April 12, 2020

I'm Josh King, Sysadmin, and This Is How I Work (During Lockdown)

Posted on April 12, 2020  •  9 minutes  • 1838 words

A couple of years back Adam Bertram organized several people in the tech space to write “How I Work” blog posts. These were based on the format set out by Lifehacker , where we had a common set of questions to answer. My previous post is linked below.

I’ve been considering an updated post for a while now, especially since I have moved jobs in the interim. The tipping point that finally got this post rolling was New Zealand going into lockdown to work towards eliminating COVID-19 .

This time around I’m mixing the previous set of questions with ones that have been asked by the ITP in a series of posts with leaders of the tech sector in New Zealand.

Where are you located?

If you hadn’t picked it up from the intro, I call New Zealand home. I was born in NZ and have no real desire to move overseas, as much fun as it is to visit other countries.

My family and I live in Hawke’s Bay , which is about halfway down the North Island .

Sun, Seagulls, and Optimist boats at Ahuriri Beach in Hawke’s Bay

Sun, Seagulls, and Optimist boats at Ahuriri Beach in Hawke’s Bay

Last time I answered this question I mentioned that the furthest I’d gone abroad was Australia. Since then I’ve been over to Bellevue in the States to present at the PowerShell + DevOps Global Summit which was an awesome experience (but still doesn’t want to make me leave NZ permanently.)

What is your current gig?

I work at Tribe , a Managed Service Provider based out of Hawke’s Bay but with offices in Palmerston North and Christchurch as well. I work as a Systems Administrator in the Security & TechOps (SecTechOps) team. We’re a specialist team that isn’t (usually) customer facing, instead we own the internal tools ensuring that they fit for use by the front-line teams.

A few colleagues from the Tribe office

A few colleagues from the Tribe office

My specific focus is on automation. I keep an eye out for opportunities to eliminate manual work, especially if that can be applied across several (or hopefully all) customers to help them achieve increased efficiencies.

It was a huge shift from my previous job at a local Council. That was very much an enterprise environment and I’m now exposed to a lot of much smaller environments which is both interesting and challenging.

What’s one word to describe your work?

Last time I said “Varied” and I’m going to say that again. Looking back, I had no idea what the word meant.

Previously I said varied because I worked throughout a large infrastructure stack. One day I might be doing something with networks, then storage, then backups, then VMware.

Now… every customer brings their own variety to my day. Part of my job is to abstract away the differences, but it still makes for a very varied work week.

Is remote working new to your organization, or are you old hands?

Tribe’s tools are all cloud based so there’s nothing really tying anyone to the office. My colleagues in SecTechOps have all had plenty of practice working from home, as we’re not shy about doing it when we’re not feeling 100% or just need to focus away from office-based distractions.

The rest of the business was a bit of a mixed bag, some worked remotely from time to time, others never had.

As a company we’ve all pulled together well, making sure everyone is up and running, comfortable, and safe. It’s also great to be part of a team enabling other businesses to get themselves working remotely during the COVID-19 lockdown.

In general, what apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?****

PowerShell is my tool of choice, though that’s obvious if you’ve read any other blog post on this site.

I’ve switched over to doing all my editing in Visual Studio Code , with the PowerShell Extension .

My work browser is the new Edge . I use the Dev Channel for my day to day work, and Beta for ad-hoc sessions, such as when I need to use my admin account.

A recent addition is the Microsoft Editor browser extension , which brings Word style spelling, grammar, and refinement suggestions to the web. It catches my stupid mistakes and has even made the writing of this post so much easier.

Meta: Fixing an issue in the previous paragraph

Meta: Fixing an issue in the previous paragraph

What apps/tech are you using to enable remote working?

We’re living and breathing inside Microsoft Teams . Tribe was already heavy Teams users before the lockdown, so it’s second nature to us now. We are making use of the video call features for daily team check-ins, weekly all of business updates, and ad-hoc watercooler discussions.

Our phone system is also cloud based, though it’s not integrated with Teams. This means our service desk can continue to take calls exactly as if they’re in the office.

What does your workspace look like?

