Inside Tigunia: A Conversation with Alex Olson, Systems Engineer

 

Thank you for reading this month’s Inside Tigunia. Tigunia is comprised of industry-leading experts. Inside Tigunia features full-length, candid conversations to introduce the team to our friends and clients.

 

This month’s spotlight will be on Alex Olson, Systems Engineer.

 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Tigunia
Hello Alex, thanks for joining me today.

 

Alex Olson
Of course.

 

Tigunia
Right, so we’ll get into it. How did you first find yourself working in the information technology and security field?

 

Alex Olson
I’ve always been someone that likes figuring out how things work. A lot of my initial interest in technology was honestly just making things work for myself, whether that was mechanical or computers. I love building things, taking things apart, breaking things, and so on. And I was an industrial mechanic, a heavy equipment operator for many years. I wanted to make a shift in career to something that I could challenge myself and learn more, and I was interested in that space. So I started basically looking around at a way to get my foot in the door and part of that was pursuing some early certifications. I looked in networking specifically and eventually I did some kind of broader ones that were just like general IT certs. And then, as I’ve continued in my career, they’ve gotten more specialized and advanced. But early on, really it was just a desire for a more challenging field and something that I could actually grow a more specialized career in then what I had available to me in other career paths.

 

Tigunia
Okay, so what is your experience looked like up until now? Specific to this field?

 

Alex Olson
I cut my teeth kind of jumping over some steps that a lot of people take in traditional IT with help desk support, for example. While I did do some of that, I actually started out pretty early in server administration and maintenance and as I got the hang of that, I moved into implementation and even a little bit of research for developing standards and best practices. So, for example, building out how we deploy applications, how we secure them, the kind of policy surrounding that. And along with that, I pushed internally toward more flexible automation rather than doing rigid, standardized deployments.

You know, I have also gotten quite a bit of experience from just securing applications and later expanding that experience out beyond specific apps and into overall security policies inside networks. I’ve had the fortune to have some experience in building out data centers and data center infrastructure. So, yeah, that’s a pretty high-level overview of my experience.

 

Tigunia
Very cool. So, throughout the course of your involvement in this field, how would you say the industry has evolved?

 

Alex Olson
Yes, so I’m in a kind of a unique position in that my career in the industry has been kind of short and very dense. However, you know, I’m in a unique position to see clients and people throughout the industry becoming more comfortable with not having all their systems all in one closet. Being able to have the infrastructure that supports their IT needs be managed by other partners or services so that they can get the right tool for the right job is pretty new. And potentially even offloading some of the responsibilities so they can deal with day-to-day workloads is helpful.
I think what I’ve seen is with the more successful clients, they’re not afraid to kind of let go of some of the traditional ways of doing things. IT has become so complex that if you want to be able to leverage it appropriately, you need to enlist resources outside your organization. So that is the one thing that I see pretty frequently working with our clients.

IT has become so complex that if you want to be able to leverage it appropriately, you need to enlist resources outside your organization.



Tigunia

Tell me a little more about that.

 

Alex Olson
Yeah, so being able to enlist specialties, right? Once upon a time, you used to just have an internal IT department or a “guy”, right? But organizational security, functionality, applications and so on are more complex. It’s well out of the realm of just one person’s expertise. For the most part, the people and clients that I see succeeding are adapting to that appropriately. Learning how to offload things that they would historically just like keep in house is becoming essential. IT, in general, is leveraged by more departments in more ways and accessed in more ways, across many industries.

 

Tigunia
Ah, yes. That’s very insightful. Moving on to my next question, describe a time when you were able to improve upon the design or workflow that was originally suggested. That could be internal here at Tigunia, or that could be while you were working with a client.

 

Alex Olson
One of the things that I’ve had the opportunity to invest a lot of effort into is to make applications that supposedly don’t work a certain way bend to my will a little bit. A really good example of this is a very commonly used warehousing and EDI solution, Lanham, for NAV and Business Central. I was told very early on that it has to be installed locally, which adds a lot of administrative headache because you effectively have to have workstations that are independently configured. If anything happens to them, you must reconfigure them. They have to be able to talk directly to the server. Printers have to be local to them; you can’t use network printers. I developed and implemented a solution to basically allow the usage of that application inside of an application delivery system, which we use everywhere, Microsoft Remote desktop services. So rather than needing to have this deeply configured, highly specialized workstation on a shipping floor, you can actually just have a client that is using a terminal services environment with all the functionality and performance still there. This is using a combination of third-party tools and some clever engineering to get this to work. But not only is it more secure, it’s more scalable. It allows for the rapid replacement and roll out of warehouses if necessary. So, historically we would have configured it the way that I mentioned previously, but now this is our standard deployment for warehousing clients that use that solution.

