When describing how to best take advantage of Podcamp Boston 3, Chris Brogan said something to the effect of, "It's not what people are teaching in the classrooms that makes Podcamp special. Rather, it is what goes on in the hallways, lounges, and small informal gatherings that makes the magic that is Podcamp" (Loosely quoted).
It was soon after podcamp that I started to learn this same principle while interning for the IT consulting firm, Accenture. We had formal training, workshops, on the job learning and the rest but what made working for them so special was the day to day interactions passing by a coworker's desk. It was the informal talks at internal networking talks that provided huge value, not the formal reports and speakers.
As I've entered my final year of college, I've brought the lesson of informal gathering, investing in intertactions, and the value of uniting others to my every day life within the University. It is easier to parse through the lecture notes and find the important chunks. Focusing in class is far less challenging now that I know what is important. All the classwork prepares me to work with peers in the hallsways and on teams. My experience informs my actions in student groups and guides the decision making I use every day.
So what are the next steps? Here are a couple:
Find what drives you - focus on it and develop it.
Get extroverted - we all have introverted days but getting outside yourself lets you see the value you have to bring to others and vice versa.
Get involved - you can find something that excites you every day that you're alive, I promise! Find it and follow it.
For me, I have found a new energy investing in the Student Alumni Council at Boston University. It wasn't until I took a leadership role organizing our members to assist with the University-wide Reunion and Alumni weekend that I actually rediscovered my love for the group. I do a lot of grunt work but the few hours of networking and the fun pay-offs of meeting new people were more than enough to jumpstart that drive within. SAC will be a new priority for me in the coming months.
What are you passionate about? Have you started to find the value in the hallsways and informal gatherings? What are you favorite conversations to have in the halls of conferences?
This past weekend, I spent my Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday out in the Blue Hills reservation just south of Boston, MA training the cadets of Boston Cadet Squadron. These young adults are members of Civil Air Patrol, the volunteer organization that I have been a part of for eight years now. Our goal for the weekend was to work as a single team while we trained in Emergency Services, survival, and overnight camping. At least that had been the plan.
I have been instructing these same topics for a number of years now but of late, my lessons have focused on learning through my teaching. Working with cadets that are from ages 12 to 18, I have found it a challenge for me to properly orient my instruction and leadership style to suit the varied needs of the cadets in our squadron. Timing can be ironic - I'm currently a teaching assistant and candidate for Teach for America. This means that I've been working in the "teaching" area for a while now and I am just starting to notice the issues that come along with being a teacher.
There are such varying levels of support needed by our cadets - everything from complete autonomy to complete and total supervision. There are a few that I would trust to be out in the woods for weeks on end but others that I would prefer to have a physical leash to. How does one cope with these situations? How do I change behavior when I don't have the "full" story on cadet conditions, attitudes, and history? Answer: you do your best and work as a team.
In order to make legitimate change with these cadets, I need to alter behavior. Through my experience, I have found this to be a difficult task, though not impossible. The United States Air Force Academy taught me many things about leadership and one of the most powerful tools we experienced was the power of peer accountability. This is the idea that you are responsible for the actions of your teammate, and they are likewise responsible for yours.
We are making changes in the way that we work within the group. I am changing my role within the power structure. We will go back to basics in order to obtain the correct temperment and attitudes. We will remove priveledges such as talking, break times, and "fun" activities if need be. We will provide structured rituals such as current event and news reviews, squaring of corners, and the buddy system. Finally, we will delegate responsibility to the lowest level possible while enabling those levels to make good decisions.
Hopefully, these changes will create the environment necessary for proper learning to take place, for friendships to form, and leadership to flourish. My goal for these kids is for them to develop into leaders with a sense of purpose, drive, and self respect that their peers in inner-city Boston do not have. I want them to be constantly thinking about the group, not just themselves, I want them to work as a team.
If you have suggestions for making this process easier, please email me at james(dot)m(dot)connors(at)gmail(dot)com or leave a comment here for people to share.
[Edit: removed "children" from first paragraph 10.10.08]
How do you know when it is time to let go? I find this to be one of the hardest things to do in my life. Whether it be parting ways with that extra snack that you were about to eat, or saying goodbye to a close friend. Sometimes the RIGHT thing isn't fun or interesting or even popular.
