Lessons learned from a long IT career

What do you mean I have to introduce myself?! Isn't it patently obvious that I'm a networking genius? (Part 2 of 2)

In a career that has, so far, spanned about 30 years, I've watched IP and networking change significantly over the years. A few readers have asked me about my background, pointing out that my glib biography posted to the right seems thin. Fair enough … the bio is thin, the experience is not.  In part one, I documented my history beginning with my first encounter with a computer at age 7, my first job as a BASIC programmer to the point where I enlisted in the military.  

Michael Thompson Military
I got lucky:  When I joined the Army, I managed to get (and hold on to!) a rarely open slot for what was then referred to as a “Data Processing Programmer/Analyst Specialist Grade 1”, military occupational specialty (MOS) 74F10.  I was trained at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, IN. to be a COBOL programmer, and for the next 3 years worked on Army MIS.  First stationed at Ft. Belvoir, Va. as  a member of Headquarters Annex, U. S. Army Computer Systems Command, the center of Army computing at the time.  This was where the Army developed and deployed logistical and administrative software for the field using the early version of AUTODIN (Pre-IP networking!).  I spent my time divided between writing software to track unit training and being Tier 1 customer support. 

Two years later, I was transferred to the 2nd Armored Division (Fwd) Division Data Center.  All the stuff I'd helped work on at USACSC, I was now using from day-to-day.  Operational computing took place on an IBM 360/40 installed in two tractor trailers, one for the DASD/9-track tape drives and one for the CPU/printer/console.  It could driven out to a field location, and the only time this happened during my  stay in Germany, the van carrying the CPU managed to get a whole 200 meters from our DDC compound, then sheared an axle.  The resulting bounce to the mainframe caused it to shear about half of the hand-frapped connections in the processor.  It took IBM's European SE's almost 6 months to bring it back on line, and we wound up driving about 100 kilometers daily to process the day's work in Bremerhaven.  After a year, the Army and I came to an accomodation:  I would go back to being a civilian, and they would stop harassing me about my weight.

Back in the U. S., the next decade or so was spent working in Metropolitan New York in both the private and public sectors.  All of the jobs involved doing COBOL programming and CICS (an early UI, still in use via TN3270 emulators).  Programmers were using TSO to write code at this time, a lot of data processing  was still batch-oriented although user interfaces and re-entrant code were becoming prevalent in the workplace.  Structured programming was the industry standard at the time, and the relational database was becoming commonplace.  Along the way, I met my future wife, had my best friend murdered, and other completely irrelevant (to you) things took place.  We moved out of NYC in 1989, shortly after deciding that having children was a priority.

Moving to Maryland, I started out as a private contractor, then scored a job with the Maryland Department of Transportation.  Well, technically we were part of the Motor Vehicle Administration, but would you admit that?  It was at MDOT that I found an opening for this position, 'network administrator'?  For the next 4 years, I was one of the MDOT WAN administrators, working with all sizes of Cisco gear from the (then) top-of-the-line 7500 and Catalyst 1000 devices at our headquarters in Glen Burnie, MD to the SOHO devices used in small remote offices across the state.  I spent those 4 years helping expand our network's reach, hooking the department up to the Internet, configuring our first firewall and virus scanning servers, and migrating our entire IP address structure from public addresses to private addresses in the class B range. 

In 1997, I accepted a position as Director of Campus and Network Systems at the Maryland Institute, College of Art.  Their existing network was a hodgepodge of T-1 and private ISDN lines connecting a square mile campus.  After a deal worked with Adelphia, I began migrating to 100Mb fiber.  This project ran through 2001, when I struck out into the SOHO market with my own firm, offering IT/network support.  At this time, WiFi was beginning to penetrate  into the home/office market with 802.11B, and mobile phones were just beginning to offer Internet access.  After weathering the market for a couple of years, I took a tech support position with a local ISP, then a sys/network admin position with a Fortune 100 bank.  Working a day shift in their NOC, I helped tend thousands of network nodes in branches and back offices.  Cisco played a significant part in their day-to-day operations, and as far as I know, still does.

So here I am today.  As I mentioned already, I've watched IP and networking change significantly over the years, mostly for the better.  What have I learned?  Here's a few of the highlights:

  • When something goes 'blooie', check the physical layer first!!
  • As a programmer, I was under the mistaken impression that not documenting something amounted to job security.  No more.  Document, and keep it updated!
  • As good as your skills may be, working with your peers will make everybody better.
  • There is no such thing as a dumb question.
  • Communicate!  Keep your supervisor and co-workers in the loop, and don't hold back anything.
  • You never stop learning, so if you think you know it all, go back and look again.  You missed something.
  • Practice random acts of kindness toward your co-workers.  You'll feel better, and they'll be more inclined to regard you in a better light.
  • Be polite!  The surly 'IT Guy' is a myth, and needs to stay one! 

Dig out your copy of Electric Pencil, and let me know what's your background taught you?

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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