Definition through profession:


I happen to really like the word 'career'. This is perhaps not so much in its job sense as in that speedier feeling of the word; it's that feeling of full-tilt dashing. Maybe it's because my career seems to have had a lot of that.

This isn't, obviously, a resume; it's more a chronological description of the rushing about I've been doing, and my reactions to it, in my typical stream of consciousness style.

An Informal Description

I'm a UNIX system administrator, and a proud (as of this writing) member of USENIX, SAGE, my guild, and BayLISA.

I haven't updated this page for a tragically long time, and it is probably self-evident from the content of the page why not. No doubt, it will be a tragically long time before I update again.

[January 11, 2000 note: in the cause of strictest accuracy, I will leave the above paragraph in permanently.]

Here's the generic blurb, since it's held pretty true for the last couple of jobs: I'm working somewhere and really busy and we're probably understaffed because it's hard to get enough sysadmins but I really like what I'm doing and I get to run around and do lots of things and learn lots of things. Sometimes there is stress and crisis, but on the whole it's really fun. It's perversely even fun during the crisis.

Right now I'm working in Santa Cruz (!!!) a few minutes away from my newly purchased (or perhaps oldly purchased by the time I get around to updating next) dream house. In other words, my quality of life has gone way up, even though I still work all the time, and even better, my work has a wider scope, is more challenging, and is more interesting and getting me deeper into new fun technologies. I'll forbear detailed description until I have anything of note or amusement.

The saddest recent event was going to Computer Literacy and finding no high-end UNIX magazines there! I had an extensive rant there, but it boils down to "who supports our subculture now"? Luckily I was able to hunt around and; from there it's pretty easy to find a lot of the free UNIX and networking magazines.

I previously worked for Decisive Technology in Mountain View, now actually subsumed into MessageMedia, Inc as a Swiss Army knife (should I say Leatherman instead?) sysadmin, a job that requires no little charging around. I defined new minimums of necessary man- and womanpower for 24x7 site support, got my hands about wrist-deep into Linux, learned more about security than I probably wanted to know (look Ma, white hair!), and have continued to reiterate the truism that necessity is a mother. Through crisis comes growth; I regret it not at all, though a major problem was that it wasn't convenient to my new house, so it was taking a large bite out of my life.

Before that I worked at Sun Microsystems, Inc., in Palo Alto. In October 1997 I made the transition from Operations to Engineering, and busied myself with various things including repackaging HotJavaViews for automatically installing internal distribution.

Especially when working on HotJavaViews, I found it very difficult to explain to nontechnical friends and family what exactly it was I did for a living, which was an odd feeling. "Fixing computers for people" was a nice coherent job description; "packaging HotJavaViews," for most people, might as well be "starfing GarkleJavaWhatever." I'm still trying to come up with an accurate description... perhaps using the plumbing metaphor for system administration? "I teach software how to install itself" doesn't have quite the right tone.

There may not be a place for humans in the future.
If we're really successful.

-- Rodney Brooks, in Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control

Okay, that's actually way too ominous in tone. But wouldn't it be cool to be able to be Homo ludens, playing around while the crystallized cleverness of our various systems handles all the boring work for us? I'm not saying not working, here, since it's hard to imagine people being happy if they're unproductive. But I've been lucky enough to get to do work as play, so why shouldn't everyone? And why shouldn't I get to up the "play" (that is, work that is its own reward) quotient of my own work even higher?

My job before I got into the engineering job was doing general system administration for a group of users, with some time spent on video services, which involved video conferencing and video broadcast over the network both live and from files. I got to have fun with Disk Suite and JumpStart automations and nefarious combinations of the two, as well as lots of other things, and it was all highly educational.

I previously contracted through Taos Mountain Software, which is not in New Mexico, but rather is in Mountain View, California. I recommend them as a contracting agency, especially as they have given many good jobs to friends of mine as well as myself. (Shameless plug alert.)

I spent most of my contracting time with Taos at Sun on the Move Team, although I did spend an extremely caffeinated week at SGI in Mountain View, doing pretty much the same thing that Cera was doing there, only with less experience at it. The caffeine was not so much due to the workload as to the fact that they have espresso machines in the break room and I have little self-restraint when it comes to coffee. Among other useful skills, I learned how to make cappucino. So if I ever get tired of system administration, I can become a barista!

Before that, I worked at NETCOM Online Communications, in more or less commuteworthy San Jose. I was the assistant postmaster and a UUCP administrator, along with Bryant Durrell, then chief postmaster. I rather miss being a postmaster, as the work is an interesting intersection of social and technical engineering, although I never got heavily enough into sendmail. Netcom is where I picked up my expensive yet satisfying O'Reilly habit, as well as a serious addiction to caffeine. (Curse you, Bryant!)

In my larval stage I worked for Netcom as a technical support representative (one of Glee's Goblins). There I learned how to be kind to stressed out people and how to support software I had never seen, the common plight of tech support personnel anywhere. These seem to be useful skills even if, in an ideal world, they shouldn't need to be. But then again, in an ideal world all software would work perfectly and I'd be a billionaire, not necessarily in that order. (And I wonder which one I'd pick if I got my choice of only one?)

Before that I did random work for temp agencies, mostly somewhere between the data entry and random minor technical things level of work, although I did get to do some typesetting and other UNIX work for the UC Santa Cruz Physics Department, and for the Santa Cruz Operation, both in Santa Cruz. (I know that rusty skill with troff is going to come in handy again really soon, oh yes.)

And back when I was an egg, I attended UC Davis with every intention of becoming a genetic engineer. Unfortunately, agricultural allergies (isn't there going to be gene therapy for this someday?) and lack of money prevented this, but I was able to determine that I liked computers better than genetic engineering anyhow. When I have some time free from work (hee!) I intend to finish my education, although a degree has not been required in a career that seems more like Old World apprenticeships than anything else.

Plumbing and System Administration

This is a pretty simple concept; I've been telling people for a while that system administrators are plumbers for computers. This is because one of the goals seems to be in making a computer as easy to use as a hot water tap. Most people, if they don't get hot water out of the tap, or if they don't get any water at all, don't really care why they're not getting it. That's the plumber's job. Keeping that thought in mind makes user-level support easy. (I tend to need to remember not to explain the entire underlying situation unless people want it, so this is a good mnemonic for me.)

Obviously, using a UNIX system isn't nearly as easy as turning on a hot water tap, but in the right environment, it can be easier than driving a car. I'm not fond of the auto mechanic metaphor, though, because it doesn't imply the surrounding infrastructure that plumbing does. Plumbing is pretty inglorious, but so is system administration, when you get right down to it. In both cases, the end user doesn't really care to know the details!

This would imply that architecture is a good handle for a network environment; in designing the environment itself, I'm not so much fixing leaking pipes and dripping faucets as I am figuring out where some of the pipes should be laid and what they should be made out of, so that they don't leak or interfere with other things.

A more glamorous way of putting this is something like WebTone.

A more specific way of putting it can be found at the Systems Administration Body of Knowledge (SA-BOK).

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Last modified: August 30, 1999 /