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What IT jobs don't involve coding?

By grubby in Technology
Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 01:46:21 AM EST
Tags: etc (all tags)

I am going through a situation where I graduated from high school going on 3 years ago. I started working originally in a retail environment until I switched to my first typical computer tech job. My problem is where to go from here? Read on for more details.

I originally started working while still in high school at RadioShack and then moved to a small computer company in my hometown. About that time I started getting very interested in unix, and other superior technologies. After about a year I switched jobs again, and am currently in a pc hardware tech support type of position. The pay is reasonable, but I can't help but feel that I am never going to be satisfied in this job. The company refuses to acknowledge that unix, or linux even exist. I would like to get a job doing something other than pc windows based work. My question however is what jobs are there that some fellow techies have that don't involve programming? I can't program in the slightest. I know how to configure and generally use/admin unix of different flavors. However most of the jobs I can find that are unix related require either insane experience in a unix environment or for you to know C/Etc. I do know some html, and I am wondering if maybe that is more my area I should focus? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


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What IT jobs don't involve coding? | 77 comments (73 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
NT Sysadmin? (2.07 / 14) (#1)
by ramses0 on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 11:32:56 AM EST

I haven't read a single word of this article, but the first thing that leapt to mind when I saw "IT, no coding" is NT sysadmin.

My friend hates coding, and that's one avenue that he tried to find work in.

Another is telephone tech-support, but I don't know if you've already tried/explored that option.

(now time for me to go read the article)

[ rate all comments , for great justice | sell.com ]

Non-programming jobs? There's tons (4.38 / 13) (#2)
by Triseult on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 11:39:03 AM EST

Nowadays, in IT jobs, programming is but one very simple aspect of the whole economy. When I first got on the job market, I felt exactly like you do: I felt that without coding experience, I couldn't go nowhere. Boy was I wrong.

What you need to figure out are your relative strengths. Don't bother too much with what you can't do right now, but rather on what you can learn. Pick jobs that will help you further your experience in these fields, even if they're not that great. Hop jobs a lot in the first years, because you want to hit a broad target. Yes, you might find out that even coding is for you, and that you can learn it on the fly.

To give you an example: I started as a systems integrator, a job that was very tech-heavy but involved minimal coding. (Tech support works as well.) My strengths were in technical writing and conceptualization. I seized opportunities to document operational processes whenever I could. From there, I moved to a job that had to do almost exclusively with operational processes. After two years, I knew my strengths, and I was suddenly highly marketable to companies as someone who could dig technical stuff and could put them to words and structures the management could understand.

So, focus on experience, and always look for an opportunity to step outside the bounds of your tech job. If you smell an opportunity, jump on it. QA, perhaps? Processes? Management, perhaps? Whatever it is, go for it, and target the areas of valuable experience.

Why the dislike of programming? (3.55 / 9) (#3)
by meadows_p on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 11:41:20 AM EST

I can't help but wonder why you don't want to do programming. If you're an knowledgable Unix sysadmin, then you've probably done some shell scripting which isn't that far removed from programming. Even a DBA job, although mostly administrating, would probably involve a bit of SQL here and there. I imagine that, even though the jobs you've seen advertised demand C or equivalent, this is probably becuase (generalizing again), if you can program C then you've got the right aptitude to admin a big system.

Re: Why the dislike of programming? (3.00 / 3) (#12)
by grubby on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 01:04:24 PM EST

I have done some VERY basic shell scripting, and have at least a slight idea of what shell is all about. I might also add that I don't believe my geographic location doesn't help me in my career either. I live in ohio.
"You must restart your computer to complete installation." "Would you like to restart your computer now?" Of course, what else would I do with windows, use it?
[ Parent ]
Re: Why the dislike of programming? (2.00 / 2) (#50)
by andyf on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 12:36:01 PM EST

I'll tell you why *I* don't like programming. I think it's boring. To me, it's just too removed from the rest of the computer and the rest of the world. Don't ask me why. I can spend hours, days, or weeks configuring a system to get it working just right, and I enjoy that. I know Java pretty well (not from web pages, but from taking a course in CSci). In fact, I'm a CSci major. But when I get into a job I don't want to do programming. I don't really understand why, but it's never appealed to me.

[ Parent ]
Operations. (2.75 / 8) (#4)
by unstable on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 11:47:21 AM EST

I work for a MAJOR book distributer as an AS400/mainframe operator... I dont code anything.
Mostly it is performing backups, varying on/off printers, com-devices, and printing reports... I make decent money (although I am still underpaid) and its not that hard.
My goal is to establish BOFH status, then move on to world domination... but that another story...

Basicly go for administration or operations. hope this helps

Reverend Unstable
all praise the almighty Bob
and be filled with slack

Re: Operations. (2.33 / 3) (#38)
by finkployd on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 10:11:40 AM EST

I did that for a while with an S/390 then moved to Systems Programming (a job with suprisingly little programming involved), and now I'm installing Linux on a Mainframe :)

Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
[ Parent ]
What IT jobs don't involve coding? (2.16 / 12) (#5)
by Holloway on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 11:49:12 AM EST

Well, data entry comes to mind.

== Human's wear pants, if they don't wear pants they stand out in a crowd. But if a monkey didn't wear pants it would be anonymous

Ha Ha Ha ! (1.33 / 3) (#39)
by Shoddy on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 10:14:19 AM EST

What is there left to say.
NT = Nuisance Technology !
[ Parent ]
Try it! (3.20 / 10) (#6)
by Kaa on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 11:53:28 AM EST

I can't program in the slightest.

How do you know? Have you tried? Learning programming is easy (it's learning how to program well that is hard). Just try it -- you may be surprised.

I know how to configure and generally use/admin unix of different flavors.

Huh? To admin a *nix system you have to be able to read and write shell scripts. This is programming. If you can deal with shell scripts, you can program (try graduating to Perl). If you cannot, you cannot admin a unix system.

