Certification Exams: Is there a value to failing?

Although it is not something I am proud of, I have failed a number (the exact number is quite secret!) of certification exams.  I am not proud of this fact, but the reality is I have taken a number of exams that I have been unprepared for, and that is a sure-fire way to come up short.  I have always (not true… since becoming more enlightened, maybe!) felt that if I was going to shell out USD$125 to fail an exam (Actually, the first two were at USD$100) I should at least walk away with something… the consolation prize should not simply be a sheet of paper telling us that we failed.

So then what can we gain from failing?  We can learn what we need to concentrate on in order to actually pass the exam.  Let’s say you are a desktop deployment specialist for his company.  You are responsible for the deployment of systems across the country, which you do using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2008 and System Center Configuration Manager 2007.  Your manager informs you that there is a new deployment exam available (70-635) and that the new department policy is that all deployment specialists must obtain the MCTS: Business Desktop Deployment to be eligible for promotions or bonuses.  You schedule the exam, and as you sit there taking the test you realize that you do not know a lot about Windows Deployment Services, managing images for multiple languages, driver groups, and MDOP.  Crud, that makes up about forty percent of the exam, and lo and behold you fail.

You could hang your head in shame as you walk away from the testing centre… or you can go back to your office and learn what you are missing; you can set up a lab environment to deploy images in French with Windows Deployment Services; you can implement driver groups, and learn everything you need to know about MDOP, and you can go back to the testing centre a few days or weeks later and retake the exam… and pass.

I am ashamed to say that there are a couple of exams that I have failed and have not yet gone back to rewrite… with an emphasis on the word yet.  Most of the titles I have failed I have gone home, brushed up, and retaken successfully a few days (or weeks) later.  They are all things that do not apply to what I have been doing… but don’t worry, I’ll get to them!

It is simply a matter of attitude… ‘Why the heck would I have to know that?’ is the wrong attitude; if for no other reason, then you have to know whatever that is in order to pass the exam.  I know someone who failed an exam by fewer than twenty points – often a sign that he missed it by a single question.  He came out and said ‘I know what I got wrong… I’ll just retake the exam tomorrow and change that one question that I got wrong!’  He did… and failed by fewer than forty points – probably two questions.

Don’t waste it… if you find an exam tough, then you should be taking notes on the sheet they give you.  1) Windows Deployment Services.  2) Multiple Languages… and so forth.  Of course you have to surrender that sheet when you are finished the exam… but if at the very end you reread your notes, you should remember a lot of what you are missing when it comes time to study.

With Microsoft’s Second Shot Free promotion you can actually fail the first time for free… though I do not recommend this as a goal.  When you are prepared for the exam, register for it using the promotion, and then do your best.  If you fail, it costs you nothing to go home and study some more, and then rewrite it.  If you pass, then you get a pleasant surprise, a new certification, and a discount on your next exam.

Thomas Edison was once interviewed about the electric light bulb.  He did not get it right on the first shot… in fact it took him over two thousand tries and when asked he said ‘I never failed… I just learned two thousand ways how not to make a light bulb!’  Use that attitude when taking your next test.

… and good luck!

How Many Changing Rooms Do We Need?

washroom_sign-img-1216In January Christina Blizzard of the Toronto Sun published an excellent piece called Political Correctness Shouldn’t Trump Common Sense.  I heard her interviewed on the radio, and was impressed.  She took the Ontario Human Rights Commission to task.  It seems that she had been in the changing room at her health club, and a ‘woman’ – in quotes because it was actually a man who claimed to identify as a woman – who despite whatever he/she might identify as had a very male anatomy, and from what she could tell all of the bits worked perfectly; this she claimed because he/she was hitting on another woman in the locker room, and the male bits got… as male bits tend to get when its owner is sexually aroused.

In February there was another case where a ‘self-identifying woman’ was taken into a shelter for battered women, but it turned out that the ‘woman’ was actually a sexual predator who proceeded to take advantage… as sexual predators will.

Following these two incidents I reached out to a number of friends who are more knowledgeable about the whole ‘wrong chromosome identification’ situation – they have friends who self-identify as being of the gender that their natural bits are at odds with.  They admit that there are certainly bad people out there who will abuse the system, but all in all the transgendered community are a misunderstood lot who are persecuted and need to be protected, and need society to respect that them as what they want to be, rather than as what they are.

Transgender_symbol_HiResI want to be clear… I respect a person’s right to choose in almost every respect.  If a man wants to sleep with women or men that is their own lookout, I will not judge or persecute.  However when it comes to what bathroom they should be allowed to / forced to use when in public I am of a mind that the needs (and rights) of the many should outweigh the needs and rights of the few.  I also strongly believe that one bad apple will eventually spoil the whole bunch, and the best way to prevent spoiling the whole bunch is to leave all apples in the right bushels.