 

Tigunia
Oh cool, that’s awesome. What are your go to resources to remain up to date on the latest information and tactics in this industry?

 

Alex Olson
I’m actually a big fan of forums, which may be a little old school. I read a lot of sites like Reddit, sys admin and netsec. There’s a couple security podcasts that I love listening to. Most of what I want to be aware of, like early on, mostly tends to be security related, so that’s what I have my eyes on as it’s occurring. As far as general IT trends, that’s just kind of picked up honestly, through collaboration with colleagues and other forms of media like YouTube channels that I like to watch. I’m just kind of an information sponge. I watch this kind of stuff for fun.

 

Tigunia
So are you someone that can listen to a podcast or have a YouTube video playing in the background while you work?

 

Alex Olson
Oh yeah, it depends on what I’m doing. If it’s something I’ve done at least once or twice right and it’s going to be fairly repetitive, I’ll have a podcast on. Especially like troubleshooting and stuff, a lot of times, if it’s an implementation job or even something that I know how to fix, I’ll usually have a YouTube video on or a podcast in the background.

 

Tigunia
Right, yeah, I’m the same way. It always depends on what it is that I’m working on. How do you create motivation for yourself and your team?

When we have the escalation team meetings, I love to be able to hop into a meeting and feel excited to be there.


Alex Olson
This is actually something really important to me. I’ve worked in a lot of places with some pretty toxic cultures, and I know how draining that was to me personally. On the flip side, I’ve also known what it’s like to have struggles in my own life and have a hard time leaving it at the door, so to speak, coming into work. It isn’t necessarily specific to Tigunia, but I know that if I have serenity and joy in my own life, I get to be the best person that I am who just happens to come to work here.

And I love being able to do that because I know how important it is to bring the right energy. When we have the escalation team meetings, I love to be able to hop into a meeting and feel excited to be there. I think being able to bring good energy into a room is really important. Everybody has bad days and sometimes all it takes is someone that you work with or collaborate with to be in a good mood and bring you up, because they are excited to be there.

 

Tigunia
Absolutely.

 

Alex Olson
So it definitely feeds into each other. I try and bring that energy to work and I can only do that if I’m able to have that in my life. I love to be the best version of myself, one that is intelligent and capable and helpful. I mean that’s really what I love doing at the end of the day, I love helping out other people. It’s very rewarding to me. I have to maintain that balance of being able to put work down when it’s time to and pick it up when it’s time to.


Tigunia
Yeah, for sure. Why should someone like a client be confident in the work that you do for them?

 

Alex Olson
I prefer people make that determination on their own. If it was selling myself, I’d want you to know that I’m not a person that is able to be untruthful. Partially, that’s just something that’s incredibly important to me, for the sake of my own peace and serenity, being an authentic person. And part of that is honest expectations. I want the expectations of someone I work with to match what it is that I say that I can do. I would consider myself an incredibly capable engineer, but I’m not perfect and I’m not omniscient. Thankfully it’s not just me because if I can’t see an issue or solution all the way through, I’ve had enough experience to know when to tap out and utilize other resources.

Sometimes that’s what it takes. I could have been able to work through an issue, and it takes five times as long, versus just bouncing an idea off somebody else. Honestly, the kind of the team that I work with helps because we practice putting our ego down and work with each other to be able to just get through the problem. Sometimes they just know the answer right away, and that can be really useful and more effective for our client.

 

Tigunia
Excellent. What have you learned about your job and about yourself as you’ve progressed here at Tigunia?

 

Alex Olson
I think I’ve learned just how deep the rabbit holes can go. While I could conceptually understand how many areas of expertise there were in our industry, it’s only with a little bit of time and experience do I realize the depth of what I just don’t know. And that’s actually one of the reasons that I love this industry and that I’ve learned about myself. I had to change a little bit of like who I was because I was a person that always wanted to know everything and that’s just simply not a way to success in this industry. Sometimes I have to accept that I won’t necessarily have that specialized expertise needed for a particular solution. My time can be better spent expanding my skill sets in other places. I think I always knew about myself, that I was the kind of person that wanted to know everything and I wanted to be the guy that people to come to, but it was definitely a little bit of like a learning experience to realize this is not an industry where that’s at all possible.

