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: A great idea and everyone should do it

At my last company we used NetApp, and I looked into getting the NetApp simulator. It was such a pain in the arse to do that in my home lab, I just used open-source IET. Of course, now I don't feel myself in a position to recommend the purchase of NetApp kit to anyone, so they shot themselves in the foot there.

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Anonymous Coward

Hark at all the permies posting how its a work responsibility :-)

Long term contractor, owner of a fully populated 47u server, with network aware ups, terminal server, kvm with remote links and a raft of servers, each running different flavours of unix natively. And I enjoy technology, so a chance to play with stuff and learn out of hours is great. I don't expect clients to fund that. Maybe that's why we stay relevant and sharper to get brought in to firefight when the projects go off the rails. Maybe I should just treat it as a 9-5 and have no interest in it outside strict work requirements, but in my opinion that attitude is the cancer and rot that see's corporate projects throw money down the drain trying to get even simple things to work.

I love this article, Im going to print it off and shove it in front of my accountant when he complains about the level of power and equipment costs my home office seems to have!

Posting anon because I'll be working with some of you in future, and best keep professional relationships professional.

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Anonymous Coward

You're self employed.

So your employer is sorting out your training for you.

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Linux

Contractors and learning at home

"Maybe that's why we stay relevant and sharper to get brought in to firefight when the projects go off the rails. Maybe I should just treat it as a 9-5 and have no interest in it outside strict work requirements, but in my opinion that attitude is the cancer and rot that see's corporate projects throw money down the drain trying to get even simple things to work."

My experience is different, contractors are neither infallible, neither the most knowledgeable about all subjects.

In most of places that I have been, most the time something has gone off the rails in a project, the permanent staff was well aware of the shortcomings, and some times it was the contractors who screwed up all.

For a contractor is quite easy to stay relevant if A) They concentrate in a few single areas of expertise, and B) They do not have a million other things to do like chase people all the time to figure out what is what they want.

Usually contractors are hired for a purpose and let to work on that purpose. Permanent staff has other burdens, one of the the internal politics of the company, something the contractors do not have to endure most of the time.

Home training is not always possible, I would like to see how someone can get home training on SANs/NAs/Load Balancer and other pieces of high-end hardware equipment. At least in my case I do not see how I can justify to have a 10 grand load balancer under my bed. Software on the other hand is not an issue, there are always nice trial versions of mostly anything, and anything that doesn't have a free 30 day trial is not worth it to learn.

Learning while at work?, hell yes! We'll all benefit from it, me my colleagues and my employer!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Contractors and learning at home

Amongst those unix boxes is some cisco's, a PIX and a LTO drive with carousel mechanism, a ace and other things. Sorry I didn't list them explicitly. Occasionally I run out of space and pull stuff out and keep it on some dexion racking nearby not powered up too. You don't have to have this years model to pull one apart and understand the basic principles. And you don't have to buy gold level support for the kit to tinker with it in your lab. Go on ebay and you'll find people selling cisco kit bundled together as a lab to prepare for CCNA or the like on. They've already cottoned on that its a great thing to do if you can. A lot of people with CCNA or some junos qualification have found it better having some kit to tinker with rather than going on some day training course sponsored by their employers and shut off at 5pm. Maybe its because theyre interested enough to go the extra mile and do that.

Yes we're specialists, and we get that way by knowing our way around our speciality and doing stupid things and practise recovering from them. You can't do that (twice) in a production environment. We get dragged into internal politics all the time but I sidestep them and point out theres no relevancy to including me in kingdom building as I'll be gone when my contract is up.

Its not under my bed. I sourced and purchased a property with outbuildings, so it lives in a dedicated server room, and I administer it remotely as far as possible (because its damn cold in there, just like a server room should be). Just like I'd do in real life. I know of other long term contractors with their own lab setup too. Pretty much everyone I know has at least a few boxen set up in a test environment to try things on.

I worked one place that we had to decomission some sparcstation 20's (few years ago now as you can imagine) and we had 30 of them sat on my desk. I talked management into writing them off and we sent a mail round "anyone that wants a sparcstation, come and get a free one". Unix literacy in our unix based company went up in the following months, and people would stop me at the cooler and ask me odd questions about solaris or linux etc. And I took time to answer them, because I was impressed they were making the effort to learn on their own backs.

