The Story (or How I Got Here from There)

Every now and then, I sit down at a table with a vendor, colleague or just someone interested in my general IT career and they ask, “So, how did you get into IT? Did you go to school for it?”

The short answer is “No, I didn’t. It just happened.” but the long answer is much more interesting and it’s one of my favorite stories to tell. Of course, as with all personal stories, it’s probably more interesting and fun to me than maybe anyone else. But, I’m sure there’s some pearl of wisdom about building a career based on a little luck, some general knowledge and a whole lot of hard work in here somewhere.

The Back Story

I’ve always had an interest in computers, starting when I got my first hand-me-down Tandy Color Computer 3. Over time I played with personal computers such as the IBM compatibles of the early 90’s, the Commodore 64 and I even had the privilege of working on an Amiga 3000 during a job as a laser show programmer. I did some BASIC programming, played games, surfed lots of BBS’s and generally poked around in the various operating systems. My high school had very little in the way of formal computer classes, so everything I learned up to that time was largely self-taught.

By the time I got to college, I was interested in computers but I had a love of music that convinced me to be a music major. While that whole journey is a story for another post, I did end up taking care of a brand new computer lab in the music department that had digital pianos interfaced to Windows PC’s via MIDI. It was another great learning experience and helped to cement the music and technology relationship for me. An ironic anecdote from those days came up when I asked a fellow student dual-majoring in Music and Computer Science if I should consider majoring in Computer Science as well. His reply was, “Don’t bother. I don’t think you’ll like it, and it’s pretty boring.” And, so I didn’t bother.

After college, I found myself working different jobs in sales, customer service and warehouse operations. Most of those jobs were related to audio and music technology, and sometimes I found myself helping out with the computer systems when needed as there was rarely any formal IT support. I fixed printers, installed software, helped design database forms and learned the very basics of networking.

The Story

I was working in sales and customer service when a colleague re-interested me in Linux. I had dabbled a few years before but never really spent much energy on it. I had some specific music related applications running in Windows that didn’t have Linux equivalents, so that stalled any hopes for using Linux on a regular basis. For whatever reason, however, it was a good time for me to play with Linux and this time it really grabbed my attention. I was hooked. I spent a good bit of time finding as many equivalent applications to ease my transition and over a period of time I went from Windows, to Windows/Linux dual-boot, to just Linux.

Shortly after, I was standing at the coffee machine at work waiting for my morning cup of alertness. The current manager of IT happened by for his morning cup and we got talking. After a few pleasantries, I started a conversation:

“I did something you might find interesting. I built a Linux workstation and finally migrated all my home applications from Windows.”

He replied, “If you can do that stuff, you could totally do my job. You should apply for it.”

I laughed at the joke and he said, “No, seriously. I put in my two weeks notice a few days ago. You wouldn’t have any problems doing what I do.

So, I did apply. It was a small company and I had been there a few years. They weren’t going to offer me the job of IT manager, but since they knew me, knew my work ethic, and needed someone who could do more technical things, the company was willing to give me a chance. I had no formal technology training, but I’d been around it enough and could tear things apart and put them back together pretty well. I knew that if I applied myself, I’d make a new career in IT.

That job turned out to be one of those golden opportunities. I spent quite a few years there. Every time I’d fix something, resuscitate an old dying server, or generally be able to save the company money and enhance the technology infrastructure, I was banking a little bit of credit with the powers that be. I found I was able to use that credit every time I had an idea. The first idea was to replace the failing Windows IIS intranet server with a LAMP server. Linux was certainly not as accepted as it is today and it took a bit of convincing. Between the trust I’d built up and the fact the company had no money to replace the Windows server, they trusted me to go out on a limb with a free Linux server on old salvaged hardware. It worked out perfectly. Nobody in management really cared how I’d done it, except that I created a better intranet (my first dabble into PHP) and did it for free.

That LAMP server led us to a Linux based help desk server (thank you RT project), and eventually after a VMWare implementation, a whole host of virtual Linux servers serving different utility roles. By the end of my tenure there, I had the opportunity to design and build a small data center, rebuild the entire network infrastructure and replace the entire network services architecture (think DNS and DHCP) with FreeBSD servers and make the Windows environment use those services.


Never forget or take for granted your beginnings, no matter how humble. Pearl of wisdom, maybe?

Samuel A. Campbell
Technology. Music. And everything between.
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