Episode 298: Stringing Together Workflows
One of the most useful things we do is to automate tasks. Some of those tasks might be opening and closing tickets; others would be making a change on an endpoint that we want to behave in a specific way. We buy devices, or procure them, and we dispose of them when they’re out of date or broken. Between those tasks, we on-board and off-board the humans who use the devices. We make sure the devices meet our requirements. Much of what is expected of us wouldn’t be possible without teams of people running around looking at settings without software that helps us along the way. The tasks themselves, while we feel are pretty unique on Apple devices, are often similar across platforms. We’ll chat with Flora Walters in today’s episode about her journey, scope, and some of the tools that make her job possible in today’s episode.
- Marcus Ransom, Senior Sales Engineer, Jamf – @marcusransom
- Charles Edge, CTO, Bootstrappers.mn – @cedge318
- Flora Walters, IT Systems Administrator – LinkedIn
Click here to read the transcript
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Hello and welcome to the Mac Admins Podcast. I’m your host, Tom Bridge, and it’s great to be back with you, Charles and Marcus. How are you today?
Marcus Ransom (00:00:45):
Hello, and welcome to the Mac Admins podcast. I’m your host today at Marcus Ransom. Uh, and joining me is Charles Edge. How are you going, Charles? I am great. I finally got through digging out a couple feet of snow when I got home from vacation, and my back is not hurting anymore because I’m getting old . And so, you know, it’s, uh, it’s been a good time to get some new tools written. Um, so I’m ready to get back to the office next week and, you know, start using my new tools, I guess. How about you, Marcus ? Um, well, I, I wish I could say that my, um, back isn’t hurting, but an update to the, the brick laying I mentioned in our last episode, I can 100% confirm that I am not going to be a brick layer. Um, I’ve laid a sum total of 16 bricks, um, which took me two whole days.
Um, and the end results are, I think we’ll say they’re passable. Um, and just leave it at that. Um, well, so Socrates was a brick layer, I think so. I I think he probably got enough of them late. And you can just pick up the philosophy piece where he left off e Exactly. Uh, that, that, that’s, that’s what I’m working on. So as soon as I’m actually able to stand up easily again, , I’ll, uh, onto the philosophy . But, uh, you know, we’re not, we’re not, we’re not just here to talk, uh, brick lag and philosophy. So, um, you know, doing things, doing things manually, um, and again, and again and again isn’t always the best way of doing things. So one of the most useful things we do is we automate tasks. So some of those tasks might be opening and closing tickets. Um, others would be making a change on an endpoint that we want to behave in a specific way.
Um, we buy devices, we procure them, and we dispose of them when they’re out of data or broken. So between those tasks, we onboard and we offboard the humans who use the devices. We make sure the devices meet our requirements. So much of what is expected of us wouldn’t be possible without teams of people running around looking at settings without software. That helps us along the way. The tasks themselves, while we feel are pretty unique on Apple devices, the these tasks are often similar across platforms. So we’re gonna chat with Flora Walters in today’s episode about her journey scope and some of the tools that make her job possible in today’s episode. So welcome to the podcast, flora.
Charles Edge (00:03:19):
Thank you. Thanks for having Mia.
Marcus Ransom (00:03:22):
So we love a good origin story, and we always try to start the episodes with new guests with them. So do you wanna mind taking us through how you found yourself supporting Apple devices?
Charles Edge (00:03:33):
Yes. So I feel like my story as all people’s stories are, is kind of interesting. Um, I, gosh, if you’d asked me even five years ago, if I was gonna be doing what I was doing right now, I would’ve been like, what are you talking about? I, I don’t know what that means. Um, and so the funny part is, I guess I started messing around with computers when I was a kid, as we all do. Um, I was originally actually a PC user. Um, I was always kind of on the, on the, the PC window side of the whole Apple PC thing back in the day. Um, and it wasn’t till, I guess I went to college, um, in 2013 that I got my first MacBook, actually, I got an iPhone before that. So I was sort of aply and I, I really liked the integration.
I remember noticing right away that I really liked how iOS and Mac os meshed together. And like, just at a user level, I was like, oh, that’s pretty cool. Um, they’ve got some stuff going on there. Um, and then over time, I, I’ve always, I was always kind of the person in my family and friend group that was like, oh, your, your computer’s broken. You should call Flore. She’ll know what to do. And it was literally, it was like, and my mom and her friends, and they’re all like, oh, Flo, you have to come over my, my, my TV doesn’t work, my phone doesn’t work. And it just kind of grew over time of the friends and family that would reach out to me, um, to ask me for help. And in, uh, the beginning of end of 2019, um, I moved back to Alaska, actually.
Um, that was right around the beginning of Covid times. I moved back to Alaska, which is where my family lives. Um, I’m living in, in near Seattle right now. And while I was in Alaska, um, I ended up working in the school system. Um, and while I was there, there was a job for an IT technician, uh, I think it was desktop support specifically, was the title. And I was like, I could supported desktop. Like, I could probably figure that out. Um, and it was one of those like kind of hometown scenarios, not a very big town, Valdez, Alaska. Um, and I went into the school district and I talked to the IT director who was like an old teacher that I had when I was in high school or whatever, whatever. And I said, Hey, I, you know, I’m interested in this job. I don’t have professional experience, but I’d really like to give it a try because I, I think I have an idea of what’s going on here.
