By Jonathan Merrill on 5/30/2014 5:28 PM

I had the great honor of being thought of and hired to perform technology assistance making the independent film, From Eva With Love.  The movie consists of interesting cast, including a hacker heroine, evil rich guy, brides for sale, and a revenge plot.  I won’t give anything away, but found the experience absolutely fascinating.  Especially from an IT perspective.

Behind The Scenes

My original responsibility was to handle all the special effects where technology was concerns.  In this picture, the scene required Eva using her computer to hack into Stan’s network.  We used old Dell PCs and some batch scripting to simulate the desired effects.

In this picture, I wanted to capture the camera technology used and how young these guys were, experts at their craft.  The “Red” camera is purely digital, placing the high resolution video on a portal hard drive.  When full, it transferred to a master “Studio” PC, which takes all the scenes are allows for manipulation/management.

There is an unusual amount of hurry up and wait.  This picture captures the assistants, hair and make up, and set hands waiting for the set to be built.

This movie filmed on several locations, although a large part with filmed at a local hotel in Dallas.  This portion of the set built for the movie people with director and producer chairs in the back, set hands and various personnel in the front.  Interesting hotel décor.

Did I happen to mention interesting hotel décor?  Lots of laptops and TVs around.

In this picture, I tried to capture the hustle and bustle of a set.  Lighting people making adjustments, actors getting in place, and set hands making adjustments.  This scene had me working with the actors and trying to get the inkjet printer print fast enough so it didn’t slow the flow of the scene down.  Yes, I said ink printer.

The director sitting behind the “Studio PC”, located on a cart.  This beast of a PC runs dual video out, high resolution video cards, quad Xeon CPU, 128GB RAM, RAID 5… speed, speed, speed.  The video from the Red camera feeds directly to the Studio PC, so this station also served as the shot view and allowed the director and producer to see how their scene was being filmed.

This picture captures the end of day filming, interns talking to the producer on the next days events, all computerized and scheduled.  If you need to be on set, the application emails the people with dates/times.  This picture captures the mess that gets made making a movie.  And yes, she has an iPad.  I found most of the producers and management staff use iPads to communicate.  The software is Movie Magic 6.

The “women” of the movie.  This is the “brides for sale” scene and required a lot of camera manipulation to get it right.  The director is giving instruction on where people move and interact, setting the mood for the scene with the extras.  This was my only picture of the lead actress, Callisto Griffith, located on the far right.  She was very professional and I enjoyed working with her.

The Longest 25 Minutes

Definitely have a new found respect for the people it takes to make a movie.  It’s not easy work. Long days.  Sometimes, all night.  Although shooting the movie only two two actually weeks, the process is 4-5 months to get the sound and post film editing done.

On May 16th, the film was released.  Definitely want to thank Greg McGuire with Studio M for the opportunity to do some fancy technical work, the cast and crew for their patience working with a movie noob, and Ben Loggins, for talking to me through all the tech and tools it’s taken to make this film.

PS.  Yes, I am on IMDB.  Find me here.

\\ JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 5/23/2014 4:12 PM

This month, I’ll be 41.  It’s the time of the year where I step back and take a look behind me to ensure I am moving forward and not in circles.  It is that time to look in the closet and throw away those clothes I haven’t worn in a year.  Reimage my computer with a fresh OS.  And basically focus on me.  Am I headed in the right direction?

This is one of those rare blogs where I talk about myself and those close to me.

My New Home

I’m happy to report that I’ve moved out of the apartment scene and back into a home.  After an arduous search combining the need to stay close to my kids and as close to work as possible, I’ve decided to purchase a home in the city of Little Elm.  A five bedroom home on .5 acres, spread across three lots, located on lakeside property.  One of my dreams was to own a home on a lake.  And as of March 2014, that dream came a reality.

These two pictures are the view from my front porch:



In my lifetime, I have met many, but have found so few people I’ve instantly made a connection with.  Even fewer that have the same conservatism and life goals that match my own.  My personal life has been a wreck since my divorce in December 2013, coupled with an even longer separation, it’s not been easy to trust.  So, it was by sheer luck I met Amanda and she has had a profound influence on my well being.

She reminded me that relationships are so very important to one’s health.  Not just between a husband and wife, but the need to have friends and family.  Bringing other people into our lives enriches our fabric in so many ways.  I had become a isolationist and I didn’t realize it.  Her invites to participate into her personal world has opened my eyes in so many ways.

I thank God for her every day.

