An Interview with Ryan Bacon
IT Support Engineer Ryan Bacon is the IT hero behind making work happen at JumpCloud. He is also one of the few IT admins in his industry who has the opportunity to help transform a key piece of technology used in his very own field. Sounds like the makings for a great interview, doesn’t it? Below you can read Ryan’s perspective on what it’s like using JumpCloud as an admin, working at JumpCloud, and his advice on a few matters related to IT.
How long have you been in IT, and what was your path like to get here?
Ryan: I’ve been in IT professionally for a little more than six years. Before that, I was always the computer guy in a department at every place that I’ve ever worked; I was the guy who people would come to and ask questions before calling the IT department. How I got to where I am today though happened in a roundabout way.
Growing up, my dad was very passionate about computers, so that exposure and enthusiasm for technology has always been there for me. The funny thing is, I actually went to school for accounting and that’s what I completed my undergrad in five years ago. When I finished my degree and started to look for work out there, I couldn’t find a good fit—nothing seemed quite right or grabbed my attention in the accounting industry. While I was going to school for accounting, though, I was working in IT. So, as I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I had a discussion with my wife, and she said, “ Stick with IT, you’re in it, you like it, etc.” So I did, and I haven’t looked back since. I think I made the right choice.
What interested you about working in IT?
Ryan: I really like problem solving, and I like puzzles. Also, I do get bored doing the same thing day to day, and IT work in general is very dynamic. It changes all the time, so it keeps me challenged. I feel like I’m always learning and that’s important to me. I also really like technology, so basically, IT just hits all the right nodes.
From your experience as an IT admin, what has been the most interesting predicament you’ve found yourself in? How did you overcome it?
Ryan: So before working for JumpCloud, I worked for a non-profit animal shelter, and while I was there, they moved into a brand new facility. It was a lot larger, and they combined two separate offices into this one area. Part of their shelter management system included interactive maps that showed where all of the animal kennels were while also connecting them to kennel records. So those maps had to be created for this new facility.
The challenge was that there were hundreds and hundreds of different kennels and entries, and the way that the software was designed was you would have to draw a little box and then manually connect that little box to a record.
Doing that by hand hundreds of times would have taken forever, and they were still figuring out the naming and numbering system, too.
Fortunately, I had access to the database that the shelter management system was built on top of. So, I was able to go in there and look at the database to see how it was structured and to see what information is being used. Then, I made a spreadsheet, and I made a PowerShell script. Next, I put all the information on the spreadsheet, like x and y coordinates and dimensions. After that, I ran the PowerShell Script and it took that information, and fed it into the database.
This approach not only enabled me to get really precise maps drawn that I couldn’t do by hand, but it also made making changes very easy: I could just update the spreadsheet and then rerun the script. The other, more obvious benefit was that it made the whole process a lot faster. When it comes to overcoming challenges, that’s probably the project I like the most.
Had you used JumpCloud in any of your previous jobs?
Ryan: Well, I have used Active Directory in other places, and my experience with Active Directory is that it’s very piecemeal. I would set a user up on AD, and then set them up again on Google, and then do it again on other software that gets used. It was all segmented and separate, and you had to keep a very close eye on it in case you missed a step. I’ve found with JumpCloud that it really streamlines the process. For example, take our internal help desk system. Getting people set up in it and giving them access was very problematic before I added it to JumpCloud as a single sign-on (SSO) application. I had run into a ton of different errors, and it was very cumbersome.
It also wasn’t very intuitive, but once I got that set up as an SSO application in JumpCloud, it just became so streamlined.
I would type in the user information and make sure they were in the proper user group in JumpCloud. After that, all I had to do was make sure that my end users had been trained on how to use it. That was all that was needed. I didn’t have to jump through all of the hoops I had to before. So JumpCloud has definitely helped, and as the product grows and more features come out, I definitely look at how we can use those features internally.
Have you been able to be a part of JumpCloud’s development process? Is there one feature of the product that you helped give input on?
Ryan: It’s been really exciting to have the opportunity to work for an organization that can really revolutionize IT, the very industry that I work in. In being here, I have been able to give feedback and input on the product, and having the development team actually listen to that input—not just for me but for our customers too—is a really unique position to be in. For example, I recently got to work with the Product and UX teams as they set up the full disk encryption policies on the platform. I got to sit through a few different UI tests and got to provide feedback on a few different designs.
