What Buzzwords Need a Clear Definition for You?

Information Age Management::The Technology Appendix - Cover[Updated April 20, 2016:]

I’m soliciting suggestions for terms to explain to my readers, since I’m about to start finishing the second edition to the last section of my first book.

In less silly language, The Technology Appendix, which was part of the back matter of Information Age Management and which was also published separately in 2011, is going to be spun off into its own book in late 2016. I want to update it with new terms that the average manager is likely to run into. “SaaS, semantic web, mobile web, Drupal, and MVC” were a few of the big terms in 2011. What did you run into for the first time in 2015? “Chef, puppet?” “Sass,” not to be confused with “SaaS?”

The idea behind the book is to give the reader a heads up and some basic context, and – hopefully – to make him or her sound a little smarter, because hopefully he or she will be a little smarter after reading the book.

So if you have any suggestions, please send me an e-mail or even better: post them on twitter: @jasoncotman.


SaaS, PaaS, IaaS – what exactly are the differences?

Wall-Skills.com has a great new poster explaining the precise differences between Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as as Service (Iaas).

However, I would disagree that WordPress.com is Software as a Service. I would call it Platform as a Service and use NetSuite.com as a great example of SaaS. That’s because the purpose of WordPress.com isn’t to provide you with software that you use. Rather, the WordPress.com software interface exists so that you have a platform for your website. It is not the WordPress software but rather the underlying WordPress core and the PHP engine, which allow your website to function, that make you go to WordPress.com and start a blog.

But I’m highlighting this anyway because I think it’s a good poster and it was a good context for me to give my own little explanation as to the differences. And the poster is spot on regarding PaaS and IaaS.

You can see the post here:

Be a better boss, get better workers.

Leave it to the Danes. A Danish study of 4,500 public workers has led researchers to conclude that the boss, not the workload, is what makes disgruntled workers disgruntled. They go on to say that workers can actually handle a pretty intense workplace and workload, so long as they feel like they’re being treated fairly. (I suspect there’s a bit more to it but that’s a quick summary.)

The solution? Here’s a quote from the article:

“I recommend a management style in which there is a clearly expressed wish to treat employees properly – combined with a transparent organisational structure.”

Big surprise! If you’ve read Information Age Management, you know how important it is to treat your workers with dignity, and you’ve learned techniques to do just that while getting better performance out of them than before. But it’s always nice to read a little confirmation, even if it is at the expense of the Danish public sector.

Here’s the article:

Goodbye, Skype

No SkypeBecause of Microsoft’s pattern of breaking its software security, I have to rescind my previous comments, both in my book and on this blog, in support of Skype, which has been owned by Microsoft for some time.

Skype was never open source but it was still quite reliable and the NSA’s continued failure to get anyone to crack its encryption (disscussed in my book) suggested to me that it had good security, as far as one can guess at such things in a closed-source system.

But now, Skype is a Bad Actor. It gets added to services like Google Voice, which, you know, Do Not Use.

I suppose you could still use Skype for IM, and for the time being I still am doing so. But I’m phasing out my phone number as quickly as possible and won’t do any more Skype voice chatting.

We can only wonder how many more of these disappointing revelations are going to become apparent in the coming weeks with the leaks in the news of late.

[Edit July 2016: I’ve switched to Ekiga and/or Jitsi. Contact me if you’d like to share details and do comms correctly.]

From InfoWorld.com: Adopt the cloud, kill your IT career

An article from InfoWorld has a great take on adopting the cloud, a topic that is near and dear to my heart. In fact, much of Information Age Management :: The Technology Appendix deals with Software as a Service and other aspects of the cloud.

Those of you who have read my book know that I am a believer in the “strong sysAdmin” approach to IT. I believe that an IT infrastructure without an agile, competent, creative, and empowered sysadmin is like a captain without a ship. Further, many companies put so many decisions in the hands of ineffective managers (ie – managers who have not adopted Information Age Management) that they hamstring their technical staff and cause no end to problems. (Note: Get my book to learn how to avoid this pitfall.)

In today’s article, Paul Venezia makes the point wonderfully:

You might be eager to relinquish responsibility of a cranky infrastructure component and push the headaches to a cloud vendor, but in reality you aren’t doing that at all. Instead, you’re adding another avenue for the blame to follow. The end result of a catastrophic failure or data loss event is exactly the same whether you own the service or contract it out. The difference is you can’t do anything about it directly. You jump out of the plane and hope that whoever packed your parachute knew what he or she was doing.

