As part of our preparation for our upcoming move to the Philippines we’ll be holding a moving sale on 8/14/10 and 8/15/10. If you’re around the Portland area, feel free to drop by. I’ve put together a page listing some of the bigger items that we’ll be selling. You can check it out here: moving sale list. Hope to see you there!
The Big Move
The two or three people who actually read this blog might be wondering why things suddenly went silent a couple months ago. The explanation is quite simple. I reached the cusp of a long term goal that involved a big career change, and I wasn’t ready for my current employer to find about about it just yet. The decision process was also quite intense, so I pulled back on social media altogether to focus on making the right call.
By now you may be wondering OK, what’s the big deal anyway? It’s this: I have been interested in living and working in another country for a number of years now. I always thought that it was unlikely that it would actually happen. But it did, and what’s more, I was actually offered two very different positions in two very different places.
The first position was a systems engineering and information security job in Kuwait working as a civilian contractor at a US military base. The second position was a data modeler and reporting lead for a large investment bank in the Philippines. I was offered the Kuwait position first. The money was really good, so I accepted. Then a few days later the Philippines offer came through. It was for less money, so at first I thought I’d stick with the Kuwait job. But then I started really looking at the numbers and realized that I wasn’t taking cost of living and travel costs into account. When I factored that in, everything came out pretty close, and both positions penciled out significantly ahead of my current situation.
In the end, I chose the Philippines, because the Kuwait position required a 60 hour per week schedule, and I felt that the weather and the culture would be less amenable to my family. My wife is from the Philippines, so I already have a fair idea what to expect there. Yes, there are some some things that aren’t as nice as in the US, but it will be a good experience for us and our kids, at least for a while. And we should be able to save some money too.
The other advantage to going to the Philippines is that I have long had an interest in building outsource businesses. The Philippines has become a significant outsourcing destination over the last few years. I definitely have a lot of great ideas for startups that I should really be able to kick into gear after I get there.
We are scheduled to leave Portland on August 28. So it’s coming right at us. We definitely have a TON of things to get done before we leave. The big moving sale is planned for next weekend (August 14 and 15), and there will be lots of stuff going on craigslist.
There’s a lot more of this story to be told, but I’ll save those thoughts for future posts. Stay tuned…
Jack of All Trades, Master of None?
As I’ve considered how to steer my career path, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about how to build and present skills to potential customers and employers. Experts often suggest to specialize and appeal to a specific niche. But then other experts say that companies don’t want narrow focus specialists and that they would rather have well rounded cross disciplinary skill sets.
As I thought about how to reconcile those two viewpoints, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be possible to combine the best of both ideas by looking for an overarching theme or business objective that ties together multiple skillsets. In other words, build a higher level niche where the value proposition is that the whole of the combined skills is greater than the sum of the parts.
In my case, I have a strong background in enterprise software development, database administration, and network engineering. I also recently kicked off a project to add information security to my portfolio. That left me wondering whether I was a developer, engineer, or security guy. Then I remembered a comment that Buck Woody from Microsoft made during a presentation to my local SQL developer’s group meeting last month. He pointed out that he thought of himself as a Data Professional, not just a DBA.
I can position the Data Professional role as an umbrella concept that can encompass the development, DBA, network and security skillsets. As a Data Professional I can deliver value by enabling a business to create, interact with, and securely store their data. That may consist of coding an application that accesses data in a database (developer), optimizing SQL queries (DBA), developing and implementing a backup strategy (DBA, infrastructure), adopting encrypted storage (security), designing an enclave network to keep data safe (network, security), or developing and deploying a business continuity and disaster recovery plan (security).
This concept can apply to any group of skills, not just IT. It’s important to remember that when you’re marketing yourself (or anything else for that matter), it’s always about benefits, not features. Employers and customers don’t care if you’re a Renaissance man. Skills and experience are only of value to the extent that they fill a customer or employer need. The challenge is to find the overlap between your interests and specific needs that customers or employers find valuable, then find ways to map your skills and experience to those needs.
