Ethical System Administration

I started out in this industry in the mid 90s.  My first system / network administration job was at a medium sized local insurance company.  For a non tech company in the mid 90s, we had a pretty impressive infrastructure.  We had two in house datacenters with a large variety of operating systems and protocols.  By the time I left in 1998, we had Netware, HP-UX, Unixware, Windows NT, and Linux servers, and were running IPX/SPX, Appletalk, Decnet, SMB, and TCP/IP on our network.  It was a great place to learn – and not just for the technology environment, but for the people who worked there.

I mentored under a network engineer who believed in high standards of professionalism.  We had actual, physical log books in our datacenters.  When people did work on servers, they were required to hand write a synopsis of what they’d done and why into the log.  I can’t imagine what that might seem like to people coming up in the age of “the cloud”.

There was something else important that was drilled into me along with a sense of professionalism and craft – the idea that there were ethics around our profession.  As system administrators with access to every server, switch, and router in the company, we in theory had access to every bit of electronic information in the company.

It was drilled into me that how we treated that information was important, and that our respect for the privacy and confidentiality of communications we did not need to access as part of our job was a point of pride.  Doing something like reading another employee’s email would be a huge breach of the trust that was placed in us.  Having administrative privileges on multi user servers was a big deal.  It meant that you were a steward, and that role was to be treated with respect for the people sharing the domain you had stewardship over.

I know how compartmentalized large tech companies get – I worked at one for 6 years.  However, somewhere within Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Verizon and the other companies who are colluding with the NSA there are system administrators and network engineers who knew what was going on and helped it happen.

I’d ask those of you who work in this field to set aside a little time today to read, or if you’ve got a few grey hairs on your head like me probably re-read, the System Administror’s Code of Ethics, and then think about the things we, as technologists, are helping to enable, for good or bad.

About taotetek

Sometimes stereotypical but never ironic. You can't stop the signal, Mal. All my opinions are my own, unless I stole them from you.
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