back to article How good a techie are you? Objective about yourself and your skills?

How objective are you? Can you design IT solutions outside your own experience? Are you capable of testing unfamiliar and uncomfortable software, services and solutions with an open mind or do you immediately lash out against the mere idea of change? How far outside of your direct experience can you really step and at what …

  1. getHandle

    > My competence ... is entirely in the eye of the beholder

    Isn't that the crux of it? If you do get put in a mission-critical position then you have every right to expect the support, overview and guidance of "the beholder", ie your employer, to ensure you don't cock it up entirely.

    Of course, if you stick to mobile then it's all just toys and you don't have to worry ;-)

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: > My competence ... is entirely in the eye of the beholder

      Exactly. Recruiters have a dogmatic religious fixation that it is impossible to have any ability outside the exact specific skill you were using yesterday. You can program with curly-bracket-language-A? F*** off, we want a curly-bracket-language-B programmer. You're applying for a job with us and you are currently unemployed???? Argh!!! Get off my planet!!!!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sign it.

    A professional body is just that. You can have idiots, geniuses, amoral, moral, sadistic, altruistic people in any professional body. Pretty much the same in society as a whole.

    So better for the rest of us if those bodies have people who abide by a sense of duty and integrity to counter those that don't.

    Plus it will do your career a world of good.

    EDIT - btw - I wish I had some professional qualification in IT as a whole. As it stands, I am effectively a IT jack of all master of none and it is a pita, especially as I approach middle age..

    1. (AMPC) Anonymous and mostly paranoid coward

      Re: Sign it.

      I agree, sign it.

      People need to see credentials even if they don't fully understand what they represent. Real experience can never be dumbed down into terms that non-specialists fully comprehend. This remains true, even when it is undoubtedly the most valuable commodity in the real IT world.

      You could be a world class Formula 1 driver, but without a valid driver's license you will be shouted down at every traffic light or fender bender and your insurance won't cover you.

      After I earned an entry level cloud cert from CompTia+ ("almost" a doddle after two years of hard, unpaid, practical startup work) customer interest went from zilch to high. Once I finish the second cert, I will hold my head high.

      Look at it this way, if the only thing preventing ethical people like yourself from making hard technical decisions is a piece of electronic foolscap, where's the problem?

      I'd rather see people with principles, intelligence, experience AND certs in the driver's seat, in that order. When it is just people with certs and connections, the results are lousy. We see examples of that every flippin' day of the week.

      So sign the form. Or as an ex-manager once told me: "play the game" even if you don't always agree with it.

      1. yoganmahew

        Re: Sign it.

        Yup, sign it.

        Console yourself that by having doubts, you are already ethically superior and that the person that claims to know the answer to the ethical question hasn't given it enough thought.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Sign it.


          The piece of paper doesn't mean you're any worse at your job or somehow less ethical.

          Plenty of nerds who can't overcome brand loyalty or make objective judgements about privacy have signed that paper, but they were like that before they signed anyway.

  3. Chris King

    Just sign the damn papers already !

    I'm going to be brutal about this - if you don't sign those papers, I don't want you writing a whiny article lamenting that fact in five years time !

    Competence IS in the eye of the beholder, but how can the beholder know you're competent unless you've proved it in some way ? Joining a professional body will help, but you have experience, which is also important.

    Sign up, and see how you square up. The worst that will happen is they'll tell you what you need to do to progress.

  4. Pete 2 Silver badge

    On competence

    One simple way for IT admin people to gauge their competence is this 2-stage process:

    Tot up the number of *ckups you have fixed, avoided or alerted your employers to. Assign a realistic financial value to them - remembering to include fractional values where it wasn't just you who contributed to the fix (or fault). Subtract the value of the ones you have caused.

    If the total amount saved is greater than the cost of them employing you (not just what you get paid, but the cost of your employment, including overheads) then voilà you can count yourself among those competent to do your job.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: On competence

      I wish I had just a TENTH of that formula. I would never have to work again.

  5. Cosmo


    I don't know where you are in Canada. I have been a few times both for business and pleasure and I understand it to be a little bit bigger than the size of the UK.. but if you're not in Montreal, can you move there?

    There are a ridiculous amount of tech companies there which cover a wide range of areas in IT

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. lucki bstard

        Re: Montreal?

        Problem with Edmonton is the Oilers, so Canadiens would be better.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Montreal?

          Better than Calgary and their sportsball teams!

          1. Down not across

            Re: Montreal?

            Based on hockey alone I'd have to say Montreal. However there are linguistic issues with Montreal. :-)

            Back on the main subject. Sign it.

            Anyone with common sense values experience and real knowledge above degrees and certifications which often aren't that useful in many real life scenarios. If it helps consider the cert like a passport or visa. Signing a piece of paper doesn't have to affect your integrity. Judging by the articles (and forum posts) your quite critical and IMHO display more integrity than the form expects.

            tldr; Sign it. Send it off.

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Ian K

      Re: Why?

      If you're going to present something in quotes in a response to an article it's generally best be quoting something that was actually said. And what Trevor actually said was he "hated calculus", not (as a badge of honour or otherwise) that he was no good at it.

      Which is fair enough - everyone likes different things, and it'd pretty damn masochistic to steer yourself into a job involving something you actively hate. Or that you're not good at, but it's not remotely clear that that's the case here, other than in your easily offended imagination.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Re: Why?

        Given that computers are an embodiment of mathematics then giving up learning the higher tongue is likely to create at the very least miscommunication as well as limiting your competence to technician grade rather than professional.

        This would be like a capenter saying he hates hammers and prefers to knock things in with a rock instead, yes it can still manage a lot of jobs but without the professional finish expected and with the potential to damage other craftsmen's work.

        1. Khaptain Silver badge

          Re: Why?

          Given that computers are an embodiment of "binary" states


        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Why?

          "Given that computers are an embodiment of mathematics then giving up learning the higher tongue is likely to create at the very least miscommunication as well as limiting your competence to technician grade rather than professional."


          The myth that you need a background in mathematics to work well with computers is utterly untrue. Only those who need to use computers to crunch serious scientific problems really need a sound understanding of 'higher mathematics'.