And so we had like an impromptu, like 30 minute meeting and she offered me a job. And, um, I worked in the school district for a couple of years. Um, and it started out as just like, you know, feeling out what I knew, um, and what I could do. And then over time I just became more and more confident in my, in my abilities of, you know, supporting different kinds of, um, devices. I’ve worked with PC and Apple, but specifically actually in that school district, it was all Apple one-to-one. It was pre-K through 12. Every kid happened had an Apple device, which was kind of wild, just kind of a luxurious school experience in my opinion. If, if you’re giving like, you know, the, the, the $2,000 iPads to, to third graders, um, but it’s Alaska and it’s an oil town and yada yada. So, um, that was where it all began. And then I moved back down here to Washington at the beginning of this year, um, and started working with another large tech company and moved into systems administrator from technician. So I, I do all kinds of things, but it’s been a really interesting journey of just kinda, you know, scoping out different people in, in technology and trying to find my place because I, you know, it was never something that I thought I would do, but it kind of inherently makes sense to me. So,
Marcus Ransom (00:07:45):
And almost a decade later, . Well, thank you again for joining us. Um, so system administrator can mean a lot of things. What is the, I guess, the scope of what you handle
Charles Edge (00:08:00):
Totally. Um, so in my current scope, I hand, I’m responsible for, for the network, make sure, you know, everybody has connectivity, take care of the switches, makes thing, make sure things are patched correctly, somebody needs, you know, ethernet in their office, make sure it works. And then I also do all of the, um, device procurement and management. So I’m the one with the credit cards who gets to buy everything, which is, is pretty fun. Um, so I buy all the, all the computers for all the employees. We have about a thousand employees, so I buy all the tech. It’s not necessarily all Apple, but a lot of it is. Um, and then I also do all the management of all those, um, of all the assets. Um, I’ve put together our whole asset inventory system. Since I got there, I’m still playing around with the best, the best platform to use for asset management because I have half PCs and half, um, half Apple.
All my PCs are on, uh, Cassa, vsa and all my Mac are on Champ. And then I also have this integration with Fresh Desk, which is my help desk. So I’m kind of starting to funnel things in there. It’s just funny cuz there’s so many different ways to do things. Um, but, um, on top of all the asset management, um, there’s also like fixing things that go wrong, basically. I feel like anything in my office that has electricity, people just come to me and even if it doesn’t have electricity, if they need a screwdriver, I fix glasses, um, I fix anything. Um, and, and I, I don’t mind, uh, it’s kind of fun. I always, I I just like talking to people in general, so I like the, the aspect of being in the office sometimes and, uh, and you know, doing whatever’s happening at the time.
Um, I also, um, I also do all the onboarding and offboarding in terms of like employees and account management. I recently wrote new SOPs for onboarding and offboarding for the company in terms of what’s the procedure’s gonna be for, you know, Scott’s getting fired today at noon, we should probably know about it before 1:00 PM kind of situation, . So things like that. And then just, you know, being a general source of knowledge about the company, just, you know, in terms of it, of it being like a very lateral, at least for me and my company that I’m in now and the position that I’m in, it’s very lateral, whereas there’s lots of different silos and people are kind of like accounting’s over here and sales are over here, but I’m just kind of everywhere all the time. So usually I kind of know what’s going on. So people come to me a lot for things that are totally unrelated just because I’m, I talk to everybody all the time, which is, which is cool.
Marcus Ransom (00:11:05):
And you have the credit card. So I mean, , I want, I want an iPad Pro instead of an iPad, so I know who I need to be. Nice to .
Charles Edge (00:11:19):
Marcus Ransom (00:11:21):
. So how many other people are in the IT department in your organization?
Charles Edge (00:11:27):
Not enough. Um, there are only four of us right now
Marcus Ransom (00:11:32):
For a thousand people, so about two 50 each I
Charles Edge (00:11:36):
Guess. So there’s a director, project manager, myself, CIS admin, and then we have two technicians, so I guess that’s five, but it feels like four ,
Marcus Ransom (00:11:47):
Charles Edge (00:11:48):
You know what, sometimes we have a, we have like a, a central office, but we, we also have people working remotely all around the country, some in Canada even. Um, and so I also have a whole team of, of virtual assistants in the Philippines. So there’s lots of remote communication, um, lots of switching between hands all the time, but yeah, small IT department for all that .
Marcus Ransom (00:12:16):
So what’s an average day look like in that kind of scenario?
Charles Edge (00:12:21):
Um, an average day, I usually get in, um, first thing I do is check slack. Actually, an average day starts when I wake up in the morning and look at my phone and I see on my slacks and I go, oh God, let’s make some coffee first. . Um, that’s really when my day starts. Um, but Slack is always the first place I go, um, just because people know to go there immediately if they really wanna get ahold of me. Um, and then I go through all my emails, I, uh, check my help desk to see what kind of tickets are going on or coming in. Um, and then I try to check in with my team, see what the technicians are doing, see if they need any help. Um, I try not to get in their way in terms of just general requests that are coming in because I’ve done all that stuff before.
But it’s kind of cool now that I have, um, other people to help me do stuff cuz I started before they did and whatnot. And so I’m kind of showing them how things work and so, so it’s cool to have them to help. So I, I delegate things for them to do in terms of, you know, level of how hard it’s gonna be. And then I kind of, I, I don’t wanna say wander around the office, but it, it turns into a wander. It’s kind of like the shoulder grab thing, like where as soon as you walk out of the beer office, do get a cup of coffee. So he is like, Hey, could you come look at this thing for a second? And then I go look at the thing and then somebody needs me over here. And so my whole day is a lot of bouncing around between, you know, checking on tickets.
Um, people, if I’m in office, people coming to me in person and, and asking me questions or, um, asking my opinion on how they should do something. I honestly really love being in person in the office, um, just because it adds that personal level to things I like. I mean, I like to be around people. Some people don’t, which is good because then they can, you know, stay at home all the time, , and that’s fine. Um, but, but yeah, my average day is, yeah, working through projects. I try to give myself a balance between working through projects. Like I’m our Jams person, so I’ve been in the process of, you know, engineering the whole infrastructure of Jam for our company since summer. Um, so that’s been a whole thing. So that’s a big project. And then I have some other projects I’m working on too, but every day is pretty different, which I really, really like. It has similar themes and similar tasks that interweave, but never know what’s gonna happen. And I, I appreciate that about this field because it’s always changing and there’s always something new to learn. And I learn new stuff every day. I never expect that I’m the smartest person in the room. I’m just like, oh, wow. Tell me more about . You know,
Marcus Ransom (00:15:14):
It’s, it’s one of the, one of the things that’s, um, smaller organizations really offer you that ability to really, um, roll up your sleeves and get involved in all of those other areas of things. Whereas in a larger organization, you’re often given your lane to stick in and lots of layers of management, which ri are, are rightfully in place there to make sure that everything continues functioning. Whereas in a smaller organization, you can actually, um, you know, explore areas of, you know, interesting technology that you otherwise wouldn’t be, um, able to. But then the, the other side of that then is that it often turns into all squirrel and trying to stay focused on delivering the things that need to be delivered. So I found constantly getting distracted by other new and interesting things to get distracted by. So, you know, how do you squirrel, how do you, yeah, exactly. How do you, how do you maintain that priority between the users who are, you know, tapping you on the shoulder as you walk outside the projects that you’ve got in flight, but also trying to make sure that what you are currently implementing is in fact still the right way to go.
