Living without Lync: No Thanks!

[Cross-posted from the Compugen ITbuzz blog]

I’ve been working out of a home office for the past 10 years and although it may not be for everyone, I’d have a hard time going back to being in an office every day. While there are both merits and pitfalls to telecommuting, there is one tool I couldn’t do it without: Lync.

I have to admit, I have a certain bias here. After all, I did just come from 6 years of working at Microsoft where Lync is baked into the company’s corporate culture. When I was interviewing for my current role, I was happy to discover that Compugen is also heavily dependent on Lync and use it to embrace a flexible work place for employees. It weighed nicely in the “Pro” column when considering my options.

Why Lync? Implemented right, it’s more than just a teleconferencing application. For example, it integrates with Exchange, SharePoint and other applications to show presence. When I open up an email or shared document, I can see who is offline (gray dot), busy (red dot), away (yellow dot) or available (green dot) and I can click on the person’s name to email, IM or call them right from my computer.

Presence information in Outlook

Because I’m not physically near my colleagues, being able to see who is available and being able to have multiple ways to easily contact and communicate with them is critical. I don’t want to miss opportunities to have quick chats with a colleague on an issue or ping someone with an idea simply because I’m not in the office around the water cooler.

Through federation, I have similar visibility into the online status of customers, partners and others using federated Lync. With Lync 2013, federation extends to customers, partners, etc who use Skype as well. Even though I’m sitting by myself in my home office, I’m totally connected to all the people that I need to be in order to be productive and effective. All without the daily commute.

Federated contacts in Lync

To be optimally effective on any conferencing software, it helps to have good hardware. In fact, ineffective hardware can be a big barrier to adoption and can make telecommuting very frustrating. I had the opportunity to speak to Jabra, Plantronics and Polycom at the recent Lync Conference in Toronto and each of them have solid Lync optimized options for whatever environment you’re working in.

There are hundreds of hardware options on the market. Here are my two personal favs:

  1. For in my home office, I like to use what I call my Jabra hockey puck. The Jabra SPEAK is optimized for Lync and all I have to do is plug it in to my notebook’s USB port. The call quality is great and people don’t realize that I’m calling through my computer without using a headset. Because it’s a speaker phone, I can get up and stretch without being tethered to my computer or worrying about my glasses or hair getting in the way of an earpiece.clip_image003
  2. For the days when I do go into the office or I’m working from a coffee shop, train, airport or other shared workspace I have been using a Plantronics Voyager Pro Bluetooth headset which I’ve absolutely loved. I’ve never felt like I needed to raise my voice any higher than normal, it’s pretty discreet and it fits over my ear well. However, I was given the latest version, the Voyager Legend, at the Lync Conference and I’m pretty excited to try it out.clip_image004

It looks much like my old headset but with a few key improvements. The volume and power buttons are easier to work with and it comes with this great little case that has a rechargeable battery to charge the headset when it’s stored there. How cool is that!clip_image005

So how do you like to work when you’re on the road and mobile? What are your favourite tools? Post a comment below – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What not to do when deploying Windows 7

 

My first real blogging experience started when I joined Microsoft back in 2007. It was such a scary experience to post something so publically to such a large ready-made audience! I worried about being profound enough, smart enough, witty enough and died a little inside each time I discovered too late that I’d made a spelling or grammar mistake.

Fast-forward to today and I’m happy to say that I’m blogging again on a corporate blog. I worry a lot less and enjoy it a lot more now than I did then! It feels good to be able to stretch my creative writing muscle.

Below is my first post from the Compugen blog, ITbuzz. The first of many more to come! Enjoy.

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[Cross-posted from the Compugen ITbuzz blog]

April 8, 2014 is coming up fast. Too fast for many IT shops. That’s the date when Windows XP extended support ends and Microsoft will stop updating the OS. Many organizations are finding themselves in a bit of a time crunch to complete their desktop deployments before time runs out.

