What exactly do you DO for a living?

I’ve got a long list of things that I’ve been meaning to write about. It’s an ever growing linked list of items that I thought would make good fodder for the interwebz but I’ve been so busy for so very long that I really find it difficult to take time these days to just sit and write. Sooner or later, however, I have to start. I’m funny like that. I’ve got dozens of projects waiting in the wings, just waiting for the time or energy for me to get them started. This reboot of jefflane.org is one of those things and it’s something that is long overdue.

So I thought I’d start off with something that seems fairly innocuous. Title says it all, really. And this should be a simple answer, right? Well, things aren’t always as you’d think.

As most everyone knows, I’ve worked for Canonical for some time now. Canonical is the company behind Ubuntu, a Linux distribution based on Debian. My part in the ecosystem is that of Hardware Certification Engineer, now part of the Professional Services and Engineering team within Canonical. So going by my title alone, you’d imagine that I do some sort of engineering related to the certification of hardware. And you’d be correct. Partly.

But in this business, as in many others, the truth is often far different than the impression. People often think that because I work mostly from home and travel internationally that I spend a lot of time on the couch in my boxers playing video games and eating Cheezits, or drinking in bars, carousing with foreign women and exploring strange new landscapes. Well, that’s partially true, but only just.

So lets start with my daily work. I read and respond to e-mail. A LOT of e-mail some days. Part of my function is the external voice of Hardware Certification. When someone, be it a Canonical employee, an Ubuntu community member, a potential or current customer or anyone, for that matter, has a question about the Ubuntu Hardware Certification programme, I am the one who responds by pointing them in the right direction, answering what I can and helping explain policy and test procedures.

I also sit in on several ongoing projects and that generates a lot of background work, researching technology, equipment, investigating tools and other things. I write testing tools that become part of the checkbox test suite and are used in the Ubuntu Friendly programme, a community driven hardware validation initiative. The tools I write could be anything from simple shell code to complex programs and manual test cases.

From time to time I also make improvements to the two websites my team is based around, the outward facing Ubuntu Certification Site and an internal site that we use for hardware tracking and as a customer portal.

I’m not immune to meetings and may at any time be on the phone, in a meeting on either Freenode or Canonical IRC, or perhaps on a voice conference using Mumble. We’re not doing video conferencing yet but that may happen sooner or later.

Somewhere in the middle of all that I also review hardware certification test submissions, both internal and external. I pass or fail certifications based on what I see. I write the planning for the Server certification program and help steer its direction. I maintain relationships with several vendors and help them get their hardware certified and published to the web.

I also do a lot of community oriented things. I perform ISO testing at development Milestones. I have a Freescale i.MX53 ARM development board that I use to test and tinker with embedded Ubuntu and Linaro images. I have a server that I used to develop server related tests as well as monkey around with virtualization technologies like Xen and VMware and KVM. I answer questions and participate in discussions on mailing lists, and occasionally forums and places like Ask Ubuntu”. All that doesn’t even start to cover the travel.

The travel isn’t anywhere as near as glorious as it may seem. Yes, I’ve seen some amazing things. I’ve been to Stonehenge. I’ve crossed London Bridge. I’ve drank pints and eaten a LOT of meat pies at the Eagle and Child Pub, the place where J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis gathered with the other Inklings and developed stories that would end up enthralling generations of readers. I’ve walked the streets of Prague, Taipei, Brussels and Bruges. I’ve seen Switzerland, Germany, and France. But the thing no one seems to really understand is that all that is really only a very small part of my travel. The vast majority is getting from point A to point B and then sitting in a lot of meetings.

In an average year, I travel about 8 to 10 weeks. At least 4 of those are week long meeting events. Some of them are specifically to provide hands-on testing in one of our three labs. Others may be for team sprints to accomplish a set list of goals in a short amount of time. Some of them are mostly so I can check up on my labs.

Oh, did I mention earlier that I also oversee the Lab Operations for the Hardware Certification team? I purchase equipment, make sure things run smoothly, poke IS when I need to get something done quickly. I plan out updates to the labs and try to cope with the ever-growing influx of test hardware.

So while I may find a day during a weekend, or a few hours at night to go out, my going out is mostly limited to dinner, walking around the city I happen to be in, and maybe, MAYBE catching something cool, like a museum. And I’ve seen some pretty cool museums.

But the travel isn’t all as glamorous as people who don’t travel think. There’s the hours spent standing in line. First at the ticket counter to check my bags. Then at the Airport security. Then the lines to board the plane, take a piss or just buy some food while I wait for that next flight. The lines to pick up my baggage at the other end. Lines to get the shuttle bus or taxi to the hotel. Lines everywhere. There’s the hours spent sitting on my butt in random airports just waiting. There’s my personal favorite, the line to get back into the US.

So all in all, while it may seem like an easy job with James Bond style world travel, off on secret missions, meeting up with gorgeous spies and thwarting the nefarious machinations of bald yet mustachioed villains, it’s really far more pedestrian. Enjoyable, but pedestrian.

And that’s a brief glimpse into what I do. Now I must head off to bed. I have another day of work ahead of me, and a few more days until once more I’m headed out of the country. I’m headed back to my favorite place in the world, Taipei. But more on that later.

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