DaileyMuse.com http://www.daileymuse.com Blog, Professional Portfolio and Personal Website of Mike Dailey Thu, 06 Oct 2011 19:54:55 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Steve Jobs Passes Away at 56 http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/10/steve-jobs-passes-away-at-56/ http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/10/steve-jobs-passes-away-at-56/#comments Thu, 06 Oct 2011 19:54:55 +0000 Mike Dailey http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/10/steve-jobs-passes-away-at-56/ The news of Steve Jobs’ passing was not unexpected, as anyone who follows technology news, or is a devoted Apple customer, would be familiar with his failing health and recent decision to step down from his position at the helm of Apple.  There will be, for the next several days, countless articles, blog posts, and news stories about the man who drastically shaped the computing landscape, being personally responsible for many of the technologies we take for granted today.  I’m writing this short blog post, not as a news story, but as a personal thanks to a man that shaped the lives of millions of us in the technology industry. 

For anyone who grew up with technology in my generation, Steve Jobs helped to open for us the door to a new world.    I began my career in computer technology at the age of 12, and by 15 was programming at summer college courses using the Apple II.  The technologies he helped to pioneer pushed the industry forward, and propelled my career along with it.  Today, I use my iPhone for everything, and work daily to support network-attached Macs and iPads.  While I never had the opportunity to meet Steve Jobs, his ideas, concepts, and technology contributed greatly to provide for me a career and a future.

Today, with his passing, he leaves behind a world better than he found it, and for me personally, a successful career that he unknowingly helped to shape.  Thank you, Mr. Jobs.

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Why Hacking is a Sin http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/10/why-hacking-is-a-sin/ http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/10/why-hacking-is-a-sin/#comments Thu, 06 Oct 2011 16:30:12 +0000 Mike Dailey http://www.daileymuse.com/?p=1313 As we read and discuss the subject of computer hacking and related nefarious uses of the Internet, we focus for the most part on the Information Technology and Information Security side of the topic.  There is another side, however, one dealing with the moral and ethical aspects of hacking, approached from a religious viewpoint to draw the parallel between what many consider innocent computer play, and others see as common greed, theft, and malice.

When we discuss the harm caused by hacking, we are talking about hacking in terms of the unauthorized access, modification, or removal of a web site or associated data: the activities of a “black hat” hacker.  In this context, “hacking”, “cracking”, “cyber crime”, are all interchangeable terms for what we all know to be an illegal act, and it is when an individual embarks on this type of illicit activity that we can begin to associate sin with the activity of hacking.

Hackers often classify themselves in one of three ways.  A “white hat”, or ethical hacker, who use their knowledge and skill to increase the security of computer networks, web sites, etc.  A “black hat” is just the opposite, an individual using their skill to break into computer systems or to access data without authorization.  A “gray hat” hacker is an individual whose activities fall somewhere in between, often blurring the line between the two. 

As Nicholas Negroponte said, “Computing is not about computers any more. It is about living.” When we choose to negatively impact a computing system somewhere on the Internet we are, in fact, choosing to negatively impact the lives of an unknown number of people involved with that system. This negative impact can harm people personally, financially, and emotionally. The impact is not as remote and anonymous as one would imagine, but can literally touch every aspect of a persons life if the harm caused is great enough. Knowingly and willingly causing such harm, however innocent a hacker may consider their actions, is the very basis of sin.

The hacking community will be the first to defend their actions as harmless, stating reasons why hacking is beneficial to society as a whole.  Some argue that they have a right to access systems without authorization, and defend their belief that all information should be free.  These beliefs echo those of the white collar criminal who feels that theirs are “victimless” crimes, or the bank robber who defends their crime as not harming anyone, since banks are insured by the government.  It is easy to convince one’s self that their actions are harmless, but in reality the repercussions vary in degree and impact, just as with actions that meet the common definition of “sin.”

Pastor Steven Winterhalter, an inner-city outreach minister since 2004, and also a tech savvy member of the global Internet community, has seen the best and worst of people and how technology has been used to harm.

“When we think in terms of sin and righteousness, sin in one sense could be considered the lack of right standing, or the lack or right doing in the eyes of God. Hacking, in its negative sense, in a very real and tangible way portrays behavior that lacks rightness, and in its very essence is a reflection of the untoward human heart; that is, a reflection of the human heart seated in its own lawlessness, willfully ignoring and breaking civil law and in the same way willfully ignoring and breaking God’s law. Hacking is only a particular outlet for this type of lawlessness.”

