Virtual IT Manager, Ross Speirs, isn’t virtual; he is as real as one can be. Ross is an IT fixer, multi-instrument-playing musician, a cultural truckler and perhaps anachronistically speaking, he is an old soul.
The man started with Smart Dolphins IT Solutions on Dec. 1, 2015.
Originally from Calgary, he escaped the semi-arid, semi-altitude and seriously cold climes of Alberta’s commercial centre for the coast when he was 20 years old. He is now deeply imbedded into the west coast lifestyle. Ross loves the forest, the culinary offerings and of course the climate.
One cold day in May he knew he had had enough.
“I had an assignment during my last week of work at my old job in Alberta that took place in Edmonton,” shares Ross. “I was laying cable during a blizzard, in late May. At that moment I was feeling pretty good about my decision to move to the coast.”
Ross started his career with Smart Dolphins at the age of 22. He was brought in as a service coordinator. Service coordinators’ days are busily filled with handling incoming tickets that come though the customer portal. The idea is to acknowledge receipt of the ticket within a set number of minutes, coordinate the urgency with the client, manage expectations and suggest possible solutions to the issue. The dedicated vITM (which is his current role) may be involved should the issue need escalation.
On the surface, the process sounds standard fare, however, there are industry-leading benchmarks and protocols to follow, and Ross calmly wends his way through issues like a musician working out the trickery and magic melody of ELO’s Telephone Line.
Necessity is the mother of adaptation
A few years ago, Shaw had a massive outage. Then, Ross was in his service coordinator role.
“We had a record number of calls at that time.”
Networks were down, Smart Dolphins’ internet was also off-line. There was a veritable storm of technical issues going on.
“Ensuring we communicated with everyone about why their networks had suddenly gone down while our own internet was also broken was an adventure,” said Ross. “I think that particular event really helped us with our redundant internet initiatives, where we setup a backup internet connection with Telus in the event Shaw goes down, and vice versa.”
Ross and the entire POD weathered the storm like champs; it was an indelible moment.
The same can be said about the migration to work from home when the pandemic was first declared. Smart Dolphins pulled and pushed clients three years hence in a matter of weeks.
Becoming a Virtual IT Manager
Ross took advantage of Smart Dolphins education support program and testing room. It is a Person VUE certified office for taking exams. The Dolphins book the room often after having studied hard for whatever technical upgrade and coursework that they are taking.
He methodically plowed through the course work over a few years to upgrade his skills and become very knowledgeable, especially in the Microsoft realm. He tackled, ITIL Foundations, CompTIA Network +, CompTIA Security +, CompTIA Cloud Essentials +, MS-900, AZ-900, and MS-500.
Virtual IT Managers are the technical eyes and ears between clients and the virtual chief information officers (vCIO) at Smart Dolphins. They work as a team and while the vITM is technical, well, so is the vCIO, however, the vCIO also happens to have business acumen and therefore spends much of their time expertly crafting well-researched IT roadmaps for each and every Smart Dolphins client. Planning and predictability are at the core of their work.
Ross, as all vITMs do, intimately knows the infrastructure of each client that he is assigned to manage.
“The moment that I passed the MS-500 exam earlier this year — the most difficult certification exam I have passed to date —was a major highlight and significant moment for me.”
Most techs have a couple of nail-biter memories that stick out in their mind, some “firsts” if you will. For Ross, the first time he pulled a disk out of a live, in-production, server in the middle of the day, and trusting it wouldn’t just die a horrible and sad death on the spot stands out for him.
“People have so much riding on their computer networks being online, you feel the weight of that responsibility, but it also makes you realize you are an important part of their business.”
Life in the POD
Asked about some of his favourite moments during his first seven years with the POD, Ross waxes joyfully about summer events at a cabin at a top-secret lake that the POD has enjoyed over the years. The VIATEC annual awards ceremony during his first year was a great night with giant blow up orcas being tossed around.
“I would have to say that a couple of holiday opportunities I had with my fellow Dolphins come to mind. Those breaks bring back very fond memories of eating way too much, relaxing by the pool while enjoying a beverage. I enjoyed just chatting with people I work with every day, but in a different context.”
The musician in him
Ross plays the piano and guitar and, well, other instruments too.
“It’s funny I actually wish I learned the viola and or violin and am considering a late entry to it. I can pick up a bass or a ukulele and play around a little bit, but I think that’s about the cap for me. My bread and butter is still keys and guitar.
I asked him, “did you not write the theme song to the Island Thrive PODcast?”
“I did – the first song I wrote for it was not what they were looking for, but once I understood what they were looking for, they liked the second intro I recorded and submitted. It was pretty neat hearing it at the start of each PODcast episode.”
Watch out Hans Zimmer.
Ross has a few influences for example, Andrew McMahon (Something Corporate, Jack’s Mannequin, and most recently Andrew McMahon in The Wilderness)
“I think the songs I write for the piano and acoustic guitar are heavily influenced by artists like Mr. McMahon. It’s sort of the modern equivalent of Billy Joel and Elton John, sometimes called “Piano rock.”
