We say this shit for a reason: the sysadmin story

(Thanks to Colin for the title that I pilfered from a Twitter conversation…)

So, if you’re not a sysadmin, I’m guessing there are things that we do (or make you do) that really really get on your nerves. That’s fine. We all have that. I still lie to my dentist when he asks if I’ve flossed (Mr Dentist, I totally have….promise!) but there is a reason behind the things we do and the things we ask you to do. And it’s not because we like repeating ourselves!

So, to try to demystify it a bit, I’ve come up with a list of some of the things we ask you to do or say to you…and a bit of the reasoning behind *why* so that the next time your admin does this to you, you’ll understand and maybe…just maybe…you won’t argue.

We don’t say this to be annoying. We say this usually because what you’re asking for can’t be done. Or if it can be done, it’s wildly inappropriate, incredibly ridiculous, insanely expensive or downright dangerous.

When we say no, we’re not trying to be a blocking point. We’re not trying to stop you from doing your work. We’re saying that, from an IT perspective, what you’re trying to do either can’t be done or shouldn’t be done – for a variety of reasons.

Usually when we say “No”, we’ll follow-up with a “but…”. This means that while we can’t do exactly what you’re asking for, we can do something that may be close or might do what you need it to. Don’t dismiss this out-of-hand. Surprisingly, we do often come up with good ideas.

“Have you tried turning it off and then back on again?”
Look…you know you want to lie here. You know you want to say “Why yes, yes I have!”. Be warned – we can actually see if you have or not. (Should also say, the same goes for your internet router at home. Your ISP can see when you’ve turned it off and back on again…)

The reason we ask you to do this? No shit, it actually does work. Devices – computers, phones, tablets, TV’s, game consoles, ebooks…you name it – like being reset. They like clearing all the cobwebs from their corners. And often, when they clear out all the junk that’s just sitting there, things start working again.

So, when we say “Have you tried turning it off and back on again?” please please do it. Honestly, you’ll be surprised how often it does fix stuff.

“Have you logged a ticket/job?”
This is more for internal IT departments. Chances are, if you work in a big organisation, there’s some kind of process you need to go through to get a message through to your IT department. That may be as simple as a phone call or an email, but often it involves filling out a rather detailed form.

If you say yes, great! That’s awesome! That’s what we want.

If you say no, not so great. There’s a reason we use these systems and it’s not to annoy the hell out of you. It’s because you are one amount tens, hundreds, THOUSANDS of people who all need stuff done by us. We *need* a ticket put in because often what you say to us will go in one ear and out the other…by that, I mean, we’ll forget we’ve agreed to do something and then you’ll be upset when it doesn’t get done.

So please – just put a ticket or job in…and I will also direct you to this post, which tells you what kind of information we need!

“Are you sure your password is correct?”
No, really. Are you sure? Because I’m going to guess that the reason you’re getting that “Can’t login error” isn’t because all of my infrastructure is broken. It’s because your password is wrong. So please…check your password when we ask. We’re not doing this to dodge work – hell, we even screw up our own passwords from time to time (or, if you’re like some of the people I work with, more often than that!) so even we’re not immune to fumble-fingers.

“Please don’t give your password to your assistant/manager/someone else”
This one is so damn hard to get through to people. In this previous post, I talk about why passwords are important and what you need to do protect yourself, especially online.

But probably the biggest issue we, as IT professionals, face regarding passwords in the workplace is people sharing them. No. Just…no. Don’t do it.

In the last place I worked, I’d use three examples for reasons why you shouldn’t share passwords:

    • The first one is for anyone who has any kind of administrative rights – if you give your admin username and password to someone else, they’re effectively logging in as you. This means that anything they do (or break!) will be attributed to you. Which means it will be seen to be your fault. It was your account, how could anyone else have done it?!
    • The second one is for internet access – if you give your username and password which give you access to the internet to someone else, they browse the internet as you. That means whatever they look at is attributed back to you. In most organisations, this probably isn’t too bad if you’ve got fairly stringent internet filtering…but in educational institutions (like the university that I used to work at) the internet filtering is very lax. So a user could quite easily look at a large number of pornography websites, again as you, with no issues. This kind of access could quite easily cost you your job.
    • The third and last one is probably the one that worries most people. If you give your corporate username and password to someone, that gives them all the access you have – and this includes changing where you pay is deposited. Think about that for a second. You are giving someone the ability to redirect your pay. It’s a tad difficult to pay the bills and buy the groceries if your pay has been redirected into someone else’s account!

With those in mind, please – don’t share your username and password with anyone.

“You don’t need admin rights”
Everyone seems to think they need admin rights – and I mean everyone. But I can tell you now, there are very few users who honestly do require administrative rights. To anything.

I work in an organisation with over 8000 users. Of those, less than 10% have any form of administrative rights – and that includes IT staff. That’s a lot of people who just use their computer with a non-admin account.

Often people think they need admin rights to do things they really don’t need them for. So before asking, try to see if you can do what you need to do. You might be surprised.

The other reason we say this is because admin rights pose a risk. The primary way for a computer to be infected is through someone opening something or installing something that they shouldn’t, and this usually requires some form of admin rights to work.

I know you’re going to tell me that you would *never* click on a malicious link…but you can’t guarantee that. The people making malicious software are getting better and better at what they do, meaning that you’re more likely to open an email or click on a link now than you were before.

If you need admin access, that’s fine. We’re happy to give it *if* it’s actually needed. However, we’ll set you up with an administrative account that’s different from your normal username and password, to try to prevent some of the issues raised above.

