Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

Adversity to Change

By willfe in Op-Ed
Sun Jul 08, 2001 at 04:11:24 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

A long-winded, possibly pointless discussion about people's unnerving desire to cling desperately to their ideas and beliefs, even when they're presented evidence proving how wrong they are.

NOTE: This is my first submission to kuro5hin.org, and honestly it's one of my first attempts to write much of anything in a digestible form. This is intentionally a little rambling and it wanders away from the central topic in quite a few spots. I did this, I think, in an attempt to convey some of the confusion this weird but "standard" human behavior inflicts on my mind. Sorry if I stray off the topic too far; hopefully we can get a decent discussion brewing.

I've intentionally left identifying details out of this discussion; I don't want to lose my job by annoying the management staff any further. The only product I mention by name here is Bugzilla, a bug/issue tracking system and kitchen sink, produced by and for the Mozilla project. It is by far the best system I've ever used, by the way, and if anyone needs or wants help setting it up or customizing it, give me a yell. Although I'll not admit this at the office anymore, I'm still quite fond of the tool.

Now on to the ramblings.

I'm a system administrator who works in a small office owned by a gigantic corporation. It's a weird environment; we have our own little network with our own servers & printers. The office doesn't have more than forty people in it at this point.

The odd part is that we're owned by and answer to a giant telecommunications company. The office was originally a venture capital startup, who got purchased by a telecommunications company, who in turn got bought out by another bigger telecom. When I started, we were a traditional dot.com fairy tale; a bunch of hackers with a nifty idea, albeit an ultimately stupid one, with a couple system administrators around to support the whole mess.

This of course changed as the big companies bought us out. It was great at first; we had big budgets, lots of equipment, great working hours, etc. Oddly enough, I didn't reap many of those benefits; I was expected to be there by 9:00am and not to leave until 5:00pm, like a "normal" person. I never got any new hardware either. All the boxes that currently run our internal stuff have been in service at this office longer than I have.

It's strange to try to express the kind of environment this created. Even moreso to try to explain how I came to be in the irritating position I find myself in now. At first, I was an assistant of sorts. My role was to help the other admins.

When they quit (all of them, nearly simultaneously), the role of primary administrator was dropped in my lap. It wasn't long before I was given the reigns and was afforded quite a latitude in decision making when it came to the systems I managed.

A system wasn't working right? No problem. Build a new one to replace it, then gut the old box to find out what went wrong. I stayed on top of security announcements and patched systems the instant fixes were released. I eagerly helped other people do the same to their Windows boxes while I maintained all the Solaris systems that purred in the background to support them all.

The best part about that time, which seemed to end about nine months ago, was that I had most everyone's respect. I was the guy everyone knew they could turn to when they had a problem no one else could solve. If you had a weird idea and wasn't sure how to implement it, or even if you should, I was the person you'd talk to. I'd either shoot down the idea and offer a better alternative, or I'd help get it started.

Whether this respect was real or perceived, it was a good time for me. I had never before worked with so much freedom. It paid off for the office in spades as I worked feverishly to be rid of the legacy of the admins who'd quit (and has built some *very* strange boxes) and streamlined the systems in the office.

I did all sorts of things to improve the end-user experience there. I merged all the different file servers, both NT and Solaris-based, into one beefier system with plenty of disk space, CPUs, and memory to handle all the work. I reorganized the shares to make things more logical, polling the users to see what they wanted.

I moved all the printers onto that same file server as well (Samba-based, of course), consolidating print services and making everything more reliable and stable. I implemented a backup system (we weren't backing things up before this ... ugh) and fully automated it (save the actual physical tape rotations, which had to be done by hand).

Within six months of being officially handed the internal production environment, I had turned the whole thing into a shining example of open-source to the rescue. It was free software done right. Windows and Unix boxes of all flavors could get to all the same shares and printers on the network. DHCP worked uniformly across all platforms, avoided IP conflicts, and dynamically updated DNS. Secure shell (ssh) was deployed across the entire network. NT's presence in the production environment was reduced to a single server. Services were streamlined, made more efficient, and things were made insanely simple for end-users.

With all these improvements behind the scenes, one might have expected (or at least hoped for) some recognition, or at least an acknowledgement. Of course, one would only expect or hope for this if one was a naive systems administrator, which I admit I was.

Things started to go downhill when my coworkers approached me with a problem. They had (and still have, despite everyone's efforts to kill it) a closed-source, Windows-only trouble ticketing system that was completely failing to do its job. The two people in the organization who'd pushed so hard to put the product in place had long since left the company, and this damned thing was (and still is) the one tool I couldn't displace.

They described their needs to me. I dug around on the net for awhile, and found several tools of interest. The one I settled on was Bugzilla, mostly because the thing just plain worked. It was easy to customize, easy to use, and it pounded the hell out of the closed-source product it was meant to replace.

A low-key announcement was made that people could begin testing Bugzilla and evaluating its use. A month or so later, it was quite obvious to everyone involved that Bugzilla was the clear winner. It did everything people wanted, and it seemed as if the other tool's days were numbered. Many people, including my manager, asked that I put together a presentation to show off Bugzilla to the entire office. I did so, and produced a tidy 30 page document explaining how to use the system's features. Everyone was impressed, and eager to get started using the new system.

Then, suddenly, the bubble burst. For the first time in my nearly two years of employment at this office, I discovered there were people who *didn't* value my opinions in the slightest. They came in the form of a manager, and a director who managed her. This pair, affectionately known as "the twins" by just about everyone in the office, are among the most intensely disliked people in the office.

Of course, nobody's ever said that to their faces. Suddenly, their very own request for a replacement ticketing system became a personal war against me.

I'll wait a bit for everyone to quit laughing. I know the above sounds utterly paranoid and insane. But I'm convinced it's the truth.

As I began pushing the migration forward (there was content in the old system that needed to be preserved and ideally inserted into Bugzilla), I suddenly began feeling resistance. It ultimately reached a point where these women loudly proclaimed (to everyone) that they refused to let me "ram Bugzilla down their throats."

