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A Question of Degree

November 25, 2010

On rare occasions I find myself at a loss to express my despair.  Now is one such occasion, brought about through an unsought opportunity to further my career.  I have been approached about a job that is a unique opening and a perfect fit for me.

It seems, however, that the organization is likely to be adamant about its requirement that any potential employee have a University Degree.

Truth be told, I can understand their point of view.  This organization; a large prestigious global financial body; quite rightly requires that the majority of its employees are forged in the crucible of learning that is the University.  In most cases their existing employees hold a Baccalaureate, and some a more advanced degree that has direct relevance to the challenges of their day-to-day duties.

Unfortunately for me, I do not hold a degree of any kind.  Since being compelled to withdraw from a Bachelor of Science in the 2nd year back in 1985 I have pursued a career in Information Technology Management.

Back in 1985 there were few courses offered in the field of Computer Studies.  What little that was on offer related to the field of Computer Application Development rather than Operations Management.

On various occasions over the years I have looked closely at the possibility of returning to finish my BSc.  Since many of my employers have not had a programme to facilitate outside learning opportunities I have had to concentrate on the job of work that I was being paid to perform.  In fact, formal learning opportunities have been very few throughout my career.  With budget constraints and timelines being what they are there is often not the lead-time nor the funds available to enjoy the benefits of a professional educator leading me through an exhaustive treatment of a particular topic.

And this is my strength.  It may seem counter-intuitive to say that the lack of a formal course of study in the field of Information Technology Management is something that I have turned into a strength but I believe this to be an absolute personal truth.  My intention is to convey that I have developed my skills in self-directed learning.

Back in 1993 as a Senior Operations Lead for the Health Insurance Commission in Canberra I lead the organisation’s move from a mainframe based email system (Officevision) to Lotus Notes.  I remade myself to take advantage of an opportunity that I Identified for my employer in moving from a mainframe to a client/server email system.  But, there was no training available and without it I could not speak with sufficient authority to push forward with the project.  I knew that when I presented my proposals to Mr. Peter Hatch, the Director of IT (a mentor who took the time to have one-on-ones with me about once a month), he would immediately begin asking me questions that I would not have suitable answers to.

My direct Manager, Mr. Gordon Gullock, could see the merits of the direction I wanted to lead the organization but there was no money for training, and at that time there was simply no training available in our locality.  But being motivated can be a wonderful thing!  I contacted the IBM Sales rep who dealt with our account and he graciously organized a boxed set of the server and client software.  I begged and scrounged components to build a server from the hardware techs on staff.  I must have installed that server and client software 200 times each learning how to break it and fix it and just working through the manuals.  I made contact with the Lotus technical department (again through IBM who had just purchased Lotus), and picked their brains about how the underlying technology works; the security of server-to-server authentication; encryption protocols; replication handshaking; inter-domain authentication, etc.

I still had to navigate through the proposals and committees and documentation of the plans I was to put forward.  Any organization has its methods of command and control but they simply present another learning opportunity.  The point I’m trying to convey is the process I went through to overcome the challenge of a lack of training.  When I went to Mr. Hatch & Mr. Gullock I was able to speak with a degree of authority and knowledge that I would not have obtained from the formal training courses that became available the following year.  In fact I did do the courses the following year and found many holes and inaccuracies in amongst the course material.

This approach to learning is one I’ve carried with me throughout my career.  I have come through 25 years of profession focussed, self-directed learning.  I still spend many hours a week on my own personally tailored Professional Development Programme.  Whether that is listening to Gartner/Forrester research briefings and following up with my own research; or reading my RSS feeds from the multitude of Tech Press representatives; or listening to Tech (and Tech Law) related podcasts, I expend significant effort on developing myself so that I can speak on a great breadth of Tech topics with some authority.

I know that if I begin a formal course of study again that there will be opportunities to gain some course credit for “life experience” particularly where this has direct relevance to the coursework.  But that would only get me so far.  I would be obliged to complete a course of study that is only peripherally related to my current duties and probably not to future career opportunities.  This would also take me away from my existing Professional Development Programme to spend time on less germane topics.

It’d be a shame if the organisation in question imposes irrelevant criteria to this job posting.   I may end up calling the University here in Adelaide (one of the big 8 here in Australia), perhaps things have changed in the last few years since I last looked at the course options.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Mike Smith –


Streaming Information – What are you making yourself in to?

July 11, 2010

I just stumbled across a new blog that has peeked my interest.

I’ve started going back through some of the previous blog posts and they are mostly very interesting.  I want to read more so I subscribed to the blog’s RSS feed so that the posts will come up in my Google Reader.

Interestingly, the author has written a book on the same/similar topics.  I could go and buy the book.  Surely if I find the blog interesting I would also find the book interesting (probably true).  But, if I continue to read the “stream of information” in the RSS feed, won’t I get the salient information anyway.

