Discipline, Simplicity, and Feedback in System Administration

by chromatic

Related link: http://www.onlamp.com/pub/a/onlamp/2005/03/31/extreme_admin.html

Andrew Cowie (who generously wrote the article linked above) expanded his theory of dealing with complexity in operations in a talk yesterday. Here are a few of his ideas that stuck in my head.

  • Programmers communicate through code. Operations people communicate through their procedures and documentation.

    If you take the idea that programming makes blueprints and compiling and deploying builds houses, the equivalent in the administrative world to programming is the design of systems and processes. (This paragraph is my idea, not necessarily Andrew's.)

  • You can't hire a colonel, you can only grow one. Andrew pointed out that members of the military spend most of their time learning. Is systems administration any different?

  • High turnover is detrimental to high trust. If your organization burns through people in months, how do you grow to trust your co-workers?

  • The people really doing the work are the best ones to determine the risks.

    This is another similarity to XP, which allows developers to estimate the amount of time that each task will take. It's up to the customer to arrange the tasks in the most desirable order, but the customer cannot change the estimates and the developers cannot change the order of the tasks. (This requires trust which requires time.)

  • Observe, Reflect, Decide, Act, Learn. This is a pattern of behavior to use when encountering situations and making decisions.

That's pretty theoretical, but there's a lot to think about. Andrew also had lots of useful practical advice. One idea to consider is asking a friendly coworker in another department to sit in on an installation or change session. This has two advantages. First, if you grab someone from sales, marketing, or management (for example), you'll show off the work you actually do in a more concrete way. Second, you can have him or her time and check off your procedures as you accomplish them, helping to verify your time estimates and keep you on track.

You can also send him or her out to buy doughnuts.

Want to hear more from Andrew on ONLamp.com?


2005-04-20 11:03:50
No. I've already left the job where these ideas would have done some good
Stop torturing me, Ethel.