Making working from home work

The commute to my office is over 50 miles and even with my workday starting on the earlier side, it currently takes over an hour to get to the office and almost two hours to get home. Fortunately, I am able to work from home three days a week which helps considerably to maintain my sanity. Since the vast majority of IT work can be performed from anywhere, it’s a decent arrangement for everyone. Continue reading

Getting creative for employee on-boarding

Working for a small, international, non-profit has many challenges. One of the biggest I’ve encountered is managing all the internal details involved in on-boarding employees and helping new staff get sufficiently oriented regardless of their location or technical competency. One tool I’ve been a fan of for years is Trello and, based on an idea they shared, a colleague and I got to work. The solution created has been in use for almost a year-and-a-half with over two dozen new employees brought onboard since that time.

When a new employee is slated to start, a workflow is kicked off using an internal Trello board shared by a few different people involved in the process. It represents a master checklist of steps that will be needed to complete the numerous necessary tasks. Some of the steps include:

  • Confirm that an offer was accepted
  • Confirm employee’s contact info and title
  • Get a headshot and bio
  • Create email and other server accounts
  • Create orientation board and account
  • Send welcome email with getting started instructions
  • etc.

As an operations-minded person, myself, I like to standardize whenever possible. A multi-cultural organization, however, demands acknowledging and accounting for differences in culture. The balance I shoot for is 80/20: 80% standardized and 20% contextualized. We took that into account with our solution. The bulk of the board is the same for all staff and covers the baseline common to everyone. Things like our mission, vision, staff resources, and must-watch or must-read items. Folded into that are lists specific to the team they’ll be joining as well as the country which they’re located. All combined, it’s proven to be a great resource. We also incorporate the feedback of each person that uses it so it can be improved in future iterations.

The best part is that it’s a free service which is always a good thing when the goal is to apply every dollar possible towards our programs. Want to donate?

Peay It Forward

Ok, I admit that the title’s lame, but I thought it was fun. You’re here reading this so I suppose it’s not all bad…

As one progresses through life and their career, knowledge and experience naturally accumulate. As you get exposed to new things and tackle the novel or unexpected, you generally amass a significant catalog of skills, insights, and, hopefully, wisdom. Over time, you consciously (and subconsciously) incorporate those numerous learnings into your day-to-day playbook to make yourself more efficient or effective. It happens almost automatically because nobody wants to spend more time or effort on something if they don’t have to. Continue reading

A Good Trip to Ghana

Last week, I returned to Ghana to participate in Edify‘s 2nd annual Education Technology Conference. The conference was well-attended and I enjoyed being part of the launch of our e-reader project in conjunction with our partner, Worldreader. Using Kindles to improve the reading ability and enjoyment for students will be a big benefit for many.

Following the event, a group of us had lunch at a rather unique local restaurant: La Tante DC10. Built out of an abandoned DC10 next to Kotaka Airport in 2013, it’s not surprising that it stands out. Very memorable.

 

 

Not just a team, but a family

Not surprisingly, in working for Edify I’ve learned that life in a non-profit requires being very thoughtful and judicious about how we use our resources and spend our money. Certainly, we could expand our manpower by hiring more staff or simply ‘throw money’ at every challenge that arises. That doesn’t work very well in the long run. In daily practice, the challenge is to find creative solutions or strategic trade-offs to keep our focus on our mission: To improve and expand sustainable Christ-centered education globally.

I’m happy to say that there is one thing, which comes at great expense, that is one of our wisest investments of our time and money: our annual team meeting. Each January, our (growing) team gathers to spend time together in fellowship, devotion, training, and sharing. In the past, the meetings have been in San Diego, but this year’s was our first in the field: Ghana.

When you think about all of the effort and expense that goes into flights, visas, lodging, food, and all the related logistics, it would be so easy to for our management to decide against it. Instead, the commitment to the time by our founders and senior management gets stronger each year.

I was fortunate enough to join Edify shortly before last year’s meeting so the one I’m just now returning from is my second. We now total 53 with over a quarter added in the past year alone. As I’m involved in getting each one set up and oriented, I have the benefit of being familiar with names and roles from the start. Hearing their voices on a weekly prayer call or other phone conferences only goes so far to really get to know people. Seeing them in person, sharing a meal, trading stories, is the only way to truly make a connection. That I did at every opportunity.

I can honestly say that my family has grown considerably since I joined Edify. It’s an honor and a pleasure to share my time and talents in service to them and our collective goals.

I have been blessed by the opportunity I’ve had. I cannot wait for us to be together again in 2018!

 

 

Old-Fashioned Drone Video

Back in my early Sony days when I worked at RedZone Interactive, a friend and I got into RC planes. Since the rest of the studio didn’t generally roll in until about 9:00 or 10:00, we had the opportunity to take our planes out in the lot behind the office in the mornings while the winds were quite gentle. It’s a fond memory.