          As someone who never understood calculus in high school, but having a particularly good brain for pattern recognition and processing, I have spent the last two decades holding down good jobs doing everything from sysadmining and dba-ing, to technical analysis and software development.

          I have actually found that my pattern based approach tends to yield simpler more efficient software solutions than mathematically oriented colleagues, who have a habit of ignoring the end to end flow of a system and dramatically over complicating their solutions to problems.

          Only recently did the reason for this become clear - I have the ability to see through a problem and recognise the pattern of its underlying logic. This only dawned on me as I explained to an Oracle developer colleague that the six use cases he had analysed were in fact all the same use case - he didn't need to write a bunch of stored procedures to deal with all of these various cases ... a single well formed statement would deal with them all...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Thumb Up

            Re: Why?

            What I've found over some forty years of teaching computing is that people that are good with puzzles also happen to be good with computers. It really didn't matter what kind, although the kind was indicative of what areas/fields in which they would be most proficient.

        3. Ian K

          Re: Why?

          "Given that computers are an embodiment of mathematics then giving up learning the higher tongue is likely to create at the very least miscommunication as well as limiting your competence to technician grade rather than professional."

          Misquoting is creeping in again; Trevor didn't express a dislike of mathematics - he expressed a dislike of calculus, a specific branch of mathematics which is primarily related to continuous changes. And continuous changes are things computers, networks, etc.. aren't actually much of an embodiment of, what with them being digital and all.

          Calculus can be useful to know if your work involves developing various types of simulations, but Trevor said he disliked being a developer before he even mentioned calculus, so it's not as though he's shutting any doors he'd particularly want to be open there.

          1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

            Re: Why?

            To be clear, I loathe calculus. I don't give a bent damn what the integral of Cos(Sin(yomamma)) is, nor am I likely to. I grok what a derivative is. I grok what an integral is. I grok trig enough that a brief conversation with Google will bring it all back...but I don't want to memorize all this crap by rote.

            I'm not fond of programming, but I do it when required. I've written entire middleware packages. (Originally in and then in PHP.) I don't mind PHP so much, but I loathe Java. I can cope with C family languages, but far prefer Python, Perl, etc. That said, I'd rather pay a dedicated coder than sit there and write a bunch of this crap.

            Especially when we get talking about the kind of time it takes me to write assembler and bitbask ports in order to speak to sensors, displays, etc. Boring as a boring thing with a side order of "why the hell am I doing this?"

            In over 15 years of "making computers go", I've never had to use calculus. Not once. I've written industrial sensor nets for strain gauges, built cellular/wifi backhaul dirigibles, 5000+ node render farms, and spend a lifetime rebuilding desktop hardware into servers that last 10+ years. Not once was the rote memorization of calculus useful. Not once.

            Algebra? Hell yes. I use it a hundred times a day. More, even. What's more, it exactly the kind of maths that my brain loves. But fuck calculus. 1100100112.

        4. fruitoftheloon

          @ac: Re: Why?

          Dear Ac,

          What is a capenter?



        5. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Why?

          I always thought that universities stick calculus in computer degrees to give their maths professors something to do more than anything else.

          IT is logic and structure, if you can't get that right then no amount of calculus is going to help you.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why?

      The fact you read businessinsider is also something you should keep to yourself.

    3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      But calculus *is* hard to grasp, which is why you only start doing it a 'A' level. But why on earth were you expected to do it in a non-Mathematics degree?

      I think the only time I ever used calculus in anything computer-related was when I estimated the virtual size of a circular buffer that was being filled and emptied at the same time, and I used an infinite decreasing series to work it out.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wasn't aware of your previous breakdown but I wanted to say that I sometimes disagree with what you say, occasionally vehemently disagree with what you say, but you're one of the El Reg writers who I make a point of reading everything I spot them having written. So I hope that you continue with the writing, that you continue to make me disagree with you at times (for we all need our own opinions challenged) and that your writing helps you arrive at, and stay in, a more peaceful place.

  8. fruitoftheloon



    Go for it boyo, I have gone through the whole big job & stress/breakdown thingy, which clearly isn't a barrel of laughs. But it is behind you matey!

    I don't always understand all of what you write (sometimes 'most' would be great), BUT I have learned a great deal about the intracies and interdependencies of complex stuff from your writings, for that I thank you.

    Now it is time for you to shift up a gear and get on with it...

    I would wish you luck, but I rather suspect you won't need any.

    Kind regards,


  9. Joe 48


    Move to the UK. I'm in the middle of what, I at least, consider to be a successful, or at the least enjoyable career in IT. Yet I've never even looked at any sort of degree or university course. In fact based on my terrible grammar it could be argued I'm completely uneducated....

    I love my career, not so much my current employer but you can't win them all. I'm working in a field that means what I do really does save life's. The fact I never see it is the only thing that bugs me. I'd love to know what happens to the data that passes through the systems I build/maintain.

    Regarding getting a job. When I'm in positions where I need to have staff I always ask one question. Describe to me your home IT setup. The more geeky it is, then the more that person has a passion for IT and that passion imo is worth more than any qualification you can get. If they have passion they will learn. Generally this has worked well for me over the years.

    Above all else a job isn't worth your health. If its getting too much get a generic 9-5 job that pays the bills, where you can switch off at the end of the day, turn IT back into a hobby.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Unqualified

      I haven't fully updated this:

      Add in a Tintri T-850 that I am currently testing. It's on loan for a year. So that's my home network. Minus a few minor things like the WNDR3700 v2 (/w OpenWRT), dlink switches and some other odds and ends. There are some things I can ping that I can't physically locate so I can't quite tell you what they are...

      1. Joe 48

        Re: Unqualified

        You're hired!

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Unqualified

        "There are some things I can ping that I can't physically locate so I can't quite tell you what they are..."

        That's the definition of a proper home network :-)

  10. Alister

    I'm scared of the future. I'm scared of a world of armed drones and cybernetic implants, of self-driving cards and creepy "always on" wearable video cameras. I'm scared of a world where these products and services are designed and overseen by nerds who can't overcome brand loyalty or make objective judgments about privacy.