Housing Crisis Redux
It’s been a while since I wrote about my housing crisis frustrations. Thankfully I got things wound down with my property that I was selling (more details here and here). At the end of the day, my HELOC lender refused to release liability so I ended up up filing Chapter 7. I couldn’t see spending the rest of my life paying off a loan for a house I no longer own. If the banks and Wall Street hadn’t played games that tanked the market, I wouldn’t have been underwater in the first place, so I don’t feel particularly bad about making that move. It gives me a fresh start and allows me to move on.
If you’re in a bad housing situation, don’t just wait and hope it will get better. There are no guarantees and few indications that things will significantly improve any time soon.
I have three friends that are also involved with short sales. One is selling and two are buying. The friend that is selling has a clean offer, but it’s for less than the lender thinks the house is worth. The lender needs to do their homework – the house needs a lot of repairs and won’t bring the money that the lender thinks that it will.
One of my buyer friends just finished his purchase. It turned out to be quite an ordeal, in part because he used VA financing. The VA inspector demanded some repairs which the lender and the seller refused to pay for. He had a solid approval, so he chose to go ahead and pay for the repairs out of pocket. That was a brave and in my opinion risky choice, but it worked out. He closed a couple weeks ago and is now moved in.
My other buyer friend is thus far in a less desirable position. He found a house that he very much likes, put together a deal, and made an offer. Again, the second won’t release liability. But in his case, the seller refuses to close unless both the first and second mortgage holders release her from liability. I really don’t understand why these second mortgage holders take this approach. In most cases, the homeowner would keep the house and keep making the payments if they were not in financial distress. How can lenders think that they will really recover enough from a homeowner that has already decided to walk for it to be worth the effort? I just don’t understand the rationale. All I can think of is that they want to keep the loans on their books as an asset regardless of whether they are performing or not. You can read more about this sale at http://wellsfargolies.blogspot.com/.
All in all, the pain is far from over. There just aren’t any economic indicators showing that demand will increase, and it will likely decrease when the tax rebates expire. I’ll be interested to see how things play out over the next few years.
Time For A Change. Career Change, That Is.
Over the past few months, I’ve come to realize that I’ve had very much the same job for a long time. I’ve been in the same position at the same grade level with approximately the same responsibilities for eight years now. And I had similar positions for five or six years before that. That’s a long time.
I had high hopes of striking it rich by investing in real estate and starting up side businesses. Unfortunately, I was about five years too late. I have come to realize that in today’s economy, investing in real estate or starting up side businesses isn’t going to make me independently wealthy overnight.
While I was focusing my growth efforts elsewhere, I pretty much left my career on autopilot. That allowed stagnation and distractions to really hurt my performance. Thankfully I have turned around those performance problems. But re-engaging with my day job really brought the fact that I haven’t really grown or progressed for a while back into focus.
When I took a step back and thought about what I enjoyed doing and what I didn’t, I came to realize that I don’t particularly love being a software developer. When I combined that with the fact that software development is always subject to a lot of outsourcing pressure, I realized that I need to do something else.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what things I did and didn’t enjoy about my daily activities both at work and at home. I came to realize that I really enjoy building systems and networks. But I knew that just building systems or being a network administrator would be a step back for me. So I thought about about what I might be able to do that would leverage those skills, but challenge and stretch me.
I thought about the fact that I enjoyed building personal firewalls and VPN appliances and recalled seeing that information security was a growth area within IT. I did some more research which confirmed that security was indeed a growth area, and that my combination of software development and networking skills would be very applicable.
Fortunately I found a good resource for further information within my current social network. My wife’s cousin’s husband (try saying that real fast three times!) transitioned from an IT manager for a medium sized company to an information security consultant. He was kind enough to tell me about his experience with the transition and how information security was working out for him. He said that he was very pleased with how things came out and was liking his new role. We also discussed qualifications. I learned that one of the most frequently looked for qualifications is the Certified Information Systems Security Professional, usually abbreviated to CISSP.