Realizing early on that I would never win this war (you *never* win against a manager unless you're one yourself ... only then have you got any chance whatsoever), I made sure my own manager knew about the brewing conflict. What I got from him in response seemed, at the time, to be unmitigated support. He was all for Bugzilla. He recognized the usefulness of a platform-independent, web-accessible open-source system for trouble ticketing. He knew it was a better tool than what was already in place.

It turned out that much of what he said and claimed was lip service. Or at least, that he couldn't deliver on his promises.

What was originally a simple migration turned into a nightmare. Suddenly the twins decided that since we were replacing the system anyway, we might as well throw every conceivable feature into the new system. Suddenly they just couldn't live without a "knowledge base." The system being replaced *had* such a tool. It had been used a total of (count 'em) fourteen times. It had a meager four entries in it because nobody who used or maintained the system cared enough to add to it.

A brief polling of my fellow employees revealed that trend would continue; nobody cared in the slightest about a "knowledge base" tool when we had an entire web site, maintained by tech writers and administered by myself, that sported a full-fledged search engine.

No matter, the feature was tacked on as a requirement. The migration turned into the most pathetic display of bureacratic nonsense I have ever seen. The two managers sternly refused to use Bugzilla. They ordered their staff to do the same. They clinged to their old system like a child clutches his battered stuffed animal when his parents try to take it away.

It was decided by the brilliant management staff that we needed to form a "committee" to examine Bugzilla versus a number of other trouble ticketing products on the market.

You can imagine that it deteriorated from there. That all began in January. It's July now. What's the current state of the office?

The old ticketing system is still online and in use. Bugzilla sits mostly idle, used only by a handful of people who weren't involved enough in the politics to care about the outcome. It's almost fallen out of use; I'm the only one left who uses it. Only a couple of people use the old ticketing system either; ironically enough it turns out we don't particularly need a ticketing system at all. One would be nice, but it's certainly not worth the money or any extended effort.

The worst of it is that the respect I'd supposedly earned from everyone has gone. Out of this mess came a new opinion that everyone seems to hold for me now.

Gone are the days when I was considered a good administrator, or even a competent one. People don't usually ask for my help anymore, unless it's urgent and nobody else is around. I still perform the usual duties, like patching systems and fixing problems, but it goes largely unnoticed (as, I suppose, most systems administration work does).

A few weeks ago, someone finally told me (he claimed he was being "honest" but I can't help but wonder if he wasn't being the in-person equivalent of a "troll") how he thinks people see me.

It turns out most folks in the office now think of me as little more than a Linux bigot. Even though our entire production environment runs Solaris, I'm a big Linux bigot.

There's a number of problems I have with this. It may have come about because of an effort we started a few months ago to migrate a few workstations off Windows and onto Linux.

There were seven boxes in total that we converted. They were unimportant, and my mistake was assuming that because the end users were the least-competent in the office, their complaints would be disregarded as lack of experience.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Their incessant whining gave the twins more ammunition than they could have possibly hoped for, and they used it against me whenever they had a chance. They never did it to my face, but they took shots at me whenever I wasn't around to defend myself.

What frustrates me about this is how fiercely these people cling to their outdated ideas and notions. This brings me to the point of my rant -- people are unbelievable opposed to change.

Part of the way I earned respect from my coworkers, and, ironically, lost it again a few months later, was how efficiently and effectively I worked. In meetings when I made presentations, people noticed how unreasonably fast my notebook was, compared to their own.

People noticed how stable my workstations were; we had little in common when it came to whining about reboots. When they exchanged tales of their latest reboots to fix a crash or unfreeze their system, the best I could come up with was whining a little because I had to give up a 20+ day uptime on my workstation to boot a new kernel.

I handled mail faster than anyone else in the office through an effective combination of a fast mail reader (mutt), a good mail filter (procmail), and by taking the time to learn the tools as much as I could.

I clearly demonstrated, by deeds instead of words, that Windows was an inferior product in every conceivable way, and that Linux was better for almost any application. I proved the point by running Windows in a window (thanks to VMware) with minimal strain on my workstations.

I think I began to lose that respect again when people tried to emulate me. And this is where my logic and reason fails me. People naturally got curious about Linux, and started messing around with it. But people didn't go about it the "right way," if there even is such a thing.

Nobody asked me much about how I did the things I did, or what I was running. Instead, they just locked on the word "Linux" and ran with it. Nobody knew that I was running Debian GNU/Linux, so everyone who wanted to be like me ran out and bought (yes, purchased, even as I offered to make copies of the bootable Debian install CDs) Red Hat Linux off their local Best Buy's shelves. Now I'm not suggesting that doing so is a bad thing, but in this case I think it would have made more sense to go with the same distribution the experienced guy was running.

Of course, when things didn't go so well, and Linux handed them their asses because it could just smell their inexperience, everyone turned on me.

I suppose they did it because there wasn't anyone else to be angry at. This isn't a culture that encourages taking responsibility for one's own decisions; it's better to blame someone else.

Instead of reaching the appropriate conclusions ("wow, maybe he's actually skilled with this stuff, and maybe he could help me figure this out"), they decided that Linux sucks, and that I was a bigot for supporting this obviously inferior system.

All the evidence they'd seen got tossed straight out the window. Even though these idiots had seen, first hand, that what I was using was faster, more reliable, and much more stable than what they were using. They conveniently ignored the fact that they made fun of their own OS of choice (Windows).

Because they couldn't grok Linux on their very first try, they chose to cling tenaciously to their precious (but broken) Windows and publicly shun those who used anything different.

Nowadays, I just work behind the scenes. Of course when something breaks, I'm the first person (and the second, and the third :) to hear about the failure. Even when I'm sitting there working on the problem, and people can clearly see that I'm working on it, they'll still ask the same stupid questions.

It's usually one of those obvious questions ... while I'm fidgeting with my workstation's IP address for example, because the newest beta of DHCP took a nosedive, someone will invariably ask "hey the network's down!"

Then they'll get angry at me because I point out that the network's really not down, but their workstation just isn't getting an IP address. I usually have it fixed before they're done venting their frustration at me.

