When Unix Stops Being Fun
norgaard at locolomo.org
Sun Oct 3 04:57:29 PDT 2004
I had a glance at that list you refer to and the article it refers to.
Don't worry, you don't need to know and learn all that: "copy files to
and from a floppy disk"?? I don't even remember when I had a computer
with a floppy drive.
On the other hand, the vi editor? Well, I have known people who wrote a
200 page astronomy thesis in latex using vi, but in most cases you won't
use vi. So why is it important? Because it is so simple, it is one of
the few things that you can rely on when your system has crashed. But
even then, I actually know one SA whose Digital Unix crashed so hard
that it could only run ed.
Some things you want at almost all costs to avoid, NIS for example, and
NIS+ in particular, I have found that most manuals say "if you don't
REALLY (and I mean REALLY) need it, don't use it". LDAP can replace NIS
and solve many other problems at the same time, yet it's not on the list.
Some of the things, you really already know: "launch an application from
the commandline"? "from GNOME"?
And some things you just can't learn before you need to: "Basic trouble-
shooting" - what to do when your system just works?? :-)
Mostly this list summarizes the tasks and tools you will likely be doing
or using if you follow a path as SA. You don't need to know it all, it
is far more important that you know where to look and can learn as needed.
One thing I find missing though is security aspects which has been
reduced to basic security. Today there are so many tools for system
administration that this is not that complicated a task. There are only
few to manage security.
There's much to learn, so don't waste your time learning the things you
don't need, often you will also be more motivated having a real problem
I have found that the most valuable skill a good SA has is LAZINESS!
Yup, but beware, there are two kinds: You can be lazy in the sence that
you only do what is absolutely necessary and postpone it as much as
posible - this is the negative kind. Then, on the other hand, you can be
clever! Being clever allows you to minimize the work involved in any
task and still get it done on time. So, when I refer to laziness, it's
the second kind.
For this reason, I'd recommend you to learn the tools, not the tasks.
The tasks changes much more often than the tools. Learn the most power-
full tools first, they'll get you far. Secondly, learn in general the
differences between like products, know what are their strengths and
weaknesses. This way you can choose the right tool to the right problem.
Perl is a good hammer and bangs many nails quickly, but sometimes you
need a screwdriver for the problem you have. Btw, Perl AFAIK is the true
product of the clever laziness.
> It took me almost two years to get to where I am today, and it looks like
> I've barely scratched the surface of what I'd need to know. But now,
> I feel like instead of learning things on my own for fun, I have to learn
> other things I don't really have a need to learn for myself or that I want
> to, just so that I can apply that to other peoples' situations.
Most work involves solving other peoples problems. When it comes to SA,
I think it is much more fun to adminster real users.
On my home network, I have three users, me, myself and my mirror image.
I have to go look in the mirror to meet any of my users, and eventually
I found that I just don't have enough problems to keep me occupied -
that is now, after I switched to FreeBSD, before with RedHat linux, I
could always do the occasional reinstall or sit down and try to trace
the dependencies and with Windows I needed an assistant :-)
On a real network you become the hero of the day and the one people love
to hate. You get a big screen so you can hide behind it and your office
appears empty. You get a huge number of interesting and very different
tasks, and what you have tried at home you get to try on a much bigger
scale - you can actually test things with real workload and not just
You get access to tons of equipment - your servers may be a cluster or
blade whatever, and not that old Pentium 133Mhz. You will likely be
buying new equipment to test and play with, and if things works well,
buy more to install. All that is fun.
Then you will have users who will complain everyday about the same
problems and who feel you should serve them first. There are tons of
aspects to good system administration, not only the technical stuff.
As the SA, you will be the one who enables people to communicate, you
will be in the center of that communication, you will know things you
don't want to know, and things you shouldn't.
All these things makes it more interesting than your home network, I'd
say. So keep up the good work ;-) and don't worry if you don't have the
answer at hand - you can always say "42" .. :-)
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