I believe that the way that we make decisions is a direct reflection of who we are as individuals. So many times in our lives we give into the group, let our "friends" influence our choices, or otherwise forfeit our ability to choose for ourselves and be independent.
I'm making a choice. I'm letting go.
Maybe it was the crappy weekend that you had. Perhaps it was a fight you had with a best friend. Perhaps you were let down by someone that you thought you could trust. No matter what the issue was, it's time to let go. Dwelling on the past doesn't bring more insight - just pain... especially when it's a bad memory.
I have made many mistakes in my life, done a lot of things that I wish I could take back. That said, I am starting to let go. The United States Air Force Academy was a really hard and sucky place to live. I decided that the straight up misery I experience wasn't worth the end result (I had decided I didn't want to fly anymore). So I left.
After leaving, I had to learn how to be a human again - I was a robot. Cadet James Connors now needed to become a normal person again. For a long time I hurt and was down about my decision. I had nightmares about the sucky parts of the Academy, the affects it had on my life and my relationships. Eventually they started to fade intot he noise.
Now, I only remember the good parts of the Academy. I have let the bad stuff go.
While in Ireland, I had repeated dreams of going back to USAFA and rejoining. The visions would leave me restless in the morning because I honestly wish I could go back most of the time. Then again, most of the time, I don't remember the bad parts. So it's up to me to remind myself of why I went and why I left.
Everyone has challenging situations and experiences in their lives. Some of them turn out really well, some totally suck and still other scome out with a mix of both. Let go of that nasty bits. They aren't going to help you move forward with you life. Do yourself and everyone around a favor, let it go. Just be. Stop worrying - you can't change it now.
And yes, I do remember it! Does that set the tone for the rest of the post or what??
Anyways, allow me to get to the story. Friday last, I had taken the day to work from home. I did some writing, worked out a bit of my reports and the like when not tending to the feast I was preparing. Scott and Lauren were off to their friends in Wexford for the weekend leaving Alison and I to our own devices in the apartment.
We had decided to do Powers Court Gardens in Co Wicklow on Saturday and Ryan would be coming too. Due to bad weather, the call was made to push it all back to Sunday which was fine with me. Unfortunately, they changed their mind at 8:30 in the morning and I wasn't so much interested in getting my butt out of bed on Saturday morning. So they set off on their own adventure but I wanted some fun myself. So begins the epic day that followed.
I decided that it being my last weekend in Ireland and all, that I would go out and do a marathon of the Porterhouse pubs. There are four in Ireland so they would be my stops for the day. The furthest away was in Bray - about an hour's journey on the DART (commuter rail) south of the city. I arrived in town and wandered around until I was able to find my way to the pub. It was a bit of a cave - dark with red lights to shed some light without making it bright.
I sampled their Porterhouse Red Ale while reading their little primer on the different types of beer and how they are made (Did you know a Lager is a "bottom fermented" beer?). I followed that pint up with a glass of their Porterhouse Plain Porter - so clean and smooth. The whole while Seamus, the bartender, and I had struck up quite the conversation. We were watching the rugby and chatting up the waitresses while sharing favorite brews and stories of the good 'ole days. After those were down I took my leave and decided to hike the big hill with a cross on it at Bray Head.
Let's just say that it was an hour or so later of walking that I noticed I hadn't come across a trail head and was making my way around the far side of the hill. Clearly, I had missed the boat on this one. Oh well - it was a good 10km jaunt to the next town over by way of a gorgeous seaside trail. After chatting up an old Irish fellow at the DART station, it was time to head back to Dublin City Center.
Upon arrival in the city I grabbed some food quickly and took note of the abundance of goth kids running around in their black, metal addorned clothing. One group rolled into the restuarant basically carrying one girl. She couldn't hold herself up let alone keep her head from flopping onto the table with flexibility that would make Gumby jealous. Being the concerned citizen I am, I made sure to tell the Guarda so she could get some medical attention (either on the verge of alcohol poisoning or had some serious drugs in her) and it was only about half six at this point.
