ServiceNow Knowledge17: The Aftermath

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This past week found me in the sunny humid wilds of Orlando as I stepped up for my first developer conference ever; ServiceNow’s Knowledge17.  Having worked in the platform for only the past year, I consider myself fairly advanced in the subject matter at hand for the typical beginner, yet having a long way to go to call myself expert.  With the urging of our sales reps and my own research on blogs, the ServiceNow Community and more, I decided that Knowledge17 was where I was going to start my attempt at becoming said expert.

Despite sore feet, legs and a worn out 43 year old Dad-bod, it turns out that this was a good place to invest my time and money.  I was able to spend three solid days learning some vital skills and plans to help move my own company forward in our ServiceNow implementation, as well as get some solid hands on time for components that will carry us forward into Phase 2 and 3 of our long term plans.

I’ve been sitting here since I got home late Thursday night thinking about what I might talk about.  The problem is, there was just so much information that I absorbed and took in, which spurred on new ideas, which in turn brought up more questions.  It’s just hard to pin down a solid thing to write about.

Putting my developer brain to good use, here’s some bullet points on both pros and cons from the past week:

  • The Service Portal in ServiceNow is pretty damn exciting.  Our current system is built in the previous iteration of Service Portal, called CMS.  It’s old, it’s outdated, and as we’ve found out recently after our go live, it can be a little clunky for large scale roll outs.  Service Portal streamlines all of this as well as gives it a modern and sleek look, with fairly little effort.  (In comparison to CMS.)
  • The Knowledge17 Folks Take Care of Their Own. I paid for one meal my entire time at Knowledge17, which was lunch the last day as the show was shutting down! While it may take you a mile to hike to the DineNow area from my hotel, they fed us breakfast and lunch daily, and usually had events lined up for the evening.  Not too shabby.
  • I’m not as clueless as I feared I’d look in front of seasoned developers. This was a nice surprise.  I’m growing in my skill set, and I’m not knocking myself! I’m just fairly new.  Working in our own instance of ServiceNow, I sometimes feel a bit bewildered and lost and feared that this could cause problems in the light of Knowledge17.  Turns out, I hung in there pretty well and never had any questions as to what was being discussed.  It felt pretty great!
  • I now have high hopes for our biggest Phase 3 project later this year. Identity Access Management is a bit daunting when looking at it for the first time.  We have a project to move portions of ours into ServiceNow.  Seeing some of these aspects in action at Knowledge17 let me know that it is indeed quite possible and while it’s a lot of work, it’s not insurmountable.
  • I was previously unsure how far I wanted to study ServiceNow.  There for a bit, I was unsure how far I wanted to follow this ServiceNow thing.  My department is the only one department in our company using it, and our plans only go so far.  I was a bit worried I might be ‘wasting’ my time.  After networking this past week, I found out how big the ServiceNow market is, even in my area.  So now I am fired up to make myself a bonafied expert.
  • I have a few tricks up my sleeve for big wins at work! I came away with a couple of surprises to slowly introduce at work, that will be big wins for my own book!
  • I have some learning to do. There’s a lot of modules that I took in demo’s for in the ServiceNow platform that would be a good tool to have for our security department as a whole.  So far, the sales side of things introducing these modules haven’t gone so well.  I need to learn how to write a design doc and a proposal and present these to management in a professional way!

 

Servicenow: The Foundation.

*Note: This entry is my attempt at summarizing what I’ve learned in Chapter 1 of ‘Mastering Servicenow’ by Martin Wood, in my own words. Hooray for study tips!*

Diving into the guts of Servicenow can be a daunting task when you first log into your instance.  Accessing the system by the default System Administrator account that is provided at creation shows you every possible action that is possible in the system. All are represented by a long list of applications and modules down the left hand side of the screen in one grandiose, ever shifting menu.

After you dig in under the hood of the system, the underlying structure starts to take shape and soon, you can see a growing picture of what makes Servicenow tick.  While it may seem scary with menus and options every where you turn, the backbone of Servicenow is rather simple; it is one giant database. Every bit of data you see, is a record stored in a relational database, grouped by named tables that hold all of the related records together.

I can imagine what you’re thinking right now; a giant relational database filled with hundreds of tables and thousands of records does not seem any less daunting. It’s not so bad though. All of the data is managed by customizable lists that will show you all of the records in any given table.

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Being able to visualize the list and see how it is broken down, the structure of Servicenow starts to make more sense.  Each row on the list is a record, which you may choose to think of as a single grouping of data.  Every column in that row then, is a field, which is a different string of information contained within the record. There are several different types of fields that can be held within each of those records, but we’ll get to those later.

