These days I’m often described as a DevOps engineer, and it’s been quite a journey from where I started. My first love is programming, and it was my first experience with computers in the 80s—programming basic games on a ZX Spectrum, then an Amiga using machine code. While still at college, I had learned about connecting computers across phone lines using modems. These devices allowed your computer to connect to another computer and exchange files, messages, and read information.
These host computers were known as Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) and were usually run by hobbyists to connect communities of like-minded geeks. As only one person could connect at a time, the more popular BBSs would not let you connect unless you had the latest modems running at the fastest connection speeds. The BBSs I connected to provide more computer code to look through and contributed to the community by sharing mine in the way of producing computer demos. These small programs would look like short videos of colors, patterns, graphics, music, and most importantly, the scroller. The scroller is a continuous line of text making up sentences which you would read while watching the contortions of shapes and color bouncing around to the music.
My Hobby Helped Get Me Into DevOps
When I finished college, I bought an Amiga 2000, the much larger cousin of the A500. I used this to set up my own BBS, which was great as the files and code would come to me, rather than the long hours required to connect and download from the other BBSs. However, this being 1994, the internet was about to make itself known. FidoNet, unlike most BBSs, using a hub and spoke system, used a store and forward system. In this way, a network of servers would connect on-demand or on a schedule. This was a much more efficient way of sharing information and using UseNet, another trendy forum, and messaging platform. This system also enabled emails. You could create an email, upload it to your nearest FidoNet node, and the network would do the rest. With dialup access to the internet, the BBS was becoming endangered, as was the Amiga as my chosen platform. It wouldn’t be long before I was hosting websites and email servers on the internet instead.
In 1995 I got the chance to start my IT career as a trainee technician. Rather than joining as a programmer, I secured a job as a trainee. This was on the hardware track and not the software track as I had dreamed. As a trainee, I was taught about printers, hard drives, replacing power supplies, and later installing software to new computers in the offices of Railtrack and Wessex Water. After two years, I graduated from trainee status to technician, together with a nice raise and a new company car.
During the next two years, my understanding of client operating systems grew, moving from DOS 6 to Windows 95 and even Windows NT 4. I learned a great deal about networking, TCP/IP, Token Ring, Ethernet, and structured cabling, sometimes called CAT5. However, I was frustrated that I couldn’t get involved with setting up servers, and the thought of programming was never far from my mind. After a few years in desktop support, I was experienced enough to move on to configuring and supporting servers. The traditional infrastructure role, looking after physical servers in a data center, together with all the bits that hold it together: networks, storage arrays, Fibre, etc.
My programming had taken a back seat for long enough. I started to implement automated responses to server alerts, allowing the servers to tell you that something needs attention. This was stimulating my programming juices, and around 2012 I started to hear about something called DevOps. It was sold to me as infrastructure guys writing programs to fix faults spotted by the monitoring and alerting systems. Meanwhile, programming had developed in the marketplace. I was never trained as a programmer beyond A-Levels, but terms like SCRUM and Agile seemed to go hand in hand with DevOps. My career made a slight pivot, and now I can share my learnings with you.
(excerpts from ‘Who Moved My Servers – Neil Millard’)
How did you prepare for the interview?
Find out as much as you can about the company that is interviewing you. Understanding how they help their customers and how the role you are applying for helps achieve that aim. Understanding the why will motivate you and the interviewer. If you can demonstrate your knowledge to do the company’s job, the only thing left is to let your enthusiasm show.
Can you provide some book recommendations?
- How to start and conversation and make friends – Don Gabor
- Start with Why – Simon SinekWho moved my servers – Neil Millard
- Things are changing very fast in the industry; how do you keep yourself updated. Please list techniques or newsletters, podcasts, events, etc.
- More than seven – Gareth R, blog and weekly newsletter laws blogDevops and AWS events – meetup
Any advice about CVs?
A two page CV, first page, name and career/project highlights with qualifications/certifications, page two, career history and/or education history
Advice for someone looking for a job?
A trainee/apprentice role will get your foot in the door and give you the opportunity to learn skills and knowledge.
Why do you think you were selected among other candidates?
Experience and willingness to learn about the problem they wanted to solve. Ask lots of questions about what they want to achieve.
Lessons from jobs that you couldn’t get.
The two reasons I think I have failed to get past the interview was either:
- Missing a key skill, so I know what I need to learn
- Not wanting the job / showing enthusiasm
Also read How to be a DevOps Engineer – From Help Desk to CTO