Home > Jobs, Real Life > Job: Live-In System Administrator

Job: Live-In System Administrator

Once upon a time, in my household, there was one computer. And it was good. Each family member took their turn and shared equally. But then, the wicked son began to take and take and take, consuming every moment with his use of the computer. Thus the benevolent and kind King Patrick decreed that there should be a network of computers, so that the entire thralldom need not depend on a single one.

And this, kids, is where the fairy tale ends. As anyone who’s ever done IT work knows, as soon as you start hooking up computers, problems start springing out of the air. With a network of computers that consist, in part or in whole, of tech thrown away by other IT departments, it gets even hairier.

In time, with my knowledge from various computing and networking classes taken at school, I ended up doing the vast majority of the networking installation and maintenance. This was mostly my decision: I did the jobs for the same reason I fiddle with programming outside of class: the hack value. It was fun to figure out how to do something either a) productive and practical or b) useless but elegant.

Sometime after I got my two other real jobs, this came to be jokingly referred to as a third such form of employment, where instead of wages, I get room and board provided, and occasional bonuses, such as a new 19″ LCD monitor or some new sticks of RAM. But, while these help, the real rewards aren’t material.

The first real payment, as mentioned earlier, is the pure hacker joy of getting the computers to work together just right. It’s just plain good fun. Now, this is usually disproportionately imbalanced by the overwhelming frustration that can come from a given problem, but that’s just part of the process, I suppose. And it makes the lightbulb moment of success all the more rewarding.

The other return on these investments that I’ve found is that it sounds good in an interview. I actually ran into exactly this a week ago today when I had a job interview over at SAS for one of their various summer positions. When asked questions about what sort of networking experience I have, I was able to, for example, easily prattle on about the headless Linux print server that I’ve set up to serve our home network. Later in the interview, when I was asked how I would troubleshoot network problems, I was able to generalize and summarize exactly what I’d done the previous week when I worked through the night to track down why the print server stopped printing after a power failure.

This is, of course, a potential career option for me, and one that I’ve not shut the door on by any means. However, solving these kinds of problems for a living, as well as having to solve the mundane ones (“I think I crashed the Internet.”) seems like it could be taxing on one’s sanity. But it also could be very rewarding, when your job every day is put things together and make them work.

There’s just something about that that’s somehow appealing.

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Categories: Jobs, Real Life
  1. Greg Hunt
    April 21, 2007 at 7:30 am

    You’ve definitely been bitten by the bug! Yea, playing around with computers is just plain fun, I agree. For me it’s like working on a big jigsaw puzzle, trying to get all the pieces to fit together just right to make a cool picture in the end. The other part I really like is that there’s always something new to learn, so I rarely get bored in my job. Sometimes I’m amazed that they pay me to do this stuff. Now, can you help me figure out what this little green blinking light means?

  2. April 26, 2007 at 4:47 am

    It’s definitely frustrating at times. The key to remember is that no matter what field you want to go into, to continue to learn and progress. I’m at apoint in my career where I wouldn’t normally consider a hel desk job. I’ve done that, and it was fine, but I’ve steered my career into infrstructure and IT Operations rather than IT Support.

    And considering bang for the buck, IT is still a good way to go because you make enough money to thoroughly enjoy the times when you’re not working for a paycheck.

    In short, if you like this stuff in the first place, the frustrationas and bad days are more than outweighed by the advantages and the good days.

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