Monday, February 9, 2015

Out of the Gutter: The Ken Lasko Story, Part 3, Part II

One day in the late 1990's, I got a call from an old co-worker from my Microsoft days asking me if I wanted to help out on a 3-month long consulting job for the provincial government managing their Microsoft Mail 3.5 system. I told him that I've never even HEARD of MS-Mail, let alone know anything about it. He assured me that I'd be able to figure it out and strongly suggested that I give it a try. Since the pay I would get in three months was going to be as much as I was making at my current job in a year, I jumped at it.

So began my consulting career.

Working with this was as dirty as this package implies.
I started work with a third guy we both knew from Microsoft support and got a crash course in MS-Mail. Since there wasn't
all that much to it, it didn't take long. MS-Mail was a collection of "post offices" that worked more or less completely independently of any other post office.  There was no central management console, so you'd have to connect to each post office individually to do any maintenance or troubleshooting. The provincial government had more than 220 post offices in their deployment, so management was a nightmare. Since there was no central management to speak of, there was no way we could tell there was a problem unless we went and signed into every single post office to check the status of mail delivery, GAL synchronization and that sort of thing. Since that wasn't feasible, we operated in reactive mode, where we would wait for someone to call in to report an issue. We would then log into the affected post office, fix the issue and continue on.  We got pretty good at it, so our contract kept getting extended more and more.

The job proved to be both time-consuming and monotonous. We decided to figure out a way to make our job easier so we could free up time for web-surfing and game playing. My counterpart worked on developing a Windows service that would collect all the pertinent information from each post office and put it into a central repository.  I worked on a web-based front-end that would show us near real-time information from each post office.  Problems would be highlighted in red, and we got it to the point that you could just click on the red counter, and it would initiate the typically required fix for that issue.

After many months of development, we were at the point where we would show up to work, bring up the webpage, and quickly deal with any issues by literally clicking on a red button to trigger the required fixes on any number of post offices. Call volumes dropped dramatically, and we both realized we were sitting on a goldmine. We could have become rich if it weren't for an annoying software development from Microsoft called Exchange Server.

The provincial government had decided to start moving to Exchange Server 5.5 in 1999.  While we weren't directly involved in the design of the environment, we had our hands deep in the support and migration away from MS Mail. By the time the 21st century had arrived (well, not technically since it was still 2000), we were both pretty adept at working with Exchange Server 5.5.  Eventually, support moved to a central call centre far north of where we lived and our services were no longer needed. So 2.5 years after I left my previous job for that short, high-paying, 3-month consulting gig, I was looking for another job.

The same person who got me on the MS-Mail gig introduced me to the right people at what was then Software Spectrum, and I started work as a consultant. Soon after, Software Spectrum sold their consulting business to Buchanan Associates (now Buchanan Technologies). I primarily consulted on Active Directory and Exchange projects, and had my hand in quite a few of them over the years. I got to work in some pretty fun places, especially Bermuda, where I was on a Citrix and Exchange gig with our IBM partner for several months.

In 2007, my boss at the time said that he wanted me to become the company expert in Office Communications Server (OCS).  The first thing I said was "OK. What's OCS?". The second thing I said after I found out what OCS did was "You want me to be the instant messaging expert???" At the time, Exchange had flirted with including some IM capabilities, but it was never used by many in the corporate world.  IM was seen as something used by kids.  I had images of "OMG Ponies!!!" and "LOL" and thought my boss was trying to make me quit my job.

When I dug in deeper into OCS, I saw there was some telephony integration capabilities and became intrigued, mostly because I had no idea how you could use your computer to make telephone calls. When Office Communications Server 2007 R2 came out, we jumped aboard in a big way and moved a chunk of our users over to it for all their telephony.  OCS, and then Lync became my sole focus, and I moved entirely away from Exchange and AD consulting.

My first go at the Optimizer was a VBScript HTA program.
Around 2010, I thought it might be a good idea to start blogging some of the things I couldn't find answers for about Lync. At the time, I thought I was late to the blogging party. My first post was in fact titled "Late to the Party".  I also began work on a locally run version of what would become the Lync Dialing Rule Optimizer to deal with the odd local vs. long distance conundrum that exists in North America.

Fast-forward five years, and my blog is quite heavily read, I've spoken at numerous events and the Lync Optimizer now supports 100 countries. I became the Lync Practice Manager for Buchanan Technologies and was overseeing how we deliver Lync to our customers. I always felt that Buchanan took care of me, and made sure I was happy in my career. Life was busy, but good.

But along came David Tucker from Event Zero, riding in on a white stallion with the promise of greater things. After much whining and dining, I finally decided to make the jump from Buchanan Technologies, a consulting company with 500 people worldwide, where I spent 15 years of my life to the Event Zero team.

If you don't know Event Zero and their phenomenal Dossier product line, you really should check it out. The best way I can describe it is "Lync Monitoring Reports on 'roids, but without the rage". It extends the not-so-real-time, slow to respond, frustrating, and hard to use reports that comes with Lync, into something that provides real-time, useful and easy-to-get-to reports on all aspects of Lync activity. There are also numerous other add-ons that can really make your Lync deployment work better for you.

I've been brought on to help drive Event Zero Dossier deployments, and ensure clients are getting the most out of their Lync deployments through effective reporting.

For me to leave my Buchanan Technologies "family" after 15 years, you know that I must have seen something special in Event Zero, and no, it wasn't the fact that Dave loves to cuddle on cold winter nights (which don't happen often in Australia).

My big career switch made me somewhat nostalgic, which led me to doing this series. There weren't nearly as many explosions or top-secret espionage capers as I would have hoped to have achieved at this point in my life, but there is still time.  Maybe the next chapter in this series will deliver on that....

Until then......adios!