Suggestions? Learn some programming basics. Convincing a PHB that you know some C is not hard and you can pick the rest on the job.

Kaa's Law: In any sufficiently large group of people most are idiots.

Re: Try it! (3.33 / 3) (#10)
by grubby on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 01:01:52 PM EST

I have a close friend who is a pretty good programmer, has been since I first met him. He tried to teach me some a few years back. I am not unwilling to try programming I just don't know where to start?
"You must restart your computer to complete installation." "Would you like to restart your computer now?" Of course, what else would I do with windows, use it?
[ Parent ]
Re: Try it! (3.66 / 3) (#16)
by Kaa on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 01:18:49 PM EST

Well, first of all do NOT start with Visual Basic (or any Basic, for that matter). Permanent drain bamage is said to result.

There are holy wars being fought over the issue of which programming language is appropriate as the first language. If you are comfortable in the unix/admin environment, I'd pronounce a heresy and say you should start with Perl. Perl is easy to play with -- write one-liners and see what they do and where they break. Buy a llama book ("Learning Perl") and a camel book ("Programming Perl, 2nd edition") and you should be fine.

You can start also with C (which is a simple language, really) or Pascal. People say good things of Python, although I haven't tried it. Do NOT start with C++, it's waaay to complicated for a first-timer. Also do not start with Lisp -- it's a good language for mind-bending, but has little relevance to reality in general and unix boxen in particular.

If you have a *nix system to play with, start writing Perl snippets to do useful things: parse your log files to see who called while you were away. Make a list of all files with the setuid bit on. Write code to access a web site and retrieve a page. Play. Do what you think is interesting, funny, and exciting. Do not just sit there reading a book and doing boring programming exercises.

Kaa's Law: In any sufficiently large group of people most are idiots.

[ Parent ]
What about Python? (3.00 / 4) (#31)
by lazerus on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 05:17:44 AM EST

Python is a great way to learn programming.....I realize that might upset Perl gurus like Kaaa, but unfortunately it cannot be ignored that Python is a cleaner, more fun language to learn than Perl. If the guy wants to learn programming, Python is a better start than Perl. Probably something like Python -> Java -> C -> Perl. I suggest Perl at #4, you suggest Perl at #1. Perl will only confuse and upset a new programmer. Of course, if you did a Bachelor of Technology qualification, they'll try and ram pure Java down your throat and then C++. Not that you should avoid a Bachelor of Technology for that - the degree, in itself, is a good thing because you get to do interesting stuff like Numerical Mathematics, Quantitive Techniques and Data Analysis and Statistics. But in the real world, Python is really one of the key languages that you'll use. You can use it with anything. Aside from drivers and other low-level stuff, there's little that can't be done with Python. Some languages might be better suited to a problem, sure, but in 80% of all cases you'll encounter, Python is a good answer. Thanks, Lazerus.

[ Parent ]
Re: What about Python? (3.00 / 2) (#44)
by slycer on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 11:18:04 AM EST

Uh oh..
I feel like I am jumping into a holy war here.. but... I am not a programmer, I, like the poster of this article, had tried a few years back to learn C. Grabbed the K&R book, went through the first bit, did all the excersises, got way bored, couldn't make any programs that would do what I wanted.

I recently (less than 6 months ago) picked up the Learning Perl book. I have never been less confused.. Perl is a VERY simple language to learn (some call it scripting, some call it a real language). It took hardly any time at all before I was writing little apps to do the stuff I wanted.. I even wrote a mail checking prog within the first couple of months (and a lot more since then). With C, I don't think I could have done that near as quick.

Note, I am NOT saying that Python is bad (I've never used it, how can I make that judgement), but I don't think that Perl needs to be #4 on that list :-)

[ Parent ]
Mostly (2.00 / 1) (#75)
by royh on Sat Oct 14, 2000 at 01:23:14 AM EST

I have very little knowledge of python, so I can't comment on that (it looks sorta cool though, and I will be learning it eventually). You are right about perl in the sense that, in can become a very messy language. But this is not necessarily a problem for someone learning it. Simple perl probably approaches python in simplicity. Take-advantage-of-almost-every-single-feature perl (the kind I write) is worse than C++ (and twice as fun!).

[ Parent ]
Re: Try it! (3.00 / 1) (#57)
by Michael Leuchtenburg on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 02:19:00 PM EST

I'm not sure whether you've picked a language to start with, but if you haven't, that's a good place to start.

That's not to say that learning only one language is a good idea, but you do need to start with one language. Once you've learned one or two, picking up a new language is easy. It's the concepts that are hard - the rest is just syntax.

As to where to start with a given language, I'd say go for a book. For your first language anyways, a book aimed at rank novices (which you've said you are) is much better than one of the online tutorials, which generally assume you understand basic programming ideas at the very least, and probably more.

What language, though.. hm, that's a hard decision. I'd like to say avoid Perl and Python, due to the odd concepts they use, but I think a high-level language is good to start off with, since you can do a lot with it right off. Then again, I started with Basic, and had great fun with it.

I'd reccomend Python over Perl as a starting language, though. It handles a lot of things more cleanly and, to me, less confusingly. I've been using Perl longer than Python, and I'm still more confused over Perl's pointers and references than I am by Python's.

[ #k5: dyfrgi ]
[ TINK5C ]
[ Parent ]

Go to school !!! (4.22 / 9) (#7)
by cthulhu on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 12:17:48 PM EST

No, this is not meant as a flame. This is meant as serious advice.

I don't necessarily mean college, and I don't mean "go get a degree."

Look at your local college or community college and see if they offer a course in Unix Systems Administration, if that's your career goal. After taking an introductory course you should have a good idea where to proceed from there (which will probably include at least one programming course).

Can you gain the necessary skills on your own? Sure. Will it be easy? Probably not from what you've already said. Use an educational institution to help you get started.

