Josh Wallace has been involved with computers for nearly 10 years. Today, he works as a systems administrator at Microsoft, and he has also worked as an information technology analyst at Boeing. Josh is currently studying to earn his Bachelor of Science in computer science and information systems. After graduation, he plans to continue working in the IT field and hopes to join the CIA.
Are there common misconceptions about the IT field?
People tend to think of IT professionals as pencil pushers and geeks who are pasty white and have no social skills. But I work with a diverse group of people with a broad range of backgrounds, including people who studied music, psychology, and even dancing. IT is a field that has something for every type of person.
Why did you decide to become a Systems Administrator?
Working with computers is thrilling to me, the way I imagine a race car driver feels in a fast car. I have always been interested in IT and computers. When I was only 12, I started experimenting with how technology worked, and I fell in love with it. I would take apart old computers, cell phones and game systems to understand how they operated. The Internet piqued my curiosity about IT and computer systems, and this curiosity led me to a career in IT.
What is a typical day like for you?
As a systems administrator at Microsoft, I work as part of a larger team to maintain the Microsoft corporate computer servers, as well as the servers of other companies. My work environment is a bit like a hospital, except my patients are the computer servers. I perform regular check-ups on the systems to make sure that they are operating properly, and I fix any issues that come up. My workweek varies, depending on how much maintenance the servers need. Some weeks, I work as little as 20 hours, and some weeks I work as many as 50 hours.
What are your favorite aspects of your job?
Working at Microsoft is my dream job. I love the people and the atmosphere. It feels a bit like being in college, actually. There are soccer fields and basketball courts, and there are always people walking around with headphones, heading to the commons to get something to eat. Microsoft has a great working environment, and the free drinks don’t hurt either.
What are your least favorite aspects of your job?
The only downside to my job is the unpredictable working hours. Sometimes I start work at 12:00 in the afternoon, and sometimes I don’t start work until 9:00 at night. My work schedule is never set in stone, and that can be a little bit crazy. But most of the time, it all works out.
What classes did you take in college that are the most relevant to your job?
I have taken a lot of computer science classes in college. The most relevant course was my class on data structures. The curriculum helped me to understand how file systems work, exactly how computers actually compute information and the way that computer networks operate. In addition, I learned information in my networking courses that I can apply to almost anything.
What personality traits do you think would help someone to be successful as a Systems Administrator?
In my experience, the people who are most successful in the IT field are those who are team players and not afraid of asking questions. My team maintains vast and complicated computer systems that are critical to Microsoft’s business. One wrong move could cripple the system and cost us our jobs; we have to ask questions when we don’t know how to do something, and also work cooperatively to maintain the servers effectively.
What advice, or words of caution, would you give to a student who is considering studying to become a Systems Administrator?
For others who are considering a career in IT, the most important piece of advice I can offer is to keep learning. Big companies want IT professionals with experience, and as a person advances in the IT field there will be less and less on-the-job training. In addition, the IT field continues to expand as technology innovates, and professionals in this job must learn, grow and innovate with it. It is important to learn as much as possible and gain broad experience in IT to have security and opportunities.
Besides learning, I would also recommend networking with colleagues. Sometimes, jobs come from who you know, more than what you know. A casual coworker could end up as a supervisor, and it is important to remember that and connect with coworkers. Plus, it is always nice to have IT friends to go out with after work.