How I got into the world of IT and where I'm going

So, I work in IT.

This is a pretty vague statement, to me and probably to others. Information Technology (IT) is a very broad field and people that work in it often contain varied skillsets or sometimes very specialized skillsets. The skillset often depends on how they got into IT, who they've worked for, what they've had to do over the years, and where they'd like to go in their career. I'm not going to seek to define that here, just show how I got caught up in the mysterious world of IT

Let's use me as an example. I'm not an IT badass and I've never really focused on IT until recent years when it really became something I could make a living off of and enjoy sometimes. I was just a hobbyist and the computer guy for friends and family until then.



I always say that my start in the IT world came at a young age. When I was but a child of barely 8 (around 1991-92) I took apart and put back together in working order my family's first computer, an old IBM PS/2. From then I followed in my older brother's foot steps to a small degree. Playing MUDs and text-based RPGs via Telnet using the Telex floppy we would get from the monthly local computer magazine at the grocery store. I was a bit hands off since I didn't get to have the computer in my room like my older brother did, but I still managed to get to break in to old shoddy security Telnet systems by watching him without any explicit instructions. However, he was the one busted for file sharing and doing the same much more often. No lasting effects came of that, just FYI. He and I both work in IT but have taken very separate paths. I work in the corporate world and he's working in computer retail as well as, to my knowledge, non-intrusive hobbyist hacking on the side - classic games and ROM hacking for translation purpose. Neither of us did particularly well in college.

In an odd way, I can kind of thank the movie Hackers for inspiring me despite many of its gross inaccuracies and silly portrayal of the hacker scene in the 90s. I really won't go into any details or try to make myself look like a badass, because I wasn't. I was, for lack of a better term, a bit of a script kiddie and using tools that others developed. I did do a lot of reading but I've always been like that. I've never been hard into coding. The most coding I've done is HTML/CSS and batch scripting in Windows. I did work in the mid-late dotcom boom (around 1999-2001) as a web designer but nothing big or meaningful in anyway. I didn't do anything like Kevin Mitnick or even my older brother. I was, for all intents and purposes, a poseur.

So, fast-forward to my senior year in high school, 2001-2002. I'm spending my last year of grade school in a small West Virginia high school that somehow is offering CompTIA and Cisco-approved courses for the A+ and CCNA certifications, respectively. Having worked in and around computers for years now already, I coast through the A+ class but actually learning quite a bit in the Cisco class. There were a few of us in both classes who were above them from a knowledge standpoint. Thankfully, our teacher understood this and would let us slack off because we would just be distracted anyways. In our brilliance, we setup the computer lab to be a giant StarCraft LAN center and would spend free periods playing SC being complete dicks to each other. Ahhh, high school.

So, one day our teacher was tasked with "ghosting" dozens of old computers that were still usable to be distributed across the school's classrooms and asked for my help as well as a few friends' for extra credit. I had no idea what ghosting was at the time. Now I call it imaging. They had the standard image highly compressed on a CD and booting these machines up from a Windows 95 floppy boot disk. The CD had the Norton Ghost software on it but was not made bootable for some reason. At the time, the teacher nor anyone else could figure out why they couldn't boot the software. Having played with boot disks in the past for various troubleshooting issues, I told them it was because the Windows 95 disk didn't have the DOS CD-ROM drivers on it but the Windows 98/SE boot disks did. So we made a handful of these disks and the Ghost CD then proceeded to image tons of old Compaq desktop PCs. My buddies Chad (Kayshin), Nathan (Colonel Mustard), and myself (Shenlong) deployed the PCs during free our periods. As you can see by our nicknames, we were badasses. I still talk to Chad sometimes.

In high school, I also spent a lot of time smoking pot, drinking alcohol, playing hacky sack, and tinkering with computers in general at friends' houses who lived in the country off the beaten path. It was good times and I was able to teach myself a lot. I had horrible taste in music.

I spent a year off of school after high school. Got a job and lived the life of a slacker for the most part. Had a failed relationship with my girlfriend of the time (she cheated) and learned Photoshop 5-7 on a souped up Packard Bell computer with 48MB of RAM, a 64MB PCI Radeon 7000 (iirc), a 200MHz Celeron, and Windows 2000 Pro. I went to college after that year, though. I started out majoring in graphics design due to the whole Photoshop thing.

The funny thing is that I'm colorblind. Being colorblind and working near anything design or art related is going to end with you looking like an idiot. Then being laughed at for being colorblind, in a jovial not insulting sense. I'm used to it since only ~3% of the male population is colorblind of any sort. So I pursued some of my other many interests. The college I went to, Concord College (now University), required students to take at least one sociology and one psychology course as part of most any degree program. So, I switched my major a couple times from psychology then to sociology. I enjoyed both a lot and even completed a minor in sociology (maybe psychology). They really opened my eyes up a bit and have helped me a lot about understanding others in my adult life and career, regardless of any social anxiety I experience.

