How TechSnips Does Courses

If you’ve ever subscribed to or purchased content on e-learning services like Pluralsight, CBT Nuggets, LinkedIn Learning (Lynda), Udemy, et al., you’ve been a student of an e-learning course. These courses aim to help students learn a particular skill, help them pass a certification exam or enter an entirely new profession. A course can be just about anything, especially on Udemy!

Every successful e-learning course has lots of students and a single or a handful of instructors. A wildly popular course could have millions of students yet an only instructor (author). The chances of being a student on a course are a whole lot more likely than being the course author.

At TechSnips, we help IT professionals, developers, tech pros of all walks of life transform from one of the many (students) to one of the few (instructors). We help subject matter experts (SMEs) turn the knowledge in their head into a well-thought-out course that will potentially help millions of students learn a new skill to get that promotion, pass that certification exam to get a new job or just get a jump start on a new hobby!

Snips vs. Courses

Before we get into courses, it’s important you first understand our split snip vs. course programs. If you’ve seen our website, techsnips.io, you’ll see here nor there a course. TechSnips.io hosts short, how-to videos that get right to the point and teach a task. We call these videos snips. Snips are perfect if an IT pro knows what his problem is just not how to do it. Snips teach how to perform a task. Courses, on the other hand, explain how to build a skill.

Snips are the perfect solution in a pinch for that system administrator that can’t figure out how to upload files to Microsoft Azure, install a PowerShell module or how to back up a virtual machine. These are all tasks. Courses, on the other hand, teach skills that may or may not be groups of snips combined with slides, quizzes, etc.

A snip teaches how to repair a car transmission; a course teaches how to become a mechanic. Task vs. skill. Learning how to fix a car transmission is an important task every mechanic needs to learn, but it’s not nearly everything a mechanic needs to know to become ASE certified.

TechSnips still maintains our snip platform and will continue to do so but will not be the primary business focus for the time being.

E-Learning Training Companies

Previously, I mentioned companies like Pluralsight, LinkedIn Learning (Lynda), Udemy and others. These companies provide courses directly to their customers. Each company has a two-sided market; students and instructors. To attract customers (students), these companies must produce great courses. But to create great courses, they need experts (instructors) that can teach them. They can and do hire full-time instructors but also hire many contractors to develop these courses.

Each training company built and maintains its own platform, has its own students and markets their individual courses to acquire as many customers as possible.

These companies invest lots of money acquiring both instructors and students creating a large match-making service.

TechSnips is not a training company although we do tend to dabble in our own courses from time to time. Our primary focus is on filling a gap in our training company partners’ content libraries by providing access to many different experts capable of producing many different courses.

We work directly with training companies, not against them to provide a “Courses as a Service” platform by automating and removing every logistical task necessary to create a course. We strive to let experts teach their skills and handle the rest.

Working Directly with Training Companies

Typically, when an e-learning company needs a course created, they will reach out to individual authors in an attempt to woo a subject matter expert to build the course for them. Or, a potential course author will reach out to the training company and pitch course ideas to see if the training company will bite. Either way, the relationship is always 1:1 between a single author and the training company.

On the surface, this 1:1 relationship sounds simple until a course newbie really gets into it. They will soon be overwhelmed by course logistics.

  • What kind of outline are you looking for?
  • What kind of instructional style do you want?
  • When do I need to put in slides?
  • What slide template do I use again?
  • Do you always need a course introduction?
  • Holy hell, I’ve got to build my own demo environment?
  • Now, a module is part of a course, and a lesson is part of a module, right?
  • Do you need the videos in MP4, AVI or MOV format?
  • What’s the framerate supposed to be?
  • How long should the course be? Do you have a max length per lesson?
  • What is “scope” and how does it relate to courses and individual lessons?
  • What exactly does this contract I’m signing mean?
  • You mean to tell me I have to be a video editor too on top of all of this?
  • …and on and on.

I went through all of this when I was first producing courses for various companies and to be honest, I hated it. I loved coming up with the scenarios and teaching, but I hated all of the logistics that went into ensuring the course was packaged precisely how the training company wanted it.

I especially hated doing my own editing. I tried to outsource as much as possible, but I would then have to train contractors on the exact specifications the company needed, remember to pay them and still handle all of the paperwork with the training company. I wished there was a better way…

Where TechSnips Comes In

Training companies will always have their own specific requirements, and these hoops will still have to be jumped through, but we believe the author shouldn’t have to. We think a subject matter expert should do what they do best; be an expert in the subject they’re teaching! Crazy concept, huh?

We believe that it’s entirely unnecessary for an expert to concern him or herself with all of the logistics that go into course production. Instead, we want an expert to teach. That’s it. Plain and simple. All of the other rigamarole that goes into getting a course laid out and submitted to a training company shouldn’t even come into the picture.

Spreading the Workload

I’ve seen it many times. When you lay a pre-created 3-hour course outline in front of a tech expert that’s never authored a course before, their eyes glaze over. Even though the first part (coming up the outline) is completed for them, time building demo environments, building slides and a lot of deep thinking all come to a head and freeze them up. “That…..will take me a few months!”, they say. …and they’re right if they’re on their own.

What makes TechSnips unique is our contributor community. We have nearly 100 experts in our community now and growing that can help. Courses are typically created by a single author and for a good reason. It’s hard to delegate responsibilities to multiple people, but we believe we’ve cracked that nut.

