Phoning It In: Telecommuting Systems and Networks Engineer1 | 2 |
Despite a career in IT that goes back more than a decade, Kern has had little in the way of formal training, though he plans on pursuing an LPI Linux certification and CCNA at some point in the future.
He started college at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. “I went to college for about a year, but at the same time I was interning at a company and realized that I could just make money right away, so I stopped college and got a full-time job.” This was with Cerner, a company in Kansas City that writes software for hospital management.
This begs a question many techies’ experiences tend to raise: How did Kern acquire all these IT skills if they weren’t taught?
“I’m definitely a hands-on learner — when I get interested in something, I will just sit down and try to figure it out,” Kern said. “When I first got a computer, and friends showed me what bulletin boards were, I thought that was awesome, so I started learning about Linux and really digging into Windows and getting into networking. I’ve always had a lot of computers in my house, so I’ve been able to set up little networks and servers and different machines to just test things. With Google now, I also spend a lot of time reading how other people do things — how-to articles and posts — and that helps a lot.”
Kern looks for a similar enthusiasm and aptitude for learning in interviewing prospective employees of Positive Networks. He places a higher priority on this than on formal education.
“I don’t really necessarily look at their college experience,” he said. “I look more at how long they’ve been interested in computers and using computers. I always ask the question of what’s your home network like, because I’m really interested in knowing if the person goes home and sits back down in front of the computer and is messing with stuff. And, then, of course, I look at work experience.”
Kern also looks for the ability to research a process autonomously. “If there’s something new you’re working on that you aren’t familiar with, you really need to be able to learn it from doing research on your own,” he said.
Kern also stressed being able to handle high-pressure situations common to his job, and not only handling them, but planning for when they’ll arise, as well. “Being able to react quickly when there are service interruptions, that’s very important, because when something goes down, you have to be on it right away,” he said. “You should be able to plan ahead so you can think about different ways that the servers can go down and prevent that.”
Being able to multitask is essential. “It’s important to be able to manage requests from a lot of different people and departments,” Kern said. “A lot of times, we end up being the go-to people for a lot of stuff.”
Other skills that Kern identified as crucial to his job role include strong knowledge of Linux, Windows, networking, firewalls and at least one scripting language. “You should also be able to get meaningful packet captures and interpret them,” he said.
Going Back Home
Though he’s now working remotely in a city distant from his company’s home base, Kern will still need to get into the office from time to time.
“Actually, right now, we are in the process of moving our office, and so there’s a lot of planning that I can do with everyone remotely, but they’re still planning on flying me down there for a week or so to help with the move and get all the office servers back up and make sure everything goes smoothly,” Kern said. “There will definitely be times when they need to fly me down there for things. There’s always the Christmas office party.”
– Daniel Margolis, firstname.lastname@example.org
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