Recently, I wrote about how engineers need a proper toolbox to be effective. I am going to flip that idea upside down and talk about seven essential traits that every engineer operating in the Modern Workplace should have.
The six traits we are going to focus on (and I’m sure it’s subjective and you could choose others) are:
- An Analytical Mind
- The Tinkerer
- The Fox Mulder Mentality
Please come with me on my journey and discover if you too have the right “make-up” to be an effective technologist in the ever-evolving world of the Modern Workplace.
An Analytical Mind in the Modern Workplace
We start our journey with the analytical mind. If you check the dictionary, analytical is defined as “relating to or using analysis or logical reasoning.” You may associate it with our old friend Sherlock Holmes, the detective.
The idea isn’t far off. When we think about an analytical mind, I summarize it as looking at information and making assumptions. Let’s discuss how the analytical mind comes into play in our world.
Analytical skills are at the forefront of troubleshooting in the Modern Workplace. Let’s take an issue, such as “our VPN tunnel isn’t working.” Let’s look at a basic Workspace ONE diagram for some inspiration.
The analytical mind will be able to visualize data flow on an issue and know the questions to ask and how to make some basic deductions. In my example we would ask:
- Can we resolve the DNS externally and internally?
- Did we try this on Wi-Fi and Cellular?
- Can I hit it in the browser?
Once we satisfy our curiosity, we then move deeper and start asking more questions:
- Can I telnet/SSH from the server in the DMZ to the server inside?
- Do any apps work?
- Are the services running?
- Did I check the logs yet?
- Did I run a packet capture?
Analytically, we collect data in our mind and make some deductions not unlike Sherlock to try to solve the problem. An analytical mind is crucial in a world where IT support structures are crumbling and the only person we can trust are ourselves. Analytics can be applied to any problem and it establishes one of the main building blocks of an effective engineer.
I could make the case that being a “tinkerer” is one of the more overlooked characteristics in engineering. It’s a problem because of a number of factors:
- IT teams are being smaller and more nimble thus less downtime.
- Many engineers lack the skill set to manage a lab on their own.
- Companies aren’t willing to commit to a full lab, which often puts the onus on you to buy and build your own lab.
- Far too many people think Google is an acceptable way of solving problems.
The tinkerer trait focuses on the idea that to learn and evolve we must fail. Many people in IT have become a bit lazy truthfully. We have moved to a world where few people use the CLI (Command Line Interface) and are GUI-based. Additionally, many people lack the motivation or drive to figure out difficult problems.
I am certainly NOT “shaming” people for not tinkering, testing, breaking, analyzing, and solving problems. The reality is people have become more reliant on others and don’t try to figure things out like they once did. Let’s discuss how tinkering comes into play, similar to how I did when I built my own lab a few years back.
Quite often, we learn that things are undocumented in the IT world and occasionally we need to figure out a solution to a problem. A good example would be when a new version of a platform comes out and you want to test the functionality. Everyone should have a lab available personal or otherwise to see how a change will impact the totality of their environment.
A Real World Tinkering Fail
A great example of “tinkering” gone awry was several years ago I worked in an environment where they would ONLY sideload certificates profiles on their mobile devices. I thought this would a super fun thing to try to automate/modernize.
Through tinkering, I came up with this idea that I could build a web server with IIS and host the iOS .mobileconfig files on that IIS server so people didn’t need to visit the help desk. I went through a number of creative processes trying to build and deploy this solution, which inevitably failed. I’m not even at the major fail yet…..
Once that failed, I stupidly tried to test something that should have been fine. I took the profile that I exported from the build machine and tried to push it down via AirWatch. My idea was good that we would build the profile and push it to a test machine to make it less friction-ey.
The testing was unsuccessful and when I retired the profile it caused a major domino effect. “Apparently” they were using a single profile with the same GUID for everyone so once I retired it, it started removing EVERY certificate payload from every machine. I had to quickly adapt and stop database services as we had probably 100 people lose their certificates. We should never stop tinkering and trying to figure out how things work.
Moral of the story: “Tinkering is good, but you NEED A LAB!”
The Fox Mulder Mentality
One of the things that one of my favorite shows was famous for was great quotes. One of David Duchovny’s best quotes was “Trust No One.”
When I say this, I don’t mean don’t trust your own team. Simply, never ever ever ever ever trust vendors. Some may call me a pessimist, but never trust people at face value. You will find they will take the easy way out more often than not.
It’s important to understand the CSO support structure that exists today. We deal with a ton of people who are Level 1 or Level 2 and lack the expertise to give you a good answer and sometimes they give you their best answer. At BlackBerry, we instilled the idea of “Let me look into that for you” which is much better than random guessing.
Simply, I am saying that you should follow a few simple rules:
- Trust but Verify
- Does It Pass the Sniff Test?
