Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How Many Admins?

In responding to a question about planning your IT staff requirements in LinkedIn Answers today, I realized two things: 

1. This could make a good blog post.
2. I love talking about the mechanics of IT.

One of my favorite answers to this quandary is Mark Verber's "How Many Administrators Are Enough?" article from a 1991 edition of Unix Review magazine.  It's a great discussion of how to plan and control your IT staffing needs, but it's mostly about principles.  And the 24x7-site staffing model, which concludes that you need fourteen people may cause unneeded consternation if you're starting with an IT staff of, for instance, two.

One of the great challenges in IT management is keeping IT and non-IT folks in sync, and my impression is that most IT managers resort to very simple formulae, like "1 helpdesk staff per 50 employees".  I've found that this kind of formula breaks down very quickly as organizations and technologies change, so I've tried to use something slightly more involved.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Campaign vs. Start-Up

After spending the past six months working in the Obama 2012 campaign's IT team, and returning to Boston, I've been thinking about the similarities between campaign IT and start-up IT.  Before moving to Chicago in April, most of my professional life has been in tech-focused, Boston-area start-ups.  And there are some real similarities.

An Incomplete List of Campaign/Start-Up Similarities:
  1. Your primary product has to be amazing.  Everything else has to be just-good-enough.  As a start-up or as a campaign, everyone knows you by their one window into the organization - like the OFA field campaign, or New Relic's performance monitoring service
  2. Everything that supports your operation - your systems and processes - should be just-good-enough-to-work.  In start-ups and campaigns, you don't have the time, money or staff to build a really beautiful process, or a really beautiful infrastructure.  That doesn't mean you can make something haphazard - you still have to contain your risks - but you can't spend too much time on evaluations, designs, redesigns, etc.
  3. Everyone contributes, everyone owns something (or many things).
  4. Your great idea is only great if you implement it.
  5. Your great critique is only useful if you provide a new solution.
  6. Tight budgets favor free software and services.
  7. Time is short - projects that aren't working get abandoned.