What can anyone do in the face of this kind of insane behavior? It's precisely this kind of behavior that drove me away from religion; people don't behave rationally.

If I were a psychologist, perhaps I'd at least know the terminology to describe this unexplainable need to defend one's decisions to the death.

I know most people don't like change. They like things to remain static; they grow accustomed to life going a certain way, and question whenever something differs from the routine.

Even if you show a person thousands of reasons why their chosen methods or tools don't work, or could work better, that person will still cling desperately to them. It becomes a personal war. A holy war. And above all, a pathetic, pointless war.

Change happens whether you like it or not. When you think you've got your entire life under control, there's always something waiting in the wings to pounce on you.

It has always disturbed me how a group of managers can get together, choose to fight change as hard as they can, and actually succeed in holding it off for any amount of time whatsoever. It's this kind of behavior that sees Solaris 2.6 running in a mission-critical production environment, despite two newer major releases of that OS having been available for years.

The people I work with are no exception. With all my fighting energies depleted (I've frankly given up trying to help any of these people any more), the twins silently began blowing away the Linux installations with fresh installs of Windows 2000. They've made a critical mistake; they took their perceived victory in the "everybody versus Bugzilla" battle to mean that their choices were correct. That because I've given up trying to fight them, everything I've ever said or advocated is wrong.

What they don't realize is that changes are coming anyway. The managers at my office have gone to great lengths to make sure I understand I won't be making those changes, but I rest easy in the knowledge that I don't really need to. The changes come anyway. And this time, they'll be handed down to them by an upper manager. It won't come from somebody they can silence or railroad out of the way. When the changes come, I know I won't be recognized as someone who saw them coming and adapted. Instead, I'll just be one of the crowd.

I'm not used to that; maybe I'll like it.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Have you ever tried (or been volunteered) to make drastic changes at your office?
o Yes, and I succeeded 20%
o Yes, and it almost worked 15%
o Yes, and I failed miserably 26%
o No, but I've seen it, and I don't ever want to try it 15%
o No, but I want to 8%
o No, and I don't see what the problem here is 13%

Votes: 45
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Kuro5hin
o Also by willfe

Display: Sort:
Adversity to Change | 59 comments (28 topical, 31 editorial, 0 hidden)
I saw a beautiful bumpersticker the other day... (2.88 / 9) (#9)
by _Quinn on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 07:28:22 AM EST

It was white sans-serif on black: 'People Suck.'

Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.

Not all people... (4.00 / 7) (#11)
by Zeram on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 09:09:21 AM EST

are so irrational. Most people fear what they don't know. Fear turns into anger. If they try something (Linux) and it doesn't work they feel scared that they might hurt the magic box, and stupid because how can you get it to work but they can't? This is just the kind of thing that most people learn from childhood on. It happens. As long as you learn that from here on out you have to take people into account as well as technology, well then at least you go something out of all of this. I think it's actually quite funny myself, and I think that when/if you leave where your working you'll laugh at it too. Just keep this in mind:

Most people fear what they don't know and most people don't know computers.

Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
Relationships (4.79 / 44) (#12)
by sigwinch on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 09:26:18 AM EST

Warning: Social advice from a turbo nerd follows. Read on at your own risk.
It ultimately reached a point where these women loudly proclaimed (to everyone) that they refused to let me "ram Bugzilla down their throats."
The thing is, most people aren't resistant to change. What they resist is having things changed for them. If they don't feel like they're involved, then they feel like they're at the mercy of outside forces. It's the sensation of being dominated that they fear.
A few weeks ago, someone finally told me ... how he thinks people see me. It turns out most folks in the office now think of me as little more than a Linux bigot.
The Linux part is a red herring. The important part is bigot. You're the guy with the 525 horsepower Hemi Barracuda with the roll cage and 5-point harness that makes their Hondas look like childrens' toys. You're the guy with the scope-sighted match-grade .50 caliber rifle that can drop a man at 2000 yards, which makes their little paint guns meaningless by comparison. You're the master craftsman who can make a watertight barrel using nothing but an axe, while repairing the gutters taxes their abilities.

Judging from their response, you're also the kind of person who makes a point of showing them exactly how superior your techniques and tools are, and just how far they have to go to equal their accomplishments. I don't know you, of course, but this is the impression I get from everything you said.

If you rub people's noses in their inferiority, it makes them feel small. If they are humble, this makes them feel less confident about their own abilities. If they are proud, it makes them resentful and angry. (There are some people who are deliberately oblivious, and judge themselves based on how much progress they make over time, but that's rare.) Note that you don't have to do anything rude or condescending for this to happen: you just have to put them in a position where they recognize themselves as inferior.

(he claimed he was being "honest" but I can't help but wonder if he wasn't being the in-person equivalent of a "troll")
Either he was being sincere (and, I might add, brave for facing you), or he was trying to bring you down a notch. Either way, he was telling you something important.
They were unimportant, and my mistake was assuming that because the end users were the least-competent in the office, their complaints would be disregarded as lack of experience.
Your mistake was assuming that management would disregard someone's complaint. Your job was to provide a solution. If achieving the solution required operator training, it was your responsibility to address it (maybe not to provide it, but to make sure the organization was providing it).

You can't just dump novices in front of a sophisticated piece of equipment they've never used before, and expect their fear, frustration, and heartache to be ignored. Sheesh.

When they exchanged tales of their latest reboots to fix a crash or unfreeze their system, the best I could come up with was whining a little because I had to give up a 20+ day uptime on my workstation to boot a new kernel.
It's a poor guru who can only think of telling his disciples how enlightened he his.

People want sympathy and camraderie. Imagine that your spouse's family is absurdly wealthy. Suppose you visit Mother-In-Law (at the mansion) and talk about how you missed a car payment and nearly got your Toyota repossed, and she replies "Yes, I know what you mean, the payment on my Mercedes is nearly $2000 a month. Just think, I could practically hire another servant for that much." That would make you feel pretty small, eh? You'd think she's an arrogant snob, a money bigot.

