Conducting Technical Change with Duwayne Engelhardt (1/2)

Welcome to episode 150 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss Duwayne Engelhardt’s early career and his transition from being a band director into IT operations at a bank.

Original Recording Date: 10-06-2021

Topics – Meet Duwayne Engelhardt, Band Director to Banking, Focus on Functionality, A Manager of Change, Onboarding A New Boss and Showing Value, Stressful Situations, Supporting Others through Change

2:29 – Meet Duwayne Engelhardt

  • Duwayne Engelhardt is currently retired. He doesn’t do anything he does not want to do.
    • Duwayne was the VP of Network Administration at Wallis Bank. His boss told him he was the Infrastructure Architect before retiring, but before that he was a Network Administrator, Technology Director, and many other things.
  • Duwayne was always kind of a tech guy but primarily a musician. Even in the 1960s, he built his own AM radio to listen to at night when no one could tell him to turn it down / off.
  • He started his career as a Band Director at a small school. The situation was such that he had to find extra classes to teach like PE, Math, Texas History, and when computers came along, it was suggested he teach a class on them.
    • He got certified so he would not have to change the classes he taught each year.
    • He started with teaching things like Commodore64 machines and others.
    • Duwayne’s wife did accounting work, and he helped her with manual ledgers, finally suggesting computer spreadsheets could do the job better. The wife said "go do it."
    • Duwayne picked up an Epson machine and Lotus123 to take care of it.
    • Duwayne used a computer a lot as a band director because he had many students and needed to keep track of students, uniforms, instruments, grades. He had over 3 times the number of students as other teachers.
    • Duwayne was told he knew too much about computers to keep teaching band and not just teach computers. He could not find another band director job and decided to "roll with the flow."
  • Duwayne still likes to play instruments and perform these days and will often times teach kids on the side.
    • Music remains his first love, but he likes to play around with computers too.
  • John mentioned Accounting was a transformation and that people don’t remember spreadsheets were once paper.
    • Duwayne said his wife turned maintaining ledgers over to him and that he decided to then use the computers for his stuff.

7:00 – Band Director to Banking

  • Duwayne taught what was considered basic computer information to middle school kids to start, teaching them about computers, their history, and how they developed dating back to Babbage in the 1800s.
    • It was computer literacy more than anything.
  • When Duwayne got into the banking industry, they were not using computers. It was green screens and mainframes but didn’t really know what they were doing (data entry only). Going to the banks was a big transition because many workstations were a hybrid between green screen / mainframe and computing.
  • People using the computers figured out how to screen scrape the green screen so people would not have to copy information between the two systems.
    • As long as the data was in the right place / field, you could get the data to go from the mainframe (thousands of miles away) to the local computer in front of you.
    • In education you have to teach the students what’s happening so they know what to do and what not to do, what happens when you don’t do something right, and how to correct it, etc.
    • The education part was very useful in teaching people at the bank. The biggest difference was that in education you might have 3 servers in a school district and 200-300 users per server. At the bank, we had 80 servers for 180 people (a very different server to user ratio). Education doesn’t require a lot of computing, but in banking these days, almost everything requires computing.
  • Duwayne came into technology when mainframes were still in use. They were in the middle of processing e-mail (probably the biggest local usage of computers), and employees realized they could find the information they were looking for easily in spreadsheet form faster than manually manipulating the mainframe’s screen.
    • The mainframe had one print option (print everything), and there was no going to look for page 7 if that was all you needed.
    • Duwayne was there during the transition away from mainframes and a transition to a quicker means of entering data

11:58 – Focus on Functionality

  • Duwayne tried to stay 2-3 steps ahead of users to do testing and evaluate what they wanted and needed so he would know what they needed to do with any new technology.
    • Even in education, Duwayne found in the mid-1990s, he found an application written for Apple 2 machines (even though it was not a thing those days) that could teach elementary students language and math. The teachers loved Duwayne for setting this up, getting excited about seeing printouts of a student’s progress after using the program.
    • The person who came in after Duwayne brought in Windows, and it was a big learning curve for students and teachers. You need to see what something is good for and use it for a particular function. This does not require that it be the latest technology if it works well.
    • Duwayne still does some computer work these days for people. Listen to his story about helping a customer swap computers easily (and finding a better way to transfer settings).

