Before Jason Jed joined the ALS last month, he had already toured the facility in person and through virtual reality. Is it any wonder that he knows some of the more hidden rooms at the ALS?
What does your work involve?
A systems administrator’s main job is to keep the computer systems running so that nobody notices that there are any problems. You’re pretty invisible when everything is working properly, but when things break, all of a sudden you become very popular.
My job is to make sure all the ALS server systems continue to run properly. There are systems on the beamline side to run the experiments and collect data. Those are predominantly Windows systems. There are systems used to control and monitor the ALS. Those are predominantly Linux. At the Lab, there’s the LBLnet networking group, the network security group, a Unix group within IT, and the facilities group. My job is to communicate with all of these groups to ensure that the needs of the ALS are being met and that all the various pieces are working together.
I’m also responsible for maintaining the main ALS data center in Building 15, a small server room in Building 80, and a tiny server room in Building 6. The tiny server room is nicknamed the “elevator room” because it used to be an elevator shaft that ran from the first floor to the second floor in Building 6. The elevator was removed before it was ever put into normal service in order to make room for the installation of a new superbend magnet and beamlines in that part of the building.
Have you been a systems administrator for your entire career?
Yes and no. I have an undergraduate degree in biology, and then I went to grad school at UC Berkeley in Integrative Biology. I was in the doctoral program for about three and a half years before I realized that I liked to play with the computers in the lab more than I liked to do the biology. This was also during the dot-com heyday back in 1997, so I decided to leave biology and get a job doing computer systems administration. My first job was in the UC Berkeley Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences department
After a few years I left the university to work for a consulting company in San Francisco. That was the one time that I actually wasn’t working for the university, and it didn’t turn out too well. I got laid off from that job due to the dot-bomb collapse in 2001. I was very fortunate to find a job as a network manager at UCOP in Oakland, close to where I live. After about nine years, the department was transferred on paper from UCOP to UCLA, so I actually became a UCLA employee without ever leaving Oakland.
I then moved to UCSF, where I ran a research compute cluster for the Cancer Center in Mission Bay and was part of a team that managed the UCSF campus-wide high-performance compute cluster. It was a very interesting job, but I couldn’t take the commute, so I decided to look for something in the East Bay. I was lucky to find this position at the ALS, and have been very happy here so far.
What has your impression been of the ALS so far?
I’ve actually known about the ALS for quite awhile. When my daughter was in middle school, she went to a school in Berkeley and her science teacher, Ms. Mytko, was really great. She, and my daughter was all excited about it. That was sort of my first real experience with the ALS. My family also came to visit the Lab a couple of times during the open house days.
When I was applying for the job, I started trying to learn about the ALS, and discovered a virtual tour of the ALS on Google Maps. All of the wires, cables, tubes, and everything wrapped in tin foil—it just looked so cool. This is real science going on here. When I saw those pictures, I thought, “I really want this job. This seems like a really cool place to work.“
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to cycle and have gotten kind of serious about it over the last few years. There’s a ride every year called the Grizzly Peak Century that goes in the hills around the East Bay. I originally got started with this group that was doing the training rides, but never really intended to do the century. Then somebody said, “Why don’t you just give it a try? What’s the worst that could happen?” I thought, “All right, I’ll give it a try.” It was really hard, but I finished it. I think I’ve done it four or five years now.
I also really like spending time with my family. I’ve been doing that a lot lately thanks to having to shelter in place. My daughter’s college sent all the students home and she’s doing remote classes now. It’s unfortunate for the students, but actually kind of nice having her home. And of course I’ve always liked playing around with computers—that’s what got me into this thing in the first place.
What is an achievement that doesn’t appear on your resume?
We did a major renovation on our house about 15 years ago. While we lived upstairs, I worked on finishing the downstairs, working just on the weekends and holidays. I put up all the sheet rock, spackling and sanding. I put in the shower and the pipes and everything for all the plumbing in the bathroom, and all the fixtures and wood trim around the windows after that. I did it two days at a time, over the course of three years. It was a really great learning experience, and when I go down there and look around, I think, “I did this!”