • go to customer site
    • work
    • eat
    • sleep
    • repeat
  • check out from hotel
  • return car
  • fly home
  • repeat all of above

As someone who has been doing a travel-based job for 7+ years now, let me share some of the things I have learned with you.

Basics

Loyalty programs

Sign up for airline frequent flyer programs. In the US, this means Delta, United, Southwest, and American Airlines.

Sign up for hotel rewards. Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Wyndham.

Sign up for the car rental programs. Hertz, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, National.

Stay “loyal”

So long as you are able, ie costs are reasonable, schedules are good, etc, stick with a single primary chain for each of the travel categories (airline, car, hotel). If you’re going to get status, might as well get it all with one place when possible.

Sign up for every promotion your loyalty partners make available. For example, I’m a United Guy (used to be a Delta Guy – but that’s a different story). I’m also a Hilton Guy (because Marriott hasn’t been as competitive (price, location) in the markets I’ve been to as they used to be). I have my Hilton HHonors Double Dip go to HHonors points and United miles. And I make sure ay time there is a promo to get more points or miles that I sign-up for it. If Hilton wants to give me an extra 5,000 United miles for every stay after the second between now and 31 August, why not take advantage of that?

Choose the best rewards – for you

Maybe you like traveling so much you want to have Avis points so you can get free car rentals on vacation. Personally, I find turning all my reward points into frequent flyer miles is my best option – renting a car for a week is almost always less expensive than paying for a flight – especially when my family goes somewhere on vacation.

Clothes

Every shirt and pair of pants I take when I go onsite are “no iron”. This saves time when you arrive. And you won’t have nearly as much time as you think you will, most of the time.

Get slip-on dress shoes. You will appreciate this most when going through airport security. But also if you have to go through security to get into customer buildings, etc.

Have an arrival and departure change of clothes that are comfortable – I like jeans and either a polo or comfortable t-shirt.

What about jackets? I like the lightest-weight jacket I can carry/wear: there will not be enough space on the plane for it, it’ll get hot in the airport, and you really only normally need it to walk from the airport to the rental car shuttle / counter, form the rental counter to the car, the car to the hotel, the hotel to the office, and all in reverse. You probably won’t need a parka for those types of activities.

Baggage

There’s a big conversation that surrounds this topic, but I’m going to tell you what works for me. First, check your main bag – it’ll accelerate your time to board, your time between flights (if you have one or more connections), and make it easier to get around the airport when you arrive (easier to use the bathroom, get a meal, etc). So save everyone headaches and check your main bag.

In your one carry-on – a laptop bag- you should have the following:

  • single change of clothes
  • snack & water bottle (empty, of course)
  • basic minimal toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc)
  • book (or Kindle, but I like a physical book – there’s never anything to have to turn off)
  • all required chargers (laptop, cell phone, mifi, etc)
  • portable battery backup like an EasyAcc Classic

Arriving and Departing

Day-of? Or night before?

This is almost entirely a personal preference: arriving day-of (eg Monday morning) can be good if you have a family, don’t mind getting up hyper early to get to the airport, and can functional well enough on little sleep.

Arriving night before (eg Sunday night) can be good because if you’re bumped or delayed on a flight, you have cushion before your customer expects to see you.

Either way, always try to check-into your hotel before going to your customer – if it’s an early-Monday arrival, change out of your travel clothes at the airport into work clothes, and have the hotel hold your bags for you.

I alternate between which is better for me to do based on how many connections I have, customer expectations (if you have a mandatory 0900 meeting Monday, and you flight won’t arrive til 0930, you have to come in Sunday night), time of year (weather considerations), etc.

What did I miss?

What would you add/change/tweak on this cheat sheet?


* I always though it should read, “Join the Navy and Sea the World”

7 things employees wish they could tell their boss about salaries

LinkedIn had an interesting article Friday whose title I snagged for this blog post.

The 7 items are:

  1. We don’t care about pay scales
  2. Forget policies. We talk.
  3. We think about our pay a lot.
  4. We will sometimes let you take advantage.
  5. When we have to negotiate … we both lose.
  6. No matter how much we earn, it’s not enough.
  7. Still, reasonable pay is ok.

Several of the points resonated with me – especially in light of things I have written previously.

“If the company can’t afford to pay an employee more, smart bosses say so. If they think a certain percentage raise is fair, they explain why. Smart bosses use pay scales to build their budgets, and use reason and logic – and empathy – to explain pay decisions to employees.”

Can’t agree more: if you don’t treat your employees like rational, smart human beings, but rather like mere resources – you create and/or perpetuate a culture of dehumanization.

“Many companies actively discourage staff from talking to each other about their salaries. I know a few companies that require employees to sign agreements stipulating they won’t disclose pay, benefits, etc to other employees.

Doesn’t matter. Employees talk. I did, both when I was “labor” and when I was “management.” Generally speaking, the only employees who don’t share details about their pay are the ones who are embarrassed by how much or how little they make.”