Windows XP will not suddenly stop working on April 9. It’ll still boot, it’ll still run applications, and it’ll still connect to the Internet. But it won’t get any more security updates and when hackers find and exploit holes and bugs in the OS, XP users and their IT support folk will have no avenue of recourse to patch the OS. It’s a very vulnerable situation that businesses and organizations don’t want to find themselves in.

Having spoken to many IT folks lately who are getting started or are in the midst of their deployment, here are my 5 things not to do for a successful and timely client OS rollout:

  1. Ignore the size and scope of the project before starting. Let’s just add to the project as things come up. So don’t assess hardware so upgrades can be planned. Maybe an Office upgrade should happen at the same time. How hard could that be since the OS is being updated anyway? Let’s ignore the fact that the company uses macros and depends on Access databases which will need to be tested. April 8, 2014 isn’t a hard stop date anyway right? We’ve got lots of time for extras.
  2. Forget about doing a thorough assessment of your applications. Does it really matter that there are 5 versions of Adobe Reader on the floor, that the 3 different graphics packages could be consolidated down to one and that no one uses QuoteRUs although it’s installed on 50% of the desktops? Let’s just inventory the environment and test everything because we have lots of time and money to do so. Or let’s just assume we know what people are using and only test and remediate those applications to save time and money. Of course people may not be very productive after the rollout if we guess wrong but how bad could it be?
  3. Don’t consider who owns the applications. While the business unit may champion the use of some applications, we can save time by doing our own testing of the applicaiton. Regardless of whether we understand how people use the applications or what the business unit really needs we can decide if an application can, should and will be moved to the new environment. Consulting with the business just means more delays and we’re on a time crunch!
  4. Don’t put together a detailed project plan. Gantt charts are scary. Need I say more?
  5. Don’t worry about having solid technical leadership. Microsoft is pulling support and our executives are behind the project and expecting timely results. We’re experts on our IT systems so we’ll figure it out even though we haven’t done a rollout this extensive or invasive to our business since moving to XP 10 years ago. Let’s get ‘er done.

Now I must say our customers are pretty astute when approaching a project of this magnitude. But despite that, in just about every conversation I have there are always things that come out that weren’t considered. That’s why our customers love working us – we’ve got the knowledge and expertise that they need to be successful and we make them look good.

For more information about Compugen’s Windows 7 Acceleration Services, check out the deck that my boss, Joe Addison, and I presented at a recent event. Let me know if you want to know more or are interested in one of our workshops or assessments.

Making the most of your commute

(Image credit: epSos.de)

I really don’t like commuting. When I was single and renting and living in Toronto, I could simply pick from jobs within a certain radius of home or move residence so that I was always within a 30 minute drive in the worst imaginable traffic. Now that I’ve got a few more roots and live outside Toronto, I don’t always have the luxury of choosing to work for a company close by. Happily, many companies have telecommuting policies and my jobs for the last 10 years have been such that I’ve been able to work out of my home office.

However, there are times when commuting is a necessary evil. Take now for instance. I just started a new job and even though I’m a mobile worker, it’s in my best interest to be in the office regularly for the next while to get to know people and let people get to know me. Unfortunately, the office is over an hour away even in decent traffic. Ugh.

However, it’s not as bad as it could be. I can be in the car, focus on the road and still be productive by making sure I’ve downloaded all the latest episodes of my favourite podcasts. I just connect my Windows phone to the auxiliary port in the car and listen to my podcasts through the car speakers. This morning I got up to speed on the Office365 Consumer launch, learned what was happening (or not) with the Windows Phone 7.8 update and listened to commentary about the pending Windows Surface Pro product. On the way home, I decided to widen the scope of my listening a bit and learned about scientists who have been able to encode data on DNA stands and others who have been able to transform any material containing carbon into graphene. My commute seemed much shorter and I was able to catch up on my industry.