I don't think you're alone out there. There are probably lots of people reading this that are in a similar situation to yourself. If you want the job you must have the skills. To get the skills it takes work and dedication. A formal education is one avenue for gaining the necessary skills.

Re: Go to school !!! (2.25 / 4) (#13)
by grubby on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 01:08:52 PM EST

One of the guy's in our lug teaches the course for unix administration :)
"You must restart your computer to complete installation." "Would you like to restart your computer now?" Of course, what else would I do with windows, use it?
[ Parent ]
Re: Go to school !!! (3.33 / 3) (#15)
by cthulhu on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 01:17:16 PM EST

Sounds like a great starting point then. But, keep in mind that you will eventually get into some form of programming.

After all, what is a program? A set of instructions, and the order in which to perform them (except logic programing, but I won't go into that here).

When you write a shell script you're writing a program. When you modify a script, you're modifying a program. Start small, and you'll be programming before you know it (if you already aren't).

[ Parent ]
A couple of Ideas... (4.00 / 8) (#8)
by csmacd on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 12:21:15 PM EST

NT Sysadmin has been mentioned - Good choice for no-code. Another would be networking, from the hardware point of view - Like you, I don't particularly care to code, although I have done it when the occasion called for it. I started in Tech Support, then moved to NT admin, and then started doing cabling, routers, and switches. No real "code" in the sense of C involved, and some good pay if you're good at it...

If you really want to play in the Unix arena, I must echo some other comments I've seen here - learn enough C to do scripts, maybe some Perl, and grab that low-level Unix Sysadmin spot. You'll be amazed at what you will pick up with a little on-the-job experience.

I've worked for a company that refused to acknowledge the presence of Unix, too. When I started, the manager told me that there was nothing that we would be doing that would require Unix! A co-worker and I, over the 2 years I was there, kept recommending Unix in appropriate situations, and we had the pleasure of watching as they installed their first Sun 450 before I left.... persistence, tempered with knowledge will usually pay off.

Re: A couple of Ideas... (2.33 / 3) (#9)
by grubby on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 01:00:18 PM EST

I dig networking, etc... I do actually know nt to an extent. I don't like nt, but not a lot of people do.
"You must restart your computer to complete installation." "Would you like to restart your computer now?" Of course, what else would I do with windows, use it?
[ Parent ]
Re: A couple of Ideas... (3.00 / 3) (#18)
by csmacd on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 01:35:43 PM EST

Heh... NT has its place - and there are a lot of jobs out there to manage those NT servers that spring up like rabbits...

If you think Networking is your gig, take a look at some of the vendor certs out there - some you might could score now, it would show some knowledge of the field (beware the paper-MCSE, tho...)

Another thought I just had - sales. (don't hurt me) - lots of resellers drop by with a sales type and a tech type - might this be something that would interest you?

[ Parent ]
Re: A couple of Ideas... (2.66 / 3) (#23)
by grubby on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 02:57:33 PM EST

I am a techie, through, and through. I own 3 sparc systems. Quite a few pc's among other stuff. So I don't think sales is my cup of tea. I just need to find a way to get the type of job I want.
"You must restart your computer to complete installation." "Would you like to restart your computer now?" Of course, what else would I do with windows, use it?
[ Parent ]
My comment went into oblivion (2.50 / 4) (#11)
by evro on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 01:03:41 PM EST

My long comment seems to have gone to /dev/null so I'll put the short version here:

Become a small-time system builder. Use quality parts, get a good reputation, charge reasonable prices, and you'll be relatively successful.

Become a consultant, tell people what they need to do/buy to solve some problem. Combine this with the system-builder and you are a end-to-end solution provider.

Also, knowing "some HTML" doesn't qualify you for much more than building your own Geocities page. Unless you are incredibly creative and want to learn 'advanced' HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Flash, etc, you probably won't be able to produce pages like this.

Last of all, why not just sit down and try and learn some basic C? While Algorithms and data structures are probably too tough to teach yourself, at least at first, a "hello world" program would teach you a lot. Then printing "hello world" 20 times would teach you more, etc.
"Asking me who to follow -- don't ask me, I don't know!"

Look for a Junior Position or Internship. (3.33 / 3) (#20)
by porovaara on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 02:35:00 PM EST

They do exist and its a great way to get solid experience on your resume and some more real world unix work. To be honest though you have to do some programming in any unix job... but at the same time its not real programming. This is going to catch me a lot of flack, however shell and perl are pretty easy to do and I don't consider them to be real programming. Unix admins need to know enough to C to compile stuff and occasionally fix broken includes, thats about it unless you are at a small company.

Junior positions even pay pretty well right now, getting your foot in the door is the hard part... at my company we regulary pull bored people from the PC support group and let them at our internal unix boxes. They stop being bored and we get admins trained in our way of doing things. win-win!

Careful on the Internships! (3.50 / 2) (#46)
by Alarmist on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 11:47:37 AM EST

Internships can be good for learning. I'm interning for a large shipping company right now. But here's the thing: sometimes, the corporate climate is such that all they want out of interns is cheap labor. They know they can turn them over every six months or so for new ones, and they're notoriously reluctant to actually hire anyone.

In my case, I've been interning through a local university for almost 2.5 years. The average internship is not supposed to last more than one semester. When I told the intern coordinator this, he got a very unhappy look on his face and said, "Then they (the company) are abusing the internship program."

I have been told at least twice that I was going to be hired. I have also watched my department get reorganized twice and culled once. My current manager is at least honest: he's told me he sees no chance that I'll get hired on, mostly due to budgetary reasons. Whatever.

I guess what it really boils down to is this: be wary of internships. Keep your eyes open for other opportunities, and don't be hesitant about taking them. If you're really good, and the company that you're interning for isn't a bureaucratic hotbed of political games, you should get hired on. If not, you've at least gotten some experience.

Fight the Power.

