Saturday, December 31, 2022

Solution Engineering Training Opportunity

 If you're following me on Twitter, you've probably seen my announcement a few days ago, about me offering to train 1-2 people to become competent IT Infrastructure Solution Engineers (SEs). I wanted to announce this during BarCamp Kuwait 10 two weeks ago, but didn't to prepare things in time.

SE Basics: What, How and Why

What is a 'Solution Engineer'?

A solution engineer is someone typically working at System Integrators in the IT industry, or at IT companies (vendors) directly. IT vendors are the like of Microsoft, Red Hat, VMware, IBM, Oracle, and so on. System Integrators are companies that leverage solutions from multiple companies to bring over a complete solution to a problem their customer has.

A competent SE must be able to look at the big picture, a solution that fits this company's needs and not necessarily cater for a quick itch that it may have. The SE must have exposure to multiple technologies on various levels of infrastructure and applications, in order to have a valuable & trustworthy opinion of a proposed solution.

This does not cover technology alone, but also needs to cater for the customer's budget, purchasing cycle, existing investments, and future growth.

At the end, the SE has to also present the solution in an easy to understand matter to various people, some technical, some financial and some are high level executives. A competent SE needs to know how and when to create a presentation catering to each type/group of business people at the customer in order to secure their trust, their budget and the deal.

How Does One Become a SE?

The typical path is that a fresh graduate would work at a company's IT department as an administrator for a few years and gain knowledge of various systems, either by immediate assignment to each of these systems or out of curiosity.

After that, good IT people are picked up by System Integrators (SIs), to implement specific solutions that they already know well. Often, this involves pushing them to get certifications on the solutions being implemented from the vendors to showcase their qualification and this is also often a requirement for each SI when submitting formal documents for a tender/request for proposals (RFPs).

After a few years at SIs, exceptional SEs are picked up by vendors, and are either given the role of a generalist (core) solution engineering, or become specialized in a very specific product.
A generalist, like myself, is someone who's the first point of contact for their customers, and gathers information on their current issues, then decides whether s/he can devise the solution on their own or needs to involve specialists.
A specialist is someone who has deep knowledge of select products belonging to one business unit. For example, someone who knows how to implement VMware's Horizon virtual desktop solutions and architect solutions around it.

As you have guessed, this process takes many years, and apart from the technological aspect of learning, there's also a big learning curve on social skills and presentation skills.

Why Become a SE?

So why bother? Why not stay an administrator managing software, networks, storage, servers, or some systems and be happy with the routine work?

To each their own, and some of us have minds that are tuned to routine work and are happy with routine work. Others, like myself, would be bored to death with routine work and prefer to spend time solving problems and dealing with various industries and customers to help them get better: reduce their costs of operations, enhance their response to emergencies, help them launch new services faster, secure their infrastructure, applications and data on various levels, ...etc.

If you find yourself to be as the latter, then being an IT SE is the road to feed your hunger for problem solving.

My Conditions and Limitations

Before going further and to not waste your time, I'm instating certain limitations and conditions for this training opportunity.

  1. This offer is limited to citizens and children of citizen women of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.
  2. The priority of selection is:
    1. Kuwaitis and Kuwaiti women's children (if the children don't hold Kuwaiti citizenship)
    2. Other GCC nationals and their children similarly to Kuwaitis.
  3. Age must be between 23 and 35 years old. Though older people may have more experience, the purpose of this training is to provide as much information as possible to save on the time spent to gain knowledge. At least 2 years of working experience (in any sector) is needed, even if not IT related.
    Non-IT work can be useful to build one's soft skills (conversational, presentation, sales skills).
  4. Male or female. Both will be treated equally and comparison will be done based on personality traits and ability to self-learn.
  5. There will be a push for a lot of self-learning and you need to invest time in it. If you slack off, I'll give 2 warnings, and then discontinue the training if you keep slacking off.
  6. I work long hours during the week, but I'll try to provide at least 2 hours per week for a year. We'll see how it goes for 3 months, then decide what times and days of the week work best for both you and I.
  7. Our meetings will be a mix of emails exchanges/messaging, phone calls, Zoom meetings, and in-person meetings, depending on the time of day and the topics, as some topics would require meeting in person and practicing technical & non-technical aspects.
    1. If you're unable to do any of these due to certain conditions beyond your control, such as a strict family, I'm happy to meet them, introduce myself and how this training can help you grow.
    2. All meeting options above have to be accessible, and if not, then unfortunately this won't work for you and you shouldn't apply.
  8. You must have good command on English, both written and spoken and be able to write long coherent paragraphs. Having similarly good command on Arabic is even better and would definitely weigh in during evaluations.

Why am I Doing This?

