Tag Archives: Canada

Stay out of politics!

A couple of years ago I went to Montreal with my colleague Damir Bersinic to do a presentation at the Montreal IT Professionals Community (www.mitpro.ca).  I was born in Montreal, and when I moved to Ontario in 2007 I found it interesting to see the point of view of the ‘Rest of Canada’.  Nearly five years after my move and shortly before that visit to MITPro I wrote an article (in response to one in the Globe and Mail) called ‘Does Quebec Have a Future In Canada?

If I do say so myself, Damir and I rocked the show.  We were discussing virtualization, specifically Microsoft Hyper-V, in the months prior to the release of Windows Server 2012.  We were a hit, and that was reflected in our evaluation forms that the packed house submitted after the event… all but one.

One of the evaluation forms that was returned to us had a comment ‘you should blog about IT and keep your nose out of Quebec politics.’  It was actually written in French, and included a number of colourful words to go with it.

Now I should mention here that while I was there as support, it was Damir who was running the show; Damir was the speaker, I was only there for support (and we went for a really nice dinner that night).  So why then should he get a negative evaluation from an attendee for something that I had blogged about?

If you enter the search term Quebec into the appropriate box you will find several articles return on my site, but only two have to do with politics – the one I referred to, and one about the Quebec student protests of 2013 (see article).  Having recently spent a lot of time in the province of Quebec it is amazing to discover that any blog anywhere does not focus exclusively on the politics of that province, but there you go.  Two articles in a decade of blogging.

However if you look at the title of this blog it is not IT According to Mitch, nor is it What Some People Think Appropriate According to Mitch.  It is in fact The World According to Mitch, and as such I write not only about computers and IT, but about any number of subjects, from IT and virtualization to airplanes, food, hotel, travel, martial arts, and yes indeed language and politics.  It is not only a professional blog (although it is certainly that) but a place for me to express my opinion about things that I observe during my travels through this world.

Starting tomorrow I have a series of articles that concern the politics of the Province of Quebec, as well as my observations of how the people are coping with the upcoming election.  It will not all be pretty and it will not all be popular, but it is all according to me, and I thank you for your continued readership!

Thanks for your support!

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

Over the past few days I have received an incredible number of you asking what happened, if I am okay, and if I will be alright.  I can assure you I am.  Let me explain.

A great many of you have known me as a Microsoft contractor.  I have been for quite some time, first as a Virtual Partner Technology Advisor, then as a Virtual Technical Evangelist, and most recently as a member of the Server and Tools Business.  So when e-mails to my @microsoft.com account started to bounce (Tuesday this week) a lot of people expressed their concern.  I am quite touched by the outpouring of support!

I have always contracted to Microsoft through its Canadian subsidiary, Microsoft Canada.  In September of this year I accepted a contract with Rakuten, Inc – a Japanese company – that would see me spending most of my time in Tokyo.  Although we tried, there was no good way for Microsoft Canada to keep me on.  It was not done maliciously – in fact, my skip-level (my manager’s manager) did everything he could to a) keep me on, b) communicate the issues with me, and then c) accommodate my request for a timeline extension.

So let me answer some of the ‘Best Of’ questions… the ones that seem to be coing up most often.

1. Did your decision to leave Microsoft have to do with being turned down for a particular position?

No. Although over the past year I have indeed been turned down for a position, it has worked out very well for me in almost every way imaginable.  While taking that role would have been good for me, I have been able to grow in the direction I have wanted to grow.  Because of my independence I have been able to accept the consulting project I am currently working on, which is one of the mot exciting projects I have worked on in years.

2. Did you leave Microsoft because of a disagreement?

No… and yes.  I suppose in the end we disagreed on geography – my consulting role needed me to be in Japan, and Microsoft Canada would have needed me to be in Canada.  Other than that there was no disagreement whatsoever.

3. Did you leave because you did not like the direction in which the company was heading?

Not at all.  In the army I topped out at Staff Sergeant, and as such I learned quickly that some things were above my pay grade.  At Microsoft that was the case as well – I know that a lot of things are out of my control, but I also knew that whatever direction the company would take, my position (should I have elected to keep it) was safe.  Whatever decisions the company made, as a VMware Compete expert I was reasonably safe :)

4. Do you feel any disdain toward Microsoft, Microsoft Canada, or anyone you worked for or with?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.  I loved working there, and while I may have had the occasional issue with someone they were always resolved.

5. Did you leave Microsoft to work with competing technologies?

NO.  Although over the past couple of weeks I have made a habit to wear my non-Microsoft branded shirts more than usual, I have not ‘gone over’ to any other competing technology.  With that being said, I am carrying an iPhone now not because I left Microsoft… because Windows Phone 8 is not available in Japan, and this is what the company I am working for gave me.

6. Will you be going back to Microsoft?

That is a very good question. What I once thought of as my dream job no longer holds the same appeal to me.  With that being said, there are a lot of jobs at Microsoft, and should the right opportunity present itself I would be glad to go back, either for the right contract or for the right full time position.  However one thing is for certain: I no longer view Microsoft as the Holy Grail of companies.  I think they are a great company to work for, but there are a lot of other great companies out there.

7. What will you miss most about it?

I had to give this question a little thought.  My first knee-jerk reaction was the people, but then I realized that the people I got to know are still there, and are still available to me.  I am still a Microsoft MVP, a Microsoft Certified Trainer, and an influencer.  My friends are still my friends.  When it comes down to it, I suppose what I will miss most is having Lync… having the ability to call my family from Japan was a great tool!

8. Any regrets?

None at all… for the remainder of my time in Japan I will continue to work closely with Microsoft, but not with the Canadian team.  It is a really exciting project, and I would not trade it for anything.

I want to thank you all again for your concern and support, and hope to be able to continue working with you in the future!

AC03: Flying with Phaedra!

As I walked down the gangplank toward my ‘home in the air’ for the next eleven hours I heard even before I could see her the head Flight Attendant on Air Canada flight 003 from Vancouver to Tokyo.  She was on the PA system almost cheerleading her staff, and as I appeared she put on her game face… but not the one that I am used to.

As you know I fly a lot, and over the years have not had a lot of energetic and outwardly happy and excited flight attendants.  It is not to say that any of them were bad or good, they were just for the most part very… professional is the word that comes to mind, but that would almost imply that Phaedra-Lynn Hicks is otherwise… and that would be far from the truth.

clip_image002As the first passenger on board I had a lot of time to observe the crew as they welcomed the masses to the flight, and Phaedra, manning the forward hatch, was greeting everyone with a smile.  I heard her joke with one young lady (who had purple hair) if her hair was natural, and how so many people asked if her blonde locks were natural or not.  It set a humorous tone to the flight ahead.

“At this point you should be seated comfortably (or uncomfortably) in your seats with your tray tables stowed and your seat backs in the upright position.”

You might expect this sort of humour on some smaller airlines, but on Air Canada?  It is rare, and it is no wonder that she has won almost every individual and team award that Air Canada awards, as well as a few others.

