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Managing Young Sys Admins At Oregon State Open Source Lab

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 4 years ago | from the can't-beat-real-world-experience dept.

Education 141

mstansberry writes "Lance Albertson, architect and systems administrator at the Oregon State University Open Source Lab, uses a sys admin staff of 18-21-year-old undergrads to manage servers for some high-profile, open-source projects (Linux Master Kernel, Linux Foundation, Apache Software Foundation, and Drupal to name a few). In this Q&A, Albertson talks about the challenges of using young sys admins and the lab's plans to move from Cfengine to Puppet for systems management."

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Props to them (1)

Teufelhunde (1159113) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699134)

As a 19 year old Computer Science major, I give major props to those kids for not crashing the server once a day.

Especially if they are training developers (5, Interesting)

xzvf (924443) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699222)

Most universities don't teach good system management. The CS departments are training developers and programmers. Since good SA's like stability and good developers like chaos the two normally don't mix. Does OSU have a SA degree program?

Re:Especially if they are training developers (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699352)

What the fuck are you talking about? The best developers I've ever worked with were damn fine system administrators, and vice versa.

Talented developers hate chaos. Rather, much like good sysadmins, they like control and predictability, and exhibit extreme care.

"Chaos" is what leads to fucked up software, as well as fucked up hardware and networks. That's why the top sysadmins and developers shun it.

The only developers I know who embrace chaos and uncertainty are architects and Indian outsourcing firms. Architects, because they can't actually program with a fuck (hence being "architects"), and unnecessary complexity and confusion is what allows them to justify the stupidly unnecessary "architecture" they seek to impose. Indian outsourcing firms, since any good Indian developers are already in America or Europe, and the ones that remain are too oblivious to the chaos because they have no fucking clue what they're doing.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (3, Informative)

jimbobborg (128330) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699560)

Really? I've had the OPPOSITE experience. I've had to fix more crap done by developers who thought they could do sysadmin work than I have dealing with other SAs.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699738)

It sounds like you weren't dealing with particularly good developers in the first place.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (1)

jimbobborg (128330) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699798)

No, they were excellent developers, just crappy SAs.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (1)

Bandman (86149) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700476)

Were they excellent developers or excellent programmers? There's a difference, in my opinion.

An excellent developer has a work ethic that would mesh nicely with an excellent sysadmin. That isn't necessarily the case with a programmer. You can be a wiz kid programmer, but not actually /develop/, you just write. Development is a much more in-depth process. You do things like document, you shepherd the code into maturity, and you manage it throughout its lifecycle. Again, that's a developer, not necessarily a programmer.

Off the top of my head, I don't know of a division of sysadmins that can be the same. Maybe "enterprise admin", versus a non-enterprise admin. If your goal is to build systems with a maximum availability, to be fault tolerant, and you build an infrastructure, not just servers, then you're probably an enterprise admin. If you just "admin a linux box", that's not quite the same thing.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (4, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700634)

An excellent developer has a work ethic that would mesh nicely with an excellent sysadmin.

It's not the work ethic. It's temperment, the whole attitude towards things. As a developer, I'm very uncomfortable working on production systems, because there's a lot of walking-on-eggshells. If something goes wrong in the dev or QA environments, I can do a lot of "OK, try this... try this... try this", and if one of those things brings the environment down in flames, such is life. When I find the right combination it can be restored to the original broken state, then I can re-apply the thing I think worked, and if that works, I can then hand that off to ops to put on the production system with some confidence that it will work.

If a production environment has some problem which has to be corrected "live", though, that's a very BAD way to try to fix it, for obvious reasons. Instead, a lot more passive analysis has to be done before trying anything, and more important than "will this fix the problem" is "will this bring the system down (worse than it is) or worse, destroy customer data". And since when a developer is called in to help with production there's probably a major problem, the developer usually has to deal with the ops folks and management breathing down his neck as well.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (4, Insightful)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700876)

No, they weren't excellent developers.

They may have been great code monkeys, but those are literally a dime a dozen if you don't mind importing from India.

A GOOD developer is also a GOOD sysadmin.

I've been doing both for ~15 years, in that time, I've met 2 good developers. The rest have are monkeys who write code, many of which who write well. Maybe in the next 15 to 30 years I'll meet a few more. With everything going networked now days, you have to be a good sysadmin to understand how to write software that admins can use.

You don't write an apache webserver type application without being an admin, you just don't know what you are trying to hit. This isn't unique to developers writing for admins, its true for all development. If you don't know how to do and have experience doing what the software is supposed to be used for then its practically impossible for you to write software that doesn't suck. This is why there isn't a point of sale system on the planet that isn't asstastic. You'll be hard pressed to find a developer now days who actually had a job when they bothered to pay attention enough to know what good POS software needs to do.

Interestingly enough, I've never met a CS student or recent grad who was even a good code monkey. After several bad experiences our company has developed a 'no CS grad' policy for developers. We'll take you after you have 5 years or more experience, but with less than that all you are is an arrogant asshole who thinks he deserves to get paid ridiculous amounts of money and you still spend a few years breaking them down into something useful. (Read: removing the arrogance of youth and learning that there is far more software AND administration than just writing code or installing Linux)

Re:Especially if they are training developers (1)

suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700078)

How about we replace "chaos" with an equivalent word, "unstable".

Developers are expecting the things they are working with to be malleable and assume they are suitable to be changed. They may easily leave a system in a state where it's easy to do something interesting later, with the understanding that if something goes wrong, it can and will be fixed.

