First and foremost, I am not a writer. Taking that thought even further, I’m not a developer, network administrator, or any other point description.
My job title is Automation Concept Engineer which on the surface has some static meaning, but for me it is much more. (We’ll get back to that).
My professional career started like many others’: End User Support. As a young teenager I spent many an afternoon harassing the local computer shop. After enough persistent annoyance I found myself gainfully employed organizing shelves and cleaning up. That exposure lead to technical employment and before long I was building and servicing PC’s. Windows 98 was the hot new thing, malware was seemingly nonexistent and for a kid still riding his Dyno everywhere, life was
Throughout high school I would pick up odd jobs, mostly making websites.
I went to community college and got two associate degrees around Network Design. I worked as an Insurance Agent with the added responsibility of Regional IT support during this time. I got to travel the region setting up new offices, assisting local agents, and jamming with the home office on issues. AS/400 is ugly.
Towards the end of college a good friend and I were approached by an adjunct professor to join him in starting a development company. He had worked for years on his own and wanted to expand. Things were not ready to fully hit the ground running, so for the first year or so I took another job.
I was back with a fellow from the PC store doing In-Home PC service and SMB outsourced IT. I honed some great skills here and became particularly skilled in Small Business Server (Windows, Exchange, etc). A majority of my time was spent with the SMB customers and being the go to guy on all things tech. This taught me a lot about customer relations, project planning and overall friendliness.
Admittedly things eventually went a little sour there and the new company finally had enough business to sustain multiple people full-time. I spent a lot of time there developing a new division of the company centered on In-Home PC Service and SMB outsourced IT. Sound familiar?
This was a particularly exciting time. It was a startup, I got to work with my friends and play wiffle ball in the parking lot. As things progressed there I eventually found myself attached to an ASP Classic project. I had done a little Visual Basic and C++, but nothing that really constituted programming. Within days I was on a plane to meet with the Director of our large client to gather requirements from him and all of his reporting managers. That was a great lesson in ingesting large amounts of information and saying just enough to stay out of trouble.
I buckled down, worked hard, and learned a lot in the several months of that project. I found myself learning SQL, dealing with scaling and response times, and transforming requirements into reality. After several months and many successful milestones, the contract started to run dry. My relationship with the client was solid and they were able to leverage me as a resource on the Professional Services Consulting team.
I found myself in an entirely new and foreign world. I was supporting Policy and Identity Control on Edge Routers and major carriers. I still remember having SNMP explained to me. Green doesn’t begin to explain it. I got to spend months in the lab being turned into a serious contender. I loved it.
It was during this time that it became clear to me (and my friend) that the startup wasn’t going to be something that was considered our creation so we both went our separate ways. I found myself converting from contractor to full-time employee.
I spent the next six years supporting various software products in a very hardware centric environment. Telecoms were starting to realize they were going to have to find new ways to generate revenue from their existing user base. We were automating network elements long before SDN was uttered.
I traveled the world. I was able to work with amazing people and learned more than I could have ever imagined. There were real problems, theoretical directions, and grand ideas. I was able to establish myself as a trusted advisor and learned the value of empathy. At the end of the day no one is concerned about what vendor flag you fly, but if you can solve problems and genuinely help people.
After years of the road dog life and finding myself in a legacy product rut, it was time to move on.
Eventually I found a new position internally on the Cloud Operations team. It was in this role that I got to explore new technology and at a very quick velocity. I was able to architect a very elegant Amazon Web Services (AWS) deployment leveraging tools like Gluster and Puppet. I started to involve myself in the Open Source community and do so with more confidence than ever.
The Cloud is where it is at right now. There is huge demand and not nearly enough resources. I have gotten at least two recruiter messages a week since my role hit LinkedIn, and I have interviewed with some of the largest and coolest kids on the block. I even got to turn some of them down
Luck seemingly struck again when I came across the opening for my current position. A fellow from my previous life in PS had moved from Sales to Engineering and had created his own group called Automation Concept Engineering. I jumped at the opportunity to join him, and that is where I find myself now.
Coming full circle to what my job title means to me: I get to take this cornucopia of experience and combine them into new and leading edge ideas. I’m tasked with finding ways to make our technology consumable by all sorts of people. Networking, security, development, operations; all of these people rely on the underlying technology but have very different requirements and skill sets.
My goal is to find ways to enable them. I can comfortably self-identify as a generalist and I have met many others that do so also. Being able to solve problems, create new and exciting solutions, and propel technology to new heights should be ubiquitous in our community.
I am genuinely excited about technology and have been granted the wonderful experience of being able to do it professionally. My hope now is to be able to share my experience and help propel the community further.
-Rick “Shermdog” Sherman