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Taking Time Off When You Are The Only Admin? 75

iso9k asks: "Yesterday I was called into my boss's office and told that I have maxed out my PTO. This means that I can no longer accrue time off for hours worked. I am the sole Network/Unix admin (no backup admin) at my company. I don't have time to take a week or two off. If I were to do so my return would involve two weeks of 60+ hours a week to make up for lost time with projects. My company will not 'cash me out.' The reason being 'you need to take some time off to recuperate.' The execs don't seem to understand that my being gone will not bode well for an Internet company where uptime is critical. This leaves me in a strange position. Do I take a week off and just let the network or Unix machines fail if they fail? Or do I stay here at the office and ignore my vacation accruement? Has anybody else run into this issue? What did you do?" For those of you in this situation: not having a backup administrator on staff is not a good sign. Instead of worrying about vacation, why not see about getting a back-up administrator hired so that you can take the much-needed time off?
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Taking Time Off When You Are The Only Admin?

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  • Anyway, I dont agree with you here. Not everybody has the option of owning a Macintosh, or spending the money to acquire a Mac. Some companies have policies against Macs in a network.
    Well, being a good system administrator requires the right tools for the job. Buying a $500 Mac and spending bettween $300-$1200 (depending on services monitored) for a copy of Intermapper isn't a bad deal at all. Maybe I shouldn't have ragged on all the Linux Services as much as I did. But before you decide to depend on them, why not test everything out first? Why just take my word for it? You can download a demo version from Dartmouth [dartware.com]. I assume you know where and how to search on freshmeat for the rest.

    Oh btw, that HP-UX solution is called "HP OpenView NetMatrix" and I was wrong, it costs bettween $5,995 and $22,000. The HP-UX solution isn't bad. However, it doesn't have all the features that Intermapper has and it takes maintaince and it requires a lot of tweaking / scripting. I've only used it once and it wasn't my cup of tea. However if you want to spend up to 22 Gs, go right ahead. But if you have that kind of money you can spend $1000 on a Mac, etc just to try intermapper out.

    Yes, Intermapper uses a Point and Click interface. A lot of Linux tools requrire the ability to use vi and reading README files. This is not bad. I'm into a solution that works, the way I want it to, 100% the way I want it to, with all the features I want it to. Also I'm into getting things done quickly and efficently, with the least ammount of pain possible. If that requires an extra $500 to fix the problem, to save me pain later down the road, I'm willing to fork out the money. That's just a philosophy of mine, yours may be different.

    Some companies have policies against Macs in a network.
    Interesting. Are these the same companies who think FreeBSD, OpenBSD and Linux are fully unsupported therefore they shouldn't be in their company? I feel sorry for companies that are unwilling to take the best solution for their situation.

  • I'm sorry but I had to do this. If the program is worth is weight in gold, then you have to consider how much the electrical charge weighs while in RAM. (probably not very much).

    Oh btw a Stalion Terminal Server is not exactlly just a program. It's also a piece of hardware, it might weight a pound or a bit more.

  • "...when he came to work for a new company (he) figured out who was the 1 guy that people absolutly could not live without, and fired him."

    So the guy/gal who is the most valuable to the company, and probably spent a lot of their own time getting that way, gets rewarded by being kicked to the curb (which ought to be a real inspiration to the remaining employees) and the overall competence level of the company drops by several percentage points?

    Now there's a company *everybody* will want to do business with.

  • Interesting story but somehow it seems pretty damn wrong.
  • Well, today they take out your gall bladder through a centimeter-long incision. The whole procedure takes only a couple of hours and can be performed as an outpatient deal, no hospital stay or anything. Now about that bus.... ;-)
  • how much are they paying you to spend that kind of time doing a job? if you think it's worth it, consider this instead - would you take their dollar-per-hour amount to willingly end your life one hour sooner? every hour you spend on the job is an hour lost, an hour that could've been spent making or doing something worthwhile, not just building another dot-com product. there's no amount of money that makes those hours make sense.

    work 20 hours a week and make something good of your life.

  • I learned a long time ago that no matter your position in a company, you need to take time for yourself.

    I am guessing that you have friends in the industry at some level. Those that you go out with after work talking about what you did with your network. One or more of them may be a consultant that you can say to your boss "While I'm on vacation my friend Bob may be able to fix things for you for $X an hour."

    Or get an agreement in writing before hand that states for every 15 minutes of time I work while on vacation I get that much back in comp time. That way, even if you do decide to be incredibly loyal while away, you don't entirely loose that much vacation time.
  • I said a compromise. A compromise between a real vacation and no vacation at all. Would you rather (a) go to work next week, or (b) go to St. Thomas next week and dial into work 3 or 4 times?

    If those are my only two choices, I choose (b). And when I return, I'd work on adding option c in the future, where (c) is the ability to take a vacation like you've described.