Work / Life Balance

This year I went to my physician and was given the news I am pre-diabetic, borderline high blood pressure, and have abnormally high levels of upper body tension.  All indicative of stress.  2013 gave me plenty to be stressed out about.  2014 was been marginally better.  Some changes will have to be made to continue my road to a healthier me.  Even with losing 50+ pounds, it’s been a tough road getting here.  So, here are a couple of things I am doing:

5.  Health Alert.  My grandfather died many years ago.  My grandmother has reunited with a high school flame last year who happens to be a retired pharmacy business owner.  After a very successful run, his retirement has been remarkable.  Equally remarkable is his depth of knowledge about the importance of what we put into our body to promote good health.  My father has been on Health Alert for some time and has had remarkable progress.  It’s worthy of a look and I’m investigating it’s applicability into my own health plan.

4.  Walking.  Twice a day, around the building.  And as often as I can.  Awesome stress reliever.  I try to have meetings walking around the building.  I try to stand as much as possible as sitting is so destructive to our health.  Not very successful so far, but keep plugging away at it.

3.  Stop Taking Things Personally.  This one is hard as we are what we do.  I am not a perfectionist, but I do like doing things right and leave the situation better than when I found it.  This deep level of care comes at a cost.  Especially when people are critical.  Equally when they fear what they don’t understand.  The world is full of naysayers, so I am consciously trying to focus more on people and less on things.

2.  Taking Time Off.  Also equally hard to do since IT Operations is truly a 24/7 job.  I’ve taken 8 days off so far this year.  I’ll probably take 8 more by the end of 2014.  I am a big believer of work/life balance.  We need to disconnect and remind ourselves of our lives.  Reconnecting with my kids, spending time with family… All on the agenda.  Maybe a vacation in there somewhere.

1.  Education/Education/Education.  Where does the time go and what happened to all those goals I had in 2013?  Really bummed I’ve neglected this part of my life since I push it’s importance so hard with my people.  So, I have reaffirmed my intent to grow in these places in 2014:

  • University of the People.  Looking at the possibility of going back to school.  Many reasons.
  • Getting deeper into Information Security.  Although I’ve always had a hand in it, investigating CISSP and becoming a member in the local user group.
  • DevOps user group participation and learning how we could do this at SCUSA.  I feel it’s a game changer.  The question is how to actually do it.

\\ JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 5/16/2014 10:16 AM

Of all the organizations I’ve been employed by, none enforced quarterly reviews.  And I find that an absolute blessing since the review process typically is daunting, difficult, and often time consuming.  However, the real difficulty growing my staff’s capabilities and skills is the age old problem of dedicating the time to that endeavor.  If not for quarterly reviews, I would fail at one of the most important jobs being a leader.

Let me share with you the email I send to my team for the quarterly.

Does your annual review reflect the real you? Do your assessments accurately reveal your staff?  How easy it is to cave in to temptation and give overly optimistic reviews to avoid discomfort. I’ve done it; you’ve done it. We’re all guilty. At the end of the day, I kick myself because I’ve shortchanged everyone. In fact, I’ve undermined my employee and my organization. Worse yet, if I’m not modeling appropriate and accountable reviews, my subordinates will follow my poor example…. Honest feedback to stimulate improvement is what our people and organizations need the most.”  - Edward Marx, CIO, Texas Health Resources, Blog, January 25, 2012

Team – I’ve embraced the quarterly feedback process as a part of my leadership practice managing people for several years.  I too find annual performance evaluations to be less retrospective and more eventful peppered with the most recent activities that permeate an entire years’ worth of performance.  Since meeting with my team and talking about job performance every quarter, I have witnessed significant improvements in employee communication and engagement.  Improved bi-directional communication and accountability.

Quarterly feedback is not a punitive mundane exercise.  This is an opportunity to get your leadership’s honest assessment of your job performance, modeling our team’s and the organization’s values, and opening the door to coaching and improving service delivery.

Each subject area is split into three performance grades:

Developing Performer – This grade is given to team members that have development opportunities to improve.  Typically, remediation comments are given to assist the team member in dialog.

Significant Performer – This grade is given to team members that are performing to expected standard and above.  This grade is the goal for team members.

Top Performer – This grade is given to team members that provide service above and beyond the expected standard, showing true heroic service excellence.

Next, the quarterly feedback is between you and I.  It is a conversation tool.  It’s a benchmark allowing you to either feel your efforts are to expectations or the warning flag to change course without involving formal processes, like performance improvement plans.  Again, this is an informal tool.  Although this feedback should be considered thusly, you should take this feedback seriously and lets have those conversations.