[ Parent ]

Re: Careful on the Internships! (3.00 / 1) (#56)
by grubby on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 02:18:23 PM EST

Interning is definitely out of the question. I am married and own a house, and two car payments. I very much depend on my salary, which as I stated is actually pretty good.
"You must restart your computer to complete installation." "Would you like to restart your computer now?" Of course, what else would I do with windows, use it?
[ Parent ]
non programming IT careers (4.66 / 15) (#22)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 02:57:16 PM EST

  • Software Testing. I did testing for about 18 months. Programming is not needed, but made my life much more fun. Half a week spent learning korn shell let me do five hours of work in about five minutes. All of a sudden, I've got time to learn other things and read the first six books of the Jordan's Wheel of Time series.
  • Helpdesk. Not much fun. I did this for close to three years. The only thing I found fun was working third shift. Just me, my workstation and a T1. No calls come in until about 6am. Take a few and go home.
  • Hardware.
    • Building systems/system integration can be fun.
    • Fixing can be fun but is usually a pain in the neck because the problems are mostly really problems with Windows
  • Networking.
    • Installation. This can be great fun, running cable, putting in routers and bridges, etc. No coding needed at all. Some odd situations are much more quickly handled by knowledge of scripting in one tool or another, but these occurrences are seldom.
    • Admin. Great pay but too many hours for my taste (unless you get a cherry of a position). Some scripting will allow you to cut down your working hours.
  • Database Admin. Incredible pay. The hours really suck. The forty hours from 9-5 go by quick by the calls at 3 and 4 am get old real fast. Learning a wee bit of coding is necessary. But its mostly stuff most techs could do with half a brain.
  • Computer operator. Running back ups, feeding printers, some dorking around with oddball hardware. Again, scripting makes your life much easier, but its not necessary.
  • Graphics. No scripting needed. You just draw stuff with point and drool tools. OTOH, you learn scripting and you can greatly increase your output which means more time to play or more work gets done and the pay is better.
  • Systems Analyst. This title is often used as a pseudonym for a programmer, but its not. Basically the SA is the person that brings all the different people together and figures out the solution. If you like people and like to talk about tech (and hence need an understanding of tech) but you don't want hands on, this is the type of thing to go for. A degree in IS or business helps here. The SA is the person that helps the client draw up the requirements or explains how the test bed went awry or helps track down the right programmer to fix the hard to pin down problem.

Anyone think of any I forgot?

Re: non programming IT careers (2.75 / 4) (#26)
by Stinking Pig on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 06:58:26 PM EST

Systems/Sales Engineer -- been doing it for 5.5 years and it's a nice way to do things. If you're more techy than the avg. SE you'll find it's an easy job.
Pushy punk pork prole.
[ Parent ]
I did 1 month of help work. (2.00 / 2) (#28)
by www.sorehands.com on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 01:04:02 AM EST

I was working doing system setup, and configuration for a month. This included going to users systems and fixing, upgrading, etc.

It was easy work. And you are really appreciated, when you replace the fried HD electronics so that the data on the drive could be recovered.

Mattel, SLAPP terrorists intent on destroying free speech.
[ Parent ]

Re: non programming IT careers (3.50 / 4) (#29)
by ghoti on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 03:17:37 AM EST

I would like to comment on two of your proposed jobs:
  • Testing. While you don't have to code to do testing (even though it makes life easier, as you point out), you do need quite a good knowledge of programming. It depends on the kind of testing you do, but understanding error classes is a must for serious testing; and for white-box testing, you need to understand the code.
  • Graphics. Okay, you don't need programming for that, but some skills in drawing, graphic design, use of color, etc would be quite helpful ... and I don't mean bein able to used PhotoShop, but basic graphic skills.

[ Parent ]
Re: non programming IT careers (2.66 / 3) (#32)
by spiralx on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 05:28:44 AM EST

All of a sudden, I've got time to learn other things and read the first six books of the Jordan's Wheel of Time series.

Damn, that's the job I want :) Ah well, next book coming soon, got to put aside a weekend to devote to reading that and nothing else...

You're doomed, I'm doomed, we're all doomed for ice cream. - Bob Aboey
[ Parent ]

Tech writer (none / 0) (#76)
by driptray on Tue Oct 17, 2000 at 03:23:11 AM EST

You forgot technical writing.

It can be a very lucrative career, particularly if you have a good technical bent and can write well. Many technical writers are <stereotype>women who do not have such great technical skills</stereotype> and they are easy to compete against for jobs involving software/hardware documentation etc.

The downside is that its usually pretty boring. But if you're the sort of person who reads manuals and often thinks you could do a better job of organising or writing them, then maybe its for you.

We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. - Paul Keating
[ Parent ]
Start your own company (1.40 / 5) (#24)
by SwampGas on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:38:45 PM EST

Start your own company like me. I didn't go to college, I don't *HAVE* to code (but I do because PHP rules), and the pay is good.

"grubby's pc consulting"

Re: Start your own company (3.00 / 2) (#33)
by k5er on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 05:53:44 AM EST

Thats what I did. I went to University for 3 Years for Bio and Chem, and hated it, so I have taken a year off. I do some consulting, installation of Windows and Linux, Networking etc... and the money is good. I was suprised by the amount of people that need computer stuff done and how word of mouth spreads. I just recently got an order for 27 computers, plus I have to give a small seminar and demonstration in about a week....Hopefully I'll sell a few computers there too. If all goes well I'll make a nice little profit for what will take no more than a week to do. http://www.exacomp.com
Long live k5, down with CNN.
[ Parent ]
Unix sysadmin (2.66 / 3) (#25)
by Luke Scharf on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 06:31:15 PM EST

Good sysadmins are hard to find and pay well. You don't have to know C to administer Linux or any other Unix to be good at it. Being able to write shell scripts, of course, is a must. Bash is much less intimidating than C. If you can read the init scripts, you're in good shape.

Another thing that is important as a sysadmin for any kind of system is being able to deal with people -- sometimes the problem isn't the machine, but that someone needs a little handholding. It also helps on the job security end. :-)

We need more good sysadmins!