Charles Edge (00:16:28):
Sure. It is hard, and I think it’s definitely a balance. Some days are more squirrel heavy than others. Um, , I think I, and I think it’s okay to have those days where you’re just kind of splitting around because that’s when, for me, those are like my idea days where I’m like, oh, I’m talking to lots of people. I’m zooming around. I’m, I’m collecting information, I’m learning things. And then I have my more heads down days where I’m like, okay, we’re not gonna, we’re not gonna worry so much about the squirrels today. Um, but just on a day-to-day basis, because you can’t just rely on saying, say Lavie, you know? Um, I do think on a daily basis I try to block out my time. Like if I have a, an important project, like in the very beginning of, of starting Jam, especially when I had to, you know, meet with the, the engineer Jam guys who actually helped me implement it and things like that, I had to block out calendar time for myself of like, this is do not disturb time.
Like, I’m gonna turn my Slack notifications off. Everyone’s not gonna be very happy about it, but it’s okay. Um, so I just kind of have to set those boundaries for myself. Like, sometimes if it’s a like a day that I really don’t want anybody to come to the office and bother me, I’ll just stay home. Um, and not everybody has that luxury, um, but at the moment I do. So I try to utilize it. I’ll say, Hey, this is gonna be a day where I’m gonna really focus and like do some of those tasks that are gonna take the time for me to just like full focus. Um, and then there’s other tasks that, you know, can be a team effort. Um, I like to work together with my technicians. If there’s, you know, things that we can do as a group, I try to help us do that just because it’s nice to do things with other people, , um, and not work on it by yourself all the time.
So, yeah, I just try to have, I, I try to have boundaries for myself that are not so rigid that people feel like they’re overstepping when they want to come talk to me. But all but strong enough that I have a knowing for myself when is a good time to go, Hey, yeah, I can come down and fit, help, you know, fix up for you right away, as opposed to being like, Hey, actually gimme 30 minutes and I’ll come down. And it’s just, you know, gauging when that happens. But it’s, it’s about those boundaries. You gotta set ’em for yourself. I, I found for myself when
Marcus Ransom (00:19:02):
Early in my career, I, I was at a gig where the director was just stringent. Like, you have to open a ticket, or we’re not coming to help you. No drive-bys. And it just put the admins in a horrible situation because, you know, you want to be helpful and some things that people walk by take 30 seconds to fix and then they’re off and they got that kind of instant gratification. But, um, yeah, I can’t, I can’t imagine. I, I, I mean, having said that, you do need days where you’re like, you know what? I actually need to do this thing. Like, we have to achieve a compliance deadline or whatever. So I need to finish as an example, the Champ install or, or what have you. Um, one thing that you, you said kind of piqued my interest. So you mentioned CAEA for some of the device management was, you know, I, I don’t come across that a ton with, um, with people out. I, I mean, it obviously works for other environments, but it is super common with MSPs. So just outta curiosity, was that initially installed by an M S P or by someone with M S P experience? Like how did that caea I understand completely how a jam selection can happen with managing Apple devices, right. Um, and there there’s a lot of different tools for Windows, and I like caea, but I, I just, I, I used to be at N M S P, so I have experience with it, but just outta curiosity
Charles Edge (00:20:44):
No, that you’re to, you totally were right on your second point. Yeah. The person that chose it used to work at an M msp. He does not anymore. I don’t, I was not a part of the company when he originally made the decision to go with, um, with Caya. Um, originally he, my coworker had put all the max was, was trying to put the max in there too. And it was really messy and it, it was, it was ugly in my opinion. I was like, we gotta, we can’t do this. We gotta figure out a better way. Um, it just didn’t, it was basically just like a clunky, uh, I inventory for the most part. Uh, in terms of with MacBooks, uh, with the Windows, it seems like it has a lot of capabilities. I haven’t really dug into it that deeply just because it kinda, I don’t know, something about it is not super, but I know that it, I mean that’s what we’re using for, for Windows machines.
So, um, I do use it on a daily for, the best thing I use it for really is for, um, it’s remote, you know, promoting into people’s computer. Cause that’s just a, um, integrated into it, which I’m pretty sure JAM is coming up with something. I was at JK and when they started talking about promoting in straight from Jam Pro, I was like, oh, so I’m waiting for that. Um, yeah. But, but, um, yeah, no, it’s, uh, it’s okay. I, but yeah, the person that shows it was definitely previously in an msb. You were totally correct.
Marcus Ransom (00:22:19):
Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I mean, I’ve used it to manage Max and you can run scripts. So it’s kind of one of those things where, oh, if you were using a second tool like monkey, you know, you might be able to get by with it. But, um, but using a, a tool like Champ, you know, as opposed to it is probably better unless you actually just have to have that single pane of glass or what have you.
Flora Walters (00:22:44):
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Marcus Ransom (00:23:32):
So, you know, the, the ecosystem of tools that we manage is kind of part and parcel to automating our daily tasks. So what other tools, I guess, do you use to, to make your job doable?
Charles Edge (00:23:49):
Yeah, um, well I guess the main, the main tools that I use a lot, Google Workspace, and then, you know, jam and CAA for the computers, the really nice thing, the main automation points that I personally use, I really like. Um, I have, um, slack connected with Fresh Desk so I can send people Slacks straight to a ticket without them having to do anything. Cuz I do, I do like to tell people to make tickets and, you know, try to, I try to be sort of strict with it, but at the same time, like you were saying, sometimes it takes like 30 seconds to fix something. But I do wanna have the documentation of the person asking and me doing it. So sometimes they’ll slack me a message, I’ll do the thing really quick, and then I’ll just click on their Slack and go, boop, make a ticket and I can set it as closed already.
