back to article Why you need a home lab to keep your job

IT professionals can't assume their employers want, or can afford to, train them in the latest technologies and should hone and acquire new skills at home in a self-built test lab. That's the opinion of Mike Laverick, VMware's senior cloud infrastructure evangelist. Laverick has operated a lab for over a decade, starting with a …

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Idiot sexist

You must be in the wrong part of the computer industry. I nearly get that a day.

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Joke

I suspect

that most of the people advocating such things have no offspring (and from the looks of things never will)

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Pint

Re: I suspect

Yes, I once did some training at home in my spare time.

Back when I had spare time.

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I'm in my mid 50s. The only time I got on a decent training course that helped develop my career was when I ran it myself.

You can't presume bosses will put your interests before their employers'. I'm still working in the industry because, like most people in this discussion, I've made the effort to keep my skillset contemporary in my own time. That nice Mr Gates stills pays my wages, indirectly, so I get MSDN subscriptions with permanent licences, and have done on and off for 20 years. I do something similar with Apple kit.

Because my goal is self-education, not performance, I buy quiet, small hardware, that doesn't irritate and doesn't get in the way. My current servers are Soekris boxes for BSD servers, & Mac Minis, with maxed out specs, with virtual Windows and Linux servers.

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FAIL

But if this cycle continues

That is yet another part of the work 'contract' that has gone, along with security in a job and pensions etc. If your employer doesn't pay, and no other employer does, but they don't increase your wage to cover it, then they've just successfully offset a business expense to YOU - that's a sucker's deal.

At that point, apart from a monthly salary (which in the current environment isn't guaranteed anymore, neither is loyalty, respect etc.) what are we doing working for these assholes?

As you say, they are lucky it is most of our's hobby, I've got a small network I run at home for my family, but that's MY thing, and it's not for my employer to offset a business cost to me.

Anybody else a bit pissed off at this? The defeatist attitude is worrying.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: But if this cycle continues

Fuck the fuckers, outsource yourself and start contracting

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Silver badge

Re: But if this cycle continues

Can you offset the cost of these things against tax if you are a regular PAYE employee?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: But if this cycle continues

I wouldn't think so, but if you had a small freelance income, it'd be fine. I say this because I do something similar. In my case, I earn maybe 2.5/3k a year freelance, and spend most of that on related kit. Not hobbyist stuff at all. The idea is that if my company goes tits-up, I can spin up to earning enough reasonably quickly. HMRC have not raised any query on this. Last year I paid a little tax, 150 or so on those earning as a consequence. I have to say though that this is an entirely sincere endeavour, and not at all iffy. I mean: I could look anyone in the face and go through the paperwork.

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Boffin

Re: But if this cycle continues

It depends on your job. If you acquire enough know-how with your home lab, it could be that you end up either outsourcing yourself (for real, not the scam that Verizon worker pulled off), opening up your own IT consulting business, or just polishing up your CV for better employers.

Either way, it'll pay off.

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Re: But if this cycle continues

>Can you offset the cost of these things against tax if you are a regular PAYE employee?

Yes!

However, I would strongly advise you ensure that you have some formal communication from you employer with words to the effect that employees "should hone and acquire new skills at home in a self-built test lab". So that it effectively becomes a condition of employment - otherwise if HMRC investigated they would treat your self-built test lab as a hobby.

Note that as an employee you will limited to £3 a week (£4 a week from 6-Apr-13) as a expense for the use of your home, however you would be able to claim for the conversion of the garage/shed etc. into a test lab.

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Go

I only got my HP MicroServer past my girlfriend as it's a file server, now she has a tablet she can see the benefit and it also feeds the SqueezeBox so she does see some benefit.

Remember and sell the benefits to the users guys :)

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Coat

The Who?

Girlfriend.

Squeezebox.

Yes I see it now.

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Anonymous Coward

Is your girlfriend that large that she blocks the doorway then?

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This post has been deleted by its author

Alexei Sayle

To paraphrase Alexei Sayle (and trust in the ability to El Reg readers to extend conclusions), anyone who uses the word "workshop" to describe something that doesn't contain a lathe is taking himself too seriously.

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Facepalm

Re: Alexei Sayle

Is that Alexei Sayle the renowned metal and wood worker?

