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Managing Young Sys Admins At Oregon State Open Source Lab 141

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the can't-beat-real-world-experience dept.
mstansberry writes "Lance Albertson, architect and systems administrator at the Oregon State University Open Source Lab, uses a sys admin staff of 18-21-year-old undergrads to manage servers for some high-profile, open-source projects (Linux Master Kernel, Linux Foundation, Apache Software Foundation, and Drupal to name a few). In this Q&A, Albertson talks about the challenges of using young sys admins and the lab's plans to move from Cfengine to Puppet for systems management."
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Managing Young Sys Admins At Oregon State Open Source Lab

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  • As a 19 year old Computer Science major, I give major props to those kids for not crashing the server once a day.
    • by xzvf (924443) on Friday January 08, 2010 @03:13PM (#30699222)
      Most universities don't teach good system management. The CS departments are training developers and programmers. Since good SA's like stability and good developers like chaos the two normally don't mix. Does OSU have a SA degree program?
      • Right. Actually, real-world situations of system administration often aren't very good learning environments. If you're hosting real-world stuff, the best advice is often "Don't touch this, and don't mess around with that." Not messing around with things is often how you achieve stability.

        Not to say that SAs don't mess around with things, but it's often not a really experimental situation when you're administering live servers. You're being careful and doing as little as possible. I suppose that, too,

        • by lukas84 (912874)

          "Never touch a running system" is what usually leads to the spectacular failures that make it into the press.

          If you know and understand something, patching and upgrading it is no big deal - but it helps you to stay familiar with whatever you're dealing with. Also, planned outages and planned upgrades ensure that everyone is familiar with the system and documentation stays current.

          Not touching your systems is a very, very bad practice.

          • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday January 08, 2010 @03:48PM (#30699752) Homepage
            Planned upgrades are one thing. "I wonder what happens if I do this..." is another.
            • by mysidia (191772)

              Thats what test labs are for.

              Also, a good SA will know when "I wonder what happens if I do this...." is safe to try or not. There are no hard and fast rules.. sometimes an SA should be asking that question and considering applying it.

              Normally, only when troubleshooting an issue so business-impacting that it can't wait for a maintenance window to fix.

              Where "I wonder what happens if I do this..." is actually a knob the SA fully understands, and wonders if turning it off (or on) will help with the par

              • Also, a good SA will know when "I wonder what happens if I do this...." is safe to try or not.

                Oh, sure, I agree. But I was saying that it's often not a great learning environment specifically in that you shouldn't just poke around and say, "I wonder what happens if I do this..." I mean, if I were introducing someone with little or no sysadmin experience into a team, one of the first rules I would set is, "At least for the time being, don't poke around in any production systems unless you and I both know what you're doing."

                Thats what test labs are for.

                Yeah, but is that what we're talking about? Students poking around on test

                • by mysidia (191772) on Friday January 08, 2010 @08:02PM (#30702940)

                  The ideal combination would be for them to administer live systems and test systems at the same time, e.g. have access to both.

                  And utilize change control.

                  Use test systems to experiment and learn. Make proposals to accomplish tasks/maintenance that need to be done to live systems (such as upgrades).

                  On lab systems, they test/experiment with their proposed administration procedures/configuration changes. Before using them in the maintenance of live systems, they document what they plan to do step by step, and two other admins, a "partner", and a senior admin go over the procedure with them, question them about any apparent gaps, lookup any missing information needed, and take a copy of the procedure.

                  Then at the planned time, the young admin will run the procedure exactly as documented.

                  If they need help, or something (bad) should happen to them in the middle (e.g. they tripped over something, broke a leg, or broke their keyboard in the middle of maintenance), such that they can't complete the maintenance task, or get stuck, the other two admins both agree to be available to help and pick up if necessary.

          • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday January 08, 2010 @03:54PM (#30699856) Journal
            The nasty trick is that, while not touching systems is very, very bad practice, being the first guy to touch something that hasn't been touched in a while is not a pleasant thing.