And so it just counts it in for the SLA purposes and other things I can add notes so that other people know what I did, um, to resolve the issue. Um, that’s one of the main things I really like. Um, and then I use, I use Jam for scripting for MacBooks, um, just for, you know, basic things. Um, I haven’t gotten super deep into that yet just because I haven’t had enough time. Um, but um, and then we also have, you know, single sign on with Google and a lot of our other applications that we use like Zoom and um, and things like that. Um, and then we are in the process of setting up Okta. It’s been kind of slow going. Um, my other coworker who’s a project manager, he’s working on Okta and the dream was to have, you know, Okta and then I was gonna integrate that with Jam and Jam Connect so that all of my Mac books were singing with my Google accounts, and um, all that.
Uh, we haven’t quite gotten there yet. The Okta integration has taken some time, so, which is, you know, it’s a big thing for a, for a, you know, growing company. So eventually at some point I’ll have it to the point where at least my MacBooks, um, will be more easily managed. The main thing that always gets me is when people forget their MacBook password and I’m like, oh, that’s such a sticky, your key chain. And then all these things start to unfold and, and uh, that’s one of the ones I can’t wait for when I have Okta set up a Jam Connect. So I can just go, guess what your new password’s this .
Marcus Ransom (00:26:33):
So how much interaction do you find there is between the tools you use, um, versus how often are you manually doing tasks between tools? Like have you, have you got these tools talking to each other? You mentioned the Slack and the Fresh Desk integration. What sort of other integrations are you looking at to get the tools to play nicely together?
Charles Edge (00:26:57):
The Fresh Desk integration is a good one. That’s the one I u use the most. I think that, like I was saying before, Okta is our hope is hopefully gonna be our main, like when we’re talking more about as close to a single pane as we can be, at least for the user experience because a lot of what we do is browser based in our company. Um, so with that in mind, them going into their Okta and then being able to click on the little tiles so that we can, you know, remove things like having to use one password all the time or you know, last pass, things like that, which are really helpful tools. Um, but they still also require, you know, a level of me going in and going, okay, let me reset your password for this and then let me go over and this reset this one.
So, um, we’re really in future state leaning on Okta as that automation point for end users. In terms of, for me, I haven’t gotten to the point with Champ and I haven’t di you know, dove into enough to really connect it too much with, um, other things that we’re using. I’ve connected, I’ve also connected Jam with, with Helpdesk, with Freshdesk cuz they have a nice little integration so I can pull inventory, but it’s still kind of, it’s still kind of a work in progress. Um, and I mean, I’m still learning stuff all the time. I’m, I’m not a coder, I’m not a scriptor by nature. I never, you know, I didn’t go to school for it. So I, everything I’m learning is just kind of from, from what I’m picking up from, from classes that I’m taking now. Um, so I’m learning lots about automation and I think it’s so cool and there’s lot, there’s honestly lots for me to still learn about it.
Marcus Ransom (00:28:54):
There’s lots for all of us to learn about it. Yeah, , , I mean, and hopefully there always will be and it’s one of the things that I’ve found is really exciting about this industry is, um, whilst there are days where I say I wish Apple would just, you know, take a year off releasing new stuff at the same time, the new things they release as well as being, giving great features that our users can, can explore it or we can use, there’s also new ways of, and better ways of streamlining things, automating things and linking all the different services together, um, in a, you know, vaguely sensible way rather than, you know, what often the current or or past state is of using all of these different things but not actually using them together. Um, and, and that, that side of things changing where it’s constantly having to remind myself that the goalpost moving is a good thing. Um, and you know, the thing that interests me about technology is that there’s new things and there’s always something new to learn. There’s always somebody, you know, ev every single person, whether it is a person tapping you on the shoulder to ask you to fix their printer, has probably got something they can teach you that’s gonna make your job easier, um, or more delightful if not easy. Exactly. Yeah, .
Charles Edge (00:30:22):
Marcus Ransom (00:30:26):
So do you find that the tasks that you do manually, um, are always the same and so can actually be automatable or are the decision trees more complex and so they’re kind of harder to automate?
Charles Edge (00:30:45):
So in the current state that I’m working with right now, I’m working with a company that has multiple domains and multiple companies that haven’t quite gelled yet. Um, they’re all under the same umbrella, but there’s like little under umbrellas, under those umbrellas. Um, and that being said, there’s a certain point to which I just, I don’t wanna say can’t because I’m sure somebody could figure it out, but there’s a certain point to which I can’t automate it because I run into these roadblocks of, of the services that I’m using going, Hey, we don’t allow you to do that. And I go, oh, but I wish you would. And they go, oh, but we’re not going to. And I go, okay, I gotta find a different way. And so a lot of times at the moment, you know, those things are like, okay, well we’re going to do it manually now until we, you know, I hopefully some days some of these domains merge and my life is easier.
But, um, but yeah, there’s definitely a level that I’m working with currently that because of the non cohesion of other levels of the business, it limits it and my work to be cohesive in some of those ways. Like when I worked in, in the school district and everything was, you know, it’s like federal like, level, like it was just a very different, uh, a different environment in a school where everything is like, we’ve been doing it this 20 for 25 years and we’re gonna do it for the next 25 years too. okay, but you know, go ahead, sorry. No, no. But yeah, no, so in, in that environment, uh, it was a lot more reasonable to automate things when you’re like, okay, all of first grade needs this, all of second grade needs this and they’re gonna do it this way this year and the, the next five years from now.
Um, but in a more corporate office that’s a business that’s growing really fast and there’s lots of little companies and partners and, um, things like that. I personally am learning a lot about how we can use the tools that we have to make all these different areas talk to each other. And so automation is really something that I’m looking at, you know, all the different levels of that automation can be. Um, but it, it would be so helpful and all the things that I do every day for me to, you know, learn new ways. So I’m constantly trying to figure out, you know, I’m, I’m on Reddit, I’m on wherever trying to be like, Hey, does anybody know if this, you know, this program can talk to this program? And if it doesn’t, what else should I do? Um, so yeah, I I spend a lot of time learning and trying to figure out how things might work together because who knows what I’ll be doing in the future and how it might, you know, apply.
Marcus Ransom (00:33:43):
How do you find when you’re doing that kind of research filtering out what’s current information and what’s, you know, maybe six weeks after it was posted as a solution has become a legacy solution because something else has come, come along.