  • The first time I went on vacation in this situation there was a fire the first weekend!

    The firemen tuned everything off so I came back in and turned it back on again after the electricity was fixed.

    I have a portable phone and a portable computer. My clients and the office call me during vacation in extreme emergency situations. I go to the nearest cyber cafe, plug my computer in and fix the problem.

    Last year I went away for 4 weeks vacation, consecutive weeks that is...
  • * Intermapper - Only for Macs, but it's awsome.

    Yea it is ! Intermapper rules!
    Curently I am using mrtg/netsaint/perl. At my previous job we used intermapper. It's on 'my list of things to setup'. If you admin a network, get intermapper.

  • There are plenty of organizations out there that provide contract help. Most of them will be more than willing to provide support for a week or two. Your management will learn quickly that hiring contractors is not cheap. A more long term approach that has worked for me in the past is to hire an eager kid out of college for an entry-level salary that you can train as a junior sysadmin and act as your backup when you need to take some time-off. Life is short... Take your vacation.
  • Take a vacation, and don't take a cell phone, or pager, or laptop. A vacation is to get away from work, not do work for free.
  • I mean no offense by this and am not trying to imply anything about danpbrowning personally, but...

    In my experience, outsourcing companies tend to hire low to mid level SAs. I've dealt with CAI, Alliance, IBM and CSC support personnel handling outsourced functions at various times throughout my career. They are ok for handling simple day to day functions, but any new projects or problems are a completely different story. I've watched companies lose hundreds of thousands of dollars (no exageration, I work in the finance sector and I don't mean forgone revenue like a website being down - I'm talking about actual losses) just because an outsourcing company gave an idiot the title SA or Programmer to keep their profit margins high. Sure the aformentioned idiot was fired after the incident, but the same people hiring the replacement hired the first idiot...

    Then again, if a company is only paying $50,000 for their SA they're not getting top talent anyway.

  • Yep,
    Outpatient - That's how they did mine, and then your told "Stay home for a week".

    BTW It's actually 4 incisions, the longest being one CM, 2 being punctures about 1/8" in diameter, and the 3rd being about 1/2 CM. The operation is called a Laproscopic choleocystectomy (spelling?). The guy who did mine was the inventor of the technique.

    Like I said, your still out over a week. I had mine done on a Friday, and came back on the Monday after missing the whole next week.

    Trust me. Your sore enough moving around for the first few days that you won't be back MUCH sooner than that. You might get in some terminal time, but you won't be lifting any boxes.

  • Get a second person in and up to speed. Then take a well deserved break. If managment won't go for a second admin, tell them that is a very bad idea. If they still won't then take a couple of weeks off, perferably in a remote location where you can not be reached, and see if they have a different attitude when you get back.
  • Remember this company is telling this guy he has to take some time off. If they fire you for taking the time off that you have coming do you really want to continue working for them? I wouldn't.
  • Yes, 60 hour work weeks are fairly common here in the US. Mostly for one of three reasons.

    First, there are the type A personality types that think the only way to get ahead is to work more then the next guy.

    Then there is the stupidity of managment that can't plan ahead to save their life. There are many companies that have more work then they can possibly do with the number of employees they have, and they know it, but they will still not hire the people they need.

    Then there is the penny pinching of managment. The good old we can't afford to hire any more people excuse. While this may work with salaried people, who's wages are fixed, it is also very common in manufacturing where people are paid hourly. It amazes me how many companies can't afford to hire more people, but can afford to pay overtime at rates 1.5x, 2x, and even 3x every week for years.
  • Spread out over the course of your lifetime, being mismoderated is a minor setback. Besides, by commenting in the same story, you have un-done the moderation.
  • Unless you're a stockholder in this company, you shouldn't have such a strong level of concern for their continued success. You should care more about your own mental health and quality of life, and use up all of that vacation time! If you return from vacation to find that they expect YOU ALONE to fix all the damage, that's THEIR fault for not hiring enough admins... it's not YOUR fault for taking the vacation you are legally entitled to take.
  • Train somebody to do the backups.
    train them to "restart/reboot" the server

    "Go away" and to not leave any forwading info for 2-4 days. Check in but not be able to return for another 2-4 days.

    If something critical fails and they blame you say I did not want to go but your policy is you need to take time off or stop accrewing PTO.
    then offer agin to get a pay off for PTO.

