Issue #18 April 2006

Certified engineer and jazz musician lives to improvise


Ivan is the go-to guy for help with technical problems.

Don't miss our audio interview with Ivan as he demonstrates the sounds of systems administration. You've never heard a terminal window sound quite like this.

Download the audio: [WAV] [MP3] [OGG]
Get the podcast: [XML]

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Ivan Fetch is 28, has a girlfriend, two adorable step-daughters, and works as Systems Administrator at Denver University. He passed the Red Hat Certified Engineer® (RHCE®) exam some seven months ago, and was the first one to finish the Troubleshooting and System Maintenance section of the exam. At work, he is frequently the go-to guy for help with tough problems. All in all, he's done better than most geeks in his age group.

When I arrive in Denver and check my voice mail, he has already left me a message. I call back to confirm that I have arrived safely and am on my way to meet him at his office. Ivan meets me at the curb as the taxi drives off. He punches in his access code and leads me up the stairs to his office in the Technology Services building.

We are both quite excited to finally meet in person, and Ivan loses count of how many floors we have climbed. He stops and reaches to the floor sign on the staircase wall, finds the braille on the lower-left corner of it and says, "Oh, we're there."

Ivan lost his vision a few days after being born and has used various accessibility tools all his life. His parents sent him to regular school.

"I am very grateful to them for not ever letting me pick the path of least resistance. They always pushed me to do my best," says Ivan. "They really showed me growing up that as a blind person you can do whatever you want to do. If I had parents who were content with whatever fell their way, things would have come out quite differently for me."

Ivan is responsible for maintaining DNS, DHCP, and mailing list servers.

Ivan got his first computer--an Apple IIe--when he was seven. It was equipped with an add-on board called Echo, which enabled speech output for certain applications. It was not a screen reader as we know them now, rather, it required the application to be self-voicing to provide audio feedback. Some programs spoke better, some worse, but the computer has become an integral part of Ivan's life, just like his braille school textbooks.

When he was in high school in Florida, the school decided to purchase a scanner and OCR (optical character recognition) software so Ivan could scan and read any manual or book he wanted, not just those available in braille. Even though it was another self-voicing application, the OCR program made learning easier for Ivan.

In 1999, he moved to Denver to study Engineering at Denver University, but after a few semesters he switched to working full-time as Systems and Network Administrator in the Department of Computer Science. Before the switch, Ivan was financing his studies with a number of IT consulting jobs, a large chunk of his earnings going towards his tuition, until one day he thought, "Hey, wouldn't it be neat if I could keep that money."

Today, Ivan is responsible for maintaining DNS, DHCP, and mailing list servers at the Technology Services Department. When I ask him about what he likes best about his job, he says, "It's two things: first, I enjoy learning technology that is new to me, and second, I really love to help people."

But computers and technology are not his only passion. Ivan is a talented jazz pianist, who has played in a few bands before and is frequently jamming with others. He is looking for a band to join. "One of my goals is to give music more priority in my life," he says.

Ivan has published some of his tracks on his web site, IvanFetch.com.

When I ask Ivan about his experience with Red Hat training and the certification exam, he says it was a bit of a challenge for him, but "It was fun. It is neat to be challenged, and of course I am happy now that I have passed."

"My success in the Red Hat training course and exam was a confidence-booster for me, because it has shown me where my knowledge was, and also taught me a lot about why Red Hat does certain things a certain way. Some things that were previously labeled Red Hat-centric, make more sense, and I can agree with them now."

I cannot help but ask Ivan to tell me how he solved the accessibility issues for the training and the exam. He says, Red Hat has provided him with a separate box, running a screen reader on Microsoft Windows for Ivan to access the actual Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® machine in class and during the exam.

"I used that box to serial-cable or ssh into the lab machine, and this is what I do every day at work. If I can ssh into a machine, I will, but if I need to read boot messages or to run an installation, I will use serial."

Red Hat provided electronic versions of all course books, labs, and notes, so Ivan could use his screen reader to read them. He said he talked to other visually disabled people he knows who have attended similar training courses, and Red Hat training and certification proved to be among the best in terms of providing accommodations without impacting the experience.

The screen is usually turned off, but Ivan keeps it on his desk so he can show something to his colleagues if he has to.

Randy Russell, Director of Certification and Curriculum for Red Hat and Forrest Taylor, Red Hat Instructor, were helping Ivan with the accessibility setup for the class and exam. "Randy was great to talk to, and everybody else at Red Hat was [too]. If I had more money, I'd take another class," says Ivan. "I enjoyed picking Forrest's brain about stuff, and he was really good at explaining things to me. If he didn't know the answer right away, he'd go and look it up and get back to me with the answer."

Ivan believes that open source is a very viable alternative to proprietary software. He has tinkered with some of the applications himself, but has not published anything yet. "I feel it is not quite done yet," he says, "but recently I've been thinking that I might release it, so other people can benefit from the stuff that I've done, like the plug-in for nagios or some other plug-ins that I've built."

"Some people say that Open Source is not supported, but that's not true. Many vendors offer support for open source software. I've also found that some of the expensive proprietary software products you can buy don't have a support turnaround time as fast as in the open source world."

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"Having had a glimpse inside Red Hat gives me a good feeling, because I know that if we need to call them, they will help" says Ivan, then chuckles"even though I haven't had to yet."

Ivan says he sees himself becoming independent with his own IT consulting company in the future. He wants to continue helping people with their IT problems and learning new things about technology. Something tells me he will succeed.

About the author

Alex Maier is a senior marketing specialist at Red Hat. She also took the photos that accompany this piece.