TechSnips has a model that allows us to assign multiple authors to a single course all using a single platform and payments evenly split by the amount of work each author puts in. We’re even working on multiple authors per lesson! Imagine getting that sweet, sweet passive income from a course when all you’ve done is create the scripts the course presenter then records in the video. It’s possible as a TechSnips course author.

Creating a Course from Scratch

If you’ve never been involved in creating an e-learning course, the process is the same regardless if you’re creating courses for Pluralsight, LinkedIn Learning (Lynda), CBT Nuggets or any other large training company.

In a tiny nutshell, the overall stages to publish a course are:

  • Course pitch (working with the company to determine what course they want)
  • Course summary (creating an overall review of what the course is about)
  • Course proposal (building an outline of sections, lessons, abstracts, etc.)
  • Approval (working with the company to agree on your proposal)
  • Paperwork (reading and signing legal contracts)
  • Demos (building demo environments, coming up with scripts and recording)
  • Slides (building slide decks and recording slides)
  • Editing (after recording, ensuring the video flows nicely)
  • Submitting demo/slides (sending demos/slides to the company)
  • Demos/slides approval (performing any edits/re-records necessary)
  • Publishing the course (company publishes your course on their platform)
  • Getting paid (Yay! We’re done!)

We at TechSnips understand these stages intimately and have designed an automated system to account for all of them allowing all of our course authors to only worry about the absolute minimum. However, we’re not going to gloss over the fact that creating a course whether you’re partnering with TechSnips or not requires work.

Effort Required to Build a Course

With talk of all this work, are you scared yet? I hope not! Producing courses with TechSnips alleviates a ton of work, but we’re not going to build the course for you! You’re the expert; we’re just the platform.

Before we too far into this topic, I have to let you know that everyone is different. Please don’t join a course and 200 hours into it, gripe to me telling me I told you that it was only going to take 20 hours if you’ve decided to boil the ocean! I can only provide numbers based on my personal experience.

Let’s break down the applicable stages from the section above that entail doing some work on the part of the course author. Remember, these are rough numbers from my personal experience from producing or helping produce ~30 different courses. These numbers are also in man hours. They do not include time waiting for a response from the training company.

Based on a typical 2-hour course, here is a breakdown by stage in hours both by working with the training company alone or and as a TechSnips contributor:

Stage No Help from TechSnips As a TechSnips Contributor
Course pitch .5 0
Course summary 1 .5
Course proposal 2 1
Course approval 1 .5
Paperwork .5 .25
Demos 50 25
Slides* 20 15
Editing 20 0
Submitting demos/slides 2 2
Demos/slides approval 2 1

We reduce the course author’s workload in every stage. Through services like mentoring/coaching presentation skills, providing prebuilt lab environments, removing all editing required and providing a single platform linked to multiple training companies, we expedite from pitch to payment.

*We help out with slides as well and may eventually take this down to 0. A tech expert doesn’t need to be a PowerPoint ninja too!

Get Started Today

If you’re currently not a TechSnips contributor or are and have yet to get started on your first course, what are you waiting for? Go outside, pick up some snow and let’s see what kind of monster we can build together!

Join Us!

Passive Income: The Holy Grail of Money-Making

Imagine for a minute getting paid to do nothing. Every month, money just appears in your checking account without a finger lifted on your part. It’s like clockwork. Every month, the money comes in. The amount may vary month-to-month but usually stays around the same. This monthly account deposit is everyone’s best friend; passive income.

Many people think the only way to make money is to trade in their time. Whether you have a full-time job working 40 hours/week or are a consultant charging $150/hr, the amount of money you receive is dependent on the amount of time you put in. Work more, get paid more whether you’re going into overtime or burning the midnight oil as a consultant or contractor.

If you’ve never experienced passive income before, getting paid every month when you haven’t stepped foot outside your door to go to work seems crazy. It almost looks too good to be true but, I assure you, it’s not. It’s merely extending the payment model you’re used to over a long period. The work still must be done, but you are paid not based on your time but on the value your work delivers.

Passive income is a general term that refers to putting in work for a limited amount of time and getting paid for that work for years to come. Passive income can be achieved lots of ways from building software or an online service and providing a self-service checkout, writing a book and collecting royalties, writing an eBook and hosting it on a platform like Leanpub and receiving a share of the revenue, having blog sponsors or any other activity that requires work upfront with payments over time.

The Snowball Story

A great metaphor to explain passive income is to compare it to a snowball.

Imagine you’re outside on a snowy day, pick up some snow and make a snowball. The snow is that wet, sticky snow, so you’re able to create this snowball easily. Holding the snowball in your hand, it weighs no more than a few ounces. This is the money you receive from royalties your first month via your first course. Cute but nothing to write home about.

That snowball in your hand reminds you of the mountains, so you decide you need to climb Mt. Everest to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Just go with me here. You battle the elements and take your little snowball with you to the top as a reminder of where you came from.

Once you’re at the top, you then decide to free your little snowball and roll it down the mountain. At first, it merrily bounces along down the mountain but soon begins to grow mowing down shrubs, grow some more where it’s now pummeling small trees, roll down a few more thousand feet and it’s taking out entire basecamps! By the time it gets to the bottom of the mountain, it’s on a mission and soon takes out tiny Tibetan towns.

