Articles / An Open Letter from One Adm…

An Open Letter from One Administrator to Users Everywhere

I have been a network administrator for about five years. It has been said that administration is hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer panic. Through the highs and lows of this existence, there is one constant: answering user requests.

Help Me Help You

Accounting for a large part of my day, users requests can be both rewarding and frustrating. Users, I know your computer can infuriate you at times. I feel for you. I want to help you. I want you to learn how the computer can make your day-to-day work easier. Unfortunately, I cannot help you unless you are willing to help yourselves.

By far, the most valuable commodity in the business world is time. You want your computer to save you time. As I sit at your desk, I tell you, "Outlook would run much better for you if you would delete all your unwanted mail. Your pst file is too large."

"I don't have time to read them all, and I may need one later. I have to keep them all, just in case."

You tell me that you cannot afford to spend time performing preventive maintenance on your computer. Instead, you spend time waiting for me to repair your computer.

Let me put it to you this way:

You will spend a finite amount of time each month either maintaining your computer or waiting for me to repair it.

Many think I'm ranting, and tend to ignore me. Ask other computer support personnel. They will tell you the same thing. I want to help you. I can show you how to prevent many problems from occurring. Heed me, and I guarantee you will have more time to do your work.

Information is at least as valuable as time, for without information, how will you know how to spend your time? Information is as important to me as it is to you. Too often, my inbox is filled with vague support requests with little or no information. Because of them, I have to waste your time asking you for the information I need. I have to ask you to repeat your problem and write down the error. Give me all the information in the first request. Tell me exactly what you would like to accomplish. Often, your goal is more important than the steps you have followed. Given your goal, I may be able to show you how to cut steps and save time in ways you would have never imagined. Regularly, I supply you with information. I write FAQs and HowTos on the company support site. I send email offering advice to those who may need it.

"My disk is full, and now Windows has stopped working," you say.

"Did you read the section on the support site about keeping your computer running smoothly?" I ask. "There is a section at the end about keeping empty space on your hard drive."

"No," is the usual reply, in my experience.

Read the documents I provide for you, I beg you. If you had read them and followed my advice, quite often you would not have had to contact me in the first place. You would not have had to waste your time. I do not wish to hide knowledge from you. I will tell you all that I know. Just ask!

I know I seem harsh and borderline abusive. I do not wish to be. Indeed, some of you are a joy to work for. Yes, I meant work for. Part of my job is to work for you. Some of you come to me and ask questions. You question why things on your computer seem so difficult. Sometimes, I'm able to show you a better way. You smile with joy. Your work day is suddenly easier. Those are the times I enjoy my job the most. When I see you take to heart and fully embrace my advice, that is the most rewarding part of my day. Thank you.

I know your jobs are busy. I know spare time is hard to find, but that computer on your desk is expensive. You owe it to yourself to learn how and why it works, in order to get a good return on your investment. Do not make learning about your computer a side project. Make it part of your everyday duties. To the best of my abilities, I swear I will give you the knowledge you need. You will be happier in the end. I promise.

Recent comments

23 Jun 2002 16:31 Avatar devinhedge

Re: the other side of the coin

% And u look like the guy who has worked

> only on Linux or at best i386 unix

> systems.

Well, OpenBSD is UNIX... don't confuse it with the Linux Weenies.

% what ur talking abt are virtual consoles

% but sadly they are not available on

% sparc m/c with solaris running on them.

This begs the question: If virtual consoles aren't available on Solaris or
HP-UX, does that make them better user interfaces? Does this mean that I have
to bring the system down just to get the console back? I know you don't have
to do that, but I'm growing tired of flames like this that don't answer the
question. I thought the question was...

"... if your X Windows session hangs and there is no other place for you
to log in, You have to call the systems administrator to login as 'root' and
kill your session. There are many situations where a 'root' password is required
and I do not have access to one." *Spelling corrected.

% Also let me enlighten u, As much as i

% luv Linux, most enterprises today dont

% deploy Linux, they mostly use solaris

% (although this picture is slowly

% changing).

um.... Yes it is changing. While quite stable, Solaris is still quite antiquated
for what it does... I've run Solaris, HP-UX, SGI, BSD, VMS, etc. Of all of them,
Linux (a NON-UNIX but UNIX-Like OS) is winning. Why? Well, lots of reasons...
but I think innovation in the face of convention would be the most likely candidate.