For further detail of a record, we will want to dig deeper and look at the form that makes up the record. You can do this by simply clicking on the record name in the first ‘field’ or column of the list.  For our example, let’s click on the ‘Room’ record.

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You’ll notice the form lays out the same information that is available in the list view, however it is missing some items and may add some more that you do not need in the list.  This form has the pertinent information displayed such as the ‘Room’ label and well as the table name that the record belongs to.  There is a lot more data available to you though.  You can control the lay out of your forms by way of the meta data table known as the ‘dictionary’, as well as configuring layouts and adding additional fields to the record.  Really, the sky’s the limit!

Where the efficiency of Servicenow begins to shine is in the depths of these records and tables, being stored as a simple relational database.  Due to this, we can can create forms and records, that pull pre-existing information off of other records and tables, which keeps us from having to recreate data structures for every different iteration that we wish to package into an application.  This way we can create more forms and applications, with far less repetition of work.  Everybody appreciates a bit less work!

 

Progress, Focus and Stuff.

It’s been a bit since last I posted, but that’s a good thing…I’ve actually been studying!

Since last time we met, I’ve picked a subject to stick to, Servicenow. This plays directly into my day to day duties. I spend a solid hour to hour and a half reading and taking notes each night, which works well for me. The act of hand writing key points has always been vital to me for making things stick.  In addition, I’ve narrowed the very broad topic of Servicenow into serviceable chunks to align with my duties as our departments de facto developer for the product, as well as additional areas to help pass the Certified System Administrator exam and topics for future projects that our area has in mind. I guess it’s true what they say, having a plan to help narrow your scope into a more manageable size does help a lot.

As I’ve finally broken the ice and taken that initial dive into formally learning a subject, it’s helped quell a lot of the excited murmuring that was going on in my head allowing me to focus and concentrate.  This has proven to be actually working in that I’m starting to see my new found knowledge rise to the surface while working on incremental projects during the day, which helps to build self esteem and prove that this whole crazy process is actually working.  While I do still get the excited trains of thought on wanting to learn everything, all at once, I’ve at least kept those thoughts cornered to one subject area. As I begin to understand certain aspects of the system, I start to get big ideas on things I could build within the system to benefit the department, as well as the company. Which is nice.   Butt, I have to keep myself on track as there currently is no bandwidth to add on new projects and ideas.  There’s a lot of projects to be dealt with that are already starting to move. That’s not to say I can’t write these big ideas down and continue to tinker with them as exercises in the study material though.

In addition to the bandwidth problem, I believe I’ve picked a well focused line to pursue on my personal study track.

For starters, I went through the two part Servicenow Basics, which was good for fine tuning the knowledge I’ve gathered on my own.  While I’ve now got a good four to five months of experience in the system, and a class that was a bit more advanced that I was prepared for at the time under my belt, I still found myself fuzzy on a lot of terminology within the system.  This helped a lot with the working knowledge I had and helped focus my energy into concentrating on ways to make the current system better.

Currently, I’m taking a deep dive on the Service Catalog portion of the platform, which ties directly into the product that we are now using in Production.  This serves two purposes; getting to know our current system better as well as learning new ways to streamline the system and support issues that arise.  This has been a boon, as it has shown the most direct benefits to my work environment.  I have the added bonus of this material sticking rather well in the old noggin, as I have a pre-built system, and a dev environment to poke around in and compare notes on what I see every day, and what the book is telling me. This all boosts my confidence in the system and my skills and helps to make me more efficient, both of which are essential.

After that, I have around five solid topics within Servicenow to follow up with, all areas that will tie directly into my current workload as well as future projects.  To pair with this, I’ve set the goal of passing the Servicenow Certified System Administrator exam, sometime before I head off to Knowledge 17 in May, where I’ll be able to drown myself in all things Servicenow and development!  The idea is to have a solid working base of skills and understanding to enable me to maximize the learning I plan on doing there.

As the great Jimmy James once said, “Jimmy has fancy plans, and pants to match.”

In the end, I hope to follow all of this up with the Certified Developer Certification upon my return, just to have that nice fuzzy little feather in my cap as I set off on this new journey of mine. Self esteem has long been a challenge, so some reachable goals a lot the way will do wonders as I move forward.

 

 

 

How do YOU study for certification tests?

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Don’t get me wrong.  I was a decent student.  I got by with average grades, got into college, all was well.  However, ask my mother and she’ll confirm; I did not have any study skills! Where she said she always had to study for hours to get good passing grades, it was always a bit frustrating that I was the type that skated by, never having to study much to do well enough.

