Automate Yourself Out Of A Job

At VSU, my boss got a promotion when his boss retired. Then a shuffling of jobs gave me a promotion, but it also sent my old job to another group. That left the web services group going from 2.5 full-time positions down to 1.5.

We did not have that much free time. If anything in the early 2000s, the responsibilities were growing which is how we ended up with 2.5 people. My only way to restore sanity was by automation. Admittedly, I love scripting and schedulings, so my approach to things at that time was to write scripts to handle jobs. The change gave more motivation to ensure that anything that could be automated was. Or I would drown in the work.

What made it hard was, even as I automated these jobs, more things were coming to the web. The needs grew faster than I could develop the tools to handle it. It was a fantastic experience, though.

The Importance of Student Workers to A University

Gille believed that [UGA] Transit could not succeed without its stable of student employees. She said the campus-centered transportation is best fulfilled by students who are on campus nearly every day, not individuals in the community who rarely otherwise come in contact with the University of Georgia campus. It’s easier to acclimate hundreds of students to campus driving routes than to find the same number of non-students willing to learn the routes. The Importance of Student Workers to A University

My first day at Valdosta State University as a student, I also applied for and got a job working in the library. (Yeesh, I think that means I’ve been working for the same employer-ish for 22 years.) I loved the public and school libraries growing up. And I did some of my research for the middle school science fairs in the college library. I love books, so why not?

My final summer, they hired me a temporary staff to fill-in at the reference desk. Normally, a faculty member librarian did that work, but I was being entrusted to do when they were at half capacity. That seemed to seal the deal: I would go to library school for my master’s degree and become a librarian. (Fate intervened by running into my future boss the next fall who convinced me to come work in IT.)

As staff at VSU IT, I supervised a handful of students near the end. They were invaluable for keeping Web Services running. Yes, they were cheap labor. They also hopefully learned some skills that made their careers. Student labor is what made the school operate. Hiring good students is just as important for any staff position because they represent the university, they do the work that allows it to run, and they ensure the quality of almost anything except maybe the professor vocalizing to a classroom. Students do not get the respect of staff, but they for many areas are most of the staff. The departments might not exist without student workers.



There is a Twitter thing running around where people post their first seven jobs. I do not think mine would fit in a tweet, so I put it here. This title should show up there as a hashtag and be my contribution.

If you count by employers, then I have had 1-3.

  1. University System of Georgia
    1. Valdosta State University
      1. Odum Library
      2. Information Technology
    2. Board  of Regents

Valdosta State is part of the USG. One perspective is I have only had one overall employer. VSU is just a bigger unit than say the library. One could say I have had three employer entities.

If you count by position codes, then I think the list is (not counting repeats in the same position):

  1. Student worker: Reference book shelver
  2. Casual laborer: Reference book shelver, Inter-Library Loan, Government Documents
  3. Student worker: Government Documents
  4. Casual laborer: Reference desk manager
  5. Student worker: Peer Reference desk
  6. Casual laborer: Webmaster Cooperative Education intern
  7. Casual laborer: Assistant Webmaster (CSSII)

Wow, those are all the crazy positions I held before become permanent staff. The next job in the list is the first permanent staff position. In total all seven were just over 5 years.


TED Talk: You Fell Through the Cracks

There was a time when my secret project, the thing that brought me in to work ever day and probably why I stayed till 8pm, was attempting to end the error_log from have anyone ever hitting the 404 page. It was after making the 404 page funny. Only no one got the joke.

If the below video does not work, then try Renny Gleeson: 404, the story of a page not found.

Eventually I did give up and focus on helpful things such that people could get where they needed to go.


Soft Skill Sell

Student workers made up most of the IT work force when I was working at a university. The labor was cheap (no health or retirement benefits, $7-15 an hour) compared to hiring staff. For the grunt work, in my case making web pages and moving files, it was convenient. Sure training them was a hassle, but getting them up to speed was not terrible.

I cared more about selecting for the soft skills in an interview and preferred to teach the hard skills. As Maureen Downey quoted in A harder line on softer skills: If young people can master PhotoShop, can’t they figure out alarm clocks?:

She explains that while hard skills are the factual and technical talents that workers bring to their jobs, soft skills represent their ability to get along with colleagues, sell their ideas, get to work on time, problem solve and motivate others.

