Jun 092017
 

IT Consulting is Great Building Your CareerI was only out of college for three years before I started working as a consultant. It wasn’t your typical consulting work; I joined a firm that paid you a salary and they found the clients. It has been over nine years now. I have learned a lot in the industry in those nine years but the most important takeaway I have discovered is that consulting is great for building your career. This is especially true if you are at the beginning of your career. The experience you have may only be what you obtained from college, and perhaps from a summer internship. The IT industry is vast and its constantly changing so it’s up to you, in most cases, to stay on the bleeding edge.

Consulting On The Bleeding Edge

When you are working every day at the same company where changes in technology are slow, keeping up becomes very difficult. It often becomes an extra curricular activity, outside of work. Granted there are some companies that may provide training opportunities or accounts to online tutorials (ex: Pluralsight); but there isn’t time during the day to complete them. If you are single you might have the time but if you have a spouse or a family, that free time is reallocated.

What I found most intimidating about consulting is the same thing that provides the greatest benefit. It is rare, in consulting, that you are brought in for staff augmentation. You are primarily recruited to work on a specific project, for a brief period of time and then you move on to the next client/project. Therefore you find that you are essentially “starting a new job” each time you start a new, on site, project. Some folks may find that very uncomfortable; I admit that it was probably one of my least favorite aspects of the job.

However, the fact that you change projects often is also a great way to improve your skills. Depending on the project, you may work on something that is bleeding edge. You never know where, in the plethora of technical solutions, a client might be building their product. There are some companies that want to keep up with the latest browser and mobile trends. Therefore they may be using the latest .NET or JavaScript framework (i.e. Angular, bootstrap, etc) which gives you the opportunity to work on the “latest and greatest”.

For what its worth, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to have to work on older frameworks and solutions; keeping those skills fresh is just as crucial.

Consulting Builds Your Network

A tenant in life that I often dispense unto others is “only half of life is what you know, the other half is who you know”. As a consultant you will change clients a lot and you will get to work with a lot of different people. It isn’t just other developers/IT staff but other project managers, business analysts, line of business, etc. Whenever I started a new client, I didn’t just build rapport with the developers, but anyone I spoke to or saw on a daily basis.

If you don’t have a LinkedIn account as a consultant then you are doing it wrong. LinkedIn is your greatest tool when you are changing clients/projects a lot. I always made it a point to connect to someone via LinkedIn as I wrapped up a project. You never know when that contact might be useful for your firm or even when you need a list of references. It’s always good to build your network and consulting is a great way to do that. It is especially useful if you are moving to a new city (as was the case for me).

Pipe Bomb: After 9 Years, I am No Longer a Consultant

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics*, as of January 2016 the average number of years an employee stays with a company is 3-4 years (in Professional Services). The fact that I was with my company for nearly a decade is quite rare. I was at my prior job for 2 1/2 years and I vowed that I would stay at my next employer longer. It’s been 9 years! I would say I succeeded in keeping that vow. However, all good things often come to an end. I have left the consulting world and returned to full-time employment.

My departure was on my own terms, which is not always the case for everyone. I just felt that it was time for a new chapter in my life. Consulting has many great benefits, especially at a professional level, as I outlined above. However, since you are rarely at the firms office it becomes difficult to form relationships with your co-workers because you rarely see them. Obviously that doesn’t mean I haven’t made a few friends over the past near-decade. Working in consulting has been instrumental to acclimate to a new city and state, not just geographically but socially as well. It’s an opportunity to make some friends with whom you will most likely share similar interests.

After nine years I have picked up a few tips for anyone who is currently a consultant or might be joining a consulting firm. I like to refer to these as:

Artifacts of wisdom:

