Sten Vesterli's Blog

Why are You Working?

Are you one of the oppressed workers of the world? Even if you were not out waving red banners and calling for the workers of the world to unite, you can still use May Day to reflect on your job.

There are only so many minutes left in your life, and you are spending many of them on your job. Some people are fortunate to have a job that makes them happy. I’ve loved my work as a programmer, IT architect and now as as consultant and mentor. I have colleagues who are not as passionate about IT, but who use the money they make as fuel for their life outside work. Flying small planes is an expensive hobby, and needs a solid income.

You can choose either path. But if you’re not in your job for fun or for money, what are you doing there?

Are you a Manager or a Leader?

Basecamp lost a third of their employees after management put the foot down hard on political and diversity discussions. Coinbase got of lighter, losing only five percent when they implemented a “no politics” rule.

You might agree or disagree with the rules that management have imposed at these companies. But they do show something rare in the IT industry: Leadership.

Managers make sure that jobs are filled, projects are staffed, software is released, bugs are fixed, and time sheets are filled in. Leaders set direction for the company. Because top IT specialists are in short supply and can have a very large impact on a project or a company, they know they are valuable. That encourages them to speak their mind freely, on IT matters and other important issues on their mind. That can turn into heated political arguments, or even suppression of other opinions.

It is a leadership task to create a productive environment where each employee can make a meaningful contribution. The leader must make sure everybody gets heard, and people with unpopular opinions are not bullied. Getting that balance right is hard, and will look very different in different organizations, countries and cultures. But leadership is a necessary precondition for creating a high-performing IT organization.

As a CIO or CTO, are leading your organization or just managing it?

Reflect on Your Life

Do you think about your life? Today is Great Prayer Day here in Denmark, and other countries have similar days. Even if you are not religious, you can take this reminder to spend some time reflecting on your life.

It is easy to get caught up in the little things we need to do to run our lives. We are so busy that we do not have time to think about the longer term. But if you have not decided where you want to go, you have no guidance in your life.

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice asks the cat: “Which way should I go?” The cat asks where she wants to get to, and she says: “I don’t much care where.” The cat replies: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Spend some time today, or this weekend, thinking about where you want to go in your life. What do you want your life to look like in one year, in five years, in ten years? What legacy do you want to leave?

You might think you don’t have an answer, but you do. You simply need to give your brain space and time to think. That’s why religious people pray, and others meditate. You don’t have to do either. You just need to turn off all your devices and spend several hours doing nothing. You know the answer. Let it come to the surface so you can act on it.

Accidental Publication

Beneficial Intelligence is out. This week: Accidental publication. Some data leaks are IT’s own fault. We should be able to prevent developers and users from leaking our data through unsecured cloud storage. We should not roll out systems that leak data if the user edits the URL or views the web page source. Are you sure every system your organization rolls out has been subject to a security review? If not, you might be the next organization to find that you have accidentially published confidential data.

Listen here or find “Beneficial Intelligence” wherever you get your podcasts.

Consider the Failure Scenarios

The cable snapped, and a 25-tonne undersea mining vehicle is now stuck at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

Having one cable is the proverbial “single point of failure.” Just like in IT, it might not make business sense to pay the extra cost for full redundance. But in a professional IT organization, somebody has examined the failure scenarios. If the database server crashes, we might lose this much data, and we will restore operations in this way.

Sending a robot to the bottom of the ocean without implementing a feature that allows it to autonomously return to the surface seems like an over-optimistic strategy. Do you allow similar unwarranted optimism in your IT organization?

Article from BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-56921773

Restart Your Health

If you weren’t out of shape already, you surely are after the pandemic. If your exercise routines was centered around going to a gym or participating in a team sport, it’s been dormant for a year now. Very few people have had the willpower to implement a new solo regime, so that’s why we’re all out of shape.

With gym reopenings beckoning and team sports starting up again, you need to prepare to go back. Start doing a little bit of exercise every day. If you’ve been taking a complete break from exercise, start with ridiculously small amounts of exercise, but add a little every day. Keep a record in a spreadsheet and make sure you do just a little more each day. If you jogged for 100 yards yesterday, jog 150 yards today. If you did 3 pushups yesterday, do 4 today.

Movement is crucial for both your physical and mental health. Start building your exercise routine back.

Don’t Let Your Devices Kill Your Brain

Have you outsourced your thinking to your devices? That’s not a good idea. Surveys show that spatial awareness and the ability to read a map are both declining rapidly as everybody uses navigation apps to go anywhere. Now Apple is offering to similarly damage your short-term memory with AirTags. Since you will no longer have to remember where you put your keys, your ability to remember will atrophy.

If there are parts of your brain you are not using, the brain will repurpose that capacity for something else. You might not need to store a lot of facts because they are available at your fingertips at any time. But you should not let your ability to remember and find your way around disappear. Your mind knows that you are no longer able to survive on your own, and it weighs on your self-image.

Try going a few days without your gadgets. You will find that it is harder than you thought. And you will experience a sense of primal accomplishment by being able to live your life unsupported by a smartphone crutch.

Public Incompetence

California shows why you don’t want to entrust your government with more data than it absolutely needs. California is building a database with all donations to political and non-profit organizations. Free-speech advocates from a Charles Koch foundation to the NAACP are against it, and the Supreme Court will soon rule whether this is okay. As a European, I don’t much care either way.

The IT security part is interesting, though. It is fairly sensitive information whether someone dontated to Donald Trump or Black Lives Matter. California of course promises to protect it, but they have built a website where you can simply change the URL to get access to every donation record in the entire database.

That is mind-boggling incompetence. I am not blaming the individual developer, though an experienced lead programmer could have spotted this glaring vulnerability. But I am blaming the IT leaders in the organization that have failed to put any kind of security review in place, even for highly sensitive data. That is a firing offense in my book. Maybe a competent CIO should run against Governor Newsom in the California recall election.

Fight for your Time

During lockdown, knowledge workers has increased the amount of time spent working by one whole hour. The average meeting is now 10 minutes longer. Clearly, fully remote working is not working for most of us.

It used to be only managers who spent their days in back-to-back meeting, but that is now the reality for many of us. A lot of the casual coordination that happened at the coffee maker or in the corridor now requires a meeting.

One way to fight back is to start scheduling shorter meetings. No online meeting needs to be a whole hour. If you schedule it for 50 minutes, you will get exactly the same amount of work done, and you will have 10 minutes to decompress before your next meeting. If you can’t get that through in your department, start putting a dummy 10-minute appointment into your calendar every hour from 10 minutes before the hour until the hour. In that way, the scheduling function will be unable to fit whole-hour meetings into you calendar, and the scheduler might get the hint and schedule only 50 minutes.

Celebrate Success

Here in Denmark, we are celebrating our Oscar for “Best Foreign Movie” today. Well, most of us didn’t really contribute anything, but we can all enjoy Thomas Winterberg’s success with “Another Round.”

You can also celebrate other people’s success. It’s easy to celebrate when your favorite sports team wins, but it can be harder to feel happy that someone else got the promotion that you think you deserved. However, feeling resentful of other people’s success simply drains you of energy and makes it less likely that you will succeed in your next endeavor. Make a point of celebrating successes – other people’s as well as your own.