    To sign those papers and turn them in is to implicitly imply that I have risen above all that. That I am capable of being truly objective. That I am professional, competent and able to see past my biases.

    Will branding me competent or professional change me? Move me out from being the scared kid into perhaps being one of those bullies I so loathe? Will I become too self-assured and in my overconfidence miss some critical detail in my IT design and cost lives?


    Your questions show a lot of self doubt, and I think a lot of it is unjustified. If you have any integrity (and I'm sure you have) then I think you are needlessly worrying about whether becoming a member of a professional body will turn you into someone you despise.

    I would say, go for it. If you are truly worried about the future, then your best chance of influencing the changes that are coming is to be a part of them, and membership of this body can only help that.

    1. Intractable Potsherd

      Upvoted in spades! Trevor, professional bodies *need* people like you to challenge their smugness. Please, please, please, stop vacillating and move ahead with your life.

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        Self doubt? Vacillating? Have seen the average wages these days?

        Most of us are hardly making a living, let alone the big money, while we see utter, utter morons fuck up project after project.

        Only the completely deluded would not have doubts.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sign it bud. We all get these moments of worry but don't let them turn into anxiety - that's the path of madness which I am currently veering very dangerously close to!

    I am due to start a new job shortly. It's a small intranet systems admin, but I suspect they have a bunch more systems they want me to admin over time. And I am bricking it. I keep looking back at my previous jobs; am I good enough? Do I actually have the skills or am I just bluffing? What if I fuck up and get sacked? Over and over these rumble round my head. I swear, I'll be a shaking nervous wreck come my first day. These are pointless worries. I know I'll be alright because, if I think about things logically, when it comes down to it I know what I am doing generally!

    And you'll be alright. Signing those doesn't mean that your thought processes, your treatment of others, your ability or your skills change.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To sign, or not to sign...

    ... that is the question.

    Whether you do or not is a matter for your own personal conscience. But for what it's worth, I enjoy the clarity and passion of your writing. Whatever you do, keep that up at least.

    1. Intractable Potsherd

      Re: To sign, or not to sign...

      "... I enjoy the clarity and passion of your writing. Whatever you do, keep that up at least."

      I should have said it that in my earlier comment. As long as it doesn't interfere with your future plans, please keep educating and entertaining us.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Forget IT, become a Journalist

    if you think being associated with Journalists is an ethical thing you're clearly in the wrong profession.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just remember...

    If you aren't signing the form because of your self-doubt, there are umpteen people who have no qualms about it and can meet the basic requirements.

    Ask yourself, are you as good as them? Unless you think you are less competent than everyone else who gets that certification, your ethical / self-doubt qualms are totally misplaced. You're shooting yourself in the foot for what benefit - so that less good people can take those roles instead of you? How does that make the world a better place?

  15. MyffyW Silver badge

    Thank you

    "No man should escape our universities without knowing how little he knows." - Robert Oppenheimer

    On the big question: Go for it. Get that professional status. Doubts are what make us evaluate situations rather than respond in a knee jerk manner.

    On your own journey: I'm a reasonably successful techie and a wannabe writer. I'd be fascinated to hear more of your insights about the transition from one to the other.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sign it

    I can personally relate to the depression state, i too have had to take time off work due to stress. It can at time be a less than emotionally rewarding career.

  17. Alan_Peery

    Sign if

    You're over-analysing it, and should get on with it.

    Having read your columns the competence is there, and the morals appear to be as well.

  18. A. Lloyd Flanagan

    Simply by asking these questions...

    You've put more thought into the subject than 95% of the people getting paid to do this. Remember, you're facing a huge herd of people who learned what they needed to graduate, and have spent the rest of the time learning only what they absolutely had to to get by. Get out there and run rings around them.

    And those of you reading online articles like this, you're ahead of many of your "peers" as well.

    Once you've put in a couple decades, you too can be cynical about your profession, and still running rings around the youngsters.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Trevor, sign it. Because it's not just your skills that matter.

    Trevor, we know each other, although I'm not going to tell you who I am.

    Sign those papers, because we have unfortunately landed in a world where skills matter less and less (which is pretty evident if you see what serious crap some companies and consultancies are able to sell at simply stupid prices) - your problem are the gatekeepers.

    Your writing has created at least one trampoline to vault over that lot, but you will not always manage that. Sometimes, a complete idiot will stand in your way whose skills are in sucking up to management, NOT in IT. Those people need to feel safe that if things go wrong they can point at something that justified their decision to pick you for a project - really, that's all these people care about. For that you need to provide something that allows them to tick their little boxes, and that's what you do with the paperwork.

    I too come from the practical side. My work happens to benefit from the fact that I'm practically invisible, but to build up a reputation and network that asks for my specialist skill set rather than for academic qualifications which I don't have (and which have proven to be irrelevant) took FAR longer than if I had those credentials, meaningless as they are for what I do.

    Your problem is that it's mainly idiots who runs the asylum, and there are too many of them to avoid. Play the game, because if you don't you lose by default.

    1. Mark 85

      Re: Trevor, sign it. Because it's not just your skills that matter.

      Sadly, AC is right. The paper is more important (at least to get the foot into the door and actually talk to someone) than what you've done. The biggest problem I've had is "no paper"... If I can get the foot in the door, it's all ok then but that lack stops a lot.

      Trying to come into the US (for some strange reason) requires that bit of paper which lets in all sorts of tech people who are more suited to lawn maintenance and asking "what size fries". <sigh>

      Even if no other commentard has said "sign the paper", I'd still say "sign it". Get the paper. The degree isn't mandatory but at least "working on one" will help.

      As for the ethics... once you have the paper, you get to pick and choose who you'll work for which is where your ethics can be satisfied.

      I realize I don't know shit about you other than your articles. Fold that self-doubt and put in a drawer with the words "herein there be monsters" on it. Self-doubt is the biggest career/relationship killer I can think of.

      I think 99% of us have been where you're at... breakdowns, stress, self-doubt, etc. Rise above it and go for your dream. Also, find a non-IT hobby to focus on occasionally. It helps the sanity.

