Retrospect Blog

A Day in the Life of Steve Maser, Senior Systems Administrator

Day in the life

Backup and Restore is hopefully only a small (if crucial) part of an IT administrator’s day. Retrospect would like to celebrate the lives of some of these hard-working IT personnel and learn more about what goes on in a typical day for them. Our first guest is Steve Maser, Senior Systems Administrator for the University of Michigan Tech Transfer.

Steve, what do you do on a typical day?

On a typical day, I am doing all of these things:

  • Working with the Mac Engineering Team at the University of Michigan in testing OS releases and 400+ software packages and assisting users with problems using the system

  • Working with the Office of Technology Transfer on their database system

  • Resolving general user computer problems.

The ratio of those things depends on the day/time of year.

What was your background? How did you get involved with where you are now?

My degree is in Chemical Engineering from U of M (Go Blue!) I got involved with IT immediately after graduation due to working with a faculty member developing interactive educational “games” for his Reactor Engineering class and I never looked back. System Administration came from there as a natural progression. I’ve worked primarily in Higher Ed with a 1-year stint at a game company (which was a fabulous experience, but their business plan didn’t work out…​)

What is your favorite part of your job?

The cliche answer is true: learning new things constantly. It’s what keeps IT fresh. And the Mac Engineering team has a great sense of humor — more so than the Windows Engineering team! (Hah! — like any of them will read this…​)

What is your least favorite?

The cliche answer here is also true: I can’t do everything myself (though I wish I could), but having to rely on others (sometimes) to get their part done so I can do what I need to get done can be a challenge.

What was the most embarrassing or funny thing to happen at work?

My favorite story to tell isn’t necessarily embarrassing or funny (well maybe it is): In a previous position, we had two identical iMacs in a student lounge area — both were chained down — but one of them had a defective logic board and we just hadn’t gotten around to replacing it. It was functional, but prone to crashing and we just hadn’t arranged a repair.

One day, one of the iMacs was stolen — the broken one. We reported this to campus security who put the MAC address in some watch list to see if it would show up on-line so we could detect the thief (which, surprisingly, has worked on campus in the past — some thieves are pretty dense…​) We upgraded the security cables on the remaining iMac so you’d need a giant-sized industrial hacksaw and many hours to get through the cables/locks.

About a month later, I got a call from campus security that the MAC address from the stolen iMac was pinging (!). And it was pinging from the student lounge network jacks (!!) We ambled over to the lounge thinking we might catch the thief (or maybe the thief had returned it once they figured out it was broken…​) When we got to the lounge, there was still just one newly-security-cabled iMac in the lounge.

Turned out the thief had come back to the lounge at some point and swapped logic boards — because they couldn’t get through the cables to steal the other Mac! To this day, I have never run across somebody that brazen and who clearly had to have spent a lot of time trying to figure out a solution to their problem!

What is your strongest quality?

Two things: I can juggle lots of balls without dropping any and I project a fairly calm demeanor. The former is what I think is my personal strongest quality. The latter is what others say about me — that I don’t get rattled when they bring me their problems (probably because of the former…​)

What are you most proud of?

That my daughters have turned out great!

How has your job changed since you started? How do you see it changing in the future?

So I started when “networked” computers were just beginning to be used and were limited to Apollo terminals. “Fast” desktop computers cost $4000+ and few people knew how to figure out anything if something went wrong. I’d say the biggest change is that people now have the ability to find the answers to their own problems and will usually try that first rather than call the help desk out of panic. After another generation goes by, that may be the norm. There will still be the need for people like me to design systems, though, for people to use. And more stuff continually moving to the cloud/off-site and less in-house (for good or bad…​ )

Quick, there is a fire! What do you grab before you run out of the building?

The external hard drive containing the backup of my iTunes Library. ;-)

Oh, no — the official answer would be the RAID drive containing the backups of my servers!

How do you spend your free time, if you have any?

I play competitive volleyball 3 times a week and have for almost 30 years now. That keeps me healthy and gives me a good 10 hours a week where I don’t think about anything other than the sport (and having fun while doing it…​) I’m also still a voracious comic book reader (started at 8 and have never given it up…​) but I read a ton of other stuff as well (one immediate recent favorite is “A Confederacy of Dunces” — a hilarious book — and Joe R. Lansdale is probably my overall favorite author as he is able to create great stories in a lot of different genres.)

I probably watch too much TV, but we are in a golden age of Television so I don’t feel bad about that. I mean, seriously, who would ever have thought that one of the highest rated shows on TV would be about a zombie apocalypse?

What skill would you most wish to have?

I wish I could play the piano well — like really well. I play guitar (well), but can only plink out simple chords on the piano.

If you won the lottery, what would you do?

Give my family and friends everything they need without making them dependent on me. I wouldn’t stop working, though (even if it meant I could play all day!) I need to keep my mind active.

Oh, and I’d start up a band with my friends and buy lots of expensive gear and a sound-proof practice space where we could make a lot of noise and have fun.


Many thanks to Steve for being our first guest. We plan on showcasing someone each month. Do you know an IT person we should hear from? Let us know!

Bio

Bio jg

JG Heithcock

JG Heithcock is CEO of Retrospect, Inc. and has eighteen years experience in the storage and backup industry.