Company Culture

Part of my current job is to design and coordinate the integration of back-end IT systems when we acquire companies.  To successfully do this I am in A LOT of meetings with other major departments such as Finance, Enterprise Services Applications, Audit, Facilities, the Business Unit purchasing the company, Marketing, Sales, HR and even the CEO/President of the both companies.

A meeting the other day really hit me in the gut with my current situation. A couple VP’s at the company we bought were complaining of the lack of culture since they were purchased.  They stated that their people were number one priority, followed by customers and then stock holders.  This is how they were able to be successful in business and keep great people working for them over a long period of time.  Now they felt like their people were last in the list.

After listening to their concerns in this area, which mainly revolved around how long it took to get issues resolved (both HR and IT) and the lack of communication about new processes, the HR representative was given a chance to respond.  The direction HR was going to take to fix this was to educate them on how much charity work our company does, how the users can get involved with charities of their own or the ones the company works with, and other special moral boosting actives we do within offices.

I didn’t think this was a very good response at all.  Neither did our CEO/President, who responded by telling them that nothing has changed so far within their company and if there’s a culture problem than it has to do with the managers there, who are the same managers as before the acquisition.

This exchange made me sit back and think for a minute.  I have been in the office of this company a few times during the acquisition process and completely agree that they do have a great culture.  You could feel it when you walked in the office.  People were working hard but still smiling.  They talked to each other in a polite manner at a minimum.  Twice I saw disagreements and then later that day the individuals were talking like nothing happened. So what was it that makes people see these perceived changes in culture?

The meeting made me take a look at my own experiences and what I think goes into a “culture” at work.  Personally, culture at work has multiple parts and the sum of those parts will make each person decide if the culture is to their liking or not.  These parts may include:

  1. The freedom to make decisions and have managers back them
  2. Managers who communicate well, both in praise and criticism
  3. Clear direction on where the company is going and actions/decisions that back it
  4. Ability to work from remotely, as in from home or anywhere you can connect from
  5. Working with other forward-thinking managers/peers
  6. Able to attend training classes and/or local free events
  7. Having peers that you enjoy being around, not just working on a project/technology
  8. Being rewarded for hard work above and beyond the norm
  9. Ability to move to other positions within company
  10. Using work time to volunteer at charities

I have worked at four different companies (two divisions within one of them) and each had a different feel when I started than when I left.  Some shifted over long periods of time while others changed quickly.  A shift over time can be bearable for most but a quick shift is usually fatal for the company as it can lead to employees leaving quickly.  Some examples of changes that lead to a quick change in culture are:

  1. A new manager that tends to yell a lot, isn’t clear on direction of company or goals.
  2. A realignment of resources without a clear layout or goals for it.
  3. A manager who uses improper ways of “encouraging” staff, such as criticizing in front of peers.
  4. When the economy tanked in 2008, our team quit going to lunch together most days, causing a change in the relationship between everyone.
  5. Peers leaving to advance their career with another company.
  6. When good employees leave and are replaced by others who don’t want to learn or work as hard.
  7. Outsourcing parts of the

It’s a tough time for managers as they need to know what drives each employee and how to recognize when a good one is unhappy BEFORE they submit their resignation.  It really comes down to how you “feel” at work.  Different things make different people happy.  But when you are happy you will stay with a company longer and go the extra mile.

Shaking and Scared

Let me start by stating that I have no official training in either the psychological or physical disciplines.  This is nearly a blog about me.

I’m not sure when it may have started but the first time I noticed it was late summer of 2007.  Or, rather, my wife noticed it.  We would be sitting somewhere, I’d be thinking about work and my wife would notice my left hand shaking.  I didn’t know what caused it for sure but it didn’t take long to realize that it only happened when I thought hard about work, which was often.  It would show up anyway.  Dinner, watching TV or even while trying to go to sleep at night.  I wasn’t sure if it was stress, lack of a proper diet, lack of sleep or any something else that changes within your life when you work long, hard, stressful hours.