Yes, yes, a million times yes! In my blog post “publicizing compensation – why not?“, I point-out that forcing people to not talk about their compensation makes folks more likely to try to find out, and can lead to discontent.

“Employees think about pay all the time. Every time they deposit their paychecks they think about their pay. To a boss their pay is a line item; to employees, pay is the most important number in their family’s budget.”

Funny thing is: managers get paid, too – but rarely think about that when it comes to their employees.

“Occasionally the job market is a seller’s market, but many new employees are just really happy to land a new job. And since business owners are born cost cutters, it’s natural to hire every new employee for as low a wage as possible.”

This is related to the next point …

“Great employees are worth a lot more than their pay. You get what you pay for, so smart bosses pay whatever they can to get and keep the best employees they can.

When smart bosses find great employees they always make their best offer, knowing that if their best offer is too low, there is nothing they could have done.”

If you want to be the best possible employer ever, you need to start with your best offer to candidates. If you start with anything less than your best, you’re implying that you don’t really value their time, expertise, or potential contributions to your organization. It has been said that “everything is negotiable” – but if you don’t start with your best offer, you’re telling your current/future employee they have to make you want them more. It may turn out that your “best offer” is $120,000 per year with 3 weeks of vacation. And maybe that employee really wants 4 weeks of vacation – and is willing to accept a somewhat lower salary for that perk. Start with your best, and then massage it into what is best for both of you.

“We all want more. It’s natural. Unfortunately no boss can always give more. And that’s okay.”

Wanting more is not inherently wrong (though wanting more for merely the sake of more is probably unhealthy) – and that’s why the last point in this article is so smart:

“People are smart. They understand market conditions, financial constraints, revenue shortfalls, and increased competition. They understand when a company can’t pay top-of-market salaries. What they don’t understand is when they don’t feel fairly compensated compared to other employees in similar positions, both inside and outside the company.”

“Fair is a concept that only exists in economic theories not based on effort.”* When you look at services like Glassdoor, you can quickly see that salary is only a single facet of employee compensation (and important one, and [generally] a large one, but only one). And it’s easy to get caught-up in the mindset of keeping up with the Joneses. While it is nice to have “more”, it’s important that honesty and transparency flow from management to employees as well as the other way around.


* publicizing compensation – why not?

what to automate

I have been in the world of automation for quite a while. Specifically in the realms of server, datacenter, and cloud automation – but I’ve been interested and/or involved in other tasks that tend towards automation (even for a short period of time) for far longer than just my post-college time in the world of HPSA and its related ilk.

One of the first questions customers ask us when we arrive onsite (heck – even way back in the technical presales cycle) is NOT what can be automated, but rather what should we automate and/or what can we automate first.

Analyzing the environment and finding some prime, low-hanging fruit to target in an initial automation push is vital.

To quote Donald Knuth, “We should forget about small efficiencies, say about 97% of the time; premature optimization is the root of all evil.”

In the realm of automating, that means picking on tasks that, while the tools at hand can make quick work of them, are done so infrequently as to not warrant an immediate focus, since the ROI on infrequently-done tasks is not going to be readily seen* should be skipped.

This is part of where being a good architect comes to bear.

No.

That’s not true.

This is where being a good listener and collator comes to bear. In a future post I’ll talk more fully about the art of architecting – but for today’s topic, let’s focus on the true key personality traits you must display to get a successful project started, implemented, and running.

You need to listen. You do not need to “hear” – you need to process what is being said, ask it back, take notes, ask for clarifications, etc. In the counseling world, this is called “active listening“. In the rest of life, it’s called being an attentive, thoughtful, caring, intelligent, adult human being.

When you hear a customer say they have a real problem with some task or other (beware – managementspeak coming!) – ie, they have “pain points” in various places, ask about what those individual tasks are actually comprised of. Investigate what can be touched today, what can be planned-for tomorrow, and what needs to be tabled for a future engagement (for you architects and sales folks reading, this translates into “what can we sell them later – after this project is successful?” – how can we build and strengthen this relationship?).

Take these notes and conversations you have to your colleagues and tease-out coherent lines of attack. Collate all the notes form everyone involved into commonalities – what has everyone heard a customer say? What did only one guy hear? What order did each person hear them in?

After you’ve listened, after you’ve taken your notes, after you’ve powwowed with your colleagues – then comes the fun part of any engagement: the actual automation!

Bring your cleaned-up and trimmed-down notes back to the customer in an easily-digestible form, and give a solid plan for what we will do now, what we want to do soon, and what really needs to wait to be done til later. Put an N, S, or L next to each item on your list. – it’s a first-cut priority draft. Then ask your customer for how they view those tasks, and listen to what they say are their priorities (including “real” dates, if any exist). You may need to reorganize your list, but keeping it involved in all project discussions will show you’re truly paying attention to them.

And at the end of the day, everyone’s favorite topic is themselves. Always – even shy people want to hear themselves bragged-up, talked-about, promoted, and given attention.