  • Build rapport outside the team – As I mentioned earlier I always tried to chat with the people on other teams or in other departments. You never know what you might learn or who you might meet; which could benefit you in the future.
  • Never attempt to change the culture – Since I work in software development I prefer the adage “break the code but never break the culture”. You are there to help improve the product; you are not there to reorganize the team culture. Whatever team dynamic the client is using is obviously working for them; any attempts to “fix” it will only ostracize you.
  • When in Rome, do as the Romans do – You are already going to feel like an outsider because you are not included in company events/meetings, but do what you can to fit in. Take advantage of relaxed dress codes, work from home opportunities, whatever helps you feel integrated into the team. The more you ingratiate yourself the more cohesive the team will function.
  • Take verbose notes; mark dates of completion – This is a CYA (Cover Your Ass) technique. In some organizations the consultants can easily be blamed when something goes wrong or something seems doomed to fail. You need to protect yourself. Always take notes and date when you started something, when you contacted someone for help and when you completed it and marked it for testing.
  • Save important email – This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. Any email that contains instructions on what you are working on, when you finish it, or any details someone might try to use against you, you should save it! Save it in triplicate if you need to! I have done this and I still have those messages saved securely on removable media and off-the-grid servers. You must be responsible for protecting yourself.

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a lot of great people. I have grown professionally and socially. Consulting is now the cornerstone on which my entire career is built. Perhaps, in about 30 years, I will go back to consulting as part of my retirement. It is also entirely possible that I may go back sooner; it all depends on what the future holds. If you are a former co-worker reading this, I wish you the best of luck, thank you for sharing your knowledge and I hope I reciprocated equally.

* Bureau of Labor Statistics Economic News Release

minions_icon

I could accomplish so much more if I only had minions!

 

Jun 082017
 
World of Warcraft Legion expansion

I Love the Fel “Star Destroyer”

We are now three patches into the World of Warcraft Legion expansion (patch 7.1, 7.1.5, 7.2). I haven’t seen the subscription numbers lately but they have to be up. I know my play time is increasing quite a bit. In the previous expansions (after Wrath of the Lich King), I rarely felt motivated to log in. As much as I enjoyed Garrisons, it did become too repetitive. In fact WotLK is probably the last expansion I really enjoyed, however this expansion is quickly becoming a very close second.

I am really enjoying Legion! If you read a lot then I highly recommend reading Richard Knaak’s War of the Ancients trilogy. It is a perfect companion for this expansion and I think it has largely influenced how much I am enjoying it. In a lot of ways an MMO is like a movie, it’s only as good as the story it’s telling. Wrath of the Lich King had a great story that really felt entwined with my character and Legion is doing the same thing.

But Wait, There’s More

There is more to it than the story in the World of Warcraft Legion expansion. Several of the new features they have added is also contributing to my enjoyment. I will admit that I was skeptical at first of Class Order Halls. I thought it was going to be a step backward from Garrisons. I’ll admit that I was too quick to judge. Blizzard is doing a great job incorporating the Order Halls into the main story of the expansion. Also, I think what makes them fun is the fact that every Order Hall is different and has a different story. The garrisons were all the same no matter which class you were playing; now I’m trying to level all my alts just so I can experience each Order Hall.

The Artifact Weapons have to be a huge success. They have to be the driving force behind people completing so much additional content. I rarely set foot in Mythic dungeons but now hidden/unlocking appearances have me making the time to do a few. In fact I have probably completed more Mythic dungeons in this expansion than I have since Mythic dungeons were added to the game. The different weapon for each class specialization also has me trying different specializations. For example, I would rarely play anything other than a Fire Mage, but now I’ve acquired the artifact weapon for Fire and Frost (and I’m even considering getting the Arcane weapon).

It Isn’t Just the Content, It’s the People Too

I rarely pay any attention to Trade because of the trolls and 12 year olds causing havoc and raising blood pressures. However, there are good people and when you find those good people it does change the game. I was apart of a great raid team from Karazhan through most of Cataclysm. When Mists of Pandaria released our team broke up and several of us changed servers. Nearly everyone that moved to the same server all found new raid teams but I didn’t. Perhaps that is why I was rarely feeling motivated to log in.

Finally, when Legion came out, I joined a raid team of which couple of my former raid members were already members. It has almost felt like old times again! The people are fun and so diverse. Perhaps some people are intimidated by too much diversity in a raid team, but it becomes just a matter of adjusting to the different personalities. Eventually you learn that those different personalities are what makes things so much more interesting and fun (even when we are pissed off and struggling).