Then, since their job isn't to be a professional SA, they run off and do other things and completely forget about it for a while, and things degenerate. If they WERE professional SAs, they would notice them fairly quickly and keep trying new solutions until they came upon one that worked. Since they aren't, they just sort of hack together a workaday solution and then forget it again.

I'm sure if they had the same skills but were hired as an SA and only did programming on the side, they would be half-assed programmers for a similar reason, if probably in different ways.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699382)

Right. Actually, real-world situations of system administration often aren't very good learning environments. If you're hosting real-world stuff, the best advice is often "Don't touch this, and don't mess around with that." Not messing around with things is often how you achieve stability.

Not to say that SAs don't mess around with things, but it's often not a really experimental situation when you're administering live servers. You're being careful and doing as little as possible. I suppose that, too, is a helpful skill that has to be learned.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (1)

lukas84 (912874) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699594)

"Never touch a running system" is what usually leads to the spectacular failures that make it into the press.

If you know and understand something, patching and upgrading it is no big deal - but it helps you to stay familiar with whatever you're dealing with. Also, planned outages and planned upgrades ensure that everyone is familiar with the system and documentation stays current.

Not touching your systems is a very, very bad practice.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (3, Interesting)

nine-times (778537) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699752)

Planned upgrades are one thing. "I wonder what happens if I do this..." is another.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699856)

The nasty trick is that, while not touching systems is very, very bad practice, being the first guy to touch something that hasn't been touched in a while is not a pleasant thing.

In an ideal world, all systems get regular attention and everything hums along smoothly. In a less ideal world, people are distracted from what is working by what isn't working, and their knowledge gradually atrophies, until they no longer dare touch what is working for fear of making it join what isn't working. This is a thoroughly pathological situation; but, if you are stuck in it, Just Not Touching and hoping for the best is quite possibly more logical than biting the bullet and taking one for the team.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30700080)

Then clone the working system to a test lab with no outside network connection and poke the clone.

If you can't clone a live production environment (I mean technically, with permission, an outage and all that) update your resume and find a new job, you don't want to be famous around town as the guy who was on watch when that important server died and took out 30 man years of work.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699978)

Which is why god invented Test, Dev, and DRP servers, so you can try everything you need to with non-production equipment before deploying the solution to production. I don't do anything to production before trying it on 3 other environments.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (1, Informative)

Mad Merlin (837387) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699398)

Most Universities don't teach any system administration. I don't know about you, but I picked it up hands on, by creating Game! [wittyrpg.com] .

Re:Especially if they are training developers (2, Informative)

i.r.id10t (595143) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699614)

A course titled "Unix Administration" is a 4000 level course offered as part of the CSE program at UF. What it covers I don't know (and won't for a few years) but there is at least *one* admin course taught at *one* university for comp sci/engineering folks...

Looking forward to taking it too, since I teach a Linux Admin course here at the community college I work at...

Re:Especially if they are training developers (0, Flamebait)

lukas84 (912874) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699632)

Just like no university has classes on being a Janitor.

I really don't see why someone with an university degree would want to work as a system administrator.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699990)

So we don't have to work side by side with fucktards like you.

Sysadmins have good growth opportunity (5, Insightful)

omgwtfroflbbqwasd (916042) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700178)

While entry-level programmers may make a slightly higher salary than a similar systems administrator, over time there's a lot more upward opportunity for the sysadmin. Systems Engineering and Systems Architecture - being the guy that ties the network, the server, and the apps together, is a very in-demand skill and is something programmers will never have the opportunity to become. Programmers only make the big bucks when they have other specialized knowledge that's specific to the apps they are developing, i.e. finance, GIS, physics, etc..

I'm personally glad I made the decision 12 years ago to move into systems after earning my Comp. Sci. degree. I went from web app development for an ISP to Linux/Solaris/HPUX sysadmin, to Systems Architecure, to Info Security.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (2, Insightful)

Bandman (86149) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700562)

I've got to assume that you aren't a sysadmin, from your tone. At least, if you /are/ a sysadmin, you haven't really thought too much about it.

Properly executed, systems administration is a far more difficult than the non-system admin (or even the casual sysadmin) realizes. Disaster and recovery planning, performance tuning, infrastructure design, these aren't small-brain tasks. There's a big difference between adding users and managing an infrastructure, and yet, sysadmins do both.

Don't knock the profession just because your experiences with them have been less than ideal.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (1)

lukas84 (912874) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700844)

I am a sysadmin, if you're willing to call someone who works with Windows that.

I like my job and i like what i do - but i have no illusions about it. Yes, there is lots of interesting stuff to do, but unless you work in a large corporation, people will still call you up if they can't fix a paper jam themselves.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699596)

OSU does not have anything even close to resembling a SA degree program. We're all Computer Science majors, which means theory and programming!

Re:Especially if they are training developers (2, Insightful)

rhewt (649974) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699708)

I would have to agree with your statement. As a soon-to-be graduate of Virginia Tech in Computer Science and Finance, the CS department's curriculum has about 2.5 years of programming before you even see any SA classes (of which cover a very limited area). It's almost as though the message is that one needs to be a good programmer (perhaps exposed programmer would be more appropriate) in order to be a good system administrator, which I don't believe is the case. I thoroughly enjoy net/sys administration and am a terrible programmer. It would certainly be nice to see these two coexist without one being such a prerequisite. It would also be nice for courses to prepare the students better for certifications, which hold a lot of weight in the corporate IT world.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699726)

Since good SA's like stability and good developers like chaos the two normally don't mix.

