Taginterview

Employee Spotlight

It’s an honor to be nominated.

Last month I received an email from work I didn’t expect.

Hello,

An employee spotlight article in an upcoming edition of the FACT will spotlight you, and your career at the FDA. Please answer the following questions and include a picture of yourself to accompany the article. Since many of us work at home, or in separate locations it is always nice to get to know a little about our fellow coworkers. 

It asked a few questions about my for an upcoming employee spotlight for our newsletter. I responded with far more than they needed but I never know how much to write or what they’ll pick out to use.

Please describe what you do in your current role to support the FDA.

My current role at the FDA is a Rich Media Engineer. In short, that means I help support the WebEx, Video Teleconference, Streaming TV, and Cable TV at the FDA for the agency of 25,000 and anyone externally they interact with nationally and internationally.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?

The biggest challenge I face in my role is information sharing and institutional knowledge. At FDA, information lives mostly in email and in various SharePoint silos where it quickly gets out of date and forgotten. When I worked at NIH when we had an enterprise wiki where all our knowledge lived. When something was out of date, it could be updated instantly, by anyone so we had a living set of accurate documents.

What do you enjoy most about your position?

I most enjoy the challenge of supporting a diverse set of collaboration and information tools. I like to educate customers about the technological options available to them and work with them to assure successful events.

What is your career history? Where have you worked before joining the FDA account; what did you do there?

I came from the quick printing industry where my father owned and operated a chain of stores called Copy General (based in Sterling, VA). I spent about a decade working in Desktop Support at NIH, The Atlantic Magazine, Honeywell, and the City of Richmond, VA. For the past 5 years I’ve worked in collaboration support, first at the Department of Labor, and currently at FDA.

Personal interests – What are your hobbies? Have you been on a recent vacation?

I enjoy walking around the local parks, my favorite being Lake Needwood. In my off-time, I like to tinker with technology toys, read (current favorites are John Scalzi and Jonathan Maberry) and play video games (current addition: Destiny 2).

What do you see from your office? Do you have a favorite place to visit in your area? Please include a picture with a description of what you are seeing “out your window” to accompany the article.

My office doesn’t have a window so a brick wall wouldn’t be interesting, so here’s a picture from my window when I work remote.

Education/Certifications?

I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in Creative Advertising.

Where do you reside?

Rockville, MD

Family?

My wife is an Art Therapist running her practice in the DC area. My brother founded and runs Read The Docs, an open-source platform for documentation.

This is what they ended up using in the newsletter that went out to everyone.

Employee Spotlight: Carl Holscher

View from the building where I work at the FDA.
View from the hall window where I work at FDA (since I sit in a windowless room.)

Carl’s current role at the FDA is Rich Media Engineer. He helps support WebEx, Video Teleconferencing, Streaming TV, and Cable TV at the FDA; this includes providing support to anyone the FDA interacts with nationally and internationally. The biggest challenge he faces in his role is the process of information sharing and institutional knowledge. Carl states, “At the FDA, information lives mostly in email and in various SharePoint silos where it quickly gets out of date and forgotten”. The most enjoyable aspect of his role is the challenge of supporting a diverse set of collaborative and informative tools. Carl likes educating customers about the technological options available to them and works with them to assure successful events.

Carl came from the quick printing industry where his father owned and operated a chain of stores called Copy General (based in Sterling, VA). He spent about a decade working in Desktop Support at NIH, The Atlantic Magazine, Honeywell, and the City of Richmond, VA. For the past 5 years, he has worked in collaboration support, first at the Department of Labor, and currently at the FDA. Carl graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in Creative Advertising.

When he is not in the office, Carl enjoys walking around local parks, his favorite being Lake Needwood. He also likes to tinker with technology toys, reading (his current favorite authors are John Scalzi and Jonathan Maberry) and playing video games (currently: Destiny 2). Carl resides in Rockville, MD.

The picture above is from his window when he works remotely. (This is where I forgot to update the text before I sent it. The picture is from FDA’s White Oak Campus, which I cannot see from my house.)

It was really nice to be selected (either at random or using some criteria I’ll never know. It’s nice to be recognized, even to have a little interview about yourself for your co-workers to get to know you better.

William Gibson Talks ‘Archangel,’ Apocalypses, and Dystopias

Much of the planet’s human population, today, lives in conditions that many inhabitants of North America would regard as dystopian. Quite a few citizens of the United States live under conditions that many people would regard as dystopian. Dystopia is not very evenly distributed. Fantasy is fun, but naturalism is the necessary balance — realism, to be less precise. Naturalistic fiction written today is necessarily fairly pessimistic — otherwise, it wouldn’t be a realistic depiction of the present. If you were, say, a tiger, and you knew what’s about to happen to your species (extinction, almost certainly), wouldn’t it be realistic to have a pessimistic view of things? I think it’s realistic, as a human, to have a pessimistic view of a world minus tigers.


Q: How do you maintain hope in these dark times?
A: One day at a time, and treasuring those who retain an active sense of humor.

Boring, stable technology is king. If you’re running a huge site, you need things to work and work reliably. In this interview, my brother who also happens to run ReadTheDocs talks about sustainable funding for open source projects, getting people to work to support them without it, and boring technology.