Work became so stressful, and not because of the actual work, that I looked for another job.  It was a difficult process after spending 11 years at one company and moving up 4 positions.  An amazing thing happened after I found another job though. I landed in a very good situation where there was 5 very strong system administrators. It was such a drastic change for the better that within a couple of weeks my shaking went away and I didn’t notice it again for at least 3 years.

I continued to work at this job until the economy tanked. We didn’t lay anyone off but we turned into “maintenance” mode since most of our income was advertisement based.  I only noticed the shaking one time while there.  That was during a very stressful data center move. No one ever said anything to me about it but I did see it when we were moving a blade chassis into my Jeep while 3 helpdesk admins where holding a tarp to keep the rain off of us. 🙂

In a chance encounter, shoveling the snow off my driveway at 11 pm, I started talking to a neighbor that I had never talked to.  Turns out that he was looking for a well-rounded infrastructure and VMware products systems admin to manage an environment that supported all of their developers.  It was a cool step that I couldn’t pass up.  This environment was so much fun to learn in, advance to a bunch of cool technologies and have great support from my manager.

There was only time each year that was stressful. We had a conference for all of our clients and I was in charge of setting up lab systems and a portal for them.  It was a ton of fun but a lot of stress to get done in time.  Every year we made improvements that usually meant changing the way we did almost everything.  I remember my coworker asking me about my hand at least once a year.

By now I contributed my shaking to stress.  It was the only correlation I could come up for it. I would blow it off and not worry about it at all.  That is until my dad started having issues.  Doctors weren’t sure what was going on as all tests came back negative.  He was shaking a lot, sliding his legs and moved into a deep depression.  We finally got him to a few different doctors who diagnosed him with Parkinson’s.  It was a rough time for him and the entire family.

I spent at least one day a week with my dad. We’d talk, shoot pool or what ever I could get him to do.  I spent most of my time watching him and his mannerisms.  I would look back and see if there was any indicators from his past that would have let us know this was coming.  At the time it was just data gather. It would soon start to haunt me.

I ended up leaving this GREAT job for another. Four of the admins from the second job above had moved on to a VAR.  They were trying for years to get me to come over.  I finally decided that I was ready for a new challenge.  It was great for about the first 9 months and then I realized I didn’t like most of what I was doing.  I don’t think it was completely because it was a VAR but more the VAR I was at.  We had a limited product set we could sell because of partner agreements and the management style was about 400% outside of my comfort level.  Next thing I knew my hand was shaking almost every day.  I was back to the same point from the first job above only this time it was getting worse.

At this point not only was my hand shaking but I was constantly tired and my head was so congested that I would almost black out while driving to work.  I was hacking a lot of phlegm all day, every day.  This triggered something else in me.  I started looking at all of my physical issues and comparing them to my dad.  I was seeing way too many similarities.  Since this time I’ve really fallen into a depression.  It’s caused relationship issues between me and my wife, concentration problems at work, me not treating my friends very well and not being as good as a father to my kids as I should be.

I finally went to a doctor to get a full physical and blood work done.  Nothing came up and I was told to get another hour of sleep at night. Since that time I have not talked to a doctor about my issues.  I really need to find one that is willing to listen and help me rather than just push me down the line.

I still didn’t really like what I was doing at my new job, though I was good at it and getting a lot of recognition.  I wasn’t happy there and I haven’t gone for medical assistance in any way other than a therapist now and then. I’m honestly scared to end up like my dad.  He was a mechanic for ever. The manly guy who provided for his family and all of a sudden he couldn’t work any more.

I know I need to take control of this.  I’m not sure how.  I know I need to talk to someone but my family has never been much of a feelings type. Don’t get me wrong.  We talk A LOT.  Just not about our feelings.

This post may not help others.  It’s more about getting my thoughts out.  If anyone reads this all the way through I’d like to say thank you for reading.  If anyone has any recommendations I am all ears.  I know at this point I just need to make it a priority to get help but as most of my hard working family has done in the past I’ve just tried to keep my head down and “work off” the feelings.