            In an ideal world, all systems get regular attention and everything hums along smoothly. In a less ideal world, people are distracted from what is working by what isn't working, and their knowledge gradually atrophies, until they no longer dare touch what is working for fear of making it join what isn't working. This is a thoroughly pathological situation; but, if you are stuck in it, Just Not Touching and hoping for the best is quite possibly more logical than biting the bullet and taking one for the team.
            • by Almahtar (991773)

              but, if you are stuck in it, Just Not Touching and hoping for the best is quite possibly more logical than biting the bullet and taking one for the team.

              Sounds like a typical Friday night for me.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Mad Merlin (837387)

        Most Universities don't teach any system administration. I don't know about you, but I picked it up hands on, by creating Game! [wittyrpg.com].

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by i.r.id10t (595143)

          A course titled "Unix Administration" is a 4000 level course offered as part of the CSE program at UF. What it covers I don't know (and won't for a few years) but there is at least *one* admin course taught at *one* university for comp sci/engineering folks...

          Looking forward to taking it too, since I teach a Linux Admin course here at the community college I work at...

        • by mysidia (191772)

          System administration changes as quickly as the computing technology changes, which is way too fast for curriculums to catch up..

          Many universities revise their curriculums once every 7 years or longer. For system administration, that's a disaster, it would be 2008 before they considered replacing the "Windows NT" class with a "Windows 2000 Server" class per the suggestions of some students (received a few years back).

          Many universities use a lot of old outdated computing hardware, and don't have labs

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by rhewt (649974)
        I would have to agree with your statement. As a soon-to-be graduate of Virginia Tech in Computer Science and Finance, the CS department's curriculum has about 2.5 years of programming before you even see any SA classes (of which cover a very limited area). It's almost as though the message is that one needs to be a good programmer (perhaps exposed programmer would be more appropriate) in order to be a good system administrator, which I don't believe is the case. I thoroughly enjoy net/sys administration and
        • It's always fun when we have interns from the local university CS dept and the first time they run into a systems problem in the real world, i.e. a router not properly configured or a firewall problem, and they spend hours trying to figure out what is wrong with their code.

          I come from the SA/SI world. The students always wonder why so much of our code is written in Perl as opposed to PHP, Python, Ruby, or whatever is the "cool" scripting language this year. And the reason is that a lot of it was stuff that

      • Since good SA's like stability and good developers like chaos the two normally don't mix.

        So THAT'S how Warhammer 40K got started...

      • One of my roommates at OSU was a CS major with a focus in IIS. He worked with the OSU OSL and LUG.
      • by Obfuscant (592200)
        Does OSU have a SA degree program?

        From a quick scan of the program catalog, no. Not even SA courses.

        I know a few years ago they used to have what I expect would be an excellent SA course. I know the guy who taught it, and he was an excellent SA whose attitude towards the process was extremely infective. He had people setting up systems and mail servers and what not and tearing them down to see how they ran. The impression I got from him and others was that those who took the course loved it, but he and t

        • by gchaix (1716666)

          Two OSL staff have created and taught a system admin course at OSU: http://cs312.osuosl.org/ [osuosl.org] The content is available under Creative Commons.

          We're actively working with the EECS faculty to incorporate both system administration and open source topics into the course offerings.

  • Um... Don't all universities use students as sysadmins? I know this was nothing special at Utah state university. There were dozens of networks for varying departments and projects, and all of them administered at least at some level by university students.
    • Not really. Where I studied as an undergrad, there was a lot of paranoia about (undergrad) student sysadmins abusing their power, and so students were only allowed to assist faculty or full time IT staff. When I was asked to do some routine maintenance, I was told that they would not be giving me the root password because I could potentially use it to read other people's email, and that my assurances that I would never do such a thing made no difference.
    • Nope (Score:5, Interesting)

      by autocracy (192714) <slashdot2007 AT storyinmemo DOT com> on Friday January 08, 2010 @03:20PM (#30699330) Homepage

      The members of the CS department at my college actually petitioned to have me take over as their lab admin. The incumbent staff admin was notorious for breaking things and making it a chore to use the systems. Despite the complaints against him and requests specifically to hire me on, the department chair kept the incumbent.

      I found it all very amusing, especially since I'm not a CS student. I'm just well-known enough to the group. I'm also greatly amused by how often I get asked for help when I'm around there, specifically one case where a student was in a 390-something class. I replied, "We really don't know each other at all, and I'm not a CS student. What made you think I am a good person to ask?" He said he'd just seen me help with enough other people's problems... and so I gave him a hand too.

