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My unusual path to Linux system administration

No matter what life threw at Gabrielle Taylor, her determination and persistence to improve herself and her life carried her forward. And she's nowhere near done.
Unusual paths to sysadmin careers

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"It's not what you know; it's what you do with what you don't know."

This is something that I say a lot and I find it to be true in nearly every aspect of life. I spent a lot of time searching for what I wanted in life. Most of us want the same thing—to love, to be loved, to grow, and to explore. So we work hard to build something of ourselves to make a better tomorrow by doing it today. We all go through hardships in life and come out the other end, but it's up to us if we end up better than we were before.

This is the story of how I became something more by doing more.

"Once upon a time.."

"Life is what happens when you are busy making plans."

After high school, I started pursuing a degree in neurology. My father works as a physician's assistant, and my mother works in healthcare. Even my grandmother was a nurse. It runs in the family. I was working as a CNA for an assisted living facility with the elderly and people with physical disabilities. It was rewarding work—helping people and giving more of myself to others. Eventually, I wanted to work my way up to becoming a surgeon. I wanted to expand on my skills and become a needed member of the healthcare field. Unfortunately, my plans were interrupted.

I was diagnosed with cancer.

An advanced form of Lymphoma. It definitely sent me on a whirlwind. Just like many of us, I went through life thinking, "There is no way that it would happen to me." But it did and I had to deal with it. I had to stop working, stop going to school, stop everything, and focus on getting well.

Fortunately, and with great care, my cancer went into remission ( and it still is ). I was able to gain my life back, and next, I needed to get back to work.

Find / -name “Gabby”

I was able to land a job doing customer support at a Linux web hosting company with the help of a friend. I didn't know much about Linux other than how to spell it. I was a complete noob! But, I didn't let that get the best of me. It was hard, coming from a healthcare background, to catch up to some of my peers that had so much more experience. So I had to figure out what I could do to make things better for myself. I couldn't afford any training online; I was only making $10.50 an hour. So I figured out the next best thing—I bought books and I studied. I kept pushing to learn and make myself better. And in the end, when I gained more understanding and knowledge of the tech world, my mind exploded with interest, intrigue, and curiosity.

I knew I wanted this as a career, so I took the time to learn as much as I could. I made goals for myself and did whatever was required to reach them. I had a few setups and went through a hard time, as the company I worked for was not the best when it came to promoting women and, especially, women of color. It was an "old boys club" situation where everyone was doing what they wanted. Privileged white men were treated exceptionally well; African American women? Not so much. It was an unfortunately inequitable environment that I found myself in, but I didn't have it in me to quit. In fact, I let it become the fuel for my drive to be the best I could at what I did. I was determined to shine so brightly that they could not help but see me, and it worked.

I gradually moved up the corporate ladder, working really hard to get ahead. It wasn't about competing to beat my peers, but I definitely used them as a barometer for my own performance and growth. I had to be better. I didn't have the luxury of coasting by under the radar.

It wasn't fair or easy, but in my eight years of working for this web hosting company, I was able to attain six promotions. My final title there was Senior Linux System Administrator. I had gone from not knowing anything to teaching whole departments about everything. I had made a huge difference in myself and in my life. I had a career, and it was all from the hard work, dedication, and focus that I put toward becoming a better me. But the process didn't end there.

Does Wonder Woman exist?

After eight years of working for the web hosting company, it was time to move on to better things. I found a new job working for Linux Academy, a company that creates online training material for cloud certifications, which currently holds the spot as the #1 online cloud training provider on the web! Within a year and a half, I have gotten two promotions, and now manage a team of people who champion our students. It was scary to move on to something new, not knowing what would happen and facing the unknown. But after weighing the pros and cons, I took that chance, because it was worth it to me to move forward. Now, I get the opportunity to learn constantly and I get paid for it.

Unfortunately, things took another turn for the worse. My life was soon to be turned upside down in a way that I could never have imagined. On November 14th, 2019, my boyfriend of nine years committed suicide. It will forever be etched in my mind and heart and body and soul as one of the worst days of my life. He struggled with depression and even questioned my love for him. Our relationship wasn't perfect, but I still loved him and I still wanted him in my life. He was my friend—someone who believed in me from the beginning. I am still in shock.

Everything was hard—sleeping, eating, drinking, focusing. My mind can't erase the memories of trying to save him and being unable to and seeing someone I love, hearing someone I love, dying in front of me. All I wanted was for him to be happy and strong and healthy, and I know he wanted the same for me. No matter how hard I tried, though, the depression still won. I felt like I had failed him. It was incredibly painful and still is. But now, after going through intensive therapy and hours upon hours of reflection, I began to see that the guilt, depression, and upset that I am going through is normal. I realized that it isn't my fault, and in the end, he would want me to go on—to be better than what I am, not to take life for granted, and to go forward and help people. So that's what I did.

I've often wondered why these things happened to me, or what can be learned from these experiences, and I think that it is to share my story with other people. To connect with people and understand what it means to really help someone, you have to give not just when it's convenient. And to honor him, and to be true to myself, I have been giving my all to make sure that others are able to be the best version of themselves, especially in my career.

The magic of using your mind

Going forward wasn't easy; no more than it had been to get started. My plans to become a sysadmin were always hit hard with discouraging people with unhealthy opinions. But I didn't let that stop me. I dug down deep and used that to be a stronger admin. I bought books and I studied. I took time every day to learn, to practice, to fail. That was one of the biggest ways I grew on my journey—I became unafraid to fail. That allowed me to think constructively, and transform into someone that even someone with my own high standards could admire.

I started to think outside the box, looking forward to my future. Every small decision that you make makes a difference in the long run. The compound effect is real, and it can work for you or against you. You have to have a game plan to move forward. If things come up, pivot. Make your dream YOUR dream. Once you make that decision, that's it. Period.

I made a decision to be something better, I spoke it into the universe, and I worked. Hard. Every day. Even on weekends. I did whatever it took, without compromising my moral values, to get to where I wanted to be. But I still have a ways to go. My future goals include still helping people, but focusing on strategy and projects that I can manage. I want to be able to help people on a larger scale. I know that I can make it there, with the same doggedness, determination, and intestinal fortitude. Anyone else can do it, too, with the right mindset.


My life has been full of ups, downs, curves, and twists. I believe that the process of going through the fire has made me better in the end. My path to my current role has been unusual, and it has not been easy, but nothing worth doing is. I also know that, since growth usually comes from adversity, if I want to keep improving myself, a lot more probably has to come my way. So I brace for it; I use my past experiences to remind myself that I can accomplish my goals and dreams, and be able to help others along the way. The WHY behind my wants and desires mattered more than anything. This is how I got this far. If your WHY is strong enough, the HOW doesn't matter.

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Topics:   Career  
Author’s photo

Gabrielle Stenzel

I currently work as a Cloud Support Supervisor for Acronis . I have worked with Linux and OpenSource tools for a decade, constantly wanting to make new resolutions for obstacles and always training others on improving systems as a systems administrator. More about me

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