So THAT'S how Warhammer 40K got started...

Re:Especially if they are training developers (1)

Icegryphon (715550) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700350)

ok, that needs to be modded funny.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (1)

robbadler (1139975) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699814)

One of my roommates at OSU was a CS major with a focus in IIS. He worked with the OSU OSL and LUG.

Re:Especially if they are training developers (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 4 years ago | (#30701086)

Does OSU have a SA degree program?

From a quick scan of the program catalog, no. Not even SA courses.

I know a few years ago they used to have what I expect would be an excellent SA course. I know the guy who taught it, and he was an excellent SA whose attitude towards the process was extremely infective. He had people setting up systems and mail servers and what not and tearing them down to see how they ran. The impression I got from him and others was that those who took the course loved it, but he and the course weren't highbrow enough for "computer science". He wasn't a PhD so he had to go...

The main OSU computer stuff is all run by professional staff, as is our college's. One upside compared to "free" student labor is continuity. (I've been running my systems for 18 years -- grad students are here for 3-4 and then poof!)

As far as "system admin" and "CS" at OSU, here's an anecdote that conveys my opinion. One prof here hired a CS MS student to write code to process his data. He would show me copies of his qaulifier exams and we'd chat about linked lists and all the typical CS kinds of things. Then one day he asks me "how do you rename a file"?

Another look into the dark side of OSU EECS: http://eecs.oregonstate.edu/graduate/degreeprograms.html [oregonstate.edu] . Do act quickly so you don't miss the application deadline!

Re:Especially if they are training developers (1)

gchaix (1716666) | more than 4 years ago | (#30701538)

Two OSL staff have created and taught a system admin course at OSU: http://cs312.osuosl.org/ [osuosl.org] The content is available under Creative Commons.

We're actively working with the EECS faculty to incorporate both system administration and open source topics into the course offerings.

That's what you do in a university... (1)

happy_place (632005) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699156)

Um... Don't all universities use students as sysadmins? I know this was nothing special at Utah state university. There were dozens of networks for varying departments and projects, and all of them administered at least at some level by university students.

Re:That's what you do in a university... (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699274)

Not really. Where I studied as an undergrad, there was a lot of paranoia about (undergrad) student sysadmins abusing their power, and so students were only allowed to assist faculty or full time IT staff. When I was asked to do some routine maintenance, I was told that they would not be giving me the root password because I could potentially use it to read other people's email, and that my assurances that I would never do such a thing made no difference.

Nope (4, Interesting)

autocracy (192714) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699330)

The members of the CS department at my college actually petitioned to have me take over as their lab admin. The incumbent staff admin was notorious for breaking things and making it a chore to use the systems. Despite the complaints against him and requests specifically to hire me on, the department chair kept the incumbent.

I found it all very amusing, especially since I'm not a CS student. I'm just well-known enough to the group. I'm also greatly amused by how often I get asked for help when I'm around there, specifically one case where a student was in a 390-something class. I replied, "We really don't know each other at all, and I'm not a CS student. What made you think I am a good person to ask?" He said he'd just seen me help with enough other people's problems... and so I gave him a hand too.

Long-windedness aside, my university only uses students to provide, "Cean the viruses off your personal computer," services.

Re:Nope (2, Interesting)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700536)

The ignorance of your post is one good indication of why they didn't replace him with you.

If you have a bunch of CS students petitioning to make you the admin, thats another good indication that you shouldn't be doing it. Part of this I know because I'll bet a months pay that the job description for the position doesn't include 'CS students must think your a swell guy and a good admin', which you seem to think IS part of it.

An admins job isn't just 'make things easy on users'. There is a lot more that goes into it, which generally results in ignorant users getting mad at a good admin and wanting someone else. Making users happy is rarely part of the job description anywhere. Making it so users can get what they need accomplished is. Sometimes part of the requirements, especially at an educational facility is to specifically PREVENT users from doing things the easy way. You'll understand some of this more when you get older and realize that most of the education you get in college isn't what you hear in lectures or read in books.

Your post smacks of a young, know it all with no experience and a lot less skill than you realize. Its great that you think the management at your school is stupid, I mean, they've only been doing it longer than you, you must obviously be better at it than them and know more than they do, I mean, thats why your going to their school rather than managing their school. You always want to learn from people who know less than you do.

Just because you know how to use a computer, doesn't make you an admin. It doesn't make you aware of all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes in a large organization such as a university. You THINK you can do better when you really don't know what this person does across the board.

CS students are most certainly always at odds with their admins. Its a bunch of arrogant socially inept kids with no real world experience who think they know everything there is to know about technology and that no one else has any idea how it works. To top it off, most CS students that come out suck ass at CS. I've hired from UNC, NCSU and Duke university for CS, obviously these aren't strong points here, however, our company now has a policy of not hiring anyone out of college with less than 5 years work experience. I'll take you off the street with a high school degree in a minute if you impress me, CS students on the other hand take far too long to knock the ignorance out of and get them to realize they don't actually know that much. This certainly isn't unique to CS, but it is more common there. The result is a bunch of CS people who think they should be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want without regards for anyone or anything else. Virus authors are less damaging to a network than a group of CS grads with root.

Do you know every task those machines were intended to be capable of performing? Do you know the laws regarding security requirements for your state? Do you know what rules they have for vetting software to ensure its compatible? Have you ever actually been involved in the process of upgrading software across a campus? This isn't like when you run apt-get on the Ubuntu box in your basement. Its fine for you to dick around with your own machine and have it offline, but the majority of a sysadmins work should be done without the users EVER HAVING ANY IDEA that its happening.