I have changed or at least softened my opinion somewhat over the years – I tended to believe that if you are born with male bits then I am going to call you a HIM; over time I have realized there is no harm in referring to a man who wants to identify as a woman as a HER… it does not change who I am and it doesn’t hurt anyone.  However that is a far shot from saying ‘Hey, you have a penis but you say you are a woman so you can use the changing room where all of the women are walking around naked.’

So in response to that argument one friend argued that the man who identifies as a woman will feel embarrassed changing in front of all of the men in the men’s changing room.  The simple solution to that is use a bathroom stall to change.  If you think that person’s rights are being trampled on because they are being made to change in a room full of men, why would it be more acceptable to force every woman in the club to change in a room with one man?  It doesn’t matter if the man has an erection or not, those women should have the right to not be exposed to the male bits as they change.

The entire concept of political correctness in today’s society seems to completely discount the rights of the many – I have a right to be whatever, despite what anyone else thinks of it.  Leaving aside the two obvious cases of abuse called out herein, why should my wife or mother or niece forfeit their rights as women because  we have to accommodate everyone?  Wouldn’t that be the same as discriminating against them?

toilet-signs (35)[9]I joked recently with a friend (regarding the Changing Room case) that if I was ever to open an establishment with public restrooms I would forego the ‘Men’s Room’ and ‘Ladies’ Room’ of old and instead have one washroom marked ‘For people born with external plumbing’ and ‘For people born with female plumbing’.  As ridiculous as this may sound, it is in response to a ridiculous set of circumstances.  Thirty years ago who would have imagined there would be a circumstance where someone would actually argue which washroom was appropriate to use, and to actually sue for the right to use whichever they chose?

At the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory in Tel-Aviv (which I am told has since closed) they used to have a sign at the back that read ‘To the Johns…’ behind which there were two doors: ‘Olivia Newton’ and ‘Elton’.  Discounting the fact that these two ‘Johns’ are among the most ambiguous they could have selected, we always thought it was rather amusing.  In today’s politically correct society these signs might as well be changed to: ‘People who liked Grease’ and ‘People who like Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’,.  Please, leave the musical theatre jokes out of it… I like musical theatre, and I am very much a straight male – although I might soon have to stop admitting that too loudly because we are among the only groups that is seems politically-correct to persecute and deride.

Another Opinion

Before publishing this article I asked a couple of people with different points of view to review it, and got a couple of answers that really shocked me.  I am not sure what I was expecting, but one person, who studies gender issues at university, wrote the following:

From a radical feminist perspective, the whole concept of gendered bathrooms is ridiculous and just another tool used to reinforce the binary concept of gender. All humans have genitals, no matter what form they take. We don’t ask men with small penises to change in different rooms. Or what about women with large clitorises? Should they also be shunned?

feminismAll humans (poop and pee). They all do. It transcends gender because all bodies need to excrete waste. Why are our washrooms divided, split, along binary gender lines, when we are all doing the same things in there? Aren’t separate stalls enough?

Why are we so ashamed of bodies that we must segregate when changing? Doesn’t this just reinforce the binary genders?

If we taught tolerance, of all gender expressions, women would not be alarmed when a man who identifies as a woman changes in the women’s change room. It is about tolerance. It is always about tolerance for the things we do not know enough about. It is always about the conversation that can help us learn, help us become more tolerant.

Wow… this answer completely shocked me.  I had never even heard the term ‘binary gender lines’ before.  Now that I have had nearly a week to consider this position I am ready to completely disagree with it, but I am not going to disrespect her point of view.  Call me old fashioned or traditional, but I still think that there are some things that we should be allowed to do privately, and while I consider women to be completely equal to men, I am nowhere near ready to say that we are all the same.  However I did ask for her opinion, and I am glad to share it, word for word (I reworded the words in brackets).

For the record though, as someone who has never studied gender studies nor read any feminist literature that I can think of, I would be surprised if this view was shared by the majority of feminists.  I was going to continue on to say what I thought they might think, but then realized that as I am not a feminist, I will not take the liberty of trying to speak for them.

Conclusion

I am all for giving people whatever rights they need to get by and not feel bad about themselves… but as a society shouldn’t we demand a little give and take? We can call men who want to be women ‘Her,’ ‘She,’ and ‘Madam,’ and in return they use the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with the physical?  I don’t think this would really be too much of a problem – as I suggested earlier they are welcome to use bathroom stalls to change, and from experience I know it is possible to avert ones’ eyes so as to not see anything they are uncomfortable looking at.  Here’s a little secret I’ll share… most guys are as uncomfortable looking at other guys’ male bits as you ever would be.

In this world where common sense is uncommon, why can’t we try to muster it… rather than taking these issues to court and tribunals, lets just all try to do the right thing… and yes, that includes those people who are demanding we recognize their rights.

