Archive for January, 2010

Learning Development, or Developing Learnment :)

January 18th, 2010

My background is not typical of a Systems Administrator. I started my life in IT as a marketing intern, the some time doing basic server administration and Desktop support; to now find myself working fully on Linux Servers. It’s a long way from the Psychology and Business degree that I graduated with back in June ’07.



I’ve never been a bedroom hacker, despite very much wanting to be. The majority of my time spent learning has been during waking hours, in the office. I’ve had a few projects that I’ve taken home with me, but due to my limited background, I found myself limited to fixing things other people had written, rather than writing stuff from scratch. I’d mostly learnt how it shouldn’t be done, rather than how it should be done.



Ironically, this has meant that until now I’ve been fixing other people’s problems, tidying up others designs, and adding my voice to conversations pointing out logical discrepancies and extending other people’s ideas. This is one of the great freedoms that Open Source software has given me – I don’t have to write anything from scratch – someone else has already done it for me.



However, I’m acutely aware that sooner or later my weaknesses are going to land me in hot water. It may be a casual observation, but most of the time I come across something that completely baffles me, I’ll come back to it in a couple of weeks after either doing a bit of research on it or playing with something similar – and I get to understand it. There have been a few moments when I’ve looked back at decisions I’ve made and in the meantime have new knowledge that would have made the decision a “no-brainer”, when at the time it seemed like a 50/50 split.



The more I experience these moments though, the more I realise that it’s all about growth, and experience. I’m sure there are many CS graduates or other programmers out there who have got certain gaps in their knowledge that get filled over time. I’m sure there are many who are going through the same angst that I am, wondering “am I good enough to be doing this.. have I missed something?” In hindsight I’d say that’s a brilliant attitude to have, because being overconfident about one’s ability is likely to end you up in an even bigger spot of bother.



I guess the key is to never fool yourself into thinking that you’ve learnt enough. I’ve got a couple of books in the post, covering ‘Pragmatic Programming’ and ‘Design Patterns’ – I’m sure they’ll provide me with the material I need to keep plugging my gaps, and improving my technical thinking, whether I end up moving into programming rather than Systems Administration, or some other field entirely.

Programming from a

January 18th, 2010

My background is not typical of a Systems Administrator. I started my life in IT as a marketing intern, the some time doing basic server administration and Desktop support; to now find myself working fully on Linux Servers. It’s a long way from the Psychology and Business degree that I graduated with back in June ’07.



I’ve never been a bedroom hacker, despite very much wanting to be. The majority of my time spent learning has been during waking hours, in the office. I’ve had a few projects that I’ve taken home with me, but due to my limited background, I found myself limited to fixing things other people had written, rather than writing stuff from scratch. I’d mostly learnt how it shouldn’t be done, rather than how it should be done.



Ironically, this has meant that until now I’ve been fixing other people’s problems, tidying up others designs, and adding my voice to conversations pointing out logical discrepancies and extending other people’s ideas. This is one of the great freedoms that Open Source software has given me – I don’t have to write anything from scratch – someone else has already done it for me.



However, I’m acutely aware that sooner or later my weaknesses are going to land me in hot water. It may be a casual observation, but most of the time I come across something that completely baffles me, I’ll come back to it in a couple of weeks after either doing a bit of research on it or playing with something similar – and I get to understand it. There have been a few moments when I’ve looked back at decisions I’ve made and in the meantime have new knowledge that would have made the decision a “no-brainer”, when at the time it seemed like a 50/50 split.



The more I experience these moments though, the more I realise that it’s all about growth, and experience. I’m sure there are many CS graduates or other programmers out there who have got certain gaps in their knowledge that get filled over time. I’m sure there are many who are going through the same angst that I am, wondering “am I good enough to be doing this.. have I missed something?” In hindsight I’d say that’s a brilliant attitude to have, because being overconfident about one’s ability is likely to end you up in an even bigger spot of bother.



I guess the key is to never fool yourself into thinking that you’ve learnt enough. I’ve got a couple of books in the post, covering ‘Pragmatic Programming’ and ‘Design Patterns’ – I’m sure they’ll provide me with the material I need to keep plugging my gaps, and improving my technical thinking, whether I end up moving into programming rather than Systems Administration, or some other field entirely.

