The two sides of an IT admin: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Few professions have the propensity to go from normal to obscene as rapidly and thoroughly as IT does

I'm not sure many other occupations can go from normal to obscene as rapidly and thoroughly as IT. There's something to be said for having a job that presents new challenges and situations on a constant basis, but let's be honest, when the fit hits the shan in IT, it's generally an epic event.

You may enjoy stretches of days or weeks where your day-to-day duties are calm, organized, and proper, allowing you time to dig through the backlog of projects and tasks that continuously get shoved under the carpet, time to develop plans for the next budget cycle, and time to figure out how to move your infrastructure and your company forward in a smooth and collected manner.

[ Learn from the best -- Paul Venezia shares his hard-earned admin know-how in "Mission impossible: A remote network cutover," "Revealed! Secrets behind IT magic tricks," and "How to move a data center without having a heart attack." | Get the latest practical info and news with InfoWorld's Data Center newsletter. ]

Then there are the days where you find yourself playing Jenga with bowling balls.

It's not just the speed at which everything can go pear-shaped; it's the wake of destruction that can be left behind. It would be one thing if those situations occurred organically -- say, through the failure of a disk or when a UPS gives up the ghost. But a great many disasters are caused by human error, which makes them infinitely worse.

For example, there might be a cluster of six servers that have been decommissioned, yet are still powered on and racked. On an otherwise calm Tuesday, an admin heads over, finds the servers, and starts shutting them down and pulling cables. However, that admin wasn't paying enough attention or misremembered the rack they were in, so he kills the power and yanks the cables out of half the virtualization cluster in the adjacent rack before anyone notices.

This situation renders the term "all hell breaks loose" an understatement. Hello, Mr. Hyde. Yes, it was the work of a single person, and it took just a few minutes, but the recovery requires a team of admins and the next eight hours of effort. It turns an otherwise normal day into a violent volcanic eruption, and there's nothing to be done for it other than to put your head down and fight through until everything's back in place.

On a smaller scale, turning into a monster in IT can be done very easily by simple interruption. During periods of high concentration -- such as rewriting a particularly sensitive chunk of code or carefully manipulating remote network configurations -- someone stops by to chat. Or the phone rings. Or you get a sudden barrage of email and/or instant messaging. Or all at the same time.

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