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Top 10 System Administrator Truths – Updated

Evan Erwin back in 2005 wrote a block “Top Ten System Administrator Truths”. I’ve updated his list with a few caveats as well as notes as to which of his truths are now more universal than the examples he cited.

#1 – Users Lie, Even When You Have Tracking Tools in Place

Users may lie about having installed personal software like affirmational screen savers, music players or even patches they thought they found online to try to avoid calling you. And they will sometimes say they didn’t break the rules set forth by IT in order to stay out of trouble, even after clicking on the “I consent to monitoring” every day they log in.

#2 – Email is the Lifeblood of Non-Techies Despite All the Articles Saying Don’t

Email is still the lifeblood of non-technical people, despite all the articles saying you should have face to face communications, phone calls and conferences instead. Even with a generation nearly raised on instant messaging, they can’t use that for much more than replacing over the wall conversations with a single peer, whereas email is still the standard for notices that a document has been updated, that tasks await their action to complete and reminders of events.

#3- Printers S#$& and In More Ways Than One

I’ve personally witnessed many “I can’t print” tickets that were blamed on the document management system that were actually network slowdowns due to denial of service attacks or sheer demand, hardware problems instead of software issues, devices not turned on, lack of toner, or a really big print job that was still loading.

#4 – Cleanliness is Godliness

The original version of this quote refers to clean work environments can save your hardware, such as lint from blankets or dust from a dirty workspace ruin servers and PC guts. This is true from a software side, too. Not having lots of apps or documents saved to the desktop saves you time when you try to find something. Not installing and downloading a lot of things prevents quite a few IT tickets from software conflicts to failed updates to “that app was actually malware”.

#5 – Backups are Crucial

Backups are still crucial. Backing up PCs to a server is much more common now. Backing up servers and personal computers to the cloud is more common, though Edward Snowden’s revelations mean that private cloud servers that the NSA can’t just review at will shall be more popular than Microsoft, Apple and other companies who have given the NSA access to not-hot copies of their production systems or where the NSA simply built themselves a back door.

#6 – Switches and Hubs (Usually) Die One Port At A Time

This hardware maximum remains true. The only change that comes to mind is the relative ease with which server blades can be replaced today, and the ability to set up mirrored servers and cloned virtual servers that make the repairs and part replacements easier.

#7 – No One Ever Got Fired For Buying Microsoft

Microsoft remains the 800 pound gorilla in the enterprise software market, in part due to its long term contracts and in part due to its universality due to its long term contracts. Linux and Unix servers are certainly more common and accepted now as a business standard. However, the diversity of Unix / Linux instantiations slows its adoption, and Unix/Linux desktops are still a long way from replacing the Windows PC. However, a Windows client delivered as a remote desktop hosted on a Linux or Unix server is plausible.

#8 – Politeness > Brevity

This is true, and only the range of applications has grown. Keep the error messages short enough for users to comprehend and be able to document in an error report. User work instructions should be one or two lines per step, never a full paragraph. If the whole user process is many pages long, perhaps you need to hire an Lean consultant, if not a better tech writer. One step installations and updates are ideal from a user’s perspective as long as it goes right most of the time. Automated tasks like backups and critical updates are ideal from the helpdesk’s perspective.

# 9 – Know Your Needs

The original version of this “Top 10 System Administrator Truths” was the advice to learn Linux and install it. A more universal version of this could be “don’t buy software you don’t need”. When you buy an enterprise software suite, don’t buy extra software or features you don’t need. Unfortunately, too many software suites are like the deluxe service package – getting the one extra you want requires getting ten extra items you don’t.
Another version of this truth is gathering accurate user requirements. What does your document management software need to do? It should ensure that access is only granted to those who should have access, provide access on demand with minimal delay and prevent unauthorized users from changing something. Workflow management is useful to the help desk, but workflow customization in general isn’t required. And if you want the ability to customize the workflow because the tool’s default workflow is too complex, maybe you need a different tool altogether.

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The Human Element of IT

What are some of the common scenarios where IT and the human element intersect? What do you do in these situations?


Bill was fired! Who is going to do X? He was the only one who knew how.


Require the person leaving the company to train their replacements in those few skills or procedures no one else is experienced. Document the process as the training takes place so that the information is available should others need it.

In the future, document all job tasks and processes so that they can be used by others in an online database. Try to have at least one backup for every job function or task, such as restarting servers or setting up users.



Jill has to go on medical leave. How do you handle her tasks for the interim?


Know how to delegate and/or reassign tasks in your task management system. And verify that delegates actually have the authority to perform those tasks, such as approve financial line items or promote drawings. Verify that they have accounts on all IT systems where these approvals or actions take place.



On-boarding of new talent takes forever, and we discover things they need access to weeks or even months later at the most inconvenient moment.



Create an online check list of everything new employees need, from accounts to access levels. For example, they need access to the HR system to input their time cards or access to the PDM system to search for drawings.




Boss announces the implementation will be delayed a month, and all vacation is cancelled until rollout. A key staffer says, “But I have non-refundable tickets.”


Divide work where possible to avoid forcing someone to cancel a vacation. If that person is indispensable, delay the project two months. Avoid demanding that someone check email or respond to queries for two or three hours a day on vacation.

A final backup plan is enabling remote work for someone who was planning to be on PTO. However, making this demand dramatically increases the odds they will not be with the company for the next implementation.

