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One-on-One with the SAGE Systems Engineers


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SAGE does everything from scratch, from recipes to software development. Our innovative technological solutions allow Food Service Directors to plan well-balanced menus, Team Members to participate in daily training, and community members to see ingredient lists and allergens. And because we’re committed to serving our client communities as best we can, we staff Home Office Systems Engineers like Fahad Petterson, Tim Brammer, and Justin Edmands to troubleshoot day and night. All in all, they oversee the maintenance of nearly 200 servers and 5,000 devices, enable the 2.2 million emails sent per year, and handle numerous daily calls and walk-ins to solve unexpected problems.

So, what does a Systems Engineer do?

Justin: We keep the servers up so people can read their email and work on shared documents. We back up data, offer network support, and stay on top of any security issues with email, online menus, and the website. We also build redundant systems to handle failures.

Tim: The Developers write the code and the applications that many of our staff use every day: SAGEware [our proprietary software], Menu Builder [our menu-building software], the Recipe Collection [our curated collection of Chef-created and Dietitian-reviewed recipes]. We maintain the applications that allow the Developers to interact with that code. I have a printing press metaphor: if the Developers write the books, we build and maintain the presses.

Fahad: We do our best to streamline things, make things work, make things work better. I think the goal of every systems admin is to institute good design, find the tools that work for your design, make sure those tools work really well, and make sure that the system doesn’t break down.

How did you get started with systems administration, and with SAGE?

Justin: I went to a vocational high school where we took apart computers and learned about operating systems and hardware. After a while running my own computer repair business, I wanted to do more complicated stuff, so I went to work for the National Institutes of Health, and then for SAGE.

Fahad: After training in IT during high school, I joined the Navy as an electronics technician on a small amphibious docking ship. It gave me exposure to different technologies, different ideas, and different ways of doing the same thing more efficiently. When I got out, I earned degrees in physics and Arabic, and then applied for networking jobs. SAGE called, and here we are.

Tim: I got a part-time job on the SAGE Help Desk while getting my B.A. in film studies. You start out solving problems for one person on one system, and then you gradually get more complex problems involving multiple people on multiple systems. It keeps growing until you’re solving problems before they exist.

What qualities make you well-suited for your job?

Justin: Thinking things through to their terminal point. When you’re thinking of ways to make things redundant, you first have to think of every single way they could fail. There are so many different ways that something can go wrong: this entire building explodes, some guy spills coffee on the server. We try to avoid what they call a “single point of failure.” That’s why there are three of us.

What do you like about SAGE, intellectually?

Tim: We’re trusted as the experts we are. For example, we're alerted now if someone tries to log into the website outside the United States or Canada. I didn’t have to propose that. I knew that it needed to be done and that it would benefit the company—so I did it.

Fahad: The great thing about SAGE is that you can come up with great ideas and implement them. There’s nothing stopping you from doing your job. SAGE doesn’t dictate, “You do this, you do that.” It’s, “Here’s what we have to do. Everybody do whatever you’re best at.”

And what do you like about the company culture?

Tim: [SAGE Owners] Tina and Paco focus on growing responsibly, really trying to achieve the mission. Some companies will do environmentally friendly initiatives or charity donations just to say they’ve done them. But at SAGE—with local sourcing, eating disorders awareness, Educational Seasonings—it’s a genuine attempt to affect the world we’re part of.

You all have a behind-the-scenes job. What would happen if we didn’t have you?

Justin: After a couple of months without us, you wouldn’t be able to send or receive emails, enter financials into SAGEware®, punch in and out, or view the menu or allergen filter. Doing work in-house enables us to provide service that’s faster, more affordable, and more tailored to the food service industry.

What about our mission resonates with you?

Tim: I like the Spotlight approach: no food is bad, there’s room for everything, just don’t go crazy. Plus, SAGE has Registered Dietitians analyzing recipes—we can quantify and support our approach.

Justin: “We invest in new technology”—that’s totally true. We’re investing a lot in something most people don’t yet in the food industry. [SAGE Owners] Tina and Paco are building a great foundation for the future.

Fahad: We really do create an exceptional dining experience. When you go out to a venue and watch 500 people rush through—everybody gets a healthy, delicious meal; they’re happy; they’re off doing whatever they do—that’s a little bit of magic right there.

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