I use the SlapDash Radio app for Windows Phone but there are many different apps out there for iPhone, Android and probably even Blackberry.Just install the app and search for the podcasts you want to subscribe to. Here are some of my favourite podcasts to listen to:

Freakanomics
Freakonomics Radio
The Freakonomics Radio podcast is hosted by Stephen J. Dubner, one of the authors of “Freakonomics” and “SuperFreakonomics”. It continues on in the tradition of the books, exploring “the hidden side of everything”. Prepare to be enlightened, engaged, perhaps enraged, and definitely surprised.

NPR: Technology
NPR: Technology
I had never heard of NPR before, but I really like this podcast. It covers digital culture, research news, the tech industry and more. The best of Morning Edition, All Things Considered and other award-winning NPR programs.

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Manager Tools
Manager Tools is a weekly business podcast focused on helping professionals become more effective managers and leaders.

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Windows Weekly
Windows Expert, Paul Thurrott and Microsoft Watcher, Mary Jo Foley talk about Windows client, Windows phone and all things Windows on this weekly podcast.

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Tech News Today
Hosted by Tom Merritt with co-hosts Sarah Lane (TechTV, Revision3), Iyaz Akhtar (PC Mag, TechVi) and others and recorded 5 days a week.

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GeekBeat.TV
GeekBeat.TV presents the day’s hottest stories, tips, trends, and news all in one place.

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Under the Influence from CBC
The first 50 years of modern advertising was hard-sell. The next 50 years was persuasion through creativity and media tonnage. But advertising is no longer a loud one-way conversation. It’s a delicate dialogue now. The goal is no longer to triumph by weight, but to win by influence. Welcome to Under the Influence. An exploration of that critical shift.

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The Public Speaker’s Quick and Dirty Tips
Short podcasts with practical tips for effective communication.

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TEDTalks
TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. On this feed, you’ll find TEDTalks video to inspire, intrigue and stir the imagination from some of the world’s leading thinkers and doers, speaking from the stage at TED conferences, TEDx events and partner events around the world.

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This Week in Tech
Leo Laporte and other tech luminaries have a roundtable discussion of the latest trends in digital technology.

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BBC World Update: Daily Commute
30 minutes of the latest interviews, reports and analysis of the day’s top news.

Moving on to new adventures

I can’t believe it’s already 2 weeks into the new year! I had a great time over the holidays visiting with family and spending time with the 2 special little 4 year olds in my life. I would like to say I got to visit with a lot of friends, too, but I had to bow out of most social gatherings due to being sick *sad tuba*. Luckily with some good drugs, I’m now healthy again!

However, what made the holidays particularly relaxing is that I accepted a job offer in December with Compugen, one of Canada’s largest, privately-owned IT services providers and PC systems integrators. I’ll be working in technical pre-sales focusing on Microsoft technologies. I’m pretty excited about starting this next phase of my career, but before jumping in, I decided to take a bit of a break to recharge and have delayed my start date until February. So until then, my days are filled with home projects, school and day-care drop offs and pick ups and relaxing.

However, I’m not slacking off entirely! I’ll be presenting on Windows Server 2012 at the Waterloo Wellington IT Pro user group on January 28 and if you’re in the area, I hope you’ll join me! For more information and to sign up, visit the website at www.wwitpro.com.

Life after Microsoft

I’ve had the privilege to work with some amazing people at Microsoft. It’s a company that attracts top notch people who are passionate about technology and I’m grateful for the experiences and opportunities I’ve had over the past 6 years. However, nothing lasts forever and a number of changes within the company have meant that me and Microsoft are no longer a good fit.

It’s now been over a week since I entered the Microsoft office for the last time as an employee. I’ve been fairly quiet on my social networks since then, being totally selfish and taking time for me and my family. It’s been refreshing to have time to bake with the boys, cook a few real meals that didn’t involve frozen fish sticks, work out and read for pleasure. All the stresses and pressures, particularly from the past few months, have rapidly dissipated.

