How to be a Terrible Network Admin: 25 Fail-safe Tips

Updated: March 17, 2010

You walk in to work everyday wishing you didn't have to; you drag your feet all day long as you're bombarded with complaints: "I can't log into the system," "I can't access the printer (or drive or server)," "This software just refuses to work the way I want it to." To top if off, you're showered with the worst nicknames because you don't seem to know what you're doing. You are the terrible network administrator.

Rather than working with your users and engaging in practical IT security measures, the terrible network administrator enjoys doing next to nothing.

Here are the best 25 ways to make your tenure in networking "The Terrible Times," not just for you, but for your organization and your end-users as well.


1. No priority for priority: Each new day in the TCP/IP world brings a host of new tasks, some trivial, others critical, and still others perceived as critical though they are not. Besides these, you also have items in your backlog folder that need to be addressed at the earliest possible time. So the best way to screw up your schedule (and that of your users) is to "run from pillar to post" attempting to set things right, without assigning priority to the most severe problems first, without tracking the status of all the requests that pour in, and without documenting the time, tools and methods spent on addressing and resolving each issue.

2. Be busy, not productive: The shortest route to this trick: do not automate recurring tasks, and under no circumstances should you find permanent solutions to common problems. You don't need to know that you can simplify your work with tools - Neo, NetFlow, MRTG, Oak, TCPDUMP, ping - none of these are a regular part of your vocabulary. And you certainly don't need to take the trouble to customize some of them using a scripting language. And finally, you don't need to know that you can use the UPS in a major file server to send an automatic email each time there's a power spike.

3. Say no to knowing your network: Monitoring your servers and your network interface is unnecessary, simply because you have no need to know how much traffic is traveling about your network. Regular observation of your network provides you with knowledge on normal, trouble-free usage, which in turn helps you identify problem spots and potential causes when you're called to troubleshoot and plan for future growth. This is not necessary for a terrible network administrator.

4. Bye to Backups: Data is the lifeblood of any organization and probably the most valuable part of a network. Bad network administrators do not have reliable backup measures, do not backup data regularly, and do not have effective recovery plans for system data that is lost or corrupted.

5. Knowledge is dangerous: Identifying new security issues before they become problems is possible with a little research, yet incompetent network administrators are not concerned with such things. They don't care to know when the new upgrade is out, or how to combat the latest forms of intrusion.

6. Take the "I'm Superman" approach: You're having a lot of trouble dealing with a particular problem, but you are the know-it-all. You don't need the assistance of any resource or reference, FAQ lists, or README files -- you can do it yourself.

7. Don't Document: Writing procedures for troubleshooting a major problem is such a boring task. Terrible administrators fail to log hardware and software specifications and details, make notes on the methods they adopted for troubleshooting (both the ones that worked and those that didn't), and document the potential causes for network problems. Doing so would save the network countless hours of time and trouble, but then they're incompetent, who cares?

8. People equate to problems: How often have you wished that the human aspect of the job would just disappear? A terrible network administrator just ignores the users. Who wants to take the time and be patient enough to deal with users who do not understand technical jargon? You don't need to develop different techniques to deal with individual needs and preferences, nor do you need to understand the procedures and politics that pertain to dealing with human beings. For the incompetent administrator, knowing your network inside out is enough!

9. Get lost in translation: There's no need for you to listen to (let alone understand) user needs and applications thoroughly before you map them to the right hardware configurations. Network system planning and design are not the concerns of a terrible administrator.

10. Automation is not automatic: A terrible network administrator does not bother to automate. While a good one would configure a system that is capable of raising an alert the moment it detects an anomaly, the terrible one would prefer to read individual system events and system logs.

11. Wrong approach to rights: Employees come and go: they move across departments climbing and falling on the corporate ladder. Each move requires a change in user access privilege rights. Allowing wrong access to confidential and sensitive data is an IT department head's worst nightmare. But, the terrible network administrator does not need to continually monitor user rights, thus inviting disaster into the network.

12. Bypass passwords: While correct password etiquette demands that your password is sufficiently long, uses a mix of characters, doesn't include any personal information, and requires frequent changes, a terrible network administrator pays no attention to this subsequently inviting hackers in. How about using one of the five most-used passwords in the world?

13. Patchy patches: Network security is at the bottom of the priority list for terrible administrators - they don't upgrade security software, don't scan for viruses and other malware on a regular basis, don't believe users when they claim to have critical problems, don't update their operating systems, don't apply regular patches from the software manufacturer - in short, they don't protect their network at all.

14. Hacking is unethical: Of course it is, but when you're a network administrator, you should think like a hacker in order to be able to catch one or thwart his/her attempts. It takes a crook to catch a crook becomes the motto here. Efficient administrators try to stay one step ahead of intruders by knowing how to hack into networks themselves. The incompetent administrator does not bother about knowing when an attack is coming though.

15. Prevention is not better than the cure: As a good administrator you have to watch for the signs that tell you an intrusion is being planned. Perform port scans and check if your system files have been altered. Stay on the alert for internal attacks from disgruntled employees who have access to information. Lock down your network room. However preventive maintenance is none of a terrible network administrator's concerns.

16. Pay no attention to your users: Since the most common means of entry for malware is through private user email attachments and downloads from dicey websites, it makes sense to monitor users' email and internet usage. The terrible network administrator takes the "everybody is entitled to their privacy and perversions" route - he follows a lax policy when it comes to a question of network security.

17. Successors don't matter: The bad system administrators have no sympathy for those who may replace them some day; the good ones ensure that the system is repeatable. A good system administrator will work hard to develop a standard for deploying an operating system or software applications in the same way across all the systems on the network. Anyone can manually load each system one by one, but it takes a skilled individual to design a system to streamline the process.

18. Predecessors do: Terrible network administrators will automatically assume that his predecessor was an excellent administrator, and not bother to find out if programs are up to date, if there are airtight security and password policies in place, if there are detailed records of past attacks and intrusions, and if employee access rights are controlled and monitored on a regular basis.

19. Time and tide wait for the terrible admin: That's because they are not bothered with completing tasks in the minimum time required to do them. Even the simplest of tasks like resetting passwords take ages, simply because the administrator does not want to do his job.

20. Integrity issues: Ever consider selling your network secrets and passwords on eBay?. A network administrator with no sense of integrity has.

21. Be here, there, everywhere: While a good administrator will try to remain invisible, secure in the knowledge that he knows the network well enough to make even the most difficult tasks appear simple, the terrible network administrator will appear to be in more than one place at the same time, though he will not get anything worthwhile done. A well-administered network is usually attributed to an admin who stays behind the scenes but knows exactly what's going on.

22. Cleanliness is not next to godliness: The terrible admin has his work easy - there's no need to continually check and clean hardware, even if he knows that the procedures tend to extend the lives of the devices.

23. Fake facts for a while: While a good network administrator is generally adept at handling two or more operating systems and mail server programs and is familiar with the most common acronyms in the business, the terrible ones just fake their way through.

24. Jump to conclusions: When problems crop up in the network, the bad administrators do not consider the entire picture; they're more focused on reaching hasty decisions. They don't take the time to make notes on what has changed and what events have taken place prior to the occurrence of the problem.

25. Odds and ends will do: Why use products that are proven to work when the stuff on sale MIGHT be as good? Incompetent network administrators choose this policy: when the pencil breaks, the network will fall.

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