About being a so-called cultural truckler
“The Dear Hunter – Alternative or progressive rock band that is kind of all over the place. I like to play and sing their songs. They offer interesting lyrical content and concept albums. Kind of a modern version of a band like Pink Floyd or Rush or Yes. I am heavily influenced by other modern artists like Muse, but I honestly think The Dear Hunter are better than Muse in their execution.”
To Ross, and many of us, he considers John Mayer to be an underrated guitarist and prolific songwriter.
“People know him for his pop hits in some cases, but I think those who look beneath the surface offerings are always pleasantly surprised. Did you know he can play Jimi Hendrix tunes spot on?”
Ross also enjoys Parkway Drive, Beast in Black, which is a Finnish power metal band as well as not so current artists like Eric Carmen, The Raspberries, The Bee Gees, Abba, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bob Seger, the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and Cream, Traveling Wilburys (What’s not to like when you combine the power of George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison?) Metallica, he could go on for pages here. Did I mention that he is part old soul?
“Jeff Lynne and ELO. I still listen to ELO every week, almost every day of my life. A couple years ago I saw them in concert in Vancouver with my parents, it was a really great time.
The Beatles — who doesn’t have them as an influence? Part of it is that my first piano and guitar teacher had me learning Beatles songs as some of the first pieces I could play. The Beatles are probably the reason 70 per cent of my other favourite artists even exist, so I can’t thank them enough. I still sit down and play songs like Let it Be and Imagine and then I am 10 years old again.”
…and I slip into a dream…
He also lists Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen among others.
If I had gone on the holiday with him, sat pool side, we may have just covered 1956 to 2021.
Back to the technical side of Ross
Asked about his novice-like beginnings at Smart Dolphins he said, “I was in a college program in Alberta at SAIT for computer networking, but this was only for one year and I was 19 or 20 years old. At Smart Dolphins, I was fortunate to start in a role that fit my experience level better, initially. I had some experience with sales and office management and reception work. I just wanted to get into IT though. Like I was trying to do with that college certificate or diploma program.”
About three years into his career at Smart Dolphins, Ross made a formal request to try transitioning to more technical work and feels very fortunate to be mentored by more experienced fellow Dolphins. He also feels great about investing much time collecting industry certifications. He is now into his third technical post at Smart Dolphins.
“My technical role progression here went as follows: support L1 technician, support L2 technician and now virtual IT manager.”
The role of the vITM is to mimic the presence of an internal IT management role for clients. It boils down to having knowledge of the client’s IT systems and being an advocate for the client. Clients go to Ross with any kind of request, and he will either assist, or find them the appropriate department or skilled dolphin to get involved.
This involves clear and frequent communication with dozens of client contacts, coordination, and a combination of remote and hands-on administrative and technical work.
The other big aspect of the role is proactive maintenance. This is leading and maintaining client documentation, auditing the network and computer systems with a variety of checklists to identify potential issues and opportunities for upgrades.
Ross, as a vITM is positioned in the middle and has an open line of communication between the Support Team, vCIO as well as the Professional Services team.
“It is my job to proactively examine the technical environment for impending concerns and make suggestions to mitigate and improve the situation. I formally communicate with the client and package this up for our vCIOs so they can work with our client to ensure these improvement projects are approved. Once the vCIO has met with the decision maker and the proposal is approved, our talented Professional Services team carries out the improvements, and we all gain some more peace of mind.”
Ross also steps into scope or will work a support ticket when appropriate. It’s a balancing act but he really enjoys it all and feels that this role in particular suits him well.
I asked him, “In music and in work, what are your long-term goals? Where do you see yourself in 150 years from now — because by the time you reach 80 or 90, I am sure there will be some DNA regeneration therapy that drops you back a few decades?”
“Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“Just yesterday I was getting my stomach stitched up and was thanking my lucky stars that I am alive in the time of anesthetic, but I might get anti or de-aging technology in the future as well? [I am] Truly blessed.”
Of the joyful waxing, “I would like to get better at music recording, I have some entry-mid-level equipment but most of all I need to put the time into both more diligent practice and recording techniques. Even if I don’t improve much over the decades, I won’t stop playing for fun. I’d like to jam with my friends more often. I have a great friend who lives in Duncan, and we meet up every once in a while, to play.
When it comes to work, my biggest goal is to stay current. I already feel behind, all the time, when it comes to my knowledge of current technologies and how to leverage them for our client’s businesses. That’s why I am always pursuing a new certification. I don’t want to be the grandpa who can’t use whatever the new iteration of a computer or the internet looks like. I want to keep up as much as I possibly can.”
Grandpa? That is long-term thinking for a 29-year-old, considering he may live forever.
You may be wondering if he would you like to live to say 179 years of age, if he was guaranteed to look only 90 at that time?
“One-hundred per cent.”
“When the question is posed about living a long time, or even in perpetuity, I always say “yes.” I can’t imagine there being a time where I run out of new hobbies, interests, topics to take a deep dive into. I don’t really identify with the concept of boredom. Living forever sounds like a dream.”