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Zero Day: Prepare

Level 17


Preparation implies forethought, knowledge, information, capability, and (as I mentioned last year) choice.

Preparation is wonderful. Preparation is beautiful.  In the world of IT, preparation is the work we hope we get to do every day. It is the hope we hold in our hearts, as we drive to work each morning.

The idea of "prepare" has an ugly underbelly though.

To borrow a concept from "Stranger Things" , the "UpsideDowns" of preparation, where everything that we know and find familiar is a dark, twisted, and toxic mirror image, is "reaction".

And THAT is a term that IT pro's know all too well. Managers will chide us that "we're being too reactive". As if ignoring the system outage, network spike, or looming disk capacity issue is going to make it go away, or teach it a lesson that it needs to wait its turn.

"Prioritize this, please" is the phrase non-IT people say without realizing it translates to "Do what *I* want now and I don't care if the event punishes you doubly-hard later." Let me repeat that for clarity: Often in IT, if we put off something until later it's not just the task which we find waiting for us. It's the task plus 27 of that task's ugly cousins. Problems in IT don't fade away when we ignore them. They multiply.

So how do you avoid the demogorgon of the UpsideDown of IT?

Partly, by doing what the kids in the NetFlix show did - huddle up your posse of friends, identify the enemy for what it is, be relentless in saving each others' butt, and rising to the challenge no matter how tired or drained you feel.

But that's only part of the answer. The other answer is "I don't know". After almost 30 years in IT, I still find myself running full-tilt through horrifying architectural landscapes not of my choosing or design, trying to evade the ravenous tech-monster that gamely pursues me.

If there are better answers, I'm open to them. As are the comments below.

Community Manager
Community Manager

When adatole​ mentioned this Word-a-Day challenge to me, I was intrigued.  He'd mentioned that something like this is a commitment that requires foresight and planning - hence the Day 1 topic - Prepare.  I then did what I do whenever I have a task like this presented before me, I ask my mrssigma.

I asked her to throw out the first thing that came to mind when I said the words on the list and for "prepare" she immediately said "cooking."  Now, she worked for her family's catering company when she was young and worked in food service in her teen years whereas I am not even allowed in my own kitchen if she is present. (Am I the only one here gents?)

But this got me thinking.  In the growing world of DevOps where automation and continuous delivery are a very real thing, is it any wonder that one such company decided to call itself Chef?

Now, I'm not any kind of authority on Chef, DevOps as a whole, or cooking in general, but I've spent years in IT, so I can speak to that.

IT is (typically) an interrupt-driven job.  Sure, you have general job duties, but most are superseded by the high priority email from the director, the alert that there is a failing drive in a server, the person standing in your cube asking for the TPS report, the CIO stating that they just bought the newest wiz-bang that they saw at the trade show and you need to implement it immediately.  Regardless of what is causing the interruptions, your "normal" daily duties are typically defined by the those same interruptions.

So, how can you plan for interruptions?  Short answer is that you can't, but you can attempt to mitigate them.

  • Set expectations:  Your job is not everything you are.  Answering that email from the director may be important, but could someone else handle it better?  Strive for a work-life balance.  Leon's covered this in a two-part series (Part 1 & Part 2).  Make it your mission to not be defined by your job.
  • If you get alerts (via Email, RSS, Slack, whatever) and they are taking over your life, make an effort to wrangle them.  If you are a monitoring professional, you can't afford to hate what you do, so take it from us - don'tadatole, dave.josephsen,) and I spoke at length on how to do this.
  • If you are asked for repeated reports, why not automate them.  There are any number of solutions that allow people to self-serve reports (SQL Server Reporting Services, Tableau, Crystal Reports, and many others) take some time an investigate them.  Then determine the break-even point (time to setup the solution & train people vs. you running these reports).  If it's a net win, propose the solution.  Don't stop with reports - if there's something that you do over and over again, find a way to automate it.
  • Lastly, if the [Insert C-Suite title here] asks you to implement something that they got from a conference, their friend told them about, or something they say in a trade magazine (read "trade rag"), don't outright deny them.  Instead, take the time to ask them to join or organize meeting with stakeholders to discuss the ramifications and to make sure that everyone in the business is on board.

So, these are only a few ways that you can prepare so that your day job stays your day job - unless you work in an overnight NOC - if that's the case, then ^day^night.

I'd love to get a better understanding of what people are facing and how you prepare to it, so continue the comments below.

Level 12

As a Boy Scout most of my young life, and now a leader of a Troop and a Venture Crew, I grew up with the motto of "Be Prepared". For me this is something that has almost always been at the core of my existence. I do my best to be prepared for any situation or any occurrence. Now that I spend most of my days in front of the computer instead of out in nature, that still holds true. Instead of keeping rope, emergency food, matches, water filter, and other endless supplies within reasonable reach I keep things like tools, utilities, scanners and the such around. Whenever I set out to do something, I do my best to think of every possible outcome, and to be prepared for it with everything I would need to deal with those situations. This usually results in my carrying around a rather large and heavy backpack full of stuff I almost never use. But when I do need it, I have it with me and I do not need to return to the office and waste time looking for it.