But what if she had told you of a time before she met Father-In-Law (where the money came from), when she was still in college and she was thrown out of her apartment for not paying the rent. Or what if she gently asked you questions about how the payment was missed, and tried to show you that things could work out better and tried to teach you how to make them be better? Then you might actually feel better. Heck, you might even end up being glad to have someone like her on your side.

I clearly demonstrated, by deeds instead of words, that Windows was an inferior product in every conceivable way, and that Linux was better for almost any application. I proved the point by running Windows in a window (thanks to VMware) with minimal strain on my workstations.
I have found at work (in general, as well as for the specific case of open source software) that such 'conclusive proofs' are pretty meaningless. The fact is that you can run a profitable business on just about any modern OS (Solaris, Linux, Windows 9x, Windows NT, Irix, MacOS, ...). In fact, each of the OSes has unique strengths. Solaris scales to giant multiprocessor machines. Linux is cheap and super flexible. Windows 9x has nice multimedia performance and is easy to get started with. Windows NT runs on commodity hardware and has nice security compartmentalization. Irix can stream vast amounts of data with real-time constraints. MacOS...uh...comes on nifty transluscent machines.

Not only do different tools have different intrinsic values for different jobs, people have habits and preferences. You can't just tell people that the new tool has been scientifically proven to be more efficient. If it makes them unhappy, they will actually be less efficient. Happy people who enjoy their jobs are efficient workers. They can focus their minds far better than unhappy people, and that is the single most important factor in efficiency.

You ignore human nature at your peril.

Of course, when things didn't go so well, and Linux handed them their asses because it could just smell their inexperience, everyone turned on me.
Installing an OS is an exercise in systems integration, and systems integration is the favorite way to get a nonfunctional system. In fact, failure during the integration phase is probably the leading cause of failure for all information technology projects. It doesn't matter how small the integration job is either. Plugging a USB camera into a Windows 98 box is as likely to fail as adding a new radar processor LRU to an F-18. Doing it well takes plenty of schedule, lots of experience, a fair amount of luck, and great fortitude.

Guess what, bucko. I'm an experienced programmer, computer engineer, and electrical engineer, I've written kernel code, and Linux occassionaly hands me *my* ass. There's an AMD K6-2-450 on an FIC VA-503+ motherboard in the next room that Red Hat 7.1 blows up on with a variety of amusing kernel faults, signal 7s, and other assorted horseshit (the exact error varies randomly), and I'm pretty much helpless to fix it. Unless I want to spend 20-50 hours recompiling the kernel, I'm gonna have to give 7.1 an unconditional surrender and revert to the 6.2 that previously worked flawlessly on that box.

You're to blame for their failures. You intentionally built up Linux in their minds as a Perfect Solution, as the original lead pipe cinch. You led them to believe that Linux was magic pixie dust, that if they just sprinkled it around the room, all their problems would just vanish. In reality, that Red Hat boxed set was a systems integration kit.

All the evidence they'd seen got tossed straight out the window. Even though these idiots had seen, first hand, that what I was using was faster, more reliable, and much more stable than what they were using.
Mario Andretti *rocks* behind the wheel of an Indy car. His machines are awesome, and he's even cooler. Nonetheless, a novice who eats the wall at 180 mph in front of their colleagues will probably go back to driving their Honda, and justifiably so.

Just because a tool is powerful in the right hands, doesn't mean the secretary *has* to use it.

Then they'll get angry at me because I point out that the network's really not down, but their workstation just isn't getting an IP address.
But from their chair, the network is down! The fact that the IEEE-802.3 electrical transport parameters are within their nominal ranges is irrelevant to them. Without that IP address, they might as well find some carbon paper and a typewriter.

You have to look at things from the practical perspective. Feeding somebody a line of technical crapola just because you can is snide, and doesn't get them one atom closer to a solution.

What can anyone do in the face of this kind of insane behavior?
In my case, growing up helped. But it's taken me 27 years so far and I'm still fairly disappointed with the results.

You have to understand that *PEOPLE ARE ALMOST NEVER INSANE*. Print that out and hang it on the wall. When their behavior seems insane, it is almost always because *you* have an incorrect model of what is going on in their heads. When you understand their experiences, their feelings, and their motivations, people usually make sense. Their motivations might not coincide with your opinion of reality, but their thoughts are usually self-consistent. Heck, even paranoid schizos are often totally logical, they just have faulty perceptions of the external world.

(I've frankly given up trying to help any of these people any more)
<sarcasm>Yeah, you've already done a good job of helping them. They're just ungrateful bastards.</sarcasm>
...the twins silently began blowing away the Linux installations with fresh installs of Windows 2000. They've made a critical mistake; they took their perceived victory in the "everybody versus Bugzilla" battle to mean that their choices were correct. That because I've given up trying to fight them, everything I've ever said or advocated is wrong.
Sigh. None of the parties should have ever let it become a battle, and any of them could probably have prevented it (or at least substantially mitigated it). It's called professionalism, and it lets people work together even when they disagree or have trouble explaining themselves. (And no, it is not an easy skill to acquire or maintain.)
When the changes come, I know I won't be recognized as someone who saw them coming and adapted.
Translation: "I tried to lead them to the Fount of True Knowledge, but they failed. Now I'm gonna sit here smugly in my martyrdom."
Instead, I'll just be one of the crowd. I'm not used to that;
If this were an IT role-playing game, you just rolled a 0 against your Humility.

P.S. At this point, I have to agree with the editorial comment that said 'unintentionally hilarious'.

P.P.S. K5 needs some sort of award for longest meaningful comment.

I don't want the world, I just want your half.

I think you answered a bit more of this already. (4.20 / 5) (#22)
by Xeriar on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 11:13:18 AM EST

In my case, growing up helped. But it's taken me 27 years so far and I'm still fairly disappointed with the results.

So, alright, I've got nineteen years of computer experience and I'm only twenty-two. I was an arrogant bastard for a long time - I still have quite a bit of ego left, but the sneer is replaced with confidance. If I know what I'm doing, I say so, if not, I admit it. It is SO easy when you get used to it, and when people ask you something and you say 'No idea, but here's how we can find out...'