 

Tigunia
That makes sense, I hadn’t thought of that. These next these last few questions are more on the personal side. What would you say is your favorite book or and or movie and why did it speak to you so much?

 

Alex Olson
Well, we’re going to put a pin in the movie thing for a second. I’ll let you know that I am an incredibly snobbish. I refer to it as film, so I’ll do the best I can.

 

Tigunia
*eye rolls*

 

Alex Olson
Okay, so book. One of my favorite books is Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. It’s a book that’s really like about being able to alter your perception. I think at its core, he was an author that wanted to get outside of traditional thinking, and in some ways he succeeded in that and in some ways he was kind of a crazy person. There’s certainly parts in that book that come off that way, but a huge part of the core theme to the book is being able to explore new ways of looking at the world. And that’s something I’ve always loved as a person. I don’t want to feel like I stagnate or that I found myself in one particular way of being or thinking and that there’s no changing that. I’ve experienced that in my life and it’s caused me pain before. So that book spoke to me when I was a lot younger and I still every once in a while reread it.

For movies, boy, this is going to be a tough one. I’ll tell you this. So, I think with books, that one is a little easy to speak to, but I watch movies for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes it’s just because I love the medium and I like to see the way that different artists explore it. But I’ll tell you the way I think most people should think about favorite movies, and this is what I do. It’s a movie I would never turn off. Some of the best movies I’ve watched, I’ll never want to watch again.

There’s almost no need to, because like I’ve already had the experience. For the best movies, and for some of my favorite movies, it doesn’t matter where it is in the movie. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen it. If I walk into a room and it’s playing, I’ll sit down and finish it. That movie, for me, will always be The Fifth Element. That movie is perfect as far as I’m concerned. It is science fiction and humor and cheekiness and a little bit of really like out there sci-fi all rolled into one. I know that’s more of a fun answer than the thoughtful answer for the movie, but I’m going to really struggle if I try and give you something philosophical for a movie that I watched.

 

Tigunia
OK, well how about this? If you had to pick a favorite director, could you do that?

 

Alex Olson
It’s gotta be John Carpenter.’

 

Tigunia
Yeah? Not a bad choice.

 

Alex Olson
And I’ll tell you, it’s because he makes movies the way that I enjoy them. They’re fun, they’re good. They’re tight in the way that they are themed and the man knows how to write a soundtrack.

 

Tigunia
See, I personally would have gone with Terrence Malick.

 

Alex Olson
Okay. Yeah, I mean, Tarantino would be a pretty close second, may be followed by Cronenberg or David Lynch. But again, I think this is one of the reasons it’s difficult to choose. I just love movies so much that I’m going to love him all for like very different reasons.

I know how to enjoy the things that I like and love and that bring a degree of fulfillment to me, but I certainly try and spend a lot more of my time these days helping others with what they’re trying to do.

 

 

Tigunia
Right? I agree. What would you say your life motto is, if you have one?

 

Alex Olson
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. It’s not mine. Maybe you know where that’s from, maybe you don’t. But it sums up all the things that I’ve struggled with in the most idealized way of being that I can think of. Knowing where I have agency in my own life and where I have to accept things, and that the only thing in my control is the way that I respond, will always be kind of like a lifelong practice.

 

Tigunia
Perhaps in that same spirit, final question: what do you do to make life count?

 

Alex Olson
I help others. That’s a relatively new thing. I was always a person that was very good at pursuing what I wanted to do. And I’ll say that there’s parts of my life that are incredibly fulfilled by doing that. I know how to enjoy the things that I like and love and that bring a degree of fulfillment to me, but I certainly try and spend a lot more of my time these days helping others with what they’re trying to do. I’m fortunate to be a part of a few different communities.

One of them is like an artist community where I just get a show up and be a set of hands and help people do their work. Thankfully, I have a really great group of friends, and no one is afraid to reach out for help. I think being able to balance those things, knowing how to take care of and do things for myself, and then taking myself outside of my comfort zone and doing things for others. Both those things, that’s what gives me purpose, man.

 

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