Charles Edge (00:33:58):
Oh my gosh, are you finished an article and you realize it was like six years old and you’re like, oh no, this is never gonna work. Um, so yeah, I try to look at the date first of all. Um, but then, yeah, no, you’re totally, you’re totally on point there because there is definitely a level of, like we were saying, you know, everything’s changing all the time, therefore solutions are changing all the time. Um, so I try not to beat myself up too much, honestly, because when you’re, when you’re going through those processes of elimination, you just have to give yourself a little bit of room to be like, okay, because I always find that it’s like right before I’m just totally over it that I figure out, like I, maybe I don’t like figure it out, but I figure out a piece that I’m like, oh, I’m glad I didn’t totally give up on that because there’s a lead and I can keep moving with that. So I think it’s important, it’s important to know when you’re like really down a black hole and you’re like, this is not at all what I was looking for. Um, but there’s also something to, you know, sticking with it and, and trying to look, you know, comb through things because there is good information out there. It just kind of gets lost sometimes in, in all the other stuff. But yeah, I,
Marcus Ransom (00:35:14):
I’ve also found like when, when you were describing before with dealing with multiple domains, um, where trying to solve automation in very complex scenarios like that, whilst you may be able to, I’ve found out, may be able to devote a bunch of time and to find a solution for it, if any part of that solution becomes acquired or pivots or, or anything like that, you’ve then got this outrageously complex problem to then fix or remove and then explain why it’s no longer there. Um, and in a large team, I, I may have resources to be able to deal with that, but certainly in a small team being able to streamline the simpler problems, um, I feel like I can take a few more risks, um, with those problems because if the tool I’ve chosen to use changes, it’s not such a big deal to then swap it for one of the other ones that, that I was using.
Whereas if, you know, I’ve banked everything on, you know, brand new startup open source automation tool without any vowels to do this, and then it vanishes, um, or be or go or goes from being a free service to now being a very expensive paid service , um, I suppose if you’ve got the credit card, that’s not so, so much of a drama. Um, but have, have you come across any scenarios like that where a a a method you’ve used for automating or a tool you’ve used from automating, um, either changes or doesn’t change when for things you’re automating do change?
Charles Edge (00:36:59):
Yeah, I mean, I, gosh, right off the top of my head, I can’t think of like a big dramatic change. Um, whenever an OS changes, I always am like, oh my God, I have to relearn the system preferences. But, um, that’s minor, but I, i I, I can’t think of like a huge one, but it is interesting on the daily to kind of, you know, see because we’re, um, we get into so many different platforms all the time, or at least I do in, in it and we’re, we’re using so many different kinds of programs that maybe our, you know, our end user uses one all day, but we have to support everyone. So I think that it’s interesting that we’re always having to keep up with the changes that everyone else isn’t keeping up with, but then I’m supposed to know what they don’t know, but I don’t know .
So, you know, it’s like you have so many different things that you’re trying to keep track of and it’s always that funny point where you have the, you know, the one user that’s like this program that I use every day all the time. It’s the only thing I think of ever. It doesn’t, it’s changed. You need to tell me like why or how to do it or, and it, and it’s just funny because, you know, it’s that interesting balance between they have this one thing that’s really important and you have all these other things that feel really important, but also making them still feel important because you wanna support them, but you also, yeah, it’s just like trying to keep up with what everyone’s doing on a level that they feel confident in you to know. Even though sometimes you’re like, well, I’m not sure, but we don’t let them know that we go figure it out and then we come back and we give them an answer. ,
Marcus Ransom (00:38:51):
I I, I just got a flashback as you were saying that about label printers that, um, a place where I went, it was like, oh, we can’t, those were the worst. Yeah, we usually, yeah, six to nine months back on allowing the latest operating system. And once I dug into it, it turned out it was the one label printer connected to one machine in dispatch. That was the reason. And it was like, how about we let everybody else upgrade and just not that one machine with the label printers on it and we’ll be fine. And, and I, and I think that that approach to unifying where it’s appropriate and not unifying where it’s appropriate can allow automation who, who is going to be, um, excluded from the automation because it makes sense rather than one automation to rule them all.
Charles Edge (00:39:41):
Yeah, I totally agree with that. I think it’s really important to not be black and white about things and technology seems so black and white because in, in a way it is, it’s very, you know, yes or no, but in a way we have to take that black and white environment and throw it out a bunch of people and make it work for them. So just like you were saying, some things can be, some things can’t and, uh, which
Marcus Ransom (00:40:06):
Is all great until compliance kind into the picture. , somebody mentions SOC two and right, it’s all over. And I, I guess that’s a interesting segue into the next question. Um, how much of the automation is in a single dashboard? And so potentially look addable, um, or providing telemetry to information security type teams or, um, and, and because it’s in a single dashboard, maybe a single vendor, or does some of the vendors have tools that kind of interact between vendor stacks and you know, shoot a little json document here that is displayed there or you know, whatever.
Charles Edge (00:40:54):
Yeah, I guess, let me think about that for a second. Um, single, so you’re asking about how much of everything is in one place
Marcus Ransom (00:41:06):
Or one place a bowl, like you mentioned your director, your director, maybe not wanting to log into CAEA and Champ to get something, but maybe just
Charles Edge (00:41:18):
One. I see what you mean. So we try and it’s interesting again because it’s not all MacBooks and it’s not all PCs and so they just don’t talk to each other super smoothly. Um, at least not yet in what I’ve set up. Um, but like I said, the, the having j and and Casia kind of filtering into what, right now I’m using Fresh Desk as a, as my main asset management because that at least feels a bit better than a Google sheet. Um, even though Google Sheets are great, um, and
Marcus Ransom (00:41:57):
They’re certainly better than, you know, we’re having any idea.
Charles Edge (00:42:00):
, I try to get away from Google Sheets being my single source of truth, like Google, you have too much power. I mean, honestly, we do, Google Workspace is really huge for us. I think that probably is the main place. Like for instance, if somebody, if I found out okay, somebody’s quitting tomorrow at 3:00 PM when I go into work tomorrow, I’ll be prepared for at 3:00 PM the first thing I’m gonna do, well actually the first thing I’m gonna do is gonna shut off their Slack. Because from a communication standpoint, I’m pretty sure if somebody’s mad, the first thing they’re gonna do is go talk about it rather than try to go like ruin the crm, um, . So first I lock them out first I lock em outta Slack and then basically right as I’m doing that I’ll lock ’em out of Google. And the main reason for doing that is because we have so many apps that we use Google as a single sign on that I can’t, I guess in a way Google workspace is kind of our like, main source of truth in terms of where is their like main account.