As a wise old forty-three year old, I realize that the point of her telling me about her struggles and my contentment with being passable was a lesson in “what could your grades be if you actually tried”.  They probably would have been pretty great!  But back then, I was hellbent on going to school for Music, and I applied myself to that.  It showed to. I was good at it! But, being a musician didn’t necessarily help with my study skills.  Except for now, when It dawns on me that I could have worked at hard at studying as I did with practicing my Tuba and well….

That was then, this is now!

Here in the modern era, I’m not much of a certification guy.  I earned my jobs early on with a hard work ethic and a good knowledge base, plus I learned quite well on the job. I just never really saw the point in dumping a lot of time and money into certifications. If I was happy with my lot in career-life, and the company wasn’t going to give me more money for it, why bother!  Which is probably part of the reason I spent seventeen years in the same humdrum position. It’s definitely the reason that here twenty five years after I graduated high school, I still don’t really know how to study effectively.

These days, my view on certifications and learning have changed greatly, as I detailed in the last post that went up.  I’m really excited in this new position and I’m really excited to learn everything I can for the position.  It happens to turn out that with this new job, I also do not feel content to settle. I want to excel at it.  I want to grow at it.  I want to become the center of knowledge, and maybe excellence, of both my team and my department. These are goals that are definitely reachable here in the next few years, but; I really don’t know the best way to study.

My starting tactic since my move to the world of Security Engineering has been to read everything I can, cover to cover.  This does work.  But it’s a lot of data to absorb and after reading some of John Sonmez’s “10 Tips to Learning”, I fear I may be overloading myself with a lot of minutia that I really don’t need to know.  The practical side of me thinks different though. Years of working on the front lines of tech support have taught me that sometimes when things go awry, it’s that very minutia that is going to trip you up.  Plus, when studying for technical certifications, I can never stop worrying about the fact that they’re definitely going to ask you about some tiny jumper setting that was buried in page 537 of the Administrators Guide, just to make sure you’re paying attention. Really, I can’t stop worrying that I’m studying right material.

It’s safe to say, my best option moving forward may be to just get out of my own head and studying however I feel like it, and stop worrying about the details.  Which is probably a great idea.  I’m glad that I, the notorious non-study guy, came up with it.

For now, I lean on the tried and true skills that I used to enlist when I did bother back in my high school days.  Read the chapter. Take the notes. Press ahead. Review the notes. Move on. I’m a big pen and paper notebook kind of guy.  I feel very strongly that the tactile practice of writing things down by hand helps to cement that data to my memory.  It’s my very own write-to-disk function. I’ve even started opening up to the idea of writing down my questions in an effort to clarify what exactly I don’t understand, which some times helps me actually understand. You may have noticed above in this very post, just by writing it out, I’ve started making connections of my own to help me look at things in a new light!

So now, as I slowly start to untangle this web of uncertainty from my own brain, I pose this question to you fellow career techies out there:  How do you study for tests, new tools and industry standards?  What method works best for you to shake off those fears and 2nd guesses that start to creep in when your mind starts to inevitably question if what you’re doing is actually the correct thing to be doing? 

I’m telling you friends, as somebody who left college in ’96, the idea of taking tests again is pretty damn daunting!

 

Security Engineering, Software Development, and Me.

After twenty years of slaving away in the darkened PC deployment rooms of yore, hours spent repacking software for Enterprise Wide rollout’s, building and managing VDI Environments, managing anti-virus and more…the title above is a combination of words I never thought I’d see in conjunction to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my years as a high tier desktop administrator, but I spent enough time in that field to leave me hardened and jaded.  Frankly, it wasn’t much fun anymore, and the constant looking-down-the-nose that came from anybody else working on more specialized areas because I was ‘just a desktop guy’, grew tiresome.

But, all that’s behind me now.

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Somewhere back around May of 2016, I took a new position as a Security Engineer with the company I had been with for the past 17 years.  17 Years! It was certainly a nerve wracking experience to leave the comfort of my known world to step into the cold harsh reality of something new.  Thankfully, my new team and organization turned out to be a wonderfully welcoming group and I settled in quick and well.  Thankfully I knew most of them from my years at the company, but at any of my protests of fear when it came to the skills needed for the job, they all expressed the utmost faith in me and my abilities.

Which is great, as over the past few years, my skills in the self esteem department had been pretty lacking.  So the warm welcome and the boost of confidence was sorely needed.