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: Trevor, sign it. Because it's not just your skills that matter.

        "Also, find a non-IT hobby to focus on occasionally"

        I grow lemon trees from seed. Currently, I have 8 of them growing by my desk. Lee. Mon. Tree. LEMON TREE! I like them. They give me a happy.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Trevor, sign it. Because it's not just your skills that matter.

      AC is right. The mandarins run everything.

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: Trevor, sign it. Because it's not just your skills that matter.

        He's not particularly Anonymous. If he is who I think he is - and there's only one candidate given both the style of the prose and the details discussed - he's also 100x the everything I'll ever be. That particular AC is faster, stronger, smarter, better, in way better shape, with way better contacts, less ADD, a keener mind and an ability to learn things quicker than I'll ever have. Oh, and he's got dashing good looks to boot.

        Oh, he had a rough spot there for a while. He had some dark times...but 12 years ago we started from the same point. He was always the better at everything, and he always manged to leverage his contacts to achieve his goals more completely.

        It's easy to maintain confidence when you're a genius Superman with an innate knack for code, automation and politics alike.

        I agree the mandarins run everything. If I've created a life for myself in writing, he's build one for himself in running the mandarins that run everything. And frankly, that's good and fine. I'd be glad to be counted amongst such fine professionals as would be like him, though I've no right to play remotely in the same ballpark, it would be an honour.

        But who rules the roost? And what will they make of me? Are they the "elite" like our fellow Christian Berger? Filled with disdain for the diseconomied and believers in One True Path, whatever that path may be? Or are they believers in a careful and methodical consideration based on requirements and available resources?

        I am a product as much of my writing now as my systems administration. I swim in a world of marketing and sales, of angry commenttards and vicious emails. If I don't buy into Docker, the public cloud, the NSA watching us all the time, Cisco, EMC, VMware, Microsoft, open source everything and $deity knows what else I'm a failure's failure and the hoards upon hoards will see to it that I am vanquished.

        But somewhere, some part of me never changed. I grew, I evolved, my skills changed...but the me at the center didn't. I care about what's right. About helping others. About the truth. About the needs of the many, even when they have no resources and are just trying to compete in a hostile world filled with monsters that want to drive them out of business, depress their wages or replace them with robots.

        I don't do "belief". This makes me a good choice for writing for The Register, because shit disturbing, asking pointed question and so forth is the actual job. But it's a really difficult thing when you are a systems administrator. Sysadmins who ask too many questions are kicked out. Sysadmins are supposed to be subservient; they are not to rock the boat.

        Yet I look at the Sony debacle. What if they had had what I consider to be a real sysadmin? Someone who takes the ethics of truth and the needs of the many to heart, and never stops questioning, never stops pushing? Would Sony have been hacked if they had a hardass in charge who constantly pushed for improvement? For security? For "the right thing" over "the convenient thing"?

        This is where our Superman AC and I diverged in chronology. I pushed and pushed and pushed and fought and clawed and bit and screamed for 8 years. I built wonders out of nothing. Spun gold from cobwebs and worked myself right up to my grave. He kept going.

        After 8 years of expending my heart upon the battlefield I couldn't do it. I said "yes sir" and "thank you sir" and "as you wish sir" and just did what I was told. Occasionally, I mustered enough energy to fight back...but those periods became more and more infrequent, and they carried less passion each time.

        Our Superman AC, however...he beat the system. He scored victory after victory, win after win. He managed to drive agreements and compromises and evolve networks beyond the need for him. It has caused me doubt for some time now.

        Did I have the harder battle to fight, or is he just that much better at playing the game? I wonder frequently. And if I went back to dip my oar into systems administration again full time...could I do it with the passion I once had? With the steadfast zeal for maintaining my ethics?

        How much of our successes was about believing in the cause of those we worked for? How much about ability, and courage and drive?

        I'm good at fixing computers, damn it. Good enough to take on our Superman AC and win almost half the time, and he's the best I've ever seen...and I've met the tops of the tops from startups, the fortune 500 and a government. Despite a few grousing naysayers who want to troll me in the comments, I know my skillset. Like our Superman AC, if you handed me a ship like Sony I have the technical ability to not only right it, but to rebuild it better than it was before.

        But would I be able to play the politics game? Would I be able to bob and weave and compromise and blackmail to get what needs to be done, done? Could i put in the hours, and the worry, the sweat and the tears? Or is that spent; and I am nothing more than some technical skills and the ability to make pretty words come together in a sometimes useful marriage?

        To me, an Engineer isn't just someone who builds a bridge, it's someone who makes damned sure that the process of building that bridge will be as safe as possible and that the final result will stand the test of time and not cost lives. To me, a Doctor is someone someone who not just practices medicine, but puts the well being of others above all else. And a professional sysadmin should, in theory, have the same dedication to doing things as right as they know matter how many or few resources they have left.

        I guess that's what it really boils down to. A tired old soldier staring at his sword, wondering if he's got enough left for one last campaign. And hell, I'm only 32. This industry really can suck.

        Anyways, that's enough rambling for now...

  20. Dr. Mouse

    On the ethical side of things, I would say the fact you are asking these questions of yourself to such an extent shows that you have the moral fortitude.

    For the rest, and many of the comments, it appears my own experiences are not as abnormal as I believed. I, too, had a bit of a breakdown. Many aspects of your career closely match my own. I suddenly feel much less alone. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Personally, I have protected myself since my brush along the edge of self-annihilation. Although it is impossible to keep jobs like this 9-5, I have managed to make it as close as possible. My own rule is that, unless I am being paid for it, I will not do actual work outside of my normal hours. Without that rule, and part of the reason for my issues, I have been known to continue working until the early hours, and working for weeks without a break.

    I do allow myself to do research out of work (I count that as professional development) and personal projects related to work. But those I can easily put aside and get on with my own life. While I occasionally break my own rule, it becomes much easier to maintain a good work/life balance. I have probably become an inferior IT professional by doing this, but what I have gained in my personal life more than outweighs it. My self confidence has improved, my personal relationships have improved, and my overall level of happiness is an order of magnitude higher. It is the best decision I ever made.