I have a confession to make.  This is not the first time I have flown with Ms. Hicks, and I remembered both her smile and her attitude from my previous flight with her.  As we had eleven hours together I asked her if she would mind talking to me for the blog, and she was delighted to.

As we were discussing the ‘interview’ she mentioned that I should check out the YouTube video that she made as a spoof.  It is an Air Canada commercial (spoofed and unsanctioned) to the Call Me Maybe song.  As I am still at 36,000 feet you can check it out for yourselves by searching YouTube for Air Canada Call Me Maybe.  From what Ms. Hicks tells me if you are checking it out from a mobile device you will need to do it via Huffington Post. (Now that I am on the ground I checked it out, and while I suspect I am the last person on earth to hear that song from beginning to end, the video is great… and I recognize quite a few of the players!)

Phaedra started flying after a friend of hers – a flight attendant with an American carrier – suggested she apply.  At the tender age of nineteen she says she applied, and for the interviews she bought a blue suit (a nice but very inexpensive one – budgets of nineteen years olds being what they are), put her hair up in a bun, and went into the interviews with the most positive attitude that the kid from Pierrefonds (the West Island of Montreal) could bring.

Three interviews and six weeks of training later Air Canada had their future best flight attendant on her maiden voyage.

I spent a lot of time chatting with Phaedra, and was able to interview her with the condition that her chain of command be able to vet the piece before it published. Unfortunately life (both hers and mine) got in the way, and the interview could not be vetted in time. As such I have removed my twelve questions and her answers from this piece. Hopefully one day I will be able to share them with you; I assure you they have been redacted, but not deleted entirely!

What I will say is that Phaedra was a pleasure to speak with. She gave thoughtful answers to every question I asked, and was quite clearly not just giving me the approved company answers. Of course, a couple of the questions I asked were probably not anticipated by the company. I am looking forward to flying with Phaedra again – I do not know when that will be, but hopefully soon. As she is based in Vancouver, she likely will not be on my next flight (Tokyo Narita direct to Toronto Pearson). I think, however, I have found yet another reason to stop in Vancouver when on my way to Asia.

When on the ground (wherever she is) Phaedra is an avid practitioner of Yoga. She is currently working toward the next level of certification (enlightenment?) that one can achieve as an instructor. If she is as passionate about yoga as she is about her work I have no doubt that she will pass with flying colours!

SQ11: The Flight of a lifetime!

If I have been delinquent in my blogging over the past few weeks I apologize – I have been preoccupied with work. Overloaded may be a more accurate term, but that is no reason to neglect you, and I apologize for it. In my defense, I have a great article that was ‘in the can’ – all set to publish this past week. It has been delayed for legal reasons – or at least reasons that will cause me to rewrite much of it in order to protect the subject, a lovely and professional Air Canada flight attendant.

Sticking with the subject of air travel, I am currently on board an Airbus A380-800… the world’s largest passenger liner. A number of years ago I had the pleasure of circumnavigating the globe on a series of Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s, care of Air Canada, Air Malaysia, and Air France. On each of those flights I traveled in Executive First or First Class, and was extremely comfortable with both the seat (or in the case of Air Canada’s 777 the pod) and the service. We are still at the gate at Narita International Airport (there was a delay due to another aircraft) but so far I can tell you that this Business Class pod on the second floor of this mammoth aircraft is far and away the most comfortable and best equipped (as well as modern) one that I have sat in on any plane.

It may look like a regular seat at first glance, but looks are deceiving. When you realize that the width of the unit is twice that of my 14” widescreen laptop, and that even at my girth the seat width offers another foot of available space on the sides you will know that something is different. At 1m87cm I can still sit back and straighten my legs completely in front of me. This is what I call l a comfortable seat. Add to that the fact that I am sitting alone (the seat configuration on the second floor is 1-2-1, and I am in a window seat) and that the seat folds flat into a bed, and there is simply no way to call it ‘just a seat.’

A380 SeatWhen you build a plane this big, and are not trying to cram as many bodies into it as possible, you are able to give people more storage space than usual. Of course I have stowed both of my carry-on bags in the overhead compartment, but between my seat and the window there is a compartment that opens up and would allow me to store a lot more than just a laptop (which is, I confess, all I stored there as the plane took off). My tray table (9” wider and 4” deeper than my laptop) folds out of the armrest, and adjusts comfortably between myself and the console. Add to that the two drop-down drink tray panels in the console (one of which doubles as a mirror for those of us who might need to put on makeup), the glove compartment-like panel (big enough to put a smart phone, music player, and airline-supplied socks and eye mask), and the connectivity panel (with two USB ports, Ethernet, international electrical power) and I have to admit, this is a pod that someone put a lot of thought into.

Don’t get me wrong… the pods on Air Canada’s long-haul planes are great, but even with their diagonal ‘I am always sitting alone privacy’ design I still feel that these pods win out – especially (although not only) for a larger gentleman such as myself.

Although the movie that I chose to watch first is on Channel 2 of the in-flight entertainment system (a full 14” wide screen TV), I expect the next one I will watch is on 715… and unlike some systems that is inclusive – there are actually hundreds of channels on this plane. When the pilot told me to stow my laptop for takeoff I perused the printed guide for December. If you cannot find something that you are interested in watching then you are just not trying hard enough. I counted movies in at over a dozen languages including my three go-to languages of Hebrew, English, and French as well as Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Arabic, Persian, and several others I could not identify. This programming includes movies, TV shows, music, and documentaries. There are games and programming for both kids and adults, and everyone in between (I noticed all eight Harry Potter movies available on one of the pages).

The controls for the entertainment system (as well as the seat/bed) are in the armrest, but easily ejected into a wired remote control. This will be useful when I do lay out – the TV adjusts down so you can watch it from a prone position. They DID think of everything!

One of the issues I discussed with my new Flight Attendant friend on the Air Canada flight was the changes in her profession, and how several years ago her looks (which by the way were quite intact) would have been an important factor for her to keep her job. From the looks of the crew on board this flight that is still the case on some airlines. Please understand that I am not saying that this is necessarily a good thing, but it has been apparent throughout the service that the cabin staff consists mainly of young, slim, very attractive people – both the male and female attendants by the way. However once you get beyond their looks you cannot help but notice that they are truly dedicated to providing the most comfortable travel experience possible. That includes, by the way, spending the time to talk and joke with you. They truly seem interested in each and every one of their passengers (or at least in me… which is truly unlikely).

After dinner I plan to go downstairs. The top deck is only Business Class, but downstairs has both the Economy Class and, of greater interest to me, the First Class Suites. I don’t know if I will be allowed to see inside one, but if I can I will report back to you. I expect that the cabin crew in Economy are not all that different from the ones in Business Class, but I will talk to that too.

Dinner was lovely. The appetizer was a traditional satay that the Flight Attendant promised would be the best I ever had. I thought back to the road-side spot of the variety that Bruce Cowper insisted I find when I was in Malaysia, and knew that would be a challenge, not to mention the lack of Tiger Beer. While it was not a spicy satay is was absolutely delicious. That was followed by a three shrimp salad with citrus, and then a grilled tournedos of beef with forest mushroom sauce.