Three Months With a Fruit Phone

IMG_1213On the occasion of his 79th birthday, I would like to dedicate this article to my father, Arthur Garvis.  He is a wonderful role model who has always given me the best advice he could, and when I was smart enough to follow his wisdom it was to my benefit.  While he is not entirely responsible for who I am, I could never have become the man I am without his guidance.  Thank you Dad. –MDG

People mistake me for a religionist… but that is not the case.  In many ways I have been quite loyal to Microsoft over the years, and with a lot of good reasons; the initial reason had to do with an incident regarding a training centre which I will not go into right now.  Other than that it has been a mix of their making really good products, and they (or their agents) paying me to either work on, teach, or evangelize those products.

Shortly after my first wife left me I bought an iPod Nano.  It was a decent music player, although I never quite got the hang of the controls.  It didn’t matter though, because I returned it less than two weeks later – I had been invited to Redmond, Washington for my first ever visit to the Microsoft Campus, and the ignorant me did not know what I would say if Bill Gates were to walk up to me and ask why I had an Apple product.

When Windows Mobile 5 (and then 6) was the platform available for mobile users I went through a series of Windows devices, even though the Apple iPhone was all the rage.  I stayed with the Microsoft platform for the simple reason that I was doing a lot of teaching for Microsoft, and more than one person hinted that it would not put me in good favour to be on their stage with someone else’s phone in my pocket.  Frankly for what I did with the phone (check e-mails and make phone calls) I never had an issue with the clunky platform.

Samsung Focus Rogers 1While I was not one of the earliest adopters of Windows Phone 7 I was certainly in there pretty early… and I really appreciated the massive improvements over the previous iterations of Windows Mobile.  I loved my Samsung Focii (I had two Samsung Focus devices!), which lasted until I replaced them with Nokia Lumia 920s (the Windows Phone 8 device).  I can honestly say that the only complaint I ever had with either of these devices was the apps… not all of them, but there were a lot of apps that were simply half-assed – it would not have been difficult for FitBit, for example, to release an app that would sync my device, rather than simply show my progress based on my having previously synchronized to a computer.

I spent so much time as ‘The Microsoft Guy’ in so many circles that my boss in Tokyo seemed embarrassed to hand me an iPhone 5, explaining that since none of the local carriers supported Windows Phone 8 the Apple was the option that he chose (over Android).  I tweeted about it, and told people that I would give my honest opinion… after I had given it a fair chance.

ip5(1)A lot of the issues I had with the phone were the fact that I was so used to my Windows Phone platform.  A lot of things simply did not work the same way, and it did take some getting used to.  Honestly to this day there are some things that I am not fond of on the device, wishing they were… like my Windows Phone 8 device.

I came back to Canada at the end of the year, expecting I would be returning to Japan shortly, and needing a new cell phone anyways.  I decided to go with another iPhone 5 – a used model off eBay, as I was nowhere near able to qualify for a new device from my provider.  I figured if I bought another Windows Phone I would have to switch devices when I got to Japan, but the iPhone (once unlocked) would work here or there.  Obviously this did not go over very well when I visited my friends at Microsoft Canada, but when I explained my reasons they (often grudgingly) accepted that I did not have much choice.

For the first time ever it was my teenaged son teaching me about the technology.  He had accidentally smashed the screen on his Windows Phone, and decided to buy himself an iPhone.  He asked my permission first, which I thought was ironic… he was asking if I minded him buying an Apple product, not if I minded that he spent a ridiculous amount of his hard-earned money on a phone.  What was I going to say? His friends have iPhones, and so that was what he wanted.

So now that I had my own iPhone my boy would often come into my room and say things like ‘Hey Dad, did you know that if you press this button like that it does this?  Most of the time I did not know, and I thought it was great that he was helping me for once.  He showed me how to conserve at least some battery life by shutting down unused apps, and I admit I had no idea how to create groups until he showed me.

So what do I think? It’s been a little over three months with a Fruit Phone, and I am used to it.  Here are my thoughts:

  • It’s a very solid phone, and for the most part it is a solid platform.  The reality is I suppose I am still of a mind that it’s a phone… as long as it does what I need it to do then I will be happy.  Come to think of it, isn’t that what I said about Windows Mobile 5?
  • The battery life sucks.  Yes, I have to remember to turn off apps when I am done, rather than letting them sit in the background sucking away the life of the phone.  I went into an Apple Store to ask about it, and the air-quotes Genius told me that if I turned off the vibrating functions it should last at least eight hours.  I consider that ridiculous on so many fronts, not the least of which is that I have now gone through six cables (four of which were or soon became defective) and that I have to remember to charge it whenever I am in my car, at my desk, in my bed, etc… but what can you do.
  • With few exceptions I have exactly the same apps on the iPhone as I had on my Windows Phone.  The difference is that they are better written.  I have a few friends who write apps for Windows Phone and I am sure they are not among the ones writing half-assed code, but there is a lot of that out there.  The apps that I have on the iPhone seem to be written better – it is a different experience right from the splash screen.  It isn’t that iOS 7 is a better platform than Windows Phone 8, it is simply that the people programming the apps know that they have a much bigger marketplace on iOS, so they seem to put more care into the apps.
  • I know I am not the first to complain about this because I see it come across my Twitter feed every few days… are you kidding? Every single time I want to install an app (even a free one) from the App Store I need to re-enter my password? Come on folks… give me a break!
  • I am glad that I can connect several e-mail accounts (even Office 365 accounts) to the phone.  I would like to be able to synchronize more than just the Inbox folder, but since I figured out how to periodically check my sub-folders (as long as I know where to look) I suppose I am okay with it.
  • I do like that every single accessory in the world is manufactured for the device.  If I want a case that glows blue when it is cold and red when it is hot, you can probably find it.  I opted instead for a case that contained an extra battery for the phone.  It worked great for two weeks and then broke.
  • While I don’t mind the iTunes software, I am a bit disappointed that Apple has not come up with a Windows 8 version of it.  The legacy version seems to crash a lot, and it also leaves my friends with Windows RT out in the cold.
  • My friend Eileen needed to use the phone the other day and I handed it to her.  She complained that it was far too small.  I countered that her phone (a Samsung Galaxy of some sort) was absolutely huge, but the iPhone is actually a reasonable size for a device.  She grumbled something incoherent and then went back to her call.  The form factor, as far as I am concerned, is fine.  I do miss having a ‘camera button’ like I had on the Nokia, but that would not be a deal breaker.

    Conclusion

    I am not unhappy with the device.  I think the Windows Phone operating system would win over iOS, but that is countered by the fact that for the time being the apps on the iPhone are winning over the Windows platform.  Having had a glimpse from both sides of the fence, I cannot help but wonder if that is because Microsoft has done its best to encourage a larger number of any apps, rather than a smaller number of great apps.  Hopefully that will change, but for the time being there is no question that the vast majority of Windows Phone apps are not doing Microsoft any favours.  I will also say that the vast majority of apps on the iPhone are also crap, but 1% of 5,000,000 is a lot more than 1% of 500,000.

    Am I a convert? No… that would imply religion, and I do not consider technology to be about that.  Am I going to become a fanboi? No… just… no. Am I ready to switch back to Windows Phone now, as I am back in Canada for the most part? I’m afraid I have too many other expenses to worry about buying another device, but if someone at Microsoft wanted to give me a Lumia 1520 I would certainly accept it… but would start putting more pressure on the app developers to develop the apps that I use (FitBit, Endomondo, MyFitnessPal, WordPress, Kobo, LinkedIn, and Starbucks) better.  I don’t care about the games and frankly I don’t care for the flash.  I need the functionality.

    Overall it’s a good device.  However if the experience has taught me anything it’s that your device is only as good as it is at doing what you need it to do.  As long as it is responsive and reliable, whatever device you get should do you… as long as you do your research and make sure it is right for you.  For now at least, I suppose this device is alright for me.

    Mitch… Disconnected

    So you are one of the world’s most hyper-connected individuals, known for having the Internet at your disposal 24/7.  You are scheduled to work with a customer overseas on their connected system via live link, and you have dozens of other things that you usually do / plan to do / want to do during your five day stay in Montreal… and you realize too late that you forgot all of your computers at home.  What do you do?

    In my last article, Disconnecting Mitch, I outlined how it happened.  That was the situation – I was halfway from Toronto (Oakville) to Montreal when the realization hit me, and I was scrambling to figure out how I was going to manage.  The initial reason I had pulled off the road was to send an e-mail, but that was easy enough to do from my smartphone.  The rest was going to be challenging. 

    As you probably suspect I don’t simply use my computer in one place… I carry it with me, and pull it out in places such as cafés (as is the case right now).  I also had my Kobo e-reader in my messenger bag, so I was not only disconnected, I was missing my books as well.

    My first thought was to call Theresa and ask her to ship it to me overnight.  I couldn’t imagine how much that would cost, but it would not be nearly as much as losing two days of work.  However I knew that Theresa was in meetings all day, and to ask her to drop everything to run home, get my computer, run to FedEx, and ship it would have been asking a lot… not to mention the fact that it still would not help me with that evening’s meeting.  Okay, that was not a viable option.

    I had to think.  I would be staying at my parents’ place in Montreal… not helpful; my mother does have a laptop, but it was in Florida with her for the winter.  My father had previously discussed buying a computer or tablet for himself, but not very seriously, and anyways that would not happen in time for my 8:00pm meeting.  He had one at his office of course, but I am reasonably sure it was a desktop, and there was no way I would ask him to bring it home with him.  I still have friends in Montreal, many of whom would gladly let me use their computers.  However I would need it for 6-7 hours overnight, and unless they were going to let me take it back to my parents’ place with me that would be a real imposition.