I try to pay very close attention to what people say. You always want to see if what they said actually makes sense. Also, TEST TEST TEST. You never roll out a change that someone else tells you to do without testing it yourself. Let’s list a few of the “things” I’ve been told over the years that didn’t make any sense:
- Did you push down the vendor root certificate? (The issue was with our SSO SSL handshake, which had nothing to do with that)
- Can you re-enroll? (For a device throwing authentication errors)
- Can’t you just type in that keychain password? It’s not our problem (Definitely was their problem)
It’s important to not just let people off the hook. We should be constantly pushing for our vendors to support us properly. We only achieve that by keeping them honest and being mindful.
Creativity in the Modern Workplace
Creativity means different things to different people. In our new world of the Modern Workplace, there is more than one way to skin a problem. Sometimes people can get a little lazy instead of solving the problem effectively.
I don’t mean to pick on VMware but I’m going to pick on VMware for a second. They posted this article awhile back where they basically talk about setting “Identity Preference” for MacOS which shows you how to tell browsers which certificate to use.
The idea is “good”-ish and Rob Terakedis gets some points for creativity. I like the “idea” of using Custom XML to deploy settings over a script, but in practice it’s not a reliable solution. Without going into it, user profiles create unnecessary user keychain prompts thus degrading the user experience.
Creativity as we discussed is knowing every problem has multiple solutions. In this example, you could try to solve it via a script, a launch daemon (read about that here), profile, plist, etc. We far too often in the Modern Workplace world fallback on “there is only one solution.”
You have a unique opportunity working in the Modern Workplace where every problem has 2-5 different solutions depending on your needs. You should never let something like “we can’t give people local admin” or “there isn’t a profile for that” stop you from creating something great. An exceptional user experience is ALL of our responsibilities.
Passion is nearer and dearer to my heart than anything else on this list. Being successful in the Modern Workplace is NOT about being the smartest, the best, the most technical, or any of that nonsense. Effort and passion can close that gap between you and some robotic architect that is incapable of working well with others.
As someone who was a retail manager until the age of 29, I had to compete against people more talented and more technical than me for 10+ years. My drive, effort, and passion helped me compete. I implore you to only work in the Modern Workplace if you truly love it.
Passion is defined as a strong feeling or emotion about something. Everyone in IT has worked with people on the back nine of their career that just aren’t that invested. Your passion can be infectious and it helps you gather support. Sometimes finding that passion is as simple as testing new things, writing (like I enjoy), or finding something that resonates with you.
The beauty about having passion and conveying it positively is that it builds trust. The pillars of trust built on passion empower you to speak with confidence and gather supporters like Pokémon throughout your company.
I’m guessing you saw how I transitioned into confidence. Of these 7 items, I think confidence might be the one that UEM or Modern Workplace engineers lack the most. It is also a major contributor to the birth of my blog. It’s hard to be confident when vendors don’t empower you.
My promise to you is if you build the other 6 traits from this article then you will have that confidence. Confidence overall comes from understanding your area at a near expert level and knowing what you say is true. We struggle with this frequently because documentation is lacking, we lack the mentorship we need to strive, and we haven’t had the time to hone the skills.
Unfortunately, engineers in the UEM space often struggle with confidence and are filled with doubt for another reason. People still don’t respect our place in general. I have spent years wading the waters of disrespect. Let’s list some of the “digs” that I have gotten:
- He’s just an AirWatch Guy
- Isn’t that the guy who activates our iPhones?
- I doubt he can do anything else
- Why does he always wear those VMware shirts?
It’s never good when things are uncomfortable. Sometimes when we move outside of our comfort zone we thrive. I wrote about this a few years ago when I talked about the evolution from administrator to architect. We can shake the falsehoods of our detractors by evolving and eliminating detractors.
Accountability in the Modern Workplace
I couldn’t possibly end this article without the biggest issue that IT has today politically. Unfortunately, we are surrounded by people who tend to pass the buck. We have the people who swear they didn’t change anything, the people who will always blame mobile when something goes wrong, or people who just deflect in general.
It’s my personal opinion that nothing builds credibility more than accountability. I’ve always felt that owning your successes and failures is a major part of growth. When you achieve that, you have matured as a technologist. It’s really hard and uncomfortable. None of us want to sit in an Incident Review meeting getting thrown under the bus. Sometimes it’s necessary and a good learning experience.
I believe that people appreciate the self-awareness and ownership of a problem and it makes people want to come to you. I find people that get defensive and lack accountability are not all that approachable. As a Modern Workplace Engineer, you can become Switzerland. Don’t forget everyone loves Switzerland.
The reason that I wanted to write this was for an opportunity for myself and others to do some self analysis. We can’t be everything and we aren’t always at our best, but our core values remain. My belief is that people can become something greater, but only if we sacrifice and commit ourselves to something more.