Its cute though, that you think that while you're still in school, you're more capable to know what to do than all the other people, which have been running a school for years. What I wouldn't give to go back to the time in my life where I knew more than everyone else. Ignorance was bliss. Those were good times. I guess when you have the cockiness knocked out of you in a few years after you rich the real world and fuck something up due to your arrogance that you may be better at it, my first half a million dollar mistake because I left a couple 0s off the end of a polling time did a good job putting me in my place, yours will probably do the same. It it doesn't, you won't be in the field long anyway so either way the damage will likely be contained. Theres a grad students get hired as interns.

Re:Nope (4, Insightful)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700716)

And you wonder why people don't like your type...

Mod parent up! (1)

sgtrock (191182) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700848)

Man, I wish I hadn't already burned all my mod points today. Been there, done that, got the scars and war stories along with my BOFH T-shirt. :)

Re:Mod parent up! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30701102)

Agreed and done. Glad I save a point or two until the end, generally.
--
Nilt

Re:Nope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30700898)

Wow, someone's a bit bitter today. Do you suck on lemons to practice that sour face we can read between the lines in your post, or did it come naturally from socially interacting with others?

It's not trolling if it's true ;-) (4, Insightful)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 4 years ago | (#30701416)

"The ignorance of your post is one good indication of why they didn't replace him with you."

Well, I haven't seen someone display such blatant ignorance while calling someone with a clue ignorant for quite some time, so I guess I'll set the record straight ...

"An admins job isn't just 'make things easy on users'. There is a lot more that goes into it, which generally results in ignorant users getting mad at a good admin and wanting someone else."

That is an absurd thing to say, and the irony is that you claim to be a great sysadmin, but can't figure out that a good sysadmin doesn't have ignorant users (at least not for long.)

"Making users happy is rarely part of the job description anywhere. Making it so users can get what they need accomplished is."

And how do you plan to accomplish that while leaving them ignorant? You'd be surprised how much happier users are when you actually know how to do your job and educate the users so that they understand why something has to be done the way it does.

"Its fine for you to dick around with your own machine and have it offline, but the majority of a sysadmins work should be done without the users EVER HAVING ANY IDEA that its happening."

Are you fscking serious? Why the hell do you think they came up with /etc/motd ? (Message Of The Day for those who don't know and are following along.) If you are doing your job right then users know when backups happen. They know what new software you are installing, and when; you have visibility.

"Its cute though, that you think that while you're still in school, you're more capable to know what to do than all the other people, which have been running a school for years."

Maybe he has people similar to you setting the bar ;-)

Non-disclaimer: I was a VAX/VMS system manager at the age of 22, having been professionally trained by DEC at their Burlington Training facility, and I have been involved in various aspects of technology from sysadmin, hardware and software development, SQA my entire adult life (I'm now "over the hill"). I have had to deal with idiots like the parent my whole life, and his/her/it's attitude is outdone only by phenomenal cluelessness.

Re:Nope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30701422)

You are either having fun trolling, or else you yourself have more than bit of ignorance. I was the computer operator/programmer for my local school system when I was in high school (I worked directly for the only other person in the computer department, the Director of Data Processing for the school system). I worked 40 hours a week (every other week as part of a work-study program) while a senior in high school at a computer-based phototypesetting company as the operator of a PDP 11/60 which supported the International Engineering Department (about 30 employees). After attending college for one year, at age 18 I was working as the Associate System Manager for a startup computer company employing about 30 people where I was responsible for the management and operation of their VAX 11/780-based computer system, working with one other person (the System Manager). In all of these jobs I had serious responsibilities and I was quite competent at carrying them out. When I was 19 years old, I got a job with a major government consulting firm as an operator/programmer for their computer service center supporting a regional office with some 400 employees. By the time I graduated from college, I was the manager of the computer service center with responsibility for a large annual budget and five employees. Two years later, I was the manager/chief engineer for this same company's corporate data network, a position which I retained while the company grew from approximately 10,000 to over 30,000 staff.

Based on my personal experience, I believe it is more than reasonable for someone of the age of the typical college undergraduate to be capable and responsible enough to be a systems administrator for a college computing center. Not *every* undergraduate has the maturity to do this, but certainly more than zero do.

Re:That's what you do in a university... (1)

uncledrax (112438) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699556)

Um... Don't all universities use students as free/cheap labor?

There fixed that for you.

Re:That's what you do in a university... (1)

jimbolauski (882977) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699656)

Most Universities will have a an old timer system admin and students that run the Hell desk, they are given Admin privileges to the computers but not the system.

Re:That's what you do in a university... (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700978)

Most Universities will have a an old timer system admin and students that run the Hell desk, they are given Admin privileges to the computers but not the system.

At my university, pretty much all the lab-dwelling geeks had root on everything they wanted... one way or another.

Re:That's what you do in a university... (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699670)

Um... Don't all universities use students as sysadmins?.

HA! No. The University around here only lets CS Graduates touch a server for about 2 weeks, after studying about it for a month. Everything is handled by its own CT&IS Faculty. As someone who has multiple friends at the university, I will speak for the students to say the system they have set up BLOWS. They will, on occaison, hire they're GRADUATES to do some contract work.

Now, the Polytechnic that I went to, had us set up our own private networks, and administrate that. It was about as close to the real thing as I could get without actually being in the real mess, which was enough for me to learn the basics of what I needed to know. Looking back, it really depends on the class. Some kids were fresh out of highschool (like me) and played alot of Video games during class (not like me) so I would understand if they didn't want certain people administering the Web services of the campus.

