It's not often you get to meet a veteran in hi-tech, but in this post I have the honor of interviewing Sandra Henry-Stocker. She is an Information security and systems administration professional with more than thirty five years experience in managing networks and Unix systems. She has a fascinating background having lived on both coasts, living on a 42 foot boat and taking the ferry across the bay to San Francisco (what a commute) to moving to a 45 acre farm in Maryland. Along the way having worked for both government and corporate America she hasn't lost her sense of humor, technical wizardry or her singing voice.
- Q1 In brief can you share your SysAdmin background?
I've been working as a Unix/Linux systems administrator since 1983. That includes positions where I was the only admin for the staff I supported (managing servers, the network, the firewall, the printers, and the web site) to those in which I was one of a number of admins on a team that managed only the Unix systems. I worked for one company that had only four employees and others that had many thousands of people on staff. I've worked for a government agency, a prestigious university, and a number of corporations always with a focus on Unix and system security.
- Q2 What Systems are you/have been responsible for (OS, Hardware, Apps?)
Lots of Sun Microsystems servers (before Sun was purchased by Oracle) and a variety of Linux servers, most recently running Red Hat and Suse on Dell servers. The most recent application that I supported started out as Aveksa IAM (Identity Access Management) and is now part of RSA's product line. That application helped monitor and manage who had access to systems and resources – and what kind of access they had.
- Q3 Do you have any goto sites you go for answers or to hang out for things relating to issues or challenges you face as a SysAdmin?
Not really. I depend on Google to locate answers to questions that I have. That said, I probably land on sites like StackExchange, theGeekStuff, howtogeek, and even ComputerWorld more often than not.
- Q4 Do you have any preferences about articles vs video vs forums vs blogs and what you go to them for?
That depends on what I'm looking for. Sometimes a video that shows precisely what needs to be done is just right. But I strongly prefer short pieces that are written with a “how to” orientation. When I'm looking for an answer to a question, I don't want to read page after page about how the system is supposed to be working.
- Q5 Are there any rules you live by as a SysAdmin?
Lots!!! Here are some:
- Q6. Given technology is always getting faster, cheaper, smaller, what has not changed in your role
The variety of problems I run into, the sense of urgency that surrounds the work, and the discipline required
- Q7. What is the most frustrating thing about being a SysAdmin?
In general, you work long hours, are often on call, and rarely get to climb the corporate ladder. You may also have trouble getting all the resources you need to do a really good job.
- Q8. What is the most satisfying thing about being a SysAdmin?
Resolving difficult problems. The big “Aha!” that comes once I've finally understood the underlying cause of a nagging issue can leave me feeling good for weeks. I also actually like that it's important to keep learning. Picking up new skills and putting them to use is very satisfying.
- Q9. Given that Security is a critical part of a SysAdmins role, and with daily barrage of breaches and intrusion, how do you know when your IT/Data Centers are safe?
You really don't. But if you're using good tools – modern firewalls, intrusion detection systems, exfiltration checks – and monitoring both access permissions and user activities, you have a good chance of protecting your data and your users' productivity.
- Q10. Do you think SysAdmin Day which takes place in the day of July is giving SysAdmins some well deserved recognition that they did not in the past?
Absolutely. I think a lot of people are taking note of the day and making a point of thanking their sysadmins for their tireless work.