The next raid, Tomb of Sargeras, is about to open and the next patch (7.2.5) will be hitting live servers soon and I am excited! This new team is ready to face this exciting and lore filled content and soon we will destroy Kil’jaeden, just as we destroy Gul’dan.

FOR AZEROTH! FOR VARIAN!!

duke-nukem-sm If zombies attack the world, everyone will run and hide. Except for us gamers, of course. We’ve been waiting for this all our lives!

 

Jun 012017
 

Magic of Dimmingwood TrilogyThief’s Curse by C. Greenwood
My rating: 
(Read this review on Goodreads instead)

All three books were gifted to me by the author and, while I wanted to write a review upon completion of each book, I decided to defer until the end. I did this for a couple of reasons. 1) I was enjoying the books so much I didn’t want to hesitate between each book. 2) All three books are very cohesive so writing individual reviews would begin to feel redundant. It feels more beneficial to write a review that encompasses the entire Magic of Dimmingwood trilogy.

If you are familiar with the Legends of Dimmingwood series, written by the same author, then this trilogy is a prequel to those books. It will tell the story of Ilan’s parents (perhaps even where she got her name). The mystery of that amazing runed bow. It starts with the story of two boys of affluent birth whose family was betrayed by nefarious politicians. After their father’s execution, Luka and Ferran escape the tower and flee to Selibus. They take on new identities while befriending a magicker girl who will help them reach the Dimmingwood forest. However a guild of thieves, and their ruthless leader, also stand in their way and will change their lives forever.

A Cohesive Story and Very Well Written

One thing I have noticed about the author, C. Greenwood, is that she pumps out books quickly. Sometimes that can be detrimental, especially if the books are part of a series. However, that is not the case here. The books are so cohesive you would think she released them all at the same time. The tone between each book never changes; it feels more like starting a new chapter than starting the next book. All the relevant characters are well written and endearing. You will care what happens to all of them.

If you haven’t read the Legends of Dimmingwood books yet then I would recommend starting here first. I have only read the first book (Magic of Thieves) and Ilan was the only name I remembered. I have read quite a few fantasy novels since reading Magic of Thieves so it’s difficult for me to keep all the characters sorted out in my head. This worked to my benefit; not remembering who her parents were preserved the mystery of the story’s conclusion. Thus why I recommend reading the Magic of Dimmingwood trilogy first.

As I already mentioned, I have only read the first book in the Legends of Dimmingwood series but reading the rest of the books has definitely moved farther in on my radar.

View all my reviews

diablo3-reading“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
– Dr. Seuss

 

May 182017
 

Running Your First 5KAt the beginning of the year I wrote out a list of intentions for 2017 (because I don’t do resolutions). I listed several items, most of them were sedentary which is consistent with my occupation and hobbies. The one item I was most vehement about, is the one I was most concerned I wasn’t going to accomplish. Ultimately I decided I wasn’t going to try to stick to the “Couch-2-5K” regime and just try to run as often as I could and run as far as I could. I also decided I was going to run that Flying Pig 5K regardless of how much training I could do. I completed the 5K in 40:12, a decent baseline to work from. I also learned that it’s not difficult to train toward running your first 5k.

My Journey to Running a 5K

Five years ago if you were to tell me that I would be running a 5K I would have laughed in your face. Everything changed, however, in January of 2013; that’s when we bought a Fitbit. I can honestly say that I attribute my success to Fitbit. A family member told me that I am an inspiration because of the physical hardships I had to overcome to be able run a 5k. I don’t know if I would go that far. The story of my physical hardship is a sordid tale. It began all the way back to 1997 when I as Junior in high school. I blew my knee out playing ultimate Frisbee. I spent the last few weeks of my Junior year on crutches and the better part of my summer recovering.

Knee Joint DiagramOver the years I spoke with several doctors and physical therapists. I was ultimately diagnosed with Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS) and they identified that my knee had tracking issues. In layman terms that means that my knee makes grinding noises when going up or down stairs and that my knee has a tendency to slide laterally. Your knee sits in, what is called, the femoral groove (see diagram). If it’s in proper alignment, the knee should only move forwards and backwards within that groove. In some cases the knee could become misaligned and slip out of that groove. It is not a pleasant feeling.

