Some “Working At Home” Impressions

So with the new job, I work from home 3 days a week, and am in the office Thursday and Friday. This is the first job I’ve had that’s done work from home, but it’s a necessity for me because of how far away corporate HQ is for the company I work, and am part owner of. So how’s working from home working out? I’m a fan. Here are some impressions:

  • I recover a lot of time not having to commute. With my old job it was an hour and twenty minutes a day lost to the commute, on a good day. I can wake up at 8:30 and be downstairs at my workstation sooner than I would normally be at work. It feels like a lot of recovered time.
  • After a few days you realize there’s no reason to do your typical day 9-6 day of eight hours straight with an hour lunch break. I’m not much of a 9-5 person anyway, and I’m often most productive at night. When you work from home, you can run errands during the day that at night would take longer, and do the night owl thing with your work.
  • I do get a little feeling of being cooped up in my office for as long as I’m down there. It’s different than being at work, because you don’t change venues for several days straight. I used to work evenings from home previously, but at least you changed offices in the evening.
  • Fast, speedy internet is a must. For me, I don’t really notice much of a difference here or there, since FiOS is really nice.
  • Forget about the stereotype of working in your underwear or pajamas. I’ve found it’s best psychologically to follow a normal morning routine, and head downstairs to the office. Otherwise it feels like the weekend, and it’s hard to get started with the day.

So what am I doing? Experimenting with high-availibility Linux. I’ve managed to convince myself I know what components I’m going to use, so now it’s on to automating the builds with kickstarts and scripts. All I will say about my mission is that we will be building a high-availibility, lights-out data center. I will follow the Google philosophy of “let the computers run everything” with humans only having to get involved with hardware failure, or failures the machines can’t figure out and deal with. Part of that is automated builds; leave no room for errors introduced by feeble humans. I’m also a big white box proponent. We will not be buying expensive SAN equipment from EMC, nor paying the big bucks for Cisco networking equipment, because quite honestly, it’s not necessary to accomplish our goals. My current company shares my philosophy of hiring fewer, skilled administrators, rather than an army of lesser skilled ones that have to stick to the few tools they know. Our philosophy is to figure out what you want the machines to do, and find the right tools to do it, not to work from the tools, and to let that limit your capability. When you adopt that philosophy, you’ll often find that you can save a lot of money using open source solutions that might be harder to setup, but do the same job as an expensive package or device. At my previous job, I had a 384-core HPC Linux cluster, about a dozen or so corporate systems, and a dozen or so workstations, a dozen or so lab instruments, and about 50 desktops. Our IT software licensing costs were, most years, zero, and with the exception of my aging Exchange server, highly available.  The cost in personnel to maintain all this was the cost of my salary, and a two-day a week part time help desk person to deal with end user non-scientific support (I did scientific support directly). High availability doesn’t have to cost a ton of money, in people or equipment.

12 thoughts on “Some “Working At Home” Impressions”

  1. To each there own. I have worked from home on and off for the last 4 years. I wake at 6, startthe coffee, check to see if my VPN is still hot. Then I check e mail, fix any overnight issues and see my 12 and 15 year old off to school! All this in my jammie pants and slippers. Wife leaves at 7:15 and I have breakfast. I am fully engaged by 8. Sometime around 12:30 I eat lunch, shower and shave. 35 minutes. Back to work, kids come home at 3 and 3:30, I help with homework, then work until 5:30 or 6.
    Some days I stay in jammie pants all day. Hoodie and relaxed pants with slippers.

    I dread having to go into the office.

    Let’s revisit your plan in 6 months, shall we?? LOL

  2. The Jammies will come…just you wait.


    Actually, what you’ll find is this weird quasi garb that you wouldn’t wear in public but will wear at home. Night pants and a T-shirt. Socks,….no shoes. Stretch shorts and a T-shirt + socks.

  3. Just remember to make yourself presentable before videoconferencing. We have a guy where I work, who will be on a panoramic camera with executives, and he’s in his pajamas with bedhead, and his dog licking itself in the background. He gets away with this because he’s a genuine guru (and a government employee)

  4. May I suggest that you dig into Puppet, to manager all your Unixesque (Linux, MacOS …) infrastructure ?

    Kickstart is great for bootstrapping but once your boxes are up & running, they are “living” and need to be maintained overtime.

    It takes some investment at first, because it’s a departure from old school script-based system administration. But once you have it up & running, it’s awesome.

    Good luck with your new venture ! :-)

    1. Puppet looks like an interesting product, but it costs money. The licensing cost is like 6 grand, which is a month of my time. It would have to be a pretty miraculous time saver to make it worthwhile, and it just strikes me as another way of doing auto configuration.

      1. Yeah they recently turned to a MySQL-like licensing scheme: there’s the original Open source version, and then there’s an Entreprise edition.

        But the open source version has everything you need to manage your infrastructure.

        I’ve worked on early versions (0.25 and below) in 2008/2009.

        Back then my client was moving from physical boxes running SLES 9 (and some SLES 10) to VMs running CentOS 5.

        I implemented the whole puppet framework (with SVN versioning, and custom RPMs for deployment) and taught the client’s sysadmin team how to use and maintain puppet.

        That was an ideal case: we were building new infrastructure from scratch (web hosting platform a leading French TV channel) and moving existing websites/apps on the new infrastructure.

        Kickstart for bootstrapping: SSH + puppet client and that’s it.
        Puppet would then do everything else (Apache, PHP, MySQL, Zabbix Client …). Within 5 minutes we had a new fully functional server.

        A side effect of using puppet or similar automation is that monitoring is way easier to install/maintain. You have everything you need to deploy new checks and metrics.

        Anyway automation was an essential part of the whole project: over the course of 10 months we were able to install 200 new VMs, completely managed by puppet with extensive monitoring through Zabbix.

        I was pleased (and even more surprised) when everything worked fine when we switched traffic from old servers to new VMs without a hitch.

        I agree that automation usually has a steep “up-front cost” (takes time to get comfortable and efficient with new tools) but if you have more than 3 or 4 boxes, return on investment will soon materialize either in time saving or quality improvement.

  5. What flavor of Linux are you running? I’ve been knee-deep in CentOS recently, including running a small high availability cluster. It’s great when it’s working properly, but that’s half the fun.

  6. I worked from home as a managing editor at a DC nonprofit for a few years. The convenience is astounding, especially if you’re someone who is self-motivated and flexible. I’m a morning person, which meant that by noon I’d have most of my work done. I wound up working fewer but more productive hours most weeks, except when there were deadlines. And I didn’t miss the commutes.

    It’s not for everyone, but it was easily my favorite work setup.

  7. Yes, I agree about the advantages of working from home. You do need to be self-motivated, but the savings in both travel expense and time are astonishing.

  8. I have been working from home for a couple of years and I was surprized at how cool it went. They had some very convenient phone software that let you do a call center agent’s job from your desk and easily acess all the data you needed over your browser. I went back to office work once I got married, though. I prefer separating my work from my family life.

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