There was ONE student, who managed to hack into the firewall and allow World of Warcraft to run on his computer. He got Straight A's for a year and then Expelled. I sometimes wonder if he was able to get a job, saying "Yeah I was expelled from school because I knew their network better than they did"

Re:That's what you do in a university... (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700608)

There was ONE student, who managed to hack into the firewall and allow World of Warcraft to run on his computer. He got Straight A's for a year and then Expelled. I sometimes wonder if he was able to get a job, saying "Yeah I was expelled from school because I knew their network better than they did"

No, no one gets hired when they say 'I found out that I could use httptunnel/sshtunnel to get WoW past their firewall so I could break the rules!'

Because, you know, people love to hear about how you break the rules to play games, shows how great your work ethic is and how well you can do what your told.

Its also not impressive in the least that you could get out of their network to play WoW. If I can make an outbound connection from a network to a random host on the Internet, then I can get any other network protocol out as well. The network is designed to keep bad guys out, and limit what most internal users do that they shouldn't, no network that allows random outbound connections is REALLY trying to stop you.

Re:That's what you do in a university... (1)

freedomlinux (1072142) | more than 4 years ago | (#30701276)

Not at all. I am an IT student at RPI and they specifically prohibit hiring current students for the DotCIO. Students work in the software and hardware helpdesks, but never on the network.

This makes sense because those networks include sensitive data, security networks, and building access authentication. It seems like a good way to cut costs, but it is a potential security risk.

Serious question. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699196)

Why do a lot of open source project names sound so gay? GIMP, Drupal, Cfengine, Puppet, etc. This is not a troll.

Re:Serious question. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699214)

Because Greek mythology is reserved for server names, and everything else is copyrighted.

Re:Serious question. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699254)

Because open source is gay?

Re:Serious question. (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699566)

The lack of a marketing and sales division, or indeed the need to have a "marketable" name at all. Plus a geeky need to overexplain with acronyms, backronyms, puns on other software (more | less anyone?) or other obscure references. And, but to a much lesser degree, no desire to fight other projects and particularly companies with lawyers over trademark disputes. Usually if it's a cool name it's already used, like for example Phoenix which became Firebird which eventually ended up as Firefox. If you don't care, call it Ekiga and noone will fight you over it ;)

Re:Serious question. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30700026)

But it's not that simple. If that were the case, we would have a bunch of more-or-less neutral names; these names are gayer than Richard Simmons.

Re:Serious question. (1)

cyphercell (843398) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700196)

Even gayer than that would be "Dick Semens", hey I've got a new name for an OSS program!

Re:Serious question. (2, Funny)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700732)

I heard from one of the higher-ups that Gnome projects' names are more like an inside joke. "How can we make some of the best software out there and give them the most aweful names?"

I guess they're adminning the site for TFA. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699218)

When I clicked on it, all I got was a black screen.

Or, they're a bunch of Goth admins and are really into the whole black on black thing.

NIN rocks!

Question for Lance... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699256)

Hey, wondering if you liked it when I gave you the bone hard and fast last night. I was the one in the sombrero...

Lesson 1 (5, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699266)

The main thing that people that age need to learn (both professionally and personally) is that Their Actions Have Consequences.

Re:Lesson 1 (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699466)

Why not focus on the positive side of that instead? I would say the first lesson should be, "take pride in your work."

Re:Lesson 1 (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700190)

Because a clever 19-21-year-old is (generally) already plenty proud of what he knows how to do. So proud that he'll (random example) upgrade Apache from 1.3 to 2.0 as a treat for everybody as he leaves to go party at his friend's college for the weekend.

Re:Lesson 1 (1)

clarkn0va (807617) | more than 4 years ago | (#30701266)

I thought "you're actions have consequences" was a positive statement. Consider the alternative. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Lesson 1 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699502)

yeah and at that age "consequences" are 'delivered by storks'

Re:Lesson 1 (0, Troll)

NevarMore (248971) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699584)

You mean like reading and posting to slashdot in the middle of the workday?

Re:Lesson 1 (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700988)

Ever hear of a coffee break?

Re:Lesson 1 (2, Insightful)

Spit (23158) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699844)

I'll agree, sysadmin is as much about process and discipline as it is tech knowhow.

Re:Lesson 1 (2, Interesting)

Bandman (86149) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700594)

I agree, as well. 90% of my time spent when teaching my junior admin is teaching him how to think like a sysadmin instead of a hobbyist.

Re:Lesson 1 (3, Interesting)

bzipitidoo (647217) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700256)

I think patience and learning when to say "no" are big ones too.

It's so tempting and easy to take shortcuts in system administration. "We don't need to waste time checking our backups" or, worse, "we don't need to backup" before doing major work is just the sort of time saving notion that can really haunt you if something goes wrong. Ugly when you need those backups and you discover the backup system you put into place in a similarly hasty fashion has some tiny little problem, maybe an incorrect flag on a command, and so the backups are no good. Can't spend all your time on paranoid checking either, of course. It's an art juggling these risks, deciding what is critical and what is not. There are never enough resources. If you have to make room in order to back up something, and it's going to take an hour or more to find things that can be deleted, clean out trash, compress directories that haven't been used recently, move files around, and so on, it's tempting to skip it, particularly if an impatient PHB is breathing down your neck, and other users are just waiting to pounce on that space the minute you free it up. Then there are the programmers who can't write anything that doesn't waste gobs of disk space and RAM. Someone notices when their code makes excessive use of the CPU, but a few megabytes of hard drive space flys under the radar. Some really think it isn't worth even a few minutes of their time to fix things like that, not when they're under the gun themselves to bang out more features as fast as possible.

