All posts tagged covid

In a recent article (paywall), Elon Musk has once again turned his wrath to remote workers.  Elon has a lot of good ideas, but also many bad ones, such as naming his child “X AE A-XII”.  This is certainly proof that we don’t need to take everything he says seriously.

Elon has said that those who want to work remote are “detached from reality” and give off “Marie Antoinette vibes” (I will forgive his apparent misunderstanding of history).  His argument, to the extent he even articulates it, seems to have two angles:

  • First, it is “morally wrong” to work remotely because so many people in the world cannot do their jobs from home.
  • Second, the productivity of remote workers is not the same.  (I’m extrapolating a bit here.)

I don’t think the first argument is terribly serious.  Just because some people (food service workers, factory workers, etc.) cannot work from home does not mean I should not.  Long before remote work, some people worked in clean offices while others worked in filthy coal mines.  We can debate the injustices of life, but I’m not convinced this disparity should guide office policies.

As to the second, well, as manager of many large teams, I can say that some of my most productive workers are fully remote, i.e., they work entirely from home.  I can think of two or three of my most respected and productive employees who have this arrangement.  Because they don’t live near a Cisco office, they have no choice.  I recently promoted one of them to prinicpal, a major accomplishment that is not given out lightly.  So, we cannot say that working from home automatically means lack of productivity.

On the other hand, I’ve had some very poor performers who worked from home.  This was particularly the case during the lockdowns.  I remember one engineer who seemed to be doing nothing, and when I checked her calendar it was empty.  She took a job elsewhere, finally.  But I, as any good boss should, was well aware of her lack of contribution and would have done something had she not taken the initiative herself.

Does being in the office guarantee productivity?  Not at all!  I can sit around and watch YouTube videos at work just the same as I can from home.  I remember a guy who sat near me many years ago, and had a rearview mirror on his monitor.  He was always playing Solitaire and every time I, or anyone else, walked by his desk he would glance in the mirror and minimize the game.  He wasn’t fooling anyone.

For me, the noise and distractions of the office often make productive work difficult.  Thankfully, post-lockdown, several Cisco buildings are virtually empty, and I decamp to one of them if I need to get actual work done.  Pre-COVID I used to head out to a coffee shop, put in earphones, and get productive work done there.  Open offices are the worst for this.  They make serious work nearly impossible.

Then there’s this…  Let me be open about it.  I never agreed with the lockdowns.  When they first implemented them, I wrote every congressman, city councilman, county supervisor, the health department, the governor, the president, and pretty much anyone I could think of with my opposition to what seemed to me a lunatic idea, and totally unneeded.  Now you can disagree with me vehemently, you can think I’m a jerk, and that’s fine.  But here’s the point:  Almost all the large corporations bought into it.  They could have fought these mandates, but they went along with them, shut their doors, and embraced remote work.  Many started marketing campaigns (and still have them) around hybrid work.  You cannot go 100% in for the thing and then make a 180 degree shift a few years later because you regret your decision.  The outcome of the lockdowns–a lot of people unwilling to return to the office–was entirely predictable.  I think corporations need to embrace the world they created, and live with the consequences of their choices.  Your workers want to be remote, let them be remote.  Sure, give them incentives to come into the office and be together.  Encourage them to do so.  But accept the reality of the new world.

Elon Musk reopened his factories mid-lockdown.  He may not know how to name a child, but I’ll at least give him points for consistency.

My blogging has been a little slow of late.  First there was Cisco Live.  Then there was the post-Cisco Live slump of not wanting to do anything.  Then there was the Cisco’s fiscal year-end crunch along with some very hot projects.  Then there was the departure of one of our key execs, and subsequent excitement.  Then one of my direct reports fell gravely ill, and there was both the stress of that along with the burden of picking up the management of his team.  Then there is simply the fact that, in order to blog, one has to come up with ideas.  And often I don’t have any.

So, let me get back into it with a bit of a diary entry.  Cisco Live was back in person for the first time since COVID began.  (And despite the rigid COVID protocols, tons of people got it, hmmm.)  Cisco Live, as I’ve said before, is not an easy show to put on.  It’s a massive effort, and we had not done it for two years.  Some of the key people who used to organize it left, and those of us who had done it before had some muscles atrophy.  It was not, shall we say, smooth.  But it happened, and seeing fellow network folks again in person made me realize many things.  Like the fact that I am the only male American network engineer who does not own a pair of cargo shorts.

It also made me remember the camaraderie of our industry, which is half the fun.  One of my hobbies is electrical work (not as dangerous as it sounds, usually), and there is a YouTube electrician who shot some videos at an electrician’s convention at Mandalay, the same convention center where we host Cisco Live.  I’m sure he hung out at the same places, felt the sense of camaraderie that only electricians have, etc.  There’s always a great feeling being a member of a club, whatever that club may be.  Speaking your own language, reminiscing on how things were in the past, and perhaps about how the youngsters never had to configure dialer maps or CSU/DSUs.  Our club, the people who gravitate towards network engineering, is a special bunch.  Perhaps that electrician can same the same thing.  Perhaps I’m a bit sentimental given one of my colleagues is ill.  All I can say is, I missed everyone and enjoyed being back in person.

For the first time in a while I failed to win a distinguished speaker award.  Cisco Live audiences humble the proud.  I delivered my session on the “CCIE in an SDN world”, but the old 90 minute session was crammed into 45 minutes because of the format change.  I couldn’t quite get the rhythm right.  Also, I had to deliver it at 8am.  I’m just not a morning person, and I’m zero for zero with DS awards delivering in that time slot.  I also had only 40 people.  I used to pack in 500.  It was a smaller show, but the audience was small nonetheless.  I was (finally) inducted into the Cisco Live Hall of Fame two years after I qualified, but perhaps I’m like an old movie star, washed up and waning in popularity.  I actually like how challenging the audiences are, however.  They keep you on your toes and force you to never get complacent.

Another question is whether the message resonates any more.  When I started doing this session, it was amidst the barrage of messaging from vendors (like us) that networking was changing forever, that AI and automation and intuitive networks would end network engineering as we know it.  My session basically said: well, it’s not quite the case.  You can automate, but good luck if you don’t understand what you automate.  Several years on, I wonder if the message is just so apparent that it’s not as needed as it was before.

Still, Cisco Live is my favorite place to present.  I do a ton of internal-facing presentations, many to executives, and each one is written, reviewed, and delivered by committee.  There’s no freedom in it at all.  The words and messages are tightly controlled.  What I love about Cisco Live is that, as an established speaker, I can pretty much present whatever I want.  I can build my own slides.  I don’t even need much of a review.

I’ll leave it there.  A rambling, diary post, perhaps not of a lot of interest.  At least it got me blogging again!