Support diary: Heather H. (Wednesday)

Today Heather deals with 250 e-mail messages, patches for SQL 7, and staffing needs.


Read Monday’s entry.

Read Tuesday’s entry.

Wednesday, 5:35 A.M.
The alarm has gone off, and seeing as I’m in the office today instead of on a site, I offer my husband the chance to shower before me—or catch a kneecap in his kidneys. His choice, but he gets up quickly. I doze gently until 6:00, thinking about what I need to get done today.

7:45 A.M.
I’m on the way to work, which is thankfully only 18 miles away. Unfortunately, this distance often takes up to an hour and a half due to traffic. But today I sailed through it and was at the office by 8:10.

8:10 A.M.
Time for a delicious canteen breakfast of yogurt and decaf. We’re lucky that the office has a cafeteria in it, but I do get sick of yogurt. Still, I see several co-workers there, and we spend a few minutes catching up on what we’ve been doing. It looks like I’ll have some more sales visits to go on for both of my products, and some of them look like really good leads. This is good news because while I do need and enjoy the occasional day in the office, I’d much rather be on the road.

8:30 A.M.
Time to buckle down and start work. I have several things I’d like to get done today, including working on the Systems Engineer FTP/Web server that I look after, finding ATM trace files for one of my demos in Dublin tomorrow, and catching up on my e-mail.

I decide that reading my e-mail should be a priority, as what is found within might shape how my day goes. Luckily, I’ve pretty much kept up with it, and I only have 250 some odd messages to read. Many of them are entirely irrelevant (e-mails announcing the car washers are in the car park, ready to clean cars, or asking who deals with a particular account) and I scan and delete them quickly. Now only 175 to go. These can be anything from customer support issues to in-depth technical question-and-answer sessions between the other engineers and the product developers, so I like to take my time with them.

11:00 A.M.
I’ve certainly taken my time with those e-mails. One of the most interesting is a notice of a patch released by Microsoft to fix a security hole in SQL 7. It appears that if you submit a SQL statement to an SQL server in just the right way, you can “take actions” on the underlying machine. Take actions, eh? Nice way of putting it. Folks, this is just another fine reason why your boss needs to get you a separate NT Server box for your SQL databases. Don’t go running this on your PDC or BDC. Apart from totally hosing your utilization, you could open up your entire domain structure to unfriendlies.

Other interesting threads included some discussion on distributed ATM analysis, gigabit splitters, and our plans for wireless Sniffing. I could fill in the details, but then we’d have to hire you or kill you.

11:25 A.M.
After spending far too long staring at my screen, I decide to go and be sociable. As luck would have it, this is part of my job description. My immediate boss Justin and my former and now once-removed boss Haig have determined that we engineers need to keep a higher profile on the sales floor, so they’ve suggested that I visit once or twice a day, wander around, have a cup of coffee, and shoot the bull. Sometimes I get too engrossed in what I’m doing to remember to go up, but today it’s no problem. Unfortunately, everyone is either on the phone or out, so it turns into a rather pointless exercise. Still, I find out that Simon, one of our Sniffer salespeople, is on holiday next week in the Caribbean. I volunteer to hate him until his tan fades.

11:45 A.M.
Back at my desk. What to do, what to do? I’ve got a network health check to complete, but I’m saving that for our day off on Friday. I could work on that Web server, or I could produce the graphics we’re going to use for network diagrams in the future. Doing the graphics sounds like much more fun, but I think I can multitask and get files downloaded onto the Web server at the same time.

The Web server is currently headless, so I use our Remote Desktop product to connect to it. I’m using TCP/IP as my transport, although Named Pipes is as fast. Connected up, I set to downloading virus documentation to the server, and then turn to the Web for graphic inspiration.

AltaVista is my search engine of choice, so I choose to look for images and search on “router.” Wow, this is dull. I do find a good image of a Cisco 2503, though, and slap it into PowerPoint. Then I look for a switch and find some very interesting images that appear to pertain to a sadomasochistic scene. As our Internet connection is monitored I’m slightly concerned, but I know they’ll be able to determine what my search term was. Still, oops. And would that be cut through or store and forward, sir? I decided it might be safer to search on the term network diagram, and yes, it’s not nearly as scary.

12:10 P.M.
A bit early for lunch, but I decide to grab it before I get too deeply into my graphics. If I had plugged in my mouse this morning, I could have moused left handed while eating, but I’m stuck with the touch pad instead, which I use righty. And as lunch is a baked potato and very hot, I don’t feel like spilling bits of it down me while I try to draw a straight line.

12:30 P.M.
I’ve taken my time over lunch, and I’ll admit to a sneaky look at User Friendly for their daily static cartoon. I was about a week behind. I also trotted over to United Media’s Dilbert site to check how my list of the day entries rated. Unfortunately I hadn’t checked the site quickly enough, and everything had moved on. Bummer. Still, I had a good gander at today’s list and voted for my favorites. Then it was into PowerPoint to start working on those graphics.

Anyone out there who knows me from my previous incarnation as a graphic designer will understand quite how I feel about doing complex work in PowerPoint, but it’s what I had to hand. While I can do fairly realistic work in Paint, it’s a bit like trying to use an Etch-A-Sketch to draw a network diagram, so PowerPoint at least allows you to work with objects.

