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Top 10 System Administrator Truths 561

Vo0k writes "What are your top ten system administrator truths? We all know them already, but it's still fun re-telling them. Stuff like "90% of all hardware-related problems come from loose connectors", even though you already know it's true, may save you from replacing the "faulty" motherboard if you recall it at the right time."
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Top 10 System Administrator Truths

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  • by seramar ( 655396 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:41AM (#14246914) Homepage
    ... are operator errors. But you can't tell the operator that.
    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:44AM (#14246941) Homepage
      It's interesting that everybody seems to know these things, and yet they still get us. A couple months back, I went through three power supplies before I discovered the fact that I actually had a power cable that was going bad. You don't even think of things like how power cables can go bad, but they do.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:44AM (#14246942)
      "99% of all problems don't occur when the computer is off. That's why I always keep a pair of well-insulated pliers around."
      -- BOFH
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:56AM (#14247088)
      When troubleshooting SCSI devices, always remember to light the black candles at midnight, and run the silver knife up the goats abdomen.
    • Another one (Score:5, Informative)

      by missing000 ( 602285 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:03PM (#14247173)
      90% of all quotes on slashdot are made up :)

      Seriously, the "90% of all hardware-related problems come from loose connectors" bit is found nowhere in the article or on google for that matter...

    • by mrn121 ( 673604 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:08PM (#14247232) Homepage
      I know this was said as a joke, but I see this a lot amongst the geek community, the attitude that users just don't know what they are doing, and that is why they can't make anything work.

      Doing some GUI consultant work and writing a few users manuals for some pretty complex software has taught me one thing: Most user error is the fault of crappy software. A good setup (hardware or software) should be easy to use given the users.

      Now, obviously it is all about knowing the audience. If you are writing an application for use by other software engineers versus people living in an assisted living home, well, that makes a difference, and you certainly can't cater to all people (for example the guy who writes code for a living but can't setup his own email at home).

      The bottom line is, as much as it displeases us, not everyone is a geek. Not everyone cares about the latest firmware for their router, the latest patch for Call of Duty 2, or how to make a projection TV from an old overhead projector and a laptop from eBay. Our job, as geeks, is not to show everyone why they SHOULD care, but rather to make it easy for those who don't care to still do what they need to do.

      Just a few minutes ago I got an email forwarded to me from a "stupid" user who couldn't figure out how to perform what to me seems like a simple task in some software my team wrote. We emailed him the directions, even though they were very clearly stated in the manual that I wrote, but I took it one step further. I submitted a feature request in our bug-tracking database to put a message near where what he was trying to do to explain why that option is grayed out.

      Anyone can write software or setup hardware that has tons of geek features that we all like, but it takes a lot more effort to make the setup actually usable to the target users.
      • by seramar ( 655396 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:38PM (#14247568) Homepage
        I did not say this as a joke, I was surprised it got modded so high. I work at a small service and repair shop, and you'd be surprised how many computers come back within a week or two after leaving the shop because the client did not listen to my suggestions and recommendations. I always tell them, we'd be happier to fix an issue that is caused because you followed our instructions than fixing one because you didn't. Still, they go on, installing file sharing software I did not recommend, ignoring their windows updates, and clicking "yes" or "no" on those bogus system-error messages, as opposed to the red x. And beyond that, we extend the invitation to any client to call us, free of charge, if they're not sure what to do. We're not bastards in here like people at a lot of computer shops, and we're willing to help, for free, if it's not time consuming and we can do it over the phone... but they hardly ever call while they're unsure, but only after they've broken something. I understand that they're not as savvy as us geeks, however, there are a few simple steps that they should follow based on our recommendations. The mechanic tells me to get my oil changed every 2,000 to 3,000 miles, so I listen. The guy at the salt water aquarium store tells me putting an anemonae in a tank is a bad idea, because when it dies (which it will in your little tank) it's going to kill all of your fish, unless you're really lucky... so I avoid the anemonaes. I'm not an expert, so I listen to those who are more knowledgable. Anyway I've talked too much.
        • Geek aura (Score:5, Interesting)

          by CustomDesigned ( 250089 ) <> on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @01:21PM (#14247945) Homepage Journal
          Very often, people asking me for technical help have problems that refuse to manifest themselves when I am present. My wife calls this my "aura". It is not just computers. The DVD player doesn't work? As soon as I say, "Let me take a look", those circuits start quaking in their solder boots, and by the time I walk over they have shaped up and start working perfectly - and will keep working for another 6 months at least. But I clean the lens to keep it in a good mood. Refrigerator on the blink? A few comments about it getting old and time for a replacement, and the thing shapes up in a hurry. Of course, cleaning out the blocked air intake helps keep up its morale.