Last, your annual evaluation will be a summary of all previous quarters including the most recent, giving you full visibility of the year.  No ambush.  Expected results.

Thank you for your efforts.  Always forward, team!

In an upcoming blog, I’d like to talk about the quarterly evaluation scorecard I use, where I stole it from, and why I feel it’s the most effective tool I have encountered.

\\ JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 5/9/2014 12:50 PM

GOMERRILL Approved Tool!

IIS Crypto is a free tool that gives administrators the ability to enable or disable protocols, ciphers, hashes and key exchange algorithms on Windows Server 2003, 2008 and 2012. It also lets you reorder SSL/TLS cipher suites offered by IIS, implement best practices with a single click and test your website.

\\ JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 5/2/2014 12:27 PM

JMM says… Sharing the wealth… Republished (ripped) from Christopher Kusek, Technology Evangelist Blog:

So I came across this gem not too long ago (I’ll be duplicating their content here in the event that it ever ‘disappears’ from the source)  Also I’ll be introducing some additional training resources and such which they did not cover or reflect, to make sure you have access to as much Free as possible!

That covers one bulk of entries which I’ve been meaning to share for awhile, and here are the rest from that other site! by j23evan <3

Free/Reduced Certifications – Free/Reduced Training 2014 Edition

Free Certifications 2014 For Everyone:

For IT Professionals:

  • VMware VSP & VTSP – Secure Customer Login – VMware offers fantastic training and certifications for partners with their VMware Sales Professional and VMware Technical Sales Professional Certifications.
  • F5 University for Partners – F5 offers several sales and technical accreditations for partner company employees.
  • Citrix Partner Central offers free training on their products as well as the CCSP 2013 for partner company employees.

Inexpensive Certifications

  • Brocade Accreditations$20Accreditation Exam Information – Brocade has 11 web based Accreditation’s that are only $20. They also offer Free training PDF’s for each course.
  • HP Specialty Certifications$10-45 – HP has a series of web based Certifications (HP2-HP5 Prefix) of inexpensive exams.
  • Apple Associate Exams$65Training and Certification – Thankfully Apple is moving away from their Authorized Training Centers (aka Robber Barons) to Pearson, and are offering their Associate level Exams online from the comfort of your home for $65 and free training PDF’s/iBookstore books.
  • Google Apps Education Qualification / YouTube Digital Citizen Certification – $15 – Google Apps Education Training Center – Google has 5 Exams that are $15 a piece that once all are completed earn you the Google Apps Education Qualification. The exams are web based and all training material is provided for free.
  • M.I.T. XSeries Certification in Computer Science – Massachusetts Institute of Technology is offering an inexpensive certificate to those who attend and pass their courses. Absolutely brilliant, they follow a traditional semester mold and would look fantastic on a resume. They have a supply chain certificate as well. (thanks Stryder144)
  • OSHA 10-Hour General Industry Certification – $25 -…chString&#x3d; – Yes I know it’s not an IT Certification. Proving that you have attended and passed the 10 Hour OSHA training course will give you a leg up over other applicants in certain industries. They also have a Cyber Safety Awareness program.

Reduced Certifications

  • Microsoft Exams through Prometric (070, 071, MTA)Retake Microsoft Certification Exam for Free | Microsoft – Microsoft’s Second Shot is back! Now through May 31st, 2014 you can obtain a voucher to have a free retake on almost all of their technical exams. Dynamics is sadly excluded.
  • Microsoft Exam Pack Discount…xam-packs.aspx – Microsoft is offering a 15% off discount for purchasing all 3 exams towards an MCSA, MCSD, and MCSE. Now through May 31st, 2014 you will also receive a free second shot with the discount.
  • Microsoft Virtualization CertificationMicrosoft Virtual Academy – Microsoft is offering a 50% discount for anyone who signs up and attends their free online jump start training. The exam is 74-409: Virtualization with Hyper-V and System Center. They are also introducing a free MVA course for it as well and you can watch it on demand on Expires June 30th, 2014.(Thanks SweenMachine)
  • Check PointTraining and Certifications – Check Point is offering 50% off all examination retakes and provides free training.
  • Juniper Fast Track…rack_home.aspx – Juniper is offering a 50% discount on 4 of their exams by taking and passing a free pre-assessment. Best of all they offer free elearning as well! (Thanks Zartanasaurus)
  • Stanley Community College – VCP-DCV VMware Course - VMware vSphere: Install, Configure, Manage – Definately the best education deal for VMware, though unfortunately you need to go on a waiting list. For $200 you get the full online VMware Academy course as well as a 70% off Exam voucher. The labs are great and the instructors are great.
  • Oracle Beta Exams – Beta Info – Oracle offers beta exams for $50 instead of $150-$245. You can see what the release date is for each and when to expect a score report. As far as training goes… Oracle isnt the most benevolent of companies to starving IT professionals.
  • Get Certified 4 Less…ts.asp?Cat=129 – Get Certified 4 Less runs short sale specials discounting specific exam vouchers that must be taken rather soon. In addition to that they tend to sell exam vouchers $10-20 less than directly from the vendor. (Thanks Kriscamaro68 and shyguyIT)

