Home Labs

Today’s random thought is on the concept of the home lab (from the IT worker perspective, not the Walter-White-Meth-Lab view).

I know several people at work who have home networks setup specifically for testing and learning, some are network labs with stacks of switches and routers while others have full blown SAN environments for use with ESX virtualization.  In my case my lab is neither elegant nor particularly impressive, it consists of two machines: a jumphost running Ubuntu and a KVM virtualization server built on CentOS.  This got me thinking about how some of my co-workers and others outside of the office that I have spoken to have no lab equipment at home what so ever, in fact some don’t even have a home computer to speak of.

How do people keep their skills sharp and more importantly learn new things if they don’t even have lab equipment at home.  It doesn’t even have to be fancy (like the previously mentioned SAN setup) but just something to get by doing light testing or even practicing for certification exams, yet there are people who don’t have anything.  I wonder if its due to having been in the field for far too long that they have decided they just don’t care to stay competitive anymore?  My home setup has even been useful for issues directly relating to work; currently its helped me build out a new and improved remediation script that will hopefully see production in the not-so-distant future.

I may have a problem… with buying things.

So I think I might have developed an issue with buying things; I do it purely just to do it.  For instance I just bought a Lenovo B570 even though I already own an older Lenovo ThinkPad as well as an N-series Asus laptop (the one with the i7 and 5k series ATI video card).  It struck me that there was no point in buying the laptop, but I went ahead and did it anyway because I had the funds available.  I tried to rationalize it by saying I wanted something more portable than the Asus and more powerful than the ThinkPad, which this fits the bill on both accounts but still there was no real need for this laptop at all.  Another point to back this up was my purchase of a 2nd gen iPad a few months ago, I already had a Nook Color for reading books so there wasn’t much point to it in that respect and I already had two laptops but still I swiped that card and bought it anyway.

Sure I have some machinations for the devices that are no longer in usual use rotation such as giving my netbook one roommate, and the nook color to another since he reads a ton of eBooks these days (I think he is on his third or fourth read-through of the Game of Thrones series now).  However I haven’t went through with either of those moves yet mostly because I am lazy and partially because I don’t want to own up to my problem in front of others who will undoubtedly ask why I am willing to part with these devices.  I make enough money that its not that I’m being reckless in my spending (I even have savings in the bank) but I still spend frivolously and to be completely honest it really bothers me.  Prior to landing my current job I made an acceptable level of money and I was extremely conscious about my spending since I wasn’t flush with funds but had enough to enjoy things here and there however this new job a 100% pay raise and now I have enough expendable income that I can blow it on things like computers, firearms, and other random things without draining the bank account down to 0.

What bothers me about all this obviously is the change that more money brought on in me, now I think of amounts like 20$ as trivial where as before I was pinching every penny and making sure I made full use out of my money.  Sure I make sure to use the money I have to do nice things for others; I buy lunch or dinner often for the roommates and I always help my brother out when he is short on cash but it doesn’t change the fact that something most definitely changed in me.  Part of what really got me thinking about this was browsing some information on the minimalist lifestyle, living with the bare minimum of things be they clothes, computers, books or even actual living space.  I sat there paging through comments on various aspects of the lifestyle and was struck by just how little some of these people had as far as worldly possessions go; many of them could fit the entirety of their property inside a medium sized backpack and lived in spaces so small that I wouldn’t let an animal live there let alone a human.

The more I read the more I realized that some of these people were actually quite well off and weren’t living like this out of necessity but by choice alone.  Some were easily in the 120k a year club and had full time jobs that took them around the globe, yet they were living closer to the lifestyle of the poor in terms of the number of things they owned.  Sure there were lots of nice laptops and cell phones but those have become less of a luxury these days and more of a requirement with the way technology has invaded every aspect of our lives from work to play. Thinking about all this brought the question into my mind: what were they doing with all of this saved money that they had to have based on the minimalist lifestyle?  One common thing I have seen so far is that many travel the globe using their saved money, but even then for those that are making in excess of six digits a year I can’t see that using up the difference saved by living on a reduced possession plan.  Even in that case there has to be a fair amount of money saving up if they are living simply and traveling occasionally (how often can you really take several weeks off if you have a full time job?) and I can’t help but wonder what some of these folks do with it.

Based on a few days of reading pretty heavily on the topic I’ve come up with more questions than answers even as cliche as that sounds.  Are these people doing it out of self punishment because they feel guilty for having the money they do? Is it simply backlash from the age of prosperity and consumerism that has finally come home to roost?  Hell are they just plain out crazy?  Part of me would like to adopt the lifestyle, but after living in that mode not by choice but out of circumstance I’m not sure I could tell myself to let the money I have sit and live like a poor college student ever again.  Sure I may need to pair back the pile of junk I seem to have acquired, but I don’t see myself going hyper-minimalist like some anytime soon.