My first real UNIX job was at AT&T Wireless…well lets slow down a bit.
I was a contractor working at McCaw Cellular. I was helping convert their MS MAIL system that ran on DOS to this shiny new product called Exchange. My liaison was a guy name Kevin Regimbal. Next to Doug Hauger (coworker at Excel Data Corp where I worked at the time) probably the most influential person in my life. We had to interface with their SMTP gateway which ran on Solaris and used Sendmail.
I had very little experience with UNIX at this point. I played with Slackware Linux at home and helped manage a dial in server called Merlin at Excel Data Corp. Speaking of Excel Rocky Morgan was another really influential person in my life as well but I will tell that story later.
Okay so here I am doing a contract job and really focused on NT and Exchange. Kevin showed me Solaris and Sendmail and how it interfaced with the MS MAIL system and I was in love. Solaris was so cool! I mentioned to Kevin that I wish I could be a UNIX admin one day (see that was my dream job).
Kevin must have seen something in me because shortly after he was building out his team at the now AT&T Wireless and I applied and got the job.
Kevin taught me everything about being a good UNIX administrator. Kevin was kind and never yelled. He always explained his decisions and even if you disagreed with him you respected him.
Kevin taught me the importance of supporting our customers. He let me known we weren’t working on servers but helping other people do their jobs. If the mail server wasn't working people couldn’t do work and that was the real problem we were solving.
Kevin left AT&T Wireless and went to Amazon. He hired me there as well. I really don’t know where I would be in my career today if it wasn’t for him. Amazon was a lot different than AT&T Wireless. Instead of Solaris it was Linux. Instead of <50 servers for a team of five we had >1200 for a team of five.
Everything changes at scale and automation was needed. Instead of our customers being people in retail stores or business types now our customers were developers and everyone who used Amazon.com.
We had to work closely with developers. We had to understand the impact of their changes. We had to anticipate problems and proactively solve them before outages came. We had to make sure communications between operations and the different development teams was smooth. There couldn’t be a wall between us.
Work at Amazon was easily 100% more intense than at AT&T Wireless but it never seem to get to Kevin. He was always calm. Always supportive. Kevin fostered the relationships between our team and everyone else.
I remember the moment I realized the difference between Linux and Solaris. I was working on a server that threw a kernel panic. I was dutifully noting the stack trace and trying to figure out why it had crashed. Was it a bad motherboard? Maybe a disk was failing. Kevin walked over and said “Just reboot it - its Linux”. My jaw dropped. We had Solaris servers at AT&T Wireless that had been running for years. If Solaris crashed Sun could tell us exactly why. I was shocked.
I remember thinking “This Linux fad won’t last…”