%

% And the things u mentioned don't work in

I'm sorry for interjecting this but, as you know, 'u' is spelled 'you'. I have
to ask to you please stop dumbing down the English language. It is a stupid
enough language already. "Assiduus usus uni rei deditus et ingenium et
artem saepe vincit. Nec verbum verbo curabis reddere fidus interpres. Amoto
quaeramus seria ludo. Nunc est bibendum."


% solaris. or for that matter HP/UX as

% well. as far as i know they are Linux

% specific.

% Also most enterprise companies, prefer

% to manage the workstations centrally.

I completely agree. The best and worst thing that ever happened to the enterprise
desktop was giving the user control over the desktop. Novell did a good job
of keeping that under control (meaning you could wipe the machine and start
over cleanly from a centralized administrative console), but Gates and Co. 'liberated'
the desktop and OS by allowing end-users to install their own Trojan viruses
without the need for a systems administrator. Lets face it... Was there any
threat to an enterprise system before the PC became common place? The threat
was there, but very minimal.

% its one thing to have your own m/c and

% doing what u want to do with it, and

% totally different thing to work in a

% controlled environment, where all your

% activities are audited and recorded.

I agree and have since started advocating "almost" dumb terminals
for most enterprise applications. The TCO is far too high for thick-client applications
deployed to an unmanaged desktop. A better approach is a completely Internet-native
(preferably html/xml deployed using Apache) based applications. The only real
reason PCs became so pervasive is due to the freeform, carefree nature of the
spreadsheet. The complete saturation of the spreadsheet combined with the desktop-database
has ruined all hopes of ever returning to a "dumb terminal".

For me, it is a "Odi et amo" relationship. The flexibility of "what-if"
scenarios and modeling that the spreadsheet combined with the desktop-database
gives, allows the business manager unparalleled decision making power. Unfortunately,
the common business user doesn't have a clue how to use these tools correctly
thus making the justification for their use and thus the existence of the PC
questionable at best.

%

% btw just to let u know, i have worked

% with tandem mainframes (ever heard of

% them ), HP UX , Sun Solaris , various

% linuxes.

Yeah... so. I use a Mountain Bike, a Land Rover, a Hog, and a really nice Yacht.
Do I lose or win? Does anyone care?

How do I get my X Session back if it locks up on a Solaris or HP-UX machine?
I've never used X on either OS just like I didn't use X on AIX, SGI, Cray or
anything but the 3270 screens on System 360/390.

I have got to find a more useful waste of my time than reading/responding to
useless banter. I think I will take up flying and go purchase that Gulfstream
I've had my eye on.

Ciao.

23 Jun 2002 15:34 Avatar jasonn

Uh duh... good point ? or, not.
I said:

%% on an i386 Install allows...


You said:

> And u look like the guy who has worked
> only on linux or at best i386 unix
> systems.


I should know not to partipate in such forums. I was
talking specifically about i386 solutions for that problem -
and that would be why I said so. Hm... any further
response is a waste of time since you did not get the
primary pulse of my post and chose to make some type of
silly 'admin' attack on my 'experience' level. But, wasting
more time... I might suggest that some of the admin/
user problems reside in issues I specifically mention and
NOT Unix-type operating systems. But, you ignored that
point... I am sure most others will as well.

29 Apr 2002 20:05 Avatar meatfresh32

Re: the other side of the coin

> Quote:e.g if ur X windows session hangs
> and
> there is no other place for u to log
> in. u have to call the sys admin to
> login as root and kill ur session. there
> are many situations where a root
> password is reqd. and i don't have
> access to
> one.
>
> You are either talking as someone who
> has not a clue how to interface with an
> UNIX-type Operating System, or one who
> has a terrible admin (or both). You can
> log in a different term, simply by
> hitting [ALT][F2], [F3], etc. Each one
> up to [F5] on an i386 Install allows you
> access to a new term. You simply log in
> a kill the process. But, this is
> evidence of poor setup in the first
> place. (oh, and you could also hit
> [ctrl][alt][backspace] to kill the X
> session)

And u look like the guy who has worked only on linux or at best i386 unix systems.
what ur talking abt are virtual consoles but sadly they are not available on sparc m/c with solaris running on them.
Also let me enlighten u, As much as i luv linux, most enterprises today dont deploy linux, they mostly use solaris
(although this picture is slowly changing).