    Remember they basically told you go or lose it

  • I've gone so far as to say to a few newbie SysAdmins that your sole goal should be to automate yourself into an early redundancy. From there, the only reason you should be around is to cover for emergency situations and to read logs that tell you everything is running smoothly...
  • Because paying Bob 1.5-3x rate on a factory floor is a hell of a lot cheaper than hiring Bill and adding his wife and 2.5 kids to the company insurance plan, not to mention pension and other standard factory job perks, more workload on dept. human resources and those are the just the quickies.
  • I realize that this is off-topic, and I'll probably end up with a score of -1, offtopic, but I'm curious why this article was posted with the "Slashback" icon? I'd guess this is about as far removed from Slashback as one can get (this isn't even a rumor story, where the /. editors know they'll be forced to issue a slashback!)
  • Obviously, uptime is not really critical for your company, regardless of its relationship to the Internet, if you're the only Admin!

    But, to answer your question as to taking time off when you're the only admin:

    That's the answer.
  • The only way narrow-sighted companies realize how important we are as admins is by seeing what happens to things when we are gone. Either by quiting the dump or being away on a guiltless vacation and having systems fail.

    Go on a cruise. Get out in the middle of the ocean and you will have no choice but to just let it go. It works for me... I just haven't had any of my 30+ systems tank while I was away yet...

  • You can also try Mindterm [mindbright.se], a java implementation of an ssh client. It works well launched from a browser. The older version of the client is GPL'ed but it doesn't do ssh2. The newer version does ssh2 but it's still in beta and they haven't decided on the license yet.
  • Problem is, you might be replaced, by the time you get back. Never underestimate the power of a company that doesn't know what they're doing, but thinks you can be replaced on a moments notice.
  • &nbsp &nbsp Po boy, I apologize. It seems I accidentally mis-moderated you. I originally had selected informative, but later went back and changed it to normal (thought I did, anyway) and it seems I screwed up.

    &nbsp &nbsp I agree wholeheartedly with your statements. Work to Live, not Live to Work. Read a book (perhaps Zen_and_the_Art_*); take a walk (find someplace quiet!); build something (LEGO, fast car, fancy meal). Take time to live.

    'nuff of that, I gotta go work so I can live.
  • I would also like to add that when you know management is going to pick at your proposals, make sure to pad your numbers.

    I try to propose for hardware at least 25% more powerful than what I need, and add 50% time for mid-sized projects.

    If it takes two weeks, say you need three. If you need a 2 way Sun E3500, ask for a couple more cpu's.
  • When you return ask for a raise.

  • Why not cut down on the number of days a week you work until you can get a backup or train someone. Start taking Fridays off or even a few 4 day weekends. It better than nothing.
  • I was afraid to take vacation and burned out on the job. I ended up quitting with 2 weeks notice but they couldn't get anyone with the skill set I had and the network went to hell.

    The company will think it's your fault no matter what you do. Taking a vacation will be short lived compared to what happens when you freak out and leave. If you feel you owe the company anything then take the week, let them feel the burn and put another man in the trenches with you.

    Else they'll be pissed off when you leave them high and dry.

  • If they don't know enough to hire a backup admin, just go on vacation. Don't plan or prepare anything, just leave one day as though it were any other day, and spend three weeks on some island with no phone service.

    When you return, they will have fired you and replaced your position with another admin. This is your chance to convince them to hire YOU as the backup. Now you can take vacation whenever you want!

  • Good point. Sorry, I overlooked the "compromise" part.
  • Bring a contractor in for the time you're gone.
  • Also sounds pretty illegal in many US states.
  • How is it illegal? Most states are at-will for their legal base. An employer can fire anyone at any time. Of course the reverse is true as well.
  • In the short term, TAKE A VACATION, if you are the sole UNIX admin you probalby more then deserve it ;) LOL Just bring a laptop,cellphone,pager, what ever you think you'll need "in case of emergency". That way you can have some fun but the company is not completely SOL. In the long term ,HIGHLY suggest that a second admin is hired to lower your dailey work load and also in cases like this when you want vacation time or are just out sick for a day.
  • Compaq makes the Remote Insight Board / Lights Out Edition which serves a similar purpose in thier servers. Works below the OS level to get you console anywhere you can connect via port 80. Basically an SBC with an embedded os/app that hooks into the compaq mgm't features.

    Ponder this: You can boot your server *off of the floppy in your laptop* via the RIB. Magical. Really - I have no idea how they implement this, and therefore it is indistinguishable from magic in my eyes.

    Good stuff.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Dude take some time off.. you only live once...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    transfer as much of their stock as you can out of your 401k,

    take the vacation, you need the break, 60 hour work weeks are insane.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It sounds like a pretty screwed-over company if you're the soul administrator and it "Relies on uptime". Sounds like some pretty bad planning and forethought.

    Send your resume off to a few places, and if you get job offers in return, show them to your manager and see if he'll change his mind.

  • Don't be irreplacable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted.
  • I heard it 3rd hand, treat it as such. Mostly I was posting it to make a point, you don't want to be the one guy without whom the whole thing falls apart.

    The cure of the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.

