Reflection: The Importance of Community

I am writing this on Memorial Day as I reflect on those that have sacrificed their lives so that we may be free. It is a time for remembrance, reflection, and appreciation of the past so that we can create a better future. I have comrades in arms that I will be remembering on this solemn day.

May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.

Peter Marshall

I think it’s especially important to remember what freedom means to you this Memorial Day as we navigate the unknown. The past two and a half months have been strange, long, and taxing. Neither I, nor my wife, expected to both be working from home full-time, while home schooling a high school sophomore and sixth grader. Add in the uncertainty of when things if/when will return to “normal”; concerns for friends, family, and others on the front lines of public health, or working to provide essential services, or those at high risk and you’ve got a Molotov cocktail of fear, doubt, anxiety, depression, and anger.

When this all kicked off in March, working from home was a welcome respite from driving into the office though my fifteen minute commute was hardly a burden. I had a good work from home setup and even split my desk up to give my wife a space in the same room. That lasted a couple of weeks until we were constantly talking over each other in meetings, and she now resides in another room. The timing was also good as my kids were going to be on spring break, so there wasn’t a feeling that anything was “different”. As the weeks have past, things have been very different, however. Previously, given our family’s hectic schedule, we were only able to eat dinner together as a family one night a week. There were dance lessons, tumbling classes, band practices, weight room sessions, etc. that always interfered with family time. I would also often stay at the office later as I was working on a project, or being asked to help with an issue. These individual instances have continued over the past several years with our family, without any consideration if it was what’s best for our family.

We are now “down the road” a bit, and we have seen how this pandemic is playing out socially, economically, and politically. I’ve watched the news, listened to experts, read Facebook comments from non-experts (why do I do that to myself!?), had conversations and have reflected a lot. One thing I have concluded is that I don’t care to discuss politics or economics. I don’t have enough knowledge on the topics to provide valuable insight outside of macro/micro Econ and Poli Sci classes from college in the late 90s. I have my own opinions, but as my wife says, “you are entitled to your own opinions, but you aren’t entitled to your own facts.” She’s a smart lady 🙂

A lot of my reflection time has been around the social aspects, which for me include both personal and professional areas. Professionally, when I started working from home full time my team had a massive influx of requests and work. We spent the first several weeks answering questions like:

  • How many remote users are we licensed for?
  • How many remote users can our infrastructure actually support?
  • What are the trends of our remote users, and where can we see those trends graphically?
  • Do we split tunnel Internet traffic, or back haul it via our Internet?
  • What traffic should be split tunneled?
  • How is split tunneled traffic secured/managed if it isn’t back hauled?
  • What percentage of our capacity are we running at before and after the pandemic?
  • Should we move our VPN infrastructure to the cloud?

While that’s a small sample of questions, it illustrates that there was a huge need for data and facts. We had some data readily available, and we also had to learn some new things along the way to help us get the data to answer the questions we were being asked. This included technical solutions such as:

  • Automatically pull data from our NMS via REST API calls
  • Create a workflow using Tableau Prep for preparation of the API data
  • Create Tableau dashboards to visualize the data

This, along with supporting the rest of the business for working fully remote, resulted in meetings, working sessions, after hours change plans and more. This additional work coupled with my existing project load and other enterprise initiatives had me working during the day, after hours and weekends for the better part of five weeks. Not helping matters was the fact that my “office” was ten feet away from me at any given time. All the while my kids, like most others, were struggling to adapt to an online learning environment that the schools had to literally build in a week. We were all in the same house, all day, dealing with each other’s nuances and quirks while trying to be the best network engineers, associate principals, students, and people we could be. This was not the work from home respite I envisioned.

Needless to say I had very little work life balance in March and April. I was taking on anything I was asked at work (and even some things I wasn’t asked), and I didn’t even realize I was doing it at the time. Looking back, I think it was my way of feeling “in control”. It was my coping mechanism for the uncertainty we were facing. I could focus on work and solve problems. I can control that, it’s what I’m good at, and it feels right. I swung the pendulum too far though.

Here we are, in May 2020, and I am feeling completely different. I definitely feel like I have more control over my work life balance. There are still questions being asked, uncertainties all around and my workload is not going away, but I feel like I am in a much better place. What’s changed to make me feel that way? It’s really the social aspects of my personal and professional life such as:

  1. Our family gets to eat together every night and despite our quirks, we actually like being together. We discuss issues and what’s best for our family with everyone having input
  2. My organization (@amfam) has recognized the hard work that people are doing both personally and professionally by gifting us three “Thank You” days this summer
  3. I have gifted training courses to those who are just starting their IT journey in a time of many unknowns thanks to members of the IT community like Cisco Panther (@Cisco_Panther), Steve Drzaszcz (@stevedrz) and Tony E (@showipintbri)
  4. I have a renewed passion for my work and understand that the journey is never complete thanks to members of the IT community like Hank Preston (@hfprestson), John Capobianco (@John_Capobianco), David Bombal (@davidbombal) and Nicholas Russo (@nickrusso42518)
  5. My wife and I have set aside time to go for walks together during the week so we can vent our frustrations and connect as husband and wife, not just mom and dad
  6. Our family has gotten to spend much more quality time with our geriatric fourteen year old dog, Pee Wee
The G.O.A.T.

These examples remind me that people doing what’s right are the people I want to be around. I am thankful for the freedom to be part of a community that inspires me be a better coworker, husband, and father. This is the best way I can honor those that gave their lives for freedom not only on Memorial Day, but every day.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words, but to live by them.”

John F. Kennedy

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