I needed them to establish and maintain positive relationships with the various departments whose web sites we maintained. They also needed to work well with each other as one might be asked to make an emergency change to a page while another was out. Being on time to a meeting with a department representative was important to keeping that person happy. I broke all of them calling me if they were going to be a minute late to the office. As long as they kept the clients happy I really did not care whether they were a few minutes or even hours late. (It was work I did not have to do.)

My management style probably introduced bad habits like the supposed soccer coaches rewarding kids for just showing up. I am doubtful this is all there is to it. As I recall, when I was in the position of being a student worker, the same complaints about us late Gen Xers. Going back even younger, I recall my grandmother complaining about student workers having the same complaints about early Gen Xers. My grandmother described her brothers at 18-22 as the same. This is not a brand new problem with Millennials. Identifying who will do a good job is the job of a manager. Get used to it.

The certificate of soft skills mentioned in the article sounds stupid:

A comprehensive career and college readiness bill passed this year by the General Assembly authorizes the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development to establish certification in soft skills such as punctuality, ability to learn, appropriate business attire and the ability to work as a team.

We really are wasting taxpayer money on this? I disagree this is common sense (these things must be taught). My parents did teach me much of these kinds of things.


Michelle remarked my blog posts over the years have become technical. I wanted to say “too technical”, but I don’t think she actually wrote that. Instead of writing about the personal aspects of my work I only write about the mechanics.

Over the years I’ve read quite a bit about the trouble people get into by blogging. Rumors have spread based on reading way too much into ambiguously written posts. Friends writing about rumors or even frustrations regarding work resulted in huge dramatic, scary events where jobs could have been lost. A Microsoft employee posted pictures of Macintosh computers at his work which resulted in his termination. An airline employee posed for photographs in uniform was terminated for the photos and maybe statements about work. Blogging about work is like placing mines in a field while blindfolded. One really doesn’t know what will set one off.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an article called How to Blog Safely (About Work or Anything Else) which has a section called “Blog Without Getting Fired” which says,

The First Amendment protects speech from being censored by the government; it does not regulate what private parties (such as most employers) do. In states with “at will” employment laws like California, employers can fire you at any time, for any reason. And no state has laws that specifically protect bloggers from discrimination, on the job or otherwise.

Being the test case of a law which may or not protect me doesn’t strike me as the smartest move.

I have thought about abandoning the blogs. Blogging anonymously would require more subterfuge than I could muster. So my final recourse to keep blogging involves treading lightly and avoiding sensitive topics like anything which could possibly be construed as criticism of a coworker or the organization. That means pretty much not talking about people or organization. My posts focus on tools and processes. Things without feelings.

Ada Lovelace Day

Today is Ada Lovelace Day to celebrate women in technology and science. I’ve read women need role models more than men. If true, then movements like this to promote those who are doing great work in fields like technology are good. First a little about Ada.

Ada [Lovelace[ called herself  “an Analyst (& Metaphysician),” and the combination was put to use in the Notes. She understood the plans for the device as well as Babbage but was better at articulating its promise. She rightly saw it as what we would call a general-purpose computer. It was suited for “developping [sic] and tabulating any function whatever. . . the engine [is] the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity.” Her Notes anticipate future developments, including computer-generated music. Women in Science

If you recognize someone who ought to be recognized, then blog about her and note the post at I’m stoked Valdosta State University recognized Lisa Baldwin. I’m also stoked VSU noted the other IT staff, especially Amelia Reams who I supervised some of her tenure as a student assistant working in IT at VSU.

Too bad there’s not a similar sort of thing from the University System of Georgia?

More reading:

I Caught You Caring Archive

After rereading my Connotations of a Pronoun post, I realized I probably should archive these messages here. Interestingly I don’t have anywhere near the number as other IT employees.

January 2006

Ezra Freelove, IT
Thank you for “helping us access our email. You really care!”

April 2005

Ezra Freelove, Information Technology
“When she saw that the web address was wrong on letterhead, she helped us correct the problem. Thank you, Ezra!”

February 2005

Ezra Freelove, Information Technology
“Thank you for providing prompt assistance at any time regardless of other commitments! Extremely helpful and goes beyond expectations! Thanks!”

September 2004

Ezra Freelove, Information Technology
“Being patient with someone computer illiterate and always being so prompt with changes (constant) to our web site.”

Saving Time

[Listening to: Music – LJT Bukem – Global Underground: Oslo (Disc 1) (5:35)]

I like online forms. Apparently some people are hesitant to use them. They want to call me up and let me hit the magic button that just does what they want to happen. If I have to do more, that is okay too as long as what they want gets done by the time they go back to try again. Any longer makes a hindrance…. a bottleneck in the beaucratic processes that are stiffling everything that is good at work.

