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How to do a crisis call in technology

This started as an answer on Reddit that someone thought was good enough to gild. So I thought I’d expand it here while Lil Z is sleeping in case it helps more folks. Some tech folks really wanted to know how to talk to business people on troubleshooting conference calls. I’ve seen this done well and done poorly and I have strong opinions on the subject.

The System is down.

It isn’t doing the Thing it does and many, many people are desperate to get the Thing for important money reasons.

You are supposed to bring the System up.

The suits, who are measured on money stuff they can’t do without the Thing, feel terrified. They feel helpless. They can’t bring the System up, they need you to do that. You geeks want to concentrate, think silently, occasionally type things and mutter to each other. That is useless on the big conference call and just inspires anxiety. The day job of a suit usually involves being informed and making decisions – and they can’t do either.

Here is how you do a crisis call right:

1. There is a suit facing call and a geek facing call. Geek talk isn’t the same as suit talk. Perfectly reasonable geek talk (“a reboot will cause us to lose unsaved data”) cause suits to overreact and cause more problems.
2. The talkiest nerd gets to be in charge of communication. That’s their job, not troubleshooting.
3. They go back and forth, figure out status and direction and make real estimates. They give regular updates to suits and give direction to the geeks.

Two Calls

It’s important that you tell people status – if you don’t promise status at regular intervals, they will try their best to go find things out or try to help. They will interrupt the people doing the work so that they can get information they need to deal with their immediate problems.

Geeks get angry when questions interrupt troubleshooting because they think the problem is that the System is down. That isn’t really the problem – no one cares about the System but the geeks. The problem is that the Thing isn’t happening. If they could get the Thing without the System, they would – and that might be a solution you can offer.  The suits may be very happy with you taking a long time to fix the System if you can give them the Thing at regular intervals or on demand until the System is back up.

Folks at Krispy Kreme don’t care about the beautiful donut glazing machine as much as they care about devouring delicious hot donuts.

The Talkiest Nerd does the talking

The talkiest nerd can fulfill a very important role by giving status, information and choices to the suits. Let the suits actually make choices based on good information! They should make those decisions so they can make the money stuff happen! The whole reason suits employ geeks is because they need the Thing to make the money stuff happen – they need to know that they aren’t going to get the Thing for at least 4 hours because then they can tell customers to be calm, they are going to get compensated – or they can tell customers don’t worry – we’ll have the Thing within 4 hours.

Timely Updates

Another important point here is Timely updates. Set a schedule and then keep to it. If you say I’ll give you updates on this conference call every 30 minutes or every 15 minutes, then do it. The talkiest nerd can interrupt everyone 5 minutes before on the geek call and make sure they’ve got a good handle on things so they can give a real status.

The reason you make Timely updates is so that people can deal with silence. The big worry is that no one is working on things or that they are working on the wrong thing. Remember, the suits are feeling an unwelcome sense of helplessness. They can deal with silence if they know that they need to be back on the call at X time to get the next status.

It is important to give them some chill so that they can go and do the very important work of handling the downstream problems of the Thing not happening. They can go work on that knowing what’s happening in the next 30 minutes.

Things To Say

  • We have X people looking at the issue and this is our Y priority.
  • We have an idea what the issue is and we are testing it to make sure we are fixing the right thing.
  • It will take about X minutes to confirm and we’ll next update you with status at 11:45.
  • We were wrong and now we think the problem is X and we’re testing that idea.
  • We think we know what’s wrong. Here is an ELI5 short description and here are two ways we think we can solve the problem. Here are the high level time and danger trade offs in those solutions and here is the one the geeks recommend for the following reasons. (Let them actually make an informed choice here)
  • We don’t have any updates right now. This is tricky and X people are discussing the best next steps. We don’t see how we can get this solved before our next status update at 12:30, but we’ll blast out a message if anything changes drastically.
  • We’re manually handling a certain type of problem – please put a list together of the clients you want ordered by priority and we’ll handle them in that order and let you know when each is done.
  • The problem should be wrapped up in X minutes and we will handle any other issues resulting afterwards.
  • Tomorrow we will be rested and have a thorough look into what went wrong, how it wasn’t caught earlier, what warnings we can put in and how we can handle it better next time.

