2nd Friday Tech Spotlight, issue #1, volume #6

Password Managers
I have been a fan of 1Password for quite a while. It allows me to keep my important information secure, but also share it between my devices and with my spouse. I’ve been using their desktop and mobile app for some time and hadn’t really been looking at updating or getting a new password manager until recently. I started checking out the landscape of password managers. The main reason was I wanted to expand to including my parents, or being able to share a certain group of password with them (or really have them share with me so that it is easier to provide remote tech support!).

My current setup was using 2 password files shared via Dropbox. One had our ‘family’ or ‘common’ information shared between my wife and I. The other was the passwords just for me. Mainly just to keep the stuff she doesn’t really care about uncluttered — not that I’m keeping secrets :).

The ones which I looked at, including 1Password have all gone “cloud” and “subscription” based. The majority of apps have gone that way, precious few good ones have not. I understand why companies are doing that and it only somewhat irks me still. The bigger issue is that across all of these applications — which advertise security of their products — is that you are inevitably tied to their cloud solution and not able to select how or where you want to store your secure information to be accessible across devices. And you have to trust that they don’t have a back door to your stuff.

1Password is one of few which understood and offered a concept of “family” plan which makes it enticing to sign up for, but I am not sold yet.

There was one which I found that allowed you that flexibility, even open source, however it was complex to use and had a horrible interface. Not something that I could get my significant other or family members to use.

I would be OK with paying a subscription for password management software, but when it comes to security I want to really know that my stuff is encrypted in way even my cloud provider doesn’t know how to get into. Having software whose basis is securing your stuff basically say “oh just trust us, we’ll keep it secure” is terrible.

If anyone has any suggestions, let me know!

ProfessionalismThis is something I have been thinking on a lot lately. Its something I was taught when I was going to college. At the time they didn’t brand it as such, but they taught it not just in their business curriculum but in other majors such as nursing. They have since taken on and used professionalism and what they teach around that as a banner for one of the key standouts for the college.

I’ve been an engaged alumni and really excited by the growth and change the York College has gone through. Outside of the college what I notice in my professional life, regardless of business, is that there has been an overall decline in professionalism and what that means. Companies strive to ‘do more with less’. What this doesn’t seem to translate to is actually getting a company, and your employees to actually be able to do more with less. I see cutbacks in company employees, moves to outsource and overall decrease costs without being able to provide compensation by getting employees the real solutions they need to be more efficient so they can ‘do more with less’. 
I am not saying outsourcing is bad. Done well, it can work and help in a company. But in doing so you have to ensure you have a way to maintain key knowledge and historical knowledge within the company. But I am not really talking about those bigger issues with a company.

What I am talking is professionalism at a personal level. Being a person who doesn’t just do the bare minimum of what is expected, or just only does what is asked. Professionalism to me is pursuing continuing education and knowledge in your immediate area of expertise but also in those areas that your work touches around you. Professionalism is being able to not just do your job, but to also understand that your job has a broader context and purpose and to understand that broader purpose and context. Being able to take what you are doing in your job and being able to look outside of that job and look at it from the perspective of the other professionals you interact with, really looking at what you do from their perspective.

My job is technical, I work in IT. But the majority of my job is far from technical. It is not simply because I am senior manager handling a team of contracted resources across multiple technologies. The majority of my job is communication. You definitely need people with technical competence to do the work. However, if all you have is technical people or people who look only at the job they are asked to do, you more often than not will struggle and fail. Most times that failure won’t be big or spectacular, it instead will be more long grinding pain and “death by a thousand cuts”.

At a personal level, professionalism and being able to look outside yourself and the bigger picture to become a better employee, coworker, manager can suffer for a number of reasons. The biggest of course is not having time. If you are understaffed and overworked, it can be very very hard to be able to find the time to pick your head up to pause and look at the bigger picture. Or to be engaged in all the meetings and actually taking time out to understand what your coworkers are talking about when you’ve got so much to get done of your own!

So what am I asking you to do? Understand that all of the work you have to get done will still be there tomorrow and the day after that, but you need to absolutely carve out time for the bigger picture and being able to look outside of your job. Look at the people/groups/departments you engage with on a regular basis and see how they see you — not you personally — but the “you” of the services and value you provide in your job. Understanding how others see your role, especially those who engage you as a customer (whether its a true outside customer, or within your company) you can begin to understand and relate to them and how you can improve the services that you provide.

When you are meeting with other teams or engaged in projects, take the time out to not only listen (not just stop multi-tasking!) and try and understand the perspective of where their questions are coming from and the view they might have. Don’t focus on whether they are asking the right question or that they are not understand what you are trying to tell them. Focus on their view of why they might be asking what they are asking or frustrated with some process or other issue they can’t seem to understand is a road block to doing what they need.

The biggest benefit you can provide, especially as someone technical, is being able to to look at things outside of the technical role of your job to understand the other side. Most of what I do isn’t technical, its being able to understand how to translate the technical to the semi-technical to the non-technical to get everyone on the same page. And the reverse path is the same, taking the non-technical to the semi-technical to the technical. Without being to facilitate that translation on projects and within even your own teams, you will continue to be frustrated and hate the position you are in.

Its a skill which isn’t easy to pick up, especially for technical people (we by our nature love the technical and thrive in it no matter what the particular ‘technical’ is for us) but it is an essential skill to start working on if you want to be happier and more satisfied in what you do every day. The overworked and understaffed part is not going to go away any time soon. Understand that and figure out your way to be OK with that and start to pick up this skill.

In order to have time to start to pick up this skill, it requires some letting go, but it also requires that you pick up some trusted system of time and task management. I personally subscribe to GTD methodology. Pick whatever works for you, but take the time out to truly put that trusted system in place, and start by blocking time on your calendar to think about the bigger picture items. And make that a regular habit in your routine to do. Your work will still be there if you put it off for an hour or two each week. There are few items which are truly critical every week that you can afford to start carving out this time for yourself.

I listened to a good podcast from O’Reilly on their security channel about ‘Modern server hardening for the cloud’, some good information on servers and security in the cloud, but what got my attention even more was when they mentioned Qubes. Built from Linux it allows for the best desktop virtualization, isolation and security. It allows you to be able to perform tasks securely side by side. Usually efforts to provide good security to end users ends up with a complicated and hard to understand effort

The real problem with traffic
i’ve posted before on videos from CGP Grey. His latest video is on traffic, why we have it and the solution. Worth a 5 minute watch!

Kevin Bacon
I like Kevin Bacon, not just as an actor, but as someone who ‘gets’ himself and seems to enjoy life all around. He’s down a few comedy bits recently which I thought were pretty funny. He did a spoof commercial spot with James Corden on “Bacon Cologne by Kevin Bacon

Originally published at 2ndfriday.tumblr.com.

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