New Year’s Resolutions for Unix SysAdmins

Obviously Linux Sys-Admins too!

I feel it’s a good deal shown up by Sandra.

Sandra Henry-Stocker has been administering Unix systems for nearly 18 years. She describes herself as “USL” (Unix as a second language) but remembers enough English to write books and buy groceries. She currently works for TeleCommunication Systems, a wireless communications company, in Annapolis, Maryland, where no one else necessarily shares any of her opinions. She lives with her second family on a small farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Send comments and suggestions to sandra@toadmail.com.

New Years celebrations have been going on for as long as 4,000 years. Some historians date them back to the ancient Babylonians welcoming the return of Spring. And New Years resolutions have probably been made throughout these years. While their success rate does not seem to have improved over the millennia, the practice has still not lost its appeal and the beginning of each new year is a time when many people will be thinking about what they want to improve both in their personal lives and in their jobs. So, what are some likely resolutions for Unix sysadmins? Here are a dozen worth considering.

Learn a new skill: Maybe you’ve put off learning Perl, Python, Ruby, MySQL, PHP or Java. If so, then now while the new year is yet young, set yourself a goal of learning a new language in the next twelve months. If you don’t like working completely on your own, consider community college or online courses as a cost effective alternative. Take a look at O’Reilly’s Learning Lab. Self-training can work if you get yourself a good book and stick to it, working through all of the exercises, but you will probably have an easier time learning a new skill if you start off with a firm goal of completing some kind of project related to your work or personal interests.

Be more diligent about security patches
: Establish a schedule for routine application of security patches on the systems you manage and make an effort to stay informed of newly discovered security issues. Sign up for newsletters and alerts from your system vendors and set up a regular weekly time for reviewing them and highlighting any actions that you might need to take to keep your systems secure and up-to-date.

Change your root passwords!: If you’ve been using the same passwords on your servers for all of 2005 (or longer), change them now and commit to setting new passwords every 3-6 months. And make sure the passwords that you select are neither easy to guess nor impossible to remember. At some of the places I’ve worked over the years, root passwords were stored in a safe where they could be accessed by the sysadmins or management as needed. At other places, root passwords were stored in an encrypted file so that, if a sysadmin forgot the password to one of many servers, he could retrieve it while the passwords remained unavailable to non-authorized users.

Work Smarter: Organize your work so that you spend less time moving between assignments. Find ways to combine tasks. Reduce the number of times that you have to deal with any single issue.

Document Everything: Don’t leave important processes dependent on the skill set or memory banks of one individual — even if that one individual is you! Compile all of the critical aspects of managing your network or your servers into a reliable repository of system knowledge. You never know when you or someone else will want to move on to a new assignment. Leaving good documentation means someone else can follow in your footsteps and you can move forward with a clean conscience.

Find a better job or make your current job better: Be honest with yourself about what you like and don’t like about what you’re currently doing. Make a list of those things that you’d like to improve and then ask yourself how you might go about making those improvements.

Learn Linux: If you’re working on some other Unix platform and have little or no experience with Linux, dedicate some time to working on a Linux system. One of the PCs that I have at home is running Linux. I bought it on eBay for about $50 — a very small investment — and installed Fedora Core. I can’t imagine a better use for a Pentium III.

Learn the basics of IPv6
: I’ve heard we won’t need to switch until 2025, but it’s not too early to start anticipating what the future of the Internet is going to look like.

Get yourself certified: There are lots of certifications available for Unix and networking professionals. Wondering if you can prove your worth when you apply for a new position? Maybe it’s time to pass some exams and add some letters to your resume.

Lessen your dependencies on closed software: Use OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office. Take advantage of the wide range of available open software to help manage your systems.

Get a Safari account and keep up-to-date on the latest Unix topics. With more than 3,000 books online, Safari can help you learn new skills without investing a fortune in books. Better yet, get your boss to buy you an account.

Have a Life: Don’t be so much of a geek that you don’t take time out for the other things that you enjoy. Go camping or dancing or sing with a Barbershop Quartet. Join audible.com and listen to books on CD during your commute.

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