As a consultant, one of the things I enjoy best is the opportunity to get a peek at how businesses and organizations operate. It should be no surprise that the organizations that are highly functional are those who communicate and collaborate the best. Most of the current movements / trends such as Agile, Lean, Kanban, and DevOps are all about improving communication, visibility, collaboration, workplace happiness, and ultimately, profits.

If you’re a small group, you don’t necessarily need any of those frameworks, especially if you all work in the same office. But many groups this size don’t communicate or collaborate as well or efficiently as they could. They either lack the culture or the tools to reach their full potential.


You have to start with culture, and that begins with leadership. Every group has a culture, but not every group has a culture that is planned and deliberately cultivated. It’s a lot like a plot of ground; it can left to grow wild, it can be planted but not tended, or it can be planted, cared for, watered, and weeded.


Assuming you have a decent culture of communication and collaboration, you’ll want to look at applications that can help you. I encourage you to look at how well your applications allow you to collaborate in real-time. I still work with traditional applications and methods, and I can tell you it is painfully slow and frustrating compared to some of the ideas I’ll share here.

Let’s take a look at Google Drive for example. It lacks a lot of the functionality that Microsoft Office does, but it’s fantastic for real-time collaboration. Teams I work with often work remotely, and we get on a call (Skype, Uber Conference, Google Hangouts – lots of free or low cost choices) and open up a document and start working. We can see what the other people are doing, share our thoughts, and get the job done.

A wiki is another must have collaboration tool. If you have policies, processes, procedures, how-tos, you need a wiki. A wiki application (just like Wikipedia) allows teams to share knowledge and to continually refine it. A wiki is searchable, where a file server isn’t as searchable. You’ll always have the latest version of the document, so no more asking if the document on the file server is the latest. It’s so easy to edit and use, people actually keep the documentation up to date.

Inexpensive to Rent and Operate

These are very inexpensive solutions to basic collaboration problems. Google Apps for Business is just $5 per month per person, and free for non-profits. That includes email with your business domain, calendaring, video chat, and more.

You can fire up a wiki on Amazon using Amazon Marketplace and pay $0.06 / hour for most small-medium sized groups. You can shutdown during off hours, and if you run it 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, you’re looking at $262.80 annually for the server and software.

Use the best tool for the job. Using a screwdriver as a pry bar will often end in blood and tears. Using Google to brand and custom format your document has a similar result. However, it is inexpensive, easy and functional enough for most uses, and is great for collaborating on content. Save your Office licenses for the few people who really need them.

When we’re done collaborating and producing the content, we’ll put the document on Amazon S3, which we use as our fileserver. (You can encrypt your data before uploading, during transit, and while its stored on S3 – lots of options for keeping your data secure). S3 costs less than $1 / GB, and they have a free 5 GB tier if you qualify.

I’d love to hear any ideas you’d like to share that can help small or medium sized groups collaborate faster, easier, and cheaper. Please leave a comment.

Feel free to leave a comment or contact me if you’re in need of help or want more information about ways to collaborate better.




Summer Tech Camp for Vegas Teens

by becki on December 21, 2013

I’m making a public declaration and call for your help.

I have a small consulting company and we are committed to donating at least 10% of our billable hours. We want to teach people tech skills, so that they can have a career in technology. Eventually we want to offer this course to low income people looking for a tech career, but we are going to start with a summer camp for up to 20 teens. We’re building the camp infrastructure in the cloud, so if you want to try some of this where you are, let us know.

Here’s the rough outline, with each module being 2 weeks long. We are assuming students have little to no knowledge of the subjects.

Introduction to IT

  • Coding
    • Learn the basics of Git
    • Basic Python
    • Perform lab exercises
  • Sysadmin
    • Use Puppet to launch Linux instances on AWS
    • Basic Bash scripting
    • Perform lab exercises
  • Networking
    • Launch GNS3 instances in AWS
    • Perform lab exercises
  • Project
    • Students will work on a project to share with the class in a 10 minute presentation 

The kids will be working in groups and will workout problems together. They will learn how to learn, hypothesize, test their theories, and cooperate.  At the end of the camp, they will have discovered which, if any area of IT they want to explore further.

How You Can Help

We can use some help with the following. Please let us know if you can help.

  • Venue – preferably near the Las Vegas Bonneville Transit and Bike Center downtown, 6 weeks sometime in June-August, Monday-Thursday from 9 AM – 3 PM.
  • Internet access – 6 weeks
  • Computers for 20 students – can be Chromebooks or similar – would be fantastic to give to students
  • Mentors – If you have a business, this is a great way to give something back to your community and to identify talent.
  • Course setup – help us setup and test the course infrastructure and labs
  • Students – Know a Vegas kid who’s got potential? Know any teachers who can identify talented kids who would benefit from this camp?

When we get further along, we will need the following for a maximum of 20 students. We won’t accept any monetary donations until we get the venue and internet access committed.

  • Sponsor a teen – anticipate ~ $500 0r $250 without computer
    • Chromebook
    • RTC passes – 2, 1 month passes
    • Lunches 4 days per week * 6 weeks = 24 lunches
    • T-shirt
    • Books / eBooks /subscriptions O’Reilly, Safari, or Amazon – Python, Sysadmin, Bash, Cisco ICND 1
  • Or donate what you can
    • RTC passes for students. 2, 1 month passes, or whatever you can donate
    • Lunches 20 students * 4 days per week * 6 weeks = 480 lunches
    • T-shirts for students – 20 or 40 shirts
    • AWS instance hours
    • Books / eBooks / subscriptions – O’Reilly, Safari, or Amazon – Python, Sysadmin, Bash, Cisco ICND 1

That’s it for now. We’ll post updates as they happen and will create a Google Group for those wanting to help. In the meantime, if you’ve got experience with this type of thing, please give us any advice you have.



Prepare For, Don’t Fear Unemployment

November 2, 2013

You must realize by now that there are no lifetime jobs with a nice pension waiting for you at the end. Anything can happen and you need to be prepared. Unless you have an employment contract, you are a free agent to work for whomever you please and to leave your employer anytime you choose. […]

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What I Learned From Puppet’s Triage-A-Thon

July 14, 2013

Yesterday I took a small part in the Puppet Triage-A-Thon 2013 as part of my path to learn more about DevOps automation tools. The event was more helpful to me than I to it. I’m such a newbie, I wasn’t able to do much more than review the status of a few Puppet Modules and […]

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What Happens When Your IT Skills Are Out of Date

June 16, 2013

Regular readers of this blog know that I encourage you to keep your IT and security skills current, and that you understand your value to your employer. This is what a professional does, and this is what it takes to stay employable and keep your earning potential high. Then you see a job advertisement like […]

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