back to article On this most auspicious of days, we ask: How many sysadmins does it take to change a lightbulb?

Today is System Administrator Appreciation Day so enjoy this Reg reader's story of just what these brave individuals have to put up with. Our tale goes back to the dizzying heights of the dotcom boom, when "Ben" was running IT for a financial services business. "While most of the people there were super," he told us, "there …

  1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
    Linux

    LAMP

    Remind me never to raise a ticket about the LAMP stack with you...

    1. acousticm

      Re: LAMP

      Looks another moot point

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: LAMP

        Linux Apache mumble Perl-thon ? ;-)

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: LAMP

          Mine's more of a LAPP

          1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

            Re: LAMP

            At least its not a LARP...

  2. unimaginative
    Alert

    Surely a perfect chance to say "have you tried turning it off and on again"?

  3. Terry 6 Silver badge

    First and only thought

    What crap management systems they must have (had) there. Issues that surely go beyond misuse of IT staff.

    1. tfewster Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: First and only thought

      One place I worked, the Unix sysadmins were required to act as porters and receive all deliveries.

      Apparently the facilities guy, Windows admins and software developers weren't trusted to read a label on a box of bog rolls, or tell it from a keyboard.

      I presented a costed analysis on the waste of our time, which fell on deaf ears.

      1. Timo

        Re: First and only thought

        Alternative, as unappealing as it is, is to consider it easy pay. You make the same money whether you're checking in office supplies or putting out virtual fires.

        1. Nunyabiznes

          Re: First and only thought

          @Timo

          Except that you are on salary and your actual work still needs to get done - so after hours and weekends it is because the company couldn't be arsed to hire an extra oxygen converter to accept packages. Or tell the facilities supervisor to get their arse in gear and take care of their job.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: First and only thought

            Why would anyone take a job with a fixed salary and no overtime? Unless it's a very big salary that effectively takes into account expected overtime whether it's actually worked or not. I can understand that for contractors who are being paid for an outcome, but not employees.

        2. Robert Moore
          Angel

          Re: First and only thought

          This. Who cares what I am doing, I am making the same money.

          A few years back, contracting at a VERY large multinational company, it somehow became my responsibility once a month to walk the cleaners around the facility letting them into the restricted areas and observing them while they swept and mopped the floors. Took about 2 hours once a month. A very pleasant two hours, of getting a little exercise, and watching other people do real work. I got to rather enjoy it.

          I got to be on good terms with the cleaning crew, and that made it easier whenever I needed anything from them.

        3. John Jennings Silver badge

          Re: First and only thought

          I loved taking a bit of time out to fix random crap.

          Gives a nice break - especially if it comes from SLT.

          Also gives an excuse for a nice set of meters, soldering rig, etc. No IT dept should be without them.

          those and a CPC catalogue....

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: First and only thought

        "I presented a costed analysis on the waste of our time, which fell on deaf ears."

        There's a lot to be set for internal invoicing. It might have happened once. After the charge hit the facilities account it wouldn't happen again.

        1. Nunyabiznes

          Re: First and only thought

          For about 2 years we were put under Facilities. The lingering affects of that are still haunting us today.

          I started signing for packages as one of the facilities guys and chucking the stuff in random closets. When asked "I never saw that come in. Who signed for it?". Eventually they got the clue and changed the process.

          We still get calls for lamps, under desk heaters (plugged into the battery side of the UPS, natch), and various cheap tat plugged into the USB ports of PCs for power. Apparently I need a good set of side cutters...

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: First and only thought

        "Apparently the facilities guy, Windows admins and software developers weren't trusted to read a label on a box of bog rolls, or tell it from a keyboard."

        Sometimes, just sometimes, it might mean they REALLY did not see that as part of their job and so deliberately made mistakes so as not to be asked again. Unix guys are just too helpful and superior to do a job a badly, so get lumbered with those tasks while the Windows sysadmins look on and smirk and have lots of extra time to do their daily rebuild of their Exchange databases, do the weekly rebuild of their servers and generally stare at BSODs. Oh, and of course the Unix guys have a plenty of spare time for jobs like portering because they built their servers properly in the first place :-)))

    2. Flywheel Silver badge

      Re: First and only thought

      I once worked as an IT analyst for a well-known manufacturer based near downtown Chingford. At the time, WFH was unheard of, but certain members of management couldn't be bothered to come all the way into the office every day, so we invested in a set of state-of-the-art Viewdata terminals so they could watch the profits figure rise just by tapping the enter key.

