Christmas projects

I have all sorts of things planned this Christmas, some of which may happen and some of which may take a little longer to reach fruition.

  • Albums of the year (which I always do), and which will be ready on or around 31st December.
  • One movie a day, where I will watch one decent movie a day, and list them all with a few notes on why I chose them and how they all fit together.
  • A writing project, which I’ve started, and which might end up being a “one poem a day” type exercise.

It is good to have some time to work on this sort of thing, and I’m hopeful it will redress the balance a little after a year of too much work, too much¬†responsibility¬†and not enough creativity.

Life on the bleeding edge

I love new things.

I still get that thrill when I buy a new piece of hardware or download a new piece of software.

I still run the latest version of Ubuntu on my laptop and my netbook, and generally upgrade to the next release whilst it is still in beta.

The only drawback with this is that I occasionally run into the sort of bugs that new software is well known for. It’s been a while since I’ve come across a show-stopper, but there have been occasions where running bleeding edge software has hampered my productivity somewhat.

I’ve also recently come to the revelation that whilst I love new software, I’m also very keen on making my desktop look and feel the same no matter what operating system I’m using. Which is why it’s often very difficult to tell what version of Linux I’m running, as I tend to have a very minimalistic looking desktop that is probably quite close to how it looked in 2005 (and also quite close to how Debian 6 looks today). I also tend to use the same wallpaper on all my computers (regardless of OS) which can also muddy the water a bit.

What I seem to be moving towards now is running the latest released software at home, and dual booting between something stable and something experimental at work (where I do need to keep up with the bleeding edge of whatever I’m working on, which at time of writing is Mac OS X and Ubuntu). This ensures that I have a stable platform to use for email, writing documents etc, but that I also have the latest builds of Ubuntu and Mac OS X running on real hardware so I can iron out any potential support issues early on. I also have at least 10 virtual machines that I use regularly, and I wonder how I ever got by without Virtualbox (actually the computer graveyard in our spare room offers some clues).

What kicked of this train of thought was Ubuntu 11.04, which ships with a new default desktop called Unity. I’ve had a play with it, and don’t hate it as much as I thought I would, although I’m glad I can still make a fresh install look exactly like my existing desktop in under 5 minutes. It does seem like a further step towards the UI of Mac OS X, but as someone who has always preferred that to Windows then I don’t mind that at all. I’m still not sold on dark themes, but as I’ve said many times, these things can be changed easily.

So yes, another version of Ubuntu that I can work with and will upgrade to on my home machine. I might also spend some more time with Unity to see if it’s something that I can one day grow to love. Of course, I also wouldn’t say no to a new Mac once Lion is out, but I do get to use quite powerful Macs at work at present, which does scratch the OS X itch for now.

Job titles, and why they are important

As part of my role, I am involved in recruitment within my team. This involves reading through a lot of CVs and application forms and trying to work out some sort of correlation between a person’s job title and what they actually do. And it’s not as easy as you would think.

Take for example the humble Sandwich Artists (sometimes known as Sandwich Architects) at Subway. This role has nothing to do with art or architecture, and everything to do with making sandwiches to order, and could easily be misinterpreted when skim reading a CV. Similarly, it might be possible to misunderstand what a Nail Technician actually does, as well as misunderstanding what type of nails their skills relate to.

We have this problem in IT as well.

In IT we are blessed with legions of IT Managers, Network Specialists and Computer Officers who may have had the same job title for 15 years, even though what they do now bears no relation to either what they did 15 years ago or what other people with the same job title do now. This is particularly noticeable at conferences, where the same rough skills set might be described in 20 different ways on people’s name badges, but it also makes recruitment a bit of a minefield.

We also have a few more esoteric job titles, including a few Data Architects and Infrastructure Architects (who again are nothing to do with architecture). It’s often difficult to make a stab at what some of them do, and sometimes even the (proud?) bearers of these job titles are a little hazy about what they actually mean.

There is also the issue of job titles that only refer to a small part of what someone actually does. I’ve fallen foul of this one myself a few times, and think that is is very important that managers review the job titles, job descriptions and duties of all of their staff on a regular basis to ensure they are still fit for purpose.

It makes me think we need some sort of unity, or at least a naming convention. Should managers have to manage people, or is it fine for them just to manage a service? What makes someone a specialist, an analyst or an advisor? And shouldn’t we make job titles easier for people to understand, both internally and externally?

Maybe then we might have a chance of working out what someone does without having to read their whole job description.

Coming soon…

I have so many things I want to write about right now. Starting with some of the really productive conversations I’ve been having with staff and students about how they use IT, and ending with everything I’ve learned over the last few days at the UCISA conference in Edinburgh. I reckon that’s probably at least a few thousand words of writing, but as I’ve got a few other things to get finished first, I thought I’d at least make a list for my own benefit.

  1. The move towards phones and tablets and away from traditional computers, and what this means for service delivery and support.
  2. Why job descriptions, job titles, and what we actually DO at work should be as closely aligned as possible.
  3. Balancing innovation and stability.
  4. Google Apps, live@edu, and email for life.

I think that covers most of it for now.