Sysadmin Tales of Terror - Page 2

 By Carla Schroder
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Cover One's Behind With Glory

Now let's be honest, documentation is boring and no fun. I don't care; just do it. Keep a project diary. Record everything you find. You don't want to shoulder the blame for someone else's mistakes or malfeasance. It is unlikely you'll get into legal trouble, but the possibility always exists. Record progress and milestones as well. Those in management tend to have short memories and limited attention spans when it comes to technical matters, so put everything in writing and make a point of reviewing your progress periodically. No need to put on long, windy presentations -- take ten minutes once a week to hit the high points. Emphasize the good news; after all, as the ace sysadmin, it is your job to make things work. Any dork can make a mess; it takes a real star to deliver the goods.

Be sure to couch your progress in terms meaningful to the person(s) you're talking to. A non-technical manager doesn't want to hear how many scripts you rewrote or how many routers you re-programmed. She wants to hear "Group A's email works flawlessly now, and I fixed their database server so it doesn't crash anymore. No more downtime for Group A." That kind of talk is music to a manager's ears.

Managing Users

In every business there are certain key people who wield great influence. They can make or break you. Don't focus exclusively on management -- the people who really run the show are the secretaries and administrative assistants. They know more than anyone about how things work, what's really important, and who is really important. Consult them. Listen to them. Suck up to them. Trust me, this will pay off handsomely. Also worth cultivating are relationships with the cleaning and maintenance people -- they see things no one else even knows about.

When you're new on the job and still figuring things out, the last thing you need is to field endless phone calls from users with problems. Make them put it in writing -- email, yellow pad, elaborate trouble-ticket system, whatever suits you. This gives you useful information and time to do some triage.

Managing Remote Users

If you have remote offices under your care, the phone can save a lot of travel. There's almost always one computer-savvy person in every office; make this person your ally and helper. At very least, this person will be able to give you coherent, understandable explanations. At best, they will be your remote hands and eyes, and will save you much trouble.

Such a person may be a candidate for training and possibly transferring to IT. Some people are afraid of helping someone like this for fear of losing out to them in some way. The truth, though, is that you never lose by helping people, so don't let that idea scare you off from giving a boost to a worthy person.

Getting Help

We all know how to use Google, Usenet, and other online resources to get assistance. By all means, don't be too proud -- ask! And by all means, don't be stupide either -- use a fake name and don't mention the company you work for. There's absolutely no upside to making such information public; there are, however, many downsides to doing so, like inviting security breaches, giving away too much information, making your company look bad, and besmirching your own reputation.

As I said at the beginning, these are strategies that have served me well. Feel free to send me your own ideas; I especially love to hear about true-life horror stories that have happy endings.


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This article was originally published on Feb 19, 2003
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