I guess what I’m trying to convey is that work is important but not as important as our health.  We should pay close attention to that aspect of our lives.  Even more so than our career.  It is very hard to do that when you are trying to provide all that you can for your wife and kids.  We all must make sacrifices and some times that means making sure you will be around to support them in the long run, not just the next few years.

Questions you shouldn’t be affraid to ask your boss

One of my favorite topics lately that I’ve heard on a few podcasts is about job changes and career choices.  There is so much to take into account in looking for a new job or evaluating an opportunity that you weren’t looking for.  It’s been fun to hear people help others realize their potential and direct them to job options that they never thought they would qualify for.

I get email from recruiters almost weekly for open positions.  Over 90% of these jobs would be taking a step backwards in my career, and not by a single step. I’m not sure what they’re search methods are but these recruiters need to do a little leg work before contacting potential candidates.

A friend recently contacted me about an open position that he felt I was not only qualified for but would love to be in and able to grow within his company.  After a few texts and emails I finally took his call so I could hear about this <sarcasm> “once in a lifetime” </sarcasm> opportunity.  It turns out the position would allow me to do a lot of the tasks that I used to do and really miss.  Things I used to do at my current company. Before I went to a VAR and realized I didn’t like a fair amount of what was required for my position (you never know until you try).

I’ve talked with a couple people that I really trust as to whether I should take this job opportunity or not. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows there are a lot of annoyances where I currently work.  I’d classify them as annoyances as each of them in their own right wouldn’t make anyone want to leave the company.  One of my good friends finally said, “If you like that other position so much why don’t you ask your boss if you can be put into the same type of position where you currently work?”  Huh?  What?  You mean that is allowed?

I thought about what my friend said and decided to look into it.  Then I looked at the team that was currently labeled to do the same type of work within my business unit.  Once I did, though, I found out that they didn’t do that type of work anymore, and haven’t for almost two years.  They were spending all of their time doing financial analysis on how the company could cut back instead of actual architecture work.  I didn’t want to do that (neither did the other 4 who left the team already) so I didn’t ask the question.

Another side story to this was that I was “promoted” to a new “role” on a new team to do the same type of work that I’ve already been doing for nine months.  They wanted to make a presentation our of my promotion a couple days ago, at the same time I was deciding if I was going to accept the job offer above.  I didn’t want my current boss to do a presentation for this promotion for me to turn around in a few days or weeks and resign.  I felt the right thing to do was to ask for some time, which I did.  He really appreciated what I did.

The fallout was that a couple hours later I had my boss and two higher levels of management asking me to stay.  They asked what I would be doing at this other job.  Once I told them they responded with “We really don’t want you to leave. We’re forming a new team to do that here and we’ll move you to it now.”  Wait, what?????

They’ve been talking about a re-org to a new model for over 12 months but there’s been little to no movement.  I talked to one guy on the “IT Transformation” team for 15 minutes one day but that was it.  I had no idea what was going on, where they wanted me to fit within this new model (which ended up being the team they tried to promote me to) and when it was going to be implemented.  Lucky for me I now had the proper people to ask questions of.

For the next 30 minutes I was able to ask them anything, and I did.  It was great to not only hear managements responses to my questions but see their body language when answering.  It became pretty easy to tell when they were confident in their answers and when they were trying to convince themselves as well as me, which is helping me make my decision.

Here’s a list of things I felt I needed to ask to help me decide if I should stay or take the offer above:

  1. I don’t like the current role I’m in.  Can I move to a role somewhere that allows me to do XXXX???  Be specific as you may not know where else in the company that people do that type of work.
  2. Are there any organization changes being planned that may change what I currently do or allow me to do something different?  What is the time frame for these changes to be implemented?
  3. How confident are you in the current management (all levels) to move the department/business unit/company forward?
  4. Does the company have enough talent to fill the positions needed to complete the transition?
  5. Is the company going to financially back the changes they are implementing?  (Especially if the answer to #4 is no.)

