My thoughts on the nine traits of the veteran Unix admin

16 02 2011

I read a interesting article by Paul Venezia called “Nine traits of the veteran Unix admin.” You can find it here. Please, do take a moment to read the article. It might help to understand some of my comments, plus it is a decent read.

Having worked with Linux personally and professionally for over 11 years now along with Unix, HPUX, Irix, and Solaris on occasion, I thought I would offer my thoughts on the article. Especially since he seems to have gotten really close to describing me without ever meeting me…

“No. 1: We don’t use sudo”
The first ‘Wow, that is what I do’ moment was near immediate. The quote “the first thing we do is sudo su -” pretty much describes me to a ‘T’. That is almost always the first command I run when I boot into an Ubuntu live cd.

The only “objection” I have to this is, there are certain times when sudo is necessary. I admin a few servers that are as locked down as tight as we can get them. The root account is locked in every way. The root account and all activity are tracked and monitored. Any admin running commands as root (or su), get flagged on our monitoring system. The only way to work on that box is sudo for the sole purpose of tracking and monitoring what each admin does on that box. It works well and that is about the only time I use sudo.

“No. 2: We use vi”
Damn straight.
Thanks to the Single UNIX Specification, I KNOW that vi is going to be on every system by default. So I KNOW that I have a great editor at my fingertips no matter what system I am on.

“No. 3: We wield regular expressions like weapons”
XKCD jokes aside, if one knows how to wield and document regular expressions one can do near anything.

“No. 4: We’re inherently lazy”
Fully agree. This is why I do everything I can to master the Bash shell. I can automate so much of what needs to be done it isn’t even funny. It may take me a while, and I monitor everything closely, but it gets done and chances are good I don’t have to do it again. Which means I can devote my time to something else AND I have another solution/script in my code repository I can re-use later if need be with little effort.
Oh! Also, screw Angry Birds. Frozen Bubble is where it is at.

“No. 5: We prefer elegant solutions”
I am just going to re-quote Paul on this one because he nailed it perfectly.
“If there are several ways to fix a problem or achieve a goal, we’ll opt to spend more time developing a solution that encompasses the actual problem and preventing future issues than simply whipping out a Band-Aid. This is related to the fact that we loathe revisiting a problem we’ve already marked “solved” in our minds. We figure that if we can eliminate future problems now by thinking a few steps ahead, we’ll have less to do down the road. We’re usually right.”
Can I get an Amen? Amen!

“No. 6: We generally assume the problem is with whomever is asking the question”
I don’t like to be thought of as arrogant, so I try not to be even if others think I have earned it. I will investigate and I will honestly try to find a solution to a one-off-random-happen-chance error, but if I can’t reproduce it chances are I am going to chalk it up to user error. Why? Because it almost always is (sorry; just a bit of the arrogance slipping out). If it happens twice, I will set traps and monitor log files. If I can catch the error, chances are really good that I am going to do what I can to find a solution as long as time, effort, and $$$ permit. I also HATE the Band-Aid philosophy as an admin. I want an elegant permanent solution if I can get one.

“No. 7: We have more in common with medical examiners than doctors”
Once again he hits the nail on the head. Ties right in with the last point. I have detailed monitoring setup with Zabbix for my network and my systems and I expand its capabilities and items it monitors weekly. When something happens, I want the log files to tell me what happened, why, and what I need to do to prevent it from happening again.

“No. 8: We know more about Windows than we’ll ever let on”
Damn monkeys that call themselves Windows Admins. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of smart Windows Admins. However, the really bad ones that piss me off are the ones that cause all the trouble. The idiots that really drive me crazy are the ones that wave their MCSE’s around like it is proof they know something, then are completely incapable of thinking outside of the step-by-step guide given to them. These idiots often say ‘It works! Now don’t touch it!’ and won’t do even the basics such as applying security updates (MCSE = Making Computers Susceptible to Exploit). If you ask them to do basic tasks they give stupid excuses (or worse promises) to make you leave so they can hurry back to their desktop games (aka MCSE = Minesweeper Consultant / Solitaire Expert). They have no idea what they are doing. They click this button, then click that button, then click agree, next, next, finish, and then assume that everything is ok. Don’t bother wasting your time telling them they configured something wrong. They will dig up some tutorial book for Windows NT 3.5 as proof for their Windows Server 2008 configuration. These idiots are so scared that someone will force them to learn something new that they are usually the most vicious defenders of buying off the shelf software (God help you if you get caught in their fanatics if someone suggest they learn a new OS! Even another version of MS Windows will set them off!). These idiot admins CAN’T fix problems on their own so they HAVE to buy support and they absolutely depend on management buying whatever they need (MCSE = Management Conned by Something Expensive).
This means whenever something of theirs breaks and that breakage even hints at disturbing anything in the Linux realm, ___I___ have to fix it. Nothing would make me happier then to never touch another Windows box and ditch any and all ‘knowledge’ I have of it, but as long as these idiots are still around I will probably have to fix their servers for them.

PS: Why is it that for every MCSE that I meet who actually knows what he is talking about, I end up dealing with 10 who I am surprised that they managed to fill out their name on the test correctly? Also, if the test is so damn easy and cheap that these idiots can get one, why is it such a highly esteemed certification? That still baffles me to no end….

“No. 9: Rebooting is almost never an option”
I wouldn’t say ‘never an option’…but the last reboots I had were due to kernel updates, a bad nic card I needed to replace, and to run a diagnostic on the root drive that required it to be offline. I will agree with this statement “If the problem occurred once and was “fixed” by a reboot, it’ll happen again.” I have seen this with Windows, OSX, and Linux. Something goes weird and the user reboots every time. Soon they are rebooting several times a day because they never fixed the problem.

My servers have high uptime because they are stable and I know everything running on them and how to fix those programs/services when (if) they have issues. My uptimes can span years and are on legit servers. Not a box that sits in the corner of the room that no one ever logs into.

On the flip side of the coin, I know someone who was hacked pretty bad because he refused to update while he was chasing the holy 5 nines. The hole they got in through had been patched over 9 months previous to the hack. This is why I watch all the security lists for Debian and CentOS (the distros on my servers) and I am more then willing to sacrifice a silly uptime number to apply a security patch.

Lastly, I can’t think of a better way to end this then the statement he had. So I am just going to quote Paul one last time.

“If some of these traits seem antisocial or difficult to understand from a lay perspective, that’s because they are. Where others may see intractable, overly difficult methods, we see enlightenment, born of years of learning, experience, and most of all, logic.”



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