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Confessions of an IT Pro: IT is Under Pressure to Keep Systems Safe

By - Source: Toms IT Pro
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James Gamble is the very definition of a self-made man when it comes to IT. Despite beginning his career in support, without a degree, James has increased his knowledge over time, moving from helpdesk to Systems Engineer and overseeing significant operational installations and systems. James sat down with us to talk about how employee tracking and performance are different, how flexibility will help you keep your job, and why, sometimes, even when everyone agrees how a change should be done, it's not the right solution.

Q: How did you start your career? And how important do you think education and certifications were for you?

A: "In the town next to my town, there was an outbound call center for Sprint long distance," James explains as he talks about the beginning of his career, "I knew that they did IT, and that was the biggest employer in the area."

A friend of his already worked there, so he helped James get a position, first in the call center and then in desktop support, allowing him to break away from a job in a grocery store. "I was curious about computers, and I had an interest in it," he continues, "and I was trying to learn as much as I could." After getting "thrown into the fire", James found that he loved spending his time learning everything he could about IT.

MORE: How to Prove Your IT Skills

Much of James's formal knowledge comes from certifications. After finding his employer's tuition reimbursement program would cover certification classes, James immersed himself in online training and video courses. Having a goal, James feels, helps him truly absorb the information.

"I study for exams," James says, "not because I care that much about certifications, although it's a nice perk, but because it's a curriculum." The certification coursework helps keep him focused on what he wants to learn. "I have learned something from every certification that I've done."

Q: What are your feelings about the ethics of employee tracking? How far should companies go?

A: James finds himself in the middle when it comes to employee tracking. "On the one hand," he says, "the company has to protect itself. It has to make sure things are done in an ethical way, and a legal way." James points out the need for tracking to adhere to compliance standards as necessary. "However, I also don't see problems when folks are checking their Facebook or chatting on Hangouts. As long as your job is getting done I couldn't care less." James feels it's in the hands of the manager or supervisor to determine what is acceptable use.

Q: What do you wish non-IT employees knew?

A: "That we are not out to get you," James says with a laugh. He goes on to explain that many of the IT policies and procedures that seem like a hindrance are there to protect users and the company. "Most non-IT people don't realize how dangerous technology is, how many threats that there are," he explains. With threats like Cryptolocker and other viruses and malware, IT teams are under a lot of pressure to keep business data and assets safe.  "We need to take risk out of the equation."

Q: What is the craziest technical support issue you or your team has ever had to deal with?

A: To answer this question, James thinks back to a Windows XP Service Pack deployment. "We had two ways we could have deployed this," James says. They could have leveraged the system normally used for patches, deploying the change from four servers. Alternatively, they could have used a more distributed, regional deployment solution. The team approved the change to deploy from the patching servers. At 350 megabytes each, the network was rapidly overwhelmed.

"We basically had 35,000 machines trying to access four servers." The servers were in the data center, so the impact was widely felt. "The next morning, our in-house exchange servers were dying on us, our IVRs were dying on us, all of the stuff in our main data center was dying on us." After throttling access to the servers, the network congestion immediately cleared. "So basically," James says, "We did a denial of service attack against our own data center."

Q: What is the most valuable skill an IT professional should have?

A: IT is an ever-changing industry, and James believes the ability to adapt and continue to learn is what makes an IT professional successful. "Too many people do things a certain way, that's the way they know, and they don't care about doing it any other way," James states. "That's a terrible attitude."

He goes on to explain that it's that rigidity that ends up with some IT professionals being downsized. "It isn't because there is a vendetta against you, it's because you were unwilling to learn, you were uncooperative. Sure, you get the job done, but that's not the most important thing. The most important thing is being flexible."