Looking back to that time nine months ago, I have a hard time believing that I was that worried.  Things have gone overwhelmingly well in my new home, which leaves me both thrilled and amazed at the capacity I’ve had for learning new skills as I dove into this vaguely familiar yet entirely new world of Security Engineering.  I’m no spring chicken mind you, but change is scary and I’ve been working in the same realm for twenty years.  My first fears surfaced as a worry that I wouldn’t be able to learn fast enough to adapt to this new world.  Now, nine months later, I find myself learning rather rapidly and finding new things that I want and need to learn, every day.

So, here we are, today, and I feel like I’m ready to grab the bull by the horns and rise to great heights in my new world.  The beauty is, I feel with my experience in both IT and our own corporate environment, that I am poised to be able to ride this wave pretty far into my career while helping a solid organization that accepted me, usher in a new era.  Maybe I can even help them reach great heights. I don’t know.  While I do not long for the hallowed halls of management and higher, I do dream of being a leader on the technical front.  Something I haven’t dreamed of for some time as I became complacent with my lot in life. I’ve never been a slouch on the technical front.  I’ve just never felt that I could charge head first into new territory and make myself known as a pioneer and somebody bringing new things to the corporate world around me.  Today, I certainly do feel like that.  And it’s pretty damn exciting.

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This now brings me to why I’m here.  Having so many years where I did not expend a whole lot of effort into learning things new, since I didn’t feel my department at the time would be willing to spend much money on new things, I feel that my learning skills have grown a bit rusty over time.  One of the most exciting aspects to my new career is that I have found that I still have the capacity to learn, and to learn well!  I just don’t have the skills I once did to do said learning. Actually, that’s not fair.  I have the skills.  I just forgot how to use them over time.  I have a whole new world discover and much like the proverbial kid in the candy shop, I find myself wanting to learn it all at once, when I need to show some restraint and strategy for the road ahead.

This new job has me working on aspects of technology and security I never thought I would be involved with.  I’ve been tasked for acting as a developer for platforms such as ServiceNow, which scared me greatly when we started working on our new implementation. Learning things such as JavaScript, and enjoying it, when I thought I hated programming ever since I flunked Cobol in college!  I’m digging into supporting older tech such as Identity Management.  Planning on ways to connect and improve our existing Identity Management into newer technology.  Building ETL jobs to massage data into neat and orderly ranks.  Deploying Single Sign On, and even some web server work to boot.

For those that love to learn, I find myself living a dream come true. I always felt like I should be learning, but I never did it.  Because why did it matter?  Now, I’m doing it in my off hours, because I want to.  And because it’s fun.

Recently, I picked up the book “Soft Skills: The Software Developers Life Manual”, which has had some really great information in the little I’ve read so far.  Author John Sonmez has a lot of great things to teach a budding software developer outside the world of code.  Things such as his “10 Steps to Learning Anything Quickly” has stoked my excitement for learning even more, as it has given me a structure to work within and a way to organize the chaos that has been my studying goals. This was a sorely needed push, as I find myself jumping about from topic to topic as the days go by.  Now, I feel strong with a strategy and confident that I can wrestle this next problem that has been thrown at me into submission.   I even feel like I’m capable of doing it quite well.

Part of John’s 10 Step Plan relies on teaching the knowledge you’ve taught yourself to others, to help solidify the information that you have taken in and making it yours.  One of his tips for doing said teaching is blogging, which if you have known me for awhile, you’ll know is something I’ve long been fond of.  As I’ve kicked off on this new career path, I’ve found myself being a note taking fool and writing out questions and such has worked wonders for me as I’ve picked up my new skills and ran with them.  With that in mind, I figured it’s time to come back to a blog format and maybe share some of the skills I’ve been learning.  It’ll definitely help me out for good.  Maybe it will help you  from time to time as well.

I don’t fancy myself some technological wunderkind that is going to reinvent the wheel.  I do fancy myself as a smart guy staring down the barrel of one hell of a growth journey though, and I couldn’t be more excited.  There is going to be a lot of things pouring into this old brain of mine as the months tick by, and I know myself well enough to know that writing about it is going to help organize it in my mind and help cement it there for the rest years to come.  So here we are, sharing some info as we go.

For a taste of what’s to come, here are a few things I’m diving into here into in the coming weeks:

  • ServiceNow Development
  • JavaScript
  • Identity Management
  • CISSP Certification
  • Network Security Certification
  • App Development
  • Leadership Skills
  • and lord knows what I’ll wake up excited about tomorrow!

Until then, so long.  I have a server administrators guide to go spend some quiet time with.

If you want to have some more fun, be sure to come hang out with us over at The Bloody Good Horror Podcast; I won’t be leaving there any time soon!