Like cuz once you turn off their, their Google and their, you know, their Gmail shuts down and then their Slack access goes away from that. And then all these other things snowball off of that. I, I suppose that if I’m trying to look at, I, I mean I have a couple of Google workspaces just because of, like I said, different domains, but there’s only a few Google workspaces. So in that respect, those are probably the main places they go in terms of, um, management of like user accounts and stuff like that. Um, in terms of the assets, I would say probably them filtering into the fresh deck, freshest asset management is like the main source of truth of what we have. And then for asset management it would be Jam and then caea. So those are kind of the main pillars. And like I said before, Okta is in the works and hopefully will help us, you know, integrate all of these machines together even more. But yeah,
Speaker 1 (00:44:14):
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Marcus Ransom (00:45:41):
So you, you also mentioned that you manage the, the networks and having unmanaged devices on the networks has always been a concern. It’s something I know I’ve seen and I’ve experienced going from organizations where in the early days it’s kind of like a free for all. Um, there may not even be a decent password to get onto the network and if there is, it’s incredibly well known. Asking the person who was spontaneously offboarded a month ago is sometimes the easiest way to find out the password cuz it hasn’t changed
Charles Edge (00:46:11):
Your honor. .
Marcus Ransom (00:46:13):
Yeah. So, um, have you used any interaction between agents on the devices or any kind of automation to discover what is on the network and then correlate that back to what are corporate assets or corporate identities to sort of manage access to, to the network?
Charles Edge (00:46:33):
So I do have, um, I do have a, you know, a guest network and then our main network, I try to, because we have a lot of, um, executives and partners come through the office often that don’t necessarily work in the office. A lot of them are partners of the company, so they don’t ne I don’t necessarily own their device. So that kind of becomes an interesting point. So a lot of those people when they come into the office, they get the guest wifi password. We try to be, I don’t wanna say like we just tell anyone what the guest wifi password is, but it’s fairly like if you’re in the office and I know you’re working here, you can have the guest wifi password, which is much more locked down, locked down than our main wifi. And that password should only be known by it.
You know, like maybe there’s a couple other people that know it. Um, but in that respect, yeah, we try to um, we try to keep, you know, own devices on the, on the, you know, password protected main business network and then the guest network is for like, if anybody comes up to me and is like, Hey, can I put my phone on the wifi? They get the guest network. Um, if you bring in a person, any kind of personal device that has to go on the guest network cuz it’s, it’s a lot more locked down, it’s a lot more secure. Um, just in terms of those unknown, that unknown traffic. Um, and then in terms of the devices that are on, you know, the access points on the main network, I do monitor, you know, who’s on what access point. I have to go in there pretty often really to like, you know, somebody’s like, I’m trying to do a Zoom call in this conference room and it keeps turning off and I’m like, can you restart your computer first please?
Um, but you know, it’s not one of those things but it, so I do, I do often keep an eye on the network, you know, do we have too many devices over on AP 10? Well can we, you know, disconnect ’em and throw ’em onto another one so that, you know, I know that some people are, there’s a big conference call today or like, do I need to make sure that this office is good to go with ethernet and and things like that. Um, so we do, um, you know, we have a, a certain amount of IP addresses and, and so we keep a pretty close eye on what’s on there. Um, and then if, obviously if there’s something on there that I don’t recognize, I’m just gonna boot it and if it’s not supposed to be booted, they’re gonna let me know cuz you don’t have any anymore internet. So
Marcus Ransom (00:49:10):
It, it’s funny, whereas I no longer have to do anything like that in a, in a work scenario, it’s now transferred to home is where I now have to manage the network and ensure quality of service in the areas where people are streaming certain things and the sheer number of devices that we now have at home that expect, you know, high bandwidth and dealing with the relatively limited bandwidth we actually have here in Australia. And it’s sort of, I thought I got away from having to, to do this and, you know, dealing with the, you know, why is, why is Netflix not working in this room sort of conversations. Maybe if there was actually a decent network admin, these problems wouldn’t appear. So say we all, yeah, I always feel bad when we make fun of the Australian internet because I thought it worked great when I was there last time.
I, you know, the, my packets moved just fine. But we do give you guys a lot of crap, don’t we? and then we’ll see, see I see, I, I rec I recall a couple of years after that when Tom was over for um, X World, we are trying to record a podcast episode, um, with Apple, I think it was. And there were some peculiar peculiarities around what Tom was having to do, which meant he was having to be on his hotel wifi VPN back to the states to be able to connect to what he needed to connect to and that that was not good. So trying to do that sort of stuff out of Australia, um, trying to do basic stuff in Australia, like, you know, browse the web is fine. It’s usually when you’re wanting to try and talk to specific things in other countries is where it gets, um, hard.
Yeah, I mean if you’re gonna use like a VPN or tour to do something, then you can’t expect to be on that performance Exactly. Reverse place. But anyways, um, when, when the, these days though, when the hotel wifi, which I found the last time I traveled the hotel wifi and the hotel I was in in Sydney was better than what I had here at home. Um, oh man. And probably ouch cheaper as well, . It was like, oh, this is, this is bad. And it was all, it’s all about upload here, download, anything you’re wanting to download is fine. It’s like we can, we can get things from the internet, that’s fine. It’s all ours. You wanna put something on the internet? Well, no , we’re all sharing a T1 going out of the country. . Exactly. , man, I remember this the, the time when everyone was switching from T one s to higher speeds than what, 1.54 megabits or whatever a T one is.
And I, I remember, you know, everyone would come into the offices at all these film companies that I was working with at the time and they’re like, my internet home at home is screaming fast. And then I’d come here and it’s just god awful. It takes two hours to download an attachment. And, you know, you’re like, well it’s not as sta I, I don’t know, you try to, yeah, you, you try to say the things you’re, you’re told to say to, you know, keep from having companies move to consumer internet services. But anyways, uh, back to the topics at hand, uh, you mentioned going from education to a tech company. How was the learning curve to kind of switch jobs, pick up a whole new set of tools and maybe a whole new type of user to support?
