Open source can save a lot of time but it does come with some conditions

Open source can save a lot of time but it does come with some conditions
Image Credit: phradaka

I must confess that I have a deep need to create all of my own code. I sorta feel as though if I didn’t write it, then it really should not be part of the final product. However, even I know that this is wrong. It takes a lot of time and more often than not a lot of very smart people to develop good code. Not every company can employ the right people or have the time that it would take to write all of the code that they need to create a final working product. It turns out that there is a solution to this problem: open source software.

Open Source Helps You To Do More

So just exactly what is open source software? To put it simply, a group of programmers have gotten together and because they had a shared need, they have created a piece of software that does something. It could be a database, a GUI framework, or just about anything. However, once they were done, they took things a step further and made the software that they had created freely available to anyone who wants to use it. They are not expecting to get paid and if your IT manager skills tells you that it meets the needs of your team, then you are permitted to get a copy of their software and use it in any way that you see fit.

Your IT manager training should have taught you that using open source software can be a huge time savings for any team. Some teams have estimated that it could have taken them up to 9,000 hours to develop the same functionality that they were able to get for free from an open source software package. That would have taken then 375 days and would have easily cost the company US$500,000 or more. The other issue is that if they had created the code themselves, it would have been proprietary code that only they were using. That means any bugs or flaws in the code would have to have been found by them.

This all leads to one of the biggest advantages of using open source software in addition to its free price. Since the software is freely available, there will generally be a lot of people who have started to use it. This means that if there are any issues with the software, these people have probably already found it and reported it. The people who originally developed the software are often joined by other people who appreciate what they’ve done. Together these people form a community of talented software developers who maintain the software and fix issues even as they add new features. This is very much like commercial software.

Open Source Comes With Some Conditions

Although I think that we can all agree that stumbling across free software that performs some task that your IT team needs to have done is always considered to be good news, there are some issues associated with open source software that you need to be aware of. The first of these has to do with the license that comes with the open source software that you’ll be using. These licenses generally detail issues such as how the open source software can be modified or shared with other people. Under a number of licenses, if you team extends the functionality of the open source software, then you are obligated to share your extensions with the world.

If you start to use a piece of open source software, then you are really signing up to become a member of the community of people who both use and support the software. What this means is that if you find something wrong with the software when you are using it, then you are obligated to not just complain about it. What you need to do is to document it, report what you’ve found, and perhaps even take the time to suggest how best to go about fixing it. If your fix gets accepted by the people who are maintaining the software, then your status will change and you’ll become a contributor. Your speaking up will make maintaining the software just a little bit easier for everyone involved.

You need to understand that you are not dealing with commercially supported software. You don’t have a support contract for your open source software. What this means for you is that if and when you encounter something that is not working the way that you think that it should be, you need to take action. You’ll need to go out onto the web and check the various forums to see if another user has encountered the same problem – generally somebody has. If you are the first, then you’re going to have to ask for some help. Here’s the trick: you need to ask nicely. You are in no position to demand that anyone do anything for you – remember, you don’t have a support contract. The software is being maintained by volunteers so you need to be nice about your request if you want to get any help.

What All Of This Means For You

Developing software is hard work. It can take a long time, require a big team, and end up costing the company a lot of money. However, it turns out that there is a way to speed this process up. If your team chooses to use open source software then you can get a lot of functionality for free. However, as with everything in life, open source software does come with some strings attached.

Open source software comes about when a group of software developers encounter a problem that they decide that they want to solve. They create a piece of software to address the issue that they’ve encountered. Once the software has been created, they offer it to others for free. These people generally stay associated with the software project in order to fix bugs and add new features. This is almost like an IT team building exercise.

If you choose to use open source software you need to be aware of a few issues. Open source software comes with a license that may determine how you can modify and share it. Once you start to use the software, you become part of its community. Finally, you don’t have a paid support contract and so you need to make sure that you ask for help nicely.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: If you use open source software, then you do you think that you should tell people who buy your software that you are using open source software?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Despite the arrival of a multitude of different ways for us to communicate with each other via all of the different social media tools that have shown up over the past few years, it turns out that we still use email as the primary way that we communicate in the office. We’ve been doing this for a long time and you’d think that our IT manager skills would have allowed us to become very good at using it. However, if you take a look at a lot of the different emails that each of us receives every day, it’s pretty clear that a lot of us could still use some help in learning how to create better emails.

