I really enjoy my job, though precisely why I do is quite difficult for me to convey in writing – it’s tied up in what I do, who I work with, and just how much fun the daily problem solving is for me. If this sounds strange to you, this post is likely going to be difficult to grok. For everyone else, here I go…
What I do
I am the Data Operations Supervisor at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. I’ve been working for the NSIDC off and on since 2005 (I started as a student while I was working on my graduate degree), and consistently since 2010 (when I graduated and came back to work full time). My job is currently split between data operations tasks, high-level architecture/engineering, and administrative/supervisory stuff.
The data operations tasks take the bulk of my time, but because I have one foot in architecture, I help bubble up things that would make the job easier/harder, while also integrating new technologies/techniques into our operational stack. Going back and forth between detailed troubleshooting and high-level work in particular makes this very rewarding as I get to tackle problems from both ends – how to fix it now, and how to keep it from breaking tomorrow.
While the data operations tasks are my bread and butter, the supervisory work brings a lot of meaning to my work at the NSIDC. I have a lot of paternal feelings for my team (even though they are largely in the same age group as myself), as I invest a lot in my team and my team members. I also get a lot of joy out of bringing donuts and other goodies for the team, buying lunch or a round of coffee when it’s needed, and generally being the team motivator. I also have the privilege of working with other teams and managers to let them know when they’ve done good turn for Ops. I always enjoy telling other supervisors that their employee has done great work, and reward them with a coffee card – it’s great to put a smile on someone’s face.
What my team does
Operations plays a couple of significant roles at NSIDC. We manage our data archives and ensure that the data under our care is archived, updated, and distributed as needed. We spend a fair amount of energy automating this whenever possible, so, not surprisingly, this work has transformed over the years to fall into managing our production environment and troubleshooting the software layer above our archive. That’s not to say that we don’t do a lot of archive management though – we are still involved in lots of conversations (both within the team and with our other stakeholders) about how to organize our archives to make them most efficient for software and services; how to make software that accesses, transforms, and serves our data; and when to update a dataset so that it can fit with our more modern service layers.
Our other main task is maintaining our production environment. This involves primarily our custom code (generally anything written by someone in-house) as well as anything that works on the data. To me, this is the most exciting aspect of the work – because our data system is expansive and complex, there is always something more to learn. Further, problems I troubleshot the day before, are not likely to be the problems that need troubleshooting today, so every day is different.
To some, this could be frustrating, but for me, it’s exciting and stimulating. Sure, there are always problems to solve, but the problems are always different and always require me to explore a different aspect of the system. There is always more to learn, and that keeps me interested.
Who I work with
Since I’ve been at NSIDC, I have worked with nearly everyone at one point or another. I’ve worked with our scientists to archive data, process data, or stage data to make it available for them or their colleagues. I also work extensively with our customer facing teams (our User Services Office and Technical Writers) to respond to requests and issues with our data and services or coordinate releases of new data and services. Finally, there’s our fellow technical teams, the Systems Administrators, Database Administrators, and Software Developers – their role blends in with ours to help make some really cool things happen.
However, it’s not the teams that I work with that I enjoy most, it is the individuals. I don’t want to call out people directly (I hope they know who they are), but there are some folks at NSIDC that really make it an amazing place to work. There are people in nearly every group (Ops included!) that constantly inspire me to improve my technical and management skills. There are folks that have helped me get through rough spots at work and at home (whether they know it or not) and have earned a fair degree of loyalty.
These individuals are one of the most compelling reasons I continue to work at the NSIDC. Not only do I enjoy the work, but I enjoy the people I get to work with, and that makes it even more worthwhile.