Employees Rank Employers

Over at Glassdoor.com, employees ranked their employers about a week ago. CNet had a nice article on it.

Glassdoor.com permits employees (and ex-employees, and ex-interviewees) to post their experiences with the company anonymously, and to rate the employer and the CEO of the company. This provides a much better window into what employers are like and help you during a job search to find out whether you want to be working for this employer or not. Working for the wrong employer can be detrimental to your career or even your mental health.

There is nothing quite like Glassdoor.com; I recommend you sign up and rate your employer today.

Understanding People with (Hidden) Disabilities

Penelope Trunk wrote an excellent and heart-tugging piece about Asperger’s Syndrome and how it affects her. It is a poignant piece that describes her thought processes, and how a day at the bureaucracy puts her into a tailspin.

I had no idea that she had Asperger’s Syndrome; Richard Stallman (rms) – the person behind the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation – is supposed to have Asperger’s.

A disability such as this is hidden and its effects can be unknown; this leads to a lack of understanding of how a person with such a disability may find themselves hampered in their daily lives (including work lives). Disabilities such as Asperger’s, dyslexia, and others can lead to people not being compassionate or sympathetic when this is what the sufferer needs most.

Contributing to Wikipedia: Getting Deep

Writing is much more a part of system administration than most people acknowledge. A good writer will be more likely to produce quality documentation and presentations and other documents.

Writing for Wikipedia can be one method that you can use to improve your writing (by seeing other’s writing, and by getting reviews from others). However, contributing to Wikipedia is also a way to give back to the community, a way to show appreciation for what Wikipedia provides.

The most obvious is to just edit any article that needs it, and to improve its wording and spelling. However, there are techniques that are not as obvious in which you can participate in the growth of Wikipedia.

First, there is the Wikipedia Community Portal – a sort of single point of entry for contributing to Wikipedia. This should be a starting point for anyone "going deep" into Wikipedia contributions.

One can also join a Wikipedia Patrol. Wikipedia patrols watch over a certain type of Wikipedia page for problems and assist in making pages better.

For example, one join the Recent Changes Patrol, watching the Recent Changes page (reloading every so many seconds for instance) for new edits, and check any that appear to need closer examination: edits that are from IP addresses, or that have no comments – or edits that come from users that are making a lot of edits rapidly.

One could also join the Random Page Patrol, selecting a random page to improve.

Another thing to do is to join a Wikipedia WikiProject. For instance, there is the Wikiproject Circus – which is focused on improving pages about circuses. (By the way – you really should visit the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, sometime…)

Contributing – and improving your writing and others – is not limited to Wikipedia: you can add your abilities to Wikipedia’s sister projects:

Add your voice to Wikipedia!

You can also work on similar sites that are not directly related to Wikipedia – such as WikiHow (how-to manuals) or others – but Wikipedia and its related sites are probably better because of their respectability, their focus towards writing (articles, etc) and their wide audiences.

The Dichotomy of a System Administration Career

When you choose to work in system administration, generally you have to focus on one operating system or another. The dichotomy comes in choosing a system to focus on for your career.

How do you go about choosing which system you want to administrate as a career? Do you go with a common system like Microsoft Windows or a relative rarity such as OpenVMS?

If you go with Microsoft Windows Server, for example, there will always be jobs available (relatively so, anyway). Every corporation seems to have at least one Microsoft Windows Server, and they all need to be taken care of by someone who knows what to do. However, there will be lots of other people that do the same thing. So even as there are jobs out there, there are lots of applicants and lots of competition. With this abundance of people who know how to administrate Windows servers (or think they do) comes a lower pay, as an employer can be selective in who they choose. This is the basic economic principle of supply and demand at work.

On the other side is administering UNIX servers – or even more so, OpenVMS servers. The number of people who can administrate these servers is less than those who work with Windows, which means their expertise is more expensive. For a variety of reasons, UNIX is present less in the average enterprise, and the number of UNIX servers is very likely dwarfed by the number of Windows servers. This is an advantage as the pay scale will be higher, but the disadvantage is that the jobs will be fewer.

When the market is tight, those with more specialized skills will find themselves having to move where the work is, and will have to search further afield for possible openings. It is a trade-off – and it’s your choice. Just be sure you have the facts first before you choose.

Stress Relief: Laugh Out Loud Humour

After a stressful day, if you don’t release that stress it will eat you alive – and there’s more truth than analogy in that statement.

The best humour is doesn’t make you smile – or chuckle – but rather laugh out loud funny. The ideal is humour that makes you laugh uncontrollably. Humour can be serious business, especially as a stress relief.

Humour is, indeed, a very personal thing: what makes some people laugh others will find offensive. After a recent particularly stressful and late night, I found myself wandering through YouTube for my favorite comics. Unfortunately, famous or not, some will be found more often than others.

My favorite comics are these:

  • Bob Newhart
  • George Carlin
  • Bill Cosby
  • Sam Kinison
  • Robin Williams

Personally, I think George Carlin is a comic genius. One thing that I note of virtually every comic listed there: they can take the most mundane things and find the hilarity (I remember George talking about getting milk from the refridgerator!).

Teasers from George Carlin:

  • About “non-stop flights”: “I insist that my flights stop – preferably at an airport!
  • “Of course [the program] was “prerecorded”! When else you going to record it – afterwards?

Business Card Ideas

You don’t need a business to have a business card; if you have a card, you can hand it out to colleagues and to friends and family as necessary. You can use a card to give your personal details out, or to keep your network updated with your information, or as a “note card” if you miss someone.

The Freelance Switch blog had a nice article on business cards, and on some fantastic designs they’ve found. These designs come from a site that is like Flickr for designers: Creattica. Specifically, Creattica has a gorgeous section for business cards.