Your once cute little snowball has morphed into a monster consuming everything in its path. Now imagine that snowball is your money and the altitude is time. The farther down the mountain the snowball goes, the more work you do and the more value you create exponentially growing your snowball and the bigger your bank account gets. In this metaphor the snowball eventually stops; it’s simple physics. But in our real, passive income example, the money keeps coming in month after month forever!

Building Passive Income with E-learning Courses

Passive income comes in many forms, but here at TechSnips, we provide this nirvana-like service in the way of e-learning courses. The TechSnips Course program partners with leading training companies that need online courses and we also publish our own. Regardless of where the course is posted, it will always be made for sale and will always be consumed by students over time.

A course provides value to consumers not once or twice, but, typically, for years. Since that value is spread out over time, TechSnips and you, get paid for the work that we put into building that course over that timespan.

For a course to be successful, it needs to meet three rough criteria:

  • It has to be marketed well and in front of potential students
  • It has to be packaged well
  • It has to be a well-produced, quality course that students can learn from

TechSnips and our partners take care of the first two criteria, and the third is up to you. We help you build the best course possible, but it’s ultimately up to you to make the course awesome. To develop your monster snowball, the key is quantity. The equation is simple; the more courses you produce, the more money you make and the longer your passive income will continue over time.

Let’s Talk Numbers

We’re talking passive income here, but we also need to speak to the upfront payments you get when authoring courses with TechSnips. When a course is completed, you will receive anywhere from $800 to $2000+. If you’ve decided to go lone ranger on the course and are the sole author, that entire amount is yours. If not, that amount is then split between any other authors that are also assigned to that course.

The upfront payment isn’t bad but hardly worth the 30-50+ hours of work that may go into a 2-hour course. The real money is in the passive income!

A snowball can start its journey at various sizes, and no two snowballs will take the same route down the mountain just like course royalties and revenue sharing. The size of the monster at the bottom depends on a multitude of factors, but it all comes down to popularity. The amount of passive income you receive depends on how favorited your course is with its audience.

For example, Pluralsight uses its own platform to host courses for students and pays royalties based on minutes viewed. Packt, on the other hand, distributes their courses amongst many different platforms and pays you based on a percentage of revenue earned from your course. Either way, you get paid more if your course is popular and less if no one wants to watch it.

Once you’re approved as a TechSnips course author, you can build courses for many different training companies all with a single platform.

It’s tough to determine how much you can anticipate receiving per month in passive income. The number all depends on the TechSnips course partner, the time of year, how good the partner is at marketing your course, if your course is aimed at beginners, intermediate or experts and more. With that being said, I can provide a big range. If you are the sole author on a course, you can expect anywhere from $20 – $2000/month. I told you it was a big range! I can’t, with a good conscience, tell you exactly how much you will make.

How much you make solely depends on your ability to teach a great course and how many courses you produce.

Get Started Today!

If you’re currently not a TechSnips contributor or are and have yet to get started on your first course and are not presently seeing passive income, what are you waiting for? Go outside, pick up some snow and let’s see what kind of monster we can build together!

Join us! 

TechSnips: Startup Struggles and Eternal Optimism

A Startup Founder

Short term pain, long term gain. That’s what we hear from people when they are watching on the sidelines when we’re working towards a goal. These people either strive to motivate us or are entertained by watching us struggle and want to see how stubborn we can be.

We go to the gym, see no results the next day. We start eating healthy and feel no different. We stay in a job that’s meh just because it’s comfortable and we entrepreneurs bust our asses for nothing for months sometimes years in hopes of a big payoff someday.

What does each of these situations have in common? They all require either:

  • A. balls
  • B. stupidity
  • C. tenacity and grit

I’m positive it takes a little bit of each.

When I quit my job nearly eight months ago for an opportunity that had no guarantee, no paycheck and no clear end goal everyone thought I had a screw loose. “Grit! “, I told them. “No, it’s a vision!”, I told them. They’d nod and wish me well still thinking I was nuts.

Short term pain

Imagine for a minute you’re on a tightrope high above the ground wobbling on a 1-inch wire. Scary, right? Now imagine you have an enormous cushion made of baby lamb’s wool and unicorn tears below you. If you were to fall, it may actually feel wonderful feeling that soft embrace of the net.

You’d happily stroll along the wire without a care in the world. Who cares if I fall? Hell, I may jump! This is what a nice, cushy job feels like. Another week, another big paycheck. Ain’t life grand? For some maybe.

There’s no pain but no challenge. No fulfillment. Take your Hawaii vacation with your loads of PTO and buy that Ferrari. As my Australian friends say, “Good on ya!”. But what kind of way is that to live? What are you actually accomplishing? Do you feel like you’re making a difference in the world? If not, ask yourself if this is what you want for the rest of your life.

Sure. There will be fights with your spouse, you’ll question your sanity, you’ll run budgets nonstop to reassure yourself it’ll be OK and you’ll constantly wonder what you’re committing your life to really is a good idea after all. “WTF HAVE I DONE??”

It’s painful. Sometimes very. But nothing great comes free and without risk.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither can a fruitful and fulfilling business like TechSnips.