Overcoming PFPS and Knee Tracking Problems

When I talk about the problems my knee has, running seems like the absolute worst idea. I went through physical therapy and I was even taking prescription strength Tylenol (Ultracet). Ultimately I decided I had to stop taking pain medication for my knees, otherwise I would be taking them my whole life. I did not want to develop a dependency. So I started some strength training on my knees, riding a recumbent bike and walking … A LOT. If I wasn’t hitting 11,000+ steps Monday through Friday, than I am sitting around too much. I also had to lose weight.

My doctor told me that for every 1 pound of body weight is equivalent to 6 pounds on your knees (8 pounds when going down stairs). After the first year with the Fitbit I lost 55 pounds (which is about 330 to 440 pounds on my knees). Honestly, in the spirit of full disclosure, I also owe a lot of my success to family and friends too. They also have Fitbits and were constantly pushing me using Fitbit’s challenges available via the app.

And then the Running Bug Bit Me

A little over a year ago I was out for a walk on a beautiful day. As I was walking I noticed I was walking pretty fast and suddenly I began to think “maybe I can try to start jogging”. I started out taking it slow; I would only jog a block or so just to see how my body would react. It was important that I not only find a comfortable pace but also to get the breathing right. With each passing month I would push myself to run a little farther. When my knees hurt I would stop to allow them to recover.

Then an extraordinary dichotomy emerged. The more I ran, the less my knees hurt. Obviously I wasn’t completely without pain, my legs, calves, and ankles would ache and complain each time I stood up.  Despite the fact that I did not adhere to a proper training regime, I was committing to completing the 5K at the Flying Pig. I bought new shoes a month before the race and I only wore them when I would go walk or run to break them in. I made stretching a habit and I increased my daily water consumption. I even spoke to my doctor about it.

Finally Running Your First 5K

The day of the Flying Pig 5K arrives, faster than I was hoping. I woke up with plenty of time to eat a high protein breakfast 2 hours prior to the run. I knew that I was pretty much going to be winging it but as long as I ran at least half of it, I would be satisfied. I did have to slow to a walk just a couple of times but for a distance no longer than a block. Honestly I was hoping to finish in under 40 minutes. I was barely over that but it was close enough that I walked away (barely) quite satisfied. Completing it while having run the majority of it was the ultimate goal.

I didn’t walk a lot the rest of the day, nor could I move much the following day. It was all worth it though. I did it. I really did it. Now I have my sights set on doing it again, but in shorter time and with fewer stops. Granted that probably won’t happen until next year but 40:12 is a good baseline for setting that goal. Training your body to be able to run is surprisingly easy. Yes, it’s very hard to push yourself to try to run longer. However, somewhere along the way your body figures out how to maintain proper breathing and adjust your pace so you can keep running a little bit longer.

If I can overcome 20 years of weird knee problems, pain and discomfort, then anyone can do it. All it takes is finding what motivates you. It can be a wearable fitness device, surrounding yourself with positive encouragement (i.e. friends and family), or a combination. As Shia LaBeouf would say, whatever it is, “JUST DO IT!

minions_icon

I could accomplish so much more if I only had minions!

 

May 042017
 

Star Wars DayAll the Trekkies and comic book fans are rolling their eyes right now. Yes, it is Star Wars Day! Those fans of inferior nerd cultures are green with envy because they lack a celebratory day. This year is especially significant as it is also the 40th anniversary of the film that changed our lives. There are usually several sales going on so I will try to update this post with links to those sales if/when I see them. Feel free to leave links to sales you have found in the comments.

I would also like to know how you are spending your Star Wars Day? I do have to work but the movies make great background noise (I’ve seen them all enough times I don’t need to see the screen to know what is going on). It’s also a good day to go back and watch The Last Jedi trailer again.

Star Wars Day Sales

Thinkgeek (some of the best geek stuff on the internet)
 Amazon (even Amazon is participating)
Target (20% off online today only)
Steam (of course Steam has some gaming deals!)

/MTFBWY

The Force. It calls to you. Just let it in.

