Systems Administrators – mindset requires reset!

Greetings and Salutations,

A response to the USENIX/SAGE organisational split fiasco and the creation of LOPSA

Well, after a month of listening (well, reading to be exact) the approximately 237-odd entries on the US arm of the SAGE members lists, I finally realised that this is why as an organisation we haven’t moved very far from the humble days of it’s inception a tad on a decade ago.

I won’t repeat the entire story here, but there’s a reasonably accurate summary (if not a little cynical and jaded view) of the events on Ben Rockwood’s blog. In short, my take is … SAGE USENIX LOPSA BLURGH!

Unfortunately, this entire event is part of an endemic aspect of system administration thinking that you don’t tend to recognize while you’re still in the field – only when you become a team leader, or move into a “non-traditional” aspect of system administration (like architecture, planning, R&D, etc) where your thinking changes do you begin to perceive the mindset that makes up this horrendous scenario.

A decade ago, the organisation was small, the list was trickling but active, conferences were had, people tried to post up transcripts of the events, others took videos and digitised them for those that couldn’t make it … in short, it was a community, one borne of trying to help each other and to promote the ideal of System Administration.

Over the years, this mentality has changed, whether due to the rising fees, or the general world view of I pay, I want, or whether it was the fault of the board … I don’t know – nor any longer care. Not just on the US arm of SAGE either, SAGE-AU has suffered this “downturn” as well.

So what is it? What is the mentality that I am stating requires a reset?

It’s a number of ones that come through:

  • The white coater mentality that is in short, a form of elitism – one that thinks we know all there is to know about IT, that the “noble profession of System Administration” is the pinnacle of IT roles
  • The gadgeteer mentality – the one that thinks if we’re not using the latest and greatest then we’re just not moving with the times
  • The researcher – who believes that advancements are only made through the studied application of papers and journal entries
  • The socialite – who feel that a community isn’t worth joining unless there’s a shindig once a year
  • The sponger – the ones who feel that placing their measly subscription fee should entitle them to an instant array of recognition, tools, papers and discounts
  • The politician – who feels that if everyone recognized their brilliance and handed over the reigns, the whole thing will run better …

and the list goes on – but what oh what, dear reader, is missing? The community spirit!

How many are standing up and offering their time, ideas, guidance to further the cause?

If you’re not doing it for the group, I dare say, you’re not doing at your workplace or within your community.

This is the fundamental issue – as someone who hasn’t been a “System Administrator” in the practical sense for nigh on four years now, I’ve still been active (as far as my lifestyle will allow) in the groups both in the US and Australian arms. Heck, I still take on up to four mentees a year!

I’ve heard (or read) many arguments over the last few years – for why SAGE(-AU) hasn’t succeeded … and while many have validity – it still comes down to the same basic point (which is rather simple) – the crew is standing around shouting out ideas to the Captain and expecting him (or her!) to do all the work!

With all of the ideas that are thrown up towards the board, how many are willing to put their own time and expertise in seeing the implementation (if accepted) through?

In this latest iteration of grumbling, the issue has been going for a year – people who were (or claimed to be) interested knew what was happening for a year – maybe not ALL of what was happening, but at least the overview. Now, you can’t tell me that among all the members, not one had the skills to put together a business plan, put together a budget, assist with transitional logistics planning, marketing, etc? Yet, a few people voted for a transitional board and then left them holding the bag with the message “Good luck – give us a separate organisational body”.

Just like every other time someone’s raised an idea – which is why the mentoring group has been a resounding failure, why we don’t have a industry renowned journal, why we simply don’t command any industry respect – because no-one is willing to make an effort!

Generally speaking, a member of a board should only spend approximately 4-8 hours a month in their duties as a board member. I doubt any of the current board members spend less than that a week!

This mentality is the same one I see in the workforce. Everyone sits there and whines like a wounded dog in an alley about the state of affairs, the fact that there is no X or how Y would make it all better … yet the majority wouldn’t spend an extra 30 minutes a week to start implementing their ideas to prove their worth or even make their life easier 3 months from now.

I constantly hear excuses like “my job is administering the servers – I don’t care what’s running on them”, usually followed quickly by things like, “those applications folks always wreck my system, I wish they’d get a clue”.

Now, let’s think this out for a second shall we?

  1. If I knew what was running on my box – I could possibly ascertain potential issues that may come up before they do …
  2. If I implemented a change control system (which I also followed), I could keep track of the implementations by the “application folks” possibly diverting major issues and also PLANNING my time around those changes … thus freeing me to do other things …
  3. If I documented the entire server life cycle (build, patches, installs, changes, etc) I can easily determine a baseline for when changes occur – and I have a guide for Disaster Recovery … which I could get someone else to follow …

It sounds a lot like common sense, doesn’t it? So, why do so few Sys Admins do it? For the same reason they don’t step into the community and give something back.

It’s this mindset that needs a reset – and the new organisation of LOPSA will surely face the same success as SAGE if it’s members do not step up to the mark and make a difference.

That’s my rant on this topic, TTFN!

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