Nine traits of the veteran Unix admin

Follow this field guide if you want to understand the rare and elusive hard-core Unix geek

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Veteran Unix admin trait No. 5: We prefer elegant solutions

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.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 6: We generally assume the problem is with whomever is asking the question

To reach a certain level of Unix enlightenment is to be extremely confident in your foundational knowledge. It also means we never think that a problem exists until we can see it for ourselves. Telling a veteran Unix admin that a file "vanished" will get you a snort of derision. Prove to him that it really happened and he'll dive into the problem tirelessly until a suitable, sensible cause and solution are found. Many think that this is a sign of hubris or arrogance. It definitely is -- but we've earned it.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 7: We have more in common with medical examiners than doctors

When dealing with a massive problem, we'll spend far more time in the postmortem than the actual problem resolution. Unless the workload allows us absolutely no time to investigate, we need to know the absolute cause of the problem. There is no magic in the work of a hard-core Unix admin; every situation must stem from a logical point and be traceable along the proper lines. In short, there's a reason for everything, and we'll leave no stone unturned until we find it.

To us, it's easy to stop the bleeding by HUPping a process or changing permissions on a file or directory to 777, but that's not the half of it. Why did the process need to be restarted? That shouldn't have been necessary, and we need to know why.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 8: We know more about Windows than we'll ever let on

Though we may not run Windows on our personal machines or appear to care a whit about Windows servers, we're generally quite capable at diagnosing and fixing Windows problems. This is because we've had to deal with these problems when they bleed over into our territory. However, we do not like to acknowledge this fact, because most times Windows doesn't subscribe to the same deeply logical foundations as Unix, and that bothers us. See traits No. 5 and 6 above.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 9: Rebooting is almost never an option

Unix boxes don't need reboots. Unless there's absolutely no other option, we'll spend hours fixing a problem with a running system than give it a reboot. Our thinking here is there's no reason why a reboot should ever be necessary other than kernel or hardware changes, and a reboot is simply another temporary approach to fixing the problem. If the problem occurred once and was "fixed" by a reboot, it'll happen again. We'd rather fix the problem than simply pull the plug and wait for the next 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.

This story, "Nine traits of the veteran Unix admin," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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