What can go in a sysadmin’s work portfolio?

April 20, 2009 Ask Andy, Job hunting No comments ,

A portfolio of your work is a great way to show at the job interview that you are able to produce work that the hiring manager wants. Anyone can make claims as to his skills and abilities, but producing tangible evidence of those skills makes it clear, and reduces the risk for the interviewer. Bringing a portfolio also puts you above other candidates who don’t.

For programmers, code samples are the most obvious work product to bring, but what about sysadmins? Jeffery Land writes:

I was curious about what you suggest for a systems administrator to bring in a portfolio? Most of the work revolves around resource management and troubleshooting issues. At the end of the day this pretty much just leaves you with the experience and nothing you can really point to. I’ve been putting together a blog with my experience that I point out to potential employers but that’s pretty much that best I’ve been able to come up with for a sample.

There’s plenty you do that has a trail. I’d start with just about anything you’ve created that gets put on paper:

  • Network diagrams
  • Policy manuals
  • Documentation
  • Checklists
  • Project schedules
  • Training materials
  • Budgets

You can also include electronic files and code:

  • Significant shell scripts
  • Configuration files

Before you snicker at how silly a config file might be, consider the research and care and feeding that goes into it. For example, tuning PostgreSQL’s memory and disk usage can be a huge challenge. My postgresql.conf files at work have been tweaked and tuned and comments explain why different settings are set as they are. Some places have links to pages that give the reasons for each parameter’s value. It shows the history and reasoning behind it all.

One caution, though, is that while these documents and files are great evidence of your skills, they may well be considered confidential by your company. You certainly don’t want to include any proprietary information or passwords in your portfolio. You should plan on leaving your portfolio at the interview, and don’t want to say “I can only leave certain documents.”

Whether or not you can get existing work products, Jeffery’s blog idea is a great one. It allows him an easy way to show that he has experience and know-how, even without a final work product to show. Take a look at his blog entry called “Configuring DNS Zones in Core”, where Jeffrey explains configuration details for DNS under Windows. He’s created a helpful resource out on the net that will likely improve his blog’s Google page rank, and anyone checking him out online can get an idea of his sysadmin skills.

Your portfolio is a powerful selling tool at the interview, and every techie can create one, no matter the type of work she does.

JobCamp wrap-up and 23 Rules For Job Seekers

March 27, 2009 Job hunting 1 comment

Milwaukee JobCamp today was a great success. Over 500 people showed up at Bucketworks, one of my favorite places ever, to meet other job seekers and get advice. Jim Trainor gave a great presentation on job hunting that had standing-room only.

My talk picked a few of the high points out of my upcoming book, which I condensed into my presentation 23 Rules for Job Hunters.

Response was even better than I had hoped for, with at least a dozen people coming to talk to me after my presentation. I met a couple more great people like Angela Harris, trading stories and talking shop until the place closed at 9:00.

If you were at JobCamp today, thanks for stopping by my blog, and I hope you’ll follow my news feed. You can also follow me on Twitter @theworkinggeek.

Beautiful Teams

March 8, 2009 People, Work life No comments

beautiful-teams.gifBeautiful Teams from O’Reilly is going to the printer next week, and I’ve been reading the draft. It’s chock full of interviews and stories and opinions about development teams and what makes them work. If you’re a reader of this blog, then it should be on your list to pick up.

How to get laid off properly

March 7, 2009 Job hunting No comments ,

My friend Casey West got laid off the other day, and he wrote a great blog post about it. Casey’s post tells about how he handled it, and his advice for others in his unfortunate situation. I especially like how he discusses that after a layoff, you are effectively a security risk, so understand the company’s handling of you.

However, I’d like to point out a few things he did right that he didn’t mention.

Don’t argue

When you’re being fired, either as a layoff or for cause, there’s nothing to argue about. Nothing you can say will save your job. There is nothing a manager likes less than having to fire someone. You’re being called into the office as the final step in a long progression. The topic of the conversation is the termination of your employment, not to discuss whether you should be fired or not.

Tell people you’re available

Casey immediately started to let people know he was available for work. Online, that means blogging about it and mentioning it in some online fora. It also means telling family and friends. He didn’t say “Please give me a job,” but he did let people know. Getting the word out is the first step in working your social network for potential leads.

I wish Casey all the best in his hunt for his next job. I’ve worked with him both at a previous company, and on open source projects. He’s a great programmer, and he’s great to work with. His resume is at http://caseywest.com/hire-me/.

Sing from your toes

November 24, 2008 Job hunting No comments

Jason Seiden’s been posting a lot of interview thoughts on his Twitter. Here’s a little video clip on how to interview with emotional impact, also in his blog.

Do your due diligence when researching a company

November 9, 2008 Job hunting 1 comment

Random Manager posts about uncovering disturbing background about a company when researching before pursuing an opportunity:

It may not bother some candidates that a company’s executives are members of a cult that is popular with certain Hollywood celebrities. However, when there is evidence that principles from the cult are being used as management tools within the company, that’s a clear sign to run, not walk, from that opportunity.

While finding out that the company may be run by Operating Thetans makes for a good horror story, the reality doesn’t have to be that creepy to make the research worth your while. When you go researching your potential future employer, I suggest looking for people who are part of the company, and find what they have to say.

Maybe you’ll find a former sysadmin who blogs openly about how things go at the company. What if the IT department is in the middle of political upheaval over whether to move to Oracle or stick with PostgreSQL? Perhaps the company has had trouble hiring developers, and you’ll want to ask about that at the interview.

No matter what you find, or don’t, the potential goldmine of information available about your prospective employer makes some online research well worth the investment of time.

