I’m Alastair Cooke and this is how I work.

I’m a fan of the web site www.lifehacker.com and particularly enjoy their “this is how I work” articles. I originally wrote this as an audition piece for LifeHaker but decided to stay with writing about Enterprise tech for now.

Location: Small town New Zealand

Current gig: Freelance trainer and writer. I travel to cities in New Zealand and Australia to teach about server and desktop virtualization, my students work in IT at corporates or solution providers. I also write and host podcasts about enterprise tech, especially virtualization.

One word that best describes how you work: Compulsively. When I have an interesting project on it will consume all of my free time until it’s done. Some projects are for customers but a lot of the projects I work on are contributed to the very active community around the technology I teach about.

Current mobile device: Galaxy Note II. I recently rationalised from a Galaxy SII and a Nexus 7 to just the Note II and very much like the single device way of working. I’ve been using smart phones since the PDAs were attached to GSM cell phones by serial cables. I love that I can now access a vast range of data at high speed whenever I want and wherever I am.

Current computer: A Sony Vaio Duo as my mobile machine, small and light but with a full HD screen and a decent keyboard. This was a snap purchase when my previous laptop experienced display issues after three and a half years on the road with me. Since I teach about datacentre based computing I also have a couple of home built i7 based servers in a datacentre at an ISP near my home. I use these for a lot of work, particularly when I need more horsepower than the Vaio or need to run virtual machines. I use the Vaio and a variety of thin clients to access the datacentre, again because that is something I teach and write about. Every computer I use has an SSD for its operating system, this is the biggest factor in making them pleasant to use.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Outlook and Office, after years of being a Windows system engineer I’ve used the Microsoft suite for a long time. Moving from my own Exchange server to using Office 365 was a great decision as Exchange management doesn’t scale down to two mailboxes very well. I also rely on DropBox a lot, silently keeping data files in sync across a variety of devices in a variety of locations. The other application that keeps things in sync is Evernote which I use to keep together a heap of text notes, I’m sure I could use Evernote better but I’m always too busy to learn how. Finally a password management application enables me to use unique passwords without having to remember them all; I use Roboform which has a nice sync feature too.

What’s your workspace setup like? When I’m on the road it’s whatever table is available in the hotel. The lack of a decent office chair in the hotel room will be a reason not to book into the hotel a second time. At home I have an office with two desks, one for computer work and one for other projects, that’s where I have my soldering iron for when I want to get back to electronics hardware hacking. The computer desk has a dual monitor setup that I am rotating thin clients through trying to find the one I like the best.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack? Realising that the biggest determining factor in productivity is state of mind. If I’m just not making progress with writing or design work I will put it down and do something else for as long as it takes. It might be taking a walk or reading a book or it might be shelving the project for a week, it might even be working on another project while my sub-conscious does its work. I tend to embrace the distractions until they lose their draw, then I can focus on the real task. On the other hand there is nothing like a deadline to help you focus on what needs to be done.

What’s your favourite to-do list manager? Most short term tasks come to me by email and stay in my Outlook inbox until I have taken the immediate action and then filed the email. Yes I file email in folders rather than using search, I guess I’m just getting old and stuck in my ways. Longer term things live in a couple of notes in Evernote which I regularly print out and keep on a clipboard along with whatever articles I’m writing. I have found that reviewing what I’ve written is an analogue task, no tablet I have used works nearly as well as a red pen and a printed copy.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without? A reasonable set of in-ear phones. I have a set of Sony noise cancelling phones for when I travel and Plantroinics Backbeat Go Bluetooth headset for when I’m allowed to use Bluetooth. I use the earphones as a cone of silence, something that originates from sitting among a group of salesmen. I also listen to a lot of podcasts, mostly when travelling or exercising, since there is so much interesting stuff going all the time it is hard to keep up.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? I don’t see myself as unique but the biggest factor in my success is the ability to focus completely on one thing. When I’m teaching I am totally focussed on the students in the room with me and when I have other projects on I focus on those to the exclusion of everything else. This is a double edged sword, it drives my wife mad when I can only think about the project I’m working on and forget to help make dinner or some other commitment.

What do you listen to while you work? I’m told that most people stick with the music they listened to in their teens and twenties, that certainly seems to be true for me as I don’t listen to much that wasn’t released in the seventies or eighties and that I learned about ten years after it was released. One day soon I’ll challenge myself to buy some recent music.

What’s your sleep routine like? I wake up at 6:30 almost every morning, during the week that’s my alarm time and at the weekend I often wakeup at the same time. Bedtime is a little less regular but I try to get eight hours in bed each day. Most nights I fall asleep within fifteen minutes of closing my eyes, or at least that’s what my FitBit tells me the next morning.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Professionally I am an extrovert; it’s hard to be a trainer without projecting yourself. Outside of work I’m definitely an introvert, lost in my own thoughts or spending time at home with my family. Coming from a very English family reserve and modesty was highly prized so it’s a little unnatural for me to do the self-promotion that is an inherent part of being a free-lancer.

What is the best piece of advice you have received? Quite a while ago I was talking to some white water canoeists about what to do when things went wrong on a river. The advice was simple and applicable to a whole lot of different situations: Just keep paddling.

Is there anyone you’d kill to see answer these same questions? In the community around the technology I teach about there are some really prolific producers, bloggers and creators of tools. I’d love to hear some of their secrets so I could make them my own.

© 2013, Alastair. All rights reserved.

About Alastair

I am a professional geek, working in IT Infrastructure. Mostly I help to communicate and educate around the use of current technology and the direction of future technologies.
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1 Response to I’m Alastair Cooke and this is how I work.

  1. Alex says:

    A very enjoyable read! I really do hope you settle on a SunRay for your thin client. I cant think of a thin client that has ever been better!

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