For IT Professionals:

  • Brocade CNE - Education – Promo Code: CNE250BCNEPromo – Brocade is offering a Free BCNE exam voucher for current CCNA holders with purchase of the $100 CNE 250 training.
  • Microsoft Partner Network/Prometric 40% Discount…age/index.html – Prometric is running a special where Microsoft Partners can purchase 5 Exam vouchers for 35% off, or 20 vouchers for 40% off. With a free second shot. Offer Valid through May 31st, 2014 and exams must be taken by December 31st, 2014.

For Students:

  • CA Technology 60% off -…ation-faq.aspx – If you are a full-time college student in good academic standing, please contact and attach a JPEG image of your current student id card. They will email you a voucher which will enable you to receive a 60% discount. Limited to one voucher per 12-month period.

Free Training

  • CNWP -CWNP | My Account Home – CWNP is giving away a voucher for a free lifelong practice exam engine for the certification of your choice by signing up.
  • LPI - Practice Questions and Self-Study Materials | Linux Professional Institute (LPI) – LPI Provides free training material for all of their Exams.
  • VMware Hands On Labs- VMware – NEE – VMware has a large collection of hands on labs that have tasks associated with them running the gamut of all of their offerings. A great resource to test new technologies, or brush up on material. Oh and it’s free.
  • Google Digital Analytics Fundamentals - – Google is offering free training with hands on labs for their analytics platform.
  • Scrum TrainingScrum Training Series: Free Scrum Master Training – To Quote: "Free Online Scrum Master Training: The fun way to learn about Agile/Scrum, prepare for Scrum Master certification / Agile certification, and debunk popular misconceptions. (Thanks N2IT)
  • Microsoft Virtual Academy – Microsoft has a very in-depth training website covering almost all of their products and offerings.
  • IT Masters CISSP Short CourseFree Short Course: CISSP Security Certification | IT Masters – IT Masters in conjunction with Charles Sturt University is offering a free short course training in CISSP. (thanks Stryder144)
  • DegreedDegreed – The Digital Lifelong Diploma – Degreed is an interesting site that is all about free online classes, aggregating them, and tracking credit for what you have done in them, tradition school, and other training sources to provide a new millennium "degree" program highlighting your knowledge and skills. Microsoft Virtual Academy classes transfer over.

For IT Professionals

  • Microsoft Partner Network - – A fantastic training site that explores in most Microsoft products and has assessments. Most assessments can be linked to specific partner competencies, and the best part is the completed courses are tied to you. If you change companies and associate your Microsoft Professional account with them they will get all the benefits of what you have accomplished.
  • EMC Powerlink – EMC Powerlink is for employees of Partner Organizations to learn and take assessments validating Sales and Engineering for both EMC Solutions and RSA Security.
  • MerakiCisco Meraki Webinars – Free Meraki 802.11n cloud managed AP for attending a webinar. IT professionals only, you must register with your company email.

Reduced Training

  • Western Governors UniversityOnline University | Online Degree Programs | The University of You – As many of you are aware, WGU is one of the best deals in post-secondary education. Think of it as the public version of Phoenix University. It’s Online, Accredited, Accelerated, and Inexpensive. For my broke IT professionals you can get student loans via fafsa (Yes its debt, but think of it as a down payment for a better future). The majority of their IT classes revolve around obtaining a certification, and they give you all the training you need. You can actually structure and accelerate your classes to where your term is cheaper than it would be to get the certs separately, and you earn college credit.
  • University of the people – Is a non-profit, US accredited, tuition free online university that targets itself to everyone in the world. It offers both 2 and 4 year degrees in Business Administration and Computer Science. The caveat is while they do not charge tuition, you must pay $100 for each final exam. Wikipedia has some interesting info on them cknapp78)