The reason I've put such conditions is that I'm seeing a huge lack of skilled people in our region, and an even bigger demand for them. Governments and companies wanting to keep up with technological advancement MUST have such skilled people, either as solution designers, or as administrators and operators.

My initiative is to help more people get into the field of Solution Engineering, and feed this dry market, and the priority is to feed the markets with locals who'll stay in the country, rather than fellow expats who are likely to move out after a few years.

This is a personal initiative and will be based on giving up my free time. My past, present and future employers have no involvement in this initiative.

Who am I and Why do I Qualify to Give Such an Initiative?

I like to segregate work from personal life and as such, I kept my online presence with low personal information, however, almost everyone in the IT industry in Kuwait knows me, in the Banking & Finance industry, Government, Oil & Gas, Logistics, Retail and others.

  1. I have 10+ years of experience as a SE and solution architecture for IT infrastructure solutions.
  2. I have a unique experience combining knowledge of multiple systems & solutions:
    1. IBM Mainframes
    2. IBM POWER Unix systems and Sun/Oracle Solaris Unix systems
    3. AMD/Intel based systems (Dell, Lenovo, Cisco, Nutanix)
    4. Performance comparison, capacity planning and platform selection between all the above systems
    5. Linux & Windows operating systems
    6. C++, Java, Python, & JavaScript programming languages
    7. Hyper-V, and VMware virtualization hypervisors
    8. Hyper-converged Storage Infrastructure (HCI) with VMware vSAN and Nutanix
    9. Private Cloud/Hybrid Cloud solutions from VMware
    10. Layer 2/Layer3 networking, and VPN
    11. Securing operating systems, data, applications, whether on-premises or remote
    12. Data recovery
    13. Soft skills, such as public speaking, solution sales cycle management, presentation preparations for C-level executives as well as technical staff, requirements gathering from business people, and more.
  3. I've worked with
    1. 4+ banks on full infrastructure overhaul/upgrade projects
    2. 2+ investment companies
    3. 2 logistics companies
    4. 2+ retail companies
    5. Military, Defense and Police
    6. Government ministries
    7. Telco IT (not telco ops)

How to Apply?

First, read everything above, and if you feel hesitant even a little bit, it's OK and you should still apply. Some people shy away from such opportunities or big job positions as they think they're not up to the task; you should disregard these feelings and apply anyway. I'll work with you to assess whether we can go on or not.

You can find the application form here. Its results are saved privately on my account and no one else will get access to your information.

What is the commitment needed and duration of this training?

As mentioned in the Conditions section, I'll try to provide 2 hours every week for a year's time. We'll assess our availability and what works for both of us in terms of timing and adjust every month or 3 months.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Kuwait Data Bank


 I've been pitching the idea of Kuwait National Datacenter to government officials and parliament members since 2017, in a holistic manner, covering migration of applications, learning center, audit requirements, security, ...etc. -- unfortunately, those efforts fell on deaf ears.

Fast forward to 2021, and I got the chance to work with a fantastic group of volunteers for Kuwait Foundation for  the Advancement of Science (KFAS) to create something more specific: Kuwait Data Bank -- an entity that would hold data from all of Kuwait's government entities and government-owned companies, to do Data Analytics and Data Science.

The group of volunteers comprised of multiple disciplines; experts in law, business management, organizational structure, information technology and security. A friend of mine & I were covering the information technology (IT) and security aspects.

KFAS gave us 1.5 months, that we extended to 2.5 months max to get the initial draft out, and we were done in Oct or Nov 2021. We're now in discussion with KFAS to see how to proceed & hopefully we get to see this project go live at some point!

Project Scope and Goals

We've checked regional and international open data projects, and almost all had very limited sets of samples of data, over inconsistent timespans, and sometimes one time shot kind of data only. Our project's aims are ambitious and exceed anything we've checked.

  1. Initially, we'll focus on 1-5 critical reports to the Council of Ministers for decision making support.
  2. Gradually, as we sanitize data, and find a source with the most truthful data (or combined sources), then we aim to make data pulling and reporting mainstream and real-time.
  3. Data and reports will be available/accessible in this order:
    1. Council of Ministers
    2. Expand access slowly to government entities in need of help in accurate decision making
    3. Universities in Kuwait
    4. Public access inside of Kuwait
    5. International access to data and/or reports or reporting services
  4. Leverage latest technologies of graphics card acceleration and Massive Parallel Processing (MPP) databases in software (non-appliance) to keep things agile and portable.