Re:Lesson 1 (2, Interesting)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 4 years ago | (#30701552)

I've seen single seat fighter jocks in that age range.... age has little to do with it. Training and attitude have lots to do with it.

Amazing. (4, Insightful)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699284)

Young people with their heads on straight. Definitely newsworthy.

I know the whole "you young'un, you can't manage a server to save your life!" feeling and all that, but really... is managing a server, even an important one, really that hard - when you have someone to go to when you have questions? A lot of lab administration seems to be finding problems before they become a real problem, which is time consuming.

You may as well have a story about dental work done by *gasp* dental students and, lo and behold, they are actually doing a good job! Shocking. To think that young people could actually learn something. :)

OTOH, it's interesting to read about the difficulties he brings up. They're pretty ... boring, IMO.

It generally takes around six months for a student to feel comfortable with our environment.

Like most jobs?

Another challenge is the short turnaround with students, as we usually only have them for two to three years before they graduate. This creates a constant issue to ensure our documentation and training is honed.

Two to three years, that's not too short, is it? And it's interesting that it's an "issue" to him to keep their documentation good/honed. I hope the graduates are learning that documentation is a BIG ISSUE in real jobs, for exactly that purpose: if something happens to you, the business can't just stop for 3 months while someone else tries to figure out what you did :)

Re:Amazing. (2, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699526)

"I hope the graduates are learning that documentation is a BIG ISSUE"

Only in engineering programs. CS programs still retain a lot of their "math heritage," and there is very little push for the students to write good documentation; at best, documentation seems to be an afterthought.

Re:Amazing. (1)

MonsterTrimble (1205334) | more than 4 years ago | (#30701032)

Hear, Hear. I work as a mechanical / industrial engineer and at both my current job and previous one good legacy documentation did not exist when I arrived. All knowledge was tribal and therefore we all prayed that nobody got hit by a bus. I'm slowly getting things into a usable (for the next person) position but overcoming a decades worth of stuff is time consuming. At least I know the next person will be able to find stuff.

Re:Amazing. (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699542)

is managing a server, even an important one, really that hard - when you have someone to go to when you have questions?

Thats exactly the position I'm in, and its the easiest part of the job I hold. If you know HOW to do things, the only thing left as part of the job is knowing WHAT to do.

When an issue comes up, its just "Hey, this is whats going on. Whats the best course of action? We could..."

And then he'll respond with "Yes, that sounds good" or "No, do this instead"

And Bam, its a cakewalk.

Re:Amazing. (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700402)

And knowing how to do something isn't toooo difficult with manuals, Google, and other people to ask.

Knowing what to do appears to come with experience.

Re:Amazing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30700542)

I was one of the co-founders of the Open Source Lab with Scott Kveton and was involved in hiring Lance (I'm still one of the BOA members for the lab). One of our core "visions" for the lab was to create a place for younger developers and admins to be able to get top notch skills and jobs out of school. Because of that, our goal was not SOLELY to be the huge infrastructure host that the OSL is better known for, but to REALLY TRAIN YOUNG TECHNOLOGISTS.

So as the first operations manager of the lab, I believed in the military axiom (thanks to Lt. Gen. Harold Moore): Power and loyalty go down, not up. We gave kids extraordinarily advanced jobs that a lot of companies don't give to far more experienced people. And the students almost universally took the responsibility seriously, and did better than I/we ever expected. Of course there were some controls and supervision. Lance and Corey Shields before him have done fantastic jobs of keeping things robust and secure while at the same time training young professionals to levels unheard of at that stage in similar career stages. To be smug and wankerish, it is one of the things I am most proud of. In fact, I have more pride in the students who all got great careers going because of the OSL than I am of the size and number of projects we host. I'm a little old fashioned I guess, but the OSL is at a UNIVERSITY.

Jason McKerr/Anonymous coward

Re:Amazing. (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700712)

A lot of lab administration seems to be finding problems before they become a real problem, which is time consuming.

Its also practically impossible for someone with no experience, which is why you don't let 'young'ns' do it.

CS students are not SA students. You don't let a dentist perform open heart surgery, but of course most of them, unlike CS students, know better than to try it. I guess dentists are better educated or less arrogant than CS students.

You want to let them manage a pseudo lab for training purposes fine. You don't however, if you have even half of half of a cluepon, let them manage a real network (or lab) that people need to use.

You don't put your newbie admin hire at the company straight on the production servers doing massive system changes even with years of experience, why the hell would you let some college kid with no experience, no history on the subject, no knowledge of the subject, and absolutely no idea how much something that seems like a trivial unimportant change can wreak havoc.

Admins of 20 years often have this problem as well, and most of them know better.

Was that a short article or what? (1)

gregarican (694358) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699346)

I actually broke down and RTFA. The interviewer must have been in the next stall over or on an elevator with the Oregon State employee. How many questions was that, like 4 or 5? Maybe one of the servers was getting ready to crash because one of the student admins was trying to install Windows...

Re:Was that a short article or what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699456)

They would get fired if they got the disk within 100 feet of the datacentre.

Good (2, Insightful)

OrangeMonkey11 (1553753) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699364)

Great that the university is giving these newbies a chance to get their feet wet before they venture into the real world. This type of opportunity is what i fine lacking while I was going to school and I had to search this type of opportunity out for myself.