Learning at work? hell yes! Learning at home? hell yes too!

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Anonymous Coward

re: and best keep professional relationships professional.

Hmm, condescension and a superiority complex are not particularly professional.

It's so rare to meet a contractor who doesn't think they are "better" than permanent staff because of how they choose to work. Assuming the only reason anyone in IT isn't contracting is because they are not good enough. And yet if you toss aside all the latest industry buzzwords in reality contractors are just programmers like the rest of us. Pompous, money focused engineers, but engineers nonetheless. I've certainly yet to meet one who's as good as they think they are. Plenty of good ones, but none as super special as they like to imagine...

Posted anonymously because you did.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: re: and best keep professional relationships professional.

I have no contractor complex. I respect the permanent staff I work alongside who I see as being professional and willing to learn, and some of them are *STUNNING* technically, and some of them are f*****t's the same as contractors. Its just easier to hire then not renew us when we dont cut the mustard.

What my pop was at, was the people who think they can just work 9-5 in a subject which it appears they have no actual interest in, nor desire to stay relevant, who are then posting here saying that everybody should approach training with the same lackadasical attitude. It's not operating a machine with push button's in a sequence repeatedly all day long. You have to have some craftsmanship and pride in your work, and learning is part of that desire to deliver good quality.

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Pint

Re: re: and best keep professional relationships professional.

I don't know about you, but there are only so many sweets you can eat before you become sick.

I love IT and left a decent job as an Aircraft Engineer to go back to university for three years, get a Computer related degree, and start from the bottom again.

However, after doing 8-9 hours of it a day, the last thing I want to do when I get home is more IT. If people can stomach that, all the best to them, but knowing this is why I allow my staff, workload depending, 3-4 hours a week to self study towards certifications.

This is a massive win/win. They appreciate that I take an interest in their development (Which I do) and their greater skillset allows me to get more done in a shorter time.

When they leave work they can relax and go the gym, watch TV, enjoy time with their other half and come back into work feeling refreshed.

I'll drink to that, after work because I'm enjoying my own time.

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FAIL

Re: re: and best keep professional relationships professional.

You get paid more than permies - THAT is your training budget. So permies get less than you AND have to absorb the cost of training - get it?

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Re: Contractors and learning at home >anon @13:54

"Yes we're specialists, and we get that way by knowing our way around our speciality and doing stupid things and practise recovering from them. You can't do that (twice) in a production environment."

This has been my motto since 1988.

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Devil

First rule of Contracting

All Work Time Is Chargeable. No Exceptions.

You seem to have slipped a bit there... careful, you might end up a Permy.

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Re: re: and best keep professional relationships professional.

>You get paid more than permies

I suggest you put your current salary through a contracting calculator, it might surprise you just how much you will need to charge as your normal day rate, just to stand still.

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Re: re: and best keep professional relationships professional.

"It's so rare to meet a contractor who doesn't think they are "better" than permanent staff because of how they choose to work."

I'm a contractor. I've got to say though that a greater proportion of the contractors that I meet are shite than the permies. They bullshit their way into contracts and by the time everyone realises they're shite they've got 3 months money in their pocket.

IT and Networking has a high proportion of busllshit merchants.

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Anonymous Coward

I run multiple flavours of Unix and Windows on Hyper V - fully clustered - and it takes 2U of space for both servers with built in ILO terminal servers, and 2U for the shared storage, and 3U for the UPS....Typical of the UNIX world to want another 40U to do the same thing...

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I am so lucky.

My boss regularly expects me to use new technology, and only supplies books not training courses to get me up to speed. But then, being given something to actually do with new tech. is massively more useful than a course.

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Meh

When I pay for training and exams out of pocket...

... I'm polishing my skill set to find another job. Employers should watch for the tech worker that's ramping their desirability to competitors, all on their own time and out of pocket. That's a sign that the employee is not content, or that they want the training, and they're ready to move on and leave you hanging.

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Permies v Contractors

What a deliciously silly debate to have. I'm better because I'm me! No I'm better because I'm me. ROFL

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The truth is somewhere in the middle

I don't think an employee should have to spend hundreds of pounds just to please its employer.