It can be done.... (2.33 / 3) (#27)
by AgentGray on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 10:56:14 PM EST

I went from 3 1/2 years in Wal-Mart electronics to a year at an ISP (where I learned linux skills and web skills on my own time), to an ITM of a media company that owns 2 newspapers and quite a few television stations. I did a little web work at one of the newspapers to set them in motion and the other subsidiaries followed suit. It's a team effort.

Breaking into Admin (2.66 / 3) (#30)
by Miniluv on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 04:46:11 AM EST

Being a little further down the road it sounds like the author is travelling, here's what I've done.

First off, I got most of the way to my MCSE...weird step towards working with UNIX eh? The reason I did it is because it's a certification that ALL of the technical recruiters know about, and thus will talk to me because of. I started interviewing with recruiters for contracting firms and the like, because that's where the bulk of the "entry level" jobs are. The big wigs do not feel like wasting their time interviewing Jr Admins and 2/3rd level support techs, but they don't trust their subordinates to do it either in many situations.

I worked a 2nd level help desk at IBM Global Svcs, where I got some Unix seasoning, AIX, and more thorough training in network support, trouble ticket escalation, network monitoring, the basics of network and host security, and heterogenous operating.

Now I work at a "startup" where I do higher level network monitoring, I actually have a machine that I'm wholly responsible for, and I'm on a career track involving the things I want to work with, namely Unix and network/host security. I can't write Hello World without consulting a SAMS or O'Reilly book, my shell scripting ain't perfect but it's passable, but I've got people looking out for my career because I've been darn persistent in helping out, and networking with the people around me.

That last bit is highly important, and it's a skill some geeks come by easier than others, but who you know is definitely important, becuase how else are you gonna have people pimpin' you when they change companies??

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
Why no code? (3.50 / 4) (#34)
by Merekat on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 07:40:28 AM EST

Okay, at the moment, you don't know how. But even if you get a job with no coding required, it *really* helps to know what is going on underneath. Personally I don't think I can code my way out of a wet paper bag (5 line startup scripts excluded). However, understanding the principles and the silly little mistakes that can be made is so useful in my every day work that I'm glad I made the effort to learn.

If you already like Linux/Unix, and are serious about moving away from purely windows related work, some coding practice will make things so much easier and interesting for you, and so much more likely that a prospective employer will take your application seriously.
I've always had the greatest respect for other peoples crack-pot beliefs.
- Sam the Eagle, The Muppet Show

A few thoughts (3.00 / 2) (#35)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 07:41:34 AM EST

First, there are PLENTY of tech jobs that don't require coding. You've got one right now, even. However, there are very very few non-coding jobs where you have any say in the OS you work with. That is, a "hardware guy" or "installation person" is either supposed to be OS neutral OR "just do what you're told".

But you have almost zero hope of finding a Unix/Linux admin job without knowing how to program at least a little. Almost all non-trivial Unix/Linux tasks require some level of programming from shell-scripting to perl scripts to actual C. My advice: Get Linux on your box at home. Obtain a copy of "Beginning Linux Programming" (or similar). Start learning.

The good news is: I believe that knowing Unix/Linux and knowing programming (especially C) are mutually reinforcing. Learning one helps you learn the other.

Play 囲碁
Networking (3.50 / 2) (#36)
by el_guapo on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 09:18:03 AM EST

I do network "stuff" - LANs, MANs, WANs. I get to play with the following: FastE, GigE, T-1's, DS-3's, OC-3s, fiber, switches and routers (our internet connection at my work is multi-homed OC-3's - spiffy). Way Cool Stuff(tm). I went from coding to hardware support to project management blaa blaa blaa - I finally found networking and I LOVE it. Highly recommended....
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
Re: Networking (3.00 / 2) (#43)
by Dolphineus on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 11:08:33 AM EST

I do network "stuff" - LANs, MANs, WANs. I get to play with the following: FastE, GigE, T-1's, DS-3's, OC-3s, fiber, switches and routers (our internet connection at my work is multi-homed OC-3's - spiffy). Way Cool Stuff(tm).

Agreed, this sounds like Way Cool Stuff(tm). How do I get a job playing with these things when I know very little about them? Where do I go to learn?

C ya

[ Parent ]
Re: Networking (4.00 / 1) (#54)
by el_guapo on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 02:07:23 PM EST

Well, where I work, our network support is divided into "levels", 1 through 4 (most shops are 1 through 3). If you have at least *some* IT experience you are very much qualified to be a level 1 support person. You'd be manning a phone on shift work, al la a help desk, but you wouldn't get the "my cupholder is broken" questions. You then work your way up - we are very interested in prmoting worthy people from the inside. Level 2 is a senior level 1 person, working in the same room, but not staffing a phone. Yoou help the level 1 guys when the problem is beyond them. Level 3 is next, these guys work project work (installing new switches, arranging to have a circuit delivered or extended, etx.), so if Level 2 calls them he is interrupting work, but hey, it happens. I am in level "4", we do design and architecture (I must emphasize that I am the junior team memeber) if my group can't get it fixed, we are truly in deep kimchee as there ain't noone else to call.....
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
[ Parent ]
Re: Networking (4.00 / 1) (#55)
by el_guapo on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 02:13:07 PM EST

I am a complete idiot. I apologize for totally not answering your question. If you were in the Houston area, I would say send me your resume and shoot for a Level 1 or 2 spot (depending on experience). If you're NOT in Houston, look for entry level jobs in NOCs (Network Operation Centers). Carriers have these (MCI, ATT), big IT firms have these, companies with large IT staff has these (This is mine, like 4500 IT staff devoted to internal stuff only) The key is the NO part of NOC, look for Network Operations. There isn't a single group within our Networking Group that doesn't have positions available....
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
[ Parent ]
From my experience (2.00 / 2) (#37)
by mindstrm on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 09:19:06 AM EST

There are jobs that don't require coding. The real question should be, are you content with them?