      One day, a particularly obnoxious manager called Nick phoned in to say that his terminal wasn't working and what were we going to do about it? I was then told to borrow the IT Manager's car and drive all the way across London to replace Nick's terminal. I did so, and wasn't even offered a cuppa. Payback was when the North Circular rush-hour was true to form and I arrived back at base around 6.45pm to be greeted by a hopping mad IT director. After that, it was decreed that even management would have to do their own box shifting.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    "It has a cord attached so it's YOUR problem."

    I think the response was very adequate. I would have loved to do that myself.

    Then again, if it were the BOFH, I can readily imagine him attaching a cord to said assistant and making it his problem to solve.

    With Marmite.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: "It has a cord attached so it's YOUR problem."

      It's breathing so it's an HR problem.

      Problem solved.....

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: "It has a cord attached so it's YOUR problem."

        "It's breathing"

        That's the problem but it can be dealt with.

  5. AW-S

    Anything with a power lead, except the kettle

    In my early support days I used to say I was pretty handy fixing anything with a power lead, except the kettle.

    This led to rapid promotion and the Peter Principle kicking in at the age of about 29.

    1. Dimmer

      Re: Anything with a power lead, except the kettle

      Usr: There is a beeping noise coming from under my desk and computer is not working.

      Tech: Unplug the heater under your desk and throw it away.

      Usr: I don't have a heater under my desk and how would you know?

      Tech: Your a woman, it is the thing that is keeping your feet warm. It is always the problem, that is why they are banned.

      - a few moments pass

      Usr: Ok but now it is making a clicking - buzzing noise and I am smelling smoke.

      Tech: - On my way.

      At the desk- User had now unplugged the UPS from the wall to plug in the heater, then plugged in the ups into it's self.

      Tech: Can I borrow a pair of scissors?

      Tech: I found the problem (handing the Usr the the heater without the cord). We will have to replace the UPS and bill that to your department.

      Usr: How am I going to keep my feet warm?

      Tech: I don't know, socks maybe?

      - True story.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Anything with a power lead, except the kettle

        At least they didn't plug the 3kW heater into a spare outlet on the 1000VPA UPS. I've had that a few times... "My computer keeps shutting down and rebooting at random... it can't be overheating because the office is always quite cold."

        1. Robert Sneddon

          Re: Anything with a power lead, except the kettle

          Story I was told, it may not be true but the Facilities engineers installing a set of as-yet unpopulated racks in a new data centre had a 3kW heater where they were working, plugged in to one of the aisle phases because the DC hall was cold and they had been yelled at when they tried to switch off the hall's cooling earlier.

  6. Skiron

    When I was a sysadmin 15 odd years ago, one thing that annoyed me was when people's phones stop working (pre POE days) and I got a call. My reply? "I'm IT, not bloody BT!).

    1. johnfbw

      his phone seems to work fine

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I did have to log a call about a faulty handset, the response from the telecomes (un)Help desk was 'well what are you calling m eon then'

      1. EarthDog

        fair question actually

  7. Potemkine! Silver badge

    I'm sorry Dave, I'm affraid I can't do that.

    Too much power in a light bulb. Would require an electrical accreditation to work on it.

  8. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Song

    Three Dead Trolls in a Baggee did a song about system administrators.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There was a potential for staged diagnosis: first testing the cable by making said assistant holding the suitable isolation-stripped end and plugging it in. If that's OK, further diagnostics won't be needed on account of an acute drop in headcount in that office and a nasty smell.

  10. MisterHappy

    Facilities are to blame

    When you have a Facilities Management dept that insists on a cost code and charges to move desks, IT frequently got called on to do office moves.

