… to work at Stack Exchange

… to be a PowerShell MVP

… to present at conferences

… to be a guest on or to host a podcast

… to get to play with all the newest technologies

It’s Not Just Luck!

I started in IT in what is both an uncommon path and a familiar tale.  It was the old tale of a boy growing up and seeing his first Apple II computer and falling in love with the things.  As I grew up, my school got some Apple IIe computers and since I knew more than the teachers about them, I set up and ran the computer lab (while I was in 6th grade).  As I got to high school, I discovered DOS and the IBM-compatibles.  After high school, I veered away from computers and dropped out of college after a few semesters.  I found my way into working as a landscaper for a garden center and floral shop.  In a few short months, I became immersed in the floral and garden business.  I was the store manager by mid-fall my first year there and by early the next year, I was a part-owner in the business.  After eight fun years there, where my only use of a computer was some email and using excel to do my payroll and accounting work, I decided to get married.  That decision forced me to make a choice about my career path.

I decided to go into law enforcement.  I was going to school to be a cop and working at a police department as a dispatcher and then as a clerk.  Working at a desk with a computer rekindled my interest in all things technological.  I began to read about systems administration, programming, and most interestingly computer security and computer crime.  I set up a home lab.  Since I was a student, I could get an MSDN subscription for cheap at that time, so I bought a cheap computer and began to put different OSes on it.  I played with both Microsoft OSes and Linux variants.  My boss, the late shift lieutenant at the time, was responsible for the IT infrastructure for the department and I asked him if the department would authorize me to go to some computer forensics training.  When he noted my interest in computers, I was co-opted into helping him with the day to day administration of our environment as well.  Thus began my descent into a career in IT.

The real transition happened when our agency (read my boss) decided to migrate to a new records management and computer-aided dispatch solution.  I was “asked” to attend meetings with my boss and fill in when he was unavailable.  He began to be unavailable more and more frequently and soon the project was mine.  I was responsible for the successful implementation of the software, the migration of our old data, the training of our all of users, the availability of that software in our squads, and the coordination of our efforts with other police agencies in our area who were making a similar transition.  

There wasn’t much time for formal training classes (though I did get sent to a two day seminar on Windows Server 2003).  I had to study and learn on my own.  I learned C#, python, and T-SQL.  I learned switching and routing and how to configure firewalls.  I learned about source control.  I learned about server tuning and administering SQL Server.  Most of this had to be done off-hours, as my “day” job (I worked late shift - often 7 days a week since we were short handed and I was usually training a potential new clerk), meant I had to fit all my project work into my 8 or 12 hours that I was at the police department.  Did I mention I was carrying a full course load in Police Science at the time as well?

As the project moved on, I was officially able to take on a role of IT Specialist for the department (previously, I had to cover clerical work as well).  Then I could start focusing on the real meat of IT.  I’ll admit that I was very luck that my boss gave me a ton of support and the freedom to tackle projects.  In return, I had to keep things available almost continuously and make sure IT wasn’t blocking any endeavors the police department wanted to do. 

I learned a ton doing that job, but I was responsible for my learning.  No one came to me and said, “You must learn x.”  Because I went and learned “x”, I was able to take on more and more responsibility.  

I also realized that what was enabling me to learn was that others were sharing their knowledge, via books, blogs, and podcasts.  That’s why I blog, podcast (first the Mind of Root and now Ops All The Things), and train and speak at conferences and user groups.  I need to share what I’ve learned to help others in their attempts to improve their skills.  Speaking at conferences and on the podcast was not easy for me.  I’m an introvert by nature and not inclined towards public speaking.  I felt that if people found what I had to share was valuable, it was my obligation to do so.

So What?  That’s Just Me (Or Is It?).

I’m sharing this because I’m not some unique snowflake.  I’m not a special case.  I’ve had the opportunities that have come up, not just because of luck (there is some of that), but because the things I’ve done allow me to take advantage of those opportunities.  

Because I’ve been a relentless learner and sharer of that learning, I’ve been in a position where companies will come to me and ask me to work with them or I can approach the companies I want to work with.  

Because I’m willing to share my thoughts and my experiences, I came to the attention of the guys at Stack Exchange and was able to land a dream job.  

Because I share the tooling and patterns I find valuable, I garnered enough attention from the PowerShell team to be awarded an MVP award (three years now).

Because I’m willing to set aside my discomfort of being in front of people or my fear of saying something stupid, I’m able to speak at conferences and publish podcasts (or be the guest on other peoples’ podcasts).

Because I’m willing to spend some of my time learning the new technologies, I’m able to take advantage of  opportunities to use that new technology, sometimes in production.

Your career is in your hands.  

You determine what is possible for you.  Your choices about where you spend your time, what you choose to learn, or what excuses you make determine where your career goes.  If you abdicate responsibility for your career growth and put that solely on your boss or employer and your career stagnates, that is YOUR fault.  Yes, employers should look to nurture their employees and grow them into greater roles, but it’s your life.  

  • Do not cede control for your betterment to others.  
  • Improve your skills and knowledge.
  • Then share that with others.

Sharing your knowledge and skills benefits not just those you are communicating with.  You have an opportunity to refine your knowledge of a topic or your skills.  Questions raised allow you to delve into areas you weren’t sure of before or to look at something with a fresh perspective.

Enough ranting for today.. talk to you again soon.