  • You need out of band management and monitoring software. It's essential and it'll make your life and everyone else's life 100x better.

    Here is the software I usually use:

    • Intermapper - Only for Macs, but it's awsome. It'll monitor all your workstations, servers, etc. It can probe via snmp, smtp, web, icmp, etc, pretty much anything. You can set it up so it'll email page you or dial up page you, etc. Install a seperate line, use the dial up paging, that'll insure that it will get to you, on time, unless the phone lines are out. You can customize messages so they'll say something like: "10:23:43 port 80 for jamba.billygoat.com down for last 7 minutes", etc.
    • Stallion Terminal Server - These things are worth their weight in gold. Did your Cisco router crash, or is something else wrong? Dial into your stallion and connect via serial port to your Cisco or anything that can be connected to via serial cable.
    • Remotely Powercycling UPS Systems - Some new APCs now have remote power cycling UPSes. You simply connect via port 80, type in your passwords and tell it to reboot. Very useful when a machine is down and there is no way to reboot it short of being there.

    Security. For all this stuff to work right, don't forget security. I recommend a IPsec or SSH tunnel for this remote APC stuff / telnet for the stallion, but there are other ways to do it. (Most of these nifty out of band management tools are still in clear-text.)

    Test test test. If you wait until an emergency to test this stuff out, chances are it won't work. You should test all this stuff about once a week.

    If you only take one piece of advice of mine, buy INTERMAPPER. Don't fool with Free Linux tools that will take you hours to set up and won't work 100% right, or spend $10,000 on a HP-UX monitoring system that sucks ass and takes you 3 months to configure. This program is worth it's weight in gold. Gratned, you have to set it up right, but once it's set up right, you will _know_ immediatly when there are problems and where there are problems. It's also easy to set up. Don't be a sissy, buy a mac.

    Train everyone and document everything. If you have everything documented, people can get along with out you. D'uh how do I replace a printer cartridge? It says how on pg. 3 of my document.

    I've been in your situation before. It's not pretty or fun. But if you get all the equipment you need, you can do your job from home or the Bahamas. Also if you have compitent people at home who are trained, you won't have to worry as much.

    proof at xcheese . org

  • That entire statement assumes that you have a pretty much unlimited budget, and free reign to do your job.

    You are a nay-sayer. You say 'nay'.

    Everyone is constrained by budgets and management. However, once again, it's up to the system administrator as part of the job to sell management on redundant systems. I would be failing the shareholders (for my prime job is to enhance shareholder value) if I did anything less.

    Budgets and management are an excuse for lazy administrators. It is substantially more work for me to write the business cases and sell capital appropriation requests (CARs) that are more expensive thanks to fault tolerance. However, that's my job.

    One of the places many novice administrators make mistakes is in being unable to say 'no, we can't do it for less'. Many will, in an effort to get any hardware in the building, will cut specs to the bone in a very short-sided attempt to impress the boss. That's shooting one's self in the foot and I swear that will come back to haunt you. (Can I get an 'amen'?) When you need a fault-tolerent, four-processor RS/6000 with two gig of RAM to get the job done right, don't let management cut your spares, halve your processors and RAM. If they do that, reliability will suffer as will as performance. The end result is that you will look bad even if it was the boss that was swinging the ax.

    Yes, there are cases where the world is not perfect and you don't get everything. My job is to make those cases few and far between.


  • And I'm going on vacation starting next monday...

    Uptime here isn't really critical but the server farm (or the Freezer as I call it due to the two heavy duty ACs) has to work properly so all during this week - now half over - I've been shutting down non-essencial tasks (mostly automated file and non-essencial program updates), distribuiting the email load over 2 servers (redundancy is always good) and creating redundancy in every system I can so that the basic services don't stop.

    Since this vacation has been planned for a month now I've had plenty of time to stress test my Freezer and determine the weakest links and resolved those issues. I'm nearly all packed, I've just gotta resolve some email issues and redirect my two main alias accounts to the rest of the tech staff.

    I guess it really helps to have a few weeks of advanced notice to work things out - if you're in a rush, my sugestion would be to stay close, don't travel to far or - better yet - don't go anywhere that doesn't have internet connectivity and don't forget to pack a SSH client on a disk or CD (for Windows 'cause it's EVERYWHERE).

    Another thing, leave a copy of the main passwords with someone, you never know when they'll need it.

    All browsers' default homepage should read: Don't Panic...
  • I also agree with Clif.

    You wouldn't run your servers without redundancy and backup, right? Well guess what, you have a BIG hole in you redundancy and backup plan, right in the critical path! _YOU_

    OK, I know it cliche, but what if you got hit by a bus on the way to work tomorrow?

    Folks, I was a young programmer when I got hit with a Gall Bladder problem. I had to have surgery, and was out for well over a week (and it could have been longer). What would your boss do then?