Laurie Ruettimann’s four simple rules

November 9, 2008 Work life No comments

Laurie Ruettimann over at Punk Rock HR has four simple rules to live by:

  1. Don’t be an asshole.
  2. Don’t divert attention away from the mission and vision of the organization.
  3. Don’t cause problems that are bigger than the problem we’re trying to solve.
  4. If you don’t like it, leave.

Beautiful, every single one of them. I’d like to club everyone who posts at anonymous whining sites like jobvent.com with these rules, starting with #2 and #4.

Passing the receptionist test

October 26, 2008 Job hunting, People 2 comments

A recent post on The Daily WTF discusses a company where they employ The Receptionist Test. The hiring manager has the receptionist stage a tech support problem and asks the candidate, waiting in the lobby for his or her interview, for help. One guy tries to help with a document that won’t print, but doesn’t realize the printer is off, and so on.

While tricks like this may not be common, there’s a reception test that you run into every time you interview. Every interaction you have with everyone in the company is part of your interview that could have positive or negative effects, and the receptionist is the first candidate. The receptionist comes into contact with hundreds of people every day, and is likely tuned into observing people as they pass through the doors.

Whenever I have an interview, the first thing I do after showing the candidate out is ask the receptionist “What did you think? Any comments?” Usually I’ll get something bland like “He seemed nice, I like that car he drove up in.” Other times I get more interesting comments like “He took a long time to fill out his application. He spent a lot of time on his phone while he was writing, and didn’t seem like he was very interested in the interview.” or “It must have been a long trip, ’cause he practically ran in and asked for the bathroom.” Those specific comments don’t affect much as far perception, but it gives an idea of how you’re constantly on display.

How you treat the receptionist speaks volumes about you. Were you polite? Did you say “please” and “thank you”? Or did you just grunt and drool before bothering to put on your Happy Interview Face? The receptionist, and those around you, will know.

It might not even be the receptionist who notices your behavior. Maybe that guy in a suit sitting in the lobby isn’t another interview candidate, but the CEO waiting for the CFO to go to lunch. I’ve even sat in the lobby myself before interviews observing the candidate.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your scrutiny starts when you step into the interviewer’s office. You’ve been on stage well before that point.

There are no silver bullets in job hunting

October 2, 2008 Job hunting No comments

I’ve been reading a lot of Stack Overflow lately, especially the questions related to interviewing and job hunting. It’s making me a little sad.

So many of the questions seem to be from people looking for silver bullets that are The Right Way to do things. There are questions like:

Asking “What will a prospective employer want to see in my code portfolio?” is like asking “Where should I take this girl on a date tomorrow?” There’s no way to answer. We can answer in vague terms, like saying “Put your best code in the portfolio” or “Don’t pull a Travis Bickle and take her to a porn movie,” but that’s about it.

These people seem to be looking for definitive answers where none can exist. Don’t fall into that trap yourself. Treat every job in your job hunt as a brand new case, with unique requirements and a unique set of ways that the job can use your skills.

Don’t fight to stay average

September 24, 2008 Job hunting No comments

Many times, job hunting is about beating the numbers. When you
send in a resume with hundreds of other candidates, or are one of
a dozen interviews, the numbers are against you.
It’s your job to stand out from the rest of the crowd, to
make it simple for the hiring manager say “This guy’s the one we
want, no contest.”

That’s why I was discouraged, although not shocked, to see some
blog comments recently where the posters seemed to be endorsing
mediocrity, making excuses for being an average, me-too candidate.

The first comment, over at Evil HR Lady,
lambasted the interview question “Why do you want to work here?”


i never ask that question since i’m not interested in azz-kissers.

as though 99% applicants aren’t just trying to find a decent job with a decent company in their field. please!

if someone is interested enough to go through the hiring process, i don’t expect them to have breathlessly anticipated employment with my company since they were just ‘yay-high’.

let’s get real, people.

Anonymous is saying “Candidates don’t need to show passion and
excitement for the job, because 99% of everyone is trying to get
by.” In fact, that’s exactly why you should show how you’re
excited about the job, because it sets you apart from the rest of
the crowd. Instead, Anonymous chooses to fight to maintain the
middle ground, to firmly stay average and uninteresting. Chances
are, he’ll wind up with an average and uninteresting job working
for an average and uninteresting boss, too.

The second, posted here on TWG by Andres Kievsky
in response to
What you say vs. what others hear,
takes issue with my comments. I said that it was rude to send
thank-you notes from your Blackberry minutes after the interview
has ended. I think it tells the recipient that you’re just cranking
through job prospects hoping to find something that happens to fit.

Kievsky disagrees, saying that that’s the way Generation Y does
things and management better get used to it:

Understanding generational divides is something difficult, but a very important skill for any manager nowadays.

There are myriad differences in attitude and communication style between Generation Ys and older people. I suggest reading up on the subject before dismissing anyone.

Kievsky isn’t wrong that the Millenials in the workforce are going
to be a challenge

to a business world that isn’t used to these newcomers that have
always had cell phones, always had the Internet. However, those
Millenials are also going to be up against the wall if they don’t
understand the culture they’re entering, and refuse to play by its
rules. Maybe it’s “normal” or “standard” for Millenials to send a
thank-you SMS message, but that’s a poor justification for alienating
someone in a process that is all about human interaction.

Being the same as everyone else is cold comfort when you don’t get
the job, beaten out by someone who is willing to transcend the group
she’s lumped in with. As with Anonymous, rather than using the
averageness of the masses to justify poor business sense, Kievsky
and Anonymous would better serve readers by encouraging them to
elevate from the norm.