The network administrator's survival guide

This piece from contributor Douglas Chick presents a humorous look at surviving in your role as a network administrator.

To be a good network administrator is to have your end users love you. To be a great network administrator is to have your users too scared to ask you for help. The first kind, the good administrator, will allow you a modest job, with meager wages and your every moment dictated by everyone from the girl at the front desk to the owners relatives, and perhaps even their friends and neighbors. A great network administrator has an executive position with the company, makes what those lying salary surveys report that your position makes, and to honor you, two people from accounting are thrown into a volcano once a year. The one thing that makes a good network administrator a great network administrator is nothing more than attitude.

Now, I know many of you are thinking; what about skill, knowledge and sheer computer genius? Doesn't that determine whether you're a good or a great Network Administrator? My answer to that is; yes it does, and in your first year as a network administrator, you'll need every bit of that and sometimes more. But what I'm talking about is once the music stops and all the servers are running as they should be and all your backups are backing up and all you're doing is sitting around waiting for something to crash. And waiting, and waiting, and waiting. It's during this part of your career as a network administrator that no one or book has fully prepared you for. In that year you've been so busy administering the seven layers of the OSI model, you've never noticed that two more have been added; company politics and budget! Now you're in the real world of network administration.

Nine layers of the OSI Model

  • Physical
  • Datalink
  • Network
  • Transport
  • Sessions
  • Presentation
  • Applications
  • Budget
  • Politics 

Yes, budget and politics: You won't read those two in any textbook. Why, because most computer geeks only think in terms of a mathematical progression and are not ready for such abstract thought. Something as simple as requesting a computer part may fall under the eighth layer of the OSI model. Why would anyone refuse us the parts we need to repair mission critical servers? Ask an airline mechanic about Budget and Politics. One told me if the public knew how cheap airlines are, we'd all go back to covered wagons. The word budget is only used in two cases, A. When you ask for a raise, and B. When they want you to perform the impossible, but only give you a budget for a small miracle. Case B. Has a much simpler solution than does A; Projects with little money will never get off the ground in the first place and if they do, just make sure you document everything with e-mail because ultimately they will try to blame you for its failure instead of admitting that company nepotism runs like a mad cow in an English shire. It's important that you request and document, otherwise you're going to add, "Contractor" behind your Network Administrator title.

What does this have to do with computers, you might ask? Everything! Politics and budget are the first rule of survival in the world of being a computer professional. Understanding these basic survival methods will help you aspire to become a great network administrator. Of course, there's also the possibility that listening to me will get you fired. If this is the case, please read my article on looking for a new job in a slow economy.

Politics: Politics is not the affairs of government but instead the hidden affairs that govern every office workplace. Many computer people don't understand this and are quickly torn to pieces. Things that you say to other computer people are either inappropriate or not understood by the normal end-user. And who is the end-user: everyone. End-users have already pre-judged you as a geek, techno-wizard, porn cruiser or a social reject. The reason for this is because we are, geeks, techno-wizards, porn cruisers and social rejects. The real difficulties are that we, not all of us, but enough of us can not communicate well with those we try to help. Is it because they are too stupid to understand you? Of course it is. If they weren't they would fix their own computer and then we'd all be in jail for hacking the planet. Hmm...I mean, be in construction. I know we all don't like to admit to the fact that their main purpose is to help make people's jobs easier. There's no question that the perfect computer job would be one where no people interaction takes place, but it does, and regardless of what your position is, you are there to help people. I know I don't like it either. But being the case, before you can understand office politics, you must first understand those you work with and how they see you.

Why end-users don't like you

  • You make more than they do.
  • No one knows or understands what you do, and when you try to explain it, they think you are trying to make them feel stupid.
  • You get to go out for lunch, while they sit at their desk and eat microwave vomit.
  • When you are at their desk, no matter how well you think you are hiding it, the shrine of cat pictures around their monitor turns your stomach.
  • Their boss is afraid of your boss.
  • After explaining to you for twenty minutes what their problem is and what they think you should do to fix it, you simply say: "Reboot." And walk away.
  • And of course, you can always tell what they lack in their daily dietary requirements from the food crumbs that are shaken from their keyboards. I personally like to shake their keyboard out onto a white paper and tell them they need more iron. I should probably quit doing that.
  • They think we are arrogant. ; -)
  • Never fix an end-users home computer, because they will never be happy with it and you will be pulling it out of their trunk for the rest of your life.

Next Steps

The road from network administrator to information security professional

Network administrator documentation

System engineer vs. network administrator

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