Leave comedians to their comedy, it's only ever got enough fact in it to make it funny

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Re: Alexei Sayle

This annoys me too, when people call lectures or classes 'workshops'.

If it doesn't have a bench with tools, it isn't a workshop! :)

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Joke

Re: Alexei Sayle

Before I got into computers I went for a job as a lathe operator but I was turned down.

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We like to hear him swear on the TV, hee hee hee...

AceRimmer:"Is that Alexei Sayle the renowned metal and wood worker?"

Actually, to be fair to Alexei, the exact quote as I remembered it- and which Google seems to back up- was:-

"Anyone who uses the word 'workshop', who isn't involved in light engineering, (*) is a right twat."

This lends itself nicely to paraphrasing too, e.g. to anyone outside the music industry using the word "funky" as a cliched marketing attempt to make brightly-coloured soft furnishings sound cool (^_^)

(*) On reflection, one could be pedantic about use of the word "engineering" here, but the meaning (i.e. light industry) was obvious enough, and it was funny, so I don't care :-P

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Coffee/keyboard

Re: Alexei Sayle

Never heard of a computer killing their operator. Or getting your hair caught in a computer ending up in a video on Youtube. Lathes, on the other hand, can be quite vindictive if mistreated...

I have two... An old South Bend, and a newer Grizzly. So I suppose my shop is a proper "workshop", but I don't do as much work as I'd like out there these days. Oddly enough, my shop has no IT kit in it, but I'm working on that (about to put up a tower to pass a network connection via radios from the house to the shop).

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May I also point out

That the following management attitude still exists :

If you need training then you are admitting that you can't do your job.

Although this doesn't apply in my current job, the fact that the training budget is taken off us and given to other departments about 2 months into the financial year doesn't help matters (No we cant send everybody away in the first few weeks because there would be nobody left to to all the things we can't do)

Still it could be worse (and in the past has been)

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Re: May I also point out

"training budget is taken off us"

If this happened, it wasn't a training budget. It was a lie. Do you enjoy working for liars?

If the other departments didn't set up their budgets properly, that's their problem. That's the whole point of budgeting - you estimate (it's a predictive thing) how much you'll need for the budgeting period, and if you get it wrong, you take your lumps. Setting a budget for X should ringfence that much money to do / buy / etc. X. If it's not ringfenced, it's just an exercise in wishful thinking, and there's probably no spending discipline, and there goes the company.

If someone messed up their budgeting so badly that they need to steal from other departments' budgets only a few months into the year, they need sacking, probably with a baseball bat. (Hint: exceptional circumstances can trigger a new round of the budgeting exercise, so the unfortunate who is overtaken by unforeseen events has a safety belt.)

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Re: May I also point out

Clearly you have never worked for the NHS. I'm in clinical (non medic) and this 'budget theft' is the the norm. My home lab is for personal education for when I jump the NHS ship (>26 yrs long enough to be dangerous to your health

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Anonymous Coward

And this is yet another reason why I'm trying to get out of this business as soon as I can. (Posting AC for the obvious reason that I still have to function in it in the mean time :))

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For a while I have been planning to turn my garage into a workshop, with benches, racking, bench tools, 3d printing, small CNC, test equipment, servers, etc. I am getting quotes to make it waterproof (it currently leaks rain badly) and then I will build out the lab.

My wife came home this week and actually said these words:

"the penny dropped today, you need to build your workshop so that you can progress and make your millions."

I love my wife...

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WTF?

My gypsy employer said that her budget, for IT training, for over 1000 staff was only 20K. I had to pay for my own training.

I did, and vowed to get my own rigs to test and apply training since.

I basically didnt retire my home PCs, and took decent kit and upgraded as necessary.

I found that a decent core2 Duo proc with enough ram (8 GB for most stuff) is enough to run 3 vms as dedicated dev boxes (web server, database server, appserver). Not ideal, but it can get the job done. A decent shuttle AMD64 runs a a dual media head and general file server. I even have a couple of PIs running as tests....

Cloud storage offers the core backups of dev boxes, along with image saves.

This plan is grand, if its dev work you are interested in. If it were infrastructure/storage, it would be a higher mountain to climb.....

Foo

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Silver badge

"He joined VMware in late 2012..."

So the WVware staffer is cheerfully saying VMware would like us to buy thousands of VMware rigs :-)

"Intriguingly, Laverick's call for a show of hands to discern if any attendees operate home labs saw several arms thrust skyward."