Long term gain

It’s been nearly eight months since I started TechSnips and I can finally say my attitude is beginning to change from a pain to gain mentality.

We’re not making loads of money by any means and we’re not a huge team capable of destroying our competition. We do, however, have momentum and a growing community.

Since we’ve pivoted to focus on our course partner program we received our first course payment this month. Talk about exciting! We now have 13 courses in the queue and our dedicated team of contributors are hard at work cranking them out. I can see the snowball starting to build!

We are an agile company capable of coordinating hundreds of moving parts at once though our highly systematized processes. I knew being Adam the Automator would come in handy besides the occasional blog article or two.

We’re attracting 3-5 new contributors every week who immediately are put in touch with Anthony, my first lieutenant/VP of Content where he’s able to get them up to speed fast and part of our community.

I can say that after all of the hard work, we’re finally hitting our stride. With a dedicated community, collective knowledge and everyone’s commitment to coming together making TechSnips a success, I know we will succeed.

  • Adam

How to Quickly Export and Import an OVF Into vCenter With PowerCLI

Background

In my current day job, I’m often asked about using PowerCLI to perform a number of tasks in a vCenter cluster. This is a story about a recent request for assistance from a colleague who needed to export a custom monitoring appliance template to a new vCenter cluster that was being built. My colleague was under a time constraint and did not have the necessary access to the template.

Getting Started

Never wanting to miss a chance to use PowerShell or PowerCLI, I jumped in head first to help. I gathered the necessary information from my colleague, and began connecting to the cluster:

This takes just a moment to complete. Next, I know what verbs I’m going to need, so I look up what commands are available. Notice that I truncate my verb using the correct quoting syntax, as explained in a previous post of mine:

Discovering PowerCLI commands using Get-Command

There are two cmdlets that stand out; Export-VApp and Import-VApp.

Both of these cmdlets appear to be exactly what I need. But first, I’ll educate myself a little more on the proper use for each. I start with Export-VApp This cmdlet will export the powered off VM as an OVF to the current directory my session is in by default if I do not specify a path. I have a path in mind, so I’m going to go with the following code:

But there’s an issue:Powered On VM Error

I should have thought about that a bit more before running the command. You cannot export a running VM to an OVF! No worries, this is a quick fix. I’ll modify my code a little more:

That was easy. With the template appliance now offline, I could resume running the Export-VApp cmdlet I tried to run earlier. This process took about 10 minutes, and wasn’t a very large appliance to begin with. Now I have a 3.5 GB appliance ready to be deployed into another vCenter environment. Or do I?

Trouble Ahead

Feeling like I’m driving the train now, I enter and run the following code:

The notion just crossed my mind that I got ahead of myself, and failed to find out if I was actually connecting to another vCenter cluster.

Something happened when I began to import the previously exported VM appliance. A sea of red error messages.

Trouble Behind

I read the error message, and sure enough, the host is not a part of a vCenter cluster and therefore does not have proper licensing to complete the import using PowerCLI. This is a limitation that VMware enforces. No worries, I could still connect to the web interface of the host and manually import using the HTML 5 interface. The wizard walks you through each step, give the imported appliance a name, choose the OVF, datastore, deployment type (thick or thin provisioned), and verify the configuration. After that, select finish and the import begins. While the previous import attempt would work great with a vCenter cluster, it was simply not going to work in this situation. This took a little longer than expected but was straight forward. You can read more about the process here.

In the end, the import was a success, and my colleague met their deadline.

Final Thoughts

Until this exercise, I was not aware that not all PowerCLI cmdlets were available in all situations. However, Both of us learned a new skill and, while experiencing some unforeseen adversity, we still accomplished the task at hand. Too often we rush through IT projects looking for the ‘quick’ fix. Watch your speed, take another minute or two to ask questions, step back and understand the problem you are trying to solve. You may find you’ll learn something new.

How To Make Visual Studio Code Look And Behave Like The PowerShell ISE

Despite its lack of features and options, PowerShell ISE used to be the primary tool to develop and edit PowerShell Scripts. It offered an integrated development environment (IDE) that included some basic features to build scripts and modules.

Microsoft is no longer actively developing the PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) and is being replaced by the more powerful and versatile open source Visual Studio Code (VS Code). With its ever-expanding options and extensions, VS Code is quickly becoming the new standard tool for developing not only PowerShell, but just about any other language you choose.

Despite all the new features available in VS Code, leaving the familiar environment of PowerShell ISE is difficult.  It is like watching your child go to college. You are proud of the achievement but sad about having left a comfortable environment.

VS Code can be intimidating at first. As the default settings of VS Code can be a little hard to work with if you are used to working with PowerShell ISE. However, it’s highly customizable, and with the addition of Extensions and a few configuration settings, you can make VS Code look and behave just like PowerShell ISE.

The Look

To get VS Code to look like PowerShell ISE, the PowerShell Extension needs to be installed.  To install, select the setting gear at the bottom left, then pick Extensions.

At the search box, type in Powershell and then install. This extension adds a few features to the default settings of VS Code.

 

To get the distinctive look of PowerShell ISE, select the settings gear and then Color Theme. Choose the PowerShell ISE theme.

 

 

Now that you have the look of PowerShell ISE, we need to set the behavior to match ISE.