    We got so fed up with it that the standard response was to show up & unplug/unpatch everything, put it in an adjoining office or in the corridor & then tell the end users that after they got the desks moved to where they wanted to give us a call & we would reconnect everything. The number of pointless reorganising of offices because "Margaret wants to sit by the window" dropped to almost nothing.

    Strangely we were still willing to move furniture if plied with coffee and cake.

    1. petef

      Re: Facilities are to blame

      I had noticed a problem with our "help" desk and also knew how to fix it. When I called them to report that they would not talk to me without taking my cost centre. It stayed broken.

    2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Facilities are to blame

      When you have a Facilities Management dept that insists on a cost code and charges to move desks, IT frequently got called on to do office moves.

      IT should also insist on a cost code and charge about double of Facilities Management, aka the Reciprocal Beancounter method.

      We got so fed up with it that the standard response was to show up & unplug/unpatch everything, put it in an adjoining office or in the corridor & then tell the end users that after they got the desks moved to where they wanted to give us a call & we would reconnect everything. The number of pointless reorganising of offices because "Margaret wants to sit by the window" dropped to almost nothing.

      Nice application of the BOFH method, I approve.

      Strangely we were still willing to move furniture if plied with coffee and cake.

      Level one corruption*), even better ;)

      *)Willing to be bought without the need to stay bought.

      1. Scott Wheeler

        Re: Facilities are to blame

        Corruption? I prefer the term "Incentive-linked decision making".

        1. Dimmer

          Re: Facilities are to blame

          Another true event....

          Walking by help desk I was stopped by one of the girls. She wanted to know if I was familiar with the "MOPPS" system and the users was having a printer issue. After a good 15min of user interrogation, we were able to get her reconnected to the print server.

          At that point the cube buzz started to reach a crescendo as we tried to find out who had added a new unauthorized print server to the network.

          In an effort to find out, I asked the user what department they worked in.... they said Lab1. Ok, odd, what building are you in? "Annex". I told her we are in the "Annex" and there is no Lab1 here. What STREET are you on? Ok, that is correct, so I knew this was going to be an odd request to the user but "WHAT COMPANY DO YOU WORK FOR"? - It was the hospital next door to the bank we were in. Their help desk number was only 1 digit off from our number. The odds of that were astronomical.

          After we finished the call the little newbie help desk girl asked ; Should we call the their help desk and let them know their users are calling us?

          Nope. Instead lets send out an email to the accounting department, you know the ones that complain about us not having backups of their excel files they keep storing locally, and let them know the new number for support for word and excel.

          We got away with it for at least 2 months till they implemented department costing and figured it out.

          1. KBeee Silver badge

            Re: Facilities are to blame

            Thinking of 1 digit difference in phone numbers, my home phone was 1 digit from a mini cab office, my phone was XXX9, the mini cab office was XXX0.

            The number of times I'd get a call around midnight by someone Tired and Emotional demanding a cab was unbelievable.

            When it first started happening I'd tell them they'd got the wrong number and they'd need to re-dial, but more often than not that would would result in abuse, so I ended up saying " Yes sir, where are you and where do you want to go? And your name? OK, it'll be there in half an hour" and hang up.

            1. Potty Professor
              Flame

              Re: Facilities are to blame

              We bought a house in 1982. Some months later, the local council decided to install an Incoming Only phone at the head of the taxi rank in North Street. Unfortunately, its number was very similar to ours, and we frequently had calls from people asking for a taxi to take them to the shops, home, to the pub, or to the station. We politely told them that they had misdialled, and what the rank number was. At 3AM on Christmas Morning, some drunk rings us and demands a taxi home, so I patiently told him the correct number and hung up. five minutes later, same chap, by now both drunk and irate, so I repeated the information given previously and hung up. Another five minutes and he's back again, by this time making death threats if I don't send a taxi. I hung up and unplugged the phone, so he would get the unobtainable signal in future. Next working day, complained to GPO and had them change my number, so no more misdirected taxi rank calls.

          2. ectel

            Re: Facilities are to blame

            We had a phone number that if you got 2 numbers transposed in the area code was for Shrewsbury Prison. We got a lot of calls asking to arrange a visit.

            I usually said they would be welcome to come, but would not find there relative here.