It was really cool to see how they incorporated my input into the final product and being able to see that process to the very end was really interesting.
While it wasn’t exact, I can see where they had listened to what I had said, and I think the final version ended up being an improvement from what they originally had. It was really neat be a part of that.
Speaking of software development, has any of your work involved centralizing engineer access to IT resources?
Ryan: Yes, and we’ve been able to centralize engineer access to more and more of our tools. In the past when a new hire came onboard, during their first week, they would go to a bunch of different people to obtain access to various resources. They would go to one person to get access to certain parts of our infrastructure; they would go to another person to get access to a different set of tools; and so on. One of my first big goals was to really streamline that onboarding process. And now, before a new hire arrives for their first day, they have just about everything that they need to start moving forward. It makes it much easier for them to ramp up.
Do you have any advice on how to best communicate with software developers?
Ryan: The key is figuring out who does what. If the developers are split off into different teams, knowing which team does what is important. That way you can get the right person to answer your questions, and you can go right to the source. And honestly, I think it’s also important to be cognizant of their time, and really, that’s true of anybody. You just communicate with them and interact with them as you would with any other person you know.
Be aware, be respectful of their time and what they do, and try to actually talk to the right person.
As opposed to what some people think, software developers are people too.
What advice do you have for other IT admins who are responsible for maintaining and managing a startup’s IT environment?
Ryan: I have a couple pieces of advice. The first piece is to keep good documentation. Document everything from different policies and procedures to how you have your environment set up to even your thinking behind why you set it up the way you did.
Startup environments are very dynamic and very fast moving—they change a lot from month to month and even day to day.
So, being able to go back and look at your reasoning behind why you made certain decisions will help you determine if that setup is still the best solution or if you need to reassess. Along those same lines, my next piece of advice for IT admins is that you need to be aware of what’s going on in the business. You can’t be stuck in your own little corner and let the world pass you by. The working world will change and you need to be ready for when it changes.
When those changes do come, you need to be flexible enough and agile enough to roll with them, so you can provide the best support that you can for your startup.
What are some of your favorite tools, apps, and technology to get tasks done?
Ryan: Well other than JumpCloud, because that is just a bit on the nose, I like using PowerShell and Bash for scripting. Also, any help desk application is vital. You have to look at whichever one fits the needs for your organization, but having a help desk is critical.
Then I use various network scanning tools. I also appreciate a good quality tool set (like screwdrivers and pliers) for when I have to get my hands dirty in some equipment. And of course, the internet. Nobody knows everything, so being able to have that resource on hand and being able to go and find information and keep apprised of best practices is very easy nowadays.
Do you have a favorite source that you like to go to when you do have questions?
Ryan: I find myself going to the Spiceworks Community a lot and then sites like Stack Overflow and TechNet. Those are probably the ones I find myself on the most.
Do you have one skill that you’ve picked up over the years that you couldn’t live without?
Ryan: For my professional life, that would be soft skills. I think that no matter what role you’re in, what job you have, if you have good soft skills that will make your life so much easier.
Are there any industry standards or practices you disagree with?
Ryan: There aren’t any standards that I look at think, “Oh that’s bad.” I think that’s mainly because the standards will vary a lot depending on what industry your organization is in. Like when you are in healthcare you have to comply with HIPAA, or here, we have to adhere to a lot of security standards.
What I do find is that there are a lot of practices and trends in the IT world that I would like to see changed and a lot of those are related to a certain mentality that a lot of IT people get into. There’s a lot of Us vs Them. This mentality just ends up creating conflict between IT admins and end users, and that’s not a way to work. It needs to be collaborative with both sides working together. Essentially, they’re your customers, and it’s an IT pro’s job to make their lives easier. Plus, having a good relationship with your end users just makes that whole process a much better experience for all parties involved.
The other poor practice I’ve noticed is that outside of management, IT people tend to ignore the business side of IT. They don’t think about budgets; they don’t think about the actual business needs. Of course, when it comes time to look at potential solutions, they tend to want the biggest and shiniest and newest thing out there when it may not be in budget and it may not actually be what is needed.
In general, I think being more aware of the business element can really help IT professionals to make better decisions about what will benefit their organization.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this IT admin’s perspective on JumpCloud, consider reading an interview I did with one of our Principal Software Engineers where we discuss what it’s like building a cloud directory service. Of course, if you would like to learn more about the JumpCloud platform, drop us a note. We’ll gladly work with you to see how we can help with your identity management needs.