NRC IT Speed networking Event
Wednesday 29 April at the Newtownabbey Campus
The Careers and Computer Science Departments of the Northern Regional College in Shore Road Newtownabbey organised an innovative careers day with a difference and I were delighted that BWF was invited to participate.
There were about ten groups of students and ten minutes per session. I had a few minutes to tell the students about our business, qualifications needed to work here as well as the sort of job roles we have. Students then had the opportunity to ask questions and to find out a little more about what it is like to work in the web hosting industry and specifically what it’s like to work at Bigwetfish. Talk about ‘Ground Hog’ day! By the time I got to the tenth group I was exhausted but I have to say I was still as enthusiastic as the students were just great.
It was great to see local companies such as dotRetailer and Total Mobile join multi-national companies such as PwC and Fujitsu to name but a few take part in this event. The students were either IT Level 3 or Foundation Computer Science Degree students and their enthusiasm for the event and their questions were impressive. What an impressive institution and I could clearly see this was not just a showcase for the visitors. The students are interesting, appear highly motivated and are certainly a credit to their tutors and the NRC in general. The future of IT in Northern Ireland is in safe hands!
Enda McKenna from Bring IT On kicked off the proceedings with a very interesting talk and showed a video detailing career opportunities in the local industry. Popular and well known Belfast companies and locations were on show in the video that was shown including Established Coffee in Hill Street as well as the Centre Table Tennis Court in Rumble Labs! Unfortuantely he did neglect to mention the Big Wet Fish Diet Coke Fridge but we will forgive him this once!
Students were introduced to some of the potential careers in the local IT sector including:
Although not specific to hardware this was of particular interest to me. As I was sitting enjoying the day at the NRC we had 2 staff back in our office deploying 5 servers for a new server contract we just signed. It’s a High Availability Load Balanced cluster but critically the client is paying an external company to do Server Penetration Testing to ensure our setup is secure. Nothing like feeling the pressure knowing the custom setup we are deploying needed to pass the security penetration tests before the client would move the cluster from ‘dev’ to ‘production’. I was actually able to tell the students this real life story of how the company doing the pen testing would be commanding £500 + VAT for a day’s work. Some eyes were rolled as the students saw how much experienced professionals at the top of their game could command for their professional services. If that sort of pay rate is not an incentive to encourage the students to work hard and succeed I do not know what is!
Web and Application Development
Students were introduced to potential careers in the highly active web development scene within Northern Ireland. Some examples from Rumble Labs and Rehab Studio. The video showed some current staff being interviewed (male and female showing this absolutely not a gender biased industry) and the students got to see at first hand the sort of work the web developers will do. When Enda mentioned the starting salaries of some of these jobs I also saw a few raised eye brows and students could clearly see this was an industry they could succeed in if they were prepareed to work hard and become the best at their game.
Coding and Project Management
Kainos Software was also featured and reference was made to the great work of Women who Code in Belfast as well as us hearing from a Project Manager from Kainos so students could not only hear of the lower jobs but also how students can strive to move up the ladder in a company to raise up to managerial level.
Thanks Enda for such a motivational talk to the students – you were making me wish I was 20 years younger so I could start my career over again. I only wish the opportunities that exist now were available when I was doing my Business IT Degree at Queens in 1996!
So onto the Main Speed Networking Event….
The students were always buzzing after hearing about the jobs available so I felt a poor second best to have to follow on from Enda’s inspirational talk to the students. All my years of teaching in my former life came flooding back and I hope the students got something out of what I said.
Our industry is unique. There is no degree course that will given students the specific technical skills needed to work in our office. I was explaining to the students that no two days are the same. I was hoping the students could see that even though some of the assignments they had to do for their degree courses may not have seemed relevant at the time but how many of them would help the students develop skills to to do the variety of tasks we required of our staff on a daily basis.
I went through some of the tasks we have been completing this week to show the students the sorts of tasks our System Administrators and Support Staff deal with on a daily basis:
Client Root Compromised Server
Yesterday a server client was reporting strange behaviour from their Linux server and after investigation we discovered the server had been root compromised. Turns out the client had been using the same root password for 3 years, had not locked down the server and a review of the ticket history showed the client may have had malware on their local machine due to email hacks. We needed to work with this client to build a new server and recover their data in the fastest time possible and without spreading the infection from the compromised server to the new server. This required staff to work on their initiative and think before they acted. Communication was also the key in this scenario as most times we have a non technical client who we need to explain how a server can become compromised to and help the client ensure it does not happen again.
