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Biography of Ben Alcala

I was born in the late 1950s in Alice, a small town the southern part of the State of Texas, United States of America. I grew up in a southside Chicano barrio and attended kindergarten at the St. Joseph's Catholic Church school. After one year at St. Joseph's I attended the public schools of the Alice Independent School District, where I attended Nayer and Mary R. Garcia elementary schools, Memorial Middle School, William Adams Junior High School, then Alice High School where I graduated in the late 1970s.

I spent a lot of time in the Alice Public Library, in large part because of it had an excellent air conditioning system (which really helped in getting through those ultra-hot South Texas summers!). Spending all that time in the library shaped me profoundly and enabled me to graduate 13th in my class at Alice High School and score in the 97th percentile in the verbal section of the SAT.

I also have the distinction of being the last student from that part of South Texas (and from Alice High School) to win the District 27-4A slide rule championship. (Now that really makes me feel old: B.C. -- Before Calculators!) Sadly, going to college meant having to leave the small town of Alice...


So I moved to Houston to attend Rice University, with its great faculty, progressive administration and intelligent, highly-driven students. I was interested in many things, but couldn't settle on any one thing to specialize in. That is not conducive to success at Rice, or for that matter, any university!).

I took my first computer course at Rice (PL/1 on an IBM 360 mainframe with keypunched cards for input!) and used the PC and Macintosh labs there (MS Word/MS Excel, Lotus 1-2-3, Pascal, SAS, SPSS, and others).

I was also a member of the Will Rice College Beer Team for the annual Beer Bike Race, with a personal record time of 2.8 seconds to down 24 ounces of beer. After Will Rice swept the Beer-Bike race I even did it in three seconds flat front of a KTRK-TV Channel 13 news crew!

Unfortunately, after several years of drifting I still had no idea what to do with my life!


So I ended up taking classes at the University of Houston where I discovered a whole new world beyond Rice's hedge-lined campus. The much larger University of Houston offered areas of study that Rice did not offer. While at U.H. I took courses in Radio/TV and in Mexican American Studies.

Computer-wise, I took COBOL and FORTRAN (on a VAX) and I spent a lot of time on both IBM-PCs and Macintoshes using various applications (including PageMaker and SPSS-PC).

I also spent some time as a photographer for the university's student newspaper, the Daily Cougar. I have a few samples of those photos and articles on the page with my Older Projects page.


Then I ran out of money for school so I joined the U.S. Army. I took basic training and advanced infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia and after advanced training I was assigned to Fort Stewart, Georgia. I missed going to Panama by a hair so Camp Swampy was a little bit of a disappointment. I made the most of the situation and earned an Army Achievement Medal for getting the highest score on the Armored Personnel Carrier driver's training exam.

That enabled me to drive for the best platoon in the battalion, the Dirty Dogs of 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 34th Infantry (Mechanized). I drove a M113-A2 armored personnel carrier for the platoon leader, then later, for the company commander. I also drove a 2-1/2 ton supply truck for a while. [By the way, don't forget to view my Army photos after finishing my biography...]

I think it's funny that I joined the Army for travel and adventure, but I spent the the whole time either damp in the swamps of Georgia or parched in the Mojave desert of California!




After finishing my tour of duty, I returned to Houston, Texas -- like they say, home is where the heart is! I spent some more time at the University of Houston studying Political Science and History and minoring in Mexican American Studies. I also worked at a variety of odd jobs while in school.

For a while I was Systems Administrator and Production Coordinator for the Advertising Department of Specialty Retailers, Inc., now Stage Stores, Inc., parent company to the Bealls, Palais Royal, and Stage department store chains. As part of my job I maintained an Apple system: an AU/X server and a mix of Power Macs and 680x0 Macintoshes on an ethernet network. I administered the file server and did backups, took care of the print spooler and printers (two AGFA RC paper imagesetters, two laser printers and a color printer), the film/paper processor and two copiers.

I also tracked newspaper ads for over 250 stores using a database I built for the purpose, assisted the print shop in resolving problems and ensured that the merchandise buyers proofed the newspaper ads. I also set up the file server data backup system and had to stay late to ensure that backups got made. And people wondered why I spent so much time at the office!

As a computer platform, I feel the Mac has it pluses and minuses, but I tend to think of the Macintosh as more of an occupational hazard! (To the humor-impaired and/or lawyers: the preceding statement was a joke. Back then I preferred a Mac over Windows 4.0 + DOS 7 (aka Windows 95) any day! [To the humor-impaired and/or lawyers... ] )


After leaving Specialty Retailers, Inc., I managed to get readmitted to Rice University where I was a senior in Political Science and a member of Will Rice College. But then again if you paid attention a couple pages back, would have known that already ;->

I took an art history class and an introduction to video class that I really enjoyed. I was really busy during the semester, and I managed to spend more time at Fondren Library than at Valhalla!

Rice has excellent computer facilities, and I spent a lot of time abound the various computer labs (the Rice Advanced Visualization Lab in Anderson was my favorite). I also got to play with a Media 100 video digitizing and editing system in the Media Center, which was a lot of fun.

I also worked at a job updating webpages for the School of Humanities. I got to work on improving my HTML skills in the E-Text Center.


