That Time When I Learned My First Lesson for a SysAdm.

In the early ’90’s I had a student job that gave me my first taste of working as a System Administrator. I was working for the Law School’s library where I was taking EE in college. The Library had the only student computer lab for the law school. It was a mixture of DOS boxes and a few Macs. The workers in the library had either NeXT workstations, DOS PCs, and a few Macs.

For servers there were a couple of Netware Servers, a UNIX server, and a NeXT server and a Mac SE with a network card in it that was acting as the Mac server.

My duties consisted mainly of supporting the students in the lab, fixing printing problems throughout the library, basic UNIX admin on the UNIX and NeXT servers, and supporting all the Macs. The Lab manager hated Macs, so he really didn’t want to touch them. I think that was part of how I got the job, someone to help with the Macs.

The lab manager liked to dole out jobs that had to be done when you’re not busy helping students. So, the first task he gave me was to fix a Mac that wasn’t talking on the network. Ok. First time I ever had to fix a network problem that didn’t involve a modem. Cool. I was up to the challenge!

He gives me the IP address information, and I walk up to the broken computer. First thing I do is verify the config is correct. I reboot it. I reboot it with extensions off and trash the ethernet drivers and copy them for the Mac next to it that’s working fine using a floppy. Reboot again …

After a couple hours of back and forth, rebooting, checking and re-checking configs, I decide to trace the cable. I trace the ethernet cable to a box in the floor, and notice that the Mac I had been using as a reference is plugged into the another port on the same box.

So, I swap the cables, and low and behold, the Mac now works on the network, and guess what? The one next to it no longer works on the network. Well bugger. I swap the cables back, and the problem goes back to the one that was originally broke.

By this time, it was later in the evening and the lab manager had left. But the next day I report to him that I found the problem. He gives me a new cable, and the Mac happily works on the network.

And as he pointed out, I just learned a valuable lesson: if the config is right, always check the cable before doing any real troubleshooting.

Happy Sysadmin Day!

Leave a Reply