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.

Sandra at the Farm.jpg


  • 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:

10 Rules every SysAdmin should live by.png


  • 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.