Articles / Protecting Your Career

Protecting Your Career

Ed Sawicki (a professional instructor/lecturer who has used NetWare and NT since their beginnings and Unix since 1982) comments on the state of Open Source software in the corporate world of NT and NetWare. He's also used Coherent, QNX, Linux and *BSD. An assembler is his favorite programming tool. He's an open source advocate and a frequent critic of the existing computer establishment. He is the president of the Accelerated Learning Center. For his editorial, hit the details link.

PROTECTING YOUR CAREER

by Ed Sawicki - ALC

From time to time, people ask me if there is objective information that compares NT, Linux and NetWare. The requests usually come from people in organizations that are converting from one of the operating systems to the other and want the information for one of two purposes.

  1. To understand why the change is for the better.
  2. To try to convince management that the change is a mistake.

Most of the information on the subject is published by the vendors, market research firms or the magazine publishers. Clearly, information supplied by the vendors is suspect. A Linux or NetWare enthusiast views any words on the subject from Microsoft as an outright lie. NT enthusiasts feel the same about Novell but are often left wondering about Linux since there is no one vendor to distrust.

The objectivity and competence of research firms and magazines has been called into question recently in light of the "benchmark wars" that have produced literally unbelievable results. Typically, Microsoft makes a claim on their web site which is usually backed up by a report from some market research firm or independent testing organization. When they claim that NT outperforms NetWare, Novell cries foul and responds with counter-claims backed up by other marketing organizations that have pro-Novell inclinations. When they claim that NT outperforms Linux, the Linux community responds but sans support from research firms.

The trade press adds to the confusion by publishing articles that are highly polarized. Some articles are quite good and it's clear that the author has a good grasp of the issues. Unfortunately, there is far more written by people who are either clueless or have a definite political agenda. Some authors simply follow the herd - praising or criticizing a product or vendor depending on what's fashionable at the time.

This has led to the following not-so-funny jokes.

Q:What's the best way to increase your productivity?
A:Drop your subscriptions to the trade magazines.

Q:What's the best way to increase your company's overall productivity?
A:Cancel upper management's subscriptions to the trade magazines.

Without objective information, we can't expect management to make decisions based on technical merit. So, they're left with marketing hype. The best marketeer wins their business. Perception becomes the reality.

HOW DOES THIS IMPACT YOU?

I remember the good old days where the computer folks in a company were the experts. Management respected their opinions and relied on them to set the corporate computing direction. They could spend time evaluating technologies and products to determine whether and how their company could exploit them. They felt important and job satisfaction was usually high.

These days are over for many companies. Upper management now makes important decisions without help from their own computer literate people. It's reminicent of the Vietnam war where the Johnson/McNamara White House made the day-to-day decisions rather than the on-site commanders. Like the Vietnam soldiers and airmen, today's computer folks are expected to implement whatever management decides whether it's the best course of action or not.

The question is whether this state of affairs is good for you and your career. If you enjoy working with technology, chances are good that you won't be happy working with stuff that you think is technically inferior. But hey, it's your job and many people aren't happy with their jobs. That's why we call it "work". But your career is a different story. Happy or not, you need to know that you'll have a job in the future.

If your employer has you working on things that you think will not be marketable skills in the future, you're putting your career at risk. Far fewer people nowadays are in cradle-to-grave jobs. We must protect our futures by developing skills that our future employers will need. But exactly how do you determine, for example, what operating systems will be popular in the future?

If products become popular for reasons other than technical merit, then there's no way to know. The marketplace is too fickle to be predictable. Unless you can keep current on all possible contenders, you're gambling with your career. If, for example, you now spend all of your time managing a NT-based network with an Exchange-based email system, what do you do when the company decides that converting servers to Linux is a better deal?

Given the popularity of Linux these days, this example is a particularly plausable one.