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If you do this, then you can't be a good IT manager

If you do this, then you can’t be a good IT manager
Image Credit: Marc Delforge

You know, we spend a lot of time talking about what we think that a good IT manager should be doing. We explore how they should use their IT manager skills to manage their team, how they can provide good feedback and how they can take care of all of the administrative things that come along with the job. However, what we probably don’t spend enough time talking about are the things that an IT manager should NOT be doing. There have got to be a bunch of these, but, based on our IT manager training, what is the #1 thing that an IT manager should not do?

It’s All About Sleep

It turns out that how much sleep an IT manager gets is really, really important. It can have a huge impact on the quality of work that we do. I’ve been talking with some newly-minted IT managers and they have been bragging. They’ve been bragging about how much time they have been spending at work. They talk about 16-hour days. They talk about all of the things that they are responsible for getting done and, more than one has used this phrase when talking with me, they can “… rest when they are dead.”

In all honesty, I think that they have this all wrong. I personally think that getting enough sleep is a critical responsibility that we all share. If you are going to be walking around all of the time being exhausted, then I’m thinking that you are an idiot. The effects of not getting enough sleep will start to show up quickly. There have been a number of different studies that have shown that as we go without sleep for more and more days, we progressively become dumber and dumber. If you think that you can do good work on little or no sleep, then you are just too tired to notice that you are doing poor work.

One of the most important things that too few of us understand about not getting enough sleep is that it changes who we are. It impacts everyone that we interact with. When you are not getting enough sleep, you become cranky and irritable. Interacting with your team will become harder to do because you will be less understanding of their issues, less tolerant of their shortcomings, and less patient in your dealings with them. Meetings will become a waste of your time because you’re going to find that it’s hard for you to pay attention to what’s going on and you’re not going to be able to relate to the issues that are being discussed.

Why Is Sleep So Important?

All too often when I’m talking with (mostly) new IT managers, I’ll be told that they are just going to be working this hard / getting such little sleep for awhile while they “get things under control”. There’s a problem with this kind of thinking. We humans are what are called “creatures of habit.” Once we start to do something one way, we tend to keep doing it that way. If you start working long hours and getting too little sleep when you take over an IT manager job, then what’s going to happen is that you are going doing this as time goes on. The final outcome of all of this is that you’ll become burned out, get sick, and leave your job.

So what’s an IT manager to do? It turns out that the right thing to do when you come into a new job is to get plenty of sleep. Use this time to form a good habit. There are a lot of benefits of doing this. You will start each and every day better. You will be a better colleague to your peers and a better boss to your team. One of the things that we tend to forget is that we can’t turn our brains off at night when we are sleeping. This means that people who get more sleep are often more creative and better problem solvers.

Life is life. There will be situations where emergencies at work come up and you are going to be the only person who can deal with them. There will also be projects that your team is working on that have deadlines that can’t be moved and they will require and extra effort from you as the end date approaches. It turns out that it’s ok if in situations like this you don’t get enough sleep. This is because this type of exhaustion is not a sustained state of being. Instead, it’s a temporary state that will go away on a fixed date. However, you want to make sure that these types of events that interrupt your getting a good night’s sleep are both few and far between. Just keep in mind what else the scientists have discovered: we will die faster without sleep than we will without food.

What All Of This Means For You

As IT managers who want to become better at doing our job, we are always on the hunt to discover things that we should be doing like IT team building. It turns out that this coin has another side – the things that we need to make sure that we are not doing. Skipping sleep is something that many new IT managers not only do, but then like to brag about. It turns out that they are making a mistake.

Sleep is important. How much sleep you get can have a direct impact on the quality of the work that you do. The lack of sleep has a negative impact on your intelligence. When you don’t get enough sleep, you become someone that nobody wants to deal with and your ability to manage your team decreases. If you start skipping sleep when you start a new job, you need to be careful because you are forming a habit that may stay with you. There will be situations where you’ll be required to spend more time and get less sleep, but these are temporary situations.

We all like to sleep. Our bodies have no problem telling us when we are not getting enough sleep. We need to understand that skipping sleep to work more will only result us doing poorer quality work. We need to take the time to get enough sleep and make sure that when we are at work, we are at our best. The next time that you are thinking about staying late at work and skipping sleep, think about how wonderful it feels to go to sleep in your bed and then go home and do it!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: How many hours of sleep do you think that you require each night in order to be operating at your best?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental IT Leader Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental IT Leader Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I must confess that I have a deep need to create all of my own code. I sorta feel as though if I didn’t write it, then it really should not be part of the final product. However, even I know that this is wrong. It takes a lot of time and more often than not a lot of very smart people to develop good code. Not every company can employ the right people or have the time that it would take to write all of the code that they need to create a final working product. It turns out that there is a solution to this problem: open source software.

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