In the Sudo Show community we have several community members that are in their mid to late teens. They have asked for advice on getting involved in Open Source technology and kick-starting their career when they leave school. This is a very difficult conversation for me to have not because the conversation is difficult, but my advice expects a level of enthusiasm. When it comes to be being a technologist, it isn’t what I do it is who I am. I’ve shared advice with people before, they have been unable to relate to me because to them their profession has nothing to do with who they are it is just a job to put food on the table. I don’t want to say find your passion, that was the bad advice that I was given growing up. Not only that, but I know many people that should have just not gone to college because their degree has nothing to do with what they are doing today. They got their degree because they were passionate about the subject and now have tens of thousands of dollars of college debt. Now their current career has nothing to do with their degree, so they might as well have skipped college all together.
I got involved in the early days of Open Source. Usually, I just sat in the various Linux forums looking or providing assistance. I eventually contributed a little code in the early 2000s to some projects that I thought was fun at the time such as FUSE. My excitement in technology and my knowledge of Linux desktop (and to some degree server side) landed me my first major technical job at Novell. I got to understand how the datacenter works, typical IT processes and why they are there in the first place. The year I spent at Novell laid the foundation for the rest of my career. It taught me to keep learning new technology to evolve my career. It also taught me the value of legacy and the need to learn older technology, even if that technology would be retired in a few years. Frankly, many systems that I worked on at Novell in 2005 like HPUX on Itianium or Netware 6.5 is shockingly still in production at many IT shops. Knowing how they work and the ability to speak the language of those legacy solutions has helped my career as a pre-sales solution architect at Red Hat. It lowers the guard of the system administrators that manage those systems that think they can’t pivot to newer technologies.
When I became an independent consultant, I helped many local companies that had built their business on Novell Netware over to Linux! I don’t think I could have done that if I didn’t understand Netware. I also approached every engagement with new customers as if they were going to be become a major enterprise. Everything I built was designed around a three tier application architecture. Each layer independently scaled even if it started on a single server. Taking this approach laid the foundation for me to understand cloud native architecture as it evolved.
Eric and I discussed with Sudo Show guest Dustin Krysak in Episode 20. Go and listen to his career suggestions and roadmap. My career roadmap is very similar. Learn basic networking, in cloud native and edge architectures networking is critical. Take the time to understand hardware even if you never deploy bare-metal servers or run a datacenter. I really do believe having basic understanding of low-level programming languages such as C is important but not necessary; at least being able to read code and know what it is doing is critical.
My last bit of advice is shunning legacy systems doesn’t help you. Frankly, learning legacy systems could help you down the road with skills that are scarcely available. We learned recently that the shortage of mainframe talent has had an impact on government and banking systems that are built around mainframes. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. Many of these systems generate revenue for these organizations or get unemployment check out to people that need them. Also understanding legacy systems and architectures help you better understand why architectures have evolved the way they have. I may never use my Netware, Solaris or AIX skills ever again, but I know how to fix them if I ever run across them and I know how to migrate off them.
Finding talent that can do the work in technology is easy. Finding someone with the passion and the drive to keep learning and evolving is hard. If working with technology is as natural breathing as it is for me, you will have no problem finding your place as a technologist.