Is your IT job “recession-proof?” Your old pal Jeff knows firsthand that technical writers are among the first positions to be cut when the IT department is asked to lower costs. This week, I’d like to introduce you to Peter Pecere, an IT pro who believes his skill set will always be in demand and who loves his job.
Always a need for disaster recovery
TECHREPUBLIC: What is your IT specialty?
PECERE: My title is TSM Administrator/Consultant. TSM stands for Tivoli Storage Manager. It’s a package for backup and recovery. I specialize in disaster recovery techniques. Organizationally, I’m part of the Storage Management team.
TECHREPUBLIC: So how recession-proof is a career in storage management?
PECERE: Since the tragedy of September 11, I think demand has gone up for this kind of work. But companies, no matter what, need to have their records stored. They need to be able to recover things over years of time.
If there’s an audit, it doesn’t matter if documents get shredded. If a company is backing stuff up, guys like me can restore it and print it.
Job satisfaction quotient
TECHREPUBLIC: So what, in particular, about storage management provides you with the most job satisfaction?
PECERE: In my present assignment, my company operates hospitals and other healthcare providers all over the country. They all need medical records, patient records, and tax information backed up and stored safely.
Just last week, a major computer linked to one of the hospitals with elderly patients totally crashed. I got paged at 2:00 A.M., worked until 8:00 A.M., and restored and recovered all that data into a new box, which wasn't defective and damaged. By doing this restore to a brand-new box, I helped give the doctors and nurses the ability to care for elderly residents.
I'm not a doctor. I can't help anybody; you know, I’m no respiratory care therapist. But what I did for a computer that was malfunctioning in Virginia enabled physicians and healthcare professionals to do their jobs. I participated in the care of their patients. What a wonderful feeling that was.
It’s one thing to restore a file for a secretary or a vice president. But then you get down to an entire hospital's records being wiped out, and they didn't lose anything. No retyping to be done.
The people factor
TECHREPUBLIC: You sound like you enjoy your work. Do you have much direct contact with end users?
PECERE: Absolutely. When the help desk gets a call that an important file has been deleted, they route the caller directly to Storage Management.
TECHREPUBLIC: The level-one people don’t at least try to undelete the file for the user?
PECERE: Not in this organization.
TECHREPUBLIC: What advice do you have for other IT professionals in dealing with end users?
PECERE: No one deliberately does anything that would harm their own system. If a secretary or payroll clerk deletes it, believe me; they don't want that. I'm very sympathetic and empathetic toward that.
It’s all in the way you relate to people. Just this past week, I had a call from a very nice person, an administrative assistant, just panicking, because she had deleted something, and it had to be up and running for her vice president.
TECHREPUBLIC: Could this problem have been avoided with better training for the end user?
PECERE: No one means to do anything bad in this profession. These are just people trying to get by, doing what they have to do. I don't think to myself, "Well, gee, if they'd only train these stupid people."
I think, "This woman didn't mean to delete this file. That was the last thing on her mind."
TECHREPUBLIC: So how did it turn out?
PECERE: I just said, "Look, I've got it [the deleted file] right here, just give me five minutes to restore it." And I even stayed on the phone with her for five minutes, just to calm her down.
"I'm in trouble," she kept saying, over and over.
Then I said, "See if you can open it up now," which she did, and she was just so grateful, almost in tears, and being so thankful. She even called me back the next day and told me she had met her deadline.
Rules of thumb for storage-management wannabes
TECHREPUBLIC: Do you have any advice for anyone who might be considering specializing in storage management?
PECERE: You have to get used to having a pager 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Even though we rotate, like this past week I was the secondary on-call, that doesn't mean anything. If the first [person] on-call can't be reached, I'm there. You have to get used to that. You shouldn't go into any profession because of the buck.
TECHREPUBLIC: It sounds like you’re on call as much as a doctor.
PECERE: Well, I'm not doing an appendectomy. I'm not doing brain surgery. But you still have to be there. Unlike people who write code and go home at five o'clock, [in storage management] you're on call. If you're at dinner with your significant other and that pager goes off, dinner is now over. That's how it works, and that's okay.
TECHREPUBLIC: Can you give us any “rules of thumb” for storage management?
PECERE: I’ll give you two. First, when you go to a new client’s site where they’ve never had storage management software installed and you’re the top person—the architect—make sure you have all the client’s retention policies in writing, on paper.
TECHREPUBLIC: So you don’t inadvertently overwrite data you should have saved, right?
PECERE: Right. For some clients, the policy is, "We retain everything forever." It’s the money pit for tapes and disk storage. And in healthcare, the rules for retention vary from state to state, so you have to know what’s expected of your storage management solution.
TECHREPUBLIC: What’s the other rule of thumb?
PECERE: Some stuff [data] is so important that it has to be backed up on disk right there. Some information is so critical that you have to have an up-to-the-minute backup copy on a hard drive within your reach, instead of putting it on a backup tape that’s stored off-site. You still back up that information to tape, but you don’t want the tape to be the first and only place you go when you need to restore that most critical data.
To comment on this interview or to share your own experiences in storage management, please start a discussion below or write to Jeff.