The first day post-Microsoft, my feelings alternated between excitement and panic. I’d be totally jazzed planning what might come next and then get this gut-wrenching feeling of terror that my career was over. However, by day 2, the grapevine had done it’s work and people started contacting me. Some simply to find out what happened, to express their feelings and to establish a connection. Others to inquire about next steps in my career now that I am available.

I feel I have a unique opportunity – time to think about where I want to go next and plan accordingly without the distraction of a job or the pressure of looking while being secretive. I’ve got some great experience under my belt with a solid technical background complemented by sound presentation and communication skills along with good connections within the IT community. I’ll be seeking a technical sales role, however, I also realize there may be a role within company I haven’t thought of that would be a good fit. I mean, who would of thought there would be such a thing as an IT Pro Evangelist? I certainly didn’t before I joined the team at Microsoft.

For those wanting to know how to reach me, my personal email address is ruth@mortonhq.ca [UPDATED EMAIL] ruth@ruthlindamorton.com.

One man’s junk is another (wo)man’s treasure

I’ve written before about trying to rediscover my creative side and I’ve done that by picking up some of the projects I planned years ago but never got around to doing. One such project was an old wooden table lamp that I’d always planned on painting and re-wiring. Unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures until I’d already removed the electrical wiring and sanded most of it down but thankfully before I started painting.

As it is with most project, once you start there are always some surprises. Much to my delight, once I took the lamp stand apart, I discovered the lamp was made up of 4 separate wooden pieces. I decided to paint each a different colour (blue for the base, then black, pink and finally orange for the top piece) and then paint designs on each that would tie the piece together once I re-constructed it.

I choose the bright colours because I really wanted to make something that would make me smile when I looked at it and this certainly does the trick. I love it!

collage

Shiny new toy–Nokia Lumia 900

Not too long ago, I wrote about the unboxing of my Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Phone. I was fairly impressed with it at the time, however, since then it’s been sitting on my desk unused. Why? Partly because it requires a micro SIM to use and I hadn’t gotten around to getting one. But a lot of the functionality is still usable without the SIM card as long as wifi is available, so that wasn’t entirely the reason. I still think it’s a sleek looking phone, but there isn’t enough compellingly different about the experience of using it to make me want to switch from my trusty Samsung Focus.

However, recently each Microsoft Canada employee was given a Nokia Lumia 900 and I am totally thrilled with it. It doesn’t hurt that it came with a pre-configured micro SIM so I could activate and use it almost immediately. But it’s also bigger than either the 800 or the Focus and as you can see from the photo below, the screen size (outlined in orange on each phone) is quite a bit larger and the colours are much more vibrant.

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Now that I’ve started using it, I’ve found that the unmarked buttons along the side that I wasn’t sure about in my unboxing post are actually very well designed. Unlike the Focus which has buttons on both sides of the phone, the Nokia phones only have them on one side. Which means that once I figure out that the volume is at the top, the power is in the middle and the camera is on the bottom, it’s simple to remember as I don’t have to also remember which side they’re on. I didn’t realize how often I was getting the buttons on the Focus mixed up until I started using the Lumia.

One downside however, is that the larger form factor doesn’t fit in my purse pocket as well. The upside…I now have a good excuse to go buy a new purse!

DSCN4137

The dishes are dirty but that’s okay, I’m rediscovering my passion

Over the years, being a wife, running a business, dealing with infertility, giving birth (finally!) and now trying to be an attentive mother while keeping up with a demanding job have left me feeling like I’ve lost touch with myself a bit. I’ve been trying to regain that creative side of myself which has long been neglected and regulated to the back shelf while life was too crazy. I set up my craft table in the basement and have started painting again (perhaps I’ll post pictures later of some of my projects) but my desire has always been to marry my 2 loves – technology and art.