Intriguing ? A fair proportion of Reg readership has been doing this for decades, even before home networks became the norm. Mostly with visualization but we all know a boffin who has industrial hardware ticked away. Nowadays plug computers are on the menu too.

On the subject of training, isn't it the case that companies train young grads but expect us oldies to adapt our existing knowledge ? What say you young 'uns ?

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FAIL

WTF....

Mouse and screen sharing??? Get [*nix|OSX|FreeBSD], learn how to use <insert your shell here> and SSH, that is all you need. Get some PI's or old cast off gear.

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WTF?

Loooooooser

It's people like this that make working in the IT industry awful sometimes, he spends his free time learning new skills and honing them on his home built test lab. I'm guessing he doesnt have much of a life, how can people with a family and a social life compete with this? I'm just glad I dont know him because he must be as boring as a sack of coal.

We get this at our place, I'll model this over the weekend, can you do the write up for Monday? When you say no I shall be enjoying my life and family over the weekend they look at you as if you've just headbutted the queen.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Loooooooser

I agree, many a time colleagues have asked if I can provide test results/reports/documents etc, etc either;

A. after 7pm at night (after a full day)

B. during the weekend

The answer is no to both, as in all honesty i'm not responsible for keeping people alive nor trying to prevent armageddon.

too many people think this sort of thing "marks them out" for better things.

Marks them F*&^%$ing out alright!

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Re: Loooooooser

I can't upvote this enough. Given a choice between 4 hours of research and practice in SharePoint Development or running about trying to give myself a heart-attack in the local softplay emporium with my son the latter will always win. I read, I write (a bit) and I play games. I drink and have social interaction. What I don't do is take work home with me. When I leave for the day my work phone goes off.

Home lab? Pffft.

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Boffin

Re: Loooooooser

"Given a choice between 4 hours of research and practice in SharePoint Development or"

Given a choice between *anything* Microsoft, and *anything else*, I'll go for *anything else* anytime! Even more so if it's working hours. Thankfully, I rarely have to deal with MS crap.

That said, given my line of work, stuff I do on the 'home lab' will affect my future income. So sure, I can lay off the home lab, but that means I will run out of income further down the road. Sure, I *do* add up personal time & rest, so I'm not doing "home research" 24/7.

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Silver badge

I don't work for free.

And learning new skills to benefit the company that employs me *is* work.

So I'll be doing my training during work hours thankyouverymuch.

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Re: I don't work for free.

Same here - My firm supplies a CBTnuggets account to do online training videos but expect us to do it in our own time. No effing way am I using my own time, and training videos aren't as good as having a real machine to work on.

P.S. If you create a training lab, where do you get all the software from? How much do they charge now for Server2012?

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Silver badge

Re: Where do you get all the software from?

Either open source, or I download developer editions of software from my MSDN account.

BTW, I do actually have a home lab, but that's for my personal use. Not my employers.

Because it's currently geared up to construct an army of robotic super soldiers.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Licenses

The Microsoft Action Pack allows you to use many MS products for research/dev/training and internal use for a fairly affordable price (~£150 IIRC).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Where do you get all the software from?

Me too, except I use Technet.

I just moved my home cluster to Hyper-V from vSphere - as VMware are over the curve now imo, and Microsoft are going to own that market space....

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Stop

Lifecycles

This is an interesting topic because I am now in a position of Management trying to train up my staff.

I firmly believe in IT training and the company should understand that it's a lifecycle - Person is new, they are trained, they gain experience, and after 2 years if they haven't been promoted, they leave.

There is nothing wrong with thinking like this and the fact we have Software/Hardware lifecycles should mean that it shouldn't be a taboo subject. People move on, trying to stagnate them will only backfire.

Ultimately, companies should offer it because whilst they may think that they are preventing people from moving, what they are essentially doing is keeping hold of the dross.

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Stop

Creeping Death

I agree with the posters who've said that this is yet another way in which companies take the piss out of their employees. And some employees actively encourage it. I know several people who have home labs that they spend the weekends working on.

And it's work. Not even hobbyist tinkering, it's proper work. They then get a significant advantage during the working week because they're making the rest of us (those with families, hobbies, etc) look like we're thick. We're not thick, we're just not donating two days a week of free labour to the company.