    Of course I immediately posted my predicament on Facebook… for some reason that is where nut jobs turn to complain when they do something stupid these days, so why should this nut job be any different?  I wrote that I had forgotten my system at home, and did any of my Montreal peeps have a system they could loan me for my stay?  I did not hold out hope for this – for the simple reason that I have never seen anything posted to Facebook actually solve a problem.  It turns out, as it happens, that one friend did see it and offer to help… only it was on the week-end, well pas the required date.

    I took a step back and examined the situation.  What exactly did I need a computer for during my stay in Montreal?  I would say that first and foremost my computer is usually for e-mail, Twitter, blogging, and the like… but I could live without blogging for a few days (I know I know, you had already noticed that), and I could use my phone for e-mail and Twitter (along with Facebook, sporadic web surfing, and even reading on my Kobo reader).  The main reason I needed a computer was for those collaborative web meetings I would have with Tokyo.  Of course I might want to do a little writing while I was there…

    …It occurred to me that I didn’t really need any software on the computer, I only needed to have a computer running Windows.  It would not have to be big and powerful, it did not have to have 8 GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD or the latest Intel CPU… it needed to run Windows, period.

    Naughty thoughts started racing through my head.  It occurred to me that in this day and age a lot of stores have very liberal return policies.  I felt dirty and dishonest… was I really the type of person to go into a store to buy an item knowing I was planning on returning it four days later?  I really didn’t want to… but what choice did I have?

    I was going to write that I planned to compromise.  I was going to write that I was going to buy a system at one of the big box stores, and if it was everything that I wanted I would either keep it, or sell it, or whatever.  In short, I was going to lie.  The truth is that I knew as I stood at the electronics counter at Wal-Mart that my tenure of ownership of the Acer laptop that I was buying would not outlast many cricket matches.  I asked the clerk about several features of the computer that she could not possibly have known (does this model include Windows 8.1 U1, which was not yet publicly available), and was the touch screen capacitive (the screen was not a touch screen), and was the USB port LPT-compatible (really? c’mon!)).  After three or four ‘Uhhhh…’ answers I simply said ‘I’ll tell you what… just let me know what the return policy is, and if it doesn’t do everything I need I will bring it back.’  I paid for it (No, I don’t think I will need the extended warranty coverage…) and headed back to my parents’ place.

    The 17” monster was reasonably light, but that was irrelevant, as it was to be a stationary desktop for the next few days.  I didn’t have an external mouse for it, and as it did not have a touch screen I knew I would be stuck with the dreaded track pad all week-end.  No matter, it was better than not having it at all.  I installed Skype and LiveMeeting (one of which proved ineffective due to bandwidth limitations), and that was it… for the first time that I could ever recall I bought a computer and did not apply patches, I did not download Windows Essentials, I didn’t even install anti-malware. 

    For any site on the Internet that I would authenticate to (e-mail, etc…) I used InPrivate Browsing.  For everything else I honestly did not care if it tracked my cookies or my browsing patterns.  It wasn’t a very comfortable experience – I hated the computer, missed my touch screen, mouse, and everything else I love about my own devices – but I was able to do everything that I needed to do… if not everything that I might have wanted to do.  It did not come with me to cafés… in fact, when I left the house I did so with empty hands.  My friend Jessica, with whom I had dinner and then coffee Saturday evening, commented that it was refreshing to see me without a device.  Of course I had my phone…  but that was about it.

    Sunday morning I repacked the computer into the original box, made sure I had the original receipt, and trudged back to Wal-Mart.  I was relieved that there was no line at the Customer Service counter, and the young lady who assisted me asked if I was going to try to find another computer, or if I just wanted my refund.  I told her I was going to hold off, so if she could just refund my credit card I would appreciate it.  After checking that all of the pieces were what they were supposed to be and that there was no physical damage she did just that, and wished me well.  I thanked her, and commended Wal-Mart for the hassle-free experience.

    I felt bad that I had taken advantage of the major retailer, and decided that before leaving I would at least spend a few dollars there.  I bought a pack of green-apple licorice and a case of water for the ride home, and that was it… I headed out, poorer by one computer and richer by about $500 and some licorice than I had been.  My work with my customer in Tokyo had been a success, and I was able to focus on my drive back to Oakville.

    When I got home I was greeted at the door by two rambunctious dogs who always miss me, whether I am gone for an hour or a month.  Past the dogs I got to spend a couple of hours with my sons.  It was great to be home.  However once they were in bed, I secreted down to my office and pulled out my Surface Pro 2.  It was not only because I had a meeting – I did.  However after five long days without my technology, it was nice to be reunited with a device I called my own.

    Am I a geek?  You bet I am!

    Disconnecting Mitch

    IMG_0122My son Gilad is truly a chip off the old block.  In some ways that is a good thing, but when he decides to be difficult it can be a real nightmare for his parents.