Data Access & Analysis Methodology

  1. Start slow with as few sources of data as possible to deliver the critical reports
  2. Deploy data masking & replication connectors to the various databases at the sources
  3. Anonymize data at the source, then replicate to our organization's repository/repositories
  4. Sanitize data and compare accuracy with help from people at each data source, initally
  5. Run Machine Learning models on highly parallelized data access databases
  6. Produce reports or dashboards with results of multiple ML models and compare results
  7. Initially, those reports will be private and delivered only to the Council of Ministers or KFAS, but gradually, the platform will expand to allow real-time access to reports, and then later, our anonymized data sources
  8. Data access & reporting may be monetized to help the platform grow and become self-sustaining, in addition to providing services for companies to run analytics on their data, or using our data sets.
  9. Legal aspects of data access, anonymization & privacy, and cooperation from government entities have been addressed in our report/proposal, but I'll not get into that here.

Privacy & Anonymity

  1. A primary design aspect is to respect privacy and anonymize data at the source, before it's sent to our repositories/databases
  2. Example: if we're to take everyone's full address, we'd remove the house number, but keep the area, and area's block number
  3. If our systems get compromised, there will be no personally identifiable information (PII) that would cause personal risks
  4. We believe that leaving the data masking (anonymization) in the hands of each government entity giving us access is probably the best approach, so that we will never be able to make changes to what data we receive, without manual intervention from the data sources (government entities)

There's a lot more to the project, but I'll stop here and then maybe revise things once we see how the project will move later.

It's an ambitious project, which is why we need to grow gradually and cater for specific needs that help the country's decision makers in making critical decisions and answering crucial questions, before making a decision.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Conceptual Work-Life Balance


I've always worked in the (IT) private sector since graduating from college, as opposed to the majority who prefer to go for government jobs, as they work less hours and have a guaranteed position/job. Working in the private sector is rewarding, but exhausting. 9 AM - 6 PM, or longer, depending on the projects at hand and time of year. There's little time for personal recreation after work, and the weekend is mostly spent on sleep to recoup from the exhausting work-week or running personal errands. No time for personal hobbies or skill growth in non-work related subjects.

Why stay in private sector then? The pay is higher. Much higher. If one does manage to grow their skillset to be of unique coverage, many doors open and with that, high compensation comes along. There's still little time for personal hobbies, unfortunately.

This post is just a thought that came to mind on creating balance, from someone like myself who gets burnt-out from work every now & then and it's difficult to try many things of what I want to do in life, other than work, such as learning diving, visiting museums (they close in weekends here), and other things on my growing list of things I don't have time for.

Conceptual Corporate Work Options

I had the thought that assuming I run my own business & have employees, I'd give the following options:

  1. Employee gets full salary.
    Works 9 AM to 5 PM (8 hours a day, 40 hours a week).
  2. Employee gets 20% of salary deducted & it's put into a corporate-managed investment fund. The company takes 25% of profits as management fees.
    Works 9 AM to 5 PM (8 hours a day, 40 hours a week).
  3. Employee gets 20% of salary deducted & it's put into a corporate-managed investment fund. The company takes 40% of profits as management fees.
    Works 9 AM to 2 PM (5 hours a day, 25 hours a week).
I thought of these options, because as an employee currently, I wish there was such an option, especially option 3. Benefits:
  1. Each employee gets the choice of time vs money, and having an investment option available for those not savvy enough to do it on their own (banks here are terrible in such options).
  2. Not rely on country-owned pension funds that cap the retirement salary & usually not enough to fight inflation by the time of retirement.
  3. Option 3 would provide the employees the luxury of extra time per day, reducing burn out episodes, increasing productivity, and forces the corporate & the investment fund to choose the right investments to maximize profits to hire more people to compensate for the needed time to finish tasks/projects.

Employee and Corporate Restrictions

  1. All employees, including management, are limited to withdraw a maximum of 20% of investment per year, to guarantee stability of investment fund.
  2. Employees will take 100% of their investment when leaving the company (fired or quitting).
  3. The investment fund must be operated by certified investors, or an investment company, and all withdrawals, partial or full employee exit ones, must be approved and audited by the government to prevent theft or manipulation.
  4. Corporate cannot withdraw or touch the fund without full disclosure to all employees.
  5. Corporate management does not receive incentives nor bonuses from the fund. It's purely voluntary for employees to join the fund (out of the work options above).
  6. The corporate's profit cut is fed back into the fund and is owned by the shareholders of the corporate (if a publicly listed company) or the founders (if privately owned). The same 20% cap applies on withdrawing any profits from the fund.
  7. Work options 2 & 3 encourage employees to stay longer in the company, as their investment profits would grow larger with time.
    Kuwait suffers from people who frequently hop between jobs, because Human Resources (HR) here have a practice of increasing an applicant's salary by 5-10% based on their previous job's salary, not part of a package dedicated to the available job function! This results in having employees jumping from one company to another every 1-2 years to keep getting a raise, as the companies don't increase employee salaries often (sometimes not at all for 10 years!).

These are probably just late night/early morning ramblings of someone who longs for short work hours, a good pay, and big list of things to try in this life...