          Seriously, anthropomorphizing machines is a powerful technique. It gives you an approximate but effective mental model of a complex system. "Primitive" cultures are not dumb when they attribute personalities to objects. Our brains are wired to use personality to predict complex behaviour.

          My Mother had no technical skills or knowlege - but she treated the automobile like a pet. She was alert to the tiniest change in sound or vibration of the machine, and very often alerted my Dad to problems long before he was aware of anything. One time, driving across country, my Mom said the right front wheel "didn't sound right". We were cruising along at 70, and everything seemed fine. But she insisted, so my Dad pulled over and checked all the tires. No sign of a problem. He pulled the hub cap off the right front wheel - and noticed that the cotter pin had broken! A few more miles and the wheel would have come off. My Dad panicked, since we didn't have any cotter pins in his repair kit. But my Mom dug in her purse and offered a bobby pin. My Dad didn't want to use it, because it was the wrong kind of metal and would break easily. My Mom said she had more, so he put it in. That bobby pin took us another 5000 miles.

          My Dad does all his own work on his cars - at least he did until he ruined the valves on his Honda Accord a few years ago. Now he lets a mechanic do some stuff for him. I learned to be in tune with machines from my Mom, and learned to fix them from my Dad. When designing file system software back in the '70s, the rhythmic sounds of the disk access mechanism was my best feedback on its efficiency. Those were the days of 14" disk platters.

          • by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @06:26PM (#14251207)
            Very often, people asking me for technical help have problems that refuse to manifest themselves when I am present.

            Lots of people in IT find this. Generally, it's because most vaguely complicated electronics is sufficiently sentient to know when it's in the presence of a Higher Power, and that it Must Obey.

            Fortunately, they're not that sentient. I have found an extremely good way to maintain system reliability is to place a photo of myself in the server room.
      • by C10H14N2 ( 640033 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @01:03PM (#14247801) the result of trying to implement 100% of user requests. Sometimes, telling the user "no, you simply can't have that" is the best way to ensure an application isn't horribly poisoned by thousands of totally irrational, non-intuitive crap "features" each piece of which makes sense only to the person who requested it. Worse, such design-by-committee applications are invariably written interface-first, back-end last with no regard to how to actually make the goddamned thing WORK, much less work efficiently.

        I agree, good software should be intuitive, but far better to be proactively engineered to be more intuitive, rather than reactively veneered to feel less unintuitive.
        • Indeed, this is why software is prone to the phenomenon known as The Big Ball of Mud []. A possibly well-designed original program gets encumbered with feature requests over its lifetime until it devolves into a piece of software that is unrelated to its original intentions and is unmaintainable by the developers that have worked on it.

          In such cases, many times the best thing to do is examine what the overall purposes of the software is supposed to be and start over from scratch, but engineer the new solution
      • Doing some GUI consultant work and writing a few users manuals for some pretty complex software has taught me one thing: Most user error is the fault of crappy software. A good setup (hardware or software) should be easy to use given the users.

        No, most user error comes from the fact that they are forced to learn a new package almost every year. If you think about an automobile's interface, it is pretty damn unintuitive. But because it has been more or less in the same form for decades, we hairless apes ha

  • by FalconZero ( 607567 ) * <[FalconZero] [at] []> on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:42AM (#14246920)
    Fixing Problems
    • Rebooting Solves 90% of Windows problems.
    • Users are the cause of the problem 90% of the time.
    • The weakest link(s) in your security is/are human.

    Getting Help
    • Good manuals should be read before you do anything.
    • Bad manuals should not be read UNDER ANY CIRUMSTANCES.
    • Google is your best freind. ever. period.

    Other People
    • Good managers ask for something in 5 days, but need it in 6.
    • Good developers/suppliers promise something in 5 days, but deliver it in 4.
    • "I don't know, but I'll find out" is always better than "I know" (when you don't).
    • Technical support hotlines will invariably tell you what you already know.
    • by Hektor_Troy ( 262592 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:54AM (#14247070)
      Good manuals should be read before you do anything.
      Bad manuals should not be read UNDER ANY CIRUMSTANCES.
      Fortunately all manuals come with stickers like "Super manual A+++++" or "Horrible manual, stole my wife, raped my dog F--------".
    • Google is your best freind. ever. period.

      This goes for admins, programmers, and just about every other profession, especially in IT.

      Good managers ask for something in 5 days, but need it in 6.

      Such a basic thing, but so so important. I always try to pad estimates for our department, but I should be sure to pad my requirements for my staff as well.