Starting around: 1:06:30 Eric talks about stability and proven solutions in tech.

As you stay in an industry longer and see things come and go you realize new things don’t actually matter. Especially if I use something in production. I want to have been around for five years minimum. Because I value my time so much more now than I used to.

If I go and try to use this thing that just got released I know I’m going to be beating my head against it for the next five weeks or whatever. And when I use it in production I will be hating it. This is why ReadTheDocs uses boring technology.

Support Ops – Tech Support with Carl Holscher

SupportsOps

I’ve been a big fan of Support Ops since it launched. The idea of bringing humanity back into the world of customer support is near and dear to my heart. My writing about it is what caused Chase to email me to be on the show. I’ve got a diverse background that he thought would be interesting to his listeners.

We talked for about a half hour on what it’s like working in IT Support at the Federal Government level. I’ve worked all over the place, always in customer-facing support work where I had the benefit of showing up at my customer’s desks to troubleshoot their problems. There is a world of difference in being able to see the customer and work with them face-to-face instead of over the phone or with remote tools.

I’d be honored if you’d have a listen to Episode #18 – Tech Support With Carl Holscher | Support Ops. It was an absolute blast to record with Chase and share some of my stories from the trenches.

How much privacy is your pay check worth?

I’ve been seeing more and more stories about job seekers getting asked for Facebook passwords

and I thought it might have only been a poor choice by a single company. But judging by this story, it has been commonplace to ask interviewees for their Facebook credentials in job interviews. This is purportedly to check for gang affiliations, illegal activity or anything that could “damage the image of the employer” during the process of vetting the applicant.

I think this is a dirty trick against desperate people in a bad economy.

Vetting Candidates

I understand where the companies are coming from. Interviewing is difficult. The process of whittling down hundreds or thousands of applicants to a manageable number to phone screen is maddening. To further get a list of people to interview in person is even more difficult. Even after multiple interviews, the employer is still hiring an unknown person and hoping for the best. This is also why probationary periods exist for new hires.
There is no guarantee the person will be a good fit, is trustworthy and is worth the time and energy invested to hire them. Vetting candidates is hard, time-consuming work. However, it needs to be done legally and ethically. If you play games to hire people, you won’t always get the best employee but you will get the best game player.

Expectations of Privacy

There is no expectation of privacy on corporate networks. This should not extend into personal lives.

When you’re at work, you are on company time and company equipment. Don’t expect anything you do to be private. This is not to say that anyone in IT is watching your browsing habits or reading your email. They have far better things to do and are way too busy to be randomly poking around mailboxes and file servers.

Some employers employ monitoring software in addition to the nannyware to block access to social networks, video game sites and pornography. These are the things you’ve seen. Though, behind the scenes there can be software tracking the amount of time you’re spending on various sites or places you’re visiting on the web.

There is a huge difference between monitoring the activity of employees while at work and prying into the personal lives of potential employees. I can understand the desire of an employer to see what they’re getting when they hire. But what they’re asking is for akin to asking for a copy of your house key, car key and bank PIN.

Think of all the things sitting in your email account. How many accounts are tied to that email? Where are your password reset emails sent? Where are your bank statements sent? How many passwords to other systems are sitting inside your email at this very moment.

Now give your email password to a stranger. This is the same as providing your Facebook password to a stranger on the street.

It doesn’t stop there

Access to a Facebook account doesn’t stop with the personal messages, pictures, notes and information within Facebook. Having access to your Facebook account also grants this unknown person access to any site you’ve used Facebook to login to.

Login to your Facebook account and go to Account Settings, then Apps, or use this link to see the applications connected to your account. If your account is anything like mine, that’s a pretty long list. By granting access to Facebook, you’ve also potentially granted access to all of these applications as well.

Optional

Employers are calling the request for passwords optional. They are not requiring applicants to turn over their passwords. However, if a Facebook password stands between feeding your family and your privacy, you’re going to feed your family.

There is a long list of things which can’t legally be asked in interviews including what religion do you practice, what social organizations do you belong to, how old are you, are you married, do you have kids, what do your parents do for a living, do you smoke or drink, do you use illegal drugs, how much do you weigh, how far is your commute, and have you ever been arrested?

There are a lot of areas off limits to interviewers and a lot of ways to bend those rules to get the information desired.

Social networks are not covered in the list because they are relatively new inventions. There are two states looking to make it illegal to discriminate against job applications who refuse to turn over passwords to their social media account. Maryland and Illinois have both introduced bills to do so.

Even though it may be legal for an employer to ask for passwords in order to vet the applicant, handing over those credentials is not.

Illegal

In addition to it being a violation of the terms of use for any social media web site to provide credentials to another person.

The Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.

So while it remains a violation of the terms of the web site, and a federal crime, the Department of Justice has agreed to look the other way on employers asking for your personal passwords. This should be all I need to say about the practice.

Economic times are hard for everyone. Companies need good people and people need to put food on their table, keep a roof over their heads and support themselves and their families.

It is wrong for companies to rely on immoral and illegal means to filter out applicants. While this practice is in use for now, it leads down a dangerous road. How far is too far? How much privacy is a pay check worth?

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