The cloud can be wonderful but hosting your infrastructure off-site is not a solution in-and-of itself. It may give you indemnification in case of failure but worrying about indemnification is a wimp’s game. You want your infrastructure to work and the only way to make that happen is to have excellent technical people with the power to control your infrastructure.

In my book, Information Age Managment, I explain how to properly choose a cloud vendor and how you, as a manager, should handle them. I also explain how to find and keep excellent systems administrators and helpdesk staff, so you will have the skills on-site to deal with problems as they arrive.

You can get the book at Amazon.com or BN.com.

American Companies *Still* Can’t Fill IT Positions

According to this article at NetworkWorld.com, American companies are still unable to adapt to the modern workforce well enough to fill vacancies.

This is the premise behind my book, Information Age Management. To wit: that in order for companies to stay competitive with a full staff of excellent workers, modern IS managers must shift away from Indstrual Age management styles and to what I describe as Information Age Management.

Anyone who has worked for a successful tech startup has likely experienced this. In fact, we can learn a lot from the following aspects of the typical tech startup:

  1. they use technology for work like most people use technology for play
  2. each worker has a distinct role (or several distinct roles), rather than a title
  3. there is usually a glorious lack of an established, Industrial Age, on-site, 9-5 corporate culture

This blend may be why startups can be so successful at challenging behemoths in the tech industry when doing so would be much harder in other industries. But the good news is that any business in any industry can incorporate Information Age Management and that doing so is beneficial to both employers and employees, so it creates a happier and more productive work environment. In fact, that was part of the original promise of the internet, twenty years ago: that workers and companies would have more flexibility to get their work done and to hire whom they like. But that hasn’t happened. Here is how I put it in my book:

if your management style does not become as flexible as the legitimate services that make up today’s world, you risk becoming less legitimate. If that happens, your workers will stop taking you seriously and they’d be right to stop taking you seriously because this lack of flexibility does not stem from a failure of desire nor from a failure of technology. It’s a failure of management.

That means that a manager today has a rare opportunity to embrace non-traditional work styles and by doing so, he can get the best and brightest workers, produce the most innovative results, and reap the resulting economic rewards.

Today’s article in NetworkWorld.com is not unique; in my book, I cite other articles that reach the same conclusion: companies cannot fill their IT vacancies, even at a time of low employment. And I also describe rampant inefficiencies that many companies take for granted as a necessary evil but which serve no one and are not necessary at all. Flexibility is not difficult when you learn how to be flexible safely. And it is no longer an option if you want to stay competitive. Things are tough out there; those who can’t bend might just break.

Just Say “No” to NDAs (Usually)

There is a fantastic article in ITWorld.com and a complimentary blog post by JPL Consulting that discusses NDAs and why you shouldn’t ask a developer to sign one.

I found the article insightful and the blog post spot-on in that it mirrors my own thinking and some of the thoughts I shared in my book, Information Age Management.

The JPL Consulting post mentions that your idea is probably not so unique that it requires an NDA – and that by signing this NDA, a developer is agreeing not to work on a wide range of types-of-projects that are his bread and butter. It also points out that starting a conversation this way gets your relationship with your developer off on the wrong foot.

I couldn’t agree more. In Information Age Management, I explain how to find a good developer and outsource a project to him or her. I also say that you should not ask the developer to sign an NDA. If your idea is so unique, get a patent. That’s what patents are for. Otherwise, you risk losing the best developers and looking more than a little amateurish.

There’s also an excellent section of the JPL Consulting post that says “NDAs Have Their Place.” Indeed they do! As the post points out, NDAs are great for very specific projects. They are also important – critical, even – when your developer will be dealing with private customer data. But oddly, entrepreneurs seem to ask for NDAs when they have what they consider to be unique and fascinating ideas but forget to ask for one when their customer data is on the line.

You can read the article in ITWorld.com here: http://www.itworld.com/software/268152/will-write-code-wont-sign-nda

and the blog post by JPL Consulting is here: http://blog.jpl-consulting.com/2012/04/why-i-wont-sign-your-nda/.