Desert consisted of a bowl of Azuki ice cream with green tea sauce, a cheese plate, and a selection of fruit. In a word, scrumptious.

I did walk downstairs… twice. The first via the staircase in the aft of the cabin, which took me to the rear of the Economy Class section. Seating is 3-4-3, and I am glad to be up here… even though the seats down below look to be as wide as the Executive Class seats on an A320. The plane seems to be only half full – as it happens SQ11 originates in Los Angeles and stops over in Tokyo. As such you could see that many people downstairs were stretched out across their three or four seats to sleep.

I could not access the front of the plane from downstairs; I was however able to walk to the front of the upper deck and walk down into the Suites. I did not walk around much, but the Suites are very nice from what I was able to see… several inches more space than the Business Class pods. I saw one gentleman working at is desk, which looked as though he was working in a modern office.

A380 Seat BedOnce my movie was over I decided to skip the second one and get some sleep. Unlike the seats on other crafts I have been on that lay flat, this one requires that you stand to fold the seat down into a bed. This was actually quite clever – rather than having to try to make your chair comfortable as a bed, it folds down and the back of the seat actually is a mattress – or at least has the look and feel of one. Hidden behind the seat waiting for you is a second full-sized pillow (there was already one on the seat) and a blanket. I admit I did ask the flight attendant for help turning it down, and once I was settled in I closed my eyes for a four hour siesta – in a completely darkened plane where the eye mask provided was actually unnecessary.

Also interesting about the pod is that there is a complete second seatbelt to secure you when you are lying flat, which is much more comfortable than having to work with the same belt positions as when you are seated. I kept mine loose, which was helpful because I did toss and turn a little before falling asleep.

I felt a bit like a fool – I needed to call the flight attendant once again to turn my bed back into a seat, which she pleasantly and mercifully assured me happens all the time.

Before I lay me down to sleep I first decided to siphon some of the plane’s electricity; I plugged my Nokia Lumia 920, my Apple iPhone 5, and my Microsoft Surface Pro into the panel. So naturally now I checked the power levels of all, and was pleased that the two smartphones were completely charged, and only slightly disappointed that the Surface Pro was not. I had placed it into the armrest-adjacent storage that I mentioned, and when I closed the hatch it disconnected the power cable from the adapter. Oh well, at least my Lenovo still has juice!

The pilot just announced that we are about 45 minutes from Singapore Changi airport, and he turned on the cabin lights. We are going to have to fill out Immigrations forms, even though I am not leaving the airport. While I was not listening too closely, I did not hear him advise us not to chew gum while in Singapore – which I know to be a criminal offense thanks to my old friend Bill Sourour. Not strictly in anticipation of that I did not bring any gum with me, so if I get a hankering for a piece while there I will have to purchase it on the black market.

The flight attendant just came by and told me that as I am not leaving the airport I will not have to fill out the form. One less thing.

I went to the washroom to freshen up. In order to get a decent sampling to report to you, I have used washrooms at the front, middle, and aft of the craft. All three are huge (by airplane standards) and very comfortable. Additionally they each have supplies that I am not used to seeing on airplanes – toothbrushes and toothpaste, hair brushes/combs, and razors with shaving cream. I know why the last is not freely available on North American flights, but the other bits are usually given out in the Business Class kits that we receive when boarding. I had been surprised that the kits only contained slippers and the eye mask, so this was a pleasant discovery. While I did not feel the need to shave (I probably should have… if only to make a good impression on the shopkeepers at Changi) I did desperately wish to brush my teeth and comb my hair. Four hours of sleep will make your mouth taste foul even absent the wonderful meal (and several glasses of champagne), and lying flat on an actual bed with real pillows tends to result in bed-head. I will shower when I get into the Air Singapore lounge in Changi, but for the time being these amenities were a welcome relief to a weary traveler.

With thirty minutes left in the flight one of the flight attendants asked why I was typing and not relaxing. I told her that I was writing a piece about the flight, and she and all of her colleagues got very excited about this. They asked a bunch of questions (including whether I mentioned the satay) and I answered them all. After all, how often does a guy like me have the complete undivided attention of so many beautiful young ladies? J

At the end of the flight I was torn – on the one hand it is always great to get off an airplane, and on the other hand you don’t want great experiences to end. This one did, as they all must, for now. After a six hour layover I am getting onto another Singapore Air flight – this time a Boeing 777 – bound for Sydney. It will be an interesting comparison, and one that I look forward to. In the meantime it is nice to relax in the lounge (after a much needed shower and breakfast). Shortly I will head down and peruse the duty-free shops, if only to get some exercise today.

Thanks for reading, and see you soon!

Warning!

Wednesday morning I was sitting at my desk when a pop-up appeared on my screen.  It was actually an Internet Explorer window, and although it was written entirely in Japanese, I suspected immediately that it was a scam, a fraud, malware, or something.  Why?  It had a very old Microsoft logo on it (from the Microsoft Certified Partner days).  I asked my boss to confirm, and he started laughing at me that the sites I was visiting were not secure.  Since I was planning to re-image my system when I was back in Canada, I didn’t really worry about it.

As I sit in the airport lounge in Vancouver, I got a different albeit similar pop-up, this time in English (it is always nice when malware knows where you are…)

imageHere is a simple way to know if the warnings you are getting might be legitimate, or if they are completely bunk:

1) Legitimate programs do not display their warnings in Internet Explorer.  They would have their own windows appear.

2) I do not use a product called Advanced System Protector.  That being the case, if it were legitimate (it is not) it would still have no business scanning my system.

My recommendations? firstly do not click in the window.  The only place you should click is in the upper-right hand corner… the X.  Note that they are sneaky buggers… under the real X there is their own X, which would have you clicking in the window.  Do not be fooled.

Once you close the window, make sure you run your legitimate anti-malware system – do a complete system scan.  It is not necessary in my case because I simply shut down the machine, and the next time I turn it on I will re-image it (format it and re-install Windows).  However most of you will not want to do that… and yes, you do have malware in your system.

Neither a Snob Nor an Elitist…

Briggs In response to a series of articles I wrote recently about my laptop bags (What IS your laptop bag) and about my luggage (The Price of Quality) I was recently called an elitist snob.  “Mitch, it is fine that you want to spend hundreds of dollars on your laptop bags, but in all fairness you are given most of your bags, and most of your readers have to buy their own, and investing hundreds of dollars for Briggs and Riley, Ogio, and Brenthaven is just not worth the money to most of us.’

I obviously understand how this reader feels.  I am not ignorant to the costs, and do realize that even $100 is a lot to spend on a laptop bag.  With that being said, shortly after writing those articles I decided to buy two new laptop bags – both Briggs and Riley – for my trip to Japan.  For one thing I knew that I wouldn’t be able to simply switch out my bags as desired here – I didn’t want to bring more that I had to – and also I wanted to come into my client’s office without blatantly advertising for Microsoft – or for anyone else for that matter.

