Another update to this page as of late 2015 - things have changed, again... !
I'm Mark, a mid-30's native of Auckland, New Zealand. I spent most of my life living in Auckland, aside from a stint in Wellington (2006-2010) and an upcoming move back to Wellington in early 2016, to go with a new job.
For those of you who don't know (!), New Zealand is a nation of 4,300,000-odd people located to the southeast of Australia and south of Fiji. Auckland is located at the ithsmus (narrow land bridge) towards the top of the North Island. The Hutt Valley, where I lived for several years, is on the periphery of Wellington (the capital) and is found on the harbour at the southern tip of the North Island. For my initial few years in Wellington I was working out of an office in Porirua, with frequent side-trips to locations in Trentham and Wellington City; as of early 2016 my new role is based in Hataitai, just south of the CBD.
My career has been in IT since well before I finished with high school. Most recently it's been leaning toward the executive - my current role is running IT Operations for the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). My career could be accurately described as a mix of service provider and public-sector work; prior to NIWA I was the Technical Services Manager for ICONZ (Internet Company of New Zealand Ltd) and prior to that, I variously ran both Operations and Support functions of an Email Security Company operating in the Cloud (IaaS) - SMX. Prior to that I was at ICONZ again (but in a hands-on network engineering role) and before that I was in various network engineer positions with New Zealand Defence Force, working on both multi-agency and multi-national projects across all manner of areas. If you go back even further you'd find several ISP helpdesk roles, which is where I got my start and where I cemented an interest in the Internet and all things around connectivity.
While studying and working in helpdesk type roles I started getting interested in Linux; infact my earliest experiences with the Linux operating system go back to the late 1990s and my desire to share our home internet connection across multiple systems. When I was steered down the Linux path I was fascinated by the powerful features available for next-to-nothing and I continued to pursue it as an interest when time permitted. Meanwhile I completed several papers in Network Management and Operating Systems (DOS, Windows (NT) and Linux were components) and my day-job has had me supporting Windows users (various generations) both in-person and over the end of a phone.
I recognised that this wasn't going to keep me interested forever, so I set my sights on the engineering space, and particularly the communications aspects of things which had always fascinated me. I got my Amateur Radio license at age 16 as an extension of this fascination and have come to realise that communications in itself is one of my key interests. The desire to get out of end-user support and into an engineering role coupled with my interest in communication technologies and I began to work on developing skills relevant to Internet engineers. This initially consisted of learning how to configure and administer internet servers servers for web, mail, DNS and the like; the baselines of how Internet communications takes place. My platform of choice was Linux wherever possible, with a strong minor in Windows (which is where the majority of my professional experience sat).
Despite having gained some knowledge in these matters throughout my time in support roles, it's actually difficult to gain context-relevant engineering experience and one of the most beneficial decisions I made was to 'telehouse' a server at one of the ISPs I was working for. On this machine, I set up (with help from a couple of key friends) a system that let me host my own DNS, email and web servers - and truly be a part of the 'game'. Fiddling with production kit is much more educational than a disconnected lab environment. And it worked. The website you're looking at right now is hosted on the current generation of that very first server I put online back in the early 2000s.
Eventually I wound up at a fork in the road; Systems Administrator or Network Engineer. Systems Administrators tend to specialise (either Windows or Linux) and tend to (especially in the Linux world) require some programming nous; this is not something I picked up very quickly. On the other hand, Network Engineers are dealing with communications and are 'OS-Agnostic'. Comms protocols tend to be consistent regardless of the type of computer system you're dealing with. So... Network Engineering was the go. Being accepted to the role of Network Engineer with NZDF was a major turning point - they provided an excellent place to learn-on-the-job and also 'make a difference'. Beyond that though, I've also tried to 'keep my hand in' on the other aspects of IT beyond straight networking - systems administration and related tasks - and this is part of what has made me a strong manager for IT Engineering and Operations environments today. So whilst as 2016 starts I find myself as a professional 'pencil pusher' in some respects, I still manage this server day-to-day and can hold my own across network, linux, windows, server and storage worlds.
I see this as a key point of difference; I recognised several years ago that I had what appeared to be a unique perspective on IT Engineering and Operations. Many engineers that I have dealt with over the years, have narrow, stove-piped expertise areas, and unlike them I had a broad enough take IT to be able to support a customer right to the technical 'top', and across a large swathe of the spectrum from Microsoft, to Linux, to Networks and Security, to physical infrastructure. I don't go as deep in some areas as I do others, but being a 'generalist' is a useful trait, as is being able to see a situation end-to-end. So I started to steer toward 'technical management' roles, which I thoroughly enjoy, and ultimately has led me to where I am today.