Pastor Winterhalter has seen first hand the impact of the “dark side” of the Internet, including “black hat” hacking, theft of copyrighted works, and even the hijacking of domain names.  These types of issues are rarely given a second thought when compared to real-world crime such as theft or robbery, even though they are rooted in the same basic types of sin.

“The problem of a lawless heart existed long before the Internet, intranets, or interconnected computer systems were even conceived of, but the pattern remains the same. We, in a civil Judeo-Christian society, govern ourselves with a rule of law system, and as more and more laws come into play because of hacking, more and more power is taken by the government from the people to control public and private networks, and overall the freedoms we enjoy as a people are ultimately subjugated and negated by the very governmental mechanisms meant to stabilize and protect, not by hackers, but because of hackers. So, in the end hackers do not win, they pull every one else down to lose with them.”

In his view, Pastor Winterhalter sees the direct correlation between hacking, as a form of cyber crime, and the loss of our civil liberties and freedoms, as new laws are enacted in an attempt to stave off the continual rise in illegal Internet activity.  The negative impact that cyber crime has on society is just as tangible when compared to similar forms of illegal activity that occur in the real world.  The difference is that, because the victim of the crime is remote and faceless, we see it as somehow less impacting or less sinful, when in reality an act of harm has occurred in either case.

Those that defend the act of hacking, touting it as a means to serve the greater good, or a way to ensure that information remains free to all, seemingly ignore the fact that their actions are not ethical or moral, and arguably, rooted in a sinful desire or goal.  As Pastor Winterhalter goes on to state:

“Do the ends of a ‘greater good’ justify the cost incurred to those who have had crimes committed against them? An ethical end can never come from an unethical means. In an extreme example, using slave labor to build a children’s hospital lacks a certain ethical rightness, even though the end result, helping children, seems to be good. The means of how you get to the ends does matter, therefore the argument of hacking for the greater good is bunk.”

Regardless of your views on technology, religion, or the intertwining of the two, the fact remains that hacking, as a form of cyber crime, is no less a sin than comparable crimes committed in the real world.  Whether classified as sinful against man, society as a whole, or God, hacking remains a sinful act.  No more defendable as a form of social activism as the robbery of a bank, attempts to justify this type of cyber crime as anything necessary for the public good is an assault on moral and ethical behavior, and an affront to those that walk the path of the straight and narrow, both in the real world and online.

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Secure Portable Storage with Corsair Flash Padlock 2 http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/10/secure-portable-storage-with-corsair-flash-padlock-2/ http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/10/secure-portable-storage-with-corsair-flash-padlock-2/#comments Wed, 05 Oct 2011 12:21:53 +0000 Mike Dailey http://www.daileymuse.com/?p=1645 Not long ago, the phrase portable secure storage did not mean a great deal to the average business traveler. Today, however, carrying large amounts of data, including application files, digital photos, and music, is a reality for most tech-savvy travelers. Whether you are on the go for business or personal reasons, you likely carry a large quantity of data with you, and odds are it is not secured against loss or theft.

Today, securing your data while on the go means using a storage device capable of not only password protected access, but encryption of the data, as well. The Corsair Flash Padlock 2 USB storage device offers a solid solution to securing your data, while at the same time easing the access and sharing of files, music, and more. 

The Flash Padlock 2 provides 256-bit AES hardware encryption, and password protection through an integrated PIN keypad, meaning no software is needed to secure and access the contents of the device.  The device supports a user customizable, 4-10 digit personal identification number to lock and unlock the data, with built-in brute force detection that locks the device for 2 minutes after 5 failed attempts.

The Flash Padlock 2 is compatible with Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux-based systems, allowing an easy and secure method of file exchange between these platforms, if needed.  Available in both 8GB and 16GB capacities, this USB storage device secures a large amount of data at a low cost, just $32.99 for the 8GB model and $49.99 for the 16GB model from Amazon.com.

Using this secure storage device is relatively simple, but taking a few minutes to read the user documentation is recommended.  Understanding the process of setting the password, unlocking the device, and the meaning of the status indicator LEDs, is best described by the documention.  There is no need, however, to worry about locking the device, since this occurs automatically as soon as you pull the Flash Padlock 2 from the USB port.

Some months ago, I began to transfer and reorganize the data I carried on a handful of cheap, low capacity USB thumb drives, moving it to my new Corsair Flash Padlock 2 storage device.  This has allowed me to reduce the number of devices I carry, while securing all of my data without the need for special software or drivers.  The secure password PIN and advanced AES encryption prevents anyone from accessing the data in the event my storage device is lost or stolen, helping to ensure my digital privacy and security while on the road.