Take Systems Administration. I mean real sysadmin, not sysadmin/coder/webmaster/whatever, but overall systems management. I don't need to code. If I need code, I can hire a programmer. The thing is, though, I *can* code. I know what's possible and what's not, I know how machines work in great detail. I have to, or I couldn't do my job.

If you can't code, why should you have any say in what platform is used? You know, in business datacenters, the reason we don't just convert everythign to linux is because some of our tools WORK in NT. WE already have them; they already do what they need. And you just don't fix what's not broke. In fact, I have yet to find a shop that flat out refuses to run linux! Many refuse to run it JUST for the sake of running it; but show them an application that actually meets their criteria for something, and they WILL listen. Also, keep in mind that a few grand for Windows 2000 Server is *nothing* compared to the $50k and $100k packages typically run on them. It's not a big deal; nobody cares if the OS is free. It's the software that costs the big bucks. Also.. sure unix is a better 'general purpose' machine.. it can all around do more. But if all the particular server is required to do is run one single application... okay. NEvermind.. this is turning into a babble. Sorry.

My advice: Learn to code. You will be rewarded. Learn some basic digital electronics. Or.. go to business school and learn management.

Otherwise, you'll always be able to find a job in the IT world, as the hardware monkey who puts things together.

Re: From my experience (2.00 / 2) (#40)
by grubby on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 10:18:39 AM EST

Actually I forgot to metion I know basic digital electronics as well.
"You must restart your computer to complete installation." "Would you like to restart your computer now?" Of course, what else would I do with windows, use it?
[ Parent ]
Re: From my experience (3.00 / 1) (#47)
by shaggy on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 11:56:16 AM EST

You must not be a very good admin if you don't need to code. Either that or you don't believe in any sort of automation. There isn't a day that goes by as (to quote you) "real sysadmin" that I'm not coding something. Whether it be a small shell script, or a 500 line perl script to automate stuff, I code a lot.

[ Parent ]
You assume too much. (4.50 / 2) (#53)
by mindstrm on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 01:37:00 PM EST

I do code. I assumed that by 'code' he meant rather detailed software development, not simple scripting.

Of *course* I do a lot of admin-level coding. But I don't consider it really *coding*. Coding is what the software development guys do next door.

[ Parent ]
Re: You assume too much. (none / 0) (#59)
by shaggy on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 04:08:46 PM EST

well, ok scripting...coding, writing something in some programming language. No, it isn't hardcore development, so I guess it doesn't have to be coding. :P

[ Parent ]
It's just a job. (2.66 / 3) (#41)
by Shoddy on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 10:23:00 AM EST

Try to chill out a little. There is no conspiracy.

I learnt to code at college but have ended up as a 'network manger' sort of thing, it's challenging and good fun. I meet a lot of people and they kinda depend on me.

Most professional coders I know are not too exrevert. I am. Thats why I do not code. I like to meet people. Especially women. But of course, thats another story.

I don't use *unix in real work. I research with SuSE on a testbed server, but it's not happening in corporations at the mo.

My advice is ;

Get a junior job in a tech support team. Find your niche - then do it, and don't let go.

You will get to where you want to be.

NT = Nuisance Technology !
College Degree (2.00 / 2) (#42)
by cvbear0 on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 10:32:13 AM EST

In my ming a college degree would help. Employeers looks for that piece of paper. It basicly tells them, "Hey this guy/gal can be dedicated and is a hard worker." As a current college student, I have been looking for jobs, and most of the "good jobs" required at least a 4-year degree in CS, CIS, of MIS.

Small ISP (3.00 / 1) (#45)
by chuckw on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 11:19:33 AM EST

I cut my teeth at a small ISP. They tend to be a bit more clueful when it comes to unix technologies mostly because their budgets are so tight.

Don't get so discouraged (4.00 / 1) (#48)
by jodys on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 12:12:49 PM EST

You guys don't have to be so discouraging. Get a job at a medium sized company that has Unix. The best ones will pay you horribly. That's what I'm doing, and in 1 year I've set up email servers, DNS servers, firewall's, routers, and a lot of security, a lot of perl (of which I knew nothing about), a metric ton of php scripting for a web-site, set up a large X-terminal system. Of course I could make more working at burger king. But I digress. It also helps to read as much as possible, even if you don't understand. READ READ READ. Live and breath computers for a while. Once it starts coming naturally, and about 2-3 years, you'll be able to start getting the good SysAdmin jobs. Programming isn't hard, you just have to do it a lot. And try different languages.

Its not as hard as you think.. (2.50 / 2) (#49)
by joeg on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 12:33:58 PM EST

I was in the same exact situation. I graduated HS three years ago (4? something like that..). I got an entry level support job with IBM when i graduated and stayed there for two years. I just moved to a new city and immediately got a job with Lotus (IBM again). I am currently doing an ftp install of debian on the machine next to me :) Im not sure if I got this lucky because of my location (NY then Boston) but it was pretty easy for me. I posted my resume on all of the headhunter sites and got responses immediately. The industry is in amazing need of people with a good tech head. Post your resume, make some calls, and wait it out. Good things will happen.. I know i'm not lucky or special and everything worked out for me.

Perhaps you should be a manager (sigh) (3.00 / 2) (#51)
by maketo on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 01:19:10 PM EST

One of those that pretend they work, "meet" people, know you by your first name, go for lunch, drive good cars, always look busy and are generally model citizens until they show up in a striptease bar and have some woman sit on their lap for money (while their wife is waiting for them at home with the kids). Yes Sir, seems like there is more managers around than actually people that DO a job. And plus, they get to go for all those "inter-personal relations", "understanding inter-cultural differences" things for free....haha
agents, bugs, nanites....see the connection?
Your Best Option (4.00 / 1) (#52)
by mattk on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 01:29:16 PM EST

It sounds to me like your best option would be to become a system administrator. More specifically, UNIX, because demand is incredibly high, and salaries are too.

