IT Career Roadmap: Infrastructure software manager

A new and growing title in IT, infrastructure software manager is becoming a vital role for organizations, especially those embarking on digital transformations.

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Infrastructure software manager might not be the most common title in IT. But given the growing importance of software for virtually every type of business, the responsibilities of the position are vital for organizations. That’s especially true for those looking to launch digital transformations.

Infrastructure software in general helps organizations perform day-to-day functions such as business transactions, internal services, and workforce support. Examples might include enterprise resource planning (ERP), email, databases, and security tools such as firewalls.

So, what does it take to become an infrastructure software manager? To find out, we spoke with Tom Lusty, who holds that position at CarGurus, an online automotive marketplace that uses technology such as data analytics to create better car-shopping experiences for users.

Education/early life

In some ways, Lusty’s leanings toward a career in technology began when he was a child. “When I was younger I enjoyed playing with Legos and constructing things, and when something would break at home and was destined for the garbage, I’d take it apart first just to see how it worked,” he said.

“I’ve utilized those same fundamentals throughout my career, with new technologies and tools,” Lusty said. “I always try to be creative and open minded in trying to tackle a problem, and be curious as to how [things work].”

Beginning late in high school Lusty knew he wanted to do something involving computers, but exactly what was not clear. When he was evaluating undergraduate computer science programs at various schools, he noted that many were heavy on math, which posed a potential problem for him.

“Math was never a strength of mine, so this was discouraging,” Lusty says.

He unexpectedly came across Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) from an online gaming friend, turned roommate and long-time friend that he keeps up with today. Impressed with RIT’s breadth of computing majors with an IT track that aligned with his interests and skills, he decided to attend the institute.

By his sophomore year Lusty opted to specialize in networking and systems

Infrastructure software manager might not be the most common title in IT. But given the growing importance of software for virtually every type of business, the responsibilities of the position are vital for organizations. That’s especially true for those looking to launch digital transformations.

Infrastructure software in general helps organizations perform day-to-day functions such as business transactions, internal services, and workforce support. Examples might include enterprise resource planning (ERP), email, databases, and security tools such as firewalls.

So, what does it take to become an infrastructure software manager? To find out, we spoke with Tom Lusty, who holds that position at CarGurus, an online automotive marketplace that uses technology such as data analytics to create better car-shopping experiences for users.

Education/early life

In some ways, Lusty’s leanings toward a career in technology began when he was a child. “When I was younger I enjoyed playing with Legos and constructing things, and when something would break at home and was destined for the garbage, I’d take it apart first just to see how it worked,” he said.

“I’ve utilized those same fundamentals throughout my career, with new technologies and tools,” Lusty said. “I always try to be creative and open minded in trying to tackle a problem, and be curious as to how [things work].”

Beginning late in high school Lusty knew he wanted to do something involving computers, but exactly what was not clear. When he was evaluating undergraduate computer science programs at various schools, he noted that many were heavy on math, which posed a potential problem for him.

“Math was never a strength of mine, so this was discouraging,” Lusty says.

He unexpectedly came across Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) from an online gaming friend, turned roommate and long-time friend that he keeps up with today. Impressed with RIT’s breadth of computing majors with an IT track that aligned with his interests and skills, he decided to attend the institute.

By his sophomore year Lusty opted to specialize in networking and systems administration, and he graduated from RIT in 2007 with a B.S. degree in applied networking and systems administration.

Job history

The first 10 years of Lusty’s career were spent at Wayfair, an online furniture retailer. During his time at the company he held a number of roles, first joining the IT team — which at the time was a small startup of 300 people — to do typical help desk and junior-level systems administration work.

His first position was systems engineer, and his responsibilities included developing an orders map that displayed items ordered and where the order was placed from, writing and maintaining scripts for automating file management and backups, and designing and implementing office rollouts as part of the company’s expansion in Europe.

In his next role for the company he served as senior Web operations engineer. He built and deployed a load-balancer, developed an automatic video upload platform, built and deployed a firewall, implemented policy-based routing to route traffic via the most cost-effective connection, and managed the office and data center networks.

Lusty’s next post was network architect and team lead, he was responsible for designing, planning and implementing a 24-rack data center network, developing comprehensive network standards and serving as lead engineer in the drive to align the existing network onto these standards, and acting as the point person for all networking and firewall issues.

Wayfair continued to expand, and in 2013 Lusty was promoted to senior engineering manager and network engineering architect. He designed a new 2,000 square foot data center space and network for the company, and partnered with the security engineering department to redesign the data center IP space to enable increased security.

