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

David Mohring heretic@ihug.co.nz
Thu Sep 25 17:53:51 PDT 2003

An email that has taken to long and taken up to much thought.

On Fri, 2003-09-26 at 05:20, Larry M. Augustin wrote:
> Now, onward.  Earlier in my carrier I spent time as a sysadmin at Stanford

Clue #1, started as Unix admin in a large university...  

> and a small EDA company.  

Clue #2, moved into the tech industry...

> Recently I've been spending a lot of time with
> small companies (less than 50 people), and had a chance to see some of the
> people who provide IT services for them.
> Maybe I'm just spoiled,

Yes, absolutely, you have been spoiled.( The same kind of spoiled
mindset that lead to the BOFH, a fellow kiwi compatriot of mine. ;)
Very few non-tech small businesses would consider it worthwhile to
employ a full-time formally trained Unix sysadmin, even one straight out
of university. 

I started as a computer hobbyist/geek with only a couple of years of
formal training at the local technical institute, a electronics and
computer technology course. The latter CT side did not really provide me
with any more knowledge or skills than that which was self taught.

In 1989?, my second employer dropped me into a Turbo C programming job
adapting MSDOS based clients for a database hosted on Xenix ( no network
just RS232). My only previous experience with Unix was a couple of
months mucking around with a copy of Mark Williams Coherent286. When the
Xenix admin/developer took seriously ill, I took over. The database was 
flat, served & manipulated by a combination of custom C and Awk. I
quickly picked up the knack of administrating the beast and messy
complex command lines were methodically turned into simpler to manage

The firm was then taken over and I moved on, mostly to non-computer
jobs. Aside from two contract programming jobs, most of my programming
and sysadmin skills were spent happily mucking around in the new then
hobby OS Linux. In 1997 I was headhunted for a Y2K audit
/sysadmin/support job for a smallish organization. The only reason I got
the job was due to the CIO recognizing my name from the comments in same
scripts and C code from back in 1989. which his previous firm inherited
and were still using up until 1995. 

Since employed there, lacking any real formal training or certification,
I have worked in every aspect of the IT development and support of the
organization. From porting custom software to Linux, Database admin,
Managing NT3.51/NT4 servers + Linux hosted SAMBA ( just files in 1998 to
outright replacement of NT for domain/file/print in 2001 ), to
supporting 200+ ghosted Win98se desktops ( 43 now dual boot RH8.0, a
successful trial with StarOffice6 proving that 85%+ of the Win98se
systems could be easily replaced ). 

> but I find the lack of basic IT skills to be
> absolutely appalling.  I find many places have no one that can write
> anything more complicated than a few lines of DOS batch files.  They even
> struggle with those.  Basically, many of the "IT professionals" I see today
> are distinguished from users only because they're the people that are
> willing to read the installation guide and follow directions installing the
> software.  (Users won't read any directions)

It's not only small business, there are plenty of larger organizations
with so called certificated "IT professionals" who lack any
understanding beyond a cursory glance of the Nutshell/Dummies/Sams
manual they committed to short term memory to pass the multiple choice
I've  even had a number of formally university trained "IT
professionals" both above and under me, though the almost yearly
revolving door. Aside from one or two exceptions, I would gladly replace
them all with a couple of friendly, reasonably intelligent and
methodical, technically minded enthusiasts. A person who wants to know
how things work and why things fail and is willing to ask and seek
answers if they are unsure.

> 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?  Is the set of
> "less skilled" IT people about the same as it has always been, and I'm now
> just more exposed to it because of the companies and people I now tend to be
> working with?

Well, for a start, we are living in a different and more complex epoch.
Just as the old Xenix system that I started with was nowhere near as
complex as the Unix system I was sysoping in 1997, the number of
configuration parameters available for open source solutions grows with
each release. 

How many freely distributable anti-SPAM packages are there? Which work
with which mail-forwarding agents? What combination of configuration
options are necessary to interoperate?  

Were not such things always complex, lacking even the GUI tools in favor
of hand editing config files? Not really. Grab yourself an old 1994 copy
of Slackware, and check out the size and complexity of /etc in
comparison to Redhat9, full install. The problem is after a couple of
years mastery you don't even notice the build up in complexity, a couple
of new options each upgrade, mostly left to default. A newbee is dropped
into the deep end, wondering why the old hand guru is muttering, "I
never had that much of a problem".

Microsoft attempts to hide the complexity, but check out a dump of the
registry and the INI files. Buy providing wholesale defaults and fancy
GUIs and wizards, Microsoft makes much of the supposed ease it takes to
maintain their own products, but following their own guide to security
would be a bit beyond a number of MCSE I know.

Apple does a far better job ( using CUPS in jaguar ), on top of UNIX!
So does many of the non-technical Linux distributions, Lycoris, Xandros
and even [shudder] Lindows.  

Even so, this lack of skills represents a magnificent business
opportunity for full service outsourced remote support.

> Thoughts?

*Nobody expects that everybody needs to know everything

Nobody expects that normal users should require the skill set of power
users to use a system. 
Nobody expects that power users  should require the skill set of
administrators to tweak a system.
Nobody should expect that administrators should require the skill set of
system deployers to administrate a system.
Nobody should expect that system deployers should require the skill set
of programmers to deploy a system.
Everybody should expect that programmers should develop so that nobody
should be expected to require the skill set of the same programmer.

*Design, Development, Deployment.

Design: At some point in the future, a group of Linux distributions will
come up with a package list of applications, select the required
functionality and refactor the hell out of the software until only the
code and options required to deploy the entire system is used. Hooks
could be included to provide the ability to extend the system.
This major user level rewrite for simplification will more than likely
be required some time in the future for security purposes.

Development: Development does not end at the generation of the
application but at it's successful deployment and integration.
Linux distributions are the closest end chain to the user.Successful
non-technical distributions will provide there own point and click,
hassle free download and install service. This is how most distributions
will make a sizable chunk of their income. 

Deployment: Abstract deployment modeling. Visual representation of both
machines and services across the enterprise/home. Modeling change and
generating the scripts to make the change. Done right, the only hands on
management should be required for changing hardware.

David Mohring
   Aka NZheretic

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