It might be in your best interest to learn some sort of scripting language. I'd look into Perl or Python. Even if you aren't a guru, I can't think of how many times automating some redundant task saved me hours of time.

Also, try getting some sort of certification. Sun offers it for Solaris Administration for example, and it is widely recognized by employers.

It sounds like you aren't too interested in learning any coding at all, but my advice would be to look at the above options.

Windows? (2.00 / 1) (#58)
by jlg on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 02:58:54 PM EST

I don't think there are many UNIX administration jobs that wouldn't require some amout of programming. For a small site you could probably get by without it, but a small site would probably only have one admin and you don't sound like you're ready to be in charge.

Windows NT/98/etc. can be administered pretty easily by someone who is comfortable with computers and isn't afraid of cracking a manual. I don't see what it is that you don't like about Windows. UNIX and Linux don't exist for many companies, that's a fact that people looking for a job in IT need to keep in mind. Most people I know really like UNIX because of the power of it's interface. If you can't program, I don't see how you are utilizing that power. What is so special about UNIX that it would make your job so much more satisfying?

I consider programming to be an advanced form of "using" computers. If you like working with computers, it seems reasonable that you should take the next step. If you can find a job as a some UNIX admin's lackey, you would probably have the opportunity to learn a little python and shell programming.

I don't work in the "web world", but I don't think that the main technical challenge of making a decent website is creating HTML. They have graphic designers and marketing types that do that. I think most web oriented companies need people to manage their networks, databases, and write code to glue everything togeather. Those all require programming and other kinds of experience.

I'd ask myself, "What do I want from a job besides money?"

hm. I was in your shoes (4.00 / 2) (#60)
by vmarks on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 04:13:08 PM EST

I was in your shoes not too long ago. Can you write?
You can get a job as a reporter or content editor for web sites...

Not too long ago sourceforge.net put out the call for a content editor so they could start NewsForge. No coding required there...

I'm a technical writer at a large multinational corporation that happened to supply most of the computing power for the Olympics. I have two linux boxen on my desktop to run the product I'm documenting. no coding on my part but I do get to play with *nix.

Unix is a coders' OS (3.50 / 2) (#61)
by ameoba on Sat Oct 07, 2000 at 03:03:09 PM EST

What I can't understand is why you'd want to have anything to do with Unix if you don't wanna code. Unix is, and has been since day one, been an operating system designed for coders. Ever wonder why everything is a file? If you were a coder, it would make sense.

If you wanna get into Unix, you will have to get your hands dirty. Most of the time, you can avoid it, but it's an invaluable skill to have when things go wrong and you need to code something.

Another point to keep in mind is that Larry Wall was a Sysadmin when he wrote Perl, so that his job would be easier...

I'm just afraid that you're comming to Unix, because you see it as an alternative to Windows, which you've been told is cool and kinda rebelious to dislike; very much like the HS kids dressing in black, listening to Manson & NiN, and 'practicing' witchcraft because it's not Christianity.

Re: Unix is a coders' OS (none / 0) (#62)
by mr. creep on Sat Oct 07, 2000 at 09:35:43 PM EST

If I could smack you upside the head with a shovel, I wouldn't just smack you.. I would pummel you until your eyes bled. I wear black, so I am anti-christian? Fuck that. I don't believe in god because I don't want to believe in god, not because it's rebellious. You people have been fed too much horseshit by the mass-media..

brian - geeknik.net
[ Parent ]
Re: Unix is a coders' OS (none / 0) (#70)
by ameoba on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 04:19:40 AM EST

No need to be so defensive. I wasn't saying that all people who wear black are anti-Xtian, I was making reference to those who have been "fed too much horseshit by the mass-media", and buy into the wear-black/hate christians gig. There's really no difference between sheepishly being christian, and being part of a sheepish pseudo-rebelion against it.

[ Parent ]
Re: Unix is a coders' OS (none / 0) (#66)
by grubby on Mon Oct 09, 2000 at 01:47:58 PM EST

I would have to disagree with unix being a coders os only. I said I can't code, I'm not an idiot. I can compile programs, configure the system and do some pretty high end work with unix systems. You can know a lot about a system without being able to program for it. As far as flocking to linux or unix systems because they aren't microsoft is not why I started with linux. It was because it was very interesting. I do intend to work with unix in every job I have, even if I don't really need to, because I enjoy it.
"You must restart your computer to complete installation." "Would you like to restart your computer now?" Of course, what else would I do with windows, use it?
[ Parent ]
Researcher? (none / 0) (#63)
by blowdart on Sun Oct 08, 2000 at 05:35:17 AM EST

Well I have a nice little number. I am an "Emergering Technologies R&D Consultant", so I vanish off for a week somewhere abroad, look at how suppliers are implementing new toys, come back with samples, play with them, maybe write a little code, if I want, then if it works with our offerings push it off to a code monkey to develop and integrate properly.

I get to do as much or as little coding as I want, and if I fancy learning a new language, I can under the gise of research.

And I get paid well for this!

Everything uses coding for something. (none / 0) (#64)
by craigmswanson on Mon Oct 09, 2000 at 11:56:33 AM EST

I don't want to appear negative or burst your enthusiam, but if you check around I think you'll find that everything in IT uses some form of code to control the environment. Unless, of course, you're interested in being a Microsoft user where everything is a mystery and the code is hidden behind a GUI. But that's another story for a different thread. In your case, I would pick some aspect of Information Technology that interests you and start reading. Then read some more. I read a minimum of two hours a day just to keep up with my field, network engineering. In the end though, there is a descriptive term for people who work in IT who aren't fulent in some form of coding, scripting or OS manipulation. The term is "enduser."
--My CueCat ate my karma
But what do you want to do? (none / 0) (#65)
by nqnz on Mon Oct 09, 2000 at 01:09:24 PM EST

I guess it is hard to give advice if you are just looking for something that is not PC Windows based.