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Failing a Certification Exam: The Next Steps http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/10/failing-a-certification-exam-the-next-steps/ http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/10/failing-a-certification-exam-the-next-steps/#comments Mon, 03 Oct 2011 11:23:03 +0000 Mike Dailey http://www.daileymuse.com/?p=1620 Failing a certification exam can be a disheartening and emotionally draining experience.  You go into the testing center nervous, but confident, and walk out deflated and upset.  It is an experience that many of us in the field of Information Technology know all too well.  While it can render a blow to your confidence and self esteem, failing a certification exam can become a positive experience and an extremely powerful motivational tool.  The key is in understanding how to handle your emotions and maintain focus after failing an exam.

When preparing to take an exam, you should also prepare to fail the exam.  It may seem a strange concept, but preparing yourself for the possibility of failure is an important step in maintaining your focus and determination.  If you are mentally prepared for the possibility of failure, you will have circumvented the potential shock and depression that could set in immediately after the failed exam, freeing you to turn a negative experience in to a positive force for learning.

Preparing yourself for a potential failure is simply a matter of thinking through the failure, how it would impact you and your career, how you would feel, and how you might respond.  How will you handle the immediate emotions of failure?  What will you tell your coworkers, boss, or friends?  How will you study all of that training material again?  These are the types of thoughts and questions that you should consider, prior to taking the exam, so that a potential failure is far less impacting.

Become Your Own Coach

In the days leading up to your exam, it is important that you begin to coach yourself on how you will handle a negative outcome, if it should occur.  This is a critically important step in your exam preparation.  By thinking through the experience of failing the exam, you are mentally preparing yourself to avoid the negative emotions associated with failure, and it is these negative emotions that could derail your attempts to achieve the certification.  As part of this preparation, you are planning the steps and actions you will take immediately after failing the exam to put yourself in the best position to move forward.

Part of your coaching is to put a new study plan in place in the event you fail the exam.  Not achieving a passing score means that your study time was not as effective as it could have been, or as committed as it should have been.  “If I do not pass this exam, I will study Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday evenings for 3 hours each night.”  The important point to remember here is that it is not the quantity of hours you spend studying, but the quality of those hours.  A new study plan also means changing your study environment.

Change your study location.  Select a quiet, well lit area, away from outside noise, television, music, and other audible disturbances.  Design an atmosphere that allows you to concentrate more intensely and absorb more information.

Remove possible distractions.  Do not try to study when you are hungry or tired.  Keep a bottle of water nearby so that your study is not interrupted to get a drink.  Turn off your cell phone, and tell your family and friends you will be out of touch for the next few hours as you study for an exam.

Make a study task list.  Lay out on paper a short list of the exam areas you are most concerned with.  For each item on the list, set aside a short block of time for focused study on just that area.  Expand the list as necessary, but also remove completed items from the list so that you can see your progress.

Putting this type of detailed plan in place can turn the negative experience of failing into a positive, results-driven approach to ensure that you do not fail the exam again.  The goal here is to avoid the depression and negative emotions associated with failure.  You want to control and redirect the natural, negative reaction to failure, instead turning it into a driving force behind your new dedication and determination to succeed.

Shouldn’t you be following a plan like this to begin with?  The short answer is yes, but as we all know, hindsight is 20/20.  In most cases, we only realize that we have not studied well enough when presented with the reality that we have failed the exam.

“Sorry, you failed.”

You’ve answered the last question on the exam, the computer takes a few seconds to grade your responses, and… failure.  The bad news is delivered, your test results are printed out, and you are on your way out of the testing center.  Now is the time to fall back on your coaching, set aside your emotions, and take steps to begin preparing yourself for a retake of the exam.

Immediately after the exam, think through the exam experience, and recall as many questions as you can.  Write these down, along with the answer you selected for each.  Make effective use of this list by reviewing your answers against the study materials to see if you were correct, and if not, what the correct answer should have been. These questions will likely appear again when you retake the exam, and you will now be armed with the correct answer.

With most certification exams, each area of the exam is graded and a total score provided.  Using this information, you can determine what areas of the exam you found to be most difficult, scored the lowest in, or the areas you felt least comfortable with.  Focus your study on these areas, and this focused attention to troubled areas of the exam will result in a higher score the next time around.

Failing a certification exam is not the end of the world.  Realize that in almost all cases, failing the exam means only that you did not study as effectively as you could have.  Consider this an indication that a more effective method of exam preparation is needed, and put a new study plan and approach in place.  This is the time to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, establish a new study regimen, and work to fill in the knowledge gaps that exist in the information you have retained. 