I was not going to respond to comment.  After all, it was said to me by someone in passing, and mostly tongue in cheek.  However this afternoon, as I walked from my hotel the my office, I was reminded why I would rather spend money on a good bag then buy a cheap one.  As I walked through the bus terminal in front of my hotel a gentleman was walking the other way, laptop bag over his shoulder.  When we were about fifteen feet apart when I saw the strap of his shoulder strap snap – more accurately, the clip that connected the bag to the strap did.  The gentleman was walking at a bit of a clip, and try as he might to catch it, we both watched on helplessly as his bag smashed to the pavement and bounced a couple of times.

He picked it up, and just as I would have he opened it up to see what damage was done to his laptop.  As I expected the screen was shattered, and that was even before he could check to see if the hard drive or motherboard were damaged.  I felt bad for the guy, and hoped that a) it was a corporate laptop, and b) that there would not be any severe repercussions to damaging it.  I do know that losing a corporate laptop is a severe offense, but that is primarily because of corporate data.

The deja vu was immediate, strong, in my face.  I was transported back to the day that my customer’s daughter asked me for a favour.

Nearly ten years ago I was still an SMB consultant in Montreal, and I had a client that manufactured suits.  At the time they were one of the most respected names in men’s suits in Canada – although I was glad to have them as a client, I could never have afforded one of their suits.  Michael, one of the two brothers who owned the company had hired me to review their infrastructure.  However on this particular day his daughter was in with her brand new laptop that she had spent the last week infecting with malware.  She was livid that her $3000 laptop was running so slowly.  I couldn’t blame her… except I knew what the problem was. After consulting with her father she asked if I would mind taking it with me to clean up from my office.  No problem.

She packed the laptop away in her carrying case and handed it to me.  I headed to my car because I had another appointment – a meeting with a colleague.  We were going to meet at the Place Vertu Shopping Centre for coffee.  I arrived at the mall early, and decided that I would take the laptop with me, both because I hated leaving anything of value in the car, but also because since I was early I could start working on it while waiting for Adam.  I locked the car and slung the very inexpensive carrying case over my shoulder.  As I was walking through the mall towards the cafe it happened… without warning my shoulder became much lighter as the strap broke and the laptop bag crashed to the floor.

I was mortified.  I knew not only how proud she was of her laptop, but also how much she (read: her father) had spent on it.  They had both made a point of calling attention to the fact when I was in the office, either to show off (more likely) or possibly to remind me to be careful with it (less likely).  I immediately snatched it up and ran to the cafe.  When I opened it up my worst fears were realized… the screen was smashed and shattered.Broken Screen

While they have come down in price since, at the time the replacement cost of a 17” laptop screen was well over $1000.  I know this because after my meeting with Adam I went back to my office and called the manufacturer, who quoted me the price.  It would take me several days to earn back that money, and I was living on a shoestring budget as it was (this was when I was still supporting myself AND my ex-wife).

That afternoon was quite unproductive.  I spent most of the time in my office lamenting the predicament I was in.  But then I realized the dichotomy: Why would someone spend $3000 on a laptop, only to carry it around in a $15 case?  This was a very delicate (and relative to modern laptops heavy) piece of expensive equipment.  Why wouldn’t the owner (who needed all of that horsepower like a fish needs a bicycle) not spend the extra $75-$100 to get a proper case that was meant to support it.

Two phone calls that day saved my bacon.  The first was to the company that imported the bag.  They were a local company, and somehow I got in touch with someone there who had the authority to realize that they might be liable.  They agreed to work with me to cover at least some of the costs.  The second call, once that was done, was to the manufacturer.  I told them what happened, and when I read off the serial number they told me not to worry, the owners had bought the complete care warranty.  In the technician’s words, ‘If someone throws their laptop off their balcony into the swimming pool and then shoots it through with a 12-gauge shotgun, it would still be fixed or replaced at no cost.’  He scheduled a technician to meet me at the client’s offices the next morning.

I was relieved.  I was thrilled.  I was elated!  I also decided, right then and there, that forevermore I would never again skimp on carrying cases for laptops.  I wouldn’t throw them in a gym bag, I wouldn’t buy cheap crap.  I would always make sure that I bought high quality bags, and recommend to others that they do the same.

So to my friend, colleague, and reader I say this: I am not an elitist, nor am I a snob.  I am a pragmatist who knows that spending a little more can save you a lot more in the long run.  For me it has never been about style, fashion, or bragging rights – anyone mildly familiar with my wardrobe would laugh at those options anyways – but rather about practicality – how comfortable and utilitarian the bag is, as well as how well protected, and most importantly how well made.

With that my friends, it is Friday and I want to wish you all a great day, and a wonderful week-end.

Sick…

Caduceus Symbol - Medical Symbol MD

Caduceus Symbol – Medical Symbol MD (Photo credit: wcm1111)

Being sick sucks.  I discovered earlier this week though that it can suck a lot less… if only there were ways of doing things more efficiently.

I had been coughing and sneezing for a week, but Monday afternoon, realizing that I was short of breath after a single flight of stairs, I decided I needed to see a doctor.  It was entirely possible that I had pneumonia, and you try to not mess around with things like that.

Being in a foreign land I asked my boss what the procedure was for seeing a doctor.  He asked Ito-san (one of his fellow managers who is native to Japan), and she looked up walk-in clinics in the area.  It turns out there are are two in the complex that houses both one of our company’s towers and my hotel.  Both asked if they could accompany me, but in a moment of sheer optimism I told them I would be okay.

I found the first clinic pretty easily (Ito-san had printed out maps and circled them).  I walked in, asked the receptionist if I was in the right place to see a doctor, and once that was established she asked me about a Health Insurance Card.  It seems they don’t get many gaijin in the clinic, and as Japan has socialized medicine (take lessons USA) it is usually just assumed that they need not take credit cards.  I confirmed that I had sufficient cash to pay for the visit (under $50) and had a seat.

I filled out their paperwork… fortunately the receptionist was able to translate where my name, address, and phone number went.  I told her I am allergic to penicillin, and she asked me to wait.  Having long experience with long wait times in walk-in clinics and Emergency Rooms, I pulled out my Surface Pro to start reading.  By the time I started on page 4 I was called in to see the doctor.

Remember I mentioned earlier that i was optimistic? The doctor spoke English – if not fluently, then at least well enough to ask the right questions and to treat me.  He told me I would need to have a chest x-ray taken, and I figured that would mean a trip to another clinic, another wait, another….

No! The clinic has their own x-ray machine, and I was not able to sit down before the nurse/technician called me in.  I took my shirt and chain off, and she did her thing.  I put my shirt back on, and went into the outer office to sit and wait.  I didn’t finish another page before the doctor called me in because he had the results of my x-rays up on his screen.

Wow… I was in and out (including x-rays) in under 20 minutes.  The doctor explained the prescription meds I needed, what they were for, and where I could get them.  The visit (including the x-rays) cost 5,900 Yen (about $63).

The meds (five days worth of three different meds) cost another $45.  This was actually where I had the only complication – the first pharmacy I went to (in the same complex) only accepted the Health Insurance Card… or cash.  Because I needed to pay by credit card I had to go to the other pharmacy (also in the same complex).