It pisses me off, and it pisses me off that managers then EXPECT that out-of-hours working from everyone. In this timesheet-obsessed cost-cutting world, personal development is long gone. Companies obsessed with growth need to do some of the nurturing that growth requires. And employees with home labs need to understand that they're undermining their colleagues and themselves.

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Re: Creeping Death

Some people have home labs because it is, to them, a hobby. It's your choice to have a family and other hobbies. It's theirs to have a home lab and use that extra knowledge in the work place.

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Re: it is, to them, a hobby

Well then they obviously weren't bullied enough at school.

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Re: it is, to them, a hobby

Alternately, they could know full well what it entails and use it to progress professionally instead of being stuck in their existing (crap) jobs.

/ signed someone who was probably once at the level of one of your co-workers level, currently a manager and about to start his own company.

Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

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Joke

Re: it is, to them, a hobby

Alternatively they could just be sad losers with no friends and nothing better to do than "start their own company". Such poor social skills they're unemployable more like.....

Icon just for buffoons who can't spot a piss take...

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Unhappy

Why is it only IT personnel that has to go to these lengths?

We should NOT have to do this. Again, companies only pay lipservice to saying they understand the importance of IT to the business. If they did, they would realise that paying for training is part and parcel of the business budget. A LOT more so than those company cars, business lunches, team-building exercises for the Sales/Marketing/HR team etc. I blame US - the hard-working IT peeps who just take everybody's nonsense to our own detriment.

And I don't know who you work for to be able to spend 870 a month on a home lab - can I send you my CV?? With a family, spending that amount of money just is not possible. And I don't get paid to do all that extra training myself in any case. (Even though I do, but it is so wrong on so many levels!) But us Geeks don't have the backbone to stand up and start letting business understand we need to be paid what we are worth and the company has to invest in us. But then, they are ruthless and not really ethical - they will rather get rid of us and employ somebody who has the skills in "the flavour of the month".

Why do companies only know what our "worth" is when they make us redundant - don't even TRY getting access to the network You might get a SMS to say "don't come to work tomorrow, we will courier your personal stuff to you..." (Fortunately hasn't happened to me, but I know of places where something similar has happened to the geeks...)

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Re: Why is it only IT personnel that has to go to these lengths?

I think that companies understand that employees will eventually move to "greener pastures", because times of lifetime employment are well and truly past (in private sector, to say at least). Providing employees with training only makes them more employable by the competition. On the other hands, employees who are truly enthusiastic about particular technologies, will acquire training/knowledge/practice on their own account, thus making themselves more employable. If that does not pay off with the current employment, it might pay with the future one.

Oh yes of course, plenty of employers (especially large corporations) like to make an impression they will guide you by hand, setting so called "career paths". These are only designed to make you more useful to the company, not necessarily more employable. In particular, there are few, if any, selleable technical skills to be acquired this way.

C'est la vie, stop complaining and teach yourself what you want to know. Or if you don't, don't be surprised if you find your skill unsellable to other employers.

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Re: Why is it only IT personnel that has to go to these lengths?

And if every company expects people to move to 'greener pastures', and none of them train? They ALL get saddled with idiots (arguably what is actually happening in the industry now anyway).

You are playing a suckers game, absorbing costs that your employer should be absorbing.

Next week, bring a bucket. Other companies don't have toilets, so you can take your bucket with you. You pay for the bucket, the company save on toilet cleaning costs, you get to shit in a bucket - BONUS!

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Re: Why is it only IT personnel that has to go to these lengths?

"ALL get saddled with idiots (arguably what is actually happening in the industry now anyway)."

There you go.

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having a home test lab is a great idea and a necessary expensive IMO. However, it would help if the vendors made 'it lab' license versions available otherwise you've either got trailware or borrowed licence keys.

Another thing vendors could do to help is to allow IT folk access to some of the simulators they have. Both Netapp and VNX have simulators but you already have to have a support contract which strikes me as slightly crazy.

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A great idea and everyone should do it

It's unfair to restrict "train yourself at home on the cheap" only to IT people - everyone should do it. For example airline pilots don't need all that formal training they can run flight simulator after the kids have gone to bed. And brain surgeons could have a rack of little bubbling tanks in the garage containing squidgy grey things. I would still feel completely safe taking my brain on their planes.

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