Over the next few years I attended Houston Community College where I studied Computer Technology. Since my interests included computers, I decided that I should follow the the old cliché: "If you can't beat them, you might as well join them!" In the process I completed two Associates of Applied Science degrees in Computer Science Technology:

  • Unix Operating System
  • Oracle Database Administration

I also completed seven certificates in Computer Science Technology from Houston Community College:

  • Programming Essentials
  • Networking Essentials
  • PC Support
  • Technical Support
  • Software Support
  • Microsoft Networking

During part of that period I worked for the Information Systems Division of the Methodist Hospital here in Houston's world-renowned Medical Center. I watched the computers, networks and printers on weekends when it (usually) was not too busy. I also logged Help Desk calls and went around the hospital to check out malfunctioning terminals and printers.

After I left Methodist I spent two years working as Hardware/Software Tech for the Houston Community College System Distance Education department. In that position I provided technical support for hundreds of Distance Education faculty and staff and thousands of Distance Education students.

In addition to hardware and software support duties I also administered some Linux servers on the Internet. That included configuring, maintaining, updating and securing those servers, as well as maintaining the various TCP/IP services on those servers (including the web server, mail server and streaming video server).


Eventually I wore out my welcome at HCC and was laid off (don't ask!) so I decided to move back to Alice, in South Texas, to live with my parents. I subsequently got a job at Texas A&M University -- Kingsville working for the Center for Distance Learning and Continuing Education.

While there I was responsible for the University’s WebCT server, which ran on a Sun server running Solaris. I also helped with the integration of WebCT with the Banner student information system; the automation was nice because prior to that I had to run around at the beginning of the semester adding/dropping instructors, courses and students manually.

At one time it was the biggest server south of San Antonio but when I got to it it was already showing its age. I eventually migrated the WebCT server to a Dell running Red Hat Linux, which made that part of the job easier. I also set up a Blackboard server for training our Instructional Designers and instructors when WebCT bought and then deprecated by Blackboard.

I also was primary administrator to the Distance Learning Help Desk providing WebCT support to hundreds of faculty and thousands of students. That application ran on Cold Fusion; all I have to say is "Why, Dear Lord, Why" use CF when you could have used PHP.

I also administered the University's Windows Media streaming server and produced live streams of University events. While I was there I worked the graduations every semester as well as special events. That was a lot of work, I was glad when the University's TV station took over production. I still worked the events but I could stay in my office and concentrate on administrating the Windows Media server.

I also assisted the Instructional Designers with WebCT and Blackboard training of faculty and students. That part of the job was a lot of fun because we had a great set of instructors in our Distance Learning Program. Additionally I provided technical information for grant applications.

I eventually got rid of my own job by helping with the transition from a University-hosted WebCT server to a Blackboard-hosted online solution. That was OK with me because Blackboard was a lot heavier than WebCT (Java front-end with an Oracle Database backend).



While I loved working at TAMUK the pay was not very good so when I heard from a headhunter about a possible Linux job at Rackspace Hosting. I honestly had not heard of them before but once I found out more about it I jumped at the chance to interview with Rackspace. I was hired and now, eight years later, I feel I was extremely lucky to catch on with a cutting-edge information technology company with a great culture like Rackspace.

I spent the first five years providing "Fanatical" system administration and technical support to Rackspace Managed Linux customers. It was a great job because I got a whole lot better with Linux while there. I diagnosed and fixed issues with customer Linux, Apache, MySQL PHP (LAMP) servers, worked with Data Center Personnel to investigate and resolve server hardware issues, worked with Network Security personnel on networking, firewall and load balancer issues.

Three years ago I moved over to the Nebulous Operations team. The team is called that because at various times it has been responsible for a lot of the customer-facing Cloud infrastructure, including the Cloud Control Panel, Cloud Load Balancers and Cloud Monitoring. In the past we have also provided operational support for the Racker-facing Cloud Control Panel and Cloud Databases.

Even though I was pretty happy at Rackspace after 8 years of working nights on weekends I was pretty burned out. The last few months I have been taking time off from work to catch up on rest and personal stuff. I started looking for work again, we'll see what turns up.



As I mentioned above, to date I have earned over 430 college hours but to date I have not earned a four-year college degree. That must be some sort of record, I really should check with the Guinness Book of Records on that!

Beginning in 2009 I began attending the Our Lady of the Lake University here in San Antonio where I have been working on a BS degree in Computer Information Systems and Security (CISS). OLLU has a NSA-certified program and they were able to cherry pick my transcripts so all I had to do was take two Religion courses, the rest were CISS courses. Right now I only have 4 hours to go, so if everything goes as planned then I will graduate from OLLU in December of 2015.

In order to keep my technical skills up to date I have also been taking classes at San Antonio College. I have taken courses in virtualization (Microsoft and VMware in the past, Open Stack this semester) and networking (the Cisco courses leading to a CCNA certificate). I really should take the CCNA exam some day, it would help me when I start looking for a job in the computer security field.

Once I get done with my BS at OLLU I would like to attend graduate school at the University of Texas San Antonio. They have a NSA-certified Masters program in Computer Security that would help me once I move up in the computer security field. For now all I am just worrying about is getting my BS from OLLU.

That's pretty much my life up until now. I will try to update this page as time goes on so stay tuned...


Originally posted: Friday, November 14 2003 @ 12:20 PM UTC



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