    • by hotdiggitydawg ( 881316 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:45PM (#14247630)
      I was thinking they were talking about "truths about system administrators", not "truths about system administration".

      Anyway, for the benefit of those who haven't seen this (very old and long, but somewhat entertaining) email that was doing the rounds a while ago... disclaimer: someone else wrote it, and I don't know who.


      There are four major species of Unix sysad:

      1) The TECHNICAL THUG. Usually a systems programmer who has been forced into system administration; writes scripts in a polyglot of the Bourne shell, sed, C, awk, perl, and APL.

      2) The ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST. Usually a retentive drone (or rarely, a harridan ex-secretary) who has been forced into system administration.

      3) The MANIAC. Usually an aging cracker who discovered that neither the Mossad nor Cuba are willing to pay a living wage for computer espionage. Fell into system administration; occasionally approaches major competitors with indesp schemes.

      4) The IDIOT. Usually a cretin, morpohodite, or old COBOL programmer selected to be the system administrator by a committee of cretins, morphodites, and old COBOL programmers.


      -- SITUATION: Low disk space. --

      TECHNICAL THUG: Writes a suite of scripts to monitor disk usage, maintain a database of historic disk usage, predict future disk usage via least squares regression analysis, identify users who are more than a standard deviation over the mean, and send mail to the offending parties. Places script in cron. Disk usage does not change, since disk-hogs, by nature, either ignore script-generated mail, or file it away in triplicate.

      ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Puts disk usage policy in motd. Uses disk quotas. Allows no exceptions, thus crippling development work. Locks accounts that go over quota.

      # cd /home
      # rm -rf `du -s * | sort -rn | head -1 | awk '{print $2}'`;

      # cd /home
      # cat `du -s * | sort -rn | head -1 | awk '{ printf "%s/*\n", $2}'` | compress

      -- SITUATION: Excessive CPU usage. --

      TECHNICAL THUG: Writes a suite of scripts to monitor processes, maintain a database of CPU usage, identify processes more than a standard deviation over the norm, and renice offending processes. Places script in cron. Ends up renicing the production database into oblivion, bringing operations to a grinding halt, much to the delight of the xtrek freaks.

      ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Puts CPU usage policy in motd. Uses CPU quotas. Locks accounts that go over quota. Allows no exceptions, thus crippling development work, much to the delight of the xtrek freaks.

      # kill -9 `ps -augxww | sort -rn +8 -9 | head -1 | awk '{print $2}'`

      # compress -f `ps -augxww | sort -rn +8 -9 | head -1 | awk '{print $2}'`

      -- SITUATION: New account creation. --

      TECHNICAL THUG: Writes perl script that creates home directory, copies in incomprehensible default environment, and places entries in /etc/passwd, /etc/shadow, and /etc/group. (By hand, NOT with passmgmt.) Slaps on setuid bit; tells a nearby secretary to handle new accounts. Usually, said secretary is still dithering over the difference between 'enter' and 'return'; and so, no new accounts are ever created.

      ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Puts new account policy in motd. Since people without accounts cannot read the motd, nobody ever fulfills the bureaucratic requirements; and so, no new accounts are ever created.

      MANIAC: "If you're too stupid to break in and create your own account, I don't want you on the system. We've got too many goddamn sh*t-for-brains a**holes on this box anyway."

      # cd /home; mkdir "Bob's home directory"
      # echo "Bob Simon:gandalf:0:0::/dev/tty:compress -f" > /etc/passwd

      -- SITUATION: Root disk fails. --

    • by Gorbag ( 176668 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @01:10PM (#14247859)
      • Good manuals should be read before you do anything.
      • Bad manuals should not be read UNDER ANY CIRUMSTANCES.
      Collary: there are no good manuals.
    • by Stargoat ( 658863 ) <> on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @01:35PM (#14248078) Journal
      Ten Truths:

      1. Adobe products and antivirus cause the most software problems, but you cannot live without either.
      2. Most computer hardware problems are the result of sticky rolls, janitors cleaning, computers being accidently kicked, or power failures. In that order.
      3. When calling HP or Dell about anything other than servers, you will get bad tech support.
      4. Three year warranties on individual PCs do not matter. On a system with dozens of computers, they pay for themselves.
      5. There will always be a lower price. Get over it.
      6. Phones cannot fail. Five nines of reliability is not good enough.
      7. Documented organization of the network and supplies will save you more time than the knowledge a thousand certifications brings (which isn't that much anyways).
      8. Researching and backing up information before beginning a project is the sign of a professional. So is spelling.
      9. Soft operating expenses are always more expensive than hard operating expenses.
      10. When working on a project, document everything. It is almost never needed, but if your coworkers know you have it, they will not try to screw you.