To Porterhouse Central next where I ordered a Temple Brau - tasty for sure. More rugby to be seen and at that point I noticed another guy watching the match by himself. Side note -the match was international rugby for the Barclays cup and was being played in Chicago. Jeff, the guy's name, was a financial planner working for a Boiler Room sort of company and had dreams of going out on his own. Anyways, we talked a good bit and when he said he was home to the wife and kids I took my opportunity to part ways and head to the second to last Porterhouse in Temple Bar. Of course, it was on Jeff's way so he came too.
Now, mind you that I'm a responsible adult and all that but I felt rather uncomfortable with letting this guy buy me a couple pints. I didn't think that he was going to drug me, nor was he trying to take me home. To me, it was more like the guy wanted someone to drink with and since I was "on holiday" (as he put it) I wasn't allowed to buy a single drink. This was new territory for me. I've never had someone else buy me a drink that wasn't later reciprocated etc... I guess when you're as cool as me you've got to get used to that (HAHA BIG JOKE). He introduced me to an excellent Polish Strong Beer - Okocim Mocne (7% ABV) that was absolutely tasty.
To Temple Bar we go where he again refuses to let me buy a round for the two of us. We siddled up to a table and enjoyed some modern Celtic music - very cool. They had all sorts of traditional instruments alongside guitars and drums. A very interesting sound. Speaking of instruments - I've made a promise to myself. If I can teach myself to play the guitar this summer and stay at it, and really dedicate time to it as I've been neglecting to ever since that day mom and I got my Dean Exotica. If I can do that and really be true to it all, then I'll buy myself some uilleann pipes because I've been absolutely taken away by their sound and their songs.
From Porterhouse Temple Bar, Jeff steared me to the Brazen Head - Dublin's oldest pub situated on what would have been the outskirts of old Duvlin - the Nordic settlement. He got the Guinness and I got the seats. We ended up sharing a table with a Montreal transplant and a migrated Limey. They were good fun though it was a bit odd when the lady was probing to see if Jeff or I were cops - she wanted to light up a joint right there in the open air bar... which she did.
From the Brazen Head, I took my leave from Jeff - good luck to that merry soul. Thank you for the pints, my friend. I met up with my old roommate from UCD, Fergal. It was his last night in Dublin before heading back to Luxombourg with his family Sunday morning. After the hellos and a bathroom stop at Burger King on lower O'Connell, we headed our way to the Porterhouse North. It was the first time I had walked through the North Side - definitely an experience.
Upon our arrival at Porterhouse North, I walked in no problem despite my cargo pants and hiking boots... and Fergs was stopped immediately even though he was well kept (for him at least). I love not getting carded - it'll be a real change when we get back to the States. This time around I ordered myself the Oyster Stout, a beer that I had sipped before and could actually taste the seafood - GROSS! This time around, it was great but I'm not sure whether that was something to do with my current state or if my taste buds had really just changed that much. Oh dear it's going be interesting to come back to the States and the crappy beer etc etc.
Anyways, the cap of the night came next. We headed out the back of the clubby pub to their patio since it was a nice night out. Almost as soon as we sat down at a table, a bit of a fight broke out right behind me. Anyone who knows me well knows I'm very protective and can act like the security guard. Well before I knew it I was on my feet holding this drunk back so he wouldn't pummell this much smaller guy. When said drunk started to try to hit me I decided it was time to put an end to it. I told the guy we were going down and I *gently* brought the guy to the ground and *lightly* put my knee on his back to keep him from going anywhere. The bouncers came in as I was getting a good round of applause and they took care of boucning then entire group.
I had gone back to my beer when a LARGE black bouncer was coming towards me. All I could think of was theat he was going to bounce me for taking the drunk down and that I'd not get to finish my drink :-( sad thoughts, I know. Quite the opposite, the bouncer told me to talk with the waitress and that she'd take care of me for the rest of the night. Needless to say, I buy another drink that night - completely not expected but whole heartedly appreciated! Thanks, Porterhouse bouncer!
So for an entire day of travel, food, drink, and fun I had spent less than 20 Euro when I ought to have spent at least triple that for all the craic that had been had. It was an amazing ni Fergal and I capped it off by taking one last photo before parting ways and then I headed north and walked my ass home. I would say it was a learning experience and a confidence boosting night - I couldn't have asked for a better Saturday.
