When Technology Came Alive
Like many that end up in the tech field there is the creation story. The defining moment when tech was identified as being far more interesting than becoming a Fireman or a Doctor.
In middle school I had my first experience with programming, the teacher was captivating, and the material was foreign, but exciting. It was the year of Basic. This year was not where I shifted my life path, but rather later, in High School, when that same teacher put me and four other students in charge of the newly installed Unix lab that was donated by Bell Labs. This is when things began to get interesting and it was the first time I strayed from the straight and narrow to climb through ceiling tiles in order to see the epic machine that powered our lab.
From there, one of my first job experiences was with ConfreTech. This was the bridge between computer aided conferencing and the telecommunication switching stations of the past. Our prime directive was to create an environment where large companies could gather investors together for earnings releases. The job was not nearly as glamourous to work as it sounded to those around me. Most of my peers at the time assumed I worked tech magic all day and in reality I just used a computer to call a bunch of people and then monitor their line and connection quality.
I did not jump right into continuing my education, but rather waited almost six years before deciding it was time to formalize my knowledge in tech. I signed up to get a degree in Management of Information Systems. My first class was an introduction to programming where I was first introduced to C++. I was in a sea of students and yet this is the class where my professor tracked me down to find out why I was an MIS student and not in CS.
While I took Calculus in High School, I did not have a great experience with the teacher and it was for this reason that I feared math. My professor laughed and said that he would be available for hours upon hours if needed to get me through the math, he said a programming talent such as mine should never be wasted over a little math.
I took my first Calculus class, never asked my professor for help, and just kept chugging along. I have no idea what did not make sense the first time around, but Calculus was like programming. It is elegant, systematic, and dare I might say FUN.
When I was in second year of school, I suddenly was faced with the need for a full time job. I knew I was about three semesters away from graduating, but I threw myself into the interview process and found a home rather quickly at mapquest.com.
I am not sure what I said in the interview, but I will forever be grateful for the experience that I gained at MapQuest. I started work in 1999 as an Internet Engineer, with the prime focus of updating to the new design. If you were using MapQuest at the time you might also remember what I lovingly refer to as “The Purple Years”.
Alas, my time at MapQuest was not destined to last long. Shortly after I was hired AOL stepped in and started negotiating the purchase of MapQuest. Shortly after that purchase, as in my acquisitions a substantial layoff happened. Yep, last one in the door usually becomes first one out of the door.
I was left with looking for another job, but I still did not have my degree. At the time, I was about six months from completing it. I took a chance and applied to a company that only accepted college graduates, knowing that I just might be without a job for a few months.
I started with Raytheon under the guise that while I was waiting for my clearance to come through I could study and finish up my degree. Talk about a win-win. Not only did I get to study, but I was going to be paid to study.
That lasted about two weeks…
Not the one you are thinking of, but rather a special project that was being commissioned to flesh out the abilities of a program called DataViews. It was myself and two other engineers that were invited to start work on this project right away. There went my study time!
In the end, this program provided high visibility that followed me throughout my career with Raytheon.
Once the project was complete the three of us needed a new team. We were lucky and the team that we had been sitting close to adopted us. We did not need our clearances to start, so away we went.
Shortly after joining the team, I gained my Bachelor in Computer Science. At this point, it was rather a dot at the end of a long sentence. I was already in the thick of millions of lines of code and implementing fixes to very complex problems.
It was during this time that I was “adopted” by the astrophysicists, not just one, but three of them. I became their go-to programmer to implement the code fixes and new architecture that they needed. I would spend hours upon hours with them learning the ins and outs of what I needed to translate to C, C++ and Fortran. In the end, one of the biggest projects I worked on was writing a Monte Carlo algorithm.
As I became more familiar with the future needs of the library I was working on, I started to gather up all the astrophysicists and other interested parties to identify coding and testing standards for our base orbital dynamics library.
This was something that I looked at as an everyday occurrence and yet later I was speaking with our Director and she wanted detailed information on how I “pulled it off”. She wanted to know how I was able to get such high powered individuals into a single room and even further get them to agree on an action plan. I guess it is something that had been in the works for years, and I was the first one to actually accomplish a real step forward.
A Step Up
The next step was to become the Lead on the Orbital Dynamics team for one of the ongoing projects. I had big shoes to fill as I genuinely respected the engineer that held the role before me.
As life would have it, I would not remain in that role very long before I had to pause for an addition to our family. I jumped right back into work, but six months in it was determined that I needed to take a few months off to sort out why our new little was refusing to eat during the day.
The week that I was to return we received news that not only would we have one new little, we would have two joining us before the close of the year. The proverbial throwing up of hands and I stepped away from Raytheon for good.
I will forever miss that episode in my tech journey. I joke now that I was always the dumbest person in the room, simply to emphasize the level of intelligence and skill that I was constantly surrounded by.