    Take, for example, Wednesday morning last week.  Gilad was happily playing with his cars down in the family room when I walked in and told him that it was time to go to school.  He was not having any of that… he was very content to continue playing with his cars and did not want to go anywhere.  When I insisted he threw a temper tantrum – screaming and crying and just not being at all cooperative.

    It should be known that we have a pretty reasonable schedule in the mornings… Theresa and I coordinate to make sure both of our children get to school.  Aaron leaves early for the school bus, and one of us will drive Gilad to pre-school.  Depending on what each of us has scheduled for the day we determine who makes the drive out to Hamilton with the young’un.  On this particular Wednesday Theresa had meetings, and I was driving to Montreal… I had no real timeline that I had to follow, so I was driving Gilad.

    Because I was making the trip to Montreal I knew I couldn’t forget anything.  I had my suitcase, my messenger bag with my Surface Pro, and another bag that I needed to bring.  Three bags.  That was very important, because I could not forget any of these and still get anything accomplished in Montreal.

    It took much longer than usual to Get Gilad coordinated this morning, owing to the temper tantrum from Hell.  He is usually a very happy and cooperative toddler, but when he makes his mind up to be otherwise he is much more than a handful.  Theresa and I worked as a team to get him out the door – right shoe on, right shoe tied, left shoe on, left shoe… wait, why is the right shoe on the floor now?  Repeat the exercise… several times.  All the while the boy was shrieking to the point where an outside observer would have suspected we were abusing the poor child and called Children and Family Services.  It should be known that the situation was quite the opposite, and had the outside observer seen the whole picture he or she might have offered to buy drinks for the very patient parents.

    We finally had two shoes properly secured to his feet – we were only minutes away from breaking out the duct tape to keep them in place.  We then moved on to the jacket, which was another battle completely, and one that really requires a bit more cooperation than simple shoes.  Of course, since he now had shoes on he was even more able to run away from this unconstitutional forced enclothing.  Fortunately I was able to head him off at the stairs and his mother, in a move that would have impressed NFL scouts, avoided a block thrown by a doggie-linebacker and sacked the boy… scooped him up in her arms, and withy a practiced skill got down to the task at hand. 

    ‘Get the stuff out to the car and come back to get him so that we won’t have to go through this again!’  Good idea… I grab my suitcase, the bag, and the boy’s lunchbox, which he was obviously not going to carry himself.  Three bags.  Once they were in the trunk I ran back, got the boy, and somehow I was able to get him into the car without having a neighbour call the police on me.  It took two stops – one at McDonald’s, one at Tim Hortons, before Gilad Hyde transformed back into Dr. Gilad Jeckyll, and believe me, late as we might have been getting him to school, it was a relief.

    It truly was an amazing transformation… walking into school with a big smile on his face you would never suspect that just ten minutes earlier he had broken his father’s 37 year old record for longest and loudest tantrum by a four year old.  This was just one of the things I was thinking of as I made my way eastbound on the 401 toward Montreal.

    You should know at this point that I am considered by most to be a very good driver.  Unfortunately I have, like many, developed the very bad habit of glancing at my smartphone when it beeps, especially when I am on a very straight and dry road.  I might even respond with a one- or two word text if appropriate and (reasonably) safe.  However when I got the text asking me to send someone a detailed e-mail a couple of hours into my drive I was not going to risk an accident (or a hefty fine) and do it behind the wheel.  I pulled off at the Big Apple exit and pulled into Tim Hortons.  I opened the trunk and there it was… as clear at the sky, once Gilad’s lunchbox had gone into the school I was left with only two bags… neither one of which was my Surface Pro messenger bag.

    Crap.

    Let’s face it, the pending e-mail was not a problem… I can just as easily type it on my smartphone as on my tablet.  Unfortunately my trip to Montreal was not entirely a pleasure trip, and I would need a computer for some of my work… not to mention that I had a meeting to work remotely with a colleague in Japan for several hours Wednesday and Thursday evenings.  That could not be done on a smartphone.

    Oh, and did I mention that I am the hyper-connected geek who has never gone five days without his computer?

    Of course I could have turned around… I was about two hours from home, and turning around was not really a viable option – it would have added four hours to a 5.5 hour drive, not to mention the grief I would have gotten from my father for making him wait up for me.

    Interestingly enough I had also forgotten my wristwatch, which I always wear.  I don’t want to have to pull out my phone to know what time it is… I want my wristwatch, and would again, to a lesser degree, be lost without it.

    Mitch was, for all intents and purposes, disconnected… what would he do?  How would he survive?  Over the next few days I will talk about what I did and how I managed… and what obstacles I faced, beginning with the fact that my smartphone charger was in my messenger bag too!

    Transitions & Changes

    I received an e-mail this week from the Montreal IT Professionals Community (MITPro) inviting me to the 2014 Annual General Meeting.