It’s a slight improvement, but by drawing each bit line by line and filling as I work on pieces of an object, I get a nice result. I managed to do a PC, a thin client/terminal, a router, a switch, a hub, and an iMac. Oh, and a server. Then I sent the graphics off to Steve the product manager for approval. If he likes them, they could be rolled out to the U.K. or beyond.

2:35 P.M.
I’ve totally neglected my Web server for the past hour. My virus documentation is now in place, and I should look at getting down some of our security product and placing it on the server. However, I first need to check up on my liability insofar as presenting security software for download can be legally dodgy. The problem is that U.S. export licenses need to be procured, and while we have them for most countries, there are still several clear zone locations that the software cannot be exported to at any cost. I don’t really want to fall afoul of this issue, so I look at getting the Magic Helpdesk software in place instead.

Magic is a 100 percent browser-based help desk package that runs on NT server with either SQL 7 or Oracle 8, in addition to SP6, MDAC 2.x, and IIS. While I’ve previously placed SP6 on the server for download, I need to confirm the status of our corporate-wide licenses for NT server and SQL 7. I know we’ve got them, but I need to confirm that placing the software up on the server is acceptable. Unfortunately, I’m not coming up with much on that one, mostly because the people I need to ask aren’t in the office yet. It’s still quite early in California. After all that, I decide to work on getting more Sniffer documentation in place and set off the download.

When I first took over this server, it was full of data and programs and whatnot, and I’m afraid that it was so full that I just wiped the thing and started again. This led to my learning something interesting about IIS, though.
If you are running FTP on any version IIS install, you will find that virtual directories do not display in the list of available directories when FTP’d in. However, you can cd directly to the correct directory. The fix? Put an empty directory with the same name as the virtual directory in the root directory, and it will give the virtual directory something to latch onto. My thoughts? Bloody ridiculous. This is such a basic and fatal flaw that it should not have persisted past the first version of IIS, let alone to version 4. Grrrr.
4:15 P.M.
I’ve continued to download documentation and software to my Web server in the background, whilst also looking for an easy way to implement message boards on the server. The easiest way would be to use FrontPage to design my Web page for the box, but I’d really rather not. My first page ever was coded in vi, and I don’t really want to wimp out so totally. That said, it might save me large amounts of time, so I should consider it.

4:25 P.M.
Speaking of time, it’s time to go up to the top floor for an all-hands meeting. This is when they get us together to discuss anything that involves all of the staff, and today’s is especially inspirational. The smokers need to stop throwing their ends down the grating in the car park, kitchens need to be kept tidy, and drinks are to be had at a private club after we listen to a worldwide phone address from our CEO that evening. We then wander off to our respective listening posts for the announcements from our fearless leader.

5:10 P.M.
The Big Boss has gotten everyone online and begins his speech. We can hear quite a lot of applause from his location in California, so we know he must be in a mighty biiiig venue. Unfortunately, I can’t relay any of the content of his presentation, but it lasted for about an hour.

6:10 P.M.
Back to my desk to wrap up for the day. I still haven’t downloaded those ATM traces I needed, but now I know where they are, so it’s a matter of minutes to swap hard drives over and get them down. While I do this, our internal Cisco guy Graham and I chat about life, certifications, our co-workers.

I’ve just finished my MCSE and have started on CCNA, and Graham is interested in both. Frankly, I know that Graham could walk into an exam center at this moment and ace that CCNA, but I’ve loaned him my study guide anyway. I also suggested his exam path for MCSE, explaining that if he completes now with the correct exams, he’ll have the benefit of a lot of study material and then just have to take the one upgrade exam. I think he’d do very well on those exams, too.

Then we talk about Graham’s staffing needs. He’s looking for someone to join his network team and do some of the firefighting that he does now. He’s supposed to spend time on projects, but finds that he gets sucked into support issues and is looking to hand off those duties. Specifically, he’d be happy to find a female who was interested in doing the job, so that he could have a more balanced team.

I think briefly about what he’s said and than determine that a) if he wanted me to apply, he’d just ask, b) I don’t really have the skill set he’d need to hit the ground running, and c) I quite like what I’m doing now, so I’m not really all that interested. Graham would be a great guy to work with, but my current boss Justin is pretty cool too. I like the freedom of being on the road a lot, seeing different environments, and I don’t want to give that up. Perhaps when I’m ready for a change in direction that is an option I could look at.

7:50 P.M.
Have we been talking that long? Definitely time to go home. I need to get to sleep early as I’m in Dublin again tomorrow, so it’s up at 3:30 in the morning again. Yech. Considering the current time of 10:41, I see not much sleep in my future unless I hit the rack immediately. I suspect tomorrow will be one of those days.
To comment on this diary entry, please post a comment below or follow this link to write to Heather .

Heather Herbert is employed by Network Associates as a Systems Engineer working with their Sniffer Technologies and Magic Solutions product lines. She is MCSE, MCP+I, and CNA certified and working on her Cisco certifications. Born in New York and transplanted to the U.K. after meeting her husband online, she lives in a true geek household where Nirvana will be achieved as soon as the coffee pot is fully networked.

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