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Image © zentilia, 123RF.com

The Fine Art of Negligence

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Article from ADMIN 41/2017
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For 16 years, I worked for a very large international support company, mostly as a system administrator. For those 16 years, I found that the fine art of negligence was not only prevalent, but an actual and conscious career choice for some of my colleagues.

For 16 years, I worked for a very large international support company, mostly as a system administrator. For those 16 years, I found that the fine art of negligence was not only prevalent, but an actual and conscious career choice for some of my colleagues. They would leave systems unpatched, ignore hardware with old firmware, and dismiss enclosures that were configured incorrectly. Dozens of systems were left in various states of decommissioning. Some projects had been delayed for more than a year. You might conclude that leadership was a problem, and you'd be correct. Leaders (i.e., Managers) were often chosen to be leaders on the basis of many factors other than leadership ability. Now add in the bonus of dealing with constant layoffs in favor of offshoring, and you can also conclude that it was a frustrating 16-year sentence – I mean, existence.

What puzzled me most was that the more negligent an individual, the more perceived value that person seemed to have. The most neglectful of all individuals almost had immunity. Again, the greatest testament to this ongoing, almost sanctioned, negligence culture is from the leadership. Fortunately, a few competent, diligent people cared enough to make big and good things happen. As you can also conclude, I place myself into that group.

System administration is not an easy job; it resides low on the totem pole and is not always valued properly. I wonder if that rampant negligence and borderline competence has anything to do with that positioning.

As a system administrator, you have many responsibilities: security, user accounts, disk space, system performance, application installs, BIOS updates, firmware updates, and the ever popular reboot. You have one additional responsibility: to manage your career. The fine art of negligence shouldn't extend to your own career. In my mind, those many neglectful system administrators were only interested in managing their careers. In the end, maybe they were doing it right.

Often, the most competent people have insecurities about their competence and feel like frauds or feel that they're somehow taking advantage of the company for what they do. The neglectful type never lament their competence. They never see themselves as frauds. They never spend time worrying about layoffs or someone exposing their incompetence. Those who do are too often the casualties of the corporate culture, and this self-perpetuating culture goes beyond the Peter Principle (i.e., that managers, in this case, rise to the level of their incompetence). The particular culture described here rewards incompetence, rewards negligence, and rewards those who do not rather than those who do. Although I might be exaggerating, I think my level of exaggeration is far below the level of accuracy that I'm attempting to portray here.

The point is that you might be very competent in your job and perform your functions as you should: You regularly patch; you comply with all governance rules; you diligently fill-out your timecard; you watch your systems for breaches; you care for your users; and you give your managerial staff the respect they require. The one aspect of your job that you're leaving undone is taking care of your own career. By being competent, diligent, and vigilant in your tasks, you have left yourself out of the success loop. Your job-negligent counterparts excel, rise to their level of incompetence, and take home higher salaries because you, too, have practiced the fine art of negligence.

Something to ponder the next time you're up all night patching systems.

Ken Hess * ADMIN Senior Editor

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