    I remembered a day nine years ago in January, 2005.  Later in the day I would be heading to the first meeting of the group who had been brought together to build a user group for Montreal IT Professionals.  As I sat in a client’s office applying patches I quickly jotted down a list of topics I felt that we should discuss, which turned into the agenda for that first meeting.

    Around the table were Daniel Nerenberg, Maxime Viel, Thomas Kroll, Randy Knobloch, and a couple of other people I am sure I am forgetting. 

    Two months later we held our first official meeting, attended by some thirty people from all walks of the IT Pro spectrum.  It was amazing that we had brought it together… but how long would it last?

    The first real test of that was not when I stepped down as president, but when the leadership team clashed with my successor.  The heated battle took its toll, some people left, others joined, and in the end the organization continued.

    It had been written into the organization’s charter that I would always have a vote as the Founding President, and for the first few years I used it.  However as I became more distanced from the organization (both in time and geography, having established myself in Southwest Ontario) I used it less and less, having decided that might no longer always know what is best for the organization that I was once the public face of.  In September of 2012 when I joined the DPE team at Microsoft Canada I officially resigned my position with MITPro (along with ITPro Toronto, the group I went on to start and lead after leaving Montreal).

    It is funny, looking at the Board of Directors from MITPro as it stands today I know… some of them.  None of them were at that first meeting, and only two of them (out of eight) sat on the Board when I led it.  Far from complaining, I am thrilled that the group is not only surviving but thriving… Dan and Majida and I are all gone, and yet the group is going strong.  That tells me that it is one of the true Canadian IT Pro community success stories… because a few of us raised our hands and wanted to get involved a little under a decade ago.

    So my question to you is this… are you a member of your local IT Pro user group?  If so, do you participate?  Do you attend events?  Would you be willing to speak at one?  It takes people like you raising your hands and volunteering to make these groups work.  If you are not a member, why not?  Look up your local group and get involved… attend, learn, and when you feel comfortable enough see what else you can do.  Believe me, there are a lot of people out there who will benefit from your participation… starting with you!

    Sick of Special Categories…

    Earlier this month the headlines in the sporting world – rarely taken  off of the Olympics – was on a ‘brave Missouri football player who came out of the closet and announced he was gay before the NFL draft.’  Commentators said that while it was brave, it could have been costly, possibly dropping him in the upcoming NFL draft.

    Last month there was a call for applicants from either the Federal or Provincial government (I cannot remember which) specifying they were hiring African American women only… or rather people who identified as African American women.

    This week the pundits on talk radio in Toronto were discussing the benefits of legislating that a minimum number of directors of public corporations must be women.  Women are under-represented on Boards of Directors as well as in politics.

    And of course, let’s not forget the entire Women in IT movement, because there are not enough women working in IT, and the ones who are feel discriminated against and discouraged.

    Now here’s the deal… it may seem hypocritical for me, a Jewish Canadian, to say that I do not like all of these special treatments for special groups.  After all, go to Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, or the Young Men’s Hebrew Association… every city with a major older Jewish population has their own institutions, so if the Jews got special treatment, why should I deny the same to gay men, African American women, or women in general?

    It’s simple.  In today’s world – certainly in Canada and the United States – not only are all people treated equal, it is codified into law that we are all equal.  In the forty-one years that I have lived on planet earth (yes, I am only 41 years old before you ask where I lived the rest of the time) I have never looked at a woman, an African American, or a homosexual, and said ‘that person is less of a person than I am… they should be discriminated against.’  While I do not deny that there is and has been racism and sexism in my life (and still today) there are no laws that make it easier for me (a white male) to succeed than an African American woman.

    When the Jewish General Hospital and other institutions were established for the Jewish community of Montreal they were done so for a simple reason – Jewish doctors were not allowed to practice in public hospitals and Jewish patients would not be treated in public hospitals… which were all run by the church.  They had to establish their own sports teams not simply because they wanted to hang out together, they were actually banned from joining existing clubs.

    Now here’s the thing… I understand that in today’s world there are still people that discriminate, and some of those people are hiring managers.  I take absolutely no issue with companies establishing policies that require their hiring managers maintain a balance of genders and skin colours and religions and ethnicities.  That will ensure that at the entry level everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.

    In the 2013 NFL entry draft 254 college players were drafted… out of tens of thousands who dreamed of it.  If this college player was expected to go in the first round this year, it is proof that he is one of the best players in the country.  Any team who does not pick him because of his sexual preference is stupid because at that level it is not about ideology, it is about business… and teams that want to win had better draft the best players.  If you don’t draft a guy because he is gay then the team with the next selection will draft him, and your defense will have to spend the next ten seasons trying to solve him.  It will be up to you to explain to the fans why you wouldn’t hire the best player.  Don’t believe me? I remember the scandals when the Montreal Canadiens went out of their way to hire French management, and ended up with a lot of losing seasons under their belt (including their longest ever Stanley Cup drought).