Associations & Membership Perks For Everyone

  • Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA)FREE - CSTA – Individual Membership – The CSTA is focused on IT Education, and unlike the title says is not just for educators, but anyone interested. From time to time Microsoft offers free MTA exam vouchers to member, and other vendors provide perks, as well as being given a full ACM Membership.
  • Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)$19/$99 - Membership — Association for Computing Machinery – ACM is an incredible value for students at $19 a year, or IT professionals at $99 a year. (That is if you aren’t interested in education and opt for the CSTA membership). Member perks include Free access to Safari, books24x7, and skillsoft. Email forwarding and filtering through postini with an email, access to their digital library and tri-weekly news emails keeping you up to date. Additional perks as a Student member include Microsoft Dreamspark/Dreamspark Premium (Yay free software! And typically a free MS Voucher yearly) , and CA Academic Initiative.
  • Microsoft DreamSpark/DreamSpark Premium – Free, Students only - – Microsoft has a decent program for students that give them access to free software in the Programming/Server fields. If your school is awesome they will have access to DreamSpark Premium which gives you a plethora of keycodes and software that rivals the midrange MSDN account. WGU and Stanly CC are both Premium members. Both offer VMware software and keycodes, as well as VMware voucher and training discounts.
  • Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)$25+/$165+Join ISACA – IT Professional – IT Student – IT Educator – Memberships | ISACA – ISACA is for the big boys and cool kids. Those that are certified are typically more tenured higher level IT professionals. You are required to pay your local chapter dues in additional to the association dues, but $25 is fantastic for students. You get access to networking events, continuing education, COBiT access and data, and discounts on their certifications. Even the professional level at $165 pays for itself after 1 exam.
  • Information Systems Security Association (ISSA)$30/$95 - – ISSA is a great resource for people looking to network or break into the InfoSec world. While not as many tangible benefits as ISACA, at $30 for students and $95 for professionals it is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of chief information security officer challenges.
  • Project Management Institute (PMI)$32/$129 - Types of PMI Memberships | Project Management Institute – PMI is still the gold standard in project management, and the benefits of membership enable you to discounts on their certifications, a free digital edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), discounts on training and resources, and great networking opportunities. If you are pursuing the PMP or Associate of PMP $32 for students and $129 for professionals is a great deal.
  • The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA)$250Become a CompTIA Member – CompTIA membership is different from being CompTIA certified. Membership is primarily aimed at companies, but what IT professional isn’t a consultant on the side? This year they had a $100 discount on membership for people who signed up to go to their free conference. Not if you actually went, just signed up. At $250 for an individual I am not sure it is as good of a deal, but the perks are Free CompTIA Executive Certifications and training, 80% discount on your first voucher purchase, 15% off every following voucher purchase. (80% off casp+ for $150 and 15% off every other voucher sold me)
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)$32/$187IEEE – Join IEEE – The IEEE is probably the most important association in the IT industry. Student members get another DreamSpark Premium Account. All members get access to publications, standards, networking, googleapps@IEEE (An email, advertisement free gmail, 30GB of shared storage Google Drive/Gmail), and a tremendous amount of other benefits.
  • VMware User Group (VMUG)Free/$200 – VMUG is a great resource for VMware enthusiasts. Membership is free, and includes free access to local conferences, meetups with local chapters, and discounts on elearning books. For $200 you can become an Advantage member which will give you 35% off VMware Lab Connect, 20% off VMware-Delivered Classes, 20% off VMware Certifications, $100 Discount to VMworld, and 50% off VMware Fusion and Workstation Licenses. In the spring and summer to generate memberships they like to include a free VMware voucher (Which makes it a no brainer).
  • Help Desk Institute (HDI)$35/$165 – HDI membership offers discounts on their certifications and training, as well as access to white papers and networking events. At $35 for students you will immediately recoup the membership on the first exam you take.
  • ASIS International$25/$215…s/default.aspx – ASIS International is another specialized higher end security education and certification firm. Membership benefits include discounts on exams and education materials.
  • Microsoft Partner Network - – For seasoned IT professionals, or those who do side consulting/run a SOHO, one great perk is joining the Microsoft Partner Network. It is free to sign up for, even if you are already associated as a Microsoft Professional to your Primary Employer you can create one for your side business. After taking a short assessment you can purchase an Action Pack subscription for $475 which entitles you to internal use licenses to run your business. Office, Windows, Windows Server, Exchange, RDS CALS, SharePoint and System Center are all included.

