Author Archives: chuckmilam

Automation Epiphany

Several Christmases ago, I was struck by an epiphany. Not the seasonal holiday, but the sudden realization we were in the middle of what I believe is the second-largest disruptive change in the Information Technology field behind the emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web.

So, what happened? I was starting a new centralized log collection and alerting project at work. At the highest and simplest level: This was a centralized syslog server that was expected to stay up under a large ingest load as well as provide analysis and alerting capabilities. This project had started, stalled, and moved around various groups like a hot potato over the years, so I was both excited and a little apprehensive to tackle it.

Regardless, I put my hand up in a meeting and said, “I can do it.”

As I began to investigate the options, it was increasingly obvious I would be building this system out on multiple Linux systems. I’ve been a Linux user since 1993, and an admin since 1995. I had been in a Windows-only environment for years, so I took a moment to catch up and survey the current state of Linux and infrastructure management.

I don’t recall how I landed on Ansible. It was likely a combination of the usual Linux/Sysadmin subreddits, the Red Hat documentation and Infosec Twitter. However I got there, I decided to learn more about Ansible over the Christmas break.

As I went down the Ansible rabbit hole, I was directed to Jeff Geerling‘s excellent book Ansible for DevOps. I was both excited and a little ashamed to discover new-to-me technologies such as Vagrant for spinning up virtual machines quickly for testing. Where had this been all this time?

I worked through the entire book over the break, then immediately took the lessons learned and applied them to my new project. It didn’t take me long to realize I would never manage a fleet of bespoke servers “by hand” again. Automation, everything-as-code, was clearly the way forward. I was saving time, preventing technical debt loads, and most importantly, felt confident to test and make changes without fear of having to recover for weeks in the event something went wrong. In short, I was sold on the DevOps philosophy. It occurred to me that if an organization was not using these tools and methodologies, then they were going to get lapped on the track by the competitors who had adopted these new ways of working.

I began to read everything I could about DevOps, the Theory of Constraints, Automation, and even business books I’d heard about but never thought relevant. Eventually, I realized I had a choice: I could stay where I was and settle for a comfortable march to retirement, or I could make a change and work with these new techniques and philosophies.

After COVID and working from home, I realized it was time for change. I left the comfort of the known, safe march to retirement, and took the leap of faith. More on that later.

Flow and the Importance of Music to Knowledge Work

This morning I queued up one of my favorites in my “Chill Coding Flow” YouTube Playlist. As I settled into the comforting familiarity of “ADHD Relief, Deep Focus Music with Pulsation, ADD Music for Concentration, ADHD Music,” coming through my noise-canceling headphones, I took a moment to look at some of the comments on the video:

“It is so unbelievable how sounds affect your brain. This is one of my favorites. I work with headphones on and it just puts me on track with whatever I’m working on. I can finish projects without bouncing around. It’s like a you-can-do-it security blanket for your brain.”

“It took me 2 hours to write 2 paragraphs because I kept getting distracted. Just 20 minutes into this video and I have 3 pages finished and getting ready to wrap it up. These don’t always work for me, but this one certainly does.”

I’ve felt every bit of both comments. There’s something about a soothing track that keeps me on task and focused. I remember writing my undergraduate thesis to Rob Dougan – Clubbed To Death on repeat for a week straight. I’m sure there’s some interesting psychology at work here, but I’m not going to sweat it. It works for me and has for years now.

During the pandemic, I saw others in my circles reporting improved productivity while working from home. Working from my home office, I was more productive than I had been in…years. Hard to admit that, but it’s true, and I even had the metrics to prove it.

I believe a major contributor to the improved productivity was the ability to put on concentration music and get into a flow state without the distractions and interruptions common in an office environment. Returning to the office after more than a year of working in a safe, comfortable environment that favored concentration proved to be jarring. So much so, I decided to make a change and seek out more work-from-home opportunities. The office just seemed too distracting. Sometimes, headphones and concentration music can be a deal-breaker, especially for knowledge workers.