 

In my case there is a lot of changes in organizational layout and processes planned.  These changes will require all business units to change the way they interact with our systems and people.  It’s going to take a large army of very good people at a lot of levels to get it done.  I have more on this but this post is already WAY too long.  Maybe I’ll add them into the next post which will contain my decision on whether to stay or go. 🙂

VMworld Day 3

Tuesday keynote at VMworld included the announcement that VMworld 2016 will be in Las Vegas.  I personally like this as hotels are cheaper (unless my wife comes and we stay at the Cosmopolitan), lunches always include a hot option (instead of cold boxed lunches we’ve had in San Francisco), and the WiFi in the conference center always works.  WiFi back in 2012 wasn’t too bad here in SF but the past 3 years it’s been borderline atrocious.

The other announcements were all around software version releases and new products released earlier in the year, such as Photon.  There was a lot of EUC talk around Workspace Suite and VMware even brought up a Microsoft rep to talk about the work VMware and Windows are doing with Windows 10.  It was a bit awkward after Microsoft being basically kicked out of the Solutions space years ago.

VMware Identity Manager was release a few weeks ago.  They have a lot of plans for it in the near future which will take it beyond traditional IAM space.  It will take some time and very few specifics were released at this time.

I hit up a lot of great sessions on NSX, vRA and deep dives into vSphere 6.  Most of the data I received came from the VMware User Group (VMUG) Leader lunch.  Special guests Pat Gelsinger, Raghu Raghuram and Kit Colbert.  We were able to have a Q&A session with them where we could ask about any question. One of my favorites was how VMworld is trying to help educate college students on Virtualization since most come out with little to no knowledge of what it is. When those students get out of college and into the IT world they have to learn on the job, which is very tough on the company hiring them. VMworld is working to donate software and education material to help bridge this gap.  One VMUG group is actually working with ITT Tech on a program and had a couple students attending VMworld with them.

The other awesome thing they talked about was that Photon will be open sourced as they believe other vendors will be heading in the same direction as well.  The base system running containers should be as small as possible and might as well be available to all.

VMworld Day 2

Day number 2 is in the books for me at VMworld 2015. I’m not huge on details coming out while I’m here as there’s way to much content to make complete rational decisions, YET.

Here’s what I found interesting and will be ready to investigate further:

  1. Need to look into REAL use cases for Photon and the applications I support.  Going to be tough to get our developers to change applications to support it, if they can.
  2. Really liking NSX 6.2 and thinking it’s even better than ACI for OUR use case. Have a couple things we need figure out that ACI does better though.  Really need to dig into design and use cases.
  3. New SRM functionality is nice but need to check out some of its competitors to meet our needs.



After my last session I headed out to a #vExpert dinner and a few parties.  SolidFire #vExpert dinner was awesome and enjoyed playing their Cards Against Humanity add-on set.  Headed over to #vBrisket and had a blast with that group from Pittsburgh. So great to put faces to twitter handles. They’ve been great to me after my travel issues as well. I made an appearence at the Nimble Storage party as well.  I was getting tired so I didn’t make it back over to the PernixData Star Wars party.  I heard it was good but my lack of interest in Star Wars made it less of a priority this year.


Once again there’s two disappointments this year.  Both of them have to do with conference logistics and not the content.

  1. The WiFi in this place is terrible.  I get it. There’s A LOT of people here. But there’s as company who’s sole job is to provide this service and once again I can’t get connected to the WiFi network, and if I do I can’t get to the internet.  I was in one session with less than 150 people and 6 WAP’s.  It took over a minute to get connected and was unable to ping the gateway let alone anything on the internet.  I couldn’t even get DNS resolution, in case ICMP traffic was being blocked.
  2. The food.  If I was paying full conference pass price ($2,000) I would be even more pissed off.  Cold, boxed lunches is crazy.  I paid less for a conference pass years ago and had hot lunches.  Since 2011 it’s been cold lunches only.  Being out here on my own dime makes it hard to go out for lunch and shines a light on this even more.