The Behavior

The default install of VS Code lacks some features of PowerShell ISE, such as Zoom, Tab-Completion, Intellisense, and Code Snippets.

For setting the environment to match that of PowerShell ISE, we need to add some environment settings to the VS Code settings.

Keyboard and Mouse Actions

Open the command palette using the ctrl+Shift+P key combination. In the command palate box, enter “Preferences Open Settings (JSON).” This will open up a two-pane window with the user settings on the right. Insert the following code between the brackets on the right pane.

Environment Settings

Code snippets

One of the best features of PowerShell ISE is the ability to use Code Snippets. VS Code has made Code Snippets more versatile.

To add Code Snippets, select the setting gear and then pick “User Snippets.” In the command palette, enter “Powershell.json.” I’ve created a sample user snippets JSON file for you available here.

VS Code is now the preferred PowerShell editor. With a few customizations, we can make it behave just like the familiar PowerShell ISE.

The Difference Between Single and Double Quotes in PowerShell

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“Quote me as saying I was mis-quoted.” -Groucho Marx

There are two types of quotes that can be used in PowerShell. Single and Double quotations. Some critical differences between the two can make or break a script. Knowing these differences will make you a more effective PowerShell scriptwriter and help you avoid a rather simple mistake.

In this post, I’ll quickly explain these differences and provide examples of each scenario.

‘Single Quotation’

Single quotation strings are what you will most often use and encounter when creating or troubleshooting PowerShell scripts.

Consider the following example:

Now examine the output:

In the above case, PowerShell ignores  $MyVar1 and treats the variable literally as $MyVar1, exactly what was typed. There is no substitution here.

But how do you get PowerShell to recognize the variable value within a quoted string value? That’s where double quotation comes in.

“Double Quotation”

Double quotation gives you a dynamic element to string values. You will encounter this type of string quotation when the string contains dynamic data from variables stored in memory or dynamically generated.

Consider the following example:

Now examine the output:

In the above case, PowerShell processes $MyVar2 because it was enclosed by a double-quoted string. Double quotes make PowerShell parse for text (the variable) preceded by a dollar sign and substitutes the variable name the corresponding value.

Real World Scenario

Now, apply this knowledge to a real scenario. Let’s say that you need to create a small function that will give an operator on your team some real basic information:

  • Date / Time
  • Disk % Used
  • Disk % free

You need to return this information visually to an operator. Simple.

First, some pseudo code. We need to display the date time as today’s date and time. Think about how this string value will work. We can use Get-Date and the -Uformat  parameter to give us the required date/time by using the correct patterns:

Testing the code in a PowerShell terminal confirms this works:

That takes care of the first part of the script. Now, I need to gather some disk information to also output to the terminal. The key metric I’m looking for is the percentage of free space remaining.  I’ll display this information using Write-Host again, but this time I’ll need to insert additional code inside the double-quoted string. Remember, this information will be dynamic. For the purposes of this example, I’m going to create a variable, then utilize an available member type property to get the value I’m looking for:

Testing the code in a PowerShell terminal confirms this works:

Perfect. We now have two variables that we can place in the strings that the operator will see when running this function. So let’s assemble the bits into the final script that will become our function:

Testing again in a PowerShell terminal, here is what the operator would see:

Notice what I did inside the last Write-Host line with the $disk variable. PowerShell evaluates the $( ) construct as an entire subexpression then replaces the result. Doing it this way also helps you avoid having to create more variables, which saves memory and can even make your script faster.

The function still needs some work. So let’s finish it off by adding some math to show a full calculation to the operator:

Results:

The operator can now make some faster decisions while supporting a remote system by using this function.

Final Thoughts

There’s not much to quotes in PowerShell. The one key concept to remember is that you need to know when to be literal ( ‘ ‘ ), and when to be dynamic ( ” ” ). By default, you should always use single quotes unless there is a requirement for dynamic data in the string construct. I hope you found this information useful!

Additional Resources

To learn more about quotation rules, visit the about_Quoting_Rules PowerShell documentation from Microsoft or this excellent MSDN article.
For even more examples of single/double quote usage, read Kevin Marquette’s “Everything you wanted to know about variable substitution in strings” .

How to Build a Basic Report of Recently Installed Windows Updates

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“Distrust and caution are the parents of security.” -Benjamin Franklin

If you’ve ever deployed Windows Updates to clients on your network, you have probably been asked by your manager(s) what KB’s were deployed, and when if an issue comes up on a workstation or server. Unfortunately, sometimes the built-in WSUS reporting tool can leave you frustrated and doesn’t have great functionality for generating them outside of the WSUS management GUI. A problem I regularly encounter is a crashing MMC, which then crashes the WSUS services, causing me to have to reset the node and start over. It’s very annoying.

Distrust & Caution

I was recently asked by a group of managers that were working on validating a security vulnerability scan for some assistance. This vulnerability scan was claiming that a set of systems were missing particular Microsoft KB’s, KB’s that were recently approved, deadlined, and showing as installed in the WSUS management console. I sent some screenshots of the console status along with my sysadmin reply. I didn’t give it much thought at the time because I was busy with other projects and this was a routine request.

A day or so went by, and another vulnerability scan was run, producing the same results. Management was not convinced that the updates were installed. Having issues with WSUS from time to time, I started to distrust the built in reports and the management console. To be cautious, and a little more diligent, I decided to bypass the WSUS management console and go straight to the workstations and servers that were showing up in the security vulnerability scan.

