I ran as fast and far away from Minnesota as I could. Riding the heels of a bad breakup with an abusive fiancee, and a good breakup with the following boyfriend, I could no longer go on doing billing data entry and living off the mattress in my father’s living room. I spent three months living in a one bedroom built in the 1900s, getting my head as straight as it was going to be, and figured out what I was going to do next.
At 20, I had gradually become aware of how badly I could screw up my life. I’d wasted a few thousand dollars trying to prop up an emotionally abusive ex. Among other things, this told me that love, while a fine goal, was probably pointless to shoot for until I could support myself. A summer in entirely close quarters with both my father and my mother brought me to the conclusion that I wasn’t interested in modeling myself after either of them. Better and more interesting was the proposition of becoming like my Uncle Rob.
Uncle Rob was successful in a way that no one else in my life was. He was a genial, well-heeled systems architect from the East Coast who spent his time rubbing elbows with Eric Raymond and my even more successful Uncle Doug. More to the point, he was a friend - the experience with the ex had brought me into contact with him while I was struggling to keep afloat in the murky waters of emotional abuse and work-induced repetitive stress injury.
So I turned to Rob and asked him to take me on as an apprentice. My uncle thought about this and went to my Uncle Doug, who’d invested quite a bit into trying to help me remedy, then avoid, the situation with the toxic ex. Uncle Rob racked a server for me, and between my battered Dell laptop and a slightly rusty Sun Netra X1, he taught me the basics of Linux.
I proceeded to move to Virginia, where I badly flunked my first interview for a data center gig. A month later, I squeaked out of my A+ certification with marginal grades, and went to work upgrading desktop systems at an Army building in downtown Alexandria. This lasted for about two months before one of the civilian contractors got a little bit too touchy-feely. The contracting company who had hired me on as a consultant stopped scheduling me after that, and I went back to alternately studying and playing MUDs in the early hours of the morning.
By August of 2007, I was beginning to feel something akin to despair. I was seven months into my career as an aspiring systems administrator. I had two certifications, two months of experience, and ten hours of time “consulting” for my Uncle Rob at Equinix, where I sat around on raised floors inside of data centers and waited for him to finish configuring routers so I could unplug cables from one port and plug them into another. I was running out of money, and had no vehicle or driver’s license with which to reach the Washington Metro transit system.
Then one of Uncle Rob's friend, an HR staffer from San Francisco, visited. Over the span of an afternoon, we rewrote my resume. That evening, I posted it up on Monster and a few other places. The next morning, my phone began to ring off the hook.
It’s amazing how much a well-written resume can speak for you. Within two weeks, I had interviews at two Fortune 500 companies who were deeply interested in my experiences sitting around in data centers.
The first interview was a ten hour grinder with eight different interviews from twelve different NOClings, all of which had stubble, thousand yard stares, and nice thick work boots. I fought my way through them with clenched teeth and bleakly admitted that I knew maybe half of the answers to the technical questions. After that, management came in. And by management, I mean John.
John had worn a button up shirt that day. It was his first interview as a manager, and he was still bothering to shave off the stubble. There was some other guy with him, who tendered his two weeks the very next day. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember sitting around and shooting the shit with both of them before Seth came in.
Seth was the kind of figure everyone wants for a Dad or a manager. He’s the responsible breadwinning type who will talk about his time in ROTC with reverence and respect. The consummate professional, Seth took no shit, and he explained to me in simple terms that if he asked me to come in my first day and sweep the data center, that’s what I’d be doing. If I came in dressed in a suit (as he did on his first day), there was a good chance he’d give me a flamethrower and tell me to go seal tar on the roof.
“Cool!” I said. “Where do I sign?”