THE SOLUTION

The solution is for products to succeed or fail in the marketplace based on their technical merit. Then you can keep your career on track with less risk of choosing the wrong horse. That is, if you can recognize technical merit when you see it and therein lies the problem. There are too many examples of the excellent losing to the mediocre. 100VG losing to Fast Ethernet and Banyan VINES losing to virtually everything else are good examples.

What's needed is a source of technical information that is free from political bias that technical folks can use to stay on top of the details and the facts. Information that is easy to grasp for those, such as upper management, who don't want to know or can't comprehend the gory technical details. While this seems like an impossible goal, things have happened recently that may now make this possible.

OPEN SOURCE AND PROJECTS

The Open Source Software revolution (of which Linux is the best known example) has created an attitude that says "If we can't trust vendors to act in our best interest and build software products that improve our productivity and lower our costs, then we'll build the software ourselves." The result of this attitude is free software that is often better than many or most vendor products. Samba and Apache are excellent examples.

The stunning success of Open Source Software has inspired people to take this attitude beyond software development. Many people have started "projects" in other areas. Projects have been started that create standards for both software and hardware. These standards increase compatibility among vendor products and reduce our costs. As grassroots support for these standards takes hold, vendors are compelled to follow them or alienate a growing portion of their customer base.

I, for example, will no longer buy a hardware device that does not have support for Windows and Linux and, where appropriate, for NetWare because I use all three operating systems. This morning I learned that the vendor of a video chip set refuses to release the technical details to the Linux community. This means that Linux video drivers must see this card as a lower performance generic video card. I'll no longer buy video cards or computers based on the chip set (or that vendor) and I'll encourage others to do the same. If enough people participate in the boycott, we'll force the vendors to have "open hardware" standards. See the power of projects?

It's time for a project that evaluates network operating systems and publishes objective comparisons so we don't have to rely on the vendors and the the press. People can use these comparisons to help their careers and help their companies decide on their future direction. Members of the press can use the comparisons to get the story right more of the time.

NTIQUE

NTique (the NT critique project) documents the differences between NT, Linux and NetWare. You can get more detail about this project by visiting the NTique web site.

Recent comments

15 Dec 1999 06:06 Avatar sm7xab

Drivers & Microsoft
To the first two comments, I would like to say the following:
Read the article. Tha article didn't say that the hardware vendors didn't support in-house drivers.
As far as I know, many hardware vendors don't support for example Linux drivers in-house. The article stated that one hardware vendor didn't release hardware specific information that will enable others to write drivers for their cards.
I totally aggree that those vendors should be boycotted.

About Microsoft, I believe they have done some good.
With every release of their products, computers require more and more system resources (hard drives, memory, CPU and so on). Because of this, we now have the big cheap harddrives, cheap memory and fast(?) computers. Without Microsoft, we would probably only be on the 486 era by now. We wouldn't need more CPU power and storage capacity.

09 Sep 1999 09:44 Avatar josepha

re: sheeeesh
The author did not ask for suppport on every platform but rather asked for specs onthe hardware. The Linux community is one of give me the information and well write it ourself. We don't need support form the hardware vendor, we just need to be able to write our own drivers. If the hardware vendors release there specs to the public then they do not have to write drivers for any platform, rather the platform maker can write the drivers, which shoudl be better. After all who knows the platform better then the platform programmers?
Why should I or the author buy hardware that does not work under the operating system I choose to run? Why should I be forced to run the operating system that YOU think I should run?
I run Linux. Not because of all the hype about it, not because it is not windows, because it does what I need at a proce I can afford. I do not buy off the shelf computers, I build them. Building your own computer means installing your own operating system as none come with it. Linux is cheaper than any other OS except FreeBSD. I have found that Linux is also a bit more user friendly than FreeBSD, but that is just my opinion, I am sure that someone familiar with FreeBSD has a different opinion. Hey, recently I got into a discussion about Solaris vs Lijux with someone adn they think that Solaris is better. Well for its proce it better be. Just like NT should be better than LInux. That said, I choose my OS of choice, I live in America, and this I believe should be one of my freedoms! With that in mind, I believe that hardware vendors need to realize that there are more operating system out there than just Windows, adn that if they want to sell to the users of these other platforms then they really ned to do something. The best solution yet is to open source or an open hardware standard. If you have a better idea we'd love to hear it.