Moving Forward

Whatever the reason for not achieving a passing score, the important thing is that you continue to work towards passing the exam.  Remember that these certification exams are designed to be difficult, and passing the exam is a testament of your dedication to overcome obstacles.  Obtaining a technical certification is not only a demonstration of your technical knowledge, but an indication of how serious you take your career, as well.

Experiencing failure is a fact of life, and failing an exam, while not a desirable outcome, is part of the certification process.  It is not a reflection of your intelligence, skill, or experience, but rather a likely result of insufficient or ineffective study time.  Take a step back, re-assess your study methods, and schedule a retake of the exam.  Keep moving forward until you succeed.

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Traveling Tips for IT Consultants – Staying Safe on the Road http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/09/traveling-tips-for-it-consultants-staying-safe-on-the-road/ http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/09/traveling-tips-for-it-consultants-staying-safe-on-the-road/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2011 11:46:22 +0000 Mike Dailey http://www.daileymuse.com/?p=1607 Quite often, when traveling on business, your mind shifts into “work mode” the moment you pass through airport security or adjust the mirrors on your rental car.  You become focused on the project, or if homeward bound, on finally making it to your front door.  Once accustomed to traveling, it can become “second nature” for an IT consultant, a set of steps that are seemingly followed subconsciously as we move from point to point.  Travel safety is not often factored into these steps, where a level of comfort is reached with the traveling experience that can create a false sense of safety and security when on the road.

As an experienced IT consultant you should work safety into every aspect of your travel plans, creating a series of repeatable measures that soon become part of that “second nature” travel experience.  Here are several important travel safety measures that every IT consultant should incorporate into their travel plans, but are often overlooked.

Travel casual.  Many business executives or senior consultants will travel in expensive business suits, wear flashy jeweler, stay in upscale hotel accommodations, or order expensive bottles of wine at dinner.  These are all indications that the individual may be a lucrative target for a would-be thief.  When traveling, tone down your style of dress, keep the expensive watch or jewelry out of sight, and dine casually.  There is no need to draw attention to yourself when on the road.

Keep your laptop in sight.  When traveling by air, stow your laptop bag underneath the seat in front of you as opposed to the overhead compartment, where it could get tossed around or stolen.  You will lose a little foot room, but you will have your laptop and related devices where you can see them.  Also, rethink the idea of keeping your wallet or cell phone in your laptop bag.  The loss of your laptop is bad enough, but having your identity and primary means of communications going with it only make a bad situation worse. 

Watch the dashboard indicators.  When traveling on business, rental cars are usually in the itinerary.  Familiarize yourself with the operation of headlights, hazard lights, and locks before you leave the rental agency parking lot.  While it doesn’t happen often, there are times when your rental car will suffer mechanical difficulties.  As soon as you see a dashboard indicator light, pull over and call the rental car company.  Never risk traveling in a rental car that may put you in a hazardous situation.  Let the rental company know what has occurred, and the majority of the time they will send out a replacement vehicle at no inconvenience to you.

Safeguard your WiFi access when you travel.  Protecting your access and your identity while on the road means being smart about your WiFi use.  With the large number of free or public wireless hotspots to be found in your travels, its easy to forget that the openness of those hotspots can also mean that others are free to monitor your wireless session without your knowledge.  When using public wireless, refrain from accessing any non-secured (non-SSL) web site or service that requires user credentials.  Accessing such sites means that your credentials are passed unencrypted, and can easily be monitored and captured by anyone within wireless range.

Pick the right hotel.  When booking hotel reservations, do not select hotels where your room will open to the parking lot or street, instead picking a hotel where a visitor must pass through the lobby to gain access to your room.  In addition, influence access to your room as much as possible.  Leave the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door, even when out, so that housekeeping is not accessing your room when you are not there.  When you return, contact the front desk to arrange a time for housekeeping to arrive while you are in the room.

Hide your identity.  When leaving a client site for lunch, or at the end of the work day, remove your ID badge and place it in your pocket.  Displaying your name, company name, or client name for public view is inviting unneeded attention and risk.  Staying safe means not drawing attention to yourself or the fact that you are a business traveler.

Traveling safely is important for anyone on the road, whether traveling for business or pleasure.  Using common sense, and taking precautions like those presented here, are key to arriving at your destination safe and sound.