  21. A Twig

    If ethics are so important to you in the first place, why does someone else's bit of paper matter a jot?

    Sign the bloody thing, get the letters you need so a bureaucrat somewhere can tick the right box, then get your quals nailed and find the job you seek.

    Once you are there, if you truly do "believe passionately in this concept" your own moral compass and personal pride/commitment will hold you to a much higher standard than any meaningless ethical code.

    I'm not really sure why this merited such a verbose and rambling article. You know where you want to go, you know how to get there, it's within your means, so get on and do it.

  22. chivo243 Silver badge

    Same boat


    If signing the paper gets you further, at least in your mind, then sign it by all means. I find myself in the same boat in another country. 50yrs old, no room for advancement at my current job. I'm finding my skill set isn't worth as much anymore. I missed the boat with mobile technology, I honestly thought it was a fad as only stuffed shirts could afford mobiles at the time. Maybe I'll be smart enough to jump on the next new technology?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why do you need a visa to visit customer premises (for face-to-face)? If the engagement to business occurred outside the US, then visiting premises falls under Visa B1, and this is waived in the standard visa-waiver program?

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Because border patrol are not rational, and what you need to cross the border is whatever they say it is. Questioning that will lead to you being "denied entry", which means you aren't getting back in for at least 5 years.

      You obey. You never question. Or else. I have been warned. And I am sick of the dark room with the overly bright lights.

  24. sisk

    Frankly going back to school to get a real degree (as opposed to the acting degree I left with the first time) has proven to be one of the bigger mistakes of my adult life. Turns out the rather expensive piece of paper I have now is worth significantly less than my experience in the field already was. Then again I don't have to worry about qualifying for a work visa, so I'm not quite in the same boat as you are.

    All that said, SIGN THE PAPER! If you've been a sysadmin for 10 years, you still have a job, and you haven't managed to implode the server room yet odds are you're competent.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bow down before the man

    Do what is expected of you and become a follower, it will get you exactly where you don't want to be, quicker than you know it.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Degree qualifications

    I have two graduate degrees, but to my knowledge no employer has ever checked or cared. Especially as an independent consultant, which it sounds like Trevor is now. Does the US actually check whether someone meets those qualifications Trevor mentioned to enter the US for work?

    It sounds like he's a bit too honest to try to fudge that (and has permanently shut that door by stating it here for all to see, anyway) but unless there is a bureaucrat somewhere in US Customs & Immigration charged with calling overseas schools and verifying degree status, I'm sure there are some Canadians who are even less educationally qualified than he is who are working here today.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Degree qualifications

      "unless there is a bureaucrat somewhere in US Customs & Immigration charged with calling overseas schools and verifying degree status"

      They're called "customs and border patrol". And they absolutely do check. Every single fucking one. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. They have no faces, no souls, no compassion, no humanity. They are not people. They are the rigid, emotionless, paranoid application of the most conservative and proscriptive laws. They protect America from security threats and those who seek to exploit her economically for the gain of anyone who is not America. And they have a chip on their shoulder about Canadians eleventy squillion miles wide.

      If you want to go to America to spend lots of money gambling in Vegas, no problem. But $deity fucking help you if you want to nip down to Seattle to have coffee with a friend. That's CLEARLY trying to have a business meeting within registering it with the border patrol's computers, and so what are you up to and why are you trying to hide it?

      And regardless of anything, I'm in the system as being an IT contractor. Even when I go as a journalist to a conference I get grilled. Am I meeting a client? Do I know I am not allowed? If I lie to them then I will be barred from entry and that goes on my record! I won't get in for at least 5 years! Etc.

      1. lucki bstard

        Re: Degree qualifications

        Having being told by the US borders people in Calgary that I 'should watch what I say, boy' I can instantly concur. The people to the south are odd.

      2. Robert Helpmann??

        Re: Degree qualifications

        They're called "customs and border patrol". And they absolutely do check. Every single fucking one. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

        Yes they do. One of my friends from DragonCon came down to volunteer for the event: they stopped her. It got worse when they found out she was helping organize other volunteers. They eventually let her go, but it was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever been around or heard.

        As far as whether you should sign the paper: what makes you think that doing so will change who you are and the way you act? Everything that I have seen in your writings says to me that you have a firm idea of who you are and what your values are. Surely, you have enough strength of character to stay true to that; I just don't see how that could be the issue. Self-evaluation and the self-doubt that comes with it are all well and good, but I hope you are not allowing fear of success to hold you back.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Degree qualifications

          "what makes you think that doing so will change who you are and the way you act?"

          Confident, cocky, lazy, dead. I am self aware enough to know that I am as susceptible to this as anyone else. More, perhaps, thanks to the severe ADD. Thus why I think and wonder and worry. Non productive perhaps...but finding an immediate resolution to the problem was not really the point.

          This is what is going on in my life. It's hard. It's insecure. It'd filled with questions and worries and pondering. And maybe by talking about it someone else will feel a little less alone. That's why I wrote it.

          1. Intractable Potsherd

            Re: Degree qualifications

            "And maybe by talking about it someone else will feel a little less alone. That's why I wrote it."

            Trevor, you just keep getting better.

          2. Robert Helpmann??

            Re: Degree qualifications

            Confident, cocky, lazy, dead.

            So you have things to overcome. Everyone does, whether they admit it or are even aware that they do. From what you said in your article, you have reached the point where you need to take action to continue to grow. Do so! Talking about what you have going on is good in as much as it helps you and others with similar issues, but ultimately acting, whether leading the way or following in others' footsteps, is what matters. Keep writing about it. If raising awareness is helpful, demonstrating that there is real reason for hope is even more important.

            Good luck

            1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

              Re: Degree qualifications

              "If raising awareness is helpful, demonstrating that there is real reason for hope is even more important."

              ...goddamn it.

  27. skeptical i

    Asking questions and being concerned about outcomes

    puts you light years ahead of most of the herd, as others have noted above. If your skills are lacking in some area or other, I am sure others in the association will let you know and advise on how to correct this deficiency (if they are in fact interested in having quality members and not just on fattening their membership rosters). As the man said, "Swing the bat and run like hell; if it's a foul ball someone will tell you."

