An Interview with LOPSA's Jesse Trucks

The SCALE team is proud to welcome The League of Professional System Administrators (LOPSA) back to SCALE 8x and the SCALE University.  LOPSA is a non-profit corporation whose members work to further the understanding of system administration and to encourage discussion of, support for, and understanding of system administration as a profession.

Recently, SCALE had an opportunity to exchange e-mail with LOPSA's Jesse Trucks who will be co-heading this year's training event (/scale8x/special-events/scale-u).

SCALE: For our readers who aren't familiar with Jesse Trucks, can you share a little about your background?

JT: I started as dial-up tech support for an ISP in the mid 90s. I quickly rose up to be head of the server and network infrastructure, largely due to the more experienced people leaving for bigger companies. I started specializing in security systems and disaster recovery processes due to several disasters and security incidents I experienced. From there I supported mostly internet facing operations for a newspaper publishing company, did a start-up with a couple other guys, which failed largely due to the fact that it was early in 2000 when the dot bomb was happening.

After that I worked for what is now known as AT&T for several years supporting mostly big iron Sun systems while being a disaster recovery and security contact for our group. The last year there I spent leading a security team overseeing the security and compliance processes, procedures, and technical infrastructure for over 5500 systems running three flavors of big iron and the new linux group. Then I worked for an Oracle consulting company forming and managing a team of SAs doing Windows, Unix, and Linux managed services, as well as security, auditing and disaster recovery consulting. They closed our team down due to company struggles, so I worked for a smaller telco for a couple years.

Now I manage supercomputers and a bulk of the daily datacenter operations for a research company that designs, builds, and uses these supercomputers for computational biochemistry. During this whole time I've performed a wide array of services as a private consultant doing system management, architecture design and implementation, and a fair amount of security incident and disaster related cleanup.

SCALE: Managing supercomputers for a career sounds challenging. What's your home tech like?

JT: I currently only run OS X on Apple laptop hardware at home, however I've got plans to put together a couple Ubuntu servers for various things.

I use Palm Pre running WebOS, a Linux based system for a mobile device, including ssh, IRC, and the usual smartphone messaging stuff. I own a working Apple ][+, NeXT Workstation (slab), and an Apple ][gs Woz machine (the model with the Woz signature on the front).

All my internet based operations are on my HP 1U server colo at Bitpusher in Seattle. That machine runs Ubuntu, using virtual mailboxes with courier, postfix, postgrey, and spamassassin. I have a bit over a dozen domains that various people use on it, too.

SCALE: How did you come to be involved in LOPSA?

JT: I first got involved in a now defunct local group in Madison, WI a number of years ago and was immediately pulled in to help with some editing suggestions to a draft of what became the Code of Ethics adopted by LOPSA and several other organizations.

During the formation of LOPSA, I was a partner in a small web hosting and consulting business with fellow LOPSA Tech Team member Matt Okeson-Harlow (who has since taken over the hosting under his own company name, and we hosted the first elections for what later became LOPSA's first term Board of Directors. When LOPSA became official as a separate organization we were asked to help out on the newly formed LOPSA Tech Team to get the new web site and servers up and running. I dove in with a bunch of other folks and helped get LOPSA off the ground. I was later asked, along side some others involved at the time, to be a Founding Member of LOPSA for my early work. I am proud to have been involved so early.

About a year later, in 2006 David Parter, as a member of the LOPSA Education Committee, asked me to teach some classes for the two day training event that became LOPSA Sysadmin Days. I agreed to teach all four half day sessions, which they asked me to do because all the topics that I had previous presented on in other venues were holes they needed to fill in their curriculum. It turned out that my classes were popular enough that I reprised the same four classes the next year at the second LOPSA Sysadmin Days event. Both times I was the only instructor that taught all four half day sessions.

When the second two year term of the LOPSA Board of Directors came around in 2007, the LOPSA Leadership Committee asked me to run for a seat on the Board. I agreed and won a seat. I am now in my second term, as I won a seat during the 2009 elections, as well. I serve LOPSA currently as a member of the Board of Directors, Chair of the Technical Services Committee, an instructor for events like SCaLE, and as the LOPSA freenode IRC Group Contact.

SCALE: Where do you see LOPSA going in the near future?

JT: LOPSA is slowly growing, and our projects are growing slowly with them. We are now doing regular training events, like SCaLE and the Ohio Linux Festival (OLF), and we've had a booth at various other conferences. Also, we're a cooperative organization for the LISA conference. We're involved in assisting some other FOSS and sysadmin conferences that are coming up, as well, like FOSSCONN in Rochester, NY this coming June and another in New Jersey that is in the planning stages.

Our mission drives us to become involved in outreach and education and training for all sysadmins, which is why our training program is our flagship project so far. However, we are working on numerous other projects that will help boost the positive visibility of all people in our profession. Also, we're looking to expand our member base outside the U.S. more, which we are starting to gain some traction on. We are growing our member benefits, too, and recently we've made available more reasonably priced health insurance for independent contractors. In this economy, that will help a number of people who are no longer traditionally employed and are doing consulting without benefits. We want to become more involved in partnering with other organizations, as well, going forward. Our relationship with the folks at SCaLE and OLF have resulted in great classes and better conferences, and we hope to take that success to others.

SCALE: Where and when did the idea of training people take hold with you?

JT: Throughout my IT career I've been a formal and informal mentor to people either new on the job, new in their career in IT, or both, and I've written numerous training and procedure manuals, starting back on my first job at the ISP. Also, I've regularly given presentations to internal groups at my various jobs from coworkers to users to management to clients. I've done a number of talks and presentations for my local LOPSA group and the group that pre-dated that one back in Madison, WI where I used to live. I do training because this spreads our knowledge. The more we all know, the better our profession is for all of us.

In the broader perspective of human history, IT is a brand new profession. We are still formalizing what it is we do, how we do it, and why we do it. I enjoy being a part of that process. The better IT is for each of us, the better it is for our users, which, in turn, leads to more (and better) jobs available for us in IT. Everyone wins when we share our knowledge and experiences with others.

SCALE: What would you say your top five tools are?

JT: The top 5 things I couldn't do without, in no particular order, are my smartphone (for contact info, phone, web, and email), a laptop (I have my own PowerBook and I forgot to mention previously that I have a work laptop running Windows), LOPSA (for industry contacts and networking), O'Reilly's Safari Bools Online (for all manner of tutorials ans reference materials), and the only software I can't live without is GNU Screen (for running dozens of apps, tests, coding, and more without being tied to a physical location, network connection, or any particular client system).

SCALE: With such an extensive training background, how did you find the experience of training at SCALE 7x?

JT: I've done more than one event similar to SCaLE now, with the Ohio Linux Festival (OLF) being the largest of the others, and each time I go away having learned quite a bit from the fellow conference attendees and, more importantly, from the people who attend my classes. Everyone has a great question or great anecdote or great suggestion to provide. The classes at SCaLE last year were full of bright and engaging students. They challenged me to think hard and to answer hard questions. This year will be double the fun since David Parter, a good instructor and fantastic system administrator, will be teaching the classes with me. We first team taught a two day SysAdmin Master Class at YAPC::NA in Chicago a couple years ago, and it worked out really well. I look forward to having another great bunch of folks to share with at this year's SCaLE.

SCALE: We really appreciate your taking the time to answer my questions. It sounds like you've had a pretty exciting career.

JT: I love the career I've had. I feel very lucky to have been offered the various opportunities that came along at the right times for me. I hope to share that good fortune by passing on things I've learned- both technical and professional.


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