    Time to get a backup, and TAKE your vacation!
  • I like to compare engineering a system with real engineering.

    If you are building a bridge, and the specifications to make it safe & robust are 4 pillars each supporting 200 tonnes each, then you don't built it with 2 pillars supporting 600 each.

    A good systems architech should give a range of options, from cheapest to best, and a recommendation of which one to choose. However, each of those options should be appropriate, which for critical systems means redundancy.

  • Half of the company I work at is based in Montreal (where I am), and the other half is in San Francisco (actually, the SF 'half' is larger.. details).

    The admins from the SF office came up to Montreal last fall for meetings. The day they got here, we had a (in San Francisco) hub fail, and spew packets all over our network, and screw up our main hub. There was nobody at the office there to fix the problem. What'd we do? We couldn't VNC into the system, becuase we couldn't get much past the router. The guys from SF called in a few favors, got people to drop off keys, and pick up hubs at CompUSA, and the problem was fixed within a few hours. Could've been much worse.

    The moral: Problems like that can always be fixed. Vacations (or out of town meetings for that matter) are needed.
  • You step out onto the street, and out of nowhere, splat!

    The company would survive. They'd hire someone in a hurry. They'd pay them a fortune.
  • IMO, what it all comes down to is this:

    do you work to live, or do you live to work?

    Take the time off that you earned, it's your right.

  • Easy -- you've saved up the vacation time -- use it. Go to Tahiti. Go to Paris. Hell, sit on the couch & watch re-runs of "Hee-Haw" for two weeks. Whatever floats your boat.

    Whatever you do, don't answer any calls or (e)mails from your company.


    This company needs a backup for you, pronto, and if they don't realize that already, and if you can't explain that to them (I'm assuming you've tried explaining it to them), then going two weeks without you will make them realize.

    Chances are pretty good that by the time you get back, the new kid will already have a week-long crash course in the system. Walk them through it & be glad that your present for coming back is an eager new assistant to help you with your work duties... :)

  • I'm sorry but I had to do this. If the program is worth is weight in gold, then you have to consider how much the electrical charge weighs while in RAM. (probably not very much).
    Anyway, I dont agree with you here. Not everybody has the option of owning a Macintosh, or spending the money to acquire a Mac. Some companies have policies against Macs in a network. I not slamming Apple, but dont blindly discount "Free Linux tools that will take you hours to set up and won't work 100% right". A lot of these tools are very robust and easy to use. Its all a matter a perspective. Another thing to keep in mind, is just becuase a program has menus doesnt make it easy to use. By the same token just becuase a program is CLI (command line interface) doesnt make is hard to use.
    I will agree with you about the $10,000 HP-UX software, that is a silly amount of money to pay to monitoring, and remote admin. Though it would be nice if you would tell us what software from HP-UX costs that much, and "sucks-ass" as you put.
  • If you're feeling unusually loyal to the company, find a consultant who they can get in on an emergency. Pick an expensive one. Then go on vacation and turn off your phone.

    If you don't care, go on vacation. And turn off your phone.
  • I work a flex schedule just so I am able to walk out the door.... Build redundancy-especially for YOU. I think you deserve a vacation because of your tireless dedication to your job. I've learned to not be that dedicated. Do enough to get the job done right, but don't dedicate your life to being the SysAdmin. Even if they just get you an entry level guy to back you up, teach him what he NEEDS to know, and you pick up trouble after he's given it a shot. I know these are the ramblings of a cynical techie... but they have merit if you can just understand the primary theme: DON'T SACRIFICE FOR YOUR COMPANY. They are obviously not overly concerned with your health and well being by ceasing your vacation accrual. mom -because I said so
  • Is working 60 hour weeks prevalent in the States? This is certainly illegal in Europe except in certain professions.

    A couple of weeks ago I was contacted about a position working for a US financial organisation in London as some sort of systems admin. The pay was good, but the hours were utterly atrocious - 12+ hour shifts, 5 days a week, and no holidays. This would be illegal under our employment laws.

    I contacted the agency concerning this matter and never heard anything more about the post.

  • Very often, we do this to ourselves in order to create a "safe" work environment. In the past, I purposefully allowed myself to become the single point of failure in a couple of jobs. Why? Because then my boss would know he could not live without me and my job was safe regardless of my day to day performance.

    Clearly, this is wrong, immature and destructive. Insist that another admin be hired, a reasonable on-call schedule created and start using that accrued time off!

  • grab a laptop, and head off to some tropical island

    You call that a vacation? Last time I was on vacation, I didn't touch a computer or read a newspaper for 10 days. Work was the last thing on my mind. That's R&R.