  28. Do Not Fold Spindle Mutilate

    Let me tell you about CIPS then sign it because it is meaningless.

    CIPS wants to portray itself as Medical Doctors, Engineers and Chartered Accountants but they are not. As a CIPS member for more than a decade let me tell you that CIPS is an organization for consultants to meet for drinks. Salespeople and managers are CIPS members. There are very few people who do anything more than sit in meetings, talk and send emails. CIPS talks big but that is because the regular jobs of the members is to talk big. If signing the form means that you can get another consulting job then sign the form because that is the purpose of CIPS which is to show that the members are better than the people behind the counter at Best Buy. There will be many CIPS members that have been in similar situations where the formal education does not match up with the check boxes on the cross border forms. It might be worthwhile to hire someone to get the specifics about the requirements for cross border working.

    My understanding is the standards for other "professional" jobs such as hair cutting and fixing car brakes have more requirements because they are considered to have a direct consequence on the health of the public than the IT jobs. That is the context of the professionalism. It is wonderful that you take your professionalism seriously and I encourage you on that because it distinguishes you from all the others who don't give a damn.

    Your knowledge, experience, and that you care about the quality of the product given to the customer says much more about you than a formal degree from a self serving group such as CIPS or a self serving institution such as a university. I also hate calculus and have never used it outside of a calculus course so I feel it does not need to be taught to 99% of the people who are required to learn it. A practical course on statistics would have been much much more worthwhile.

    If you cannot decide what to do, do what I did: buy a sports car. You can see the Miata being driven around in the snow even in the middle of winter.

  29. T. F. M. Reader


    You don't say if there is any particular point in the CIPS ethics code that you cannot agree with. If there isn't, go forth and sign it. If all that bothers you is that your ethics (as manifested by competency) will be assessed by someone else who sees things differently, and that this will somehow make you "unethical", in my mind it is not an issue.

    Allow me to elaborate. First, background disclosure, to help you decide whether to ignore the rest. I have some advanced degrees and I've taught at universities in addition to my day industry jobs. I am very comfortable with calculus among other fields. I code quite a bit when required (and it usually is), and I rather loathe Java. I tend to do lots of IT and DevOps stuff in addition to my real job simply because there is no one else around (e.g., in the startup I am with now) who can do it as well as I do, but I am not a provider of IT services as you are. I may agree or disagree with what you write on occasion, but do carry on - I will be awaiting your future columns (Drew - good call...).

    I generally avoid being a member of organizations or societies, but I have been in the past, and I carefully checked the by-laws and ethical codes every time. Some companies I worked for (the really big ones) have ethical codes, professional conduct codes, etc. I had to sign those, too. I always made a point studying them. I must say I was quite impressed by both the apparent intent and the specific formulations and I never thought, "I shouldn't really sign this, but I will, to stay employed."

    1. To answer your main question: Being a member of a professional organization will not really make you any different, nor will it make you a better or worse techie than you are. It does not define you. It may be a (perfectly ethical) tool in making your sales pitch more attractive to prospective clients, but it will not mean that you'll do your job any differently. It will be up to you to add to the professional society's credit - consider it an incentive.

    2. Subscribing to an ethical code does not mean you cannot make any professional mistake from that moment on. I've never seen an ethics code that says, "making mistakes is unethical." If you "forget" to point out to a customer that designing a wirelessly controlled pacemaker or insulin pump with insufficient security (or pre-installing a certificate hijacker on a laptop, for that matter) will expose the end user to real danger just because you are afraid the contract will go to someone else, then it's a question of ethics. Generally speaking, it is about recognizing a conflict of interest. Is there anything that you would have done differently if circumstances were different? If at any point you recognize that something should not be done and do it anyway - that is when your ethics should be questioned. Offering your services while recognizing you cannot do the job is included - the term "competency" seems related.

    3. By all means get a degree if you feel it'll be beneficial, either as a sales pitch aid or as a step to personal fulfilment or - hopefully - both. A degree will not, by itself, change you. Nor will it make you a better techie in any narrow, specific sense. A (good) university is not a vocational school, its job is not to add a specific set of skills to your repertoire. It may make you a better, more methodical learner and it may help you approach completely new problems with no known solutions more effectively (especially if we are talking about a master's degree). Again, it will be up to you to add to the university's reputation.

    4. Most importantly to remember in moments of self-doubt: you are not, repeat NOT responsible for any expectations others may have of you. You cannot be. This includes your technology skills, your writing skills, everything. This includes the simpletons who think that if you have a university diploma or some membership card you will provide a better service. This includes any expectations that someone may have that you will never, ever, screw up. Your personal or professional ethics does not mean infallibility.

    Best of luck.

    1. lucki bstard

      I think point 4 is the best point I have ever read on El Reg. have an up vote!

  30. OzBob

    Glad to hear you made it through your dark days

    I would be interested in hearing from more Register IT professionals about mental health issues. It seems to happen a lot but gets talked about hardly ever.

    1. fruitoftheloon

      @Ozbob: Re: Glad to hear you made it through your dark days


      I was a very successful risky type person in a very large UK plc, took time off (I thought I needed a wind-down, didn't realise I was in the very early stages of things heading down hill...). Then worked for Network Rail (worst career decision I ever made) as I wanted to learn more about big infrastructure jobs.

      At the interviews they said they wanted things 'shaken up a bit', which was utter cow dung, they really wanted a nodding donkey/project accountant instead.

      Have a rummage through my previous posts for more info.

      The bottom line now is that rather than commute into central London every day, we now live in a teensy village in the middle of Devon, I am slowly (very important that) developing a micro business supporting local small businesses with graphicsy and interwebs type stuff.

      I am very fortunate in having a wondeful wife, $upportive family, as otherwise I would have lost my family ages ago, and potentially be living in a cardboard box somewhere

      Plus I am developing my own range of very high-end leathergoods, as in super fancy briefcases etc.

      It is interesting what can come out of the other end of a breakdown, what I am doing now is never going to make me rich, but it is making me happier, which methinks is rather important.