One of the biggest problem I find when you first enter into the IT field as a student is that there is a lack of on the job hands on training. Students really need to be expose to hands on materials more to reinforce what they've learned in text books and labs.

Fp faIgorz (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699420)

18-21 (3, Interesting)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699468)

I am in the upper bounds of that range. I do Sysadmin stuff in our corporation, though not as much as the Chief IT Manager. I do the cabling, I set up the racks, I make sure the UPS are tested regularily. All the grunt work a Sysadmin would do. I help with decisions on new network policies, and dealing with security and updates. Network Topology is something I wish I had a say in, but don't. I will on occaison, be called in to reboot a server, or replace a bad drive.

I had to learn the Help-Ticket system on the job, but really that was like a 5 minute breeze because most of it is common sense. (Ticket comes in, prioritize, assign, do)

I'm glad to see that younger people are getting into these positions, since I think they help push forward newer technologies and methodologies. It'll sound like I'm tooting my own horn here (and Maybe I am just a little :P) but we've got a dozen boxes in our server room plugged into the rack so that people from other branches across Canada can Remote in to access certain software. It's a nightmare to look at, and it takes up alot of space. The IT Manager isn't fully familiar with Virtualization, though thats something I was taught in school less than 2 years ago. I'm sure you can see where this is going.

All in all, the only thing holding back us young people from these positions is just experience. Almost any school you graduate from with a CS degree will teach you the fundamentals of system administration. However you can't exactly apply for that position with little to no experience (don't get me wrong, you CAN apply, but the guy who has 5+ years experience managing Windows Server 2003 is going to look a bit shinier).

It's good to have a Looong project like this to show you DO have experience. I went and switched from a CS Degree to simply an Object Oriented Programming because it was shorter and I enjoyed programming more, but now that I'm out here working I wish I had that education. (I know right, how did I land a Sysadmin/Technician job as an OOP grad? Funny story, ask me later). Anyways, If I could show my boss "Here's the webserver that I set up and maintained" I think he'd be more lenient with letting me handle things I know how to handle. It's frustrating when he mentions a problem and you know a solution but he won't admit its a good idea because you're fresh. That's more a problem with my boss though, and probably isn't a good representation of every manager out there.

Re:18-21 (1)

Bandman (86149) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700638)

Sorry, why is parent modded as Troll? There's nothing trollish at all in there.

single point of failure? (1)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699492)

The Oregon State University Open Source Lab's data center hosts some of the Linux community's heaviest hitting projects including the Linux Master Kernel and the Linux Foundation. It is also the primary location for the Apache Software Foundation and Drupal, open source content management software. The lab, aka OSUOSL, also hosted the core infrastructure for Mozilla's Firefox project, and currently host's six of Google's servers.

Uh- why is one organization the primary/master site for so many high-profile, critical open source projects?

This is bad for a number of political, economic, security, and technical reasons. All it takes is one pissed off Dean or university president and you can be shut down overnight. It's happened to some famous researchers; one morning they came in and found all their equipment locked up in storage, their papers confiscated, and students/researchers/staff axed.

Re:single point of failure? (3, Informative)

phoenix0783 (965193) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699660)

They're a mirror.

Re:single point of failure? (1)

blofeld42 (854237) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700142)

Hosting Open Source is also a core competency to Oregon State. They made a rather clever decision to focus on the open source niche a few years back, and it's helped them bring in industry support and helped the student learning process, as shown by the article.

Re:single point of failure? (4, Interesting)

gchaix (1716666) | more than 4 years ago | (#30701304)

I work for the OSU OSL.

Actually, we're more than a mirror. While mirroring is a major part of the services we provide, we also provide hosting for many projects' core infrastructure - Apache, Linux Foundation, Drupal, kernel.org, etc. Google is a major supporter of the OSL because we provide a place for projects whose needs have outgrown the more "off-the-shelf" structured hosting provided by Google Code or Sourceforge and need a more customizable environment.

As to the single point of failure concern - I disagree for several reasons:

  • We are not funded by the university. The OSL's activities are funded almost entirely by donations (both personal [osuosl.org] and corporate [osuosl.org] ) and agreements with the projects we host. While we are all university employees, our wages are not paid using university dollars. Also, as part of the administrative computing organization at the university (as opposed to part of an academic department), the OSL falls under the university's CIO instead of a dean or department. The financial independence and organizational structure provides us with a significant amount of autonomy and insulation from the vagaries of university politics.
  • OSU President Ed Ray has stated time and time again that the role of a land grant university in the 21st century is to provide leadership and assistance in information technology - much the same way the land grants provided support to agriculture and industry in past centuries. The OSL helps OSU fulfill that goal.
  • On the FOSS community side, the OSL provides a vendor-neutral environment. We're not tied to any one distribution or manufacturer - we work with Dell, HP, and IBM all equally. The same goes for SuSE, Ubuntu, Gentoo, Red Hat, etc. IIRC, our neutrality one of the reasons master.kernel.org and the Linux Foundation reside at the OSL. We (and the university) consider that neutrality a very valuable asset.

It would take something more than a "pissed off dean" to summarily shut the OSL down.

-Greg

Re:single point of failure? (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700540)

I don't know if there's any relation but Linus Torvalds lives in the Portland area, about 60 miles north of the OSU campus.

