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Network administrators are responsible for the computer hardware and software within a computer network. In this interview, a network administrator for a home health company shares her experience, and how she has had to overcome the challenges of working in a male-dominated field.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: My job title is Computer Network Administrator and I work for a home health agency. I have worked for the home health agency for 26 years, with 10 of those years in the computer network field. I would describe myself as hard-working, dependable, and a fast-learner.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I am white and female. I don't think my ethnicity has hurt me; however, my gender may have hurt me in the computer field in some small ways, since many computer professionals are male. I have not experienced any discrimination. I do feel that I have proven that females can function in professional computer-related careers as well as men.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: I would describe my job as a computer network administration. My work entails maintaining a computer local area and wide area network. Our agency consists of 17 offices, approximately 75 computers, 7 servers, and numerous other pieces of network equipment. I am responsible for troubleshooting and monitoring performance of servers, printers, desktop and laptop computers, network switches, routers, and more. I maintain an ongoing scheme of file back-ups to provide for file recovery and disaster recovery. My job responsibilities also include installation, implementation, and maintenance of operating systems, and software packages, as well as database management. I verify the need for equipment repair and replacement. As far as common misconceptions about the type job I do, there is one. Some people that do not work in a computer professional career do not understand how many different computer-related jobs there are. Having a degree in and experience as a Computer Network Administrator, does not make you an expert in computer security or computer programming.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate my job satisfaction as a 9. The job is sometimes stressful when I have many computer network users to help and not enough time; I have one assistant, but feel like we need one more staff member in the IT department.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: My job as a Personal Computer Network Administrator moves my heart because I am able to help others. I help co-workers be able to complete their jobs, help them learn about computers and computer-related hardware and software, and correct problems they have with computer equipment. I very often feel appreciated. I do feel like I have found my calling in life.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: I started out 26 years ago working as a Secretary Typist. We had a computer programmer that came to train us on a new computer system and he noticed that I learned more quickly about the system that others in our agency. He suggested that I train the other secretaries on the program. I was later promoted to Computer Network Specialist. I got a lot of on-the-job training, but later went back to college to earn a degree in the field. I earned a diploma in Computer Information Systems first, then an Associate's degree, then I became certified as a Cisco Certified Network Associate.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: I started working for the home health agency 26 years ago as a Secretary Typist. After a few years of experience, I was promoted to Office Manager. I went back to college to pursue a degree in Accounting, but my supervisor and others noticed my skills with computers and asked me to become the Computer Network Administrator. I changed my degree to Computer Information Systems - Networking Specialist and became the Network Administrator ten years ago. If I could go back, I would have finished my education first and started working in a computer professional first instead of a Secretary Typist.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: I learned the hard way that other employees, including my supervisor, do not understand the extent of knowledge and training that is needed for this job. It is sometimes a complicated job that is very time-consuming. There is not one particular incident that specifically led me to that lesson; it has become obvious over a number of years.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: The single most important thing I have learned outside of school about the working world has been that if you strive to do a job well and be committed and dedicated to that, you will succeed.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: I was a student at a local technical college for many years. After graduating and working in the field, one of college teachers asked me to teach some computer-related classes part-time in the evening. I did so for two years.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: I get up and go to work each day because I know I am needed by co-workers that use our computer network. These co-workers appreciate me, make me feel needed, and respect me. One example of something that made me feel really proud is converting a whole Novell email system to Microsoft Exchange. Another example is the fact that I created a Disaster Recovery site for our agency from scratch.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: The kinds of challenges I handle involve having to work with so many different types of software and systems such as Microsoft, Cisco, SonicWall firewall routers, Symantec Backup programs, and anti-virus software. The kind of things that made me want to quit are when I have to talk on the phone to support from outside of the US and I cannot understand them.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: There are many days that my job is not stressful at all; however, when there is downtime due to network equipment problems that involve several employees or many branch offices, this can be stressful. It is vital that I maintain a comfortable healthy work-life to relieve stress by exercising, reading, and other relaxing activities outside of work.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: A rough salary range for the position I hold would be between $30,000 to $100,000 depending on experience, education, and location. My salary is approximately $46,000 year. I feel that I am paid appropriately and am living within my means.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: My job is a state job so I earn annual leave and sick leave. I earn 14 hours of annual leave a month and 10 sick leave. This is plenty of leave time. I usually take a week off each year for vacation, but take a day off around holidays so that I have a four-day weekend.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: I would recommend that a person considering a career as a computer professional at least obtain an Associate's degree in computer information systems. Additional training such as certifications is also very helpful, depending on which area of computer professional work you are interested in. For example, there are certifications for A+ IT Technician, Cisco Certified Network Associate, Microsoft Specialists, and many more.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: I would tell a friend that is considering doing the kind of work I do to get as much training and knowledge as possible. If the friend is able to achieve certifications, additional training, and education, I would tell him/her to work on all three. I would also make them be aware that there are so many different specialized fields in the computer professional field such as Microsoft, Cisco, A+ Certified IT Technician, security, and more.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: I am planning on working seven more years before I can retire. In five years, I would like to have someone well-trained and ready to take over the job I do now.