Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How I Became a Sysadmin

An interesting article was posted on the SysAdvent calendar titled "Becoming A Sysadmin". After reading it, I thought why not put up my story. As the article noted the path to becoming a Sysadmin is not a 1-2-3 step process, it is most often an evolution of roles with a pinch of circumstance. That evolution of roles part lends itself to the vague definition of what a Sysadmin's responsibilities are and as the article mentions putting "Sysadmin" in a job description's responsibility list is no indicator of actual responsibilities. Another part of the article raises the point about what characteristics in a person makes them want to be or enjoy being a Sysadmin. I'm hoping this doesn't read too much like a resume.

I'll start at the foundation question - what characteristics drive a person to enjoy or want to be a Sysadmin? I think creativity is one trait of SysAdmins. Creativity plays a part in may aspects of the job: writing scripts / code, problem solving, designing solutions for networks, storage, etc. I've always enjoyed building things - from Legos when younger, to metal fabrication, and even homes. Of course some desire for control needs to exist, but I think the higher purpose analogy is more like a coach or co-captain guiding a team towards a common goal. Sometimes you get to pick (aka design) your team, and sometimes you have to work with what you are given. This may just be my experiences, but a good many of the 'tech' people I know have a strong liking of music - in fact many have even played or play instruments. I stopped playing saxophone going into college because it was a major time involvement - I do miss playing though.

I've heard IT folk tend to stay in a job or position for maybe 5 years or so. Why this is tends to be answered by the IT person's need for new challenges. It is after all one of the draws of technology - ever changing; sometimes one of its drawbacks too. My 12 year history in IT work, the only professional arena I've worked in, follows the pattern fairly well - but mostly due to life circumstances and not my sole decision to change things up.

Onward with my path. I went through college on the Computer Science / Mathematics major/minor track. I started my first 'career' oriented job going into my 3rd year of college. This position was as a programmer in an engineering department using SGI Irix workstations. It was an incredibly exciting role at the time and provided me the opportunity to learn many technologies, as well as my likes and dislikes regarding IT roles. Besides the skills I took away from the job, I found that for me while creating code was OK, I truly enjoyed networking and systems management much more. I was also during this time that I developed a strong skill set with Linux.

I moved onto my next position due to my wife's pursuit of her masters degree at a university in another city. My *Nix background landed my next position managing a HP-UX based environment running SAP on Oracle using some nice EMC storage. I worked with some great people in this position, but it was definitely a very specific set of tasks and the challenge quickly faded. I learned a lot about SANs, a bit about SAP and Oracle, expanded my network skills, and benefited personally by observing great management. I was made redundant in a post acquisition event and subsequently laid off.

I spent the following few months getting my resume out, networking and mowing lawns - which I actually enjoyed for the time I did it.

And that gets to my current and longest held position. I became the "Systems Administrator" mid 2004 at a smallish company (150 people). It is quite the opposite in the realm of responsibilities - my saying is now: "If it plugs into the wall, rings, buzzes, beeps, or takes batteries I'm responsible for it.". It was a very simple environment that provided me lots of opportunity to advance my Windows based management skills while significantly improving operations efficiency, security, and reliability. The business has been in a constant state of positive change and the challenges have been great. Today I work along side a (SAP) Business Analyst, and another person who specializes in Application support and training. I frequently interface with the parent company IT group in Japan as well as a few other US sister companies. I travel very lightly which allows me lots of time with my young children at home and just enough away ;)

That's my story and I'm sticking to it - evolution of a Sysadmin.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff,
Great story, interesting you noted the music bit. I am not a musician but I do find that most of my techie friends have an "eclectic" taste in music that my non techie friends do not. I kind of attribute that to the natural exploration characteristic I think most good tech types have. Armed with a large thirst for "knowledge" and the ability to sift through the tubes I believe the tech types tend to stumble on many different types of music.