Monday, December 21, 2009

How I got into this in the first place

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.

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