  31. Christian Berger

    I have no idea what qualification Trevor is aiming for

    I mean from what I have read Mr Pott doesn't seem to know a lot of IT. He gets into problems normal people are wise enough to avoid. From what we are reading from his articles, his main aim seems to be to be well at shopping, a task he so often fails at by buying sub standard solutions at a premium price just because he was naive enough to follow a sales droid.

    To judge him, we'd need to know his standards. I can only judge myself by my standards.

    For me the most important skill is to have a certain "know how". It's important to know how to attack problems, how to get down to the core of a problem, then solve that and then add all the little details afterwards. It's important not to get messed up in all those little details to early. Avoid doing the same thing twice, except to replace the old version when you have learned how to do it better. Be not afraid to re-do something you now know how to make better.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: I have no idea what qualification Trevor is aiming for

      Thanks for making my entire point in one comment...and for demonstrating why I have qualms about associating myself some people.

      Maybe one day you'll serve your time in places of little-to-no budget and try to meet expectations of enterprise-class IT with budgets 1/15th the size. For 15 years I've actually managed to do so. And, quite frankly, I have better uptime than Amazon.

      How would you do in the same circumstances? Would it be right to judge you as "not very good at IT" because you didn't manage to create budget from nothing? And how do your biases and your experiences slot in over it all?

      But ah, that old chestnut rears its ugly head again: the propensity to extrapolate from one's own experience and narrow area of expertise and assume that it applies to everyone. Having served companies of all sizes, I know better...but my personal experience is that the overwhelming majority of IT practitioners don't.

      So what is the gauge of a professional? That they simply refuse to work anywhere without a big enough budget? They they tell companies that can't reasonably afford Cisco + EMC + Oracle + Microsoft that they should go out of business because buying anything else is crap?

      You're quite willing to wield the sword of judgement regarding competence in our industry, so please, do tell. And no mealy-mouthed weasel words about "a certain know how". Set some standards by which others (and yourself) should be judged. And then explain how you deal with the millions of businesses that will fall outside those standards?

      Because that, right there, is the core of it all. For me. For our industry. For our society as we become ever more reliant on technology.

      If I am "naive enough to follow a sales droid" - and I would like to introduce you to many a broken sales droid that I have wrecked with my aggressive questioning, as well as several CEOs, CTOs, project mangers, etc - then what the metric flouncing hell is an appropriate level of skepticism? I've earned a reputation amongst PRs for being someone that you absolutely must have the most technical people available on the call, and that is "naive enough to follow a sales droid"?

      So I am not sure entirely what world you're aiming to create here. We're all supposed to be skeptical of sales droids to the point that you go beyond making CxOs of some of the world's most powerful companies crack and go off script. Yet at the same time, we are supposed to buy the "right" things, even if we can't afford them. Otherwise, we're bad at IT.

      Of course, it could be that I'm misinterpreting your comment. I cannot deny the possibility. That said, I will retain my reservations and skepticism about your ability to objectively assess competence. Or, for that matter, just about anyone else's who doesn't work in the particular slice of a feild that the person they're judging works in.

      1. Camilla Smythe

        Re: I have no idea what qualification Trevor is aiming for

        Just did fried eggs on bread... worked out quite well.

        I think Mrs Pott has married the right man.

        Perhaps he might wish to make her

        I might wonder why she bothers given there are likely to be higher earners out there who have signed away.....?

      2. fruitoftheloon

        @Trevor Pott Re: I have no idea what qualification Trevor is aiming for


        Please don't be (overly) offended or read too much into Christians' comment, it's not his fault that he is not the sharpest knife in the drawer...

        Have one on me!l



    2. fruitoftheloon

      @Christian: Re: I have no idea what qualification Trevor is aiming for


      Yup, very helpful indeed...

      Ooi do you have kids? If so, methinks the teenage years may be more 'interesting' than you may have originally anticipated.


    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I have no idea what qualification Trevor is aiming for

      I mean from what I have read Mr Pott doesn't seem to know a lot of IT. He gets into problems normal people are wise enough to avoid. From what we are reading from his articles, his main aim seems to be to be well at shopping, a task he so often fails at by buying sub standard solutions at a premium price just because he was naive enough to follow a sales droid.

      To judge him, we'd need to know his standards. I can only judge myself by my standards.

      I think the last paragraph in the above is telling.

      If you have never been near the need to solve problems with either insufficient time, insufficient funds or both you haven't done IT, and from what I read from Trevor he's done both - often. That requires real skills, hard core experience (the type you gain AFTER you need it :) ) and a certain amount of guts to stick your neck out the next time. It also requires you to learn from others (to reduce that unfortunate habit of experience to appear too late), which in turn needs a certain humility to accept that you cannot know it all and that you can also learn from others, which you have to balance against the aforementioned guts to take it on and the confidence in yourself that you get it done regardless of what fate and idiots with certifications try to throw at you (I'm not dissing certification, but I have dealt with enough idiots that confuse certification with skill and knowledge to occasionally get annoyed).

      That is not stuff you can certify for or learn from a book, that is learned over stupid amounts of coffee and junkfood and an awful lot of sweat and self doubt. THAT qualification you cannot study for, and there is no tick box or HR trick question that allows a non IT person to detect that you possess that talent (IT people will recognise it - usually by the haunted look or by the speed you inhale beer :).

      The funny thing is that THAT is the most important talent of all. I can send you on any kind of course, but if you haven't got the talent to use your knowledge baseline for actually delivering something in complex, stressful or resource starved situations (or all at the same time), you are merely a corporate minion and you should never venture outside that box.

      The real job is not about ticking boxes, it's about delivering. Trevor can. Those who have been there simply sense that from his writing. If you cannot spot that, well, I'm going to feed you your own words: you don't seem to know a lot of IT.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "I am an ambitious man, a trait I would gladly delete if I could find the relevant source code." < Maybe if you stuck with your CS degree you might have been able to ;)

  33. ecofeco Silver badge

    You should be scared

    Fucking idiot savants are writing the code these days and Dilbert's pointy haired boss is approving the final deliverable.

    "Tech bling!" Yeehaw!