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October is Almost Here. Are You Cyber Secure? http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/09/october-is-almost-here-are-you-cyber-secure/ http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/09/october-is-almost-here-are-you-cyber-secure/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2011 15:20:35 +0000 Mike Dailey http://www.daileymuse.com/?p=1601 We are just a week away from the month of October, and October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM).  The goal of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, conducted every October since 2004 and sponsored by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), is to improve cyber security posture and preparedness, and to encourage everyone to protect their networks and our nation’s critical cyber infrastructure.  The month is filled with activities and events, sponsored by various organizations, highlighting the importance of cyber security to citizens, businesses, government, and schools alike.

There are many free resources available to enhance Internet security knowledge and awareness.  For an individual home or business user, StaySafeOnline.org offers their tip-laden “What Home Users Can Do” and “What Businesses Can Do” security guides.  While most organizations enact computer usage policies that govern how their employees use the computing resources provided by the company, seldom do these policies provide in-depth security guidelines and tips for user security.  These guides can help to augment and reinforce safe computing practices both at home and in the workplace.

For those looking to educate others on cyber security issues, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offers the “Stop.Think.Connect.” online toolkit, providing the tools and information to allow you to give informal or formal presentations on information security to a variety of audiences or groups.  DHS also offers free online cyber security training and certification, tailored for either non-technical end users, information technology professionals, or business managers and professionals.

If cyber security is not on your “top 10” list of things to do in October, here are a few basic tips that will help to enhance your Internet security posture without a substantial investment in time or energy:

1.  Make October “Password Change” month.  Come on, you know you don’t change your passwords every 90 days, or even every 120 days.  For many users, their password will be the same this October as it was last October.  If you know that you don’t change your passwords as often as you should, create a calendar reminder, recurring every 2-3 months, starting in October.  Remind yourself to change those passwords on a scheduled basis, and start by changing them in October.

2.  Run a complete antivirus/antimalware scan of your desktop and/or laptop computer.  Verify that your scanning software is up to date, and then run a complete scan of your computer.  Most of us have these types of scans scheduled to occur automatically, but all too often we cancel the scans when they cause system performance issues.  Take the time to run those scans, let them finish, and follow through on any warnings or threats that are found.

3.  They caught on quickly, and can be seen attached to a keychain or worn on a lanyard around the necks of computer users everywhere.  Flash drives, also called thumb drives, are those small, portable USB memory devices we all use to carry our digital existence wherever we go.  With the rapid increase in popularity also came the rapid increase in the number of these devices being lost or stolen.  If you carry a cheap flash drive with you, trade up to a slightly more expensive model that allows you to encrypt and password protect the contents.  If you store any type of financial or personally identifiable information on a flash drive, protecting this data should be considered a requirement, not a option.  Encrypt it.  Put a password on it.

Protecting your online identity is not often ranked high on the “to do” list, but is critical in preventing identity theft and personal financial loss.  Take an hour or two in October to update your security software, change your passwords, and read up on the latest cyber security threats.  A few simple steps like these can greatly enhance your security while online.

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Being Controversial When Leadership Fails http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/09/being-controversial-when-leadership-fails/ http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/09/being-controversial-when-leadership-fails/#comments Mon, 19 Sep 2011 14:40:15 +0000 Mike Dailey http://www.daileymuse.com/?p=1549 “If an individual wants to be a leader and isn’t controversial, that means he never stood for anything.”  This quote by President Richard Nixon touches on one of the less appealing aspects of being a leader.  Controversy is never easy, and supporting controversial ideas or opinions is often met with the slings and arrows of those that despise change, fear the future, and worry that their sphere of control may shrink.

I’ve been called many things in my career, but recently being called “controversial” was probably one of the greatest compliments that I have received over the years.  While I’m sure it wasn’t meant that way, I take it as a compliment because it means that I was recognized for standing up for what I believed in, and whether or not people agreed with me, I took a stand and fought for what I believed was the right thing to do when no one else had the courage.

A few years ago, I was hired into a company to redesign and support their growing network infrastructure.  This position was part of a new team, with responsibilities for a large aspect of the enterprise network.  Soon after starting, I realized that the position was far different than what had been described.  The company had segregated IT departments throughout the various business units, and the environment was extremely political.  Several layers of IT management fought over territory, control, and responsibility.  Unknown to me at the time that I interviewed, this new team had no real support from management, was considered a threat to the various politically centric managers in IT, and had no defined roles and responsibilities.

