10 Items that should be in Every SysAdmin’s Backpack, Episode 6 – From the Ministry of Silly Tools

Wesley David has been doing a lot of thinking about what tools (both physical & virtual) every good SysAdmin should have on hand. He's shared some of those thoughts with us already, and now he rounds everything off with some more light-hearted necessities.

It’s a good thing that summer is over at the time of this writing, because after the first five episodes in this series your backpack is looking hefty enough that it isn’t going to be ready for a bikini any time soon. What I’ve suggested would have it so bloated that Richard Simmons would be weeping over it in mere nanoseconds. While I admit that this final list is rather lighthearted, don’t be so quick to dismiss these items as completely useless. Some of them have utility beyond their initial impression, and some of them will get you into hot water if used as implied. Use your common sense, and don’t come crying back to me if your lack thereof earns you a stern word (or worse) from HR or building Security…

  • Bug Spray. Specifically, sprays targeting the classes of insect that you know you may have to deal with. Know your enemy. Spiders in a crawlspace were one of my foes at a previous employer. Hornets were also known to lurk on the outside of a few structures I dealt with. An even older building had clouds of gnats so thick that you could make a meal by skating through the basement with your mouth open. Pick your weapon carefully, and your technique when applying it should be closer to “carpet bombing” than “spritzing”.
  • Nerf Gun / Marshmallow Cannon. Launching projectiles at inanimate objects has a certain cathartic element to it. Launching projectiles at animate objects has a tendency to earn you a round of questioning by the police (or HR, which might be more unnerving). Lesson learned. However, it can also be used as a means of grabbing someone’s attention, marking a distant cable drop or even communicating if you attach an epistle to the missile. If anyone protests over being shelled with Styrofoam ammunition, just remind them that you could have brought your paintball gun to work.
  • Lots and lots of unique, disposable pens. There is always a need for pens – that much is obvious. However, making them embarrassing to own will make sure that you retain much of your original stock. Just like dissection rats have their veins and arteries colored with dye to make tracing their innards easier, injecting the workplace with pink pens complete with purple fuzzy tassels makes it easier to keep track of those whose fingers get unusually sticky with others’ office supplies. Or you could behave in a more altruistic way, and get some pens branded with your IT department’s help desk URL, email address and phone extension.
  • Prybar. I will not explain this one until the statute of limitations expires. Please come back in March of 2017 for my follow-up article, “No warranties, no problems!
  • Motivational cards. These can often be seen handed out at business retreats, teambuilding seminars and business lunches when nothing else can be found to pick the arugula out of your teeth. I suspect that they are used with the best of intentions, but they often come across as snarky and passive aggressive. Perhaps you can embrace the corporate culture and leave perky little memorandums behind whenever you have to wander into userland and touch someone’s PC (that may or may not be an oblique reference to the above prybar). How can anyone resist the edifying qualities of such gems as “Smile and Move“, “Love your People“, and my absolute favorite, “Cross the Line” (which may or may not have been somewhat misapplied in relation to the aforementioned prybar).
  • Candy. You don’t need Italian cars, African diamonds or New York fashion to bribe people. Oftentimes, Swiss chocolate will do just fine. I don’t advocate bribery, but…wait, yes I do. Give people candy and they will like you; it’s that simple. Eventually you get to know who melts for chocolate, who prefers lollies and who’s that one person that likes the green Gummy Bears. To each their own, but make sure you have a fresh supply hidden in the server room in case you need to finagle the key to the building maintenance room. (hint: that’s where the impact drill is kept in case you need to sink bolts into the server room floor for a new rack and don’t want to pay the union to do it. You didn’t hear that from me).
  • Your favorite musical instrument. Guitars are good, harmonicas are heavenly and zithers are… not going to score you any points with the opposite sex, but at least you’re trying. If you have any musical predilection, keep a spare instrument at work. Music tames the savage beast, even if the beast is a SysAdmin who’s had one too many ARP collision problems and is about to turn the packet switched network into a I-hope-you-have-paper-and-pens-handy network (the previously mentioned prybar may or may not play an integral role in said SysAdmin’s plans). Sitting back for a few minutes and strumming out a tune can genuinely help the troubleshooting process and help you to regain some of your mental faculties.
  • The employee manual. Extra points if you have bookmarks in the “Acceptable Usage of Company Technology” chapter. Nothing says “I win this argument” quite like a glance that says “Shall we speak to HR about this?” Not that SysAdmin’s should become tattle-tale ninnies; rules were made to be broken and sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that require some grace to be given. However, other times you need to lay the law down on abusive users and their cries of “I need this rogue access point to get around the content filter on my company laptop so I can place the department’s off-track bets over an HTTP connection to my favorite bookmaker, whose site features ads for uniquely male medication. Written in a variation of l337, no less.” No. Just, no.
  • Ferrets. Sometimes the new IT intern is just a tad too bulky to fit in the PVC pipe between office buildings to run some new fiber lines. In that case, it’s time to turn to Rodent Power! They’re also just darn fun to have in the IT cubical farm. They might be a tad stinky… but the same could be said for the hominids in the department as well. Just keep the ferrets away from the stockpile of bribery candy; a sugared-up ferret is the truest form of Shock and Awe one can experience on the friendly side of a supernova.
  • Pocket Rocket Mini Bike. “Hello Mr. Execu-droid. Your end-of-quarter reports take four days to return queries on? I have a motorcycle in my backpack. Your argument is invalid.” It should be noted that when you’re shopping for mini bikes, you should select the engine size and gear configuration based on the top running speed of the building security guards. Just sayin’. Plus, mini bikes can outrun security’s Segways in second gear. Not that I would know, or anything.

There you have it! Six episodes of ideas on how to become a more awesome backpack-toting SysAdmin. Of course, by this time you don’t have a backpack anymore. You have a team of Sherpas hiking your equipment in and out of base camp (i.e. the server room) and setting up bivouacs wherever you’re IT skills are needed next. With these tools, checking the ticketing system for tickets marked “SysAdmin – Urgent” might be slightly less harrowing…or at least the ferrets will keep you company while you’re working overnight.