From the time I dropped my laptop bag in my room, went to see the doctor, had x-rays, went to two separate pharmacies and bought dinner until the time I walked back into my room was under an hour.  If it was that efficient back in Canada I would probably not be so hesitant to see doctors.

Oh, one more thing… I picked up a pack of face masks… in Japan when you are sick it is courteous to wear them so as to prevent spreading your germs to others.  I wore one for breakfast, to my meetings, and when I went out for lunch and then for dinner.  My boss commented that I didn’t look out of place here, and in fact people would appreciate that I was being courteous.  If I wore this mask in public in Canada people would think I was going to rob them at knifepoint.

I may not be happy about being sick, but I am thrilled by the efficiency with which the Japanese system deals with illness.  As per the doctor’s orders I am spending a couple of days in bed (yes, I went to the meeting AMA… it was a very important meeting) but I will be much better when I go back to the office on Thursday… and nobody on my team will worry about catching anything from me!

MCT Regional Lead

It was a great honour to be selected as the MCT Regional Lead for Canada for the inaugural year of that program (See article).  I like to say that the MCT Regional Lead program spent the first year figuring out what it was going to be.  I was thrilled to be a part of that.

MCT(rgb)The year was a tumultuous one for MCTs… the retirement of the TechNet Subscription program (article), the retirement of the Microsoft Certified Masters (MCM) program, and all along people learning the ropes of the new certifications (article 1, article 2).  It was a thrilling ride, and I am glad that I was able to answer so many questions.

As the term came to a close, I was asked to stay on for the next year but I declined.  I did not decline to shirk the community, but rather because I have accepted a long term contract overseas, and am now spending most of my time in Tokyo, Japan.

As such I am happy to announce that Microsoft Learning Experiences (MS LEX) has opted this year to have five MCT Regional Leads for Canada.  Myungjin Jeong, Steve Jones, Benjamin Niaulin, Marcos Nogueira, and Paul Twigg will be the RLs this year.  For Benjamin and Paul it will be their second year; for Marcos as well, although only in Canada – he was the RL for Portugal last year.  I want to welcome Myungjin and Steve to the team – know the five of you will all do a great job.

I want to thank you all for your support over the past year, and look forward to working with you again sometime soon.

I also want to thank Veronica Sopher and Melissa Bathum for the year, and wish Karen Juhl all the best in the new hot seat :)

image

A Stranger in a Strange Land…

Sashimi Moriawase

Sashimi Moriawase (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever walked through a grocery store and not known what anything was?  I had that experience this evening.  Although there are pictures on a lot of things, the only items (aside from fresh fruits and vegetables) that I could clearly identify were Frosted Flakes, Coke Zero, and Cote de Rhone.  It might have been daunting if I had to fill my fridge and feed my family, but as that was not the case I was just in it for the experience.  There’s lots of everything… I just don’t know what anything is.  There was one item that intrigued me… a bag of what appeared to be whole dried worm-like fish, eyes and all.  Although I assume it is a delicacy of some sort, it looked to me like freeze-dried fishing bait.

Although I have been told there is a bank machine where I will be able to use my debit card to withdraw cash, I have been relying solely on my Visa card.  As impressive as that may sound, it has thus far amounted to four purchases, two of which were transportation from the airport (train then taxi).  I paid for dinner this evening in a lovely little restaurant down the street, which in Canada would have been a five-star restaurant, but in Tokyo was little more than a glorified fast-food restaurant.  I had the best sashimi I have ever imagined, and the meal cost about $12.  They refused my tip.  I then went back to the grocery store and bought a little fresh-fruit cup and some dried mango for dessert.  No joke, including the food in the cafeteria at lunch, I have not had a morsel of food that was not among the freshest I have ever tasted.

I have not gone out to experience ‘the real Tokyo’ yet, but I will this week-end.  So far I have ventured out from hotel alone three times: once for my morning stroll, once for dinner (along the same route as the morning stroll), and once to go back to the office after my siesta.  I have to admit that I got lost that time, but I found myself quickly enough.  When you know you are within a block in one or the other direction it is not hard to find your way.

The weather here is not too hot, but it has been incredibly humid.  I’ve been sweating a lot, especially with all the walking I did today.  It cooled down in the evening to the point that I could have worn a jacket if I had wanted to, but it still wasn’t necessary once I started walking.

It’s time to get some sleep… See you tomorrow!

Are you embarrassed?

We have all done things that we are ashamed of, embarrassed by, or simply regret.  If anyone tells me that they have not then I will say they are probably lying.  The thing is, the world has changed over the past few years, and there are two factors that we all have to be concerned by:

  • Everyone has a camera (and video camera) in their pocket; and
  • The Internet is forever.

When I say we have all done things that are embarrassing I do not mean simply tripping over an untied shoelace while all eyes are on you.  That sort of thing happens to everyone.  As my friend Bill Sparks used to say ‘just say ‘Tadaah!’ as if that was what you meant to do.  I am talking about the sort of thing that ten years down the road can come back to bite you.

Over the last twenty years and more we have seen more and more people pushing (and breaking through) the limits of what the majority of people consider acceptable.  The most brazen examples could likely be found at Spring Break parties, Mardi Gras celebrations (especially in New Orleans!), and other such festivals.  However they are really all over the place, these opportunities to haunt our futures.  In fact the people doing these things are very often people who would never do such things, but they get caught up in the moment, alcohol, maybe drugs, and people (alleged friends) egging them on.

I have over the years been interviewed for several positions (both contract and employment) by dozens of people.  Most of them asked me about my technical skills, my experience, my goals and aspirations.  Through it all there is one question that I was asked that has always stood out in my mind as the most memorable… and probably the most important.

“If we were to search the Internet would we find evidence of your having ever done anything that would embarrass the company?”

Wow… I had to give it some thought.  I had certainly done some things that would be embarrassing to myself, but fortunately for me I don’t think any of them were actually on camera.  I answered No.  Since that interview I have done my best to live my life in such a way as to ensure that I never would… even though I did not get that particular job.

What is embarrassing?

The problem with that question is knowing what companies may consider embarrassing.  The big issue is that we never know, starting with the fact that we may not know what sort of company we will want to work for in the future..  There are a lot of unknowns and unknowable factors.  However one thing is for sure… In a day and age where there is a good chance that someone has a camera that can start recording within seconds, it is not a bad idea to live your life with that question in mind.

Unfortunately it is a lesson many people will learn far too late.

There was a time when people lived by values that were consistent with those of their parents.  Most societies around the world were governed by a set of moral or religious values, which in the English world was further restricted by Victorian modesty and propriety.  The rest of Europe may have been slightly more open, but only to a certain degree.

I do not know if it is because society has moved away from religion or something else entirely, but people seem to be willing to do a lot more stupid things on camera than they used to.  Often they are the sort of things that might be acceptable behind closed doors in the privacy of one’s own home; sometimes they are things that most people would never even dream of doing there.

Nudity and sexual activity seem to play a big role in these pictures and videos, but they are not the only areas.  There are inappropriate commentaries and racist/sexist/homophobic jokes and even criminal activity, extreme inebriation and drug use, and more.  All things that may be fun or funny to some in the moment can be career limiting moves down the road.