Third Party Transferable Certifications

  • CIW Security Specialist & Professional…ity_series.pdf – CIW gives credit to MCTS, CCNA, MCSA, MCSE, MCITP, Security+ certification holders who have passed the entry level CIW Security exam the second and third level designation.
  • Linux+ Certification 5-in-1 PiñataCompTIA Partnership | Linux Professional Institute (LPI) – Originally called 3in1, then 4in1, now 5in1: If you pass Linux+ 101 and 102 from CompTIA to earn the Linux+ designation, you are eligible to receive LPIC-1, Novell CLA, Novell Suse 11 Technical Specialist, and Novell Data Center Technical Specialist.
  • Cloud Certification CouncilGrandfather Program for Cloud Experts – The CCC is a newly created vendor agnostic certification council made up by a conglomerate of several vendors to offer a higher level credential. Now until June 2014 you can submit your resume and certifications (along with a fee) to be grandfathered in to the program.
  • Alcatel-Lucent…h2VAQAKBjLlw!! – Alcatel-Lucent accepts current Cisco & Juniper certification holders to satisfy their entry level Network Routing Specialist I and II exams.
  • HP Fast Track ProgramFast track program | HP ExpertOne – HP Officers fast track certifications and recognition of Cisco, NetApp, and EMC credentials in lieu of their courses/exams. (Also includes ATA with Certiport)

As you can see this is a metric training ton of information and training! Use it. Be better for it. Share it. Visit the source and thank j23evan for producing this awesomeness! Enjoy!

By Jonathan Merrill on 4/25/2014 3:21 PM

Situation:  Open Requisition for Junior-Level System Engineer.  Requisition has been open for over 90 days.  On the 91st day, here is the email transaction:

JMM:  Any status update on the open Req?

RECRUITER:  I sent you one resume on April 1.  How did that guy look?

JMM:  Can you send me 9 more?  I’d like to look at them in batches of 10.  Looking at one or two at a time doesn’t give me much to look at.

RECRUITER:  My only thought is that by the time I accumulate 9 good resumes, then the ones that were found  first may have fallen off the market.  Unfortunately, they are found one or two, here and there.  I try not to just send you any resume that I find.  Although, it may sometimes appear that way. Thoughts?

Anyone see a problem here?

Imagine if Information Technology were held by this standard.  How in trouble we’d be.

\\ JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 4/18/2014 7:33 PM

Consider this quote:

“The problem is that we imagine that knowledge is what was lacking: if only we had known more, if only we had thought it through more thoroughly. That is precisely the wrong approach. What makes us go astray in the first place is that we are unattuned to the present moment, insensitive to the circumstances. We are listening to our own thoughts, reacting to things that happened in the past, applying theories and ideas that we digested long ago but that have nothing to do with our predicament in the present. More books, theories, and thinking only make the problem worse.

Understand: the greatest generals, the most creative strategists, stand out not because they have more knowledge but because they are able, when necessary, to drop their preconceived notions and focus intensely on the present moment.”

-Robert Greene,
The 33 Strategies of War

Adaptability.  Lateral thinking.  Why policy rigidity stifles outcomes.

\\ JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 4/11/2014 1:51 PM

What’s your IT organizations’ philosophy?  Look hard.  Now step back and think about.  Such a simple question.  Should be simple to answer.  But I wager it rarely is.  Especially in lieu of the avalanche of service delivery expectations and coupled with mountains of overdue projects, somehow the work gets done.  But, I often look at the cost.  Then ask the questions:  Why are we here?  How did we get here?

Give to us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for—because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.
~~Peter Marshall (1902–67) Senate chaplain, prayer offered at the opening of the session, April 18, 1947.—Prayers Offered by the Chaplain, the Rev. Peter Marshall … 1947–1948, p. 20 (1949). Senate Doc. 80–170.

My Comments Pondering The Question Of IT Philosophy

#4.  Does your IT organization’s mission statement enforce your philosophy?

Every place I’ve ever been lacked a mission statement.  Only one IT leader in my experience, whom I had the pleasure working with, started with the importance of mission statement.  Then held the department to that standard.  When we crafted the mission statement, we carefully considered not only what we are signing ourselves on for, but communicated our philosophy.  These teams won victories than lost.  These teams had incredible morale versus those without.

#3.  Does your IT strategic plan run concurrently with IT philosophy?

Next was how we approached the IT strategic plan.  In keeping with the philosophy, we carefully measured out the next milestones organizationally.  Careful taking on too much versus not meeting the objectives outlined by the business.  Our strategic plan was then shared across IT, so as to ensure the teams understood not just what was coming.  But to communicate with singular voice the plan, evangelize what we are doing, and get people on board with it.

#2.  Does the IT staff understand and embrace the department’s philosophy?

