SysAdmin's Journey


I’ve been into computers my whole life. In 1998, I graduated with a major in CIS from UNK. As my first job out of school, I started working for Cable USA, a dial-up and cable ISP in Kearney, NE. I was really lucky to get that job - I was completely underqualified, but I guess I interview well. The ISP was in sad shape - the web developer was the acting Sysadmin, and he didn’t even know how to code (unless you count FrontPage as code), let alone know any networking and server administration. I learned a tremendous amount of knowledge in a small amount of time. I focused first on Windows NT 4.0 - things like Domains, MS Proxy Server, etc. From there I branched out to IP - learning subnetting, routing, switching, as well as IP services such as DNS, SMTP, POP3, RADIUS, etc. Once I kinda got those things under wraps, I started working with the networking gear, Cisco IOS, 3COM Total Control, HP Procurves and the like.

While learning Cisco, I realized how much I missed the command line interface - probably leftovers from my days of MS-DOS. It was that yearning, coupled with my growing disdain for Microsoft’s BSOD’s and general lack of security conscience that drew me to Linux.

I bought the Red Hat Linux 5 Bible, downloaded an iso, and got cracking. I threw it on an old desktop, and started trying to familiarize myself with it. Anytime I was faced with a choice of learning how to do a task, I always made sure that it was done via the CLI. I believe this choice was the most important choice I made concerning in my early days, and it was the right one. Once I got my legs underneath me, I put myself to task to convert an old 486 into a Linux firewall using ipchains. I had only a 256MB hard drive, which a full RHL install wouldn’t fit into, so I had to learn what all the packages were, and whether I could do without them or not - another huge learning experience early on. Anyways, the firewall worked, and worked well. At one point it had over a year’s uptime, which was ruined by a power outage in the neighborhood. Oh well. I continued working with Red Hat Linux at my job, always further distancing myself from Microsoft products.

I got married, bought a house, and adopted a cat. I got horribly burnt out on my job. I was the only one there who had the knowledge level to troubleshoot any problem past a level 2 tech support call. Our budget was miniscule, and I quickly discovered the owner’s mentality was very much the antithesis of mine - I’d rather spend a little extra and do things right the first time; they would rather spend as little as possible to get by, and spend anything left over on expansion (without hiring anyone else). I was quickly working way too many hours out of the day, and grew to hate my pager. After a year and a half, I had learned all I was going to learn - I was too busy fighting all the little fires to see the forest anymore, let alone nurse it back to health.

I then started working for Marshall Engines - an engine remanufacturer also based in Kearney. It was just what the doctor ordered - something nice and quiet. My coworkers were great, and the atmosphere was very lax. I actually got bored, and decided I needed to learn something new. PHP3 was all the rage, so I bought some books and got to work. In working with PHP, I was also introduced to MySQL. Pretty cool stuff! I attempted to start a LUG (Linux User’s Group) but it fizzled due to lack of interest. Marshall Engines was great for the first 6 months. I needed that downtime badly. By the time 18 months rolled around, I was sick with boredom.

The big news around town was that Charter Communications was going to buy out Cable USA. I was actually debating on applying, when the COO of Cable USA asked me to lunch. Turns out that Charter wasn’t buying all of Cable USA’s properties, just the Nebraska ones. After the Charter buyout, the owners were going to get out of the business. The COO and the son of the owners were going to start anew - starting out with what Charter didn’t take, and building from there. I yearned for a challenge, and the salary was good, so I went back to USA Companies for the first time. Things were much better this time. I was challenged, given a bigger budget, and answered directly to the owners. I further bolstered my resume, working with more Cisco gear, higher end x86 servers, and Netscreen (now Juniper) appliances. Out of pure necessity, I started learning Perl. I ended up writing a program that used Net::SNMP to communicate with DOCSIS modems as well as CMTS’s to correlate diagnostic data. I setup my first Nagios install, my first Cacti install, and many other OSS applications I can’t remember. In my free time, I developed some patches for the open source project m0n0wall - I wrote the “Magic Shaper Wizard”, and commited some VPN, DHCP and other patches. After 4 years with USA Companies, I wasn’t burnt out, but I was still missing something. I still had no peers that knew anywhere near the same amount that I did, and the network was growing to the point where I didn’t have too much time to spend learning new stuff anymore. I was working with Microsoft products more than I cared to, and I realized that I had climbed as far as I was going to get in the job. But, Brendie and I had just moved into a new house, and shortly after Jessa was born. To say we had pretty deep roots in Kearney was an understatement - we both love the community and wouldn’t want to raise a child anywhere else. So, if I’m tied to Kearney, where could I possibly get a better job?

I updated my Monster resume, and nothing happened for a month or two. Well, I guess I did get asked if I wanted to interview for an insurance sales position in Grand Island. I politely declined ;-) Then finally, the call came. It was a recruiter, calling for a Unix Systems Administrator position at a retail and e-commerce shop headquarted in Kearney. The salary was great, but I knew I was underqualified. I hadn’t worked with Solaris and Oracle, which they wanted. I shot for the moon, updated my resume, and never heard back. Damn. Well, I was positive that the position was available at Buckle, Inc. - this may come as a surprise, but there’s not too many retail/e-commerce headquarters in Kearney. I’m stubborn, and I knew that working for Buckle was probably my only real option for advancing in Kearney. I set my home page to their jobs & careers page, and a couple of months later, another Unix Systems Administrator position opened. This time I made the interview, and got the job. I started in December of 2005, and have loved every day of it since. I have peers - a lead Sysadmin who’s been doing this for more years than I can count, a junior Sysadmin who is soaking up my knowledge like a sponge, and a team of Java developers that all know their stuff. I’ve been able to contribute a lot back to the company in my knowledge of Linux and Perl. Since starting at Buckle, I’ve learned a lot about Java tweaking and tuning, and Solaris systems administration. Many of my posts here are based on my learning of Solaris, Sun hardware, and Java optimization. 

I’ve done a lot of work in Drupal.  I maintain a handful of modules - the most popular of which is Node Gallery and is used by more than 2,500 sites and is a top 400 module.  I was a regular in #drupal-nebraska and #drupal-contribute on Freenode, and have contributed to the Mercury project, and have done some moonlight consulting as well.

As of late, I’ve been drinking a lot of the devops Kool-Aid. I’m quite proficient in Puppet, use mcollective daily, participate in Kanban standups, and can whip up a Vagrant box using veewee in my sleep. You can usually find me in #infra-talk on Freenode.