I understand that people want to have fun; it is unfortunate that we live in an age where cameras are everywhere and the Internet is forever, but that is not going away any time soon so it is the reality we have to live with.  It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to always be aware of what we are doing, and where the cameras are.

What about in private?

I am the last person who would ever tell anyone to be a prude.  I am as open as most (and fortunately neither as open nor as closed as others), and think we should be allowed to let loose and to have fun. However what I do behind closed doors is nobody’s business but my own.

Earlier this year a female friend of mine was showing me pictures of her daughter.  She was showing off how beautiful she (the daughter) was, and handed me her smart phone to browse the pictures.  As I was doing so I noticed that suddenly her face turned white, and she almost lunged at me to get the phone back.  Unfortunately she was not quick enough and did not prevent me from accidentally seeing a picture of her in a very personal situation.

She told me that she took several pictures of herself in that situation to send to her boyfriend.  This was the very same boyfriend that she had just finished telling me she was about to break up with.  They had been dating for three months – did she trust that he was not going to share those photos on the Internet?  Her reaction floored me:

If he wants to get back at me he doesn’t need the pictures, he can just put the videos I did with him on-line.  But he would never do that – he is in the videos too, so I am not worried.

Wow… she obviously has not been paying attention to the tens of thousands of cases of jilted lovers doing exactly that.  If she was worried about his reputation being as important to him as hers was to her, she did not take into account that he worked as a labourer (honest work and well respected by the way), and she works in a government bureau in the office of a public official, and while he (the boyfriend) would not be limited by embarrassing videos, she certainly would be.  Ask Anthony Weiner how his political career is doing.

The point is you have to be careful.  Of course, different careers and jobs and companies will have different levels of conservatisms, but why limit yourself?  My friend now has to trust that the boyfriend (or ex-boyfriend) will not, in a moment of anger or bitterness or drunken whatever, post the videos on-line.  Lord knows there are enough revenge-porn sites that would love to have them… and once they are online there is no way to get them back.

When do we have to start paying attention?

The sad truth is that we often will never know the reason we are turned down for a job.  When I was originally asked the question, I had to think about it for a minute.  At the time the age of ‘everything goes on-line forever’ was not quite upon us, so I really only tried to think back two or three years.  But some companies don’t only care about what you did last year, they would care about what you did a decade or two ago.  Don’t believe me?  Fill out a Government of Canada application for Secret Clearance.  They go back longer than five years!

If you are a college or even a high school student you may find it thrilling or exciting to push the limits, get crazy, and do things that you wouldn’t do as an adult.  Why not? You are a student, you only live once, right?  Well if you are going to do it, don’t take pictures (or let others take them of you).  You don’t need photographic evidence of being stupid.  Trust me, the memories that you want will always be there, and a lot of the memories will be best forgotten.

I have a son in high school, and I thank G-d every day that he is a good kid, and pretty straight laced.  According to the statistics several of his schoolmates have done drugs, and a number of them do so on a regular basis.  While it seems to be more and more acceptable to have done so at one time or another (ask the mayor of Toronto, the Premiere of Ontario, and the head of the Liberal Party of Canada), that does not mean it would be acceptable to many companies.  Some companies are more conservative, either for their image, because they go after government contracts, or possibly the religious beliefs of the CEO.  Whatever the reason, a picture of a candidate smoking a bong would be frowned upon… especially after that same candidate proclaimed that they had never done drugs.  Women (or men for that matter) who choose to be photographed in sexual situations may be considered too risqué, even if the pictures are years old.

By the way if you feel there should be an allowance made for people who did not choose to be photographed, but rather allowed themselves to be photographed, or who were photographed against their will (there have been cases of that too) then you will be disappointed… the world is not fair, and hoping is not going to change that.

The answer to the question of ‘will it get out there’ is yes, and the follow-up question ‘will somebody find it’ is the same.  The question of when is more difficult to answer, but more often than not it will come at a bad time.  If you think that once you have gotten the job it is yours for life, remember that lying in a job interview or on your resume is grounds for dismissal, and if your company has any sort of morality clause then your job is not safe just because the interviewers did not find it.

Closer to Home

Work is not the only place these embarrassing moments can come to bite you.  I know of a woman whose fiancé was certain she was a virgin, and in their culture that was important to him and to his family.  When his brother (who went to the same school as her) came across a picture proving that she was lying the fiancé’s family forced him to break off the engagement.  Had they gotten married before the lie was discovered I shudder to think what steps this extremely traditional old-school family might have taken.

Recently there was a headline about someone admitting to a crime on his Facebook (YouTube?) page, and that admission was considered by the courts as an admission of guilt.  He was convicted.  If it is good enough for a court of law there is a good chance it would be accepted by an interviewer who does not have to justify denying you a position… or a partner who does not need to justify breaking up.

Conclusion

Is there a light at the end of this dark tunnel? Yes.  Never forget the question, even when letting yourself go.  There are always limits, and living by those limits (that you must set for yourself) will protect you.  What should rule #1 be? If you want someone to see you naked then do it in person.  Taking naked pictures of yourself with your phone and sending them to people may be easy, but the consequences are not.  The instant you press SEND it is out of your control… forever.

Would society be better off reverting to religion?  Probably not, and even so the likelihood of it happening is miniscule.  That doesn’t mean that you cannot live with your own values, and doing so can save you later on.  If you’ve already taken those pictures then stop… it reduces the likelihood of it getting out.

There are still plenty of jobs that would be open to you without taking this message to heart… but if I were a high school student today, looking at the world’s economic and job outlook, I would not want to close any doors for my future because my sweetheart forever needs to see me naked on her phone… remember, there is a better than 95% chance that you will not marry her.

The Price of Quality

macallan18s During the summer I was sitting with a student of mine having a drink after class.  For those of you who do not know me, let me reassure you that I have not in many years taught anyone who was not old enough to drink.

We were sitting in a bar in Portland, Maine and after reviewing their brief list of scotch whiskeys I ordered an eighteen year old Macallan.  He ordered a beer, and as we took our first sips he told me that he couldn’t justify paying $12 for a scotch when the $7 scotch was just as good.  For the record this was a very reasonable bar.

I told him that for my tastes they are nothing near the same.  He said ‘Okay, so let’s say the more expensive scotch is 10% better than the cheaper scotch, does that really justify the expense?’  I asked if he had ever tried the ‘good stuff’ and he admitted that he had not.  He did like scotch, and was happy to be proven wrong.

I called the bartender over and explained our disagreement.  I asked her to pour him a glass of the eighteen year old Macallan, and asked if she would mind giving him just a sip of the twelve year old Glenfiddich (no slouch, but definitely the inferior of the two) to compare it to.  He tasted the Glenfiddich, and then (after a sip of water) tasted the Macallan… and you could see in his eyes with that first sip that he knew I was right… the difference was definitely substantial!

Of course, there was a time when I did not appreciate the difference either.  When I was in the army I drank cheap scotch and smoked cheap cigars; my first car was a used Subaru Justy.  The truth is that in life you get what you pay for.