    • by bitslinger_42 ( 598584 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @01:36PM (#14248093)

      "Rebooting Solves 90% of Windows problems"

      Nope. Rebooting only clears 90% of symptoms, it doesn't necessarily make the problems go away. For example, if you have a webserver that's got a memory leak and that leak takes 72 hours to fill RAM to the point that the system becomes unusable, rebooting clears the symptom (unusable system) but doesn't resolve the problem (bug in the webserver). Too many people think that the reboot fixes the problem, so they don't ever bother finding out what the real problem is.

    • by ishmalius ( 153450 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @03:11PM (#14248958)
      I can't stress enough how valuable one of these, or some other good LiveCD, can be. If the box is Windows, Linux, whatever, keep one handy. One of these things can be priceless if the thing refuses to boot properly, someone deleted NTLDR, X locks up on runlevel 5, your driver interrupts conflict, a recursive script uses all of the PIDs, or any number of problems. Keep a printout of the boot options for the disk, too, to boot the unbootable.
  • Never.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by citizenklaw ( 767566 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:43AM (#14246938)
    Never post stupid top ten administrator lists on Slashdot, lest I have to spend my time restoring a web server from backup.
  • Truth... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gowen ( 141411 ) <> on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:44AM (#14246945) Homepage Journal
    ... even though it's better than it used to be, registry corruption is still the number one cause of boot failures in Windows XP. And the contents ntbtlog.txt and the Recovery Console are still horribly inadequate tools for fixing it...
  • Simple (Score:5, Informative)

    by mysqlrocks ( 783488 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:45AM (#14246951) Homepage Journal
    The solution to the problem is almost always simpler than you think. You can often cause more problems trying to fix a problem then the original problem itself. When you try one thing and it doesn't work, reverse the changes before trying the next thing and document each change.
    • Re:Simple (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:05PM (#14247182)
      And the corollary: never make an irreversible change unless all of the reversible changes have been tried and ruled out.

    • Re:Simple (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:12PM (#14247282) Homepage
      There is more that goes to that. Do not be afraid to tell upper management to get the hell out of the server room.

      We had a problem, SQL was performing poorly a typical query on the machine that took 50 minutes was taking 2.5 hours and was sometimes failing. We instantly started looking at data and possible database corruption, the VP of Operations came down and started "directing us" we politely ignored and continued down our path. He then ordered us to rip the heart out of the SQL server, Remove 4 processors, remove 8 gig of ram, downgrade from Enterprise to standard and only 2 processors. over and over he kepts telling to do things that were insane because he usedto be a Ops manager in the company and knew what he was talking about.

      4 days later and about 80 hours of wasted overtime we carefully rebuilt the server BACK to a last known good from a backup before the mess and then discoverd that Oh! there was a DATABASE DATA PROBLEM!

      If someone start on a wild chase changing things wildly, I do not care who they are, tell them to piss off and please stand behind the glass, Or better yet, do that nicely by getting everyone inclusing the vendor to agree that what they want to do is not the right thing.... Ganging up on them typically works.

      So the parent is 1000% correct. Not only is the solution typically simpler than you think but is usually the one that makes the most sense.

      if your SQL server suddenly starts acting up after 2 years of good operation, there is almost no chance that ripping it's guts out will help anything.
  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:46AM (#14246965)
    When all else fails, reboot. If it still fails, blame the user.
  • #6.5: (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:47AM (#14246988) Journal
  • by mike77 ( 519751 ) <mraley77 AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:51AM (#14247031)
  • Top 3 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by saphena ( 322272 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:52AM (#14247041) Homepage
    1) Never believe anything anyone tells you: always test for yourself.
    2) Always ask the dumb questions: is it switched on?
    3) Reboot cures most things EXCEPT rm -r * when logged in as root

    After that, things could get tricky.
    • Re:Top 3 (Score:4, Insightful)

      by nathanh ( 1214 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @07:29PM (#14251798) Homepage
      2) Always ask the dumb questions: is it switched on?

      Never ask dumb questions like that. It embarrasses the user for no good reason. Find a subtle way of getting them to check the power without forcing them to reveal their mistake. Such as:

      Can you turn the computer off using the power button and then turn it back on. Let me know when the green light next to the power button turns on.

      They'll still learn the lesson - check the power before calling tech support - but now they won't feel so uncomfortable that you were mocking them with your questions.

