Unix Sysadmins of the class of 1999

Wear a Leatherman.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, having a Leatherman would be it. The long-term benefits of a Leatherman have been proved by BOFHs, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of root. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your root access until it's taken away. But trust me, when you need to kill a runaway process, you'll think back to the scripts you had and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how much you could do. You are not as powerless as you imagine.

Don't worry about the Y2K bug. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to mount an old chain of Exabyte tape drives by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles on your network are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that get you called in at 4 a.m.on some weekend when you were supposed to be recovering.

Do one thing every day that scares the users.


Don't be reckless with other people's files (if it can be traced back to you). Come down like a ton of bricks on people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on users' backups. Sometimes you're ahead on patches, sometimes you're behind. The race to maintain an up-to-date system is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Log the insults in a database, cross-referenced on date, time, reason and user. If you succeed in doing this,
tell me how (and ftp me the binary).

Archive your users' old web caches. Throw away your logs.

Drink Jolt.

Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your old glibc libraries. The most interesting sysadmins I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their systems. Some of the most interesting 40-year-old BOFHs I know still don't.

Get plenty of UPSes. Be kind to your power supplies. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Maybe you'll recover, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have users, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll become a PHB at 40, maybe you'll dance on the head of your boss on your last day before you wipe the servers. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's. But, at least you can read their email.

Enjoy your network. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.
No matter what the PHBs think.

Compile, even if you have nowhere to do it but on your laptop.

RTFM, even if you still use 'tar -xvf' rather than 'tar xvf'.

Do not read NT magazines. They will only make you feel ill.

Get to know your hardware suppliers. You never know when they'll be go out of business. Be nice to your PFY. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to play along when you kill the electrician with a power spike.

Understand that users come and go, but with a precious few you should wring their necks as soon as possible. Work hard to bridge the gaps in their knowledge and clues, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were nasty and had a real mean temper when roused.

Live in your office once, but leave before it makes you arrive too early for work. Live in the machine room once, but leave before you start to whistle at 28.8. Travel without moving with a line into the CCTV system.

Accept certain inalienable truths: hardware prices will rise. Users won't learn.

You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, users were just as bad and sometimes they respected their sysadmin.

Only respect your ass.

Don't expect anyone else to support you when you purchase a Starfire. Maybe you have photos of the boss with a secretary. Maybe you'll have a wealthy company with more money than sense. But you never know when either one might run out or when you'll find out about the camera in the

Don't mess too much with your chair or by lunchtime you won't be able to sleep in it.

Be careful whose software you buy, don't be patient with those who supply it. Software is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the
minds of bad programmers for the "really neat" ideas, wiping them off, painting over the ugly parts and selling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the Leatherman.

Web site hosted by Ralph Durkee Consulting