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Geeks should 'outsource themselves' - Mongolian BoFH

Can do spirit ordered in China

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Comment It's hot hiring time in China now! If you want to have a paid vacation for 6 months or 1 year, think about coming to China! Your English skills and IT skills are in demand right now.

Since I finished my last round of graduate school a few years ago, I have had some chances to live a Gypsy lifestyle, traveling around the world to exotic places, meeting interesting people, and learning about strange foreign cultures. It is the exciting part of IT some people may only dream of. In reality, I have spent the past 5 or 6 years moving from one place to another, packing, unpacking, looking for lost things, buying replacements, and then finding the lost things. There is little glamor, but lots of moving.

I have been in China for the past four years; half of that time in Inner Mongolia, half in the Shanghai area. My job has recently taken me back to Inner Mongolia, in Northern China. The job consists mostly of computer support for foreign language teachers, but I also lecture, have tutorial students, support an educational website, and care for our language college servers. The other foreign language teachers and I help prepare Chinese college graduates to take your IT jobs.

So, are you in danger of being outsourced?

Sure you are. Let me explain some of the cultural realities of Middle Kingdom computing first, then I will come back to the outsourcing issue.

Mongolian BoFH gets wired

I recently completed what should have been a simple and quick job of moving some servers and setting up a new educational web site server for English teachers at our university. There is no preferred vendor for our university (others usually pick Lenovo, if there is one), so I made a list of what parts were needed for the whitebox server. No problem. All the parts were ordered immediately. If you work in IT in the West, admin or trenches, when was the last time you spec'd a whitebox? Or, rather, when is the last time you spec'd a whitebox without even looking at vendor quotes? My guess is not recently.

Waiting for all the parts to arrive for the new server, and waiting for my other servers to get on the schedule for moving from university IT, back to our college server room, I thought it would be a good time to check all the high and low voltage wiring, air conditioning, plumbing, and lighting. I do not mean call facilities and have someone come check these things, oh no.

I got out my assortment of testers and tasters. Checked all the mains for proper grounding. Checked the hubs. Checked the routers. Made a list of leaky faucets, replaced fluorescent tubes and faulty fixtures, "acquired" a comfy chair and a big desk for myself, and "found" a refrigerator that is now an officially listed, numbered, and inventoried part of the language college server room. The phrase, "that's not part of my job description" never came to mind. Of course there are no legal, union, or contractual problems with me doing these things here.

I personally did these things because that is what an admin at a university in China can do if they are motivated. They can do what they need to do to get the job done. Oh, sure, I had some help. I can speak a little Mongolian, so I had some university workers help move the furniture. I can speak a little Chinese, so I got replacement lighting fixtures from facilities. Mostly, however, it was me, my wits, and my two hands that got everything in order. My Chinese counterparts could not believe all the initiative.

When it came to getting the hubs and routers set for the new server configuration, I discovered there were hundreds of meters of new CAT5 cable, bags and bags of new RJ45 connectors, and a box of 1 meter patch cables. No crimpers to be seen. The university IT department of course had a set, but they just smiled if I even hinted that I even wanted to look at them.

This part of Inner Mongolia is a little less advanced than some places in South China, but by no means backwards. I called all over the city for crimpers. No luck. The next day, university IT called and told me that my servers were on the way over. Not that they would be moved soon, but, rather, that they had already been taken out of service, disconnected, and were on the way to my building via a convoy of pedal-taxis.

About this same time, I started getting calls from language teachers. We can't get any language files for the listening lab, what have you done? Students can't access their web-based assignments, what have you done? I can't access my email, what have you done? My only reply to any of these questions was, "yes, it is my fault. I am so very sorry," because that is the way these questions must be answered. This was, in fact, my fault, because for the past few days it was my responsibility to keep the systems working. The servers were not in my server room, but that made no difference, because it was my job to care for them, and they were not in operation. I was not doing my job.

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