      Long-windedness aside, my university only uses students to provide, "Cean the viruses off your personal computer," services.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by BitZtream (692029)

        The ignorance of your post is one good indication of why they didn't replace him with you.

        If you have a bunch of CS students petitioning to make you the admin, thats another good indication that you shouldn't be doing it. Part of this I know because I'll bet a months pay that the job description for the position doesn't include 'CS students must think your a swell guy and a good admin', which you seem to think IS part of it.

        An admins job isn't just 'make things easy on users'. There is a lot more that goe

        • Re:Nope (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewk.gmail@com> on Friday January 08, 2010 @04:58PM (#30700716)

          And you wonder why people don't like your type...

        • Man, I wish I hadn't already burned all my mod points today. Been there, done that, got the scars and war stories along with my BOFH T-shirt. :)

        • by Zero__Kelvin (151819) on Friday January 08, 2010 @05:53PM (#30701416) Homepage

          "The ignorance of your post is one good indication of why they didn't replace him with you."

          Well, I haven't seen someone display such blatant ignorance while calling someone with a clue ignorant for quite some time, so I guess I'll set the record straight ...

          "An admins job isn't just 'make things easy on users'. There is a lot more that goes into it, which generally results in ignorant users getting mad at a good admin and wanting someone else."

          That is an absurd thing to say, and the irony is that you claim to be a great sysadmin, but can't figure out that a good sysadmin doesn't have ignorant users (at least not for long.)

          "Making users happy is rarely part of the job description anywhere. Making it so users can get what they need accomplished is."

          And how do you plan to accomplish that while leaving them ignorant? You'd be surprised how much happier users are when you actually know how to do your job and educate the users so that they understand why something has to be done the way it does.

          "Its fine for you to dick around with your own machine and have it offline, but the majority of a sysadmins work should be done without the users EVER HAVING ANY IDEA that its happening."

          Are you fscking serious? Why the hell do you think they came up with /etc/motd ? (Message Of The Day for those who don't know and are following along.) If you are doing your job right then users know when backups happen. They know what new software you are installing, and when; you have visibility.

          "Its cute though, that you think that while you're still in school, you're more capable to know what to do than all the other people, which have been running a school for years."

          Maybe he has people similar to you setting the bar ;-)

          Non-disclaimer: I was a VAX/VMS system manager at the age of 22, having been professionally trained by DEC at their Burlington Training facility, and I have been involved in various aspects of technology from sysadmin, hardware and software development, SQA my entire adult life (I'm now "over the hill"). I have had to deal with idiots like the parent my whole life, and his/her/it's attitude is outdone only by phenomenal cluelessness.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Calindae (1256922)

          "...our company now has a policy of not hiring anyone out of college with less than 5 years work experience"

          Wow, good luck with that. So where are CS graduates supposed to get this 5 years of work experience if everyone hires like your company?

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by CAIMLAS (41445)

            As someone who has approximately 5 years of experience, including 6 years of part-time and contractual small business network/system admin work and several years in small-medium hospital sysadmin work, let me just say that his attitude seems to be very, very prevalent.

            Granted, I may be getting lied to, but I've been told that I don't have any "big shop experience" even though I was one of three admins handling 250 Linux servers and several thousand workstations. This just happened to be a number larger than

        • Yes it is. (Score:3, Informative)

          by Toze (1668155)

          An admins job isn't just 'make things easy on users'.

          Yes it is. It is an admin's job to make things as easy as possible on the users over as long a period as possible. That is why backups are made; so the users don't have to redo all their work if there's a failure. That's why there's firewalls; so the users' machines don't get infected and their network isn't crippled. Without an admin, small organizations can chug along until something breaks (and they have to contract an admin to patch it), but life isn't easy. A full-time sysadmin for a company or a depar

        • by ajlisows (768780)

          I can understand your point that he probably does not have nearly as much knowledge as the incumbent admin, but that doesn't mean he couldn't do a better job. It is a computer lab, not the central Network facilities for the college. The computer lab person is pretty much there first to make sure people don't destroy the computers or do anything illegal and second to make sure to help the people in the lab. The guy currently in the position sounds like he doesn't really want to help the "lusers" so he loc

        • by autocracy (192714)

          Well, I don't intend to have a big back-and-forth on it, but I work professionally at a CPA firm. I'm entering my 5th year there. It is their policy that interns are near graduation, and staff have degrees. I was brought in at the end of my freshman year. In that time, I've become the resident expert on Unix related audits, designed and maintained several systems that deal with varying types of medical billing information for every hospital in my state, and I know most of the legal requirements of my state

      • Despite the complaints against him and requests specifically to hire me on, the department chair kept the incumbent.