Repetition can be one of the key methods to drive consistency in message and action.  A hard push communicating methodology and practices goes hand in hand with driving these outcomes.  And like leaders in battle, your weakest link is the soldier on the battlefield who doesn’t understand what they are fighting for.  Leaders should be communicating a singular front on philosophy, leading by example, and evangelizing the wins when philosophy pays off.

#1.  Does The Philosophy Hurt, Hinder, or Help the Organization?

This comment is the toughest as weaker leaders will constantly bend their philosophy to the organizations’ will, citing the need to constantly cross the chasm to partner with the various business units.  I call this “Doormat IT”.  In contrast, stronger leaders will make minute adjustments to stay the course for the long haul, acting as consultants to the business, providing leadership and education as, like anything man made, things do break.

Every Organization Is Different, But My Winningest IT Philosophies Are:

1.  Mission Oriented Protective Postures – In other words, while performing our work keeping security, safety, and making informed responsible decisions at the forefront.  Not needlessly exposing the business to risk by acting irresponsible, such rushing to get things done, no planning, blaming others, and not knowing the technology.

2.  Culture of Learning and Growth – Building an atmosphere where learning and growing skill is just as important as customer service and project execution.  Incentivize skill growth by not just goal building, but giving opportunities to grow and using train the trainer methodology to teach others.

3.  Cultivation of Communication and Documentation – Practicing effective communication verbally and in writing, growing workgroup based communication, and teaching when and how to document methodologies and technology.

4.  Benchmark and Measure IT – Just like anything else in business, if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.  Identifying workflow processes and technologies that are benchmark-able.  Not just trouble tickets and work orders.  Automation improving workflow to improve time to close as an example.  Showing faster responses to technology as you or your people’s IT skills grow.

5.  Strategic versus Reactionary – Chinese fire drills versus intentional fire prevention.  Leading the technology direction that complements the business direction.  Planning and execution of identifiable tangible objectives with real benefit to the business.  Stop the fire fights!

\\ JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 4/4/2014 7:22 AM

Here is a quote from the book that outlines this issue:

"I'm certain that to learn from a place, you have to study how its culture functions. A great fallacy born from the failure to study culture is the assumption that you can take a practice from one culture and simply jam it into another and expect similar results. Much of what bad managers do is assume their job is simply to find new things to jam and new places to jam them into, without ever believing they need to understand how the system--the system of people known as culture--works." – From the book, “The Year Without Pants”.

We talk a lot of culture on this blog.  And for those who know me well, you know I am a firm believer that success in Information Technology is more dependent on culture than the technology.  Here are a few topics to chew on.

“Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast”

When I look at a company’s information technology needs, I like to look at it through the glasses of the business and apply it through a strategic plan.  I find the adage of a an ounce of planning equals one pound of production holds true.  Nevertheless, Peter Drucker has it right.  The best strategies succeed or fail based on culture.  Culture trumps strategy every time.

“Culture Cannot Be Forced.  It Must Be Nurtured”

When an undesired culture takes root, it often isn’t easy to change it.  I think we can agree that most cultures are established from the top going down depending on how large the organization is.  Although, I’ll admit that in incredibly large organizations, such as Citibank, I witnessed a multi-cultural divide where three distinct cultures existed due to the silo’d nature of the business overall.

That said, I’ve had many talks in my career with leaders and staff alike discussing both positive and negative cultures.  In my opinion, the more positive cultures are less likely to be forced, employ concepts such as the knowledge and just cultures, measures, and understand the importance of people’s contribution at all levels.

“No vs. Empowerment Cultures”

Ok, we’ve established cultures are often established from the top down and the best cultures must be nurtured in a positive direction.  What about a common phenomena of saying no in Information Technology.  In other words, the least privilege mind set with the goal of protecting data or controlling access.  Or denying features and functions with the goal of being able to support the business reliably.

My information technology philosophy has always relied on the empowerment idea.  Sure, a good information security plan does include ensuring rights and permissions exist.  However, once the No culture takes root, it grows like a weed in an otherwise healthy lawn, extending to other things, till it becomes easier to say no than to say yes.  The more No that is put in place, the less empowerment leaders and people have to grow.  Be wary of no cultures.

Final Thoughts

In the twenty years of being in information technology in the various industries, I can attest that each place I landed had a unique culture from which I learned.  Read the above book and recent discussions about these important topics drove writing this blog.  I feel fit and culture go hand in hand.  Put another way, ask these questions:  Am I a fit for this culture?  Can I grow and achieve professional goals in this culture?  Are you empowered to kick ass or are you stifled and told to just do your job?