  • First, take one or two days off like a friday and a monday. (just so you are not maxed out on vacation days) Second, Put in your request for a REAL vacation at least 2 weeks! I would say 3 is better. Then, CYA! Ask to hire a temp under contract if mngmt shoots this down, put the recommendation that they hire a temp in WRITING!! Perhaps giving it to HR to file. (How far you go in documenting this need depends on the paranoia and Cover your ass factors where you work) Then, GO ON VACATION!!!!! You must ask yourself if you live to work, or work to live....... If your answer is the former your priorities are wrong IMO. P.S. have FUN on vacation
  • how much are they paying you to spend that kind of time doing a job?

    Believe me, I've thought of this many times. I saw a bumper sticker not so long ago that said, "Life's too short to work full time," and I thought it was pretty cool. However, I enjoy my work a lot, so it's not quite as bad as you described; I wouldn't considered an hour of work to be equivalent to ending my life an hour earlier, or, more succinctly, I don't consider work to be equivalent to death. So the defense of my work (in the unlikely case you care ;) is:

    • I like my job. I like coding. What I do is fun and interesting and challenging. I wouldn't be caught dead (pun pun pun) working as much as I do now at a job I didn't like.
    • I'm a pathetic human being, so if I was working half time, I'd probably be spending the other half stoned and doing something useless.
    • It's nice to have money. I enjoy music, for instance, and it's nice to be able to buy records and recording equipment and effects and things. What use is working 15 hours a day so your life is more enjoyable if you don't have any money to do the things you enjoy?
    • I get a lot of vacation time :)
    • I'm quitting and going to grad school in half a year, so it really doesn't matter much anyway. Of course, grad school is also a lot of work, and research assistantships don't pay much at all, so it seems like money doesn't necessarily control it all. A lot of things are "work", but that doesn't mean they're not worth doing without a fat pay check (triple negative?).
    Also, if I work 40 hours a week at $5/hour and you work 20 hours a week at $5/hour and I quit after a year, then after two years we've both had identical "free time", but I have more money (because the extra money I made in the first year was earning interest). Obviously this argument doesn't work if I push my free time until the end of my life when I'm too old to do anything, but, hey, it's worth mentioning.

    Ultimately it's all about balance, and each person's balance is a personal choice.

  • by bluGill ( 862 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @09:12AM (#500904)

    First of all, you should make sure that any one system can crash without an emergency call to you. If mail is critical, put it on redunand servers. If you have a critical database get a cluster up to your needs. If Guido (you) gets hit by a bus what happens? Get a redunant admin of some sort.

    Remember that if one system crashes you have others, build fail-over into your system. Sure your web server will run horridly slow (and a mite more insecure) when it is also doing all your mail, but at least you have both functions after the mail server burns up.

    Okay, now that the above is taken care of, and your still not able to leave for a week. Well don't take a week. I work with a couple folks who no longer work fridays, instead taking a three day weekend. They are too critical to take a week off (The one guy was not, as we realized after he quit and those taking his job found the critical problems easy to turn into self correcting situations) so they just got us used to not looking for them on friday. One guy was able to set up the weekend parting for all his friends. Anouther used the time alone to practice guitar all day.

    Start by making the computers take care of themselves. Then make sure if you die there is a line of succession. Use your time off to take fridays off. (Accually in your job you might need a different day if weekends are upgrade time so you use friday to prepare and monday to fix real world problems)

  • by Zachary Kessin ( 1372 ) <zkessin@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @09:13AM (#500905) Homepage Journal
    You probably tell them that they need to work to avoid having a single point of failure, For example you probably have UPS's around and backups etc. Well you are a single point of failure too. Sooner or later they will *NEED* an admin to deal with this *NOW* and you won't be able to, maybe you will be sick or away visiting the family or whatever.

    My advice if they tell you that you have maxed out your PTO, tell them that in that case you will be take a Holiday and going somewhere far away that you always wanted to go to.

    That is why it is time off.

    The cure of the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.

  • by Zachary Kessin ( 1372 ) <zkessin@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @09:38AM (#500906) Homepage Journal
    I heard once a story about a manager who when he came to work for a new company figured out who was the 1 guy that people absolutly could not live without, and fired him.

    Why, well at some point he would leave, you might as well have it happen in a controled way.

    The cure of the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.

  • by InitZero ( 14837 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @10:29AM (#500907) Homepage

    Several people have suggested laptops, wireless toys and remote management tools. Those people, while they have their heart in the right place, are prisoners. When one's first reaction to your question is 'how do I get net access from a tropical island?', there's a big problem.

    I've said this many times before on Slashdot (and I'd link to my earlier comments but Slashdot eats old comments) and I'm going to say it once more... If you can't leave town for two weeks and not have your company survive, you are a lousy system administrator.