        Well then maybe the department chair will think twice next time before he stores those photos of himself quicksorting that trollup on the department fileserver.

    • by uncledrax (112438)

      Um... Don't all universities use students as free/cheap labor?

      There fixed that for you.

    • Most Universities will have a an old timer system admin and students that run the Hell desk, they are given Admin privileges to the computers but not the system.
      • by russotto (537200)

        Most Universities will have a an old timer system admin and students that run the Hell desk, they are given Admin privileges to the computers but not the system.

        At my university, pretty much all the lab-dwelling geeks had root on everything they wanted... one way or another.

    • Um... Don't all universities use students as sysadmins?.

      HA! No. The University around here only lets CS Graduates touch a server for about 2 weeks, after studying about it for a month. Everything is handled by its own CT&IS Faculty. As someone who has multiple friends at the university, I will speak for the students to say the system they have set up BLOWS. They will, on occaison, hire they're GRADUATES to do some contract work.

      Now, the Polytechnic that I went to, had us set up our own private networks, and administrate that. It was about as close to the rea

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        There was ONE student, who managed to hack into the firewall and allow World of Warcraft to run on his computer. He got Straight A's for a year and then Expelled. I sometimes wonder if he was able to get a job, saying "Yeah I was expelled from school because I knew their network better than they did"

        No, no one gets hired when they say 'I found out that I could use httptunnel/sshtunnel to get WoW past their firewall so I could break the rules!'

        Because, you know, people love to hear about how you break the ru

    • Not at all. I am an IT student at RPI and they specifically prohibit hiring current students for the DotCIO. Students work in the software and hardware helpdesks, but never on the network.

      This makes sense because those networks include sensitive data, security networks, and building access authentication. It seems like a good way to cut costs, but it is a potential security risk.
  • Lesson 1 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tverbeek (457094) on Friday January 08, 2010 @03:16PM (#30699266) Homepage

    The main thing that people that age need to learn (both professionally and personally) is that Their Actions Have Consequences.

    • Why not focus on the positive side of that instead? I would say the first lesson should be, "take pride in your work."
      • by tverbeek (457094)

        Because a clever 19-21-year-old is (generally) already plenty proud of what he knows how to do. So proud that he'll (random example) upgrade Apache from 1.3 to 2.0 as a treat for everybody as he leaves to go party at his friend's college for the weekend.

      • by clarkn0va (807617)
        I thought "you're actions have consequences" was a positive statement. Consider the alternative. [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by NevarMore (248971)

      You mean like reading and posting to slashdot in the middle of the workday?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Spit (23158)

      I'll agree, sysadmin is as much about process and discipline as it is tech knowhow.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Bandman (86149)

        I agree, as well. 90% of my time spent when teaching my junior admin is teaching him how to think like a sysadmin instead of a hobbyist.

    • Re:Lesson 1 (Score:4, Interesting)

      by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Friday January 08, 2010 @04:22PM (#30700256) Journal

      I think patience and learning when to say "no" are big ones too.

      It's so tempting and easy to take shortcuts in system administration. "We don't need to waste time checking our backups" or, worse, "we don't need to backup" before doing major work is just the sort of time saving notion that can really haunt you if something goes wrong. Ugly when you need those backups and you discover the backup system you put into place in a similarly hasty fashion has some tiny little problem, maybe an incorrect flag on a command, and so the backups are no good. Can't spend all your time on paranoid checking either, of course. It's an art juggling these risks, deciding what is critical and what is not. There are never enough resources. If you have to make room in order to back up something, and it's going to take an hour or more to find things that can be deleted, clean out trash, compress directories that haven't been used recently, move files around, and so on, it's tempting to skip it, particularly if an impatient PHB is breathing down your neck, and other users are just waiting to pounce on that space the minute you free it up. Then there are the programmers who can't write anything that doesn't waste gobs of disk space and RAM. Someone notices when their code makes excessive use of the CPU, but a few megabytes of hard drive space flys under the radar. Some really think it isn't worth even a few minutes of their time to fix things like that, not when they're under the gun themselves to bang out more features as fast as possible.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by russ1337 (938915)
      I've seen single seat fighter jocks in that age range.... age has little to do with it. Training and attitude have lots to do with it.
    • Lesson 2 is that it doesn't matter what your actions are, if someone doesn't like you and they've got power over your position, you're fucked.

