antipaucity

fighting the lack of good ideas

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! 🙂 )

what should a professional services group’s goal(s) be?

Should it be as a revenue stream? Or can it be far, far more?

Every place I have worked since getting into professional services back in early 2008 has viewed the goal of the organization as making money by performing services. Whether or not the customer was happy, something useful was delivered, whether a relationship was engendered and cultivated, and whether there were any future opportunities to do work with the given customer were at best secondary, and often viewed as completely unimportant.

I recently spoke with a company about their nascent proserve wing, and heard a view I’ve had niggling at the edges of my thoughts about how the previously-described environments fail, but couldn’t quite word myself. They view their work as enabling the customer. Proserve engineers spend as much time on this team delivering educational resources and engaging disparate teams from customers as they do actually “working”.

This company, which shall remain nameless for now, doesn’t worry about billable hours for their consultants – they worry about making sure that their customers are benefiting from the product they have purchased. Services aren’t free, but they don’t exist to “make money” – they exist to support, extend, and empower customers to use the product better in their environment. Positive side effects of this approach include bringing new techniques and applications back to the team from various places, and a low-pressure feel (though in a highly-involved and solidly-booked team) to every engagement, as much as possible.

Because the company’s goal is to assist their customers, product engineering, support, proserve, and sales are all working together as a team to get stuff done. Everyone is contributing because it’s vital to get customers happy. They’re already using some of the concepts I outlined in my advice on creating a successful support organization, but are taking them further by applying those ideas and approaches across internal structural divides to make the whole company as effective as it can be.

The organizational mindset that believes everyone is onboard to make customer experiences as good as they can be is one that needs to be adopted by every company across every team.

evaluating “work from home” “opportunities”

It seems the number of advertised “work from home” “opportunities has gone ever higher since the advent of prolific social networking.

A not insignificant portion of these opportunities really are legitimate – 31, Avon, Mary Kay … – but a lot of them at the very least feel scammy.

The good ones tell you everything you need to know up-front:

  • “franchise” or licensing fees
  • buy-in cost
  • required sales to maintain active status
  • expected monthly commitment
  • growth paths
  • etc

The scammy ones do not – they have poorly-written, ambiguous, or unstated expectations, require lots of cold calling, expect you to pay-in an enormous amount with little-to-no understanding of how you will get paid later, they’re really “affiliate” marketing, etc. They’re the timeshare of the ‘independent consultant’ business. They’re the 2AM infomercial of the “work” world – you know the type, “for the low low cost of 3 easy payment of $39.95 I will teach you how to make money sending envelopes!” Btw, the way you make $1000s sending envelopes is by promising people to teach them how to make money by sending envelopes.

Many people I know have a tendency to get sucked into the more scammy of the varied wfh things – using the common catchphrases of “if you’re tired of being a Just Over Broke (aka “job”) worker, this is for you” or “in just 10-15 hours a week, earn $500-$2000 a month” or “I’m getting ready to launch a great new product, and I need you to be on the secret board of directors in the prelaunch stage” and more similar to them.

Let’s look at the the first one I mentioned: “10-15 hours per week to ‘earn’ $500-$2000 a month”. If you work (whatever this involves, it’s always left very nebulous), 40 hours a month and make $500, you’re making $12.50 an hour – about 50% above minimum wage, but you haven’t paid taxes yet – and you’re on the hook for all of your SSI (not the half you usually are by being a “real” employee). That means you pay 15.3% to SSI and Medicare (and remember, still no income taxes taken out yet). 15.3% of $500 is $76.50. Compare that to working for a “real” employer where you only pay 7.65% (because they pay more than half of it). 7.65% of $500 is $38.25. That’s a major difference.

What if you’re at the high end of the mentioned range? $2000 a month (which is only $24000 a year, btw – a third less than teachers start in the state of Kentucky), and we’ll say it took you 60 hours to earn it. That’s $33.33 an hour. If you could sustain $33.33 an hour (by, oh I don’t know, having a real job?), you’d be earning $69333 a year (2080 work hours in the year). The problem with these types of “opportunities” is that they’re not consistent. And the hours range always (in my observation) corresponds to the bare minimum of the “earnings” range. If it takes you 60 hours to make $500, you’re only making $8.33 an hour – a dollar more than minimum wage, and you’re on the hook for double the SSI/Medicare taxes – which, over the 60 hours, shows a difference of only 44 cents per hour more than minimum wage. 44 cents. Why not just get a job?