I’ve played around with using PowerPoint to draw with and have done a few things which I’ve incorporated into my work at Microsoft:

thankyou4          thoushalt

But PowerPoint, while great for some things, is woefully inadequate for what I need to satisfy my creative itch. So today I downloaded GIMP – the GNU Image Manipulation Program. The first thing I worked on was a new logo for this blog:

Mortonology

I’ll likely change it several times as it’s a good simple project to work on while I get familiar with the tools. Although I’m using a tablet computer (a Lenovo X201) and a stylus, my lines look pretty shaky. I almost feel like I have to learn how to draw all over again. But I’m loving it!

So now when the dishes are sitting dirty in the sink and John has had to reheat leftovers for him and the boys yet again, I can show him my screen and say, “But, look what I drew!”.

Dragon 

Confessions of a public speaker

23-02-2012 2-21-31 PM

I speak to audiences all across Canada as part of my job as an evangelist with Microsoft. I talk to large groups and small groups, to IT managers, to students. I speak about IT strategy, about careers in IT, and most importantly, about the nuts and bolts of Microsoft technology.

It was one of the reasons that I took the job – I wanted to have the opportunity to grow my public speaking skills. It wasn’t something I had done much before joining Microsoft but I thought I might be good at it. And apparently I’m not that bad, if the comments I get and the event evaluations are to be believed.

But it terrifies me each time.

Yup. That’s right. For a few days prior to every speaking engagement, particularly if I’m speaking on a new topic or using a new deck, I feel the anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I give my husband a heads up that I’m starting to feel edgy and he knows to cut me some extra slack until the event is over. He understands that if he pokes my buttons while I’m in that state, I just might explode.

I wonder each time if it’s worth it. Am I in the right job, if one of the main components of it gives me such grief? Perhaps not, but I’m too stubborn to give up because of it. Smile

I’m much better than I was when I first started at managing the pre-presentation anxiety. I’ve learned certain techniques to lessen my anxiety, to relax, and to help me do my best but not care so deeply about perfection that it paralyzes me.

Having just completed 3 more speaking engagements over the last 4 weeks including a 6 hour technical workshop, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned for those of you have always wanted to have a public voice but have been afraid to try or those who are experienced speakers but face similar challenges to my own:

1. Practice out loud. Say the words out loud and you’ll find yourself better prepared to tell your stories with clarity in front of your audience. Find a mirror or a willing spouse, imagine your audience in front of you and go through your presentation from start to finish. Then do it again and again. I set up my notebook with a secondary monitor so that I can practise using a similar setup to having a projector in the room. And I sit in my office and talk out loud to myself like a crazy woman. This is the single most important thing you can do to ease your fears. That’s why it’s at the top of my list.

2. Remember that that the audience wants you to succeed. The people sitting in the audience are not cheering for your failure. In fact, since they took time out of their schedules to come and listen to you, they are rooting for you to succeed. If you stumble or mess up, smile, make a joke and carry on. You’ll find them smiling along with you. That happened to me recently. I messed up. So I looked out at the group in front of me and smiled. They smiled back encouragingly (or at least enough did!), I made a joke, several more laughed and we carried on. A good thing comes out of a not-so-great situation.

3. Own the room. On the day of the event, as soon as I arrive at the venue and it’s too late to worry anymore, the anxiety is replaced by a sense of purpose. I get there early, set up my equipment, and chat with the audience as they come in. I’m cool and confident. I own that room, that stage. Be early and make sure the room is set up as you want it. Greet people as they come in and get to know them a bit. Your audience will seem much less intimidating when you’re up on stage if there are a couple of familiar faces in the crowd.

4. Just do it. In front of the audience, I fall into a cadence and rhythm. It’s a comfortable place to be but a place I’ve only been able to find through experience. After the talk is over, there’s a sense of euphoria. In fact, the post-presentation rush is somewhat addictive. It’s when all my cares seem to be gone and all is right again with the world. But you have to do it to get that experience. You’ll fail to succeed at 100% of the things you don’t try.

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