So back to work - I have the reseach report for work, a presentatifo them as well. Then there is that journal entry thing that I need to do for BU as well as their research report... this last week has inevitably come down to crunch time as it usually does with me. I need to learn how to plan this stuff out better!
So, Friday was the last day of classes for the entire term. The day passed without much incident beyond a small group of friends doing the famed Baggot Street Mile (mile long pub-crawl). The Irish students had other plans though. The entire school was swarming with new security guards, ids and bags checked at all the entrances, and the largest display of public drunkenness that I have ever seen, save maybe Marathon Monday. People were sloppy everywhere - guys peeing in the bushes, girls flashing guys, it was a mess. I am somewhat glad that I slept most of the day away and then went out.
With the closing of the last few assignments over the weekend, I am left looking for something to fill the void. At this point, the void was filled with pontification. I basically came up with the thought that I should have some sort of BIG revelation from being here. The summer before freshman year of high school, I was fortunate enough to go abroad for a month in Australia. When I came back, there had been so many big learning moments and my parents said that I came back a different person. When I went to the Air Force Academy, my parents said I was a changed person. What will they say this time around?
I do not know what I am expecting, some sort of giant neon sign to tell me I am not the same. Perhaps it will be the way others treat me but I have not really noticed much change there either. One of my good friends told me that she thought I might have changed but I did not know it yet. I want to know it. I want to validate this feeling of obligatory learning. I mean, I am in a different country far flung from the states for six months, I would hope that I have learned something. But what has it been? My opinions have changed a bit; my worldview is broader. I have learned to do without an oven and can go weeks without doing laundry but where is the big achievement?
What I have come up with is that I might be done CHANGING and that the largest contribution that this whole experience has given me is that I have become more ME than ever before. I have had time to think, to explore myself and to understand who I am and what I want. Could this be the gift that I am seeking underneath my shamrock? I am hoping it is. I would love to know that this is the right thing because I don't want people to think I have had this tremendous opportunity and then just wasted it but that brings up another point. I have to care about what the other people think and let them have that force over me.
What I know to be the benefits of my time here in Ireland ought to be my own counsel. That private knowledge should be validation enough to prove that I have indeed taken advantage of where I am and what I am doing. My thoughts in private moments should count more than what anyone outside of those thoughts could say. Well, they are. I believe that I have gained strength here to take what I want, to do what I need, and to think as I may because in the end it is not about THEM, it is about me.
Sooo I've not been good about keeping this up to date over the last while so allow me to tidy this one up.
After leaving Amsterdam, Grace and I flew into Barcelona and made the most of that city. It was so cool to be able to use a bit of my limited Spanish. We toured the city looking at the normal touristy sites but also did a tour of Gaudi architecture. This tour culminated in a walk within the walls of La Sagrada Familia. Absolutely BEAUTIFUL!! Go to the spring break collection on my flickr site - http://www.flickr.com/photos/nalgene1080 for more looks at this place.
After leaving Barcelona, we met up with Grace and my friend, Sarah, and rented a car (with GPS) to drive south. Our first day on the road we made it into Alicante amid explosive festivities - literally. People were dropping firecrackers all over the place in celebration of the Las Fallas festival. Basically, the neighborhoods of Alicante build these large statues and scenes out of very flammable materials. They party and celebrate all through Holy Week and then they burn them on the last day of the festival - we were there for that night. We met up with friends of friends in the city and they showed us around a bit until we retired to our car and slept in a parking lot, in the car, for the night. That was enough for us because the next day we found a place to sleep in beds.
< ![endif]-->The next day we walked around the parks and museums of Alicante before pushing on to the beach and then off to Valencia. We saw the sites as best we could whilst there and enjoyed a relaxing night. The next day we took in the beach and scenic vistas and even toured an old Moorish fort atop the highest point of the city. It was absolutely gorgeous to look out over the entire city as well as the beach. It was definitely the nicest weather we had had all week. With heavy hearts we headed further south to Granada.
