Without further ado…
SWI: So Wesley, how long have you been blogging for and what got you started?
WD: A friend of mine had a Drupal blog for his own ramblings, and I saw it and was intrigued. I asked for an account on his CMS and voilà! That was in 2007. However my writing in general goes back much further. I’ve always liked to write, specifically humorous anecdotes. Writing is just a natural thing for me. No matter what I do, I’m going to end up writing about it somewhere.
As I sunk deeper and deeper into IT as a profession, my writing tendency came to the forefront. I was often the only one in the department interested in and capable of writing thorough documentation. Later I realized that the best way for me to remember solutions to problems I had solved was to write it down. I turned to blogging as less of a platform for personal ranting and more of a scrapbook where I can keep answers to problems that I’ve stumbled over. Often I’ll search Google for an answer and find it in an old post that I forgot about on my own blog!
SWI: I have to ask, what’s the story behind “The Nubby Admin”?
WD: Well, The Nubby Admin is, to the best of my recollection, my third IT blog. The first being an account on my friend’s Drupal site. The second was a Blogspot blog that picked up momentum over about a year. After several years of blogging on platforms that I didn't host or wield deep control over, I decided to register a domain for my own little slice of the internet. I named it “The Nubby Admin” to avoid taking myself too seriously. I’m not even a noob. I’m a nublet. I’m a fraction of a noob.
SWI: Well, you may consider yourself a nublet, but your blogging says otherwise. What’s your favorite topic to blog about?
WD: I most enjoy writing about solutions to my daily problems. I’m not big on editorials, exposés or opinion pieces. I find that there’s usually too many facets to any given story for me to feel comfortable with holding a strong opinion.
Virtually every time I bump into a problem, I open up Textedit, Notepad, vi or something similar and type the following:
Solving XYZ Problem
The Long Story:
I’ll first carefully write down the symptoms. Often that will make me consider assumptions about the problem. For example, I might think, “Sure the SSL connection is being rejected, but is every available version of SSL being rejected? Hmm…let’s go try to connect to the service using all possible ciphers. Wait, how can I easily cipher scan a SSL/TLS connection? Let’s go find a tool…” Then I’ll open up a second document and title it, “How to easily scan what SSL/TLS versions are available on a remote connection,” and solve that problem and write about it in detail as I go, too!
I find that it’s confidence-building to write those words “My solution:” even though I don’t have one yet. I then move on to “The Long Story” and carefully write everything I do in the process of troubleshooting. That way I have a detailed history of what I’ve seen and done. By the end of the journey, I usually have a solution and several documents that detail how I solved various problems all on the same trajectory to solve the original problem. With minimal editorial effort, I then clean the documents up and turn them into blog posts.
Finally, I do enjoy writing the occasional humor piece. A meme, a quizzical photo, a humorous anecdote. It’s nice to break up the stone cold troubleshooting with a few chuckles.
SWI: OK, so which type of posts do you find end up being the most popular?
WD: My most popular short-term posts are humor. For example, “Don’t Eat Too Much Three Bean Salad. The Server Will Crash.” A very recent example was taking my frustration with cloud vendors and memeifying it Pulp Fiction style. That one blew up pretty big across social media. Everyone loves to laugh, and a humorous piece is often more accessible to people even if they don’t understand the specific subject matter.
However, my most popular long-term posts are ones that solve very common problems. After approximately four years, I’m still getting dozens of people per day coming to my site for a solution to a common VPN connection problem that was introduced in Windows 7. I consistently out-rank vendor sites for some error message keywords. I used to work with a guy who was really into SEO (white hat, legit stuff), and I also find Google’s Matt Cutts to be a fascinating teacher concerning how Google’s search engine works. As a result, I’ve learned a few practical tips on how to get blog posts to rank high for your chosen keywords. And why wouldn’t I want to rank high when I’ve found a true solution and documented it thoroughly? Most search results for error messages come back with sketchy forum posts that tell you eight different things, half of which don’t work and the other half are misguided or downright dangerous.
SWI: It’s great that you’re able to so fluidly combine your day-to-day work with your blogging. Speaking of, what’s your day job?
I’m currently the owner of my own consultancy. It’s a one-man LLC formed in the U.S., specifically the state of Arizona, but I do have subcontractors that can take care of specialist topics or cover spill-over work. I’m a true generalist, consistently working with Windows and Linux, wired and wireless networks, databases, a little bit of programming and a whole lot of documentation writing. My favorite types of work typically involve web-based workloads and systems that have automation-based problems to solve.
