Too much too soon?
October 13, 2005 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Am I qualified to do this IT job, and/or is it something I could pick up as I go?

So I'm applying for a job at my local library as a part-time (20 hrs./week) technology manager. I feel that I have some of the skills necessary to do this job well. I've done tech support before, am very comfortable with installing and configuring hardware and software, and feel like my real strength is being a patient and helpful explainer of technology to the less tech-saavy, which a lot of the librarians would be. Where I'm very uncertain of my skills is in computer and network security, which would be one of the job's main functions. Also, even though I've done tech support and can handle a pretty broad range of everyday problems, there's always been someone at a higher level to refer the really tricky problems to, and that wouldn't be the case here. I'd be on my own. (With old coworkers and AskMeFi that I could occasionally ask for help, but I wouldn't want to rely to heavily on either of those.) From what I've heard, the director of the library places great value on people skills, which is certainly my forte. But I'd like to know if you think it would be unwise for me to take on this position if it's offered to me, considering I'm a novice at things like security, which would obviously cause the most disruption if I screwed something up, or didn't know enough.

I'm entirely prepared to ramp up my skills on the job, read extensively, and get familiar with best practices, but is this going to be biting off more than I can chew?

These are the responsibilities from the job description:
*Plans, implements, and evaluates effective library computer services.
*Maintains a 100+ PC network with a web server and LAN server.
*Purchases, configures, and installs PC’s, network equipment, printers, lasers, bar code readers, etc.
*Installs software and oversees critical updates.
*Troubleshoots and repairs network equipment.
*Maintains computer and network security.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
They've got this as a part time job? For a 100 computer network, I'd say full time at best.

Anyway, if you're not comfortable with security, take a helldesk job somewhere with a big company until you've learned enough. You don't want to be the end person responsible for something you don't know in detail.
posted by SpecialK at 2:40 PM on October 13, 2005

Go for it. You sound like you're ready. Attitude and willingness to learn are better qualities than exstensive technical knowledge. Shit goes obsolete so fast IT people are always learning on the job. Just make sure you give that critical updates part your first priority. Not doing a timely update and letting in a worm is one of the top two firable offences (the other is not making good back-ups).
posted by Mr T at 3:12 PM on October 13, 2005

I think the network skills you'd need from day one would be tough enough that you should pass on this, sorry.
posted by anadem at 3:14 PM on October 13, 2005

Looking at the job description, what I don't see is "assist library users with day-to-day technical questions". So I'm wondering if that is the role of the current staff? If that's right then this role starts to look like one to give depth technical backup to the regular staff and isn't really a 'customer facing' role.

Which might not be right for you.

Only you can judge, it depends on something that's very hard to assess, which is how quickly and effectively you can pick up new things. If it helps though, here's what your job is likely to involve.

Managing 100 public access computers means striking just the right balance between control and permission, ie: your users must be able to use Hotmail, when they navigate to a website that uses Shockwave, the right version must be already installed. However when they try to download 'Smiley central' for example, they must either be stopped or some invisible process must render it harmless.

You'll need to be able to build one 'model' machine that will do everything just right and have the network and software deployment resources to clone it to 100 machines in a few hours. You'll need either an extremely restrictive user environment or some clever software like driveshield to lock the machine from changes. All of this will probably already be in place. All you will have to do will be to understand it and then maintain it.

Maintaining it means that when a new version of Flash, for example, is released, it needs to be deployed straight away. You won't get any warning, suddenly your users will start reporting that a strange message appears and they can't get rid of it, or some such. You'll need to know what to do and be able to do it quickly. This will take up a *lot* of your time. You'll also need to be aware of the latest patches, spyware and virus issues and keep up to speed with general update and network news, but nothing too clever. Check out Security Now, and the Spyware info forums.

Then there's general hardware faults, inexplicable software misbehaviour and endless printing hassles. Common sense rules here, but the nice thing about having model machines, clone software and 100 identical examples is that it is quite easy to isolate the problem and just swap things about until you can figure out what's wrong.

Finally, to be really good at this, you'll pick up from the staff that, for example, someone came in, tried to read a postscript file on the screen and couldn't do so. You'll take that as a challenge, Google away and come up with a solution. Then test it and roll it out. The guy will never come back of course, but the setup and the service will be that much better.

I know what anadem's saying but in honesty, if you're reasonably bright then the networking basics (and that's probably all you'll need) are not hard to pick up. You'll already know if you have a feel for that side of things.

I would expect that within the Library system you would quickly be able to find a technical 'mentor'. Techies love to be asked for advice, ask around, find someone in a similar situation and set up a mutual support arrangement so you have someone to bounce problems off, shouldn't be hard.

Hope that helps. It's not too frightening and if you've already got the tech support experience, not too difficult to expand it in this unusual direction. 'Computer Security' is such a broad and general term that it obscures as much as it reveals, but its something all technical people will have to learn about sooner or later, so why not now?

One other thing, that webserver - what's that about? Why does a Library run a webserver? Could be trouble, check it out.

