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04 My career: webmaster

Note: If you guess my name, or either of my employer's
names, please do not give this information in any
mails to the Courses list.

I'm 32 years old and live in the UK. I've always
liked computers, from my first experience with my
family's Sinclair ZX81. At school, there were some
random computing classes taken by an interested Maths
teacher. Unfortunately it was a typical case of boys
taking over most of the machines and girls getting
bored really quickly. There was an opportunity to take
more classes during my exam years, but I decided to
focus on classes which would get me some exam credit.
Computing was too new to have proper exams in place.

At university in 1989 I did Computer Science in my
first year, along with Mathematics and Physics. I
knew no-one in my very large, mainly male, computing
class, and struggled with the Turbo Pascal
programming. I gave up on computing when the only
support I got was my guidance counsellor advising me
that I could drop it and do an IT post-grad. So I
left with a Maths degree, and experience in student TV
and hospital radio.

While at Uni, I'd set my sights on a particular
broadcasting company that I really wanted to work for.
However when I applied for a graduate traineeship for
engineers there, they had just announced cutbacks that
meant only existing staff were eligible for it. After
a year of unemployment and volunteer work in audio
production, I gave up looking for that perfect
graduate job and got a job as a bookseller in an
independant bookselling company I'd always admired.
This was before Amazon and Borders had taken over the
world, and times were good. I ended up being the
person on my floor who tended to fix the printers,
phone up the grumpy sys admin, and generally keep my
department's computer kit happy. It turned out that
the sys admin was grumpy when you didn't have useful
error info, didn't read the documentation, or
generally didn't make an effort to fix things
yourself. We got on well.

After a few years there, another branch of the company
had a vacancy for an assistant systems manager and I
got the job. I later heard that my new boss had
checked up on me with the grumpy sys admin when I
applied, and was told good things. In my new job, the
main system used the Alpha Micro Operating System, but
they were migrating to Solaris slowly. As no-one was
expected to know AMOS, the main thing in the job was
being able to learn, and get on with work on your own.
There were only two of us, and way too much work. I
learnt a lot in my time there, about the command line
and vi, about terminal emulation and tape backups,
about PCs and the Internet, about organising and
prioritising when it's ALL important, and about
applying my bookselling customer service skills to the
IT environment.

In my spare time, my brother had just bought a PC and
prodded me into learning HTML. I was soon creating
websites and ended up with a contract to produce a
website for a high profile talent management company.

I'd been in my job for a couple of years when I was
promoted to run the IT department and have my own
assistant. My assistant was lovely but I realised
quickly that I wasn't a natural manager or leader. I
much prefer getting on with work, rather than
delegating and supervising. Work stresses got to the
stage where I was upset and frustrated most days, and
that's when a friend working in my favourite
broadcasting company told me of a webmaster job she'd
been invited to train for. It wasn't her thing, but
she'd immediately thought of me for it.

I sent her my CV (resume) and she sent it on to the
Human Resources department. After I was accepted for
interview, I was emailed the job description and read
it in horror. While the 'soft' skills were easy
enough, I had none of the technical experience it
asked for. I was seriously tempted to cancel the
interview, but my brother, who had been supporting my
IT career, convinced me to just go anyway and learn
from the experience. When I got to the interview, it
turned out that I'd been sent the wrong, old, job spec
and they were much more interested in the web sites
I'd created in my spare time, the problem solving and
work prioritisation skills I'd learnt (and the
I'd learnt from) and my enthusiasm for the kind of job
I'd be doing. So I got the job and left my family and
friends to live 400 miles away in London.

It turns out that being a webmaster in the company I'm
in is my perfect job. I loved the job and it was the
best decision I ever made to move. Three months in, at
yet another work party, I met my future husband who
worked in another department. At about the same time,
our management team left en masse to make their
millions in the dotcom world. I got a lot more
experience with command line unix and started to learn
Perl. At home, my new partner introduced me to the
world of Linux and a friend at work pointed me in the
direction of Linuxchix. After 18 months in the job, I
transferred out of the department when the new
management appeared to have a very different opinion
of what my team should be doing.

I moved to a dull job in my future husband's
department. They were struggling with organisational
problems that I could fix for them. I was working
with friends but, a year in, the management changed
and so
did my job. I ended up in a tedious administrative
team leader role with no power, so after 3 years in
that department, I quit. The excellent colleagues and
wonderful techie things I was allowed to learn on the
side were no longer compensation for the depressing
main job that was a really bad match for me. I'd been
putting money away so that if things got unbearable, I
could just leave. Meanwhile, in my old department,
restructuring had taken place which meant that the
head of the department had been made redundant. A
month after I quit, my old webmaster department
advertised a vacancy and I got it. That was last

The department wants to get back to the way it was 5
years ago when I first joined. It's exciting and a
unique opportunity for me to use my experience in the
company for a great cause. I've been thinking for
the last few years about what I *really* want to do in
my career and this is it, even though at first glance
it looks like a step backwards. I've found what I'm
good at, and what I genuinely enjoy, and I count
myself very lucky that I also get paid for it.

Random conclusions:

You don't have to follow a standard career path to
succeed. A varied career can provide you with useful
experience that other candidates for a job might not

An ability and willingness to learn can be a valuable
asset. Some jobs can require a bizarre combination of
skills that no-one is expected to have. You can
demonstrate your ability by teaching yourself new
skills in your spare time, or doing volunteer work in
relevant areas.

Anonymous webmaster :)

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