They’re each worth a read.

Wonderful News: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Opens Up About Being Open-Source

Open Source Initiative KeyholeThis is great news for open-source advocates and in a small but meaningful way, for the U.S. government and citizens. Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a United States government federal agency, announced that it uses open-source software and will contribute its source code back to the community. You really don’t get much better than that when it comes to government accountability and contribution in this digital age.

From the CFPB website:

Until recently, the federal government was hesitant to adopt open-source software due to a perceived ambiguity around its legal status as a commercial good. In 2009, however, the Department of Defense made it clear that open-source software products are on equal footing with their proprietary counterparts.

We agree, and the first section of our source code policy is unequivocal: We use open-source software, and we do so because it helps us fulfill our mission. [Emphasis Original]

The post also gives a good basic explanation of what source code is, what open-source means, and why it matters. This is definitely a good read. You can find the full post here: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/the-cfpbs-source-code-policy-open-and-shared/

WebCams Are Silly

In my book, Information Age Management, I point out webcams are not a good idea in an office environment. I bring this up in the appendix, where I discuss VOIP and Skype amongst many other technologies that help maintain excellent workflow between colleagues who do not share an office.

Now, I love Skype – even though it’s not Open-Source software. I love it not only because it it offers IM (which is what productive teams tend to use as their go-to communications medium, at least at present) and Voice (which means you get to play Charlie of Charlie’s Angels), as well as the critical-but-underused screen-sharing, but because it encrypts these services. I discuss this encryption and how much you can trust it in my book and in The Technology Appendix. The upshot is that I would prefer a FOSS alternative. But until some of the FOSS alternatives are robust enough, I’ll stick with Skype. Oh: I also love that you can get a phone number with Skype. That means that I can use the same setup with Skype and non-Skype users alike.

But Skype can also be used for video conferencing. In fact, when I recently suggested a Skype call with someone I’d just met, my friends had a friendly laugh at my expense and I was told that “to Skype” is a euphamism for being naughty on a webcam, as Urban Dictionary describes best.

So if webcams in the office create an unnecessary burden on workers, offer nothing in return (as I assert), and have such a naughty reputation, why are they still here? Personally, I blame the Hollywood directors who inspired a generation of well-meaning but technologically-challenged managers to believe that ‘video phone is the wave of the future’ or some such nonsense and left it at that. These managers might do well to read my book.

Fortunately, someone agrees with me – at least as far as webcams and Skype are concerned:

Ultimately Skype will be an unstoppable force in screen sharing. … It is interesting to see how screen sharing is hugely important for a productive long-distance meeting, and video (of a talking head) is actually not.

That is a re-quote attributed to Jan Schultink (@JanSchultink) from this blog post (emphasis added).

Interview Questions: Can They Ask That?

Wendy Ryan at Salary.com published an article entitled “Can they ask that? Illegal interview topics.” The article breaks down some common interview questions that are of questionable legality, which can come up in a job hunt. You can read the article here: http://www.salary.com/can-they-ask-that-illegal-interview-topics/

In my book, Information Age Management: How to Increase Productivity by Getting the Best Out of Contractors, Vendors, Telecommuters, and Other Geeks in a Rapidly Changing Workplace, I devote an entire section (Section III) to How to Find and Keep Good Workers. The chapters within that section break down as follows:

  • Writing a Good Help Wanted Ad
  • Online Job Application and Screening Applications
  • First Contact Protocol
  • Screening
  • Evaluations
  • In Conclusion – Hiring Workers

I begin by explaining what sort of workers the modern company needs and then I detail how to make the correct impact using effective help wanted posts, online job boards, et. al. I also explain how to interview a new worker, particularly for a technical position.

The philosophy of Information Age Management is to focus on results above all else. As such, the sorts of questions that Salon.com (correctly) points out as being common are not only legally iffy but they are also superfluous and a sign of a poorly managed company – or at least a poor interviewer.

Once you’ve read Information Age Management and digested the philosophy and techniques that lead to a more productive workplace, you’ll be in a position to ask better questions, get better personnel, keep them, and find success together.

Information Age Management: How to Increase Productivity by Getting the Best Out of Contractors, Vendors, Telecommuters, and Other Geeks in a Rapidly Changing Workplace
is available from Amazon.com and BN.com.