Nevertheless, after four years of being a combination IT pro, marketer, sales person, accountant and tax specialist, I’m packing it up and looking to re-join a team. I’m transitioning away from client work and interviewing for positions and companies that tend to focus on the webops, whatever-as-a-service style of infrastructure. So if anyone out there is hiring as of the posting of this interview…
SWI: On that note, let’s give those potential employers out there some more food for thought. Tell me, how did you get into IT?
I’ve been a “computer person” since the mid-80s. My family was never, to my knowledge, without a computer in the house. However I had different passions as a pre-teen and teenager, usually involving the military, law enforcement or emergency medicine. However I never landed on anything in particular, and my parents, after watching my indecision bleed into my very early 20s, handed me a book on desktop support for the relatively new Windows XP operating system. My continued rent-free status at the time was the leverage used in this discussion, and the rest is history!
I also discovered that I truly love the problem solving nature of system administration, especially by automating solutions so you never have to worry about them again. I like to make people happy, specifically by relieving annoying burdens that plague their workdays. That was approximately ten years ago and I hope there’s many more years of problem solving in my future.
SWI: What are some of your favorite tools?
My most favorite tools are built-in tools because you can rely on them in almost any situation. I hate being strongly reliant on non-standard, third-party tools because if you ever move to an environment that doesn’t use that one specific tool, then you’re lost and adrift. I like standards and repeatability. I like syslog, Windows Event Viewer, SNMP, the /proc/ virtual filesystem, grep, powershell…You get the idea.
Nevertheless, my favorite things to use outside of those vanilla, baked-in tools are currently Chef to automate the deployment of servers and Ruby for tool making and automation. Oh and a giant whiteboard to use for kanban!
SWI: I know your day job and blogging keep you busy, but when you do find spare time, what are some of your favorite hobbies?
I have clinical symptoms of both ADD and OCD (TIC) so my hobbies this year are not what they were last year, and my hobbies next year will not be what they are this year. I have a one to three year lifespan for the hobbies that actually take hold of me, in contrast to the week-long obsessions that quickly fade and get forgotten within days.
Having said that, my current major hobby is cycling. I’m working up to a two and a half minute mile on flat land with a loaded touring bike, but also want to ride a century sometime in the next year. I’m using an old Fuji while building a Surly Long Haul Trucker from the ground up, currently stalled at the head tube while I wait to purchase a reamer/facer and cup press.
I’ve had a lifelong hobby that has miraculously survived my gnat-like attention span: Origami! To my recollection, I’m currently in my 26th or 27th year of fiddling with origami. As a result I also collect fine papers, usually from Japan.
Past hobbies that I learned from and have fond memories of, even though I no longer spend time on them include: Chess, gardening, golf, attaining a private pilot’s license, astronomy and model rocketry.
Hobbies that my “OH SHINY!” brain is eyeballing for the future include: Frisbee golf, survivalist camping, handguns/rifles, hang gliding and minimalist traveling.
SWI: OK, last question: What are the most significant trends you’re seeing in the IT industry right now and what’s to come?
At the current moment the trendy-kewl 3hawt5me topic is the so-called “devops” movement. The term and the culture is in disarray, though, and many people are confused as to what the term and concepts mean. It’s not “devs doing ops” as that’s a complete disaster. It’s not “no ops” as that’s a misnomer in many ways. It’s not “automate all the things!” or “ops knowing code” as those two are just part of being a good system administrator, and always has been going back for many decades.
Learning from the people formative in the fledgling topic, devops is simply a matter of doing infrastructure and development in such a way that allows rapid iteration through testing, QA and production code. Fail fast and fix fast, if you will. That implies infrastructure regeneracy, idempotency, and fungibility, as well as a host of other silly buzzwords. It’s not a concept or model that fits everywhere, especially with simple nuts-and-bolts IT. Getting people to understand, “You don’t need a ‘devop’ to make your Exchange cluster resilient and quickly recoverable, you just need a good sysadmin,” is hard nowadays. I think the days of button-mashing, GUI-bound sysadmins has broken the long, rich history of sysadmins that knew their code and never once thought there were two separate topic domains. As a result, what was once simply considered being an excellent sysop is now considered being a “devop,” but unfortunately that now includes all the silly misunderstandings of the new buzzword.
What’s to come, I believe, is operations teams reclaiming the former notion of system administration. That includes lots more scripting and coding to create automation that was once the near-universal norm. Also, as systems and applications can now spread out more easily across multiple nodes, the need for automation, monitoring and remediation tools is growing in size and complexity, but many of them require basic proficiency with code, which is great. MOAR CODE!