Thursday, October 30, 2014

The #OpsLife In Action

I am currently, as they say, a "gentleman of leisure" in my career. That is, I am between gigs. Which is to say, I'm currently unemployed.

This is weird for me, honestly; I've been more-or-less continually employed in one sort of job or another since I was 14 and got my first job doing the breakfast shift in a Hardee's Drive Through. I did some time as a security guard for a while after high school, and then I read this amazing book: Microsurfs, by Douglas Coupland. I think for anyone who was inside the IT industry at the time, it's hard to understand the draw of this somewhat-cartoonish story, and for anyone outside the industry at the time, it's hard to understand the appeal of the industry in any way, but for me, a 20-year-old living in the bleak winter wastes of Kansas, the life described in the book was exactly, exactly, the life I wanted for myself.

So I packed all of my shit (and all of my wife's shit) into a rented U-Haul, abandoned everything, and drove to San Francisco. No job prospects, no contacts, nothing but the absolute conviction that there was a life in IT in San Francisco that I had to be a part of.

The reality of living in San Francisco in the late 90s and working in IT was, as one can guess (or knows, if one has any experience of that time), not exactly as portrayed. I did not become a computer programmer; instead, I went almost immediately into the Support branch of the Operations side of the house, and have spent basically my entire career there. Fielding end-user calls for legacy systems. Taking on more tasks and responsibilities, eventually managing a team handling the 24/7 support as first-line agents, and chairing High-Severity conference calls to discover and solve company-impacting service outages. Getting burnt out on that, and moving into the database administration end of the work, leveraging my "utility infielder" abilities to pick up the projects no one else wanted. Nurturing relationships developed during 3AM phone calls to solve problems before they got to the "outage" stage. Making friends and finding support among colleagues both inside and outside Operations, and developing a mindset that was focused on the customer as much as the environment.

Taking on a role slightly too big for me, as an exciting opportunity, and working and stretching and expanding to fill the role, and then seeing the role change as management changed, and suddenly being out of a role to fill. And contracting for the first time: parachuting into issues with a new eye and a fresh perspective and presenting solutions without any backup, and having them work, first time. Exciting times, different times, times not clearly imagined nearly half my life ago.

The Big New Thing in IT these days is the concept of DevOps. It's sort've been around for a while, and the definition of DevOps changes depending on who you ask about it, but mostly it's the idea of breaking down the barriers and conflicts between the guys building the tools and the guys responsible for managing and maintaining the tools. It's a cool idea, and it's something I wasn't honestly prepared for at this point in my career. It's meant I've had to do a lot of catching up in a short time: teaching myself python, taking classes for javascript, reading books about node.js and other development tools. Leaning heavily on my experience with Oracle and MySQL and Postgres and bash and perl to expand my horizons to find a new way of thinking about what I do, and a new way of looking at the world. Well, not totally new, but maybe the same way through a different lens.

I've met and made friends with some awesome people, many of whom I'd love to work with again if the opportunity permits. And learning to think about development outside of the "black boxes thrown over the wall" model of my OpsLife experience has been very interesting. Adding more tools to the toolbox, as my wife says.

At 20, I changed my entire life to work in IT as a career. At 40, it feels like I'm doing it again. It's pretty scary, but honestly? The life I have is better than the one I imagined. Or the one Douglas Coupland wrote about, for that matter.