What if you’re truly successful with one of the “work from home” thingies? Well, then you start making the infomercial rounds, and you’re the guy they show with the 12 mansions, the 8 yachts, the cars, the women, etc. But you’re also not working “10-15 hours a month” – you’re engaged with the “opportunity” full-time+. You’re probably operating your “business” 70-90 hours a week.

If you’re going to work 70-90 hours a week, why not start your own company and own *everything* you do? You will, most likely, pay far less in taxes than as an independent contractor.

Are “work from home” “opportunities” all a scam? No. But do they consistently yield the earnings levels advertised for the hours put in? Not that I have witnessed.

For more information, this Money.SE question, “What warnings would you tell a friend about to enter a multi-level marketing (MLM) business venture?“, is a great resource:

  • MLM is not really a selling job
  • Be careful not to stockpile inventory, you’ll end up with $4000 dollars worth in your garage that you’ll never use
  • MLM is really a recruiting and training sales people job
  • Don’t think you are going to get rich at this part time
  • There are a lot of millionaires from MLM but they work a lot of hours recruiting and training
  • What does the business do
  • How do you make money
  • How do they make money
  • Why does this business need you
  • What do you bring to the table that the business doesn’t already have (skills, contacts, money)
  • How realistic are your time expectations – is this to be a part-time occasional endeavor, or your full-time occupation
  • Is there a product
  • Is the market saturated
  • http://www.consumerfraudreporting.org/MLM_pyramid.php
  • Put as little of your own money into it as possible
  • Take as much out of it as you can as soon as you can
  • Don’t count your money as earned until you actually get it in your hands as ‘cold hard cash’
  • Remember if it’s too good to be true, it usually is – no matter how many of people assure you it’s not
  • Don’t go in thinking you’ll beat the system by trying harder than everyone else: the only way you’ll make any money is by recruiting lots of people, and selling products that can be obtained for cheaper elsewhere at a normal store
  • Make sure you are paid on volume, not people

an rts or tbs game like aoe or civ, but where the player only influences via stealth and espionage

That may be the longest blog title I’ve ever had.

I know I will never be a game developer. I thought several years ago it would be something I’d like to get into, but it’s just not me.

However, I do enjoy playing certain kinds of games – especially the strategy and puzzle varieties.

I would love to see a real-time (like Age of Empires) or turn-based (like Sid Meyer’s Civilization) strategy game where the player affects his nation’s status, power, influence, and vitality via special operations, espionage, and other “non-traditional” game elements.

For example, how fun could it be to play the Barbarians in Civilization? Be the ancient equivalent to modern terror or guerrilla groups. Wouldn’t it be a blast to play the what-ifs of a successful CIA operation at the Bay of Pigs? Or how about being the controller in charge of spies like Mata Hari?

I’d play that. I’d even consult on what I think would make good game play actions and objectives.

Most of all, I’d buy that game.

delivering solutions – “shipping is a feature!”

Back in 2009, Joel Spolsky wrote an article called The Duct Tape Programmer. Of everything he has written, I think this is the very pinnacle, and it is summed in one simple sentence in the middle: “Shipping is a feature.”

I’ve referenced this article twice before (in Feb and Sep of ’11).

Why is this so important in my mind?

I went back to school in 2003 to complete my bachelor’s degree in CIS. I had graduated in 2001 with an AAS in CIS from HVCC, and after finding nothing in 2 years of searching better than the job I had at Hertz, I decided a 4 year degree might help. I graduated from Elon University in Dec 2006 with my newly-minted BA in CIS. During my tenure at school I discovered that I didn’t really like the development end of Computer Science, and I instead preferred the analytical and integrational aspects of systems work – tying disparate tools together, improving internal workflow, etc – to help make individuals’ lives better and easier. In other words, I enjoyed finding ways to automate time-consuming and repetitive tasks to allow myself (and others) to focus on more interesting work – like figuring out how to automate more tasks to move up the chain.

I worked for a few places while I was at school (two different departments at the school itself, a pair of non-profits, and some freelance side work doing web site development). When I graduated, therefore, it was only natural that I ended-up with a pair of offers to work with automation tools – one from a company called Opsware, and one from a place called Network General. For a variety of reasons, I chose Opsware.