14:44 – A Manager of Change

  • Duwayne has been a manager of change throughout his career. At the bank, they used NT e-mail internally only (no Exchange existed at that time – 1999).
    • He remembers the BSD system from the school district and found a good Linux server to use for the bank’s e-mail until moving to Exchange in 2007.
    • Duwayne had to rebuild the server at one point right before a trip out of town and upgraded it to Postfix, which served as the corporate mail server until they eventually migrated to change.
    • This is what got Duwayne started in Linux, and to this day he still runs some Linux servers at his home.
  • You have to use what is good for you and what is cost effective. There is no sense in wasting money on computing when you don’t have to.
  • The bank had higher computing requirements and more uptime requirements.
    • Back to the boy scout trip out of town…Duwayne had been planning to go for a while, but the e-mail server went down the day before the trip.
    • Duwayne’s boss would not allow him to leave until he fixed the server, stating the company would pay to fly him to wherever he needed to go to at least make part of his trip.
    • Duwayne had to go buy a new motherboard for the server and then decided to upgrade Linux at the same time. The hard drive was fine, which allowed Duwayne to recover all the e-mails.
  • Listen as Duwayne shares a story about Windstream (their datacenter communications provider at the time) making a forced change to the bank’s connection (all new circuits) and external network that took 3 days to resolve.
    • Duwayne finally convinced a Windstream engineer that the problem had to do with packet sizes and was a misconfiguration of some Windstream equipment, sleeping very little during those 3 days as a result.
    • During the outage, the bank had some functionality within their network but no access to the internet (which meant no e-mail).
    • It was an extremely stressful time for Duwayne.
  • John says during times of change you really understand what fragility is.
    • This is the very reason Duwayne suggested the bank have multiple datacenters for redundancy.
    • By the time Duwayne left the bank, a datacenter failure wouldn’t even be noticed by end users because an automatic failover based on redundancy was in place. Things might be a little slower, but the functionality was there without a complete system down situation.
    • This type of redundancy earned the bank high marks from regulators. John says the regulations were stricter based on the size of the bank.
    • When Duwayne joined the bank, they had about 65 million dollars in assets, and by the time he left to retire they were over 1 billion dollars (present day closer to 2 billion dollars).
      • This growth resulted in multiple regulation level changes.

23:37 – Onboarding A New Boss and Showing Value

  • Duwayne’s boss was a member of the family with a background in database administration. He knew a lot but not how it all interconnected.
    • Duwayne taught his boss many things over the 7 years they worked together.
    • The boss was willing to learn. He came in because he was the oldest son of the primary owner.
    • Duwayne’s boss came into the role knowing he didn’t know a lot of things. Duwayne took it upon himself to help his new boss understand the technology operations at the bank. The boss eventually fought for everything the team needed (i.e. all the improvements needed to get five 9s of availability for the bank).
    • Working at the bank was a great job for Duwayne.
    • Duwayne says the team was told no a few times regarding some things they wanted to increase reliability and uptime. Generally, if they kept at it and could demonstrate a return on the investment within 6 months, projects would get approved to introduce new capabilities.
  • John didn’t learn the lesson of demonstrating business value while in IT Operations. It was something he learned in pre-Sales.
    • Duwayne grew up doing this. If he wanted something, it was up to him to prove the value of what he wanted. If there was value and a workable return on investment, things got approved.
    • Duwayne tried to use these same skills while teaching. In the school systems there were more politics. Administrators would have direct access to the board, but you needed to convince an administrator something was a good idea first.
    • Presenting the business case to leadership within the banking industry was easier for Duwayne. His motto was that he would spend the bank’s money like it was his own (i.e. won’t ask for something the bank really did not need).
    • Duwayne never abused the trust upper management put in him at the bank, sticking to the plan of providing a valid business case for return on investment to help leaders understand. If you can do something to make the business run better, more power to you.

