Want career advice for IT in the SF/Bay Area
January 26, 2013 5:32 PM   Subscribe

In the medium term it looks like I may have the opportunity to do part time on-the-job retraining. I'd like some recommendations on what technologies to focus on if I want to plan for or at least be open to moving from a job where I work remotely for an office in Maryland to an in-office job at a company in the SF/Bay Area. More snowflakey details inside.

I have 17 years' experience in IT, in systems engineering, operations, administration, process, automation, design, implementation, management, troubleshooting and architecture, focusing on Microsoft SharePoint 2003, 2007 and 2010 since 2002. Before 2002, I did misc other jobs including software, security, network design, lower technical management, project management, integration and integration architecture, consulting, etc.

During recent social visits with local friends in the Bay Area (where I now live), I've gotten the serious cold shoulder from friends' friends and coworkers when I mention Microsoft. I think this is a shame - I am capable of and interested in doing stuff other than Microsoft stuff, but I tend to focus on what it is my employer wants me to do or focus on, and for the past 10 years or so that's been Microsoft operating systems, servers and application servers.

And it's not that I'm a fire and forget sort of systems engineer. Given my druthers (which I am not always given) I implement Microsoft servers like any good server. When I'm done with set-up the logs are as clean as possible and I can maintain them by remote monitoring and only the occasional intervention. And I don't see a server reboot as the first option or any option when something new starts acting funny. In other words, I have standards, and I like to keep it that way.

I'm also a big proponent and implementor of configuration management tools, configuration scripting and automation, using blades and virtual server hosts and other technologies to reduce work and errors, to manage workflow as well and as cleanly as possible, to increase redundancy and reliability and to make workers in systems engineering more efficient and versatile.

But usually these conversations get to Microsoft and it's cold shoulder time.

So am I just having the wrong conversations with the wrong people or do I need to start retraining and getting some UNIX/Linux under my belt, Java, Python, Ruby and maybe getting back into coding as well? If so, what techs and specialties would you recommend?

If instead there are plenty of opportunities in BPM and Change Management and in companies that celebrate ITILv3 and use SharePoint and appreciate a finely-tuned-deeply-and-broadly-experienced-but-uncertified Microsoft Engineer with plenty of experience and I just need to go out and find them, I'd like to know that too.

In case it matters, planning range for this discussion is probably 2 to 3 years or more, but I can probably start retraining if need be within 6 months or so.

As always, thank you in advance for any advice you might have.
posted by kalessin to Technology (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered looking at a companies that provide cloud / virtualized services including Windows Server? Those guys would probably appreciate your skill set, and give you a great opportunity to cross-train with some of the best Linux people on the planet.

Alternately, doesn't Microsoft have a few sites down in the Bay Area? You might hit them up too.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:46 PM on January 26, 2013

I don't think it would hurt you to have more Unix/Linux under your belt, but it depends on what you want to do, really. I'm sure that there are plenty of Microsoft Sharepoint shops that will be around forever, but if you want to be managing some just-this-side-of-started-start-up's web tier, yeah... you'd better speak Linux and Puppet and Mysql and HAProxy and Nginx and Ruby and Python.

The Micro$oft $ucks stereotype is lame, but unavoidable if you're trying to make inroads with a 'cooler' crowd. They just don't have a place in the overwhelming majority of 'tech' shops. That said, you can absolutely move into that world if you can get yourself caught up if you teach yourself the specifics of some of those technologies. The fundamentals are pretty platform/language/whatever agnostic, and anybody that you'd want to work for knows it.
posted by wrok at 5:49 PM on January 26, 2013

If you want to be in the cool-kids tech startup world, you definitely should get some hands on Linux experience. And work on cloud computing. Knowing how to set up, say, a Postgres+Rails+Memcache system on Amazon EC2 or what Heroku does and how to use it well will stand you a long way. There's nothing wrong with Windows expertise, and a lot of the core concepts you know will carry over. But there's a parallel set of skills and concepts you should pick up for Linux.