My online forms record the request to a data file so that should a review of the requests need to be done, there is an independent record against which to validate. The forms also kick off an email which my email program will file to to-do folder. Unread messages are bold with a number so I know just how much work awaits me. I try to stay on top of those requests and keep the folders as empty as possible.

None of these emails are something I would want to explain over the phone. They have been refined over the past five years to be concise and informative. I don’t want anyone having to email me for more information so everything must be there. I don’t want people emailing back because they could not find something, so it must be brief. Finding that balance took 3 years. Once my boss let me do the job, I revised his web page instructions so that they show everything they should.

For the most common and replicable requests, there is also a templated response. For example, a request for access to a web site has a response which tells the person how to access that web site. Before I started using the templates, I used to pop off emails to people that missed some detail or erroneously provided wrong information. The templates keep me consistent. Blame the early symptoms of senility.

I also made programs to expedite as much as possible all of those formerly monotonous tasks so that the computer mostly does it for me. Other tasks I have done so many times and so often, I know by heart hideously archaic commands (these are all from memory and may contain erros)…

  • find . | wc -l; find . -user <username> | wc -l – to compare the number of files in a directory with the number of files owned by the owner. If there is a difference, then I…
  • find . -user <username> -exec chown <newusername> {} \; – to selectively only modify the right files. I don’t have to figure out what those others files are and change them later back.
  • wrote this one this morning to run the command, dump the screen data to a file and email me the output – NOW=`date +%Y-%m-%d-%H:%M`; <command to run> > output_$NOW.txt ; cat output_$NOW.txt | mailx -s “Command Output $NOW”
    In this one system we get about 5 lines of log data any time the system pops up a warning to users who are using an unvalidated web browser. I wrote this to identify who they are so that I might send them a message to check their web browser is properly set correctly – grep “Browser check found errors for user” logfile.log | awk -F: ‘{print $2}’ | sort | uniq – the odd thing was that it did not pull uniques when sort was after uniq. How odd?
  • grep <class> *up.txt | awk -F, ‘{print $1 }’ | sort – The file has lines of users and the classes in which the user is enrolled. The grep finds only those users who are in the class. The awk just displays the username. The sort is the sexy part that alphabetizes the list.

Tite, huh?

[Listening to: So Much – Hush – Global Underground: Oslo (Disc 2) (9:05)]

SGA meeting moved to Sept. 20

Here is an article on a WebCT upgrade for which I was interviewed for the Spectator, the university student news paper.

Even SGA couldn’t bear the ire of Hurricane Frances.

SGA elections, set for Sept. 7, were extended until Thursday, Sept. 9 because the weather interfered with online voting, according to SGA president, Jason Lewis.

Lewis said Ezra Freelove, computer support specialist for Information Technology, informed him that Banner had been down part of the day on Tuesday. Since students could not vote for the entire day on Tuesday, Lewis said he decided to extend the election to Thursday so that everyone would have a chance to vote.

The senate had planned to have its first meeting on Monday, Sept. 13, but, because of the postponement of the election results, the meeting was moved to Monday, Sept. 20.

SGA’s first meeting of the fall semester will be Monday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. in the Library Conference room, next to the Internet Café.

The 10 candidates who received the most votes are to serve the 2004-‘05 SGA term. The only class with 10 senators is the sophomore class. The senior class won nine seats on the senate, while the junior class took seven and the freshmen hold six.

There are four open seats for the 2004-‘05 SGA term.

According to Lewis, election results were posted Thursday. Election results for the 2004-‘05 SGA term are as follows:

Freshmen senators: Amber Tinson, Casey Pearson, Christie Southwell, Cosby Johnson, Keri Guined and Octavia Meyers;

Sophomore senators: CJ Mock, Courtney Ruttinger, Hilary Martin, Jeremy Baker, Jimmy Fields, Jonathan Fowler, W. Marcus Hughs, Sal Ahmad, Lisa Baxter, Kat Johnson;

Junior senators: Brian Nelson, Charley Wallace, Daniel Dorsey, David Dickey, Diana Hansard, Jason Adams, Leah Masse;

Senior senators: Richard Lasseter, Stacy Braswell, Travis Simmons, Brian Hodges, Derrick Connell, Eric Dichiara, Larry Spruill, Latray Walker, Stefan Rucki.