How I got into this in the first place

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How did you get into sysadmin stuff?

The flip answer is, "A case of mono in 1998."

The full answer is that I intended to get into system administration right out of college. When I made the decision to not pursue graduate school, I chose to join the real world. There were several reasons for this, chief among them being that the field I was interested in involves lot of math and I was strictly a C student there. As for what I'd do in the real world, well... by this time I had learned something about myself, something taught ably by the CompSci program I was getting around to finishing.

Broken code makes me angry. Working on broken code all day makes me angry all around. Since programming involves working on code that is by definition always broken, it didn't seem like the right career for me.

Since this was early 1996 when I realized this, I made this decision at a time when I had friends who had skipped college all together to work in internet startups, get paid in stock options, and otherwise make a lot of money. I didn't see much of them except online (those wacky startup death-marches). That wasn't a gravy train I could get on and survive sane. So, no programming career for me. SysAdmin it was!

I paid for my own Certified Novell Administrator (NW4.10 IIRC) that September while I was working temp jobs. One of the temp jobs went permanent in January of 1997, and I was hired at the bottom rung: Help Desk.

This wasn't all bad, as it happened. Our helpdesk had all of 4 people on it at the time, one dispatcher who half-timed with Solaris and Prime admin work, and three technicians. We pretty much did it all. Two of 'em handled server side stuff (NetWare exclusively) when server stuff needed handling, and all three of us dealt with desktop stuff.

Then I got mono in the summer of 1998. I was out for a week. When I came back, my boss didn't believe I was up for the full desktop rotation and grounded me to my desk to update documentation. Specifically, update our Windows 95 installation guides. What was supposed to take a week took about 6 hours. Then I was bored.

And there was this NetWare 3.11 to NetWare 4.11 upgrade project that had been languishing un-loved due to lack of time from the three of us. And here I was desk-bound, and bored. So I dug into it. By Thursday I had a full migration procedure mapped out, from server side to things that needed doing on the desktop. We did the first migration that August, and it worked pretty much like I documented. The rest of the NW3.x to NW4.11 migrations went as easily.

From there it was a slam-dunk that I get into NetWare Sysadmin work. I got into Windows admin that December while I was attending my Windows NT Administration classes. On Monday of Week 2 (the advanced admin class if I remember right) I got a call from my boss telling me that the current NT administrator had given 2 weeks notice and announced he was going on 2 weeks of vacation, and I'd be the new NT guy when I got back from class.

In his defense, he was a Solaris guy from way back and was actively running Linux at home and other places. He had, "I don't do Windows," in his cube for a while before management tapped him to become the NT-guy. When I got his servers after he left I found the Cygwin stack, circa 1998, on all of them. He had his preferences. And he left to do Solaris admin Somewhere Else. He really didn't want to do Windows.

So within 8 months of getting a fortuitous case of mononucleosis, I was a bone-fide sysadmin for two operating systems. Sometimes life works that way.

2 Comments

Chance & dumb luck, and eventually by design.

I'd been doing IT support work since I left the UK equivalent of high school, picking up odd bits of server stuff along the way (little bits of NT/2k, some Linux & a fair chunk of Netware 4.11 and 5.) Just doing what was necessary. Work paid for me to do my CCNA, and within 9 months I was out of there and on to a new job working for an ISP in the NOC team.

That job came about completely by chance, and that was where I got exposed to Linux in great depth for the first time and where I found a particular aspect of computing work that I really, truly, enjoy doing.
Prior to that I did IT because I was good at it, but mostly because I enjoy helping people. Linux, FreeBSD et al I truly enjoy using as much as they can frustrate me.

Once I'd figured that out I set myself a target of getting promoted to the Sysadmin team, and bold as brass spoke to the sysadmin manager to find out what his advice was. He suggested a few areas to focus on, such as Exim that was used a lot internally, and I ploughed my way through relevant books, and set about trying to find projects to do for NOC that would get attention further up the chain.

It worked, I got noticed and the opportunity was opened for me to go to sysadmin. From there it's always been a question of anticipating or in worst case reacting to needs and cramming in whatever knowledge is necessary to get the job done.

Thanks for sharing, both of you, it's always interesting to me how people "get here from there." It seems as if so many in this field start with skill, a touch of brilliance, and a random act of God like mono and/or predecessor quitting abrubtly :)

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