Zimbra Next Generation Email

zimbra logoI was doing a search on Wisconsin on one of the blogs and realized the University of Wisconsin was using this email collaboration suite, Zimbra. It looks as though it has been purchased by Yahoo. This open source project handles many features using AJAX and provides many advantages over traditional email clients. The back end makes it even more interesting. I have been using Gmail, but I question it’s security so I may be giving this a try.

Check it out for yourself: http://www.zimbra.com/

Contract Work-No Guarantees

I mentioned the basic outline of contract work, but there’s other things to consider when weighing contract work. There’s no guarantee.

Some ole IT grognards out there probably know more about this, but back in the day contracts were negotiated and outlined. How much time would someone need a consultant? What’s the cost involved? What are the stipulations with bringing someone in-house to help with a project? Hence ‘contract’. Now it’s equivalent to temp work. In the world of temporary (temp) work, contract work is just the prestigious word on the IT side for ‘temp work’. Contract to hire is the same for temp to hire. No offense to our highly skilled office professionals out in the workforce, but IT seems to require a higher skilled, better trained, temp professional. This is why contractor or consultant is needed.

Now that we’ve defined the term contract what does it mean to those in the field. In short, there’s no guarantees.

For staffing firms, like the one I work for, we’re looking for people between jobs. They could use a hand in their job search. Firms can offer short-term work, with good pay, for those that are spinning their wheels trying to find their next corporate seat. I often have people want a different job so bad that they will take a short-term contract position. I often explain that we don’t do that. The IT professional doesn’t understand, and I literally have to spell it out for them.

“Why would you leave a job, any job, that allows you to put food on the table and pays the bills, for something that may be over at the end of the first day?” Because this can happen, and has happened.

Many people then understand and say “I wouldn’t”.

You see, clients will provide us with their intentions up front. They’ll mention that they’ll need someone for about 3 months and may hire them if it’s the right person, but if they don’t like the plate we serve up, they can make us take it back and provide something better. That’s what many firms do. Oh, and there is usually no penalty to the client should they choose to do this.

Yes, it can go the opposite way. The client could love the candidate so much that they won’t want to lose them to a permanent opportunity and decide to hire the person directly sooner than expected. It happens, and there are fees involved, but it’s not the norm.

This is why it’s difficult to accommodate a move from outside the local market. It’s not right to have someone move across the country for something that might be over in the first week. Yes, clients can impose a process making candidates go through a resume review, phone screen and multiple face-to-face interviews, but it’s not until they see the candidate in action that assures their decision was the right one. Even then, budgets can get yanked, and new management can be implemented that will trim the fat and throw temporary help out the window.

Can this happen with a permanent job? Yes it can! However, the odds are much lower and staffing managers don’t have to worry about hurt feelings and disappointments. I ran in to one such person with excellent development skills. I asked how he ended up from California and in America’s Dairyland and it was because he showed up for his first day of work, a permanent job, and they said they eliminated his position.

As in any situation, it’s good to know what is on the table. We in the staffing industry call it, “setting the expectations” and it’s important to know what’s at stake. It’s when you’re ignorant to the process and aren’t accurately informed that you find yourself disappointed and upset should something fall through.

Open Source Alternatives

Please tell me that being in the IT profession that you’re aware of the open source movement. You may not only be aware of the movement, but you may also be working with open source technologies on a day-to-day basis. If that is the case, great! This probably does not pertain to you.

For those that have heard it, or heard of it and have not delved to far into some of the products that is provided to everyone via open source, keep reading.

The big one is linux. I won’t go in to the history and marketing of the open source operating system, but it’s the first thing that came to me when I first heard of open source. It has come a long ways since the days when it kicked my butt all over the place when I tried installing it years ago. Check out the many distributions of linux and how it can be a useful operating system to you or a friend or a family member. Oh, and it’s free.

Open Office is a great office suite of applications. It has a word processor, a spreadsheet application, presentation software, and database application that you can download for free. I have to admit that I use the spreadsheet and word processor applications the most. Oh, and I have it loaded on my mac’s OS X, Windows XP, AND my desktop pc that runs ubuntu linux! This is a must recommend to any that need a solid word processor (wp) that supports many file formats and they can’t afford $60+ for basic wp functions.

There are just too many open source products out there not to check into versus spending money on a commercial application. Don’t get me wrong, each has their advantages and disadvantages, but it’s good to know that both are available. Many people don’t even know that. As IT professionals it’s up to us to educate users about the industry and what is available.

Communication Skills Needed

I have taken part in a couple advisory board meetings. These meeting are typically held by an educational institution in an effort to get industry advice and what needs to be taught to students in order to keep them up to date with technology and what employers are looking for in a potential candidate so that they can teach what is needed for the work place.

Many technical classes are in place, and it can be quite easy to determine when to implement something new like Windows Vista or Server 2008 in to a class curriculum. Many people on these boards simply provide insight in to their corporate vision. “We’re not rolling out Vista until second quarter 2009”, which can make it easy to determine when to implement a corresponding class lesson.

The one thing that keeps coming up in many discussions is the need for communication skills, both written and verbal. One academic outline had project management listed, but advisory board members insisted on communication taking precedence, especially at such a fundamental level.

Help Desk professionals not only need to be able to convey methodical information over the phone with various users, but they also need to document such calls. Typically done in call-tracking software packages like TrackIT, proper documentation will help with recurring problems and develop a reference database for unique and complex issues. However, it can be frustrating to try and decipher a trouble ticket that is grammatically incorrect and hard to understand.

Not only is communication skills important between support and end users, but it plays an important role between IS/IT departments and their respected personnel. Conveying information from one level of support to the next is key to solving problems. Lets not forget supporting an application and then relaying proper information to the development team in order to resolve problems with the software.

Much of what has been addressed has been applied to the actual role of the IT professional, but what about knowing what ‘tact’ is or being able to get along with fellow team members? Certain topics of discussion don’t need to be communicated to the end user, and blame only inhibits the trust-building relationship between IS and internal/external customers. Some things are better left unsaid.

What’s a supervisor to do? Many IT staff have never been properly coached. Many people, at all levels, have a hard time addressing conflict so they leave things as status quo and let them come to a boiling point when all you have to do is address the issue.

I know a manager that had team members approach her about a problem staff member. He simply had all the answers and was starting to annoy his peers. It wasn’t until the supervisor let him know about the issue that he took it upon himself to fix it. He went and purchased books in order to address his attitude. The change was noticeable and ultimately improved his demeanor thus helping with personal relationships with his co-workers.

We could all use help with our communication skills, but knowing is just half the battle.