Why should you believe me?

Since 2003 I’ve worked in finance and technology, often as the face of technology to the business. Things have gone wrong and I’ve seen good communication and bad communication. In places where the business trusts tech to handle a crisis, these kinds of patterns have worked. I’ve also worked in places where there was a terrible relationship between technology and the business: patterns like these helped improve things.

How to make an engagement ring

This project will take around 7 years of preparation and 42 hours of labor.  Choose your inspiration wisely, then make sure to work with a professional for guidance, troubleshooting, advice and assistance. 1

Gather your materials.  In our case we will be using recycled white gold, a few flecks of rose gold and a Moissanite 2 gemstone.

Recycled white gold and a silicon carbide gem Continue reading How to make an engagement ring

  1. Sam Abbay of New York Wedding Rings is a pleasure to work with and I can’t recommend him enough. He makes sure that all materials are sourced ethically and safely.  He gives great advice and helps you through the most difficult bits.  The ring I made with him is the most beautiful project I’ve ever worked on.   (back)
  2. Silicon Carbide   (back)

How to Migrate from WordPress.com to WordPress.org

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ordpress.com is great. They’ve got a great freemium model that allows anyone to get hooked up with a blog with the swiftness. I’m a huge fan, but of course there are limits in what you can do when you don’t have your own hosting.  They have limitations on plugins and themes and so on.
I recently helped my friend Tove Hermanson migrate her thoughtful fashion blog to her own hosting. I recommended she choose Dreamhost, as I’ve had a great experience with them.
We had a few setbacks when we did things out of order, so I’m writing up a short guide to doing this so it will be easier for other folks. If you still are unhappy after following this guide, you may need a different hat.
First things first, you will want to export information out of your old blog. Log into your blog and do the following:

  1. Note your theme so you can install it at your new hosting 1
  2. Note what plugins you are using, and any widgets or whatnot you’ve got on your blog.
  3. Note your link structure. How are your posts organized? You definitely want this so you don’t break any old links to your content.
  4. Log into your blog at wordpress.com and export your blog contents to a file.
  5. Get your images. WordPress.com says that you can import your images and such at your new blog, but we didn’t see the full sized images getting downloaded. Hence, I’ve written a script to get all of your full sized images from your wordpress.com blog.
    1. Download and install Python and BeautifulSoup.
    2. Use my python image spider to collect all of your images from your blog and put them into a neat little bundle for you.
  6. Do a find and replace on your export file to change all your img tags from “yourdomain.files.wordpress.com” to “yourdomain.com/oldimages”
  7. Buy your domain and hosting.  As before, I really like dreamhost, as they are cheap, cheerful and easy to use.  For a personal site, those are the factors that matter.   Clicking those links will give me a 10% kickback, but I’d recommend them even if I didn’t get a taste.  2
  8. Switch your domain nameservers to point to your new hosting.  When you are buying your hosting, they will have instructions on how to do that.  The place where you bought your domain name will also have a way for you to switch where your nameservers point to.  If you are using dreamhost, you’ll be using NS1.dreamhost.com, NS2.dreamhost.com and NS3.dreamhost.com.
  9. Install wordpress at your new hosting. If you’ve chosen dreamhost, they will do it for you.
    1. From your control panel choose “Goodies”
    2. Click “One-Click Installs”
    3. Advanced Mode (It isn’t all that advanced>) and follow the instructions.
  10. Log in to your new wordpress installation and import your blog export file
  11. Configure your themes, widgets, url structure and so forth through the wordpress settings.
  12. Use an FTP client like Filezilla or FireFTP to upload your “oldimages” images folder to your server, right under your new domain’s root directory.
  13. Take a look at the new blog and test! You should be good to go.

That seems like a lot, but you can probably accomplish all of this in an hour or two. You’ll spend some time waiting for DNS changes to propagate, but it should be fairly seamless. The key is to extract all of the information you need from your old website domain before you change your domain url to point to your new hosting. We made a few mistakes doing that and it just takes forever to switch back and forth.

Good luck, hope these instructions help!

  1. Tove had Chaotic Soul which seems to have major problems and differences between the official version and the one wordpress.com uses.  (back)
  2. You could always register with dreamhost without my referral as well.   (back)