We found ourselves to be sitting ducks, targets for political attack from every direction.  Every positive step we made, every attempt we made to build bridges between the various groups, we were met with obstacles and excuses.  We found ourselves in a struggle to survive as a team, and it was a struggle we eventually lost.  We lost, not because the other factions within the organization won, or because we didn’t know our jobs or were ineffective as a team.  We lost because we lacked leadership and vision.

You see, our manager did little to speak on our behalf.  He was afraid of confrontation, and everyone on the team spoke openly about his lack of support for our mission and his unwillingness to fight for what was right.  It is not as though we had no purpose.  We were, in fact, aligned closely with the needs of the business.  We were attempting to deliver what the business needed, but the internal politics all too often interfered and derailed our efforts.  This was plainly obvious to everyone, especially our manager, but he was simply too unwilling to do what his title dictated that he do.  He allowed other managers to manipulate and control the situation, most of whom, in my opinion, had their own political interests and agendas as a primary concern, as opposed to the interests of the business, and he did little to defend his team or himself.

At a certain point the team began to unravel, and I became more vocal about the situation.  I began to stand up for myself, but more importantly I began to stand up for my team.  I even went as far as to stand up for our manager when attempts were made by his political foes to oust him, even though we all agreed that he was an ineffective manager.  This quickly painted a target on my back, but truth be told it was simply a larger target.

From the day I started, my attempts to bring in new solutions, new technologies, and new ideas had not been well received at this company, not because they were the wrong solutions or ideas, but because the politically aligned managers in the company wanted nothing more than the status quo from their employees.  I spoke up for myself when attacked, defended my views, and was vocal when myself or my team was treated unfairly.  For that I was singled out, as everyone could see, because I challenged people both technically and logically, and that simply was not tolerated.

Unable to gain any footing, our manager soon decided that he was simply “too busy” to continue to manage our group, and had decided to “promote from within.”  He made one of our team members the new manager of the group, and at a rapid pace things went from bad to worse.  With no management experience, this individual was thrust into a situation well beyond their control, and what was left of our team seemingly disappeared overnight.  The title became their focus, and the overpressure of corporate politics revealed a positional leadership style that refused to take a stand.  When “what do you expect me to do?” became the typical response from our new manager, I knew that it was time to put my career back on track.  I resigned from the company shortly thereafter, leaving behind one of the the most politically charged environments I had ever seen.

I had put that environment out of my mind, until recently when I was contacted by several past employees of the company.  We met for lunch, just to catch up, and as expected with a group of “ex” employees the conversation turned to the environment we all endured.  Each shared with me what were strikingly similar views of the IT organization at this company, none of which were favorable.

I was told that, as the custom goes when someone leaves a company, I was quickly blamed for the problems, even by the managers of my team.  Predictions were made that things would get better after my departure and that all would be well, but the environment had gotten worse since I left, and those that remained were looking for a way out.  The company has lost several very talented individuals, and continues to be stuck in a political quagmire.  Those that tried to fight for what was right are now simply drifting with the tide.  I was told of the verbal rocks that continued to be thrown my way and how I was labeled as a “controversial” employee by one of the managers.

I was also thanked for my leadership and willingness to share knowledge with my peers that had no real future in the company, but found a future after leaving, using the knowledge and skills I passed on while working with these individuals.  Since leaving the company, I have been repeatedly asked to help others with their resumes, provide career advice, help with studying for exams, act as a reference, and other key elements needed for these individuals to find a way out of this company.  Some have made it out, others are still waiting.  I have been contacted by managers and peers outside of my former team, who were either terminated after I left as part of a restructuring (read “political takeover”) or left on their own to escape the environment.  All agree that it is not the fault of the individual contributors, but the complete lack of quality leadership across the various IT groups, that made working there so difficult and stressful.

I’m criticized by some for stepping in front of the proverbial bus, and doing the right thing when it needed to be done, but lauded by others for what I accomplished, and for what I tried to do for my peers.  I stood by my principles in a situation that I knew I could not win.  I could not change the political environment in the company, but I could positively impact the lives and careers of my peers, provide advice when asked, and help to support and motivate those that needed it.  Most importantly, I continuously tried to perform the job that I was hired to do for the company.  These were the things we expected and deserved from our managers, yet never received.

We don’t always win the good fight, even when fighting for the right reasons, but having the courage to fight for what is right is key.  Sometimes we all need to step in and provide leadership, especially when none exists.  Influential leadership is sometimes not popular, and can become quite controversial in the worst of work environments.  But as Mr. Nixon so eloquently stated, sometimes being controversial is part of the job.