When you showcase your individual focus and attention on your customer, it will show in their willingness to accept you into their closer rings of trust – their readiness to receive you as a “trusted advisor”, which is what you want to be for them: you want to be who they can talk to about problems they’re seeing in their environment (current or potential) so you can bring your expertise to bear on their issues.

The role of any consultant who wants to be more than a mere grunt is not so much technical or business acumen, but that of their business therapist and/or best friend. You want to be able to say with Frasier Crane, “I’m listening”. And you want them to know that you really are.

Some of the early steps you can take today to bring yourself there are to:

  • avoid electronic distraction in meetings
  • document everything you do for work
  • be detailed
  • know industry trends, what competitors are doing, etc
  • treat everyone you come in contact with at a customer as if they were the most important person there
  • anticipate what you may be asked, and where you want to go
  • never speak authoritatively about that which you do not know
  • learn – be a “Lifelong Learner”: the day you stop learning is the day you stop growing, and the day you stop being reliable to others

*Unless, of course, those infrequent tasks are only infrequent because they’re “hard”, and therefore automating them will yield a solid ROI by allowing them to be done more often

vacation

This CNBC story caused quite a bit of discussion on my Facebook wall this week. In short, Americans don’t take all the time off they can, and many don’t even take any.

I didn’t used to take much, either – but have since changed my view on the matter.

There seem to be a variety of issues at play in this discussion; some of the highlights of the thread:

“what if Americans enjoy their jobs more than anyone else, and so don’t want to take more breaks?” –CF

“what if Americans are more scared of losing their jobs while being on vacation, and instead work more tired, more stressed, and less effectively than their counterparts in other parts of the developed world” –me

“You don’t realize that you’re “working for something” if you don’t get to have time to enjoy that for which you’ve worked.” –MS

So what think ye?

the seven stages of expertise

I recently found The Seven Stages of Expertise in Software Engineering.

  • Stage 1: Innocent
    • barely knowledgeable if at all
  • Stage 2: Exposed
    • seeking knowledge
  • Stage 3: Apprentice
    • has read case studies and tries to apply those techniques
  • Stage 4: Practitioner
    • can actually apply concepts learned in one context to a not-identical context
  • Stage 5: Journeyman
    • professional understanding and application of the field; can mentor
  • Stage 6: Master
    • moved from “whats” and “hows” to “whys”; can mentor very effectively
  • Stage 7: Researcher
    • the teacher, presenter, mentor, speaker, evangelist, writer, authority

Presented firstly in the humorous guise of The Seven Stages of Expertise in Bear Hunting, Meilir Page-Jones makes a highly-compelling case for progressive advancement in [nearly] any field.

Some of the ideas seem similar to what Malcolm Gladwell brings in Outliers (review) or Robert Greene does in Mastery (review). Which seems to only lend more credence to those other works, given that this article is © 1998.

integrisure – the business that never was

For a long time I have been interested in real, actual, legitimate security. I am not a fan of the widespread use of security theater in our “post-9/11 world”, as Bruce Schneier calls it.

Integrisure was supposed to be a real-world pentesting of “secure” facilities, a la Sneakers. In late 2000 / early 2001, I was working on a business plan and the initial legwork to find out what licensing, certificationss, etc I would need to do security testing at locations like airports.

Integrisure never happened. You can’t google it (well, ok – you can google it now: but you’ll only find this blog post and a bunch of unrelated businesses).

The basic business plan was as follows:

  • establish contacts among management and security directors at various business and government facilities
  • establish time ranges when we can arrive onsite
  • using a team of known, documented, anonymous-looking individuals, find holes in security environments
  • using always non-destructive means, attempt to tail-gate, leave “suspicious” items in conspicuous and inconspicuous locations, gain access to authorized zones, etc
  • have plausible stories pre-built if anyone was “caught”
  • report the results of our simulated attack, including all positives as well as issues, and provide consulting to our client “target” on how they could improve their physical security

More detailed aspects of the planned business were discussed, and written down, between myself and a couple of other folks who wanted to start with me.

We had a start date planned: we would form the company in Jan 2002 (so our fiscal year would align with the calendar year). We had several initial employee/contractors identified – some current or former military members, technical folks, and others.

I had even contacted a couple local companies that did security guard services to see if this was something they would either like to offer as a service, or would help participate in coordinating with their contacts.

Life was looking good. I graduated in May 2001 with my AAS, had some solid job prospects in computer programming and IT work, and was lining-up who I expected would be a great team to start Integrisure’s activities.

Then 9/11 happened.

Airport “security” was federalized, my two front-running programming/IT jobs went on hold and/or laid people off (most of their customers were in downtown Manhattan), and suddenly private companies checking for holes in security were not going to fly. (Especially at airports! 🙂 )

defaulting pxe boots with hpsa 10.0

In follow-up to my last post, which itself was a commentary on an earlier topic, I have the additional steps you need to do the previous procude (which is to edit /opt/opsware/boot/tftpboot/pxelinux.cfg/default):

/etc/init.d/opsware-sas stop smartboot

Edit file.

/etc/init.d/opsware-sas start smartboot