Re:single point of failure? (3, Interesting)

MostAwesomeDude (980382) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700604)

We're a rather bright spot on the university's record; we are the largest open-source datacenter in the hemisphere, and that causes a lot of donations to come in. Take it from Ed: http://osuosl.org/sites/osuosl.org/files/ed_ray.png [osuosl.org] Nobody will shut us down.

I don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699510)

When I was 18 I started at a Managed Hosting company that just recently went public as a Linux Sysadmin. I've had my hands on the insides of some very big web companies, and I've gone through the ups and downs. Such as the recent Dallas Outages or the infamous driver who knocked out our power a few years back. Along with being thrust into a Sysadmin position barely after getting out of high school (and college as I graduated at 17 before I did high school), I've also had to deal with corporate heads trying to make their imprints. These kids had it ***king easy, I've had to let guys cry on the phone because they didn't have any backups and their whole business was relying on that one thing on their server. I've learned infinitely more in this environment (no I'm not at work right now) than I would have if I had gone into my university lab as an admin.

But age is only a number... (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699512)

I thought that being a good sysadmin, or a good tennis player, or a good anything depended on the experience and natural talent the person has, not his or her age. There are kids out there that can probably develop much, much better than many with years and years of experience in the field; hell, most of the hackers back in the day were kids themselves!

I think that actually letting these folks do something of importance with their skills is more laudable, since most companies that hire undergrads or high school students can only afford to give them low-risk projects that may or may not contribute to their development of in-field experience.

Open Source Lab? Big Deal! (1)

Zorlon (181163) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699532)

It's not like it's the Accounting department or HR. I have my own open source lab in my home.

Re:Open Source Lab? Big Deal! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699982)

Yeah, but your parents' basement doesn't count, since you can't sysadmin over your bowl of Froot Loops...

FriSt stop (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699910)

webSite. Mr. de

I think I've been on the internet too long... (1)

tool462 (677306) | more than 4 years ago | (#30699936)

18-21 year old undergrads

Pics?

Re:I think I've been on the internet too long... (3, Funny)

Titoxd (1116095) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700106)

They are server administrators, which means they probably look like the average slashdotter. Do you really want to see that?

Could These Sys Admins Be (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30699994)

outsourced with several shell scripts?

Yours In Ashgabat,
Kilgore Trout

Re:Could These Sys Admins Be (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700308)

Thats for what are cfengine and Puppet. Most of what a sysadmin do that can be described as "several shell scripts" can be done by them. But you need sysadmins to do the initial configuration, the changes (unless you have a fixed system, everything evolves with time) and of course, the unexpected.

Heh, they aren't admins (2, Insightful)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700276)

Sorry, there is no such thing as an 18-21 year old sys admin.

There are plenty of kids pretending to be admins that are 18-21 years old, but just because someone gives you root, doesn't make you an admin anymore than installing mysql and creating a table makes you a DBA.

Having root on a Linux box doesn't make you an admin, regardless of how ignorant you are of that fact.

Re:Heh, they aren't admins (5, Insightful)

gchaix (1716666) | more than 4 years ago | (#30701406)

I beg to differ. I've been a sysadmin for 15 years. The professionalism and quality of the work done by the students here at the OSL is quite often indistinguishable from many of the people I've worked with over the years. Many of the people working on our hosted projects can't tell whether they're working with our professional staff or student workers.

We teach them to be sysadmins. They may not be sysadmins when they come to us, but they sure as hell are professional sysadmins when they leave.

No Free lunch (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30700366)

Free labor aint free

How do you find a young sys admin?? (1)

enryonaku (1441337) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700488)

Are there people out of college who want to be sys admins? We are tying to hire a sys admin, but we either get people who are overqualified -- they would not want to do the job for a long time -- or we get people who are under-qualified -- front desk support types you cannot design and manage a whole network.

On top of that, new grads don't usually have a lot of real world knowledge for sys admin work, though we would definitely relax this requirement for someone who is a problem solver and eager to do the job. (We haven't found this person yet, though)

Re:How do you find a young sys admin?? (1)

Luke has no name (1423139) | more than 4 years ago | (#30700672)

You probably aren't paying enough. $60,000 + medical and I'll move anywhere in the country for what you want.

lukehasnoname AT gmail DOT com

Personal experience in all-student department (2, Informative)

ZPWeeks (990417) | more than 4 years ago | (#30701346)

I'm in my fourth year working and studying at the Colorado State University College of Business. Student-facing systems are pretty much 100% run by students, who report to student managers, who report to the IT Director and a student committee representing students who pay the tech fees. It's worked remarkably well, and I've been in several roles throughout my tenure- Lab Technician, network engineer, sysadmin, security team lead, web developer.

In terms of the department's effectiveness, I would say that students receive a great value and enthusiastic service from their colleagues. The risk of system failure is pretty low since we have decent turnover and a hierarchy of newbie and more experienced staff. (It also helps having a good balance of student employees in the technical disciplines and the business administration major.) Everybody starts out with very little experience, and gets direct access to systems they wouldn't otherwise be trusted with. We put heavy emphasis on documentation and formal training requirements, but a lot of stuff is "throwing us in the lake and learning how to swim." I was 18 when I got the security team lead position, and later that week a horrible false positive in $vendor's antivirus definitions rendered every workstation in the college useless. The real-world experience of emergency response and dealing with managing a team and staying accountable to others taught me so much.

I value this kind of opportunity as something much more valuable than an internship, some entry-level jobs, or even my degree program. The job's flexibility with my school schedule and direct pertinence to my studies added several dollars worth of value to the decent student hourly rate.

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