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Netflix Hemorrhaging Customers After Price Increase? Well, Duh! http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/09/netflix-hemorrhaging-customers-after-price-increase-well-duh/ http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/09/netflix-hemorrhaging-customers-after-price-increase-well-duh/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2011 02:37:29 +0000 Mike Dailey http://www.daileymuse.com/?p=1543 Apparently, Netflix’s decision to raise prices by as much as 60 percent is turning into a “horror show” for the company.  Who thought otherwise?  A 60 percent rise in price, or a 50 percent cut in service, either way you look at it this was a critical mistake for Netflix.

Netflix’s stock price is down more than 40 percent compared to where it stood before the company announced the higher pricing structure, equating to a $6 billion loss to shareholders… so far.  I can only see more customers dumping their now over-priced offering and spending their entertainment dollars elsewhere.

From a business perspective, and from my experience in customer relations and customer management, I would expect any customer faced with a decision to accept either a doubling in costs or a reduced level of service, to select neither.  The customer will shop around to see if the same level of service they once had can be obtained for an acceptable cost.  This is exactly what the American consumer is doing, and exactly what Netflix should have expected.

When the decision to raise prices and cut content was announced, Netflix subscribers threatened to drop the service.  Netflix’s CEO thought it wouldn’t happen.  The customers were serious, and now they’re making good on their threat.

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IT Leadership: From The Bottom Up http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/09/it-leadership-from-the-bottom-up/ http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/09/it-leadership-from-the-bottom-up/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2011 02:16:38 +0000 Mike Dailey http://www.daileymuse.com/?p=464 In the world of Information Technology, there is a vast difference between someone who is a manager and someone who is a leader.  A manager is a person responsible for planning and directing the work of a group of individuals, monitoring their work, and taking corrective action when necessary.  A leader, on the other hand, embodies the inspiration and motivation of the team. He or she is the person in the group that possesses the combination of personality and skills that makes others want to follow his or her direction.

Often times, the leaders are not the managers.  They report to the manager just like everyone else on the team, yet the team often finds itself looking to this individual to develop a vision, come up with the plan, and to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  The team takes direction from the manager, but takes guidance from the leader.  Give it a few moments of consideration, and odds are you will think of one or two instances where you have experienced this phenomenon in your career.

I see this happen often enough that I’ve given it a name,  “leadership from the bottom up.”  Most often it happens as a result of the team having an ineffective or overbearing manager.  Under this manager, the team is subjected to poor decision making and a lack of solid direction.  The manager’s style of personnel management has the team on edge, and in the worst case, fearing for their careers if the manager tries to manage by intimidation.  You often find that true leaders are forged from these situations, when positive reinforcement, a guiding hand, and a clear vision are most needed by the team.

Positional Leadership vs. Influential Leadership

Positional leadership is a leadership position in which the direction of the leader is followed based simply on the authority the leader holds as a result of their position or title.  The problem with a positional leadership figure is that, quite often, holding the position does not mean the individual is respected or supported by their subordinates.  Leaders who rely on their title, position, or power to influence others will offer little leadership to their team, and this lack of leadership is the foundation for failure on many levels.

It is quite easy to spot the signs of a positional leader.  The failure to connect with the team, use of their position to justify their own decisions, or to dismiss the decisions and ideas of others, and having little concern for the team and its members, are all common mistakes made by a positional leader.  In the majority of cases, the manager has no idea that they are an ineffective leader.  Other times, a positional leader actually considers himself or herself to be an influential leader, making the situation worse as their ego and pride swell with the false sense of worth they stow upon themselves and expect others to see in them.

Not all positional leadership roles are bad, however.  Law enforcement officers, as well as classroom teachers, need to assert the authority of their position to maintain control and gain the respect of those they serve.  We understand and accept this as an essential part of these difficult jobs, where we ask someone to assume the role of a positional leader to ensure the success and stability of society.  In the IT workplace, however, positional leadership is no longer needed as it once was.  It is now almost always a sign of an inexperienced or overly assertive manager.  Business management has grown and matured, and today the influential leadership style is more prevalent in the ranks of successful management personalities.

Influential leadership, unlike positional leadership, can occur no matter who the person is or what their title may be.  Influential leaders have no direct reports, hold no authority, and are not considered “management” by others in the organization.  In fact, influential leaders may not see themselves as a “leader” at all, and may not even realize the impact of their influence on others. 