\\ JMM
By Jonathan Merrill on 3/28/2014 8:29 PM

I thought I was really well armed during my recent trip to Maine. I brought my trusty Dell Latitude 10 tablet with charger, my Dell E6410 laptop with Rocketship charger, my APC USB external battery, and my (cough, cough) iPhone. And everywhere I went, technology failed me somehow. I am amazed that it’s 2014 and the state of internet access in hotels and in the north eastern parts of the US is just flat horrible.

Delta Flight’s GoGo Internet Service

During the flight from Dallas to New York, I decided to try the on flight internet access. I wanted to see what kinds of speeds I could expect and catch up on email, blogs, etc. This service is, of course, not free and elected to do only the 30 minute for $7.00 access. If I recall correctly, all day access was $15 and probably makes more sense on long flight, but the idea was to try it.

I connected using the Latitude 10 and got a connection right away. The initial browser page came up a d was fairly responsive. Once I selected the pay option, things started getting dicey. After entering my name and address, the system lagged horribly with multiple timeouts. 2-3 minutes between screens. I after ten minutes, I finally got to the credit card screen where it continually timed out. Never got access and was never able to try it out. Calling over a flight attendant yielded no positive result. He explained the system was assuredly too busy and apologized. Wow.

Verdict: FAIL.

Hertz’s Rental Car – Toyota RAV4 + iPhone

After a eventful trip, I was very glad to get to the airport in Manchester and pick up a rental to head to Maine. I elected to upgrade to a mid-size as we had luggage and a long drive in a compact is not fun. Never drove a Toyota RAV4 before and my initial impression was so-so. The instrumentation was not laid out very well, not very intuitive, but the driving experience was fairly solid. Our gas mileage was about 23 miles per gallon. Didn’t complain there.

My phone needed a charge and I plugged into the USB port below the radio. The radio found the device and charged without fail. I even played music from the “iPod” option. So far, so good. But that is the end of the pleasantness. Every day afterwards, I plug the phone in and got “ Connection Error”. Being the IT guy, I troubleshot the issue for nearly an hour to no avail. Six straight days and no iPhone access in the car. What a bummer. Strangely, on the way back to the airport, it started working again. No explanation as to why. Infuriating. System is buggy.

Verdict: Driving experience is a PASS. Using your iPhone connected USB is a FAIL.

Holiday Inn at the bay, Portland, Maine – Free Wi-Fi

Due to the rural part of Maine where my grandparents and extended family lives, I spent the majority of the week without Internet access or cell service. I was jonesing by the time we got into Portland. The hotel proclaimed free Wi-Fi to guests, standard fare these days. After getting the password from the front desk, I attempted to Wi-Fi to mostly abysmal results. No matter where I took the tablet or laptop, I never got more than two bars in the room. I literally walked around the room. Now, I might understand if we were at the edge of the hotel. But, our room was in the center of hallway!

No internet access. Spotty coverage. I contacted the front desk and was told they would look into it. I was there two days and nothing improved. In this day and age, there is no excuse for bad Wi-Fi coverage or internet access. I actually do this for a living and know better,

Verdict: Fail

Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Manchester, New Hampshire – Free Wi-Fi

I was actually surprised the airport offered free Wi-Fi. Connectivity was quick and easy. Maybe I will finally get on the Internet!!! Alas, to complete the circle of disconnections and disappointment, I got on and could go nowhere. Internet was very laggy. Lots of time outs and I just gave up after 30 minutes just trying to read the news on

Verdict: Fail.

Miscellaneous Mishaps

As if connectivity wasn’t frustrating me enough, the rocketship plug stopped working half way into the trip and no longer would charge the E6410. The APC battery stopped working also and refused to take a charge. The only device that worked well was the Latitude 10, but too bad I didn’t load my tools on it or I would have treated you with screenshots and speed tests. I use the tablet for mostly document reading, Kindle eBooks, and email. So, its usefulness wasn’t maximized as I had hoped.

Final Thoughts

I am thoroughly disappointed in the state of connectivity I encountered across New Hampshire and into Maine, I expected more. Especially at hotel prices over $200 a night. Is service levels really this bad? Before you say hotspot, I tried that too to. AT&T cell and data coverage was very spotty in north Maine. It was ok in Portland, but data speeds were mediocre, slow in fact. Amanda has T-Mobile and her connectivity was actually much better, but her speeds were equally horrible. I tried using her hotspot function and it was just plain unworkable. Sigh.

// JMM


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