And the things u mentioned don't work in solaris. or for that matter HP/UX as well. as far as i know they are linux specific.
Also most enterprise companies, prefer to manage the workstations centrally.
its one thing to have your own m/c and doing what u want to do with it, and totally different thing to work in a controlled environment, where all your activities are audited and recorded.

btw just to let u know, i have worked with tandem mainframes (ever heard of them ), HP UX , Sun Solaris , various linuxes.

27 Apr 2002 00:27 Avatar jasonn

Re: the other side of the coin

Quote:e.g if ur X windows session hangs and
there is no other place for u to log in. u have to call the sys admin to login as root and kill ur session. there are many situations where a root
password is reqd. and i don't have access to
one.


You are either talking as someone who has not a clue how to interface with an UNIX-type Operating System, or one who has a terrible admin (or both). You can log in a different term, simply by hitting [ALT][F2], [F3], etc. Each one up to [F5] on an i386 Install allows you access to a new term. You simply log in a kill the process. But, this is evidence of poor setup in the first place. (oh, and you could also hit [ctrl][alt][backspace] to kill the X session)


I realize that admins often leave users high and dry. See, they are often not good decision makers or are protagonists. The fact is you can design your network in a way that forces your users to do things more intelligently. The fact that this original article is talking about Outlook - and a sys admin scares me. No sys admin in his right mind would suggest you use Outlook. It is a security nightmare. I bet he spends a fair amout of time removing trojans installed by Microsoft's Scripting Host and a Ill Intended Email. Sad! It takes some convincing of management to let you do your job. But, any sys admin worth his salt could design a network that required practically no support to end users.


So, what is the real demon? It really isn't the user. They are suppose to be ignorant. And, we could let them stay that way. Why are they allowed to admin their own machines while proudly displaying ignorance about the most basic of Operating System issues? Why? Cause Microsoft sold you on that idea! Why did they do that. Oh, that is a lesson in Economics - this forum will likely not tolerate such a display of technical and fundamentally political/social/capital savvy knowledge. So, to get basic - they make more money when things really don't work correctly. Upgrades and New Sales require new needs and problems.


Basically, your management does not allow a real IT/IS Professional to make decisions. Why? Well, that is an easier thing to describe. They are full of themselves! All Corporate guys are. I am one, so I know. Nobody can possibly make a decision better than I can. So, why would I listen to someone just because they have more experience and knowledge about the subject? The fact is, they own a Windows box that Microsoft has convinced them they can run on their own. The truth is they seldom do more than balance a checkbook (not complicated IT functionality) on a single machine running a single program and/or play solitaire. They get in the office, and the computing system look similar to them. Sure, they are exponentially more complicated and essential. But, they fancy themselves savvy enough to make a buying decision. The truth is, few are even savvy enough to know the difference between a sys admin that plays Quake all day and the one that actually does something useful. They don't know who to trust, so they trust their gut - and it tells them to stick with the Devil they know. Unfortunitely, it is usually crap!


So, users - understand that the sys admin is working with his hands tied behind his back. Ask him, sincerely, what he would do differently. Admins, realize that being ignorant is an American privalege. What good is being free if you can't act stupid. Seriously, if they wanted to be IT Professionals they would be a geek like you. So, lighten up and give them something pretty to play with. Make their system do what it needs to do and that's it! Take as much control and potential to screw up out of their hands as possible. That usually includes dumping any program Internet related that comes from Redmond. Any time you have to do more than an update a week, you are running the wrong software. Even Linux is more stable than that.

11 Jan 2002 12:57 Avatar mythicman

Re: the other side of the coin
If this is the case, your Sysadmin was ill-educated, and thought too much of himself. Though, unless you have regular contact with the SA, he may not readily know how skilled you are, in which case, he, or I (as an SA myself), for that matter, will proceed through the steps from the beginning, rather than waste time spouting info that might just be meaningless to you. Everything depends on how the questions are phrased as to how we present the info to you. If you say, "I can't get out to the net, " and he (or I) knows that the DNS server IP changed, he's going to walk you through the process of changing the DNS IP in your network settings. If, on the other hand, you ask "Did you guys change the DNS server last night," he might then just say, "Yeah, we did. The new IP is a.b.c.d," and you can be on your way.

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