      • by tverbeek (457094)

        Well, yeah. I learned that one about 20 years later. Hopefully most college-age sysadmins-in-training have a while before this principle kicks them in the balls.

  • Amazing. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CannonballHead (842625) on Friday January 08, 2010 @03:17PM (#30699284)

    Young people with their heads on straight. Definitely newsworthy.

    I know the whole "you young'un, you can't manage a server to save your life!" feeling and all that, but really... is managing a server, even an important one, really that hard - when you have someone to go to when you have questions? A lot of lab administration seems to be finding problems before they become a real problem, which is time consuming.

    You may as well have a story about dental work done by *gasp* dental students and, lo and behold, they are actually doing a good job! Shocking. To think that young people could actually learn something. :)

    OTOH, it's interesting to read about the difficulties he brings up. They're pretty ... boring, IMO.

    It generally takes around six months for a student to feel comfortable with our environment.

    Like most jobs?

    Another challenge is the short turnaround with students, as we usually only have them for two to three years before they graduate. This creates a constant issue to ensure our documentation and training is honed.

    Two to three years, that's not too short, is it? And it's interesting that it's an "issue" to him to keep their documentation good/honed. I hope the graduates are learning that documentation is a BIG ISSUE in real jobs, for exactly that purpose: if something happens to you, the business can't just stop for 3 months while someone else tries to figure out what you did :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "I hope the graduates are learning that documentation is a BIG ISSUE"

      Only in engineering programs. CS programs still retain a lot of their "math heritage," and there is very little push for the students to write good documentation; at best, documentation seems to be an afterthought.
      • Hear, Hear. I work as a mechanical / industrial engineer and at both my current job and previous one good legacy documentation did not exist when I arrived. All knowledge was tribal and therefore we all prayed that nobody got hit by a bus. I'm slowly getting things into a usable (for the next person) position but overcoming a decades worth of stuff is time consuming. At least I know the next person will be able to find stuff.
    • is managing a server, even an important one, really that hard - when you have someone to go to when you have questions?

      Thats exactly the position I'm in, and its the easiest part of the job I hold. If you know HOW to do things, the only thing left as part of the job is knowing WHAT to do.

      When an issue comes up, its just "Hey, this is whats going on. Whats the best course of action? We could..."

      And then he'll respond with "Yes, that sounds good" or "No, do this instead"

      And Bam, its a cakewalk.

      • And knowing how to do something isn't toooo difficult with manuals, Google, and other people to ask.

        Knowing what to do appears to come with experience.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      A lot of lab administration seems to be finding problems before they become a real problem, which is time consuming.

      Its also practically impossible for someone with no experience, which is why you don't let 'young'ns' do it.

      CS students are not SA students. You don't let a dentist perform open heart surgery, but of course most of them, unlike CS students, know better than to try it. I guess dentists are better educated or less arrogant than CS students.

      You want to let them manage a pseudo lab for training

  • I actually broke down and RTFA. The interviewer must have been in the next stall over or on an elevator with the Oregon State employee. How many questions was that, like 4 or 5? Maybe one of the servers was getting ready to crash because one of the student admins was trying to install Windows...

  • Good (Score:2, Insightful)

    Great that the university is giving these newbies a chance to get their feet wet before they venture into the real world. This type of opportunity is what i fine lacking while I was going to school and I had to search this type of opportunity out for myself.

    One of the biggest problem I find when you first enter into the IT field as a student is that there is a lack of on the job hands on training. Students really need to be expose to hands on materials more to reinforce what they've learned in text books

  • 18-21 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Friday January 08, 2010 @03:30PM (#30699468) Journal

    I am in the upper bounds of that range. I do Sysadmin stuff in our corporation, though not as much as the Chief IT Manager. I do the cabling, I set up the racks, I make sure the UPS are tested regularily. All the grunt work a Sysadmin would do. I help with decisions on new network policies, and dealing with security and updates. Network Topology is something I wish I had a say in, but don't. I will on occaison, be called in to reboot a server, or replace a bad drive.