28:58 – Stressful Situations

  • Close to the time COVID hit, technology teams had already added a few hours to their normal day to support branches in different time zones without adding IT personnel.
    • Employees wanted to work late into the night on loan applications. Duwayne and team had to figure out how to adjust their data backup schedules as a result (when to do it, how to do it, what timeline for recovery is).
    • One of the servers was overloaded and nearly out of space. Duwayne had created a script to move files and ran it early one morning. A couple of hours later a co-worker called and stated a specific file share was completely empty (the one that was supposed to be copied to a new server).
      • Duwayne’s script had accidentally done the copy in the wrong direction and wiped out all the data.
      • Luckily Duwayne had a redundant copy of the data that was fairly up to date. He was able to recover everything but a small number of files.
      • This taught Duwayne an important lesson. Get a second set of eyes on scripts before running them in production when you’re about to make a big change.
      • There was a lot of stress on IT personnel in supporting other company personnel moving from a 14 hour day to a 24 hour day (with no added IT staff).
      • Some of the best advice Duwayne has received is don’t skip on backup. You never have enough of it. There will come a time when you need that 3rd copy.
        • Even though he is retired now, Duwayne works with a few small businesses and encourages them to never skimp on backups.
  • Sometimes an ok day can turn into a red alert, all hands on deck kind of situation. How do you deal with the stress of these kinds of situations over the course of a career?
    • Duwayne says he’s not sure you ever learn to deal with it. You just deal with it.
    • It helps if you have a manager above you who can provide consistent status updates to upper management. This takes the heat off the team working on resolving the problem.
    • A co-worker of Duwayne’s sat in a cubicle and try to work while people hovered over him during a stressful situation. Duwayne, on the other hand, had an office door he could close.
    • Duwayne’s boss (a Senior Vice President) would let people know the team was aware of the outage and that they were working to resolve it as quickly as possible. But there were limits to how fast the team could work and how fast processes could move.

36:04 – Supporting Others through Change

  • Platforms changed a few times over Duwayne’s career.
  • Usually people came to Duwayne with banking applications with his job being to make it work.
  • Duwayne was more on the networking side, transitioning from frame relay to nVPN (VPN managed by carriers) to basic multi-site units with routing to SD-WAN.
  • His goal was consistently to lessen the overall impact on end users during these changes (i.e. minimal downtime).
    • Even back in the 90s they were running their voice traffic over frame relay for branch communication.
    • Some moves were made with no downtime at all, but usually users recognized the improvement.
    • The change to SD-WAN was the most complicated and had the most downtime due to the changes needed (not the same as a simple redirection).
  • Nick says the job of the IT professional is to be invisible. Duwayne says we are enablers. We enable end users to do their jobs. The better we can do that and the less they have to talk to us (IT), the better they like it (and the better we like it).
    • If users complain / talk about something be "slow," ideally we would fix it without them knowing it so they will be able to see the difference and can report a positive change.
    • Duwayne says there were some users who would come and thank him or a member of his team when something was fixed, being very generous with their gratitude. The users appreciated the effort IT put in to help them, and the IT group understood the end users they supported were making money for the company.
    • Duwayne enjoyed working with most end users and on the back end systems. He likes communicating and talking with people, so interacting with end users was never an issue.
      • Duwayne had to reinforce to the people who worked for him that the people the team supported were the ones making the company money to pay IT salaries.
      • Take care of them (end users). They may not be right. You can’t really change it except to make it better.
  • At one point Duwayne was the Information Security Officer at the bank.
    • Duwayne told one of the presidents he could shut the bank down if the situation arose / risk was great enough.
    • Duwayne shares a story of someone wanting to know the passwords of all tellers working under her, but this would have been a compliance issue. Duwayne shut it down, and his boss supported the decision.
    • The Information Security Officer works very closely with the Compliance Officer.

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