We’re getting close to the end of the month, so that must mean it’s time for another installment of our ever-popular IT Blogger Spotlight series.
I recently caught up with John Herbert of LameJournal fame, who was kind enough to answer a few questions. In addition to following John’s exploits on LameJournal, you can keep up with him on Twitter, where he’s affectionately known as @mrtugs.
SWI: Tell me about LameJournal and how you got started with it.
JH: A while back I purchased LameJournal.com with the intent of grabbing the freely available LiveJournal source code and running a spoof site, as if the site itself weren’t sufficiently self-derivative. I sat on the domain for at least five years and failed to do anything with it, mainly because it sounded like an awful lot of work just for a joke.
Then in April 2011, I went to a flash photography seminar and was so buzzed about the event I felt that I just had to share my enthusiasm, so I dusted off the domain, installed Wordpress and created my first post beyond the default “Hello World.”
That post was looking a bit lonely on its own, and somebody had been asking me to explain Cisco's Virtual Port Channel technology to them, so I put out a post on VPC the next day. Like somebody with a new toy, I then started taking things that were on my mind and turning them into posts, because hey, somebody might be interested, right? Cisco Live, Visio, TRILL, some training I went on, and so forth. While the blog subtitle is “Networking, Photography and Technology,” it became evident very quickly that the content was going to be primarily about networking, with an occasional glance at photography and other technology.
SWI: And as they say, the rest is history, right?
JH: Yep. Really, it’s ended up being an outlet for anything I think is interesting. One of the things I found hardest when I started blogging was to get over the feeling that the information I wanted to share might not be noteworthy, or is already covered elsewhere. My attitude now—and the one I share with others to encourage them to blog, too—is to say, “OK, was this new or interesting to me? Then blog about it.” After all, if it’s new to me, then it’ll be new to somebody else out there, too, which means I should write the post!
With that said, I still get the most pleasure from writing about something that will help other people in some way, especially if I can fill a gap in the information already out there and provide a unique resource. I don’t actively look for those topics, but they’re great when they crop up. Beyond that, I usually writing about real situations—either current or past—that were interesting or challenging so that (a) I have a record of it, and (b) it might save somebody else some trouble later.
SWI: I like the way you think! Do you find you get more interst in certain topics than others?
JH: Experience has shown there’s not really a good predictor as to whether a particular post will generate interest, but I find there are two general types of posts that have done better. The first are posts describing problems I’ve had and, if possible, how I fixed them. They’re successful because when somebody else experiences the same issue, they search the Web and my post shows up in the results. Even if there’s a frustrating lack of solution, I personally find great solace in knowing that I’m not the only idiot with a particular problem. For example, I’ve written posts about Cisco AnyConnect ActiveX, Office 2013 and iTunes Match that were very popular over time; they seem to have lasting appeal. The other category of posts that do better are those covering new technologies, where information out there is a bit patchy. Examples include TRILL and Cisco's VPC, and more recently discussions about software defined networking. Posts that are topical may be successful short term, but they tend to have less long term interest, which makes sense when you think about it.
SWI: Definitely. So, what do you do professionally?
JH: I’m a consultant for a professional services company. So, to put it simply, I move packets for other people. Consulting is interesting in part because I get to see so many different networks, teams and company structures, rules, procedures and architectures. I like the insight this gives me, and I find it fascinating to see what each client determines is most important for their network.
SWI: Very interesting. How did you get into IT in the first place?
JH: I kind of fell into it, really. I've always enjoyed working with computers and was programming SAS (database/statistics software) when a friend suggested I should join the company he worked for and do networking. I really didn't get what it was that he did, despite him trying to explain it, but the pay sounded good so I made the leap and haven't looked back.
SWI: What are some of your favorite tools as an IT pro?
JH: From the SolarWinds portfolio, Engineer's Toolset has been on my work laptop builds almost continually since the year 2000. Fun fact, I actually joined International Network Services in 1999, and that’s where Don Yonce (one of SolarWinds’ co-founders) was also working. So, I have always felt like I have a special relationship with the SolarWinds products. So, I also typically have SolarWinds free tools installed on my own machines (the Advanced Subnet Calculator is a very old friend of mine!). I’m currently using a MacBook right now, so I’m feeling a little lonely, but since my other favorite networking tool is Perl, I’m all set for that at least. The ability to program in one scripting language or another is a huge benefit to any network engineer in my opinion, and was so even before SDN reared its head.
SWI: And what are you up to these days when you’re not working or blogging?
JH: I have a wife and three school-aged children, a home network to perfect and meals to cook. So, beyond working and blogging I mainly eat and sleep. Occasionally, I play some piano, which I find very cathartic, and I’m also on the board of directors for my home owners’ association, which eats up some more time. As my blog title suggests I also enjoy photography, and I really should get out and do more of it.
SWI: Well, I hope you’re able to. Switching directions a bit, what are some of the most significant trends you’re seeing in the IT industry right now and what do you this is to come?
JH: In the networking world, the buzzword-du-jour is SDN. One way or another, there’s a huge paradigm shift occurring where pretty much every vendor is opening up access to their devices via some form of API, and there’s a growing new market for controllers and orchestrators that will utilize those APIs to automate tasks. Those tasks can be anything from configuring a switch port or VLAN as part of a service chain to instantiate a new service to programming microflows on a switch. I said “devices,” but lest it sound like this just means hardware—the network “underlay”—SDN also extends to the software side of things too, both in terms of encapsulations like VXLAN, an overlay, and features like network function virtualization, which also offers some exciting possibilities.
My one fear is that SDN encompasses so much, it’s in danger of becoming another meaningless marketing term like “cloud,” and I'm waiting to see the first “SDN Compliant” sticker on a box. That aside, the innovation in the SDN space, both proprietary and open source, is redefining the way networks can be built and operated, and it’s a very exciting time to be in this industry. The downside is that there’s so much going on, there aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with all the blog posts that could be written!
SWI: Well, that’s all of my questions. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JH: If I may, I’d like to give a shout out and a thank you to all the networking and technology bloggers out there. In many IT and networking teams, there’s that one person who hoards information and believes they’re creating job security by being the only one to understand something, and thus they resist sharing that knowledge with others. Blogging is the polar opposite of that; bloggers take the opportunity to share information that may improve somebody else’s ability to do their job, help them avoid a problem before it happens or just make you smile because somebody else is experiencing the same challenges as you. I stand in awe at the quantity and quality of posts that some people manage to create. I use an RSS reader so that I can follow a large number of those blogs in a manageable way, and I strongly recommend RSS.
I would also encourage anyone who reads this to consider whether or not they have something they could share with others via a blog. I look at it this way, if I learned something new today, maybe I could help somebody else learn that thing tomorrow. And to paraphrase "Wayne’s World," I only hope you don’t think it sucks!