Friday, December 30, 2011

2011: A Year Of Learning

Hello everyone. I feel like I have abandoned my blog but I have been quite busy lately working in a few projects. I have been writing though, with two blog entries and two articles for the International Legal Technology Association, ILTA.

What I want to accomplish with this post is not only summarize the highlights of my year, in terms of my career, but also what I learned from each project and situation and how I grew as consequence of them. So here I go.

I thought it was appropriate to start with this blog. It was launched in February with a goal of posting at least once a month but most importantly adding value. I did pretty well until the end of the year, when I got busy with our Windows 7 Roll out which I actually blogged about here and here. I feel like I continued to improve and define my writing style, and I learned how powerful social networks could really be. I never thought that I would reach over 1ooo people in three different continents with just a few posts and I hope I am adding value. Furthermore, I confirmed something that I know and practice; not taking action in your ideas and projects is a bad habit. Keep posting is a commitment that I made to myself and I am happy with the results primarily because I also participated in our ILTA Connected Community blog, but there are a couple of entries that I started and I think that would have been great and timely but never finished. So the take away is that once we have an idea or commit to something we must take action and finish it.

Many of you know that I serve as the Servers Operations & Security Peer Group VP for the International Legal Technology Association, ILTA and we launched a new blog which we hope will add value to our members. You can read not only our posts, but other formidable entries regarding Legal Technology here. In addition I wrote an article on Network Security for ILTA’s Risky Business White Paper and another for their Peer to Peer Magazine which describes how I work on strengthening my mind to achieve results and goals which you can read here. Again, I was reminded that I really need to make sure that I know and understand what I am writing about, which is the case, because of the impact that it could have in others. I re-affirmed that the goal is to add value.

I was pretty busy at Nexsen Pruet early in the year with infrastructure projects that included enhancing our dual MPLS network architecture by adding a second router to each location (formerly dual-homed in a single router). I learned more about BGP and EIGRP routing during this project and that while our network got more robust, it also did get more complicated. I also learned that Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity (DRBC) is an ongoing process that needs to be tested and adjusted properly as network and system topologies evolve. Besides, I again confirmed the importance of keeping good network and systems documentation up to date.

Four other major projects took place: an upgrade to our Video Conference infrastructure (VC), which I posted about here, the introduction of Application Level Monitoring through Riverbed’s Cascade appliance, expansion of Mobile Device fleet by introducing iPhones and MobileIron as our MDM solution, and a merger. I learned that while our VC system was heavily used the quality of experience by both the participants and IT folks in our team was very poor. Yes the investment was hefty, but the user experience has improved dramatically and in the last 2-3 months the adoption of desktop video both internally and externally has grown and is already in demand for 2012. That in addition to the ease of management tools of the new systems has probed the investment worthy.

We now have a better idea of what is going on in our network as far of traffic. We had been using Netflow collectors for a while which gave us a good picture of who was doing what, but I now personally have a much stronger understanding of how our applications interact with users and each other. Cascade gives us a great picture of all pieces interacting in a user action within our network and when there is a problem, it could tell us where it is, whether it is the network, servers, or clients. We are still on learning mode with this tool.

The introduction of iPhones and a merger kept me busy for a while. Whereas I learned a lot about mobile technologies and enhanced my knowledge of general security practices, I also discovered one a new passion on these two projects: Project Management. I have been managing projects since I became the Network Manager at the firm especially around telephony and facilities having c0-managed the last office move from a technology standpoint. The reason I like PM and that I will make an effort to continue to learn about this topic is because it gives me skills outside IT that I feel I need in order to continue to advance my career, specially so Risk Management, an area of great interest to me at the moment. I am not at a PMP level yet but I think that I am doing well and in fact, I have been tasked with building our Technology Project Management practice at the firm and now have a very talented PM reporting to me.

The rest of the year was dedicated to our Windows 7 and Office 2010 rollout. I learned so much that I don’t know where to start; from how many specialty applications we are running, to how attorneys and their staff work and use those apps, to how successful you could be when everyone is on board and rowing together towards the same goal. This was the most rewarding, and one of the most successful projects that I have been part of, and again, project management and planning was the key. My role during the project was of Deployment Manager in two different offices and Project Manager in two others. I learned a lot about how attorneys at different offices and practicing different laws work, and how unique their practices are. The most satisfying part of the project though, was seeing how so many talented people in our Technology Department grew during this project. This project also let me understand how important making adjustments while staying focus is; things go wrong, get delayed or even completely pushed out of the initial plan, but you must remain focused on the end goal and adjust as you go, which means that you must evaluate where you are constantly.

I will never want to stop learning on this area, period. It is such a broad and complex, yet intriguing topic that I think evolution is the key to its mastering, if there is such thing. Anyway, as mentioned earlier I lead a group of legal technology professionals for ILTA. I got appointed as the VP for the Servers Operations Peer Group in August. One thing that I learned firsthand is how important succession is. My predecessor, Bob DuBois, did a great job getting me ready for the transition by assigning task with great visibility into both our team and the whole organization. Task that might seem trivial such as participating in calls with his peer officers or running our meetings really built confidence and got me ready to take it to the next level. This is something I have been doing since day one I became a manager but I had never seen in practice. I got promoted to a management role like many others because of achievements and results in the operations area without little management training or experience and it was a little tough at the beginning, but while adjusting and keeping focus made a difference then, I can now appreciate how much better it could’ve been if we planned ahead. I also learned how to deal with a larger team and building a new team, not to mention how different it is to manage your team at your company compared to managing a team of volunteers.

I also learned that leadership is about value, communication and helping others grow. Bob did a great job helping me transition to my Officer role and I recognized that and will always try to apply it as a way to help other grow. As we were getting ready for full deployment of Win7 my director and other project leaders recognized that the 3rd party Project Management that we had hired for the project would not be a good fit going forward. He did a great job getting us to a point but things started to not go so well during the first office deployment. My Director approached me and asked me to take over as the Lead PM because we had discussed moving PM under me based on success in projects that I had led. Because of my passion for this area I was excited and honored by just being asked to take over such an important task. However, I also recognize an opportunity to build and help someone grow. We had hired our current PM a few years ago as a PM, but he never really had a chance to lead any project because of many different reasons. I saw this as his chance to grow into the role and gain credibility. He had just completed his Project+ certification and I ask my boss if he would be willing to let him lead the project instead. He hesitated a bit but I asked him to trust me, and most importantly, to trust him and he agreed with the condition that I stayed on top of it behind the scenes, which I did by mainly emphasizing communications. The rest of the project was a big success and I was greatly satisfied by seeing this person succeed when people doubted him.

So what is it about value? This year, during some hard times when the dark side wanted to take over me, I really had to dig and rediscover my core values. I learned that if I stick to those my whole life will make more sense to me and my family anyway, and I will in turn, be able to add more value to those around me. I thank Randi Mayes, Executive Director of ILTA, for her wise words on this topic and continued commitment to helping ILTA's officers and volunteers to grow.

My most precious take away about leadership, is that I am now learning how to apply all of these concepts to my personal life. While I think that friends and family have always looked up to me and willingly followed me, I never saw it as an opportunity to lead. Leading my family is my most important task and growing together as successful people is my most rewarding and precious treasure and I can now do it with a leadership approach which is enhancing our already strong relationship and making our core values stronger. It doesn’t get any better than that!

That's it. It was a year of learning, and it will always be. I will soon post on what is ahead for the 2012 year. I hope that it bring energy, health and prosperity to all of you and your families.

Here to a great 2011 and an even better 2012! Happy New Year!


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