That is what gets you that much-vaunted 'respect'. I have to face the fact that I am not a native French or Japanese speaker, and will probably not get much better than the ~1 year experience that I have in each language. However, I was not hired because I knew a little French, and a lot about the various sciences - I was hired because I am the swiss-army knife of computer technicians.

That said, I'm expected to know about computers, and enough to integrate with other scientific fields. I expect the physicist to come up with the set of equations he needs, and not to actually program the UI for the testing tool we're trying to build.

That said, some people are morons, but I try to give everyone their chance.

When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.
[ Parent ]

Re: Relationships (4.33 / 12) (#25)
by willfe on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 11:18:12 AM EST

Wow. Thanks for the brutal beating with the clue stick. :)

You raise quite a few good points. I think many of them might turn out to be editorial ones; I managed to get so lathered up as I wrote this that it seems I've left out plenty of details that might have explained the situation better.

For one thing, I didn't (and never have) just shove Linux in front of newbies and expect them to sink or swim. One of the few times Bugzilla was really put to good use was during the deployment of those Linux systems. Yes, things were tested, and the users were invited to participiate in the installation, ask questions, and attend training sessions (that I offered to give, but management chose not to accept).

For people who chose to go with Linux on their own, I offered tons of help; if someone had trouble getting XFree86 working, they had the choice of just taking my XF86Config file and running with it, or sitting down with me to learn how to generate that file. I didn't just throw these people to the wolves, and I should have explained that more thoroughly.

Oddly enough, your sarcastic comment that they're just ungrateful bastards is largely true. They are :) The fact is the Linux rollout wasn't my idea. I still stuck with it, and offered help when I could. It just wasn't enough. When your management hands you a task but doesn't support your efforts later, it tends to bite you in the arse.

On other counts, you're completely correct. I made plenty of mistakes. I'm as much to blame for the "war" that ensued as the others. It sort of sucks that I'm the only one in the office to actually suffer any consequences from that war, but them's the breaks.

Thanks for all your constructive input. Sometimes being smacked hard in the face with a well-reasoned reality check is what someone needs to get out of the self-pity cycle.

[ Parent ]
human resource geeks (4.00 / 1) (#59)
by error 404 on Tue Jul 10, 2001 at 10:53:34 AM EST

The Twins are probably as expert in the operation of offices as you are in the operation of machines. While you were doing great things with the machines, you had LEDs blinking on the office level. You have, I think, been fscked, and I'm not typing 's' when I mean 'u'.

Don't take it personaly.

And remember (somebody else said something similar) that it is very rare for someone to behave in a really irrational way. What's much more common is that they are seeking goals you aren't aware of, on the basis of facts that you either don't have or interpret differently, and possibly using methods you don't understand. What people do almost always makes sense, from their perspective, for some value of 'sense'. Figure out thir perspective and what value of 'sense' applies and life gets much easier. And even if you can't figure out the values of those variables, realizing that they are variables may ease your mind. And some people really are irrational and act against their own interests.

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

Accounting rules are different (4.23 / 13) (#14)
by jneves on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 09:40:02 AM EST

You're a sysadmin, they're people trying to do their work. You, as most sysadmins (I know, I've been one for more than 3 years fro more than 3000 users), don't understand that a new version of DHCP costs money if it prevents people from working. For them, if their computer is not accessing the net, the network is down, independetly nof the "real" reason, that means that he can't use the network for his job. If you understand the difference between your view and theirs you'll be able to regain the respect you lost. Right now, you're only making your situation worst by not understanding that your situation is, in a significant part, you're own making.

Test New Stuff (3.87 / 8) (#18)
by SEWilco on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 09:53:47 AM EST

Indeed. He should have tested the new DHCP server on himself and a willing subnet, not replaced the production server with it.

(Maybe he did, but he didn't mention any testing)

[ Parent ]

"Down" (4.61 / 13) (#30)
by IntlHarvester on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 01:20:40 PM EST

Reading the story, I felt for the author because it sounds as if he's a very skilled admin, did all the right things, kept the user's interest in the forefront while promoting the products he liked, and just happened to get his balls nailed to the wall politically in the typical sort of pointless battle that's always being waged in corporate IT.

But the "Network is Down" comment kind of got to me. It's just the form of High Nerd Arrogance that people dislike about technical staff. I mean, the network *was* down, and the proper take is to just admit that you fucked up and you are doing your best to get it back up. Turning it into a debating point just leaves the users wondering about your attitude problem.

I've seen this type of High Nerd Arrogance radiating from everyone from the weakest MCSE-wannabes to the baddest 10 year+ Unix wizards. Hell, I've radiated it myself quite strongly at times, but it still makes me queasy to the core. Why? Because the tech is putting his ego, dissatisfaction, and fragility in front of the needs of the machine and the users. This will eventually build up to the point where they are either cowering in fear of both the computer and the admin, or they are forming a lynch mob for his or her head.

The way I've always tried to deal with this is to just check my ego out of the system by making myself completely replaceable. Do my best to keep all systems are completely documented, make sure there is recovery and rebuild processes in place, make sure that any upgrades or system changes go through written change control procedures and so on. Tough to do when you are busy with actual work, but since you never know when you are going to be run over by a city bus or just get so frustrated that you walk out without notice, it's the course of action that's in the best interest of the business as a whole. Furthermore, you still have the pride of a job done right, but without the associative chain of You <-> Particular System <-> Your Ego <-> Users.

Another thing is to let the decision makers make the decisions. Figure that your boss is just another minor political figure in the masses, and he'll only get you so far. Your job is not to say "Yes" or "No" or "That's against my recommendations, and you will eat shit while I laugh", but instead to tell them "How Much?" and to give a range of alternatives. The fate of your business and Free Software as whole does not hinge on your use of Bugzilla, for example, but if you are not willing to tell them what it takes to their alternative running, they'll just override you and ignore you and you will be stuck with it in the end. Maybe the right answer was "There's no way I have time to support the extensive needs of that system, we need to hire a full time MCSE at $75K to maintain it." That's an answer that your boss can take to the committee, and if they want to do it anyway, remember that it's not your money. The key is to be part of the process, not fighting against it, and not be identified as the enemy.