So I looked into what it takes to get the CISSP certification. It consists of a six hour, 250 question exam across ten knowledge domains, and requires five years of experience across two or more of the knowledge domains, or four years of experience with an appropriate college degree. I went back and finished college in 2008 (more about that here), so all I need is four years. I verified that I could meet the experience requirement, then went out and bought two review guides and dug in. After a few weeks of hitting the books, I felt prepared for the test.
Last Saturday was the big day. I felt that the exam went well, but I still don’t know whether I passed or not. It’s a pencil and paper test that is sent back to the certification body’s headquarters for scoring. I hope to find out within the next week or two.
Assuming that I pass, the next step will be looking for a position to put my new skills to work. My first preference at this point is to find an internal transfer at my current employer. I have a great commute, I like my seniority, and I enjoy working for one of the world’s great tech companies. That being said, if another outside opportunity presents itself, I will consider it on its merits. But the bar is pretty high. One key benefit of staying where I’m at is full tuition reimbursement. I’m considering a Master’s degree. It would be really nice to have that funded.
One thing that would really entice me is an expat position, particularly in Southeast Asia. My wife and I really love to travel. She is from the Philippines, so we have strong ties to that part of the world.
My long term goal is to build a location independent freelance or consultancy business. But I need to save for a while and build some experience before taking that on.
All in all, I’m feeling very positive about this change. It’s good to break out of the rut that I’ve been in for the last few years. I’m sure that there will be challenges, but I’m willing to work hard to overcome them.
Photo credit: The fork for Wernfigin on the road to Pentre’r-felin
© Copyright Bonelli and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
How to Securely Access Your Home or Small Biz Network From Anywhere in the World (Part 1)
I realized as I started writing this article that I have been playing with VPN and routers for a LONG time. Amazing how 10 years can just disappear into the rear view mirror.
Anyway, to the topic at hand. Most of us have desktop machines, servers, or both on our home or small biz network. I’ll just say home network from here on for convenience. The principles are the same in either case.
If you’re like me, sometimes you’re at work, or at a client site, or sitting in a hotel room somewhere and you find that you want to work with a file that you didn’t remember to copy to your laptop. Very frustrating, and there’s not a lot you can do unless you’re a complete idiot running an open network without a firewall.
But I wouldn’t be writing this article if there wasn’t a solution. Enter the VPN. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. Think of it as creating your own small private pipeline to your home network inside of the big pipelines of the internet. Software running on your laptop detects traffic that’s headed for your home network, encrypts it, and sends it to corresponding software on a server or router on your home network. The router decrypts the traffic and sends it along to your home network inside your firewall.
In the past, VPN solutions were complex and expensive. Over time, better hardware and open source software have brought the cost of setting up and running a VPN down to very reasonable levels. If you have an old PC laying around, it can be done for the cost of an extra network card.
Over the years, I’ve played with any number of VPN solutions. Off the top of my head, I can recall (in roughly chronological order)
- IPSEC running on LRP and LEAF Linux-on-a-floppy distributions
- Intel Net Structure (proprietary, based on Shiva Smart Tunneling)
- OpenVPN on IPCop
- OpenVPN on DD-WRT
- Cisco AnyConnect
- OpenVPN on Smoothwall
If you followed any of those links, you probably discovered that there’s a whole bunch of technical complexity involved with setting up and running a VPN. And if you didn’t, don’t worry. I’ve already suffered through that complexity, and I’m sharing what works for me.
What I am running on my home network today is the OpenVPN on Smoothwall solution. It works flawlessly, is completely based on free open source software, and has very modest hardware requirements. I’m running on a Celeron 600 with 1GB RAM and a 4GB Compact Flash card. Most of the time, utilization is in the single digits.
In Part 2, I’ll go into the specifics of how to build a Smoothwall router and how to hook it up to your home network. Part 3 will cover installing and configuring OpenVPN, and how to connect.