I’ve talked about this subject before (in the “keeping busy” entries), and I think I mentioned this in passing, but I believe that this is an important point, and deserves its own article.
My theory (which observation seems to validate) is that the better a system administrator is, the more free time he will eventually have.
Many people (including managers, team leaders, etc.), unfortunately, equate “free time” or “not working hard all the time” with “laziness”, and wrongly believe that a good worker is one who is working hard all the time – if he extends it to after work hours and weekends, even better.
Unfortunately, if they thought a couple of minutes about it, they might spot the huge, glaring error in such “logic”…
- You know the “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” saying? In systems administration, it’s similar. An average sysadmin fixes a problem. A good sysadmin not only fixes it, but he understands what happened, what caused it, and solves the underlying cause so that it doesn’t happen again in the future. Ideally, every problem only happens once.
- Many (though not all) sysadmin jobs can be either partially or completely automated. Doing so requires skill and experience, something an average sysadmin may not have. But it saves a huge lot of effort and time. An average sysadmin works, a good one scripts, so that most of the work performs itself.
- Systems administration is not a particularly “hard” work (though it’s a very specialized one), like, for instance, farming, in which effort and perseverance are the most important qualities. Instead, what makes a good sysadmin is: intelligence, quick learning, imagination, and, above all, experience. Those qualities tend to make a good sysadmin a very fast worker.
- A sysadmin doesn’t just solve problems; he also researches, tests and implements new things. True. But even those don’t tend to take up all available time (except at particular situations, such as the final part of a project), because no “sane” company replaces their systems every month (unfortunately, there are a lot of “insane” companies out there, but that’s another story).
- Unlike an average sysadmin, a good one has very efficient monitoring and warning systems. An average sysadmin tends to be “warned” of problems by the users – “this service is down”, “I can’t access my email account”, and so on. A good sysadmin, however, was warned about that abnormally growing log file a long time before it was even close to taking up all free space in its partition. And he fixed the cause of that growth long before it affected any services.
- Managers tend to love a worker who works 7 days a week, stays in after hours, and so on. But what does that mean? Either that that worker is slow and inefficient, or that he’s doing the work of 3 persons or more. If the former, they should reconsider his value; if the latter, he’s the one who should reconsider his employment…
- A good sysadmin is a master of efficiency and time saving. As I said, he scripts, he automates, he solves problems “once and for all”. He investigates and deploys his own tools for quick remote administration, which are much faster than going to the physical location of a server, for instance.
See the pattern?
Unfortunately, there’s a problem here: visibility. A good sysadmin is like an efficient police force. If citizens constantly see the police running after criminals, in spectacular car chases, they’ll probably be impressed, but a really good police force would mean that most crimes would be prevented in some way. Instead of a police which goes after criminals, there would be an apparent lack of crime. Sadly, that tends to make people start to believe that maybe we don’t need such a well-financed, well-staffed police force…
Here, it’s the same thing. Think of the crash from a rapidly growing log file I mentioned above. With an average sysadmin, it’s “I can’t access my mail!”, then he goes, deletes the file, restarts the service, and it’s working again. With a good sysadmin, nothing would have happened. Nobody would have noticed anything. So, they start to think that maybe that sysadmin doesn’t do a lot around here… maybe he isn’t pulling his weight.
That’s ridiculous, though – that one may have to do his job worse than he’s capable of, just so that people notice his work. It’s something I refuse to do. But maybe some “self-marketing” would be useful – like, when you solve a problem before it happens, you tell your superiors about it. It’s a bit absurd… but I think it’s better, and more honest, than the alternative (doing a bad job on purpose).