It wasn’t long after I started in Support for Opsware’s Server Automation [System] product that I became more and more sold on the product, and grew bored doing support – troubleshooting is fun, but with the paucity of good support tickets*, large similarity of cases coming from customers, etc .. it just wasn’t “me”. Shortly after HP purchased Opsware I put in to move from Support to Professional Services – to, hopefully, get a chance to work with harder integrational problems than I would ever see helping people over the phone and via email.

Beginning March of 2008^ I moved from Support to ProServe, and did start to get a taste for the bigger systemic problems that could be solved with the Opsware HP BTO suite. While with HP, I had the opportunity to do the global delivery of HPSA 7.5 for HSBC – performing both installation and onsite mentoring/training in Chicago, NYC, London, and Hong Kong. I also did the replacement install of HPSA 7.0 (a non-upgrade-to release) for Home Depot in Atlanta to manage their 2200 stores. There were some other customers I worked with, too – but those were the two biggest.

One of the issues that has arisen with [nearly] every customer I have ever worked with it that they want what they’ve agreed to pay for in the Statement of Work (SOW) signed, sealed, and delivered by the end of the project – and if it’s not, they want good reasons to sign a CO (change order) to modify the SOW.

And it’s no surprise. When you cost someone nearly 7 cents per second to work for them, they want to see results!

One of the constraints, therefore, that needs to be constantly watched is scope creep – the insidious tendency for all projects to go beyond their intended purpose (violating law 47 of the 48 laws), exceed budget, and never deliver what is really needed.

My primary goal when I work with a customer is not, perhaps paradoxically, to “make them happy”. One thing I learned when working in support is that the customer is never right!. You may have to pretend that they’re kinda right – but they’re always wrong. They do not know what they want. They do not know what they need. And they certainly do not know what is wrong if you ask them.

My primary goal when I work with a customer is to deliver what they have paid for. When possible, I will change course slightly (following proper CO processes) – but I want them to get what they have agreed to pay for. Ideally, especially now that I am in the architecture end of the world much more than ‘just’ delivery, I can work with them in the pre-sales process to get the SOW to something that approximates what they need. But I always aim to give them what they have paid for. Everything else is window dressing.

At the end of a project – whether as outside consultants, students, internal employees, at home, for work, etc – what needs to be seen is what was paid for.

Ship. Deliver.

Without those two, nothing gets done.


* I have grown so frustrated with support processes that I spent time a couple years ago writing a small eBook that includes a section on how to make good tickets. I’ve also written on ways to improve your support organization before.
^ Just realized that means I’ve been doing ProServe or PS-like work for 5 years running, and have been with the automation suite for more than 6 now.
! Before you become too concerned – I do realize there are a few good customers out there. But they are just that – few, and VERY far between.

technical career development

Career development. Career path. Development opportunities. Taking your career to the next level.

Terms and phrases we all hear and pretty much pass over in our day-to-day lives. Right up until we want to move to a new/better job or performance reviews roll around.

But what do they mean, and how can you advance your career (presuming, of course, that you want to)?

This is by no means an exhaustive list – indeed, I’d appreciate any other ideas / feedback / improvements y’all may suggest 🙂

For a software developer:

  • be the documentation KING of your code – if it’s not right, make it right
  • own every bug in your code – even when it’s not “yours”
  • be The Guy™ who learns a new component of the code/product (at least conversationally) every few weeks
  • write at least one tutorial a month on the internal wiki/kb about something you found or did with the code
  • write at least one tutorial or similar a month externally (maybe a personal blog) in a general fashion about something you learned or did

For a systems consultant:

  • be the documentation KING of every project you work on – make ABSOLUTELY sure the next guy can do more after you leave
  • own every issue you find, even when it’s really somebody else’s problem (no throwing it over the fence)
  • the The Guy™ who learns something new about the environment or product every couple weeks
  • write at least one tutorial a month and/or give an overview talk of something you learned/did
  • write about what you’ve done (changing names to protect the innocent) on a blog or elsewhere
  • teach as many people as are willing to learn what you know (in your company / on your team / etc)

Focus – decide where you want to be, and plot a course to get there.

Finally, NEVER make yourself “irreplaceable” – the instant you make yourself irreplaceable, you also make yourself unpromotable: after all, if you’re the Only Guy™ who can do your job, why would your boss/manager/supervisor even think of moving you into a new role?


As a side note – if you’re ever working at a customer site, don’t take calls from anyone other than the customer while you’re at your desk/cube/workspace: even if it’s project related, take it in a different room 🙂

the. killer. business!

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