Good luck, whatever you decide.
posted by grahamwell at 3:33 PM on October 13, 2005

I think you'd be in over your head. I'm a big proponent of learning on the job, but the stuff you're missing here is too big and too important to pick up that way. If I were the hiring manager, I'd pass on you as well, both for the good of the organization and for the sanity of the potential employee.

Sorry, and try getting in a different position where you can get the mentoring you need to get up to this level, if that's what you're interested in.
posted by matildaben at 3:35 PM on October 13, 2005

I think you're fine for this job.

Libraries generally don't have bleeding-edge security in place. They have a few core tools that they use regularly that are probably fairly easy to use, since they may have to be supported by non-IT people. As someone else mentioned, since it's a part-time gig, they're just looking for someone to learn the tools they use and check on them periodically. It's not like they're running a firewall for the Pentagon or something. (Not to knock people who work in network security--I know that's a huge responsibility--I'm just saying that, despite the job description, I don't think this particular job would draw on those skills a great deal.)

In job postings they like to toss in buzzwords like "security" and "critical updates" which in a job like this would translate to "maintaining our standard Windows lock-down program" and "going to every once in a while." Any additional skills, admin tools, image creation/distribution, etc, someone will teach you once you begin, since they vary so much from one place to another.
posted by Brian James at 4:06 PM on October 13, 2005

Go for it.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 6:30 PM on October 13, 2005

I have a specific example of why the IT department at university libraries might need good security in place. Without mentioning names, there's a second tier ivy league school in the Midwest who only had one person to do all that was mentioned by the OP, in addition to all of the security. For some reason, IT services for the whole campus is under the umbrella of the library, I suppose because they consider it "information services." Who knows. Regardless, the server that contained all of their alumni records was hacked, and thousands of personal records - including SS numbers and the like - were compromised.

I don't really blame the gentleman who was supposed to be doing security in addition to his many other responsibilities - he was fighting a losing battle. They recently made the step of hiring someone specific to handle network security - albeit someone who has no practical experience in it - so they think they're covered now. [roll eyes]

OP, I would think long and hard about what was mentioned by other posters. The job requirements you mentioned are probably not possible to do well in 20 hours a week, even if you did have experience to back you up. Add security to that (webserver, for one!) and you've got a steep learning curve and possible unpleasant ramifications.
posted by Liosliath at 9:30 PM on October 13, 2005

There's always the chance you could really be terrible, but the librarians wouldn't know the difference...

More seriously, a library is likely to have a catalog server. Might be worth asking if the software vendor maintains that server, or if you would. If you would, investigate what hardware it might be running on, what operating system, any underlying database software it might use. That catalog server might be the "web server" mentioned in the job posting.
posted by gimonca at 9:38 PM on October 13, 2005

If you're of reasonable intelligence, you'll be able to figure out the software you need to know. Err on the side of caution and you'll learn a lot in the process. Sink or swim anon!
posted by AllesKlar at 10:39 PM on October 13, 2005

To answer your question though: No, you're not qualified.
posted by AllesKlar at 10:39 PM on October 13, 2005

I work as an IT tech in a library, so I might be able to offer more insight. I also am the soon-to-be ILS (integrated library system) technician, so I'm starting to be familiar with various vendors of library software, their support policies, etc.

The short of it is that you most likely won't have to do heavy support on the library system. You would handle common tasks like backing up the appropriate data, handle network issues to the server, and do general maintenance on the library system (creating indexes, etc., unless a librarian is technical enough to handle it), but any problem with the software itself will be fixed remotely by the ILS vendor. At least, that's the way it was with our previous vendor, and that's the way it will be with the next one. Those systems tend to be fairly closed to the administrator, and besides, they keep most of the technical details and documentation to themselves, except for installation procedures and such.

As far as the wider job description, it really seems to be geared towards a confident network administrator. You really will be in charge of everything related to the network. It sounds like user coaching and technical help might be handled by someone else, though. It seems you would be putting yourself in a position where your best skills would be underused and your worst would be called upon for the majority of the tasks. If security is your weak point, then being put in charge of a 100 PC computer network and being in charge of keeping it secure (and libraries are notorious for wanting to keep patron data secure and private) might not be the best job for you.

If you would have someone to coach you through on your first year or so, I imagine you'd be fine. Otherwise, I would pass on it. You would learn a lot of new things, and fast, sure, but you would be cutting your teeth on the library's network, and if something blows up, you're responsible. I would find somewhere where I could work on these skills under the tutelage of a senior admin before attempting to get this job. Actually, that's what I did, and I'm now in charge of a 50 PC LAN, although central IT takes care of a lot of stuff. I was very skilled at hardware and software troubleshooting, I knew a lot about networks and security, college diploma in computer science, etc. But I never had administered a network before, and I would have had a lot of trouble getting in the flow of things and doing it right without someone to guide me. To do it alone, on a network twice as big, with no central IT to take care of the infrastructure? I would've had no chance and would have burned out in the first month.

It's a lot of responsibility, and if you've never done anything like it before, taking the job would be bad for your employer (sub-optimal security and network support) and yourself (stress, burn-out, professional contacts turning sour if you can't handle what you said you could). I'd say you need more experience. But some people do great with a trial by fire, so what do I know :)
posted by splice at 9:00 AM on October 14, 2005

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