        2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Facilities are to blame

          In other words, bribery so corruption.

        3. Androgynous Cow Herd

          Re: Facilities are to blame

          Similar but different. I had a phone # that was one digit off from the local Pizza Shack delivery #. One that offered "30 minutes or it's free".

          When the calls first started coming in, of course I just said it was the wrong #, etc. But eventually, my inner BOFH came out and I found myself carefully noting the order, then ringing the pizza place 25 minutes later and placing the order...sometimes I even ordered the correct thing, but not often.

          The situation only lasted a few months before one of their delivery drivers crashed his car through the front of the store in what must have been an urelated incident and they shut that location down forever.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Facilities are to blame

        When I worked for a large company that still had a restaurant on site, many years ago now, it was always a pleasure to help out the catering department with their IT problems.

        A guaranteed (and free) cup of decent coffee works wonders with response times.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In this particular environment it would actually have taken less time to have told the user that you don't support lamps, but that the problem was one of the following:-

    A) the bulb had blown

    B) the fuse had blown

    C) It wasn't plugged in and turned on,

    and that the user should "try and plug it into a different socket" to eliminate C, change the bulb for a known working one to eliminate B, and if that fixes it then the problem is A and they should buy a replacement bulb. It takes much less time to do that than it takes to get a pair of snips, walk to their desk and cut the cord off.

    That the user is a dick is something that can and should be dealt with by the HR peeps through the usual procedures.

    I have fixed lamps (some prat of an electrician actually gave one with a dead bulb a PAT test fail...), changed bulbs, helped the chap right at the top of the org chart cart his home sofas around and given good advice on building a decent home theatre setup on a budget, helped employees who have "broken down" cars which has been anything from a flat tyres/batteries to running out of fuel, and created the boss's wife a website for her business.

    My personal view is that as long as i'm getting paid, I don't much care what i'm doing or where i'm doing it, as long the the chap paying my salary is equally happy.

    Now you can come up with all sort of excuses (not insured etc) but be honest; it actually just comes down to "I don't want to do it" by people who consider themselves too elite to help people unless specifically required to do so by the terms of their employment contract. If we are honest about it on a legal basis then there are more grounds for doing the bloke in the article for criminal damage than there is for somebody being sued for actually helping.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      This is all very well providing it doesn't conflict with a task that is more important and/or urgent, especially if the latter is something properly in your remit and the former isn't. The underlying problem usually arises from someone unable to distinguish from the importance of your proper work and their own self-importance.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Helping them solve the problem isn't the answer

      You think you are teaching them troubleshooting so they can help themselves in the future, but in reality you are teaching them that you will help them with things that aren't your responsibility.

    3. doublelayer Silver badge

      You may have done all of those things, but that doesn't make those things your job. While the action of the tech in this case was something I'd never do (though mostly as I wouldn't want the consequences), I would have politely told them that no, it is not my responsibility to fix your lamp and I don't have the spare time to do so anyway. Had they asked me when I wasn't doing something related to my job and had they asked politely, I would have helped happily.

      If I am the generally helpful person who does what everyone wants and because of that, I don't get my actual job done, management isn't going to care that I'm useful to my colleagues. They are going to complain about why the stuff they wanted isn't there, and I am going to face consequences. I will therefore not interrupt the important responsibilities of my job for people who demand my time without reason. I'm entirely on board with being helpful if I can do so without compromising that, but at some point, this is a thing I do by choice and therefore I may choose not to when circumstances are different.

  12. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    I'm sorry, *YOUR* insurance doesn't cover *me* doing electrics.

    (hides C&G certificate)

  13. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Joke

    Q: How many system administrators does it take to change a light bulb?

    A: None, they just deny everyone access to the area served by the light bulb in question.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Q: How many system administrators does it take to change a light bulb?

      first thing I thought was "2 to do it, and 1 to read the instructions out loud" but that version was for some other profession...

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Q: How many system administrators does it take to change a light bulb?

        The answer is "Can it be changed in software?"

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Q: How many system administrators does it take to change a light bulb?

          and "have you updated to the latest firmware?"

