IT administrators and their surroundings


Murphy’s Law is an adage or epigram that is typically stated as:

“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”

Murphy’s Law will always find and pillage you, so best be prepared to deal with it.

I figure with enough time and effort, anyone could be a System Administrator. Really, it’s not hard, it just takes practice, methodology, and trial and error, I mean it..a lot of trial and errors. Experience makes us “Perfect”. These truths will certainly get you on your way. Let’s get started.

An administrator (A System/ERP/Database/Datacenter) understands that that they have to continue to learn and grow. They strive to do their best at every effort, admit to failures and learn from them. Not only are they able to explain complex technical terms to a layperson, but they go out of their way to act as devil’s advocate to their own idea to make sure they’re giving the best options to their client (users); remember the internal users are our client too. They are active rather than reactive. They anticipate problems and demand, and resolve them, if possible, before they impact anything.

When a critical issue is discovered, they quickly and calmly diagnose the problem fully before attempting to fix it. An administrator know and accept that there is more than one way to do things, that not every problem is a nail, and that because there is always a better way to do something than how they were planning on they constantly seek to learn new techniques, technologies, and understanding. An administrator knows that he/she is not a great administrator. Truly great administrators do not exist; there are only those who claim to be great, and those who know they are not great.

The Administrators I’ve known were those who stayed calm in a crisis, and knew when to admit they didn’t know what was going wrong. Less important, but more valued by their superiors: The will to say “Yes” and help management achieve their goals, but recognizing when saying No is better for the company. A great way to be able to do that is to keep one’s eyes peeled on the horizon and examine new technologies as they appear to consider their applicability to your business. Moreover he/she should have the ability to take a deep breath, exhale, and deal with the latest fire that just got dropped in your lap.

  1. Be an expert generalist.
  2. Understand the business and user expectations.
  3. Be task-focused, not implementation/time focused.
  4. Segregate and delegate the mundane.
  5. Get rid of unique solutions.
  6. A desire to have things right.
  7. The willingness to “own” a problem and see issues through to conclusion.
  8. The drive to self-evaluate and to always make things better, even if your users are already happy.

An administrator will get the software or system up and running and again it’ll run great. However he/she will also have taken the time to understand everything he possibly can about the system and put preventative measures in place to make sure things don’t break at the most critical time. If they do break the administrator will be able to fix or find a workaround very quickly due to his knowledge of the platform. He should have the ability to deal with management seriously, so that you could be the best admin in the world but unless you can convince your boss to buy you that new server, stuff will never get done. Be an active communicator. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a large enterprise or a small one. People are counting on you to keep the network and servers up. So actively announce upgrade and maintenance downtimes, quickly promote news when you know there’s an issue that may affect people, and work with your constituents to identify when they’re more sensitive to infrastructure reliability. Document the environment and procedures somewhere, anywhere, so that your processes can be distributed, shared, and repeatable. You may think this is going to reduce your job security, but what it really will do is enable you to move on to other tasks.

Top 10 System Administrator Truths

 Users Lie: Oh yes, they do. Don’t think you’re immune either. Have you ever been on a tech support call,’s a nightmare. Believe it or not, through their eyes they are always right and an admin should admit that, but at the end of the day, what we want is to make the system work for the user and the best interest of the company, with the “findings”.

 Email is the Lifeblood: Now a day we have to take care of the SPAM, then Blacklist, Junk filter, Anti-virus definitions, DMZ, Block-list…what else, but the end user doesn’t know what happen from generating an email to receiving an email. When users did not receive an email from their contacts, only one statement “System is down and the IT guys are useless”. I know some of you must be laughing, but when we figure it out the reason through the error code that the sender is in our blacklist, everything goes back to normal.

Printers Suck: Now a day we do not have to deal with inkjet printers..It’s like stabbing yourself in the eye. In terms of network printer, troubles starts right from the user desktop, through the switch, then to the print server and to the printer. You can expect the issues anywhere, or may be the printer is faulty, but once you realize that the cleaner has removed the network cable from the printer while cleaning what all things you need to hear from our customer?

Ghost of Dust: Ever open up a PC and see the Ghost of Dust past in there? It’s scary stuff, I tell you. I’ve seen some PCs begin to lock up for absolutely no reason while the innards tell you different. Anything comes closer, either the socks or the hair, the PC fans suck that stuff right up, as if it is his belonging that is wandering out there..ohh man forget one more thing..”the keyboard” it’s worse than the garbage bag.

 Backup: If your server dies right now as you read this post, what are you going to do about it? This needs to be said. I’ve been caught with my pants down on this one a few times myself earlier. Backup, Backup, Backup! Nothing (and I mean nothing) will bite you in the ass like a piss-poor backup schema. Right now I’m ok with backing up the entire image and shares on to tape as well as the RAID5 disk group. But it’s a nightmare.

 Switches and links: You’re pinging and pinging and looking, the lights are on but there’s nobody home. You can spend hours tracking down a bad network card or cable just to figure out that a port in a switch has died or a loose connection inside the connector or you name it…

Live server upgrades and service pack installation: So sad but so true. With as much stupid crap as we admins have to put up with on a daily basis, configuring some of the ‘high end’ software is enough to drive you insane or now a days even the virtual server will give you hard time. I feel your pain, oh how I feel your pain.

 Internet link: Now a day, all are depended on one place called “www”. If the ISP link is down, you are banging your heads in old days, but now days there are tools to monitor. But then, if you call your ISP to get a confirmation, there line is busy…you have to live with it.

 Budgets: Now a day, term “budget” is everywhere, either on the household spending or a car purchase or a mobile plan. In order for us to work properly, we cannot rely on any third party product which works properly, so for us to rely is to “purchase” the tool..which needs “budget approval”.