Level 10

Preparing for a days work in IT is like preparing for trench warfare.  You need to be a tech warrior and have a good plan of attack on how to communicate with EUs and prioritize their requests (demands).  We have a great incident management system that helps us track issues, assign priority and help us know what we need to be working on first.  End Users can be difficult sometimes (all the time) my mantra is "I wouldn't have a job if End Users didn't create problems or need my guidance". Going into your day keeping that in mind makes the work fulfilling and enjoyable.  There is never a day I dread having to go battle tech gremlins and End Users.


Level 14

Sometimes it helps to have an interpreter.  While listening to an end user describe their problem, I always try to interpret what they are saying to meaningful information.  In their defense, some users are easier to interpret than others.

This is simply delightful.

I encourage you to check out the NPR show called "A Way With Words" if you enjoy learning about words, dialects, colloquialisms, slang, origins of words, etc.

Level 9

Each catastrophe that occurs in our environments is a Slap in the face and Wake-up call (reminder) of what we had procrastinated on or what just didn't get addressed. 

Same thing I tell myself every morning "Just not enough time in the Day..."

Level 11

For me Prepare means to start each day ready with the right attitude.  Take a deep breath and get ready to focus on the topic(s) at hand. The problem can sometimes be that a situation presents itself that we are in no way shape or form prepared for.  For me, these are often these are interpersonal items between people.  The technical stuff is interesting.  The interpersonal stuff can be aggrivating.  The longer I have been in IT, the more that seems to be a common theme among IT-ers I know.  Remember to prepare for the interpersonal exchanges because they can be the hard part.  The print server going down is usually easy enough to fix.  The 7 calls from frustrated users that all need to print an important report (or holiday cookie recipe) will be the tough part.  Take a deep breath and try to smile as part of your interaction, it will go a long way.


In the IT industry we often neglect preparation since we have to "react" so much to issues, customers, last minute requests and such. Preparation goes into our previous learning and experiences and how we respond to them and archive the information that we gather.

That said there are things that we can do before hitting the ground running. Not just the day planning and such, but more to the "life balance." Live balance is probably the hardest part for many IT professionals in that we feel the pull to "get things done." If one overworks and under sleeps we feel - for a while like we are more productive, but in reality long term our effectiveness suffers. (not to mention our families) I would argue that the best preparation we can do is to balance our work with our "real" life. So that while we are on the job we are fresh and can give our employers our best - not just our most.

Level 10

Calvin and Hobbes

Level 12

I never make a plan to prepare for my day because my plan is no one else's plan. They don't see that I have other things to attend to first so I have to take it as it comes.


It is always best to prepare for your day for any situation. You know that there will be more then one thing that comes up during the day that will cause your day to go in the wrong direction.

Level 9

For me when I think of being prepared I look at it from 2 sides. The Physical network side of things where I'm trying to prepare the best I can with redundancy, new equipment and trying to put out fires as fast as I can leveraging alerts. The second and more important in my opinion is a "Mindset". I believe  you have to prepare your mind to have the proper mindset of Growth, Integrity and Gratitude. If a person can truly keep those at the core of there daily tasks. It will take them far.

Level 21

We recently performed one of our most complex client migrations to date and the execution was flawless.  The entire team was here all night working on it and everything went about as perfectly as possible.  The following week our manager had a lessons learned meeting to try and figure out how something so complex could have possibly went so well when we have had more issues with much less complex tasks.

The answer: we were more prepared then ever before.  We spent over a week putting together a very comprehensive checklist with names associated with them.  Everybody knew what they needed to do and when they needed to do it.  Even the most powerful demogorgon can be taken down if you are prepared!

Be prepared.   Seems like a easy thing to say but the execution is the hard part.   You always think you are prepared for something until it happens and you realize just how unprepared you are.  You don't know what you don't know until you know it. 

Preparing reminds of my time learning to become a private pilot.

It the plane ready to fly?  If its paperwork up to date?

Grab the checklist and complete the walk around.

Do these things or you might have a more exciting flight then you want.



I'm a huge fan of checklists. In the long run they save a lot of future troubles.

Level 9

Preparation is half the battle. I've never known a great leader who was not prepared.

For me this "Prepare" is easy, real easy. Preparation is my comfort zone, my Safe Space. In interviews when asked about my weaknesses lack of preparation is my usual answer. I spend much of my free time think about preparation for big projects and major initiatives... always making sure I have considered all variables and angles. My tagline in my emails is as follows:

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."  - Abraham Lincoln


I tend to prepare quite a bit, given time I will script all my Cisco changes which tends to cut down on errors and make things go smoother.   For long-term projects at multiple sites that involve multiple people, instead of relying on everyone doing all the tasks manually, I'll usually draw up a spreadsheet that generates configs using the least amount of input from the engineer.  (You can find out how I do that here - The8thLayer: Better Networking Through Excel!? ).

I prefer it when I have the time to build a lab if possible, or at least use GNS or something similar to prototype it.

Definitely big on preparation!!