However I think that if you are working in a technical field, you should be informed about it. I believe a system administrator should run his own mail server. That's just common sense.

You don't necessarily do it for your job, but because you like to. For example I also run my own Stratum 1 NTP server, not because I'd need it on the job, but because I'd like to have the precise time. I find it cool that the computer which does my video recordings knows the time with an uncertainty of a microsecond. It's something I care about.

And this is what I would expect of an employee, to care about what they do.

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Make lemonade

I've felt the pain of trying to get training out of a multi billion pound company, and having it denied. When your employer isn't willing to invest in you, it's time to face facts and take it into your own hands.

With a fairly modern PC, HyperV (or virtual box, VMWare etc), some patience and some good material there is nothing you can't achieve that you couldn't in a training room.

I find trainsignal and CBT nuggets video training is great combined with a book usually cracks it.

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Happy

Tech couples are worst of all!

They do exist! The rare coupling of a geek and a geekess, they probably met in a hosting center or vendor expo and now share a house packed to the rafters with tech kit they have squirreled away. I know a pair that have a three-bed house, of which the garage, loft and two bedrooms are full of rescued servers, storage arrays, etc., etc. Their spare time is spent mostly getting the stuff to work again, maybe hosting websites for charities and friends, and teaching themselves new tech. If you find one of these odd pairings and get the chance to employ one of them DO SO IMMEDIATELY! Seriously, they have a stable home environment, the spouse won't moan if they take work home, and not only will they train themselves, they are so proud of their "wired" house and will invite other staff to come learn on their kit! They will see any out-of-hours project as a challenge and will do extra work for the chance of getting their hands on a piece of kit the business is scrapping. You can even get the free assistance of the other half of the couple when one of them has a particularly "interesting" project. Helps if you offer to pay for the odd team BBQ or charity event at theirs.

And, no, it's probably getting on for a few years since a company paid for me to go on a proper training course on anything, but HR have spent money on team building events and other complete wastes of money.

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hmmm

I'm a software developer so I dont really need a lab at home. But I play around with network administration and security as a hobby and so I usually have 5-6 boxes floating about in the house acting as servers. Usually when I upgrade hardware in my main desktop, I will get a cheap case and migrate the old hardware into that and use that as the base for a new server.

I need to get myself some commercial grade networking kit so I can start playing around with Cisco gear and getting my skills up in those areas.

For me, the home lab is a nice to have but isnt essential to my career moves.

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I'm going to laugh at all of you....

... in a mocking sarcastic tone.

And I'm going to do it from my desk here in France, where my right to go to training courses (paid for by the company) is protected by law. All employees working in France are entitled by law to a certain (useful) amount of job-related training each year - it is called the DIF, "droit individuel de formation" / "individual right to training".

For people wanting to make radical changes to their career, there is also the CIF (congé individuel de formation, "individual training break") in which the employee requests (paid) time off work to go to training etc. There are statutory guarantees about how this works, mostly but not exclusively to protect the employee, and the company does not normally have to bear the entire cost of maintaining the employee's salary during the training period. By "radical" I mean that I could, for example, take a CIF from my job as a developer in order to train to be a hairdresser. That sort of radical.

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Mushroom

Re: I'm going to laugh at all of you....

COMMUNIST!!!!!!

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Go

True...-ish

I agree that IT specialists (everything from sysadmins to developers) should be using and extending their skills at home - but that doesn't mean having to go to the expense of buying lots of kit. You can repeatedly set up and trash virtual servers on Amazon Web Services for pennies. Many commonly-used packages and OS variants are hireable by the hour through Amazon Marketplace. It's a heck of a lot quicker, easier and cheaper than buying software and hardware, and fiddling with CD-ROMs all evening! If you want, you can create an entire VPNed machine room, and tear it down an hour later.

If you do want to play on your own kit, you can use Microsoft TechNet (less than £200/yr) to supply lots of licences for most non-developer software MS produces, including Windows and Office; plenty to try out all you need. And of course, non-commercial Linux packages are free (once you've borne the download costs, if any), which makes tinkering very attractive.

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Re: True...-ish

Well seriously, there's also a lot of time you would want to have yourself. For example NTP servers so you know the approximate time of day. Those are fun to play around with.