Anyway here goes - I started using Linux a couple of years ago and I decided to teach myself programming. I had done some courses in Pascal before but nothing serious. I started with K&R The C Programming Language and a few books on Linux programming. I still wouldn't describe myself as a programmer but I can still write utilities that make my life a lot easier.

I think with Linux at least it is essential to be able to download source code - compile it - understand what is happening when it doesn't compile - get hold of libraries etc. Being able to program really expands your horizons.

But anyway this is separate to my career which has evolved Help Desk -> Sys Admin (Novell/NT no programming required) -> Project Management.

Though I have to say that I could not do the project management stuff (properly) without some programing knowledge. And I am working on a Java project now so I go home and practice programming Java. I don't need to be an expert but I do need to know what object oriented design means in reality.

A perfect solution for the non-coding IT type ! (none / 0) (#67)
by durandel on Mon Oct 09, 2000 at 02:20:26 PM EST

One word solution :) MANAGEMENT! They dont code... They get paid more... Go for it :)

It depends on what you want to do. (5.00 / 1) (#68)
by NateDawg on Mon Oct 09, 2000 at 04:18:18 PM EST

A non-programming capable UNIX sysadmin will have a much more difficult time administering a medium to large UNIX network that a programming capable admin. Even simple tasks such as setting up login scripts, scheduling cron jobs, installing software and lower-level admin work like modifying startup scripts requires at least some form of programming knowledge. The more you know, the better admin you will be. I don't ask a prospective UNIX admin if they can write 1000+ lines of C, but I do ask them if they can write perl, or shell scripts, or python to automate routine admin tasks. I also ask them if they have at least familiarity with C.

For a HS grad with little experience in the UNIX world, I would HIGHLY recommend becoming familiar with all the UNIX utilities including most especially shell scripting, and perl or python.

Also small ISP's are a great place to get your foot in the door. They usually don't pay much, but the experience is awesome, the people are usually pretty cool, and it looks great on a resume. That is one of the places I got my start in this community and it probably helped more than the other jobs I have held. I have a little college but I dropped out several years ago when I realized I wasn't learning from college the skills necessary for the job I wanted to be doing.

So how does one get a junior unix job? (4.00 / 1) (#69)
by adric on Mon Oct 09, 2000 at 06:19:13 PM EST

(Maybe this needs it's own thread?)

Several of you gainfully employed techs have agreed that a junior admin job is a good way to break into Unix as a career field. I happen to be trying just that, but I have had no luck at all. The headhunters call or find senior dev positions (I can't code my way out of a paper bag either..) or Chief of Security, Senior Admin positions (not yet damnit! ... argh). If there are so many junior positions available, where are you hiding them?

(Curiously enough I also worked for Tandy in HS, and have had a couple crappy (temp) comp jobs since then. Also, although I freelance, I am too broke to expand my operations enough to make any money at it..)

(Yet another thread necessary for resume hacking..)

- adric@ccactus.com, LCP (Sair)

Re: So how does one get a junior unix job? (none / 0) (#71)
by bobbilly on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 04:39:03 PM EST

Same here, I know some code, I know linux,freebsd, *.windows, but when looking for even something as simple as tech support that says dos experience required and unix helpful, I get passed over for people that used dos at work..but didnt' even know unix existed. The hard part is finding a job which will be your foot in the door..........everyone always requires some experience.................As for me......I say while you are still pretty young work as many jobs as you possible can, gain as much skills as you can to put on your resume...that always helps..........and you'll learn coding along the way.

..Affirmative action, or The Fairness for Dummies Act..
[ Parent ]
Here's what you have to do... (none / 0) (#72)
by Jeepmeister on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 06:11:34 PM EST

...First, admit to yourself that there is no easy road to your destination from where you are now.<br>
...Second, get back in school and learn how to program in C. C is the lingua franca of Unix and Linux. If you can't code in C, you can't converse intelligently with your peers and you will never receive the respect you desire.<br>

I don't need no estinkin' .sig
Re: Here's what you have to do... (none / 0) (#74)
by Nickus on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 08:56:53 AM EST

C was once important but you don't need to know C to be able to work with or manage a Unix-machine. Not any more atleast. I don't even remember when was the last time I wrote something in C.

I would say a good scripting language like Perl or Python is more important. But if you can program in those languages you can program in C too.

Due to budget cuts, light at end of tunnel will be out. --Unknown
[ Parent ]
Thank goodness.... (none / 0) (#77)
by Jeepmeister on Mon Nov 13, 2000 at 07:30:32 PM EST

you didn't encourage the poor lad to learn Visual Basic, the lingua franca of M$.

I don't need no estinkin' .sig
[ Parent ]
Don't be too hard on NT... (none / 0) (#73)
by Belly on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 04:21:01 AM EST

It got me pretty far - fact is, lots of places use it (for better or for worse), and if you have good hardware skills, you can get places where a lot of the 5-day-wonder MCSEs can't.

I originally did electronics at college, and ended up doing hardware repair for a few years before I moved up the food chain a bit and got into network support, but the electronics background makes the difference - I see a lot of people in IT who don't have that kind of hardware background, and it helps.

That, combined with an interest in networking (switches and routers and stuff) makes a pretty good combination.

Basically, some experience with NT can get you in the door, and a few years experience, so you can move on to bigger and better things. I can't say I love NT, but it's got me places (I've spent some years working in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo, all thanks to deciding to play with NT in my spare time some years back)

Comments about scripting skills are spot on though - even an NT sysadmin needs to be able to script stuff in perl, or a little (shudder) VB..

Not saying you should change your preference to NT - if you like *nix stuff, that's great. But NT can be an easy way to get a foot in the door and gain some experience with networking/sysadmin stuff.

What IT jobs don't involve coding? | 77 comments (73 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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