    I had to learn the Help-Ticket system on the job, but really that was like a 5 minute breeze because most of it is common sense. (Ticket comes in, prioritize, assign, do)

    I'm glad to see that younger people are getting into these positions, since I think they help push forward newer technologies and methodologies. It'll sound like I'm tooting my own horn here (and Maybe I am just a little :P) but we've got a dozen boxes in our server room plugged into the rack so that people from other branches across Canada can Remote in to access certain software. It's a nightmare to look at, and it takes up alot of space. The IT Manager isn't fully familiar with Virtualization, though thats something I was taught in school less than 2 years ago. I'm sure you can see where this is going.

    All in all, the only thing holding back us young people from these positions is just experience. Almost any school you graduate from with a CS degree will teach you the fundamentals of system administration. However you can't exactly apply for that position with little to no experience (don't get me wrong, you CAN apply, but the guy who has 5+ years experience managing Windows Server 2003 is going to look a bit shinier).

    It's good to have a Looong project like this to show you DO have experience. I went and switched from a CS Degree to simply an Object Oriented Programming because it was shorter and I enjoyed programming more, but now that I'm out here working I wish I had that education. (I know right, how did I land a Sysadmin/Technician job as an OOP grad? Funny story, ask me later). Anyways, If I could show my boss "Here's the webserver that I set up and maintained" I think he'd be more lenient with letting me handle things I know how to handle. It's frustrating when he mentions a problem and you know a solution but he won't admit its a good idea because you're fresh. That's more a problem with my boss though, and probably isn't a good representation of every manager out there.

    • by Bandman (86149)

      Sorry, why is parent modded as Troll? There's nothing trollish at all in there.

  • The Oregon State University Open Source Lab's data center hosts some of the Linux community's heaviest hitting projects including the Linux Master Kernel and the Linux Foundation. It is also the primary location for the Apache Software Foundation and Drupal, open source content management software. The lab, aka OSUOSL, also hosted the core infrastructure for Mozilla's Firefox project, and currently host's six of Google's servers.

    Uh- why is one organization the primary/master site for so many high-profil

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by phoenix0783 (965193)
      They're a mirror.
      • by blofeld42 (854237)

        Hosting Open Source is also a core competency to Oregon State. They made a rather clever decision to focus on the open source niche a few years back, and it's helped them bring in industry support and helped the student learning process, as shown by the article.

      • by gchaix (1716666) <gchaix@@@osuosl...org> on Friday January 08, 2010 @05:41PM (#30701304) Homepage

        I work for the OSU OSL.

        Actually, we're more than a mirror. While mirroring is a major part of the services we provide, we also provide hosting for many projects' core infrastructure - Apache, Linux Foundation, Drupal, kernel.org, etc. Google is a major supporter of the OSL because we provide a place for projects whose needs have outgrown the more "off-the-shelf" structured hosting provided by Google Code or Sourceforge and need a more customizable environment.

        As to the single point of failure concern - I disagree for several reasons:

        • We are not funded by the university. The OSL's activities are funded almost entirely by donations (both personal [osuosl.org] and corporate [osuosl.org]) and agreements with the projects we host. While we are all university employees, our wages are not paid using university dollars. Also, as part of the administrative computing organization at the university (as opposed to part of an academic department), the OSL falls under the university's CIO instead of a dean or department. The financial independence and organizational structure provides us with a significant amount of autonomy and insulation from the vagaries of university politics.
        • OSU President Ed Ray has stated time and time again that the role of a land grant university in the 21st century is to provide leadership and assistance in information technology - much the same way the land grants provided support to agriculture and industry in past centuries. The OSL helps OSU fulfill that goal.
        • On the FOSS community side, the OSL provides a vendor-neutral environment. We're not tied to any one distribution or manufacturer - we work with Dell, HP, and IBM all equally. The same goes for SuSE, Ubuntu, Gentoo, Red Hat, etc. IIRC, our neutrality one of the reasons master.kernel.org and the Linux Foundation reside at the OSL. We (and the university) consider that neutrality a very valuable asset.