    A company is mandated by its shareholders to make money.  Workers in the trenches, even supervisors, should be hired as evenly as possible.  However in the senior management positions the companies not only should be allowed to, but actually required to hire the best people for the job so as to make money for their shareholders.  The corporate world cannot be managed by restrictive laws, especially in the day and age where companies do business in many countries, unless we find a way to enforce the same laws equally in every country where any company may do business then it is not reasonable to try to tell companies to hire someone because of their gender… they should be hired based on ability.

    On the other hand, I feel that companies are finally learning that diversity in ethnicity and colour and gender is actually an asset, and that it behooves them to seek out the best candidates for the job that will help them… including African Americans and women and even African American women.  However to specifically restrict hiring to any group is akin to saying ‘Sorry Mitch, you are a white male so we are going to discriminate against you based on that.’  It also, in my opinion, belittles the fights won by every African American and woman who have fought for their equality.  Guess what… they are now equal, why shouldn’t they be treated as such?

    I have worked in IT at a pretty high level for the past fifteen years.  I am a huge believer in supporting the up-and-comers in the field.  With that being said, I don’t think anyone should be specifically encouraged or coaxed into the field.  It should be what someone wants to do… and if it is not, then they should find something else.  I know many women in IT who have succeeded at very high levels – Presidents and VPs of companies such as Microsoft, a former CEO of HP, the CEO of Yahoo, and so on.  I have asked female friends and coworkers if they feel they have been outwardly discriminated against, and the majority of them will say there have been minor incidents, but overall they have succeeded, and love what they do.  Those are the type of people I want in IT – because guess what, I have had incidents and setbacks as well, and I succeeded because I wanted it.

    The television series The West Wing may have been pure fiction, but the issues and dialogue were very real and well thought out.  In an episode called 17 People (original air date April 4, 2001), Ainsley Hayes (a Republican woman played by Emily Procter) debates Sam Seaborne (a Democratic man played by Rob Lowe) about the ERA… and she picks the side of NO.  In this clip (5m30s long but worth it) she explains many of the reasons behind her position, but the long and the short of it are that ‘I am a person, the law already proclaims that I am equal, and passing other laws proclaiming that I am equal would imply that prior to the passing of that law I was not equal.  Her position is extremely well written and well spoken, and very clear.  The US Constitution proclaims that all men are created equal.  Fortunately the 14th Amendment to same clarifies that all people are equal… so let’s stop treating them as if they are not.

    Our world is not a perfect one; I have clearly outlined my position in this article to limit the discussion to Canada and the United States of America.  To not focus would necessitate discussions of anti-gay legislation in Russia (as well as most of the Middle East and Africa); the subjugation of women (again, in much of the Middle East and Africa), racist laws (in scores of countries, and arguably even in the Province of Quebec), and so much more.  This is not a perfect world, and I applaud many of the people and organizations who dedicate their lives to trying to change that.  However the examples I outlined at the beginning of this piece are not from Saudi Arabia, Russia, or Somalia… they are from the US and Canada.

    I am not proclaiming that our countries are perfect; in fact they are far from that.  Despite my belief that Canada is among the best countries in the world to live in, I know we have problems.  There are plenty of social issues that we should be dealing with.  However by focusing on the directors of companies we are taking focus away from the 99% – the people who actually work for the companies.  Every hour that we spend discussing gender imbalance on Boards of Directors is an hour that we are not discussing minimum wage, work conditions, poverty, and how the single mother who wants to work at a company can do so without paying 95% of her weekly salary to child care.  By posting a job opening for African American women our government opened the door to a discrimination lawsuit from a whack-job white male who, despite their litigious craziness, would likely win the case because the law says he is right.  By focusing on a football player’s sexuality we are making sure that every time he makes a great play the announcer might say ‘what a great play… there was no sexual attraction at all when he tackled the quarterback!’

    …and with regard to Women in IT, let me be clear: I want more women in my field.  I often prefer working with women than men.  However more than whether their private parts are innies or outies, I am primarily concerned by their competence and ability to perform the tasks required of them.  Beyond that, if a woman is competent she should be hired, and if a man is competent he should be hired.  If women feel uncomfortable working in IT then let them work in another field… but if they are intentionally made to feel uncomfortable in their field – whether that be IT Pro, or doctor, or subway operator, or anything, then she should take legal actions, and there are a lot of us who would back her up.  However I have no interest in working with someone who had to be coaxed or cajoled into the field… more often than not they won’t enjoy it.  So for new hires throw career fairs, but do not focus on gender… focus on interest and competence.  Trust me, you’ll get a lot of women interested.

    Now, if you want to have groups of women who are established in IT, knock yourselves out… because those within the profession may have insights to how to fix issues.  However those issues will not be fixed by simply dragging more people in.

    Rant over.  Enjoy your week-end!