“You can’t access the internet on that”
This is more for the developers/application owners reading this right now. I *know* having internet access on your server would be great. It would make your life that much easier. It would make your installs go far smoother and quicker.

But allowing open-slather internet access on a server is just asking for trouble. Similar to admin rights above, it’s very rarely actually needed. It’d be nice, sure – but it’s not needed. The internet is a hive of scum and villainy, it’s where dangers lurk and where the bad things come from. You really really don’t want that stuff on a server. So we won’t let you access the internet on a server unless you have a damn good reason for it.

“The internet isn’t down…”
This is a frustrating one because we know how annoying it is to be without the internet (trust me, most IT pros are up the creek if we don’t have access to Google!) but we promise you, the “internet” isn’t down. Yes, there is an issue for you accessing the internet, but it’s more than likely going to be something simple – like your username and password being typed incorrectly, or an old password being saved; the cable in your machine being broken or the wifi signal being weak; the equipment in your building/office having problems. The internet itself is not “down”.

“Adding more <disk/ram/cpu/power> isn’t going to help!”
While you may know something about what it is that’s going on, I guarantee that your “But if just add more <insert hardware here> will make it work!” is wrong. No, really. Often people seem to think the issue is with one piece of hardware (traditionally RAM) when really it’s something else entirely (people drastically underestimate disk space required to run a server!).

When we tell you that it isn’t going to help, trust us. It’s not because we’re trying to screw you – it’s that we’re trying to save you money (because you’re the one who’ll have to pay for this extra hardware!) and we’re trying to save both yourself and ourselves time, because we know it’s not going to work.

“Did you have it backed up?”
Why of why do people seem to think we can magically pull files our of mid-air when they weren’t backed up in the first place?!

If you are a home user, there are a multitude of products out there that can be used for backups. I personally use and recommend CrashPlan, because it works for me…and a few others I’ve recommended it to.

If you’re in an organisation/company, there should be *somewhere* you are asked to put your files to ensure they’re being backed up. For the love of all you hold holy, please put them there. If they’re important and critical, you want to be sure they’re being backed up. We don’t say to put your files on these drives for our own pleasure – we do it so that if something goes wrong (and Murphy’s Law says that if something can go wrong, it will!) we can get your files back!

“I can’t look at your personal computer…”
This is a bit of a tough one, because some people are asked to do this as part of their job. But often for those of us in large organisations, we’re strictly prohibited from looking at your personal machine. It’s your machine – not ours. It’s not owned by our organisation. We can’t be held liable for things you’ve done to it. We can’t plug it into our network because we don’t know what’s on it! We don’t know if you’re kept it up to date with patches, if you have up to date antivirus software running on it, or if it’s already been compromised.

We also don’t want to see your personal files – because that’s not any of our business.

The other side of this coin is that, for a lot of sysadmins, we may have absolutely no knowledge of the desktop side of things. I’m in that basket. I have been focused on server-based administration for so long now that when it comes to my PC, I have to Google it just like everyone else!

“What are you trying to achieve?”
This is the last and probably the most important of all the things we say.

Please don’t come to us with a solution, all bundled and ready. You’re asking us to help, to provide assistance, to build something for you or to fix something. Often your “solution” won’t fix a single thing.

Instead, tell us what you’re trying to achieve – what is you want to do, rather than what you want. Two very different things. If you can come to use with what you’re trying to achieve, we can then work with you to ensure you get the best solution possible. If you simply come to us with “This is what I want” we’re more than happy to do that for you – but it may not suit your needs.

So please, when we say these things, it’s not because we like the sound of our own voices. It’s not because we like saying no, or like being a blocker for your project, or because we like people getting angry at us when we don’t do things they ask.

There are reasons….and hopefully now, you have a slightly better understanding behind some of those reasons and won’t be too hard on your poor sysadmin when they say one of these phrases that drives you up the wall!

Fellow admins – any others you think should be added to this list? If you think so, feel free to share below – but remember to share why you say it as well!

7 thoughts on “We say this shit for a reason: the sysadmin story

  1. Ken

    You missed the one about how your home Internet is probably going to be faster than the Internet at work because your home Internet isn’t shared by 100’s of other people

      1. girlgerms Post author

        In some cases, that’s not always possible. I know that for the organisation I work in, what we’ve got is what we’ve got.

      2. Michael White

        Its called bandwidth throttling. You can have a perfectly decent connection and then all of your networking equipment are saying “Youtube can only use 5% of the pipe.” Here where I work we had an entertainment piece that was allowed to use 25% and it was slower then hell, but our applications worked perfectly (many are not hosted locally)

  2. Cskills

    This should be made into the IT Commandments or something equivalent as such…..I’ve already printed this out and posted it on desk….

  3. amitzil

    Nice post and I agree. I have a few comments though:
    1. Regarding saying “NO”, sometimes IT people are indeed lazy or don’t want to handle stuff (but that’s true for everyone else as well)
    2. You shouldn’t give your password to someone else not only because it’s bad (and it is, as you said). In some organizations it’s a regulatory issue (and the employees sign a paper that says that). So if you give your password, the company is not compliant with the regulation.
    3. Sometimes I have a problem with tech support because they don’t actually know who I am and what I know. When I phone my home ISP support with a problem, they ask me to reset the modem (and believe me I’ve tried that) or blame my equipment while it’s their problem (a few times I actually told them what the problem was after they tried all sort of irrelevant things)

    1. adaptable

      don’t forget concerning the point 3) that tech support often HAVE TO follow procedures ;c ,even if they are irelevant .


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