          (although, sadly, if we are talking "smart" bulbs, that might actually be a real solution nowadays)

  14. Curtis

    Call Sparky

    My usual response is on the order of "If it doesn't have a processor, or a network connection, it's not IT, it's Facilities. Call Sparky. I'll let him know you're calling and he'll be sure to bring the Russian circuit tester."

    Since someone printed that particular BOFH and pinned it to the breakroom bulletin board, the issue usually stops there.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Call Sparky

      "If it doesn't have a processor, or a network connection, it's not IT, it's Facilities.

      Does that mean you now do all the swanky new vending machines, coffee machines, "smart" kettles, and everything else with a "digital" display or "digital" buttons on them now? They almost all have processors of one sort or another in them these days. After all, why build a circuit with a 555 timer in it when you can program a delay in a PIC microcontroller and sell an egg timer as "smart".

      Be careful what you wish for :-)

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Call Sparky

        The local council bought tens of thousands of smart streetlamp controllers. They all had PLACs in them that measured the length of daylight and looked up a table in memory of what the date must be. They were designed as standalone smart lights - no Internet, no neighbourhood communication, no RDS even. Field programmed to turn on at dusk, turn off at midnight then turn back on from 6am until dawn, whichever came first.

        They crashed every equinox when the length of day equalled the length of night and took a week to rediscover the date from their observation. During this discovery phase they went into fail safe lamp on mode. Saving energy my arse. They cost a fortune too. I built a circuit that did the same thing for my outside light but without lookup tables or fancy programmable circuits using a few 555s, a couple of counters and a frequency divider. Cost about £3 compared to around £7 for the programmable array. Worked without fail for 2 years until I moved out.

    2. T. F. M. Reader

      Re: Call Sparky

      @Curtis: "If it doesn't have a processor, or a network connection, it's not IT"

      These days it no longer applies to light bulbs, eh? I do suspect that they got IPv6 addresses and smartphone controls specifically to move the responsibility from Facilities to IT.

    3. VirtualizationGuy
      Facepalm

      Re: Call Sparky

      My SMART Home light bulb is not working

  15. Brad16800

    The weirdest one that i recall was "it's all electricity" I'm not terrible with a soldering iron but yea, toaster repair isn't one of my skills.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Was it a TalkieToaster(TM)?

  16. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    It has a cord

    At a previous employer, our illustrious facilities management group made a "sucessfull" play to take over the IT department. Selling the idea to management that a centralized dispatch system would increase efficiency. Until the day that we had a network problem and they sent a plant electrician. Poor guy just stared at the network jack with his lineman's pliers in hand, shook his head and walked away.

    After the incident was suitably resolved (by the dispatch of the correct person), I posted a summary on the internal company gossip board. Referring to facilities as Central Services may have gone over their heads. But the new motto for the org. did not. "One number to call if your toilet backs up or your server doesn't."

  17. chivo243 Silver badge
    Windows

    Just like the printer is out of paper

    would you mind filling it for me? Sure no problem, next time your stapler is empty give me a call too!

    Asshats...

    Tramp as there is no Linus middle finger icon, yet?

  18. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Demarcation

    I bought a PAT tester to prove my usefulness to my council employer, stealing work away from the utilities folk who complained to me. So I gave them it because deadly dull.

    In the same year an overhead power cable was brought down in my village and was thrashing around sparking on the ground and my neighbours came to me to fix it. "No, that's more than 12v. I'm more of your electronics engineer. I did get taught power line reflection theory but I also got taught to stay well away from sparking power lines."

    1. hayzoos

      Re: Demarcation

      My dad's cousin was an "electrician" who had worked his way up to power plants and grids from residential, mines, and industrial systems. He said to never touch or go near any downed power line even if it wasn't sparking. He said there were many reasons from a self resetting "circuit breaker" to a "small" short on a high power line may not do much to the earth but plenty enough to make for a bad day for anybody unprotected approaching or touching such a line.

      Just wanted to get that out there for safety. Unless you are trained and are protected for it, stay away from downed power lines!

      1. Trygve Henriksen

        Re: Demarcation

        Mythbusters did an episode on that and how to get out of a car that the power line had landed on...

        Very enlightening.

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