Then of course a mail server so you can send and receive e-mail. (useful feature for job applications as some more modern companies take them this way)

Then you may want to have a way of watching and recording television. This typically means setting up a VDR system on Linux as well as some storage. Granted you won't have a SAN for that at home, but a simple RAID and LVM as well as NFS isn't atypical here.

At university I had both my computer at home and in the dormitory. So I did need some form of replication and batch file transfer.

Those are all little things you'd do anyhow if you are into computing and/or engineering. Again that has nothing to do with money. Even though I can now afford having large RAIDs my previous VDR installations ran on fairly cheap systems. (consumer crap) Granted for many years I ran my mail server from a local box. First on an ISDN line, then a DSL one. This doesn't add any additional cost.

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Anonymous Coward

"But accessing that infrastructure from home is not easy."

What bollocks is this?

Remote access is a piece of piss.

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Re: "But accessing that infrastructure from home is not easy."

It is if you own the infrastructure. Not when it's behind a firewall managed by a separate IT department. Which most schools are.

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Stop

Good plan

Most of us can barely afford to pay our heating bills, but yes, let's all change employer perceptions that it's OK to offload equipment and training expenses onto the employees.

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Re: Good plan

Having your own computer will greatly reduce your heating bills. :)

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Access to the "home lab"

Look, this is easy. There are lots of dynamic DNS providers, and just about every firewall-nat-router box has provisions to do the update automatically. Once that is done, your nice "home" machines are accessible from the world (+dog), and you go from there. Of course, they have a variant of *nix, and opening up an SSH connection is quite easy. Once you are "inside" access to the other machines and other stuff (connected printers) si quite easy. In one instance I was able to do remote printing so my wife could pick up the information I had on my desk at work.

All of this goes without saying: What IT guy DOESN'T have a home system (and connectivity) that he uses "after hours" to do something work related.

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Anonymous Coward

Opposite position here

My company is really good at providing training, so my position is actually the opposite. My home setup is a place where I try to reflect the best practice I have picked up from work / training.

My stuff at home (e.g. photos, etc) is more important than work stuff, so it makes sense to try to put in place a high quality backup regime. Virtualisation is another area where I run virtual servers at home, but they are to do what I need at home in a high quality way, rather than for learning.

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Stop

Have you been reading The Onion again?

"Vendor says people need his company's kit. Film at 11."

What's next: "Tim Cook says get the girlfriend an iPhone, so she's got someone to talk to while you're in the home lab"?

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Anonymous Coward

I don't mind the odd bit of work related self training

In my own time, at home. When I've done it myself, it has been done without any expectations placed on me, realistic or otherwise. Furthermore, it means I get to decide how, and to what extent the employer benefits from what I've learned, and anything I do to document what I've been doing for future reference belongs to me in the first instance.

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Freelances have been doing this for decades

I worked for decades as a contractor through agencies, or as an independent freelancer, and I can't remember a time when I didn't do my own training. As new tools came along I'd buy my own, or book my own training courses, or risk falling behind others in my market. Those who relied on clients to train them soon fell away.

My 80% success rate in interviews these last 30 years is testament to training yourself in technologies the clients, or employers, are going to demand.

The current fuss must be because 'permies' are now in the same situation and have started moaning about having to do it themselves instead of having their employers do it for them.

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Coat

"WHY YOU NEED A HOME LAB"

This is the best advice I've ever read in ElReg.

W. White

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AWS anyone?

Seriously, there are few reasons to have a lot of servers at home, particularly if you are focused on software. Learn how to build, deploy & manage cloud infrastructure - that's high value and you don't need a rack full of servers in your house.

I used to have a 'home lab' as well, but I've moved on to more modern infrastructure hosted elsewhere....

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Coat

I agree wholeheartedly. I design anti-tank artillery for the US Army.

Mine is the Kevlar jacket.

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Homes Labs Extreme Edition

I too built a home lab out of necessity. But I wouldn't say that going this extreme was entirely 100% required, but given the work I do I thought it was a justified investment to be able to test and troubleshoot using valid configurations.

http://longwhiteclouds.com/2011/08/24/my-lab-environment/

Not a recommendation. Just what I've done.

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