About the same time, I saw online a wireless video camera that was about the size of a matchbook and immediately thought of attaching it to the plane to get a cool POV video while flying. I should note that this was 2004. GoPro didn’t exist yet let alone the whole ‘sports camera’ category. Neither did drones that are so common nowadays. Am I a trend setter? Not really. I just thought it was a fun idea.

Not surprisingly, it was very jerry-rigged. The camera with built-in transmitter was mounted on a stick protruding from the side of the canopy attached to a 9v battery for power. The receiver was on the ground attached to a video camera recording the results. My friend had to spend the entire flight watching the small screen on the camera while constantly adjusting a tuning knob on the receiver to keep the signal usable. The results are pretty poor by today’s standards, but I think it turned out pretty good, all things considered:

 

Fun times. I still have the plane, though I haven’t used it in years. I just may have to pull it out and see if it still works. I probably won’t bother with the camera.

Starting a new chapter

Since my life-changing event back in March, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many different people and learn about several organizations, each one different from the others. I have also spent a significant amount of time determining who I am professionally (my strengths, weaknesses, and motivations). That combined with my belief that technology can truly make a difference in people’s lives and it has helped direct my search.

Through a most interesting series of events that I’m unable to adequately explain here, I learned of an opportunity at Edify which is a very special non-profit organization that is best summarized from the website: “To improve and to expand sustainable, affordable Christ-centered education in the developing world.” They achieve that by supporting private schools through small loans, training, and technology. To date, they have partnered with over 1,600 schools and have impacted the lives of over 300,000 students.

After many conversations it became more and more clear that there was a unique match between their needs and my background and skills. I’m happy and proud to say that they have invited me to join with them in their work and start tomorrow as their Vice President of Information Technology. I cannot convey how excited I am for this opportunity and look forward to making an impact in ways I surely couldn’t have previously imagined.

Having the Summer off to enjoy my family was a significant blessing. In light of having just taken my oldest child off to college for the first time yesterday, it all couldn’t have worked out better. Yet another sign that the Lord’s plans are the best.

Enjoying doing the geek thing

Since I have time on my hands, I have been enjoying working on a handful of projects to scratch various ‘itches.’ Some have been long-standing items on my to-do list and others are areas of interest that would normally be relegated to the “someday/maybe” list.

A geek’s closet

All my various tech do-dads and thingamabobs have been in drawers in the den or elsewhere and were reasonably organized but still a hassle to access and dig through. My wife ran across an interesting picture on Pinterest and showed it to me asking if I’d like to do the same with our hallway closet. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance. It also allowed an opportunity to work with my son on installing the shelving.

All organized

There’s some more work still to go into it before I’m done. The two cardboard boxes need to be replaced with something better and I’m going to install some LED strips on the inside of the door frame for better lighting.

Amazon cloud

I’ve worked with Amazon’s web services (AWS) both professionally and personally but only to a limited degree. For PlayStation, I generated various financial reports based on usage and personally I’m using their email service to handle outbound email from my mail server.

To address the task that follows and to satisfy my own curiosity, I spun up an instance in their Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). EC2 is very often what is being referred to when someone uses the overly-used “cloud” term. It’s just a virtual machine that is running somewhere in one of Amazon’s datacenters. Nothing mystical, but quite convenient when you need to set up something like…

A secondary mail server

For various reasons, I really like being in charge of my own services. The web server hosting this very page you’re reading also handles my email. I hardly have much email traffic, but the server is offline from time to time so it’s appropriate to have a secondary mail server available that can receive incoming messages relaying them when the primary server comes back online. With my newly-minted EC2 instance, I was able to get that going in just a short while and checked-off a big to-do item.

Raspberry Pi 2

For father’s day, my family got me a Raspberry Pi 2 to upgrade the previous model I’d been running upstairs (as a secondary DNS server). It kinda amazes me how capable a machine it is for only $35.

Monitoring

The Raspberry Pi 2 is considerably faster than the previous generation. Having some available computing overhead, as well as a slightly-more complicated infrastructure at home (due to the EC2 instance), I wanted to get some monitoring going. I dabbled a little with Nagios, but quickly remembered why I don’t care for it. After researching alternatives, I settled on Zabbix and just got it running this afternoon. It’ll take some time to get everything configured just right, but that’s part of the fun.

bash scripting

Due to a somewhat strange set of events, as I write this I’m making my living on a short-term contract developing some automation scripts in bash (a command-line shell on UNIX/Linux systems). It’s drawing on my older SysAdmin skills and has been really fun made even better by the fact I’m doing most of it from home via VPN. Not too shabby.

I have other projects I want to get into so I may write a follow-up with how those go. Now, back to Zabbix…