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The Vision Project ‘Food from soil to shelf’

By Márcia Monteiro

Project Leader of “VISION-Food from soil to shelf 2014-2015″

I would start by introducing myself, I’m Márcia Monteiro from the exquisite city of Porto and I’m the current project leader of Vision. You may be wondering, why Food from soil to shelf? First of all, being from a country where agriculture has a very important role in the economy, I can’t avoid to be involved, second of all, as Industrial engineers, we all have our passions, and having grown up in a family that produces Port Wine, I became an agriculture aficionado. In a nutshell, these vision series gather a big part of my personal and professional interests.

The Vision Project is a Pan-European series of seminars that has been established since 1993. It targets Industrial Engineering and Management students throughout Europe, annually electing main topics of discussion. Each series typically consists of 8-10 seminars; the series gathers around 25 participants and lasts between 5-7 days. The contents of the series consist of academic lectures, company orientations and visits, workshops as well as cultural activities.

This year, the Vision topic is Food from soil to shelf. This topic intends to focus on every aspect related to food and the role of an industrial engineer on the process. The food sector is one of the most challenging ones in terms of trading, since its products have a restricted lifetime. Is it possible to keep this continuous growing without taking care of the natural resources? Which are the new world strategies to ensure the food supply? What are the advantages or disadvantages of using biofuels? Can we reduce the impact on tomorrow’s sustainability? This and more questions will be carefully analysed during this year, trying to find the best possible solutions, discussing them with professionals from different companies, improving our engineering skills and developing new ideas between students. From the production and safety to logistics and politics, we will have an overall of the whole topic and even get to know how some specific industries work (space food and fish).

As the Vision project aims to increase its reach and the quality of its events, we have decided to implement some new ideas. This year we will have a system called AdVision. This system aims to gather students related to Vision and professors from all over the world. Using the expertise of the professors we will make the quality of our events rise.

We will soon send an Open call to professors who may be interested in shaping the Industrial Engineering and Management education one step at a time, starting with Food from soil to shelf.

ESTIEM is a wide network with several projects and committees. Unfortunately we still don’t take full advantage from each other so, this year, Vision and businessbooster joined forces and will have not one, but two joint events. Business Booster is another project from ESTIEM that aims at creating an environment where all needed information, experience and support to excel in professional endeavours can be found. The goal of this unique environment is to boost entrepreneurial spirit and engage ESTIEMers, Alumni and companies to collaborate with each other. We believe that this topic has several business opportunities that may interest our students so we decided to provide them with all the tools they need to startup their own business within the food industry.

This year 11 different seminars will be organized by 14 different local groups. On the table below you can see where our events will take place and which topics each of them will have. In Istanbul, at the Final Conference, we will have Panel Discussions about the future of this industry and experienced guests who will provide us with very interesting insights on this matter.

For further details or questions I’m available on

As we usually say:

You need Vision to see!


Brussels 19-26 October 2014 Food Safety
Moscow 12-18 November Space Food
Grenoble & Lyon 30-07 December Food Politics “Cohabitation of large grocery stores with local production”.
Karlsruhe 11-17 January Corporate Social responsibility
Trondheim 27-02 February Fish Industry
Helsinki & Tampere 09-15 February Farming
Istanbul Yildiz & Ankara METU 02-08 March Food city logistics
Xanthi 19-25 March Food Production
Hamburg 26-01 April Maritime food logistics
Seville 05-11 May More than Energy
Istanbul ITU 28-02 June Final Conference
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What Should IT Experts Know from “Getting to Yes”?

The book “Getting to Yes” discusses the dangers of positional arguing. By focusing on your position, every compromise feels like a loss and leads to loss aversion. By focusing on a mutual solution, people remove themselves (mostly) from the emotional investment in their positions and can open themselves up to solutions other than somewhere in between two opposing positions. Positioning the negotiation as a problem solving session is the only solution when there are multiple parties involved and necessary to develop true objective criteria for a solution instead of simple consensus.
There are several take-aways IT professionals can draw from this book.
• Always devise several solutions so that you can analyze the merits and flaws of each solution. Even if the originally proposed solution is selected, now you know that it is, indeed, the best choice and the weaknesses of the solution.
• When scheduling down-times or selecting software changes, focusing on the problem instead of each person’s position (no downtime this weekend!) improves the odds of a workable solution. Several parties all screaming “Not now! You’ll ruin my shipment schedule!” can delay fixes until catastrophic failures occur, though that is something no one wants.
• Separate software problems from the people reporting them. Don’t assume an ID10T is the problem, no matter how emotional or lacking their explanation of the error.
• The 10% of users who report 90% of the problems may be configuration managers discovering problems due to their higher access level or greater use of the system. See them as beta testers, not annoyance.
• Research how others solve the problem, instead of charging ahead to devise a fix yourself and be the hero.
• Limit negotiations in software projects to the true stakeholders, and don’t forget that a user representative like a project lead for the customer is one of the stakeholders.
• Debate solutions on their technological merits and resource demands, not what is hot in the industry right now.
• Set objective criteria to justify software changes, not keeping up with the latest software practices barring IT security.
• Realize that frustrated users will ramp up the priority of their problems, making them emotionally invested parties in any negotiation. The fact that they’ve had to put in a change request is a guarantee that they are already in a positional negotiating position.
• Software projects are ideally long term. Don’t fight for a stance today for the next release when the dominance struggle hurts the working relationship for the next three releases.