    For many years, I was much like you. I never wanted to leave town for two reasons. First, I was afraid that the system would fall into pieces and I'd be needed. My second worry was that it wouldn't I wouldn't. (And, if nothing broke, what value did I bring to the company?) Now, I understand that point one was related to my novice abilities as an administrator and ego The second point was fear and lack of ego.

    Part of my job as a senior unix systems administrator -- if not the main part of my job -- is to make sure that I am irrelevant.

    It's my job to create redundant systems such that any single failure won't interrupt production. It's my job to ensure that every problem is documented so that someone else with less experience can fix it the next time around. It's my job to make sure that, whenever possible, regular problems are self-fixing (ie: programming is tweaked and processes are automatically restarted when they die). It is my job to make sure that someone other than me (in my case, the help desk) knows how to fix all reoccuring issues that can't be handled with automation.

    Today, I can leave town without worry. I still keep a laptop in the trunk with traveling and the computer room has my cell phone number but I very rarely have to use either.

    The answer to your question is that you need to spend a couple months working up procedures, writing documentation and grooming a lackey. Once you have done that, take a couple weeks off. Bring your electronic toys just in case. But, if you have done your job, you won't need them.


  • by dosowski ( 15924 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @09:51AM (#500908)
    The DB admin wanted to take a 2-week vacation during the summer, and I was looking for summer employment, so they hired me to take over during the vacation. I spent about the first three or four weeks getting up to speed, and was ready for it with time to spare. The whole thing went off without a hitch. The admin got her vacation, and I earned some money and experience.
  • by jaa ( 22623 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @08:34AM (#500909)
    get Netsaint [sourceforge.net], set it up to check your systems and page you upon failure, grab a laptop, and head off to some tropical island.

    Also, set up chkproc [freshmeat.net] to monitor processes and respawn them when they die (Linux only, but you can probably port it to other unices).

    Perhaps with the combination of the two you can make it a week or two, with your pager only interrupting your tropical siesta a few times.

  • You're quite right about ssh on windows. I found a freeware SSH client for windows (actually a whole suite of SSH-related utils besides just a term) that I really like. It's called PuTTY SSH. I can never remember the address for the web page, but I never need to because when I search for "PuTTY SSH" on google or yahoo it's the first hit. Give it a try the next time your stuck in the ass end of nowhere with nothing but a 486 running win95 and a 14.4 dialup connection, needing to log in to your corp. mail server remotely... (<-- true story) One advantage to the PuTTY SSH term is that it's small (~250Kb) and self contained (no installer, just one .EXE), so unless your on the most painful dialup connection imaginable it shouldn't take too long to grab from the website.

    Fuck Censorship.
  • It's my job to create redundant systems such that any single failure won't interrupt production.....
    That entire statement assumes that you have a pretty much unlimited budget, and free reign to do your job. In most companies, the IT department has neither.
  • by danpbrowning ( 149453 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @01:16PM (#500912)
    The company I work for specializes in out sourcing. We become your IT department. There are a lot of benefits. Imagine twenty medium sized companies that each have 1 full time sysadmin. They each pay $50,000 (made up number) yearly salary to their admin. Problems they have:
    1. Vacation time. Everytime the admin takes time off, all problems get put on hold. Bad problem. And often isn't so easy to "just hire a backup admin". Unless you are talking about hiring an oursourcing company like us, then you'll be paying big bucks to have another admin on the payroll.
    2. Skill sets. One admin, no matter how smart he is, will often not have ALL the tools, and ALL the skills necessary for his job. Usually this means that he spends a lot of time on the support phone learning whatever skill it is (e.g. cisco router programming) to solve a problem. Outsourcing companies like us are big enough to spread the cost of having such expertise in house. We have our own cisco router programmers that can be easily called on when their expertise is required. But this doesn't mean hiring another 50,000 employee with the expertise, it's already covered in the contract.
    3. Benefits for the an admin working for us: Never has to worry about his job. It doesn't matter if a given company (customer) he is working at goes out of business or has to cut the budget or _whatever_. It doesn't affect him because he works for us. He can just go to another job site. Heck, he can go to another job site if he gets BORED. That's another benefit. Also, he doesn't have to worry about not knowing enough about any particular technology -- since he can rely on our expertise and knowledge base.
    4. 24-hour support, Service Level Agreements, point-the-finger ability, etc. are some of the other problems that we can solve in our position. It's really fun to work this way. Our business mainly provides a service, but as part of that service, we can provide hardware, hosting (e-commerce or ASP), custom software developement, etc., etc. In fact, I love working here (not to mention slashdot.org browsing is encouraged).
    But when those 20 companies get together and form a new company (us) that has 20 admins that are shared between the 20 companies -- it becomes much more efficient.