Charles Edge (00:52:45):
Yeah, um, it was definitely interesting. You, you know, going from being in education and supporting, I supported the staff, the teachers in education, but I also supported the kids, which was honestly my favorite part. Um, my office was in the elementary school and so I would have like a group of three little third graders come down to my office and they would be like, Ms. Flora, Ms. Flora, my iPad won’t take, take a picture. And I don’t know why, you know, like it was, it was the most adorable thing ever . And I loved that, uh, aspect of, of being around the kids all day. Um, and um, but it was definitely, it was a more, it was more established and it was more set in stone and, you know, decisions had already been made to an extent. Whereas yeah, now the business that I’m in, everything is rapidly evolving and growing and it’s, there’s a lot of very corporate aspects to it, which were new to me.
Um, being someone who, you know, grew up in Alaska in a, in a small town, just that kind of environment has been cool to be a part of. But that being said, it was definitely, you know, some adults are a lot like third graders though. Um, so it’s kind of kind of funny. But, but no, it was, it’s been really interesting to, you know, take what I’ve learned in my past job. When I first came to my new job, I was pretty nervous about it. I was like, oh gosh, I don’t, I don’t know, you know, I, I applied for the job, I got the job. I was confident that I, I pretty much knew what to do, but I, I wasn’t quite sure. And I think that over the past few years, something that I’ve really learned is that nobody’s really totally sure about anything.
Um, especially in tech when it’s always changing. It’s like you can be sure about some things of a process, you’re like, this is what I need to do. Um, but it might change. Um, and so just kind of having confidence in, in my, you know, own set of skills of recognizing problems and kind of intuitively thinking, Hey, maybe these, maybe this is why this is happening because of this. So I just kinda had to dive in and just be okay with not really knowing what was going on for a while. Um, some days I still, I’m like, what’s going on here? But I think for the most part it’s been, uh, it is definitely a change. But I, um, I think that it’s been cool to, to see the other side of things in terms of, I mean, the communication is totally different in a school di district versus an office that’s trying to sell something, you know, um, consumers and all this kind of stuff coming through.
So it’s just, I think one of the things is it’s very different goals, um, of the company because yeah, we’re it, and we have a job to do, which is to create and support all the tech and stuff. But you’re also, or at least for me, I find it important in whatever organization I’m in to be like, okay, but what is, what is the company trying to do? What is this organization trying to do? And how can I, you know, add something to that? How can I make it more speak to what it really needs to be? Um, and so that’s kind of, I had to like, let go of all of some of the things that I’d learned about supporting education and be open to learning new ways of doing things for a different environment.
Marcus Ransom (00:56:25):
You know, to your point, uh, Kim Scott, in her book, radical Candor talks about what makes a company truly innovative is the thousands of little innovations that all the humans at the periphery of the organization create and not the thing that they take to market that is supposedly the disruptor. If that makes sense. So I love that point that you just made. Thank you.
Flora Walters (00:56:55):
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Marcus Ransom (00:57:52):
Mr. Ransom, we have a bonus question. We, we do have a bonus question. So, for some automation is scripting tools to work together. Other automation is doing something once so you don’t have to do it again. Um, so we write scripts and we write documents. So do you find you can write documents to help people do things? Or do you find that people don’t bother to read documents and therefore there’s no reason to write them?
Charles Edge (00:58:18):
? The age old question, if I write instructions, will they even read it? Um, I think it’s a, I think it’s a balance of trying to decide because documentation is important. Um, I get frustrated with documentation sometimes cuz I run into, I think a lot of us do go, why am I even doing this? Somebody cares. Um, I, but they do, I mean, it’s important and, and I think a lot of, I make documentation for myself, um, that is important. But in terms of, um, in terms of sharing things, I think it’s important for when sharing like documents, like you’re talking about, resources, instructions. It has to be created or distributed with the user in mind. It has to be palatable to the person that is receiving it. Um, and so I, you know, I don’t like to go, Hey, I just spent three weeks writing instructions for everything we have.
If you ever wanna know about it, go to this website and you can look at my intranet. That can be helpful for somebody that knows how to look for those kind of things. Like for my team, for instance, if we have our own knowledge base, so we’re adding documentation too, that can be great because we all kind of speak this language that we understand, you know, other it people are gonna understand. But when it comes to sending information out to my, you know, employees and users of like, Hey, here’s some instructions. I really try to think about, you know, when are they receiving this? What’s going on in the company? Otherwise, did three other departments already send out blasts today? Are they even going to care at this point? So there’s so many levels to that for me at least, because I, I don’t wanna hit people with information at the wrong time, but sometimes it’s something that you have to come back to.
But overall, I, I mostly think it’s important to make sure that you’re making things palatable, that people can absorb it. It’s not too long, it’s not too wordy. I really like making people little videos. That’s what I’ve been doing a lot now where I just like, you know, record my screen and record myself talking and I put little things over it. But I, I really try to keep it under two minutes because after two minutes, the lost ’em. Like, so I, you know, I’ll send him a Slack and go, Hey, can you watch this two minute video, please? Of, you know, how to do this thing? And then I’ll go, for sure, Flo, I can watch a two minute video. But if it’s, Hey, can you read over this documentation and make sure that you fill out the form? Mm-hmm. It’s not gonna happen. Um, I mean, I would love for it to happen, but I, I think we’re all kind of subject, I mean, I get HR will be like, you need to sign up for the new enrollment for the thing. And if it’s a long thing, I’m like, oh. So I get it. Like, I understand that when you get information that’s maybe a little bit more foreign to you, if it’s not like easily understandable, at least in the beginning, it can be frustrating and anxiety rising and all these things. So I think documentation can be good. And I think that instruction and, you know, documented instruction can be good. You just really have to know your audience, in my opinion. Otherwise, it isn’t worth it because then you’re just making it for yourself, in my opinion.