However, I would not stick to psychology or sociology as my majors. During 2005-2006 I made a horrible decision and decided to go to ECPI, a technical college. All it got me was a few credits, 12k more in debt, and a pretty bad year. Lesson learned about "technical" or vocational colleges, they're a money trap and not worth it. The best thing I did while going to ECPI in Virginia Beach, VA was kind of connecting with my oldest brother as well as doing an online talk radio show. I setup a SHOUTcast server and used SAM Broadcaster to do the queue and stream. It was really fun and we were usually drinking. We called it B-Ramzit and the Power Hour. I was the faithful producer Ducky the Ninja. Ducky came from how my niece Caitlyn pronounced my name as a small child and it's kind of stuck in the family. While there I also managed two work a two day contract project of mounting and upgrading wireless APs and devices for a couple DSW shoe stores. Yeah, first professional IT experience!

In the end, I transferred back to Concord. I really love that place and miss it a lot at times. When I went back I decided to major in Electronic Media and Journalism. This major included going through audio production, video production, news writing, and being a DJ. I was known as Ducky the Ninja on air where I did some talk radio and played an eclectic assortment of music. I have this, sometimes bad, habit of cleaning up computers where ever I go if I'm able. The radio station basically ran off of an old PC hooked up to an 8 channel control board. It was really fun. I learned a bit about audio production in a small class for that exact subject.

At the same time I was also a contributing writer to the Concordian, Concord's newspaper. I was a bit controversial with some of my opinion pieces that seemed to echo student sentiments. I somehow managed to become responsible for updating the Concordian website as well as maintaining the Macs in the Concordian office. I upgraded an old PowerMac G3 tower to the latest version of OS X at the time there so that there could be two usable computers with Quark and Photoshop in the office (the other was a G5 iMac desktop). By doing that I was some kind of wizard. It wasn't until later in 2007 that I decided I'd like to try to pursue that as a career option because journalism and the need for news writers at my level then weren't exactly in demand.

One of my extra-curricular activities outside of radio and newspaper was being a part of my college's Linux Users Group (LUG). I've never been super into Linux but this group made it sound super cool and exposed me to a lot of neat stuff to do with Linux. I learned enough to the point that I feel more at home using the command land over the GUI for a lot of things in Linux. I even tinkered with building Gentoo from source as well as playing with Slackware a lot. It's come a long way in recent years but I'm still very much a Windows guy.

When I got my first, actual real IT job in 2008 all I had on my resume was the contract project and a few non-professional experiences vaguely related to working in computers; data entry, working with various bits of software, etc., normal resume fodder. My first real job popped a few cherries at once for me. I'd never worked in or around "corporate" IT infrastructure so I had no idea what a domain was in the sense of Active Directory. Hell, I didn't know what AD was until I had the concept explained to me. I'd never really used RDP before then or PCAnywhere. All the cool tools and software I use on the job today were spanking new for me then. My first IT job, I was thrown into the fire and a bunch of other metaphors for being completely unprepared for the situation I got myself into. Fortunately, I've always been a quick learner and can learn on my feet. Being the only on-site IT staff can be a harrowing and rewarding experience all at the same time.

It was a part-time desktop support role for a debt collection agency. Less than 30 users at my location that were fairly low maintenance and I was only there for four hours every other day. I couldn't complain much since it had paid way more than any previous jobs. It was a contract job but listed as "indefinite" in its length. My only line of support was from the main office in Baltimore, MD all the way across the country. I learned a lot of new troubleshooting skills and honed the ones I already had through the various user issues. I got to work and fix a wide array of issues from junior systems admin level skills to your basic hard/software skills that everyone needs. This is how it's been for me at all my jobs but one and it's made me a bit of a Jack of All Trades, Master of None kind of guy in a lot of areas. I was at that job for a year before I was hired as a permanent employee and a few short months later I was laid off. Shortly after that, the Las Vegas office was closed.

From there, I've been on a few various contracted positions that didn't work out in the end and had to train my replacements that were hired as salary as well as compete for a permanent position but not winning over the more qualified guy. I learned about a lot of different aspects to the world of IT and gained a lot of soft, hard, and technical skills in the process.

I firmly believe that to truly be successful in IT and have a great IT team, you need people like myself and promote an environment that is able to do cross-training so the team as a whole can tackle nearly any issue without having to escalate the issue to higher ups. Specialists are great for more complex roles like networking and information security where there's higher time requirements or deadlines, research, and a lot of checking and re-checking to make sure things are consistent.

In my few short years working in IT I've come a long way, skill-wise. I still lack some skills like SQL, PowerShell, Bash scripting, and some kind of other coding (AJAX being the most useful, maybe) but I'm slowly working on those as I find time. I would say that as of right now, my skill level sits somewhere between a level 3 desktop support tech and a junior system administrator role in the very least. My skills fall in both sides of that spectrum with a more complete set in the desktop support role than the junior sysadmin. I'd very much like to start moving toward the sysadmin role and it really seems the current job I'm at will allow me the freedom to learn and grow to be in that role eventually, provided I get hired on as permanent from the contract I'm on. All signs are pointing towards that!

Eventually, I'd like to get into the ethical hacking and security side of IT, which I think being a sysadmin is one road to getting there. It will just take a bit of luck, patience, and learning to get there

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