You might want to make a habit of reading Hacker News and learning more about the technologies discussed there. There's all sorts of things wrong with that community, but it's a good way to take the pulse of the tech startup scene.
posted by Nelson at 5:52 PM on January 26, 2013

There are tons and tons of jobs for microsoft people. They're just in jobs in corporate IT and big consultancy firms like Accenture.

I don't think you need extensive 'linux experience' to get a job at a tech company that focuses on linux, but you do need to at least know your way around the command line and have at least some experience setting up and maintaining linux servers. I got my job with a tech company, which is largely with linux servers, on the basis of exactly that-- I could talk linux in the job interview because I've worked with it off and on, but I'd never really worked with it professionally. Now 90% of my job is working in linux. You may need to take a step down or a sideways move, though, if you want to start over with linux, rather than windows at first-- maybe spend a little while working in a NOC or something.

Just start working through ruby on rails tutorials with an ubuntu install or something. You'll learn a lot really fast.
posted by empath at 6:02 PM on January 26, 2013

If you have that much experience and want bank on it, look for jobs at large "enterprise" companies. Most younger companies will be heavy into open source / Amazon cloud infrastructure.
posted by wongcorgi at 6:06 PM on January 26, 2013

Honestly it sounds like you have plenty of Microsoft experience. You could elect to continue specializing in MS, but I figure more specialization means more pay for fewer jobs. Or you could shore up some basic deficiencies; in addition to the Windows admin jobs (including sharepoint!), there are a number of Linux admin jobs on SFBay.craigslist for which you'll need some experience / training to compete for.

So what should you learn? You probably won't be able to outcompete people on years of LAMP stack performance tuning, but there are many technologies that are so new employers have to pay out the nose for experienced consultants, or settle for relatively untrained engineers. One tech trend I noticed after reviewing craigslist is Hadoop. It's relatively new, the barrier to entry is only recently lowered, and you won't see it deployed in someone's home network for lolz.

Also, at 17 years experience, it wouldn't hurt your career to start looking up the promotion chain. Maybe not immediately if you need to change employers to stay where you are, but soonish.
posted by pwnguin at 8:22 PM on January 26, 2013

Thanks all. I know my way around a Linux command line, prefer the less expert shells (tcsh, csh over ksh and bash and borne shell), I like to use vi over emacs and pico (had a job as an nroff/Troff/eqn/tbl-using secretary for a bunch of geologists years ago and never stopped using vi after that, so ingrained were the command sequences for me).

When I was a tyke IT geek I went so far as to recompile kernels to make servers into two-NIC proxies and I've also more recently done manual installs of things like MediaWiki and extensions (like the Timeline extension that requires installing some additional binaries to work) so I'm not afraid of the reasonably well-documented make edit and recompile, nor of having to edit .php files to get things working in MediaWiki. But I don't know if that's all that's needed for modern Linux/UNIX setups and I know I could know a heck of a lot more about UNIX/Linux.

I'll look up the terms you all used and see if I think I can get some experience in same. I'll also explore enterprise companies, the possibilities of cloud computing hadn't occurred to me either, and I'm deeply interested in that sort of thing, so maybe I can look at working for service-providing companies in same. I'm aware that if I retool I might have to take a step down and that'd honestly be okay, both in terms of experience-gathering and in terms of pay. The pay for a Sr. Systems Engineer in a large company but paid as if I lived in Maryland is probably comparable to the pay for a jr. or middlin' engineer/admin in the Bay Area.

I'll also review Ruby. I'd done a little writing of that here and there when noodling around with Sketchup.

And I'll look for opportunities going up the promotion chain. In past companies I've done low-level technical management and in the current one I'd looked at going up a bit further but they promptly saddled me with the worst and most challenging employees to manage and while I succeeded with one, the other seemed like a really poor risk for me to continue with so I took a break - owing also to other life events it seemed like a bad time to stick my neck out.

But I'd be game to try again with different folks, perhaps at a different company.
posted by kalessin at 1:40 PM on January 27, 2013

P.S. I would love to have more discussion so I'll leave the question unresolved for now. Carry on if you like. Thanks again!
posted by kalessin at 1:43 PM on January 27, 2013

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