  • by hal2814 ( 725639 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:52AM (#14247042)
    I had a boss once who didn't lie to me but at the same time wouldn't follow my instructions when I had to help him over the phone. I'd tell him to do one thing. He'd do something else and then ask me what to do next. I'd tell him to do what I told him to do in the first place. After 3 or 4 tries, he'd actually do what I told him to do and his problem was usually solved.
  • PEBKAC (Score:5, Funny)

    by Billosaur ( 927319 ) * <wgrother@oEINSTE ... minus physicist> on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:53AM (#14247058) Journal

    Most users should not being allowed to operate computers, let alone drive cars. Sysadmins need to learn who these people are and minimize the damage they cause. I suggest randomly changing their password every day until they quit in frustration.

    • Re:PEBKAC (Score:3, Funny)

      by WTBF ( 893340 )
      And you said you were qualified to operate a computer! You'd better have mine." I pass my computer card calendar over, flipping it to page one - "ENTROPY"....... ...I like it. "Now, you give the cretin an excuse then what do you do?"

      "Kill them off?"

      "YES!" (He certainly has a fixation) "Then what?"

      "Hang up?"

      "NO! Then they'll call you back when the problem recurs. Your job is to make them FEAR calling you. How can you work when people are calling? So, you make them pay for calling in the first pla
  • My own list (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vaceituno ( 665272 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:55AM (#14247082) Homepage
    -You shall be very pessimistic
    -Make sure you can leave exactly like it was before you touched it.
    -Dont fix what aint broken.
    -Start from a known state of the system (switch off - switch on).
    -Even you are genius level techie, follow the manual, RTFM.
    -Dont reinvent the wheel. Compare with something thats working.
    -Cables are not perfect. If something doesnt connect, check lower levels first.
    -If its there, ther must be a reason. Never ever delete anything. Rename instead.
    -You memory is not infinite. Write what you do.
  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:56AM (#14247087) Journal
    Top System Administrator Truths
    • The best way to improve security is to give users more, longer, more complex, more frequently changed passwords. Eleven characters, including uppercase, lowercase, numbers and Unicode, changed every 30 days -- it's easy! The users should just keep making up new, easy to remember mnemonic phrases that, uh, include words begining with numbers and punctuation.
    • If users modify their system in any way, anything that happens is their fault. Smoke coming out of the power supply? It's because you added new applications to the Start toolbar!
    • If I've never heard of it, you obviously don't need it.
    • by JWW ( 79176 )
      You forgot the part about where they have to write the password down and stick it to their monitor with a post it note.

      It would be really interesting to see a study to determine whether changing passwords frequently actually increases or decreases your vulnerability.
  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @11:59AM (#14247122) Homepage Journal
    Rule 1. They lie. End users often tell you what they think you want to hear. When asking a question you should use terms like. What does it say? vs Does it say this?
    Rule 2. They don't know they are lying.
    Rule 3. Sometimes they are telling the truth. Yes sometimes what you think is impossible really is happening or looks like it is happening.
  • Unless you lack plans for the weekend.
  • My 2p (Score:5, Insightful)

    by benbean ( 8595 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:00PM (#14247140)
    Never put the screws back in the case until you've tested your new hardware is working.
  • by un1xl0ser ( 575642 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:02PM (#14247166)
    Maybe for a PC, but never a server.

    When I started working at my job, we had serveral servers that would reboot on a cron for the sole reason that someone was too lazy to figure out the problem. We eliminated all but one of these reboots, mainly because we don't care about the last one.

    My holy grail would have to be strace/truss/tusk. I would take that tool over reboot any day. It doesn't always fix the problem, but at least you will know what it is, instead of rebooting like a coward. :-P
  • Not too bad (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thebdj ( 768618 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:03PM (#14247170) Journal
    HPs Jetdirect cards have a pretty solid reputation of failing every few years

    Is this really the case? We had several JetDirect enabled PCs at my former place of work and almost none of them had a card failure. We even had a few extra cards just in case. Several of the printers were actually quite old even. The biggest problem we had was with only HP-5P (I think that is the number). Some users departments did not have the money to replace those crappy old printers. On a bit of an aside, we had several JetDirect "boxes" (the external box that connected the printer port to ethernet) that were working great. I believe most everyone in the IT staff had one at home for their printers.

    No One Ever Got Fired For Buying Microsoft.

    Not really true. There are some shops so enamored with Novell (mostly because of bosses stuck in the stoneage) that the idea of purchasing Exchange or using a full out ActiveDirectory system with a Windows only network storage share were unheard of. I once again reference my previous job.

