This and That

Over the last few month I’ve tried to expand my horizons a little bit. Since 2009 I have worked in a few different technical roles, from helping to run data centres, and setup environments for ISV engagements at IBM, to running all systems for a rapidly growing Oracle partner, whilst on the side managing 100 websites including e-commerce sites. That led into my quick stint doing tech support in the Automotive sector before moving into customer facing roles in Jan 2016. Since then I’ve always been running on a few different threads, these have been, loosely:

  • Installs/Config for ERP systems including initial system design
  • Technical training of customers in those ERP systems
  • Technical management of escalated issues (across the world)
  • Cross-team liason for high profile or highly escalated customers
  • Coordination of international team of installations consultants
  • Development of internal tooling for installs/ technical consulting
  • Management of environments for wider team

From my recent posts it’s obvious which areas on that list have received the most focus over the last few months, notably the last two, which is where all the DevOps/Code posts are centred around. The reason so much focus has been on this, and I’ll add at this point a lot of it out of work hours, is because it’s something I enjoy, something I’ve been on the edge of before, and an area of technology that I personally believe we should all be at least aware of, and able to understand the basic principles of.

DevOps was a term coined many years before it became mainstream. Mike Loukides wrote a 20 page book called “What is DevOps” back in June 2012, which is published by the world renowned O’Reilly Media. (http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920026822.do) That’s some time before I came across the term, although it seems I was already aware of some of the practices that now come under that umbrella. Back then I was managing E-Commerce sites, writing PHP websites against MySQL databases and moving a very static, cumbersome “tin-factory” infrastructure over to more dynamic, sustainable growth-capable platform. With a little more time and knowledge at that time I would’ve potentially moved in different directions. I am now starting to close that circle a little from the other side.

For me, career development is crucial, I am more than happy to stay with one company, or in one role, but I will always push to make more of myself, learn new things, get involved with everything possible and break down any and all barriers. I don’t do this to benefit myself, I see it as an opprtunity for me to be a benefit to those around me, both customers and colleagues.

Outside of DevOps activities over the recent months I’ve also been working on my presentation skills, with opportunities to present to colleagues and customers about various technical topics, including System Adminstration, upcoming product changes, best practices etc. This is in part due to being given more free reign with my current role, while we work out what my future roles may or may not include, and that’s if any change at all! In the background, the day to role keeps me busy, planning installs, speaking to new customers about how to deploy, speaking to existing customers about upgrades or enhancements to their systems, all the fun stuff that keeps money in the bank and roofs over heads!

The next few months may get a little busy, well hopefully they will, and all the good stuff will be posted when the chances arise.

Few things to cover…

Firstly, thank you for stopping by, taking time to view my blog, read my posts and hopefully take something away from them.

If you do happen to like the posts on here, then please do say so; retweet, Facebook share, LinkedIn, whatever, it would be great to get more of my content out there, and more of you on here!

Also If you have any post requests or tech questions, please send those over too, Twitter is possibly the best for that @jaward916

Secondly, apologies for the lack of posts during February. Over the Christmas break I had some good ideas which I made lots of notes for then came up with the 4 posts during Januray, however the ideas have dried up (already) and family related things have meant less free weekends. The weekday’s are taken up with the job, typically Sundays are when I get “me” time to do some techy stuff for my benfit rather than for customers!

Finally…

Whilst I don’t have a nice full topic to write up for this week (I promise there are some ideas bouncing around in my head) what I do have is a snippet of 2018 so far in my world of tech/code/software etc.