 User support: In their perspective, “Don’t believe everything the IT staff tells you especially on a weekend afternoon. He will blame you if you call back to tell him that the problem still exists. Don’t fix any problem, even if you know what the problem is, they don’t believe you have the ability to fix anything. Just play into that, it will give you loads more free time to let them try and figure it out. Don’t be pushed around by people with low self-esteem. Don’t lie to the IT staff, they carry grudges and don’t take jokes very well. Call the IT staff for every little problem you have, so they can’t blame you for doing something wrong. Do not take any initiative what so ever in maintaining your computer, IT’S NOT YOUR JOB”. What can we do? Nothing…just try and see the log and start troubleshooting. To tell you frankly, 90% of the end users are not like that. They are supportive and will tell us what exactly happened. But 10% they don’t bother at all.

 Flipside: 8 End-User Troubleshooting Tips

But now for me, end user also is very important. As we say they are our customer and “Our customer is always right” When you contact your IT support, these are things you should do or keep in mind as you’re contacting your local admin or support.

#1 – Reboot: “My system is not responding..can I restart!!!” or “My monitor is blank..i cannot you want me to restart!!!” “I cannot browse..can I restart it”. To tell you frankly, “REBOOT” is not the only solution to this.

 #2 – Don’t Lie: Yes, the opposite of #1 on that other list is very important. Don’t lie to me. If you want your problem fixed, just tell me what happened. If you visited a site you weren’t supposed to, I need to know. I’m not in the tattle-telling business, but I’m also not in the coddling business. If you were doing something bad, your boss will probably know about it—eventually. But as for my time with you on the phone, in person, or reading about your troubles in email, a majority of the time bad things don’t begin happening “for no reason at all.” If you’re file sharing, think you have a virus, or are riddled with spyware, the more information you can give me, no matter how hurt or shameful, the better and the faster you get fixed.

#3 – Plug It In: It’s a cliché, but it’s true: Sometimes you need to plug the damn thing in. And I’m not talking about power cords exclusively. Keyboards, mice, microphones, network cables—none of these things will function if they have no connection to the machine. I can’t tell you how many times I had to run out to a facility only to find that the mouse was loose in the back, or the network cable was unplugged. If you’re not comfortable with fiddling with that stuff it’s okay, but at least jiggle a few chords and see if anything is loose.

#4 – What Changed? Whenever there is a software problem, most of the time something changed to cause it. I know it may have been a slight change. You may have upgraded your hardware, you may have upgraded your Acrobat Reader or ran Windows Update and didn’t think to mention it. Whatever it was, the guys on the other end of the phone or staring into the innards of your PC need to know about it. Something as “innocent” as a Network Drive Letter changing can be huge in terms of configuration files and where they’re looking for data.

#5 – Get the Exact Error Message: Before you contact those who are forced to wade through the jungle of errors and problems, be sure you write down everything an error message tells you. And hopefully you don’t leave anything out because, as House M.D. will tell you, a bad ‘history’ (ie, the exact data on prior events and conditions) is necessary to properly diagnose a problem. If its a run-time error, I need to know the number. If it’s a start-up error, I need to know how far along the machine booted until it crashed. If you get an error message of any kind, expect us to ask you exactly what it said.

#6 – If it isn’t Critical, Please Email Instead: I know you just gotta have some things by a certain time. I also understand the pressure of someone sitting on the other side of your desk staring you down. By all means, give me a call. I want to help. I’ll come down and fix it if necessary, or even bring you another machine. But if it isn’t life or death and it isn’t absolutely crucial to your day-to-day activities, please give me an email instead. Particularly if its a strange or new error message you’ve never seen, I’ll get to take one look at it and either have time to research it or will contact you immediately and fix it. Either way it’s a win-win: If I’m busy and need something done, I’ll have the time to finish that before I get back with you.

#7 – Check Your Neighbors: Can’t check your email or access the network? Check your neighbor(s) if you can before you call. If it’s been down for any length of time beyond 2–3 minutes, the IT department has probably heard about it. There’s no need to let us know again, unless something has changed (see #4). While I appreciate the heads-up as far as downtime, the longer I’m on the phone trying to pacify your fears the longer it takes to actually fix the problem.

#8 – Threats Don’t Speed Up Assistance: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been passive-aggressively threatened. Knock yourself out. If it’s not critical and I’ve got more important things to work on I’m afraid you’ll have to wait. Don’t lie to the IT staff. You’ll either look really stupid or it’ll take ten times as long to fix the problem and we’ll still know it was you that did it… accidentally or otherwise. Worsts happen… we know this and we plan for it.

Some of the comments that come across in our day-to-day meetings or talks.

Don’t tell me the solution, tell me the problem. Ever brought your car to the mechanic and, trying to show off, said “I think it’s the (thermostat, alternator, whatever)”? The mechanic replaces the part you specified, because that’s what you told him to do, then you get the car back and dammit, it’s still making that noise. It’s the same thing with your computer. If you ask me for something, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Don’t be surprised when it doesn’t fix the problem. Just tell me what the problem is. And yes, with the exact error message. They pay me to figure out what the solution is. Or tell me what task you need to accomplish; don’t tell me what software you need to do it. Yeah, so, your son said you can use Photoshop to view those pictures of your grandkids. We’re not spending $500 to buy it for you. And no, I don’t care that you’re looking at pictures of the grandkids. But you can damn well use IE or Paint to do it.

My favorite: when something happens, as we says, “Ok, stop, Don’t Do Anything!” and you can still see them moving their hand for the mouse or the keyboard or whatever. “Yes, I know he just said don’t do anything, but I’ll just close this window…” GAH. What part of DON’T DO ANYTHING do people not understand?


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