    Specifically for this guys situation, I would say the best idea is to hire a "backup admin" through an outsourcing company like us, where they pay for someone like us to come in for whatever time he needs off.
  • by billcopc ( 196330 ) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @10:13AM (#500913) Homepage
    Then stage your own death, get a face job, and go grab that fortune :)
  • by srichman ( 231122 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @03:01PM (#500914)
    60 hour work weeks are insane

    Dude. 60 hour work weeks are not insane. If that's what happens when you take a couple weeks off, so be it.

    When I started working my present job, my boss said he expected 50-60 hours per week standard. Right now, under the pressure of a deadline, it's more like 75-80 hours a week. Yeah, it sucks, but it's pretty much the same for friends of mine who work for other startups.

    So, go to Morocco for a couple weeks, come back, put in those 12 hour days for a little bit, and don't feel like you're getting too bad a deal...

  • by paRcat ( 50146 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @08:19AM (#500915)
    ...with Cliff.

    Get a backup. Or at the very least, train someone who has *some* skill in IT to fix the things that normally go wrong. We have a few systems that can't be fixed without spending a horrible amount of time figuring them out. It's easier to teach someone "clear int bri0" than to volley messages with the phone company. Anyway, figure those situations out, and teach someone how to do them.

    Ask for a laptop with wireless access. While this may be a big request, you would be able to take vacation and still fix things without coming into the office. Definitely get compensated though. And hopefully you're using an OS with true remote access. :)

    But in the end.. what do you owe this company? Don't waste your life just so they won't wither. If they refuse to believe things will go to pot.. take some vacation. Then document how many calls you get while you aren't there. That will be very good evidence that they need to give you some backup.

  • by po_boy ( 69692 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @09:20AM (#500916) Homepage
    Sometimes people forget that they are working to make money to buy things they want and need. Sometimes that's food; sometimes that is a trip to the islands. You have worked enough that they want you to go enjoy yourself. Well, turn off your pager and cell phone and go drink a daqueri on the beach. When you come back all this crap will still be there. You will still have work to do so that you can make more money so that you can buy the things you need and want.

    If the company goes bankrupt or fires you while you were gone, then you get another job to earn money to buy the things you need and want. The job is there to support you, not the other way around.

    pretty soon, you will have enough money to buy the things you need and want for the rest of your life. That's when you retire. Don't forget to do that.

  • by ThreeFingerSalute ( 305864 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @10:03AM (#500917)
    I say let it burn. Take your vacation, and leave the pager at the office.

    It is NOT your responsibility to make the staffing decisions, nor is it your responsibility to kill yourself with overwork so that the Management can A) Get richer off of your sacrifice and B) Continue in ignorance of thier staffing needs.

    Moreover, if you are gone (quit, fired, leave, whatever) they will need to train a replacement, who *will* cost more than you, both in training time and salary. Plus even after they've paid for your replacement, they still have to spend for a reserve sysadmin. So it's in thier best interest to keep you around. It's in your best interest to use that leverage in negotiating with them.

    So take a vacation! You may be surprised to find that everything is still standing when you get back. If so, great. If it burned to the ground in your absence, well, that's Management's problem. They pay you for 40 hours of your life every week. Don't give them more than what they pay for! Maybe you've heard the of the Technique of the Thousand Marbles? Depending on your age, you statistically have about 2000 weekends left to enjoy. Go buy 2000 marbles (BBs, whatever) and store them in a big jar. Every Saturday, take one marble out of the jar and discard it. Watch as the level diminishes over time. You never get your life back - and nobody ever said as thier dying words "I wish I had spent more time at the office."

    I presume that you are in a salaried or hourly position, and that you don't have any significant equity/investment in the corporation. If they won't "cash you out" and you can't take time away, for god's sake, negotiate for a percentage ownership in the corporation! Not stock options, but actual stock. You need to own a piece of it. That way all your sacrifice to the benefit of the corporation comes back to benefit you in the long run. Any time that you put in above and beyond your contractual obligation is an investment in the company, same as cash. You ought to stand to benefit from that investment - in fact, you should benefit *more* from an investment of time, because money comes and goes, but like I said, you only get one life. Your life is more valuable than your money.

    I know it may sound a bit crazy to march into the boss' office and demand a piece of the company - but look at it from thier perspective: It's free money. Giving you equity doesn't interfere with the cash flow. It's just a piece of paper that says you own n percent of the assets of Foo, inc. It doesn't come out of any budget, and it doesn't cost them anything in lost time or productivity. Why do you think the dot-com startups throw stock options around? It's CHEAP! There's no cash outlay in giving away bits of the company. And cash flow is what companies care most about managing.

    So help them manage thier cash flow. Save them the expense of finding and training your replacement. Take some time off, and don't check in. If you absolutly can't or won't get your reward in the most valuable form (free time) then arrange to take it in the form of equity.

    My $0.02, after having been the lone sysadmin for 4 years...

Were there fewer fools, knaves would starve. - Anonymous