The day I took my first sip of single malt scotch was the day I stopped drinking blends.  The day I smoked my first Cuban cigar (yes, my American friends, it is legal in Canada… although I smoked it in Israel where it was also legal) was the day I stopped smoking the crappy ones.  As I have said many times I would rather have one good scotch than three mediocre ones, and I would rather have one good cigar than three crappy ones.

For the record I drove that Subaru Justy for 9 months until it started falling apart, and didn’t trade too far up.  There is a difference between relatively inexpensive consumables and transportation, and in the years after my release from the army I was in no financial shape to buy anything nicer.  However I had driven better cars and looked forward to the day when I would be able to buy one… and I did.

Quality costs money.  You can buy an inexpensive suit and it will last a few months before the signs start to show, or you can buy a better suit that will last longer (I am told… I haven’t bought a lot of good suits in my life).  You can buy a cheap suitcase and expect to replace it after a number of uses (been there, done that!) or you can buy high-end suitcases that will last.  When my wife told me what she paid for my Briggs and Riley luggage I nearly fainted; five years and hundreds of flights later I swear by those suitcases, and have since bought several of the matching bits to complete the collection.

It is no different when you buy a computer, or when you hire an IT Professional.  You (more often than not) get what you pay for.  Higher end systems last longer and work better, and higher end IT Professionals will save you money in the long run.

Unfortunately when it comes to IT Pros sometimes you do not get what you paid for.  I have heard horror stories from customers and community members about consultants who over-charge and under-deliver.  That is why, just like when you choose a tailor, price should not be the only factor.  You have to do your research… look them up on-line, ask people for recommendations, and when interviewing the IT Pro (yes, you can and should do that) you should ask for references.  While a list of certifications is important, it means nothing without a list of prior satisfied customers.  Let’s face it, people can cheat on exams… it is a lot harder to cheat on your clients.

It sounds like I am perpetuating the cycle that you can’t get experience without a job and you can’t get a job without experience.  That is absolutely not the case.  Inexperienced IT Pros should spend some time working for more seasoned IT Pros who can show them the ropes, guide them, and have them work on projects which will give them experience.

Of course this means that more often than not an IT Pro will not work for the same company for his entire career.  That was the case before anyways, even though it may not have been explained as such.  However as an IT Director it would be irresponsible of me to give a large architecting contract to an inexperienced IT Pro (IT Amateur?) who may have learned from books but has never been hands on.  In the same way that I would never let a new tailor who just bought his first sewing machine to make my suits… although it would not bother me if that young tailor was assisting with or being supervised by a more seasoned tailor.

While I am not a supporter of unions, I believe the electricians have it right.  After school you take an apprenticeship, and that could have you sweeping floors on some days and doing work that some people today seem to feel is beneath them.  It is how you pay the Master Electrician for whom you are working back for taking you under his (her) wing and teaching you.  After the apprenticeship you get licensed, and soon enough (I do not know when or how) you too become a Master Electrician.

I would love to see the same sort of system in place for IT Professionals, but I know that it is just a dream.  However without that sort of system it is incumbent upon our new IT Pros to seek out the mentorship of experienced IT Pros, and it if some of those were to take on that responsibility I believe that we would have a profession worthy of the respect that I hope we are generally afforded.

And now, as I close, I am going to put my laptop back into my Briggs and Riley laptop bag, and rest for the remainder of the flight which, I hope, is being flown by a very qualified and well-paid pilot.

Big in Japan…

There has been a rumour floating around that I was not happy at Microsoft Canada.  Whoever started that rumour was not me, and it could not have been further from the truth.  I have loved working with the DPE Team, I have loved almost everything about the past year.

With that being said, over the past few months I have come to the decision that my hands-on experience is getting a little long in the tooth.  I started thinking about taking on a new challenge where I could get my hands dirty again.  After all, one of the reasons I am as credible as I am is because I do have the real-world experience, and do not just live in front of a class.

A gentleman who has attended several of my sessions over the past year approached me in June and asked if I would be interested in discussing a project.  I told him what I tell most people who approach me about projects or jobs: I am always happy to listen.  We scheduled a meeting to have a cup of coffee later in the month.  That meeting turned into two and three and four, until we decided that we both wanted to do business with the other.

Knowing who this man was I was certain that whether we would be a good fit or not, it would certainly be an interesting conversation.  I was not disappointed.  The part that did surprise me though was that this opportunity was to take us both to the head office of the parent company… in Tokyo, Japan.

There is an old expression that says you should shoot for the stars, so that if you miss you will still hit the moon.  This opportunity in Japan is indeed shooting for the stars.  And so I am thrilled to announce that on September 24th I will be boarding Air Canada flight 003, Japan bound.

Unlike all of my previous overseas business trips, this is not for a week or two at a time.  I may get excited that I am going away, but I never have to write an article explaining that things will be changing.

Last week I announced that I was changing teams at Microsoft Canada.  My role there is essentially a Senior Server Champ… although that is not my title, and indeed I do not have one.  I was actually put onto that team because neither side wants to sever our connections, but I am obviously taking a bit of a hiatus from Microsoft Canada.

While this project will see me working with Microsoft Japan as well as some of the product teams in Redmond, I will not be working for them; rather, I will be working for the customer, and not representing Microsoft… for now.

I expect this blog, The World According to Mitch, will continue to thrive… but differently.  I expect that I will want to write a book about what I am doing, and not simply blog articles.

And as for the details… well, it is hard to say.  Until I get there and am told otherwise I do not intend to disclose any information about the customer I will be working for.  Will that change?  I don’t know.  In the meantime, I will be living in Tokyo, and I expect that there will be enough culture shock for me to post interesting (if slightly less technical) articles on a regular basis.  No, I do not expect to be like Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball, as I am going in with a much better understanding (and respect) of the culture.  That does not mean I will fit in… but here’s hoping I won’t make too much of an ass of myself!

In the meantime I will be in Redmond this week, so there just may be a technical post or two left before I leave!

Same Scam, Different Source

Earlier this year I wrote an article for Oakville.com earlier this year on an on-line scam (Another Scam).  I remembered it a few minutes ago when I got the same phishing e-mail from an aunt in California, who unfortunately got mugged on an unannounced surprise trip to Manila.

Of course, my aunt is not in Manila… not that I can reach her right now, but seeing as the text is nearly identical to the one I cited in July.  Obviously her e-mail account was hijacked, and the scammers are praying on the goodness of all of her contacts.  As I state in the article I have heard horror stories of intelligent people being scammed out of thousands of dollars by this scam.

I wrote my aunt an e-mail immediately – after leaving urgent voice mails at her home, office, and mobile – telling her what she had to do:

      1. Change your e-mail password immediately! (along with all of your other passwords – they will likely have been compromised too).
      2. Send an e-mail to ALL of your contacts and let them know that you are safe, and to NOT send you money.
      3. Go to the following site: http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/internet_fraud/internet_fraud.  At the bottom there is a section ‘How to Report Crime & Fraud.’  You must report this!!