What a tremendous congregation of creativity! Your imagination will be sparked: I guarantee it.

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Webware 100

CNet has released their 2009 list of the 100 Best Web applications in 10 categories, plus the editor’s choice for the best Web applications that weren’t otherwise included.

There are quite a few, including just about every major browser on the planet. There are a few that are not in the lists, but should be. Here are some of my favorites that are and aren’t included:


Zoho (a winner in the Productivity section) is unlike any other documentation suite online: they have everything – and the most interesting stuff is free. I keep wanting to use them, and would if my work was web-only. One of the most important reasons I like Thinkfree Office is the seamless integration between the desktop and the web; Evernote (another entry) does this too.


Evernote was one of the Editor’s Picks. Evernote is essentially an electronic collection of notes that gets synchronized with their servers and made available to you online. Thus, you can work at your desk with desktop speeds, and let it update to the web so you can look at your notes on the go.


Pidgin (a winner in the Communications category) is the former GAIM instant messaging client, and supports a variety of services, as well as plug-ins. What makes Pidgin so nice is that it runs on everything – it really does. There’s versions for Windows and Linux, a version called Adium for Macintosh, and a text console version called Finch. What’s not to like?


Wikipedia (one of the winners in Search and Reference) is an online encyclopedia that you can edit. If you find a mistake, don’t just complain: fix it! I edit regularly – any time I find bad English, I correct it – doing my part to make Wikipedia an excellent resource.

Not only that, but there is also the French Wikipedia or the Russian Wikipedia – or numerous others that could also use your help – even an Esperanto Wikipedia!

Thinkfree Office

How did they miss Thinkfree Office? This is one of my favorite applications, and I use it daily. I bought the Macintosh version ages ago (before web synchronization was as nice as it is now).

Not giving Thinkfree Office a place in the awards is a real mistake.


This is brand new – perhaps just too new for the awards – but the United States government put all the public data they had available onto Data.gov and made it easily available to all. Certainly, it is of most interest to United States citizens – but a lot of the data should be interesting to others as well.


LinkedIn, to me, is a social networking web site for adults. Professionalism is paramount, and connections can truly be useful and helpful. You can get back in touch with old colleagues and catch up on what they are doing, and more. Not including LinkedIn was a real surprise for me also.


SpiderOak provides excellent backup service with multi-platform support: Windows, Linux – its supported. Old versions of files – and deleted files – can be retrieved from the user interface on whatever platform you are using. Very simple, and very easy.


Toodledo is a To Do List manager: simple, clean, and easy to use. It integrates with iGoogle, with Firefox, and others, along with numerous export and import capabilities. If you are willing to keep your To Do list online (sadly, I wasn’t), this is a must – especially for GTD adherents.


The Read It Later application is no less than brilliant – every time you see a web site you want to read – don’t read it (wasting otherwise productive time): save it and read it later. This is a wonderful idea, and I use it all the time. Now if only I could remember to actually read them….

Wolfram Alpha

WolframAlpha, the new offering from Wolfram is absolute genius. It is like a fact-based search engine – like a cross between Wikipedia, Google, and the CIA World Factbook – but even that doesn’t cover it all. If it has to do with facts or computation, WolframAlpha can handle it.

And that doesn’t even cover Wolfram’s other offerings, like: WolframTones, free computer-generated tones for your mobile phone; Wolfram Demonstrations, explaining and demonstrating mathematical concepts at all skill levels; Wolfram Mathworld, a one-stop resource on mathematics; and even more!

At one time I seriously considered a carreer in mathematics; this site is a mathemetician’s dream come true…

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Working from Home

As a system administrator, you almost certainly will find yourself working from home. Are you productive at home and concentrating on your work? Or is the home life intruding on your work time?

Lifehacker points out a delightful post from Lynn Truong over at Jonathan Fields awake@thewheel blog. In this post, Lynn describes how to separate your work from your home time – even while working from home, and while still making time for the little ones in your life.

Some of the suggestions will be familiar if you’ve considered this at length; in any case, it is a nicely written piece that covers a lot. Go read it!

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Boost Your Career: Certifications

Certifications are a valuable item in this economy, and are useful to bolster and reinforce a background in supporting your chosen environment.

There are a number of certifications, both in type and in provider:

Of course, there are many others. One very good source for quite a few certifications in a broad range of areas is Brainbench. The Brainbench certifications are excellent, but I wouldn’t let that stop you from going for the software developer’s certifications either – get both.

Once you have earned your certifications, you can put them on your wall or in your résumé – or both. The certifications will help, though they are only one of the items that interviewers will look for: most important is hands-on day-to-day experience. However, certifications help give you an advantage over the competition. Go for it!

Foreign Language Improvement

I’ve spoken on the benefits of improving your language skills: sharper mind, expanded technical resources, expanded knowledge, and a lot of other things.

I’ve recently discovered some ways to improve your foreign language online – and have fallen in love with one in particular: Livemocha.com.

This is not the only way – nor should it be – to learn a foreign language. You need to use all your resources. However, Livemocha.com does a good job of trying to do some of that and it helps you in every way it can.

They offer a place for language learners to learn from each other, and to practice speech and writing. There are courses – though they are mostly of the “memorize this vocabulary” type – but everything helps. Given the kind of courses they offer, these classes are very good at what they set out to do. Words and phrases are given to you in a number of ways and you must define them or create them in reply.

There are innumerable ways to assist others in learning your native tongue, and ways to get help.

You can determine who the serious and dedicated users are at a glance – the users are given points based on what they do on the site, and are given awards based on their work.

Try Livemocha.com today!