Sysadvent 2021 - Moving from Engineering Manager to IC

This is a recent blog post that I wrote that was accepted on Sysadvent 2021!

Intro:

Within the past month, I've had a radical change into a new role within my existing employer, for the past decade I was an SRE Manager building teams and a Tech Executive. I hope to summarize my experience including how that made me feel, moving into an IC Role. The thoughts and ideas in this article are from my own opinion and past experiences.

For the past 6-8 years, I've been in an Engineering Manager/TechExec role, specifically in Systems Reliability Engineering. I was comfortable, happy, and engaged in this role, managing multiple SRE teams supporting a wide range of products & platforms in the Enterprise.

Before we dive in deeper, A little history on myself, I've been playing with technology since I was in 5th grade. My English teacher at the time taught me everything he knew about repairing computers, primarily 286's & 386's, DOS, and teaching me the BASIC programming language.

As I transitioned into 8th grade, entering High School, my computer teacher approached me to ask if I wanted to help with administering the School's Network of 12 Windows NT Servers running Active Directory, Exchange & File Services with over 4000 workstations & Printers. Apparently, my 5th-grade teacher passed a few tidbits to him of what I was doing in middle school in Computer Science.

Little did I know after accepting the position that my journey began, A few startups (MySpace, remember that?) and mid-large corporations later, I ended up in Engineering Management, primarily focused on building teams that support large scale applications both On-prem and in the cloud with a focus on delivering solutions with a DevOps culture & SRE mindset.


THE INCLINE:

I've been used to building high-performing engineering teams, meeting new and amazing engineers while focusing on creating T-Shaped teams, this is not necessarily a new concept but one that worked for my teams and worked well. During this time, We have had an amazing leadership team that pushed us to go above and beyond while meeting new product teams across the company every day that needed our help in delivering great solutions. In certain organizations, high technical roles can be treated as semi-management.

We introduced several new technologies & concepts to the company as a whole, developing many Communities of Practice around Config Management, Containers, CI/CD, and even Web Development with Go, and so on. With the vast coverage of different areas that the company was working in, I found myself, slowly moving into a new space that we never had a role in the company, more on this, in just a bit.

Before moving into Management, I was a Staff SRE (Systems Reliability Engineering). You might be thinking, isn’t it Site Reliability Engineering?, yes but different companies tailor the meaning of SRE to meet the needs within their respective areas. In my case, we weren’t just managing Sites & Web Applications but Systems that handle a wide range of products in the Entertainment & Media space. Think Rendering, Control Systems, and safety systems.

As a Manager, I started seeking and making new connections across the enterprise, assisting teams in onboarding the latest technology, whether that be LiDar, Kubernetes, understanding GitOps & Docker, and new tools that were bursting with Innovation in the Open Source space. While being good at helping others and always saying “YES”, I quickly found myself spread quite thin between managing 5 different SRE Teams, each team roughly 3-5 team members, supporting over 3000 Applications and some of which were centralized services for the entire enterprise to consume. It was also getting a little hard for me to stay current with the technology, which I loved.

Leadership quickly saw my success in evangelizing new technology and helping our business units move fast in adopting new methods of engineering not only with new technology but ensuring our SRE’s had the proper tools and was aware of up and coming automation tools to help them reduce toil but also accelerate in how we delivered more value to our customers internally and externally.

My leader called me into a meeting to discuss my interest in moving into an SRE role, but instead of a pure Engineering role, wanted me to pursue leading the company’s effort in evangelising new technology. He went on to explain the value and deep vision in how this would allow me to expand my reach and support more teams in helping create an organization, around Developer Advocacy and mentoring our entire Global SRE Organization to the next level and inspire others in methods such as Empathy Engineering, Automation and best practices in multiple areas, the advancements in what’s next in driving technical leadership.

I was a bit taken back but excited, there was also a bit of nervousness of course, how that might have affected my teams in-relation to my relationships between each one of my engineers. In the next few weeks, my teams and leadership were very supportive and believed that I was needed in this new role to make a bigger impact on the Organization and company as a whole.


Conclusion: 

Never be discouraged if you find yourself moving into an IC role, new opportunities have a great way of nudging you in the right direction. People often think that moving up the ladder means success but as we all have seen incredible people in IC roles such as Kelsey Hightower at Google or Jessie Frazelle of Oxide Computer. Humans do their best work when positioned to do things they love doing and provided they can reach new heights.




Note 2From Macbook Pro 16 to PixelBook Go (My choice for 2020) — Part I

My daily driver the Google PixelBook Go. This article outlines my personal thoughts and does not reflect the ideas or thoughts of my employer (disclaimer).

I simply want to give a 2020 outlook to the use of a Google Chromebook from a macOS Power user.
I’ve recently purchased a Google PixelBook Go (i7/4K model), as well as the brand new Apple MacBook Pro 16 inch version replacing my current MacBook Pro 15.
I’ll discuss why the need for the i7 Processor & 4K on a Chromebook later but let’s move on...
To set the premies of what I use the MacBook Pro for is the following:

  • Web Browsing (Chrome, Brave, Firefox)
  • Streaming Content (Disney+, YouTube & YT TV, Prime, Netflix, etc)
  • Gaming (Google Stadia, Nvidia GeForce Now, Steam, App Stores)
  • Lite video/photo editing (Not a Pro Video editor by no means)
  • Personal Development Projects (Web/Application Development) in a variety of languages and frameworks. I run a few OSS Sites like Golangflow.io and Hack on OSS, Mobile Development.


