Profile of an IT Operations Manager
Interviewee: Paul Mockett
Job Title: IT Operations Manager
Degree: Computer Science
Years in Field: Over 20 years
How did you end up in the IT field?
I studied computer science in college and after I graduated, I got a job as a database developer / systems administrator for a company that created a database of people who wrote bad checks that was shared with merchants. Part of my duties included IT type tasks and I've been doing IT ever since.
Are there any misconceptions about IT jobs?
Just because everything is working smoothly doesn't mean IT isn't working hard. In IT you're constantly pulling and pushing on levers, constantly monitoring and doing maintenance to keep things working.
Also, IT is an always changing field; it takes a lot of research to stay current. IT professionals must constantly learn new technology. It's important to stay ahead of the curve. Generally, I'm a cautious adopter of technology, not an early adopter. But there are plenty of instances when I push the technology because I have an unmet need that requires a cutting edge solution.
What qualities are essential for an IT professional?
- You must be service oriented. Our customers are end-users. We have to have the philosophy, "the customer is always right." While there are plenty of IT technicians who act like they are gods, IT works best when user satisfaction is high.
- Successful IT people are flexible. IT covers a diverse set of subjects besides "computers" – telephony, hammers, computer networking, screw drivers, electricity, wrenches, AV…. you must be an excellent investigator, able to find answers to real-world questions that manuals don't cover.
- You must be good at multi-tasking. If you work in a small IT department you will end up supporting it all, often on an interrupt basis where requests often are for I-need-it-now service. Being able to focus on the moment while maintaining a long term view becomes critical.
What qualities make for a good systems administrator?
The number one quality of a good Systems Administrator is to have a high level of attention to detail. Patience, persistence, highly responsible and steadiness under pressure come not far after.
SysAdmins are IT technicians that have specialized in a particular area. They need a good general understanding of the many IT areas as the foundation of their specialization. Specialization isn't something that happens quickly, as it takes experience to develop the "library" of problem solving skills. Areas of expertise include Web servers, database administration, network monitoring, and security administration.
As an Ops and IT Manager, are you always on call?
Yes, I often work odd hours, at night and on weekends. We need to work outside of production hours, when no one is using the system, in order to accomplish maintenance tasks. Also, a substantial part of my day is dedicated to unscheduled activities that were brought up by someone else, so I end up working extra hours to get through it all.
Describe a big crisis you've faced. How did you resolve it?
About six years ago, I worked for a small company that did a lot of business over the telephone. We had just launched an ad campaign and expected an influx of phone calls. At this critical time, the management card to the phone system broke, resulting in a completely down phone system. There was nothing we could do to fix the problem immediately; it would take five days to get a replacement card.
With 20 people relying on the phones for sales, it was crucial that we find an immediate short term solution. I ran off to the two hardware stores and wiped them out of cordless phones. I wired up the base stations to the receptionist's desk, and when calls came in she delivered the wireless handset to the appropriate person. It wasn't ideal, but we were able to conduct business until the phone system was repaired.
What do you like best about your job?
I had prepared for a career in academics or research, not business, but I've found IT plenty challenging and stimulating. I'm continually learning, experimenting with new things. I don't like rote busy work and while a substantial part of my day is consumed by things I do every day, there is plenty of new stuff too. It keeps me rewarded and engaged.
Do you have any advice for those interested in IT jobs?
If you're interested in going into IT or Ops, I recommend getting a degree in information systems or computer science or a related area. The value of a degree is that it teaches you analytical thinking and problem solving—you learn how to learn. You also end up with a good overview of many IT areas. Then in the real world, when you encounter problems that aren't part of what you studied, your education will have given you the critical thinking skills necessary to solve those problems.