    Not too bad of a list overall. Most of the items are right, and it is quite true. To be honest, the places I have worked there were really only a handful of problem employees, and most of them got handled directly by our SysAdmin or the head of IT because no wanted to worry about what lie they may come up with about the work we were doing.
  • by Golias ( 176380 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:05PM (#14247184)
    Number One: You will die alone.
  • by wheezl ( 63394 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:05PM (#14247190)
    If your job requires you to wear a name tag, carry a gun, or administer a Windows system, you have made a serious vocational error.
    • by dosquatch ( 924618 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:39PM (#14247578) Journal
      If your job requires you to wear a name tag, carry a gun, or administer a Windows system, you have made a serious vocational error.

      My job requires me to wear a nametag while administering a Windows network.

      They won't let me carry a gun. Even though I asked really, really nicely.


  • 4 Rules (Score:5, Interesting)

    by semifamous ( 231316 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:06PM (#14247201)
    In my Tech Support experience, I have found only three basic rules.

    Rule number 1. People are stupid. This one is true of all people. Tech support, highways, shopping, whatever. This rule has been extended to cover just about any stupid thing that anyone does.
    "Why did that guy just..."
    "Rule number 1."

    "Did she think she could get away with that?"
    "Rule number 1."

    Rule number 2. People lie.
    Me: "Has the computer been restarted since the problem started?"
    Them: "Yes..."
    Me: "OK. Let's try restarting the computer now and see what happens."
    Them: "What do you mean by restart?"

    And when you add 1 and 2 together, you get 3. Sometimes, people are so stupid, they don't know that they're lying. You know these people. They're the ones who have "Windows 2000 XP" or "2000 ME." They're the people for whom "Nothing happens when I try to check my email. Nothing! Just this error message..." Not realizing that the error message is *exactly* what I was looking for. An error message is *not* nothing. Grr.

    There is a fourth rule that also shows up from time to time:
    Rule number 4. No good deed goes unpunished.
    In the famous words of the leader of the Uruk Hai from his battle call at Helm's Deep in The Two Towers: "Grr."
  • My rule (Score:5, Funny)

    by ptomblin ( 1378 ) <> on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:06PM (#14247206) Homepage Journal
    It doesn't matter whether I'm giving or requesting tech support, the number one rule is that the person on the other end of the telephone is an idiot.
  • by Master of Transhuman ( 597628 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:06PM (#14247208) Homepage

    Don't get linked to by Slashdot!

    None of the other nine truths will save your server!

  • Acronyms (Score:4, Funny)

    by d_54321 ( 446966 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:08PM (#14247225) Journal
    If the acronym contains an F, don't ask what it stands for.
  • Set Standards (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:12PM (#14247276) Journal
    One of my big truths, set standards!

    I've worked in two kinds of places, ones where they set (and stick to) standards and ones that don't. Every place that doesn't use or doesn't stick to standards has always been an experience in wasted time, confusion, and lots of bugs. Those that do can seem like you're always being nagged but in the end you find things work as expected, code is far easier to manage (especially when it is someone else's), and you aren't always having to reinvent the wheel (i.e. figuring out how to fix a subtle bug again because the solution was never written down the first time).

    It sounds simple but it takes discipline at all levels. Even something as documenting what you did afterwards and putting it in an orderly file system can make a huge difference but how many people bother to do it? Managers and fellow developers have to crack the whip and keep people from trying to cut corners.

    Standards should be open to some change and can be bent but there has to be a very good defendable reason for it.
  • by Bullfish ( 858648 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:13PM (#14247295)
    One of the most frustrating things is users who do what you ask, and then promptly do a bunch of things immediately afterwards that you don't ask. You try going step-by-step with them, and meanwhile they are opening menus and clicking away at things they don't understand, because somehow hearing your voice tell them what to do gives them all the control of a runaway horse.
  • by bcattwoo ( 737354 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:16PM (#14247325)
    Read what you typed before hitting enter.

    Now let me just kill that last background process with the old 'kill %1'

    [$researchgroupserver]: kill 1 enter


  • by fantomas ( 94850 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:17PM (#14247335)
    Treat users with respect even if they are clearly in the wrong. Don't patronise somebody if they haven't got the first idea about computers: educate, don't insult. I'm not a buddhist but the old karma idea of "what goes around, comes around" seems to play out in the long term. Being patient with somebody who's royally screwed up their computer pays off in six months time when you need them to put your expenses claim through accounts at 5pm on a Friday evening/ notice you standing in the rain by your broken down car/..../
  • Disk... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pruneau ( 208454 ) <> on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:19PM (#14247359) Journal
    There is no disk/media/storage array large enough that it won't eventually fill up.
    ...In generally half the time you thought would be the more pessimistic.

    I know, those are all corrolaries of Murphy's law, but hey.