09 Sep 1999 03:01 Avatar guardan

Gut Instinct
Like the early pioneers of sea travel like Magellan and Columbus, most of us should consider ourselves cutting a path towards a fresh digital future. Like our predecessors before us, we must acquire insticts about the technology that is being literally thrown en masse` at us.

You have the Whizzer corporation creating their super-dooper-whiz-o-matic slicer/dicer programs. While Spacely Sprockets displays their brand new all-in-one-der rack mounted router/csu/firewall/vpn gadget, we must gain a 'feel' for the industry and find out what's hot, and what's not as early as possible.

Part of an early explorer's success was gauged on how well he read the tides, and the winds. As someone shared earlier, the winds of change are flowing in this digital highway. Our success depends on our ability to read these changes and adapt our strategy as practically as possible. Refrain from going out and spending company dollars on those wizz-o-matic's and start researching top-contenders with the companies 'big picture' in mind.

Some technologists have to worry about saving their career. Not only through the development of new avenues, but also in the amount of manpower and resources are put into sole-sourcing tasks to the "whizz-o-matic". I have personally made mistakes in believing that this new technology is the 'sure-fire' winner only to find that a tremendous amount of effort was wasted.

Adaptation is the key. Keep your head out of the clouds, and your feet on the ground. When you feel the winds shifting directions, go. This can only come with experience and perseverence. Abraham Lincoln failed his first business venture at the age of 22. He ran for city legislature at 23 and failed. He failed again at business at the age of 24. His sweetheart died when he was 26. After two more decades of failures, he eventually became the President of the United States. We must adopt the same principle of adaptation, and perseverence.

Protecting your career is your second priority. Being a good servant is your first.

There's my two cents.

Aloha

08 Sep 1999 21:46 Avatar russellmcginnes

Protecting your career
It's Noam Chomsky time!
This "I'm reasonable, you're reasonable, let's be reasonable"
approach suddenly brings tobacco industry strategies to
mind. Microsoft's increasingly shrill propaganda campaign
against Linux tells us they see the writing on the wall and
now their "agent of reasonable influence," Sawicki, is saying,
"Hey, there's room here to co-exist-- let's just decide what
it is that *you're* good at, and what *we're* good at, and we
won't really have to bother each other. Isn't that reasonable?"

The reality extends beyond technical merit, although
whatever relative Linux shortcomings that do show themselves
are typically corrected in short order. The reality is that
Bill Gates and his minions declared war on mankind and
unblinkingly used scorched earth tactics for a decade to
wreck our industry and destroy consumer choice.
Screw Bill Gates.

I won't use NT under *any* circumstances. The sun is
seting on the Microsoft era. Hitler should have chosen
to be "reasonable" *before* he got to Stalingrad.

No thanks, Sawicki.

08 Sep 1999 20:17 Avatar edsawicki

Lack of originality and other remarks
The "About" page on the NTique web site uses information
from my article - not the other way around. One of the goals of the article was to let the world know about the NTique Project. I'm one of the project's founders. Like any good programming project, reuse of code (or text) is not interpreted as a lack of originality. Why the fuss?

I don't think I said that Linux relies on Open Source projects. However, commercial or not, open source software has significant benefits over closed source software. One only has to look at the recent uproar over Microsoft's NT, CryptoAPI and the NSA key affair to see the dangers of closed souce.

Yes, I agree completely that management's reliance on credentials rather than on merit is a problem. I've been a critic of Novell's certification program from the start. However, this is not the problem I wrote about. Management often ignores the advice of their technical folks regardless of whether they have the credentials or not.

Ed

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