[linux-elitists] Poor skills of most IT "professionals"

Martin Pool mbp@samba.org
Thu Sep 25 17:36:17 PDT 2003

On 25 Sep 2003, Don Marti <dmarti@zgp.org> wrote:
> begin Larry M. Augustin quotation of Thu, Sep 25, 2003 at 10:20:48AM -0700:
> > As I've followed the anti-spam discussion, I realize that many of the
> > "sysadmins" I'm now meeting could never set up a SpamAssassin filtering
> > email gateway.  It scares me, and I don't know if I should be worrying more
> > about it.  Is the pool of skilled IT people being diluted?
> I am not a psychologist, but it looks like many IT people are in
> a state of "learned helplessness".

On Windows (at least prior to 2003), trying to debug or report
operating systems problems is rarely worthwhile.  The best solution is
to reboot, and if that doesn't fix it, reinstall.  To Unix people this
can look like administration by superstition, but in an environment
where you have little debugging information and little ability to
change things, it's a good way to operate.

If I remember correctly, having rewards and punishments be
uncorrelated with behaviour is a good way to induce learned
helplessness.  Once somebody's learned to be helpless, they can react
helplessly even in situations where a little bit of thought might be

> You don't develop skills just because you have the time and the
> aptitude -- you need some motivation.  In an environment where
> developer tools are packaged or licensed separately from the
> production software, and interesting or buggy parts of the production
> software are not available to modify, the motivation isn't there, so
> the skills don't develop.

One of the better bits of Eric Raymond's new book is the discussion of
how Unix-like systems encourage casual programming:


It's not just Unix -- I'm sure shipping HyperCard by default helped a
whole generation of Mac users.  But languages like that only let
people hack the uppermost levels of the system, so I'm not sure if the
effect is so strong.

> Maybe Stanford could do a controlled version of the Stanford Prison
> Experiment with a disempowered IT group and an empowered IT group.

I wonder if the programmer (torturer) of the disempowered group would
have lower esteem for his program's users?


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