  • by cprincipe ( 100684 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:23PM (#14247399) Homepage
    Even if you've been doing this for 20 years. If you are working with another technician, have the grace to treat them like an intelligent human being.
  • Ok, so it's more than 10.

    1. 90% of Windows problems can be solved with a different OS, oops, I mean a reboot.
    2. 5% of the users really know their stuff, and could do your job better than you, but choose not to, because the pay sucks.
    3. Most users, including engineering types who are very intelligent in their own field, know a specific sequence to run the program or programs they normally use. They don't know how to set environment variables, fire up (much less use) a DOS command line, or organize their data in a hierarchical fashion. And, they sure has h*ll don't know how to edit the registry. Don't expect 'em to.
    4. If you don't provide and enforce a directory structure and naming convention on shared/networked drives, users will place every single file and directory at the root.
    5. "MSTSC /console". Don't leave home without it. 50% of the time you can stay home & work in your undies because of it.
    6. Backup servers every night. This'll save your *ss more than once.
    7. When someone is requesting new services or features, learn to ask "What do you really want?". Ask this question a lot. Keep repeating until the requestor finally discovers what he or she reallywants. It won't be obvious to them.
    8. WiFi in the local coffee shop is kewl. That plus VPN is even kewler. But WiFi in the office makes be very nervous.
    9. You never have time to read the magazines you've subscribed to.
    10. The office coffee sucks. Buy a french press & your own coffee. I recommend Ethiopean Yirga Cheff.
    11. You can never have too many bookshelves.
    12. Users will end up going to p0rn web sites. 95% of this is unintentional. The rest you ignore until the user starts whacking off in the office, then you threaten to report them to "human resources" (i.e. the Dept of Political Correctness).
  • GeekSquad Top Ten? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dada21 ( 163177 ) * <> on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:34PM (#14247522) Homepage Journal
    I have a friend living the GeekSquad life. I'd never hire him as he believes in their process to fix lockups:

    1. It must be this unsupported software: remove Firefox or any F/OSS.

    2. It is a virus, your AV is no good, purchase Norton CoverYourAss v9.6 for $49.95.

    3. The AV doesn't perform a deep clean by itself, we can run one for $24.95.

    4. You need a bigger hard drive, w recommend Norton Ghost to copy it. $199.95 + $49.95.

    5. We should install the drive. $24.95 + $8.95 wrist strap.

    6. We should run ghost for you, $19.95.

    7. You need USB 2.0 ports for your mouse to run faster, $49.95 plus $24.95 installation.

    8. Your hard drive cables are old belt style, you needbthe snappy round cables, $29.95 plus $9.95 installation.

    9. Your video board is old, the ATI MegaWow XL is only $199.95.

    10. You should probably buy one of our Compaq BusinessPro by HP combinations, you burned your TCP/IP converter with static.

    I pop open the discarded PC, replace the processor fan and blow out the case. All is fine - $30.
  • ironic (Score:3, Funny)

    by beforewisdom ( 729725 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:41PM (#14247588)
    Isn't it ironic that a web site about sys admin problems has given a system admin another problem by slashdotting it?
  • by Chris_Jefferson ( 581445 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:41PM (#14247589) Homepage
    My current favourite question, when people's monitors don't come on after they've moved the computer, or got a new one, is "Is there more than one monitor port? Have you tried both?".

    They always claim there is only one socket the monitor will plug into, and without fail so far there has been an onboard one, which they are using, and one on a card, which is the one they should be using, and have completely missed :)
  • by geohump ( 782273 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <pmuhoeg>> on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:42PM (#14247604) Journal
    "Rule #10 - The Holy Grail of Tech Support is the reboot"

    If you believe this or if you need this, you are running a
    POS operating system and its probably from Microsoft.

    That this would even be considered a rule by a professional IT
    worker is all the proof we need that Bill Gates has caused
    more damage than he can ever hope to make up for.

    What utter crap.
  • Schmooze the users (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lildogie ( 54998 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:48PM (#14247646)
    On a 24x7x365 job, I learned the value of walking through the user's work area every weekday morning, first thing.

    They started waiting for me to stroll in instead of paging me at night, just to be nice to me.

    But the best part was, they thought of me as the guy who keeps the system running, because most of the time that I showed up, the system was running.

    My colleagues who only showed up when their systems broke had the reputation "Here comes trouble!"