Birmingham and Solihull versus Cornish Pirates – @ the Clubhouse

January 17th, 2010

What a fantastic result!



I’ve just spent the last couple of hours down at the Sharman’s Cross Clubhouse with around 100 fantastic bees supporters. It’s great that so many would turn up to see the match broadcast over Cornish Pirates’ brilliant Internet TV. Thanks to the guys for setting it up – both at the Birmingham and Solihull end, and the team down in Cornwall.



With the new recruits, Birmingham and Solihull now have fantastic strength in depth and hopefully this will encourage competition for places and an re-energised team ethic. Today’s performance was the result of only two full training sessions together – and not all of the new signings have yet arrived. The rest of the season is starting to look like it has potential.



Coming up on Wednesday Evening is a trip up to Rotherham – a team Bees are likely to be facing come the relegation playoffs in March/April. With a fixture backlog due to the poor weather over the last few weeks – we can but hope that the squad keeps match fit – and that the new guys step up to the plate alongside the guys who have carried the club through the last few months.



2010 is looking much brighter based on today’s result. It was great in the clubhouse; brilliant atmosphere and Ant Elliot gave a speech at the end of the match stating how important it was that we get more people down to Sharman’s Cross. If you’ve not been down and fancy coming along – there’s lots of people there more than happy to give you a warm welcome.



For those of you immersed in the world of twitter, Bees launched their own Twitter-er this week, so visit BSBeesRugby for the latest coming out of SXR.



Feel the Buzz!

Google Apps – Standard Edition

January 13th, 2010

Six months ago I moved one of the domains I host over to Google Apps. I’d heard good things about it, and it seemed a sensible move from their current setup of a shared gmail account.



Despite a first few headaches, things started picking up – but now another problem has reared it’s head.



I have the user andy@domain.com – and I want to also send from andy.loughran@domain.com – this is pretty easy to setup – just add a nickname in the admin panel and that’s the equivalent of another email alias. I’m currently receiving emails fine on both. However, when I want to send an email from the full name – it gets sent with the horrible addendum (on behalf of andy@domain.com) – evidently to remove this I’d have to setup my own smtp server for the domain on another server. Since Google are already providing the smtp services for that domain, this seems a moot point.



Is there a way round it other than having to pay for the premium edition?

Song of 2010

January 4th, 2010









This song is one that I’ve always enjoyed listening to, but as it came on the radio last night on my way home from Nottingham, it really struck a chord with me.



In a recent walk down Millbank and over Waterloo bridge, the thing that really hit me about being back in the UK was how much it has changed since I was younger. I remember a visit to the Houses of Parliament at school, and the seeing the beautiful seat of the British Parliament. The guide reiterated the fact that it’s called the House of Commons, because it’s full of commoners – people like you and me, and that the Queen is not allowed to enter.



Walking past the Houses of Parliament on the 7th December, what struck me was the security surrounding the place. Whilst I agree that the people running the country need adequate protection in order to operate, I also lament the fact that two foot concrete blocks (albeit now fronted with black plastic) are a very visual and political barrier to the House of Commons. If terrorists have infiltrated London enough to drive round a truck full of explosives, why is it that the Houses of Parliament should have such extra protection as compared to other public or private buildings?



I should imagine it would be a step too far for the major political parties – but let’s think about removing these barriers and getting back to the freedoms that we enjoyed before the start of the last decade.



All that the Christmas Day attacks proved is that no matter how high we try and make our security, someone is always going to get through. Therefore the sensible thing to do is to have adequate levels of security, and give people their freedom back. I’d rather live as a free man with the risk of being killed by a terrorist, than have my life massively restricted only for the sake of a small reduction in that risk.

Looking forward to 2010!

January 3rd, 2010

Having just read Dan’s post on what 2009 was like for him, I’m looking forward to seeing what 2010 brings, for him and also for me.




Last year was a bit of an eye opener on so many levels, and one of the things it’s taught me is to focus on what I have acheived, rather than what I hadn’t – so here’s my 2009 breakdown.




January


I decided upon returning from India for Christmas 2008 that I would head back out to volunteer for the charity that I visited out in India. It was a tough decision as I felt pretty loyal to my employer, and although aspects of the job weren’t pretty, I’d landed on my feet straight from University into this job and wanted it to last.


February


Feb was a bit of a nothing month; most of the time I was preparing myself for India, though I did manage a couple of trips out to see Macclesfield Town FC.