VMworld Day 1

Sunday, August 30th was my first day at VMworld 2015.  So far it contained the following:

  1. Over 10 miles of walking/running
  2. Playing dodge ball to raise money for the Wounded Warriors charity
  3. Checking in to conference and collecting conference material
  4. Attending Opening Acts 2015 via #VMunderground group
  5. Talking with a lot of community friends at opening
  6. Attending VMunderground party

 

The two things that stuck with me the most from my day 1:

  1. Storage specialists confirmed my thoughts that applications who have their own replication mechanism (such as MS SQL Availability Groups) are both more efficient and reliable than using any type of storage replication
  2. This community rocks in its support for each other.

Keeping Good Employees

Over the past +21 plus years of working in IT I’ve worked for six different companies.  I’ve worked on some great teams and those that really need some help.  A few times both of these occurred at the same company over time.  The thing I’ve noticed is there’s usually a change that drives away the really good employees and the replacements often are not as good as those they replaced (maybe that’s just my perception though).  That change can be hard to define before it’s too late and most or all of the great workers are gone, resulting in lower output and customer satisfaction.

Why do good employees leave?  There’s numerous reasons for this and the following is a list of them that I’ve seen first hand.

  • Overworked
  • No upward movement within company (promotions)
  • Talked down to
  • Lack of culture
  • Lack of trust
  • Not competitive in pay and/or overpaying those who don’t deserve it
  • Lack of training

I currently work at a larger company, which I won’t name, that has both reputations of being a great place to work and a bad place to work. In the past I worked within one division that developed software. My manager was always challenging me with “what would it take to…” questions and I was expected to research, architect, test and then report back with a solution. I was EXPECTED to go out and learn about all new technologies (on company time) in order to complete these challenges. It was great. Yes, I also had to “keep the lights on” and upgrade/patch the existing solutions we had in place as well.

I now work within Enterprise IT and for most managers and staff it’s the complete opposite.  People request training and most of the time it’s met with a NO.  Sometimes we get to go but that’s only if it’s budgeted into a current project. I’m one of the few going to vendor events, training classes, and getting involved with vendor programs, such as #vExpert and #PernixPro   When I work on projects I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “no ones told me how to do that” when I ask if a task has been completed. This includes things as simple as installing and configuring DHCP on Windows Server 2008 R2.

I’ve only missed one year since 2007 for a specific conference and the one request I had when moving to EIT was that I get to keep going.  I was told that would be OK and I didn’t think anything else about it. Two weeks before registration opened I submitted my official request, which was approved right away. I registered the first day it was open, picked my hotel, and booked flights. Six weeks later I learned 5 others within my area will be attending as well, 4 for the first time.  I was excited that my company was investing in these people.  This would help us tremendously as I keep hearing how we want to change the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality and we’re usually 5 years behind in basic technologies.

Four days before the conference the “bad place to work” rears its ugly head again. I was told cutbacks need to be made and one person would not be going to the conference in order to save travel dollars.  I was assured it wasn’t me as I was the first one approved. I checked with my boss the next couple days and was told no one was being held back and we’re all going.

Then the bomb drops.  Noon on Friday (less than 24 hours before most were to leave) management decided one person wouldn’t go after all. I was not the chosen one as suspected earlier in the week. I thought it was crappy to do this so close to the conference. Then the second bomb. One hour later the CIO states that no one can go. WHAT THE HELL!!!

After some digging we found out that only travel is being pulled as there was no way to get conference fees back. After hours of talks I was told that is the final decision from the CIO.  My boss really believes in training and told me to find a way to get flights paid for, if I could.  I wouldn’t be able to fill out an expense report for any costs acquired for the week. Luckily for me the community in which I’m heavily involved came to my rescue so I’m writing this post from the conference.

But back to the topic of this post. Over the past +21 years I have had training pulled from me that I already had scheduled and booked.  I understand this happens and I’m OK with it so long as it’s not 24 hours before the conference, or even 72 hours.  It shows a lack of vision, planning, and investment in your employees by management  If I had a week to figure out how to get my flights and hotel paid for I could have easily done so. I could have acqured the same for a couple others as well.  Getting it done within 4 hours on a Friday afternoon though? That is a completely different story.

This also has me thinking about the company I work for.  I keep hearing about how they can’t get/keep good employees and they “don’t know why.”  Well, here’s one example.