    Taking credit for things going well is essential!
  • by EvilTwinSkippy ( 112490 ) <[yoda] [at] []> on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:51PM (#14247678) Homepage Journal
    1. Fast, Cheap, Right. Pick 2
    2. One must honor the Random Number God with a token offering every morning
    3. Never underestimate the power of imagination, stupidity, or bad luck.
    4. Network equipment's attention span is about as long as it's power cord
    5. Scripting works about as well as the broom from the Sorceror's apprentice: don't let it run unattended.
    6. Your network can be down more often than it's up. If you keep your users in the loop, they will be happy.
    7. Your network can run without fail for months on end, but if a problem happens and they don't hear from you first, you are incompetant.
    8. A User fills out your performance review.
    9. A database is a high performance cache between your backup medium and your application.
    10. Any device that is sufficiently ignored will fail to gain your attention.
  • by Genady ( 27988 ) < . c om> on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @12:53PM (#14247698)
    10) Patch Current. Then ask for the unreleased patches. Then ask for development involvement.
    9) Patching only works 30% of the time
    8) Metalink is like a massive "Magic 8 Ball" that pulls responses from the database. Treat it as such.
    7) Tars are the same as 8, except you have a customer service rep reading the 8 Ball.
    6) If it generates core files it's the DBA's problem.
    5) It's ALWAYS the DBA's fault.
    4) RMAN is your friend.
    3) You know more about Apache than Oracle does.
    2) Oracle won't admit this.
    1) Autconfig doesn't.
  • by ZoneGray ( 168419 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @01:19PM (#14247935) Homepage
    My standard pep talk:

    Users are idiots. This is a good thing.

    We expect them to be computer illiterate, and they rarely disappoint.

    If I'm working at a biotech company, I don't want the researchers to be good at computers. If I'm working at an investment firm, I want the users to understand investments, not DLL's.

    We're here precisely so that they can be idiots at computers... and experts at whatever it is they do when their computers aren't broken.

    The company isn't here so that we have a network to play with.

    Learn to praise the users' idiocy, they'll appreciate it.

    If the users get frustrated, empathize with their confusion and blame Microsoft. Never fails.
  • 3 from me (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HikingStick ( 878216 ) <> on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @01:39PM (#14248119)
    1) Document everything. I've had coworkers who thought being asked to document their processes and procedures meant they would soon be canned. If you document your processes, you can pass them off to other team members when you tire of them, so you can move on to bigger and better problems. 2) Talk out loud when working with users. It was a habit I got into while doing field service. Explain what you are doing while you are doing it and a) the users may learn something, and b) it lets them know you're not related to Nick Burns (SNL). By taking the time to explain things (knowing most users won't understand any of it to begin with), the users will know that you are interested (okay, some may feign interest) in their problems and the resolution. After doing this for years, I have seen many technophobic users start to come around to where they will actually try to fix a problem themselves before calling the help desk. 3) Problem always happen on Fridays just before quitting time.
  • Label everything (Score:3, Informative)

    by sapbasisnerd ( 729448 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @02:50PM (#14248718)
    You want to spot the real pro in the machine room he (or she) has a vacuum cleaner in one hand and a Brother p-touch in the other. I honestly beleive there is a direct linear relationship between the efficiency and uptime of a shop and how anal they are about labelling stuff. I want to open a front door of a rack and see every server's hostname and every removable media device clearly labelled. I know YOU know that that CD-ROM drive is drive D: on the frodo server but I ain't got time to try to figure that out. Even more importantly I similarly want EVERY cable in the back of the rack to have some kind of useful label on both ends (unless it is less than a foot long then just one end is OK).
  • by bugnuts ( 94678 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @04:09PM (#14249594) Journal
    1. Never underestimate the Proximity of Genius effect.

    I've personally seen this happen all the time. Someone tells me "this doesn't work" and the moment I type the same command or push in the PCMCIA card myself or whatever, it suddenly works. We dubbed it the Proximity of Genius Effect and is similar to the following koan:
    The Master walked into the room and watched a student power-cycle a machine several times in hopes of getting it working. The Master approached the student, hit him upside the head and declared "Idiot! You cannot simply power-cycle a machine and expect it to work without having any idea what is wrong!" Then the Master turned the machine off and back on. And it worked. The student was enlightened.

    2-9 are generally just variations of #1. :-)
  • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Tuesday December 13, 2005 @04:28PM (#14249825) Homepage Journal
    Don't hang the hub by the cables, no matter how thick the ethernet and tiny and tiny the hub. Don't let 2m of cable hang from the switch on the high shelf down to the hole by the floor. It will work the first month or two, then will start to mysteriously fail. The most basic reason behind all these ports failing is that the cable puts stress on a port. Just attach all the cables half a meter away from the hub with ducttape or nails or staples or whatever, don't let them hang though, keep them loose, always leave at least minimal slack.

Logic is a pretty flower that smells bad.