Bill Farrar

Portfolio Site and Blog


March 06, 2012

I’ve been putting together a portfolio, which I understand I should have been doing all along.  There’s a link to it at the top of the site, and I’ll be updating it with projects I’ve enjoyed working on or have done something cool with.  But, kind of like an Artist’s portfolio, it’s work I’ve done that is a thing I can show you.  A lot of the work I’ve done at my current job, for instance, isn’t something tangible as what I have there.

Part of why I’m looking for work is that things here aren’t changing in the ways I need.   The other is that I’m starting to finish many of the things I started.  It feels like there’s more behind me than there is in front of me.  Maybe I’m wrong (and maybe that’s one way having a new boss will help things) but I do want to look at what I’ve accomplished here.

Some of the agencies here get all their tech support directly from the central Data Center — they are small, have very well defined needs, and don’t have the staff and size to support an IT position.  The one I work at is the second largest agency, and we have 250 or so people, all of whom need to interact with IT somehow every day that they work.  A vast majority of them don’t have their own computer, or use one for more than 15-30 minutes a day, but they all do at some point.

This mix of things means that with support from the Data Center for things like networking, email and some server support, a small IT department of 2 or 3 people (it’s 2, but we could use another in my not so humble opinion) can manage our IT needs.

I worked in my assistant’s position for a couple of months before turning down my current position due to it being a bad fit at the time.   A year later, they’d been without IT for a while, and had hired someone who was a good fit for the assistant.  That and the office environment had changed and I was willing to come in here.  The pay was still not good, so I’ve worked as a contractor/temp while that is being resolved.  {It’s lack of resolution is one of the issues here.}

So, when I got here in my current incarnation, I had some knowledge of what was going on, but they’d been without any real IT for a year, and there were problems.  It took me a few weeks, but I realized that I got calls that the server was acting badly every 8 days.  There was no development environment, no test server, no source control.  There was only an inventory because my assistant had just completed one.  The budget for the year was woefully inadequate as it was the one that had been used the year before and was just barely what we needed to complete.

The quick response was to reboot the server weekly, and put some monitoring code into place, and find out what was causing it.  That led me to find some major problems that were killing memory, and fixing them.  Fixing these issues was vital, and done surgically as they whole thing, I quickly discovered, needed to be overhauled and replaced.  And that meant building infrastructure for test and dev, and making a real environment to work in — even if I was the only one doing work, with occasional help for my assistant.

I developed tools that would let us know what our budgetary requirements for years out would be, and began looking outside our immediate needs.  We had systems on systems that had been sitting unmaintained.  I found a PC from the mid-80s which was still running, but (obviously) on its last legs.  To fix it though required ripping out the system it was a part of and replacing it entirely.  This was not expensive, nor the work of a single year.   We did the same with a security system, and those for other trades.

One trade had a suite of software tools that were old, and due to licensing had to run on a machine that was inadequate for use six years prior.  We now have yearly agreements with those vendors for upgrades, and an keep the equipment updated as a result.  This was a practice I implemented across anything that involves tech — and in the current world, everything involves tech.

I’m in the process, this year, of getting rid of the last of those server applications — one with a purchase from a vendor, the other bits of code I’ll write as they’re very tied to our business model.  They’re in modern, Open Source languages, and can run in a LAMP stack (but don’t because of external standards we have to abide by). I don’t know where we are on the Joel Code (probably not too high, as we don’t primarily develop code) but we’re stable and have good practices in what we do, across the board.  And those practices are now understood by the agency, and we’ve got support from them we didn’t have when I started, because they’d been treated poorly by IT for so very long.

I’ll probably find some new system this year that’s been running fine for 10 years and needs upgraded, and we’ll find some way to keep it working until next year when I have the money to fix it. And it’ll be one less thing out of date.  And maybe I won’t find anything, maybe after six years of this we’ve found most of it, and engendered in our users an understanding that they not only can tell us about things, they need to.

The other thing I’m proud of is that my assistant now has an A+ certification, and is working on networking and routing certifications as well.  There’s no easy path from his position to mine, so I imagine he’ll leave for something better.  I spent a lot of time convincing him to do this, and made sure there was money and support for that as well.  I hope that by working for me, he’ll have a better life, because that’s the right thing, but also because he’s made my life better in this job by just being a good employee.

When I look at this, I don’t see huge amounts of project code. I have written some cool things here, and improved things vastly with small lines of code here and there, and fixes to interfaces that were bad and punishing.  I still have more of that work to do, but it’s getting to a point where I’ve done the major things I wanted to when I got here.

So time for a new plan or a new person, but whether I’m here or not — new challenges..

Bill Farrar
Bill Farrar
Full stack developer with over 20 years in web technologies and over 30 years as a software engineer and designer. Senior systems analyst and team lead, spending time running projects and mentoring peers.