Innovation

What makes a net admin tick?

If you've ever been summoned to work by an urgent message in the middle of the night—and enjoyed it—you'll appreciate this admin's four-in-the-morning thoughts following a network emergency call.


By Josh Williams

As I compose this article, the clock in the corner of my screen is showing 4:16 A.M. If you’re wondering why I’m awake and writing an article at four in the morning, it’s because I have a T-1 circuit down. I received a beeper message from the phone company at 2 A.M. with the message “URGENT” attached. Being a network administrator, I’ve witnessed this event on more than one occasion. Now, don’t get me wrong; I am not complaining. In a weird way, I actually enjoy it. During my wait this morning, I began thinking about what sets the network administrator apart from other types of employees, and I put together this brief synopsis.

Sleep is overrated
People may poke fun at you because you get excited when you receive a phone call at two in the morning, but you jump at the chance to tackle the trouble when you hear a frantic third-shift employee on the phone telling you, “The system is down!” Your adrenal glands begin pumping, and your eyes widen, knowing that it’s time to shine.

Granted, it’s hardly ever as bad as the affected person makes it out to be. But you can’t let your reputation of a clean, lean, always-on network get tarnished. You throw on some clothes, brush your teeth, and drive your layer four device to the data center. Your mission: Save the day (or night, as it were) merely for the praise and gratitude of the six people in desperate need of your expertise.

At other odd times of the night you write, and rewrite, countless proposals, read dozens of white papers, and converse (argue) with your peers, justifying the tens of thousands of dollars that need to be spent on the new Layer 3 core switch for the server farm. You cite packet forwarding speeds, back-plane rates, and fiber standards. You push for new technology constantly and jump through all the hoops necessary in your organization to get it done.

More toys!
When new stuff arrives, you spend the next week thinking how fast everything will be once it’s installed. You try to explain to those who will listen about all the really cool things it can do. You try to maintain your composure and professionalism around your fellow office mates. But racing around in your mind at particle accelerator speeds are thoughts of how badly you want to open all the boxes and run off into the server room giggling with your new toys! It’s like Christmas morning, only a lot more expensive, and well, you probably didn’t have a server room back then.

People wander around your office leaving you phone, Post-it, and e-mail messages because they can’t find you or the new equipment. If they were to look hard enough by following the trail of fiber patch cables in the corner of the server room, they would find you with a laptop and a euphoric grin. Yes, you will get a funny look or two, but you can’t help it. You need to prove that those e-mails and illegal downloads really can go through that switch at 300Gbps. Besides, where would they be without their beta versions of Quake 4 and streaming video?

Let 'em laugh
I admit it; I am all of the above. However, don’t sign me up for any 12-step programs just yet. When end users look at me funny and tell me I’m crazy, I just remember that they never say that at two o’clock in the morning. If you’re like me, please know that you’re not alone. There are thousands of us out there waking up to downed servers and beeping pagers with “URGENT” messages flashing.

If you can’t relate, you’d better hope you have someone else like us working at your company.

Josh Williams is a network administrator at a Michigan hospital.

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