[Courses] [Careers] My operations path

Chix Career careerchix at yahoo.com
Sun Feb 6 11:31:43 EST 2005

NOTE:  What a dumb a__.  I wondered why this didn't show up...maybe because I sent it to LinuxChix.COM????  Resending a day late with apologies....
Wow, where to start...

In high school I was in the very first "Computer
Science" course offered.  We had TRS-80's and tape
recorders for our "programs".  We did learn to use
Basic, and eventually moved up to DOS loading from
8.25" floppies.  What a joke - most of the time we
played a game where you tried to penetrate a temple in
the jungle.  Never did get in, as by the time you
loaded the game you only had about 5 minutes to play. 
I graduated from high school in 1984.

Fast forward a few years - after starting college too
young and dropping out, then working retail for a
while, I got a job with the State.  Moved into a
Secretary position, and became the first line computer
person in my area because I was interested and
remembered what I had read.  We didn't even have a LAN
- my boss would type a letter, save it on a floppy,
and bring it to me.  I'd format, then print it on
letterhead.  We also used a software package that had
word processing, database and spreadsheet integrated. 
I got pretty good at manipulating databases, and
really good at using Harvard Graphics to create

I also was trained to be an operator on a computer
system we used that required me to get a top secret
security clearance.  To get our secure connection with
the servers in DC, we would open the casket over the
computer, dial a phone number, then pull a paper strip
through a reader to encrypt the session.  Wildly
different from the world of encryption today!

I made some really bad personal decisions while I
worked there, and my working conditions became
intolerable.  In hindsight, I should have filed a
harassment complaint and had someone's job, but I was
young and dumb and didn't have the nerve to do so.  So
I quit and went back to school.  Originally I was
thinking accounting, but the guy who was the head of
IT there told me about MIS, so that's what I went

What a great decision.  Unlike many of the students, I
was interested and engaged and loved the subject. 
This was the early 90's and probably more than half of
the students in the program were only there because
MIS is where the money was.  They hated it.  I felt
sorry for them.  I also got married between my first
and second semesters.

My husband got transferred while I was still in
school, so I changed colleges midstream.  I was able
to go into a compatible program in the new city,
although instead of offering an MIS degree through the
Business school they offered a Bachelor of Business
Administration with an MIS Emphasis.  Whatever, it was
the same deal and all my credits transferred.  During
my last year I picked up an internship with a large
regional bank being the Tape Backup girl.  It didn't
take long before I was bored to tears, and looking for
something else to do once I got the tapes run for the
day.  They had about a 2,500 user Lotus Notes
installation, and one Administrator for the system. 
He asked if he could have me for the hours after I
finished tapes, and my boss said sure.

I learned enough doing that 3-4 hours per day to be
offered a full time job upon graduation.  By then I
was capable of doing anything the full time guy was,
but we absolutely needed both of us because the user
base was growing constantly.  I knew enough to
research what Notes Admins made, and when they tried
to pay me $28k as a starting salary I told them no
way, it was too low, and started at $32.5 instead. 
While I was there our user base grew to over 7,000,
and I became fully certified in Notes Administration.

My husband transferred again, and I asked the list
admin for a very active Notes list if she knew any
good headhunters in the area we were moving to - she
was from there.  She never answered, but when one of
the other list members asked if she knew of an admin
looking for a job she passed him my information.  I
had a phone interview, then an in person interview
during a house hunting trip, and I was hired with a
substantial raise.

I worked full time for that company, but did lots of
consulting work for lots of companies all over the
state.  At the time we were the only Lotus Business
Partner in the area, and I think I was the only person
around with full Principal certification in R4 and R5
in Administration.  That wasn't enough to keep me busy
full time, so I also picked up much of the customer
support for the company.  In addition to the Notes
consulting, we designed and hosted web sites.  Along
with that came email accounts and DNS.

I was very lucky - most of our servers lived with
another company here in town, and they did all of our
DNS and mail.  But, if I asked a question it was
enthusiastically answered.  I was involved in the
building of our RH web server, was taught all about
DNS, and had my SSH keys put on the server as root so
I could do whatever I needed to to configure and test
web sites, SSL certificates, etc.

Things changed with the company I worked for.  They
decided to go to a full Microsoft partner status and
move away from Lotus.  Rather than retrain me, they
chose to lay me off.  I suspect there was some
encouragement from another employee there who (I felt)
was intimidated by me, but I could never prove that. 
I do know that as the company got into more and more
financial trouble, he was one of the first to jump
ship.  Either way, I was afloat and devastated for
about two days.  Then I realized how relieved I was,
how much better I felt, and that I hadn't been happy
for a long time.  They had just forced me to make a
move I was too chicken to make myself.

Less than three weeks after being laid off, the
company that housed the servers I had worked on called
me.  They had a position coming open, and wanted me to
start working for them that very day.  I put them off
for two days because I had promised my niece & nephew
a trip to the zoo, but did come in and hammer out HR
issues and sign my employment contract.  I was
unemployed long enough to collect one check, then was
back to work full time with another nice raise to

Wow!  I learned more in the first three months than I
had in 3 1/2 years of college and 4 years of full time
work.  At the time we ran about 15 Linux servers and
10 Windows boxes.  I don't even know what our count is
now - there are at least 40 machines in the back room,
from NT 4.0 to FC3 to Gentoo on the latest kernel.  I
learned DNS, sendmail, routing, firewalling,
permissions, samba shares, amanda backups (and
restores), how to escape RPM dependency hell, how to
compile and install, shell scripting, MySQL
administration, cron, apache modules and
configuration, enough Perl and PHP to troubleshoot and
tweak code, even IIS configuration and 'Doze
troubleshooting, some MS SQL server administration, 
and who knows how many other things.  Every day I
learned something new, and still do.

I'm not as hands on with Operations as I was six
months ago.  We bought another company and I've moved
into more of a Project and person management role.  I
still have my own projects to do, but have someone
else doing many of the day to day things I was doing. 
Managing people is challenging - I've got one right
now I'm on the verge of firing, and it's really hard,
especially since he's a personable guy.  He's just a
really crappy employee.

I guess if there's a simple thing I'd advise someone
starting out to do, it's to not be afraid to try.  Ask
questions.  Take risks.  Always be willing to learn
new things, and always be honest about what you don't
know.  I have yet to encounter a situation where you
were penalized for saying "I don't know, but I can
find out."

I've written a novel.  Any questions?

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