The final lesson that I've picked up is that you should consider a system admin job to be a 1 year tour of duty. Get in, fix all the outstanding problems, install the new systems, get everything upgraded and stable and managed. Then document the hell out of things, train someone else and pass on your knowledge, and get the fuck out to a new job to repeat the process. That's the fun part of the job anyways -- sitting around and swapping tapes and loading patches and running your new user scripts will eventually wear on your soul to the point that your attitude will stink, and it will show.

[ Parent ]
Planning Change (4.00 / 6) (#17)
by SEWilco on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 09:50:53 AM EST

Change has political, psychological, and technical components.

There are books about it, a classic is "The Planning of Change". It's about psychology and a little politics, not technology.

Politics trumps knowledge every time (4.50 / 18) (#21)
by localroger on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 11:00:30 AM EST

You made a mistake that is common to nerd/geek/hacker type people. You thought that it was all about knowledge, skill, and results.

It's not.

It's about power and control, dominance and submission. Yours is a classic story and you've only learned half the lesson. You have learned that people are not like you thought -- we aren't like computers, we don't always (or even often) act in our own best interests. But you haven't learned how we are.

Human beings are animals. Despite our lofty position at the top of the food chain we are still animals. Your problem with the Twins was not that you were not a manager. Remember that. It's that you are not a naturally dominant person, and they are.

There's a simple way of dealing with people like that. You schmooze them, quietly solicit their "advice" while leading their answers to your questions. You give them the opportunity to take credit and make it look like their idea. You become the power behind the throne since you don't have the throne yourself.

Of course it's dishonest. It's ugly. You may not have the skill or temperament for such games. But it's more important than the ability to configure a server or repair a PC. You have to deal with this shit no matter what you do.

You might benefit from a reading of Colin Wilson's A Criminal History of Mankind, which addresses this defect in human perception from the standpoint of a true crime writer. While some of Wilson's conclusions are speculative and controversial, he provides much insight into how far humans can drift from the logical beings we fancy ourselves to be.

I sympathize with your disillusionment, having lived through it myself. But you have to learn to deal with people, and the tool of choice will vary. With some people you must grovel to get their cooperation; others won't respect you unless you establish your dominance. There is only one way to learn these behaviors and that is to start paying attention to them. It may offend your sensibilities -- it certainly offended mine when I Got the Clue -- but that's just denial. You're human too. It's late, and it's time to get used to the idea.

I can haz blog!

That psychological term you're looking for. (3.00 / 7) (#24)
by marlowe on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 11:15:05 AM EST

For potentially applicable psychobabble, try "cathexis."
-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
Heh (4.27 / 11) (#31)
by regeya on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 01:45:32 PM EST

You just reminded me of an occurence about a year ago when I had to defend my job.

Here's what happened: I was working in a mostly-digital newspaper composing room. The fileserver for composition (a Mac, natch) had bombed with some sort of system error. Hooray. Soon as our department started getting error messages, I checked the server, and yup, it'd crashed. I restarted it. Then the messages started rolling in from other parts of the building that the composition server had, indeed, gone down. And the fun thing is, many times, having the composition server crash caused a chain-reaction with the other fileservers.

Well, the fun part was when people started getting on the intercom and started storming in. The classified departement at that time used the composition server, and they got a notice that the composition server had gone down at precisely the time I had restarted it (odd, since I waited a couple of minutes between the time we got an error message and the time I restarted it.) And sure enough, having the composition server go down took the editorial department server with it.

For those not in the know at this point, the composition server had crashed. There was no way to get the machine to a usable state short of restarting the machine. Not restarting the machine would have meant not being able to do real work.

And to make things more interesting, we had this old, fat battleax of a woman in the department who'd been there nearly 20 years. She managed to convince already irate office workers that the reason they had to redo work they had lost when the server went down was, in fact, my fault. I had restarted the machine without warning them (which was true; it had already gone down, and it was only a matter of time before they noticed a problem.) and, for whatever reason, this one person out of six hadn't gotten an error message yet. Further, she was convinced that I had to get the publisher's approval before restarting the machine, which was utter horseshit, but the rest of the building didn't know that.

It took some fast talking to keep my job, and I spent a month being the most hated man in the office, because an overworked Mac with an incredible uptime decided to crash 20 minutes before that day's 'paper deadline. God, I love office politics. :-)

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]

just one question... (2.81 / 11) (#37)
by delmoi on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 03:12:10 PM EST

Why the fuck were you using a mac for a mission critical application?
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
Hrm... (4.00 / 3) (#50)
by regeya on Sun Jul 08, 2001 at 02:07:47 PM EST

....whoring for mojo, are we?

Wasn't my decision to use a Mac, and I don't work there anymore, but if you want to volunteer to set up a machine with Netatalk to be used a fileserver for a group of exactly six Macs, go right ahead.

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]
[ Parent ]

You need some help from Simon.... (3.50 / 10) (#35)
by SvnLyrBrto on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 02:59:42 PM EST

Gawd... you're the sysadmin for cryin out loud! You're not some data-entry twit or helpdesk jocky, you're not some middle-management lackey... yoy're THE SYSADMIN.

And you're obviously not dealing with your equals.

Remember, the incompetent deserve no mercy. And it's better to be feared than loved.

Go here for helpful pointers. Read.... take to heart.... get a staple gun for LARTing.

cya john

Imagine all the people...

I once again wonder... (3.00 / 1) (#57)
by Kasreyn on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 03:20:14 PM EST

...If one were to remove the collective from your email, there would be nothing but ".com" after the "@". How does this work, exactly?



"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
Not broke? Don't fix it. My rambling reply. (4.10 / 10) (#38)
by joegee on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 03:27:55 PM EST

The enthusiasm when someone is beginning a new job can lead to you trying new things, in new ways. As your article indicates, if the changes are transparent to your users then you will meet little resistance, and even get some praise if the changes simplify, especially if they save money.

On the other hand, never let the success of transparent changes lead you to believe that a wholesale revision will meet your coworkers' approval. If people are not PC afficionados they will almost always prefer status quo. They do not want to learn new things, or do things in a different way just to continue doing their job.

