Interviewee: Hiram Brown
Company: All Star
Number of years in field: Over 14
Hiram Brown is commuting to work on a sunny Seattle summer morning, and already his mind contemplating the challenges—and possible solutions—that lie ahead. Although he was up late last night solving an unexpected information-systems issue, he already knows that today won't be boring. Keep reading to see what Hiram has to say about information systems management training and careers.
What exactly is information systems management?
I like to think of information systems management as a catch-all term for all the bits and pieces of running computers and software in a business that aren't formally defined elsewhere. Depending on the day, it can be everything from server administration to software license management and the thousands of little things in between.
What does your job at All Star entail?
Primarily I ensure that our websites are up and running 24/7, 365. I've worked at companies where information systems management was highly reactive—lots of waiting for things to break. At All Star, I spend a lot of time improving processes to minimize the likelihood of our systems ever breaking, or making sure that down time is minimal when the inevitable does happen. I find this proactive attitude much more satisfying.
Do you have to work nights or weekends?
Night and weekend work is part of information systems management, but in a healthy environment, it can be minimal. A lot of (but not all) night and weekend work is the result of inadequate monitoring, poor planning, bad design or improper implementation.
How does problem solving come into play?
It's integral to information systems management. Not a day goes by where I don't have to ask "Why is this system not functioning as expected?" or "How can I prevent this system from breaking in this manner in the future?" For the latter question, sometimes the answer is "I can't prevent this," so the question becomes "How can I minimize the impact of future outages?" And perhaps best of all is how concrete the reward can be from a problem well solved. The better and faster these problems get sorted out, the less time I spend working nights and weekends.
Can you relate any fun stories about your job?
This may be highly dependent upon your definition of fun, but the sheer variety of problems that can arise on a given day or week are what really keep me motivated to come to work day in, day out.
For example last week (which was not atypical), I troubleshot problems on Linux-based production web servers, Windows-based financial servers, and six different third party applications. I wrote one script in Python and two in BASH; I worked on improving a human process that will reduce how frequently code is released to production (minimizing night and weekend work!); I spent four hours in an online training course on a new web server product we're considering moving to; and I still managed to go out for lunch four out of five days.
Do you have any advice for students?
Information systems management is a demanding and dynamic career. I have never reached—nor do I believe I will ever reach—a point where I've learned or mastered every skill necessary to perform the job. The technology involved is just too broad and dynamic. If you aren't drawn to new technologies like a moth to flame, the constant need for continuing self education has the potential to make for a truly dismal work experience.
What is the best management training?
A strong technically immersive information systems management program covering the basics (operating systems, databases, computer networking, coding/scripting), combined with professors willing to take the extra time necessary to help you learn how to learn for yourself. You can fairly easily come up to speed/proficiency on the current technologies necessary to obtain an entry-level position, but without the ability and passion to learn new technologies as they emerge and on your own, the industry will pass you by in a disturbingly short period of time.