March


I had an awesome birthday/farewell party and headed out to India. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, yet within days I was up to my eyeballs helping the Doctors with their work.


April


We had two teams of volunteers come out from the UK and help run a couple of Childrens’ Summer Parties. It was an absolutely rewarding and humbling. We catered for nearly 300 children, whilst the Doctor’s ran a Parenting and Health Course for their carers. I cannot overstate how much this course has changed the lives of the carers and the children. Whereas before the parents were acting based on hearsay and poor advice, they are now confident to use basic medicines, and can get first-class advice from a 24 hour helpline. I had no part in either the course or the helpline, but it was brilliant seeing the benefits.


May


May was probably the first month when we were able to actively help out in the slum communities. Initially this simply meant turning up and gaining the trust of the community. Partnering with the local people already working in the community, I got the opportunity to help entertain and spend times with these kids. They were also my most successful teachers of the local language, Malayalam. I ended my first stint out in India and came back to the UK, to avoid monsoon season, and my Dad’s 50th Birthday.


June


With no job, and a monsoon to wait through, much of my time at the start of June was spent helping out relatives with oddjobs and doing a bit of django development. I spent a few hours a day playing around with a few sites and trying to teach myself a few new things. I also got the opportunity to take a bit of a break, as I’d gone straight from University to employed work in the space of 2 days back in 2007.


July


Some of my time in July was spent doing UK-based work for the Charity. The Doctor’s were back, so I spent a fair amount of time with them, trying to decide on a new name, and general ‘team building.’ I also got the opportunity to go on a lovely family holiday to Frace/Spain, though I drove most of the trip, and on our final journey (from St. Jean pied de Port to Shepton Mallet) the car started misbehaving and cutting out at low revs. I’d packed a haynes manual, and with a bit of good luck and some rather crude tinkering by me, we restarted the car each time and made it back to the UK.


August


In August, I helped out in Venue 2 at the New Wine Conference in Shepton Mallet. It’s not something that I would have ever done previously, especially with the tagline the Observer gave it – Glastonbury for God. However, I had a really good time and learnt alot about my views on God, and the differences between Christianity and Catholicism. Two days after the conference closed, I was on a plane back out to India. I was fortunate to not just have the Doctors out there with me, but we also had three awesome volunteers. Two stayed two weeks and helped decorate the house and the other one stayed a month and was the only British male company I had out in India.


September


Once my male company had departed, we spent the rest of the month doing a couple of clinics a week for the partner charity. I was quite depressing hearing the horrible stories that so many of the children have been through, and being helpless in so many ways. It was just great that they had someone helping them out. The Doctors are doing an awesome job.


October


September was the month of the medical electives. The previous volunteers were 2nd year students, but these guys were 9 months off being qualified, so there was much more of a focus on the medicine. It was quite interesting to be non-medical at this point, as I was quite how much commitment the medical profession involves. Talking about placements, rotations, some forms that needed to be submitted, and a whole load of other things meant that this month was ultra-intense.


November


This was probably the most impacting month of my time in India. It started with a trip to a more ‘classically impoverished’ region. That is to say that the poverty was much more obvious and acute. It felt like how I’d imagined foreign charity work to be like when I was a child, but the thing that struck me was the kindness of the people, and their immediate acceptance and hospitality. I felt a bit inept that I wasn’t able to help out as the Doctors were doing, by providing them with medical care – however, I played my role as best I could, as a runner for the Doctors and trying to help out where I could.

It also brought and end to my time in India.


December


Having got back to the UK, I immediately restarted work for my old employed, who’d I’d been working for 10 hours a week from India (where possibly). We had a PCI DSS Level 1 audit within a day of my return. The guys had been working very hard, but it was great to be able to immediately contribute my experience to securing a successful outcome.

I also came home to find my father much more involved in the work on the Birmingham and Solihull Rugby Club.








So that was my year. It’s not got as many defining moments as Dan’s – and some of it may have been repetitive. However, I’m hoping that in 2010 I can start to embrace the opportunities that are coming up to get more experience. I intend to go and volunteer in another developing county – but with my experience comes the realisation that I need more before I am able to commit long-term to any development efforts. I’m not sure in which direction 2010 will take me, however, I know I have the full support of my family and friends.