My job is to keep a network with two NT boxen, a klunky AS/400, and a hundred workstations all coexisting relatively peacefully. We use IBM client access software from the workstations to get into the AS/400. We use dhcp for IP resolution. We use MS proxy server to handle connection sharing. We use SQL. One NT box handles the printer queue, dialout, dhcp, the other just handles SQL, data warehousing, and maintenance (backup, virus scanning, etc.)

Throw into the mix Peachtree, and then add proprietary P.O.S. software like Bisys and ADP, and it can (sometimes) be challenging to keep everything running smoothly. I am payed (well) per hour, and only come in as needed on an on-call basis. I manage to keep my hands on to a minimum by not fixing things that are not broken.

I have found that when I make significant changes the whole system takes days to readjust. If I leave it alone, and resist temptation, everything meshes, maybe not beautifully, but it works in ways the people manning the workstations expect. I get minimal friction with this approach, and continue to look like a hero. %)

I would love to replace the older NT box that handles dialup, dhcp, and proxy with a Linux box, and will eventually do so (hopefully before it expires, if I can convince the powers that be that I need another box.) Receiving the outlay of money will require finesse and careful explanation not only of what the box will do, but what it prevents (loss of several hours of production time if and when the whole network suddenly goes belly-up.)

Like it or not, in an office setting there are politics, and protocols, and channels one must navigate. I suggest you find a manager you can relate to, and channel your suggestions through them. This means letting them take the glory if something goes well, but it also means that you no longer take the heat if something goes belly up.

I would love to be in the ideal situation where I could do things the way I want to do them, but in my situation I must respect my coworkers' knowledge (or lack thereof), I must respect the administration's lack of desire to spend money "fixing" something that is not currently broken, and I must work within those constraints.

I am not certain if this applies to your situation or not, but it sounds like you could benefit by sitting down with those "twins" and asking them what expectations they have of your network's future. Demonstrate a desire to work with them. Defer to them. Let them claim their initiatives as their own.

i.e., give them their rope, and let them build their own gallows. :)

Let them learn the hard way what you have already learned. :)

<sig>I always learn something on K5, sometimes in spite of myself.</sig>
Hm (2.77 / 9) (#40)
by DeadBaby on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 04:36:52 PM EST

It's my hobby to try to sum up really long articles in one line so lets try:

They won't use my Open Source software and I AM SAD!!

- "Stay up late, smoke cigars, and break windows" - Tom Waits
Some Comments (4.00 / 9) (#41)
by Simon Kinahan on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 04:38:17 PM EST

Nice article. I guess the first thing to say is that your workplace sounds like an unpleasant and morale sapping place to work, and you sound like a responsible and hardworking sysadmin. Given you've basically been running an IT department, I recommend you get out of their, and that you could probably inrease you pay in the process.

It is unfortunate that some people in almost all organisations play politics, and that you've been a victim of this. Some managers make their whole careers this way, and others barely do it at all, but it happens much more in environments were people are unhappy, don't see where they're contributing anything in their jobs, and therefore feel threatened. Your "twins" sound like managers who aren't sure what they're really doing in their jobs, and get their sense of worth by fighting turf-wars.

It looks to me as if you, with the best of intentions, took on a lot of responsibility without commensurate power, or anyone to shield you from the politics. Its an unfortunate, but true, that actually doing a job well ("technical superiority") does not count for much in many management decisions, and that goes as much for people as for computer systems. In order to make good decisions stick you either need the power to dispose of dissent, or you need to convince someone who can do that. Its hard for those of us who see our jobs as primarily technical to accept this, but unfortunately its true.

If I can criticise you on one thing, its maybe not seeing how things look to regular users. Whereas you can administer Unix systems in your sleep (I assume), most people have no clue, and regrettably that means that Linux is not appropriate for most people right now, unless you're prepared to do all the administration, and train your users too.


If you disagree, post, don't moderate
bass ackwards (2.87 / 8) (#43)
by moggo on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 05:40:14 PM EST

Took me about a year to get my funbox up and going
and another to where I really dug it. Don't expect
folks to put in the hours and effort to do what is
probably your job. You schmuck. Go and help these
poor fools, even if it means reinstalling their
M$-OS, you're there to help them out.

Why I don't talk Linux anymore (4.00 / 6) (#45)
by /dev/trash on Sat Jul 07, 2001 at 05:58:59 PM EST

This is exactly why I don't talk about Linux anymore, becuase people would say "well it doesn't do this or that or make me coffee" or it breaks when I do this and I can do that in Windows.

I let them go on their merry Windows ways....let them pay yearly subscription fees.

Updated 02/20/2004
New Site

Of COURSE people are resistant to change! (4.50 / 6) (#51)
by gte910h on Sun Jul 08, 2001 at 07:44:32 PM EST

Whenever you wish to change something that will affect many people which have a power to stop you, you are best off if you do a few things:

1. Gain people's respect
2. Make sure they have the idea that YOU ARE ON THEIR SIDE
3. Leave everyone with the idea that they are doing the exact same thing as they were before.

You have to have this to sucessfully change something where you are not in a position of authority, and you do well to do it then.

I don't really think that people noticed most of the network changes, and if they did, it would have only seemed mildly pleasent to them.

The managers viewed themselves as in support of the old system for some reason that you don't know (or didn't share). You needed to find out what they were in support in about it, and find a way to make that support generalized enough in their minds to include the new thing that you wanted (i.e. Bugzilla). That way you haven't changed their minds, and they haven't been pushed around by a lowly sysadmin....:)

This is all a self image thing, and you behave like this too sometimes. This is a human nature thing. Supposedly, scientific people like us are a little less likely to do this all the time, but I don't even know if that is true.

I don't think this was about resisting change. (4.00 / 3) (#54)
by Trepalium on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 12:31:38 AM EST

I think this was about the lowly sysadmin being percieved as challenging management's power. It's often a reflex to automatically lash out with that power to strike down whoever's challenging you either out of fear of losing it, or just to make an example to everyone else of what happens when you cross them.