During January I spent many hours getting to grips with a new major release of the software I work with, as I’m a little bit of a nerd, a lot of those hours were spent in my own time, drilling down into things, working scenarios out, deplyoment strategies etc. What I ended up with by last week was a full test scenario, remeniscient of a real world deployment. Effectivley emulating what a customer would have. The really cool thing is this allows me to very quickly test out scenarios, when a customer reports something “not working” I can run it through my servers and give them an answer same day along the lines of (usually) “try this, I think you’ve done X in the wrong place”. This is in no way a bypass to my wonderful colleagues in Support, but more of a way to assist the customer with getting their deployment up and running. I don’t generally delve into the applications, I’m not that kind of consultant. What I do is design deployments and implement them, I get the back end of a system up and running. The latest version included quite a few new technical enhancements, so getting experienced with them is an essential part of me being able to do my job!

February hasseen a few more interesting engagements for me, site visits all over the place (on top of delivering 2 training courses during January), with some more lined up, possibly even abroad.

What I am being asked to do now is anlyse, review, and in some cases redesign or reimplement deployments. Not because what they have was done wrong to start with, far from it, but more to help them become future-proof, employ best practices and become more agile as the world around us is changing, and the software adjusts to match. There’s no wheel reinvention, just a set of new tyres here and a bit of air there.

I write on here a lot about SQL Server as it is the underlying DB server platform for all systems I support. Another area of SQL that has always interested me is SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services), basically a very smart, sometimes fiddly report generation toolset. What I have been able to do over the last few weeks is take some reports, rip them apart, analyse a few minor but irritating issues and develop solutoins to those problems. The strange thing is that I’ve not been trained in SSRS, or had the change do do anything with it prior ot this. I just saw an issue, delved straight into the SSRS builder and worked it out, for myself. I forgot I had those abillites and it’s been refreshing to remember how good I used to be solving new problems.

I’m thinking some SSRS tips in a post may be some decent content in the future, think I’ll build the scrapbook up on those!

 

That’s it for an update, I’ve also updated the About page on this site to reflect the last 2 years!

 

Epicor Users Group EMEA 2017 Conference

Epicor as a company would be nothing without its customers, and customers wouldn’t get very far without Epicor.
Throw into that mix an array of partners, after all I joined the Epicor world through a partner, and you have a fantastically balanced world of skills, expertise, knowledge, and ideas. More importantly it’s the people, and in the last week I finally got to really understand that community of people, and become a part of it.

On Wednesday, 15th November, 2017 at 08:30 I arrived at the Priest House Hotel, Castle Donnington, UK with an unusual, previously unknown kind of nervous excitement. I had arrived, suited and booted, laptop in tow and ready to showcase myself, represent my company and embrace this wonderful community.
Only 2 weeks prior had I received the invitation to present on Server and SQL Optimisation, a topic I know a fair amount about but the concept of presenting at this level was new to me. That said I think I may have mentioned previously that it was something that interested me, so it was potentially my own doing.
2 weeks to prepare a presentation isn’t a huge amount of time when you have a day job, and a home life to work around, but I relished the challenge and got stuck in, only a few days after the initial request and approval did I discover that I in fact had 2x 1 hour presentation slots…ah… a slightly bigger challenge, but again one to relish.
With 4 days to spare I had 2 presentations written, and a full mirror test complete, with only a slight worry on timings.
Fast forward back to 09:30 on the day and the first presentation begins, 30+ people in the room staring at me wondering how this will go down. 1 hour goes by, maybe a bit more, and it seems to be going ok. The questions are flooding in, I’m somehow managing to respond to all of them, answering everything thrown at me. The feedback continues into the break, a number of people saying “great presentation”, “thanks for the information”, “I’m going to look at X when I get back”. Wow, I actually resonated with some of these people. Bearing in mind that many have been in the Epicor and technology worlds far longer than I have, they seemed to all pick something up from the first one. Great, confidence restored, let’s nail the second presentation.
Before I knew it lunch was served, I was still conversing with various people; customers, partners, ex-colleagues and current ones. It wasn’t until I realised only a sausage roll was left in the room that I had gone through 2 hours of presenting and almost an full hour extra of chatting on only 1 coffee, a mini cinnamon swirl and this sausage roll!
Never before had I talked so much tech on so little caffeine, it was at that point I realised that knowledge, preparation and adrenaline we key to this day.