The influential leader is a different style of leader altogether, one that uses influence and discussion with others rather than orders or directives.  The influential leader is someone that a team or an individual can openly look to for guidance, advice, or input, even though this person may not be their supervisor, manager, or team lead.  The power of the influential leader comes not from a title or position, but from their ability to develop relationships that encourage open dialogue, help to shape ideas into solutions, and gather support from their peers and the team as a whole.

Become What You Already Are

No matter what position we hold within an organization, each and every one of us is, at some level, an influential leader.  We have the ability to influence decisions, build teamwork, and support coworkers.  Rarely do you find someone willing to take on the role of an influential leader within a team, becoming someone the team can look to for guidance and opinion, either on a business or personal level.  Often this role is thrust upon an individual by the shear inadequacy of their supervisor.  Regardless of how we find ourselves in the role, we each hold the power to be an effective influential leader.

In the field of information technology, leadership is often lacking.  Internal politics in an IT organization are often found to be far in excess of comparable organizations, and in many cases paralyze the effectiveness of the individual contributors on the team.  When overly assertive positional managers are allowed to dominate the IT organization, it is the influential leaders that rise from the ranks to help to keep the ship afloat, often to the detriment of their own careers.  It is this rise from the bottom of the IT ranks, motivated by concern for others, the success of the organization, or the desire to do the right thing, that draws the attention and support of peers.

Knowing how and when to use your influence is key to being an effective influential leader.  Your role is not to usurp the authority of the manager, but to support your peers and team.  Maintaining effectiveness as a team is paramount in situations where the team is lead by an ineffective manager, which, in essence, means the team is not being lead at all.  This is where the influential leader can shine in an IT organization, and is often the difference between the success or failure of the team.

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Traveling Tips for IT Consultants – 5 Ways to Manage Travel Stress http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/09/traveling-tips-for-it-consultants-5-ways-to-manage-travel-stress/ http://www.daileymuse.com/2011/09/traveling-tips-for-it-consultants-5-ways-to-manage-travel-stress/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2011 21:50:55 +0000 Mike Dailey http://www.daileymuse.com/?p=1514 While traveling has always been a relatively stressful experience, in the past several years there have been many changes that negatively impact the travel experience and drive up stress levels.  Increased airport security, major road construction, and even changing weather patterns have made the business travel experience, well, an experience.

When traveling for business, there are a variety of simple tips that can ease the stress level often experienced by the consultant during travel. Here are just a few.

Take a little longer layover and avoid the rush.  When booking flights that require a layover, avoid itineraries with short durations between connecting flights.  Choosing a flight with less than an hour between connections will amp up your stress level when trying to make your connection in a busy airport, especially so if your inbound flight is running late.  This may not apply if you are connecting through one of the smaller, less busy regional airports, but play it safe and take the longer layover. Knowing you have plenty of time before that next flight goes a long way to improving your day.

Plan ahead, and plan for delays.  When planning your trip, add 10-15 minutes of extra time to each leg of your journey.  You never know when a traffic accident or delayed flight will ruin your carefully laid travel plans.  By building a buffer into your travel schedule, you will be able to absorb delays that are outside of your control and still make those critical flights.  If you experience no major delays, the extra time will allow you to slow down and take your travel in stride.

Working on the flight?  Try sleeping, instead.  You may feel that working on that presentation, project plan, or client documentation is the best use of your flying time, but keep in mind that you’ll be working when you get off the flight, as well.  Unless critical project work requires your attention, take this time to rest.  Lack of adequate sleep can make you irritable, angry and more susceptible to stress.  Put in some earplugs, lean back, and catch some shuteye. 

Inspect your rental car before leaving the rental agency.  This should be something you already do, but to reinforce the importance of the task, consider this a reminder.  Take a few moments to walk around your rental car before you pull away.  Check for dents, dings, major scratches, cracked windows, busted tail lights, and similar damage.  If the rental car company doesn’t know about the damage to the vehicle, there is a good chance that you could be held responsible.  Reduce the chances of a stress-inducing credit card charge for vehicle damage, and point out all existing damage to a rental agent before accepting the vehicle.

Take advantage of perks when traveling.  When booking flights and hotels, take advantage of any perks, freebies, or discounts you can.  Free breakfast buffets, dinner discounts with complimentary drinks, and even taking a later flight home in exchange for a free airline ticket are all examples of the typical perks a traveling consultant will find when on the road.  Utilizing these perks, on top of earning your frequent traveler miles and points, will help to provide a certain level of distraction when away on a lengthy business trip.

Reducing stress while traveling on business can make the difference between a quick, well executed work week and the business trip from Hell.  Use tips like these, as well as the ones you already know, to keep your travel week as stress free as possible.

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