Some Explicit Remoting Here, A Couple of Cmdlets There….

Luckily, the security vulnerability scan only found about 4 workstations and 12 servers with these supposedly missing KB’s. So I created a simple list in a text file using the Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) of each host.  I also knew for a fact, that the missing KB’s would have been installed in the past 30 days as I just completed a maintenance cycle.

With this knowledge in hand, I jotted down some pseudo code to help me begin. Here’s what I outlined:

  • Store my text file that contains the list of hosts.
  • For each of the hosts in that file, run a command.
    • The command must gather installed KB’s installed in the last 30 days.
    • The output only needs to contain the hostname, KB/HotFix ID, and the install date.
    • The output needs to be readable, and just needs to be a simple file.
  • No fancy coding needed, just comparing visually to what WSUS reporting was displaying.

Based on my notes, I had a good idea of what I was looking for and what cmdlets I might need. The primary focus was on the Get-HotFix cmdlet. What this cmdlet does is query all the hotfixes (more commonly referred to as security updates) that have been applied to a Windows host. You can read more about this cmdlet and how to use it here.

Get-HotFix does not support implicit remoting so I needed to come up with method to run this cmdlet on the systems I needed to report on. Invoke-Command does and you can pass multiple values to the -ComputerName parameter. I already have saved a list of hosts I am targeting, so I’ll save myself some typing and store those hosts as a variable. To do so, I’ll have to assign a variable name and make the value the list of hosts.  Get-Content  will read the content of the text file line by line creating an array of sorts. Let’s call this array $Hosts . Now I have a command, some data to feed to the next set of commands, but I need to make the resulting data readable and concise.

I want to take a moment here to emphasize “Filter First, Format Last.” . Remembering this will help you when working with these types of scripts. Now, running the Get-Hotfix cmdlet by itself will typically result in a long list of updates that have been applied to a host. Filtering helps gather just the information you need. Without filtered data, formatting is useless at this point. Think of filtering as your data type requirements, and formatting as how you want that data displayed. For my purposes, I already had the requirements thought out. I needed to get updates installed in the past 30 days.

To filter, I will need to use the Where-Object cmdlet and then pass along some member properties and comparison operators with a dash of math. To do this, my pseudo code will take every object returned ( $_.) from Get-HotFix , Where-Object -Property installed on data is greater than ( -gt)today’s date (or whenever I run the script) minus (-30) days ago. That will get the initial data I’m looking for but I want to filter the returned objects and their properties a little more. This is where Select-Object will help, allowing me to further trim the amount of data to be displayed to just a couple of crucial properties.

Now that I have the data properly filtered, now I can move on to formatting the results into a usable format. To do so I’ll pipe ( | ) the results from my previous filtering to Format-Table -Autosize and output as a file type of my choosing. I’ll need to use -Append and -ErrorAction SilentlyContinue parameters to ensure that each result is written to the next line in the output file and if an error occurs, it won’t cause the rest of the hosts to not be contacted.

I chose to go with a text file because I didn’t require anything fancy. You can change the output to meet your needs. My output looked something similar to this:

Example Output text file

Here’s the final script came up with and used:

For me, this was simple, concise, and offered proof that the KB’s were indeed installed. The report was well received by the management team and in a format easily read.

Creating a PowerShell Script from Written Processes & Procedures

Photo by Fabian Grohs on Unsplash

As a mentor, I’m often asked, “How do you get inspiration for a PowerShell script?”, followed by something sounding similar to, “I just don’t know what I can script or where to start.” When I’m told that, the person saying it sounds defeated and about to give up. This was a question & feeling I had myself early in my PowerShell journey too.

“So, what’s the answer, Bill?” you might ask. Well…the answer you seek, young grasshopper is…

Documentation.

How I Started

Let’s talk about how I started to approach scenarios and challenges by using existing documentation as my base of reference, or pseudo code. Many years ago, I struggled to make scripts. No matter the language, it was an awful feeling of imposter syndrome. I could read some code and stumble around clumsily figuring out some bits here and there, but it was a constant struggle. It wasn’t until I started documenting my IT processes that I began to correlate written word to small bits of pseudo code that I could then translate in to PowerShell one-liners. Once I started doing that, things got a lot easier.

Sample Scenario

I have some maintenance tasks that I have to perform at least twice a month for User Acceptance Testing (UAT), Quality Assurance (QA) and production environments. Lucky for me, these tasks are already written down and stored in a team KB article. With half the battle already won, I carefully read through the documented steps for taking systems and applications down gracefully for maintenance. The tasks progresses something like this:

  1. Place monitoring agents in maintenance mode (nothing like getting email alerts for known issues)
  2. Stop IIS application pools 1,2 & 3 on X server
  3. Stop IIS application pool 4 on Y server
  4. Stop services on A,B,C & D servers
  5. Log into WSUS, approve & deadline OS updates to specific groups
  6. Allow reboots to occur.

Looks pretty straight forward right? My predecessors were manually performing these steps for years. Well, I’m not my predecessors. There’s enough information here to begin making a script. Let’s begin.

Task 1 could be automated, but for the purposes of this post I’m skipping it because not all monitoring platforms are the same. Moving on.