As you can see, my needs are somewhat simple but also complex when it comes to application development. Besides the use cases, I have for my MacBook Pro, there are also applications I use that I have to consider.
This article is by no means a knock against Apple, I love their products and have friends that work for the Fruit company, I still use my Macbook for certain use cases.
My Applications I use on a daily basis surround the techie in me as I work in the Systems Engineering/Technology/Cloud industry. Before we dive into how I made the switch to a Google Pixelbook Go, let me give you a little glimpse into the main apps I use and for what on MacOS.
Let’s review what I use to keep my data and machine secure for Security:

  • Little Snitch 3-This little app monitors all outgoing connections from my MacBook Pro. It catches where apps and processes on my machine send my data to their servers or places that they are not supposed to. I will have little need for this on a ChromeOS laptop as most of my interaction with apps will be cloud-based and not truly native.
  • Malwarebytes -Everyone needs protection from Malware & other malicious things that may get downloaded or installed on your system. It’s difficult for ChromeOS to get Viruses but also not impossible just highly reduces the risk by like 10X.
  • 1Password & Bitwarden — Password Management for the masses!, I’ve been using 1Password for several years now and love it especially in the Apple eco-system. 1Password X for Chrome has been great on ChromeOS, the Android version on ChromeOS was actually a terrible experience so stick with the Chrome Extention instead. I’ve recently moved to Bitwarden for the fact that is OSS and gives me the benefit of the self-hosted solution if I need it & Export it to JSON.
  • Standard Notes- I love this App!, it’s the only Note-taking tool that is anywhere close to Evernote that has Full E2EE with Security at the forefront. The App supports all major Platforms & Web with devices Syncing, not to mention has custom extensions and themes you can create and use. SN also backups your notes to Email, Dropbox, GDrive, and more on a daily basis in an encrypted format. OSS too!


Alongside the Security tools above, I make sure I have File Vault enabled to keep my drive encrypted.
Most of the other applications I use are web-based that offer a native or PWA version like Outlook for work which Microsoft has done an amazing job of supporting all major platforms including supporting PWA’s.

I’ll post Part II in a few days as I don’t want to make this a massive post but wanted to give you a glimpse into my use for macOS starting with keeping system secure.
In my next post, I’ll review the other apps I use on Mac daily and start diving into my move to the PixelBook Go.

My Backup Strategy

Hey All!

Wanted to talk about my backup strategy for my digital life & family network. We all have those important files we want to keep safe & secure, whether they are Family Photos, Taxes, Hobby Projects that you eventually get back too ;) but never have time for, etc.

In my home, my family uses a wide range of devices, PCs, Macs, Tablets, and everything in between but how do we keep it all backed up. Most services do offer cloud backups but in today's changing world where data is king and privacy is all the rage, I wanted to know I had complete ownership over my data. If you want to see a list of great privacy tools, visit Privacytools.io or StandardNotes.org.

Let's start off with the Desktops & Laptops, I use https://backblaze.com, with this, I pay a flat rate of $6.99/month per machine for unlimited backup storage. For part of the family that is not too technical, this is perfect, you just install their agent, and its backups up continuously fully encrypted with Zero-Knowledge enabled.

The downside is Backblaze doesn't really let you choose what to backup but its AI does a great job knowing what to backup such as your HOME directory like C:\Users\<username> or /Users on Mac and leaves out all the system-level files. I set it and forget it and it's been my go-to for the past few years.

Let's talk about devices, tablets, iPhones, Android phones like the Pixel 5. I rely on services like iCloud, Google Drive, Google Photos to handle my automatic backup on those devices, but I add one extra step here in which I own a Synology DS220+ NAS storage array on my home network.

I have set up my Synology to use what is called "Cloud Sync" to back up my Google, Apple data & photos to my local NAS, Backblaze Cloud (Similar to AWS S3) & AWS S3 Glacier (Cold Storage) at the same time. So now my Cloud data that is in Apple iCloud & Google are now safely backed up daily to both Backblaze & AWS Glacier at VERY cheap rates as there meant for long-term storage and hopefully, retrieval is very minimal in the case of a disaster.

Lastly, let's discuss cloud servers & IoT devices. I use my Raspberry Pi & VPS's in AWS Lightsail, Digitial Ocean, or GCP for various OSS Projects and Hobbies of mine in Web Development. I use a tool called "restic", over at https://restic.net. There is a great write-up about restic at https://frontpagelinux.com/tutorials/restic-backups-flexible-powerful-backup-solution/ if you wish to learn more.

On these types of servers, I have restic set up as a cronjob which creates snapshots of my Linux directories and stores a deduped copy of my files encrypted by default in AWS S3 Glacier & Backblaze on a daily basis.

By having my long-term encrypted backups stored in both Backblaze & AWS Glacier, I have ensured full dual redundancy of my family's files and my cloud data is safely in two locations at a very low cost that is affordable. If you wish to learn more or want more details, feel free to reach out to me!