Other accomplishments included reworking a WAN to enable simple, systematic and rapid growth; helping to deploy or expand 18 offices, warehouses and call centers, adding 2,770 seats and 4.4 million square feet of warehouse space, and deploying firewalls at select high-risk locations.

By the time Lusty left the company as a senior infrastructure manager of the network engineering team, Wayfair had grown to 6,800 people across 25 locations and four countries. The IT infrastructure that he helped build included 92 server racks spread across four data centers in two countries.

“All of this requires connectivity, and as we used to say, ‘if it rings or pings, talk to the network team,’ so my domain of ownership was companywide,” Lusty says.

Toward the end of his tenure at Wayfair Lusty realized he was missing the culture of a smaller company. “The intense pace of 100% growth year over year left me feeling the need to regain balance between work and personal time,” he said. “Translation: I was a workaholic and getting burnt out.”

The problem was, smaller companies don’t run large on-premises data centers or big WANs. The cloud had arrived and was making the roles Lusty was looking for at smaller companies extinct. “To keep doing what I was doing I’d need to look at bigger companies, which was the opposite of what I wanted,” he said. “So I had to evolve.”

On his own time, Lusty enrolled in online classes for the AWS Solutions Architect and AWS Developer certifications. The classes and subsequent certifications proved helpful, particularly about how to map existing design onto AWS’s terminology.

[ Related: What's hot in network certifications ]

In April 2017, Lusty left Wayfair and joined CarGurus as manager of infrastructure software. The experience of being at a fast-growing company has paid off: CarGurus had 300 employees when he joined and has since grown to more than 800.

In his current post, Lusty spends a lot of time working on transitioning or building new services in the cloud. “My AWS certifications certainly helped in getting this role; as otherwise I wouldn’t have had the exposure and skill set necessary,” he said.

Dealing with challenges

The transition from senior engineer to architect was difficult for Lusty. “It was a fundamental shift in thinking,” he said. Going from junior-level, to mid-level, to senior level engineer encompassed essentially the same formula: be better and faster than he was before.

“But the shift to architect was about enabling others to be better and faster with the designs and decisions I put forth,” Lusty says. Due to Wayfair’s rapid growth, particularly in the early years, network technology was changing and the company typically outgrew locations within three to four years.

“This provided for plenty of opportunities to refine the design with lessons learned from the previous builds,” Lusty says. “I had naturally been refining, as I became more knowledgeable and experienced.” With the shift to architect, he focused on designing for operational simplicity and ease of deployment.”

Given the lack of a clear career path at Wayfair, Lusty had to learn to be autonomous and learn to make his own way. “It was a ‘it is what you make of it’ environment,” he said. “So, to someone young in my career with a lot of energy, ambition and time, it was a great fit. I didn’t have wait for people above me to retire or move on.”

The company was rapidly expanding in all kinds of ways, so there was never a shortage of work to do or ways to be helpful and valuable, Lusty said. “But you’d usually have to self-identify those areas and jump on them yourself.”

[ Related: 10 IT management certifications for IT leaders ]

Training and certifications

Learning and re-learning have been a vital to Lusty’s career development and have played a role in opening up new opportunities for advancement.

“I’ve been continuously learning my whole career, and don’t plan on stopping,” he says. “Quite frankly, you can’t [stop learning] in today’s economy, particularly in the tech field. New technologies are coming faster and faster now.”

Related: 2019 update: Fastest growing tech skills that are already earning high pay premiums

Earlier in his career Lusty acquired Cisco certifications, and in the past few years he’s completed a few AWS certifications. “None of the certifications were required, but the knowledge gained in studying for the certificate is very valuable to having more tools in the proverbial tool belt when you encounter problems,” he explained.

Best advice received

The best career advice Lusty has received is to be your own advocate. “Even if you’re fortunate and have a fantastic manager [who] cares about you, that person doesn’t care about you as much as you care about you,” he said. “No one will fight harder for you than you, so get out there and advocate for yourself.”

Advice to share

What advice does Lusty give to someone who wants to pursue a similar career path?

“I actively encourage recent graduates to try to find a mid-stage startup,” Lusty said. “It will likely be over the teething pains of an early stage and starting to hit the growth stage, which is where there is a ton of learning and opportunity for people.”

As with CarGurus, “this is the stage where a company can still move quickly and you can make an impact, but isn’t so large you need five meetings to buy a stapler,” Lusty said. “It’s a good middle area where, in my opinion, it’s the best of both worlds.”