        It would take something more than a "pissed off dean" to summarily shut the OSL down.

        -Greg

    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      I don't know if there's any relation but Linus Torvalds lives in the Portland area, about 60 miles north of the OSU campus.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by size1one (630807)
        Linus isn't affiliated with the lab. He works for the Linux Foundation, formally the Open Source Development Lab. The Open Source Lab also host's the rest of Linux Foundation's infrastructure in addition to master.kernel.org
    • by MostAwesomeDude (980382) on Friday January 08, 2010 @04:50PM (#30700604) Homepage

      We're a rather bright spot on the university's record; we are the largest open-source datacenter in the hemisphere, and that causes a lot of donations to come in. Take it from Ed: http://osuosl.org/sites/osuosl.org/files/ed_ray.png [osuosl.org] Nobody will shut us down.

  • I thought that being a good sysadmin, or a good tennis player, or a good anything depended on the experience and natural talent the person has, not his or her age. There are kids out there that can probably develop much, much better than many with years and years of experience in the field; hell, most of the hackers back in the day were kids themselves!

    I think that actually letting these folks do something of importance with their skills is more laudable, since most companies that hire undergrads or high sc

  • It's not like it's the Accounting department or HR. I have my own open source lab in my home.

  • 18-21 year old undergrads

    Pics?

  • by BitZtream (692029) on Friday January 08, 2010 @04:23PM (#30700276)

    Sorry, there is no such thing as an 18-21 year old sys admin.

    There are plenty of kids pretending to be admins that are 18-21 years old, but just because someone gives you root, doesn't make you an admin anymore than installing mysql and creating a table makes you a DBA.

    Having root on a Linux box doesn't make you an admin, regardless of how ignorant you are of that fact.

    • by gchaix (1716666) <gchaix@@@osuosl...org> on Friday January 08, 2010 @05:51PM (#30701406) Homepage

      I beg to differ. I've been a sysadmin for 15 years. The professionalism and quality of the work done by the students here at the OSL is quite often indistinguishable from many of the people I've worked with over the years. Many of the people working on our hosted projects can't tell whether they're working with our professional staff or student workers.

      We teach them to be sysadmins. They may not be sysadmins when they come to us, but they sure as hell are professional sysadmins when they leave.

  • Are there people out of college who want to be sys admins? We are tying to hire a sys admin, but we either get people who are overqualified -- they would not want to do the job for a long time -- or we get people who are under-qualified -- front desk support types you cannot design and manage a whole network.

    On top of that, new grads don't usually have a lot of real world knowledge for sys admin work, though we would definitely relax this requirement for someone who is a problem solver and eager to do the j

    • You probably aren't paying enough. $60,000 + medical and I'll move anywhere in the country for what you want.

      lukehasnoname AT gmail DOT com

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by IMightB (533307)

      99.99 of sysadmin'ing comes from experience, which young ones do not have, or are in the process of learning (90% of the time due to necessity, being the low person on the totem). the experienced ones know enough to know that experience isn't cheap.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gchaix (1716666)

        99.99 of sysadmin'ing comes from experience

        Right ... which is why we here at the OSL give them the opportunity to gain that experience in a real-world production environment while providing the mentorship they need. It dovetails nicely with the theoretical knowledge they're getting in their CS classroom work.

  • I'm in my fourth year working and studying at the Colorado State University College of Business. Student-facing systems are pretty much 100% run by students, who report to student managers, who report to the IT Director and a student committee representing students who pay the tech fees. It's worked remarkably well, and I've been in several roles throughout my tenure- Lab Technician, network engineer, sysadmin, security team lead, web developer.

    In terms of the department's effectiveness, I would say that st

  • Why the Drupal site is so dog ass slow at times.

  • ... these undergrads work cheap! And we only have to zap them once with the tazer to get them to stop doing "rm -rf /".

    What's the point of this article? That young sysadmins can now be exploited by their school instead of their first employer?

    Oh, and what exactly are they training them so well for anyway? Their first job, they'll learn that there's never time nor budget allowed for doing things like setting up Puppet. They want to do that, they can cram it in during lunch and after-hours, and hope they do

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