The EUG EMEA 2017 conference seemed to be a huge success across the 3 days from everything I have seen, the middle day on which I presented was focussed on non-product specific IT related topics. I think the fact I came up against the hot topic of GDPR in my session slots and still had a fairly full room was testament to the fact the nobody knows everything, and everyone wants to know a little more on the subjects of Server and SQL optimisation. The feedback at the time certainly reflects that.

I want to once again thank everyone in the EUG EMEA team for having me, the customers who attended the sessions for their perseverance, great questions and feedback and Epicor for letting me attend and present at fairly short notice. Hopefully this will be the start of a new chapter for me as I look to push on into 2018.

For more info on the Epicor Users Group (EUG) please check out the following:
Web: http://www.epicorusers.org
Twitter: https://twitter.com/eug_emea
Conference Twitter: #EUGEMEA2017

2017 Stats

In my last post I mentioned that I thought my install stats were somewhere in the 3-4 per month range, turns out I wasn’t too far off on that.

Last week I spent a little time updating my personal documentation and pulling together numbers etc. more so for my own confidence boost but also so I have some collateral to back myself up.

The stats read as follows:

please note I only started making my own notes outside of time entry/calendars in March 2017:

In 7 Months:

  • 24 Technical Engagements (categorised as over half a day solid consulting, not including “support” style assistance) – >3 per month
  • 22 different customers
  • 6 Go-lives supported (3 new/3 upgrades)
  • 8 international projects supported with training/documentation reviews etc.
  • 5/24 were on site engagements
  • 2 formal sysadmin training cources delivered
  • 4 cloud-based upgrades

So yes, I am in the 3-4 per month category and it’s nice to realise I am in the area I thought!

2016 Update

If you have seen my other (more personal) blog you will have come across the post I did recently regarding how 2016 has flown by and so many things have changed career wise. If you’ve not read that feel free to jump on over here: http://johnnyward.me.uk/newblog/a-year-of-two-halves/

As this is my technology blog I though I’d share a quick update on skills and technologies that have advanced through this year, the most noticeable are:

  • SQL Skills – yes I know more than just installing now, I can troubleshoot performance issues and tweak setups to ensure a nice smooth running system.. Maintenance of SQL is also one of my most common tasks across many customers.
  • ERP – a broad subject, but I will break down a little. Firstly I am more than capable of a “vanilla” install of Epicor ERP 10/10.1, I’m also capable of updating/upgrading those platforms. On top of that I can also talk tech with IT/ERP managers across all industries to help spec, and install/deploy the Epicor ERP platforms. This also includes a number of additional installs (such as web, Enterprise Search, education tools etc.) and enhancements, such as those for document management and CRM.
  • Hyper-V – not something I’d had the opportunity to play with much before, however I am now capable of installation, deployment, management and maintenance of Hyper-V 2012+ platforms, and I have to say, what a great platform it is.
  • VMware ESX – my knowledge in VMware has also jumped this year, having had the opportunity to manage 2x ESX 6 environments in recent months and upgrade a couple of 5s to 5.5 I am once again familiar with the VMWare suite and as always find it an exciting challenge.
  • Remote Desktop Services – sure we all know a little Terminal Services from back in the day, but having now deployed around 5 of these 2012R2 beauties this year, i am exceptionally impressed. Easy to install and configure, and just as easy to troubleshoot and fix, provided you have the time and mental space in order to do so!

Coming up in 2017…

So it seems there may be a few changes ahead, ones that will potentially make my career, and about time too!

The biggest 2017 challenges seem to be:

  • Cloud – funnily enough the UK hasn’t quite taken to it fully yet…
  • Solutions – how can a product be further enhanced to meet a customer’s longer term goals…
  • Tools – might need a course in C# and a few late nights

Watch this space…