Granada was where Grace had been studying for the semester so she owned the town. We stayed with a friend of hers in a very nice hotel. Absolutely a gas. We went out that night and sampled the local haunts, namely the tapas bars. Granada is the only place around that will give you food with every beer you order - it was tasty too. The night wore on meeting up with friends and new people until eventually we made our way back to the hotel. The next day, we played it cool touring the city a bit and getting a beautiful glimpse of the Sierra that looms high above the city center much in the way that you'd imagine the Alps would in Switzerland.
With heavy heart, I departed Granada the next morning en route back to Dublin. I thought that I might MIGHT be able to get onto an earlier flight into Heathrow so that I could get a flight back to Dublin before the night was out... unfortunately that definitely didn't happen. On the other hand, I rolled into Malaga not knowing where the heck I was going from an hour and a half bus ride from Granada. Being the inventive guy that I am, I went to the rail station nearby to the bus terminal and was able to navigate my way on the light rail system out to the airport. This too was in vain as I found the British Airways office closed for a 4 hours making my attempt for moving up my flight a 6.5 hour wait in Malaga Airport. I read my books, did some work, listened to podcasts, watched some shows I had on my iPod while waiting, trying to be productive.
Finally, the time came when the desks opened and we could get through security. I ended up meeting a graduate student from George Washington University in line who had been out traveling and learning more about the culture. He was an international marketing strategy guy - very interesting to talk to. We chatted and met up after security and have kept in touch since. That night was a horrific overnight in quite possibly the worst terminal ever. It started with a sleepless night in an ice cold terminal wing - the Brits didn't want us near the shops so they herded us into one wing that was sooo very cold. It was awful but I ended up meeting a nice old man that told me his life story around 3am. I has some calls from friends and family around the 4am time that were interesting (oh how I love time changes). At about half four, the Biometric office opened and we all had to register with them - they took 4 finger palm prints and a head photo. This was apparently a recent security measure to control international travelers when in common concourses.
Anyways, the story ends with me getting a hassle at every checkpoint for one reason or another, not getting any breakfast, and then finally got on the flight. Upon arrival in Dublin, they told me they had lost my bag but didn't know where it was... I wasn't really batting 500 that day. I headed home, and took care of some of the work that had piled up and then got myself into bed for a long deserved nap. I woke up in the afternoon to word that I had gotten the Accenture internship which was amazing and then woken up again a few hours later to news that they had found my bag. All in all, it was a great end to a horrible 48 hours. It was a great trip and a nice way to spend my spring break.
Well, I have been reading a lot online and learning more and more about how to market yourself online and bascially, I've decided that I needed to own my name a little more than I do (online that is). Therefore, I have registered www.jamesmconnors.com to bring together all of my projects. If you came in over the old jconnors.net URL, hopefully you were redirected without issue. I'll be doing more testing to make sure that the transition doesn't break anything major.
So the look is the same, the name is different, and now I'm trying to figure out where to bring this blog. I know I want to keep it as an outlet for me to spend time on and all that but I also want to make sure that I can tie together my projects. Some know that I'll be launching a company in the near-ish future and hopefully that'll bring my online operations into one single entity. So look for information about that in the near future.
Hope you're all keeping well and that you're stopping in every now and then. For more updates on my current adventures, please check out http://www.jamesindublin.com for a narrative of my semester abroad in Dublin, Ireland and my various romps around Europe.
Some of you may know that I recently accepted a new position as the Network and Web Administrator for Generations Incorporated. If you've read this blog for long, you know also that I'm currently working desktop support for Boston University. It's about 10:30 here in Boston and I was thinking about the transition in skills and knowledge of a job such as this. Desktop support with Information Systems Planning and Support has been a really great experience where I've learned a great deal from the technical aspects to time management and relationship maintenance. These are all skills that I'm able to apply to this new organization I'm working with.
Unfortunately, as a student employee and the nature of the desktop support position, I have not learned much in the way of server technology. Sure, this means that Generations Inc (GI) took a bit of a gamble with me since their prior admin was basically a brain-child genius. On the other hand, having worked in an environment where you don't always see the whole picture or deal with users that honestly don't know what happened, I have learned the ability to troubleshoot problems. Perhaps this, the ability to systematically find problems and resolve them in an orderly fashion, has been the greatest benefit I've gained from my work with ISPS.