I do not know if she will get it in time – My aunt is not a very technologically connected woman.  On the other hand she is a wonderful woman with a big heart, and I am sure a lot of her friends will be concerned and willing to help.  It is because of this that it is so important that I get this message out… tell your friends and family about it, because they could be next.

    On a related note, I am glad that I went to the trouble of changing ALL of my on-line passwords yesterday!

What Does Being an MVP Mean to ME?

This month I will be speaking at the SMB Nation Fall Conference.  My main presentation will be on what IT will look like for small- and mid-sized businesses in what I call the ‘Post-SBS Era.’  I will be discussing Private Cloud, System Center, Virtualization, Office 365, Azure, and Windows Intune.

I have also been asked to lead a panel of Microsoft MVPs.  Topic: Open.  I can pick a topic, or I can simply open the floor to questions.  I briefly considered calling the panel ‘Whaddya mean you do it for FREE?!’ but thought better of it… however it would be fitting because MVPs do not get paid for what they do… at least not for what they do in order to be an MVP.

I have invited four other MVPs to join me on stage; until I get confirmation from all of them I will not reveal who they are.  However I tried to select people with different experiences as MVPs.  It should be an interesting time.

Over the past few days that I have been thinking about this panel I have given some thought to what it means to me.  Last week I was recognized for the seventh time (Microsoft MVPs are awarded for a period of one year, and my award date is October 1st).  I guess by now I can be considered a ‘veteran MVP,’ but I know that there are so many MVPs who have been around much longer than I have been.

In 2005 or 2006 there was an MVP Roadshow that came to Montreal; Jeff Middleton and the gang came up and after their day-long event, they agreed to do a user group event for us in the evening.  Somebody in the audience asked Jeff ‘What is expected of you as MVPs?’  I expected Jeff to start talking about speaking to user groups, answering questions in the forums and newsgroups, and whatever else.  He surprised me when he answered (not a direct quote) ‘Nothing.  The MVP Award is strictly for past contributions.  It is not a contract, and you are not actually expected to do anything further.’

It was an interesting answer, and on the surface an honest and accurate one.  It does not, however, account for the fact that if MVPs want to continue being MVPs then there are certain expectations of us.  Depending on several factors I think those expectations are not the same for all of us, but that is another topic altogether.

In November 2004 I had a conversation with a young Harp Girn who was at the time a vendor with Microsoft Canada.  He had, earlier in the evening, gotten me to volunteer to start a user group in Montreal for IT Professionals.  He made it clear to me that although he and his team would help, there wouldn’t be any direct, tangible benefits.  ‘I can’t make any promises, but a lot of user group leaders get recognized as Microsoft MVPs.’  I am not sure, but it may have been the first time I had ever heard the term.  He was right – 23 months later I did get the award.

It has been an incredible six years… My life, my career, my outlook have changed so much in that time, and who knew – a lot of that change can be traced back to the MVP Award.  Most of that indirectly of course, but a lot of the opportunities that I have been afforded over the past several years have been because I was an MVP.  Microsoft Canada has done a lot for me, and oftentimes it was because of a conversation started with the phrase ‘…do you know of any MVPs who could do this for us?’  Many of the certifications I hold (especially the Charter certs) are because Microsoft Learning sent out invites to write beta exams to… you guessed it – MVPs.

Shortly after I received the award for the first time a consulting firm asked me to do some work with them – it started as training roadshows but eventually evolved into courseware creation.  When they asked me what I knew about server virtualization I replied honestly that I knew nothing about it.  They had me learn, and that would eventually evolve into several career-changing moments, not the least of which was the opportunity to write Microsoft’s original courseware (e-learning) for Hyper-V.  That led to roadshows of course, and a company that heard about me because of the roadshow asked if I would be interested in learning VMware and then consulting and teaching it for them in Canada (and eventually internationally).  The original consulting firm that got the ball rolling on this told me point-blank that they would not have considered me had I not been a Microsoft MVP.

When the Partner team at Microsoft Canada decided to create a program called the Virtual Partner Technology Advisors, they looked for MVPs who were strong on virtualization.  That led to dozens of contracts over the course of several years, as well as the opportunity to present myself as one of the foremost VMware-compete guys in the country.

And of course, when the DPE Team at Microsoft Canada started discussing a new position called ‘Virtual Technical Evangelist’ they again looked for MVPs.

Someone asked me earlier today what I would do if I wasn’t doing what I do.  It’s a tough question and frankly I cannot fathom an answer.  I guess I need more time, but I’ll come up with something, I promise.  The question got me thinking (and not for the first time) where I would be today if I had not put my hand up to volunteer to create a local user group in Montreal, which in turn led to my eventual nomination as a Microsoft MVP.  The consequences of that single action are impossible to quantify, but let’s start with a quick list:

  • I would probably still be living in Montreal
  • I would likely have a couple of certifications… but nowhere near what I have today.
  • I would not have the vast majority of the friends I have made over the past eight years.
  • I would never have met my wife and her (now OUR) son, and we would not have had our baby.
  • It is unlikely that I would be a Black Belt
  • It is unfathomable that I would have several positions within Microsoft
  • It is highly doubtful I would have started a blog that today is read by ten thousand readers per month
  • I would never have had the opportunity to travel to 8 provinces (several times), 35 states (with many repeats), and twelve countries on behalf of companies like Microsoft and HP
  • I would never have been asked to consult on deployment projects for companies on the Fortune 15 list, nor for such organizations as the New York Police Department.

Wow… that is a simple list that took me all of five minutes to compile, but each point is easy to make the case for.  I honestly believe that had I not been awarded the Microsoft MVP way back then my life would have gone in a very different direction.  I cannot fathom what it would look like today… but it isn’t a stretch to guess that broader minds bring broader opportunities, and I would not be doing as well were I still living in Montreal servicing small business IT shops.

So while Microsoft uses the MVP Program as a thank-you for its community leaders, I expect a lot of us owe Microsoft a big thank-you back for the opportunities that have come about from our award.

A Banner Day!

In 2007 I was asked to write a guest blog post for the Canadian IT Pro Connection.  Over the course of the next few years I wrote several articles for them, many of which were cross-posted to or from this site.  However it was last month when I joined the team I went on a blogging frenzy… until I realized that parts of the job were also a bit of a frenzy Winking smile  I’ll be getting back to that this afternoon though.

For now I am thrilled to see that the site banner has changed.  Both Pierre Roman and I are now officially resident bloggers for the Canadian IT Pro Connection.  As of this morning the banner reflects that.

image

As a longtime follower of this blog, remembering back to the days when Rick, Rodney, and others were resident bloggers, we know that we have some big shoes to fill (and hats!) and we will do our best to maintain the quality and relevance of the content.

As always we are interested in your feedback.  If you have a comment a specific post you can put it in the Comments section; if it is on the blog in general (or the team) then you can e-mail any of us directly – my e-mail address is b-mitchg@microsoft.com.

Oh, and for those of you who are sure to comment that they are disappointed that I am not wearing my hat in the banner picture, I’ll try to post one here later on Smile