The other major aspect of my life is of course, at home. I have lived with my wife Liz (known as wyldangel to some) since 2002. We finally got around to tying the knot several years later. :-) We have two children - Laura (born 2005) and Ben (born 2009). and I think that i've finally adjusted to the fact that i'm a Husband, Father, and contributor to my community and to society as a whole. Whoa! This must be what it feels like to be all grown up...
I must pay special tribute to Liz my lovely wife, who a challenge to my wit and intelligence, is endlessly supportive of all my 'interesting' traits and who never fails to cheer me up when i'm down. I'm a very lucky guy.
Outside of my professional side, my interests include but are not limited to:
- Emergency Services. I became a volunteer Fire Policeman in 2002; in 2012 this function with the NZFS transitioned to a new definition as 'Operational Support'. I continue to serve with Auckland Operational Support and have to-date maintained continuous service within NZFS, albeit in different parts of NZ (Auckland 2002-2006; Hutt Valley 2006-2010; Auckland again since 2010).
Core roles filled by Volunteer Operational Support in Auckland include providing traffic management, scene safety, transportation and logistics at the scenes of established emergencies all across the city. In FY2015 Auckland OSU turned out more than 600 times; my own turnout numbers are around ~70 per year.
- Linux and Open Source. My interest in Linux has continued over the years and I found myself helping to administer the New Zealand Linux Users Group after a period. I also helped to spin off the Auckland LUG and i'm still involved in keeping both of these ticking over, though in a more limited fashion now than in the past. I also helped with the foundation of the New Zealand Open Source Society and served as a councillor for 3 years, though i've had mostly background/technical roles since it was established. My interest in this space is mainly around the desire for true freedom (platform independence, flexibility of configuration, etc) and generally for a 'reasonable' approach to Open Standards and interoperability. NZOSS pursue these avenues with a passion and i'm happy to help the cause.
- Amateur Radio. I've had my callsign ZL1VMF since I was 16, and find that its quite a useful hobby. I've talked to Space Stations as well as Amateurs from all parts of the world. I volunteer with the AREC who provide communications expertise for emergencies in a volunteer capacity. Check out the NZART Website (Linked in my links section) for more information about 'Ham' radio and how to get involved. I'm the host of the Wellington VHF Group website and spent several years serving on their committee, and several more as Webmaster.
- Motorsport. Rallying in particular, I assisted with The WRC Rally of New Zealand for the period 2000-2005, via Amateur Radio and its AREC component. My Dad was a petrolhead and I spent several fun weekends during my childhood chasing Rallys, so every now and again it's nice to check out what's going on. I maintain a peripheral interest in what goes on these days, though I'm still working in the background as an administrator for Toyspeed, a Toyota Car Club in NZ. (Toyotas are awesome, just so y'know.)
- Internet and IRC. I've been on the Undernet IRC Network for many years and help in a volunteer capacity with the #ZT project. I also spent some time as a member of the Undernet User-Committee #Class project #ZT deals with IRC And Channel abuse, with an aim to deal with abusers and educate users in how to protect themselves and their channels. #Class teaches about Undernet and how to do various basic IRC things in a classroom type scripted session with Q&A. For information refer to The User-Com Website. A link for the new-and-improved #ZT website is a work in progress.
- The other thing that I do (as alluded to above) is provide webhosting, DNS and Email services for friends and "clients" alike, usually in return for a donation toward hosting charges. The server was initially set up as an attempt to help learn the finer points of server and service management, and has evolved into the server you're talking to right now. I'm still learning. :) Services.blakjak.net has more info. This is essentially operated as a non-profit, with a very small amount of consulting driven through the home business operated by Liz and I, Jazzed Solutions.
So, welcome to my site. My blog goes through fits and bursts, but I tend to post links to news which interests me, which inspires me to rant, or to which I will probably want to later refer. As a good netizen, it's only fair to contribute my $0.02. :-) With that in mind I can also be found on Twitter.
My Geek Code Block has been removed pending update, not only am I now in a new age bracket but it's probably time to reassess my true geekiness! Coming soon.
So there we go. Enjoy!
If you want to get hold of me, hit the Contact form above.
A final point, to be absolutely clear: any comments posted on this site should be considered the personal opinions of the Author (unless otherwise stated). I do not pretend to represent any company or organisation that I may be associated with, or have been previously associated with.