 

Apr 182017
 

Are The Jedi Really EndingSince the trailer for ‘The Last Jedi’ premiered everyone is losing their minds over Luke’s ominous words “… it’s time for the Jedi to end“. Between those words and the title of the movie, I can see how people are drawing that conclusion. Are the Jedi really ending? Has Luke gone to the Dark Side? Maybe Luke has lost his damn mind??! This is what is so much fun about watching the trailer; we will spend the next 240 days coming up with hypothesis after hypothesis. I am going to dive into some of the popular ones which intertwine with some of my theories. If you are reading this then I am going to assume you have seen The Force Awakens. I will mention some of the big spoilers of the movie to help augment my theories.

Theory 1: The Jedi Really Are Ending

Let’s consider the fact that Luke means exactly what he says. The Jedi are ending. No interpolation. No hidden meaning. Honestly this makes sense to me. The Sith have been destroyed. The Empire has been dismantled. What place do the Jedi have in the galaxy now? In 30 years the galaxy hasn’t really needed the Jedi. The Jedi are essentially like the French musketeers of the 1600s who were a private cavalry for the King. They were ineffective against Napoleon and ultimately disbanded. Without a purpose the Jedi have no reason to exist. Perhaps Luke knows this and, while also lamenting Ben Solo’s turn to the Dark Side, feels the Jedi Order is over.

What is the point of training new Jedi if they have no purpose? The New Republic fighters and military leaders prove they are quite capable of defending themselves against the First Order; despite the devastating loss of the Hosnian system. Clearly Luke feels he is not capable of effectively training new Jedi which, in his mind, don’t really serve a purpose anymore.

Theory 2: Luke Thinks He has Failed as a Jedi

After having failed to properly train Ben Solo, now Kylo Ren, he feels he has failed the Jedi Order, Leia and Han, and himself. He’s saying it’s time for the Jedi to end because he’s not going to train more and there is nobody else to carry that mantle. Everyone keeps focusing on the end of the quote but the full quote from the trailer is “I only know one truth; it’s time for the Jedi to end“. We don’t know the context in which he says that line. I imagine it’s something that occurs in a conversation not long after Rey’s arrival. I envision the interaction going something like this:

Rey: “The Resistance needs you. They need to know the truth.
Luke: “I only know one truth; it’s time for the Jedi to end

Perhaps Rey has already told Luke that Han is dead, killed by Kylo Ren. Luke feels responsible for his friend’s death because of Ben’s turn to the Dark Side and his obsession with Darth Vader. Perhaps if he hadn’t been so focused on rebuilding the Jedi, he could have prevented Han’s death and the rise of the First Order. However, something or someone, perhaps even Rey, convinces Luke that the Jedi should not end and the New Republic needs their protection once again.

If I were the director this is exactly what I would do. You use a line like “it’s time for the Jedi to end” in the trailer to tease your audience. I would want them all asking the question “are the Jedi really ending”? J.J. Abrams set this up perfectly; since Luke didn’t have any dialog we have no idea what his demeanor is. It creates the perfect enigmatic scenario.

Theory 3: Luke has Become the Elusive Gray Jedi

This is one of the most popular theories, and my favorite. It’s also probably the quintessential riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. This is a theory that dates back to Return of the Jedi. If Luke actually is the one that will bring balance to the Force, a Gray Jedi is how that prophecy will be fulfilled. You cannot have order without chaos, therefore you cannot have balance without the Dark Side and the Light Side. A Gray Jedi can walk the line between both. Mace Windu is widely believed to also be a Gray Jedi as he has training in both the Dark Side and the Light Side of the Force. A Gray Jedi believes that there isn’t a Dark Side or a Light Side, there is just “the Force”.

So when Luke says “it’s time for the Jedi to end“, perhaps he means the traditional Jedi. Perhaps he’s referring to the dawn of the Gray Jedi where peace can only be maintained by embracing both sides of the Force (i.e. “it’s so much bigger”). Maybe it is the fate of the Skywalkers to become the Gray Jedi and it is time for younger blood to build a new Jedi Order. Remember these nine movies are considered the “Skywalker Saga” so the fate of Luke does not necessarily dictate the fate of the Jedi.

/MTFBWY

The Force. It calls to you. Just let it in.