Level 11

Preparation is important and goes hand in hand with priorities. you may be prepared for your day to go one way, working on certain projects, but when something more important pops up, you also have to know which to prioritize.

Level 13

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."   Benjamin Franklin

Level 13

Despite the fact that in our profession change is the order of the day and there are people I know that think firefighting is the only way to manage, failing to prepare adequately is a recipe for failure (to echo mtgilmore1's quote above), but your preparation has to be flexible.  Don't get too married to a particular technology, or language, or implementation.  Put your plans in sand but your goals in concrete.  Oddly enough, even if your preparation was for something else entirely, a lot of the work will bear fruit and be useful even if the specific thing you were planning for didn't work out.

There's a great quote from R Buckminster Fuller:  "How often I found out where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else."

Level 10

To me prepare means you have a desire / end-point or goal in mind and to achieve that which you desire / end-point / goal you have in mind, you must prepare for that outcome.  Preparation plays a key role in our success regardless the area of focus; however, it does not guarantee success, it levels the playing field a bit more and gives us an edge when things don't go as planned, one we would not have had we not taken the time to prepare.  Preparation doesn't guarantee success but it gets us much closer to our desired outcome.

Level 12

the better the prepared, the better the outcome.

Level 12

I am a victim of over-preparing. Some time I just need to get to work on it.

Level 9

When the primary function of you job role is to react to problems as they occur it can be hard to figure out where to start. Coming up with a baseline to start the day, tracking the progress of individual problems, and more importantly, the solutions lays the groundwork for the future.

Level 10


Level 10

Very true

Level 10

Be prepared at all times so you are not taken unawares.

Level 9

Someone should always be prepared in life. I take this especially to heart being one of a few senior system engineers at my company. When we design you always look for every hole and step that is required for the environment as you build. Always test and run through your DR plan and make sure you are PREPARED for when (as it always happen at some point) the system encounters an issue or goes down and what steps you take.

Level 8

“Unfortunately, there seems to be far more opportunity out there than ability.... We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.”

― Thomas A. Edison

Level 10

My son is in the scouts, and he is learning about always being prepared.

I like this quote:

"Be Prepared... the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise."

- Robert Baden-Powell

Thinking out and practicing... that applies to IT in DR scenarios. We need to practice for the disaster, so when (not if) it strikes, we know what to do.

Level 11

Not sure why but once I saw that the word for this post was "prepare," I couldn't think of anything else. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father..


Level 11

Preparation, in IT, is crucial. Whether it's in the form of proper system design, determining what to monitor (and what to ignore), setting sane SLAs, or hiring the right people (in the right quantity.)

Years ago I phone interviewed for a job with a company which was too busy to hire anyone. How backwards is this? Talk about lack of preparation. After hearing that from my recruiter, even if they had called back for an in-person interview, I'm pretty sure it's not the kind of place I wanted to be. They needed to get ahead of the game, because if you're playing catch-up that badly, you'll NEVER catch up.

Level 9

If you are not prepared to take risks, then you should expect results

Thanks to adatole​ and all the contributors to this challenge it was fantastic reading all the entries. I hope that my contributions made some people think. I know theirs made me contemplate things differently. So here is my attempt to put all the words into one brief essay.

What did I learn in the word-a-day challenge 2016?

It is best to act on something once you have done a search and understand most of the relevant information available. This will make it easier for those around you to accept the change if they believe you choose to act in good faith. You should be open to hear dissenting opinions incase what you observed was not the whole story. You should not count on having the entire picture before taking action, so trust your experience and make an educated guess. Forgive yourself if you make a mistake. The fact that you recognize it as a mistake means you learned something not to do. If you remember this, then it will serve you well for the rest of your life. Accepting that you are not perfect can allow you to awaken to a new level of awareness. Ask for help where and when you need it. Compassionate and wise people around you will not judge your ignorance as a fault, but see it as an honor to help a fellow human being in fulfilling their quest for knowledge.

The more you understand something the more likely you are to love what you do. You cannot wait for one project to end and the next to begin. Hoping each new challenge brings opportunities to use what you have learned. Intending to do your best and create the next best thing since sliced bread. Your customers will feel blessed knowing that you give all their requirements your best. They will believe they get an outstanding return on the investment they make in you. Thus providing you the resources to learn even more and be prepared for the next job. I pray someday to work in a place like that, because that would be worth celebrating.


Day 1: LearnDay 11: TrustDay 21: Love
Day 2: ActDay 12: ForgiveDay 22: End
Day 3: SearchDay 13: RememberDay 23: Begin
Day 4: UnderstandDay 14: RestDay 24: Hope
Day 5: AcceptDay 15: ChangeDay 25: Intend
Day 6: BelieveDay 16: PrayDay 26: Create
Day 7: ChooseDay 17: AwakenDay 27: Bless
Day 8: HearDay 18: AskDay 28: Give
Day 9: ObserveDay 19: JudgeDay 29: Return
Day 10: CountDay 20: FulfillDay 30: Celebrate

I wanted to create a paragraph or two of sentences built solely from the month's words, if possible--but they're all verbs!  I like what you did, using them in intelligent sentences.