Building a Load Balanced Cluster Server Setup
This was a custom setup for a client. 5 servers were to be set up. One High Availability Load Balancer. 2 web servers (active|active) as well as 2 database servers (active|failover). The cluster also needed remote backups configured as well as needing to be locked down to ensure it passed penetration testing. This is actually one of the most customised setups we have been asked to do and it was the client who requested the setup how they did. Normally where a client needs High Availability we would put that client on our VMware Cloud which has HA built in. In this instance the client came through a large Belfast Based Design Agency and they had a very specific need for this custom setup. We never say no to clients where we can and this was a project I know our staff will have enjoyed undertaking as it allows them to become more of a ‘linux geek’ than ordinarily they would be! Designing this 100% customised setup is not something any student would be taught in a degree course but the transferable skills students learn from their courses are absolutely essential.
Server Upgrade: Matching Configurations and Data Migration
A server on older OpenVZ Virtualization was causing issues on its master node due to the nature of OpenVZ technology and the client needed to upgrade to XEN Virtualization. Our staff built an identical server, exactly matched php modules etc and migrated and tested the sites. Once done they shut down the old server, removed the IP, added a temporary IP, did a final rsync of the data, added the old IP to the new server and brought the new server on line. Final testing of the sites revealed everything was working with less than 60 minutes downtime for the client. Working quickly and planning small projects like this in advance helps ensure client satisfaction – this is a skill all staff need to bring to the table as were we to rush into something like this it would result in problems, extended downtime and frustrated clients.
High Traffic Websites
Not far from our mind always are High Traffic websites. We host Daily Cannon website which is a very popular Arsenal Football Club Blog. This site gets hammered with web traffic before and after any and all Arsenal Games. With the big game just a few days ago against Chelsea our staff were on standby to monitor and intervene should the server have fallen over! We also host the ever popular satirical website The Ulster Fry and this website every once in a while has been known to post a story that goes viral. Finally we host well known North of England Rugby league club website and this site is also prone to lots of hits on match days! No one in our office are Arsenal Fans nor are we Rugby League Fans but we are now as we need to keep up to date with happenings to ensure we do not get caught out with abnormal traffic crashing our network.
Daily Ticket Flow, Backup Checks, WordPress Management etc
In addition to special projects listed above our staff have completed a total of 385 support ticket replies in the first 3 days of this week as well as handled 89 live chats via our website. This regular work together with WordPress Version Audits given a number of serious WordPress Vulnerabilities discovered in recent days has ensured a busy week. There is no doubt working at ‘the fish’ is certainly not a boring experience!
I hope all NRC Students were able to see the wide variety of work we do at BWF. Staff get such a range of experience including but not limited to:
• cPanel Control Panel
• CentOS Linux & Other Linux
• PHP / MySQL (including innoDB troubleshooting etc)
• Configuring and Hardening Web Servers
• WordPress Troubleshooting
• Best Effort help for clients with third party scripts
• Troubleshooting errors
• Server High Load troubleshooting
• MySQL optimization
• Recompiling php to meet client needs
• Caching (Varnish for instance) for faster web browsing for client websites
• Security Patching on ad hoc basis when vulnerabilities are released
• Mod Security Web Application Firewall Configuration (using ASL Rulesets from Atomiccorp)
• ASL – Atomic Secured Linux security product use and configuration
• OpenVZ Virtualization
• XEN Virtualization
• VMware High Availability Vurtualisation
• Hardware Uptime Monitoring using Nagios
• Hardware troubleshooting
• Drive health monitoring
• RAID array configuration and rebuilds
• Failed Server migrations (thankfully a rare thing)
• Custom Projects such as those described above
• Server Hardening and helping clients keep their server secure
• Server Upgrades
• Client Project Planning
• Domain Name registration and Management
• Bash, Shell Scripting (eg to automate many of our routine tasks)
• Backup Solutions – Rsync, scp, R1Soft Product etc
• Customer Service tasks
• Accounting and Sales tasks
• Self Improvement daily (Google is your best friend!)
• Teamworking (the old cliché but so true in our business)
• Communication (again mentioned on every CV but so important in our business)
• Affinity to Diet Coke (we have a fully stocked and free Diet Coke Fridge for Staff)
• Affinity to Eating Out (Regular staff lunches on the BWF Credit Card!)
• Affinity to Travel (Staff have been to Hostingcon Miami and India in the past 12 months)
There are 18 students I believe on the NRC Foundation Degree Course in Computer Science as well as many other students on the Level 3 IT Course. I really wish we had jobs for all these students but alas that is not possible. We did promise the students the opportunity to partake in work experience with us (obviously we cannot take everyone!) and we promised to look favourably on the NRC Foundation Degree Students next year who need to do a 13 week work placement as part of their degree course.
I came back to the office and have already received 3 CVs so the enthusiasm of the students impressed me. Hat Tip to the staff of NRC for running an awesome Computing Department.
If you are a local student looking a career in IT why not talk to the NRC to see if their Foundation Degree would suit your education needs.