The us-versus-them menality is showing in the article, as well, since he often calls he co-workers "idiots". A key to winning people's trust is not to believe that you are unconditionally right and they are unconditionally wrong, even if, to you, it seems their methods are less efficient. The best way to get their trust is to show flexibility and to support others regardless of their opinions.

Maybe I'm just rambling, but I'm certain I've seen this before, and resistance to change is not what comes to mind.

[ Parent ]

timing, and instant gratification(long and rambly) (4.20 / 5) (#53)
by Ender Ryan on Sun Jul 08, 2001 at 11:26:03 PM EST

I work in a small office for a small company. When I started here, the main webserver ran NT, all workstations ran NT, and the mail server ran Linux. It ran Linux because someone at our ISP set it up for us(before I was there), and no one felt like switching over to other mail software.

I was just starting to learn Unix at the time, and I was really getting to like Linux. I could surf the web, run my own webserver, play doom, all without my computer ever crashing. And fork() worked in Perl! (at the time, fork did not work in perl on win95, I haven't used Perl in win since then though...).

Anyway, our mail server was starting to have problems. The ram was bad, it was running a really, really old Linux distro. Slackware 1.something(I think), and no one really knew much about Linux(I was still learning), so we tried some sendmail for NT thing(I can't remember wtf it was). It sucked, badly. It wasn't as stable as the crippled Linux box, and it gave us all kinds of problems that the company's support couldn't help us with. So, after a few weeks we switched back to the Linux box.

Very shortly after that I felt comfortable with Linux/Unix to try to upgrade the box. So, I brought in my copy of RedHat, 4.1 I think, and about 2 days later we had a perfectly stable 486 handling all of our mail for us.

What was really cool was that I got to show off the latest X desktops to my co-workers. They liked it, so we messed around with a bunch of stuff on it, (Doom! ; )), Netscape, KDE, etc.

Shortly after that, we started having a serious rise in our web traffic. While this was great, our NT server just couldn't handle it. Due to some serious memory leaks in NT back then, one of us would have to go into the office to reboot the fucking thing at least once a week. From playing with Linux at home, I knew it would handle it better. So, at work I setup an identical webserver on the 486 running our mail, setup some perl scripts to simulate the same traffic, and, to everyone's amazement but my own, it handled it better than the PPRO 200 we were using for our webserver.

After showing this off, my co-worker had to try it on his machine at home. Pretty soon he was playing doom, then quake 1, then we were messing with wine, and it was a load of fun.

ANYWAY, back to the topic at hand! With our frequent server problems, I saw an opportunity to try to get some serious changes made. I'm sure we could have got our NT machines working better, but that wasn't the solution we wanted for other reasons, but it was a great opportunity to present a better solution that would require some major changes.

We've been using it ever since, and it's worked great for us. The only gripes we ever had was from the people in the graphics department who had problems saving over top of old files because of an old bug in samba. There were easy ways to work around it, so it was a minor problem for them, but nothing too bad.

Sorry to anyone who read all that ; ) My point is, what you need to do is find an itch that needs scratched, an immediate solution for that itch, and you need to time it so that the solution is offered when that itch is on the crotch and becoming embarrassing ; )

People resist change because they have to learn something new, which can be difficult, so they need to see why it is worth their effort.

Sorry for the rambling, and sorry if this isn't exactly coherent, it's late and my blood alcohol level is too low ; )

Exposing vast conspiracies! Experts at everything even outside our expertise! Liberators of the world from the oppression of the evil USian Empire!

We are Kuro5hin!

Aversity, not Adversity (4.33 / 3) (#55)
by driptray on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 12:53:15 AM EST

I assumed your headline was a clever play on words when I first read it.

Can this be changed by an editor?

We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. - Paul Keating
Irony (3.42 / 7) (#56)
by cooldev on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 04:19:13 AM EST

The ironic part is that even after hearing only one side of the story I think you're at least as averse to change as anybody else you described. You're clearly a Linux bigot. You might not think so because your measuring stick is RMS, ESR, Rex Ballard, and Slashdot, but the article is thick with bias.

Here's how I read the article: You're the expert and you used your position of power and knowledge to advocate an all open source solution. You ripped out the existing systems as much as possible, replacing them with your favorite things: Linux/Samba/Bugzilla/etc. I'm sure you "evaluated" other solutions, but we all know how that went. Even assuming you gathered requirements and talked to your users, you had your mind made up and made the open source solution look like the holy grail. The users didn't know any better -- you're a slick expert computer user.

Speaking of slick, the Linux/open source advocacy bleeds from your pores. Contiously or not, you even managed to get non-experts interested in installing Linux on their own machines! Unfortunately, as you stated, it handed them their ass. Of course they were unhappy at you, Linux has a nearly vertical learning curve. You made it look easy, pointing out only the advantages. You deceived them.

This isn't flamebait. I tend to be zealous about other technologies, but I realize I have to keep it in check, and doubly so when I'm around non-experts. For example, I can friggin fly in emacs; it's great and there's little I can't make it do. But I understand that that's because I've been using it 8-18 hours a day for the past six years and half the fun is in its complexity. I work with some of the top software engineers in the industry, and even then I'm reluctant to recommand people switch to emacs. Would I recommend it to someone trying to learn how to program and happend to watch me use it? You've got to be kidding.

Why is this his problem? (3.00 / 1) (#58)
by JDBrewy on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 03:58:48 PM EST

Most of the posts I have seen are at least in part accusing the author of being wrong for not understanding people. Hearing only his side of the story makes it hard to judge if he is acting irrational in any way, but it certainly seems to me that he is the most logical person in the entire story. We shouldn't be saying, "yeah people are screwy, but that's the way it is so work around it." We should do the logical thing. The world is what we make of it, so if we always do the wrong thing because "that's the way it is..." we are only contributing to the problem. If you do what is right, just maybe people will start to follow your example. It sure as hell aint easy, and you might be changing jobs a hell of a lot before you find a place with people intelligent enough to do the logical thing, but you have to do it if you want to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

Adversity to Change | 59 comments (28 topical, 31 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:


All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!