Marcus Ransom (01:01:50):
Interesting. Re really, really interesting approach. So, so Charles, I, I wonder if maybe this one might be geared perhaps to you that you are in fact both a professional automator and a professional documentor. So the, the Venn diagrams are sort of overlapped here. So what’s your, what’s your approach to documentation of augmentation when your two worlds combine? Oh, I mean, when I document automation, like if I’m working on a script or whatever, I like to go class by class and explain, this is why this class exists or this function, or sometimes even if I am pneuma variable, I’m like, this is why I’m a newing this in this way. So that specific is easy in my mind, you know, that that’s the way I was taught to do it in college. , you know, writing c um, documentation, uh, documenting larger, um, more kind of atomic operations, I, I think is much more complicated.
I, I think to Flo’s point, anytime I’ve sat down to write a book, I’ve always defined my persona if I want to put another product management sense. Uh, but I kind of have, my, my way of doing that is to pick somebody, um, you know, I, it has been usually a human that I met at a conference who had a great question, and then that becomes, as I write, I have their, a vision of them in my mind, if that makes sense. Um, and so as I, as I try to laser focus on how I think that person needs me to relay information, and in some cases that’s resulted in a 200 page book and another cases maybe regrettably, that’s resulted in a thousand page book , you know? But, um, but that’s how I like to do that. And, and, and that’s for those larger, you know, how to, how to manage Apple devices or how to, whatever, you know, that is, and I, I think that’s it.
It’s somewhat narrow. You know, you’re, by defining your target audience, you are the other side of that coin, going to not tailor your content to another audience. So like the, to me, the hardest audience to talk to our other programmers, you know, uh, there, there’s a thousand ways to write any script or program or app or tool. And your way is never gonna be the optimal way, because there’s always someone with more experience with whatever that might be with Swift compilation or with whatever, you know, with Bash even, I mean, I was working on one thing, and, you know, one of, one of the guys who contributed source to the to Bash itself was, um, was like, oh, no, here’s a better way to do it. And you’re like, wow, I, I just totally , you know, missed that. But, but when it comes to documentation specifically, that’s kinda, you know, I, I like to try to envision someone having said that, you know, the impetus of the question, I think is do people actually read it?
And I don’t, I don’t know. I I really also like Flores point about like a two minute video can go a lot lo a lot further than a , you know, 20 page document, which by the way, the screenshots will change by the time anybody actually sees it. , you know, the, the, the and I, I absolutely agree with that as well. The, the idea of purpose and audience who, who, who are the people we’re hoping will read this documentation or watch this documentation, and what are, what are we hoping the outcome will be at the end? And I think, you know, GitHub projects for automation are a perfect example of this. That the documentation in the code is why something was written a certain way or how the pieces actually joined together and work. But what’s missing in a lot of GitHub repos, I know as someone who came from having no real technical foundation to having to do all of this and reading some of these GitHub repos and going, that’s great.
I, but I don’t know, I don’t know what a ruby gem is. How am I gonna implement this? And then having to go down multiple rabbit holes, and then by the time I’ve worked out what the missing piece is, going back and then finding that the project’s actually changed and the bit I understood now doesn’t exist anymore. And so seeing where people actually write really simple, straightforward, um, user documentation as the person who’s going to be implementing or using this project, and yeah, absolutely to your po your, your point, uh, a screenshot, um, an animation or a video can sometimes illustrate the point in a really simple way so that someone will understand it and not just get to the end of the documentation having read it, but then actually use the tool where, you know, like with your, your point about HR and signing up to things, sometimes if the instructions on how to implement something are so overwhelming, I’m like, eh, you know what?
I’m just gonna stick to my Google form cuz it works. It works sort of, but yeah. Um, Audi audience and purpose, uh, and, uh, you know, it’s, it’s not to say I do a good job of it. There’s so many times I have to look at something and go, yep, I’ve just written all of this documentation for myself again, and, you know, the outcome is wanting someone to go and click this button over here. And I’ve taught them how to actually build the back end of it or explained, which is incredibly interesting and important to me. All of this, this fascinating stuff that’s going on. They just wanna know whether they click the red button or the yellow one and what the repercussions are, and man, that is, that is so true. I, I, I would say with every book that I’ve ever done at the end, there’s at least one chapter that, to Flores point I wrote for me that I shouldn’t have even bothered with because no one but me cares an iota about any word in that chapter. You know, and, you know, I, I may have spent the most time, I may have spent more time on that chapter than I spent on the entire rest of the book. And the people who would actually care wouldn’t buy a book. They’d be reverse engineering it themselves. Yeah. As well. You know, having said that, I enjoy reverse engineering. So yeah, that’s part of it. So, so, so does this mean we need, need to now go through all of your books, Charles, and try and identify, which is in fact the vanity chapter in every book? .
Oh yeah. And in every book you’d probably be like all of them. , sorry, Macko server books were, was it your Vanity chapters that then got removed as they became more feature incomplete, you know, server, the server books. I every chat every chapter was a service in the sidebar. Yeah, that was simple. Like those, you know, those are a little bit different, but, but documenting the service that in fact nobody ever uses. So maybe some of those Oh, like mail services were, yeah, were like vanity services at Apple that were only in there because the engineer worked on it in their own time, cuz they were never gonna let that thing go. Why are you dis an X grid ? I didn’t even need to say it, but you knew That’s what I was, I liked Xcr. I mean, you can’t have podcast producer without it. Exactly. We . So you, so you’re saying Tom is really just, you know, a physical manifestation of X grid, you said, I, I just smiled and noded. So that’s right around the time that we should wrap these things up, right Marcus? Yeah. So, so thank you so much for joining us Flora. This is really, it has been really fascinating to hear about your journey and, and the approach you’ve taken. So folks wanna find you on the internet, um, to, to find out more about what you’re doing. How can people get in touch with you?
Charles Edge (01:10:43):
Sure. Um, yeah, you can find me on LinkedIn, flora Walters. Um, that would probably be the main place to go to find me. And then you can find links to other stuff that I’m working on. But I bet there’s not too many other Flora Walters out there. Um, . Yeah. At least I haven’t met any. Um, so yeah, that would probably be the best place. But yeah, it’s been so great talking with you guys. I, I feel like I’ve learned even more stuff just chatting with you, so it’s been awesome. Really appreciate it.
Marcus Ransom (01:11:12):
Yeah. So thank you so much for joining us and thanks to our sponsors this week. That’s Kaji and Collide and a big thank you to our patron sponsors and we’ll see you next time.
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