Tell me about what you do for work.
I am the Network Engineering manager for a regional ISP in Southern California. Basically, this means I manage the staff that keeps the back-end for the network up and running. I also coordinate work with our field techs, sales team, accounting, etc. I also spend a lot of time trying to find ways to make our network for fault resilient, and looks for ways to make it better.
How did you get to where you are?
The US Marines
It is perhaps easiest to start at the beginning of my career: In 1997, after graduating from high school, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, with the promised job of “Small Computer Systems Specialist” after boot camp. In early 1998 I found myself in the Marine Corps’ computer school, which was in Quantico, Virginia at the time. (It has since moved to 29 Palms, California.) After a bit of training, I was stationed on Camp Pendleton, California, and was assigned to the 1st Force Service Support Group (1st FSSG), Network Operations Center. It was there the real training began. Not to say the school was pointless, but you really start learning this stuff when you have to do it for real. I soaked it up, transitioning from Banyan Vines, to the brand-new Windows NT, and on up. I learned coaxial, twisted pair, and even fiber-optic cabling, and played with some of the first consumer grade Wi-Fi stuff on the market. I had to learn mail and database server skills, and by the time I left active duty after eight years of service, I had pretty much done a little of everything, and a lot of core networking (routing, switching, desktops, and servers).
A Plumbing Company
After a brief bit of on-call temp work with Robert Half Staffing, I got a job as the Network Engineer for Executive Plumbing, Heating, and Air, Inc., a regional housing subcontractor with offices in California, Nevada, and Arizona. Here it was much of the same: I was responsible for pretty much doing anything that was needed. Sometimes mistakes were made (like the time I accidentally unplugged the core switch, and took out the corporate LAN for 8 minutes), but I learned a lot more and had fun doing it. The one thing I couldn’t predict was the housing crash, and as the market fell, the company dwindled. When it became clear that advancement (or steady employment for that matter) wasn’t on the table, I took a jump and landed with a local managed service provider (MSP).
Managed Services Provider
An MSP is for small businesses that rely on technology, but aren’t big enough to have a full IT staff. I was the “Senior Network Engineer”, and I maintained both my new company’s own network, and oversaw all the customer networks. If supporting one company is hard, supporting many is like trying to herd cats. More learning, many a late night, and plenty of stress later, it was time to move on. It was fun having a job where you never knew what would be your next task, but too many customers and not enough techs wears you thin, fast. When an opportunity was presented to me by my former boss, for a position as the IT manager for a stable company, I took it.
NavCom Defense Electronics, Inc. had a long history, beginning as Hoffman electronics in the 1950s. When I joined the company, it was to take over IT operations and to modernize their infrastructure. For the next eight years, I was able to grow the internal systems while keeping overall costs down. Changes in how we deploy systems meant using virtualization for the servers, and end-users benefitted from standardization of desktop hardware and centralized licensing. By far, the largest project I took on while there was migrating from a legacy Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to one that was current (the original was put in to place in 1999, and was still running on Windows NT 4.0 in 2013!) This project would take over a million dollars, and nearly 6 months of careful planning, custom software and reporting, and a ton of training time. I developed a custom migration tool that allowed us to switch from one system to the other over the course of one weekend, with all lot-controlled inventory records intact (in aerospace, this is a critical requirement.) This tool also allowed us to pull over old system data as it was required for the rest of the time NavCom was operating. The thing that stick with me the most from my time there was how rewarding it was to be able to juggle the mix of new and cutting edge with older legacy systems that simply could not be replaced and yet were still in use on a day-to-day business. No joke, I had some robotic assembly equipment that had been running on 8088 CPUs until we figured out how to run the control software in DOSBox (vintage gaming emulation!) I was responsible for the day-to-day operations of all the company computers, servers, and connected devices, as well as all the bits that tie them together. On any given day I could have been doing anything from clearing a paper jam deep from inside a photocopier, to creating a custom report on the database sever for the accounting department. In 2019, the bulk of NavCom’s intellectual property and work was sold to a larger company, and once again, it was time to move, this time to Amazon.
Amazon IT Manager
I was an IT Manager for Amazon.com, for about two years. I worked out of three buildings in San Bernardino, CA, managing a team of just over 25 engineers, techs, and assistants in sites that package and ship online orders. Due to the NDAs from Amazon, I’m not fully comfortable discussing the job details in a public forum. I learned a lot, but in the end, it was not a good fit.
So, what technical skills do you have?
Many. After 25 years of doing this, you pick up a thing or two. I have worked on every version of Microsoft Windows since Windows 3.1 and NT Server 3.51. I run Linux servers at work and at home. I have worked on VMware, Hyper-V and Virtual box. Furthermore, I used to hold a Cisco CCNA certification, and took all the CCNP courses (the certification ceased to be important to me after leaving the MSP). I work on Exchange mail servers and SQL database servers almost daily, and have written database reports and stored procedures. I dabble in application development, in C#, Visual Basic .NET, PHP, AutoIT scripting (~3,000 lines of code to migrate data between databases!), and a bit of Java and even COBOL (don’t ask). I am very good at network troubleshooting, and have been doing wireless since there was an 802.11 standard (I even have an FCC Radiotelephone operator’s license). Due to my history of working in small shops, I am also familiar with high and low voltage wiring, and can do solder work for pretty much anything electronic. Oh, and I know a bit about web development, including HTML5, CSS, and stuff like WordPress (which is what this site runs on).