Enter the years of being the parent to three very small kids and taking on the world of consulting. This was a very busy time, but many skills were developed.
Primarily, our little freelance firm specialized in providing education on social media marketing, WordPress blogging, and we dabbled in the world of search engine optimization before it got crazy.
There wasn’t a tech job too small, as a matter of fact we developed an interface into an Access Database for a graduate student that was looking to streamline his queries.
Our company stepped up where others would not. We filled the gap in our small community for the odd ball development jobs and the simple education on how to promote a business online.
During the freelance years I was offered an opportunity to continue my education. With very limited technology choices at our local university, I opted to get my Master’s in Business Administration with a focus on Entrepreneurship.
My thesis was very different from my cadre of graduates. I worked on a the very esoteric problem of valuation of technology in the small MSA we worked and resided in. My paper demonstrated how we had a university capable of supplying the education, but for each graduate of a technical degree they would need to leave the area in order to be employed.
I presented my paper after it was peer reviewed at the Mountain Plains Management Conference that gathered professors from several states. I was asked to continue on for my PhD, but at the time, I was already wanting a more technical degree and the only opportunity I would have is in education, so I opted for moving on.
I took my degree seriously and made the move to purchase a franchise shortly before the graduation ceremonies. It was not in the tech field, but it was a business that I had been working with for last few years and felt I could make a very positive impact on the community.
So entered the days of BNI (Business Network International). I spent my days educating business owners on how to increase their business through “word of mouth marketing” and strengthen their “referral based business”.
During this time, I increase the overall business transactions from $49,000 a year to having one chapter alone passing $1M in a single year. The membership numbers quadrupled during this time.
I was recently reminiscing about how when I bought the region it was one up from dead last globally. As the business grew, I saw it hit number 20 out of 400 in that same list.
Brief Mortgage Intermission
It is not usually on my resume, because it confuses people, but when you live in a very small community you become very adept at finding ways to survive. There came a period of time when my family needed medical insurance and the fastest way to make that happen was for me to become a Mortgage Broker.
I studied for just under thirty days and sailed through the very difficult exam. I spent two years in mortgages. During that time I had many people ask I how I imbued a sense of calm into such a difficult time.
I cherish the lessons I learned during this time. It was at a very difficult transition where new regulations were hitting monthly. It became a battle to support the right decision and I always prided myself in being the best advocate a client could have during that time.
Even though I was a low man on the totem pole I found myself speaking to the Director level frequently and often it led to organizational changes.
Move to Texas
The move to Texas put everything on hold for me. I spent the first year in Texas selling my BNI business. In the end I tripled the value of the business in the five years I worked with it.
I contemplated continuing my mortgage career here, but decided that my passion really wasn’t in mortgages. It would always be in tech.
The intention was to immediately start looking for a job in our new tech hub town, but there were several complications that kept putting that decision off.
I did not go silently into the night, however. I spent my time learning Python, Data Science, strengthening my Linux skills, reacquainting myself with C++…there were many tech ideas that swarmed around in my head.
Red Hat Certification
Sometimes an opportunity knocks that you don’t expect. My husband’s company was in desperate need of qualified system administrators. So I picked up a Red Hat RHEL 6 certification book to study. I read the entire book, did all the labs, and could have taken the exam (had it not been retired for several years).
While I prepared myself for a potential interview I cam across the book my Evi Nemeth, et. al “Unix and Linux System Administration Handbook” and I started reading it. I finished the book in record time and felt I was prepared for an interview.
In the end, the hiring manager said he thought I would be too bored in the role given my qualifications.
It was at this point that I had a decision to make. I could just drop Linux System Administration, or I could continue, but study a relevant release. I decided to pick up the RHEL 7 book. I read the book, did all the labs, you know the entire drill and RHEL 8 was released.
Again, another decision to make. At the time there were no officially published study guides for RHEL 8, but I knew if I wanted to be relevant I needed to study for the 8 exam.
I scheduled my exam and studied hard for a little over three months. I was going well beyond what I needed to study to pass the test, I wanted to be able to be a good sysadmin, so I dived deep.
In the end, on December 13, 2019, I was awarded my Red Hat Certified System Administrator for RHEL 8.
The funny thing was that I was the only one in the room that was 100% positive that I had passed. I had no doubt in my mind. Sometimes diving deeper than you need to wields powerful results.
I have a split focus as I look for a company that understands my diverse skills will be an asset. No, I won’t get bored, but I will find things to improve and automate.
Right now, I am studying for two additional certifications:
Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Solutions Architect (Associate)
Red Hat Certified Engineer RHEL 8
I feel with the addition of Ansible skills and those of the cloud I will round out my admin skills and be well on the path of becoming a valuable addition to any sysop team.