Looking back at my working history, I think of my career in tech in terms of phases. When I first decided to transition from history to technology my goal was to be a technician. I was eager to make the jump and this was the easiest level to start out at. Being a repair technician was fun for a while. I had my foot in the door of a new career path, I could fix things while listening to music and I felt useful.
After a while though, I wanted something more. I wanted to become a systems administrator. Instead of just repairing broken machines all day, I wanted to work on a wider array of technologies. The technical field has so many different disciplines and specialties, and being a sysadmin would give me the chance to experiment with a wide variety of them.
I was elated when I finally broke through the technician/helpdesk barrier at my last job and became the sysadmin for a small law firm. I got to revamp a lot of the company’s infrastructure and get my hands dirty on a variety of systems. It was initially really exciting and rewarding being the go-to person for technical issues in the company.
When I moved to Germany and landed a job doing much the same, I was equally excited and enthusiastic. Again I was the lone sysadmin for my location, although this time there was an existing technical infrastructure and remote coworkers whom I could collaborate with. I was a bit overwhelmed, but it was rewarding and I felt valuable nonetheless.
As my location has grown and grown and we’ve added a lot more staff, including to my team, the dynamic has changed dramatically. I’m no longer the single go-to guy among a small group of coworkers whom I all know. There are only a handful of people still at my company who were there when I started a few years ago. Now I have trouble keeping track of names, or departments, who sits where, and what technologies I’m responsible for maintaining.
Everything has expanded. The office, the work force, the scope of responsibilities, and I just feel myself shrinking into the abyss. There are new faces every week and suddenly I’m confronted with some new guy who’s name I don’t know trying to tell me how things are. I can barely contain the urge to stop them mid-sentence and ask “Excuse me, who the fuck are you again? Where did you come from? How long have you been here?” The worst are the ones who are hired on at manager or director levels and who walk around like they’re hot shit and own the place despite only being there a few months.
Another side affect of the expansion of the company is the expansion of the bureaucracy and the walling off of territory. When I started working there, I really enjoyed the wild-west freedom of being the sole on site person. The rest of the company infrastructure was also a lot smaller than it is now. As things have gotten larger, however, the leash around your neck gets shorter and shorter. Everything gets subdivided into specific departments and suddenly you’re not able to get anything done because it depends on another team who have different priorities than you.
My role has reverted from that of lone-ranger to helpdesk drone. Although it says “engineer” in my title, I do practically no engineering. My days are full of fixing MS Outlook issues, excel issues, unlocking AD accounts, setting up VPN access, and crawling under desks on my hands and knees to plug in computers for new hires that are coming next week.
Being in this role you also have to deal with some infuriating social dynamics. Despite the fact that most people are technologically ignorant and depend on you for help, there is this IT guy stigma to their interactions with you. Some people just have this attitude of of condescension when dealing with “the stupid lowly nerds.” I don’t know of any other profession where someone who is lacking in some capacity visits someone who is proficient in that capacity for help, and yet treats that proficient person with contempt and disrespect, all while maintaining a smug sense of superiority.
But that’s just a few people. There are sometimes people who are genuinely grateful and excited that you were able to solve a problem for them and that makes you feel like batman.
This is just the reality of the enterprise environment. I could look for something small again, but enterprise environments are where you’re most likely to encounter big and fancy technologies that are out of the price range of smaller companies.
So here I am again wanting a change.
I’m tired of being just “ok” at a wide variety of things. I want to get good at and specialize in a specific thing. By specializing in a specific technical field, I’ll be able to get out from crawling under desks to plug in computers, and away from clueless end users who look down on me. I’ll be able to work more directly with other engineers and I’ll have a clearly defined scope of responsibilities.
I’ve been trying to break into the networking field for a while now. Although it’s not as sexy as programming, I find it pretty interesting and practical and that I feel like I might fit more with the networking crowd. I have a few issues with programmers, namely this attitude that they’re rock star magical wizards who are the only “real” engineers. (Though this might be just a salty point from my experience at work. I can’t tell you how many times the developers spam the engineering mailing list about their specific software projects or invite everyone to programming specific meetings/lectures that would be a complete waste of my time and have no relevance to my role. I’d like to run some infrastructure engineering talks and invite them to something that’s irrelevant to them, just to make it occur to them that they don’t know everything and that there are other disciplines that are very much engineering in their own right. But I digress…)
Trying to get better at something technical is pretty tedious. I have terrible self-discipline, so it’s often a real effort to force myself to sit down and study some very technical topic like protocols or how wireless access points authenticate with client stations.
I’ll spend hours reading through dry books trying to keep my focus. My mind keeps wandering and it takes me forever because I’ll read through 3 pages and realize my mind drifted off to something else about 2.5 pages ago and that I didn’t actually absorb anything I just read. (I realize this might be an issue with not being truly passionate about something, but being passionate about something is a luxury not all of us have. The passion I had for history died out years ago, and that passion feeling has never really come back for anything, so I have to make do and grind through things)
Sometimes I wonder about all the other people in tech who are really good at what they do. I only ever see them at work, not when they’re at home or outside of the office. I wonder if they also sacrifice time they’d otherwise spend playing video games or hanging out with friends so they can read dry books and write mountains of flash cards.
It’s such a tedious grind but it’s the only sure fire way I have of improving myself and my net worth. It just sucks how painful it can be at times. I’m almost 30 and I so badly want to escape this constant feeling of “just starting out” and “being the junior”. I want to feel confident that I can be an expert in something and that people can come to me for advice on a topic I’m familiar with. The only way I know how to do that, however, is through grinding through these books and flashcards when I’d rather be out enjoying myself.