Troubleshooting skills aside, I face a large learning curve when it comes to specific technology such as Windows 2003 Server, Windows Small Business Server, Terminal Services Server, and Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. These particular OS's are my bread and butter - the daily grind if you will. My primary tasks on a day to day basis are communicated via the task application of outlook and revolve around server maintenance and backup, desktop user support (similar to my position with ISPS), and longer term research and development projects.
I think I'll mention a couple of the projects I'm working on right now. The first, a full inventory and audit of computer assets, users, policies, and infrastructure. This is a rather basic concept - figure out what we have, where it is, and who uses it, then make changes as necessary. Since we're such a small shop, it won't be difficult to get any one bit of information but to do the updates and remediation that I think will be necessary, I expect that I'll need some out of hours time. The other big project I'm working on is to align mobile computing to our network where users with Blackberries will be able to sync with our servers or perhaps Windows Mobile devices will use the AirSync technology. I'm still in the research phase for this project, gathering the raw numbers and information to then present to the directors in a report.
So what spurned all of this? Well, I was bored for one. I'm in the midst of a book that teaches the Windows 2003 Server information in a crash course sort of way. I've been reading about installing, domain controllers, all sorts of bits about network infrastructure that I just needed a bit of a break and here I am. In any case, I will bring this to a close. I know I haven't been writing often but I think that my more regimented schedule will do well for my publishing cycle.
Thank you to all that continue to read and support City Streets, my professional blog and website!
I am currently working on a project for ISPS that simply doesn't want to work correctly. Sure, the project wasn't commissioned by anyone in particular but rather, it was the manifestation of seeing a need and fitting a solution to that need. That need is of documentation.
So what is this project that you speak of, James? Well, our office administers somewhere in the neighborhood of 1700 computers and 2 data centers... that equates to about 50 - 100 support tickets per day... we're a busy shop. Users break things, download programs they shouldn't, contract viruses, or just flat our fry the computer at times. As a department, we have some unique ways of fixing these ailments but they aren't set down anywhere.
For this reason, I have taken it upon my self to produce some sort of support repository that would be an easy place to update solutions to various computer problems. For example:
This week, our office has seen a number of cases where users, particularly laptop users, have contracted the notorious VUNDO or VIRTUMUNDO virus. This particularly nasty computer virus blocks anti-virus software, locks itself away with guard dog dll's and even changes it's name at logoff through a registry rewrite.
Some people may be scratching their heads at all of that, but if you're still with me, then you'll realize how nasty such a program is. In fact, there isn't an anti-virus product out there that takes care of everything related to VUNDO, therefore 3rd party programmers have made effective programs freely available. But where are they?!
This was what I faced this week - a learning curve on how to attack such a problem as a computer virus that did not tell me where it was laying. Rather, it hid from me with all it's heuristic intelligence. If we had at hand the necessary documentation to deal with the problem, I would have been able to resolve the infection in a matter of hours (time for the computers to run the various cleaning utilities) rather than having the issues drag on over night.
To this end, I am building a support wiki that will rule the world!... or just our department (with a little luck and some group buy-in). For privacy purposes, I will not disclose the URL to this website but anyone interested is welcome to email me for more details.
I really dislike not knowing php as a language because it's making it rather difficult to design this website into what I'm looking for. The issue is this: how do I make this website into a real website rather than just a blog? My answer was to actually use a static page rather than just using the posts page.
I want there to be a Blog page where the posts reside rather than the on the home page. Perhaps I'll place a single entry at a time into the page, but other than that... I'm not really interested in throwing more into the beginning because I want this to be very professional. That is the idea.
So, for the last two hours, I've been learning - slowly - how to put in a static page. This is all above my head at this point, however I think I've found a way to do it that will suit my purposes. It's going to be a technique that will take the elements of the theme by placing a home.php file into the theme directory that will redefine a static page and then refer to the index page as a blog stepping point.
The saga continues and the coolest part is that you, the readers, will be able to see the result. I'm going to have to make a decision at some point. Right now, I'm waiting for the replies of a number of developers. They would be able to help me out a bit - and especially when I'm looking to try to set up the website for success right from the beginning.