Prior to working from home full time, I was happy with my home office setup. Turns out I was happy with it if I was only using it occasionally. Over the first week and a bit of working from home full time I iterated the setup several times. This involved a few trips into the office to pick up office equipment from my desk there.

The full journey can be followed in this rambling Twitter thread.

As for a tour of my desk now, here’s an image and numbered notes. You might need to click the image to expand it.

  1. Work laptop - Previously used for video calls prior to sorting a webcam
  2. Adam Bertram ’s PowerShell for Sysadmins - To be reviewed
  3. Jabra Evolve 40 (Model ENC010) - Borrowed from work
  4. Books (Being a Great Dad for Dummies and Beginning Python ) and the “Sticker Box”
  5. Random fidget stuff; LEGO, fidget cube, “PowerShell Floppy Disk”
  6. Blue Yeti microphone - Out of the way while I fix the mic stand
  7. Pad and pens - Still prefer taking initial notes on paper
  8. Razer Ornata Chroma - Surprisingly close to the feel of a real mechanical keyboard
  9. Razer Naga Trinity
  10. USB Extensions - Saves having to crawl under the desk to plug things in
  11. Dual monitor stand - Borrowed from work
  12. Cheap Logitech speakers
  13. 3D printed container and glasses cleaning cloths
  14. Favorite Tribe motto
  15. Hydration - Very important
  16. Left monitor - Outlook and Teams
  17. Center monitor - CODE!
  18. Right monitor - Browsers and random apps
  19. Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 - Borrowed from work
  20. Family photos
  21. Outside - Whatever that is?
  22. LEGO Stormtroopers - Still deciding what to do with them
  23. Desktop PC - Old but grunty

What’s a typical workweek look like?

Every day starts with a team catch-up. It’s scheduled for 30 minutes, and we’re fairly good about keeping it under that. We use this time for a wellbeing check (though I doubt any of us would call it that on the call), and to chat about progress made the previous day and plans for the coming day.

The week ends with a Tribe All of Business Update, which may or may not double as Friday drinks (BYO at the moment unfortunately!)

I book out two hours a day of “focus time”, via MyAnalytics . This sets me to do not disturb in Teams automatically and allows me to get through items that need distraction free attention.

The rest of the weeks is fluid, with anything from ad-hoc video calls when ideas needs to be bounced around to furious coding.

What do you like the best about your role?

The amount of time I get to spend diving into interesting automation tasks. When I made the decision to move to Tribe, I was hoping my time would end up being about 50% PowerShell and the reality is that it’s ended up being somewhere around 50-80%

A very close follow-up is the people, I work with some super sharp people.

What do you listen to while you work?

I’ve been a long time YouTube Red Premium subscriber, which comes with Google Play Music and I use that as my music streaming service of choice. I’ve got a varied taste in music and what I choose depends on my mood (and if kids are around… language can be coarse.)

From left to right, that’s:

What do you wish you could change about your work?

Sometimes I miss the size and complexity of “Enterprise” environments, or at least the tools generally available within them.

I wish it would be possible to make them work under an MSP model… and get my hands on them at Tribe.

What is the best thing about working remotely?

Having the kids around. It been nice being around the kids more, and occasionally popping in for a video call or two.

I also feel more productive at home. This is largely due to being able to work across three monitors whereas I normally only have two in the office.

What is the worst thing about working remotely?

Having the kids around. While having them pop in on calls sometimes is fun, they haven’t quite got that sometimes dad needs to focus on work and can’t play or pay them undivided attention then and there.

My home office is also just off of the living room and the doors can’t be closed as I’m running an ethernet cable in for my PC… I have a wide baby gate on the way as the next best thing though!

Do you have any tips to get through the lockdown?

You can be productive at home, just accept that this may take a different form than at work.

In the office I find that I have a steady flow of productivity throughout the entire day. At home, however, it comes in waves of high and low productivity. Learn your patterns and go with it rather than try to fight against it.

A tip from my wife is to remember to take breaks. I have a bad habit of working through my lunch hour in the office and need serious prodding at home to break away from the computer.

Finally, stay connected with your peers. If you need to reach out to someone for a chat, do it. Plenty of communities are doing virtual social calls, like the weekly #PowerLunch for the PowerShell inclined.


Hero image by Dillon Shook on Unsplash

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