Task 2. Now we have something to work with. Using key words, I begin by discovering what commands I have available that might stop an IIS application pool:

Get-Command -Module 'WebAdministration' -verb 'Stop'

Awesome. Stop-WebAppPool Appears to be exactly what I need to complete this task. Spend a minute or two reading the help if it’s the first time you’ve seen this cmdlet: Get-Help Stop-WebAppPool -Online

Now I know how to tackle Task 2 and Task 3. My code now looks like this:

On to Task 4. Now this one should be simple for anyone who is new to PowerShell, as it’s a common task that is demonstrated in a lot of training material. This task will make use of the Stop-Service cmdlet. There are a few ways this can be done, but I’ll keep it simple for now so we don’t get into the weeds and detract from the overall goal.

On each host, there are two services that work concert with each other as part of an application that was hosted on the IIS servers in Tasks 2 & 3.  Stop-Service will allow us to enter multiple values in the -ComputerName parameter, and since the naming scheme I’m using is short, it’s not a big deal to enter them all here. I’ll also be using the -ServiceName parameter, which also accepts multiple string values. When finished assembling the code, it looks like this:

Great! I’ve just saved a few minutes of not having to RDP to each of these systems, or use Server Manager, or type this all out in a PowerShell terminal.

Let’s Add More Stuff!

The whole reason for shutting all these services down gracefully is to be able to apply Windows security patches to the server OS without screwing up the applications if they were still being used during a scheduled maintenance window (humor me for a moment and save the snark about Windows Updates).

How can I work with WSUS? There has to be a module I can use…

Enter PoshWSUS. This handy PowerShell module contains exactly what I need for the final component in my scripted task.  There are a lot of cmdlets available in this module and I’m not going to explain all of them right now.

In order to complete the last step, I need to:

  1. Connect to my WSUS server.
    Connect-PSWSUSServer -WsusServer localhost -Port 8530 -Verbose
  2. Store the KB’s to be deployed as a variable.
    $Updates = Get-Content 'C:\PScripts\Maintenance\updates.txt'
  3. Store a deadline of 1 hour ahead of the time the script executes as a variable.
    $Deadline = (get-date).addHours(1)
  4. Get updates, approve then set install flag along with the deadline flag to assigned groups.
  5. Close the connection.

As you’ll see above, I’ve thought out the logical steps and created some pseudo code to get started. It’s the same process you’ll follow when trying to create your own scripts. It’s almost as if there’s a theme developing here!

Now on to what you’ve been waiting for. Let’s assemble all the bits into the final script:

The key thing to remember here is, if you can write it down, you probably can script it. So go back and look at some of your documented processes and procedures, and you’ll soon discover that you’ll have enough inspiration to keep you busy for a while making PowerShell scripts.

Bonus Round

If you’ve read my past blog post on “How I Learned Pester by Building a Domain Controller Infrastructure Test”, it should be pretty obvious that I’m a fan and love using Pester now. I even build small tests for small scripts like the one above.

I need to a quick test with some visual output since I’m typically running this script from a PowerShell terminal manually. So, with the same pseudo code used earlier, let’s build a simple test that will verify all the actions in our script did what we expected:

I left out tests for servers B,C & D because they would be identical to the test shown for server A in the above example. Now all that is required to run the this test as part of the My-MaintenanceTask.ps1 script would be to add this line at the end of that script:

Once the script has completed, you will then see output in the terminal showing the results of the tests.

If you really want to gussy up a script up to include some progress bars and have your pester results placed in a nice report you can give to a manager, then I would strongly recommend reading Adam Bertram’s “A Better Way to Use Write-Progress” & watching Nick Rimmer’s “How to Create a Simple Pester Test Report in HTML” to supercharge your maintenance scripts.

How I Decided to Join TechSnips and Became a Contributor

 

 

After the birth of my first son, I was feeling like I was at a crossroads in my career. I have been working in IT on my own and for many others for a while now (I built my first computer somewhere around 1999-2000) and have been exposed to many different types of environments and tasks. Since his arrival into my life, I have had a growing sense of responsibility to move beyond just having mentors, to being the mentor and teaching; from being the apprentice to becoming the master.

The Journey

Back in May, I was following quite a few industry peers who were tech bloggers, presenters, and evangelists. One of those peers is Adam Bertram. I had seen a few tweets about an opportunity to get involved in a new venture that centered on the IT pro and career advancement. Having just finished reading the book “Be The Master” by Don Jones, I was inspired to take a leap and do more, I just wasn’t sure exactly how. I responded to one of Adam’s messages. Not long after, I had received a message from him. He explained that he was developing a new business in which IT pros could gain some valuable exposure to the IT community, teach others and further their careers. Everyone had something worth teaching.

I left that conversation having been inspired and was convinced that this was an opportunity worthy of investing time in. Therefore, I began to think of something that I knew that I could teach. Having some experience with Group Policy, and a passion for PowerShell, I did something…

I Just Hit Record…

It sounds easy, and for the most part that is true. For many people, including myself, not so much. IT pros tend to be a little shy, and afraid to put themselves out there. Aside from occasionally being very active on some forums, I had never recorded myself. I have taught some people one on one, but never a group of random strangers on the Internet.

This was an undiscovered country for me.

