The August 2020 marks my 20th anniversary in IT (although interest in computes definitively started much earlier). I started my apprenticeship for being an "Informatiker Systemtechnik" in August 2000 at SUISA and I'm still working in IT. But it's definitively not the same anymore since back then. This is why I thought it's about time for looking back to what I experienced and learned in these 20 years.

The beginning

When looking back why everything began, it was mainly because my father was highly interested in computers and electronics which caught my interest as well. Building my own computer was an adventure and discovering new operating system one of the first thing I wanted to do - mainly because my budget for a new computer didn't allow to buy a Windows license besides the hardware. Once I discovered SuSE Linux in a book store, sold in a box with many CDs including a book about it, I figured out that this is exactly what I wanted - a cheap (compared to Windows) and well documented operating system.

My apprenticeship

By the time when I needed to apply for an apprenticeship I was more interested learning something with electronics and less with computers. In the end I got a contract at SUISA to do an apprenticeship as "Informatiker Systemtechnik" (IT with the focus on system engineering), which in hinsight I absolutely do not regret.

Some things I remember from this time:

  • When I started in August 2000, Token Ring was the dominant network technology in-house, migration to Ethernet had just started.
  • Windows NT 4.0 Server and Workstation was the current Windows version in use and it was the environment in which I started to learn "professional IT" (it took a long time to upgrade to Windows 2000, which was never fully rolled out, and was later replaced by Windows XP, the dominant Windows version for a long time).
  • My first tasks where to get to know Brainware Columbus - the software used to manage software packages on all Workstations and to automatically install Windows on them. This was basically the time when I started to learn "Automate all the things".
  • Later on I started to fiddle around with the component which did the automated and unattended Windows installation (OSDeploy when I remember correctly) and because of that I had ~5 PCs and a VGA/Keyboard/Mouse switch on my work place. There was no such thing like virtualization available yet. And I needed a way to test the scripts, so PC re-installation happened after every try, which took around 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • VMware Workstation was the first contact with virtualization which guided my career for a long time, from the desktop to the datacenter.
  • SUISA was running a IBM zSeries Mainframe, had a huge tape roboter and a big storage array. This was all very impressive to me, and I could at least get an insight into this technology. Some programs where written in Assembler in the 1960's which were still running.
  • My main interest shifted from software distribution on Windows workstations to datacenter, server (IBM dominated) and network. This is where I was able to introduce VMware virtualization in the datacenter, help to fully rebuild the datacenter (we actually shutdown everything during easter Holidays, placed racks in there and re-cabled all devices from scratch) and replace the whole network core and access layer with Nortel equipment. I learned a lot about datacenter and networking.
  • The first "real" firewall I got to know was a Raptor Firewall, which later go replaced by a Symantec Gateway Security appliance. This one was there for a long time before it was replaced by a FortiGate appliance. I really liked working with firewalls, it was fascinating what could be done on the network level.

One of the key factors during my apprenticeship was that I was really free in what I wanted to do and as my interest in learning new things was never stopped I could really move forward.

My studies

After military service I started to study IT at HSZ-T (nowadays ZHAW), besides still working at SUISA part-time. This gave me the opportunity to learn what it means to study and to work at the same time. It was hard, but I would do it again as it help to bit through a hard time. At least I can call myself an "IT Ingenieur", which is today called Bachelor.

My step into consulting

The work at SUISA was mainly operations and engineering for one company (internal IT). At Osys (today UMB) I had the chance to gain experience working at a consulting company doing expert services for other companies. I was hired as VMware specialist, but was also doing a lot of work in datacenters with IBM servers. This gave me a good insight into this kind of business, and I was also able to glance into other companies IT infrastructure. That was interesting and I could again learn a lot during this time.

My move into professional Linux and Internet technologies

Since the beginning of my interest in IT, Linux played a dominant part in all my private projects. Until now I haven't been able to work with Linux in my job, and this was something I wanted to change. Therefore, I started a job as Linux Engineer at nine.ch, which also happened to be my entry into the world of ISP Internet networking with BGP and large-scale datacenter services. When I started at nine.ch, the former network engineer just left and as I showed interest in networking I got the opportunity to learn BGP and Internet networking in general. Because nine.ch was opperating more than 1000 Linux servers at this time I also had the chance to learn managing Linux servers at large scale.

Also doing On-Call and 24/7 operations was something I learned at nine.ch.

My way to VSHN

In 2014 it was about time to do a timeout and travel the world. When I returned, I worked for a short time for AtrilA and Wuala, the online data storage service.

If I wouldn't have started at AtrilA, I might have missed the chance to help building and shaping VSHN. For that I'm absolutely grateful.

Being able to found a company and learn what it means to grow from a handful of engineers to over 40 employees is not something you can do all the time. It also helped me to grow outside the engineers work and get into other jobs like service manager, member of the management and now product owner.

A reflection

Looking back at these 20 years from two perspectives, the technical one and my personal view, proves me that a lot has changed.

Technical wise I feel I'm now in the third evolution of IT since the year 2000. It all started running everything on bare-metal, each service had it's own physical server and each of them was carefully treated (pets) with it's own carefully chosen server name. Applications were running as full client-side (Windows) application, accessing data stored in databases over the internal company network.

Then virtualization came into the picture and there were less and less hardware servers. All was moved into a few very big servers in VMs, but still these VMs were treated as pets and each and every service got it's own VM. The number of servers to be managed exploded. Applications were still mostly client-server based, but for a few years where running in (Citrix) terminal servers or virtual desktops.

Nowadays it's the (Linux) container (cattle), orchestrated by Kubernetes, providing a web service or web application which dominates my daily IT work. Nothing works anymore without a web browser.

It feels like every few years the paradigm changes from client-side to server-side, back and forth. First there was the Mainframe and the user just had a dumb terminal, then came the fat client running the full-blown application and then we had the terminal server running the fat client. Nowadays we have a similar situation with web applications, once they mostly run server-side, just serving the rendered HTML, then all is moved to the browser to be JavaScript based and then back again or in a hybrid solution.

Looking at my personal development in IT, I was doing mostly technical engineering for roughly 15 years (of course the technology changed), but since VSHN was founded in 2014 my job has changed drastically since then. I started engineering VSHN's technical foundation, but moved more and more into project planning, service management, company management, organization development, and lately also into product ownership. This is quite exciting and feels like there is never enough to learn.

On to the next 20 years! Wherever my job develops into, I'm looking forward to it and I'm curious.