  34. Yugguy

    My degree was pointless?

    There's nothing I learnt on my IT degree that I ever really used in real IT work.

    However it ticks a box on many organisations' recruitment forms.

    So it was worth it.

  35. tr7

    Do not sign.

    Sounds like selling your soul to me.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Posting as AC for what should be obvious reasons.

    Bits of Trevor's story sound all too familiar - in my case I've now had two periods off work with stress and needed to "take a break". Last time, although I recognised the symptoms having been through it before, "financial restrictions" (ie the need to pay bills when I'm now at a company that doesn't pay sick pay above the legal minimum) kept me at work while I tried to work it out. Then one day the clueless f***ing idiot who styles himself as our manager "pressed the button" just once too many - they learned a bit about what this department actually does when managers had to "chip in" and keep stuff working (several others have left for other jobs because, in part, of said "manager").

    Last year I got diagnosed with ASD (what would once have been called Aspergers, but they don't use such labels now) - it doesn't change anything, except that now I can counter that I'm not "being f***ing awkward" when I fail to comprehend some indecipherable and vague request said f***wit came out with !

    Like Trevor, I've found getting another job hampered by not having "the right bits of paper". I have a degree, from a highly reputable university, but that's not enough. I've been doing a variety of IT for <cough> decades - I struggle to think of one technology I work with now that even existed back then so it's clear that I can learn new stuff. I've run my own company, not very successfully (that's another story), so I have a knowledge of what cash flow means. I'm a member of the IET thanks to the engineering degree and a good apprenticeship with a large local engineering outfit. But since I have no IT qualifications, I can't tick the tick boxes (and I'm too honest to 'embellish') that would get me past the HR droid and actually get an interview where I could show that I can do sh*t - though the ASD means I really struggle with interviews (now I know why).

    In reality, I don't want to be in IT - and haven't for some years. But I'm now stuck in limbo - because I've not done "engineering" for several decades, I don't have the current skills any employer would want. Because I'm "old" and have experience, no-one would consider me for a trainee position - I'd consider it, the pay is as good as I get now !

    But I'm rambling.

    So Trevor - just sign the papers. As others have said, the fact that you ask the question pretty well means that your ethics are up to it - you don't have to lower your standards to the minimum they ask for ! Better to work from within to raise standards than sit by while those with no qualms carry on giving the industry a bad name.

    On the self doubt bit. I too suffer from that.

    One thing that's starting to sink in with me is that many in our industry are, to be blunt, rubbish and just bu**sh*t their way into jobs - then rely on Google and Stackoverflow to train themselves on the job. At some point, you have to step over the line and take on something you aren't comfortable with - if you don't then you'll never move that line forwards. It's OK - as long as you don't take it too far into an area you have no knowledge of. Many times I've come across "experts" and realised "actually, they don't seem to know much more than me" !

    I've read many of your articles - and usually am left feeling "this guy knows his sh*t".

    When, all too infrequently, the opportunity arises - I just tell people straight up what I can and can't do, and what I know a bit about but wouldn't call myself expert. Being blunt like that is another trait of my level of ASD. If you're talking to the actual technical manager then they'll either accept that you know enough for their team - or you are probably better off not working for them.

    I really ought to stop now and look like I'm being busy ;-) Trying to keep stuff working when the budget is "nothing" on a good day !

    1. fruitoftheloon
      Thumb Up

      @Aspie ac


      You're most definitely not the only Aspie here, have a rummage through the El Reg archive, there be some gold out there!

      And yep, a lot of so called Managers are a waste of space, I had one at Network Rail who was a poster boy for the Peter Principle.

      (Trevor), apols if we have hijacked your thread a smidgeon...



      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: @Aspie ac

        'tis not my thread, sir. I'm just a commenttard here, no different from any of you. Cheers, and beers should we ever cross paths, eh?

        1. fruitoftheloon

          @Trevor: Re: @Aspie ac


          I hope our collective 'additions' have helped...!

          If you would ever be visiting London/Devon, I would very much like to share a bevy or five.

          That being the case, Jon & Andrew (may) still have my email to hand.

          At some point we will hopefully be visiting your part of the world!



          1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

            Re: @Trevor: @Aspie ac

            You should! There is a rather stunning collection of large pointy rocks to the west of us that I feel are typically worth exploring.

            1. fruitoftheloon

              Re: @Trevor: @Aspie ac


              Would love to.

              We have Stonehenge!



              1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                Re: @Trevor: @Aspie ac

                Stonehenge is a really neat example of human ingenuity. That said, I'm still far more awed by nature. It is amazing what plate tectonics can do, and I really like the part where some of our atmosphere freezes out periodically and falls to the ground.

              2. lucki bstard

                Re: @Trevor: @Aspie ac

                Stonehenge is great, but the English Heritage treatment of it is not good in many ways. However here there are rocks that refresh your opinion on life


                It puts backups and ping loss into perspective

                1. fruitoftheloon
                  Thumb Up

                  @lucki bstard: Re: @Trevor: @Aspie ac


                  You got that right, then again if the poor souls didn't work for English Heritage, who else would employ them? There's a thought.....



  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Go for it - you have ethics as shown in your articles!

    If this Professional body is part of the path to getting the certificates then go for it. Ethics are something that we need more of and from reading some of your articles you have plenty.

    I think to be a *proper* sysadmin you *must* have the experience of keeping/building systems out of tissue paper and cobwebs because management don't see the need for money... or like happened to us "Senior Management (US)" decided to buy into MS licence rental for systems we already had perpetual licences for and then reduced staff because there wasn't any money. Or the time we had to put in Lotus Notes for $2m rather than use the well tried and trusted open alternatives for mail and calendaring which we could have provisioned for less than $20k. Or £8k support contract refused for ERP sever which had a downtime cost of £10k/hour.... most of us have been here and have the scars...

    I got so fed up/ill I left IT completely (burn-out), so along with some dyslexia, light ASD and health issues I'll never get back in, nor have a full-time job again. Don't waste too much thought on the paperwork as you already have shown a greater awareness than most managers - get on with your life :-)

    *AC because you never know...

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