I wonder if the consistent exposure to the subject matter over an extended period of time would result in a more thorough integration of the subject matter than the single event of reading the author’s book or even taking a course of study on the topic.

Is this what education will become?  Less a series of events and exercises and more a stream of information that a person is constantly exposed to.

I know a lot of facts and think about a good many things, many of these facts and things are what I am exposed to every day in my environment.

This environment is one I’ve set up for myself over time and contains a lot of podcasts (see links on this blog-page) and also a good number of feeds of articles from interesting and insightful authors.

So this is what I’m making myself into, the things I’m choosing to listen to and read about are the things that will influence my life and the lives of those around me.

What are you listening to and reading?

What are you making yourself into? Serval Professional unboxing

March 3, 2010

Before Christmas my laptop and mobile phone were stolen.  After a lot of research and waiting I decided on a Serval Professional from  see…

They don’t ship to Australia but were happy enough to ship to my in-laws in Colorado.  From there my dear Mother-In-Law on-shipped the box to Australia.  After being stuck in Australian Customs for over a week (and a charge of AU$514 taxes) the box has arrived.

It should be a really nice, no compromise desktop replacement.  Specs… Serval Pro
Fully Supported Ubuntu 9.10 64 Bit Linux
15.6″ Full HD LED (1920 x 1080)
Nvidia GeForce GTX 285M – 1GB GDDR3
Core i7-920XM Processor Extreme Edition
8 GB – DDR3 1333 MHz x 2 DIMMs
160 GB Intel X25-M Solid State Drive

My initial plans are to set up VMWare workstation on it (which I have piloted on some previous machines) and set up my “computer lab” entirely virtually on this new mobile platform.  This way I can get rid of all the miscellaneous electronic bits that have made up my lab over recent years.

Once unboxed I’ll start to set-up the new machine and will be updating my most popular blog entry (find it here ).  This time it will be for Ubuntu 9.10 with any specifics.

The unboxing

Today I deleted a LinkedIn connection

October 14, 2009

This is something that I only do after some consideration. I just can’t bring myself to feel comfortable with a connection to somebody in the Tobacco industry.

Autoposting from Blog to Twitter

October 14, 2009

Now when I post a story to this blog there is a wordpress agent that automagically posts a link as a Twitter update.

This has been available since about october 8th, 2009.

You can read a bit more about this facility here…

Nutrition and Vitamin D3

September 17, 2009

HEADLINE:  The Swine Flu (H1N1) will be prevented in most people by use of an inexpensive dietary supplement of vitamin D3 that can be obtained from the local pharmacy for a few cents per dose.  Vaccinations are still advised though for people in “at risk” groups.


To quote from the September 2009 Mayo Clinic Health Letter ( )

Recent reports on vitamin D suggest that it offers many benefits, especially
for older adults. Findings point to improved balance, reduction in the risk of
bone fractures, and better thinking skills such as planning, organizing and
abstract thinking. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with diabetes,
cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune disorders,
infections such as tuberculosis, and periodontal disease. Low vitamin D levels
also may affect certain cancers, including colon, breast and prostate cancers.

Vitamin D is generally produced through exposure of the skin to the sun, however, many of us don’t produce enough because we work indoors, cover our skin with clothing, have darker pigmented skin, or production in the skin has declined due to our age.  It is a particular problem for darker pigmented people working away from the equator or people for whom custom dictates full coverage of the body by clothing.  In most cases for all people, Vitamin D in the body falls to very low levels during winter or monsoon periods and this is a direct cause of seasonal influenza, many other infections, and some cancers.

I’d encourage you to do your own research on this.  If you’re interested there are a few good starting points here…

For some years my wife and I have been taking a standard multi-vitamin along with a vitamin B supplement  and fish oil.  Now we have added a 2,000 IU dose of vitamin D3 each day.

Please have a look and forward this information on to your family, your friends, and other connections if you feel it has merit.  And please tell me what you think by leaving a comment.

Mike Smith –

Open Map Project – my first efforts around home

August 26, 2009

It’s been about three days or so since I joined up with the Open Street Map project. I’ve spent that time working out how to produce GPS traces as a GPX file that I can upload (DONE).

I’m using the “Nokia Sports Tracker” on my Nokia E90 (built-in GPS). I have that set-up on my dashboard as I drive around. You can see an E90 here…

Nokia Sports Tracker is really intended for people to track their jogging/walking/etc but it lends itself very effectively to the production of GPX files for OSM. You can get it here…

Any Nokia phone with a built-in GPS should work with this software.

For editing I’m just using the on-line editor (Potlatch) which I’ve found to be fine for my purposes so far. So far I’ve done the streets around my home ( ).

If anyone in the local area wants some help setting up a Nokia with the Sports Tracker software, just send me a message (through my OSM profile here… ) and I’ll be happy to help you out.

Mike Smith –