To Boldly Go…

After a period of reflection on what I could possibly contribute that was in my mind worthy of teaching. Side note, everything is worth teaching! Not everyone who is in IT is at the same point in his or her career as you. I remember having a hard time with some topics and not having someone there to teach me, but I digress.

I searched my geek stash for any supplies I could find to aid in making a recording. A spare monitor here, a junk microphone there. Some free screen-recording software. With zero initial budget, there were some struggles. Specifically audio battles. With the help of @MichaelBender, I obtained a much more high-quality microphone that eliminated most of the poor sound quality that was keeping my demo from passing acceptance to become a snip contributor. I am forever grateful for that random act of kindness.

With newfound confidence and better audio, I regrouped and submitted another demo, and it was accepted. The first hurdle passed, I learned a lot and was inspired to keep going. So I made a short snip on How to Create a Starter Group Policy Object with PowerShell on Windows Server 2016 which demonstrates how to quickly create an empty Starter GPO that can be configured with baseline settings, creating a template of sorts for future use. With some guidance from Adam, @_BryceMcDonald and the TechSnips editing team, the final snip was polished and published. It was a milestone for my career:

I was now a professionally published contributor.

Conclusion

The feeling of knowing that I have left something valuable for someone to learn from has not faded. It’s driven me to also submit writings about Pester to the TechSnips.io blog, and to publish two additional snips since then with more in the works as time allows. I take great pride in telling people about what TechSnips has done for me and why my fellow IT pros should consider joining. We all have something worthy of teaching the next generation of IT pro. We all need to “Be the Master.” Help someone else. Just hit record, and see where it takes you.

How I Arrived at TechSnips

I Get Paid to do This?

Two things I get paid to do, solve problems and learn new stuff.

I am fortunate to know very early that I wanted to work with computers. The only problem was I could not concentrate long enough to complete a formal school course.

I was kicked out of two community colleges for academic suspension. I tried to take the required courses like history, calculus, economics etc… but I got bored and never did the required homework or study.

It All Started in the Navy

I eventually ended up in the Navy. I signed up for an extra year to get the technical training I wanted. It was perfect. 8 hours a day 5 days a week for a year. Straight electronics. Resistors, capacitors and circuit boards, Oh My!

The best part? I was given a box of parts and spent 3 months putting it together to build a radio. If it worked, I passed, if not I failed. ( Hint: I passed)

Oh and the discipline, self-esteem and doing things I never thought I could do turned a manchild into a proud, self-confident man. The Navy instilled in me the self- discipline I was sorely lacking.

My Consultant Years

I became an IT consultant right out of the Navy. My lack of a formal degree was an obstacle at times but I never said no to a problem. I knew I could solve any problem thrown at me. After all, I just spent 6 years in the Navy doing just that.

My love of learning also kept up to speed on technology. Two hours every night either on a self-study course or learning a new technology that had just come out.

My first network security job even had me build my own Linux PC on the first day. Back then it was a very manual process with a lot of compiling. If you ever built a Linux PC using “Linux From Scratch” you will know what I mean. I learned a lot and I loved it.

A lot of what I learned did not immediately apply to my job. For example, I am not a programmer but I learned how to use Git just because I thought it was cool. It was the same for a lot of technology I learned. This lifelong learning kept me employed.

How did I arrive at TechSnips?

Well, after many years of IT consulting, it is getting a little uncomfortable being the oldest tech on the IT team. I have been asked in more than one interview why am I not an IT Manager or have some supervisory experience. Yes, age discrimination is a thing.

You know what IT managers do? Answer phones, create budgets, develop strategic plans that no one will use, use words like “Synergy”, “heterogeneous” and  “teamwork”. No, I need to be in front of a keyboard. I can make servers dance, sing and do your dishes.

So while my peers were getting management jobs, I was designing networks for data centers, installing hundreds of servers, laying out cabling, and learning to break into systems. I was good at it

I had been looking for something that I could do remotely and still generate income. I do have a family to support. I started (and failed) at several blogs. I realized that I did not have the business acumen to make it successful.

Feeding My ADHD

This is where TechSnips comes in. I actually came across Techsnips from a tweet posting about a snip for a problem that had. I watched the snip and it leads me to a solution that I needed.

I had been working from home for a while now and I was not looking to go back to the office again. I wondered if they were hiring and, even better, if they were hiring remote techs. I navigated to the contributor page and immediately knew I had to apply.

The more I read about the contributor role, the more excited I became. I was hesitant to submit a video audition (the presenter role), but Anthony Howell said it did not matter. Produce a snip and let me see what you got.

The format of producing a snip fed very well into my ADHD. Short, technical videos on a specific topic that I am interested in. If I get bored with a topic, choose another topic or suggest one. Each Snip was to be no more than 15 minutes. I thought this was perfect. I could do this.

So, I produced my first snip and it was accepted. a couple of days later, I got a call from Anthony Howell welcoming me to the team. The more I heard about what TechSnips is all about, the more excited I became and I knew I had made the right decision.

So, today, I am a producer of several snips and have many more in the works. Producing snips also has given me the confidence to improve my presenting skills.

I am not used to talking in front of people or teaching online. The team at TechSnips has provided valuable advice on how to present technical videos and engage an audience.

TechSnips is giving me the opportunity to not only do what I love but actually get paid to do it.