Week 2, Wednesday

April 1, 2009 at 10:10 pm (System Administration, Week 2) (, , , , )

Last things first: I had some delicious Chicago-style pizza this evening, my first since moving to Illinois. I won’t name names, but it was at a well-known place, highly recommended by some friends back in Georgia. I got some hot tips at work this afternoon about some other places that are supposed to be better, so I’ll be excited to try those once my wife and I finish all of our leftovers!

OK, on to the fun stuff. Eric and I worked on some more stories for the project we’re on. I actually had a decent amount to contribute today, because we did a lot of deployment-related stuff: SSL, payment gateways, Apache/Passenger configuration, and generally setting up a new Ubuntu slice to run Rails. My last job involved a lot of this kind of thing, so I was relatively comfortable, especially compared to yesterday’s mostly RSpec/Cucumber work. I had forgotten a lot of things, though, especially regarding Apache setup. We were both talking today about how we needed to go home and experiment with different Apache config commands to get more familiar. The big stumpers were VirtualHost, NameVirtualHost, and a lot of the mod_rewrite syntax (RewriteCond, RewriteRule, etc.) – nothing a few hours of thought and Q&A with Google couldn’t solve for us today, though.

It was nice having more to contribute, but at the same time it was frustrating when I couldn’t remember the syntax for things I know I’ve done before. It sure is a lot easier to copy a file from another project and replace a few lines than it is to recreate it one from scratch – but I’ve been interested in system administration stuff for awhile, so it’s good for me to know and practice.

My wife’s mother is in real estate – meaning she fixes up and sells or rents houses. For awhile starting out, there were certain things she didn’t know how to do, like laying bricks for a fireplace. So she hired some guys to come out and do the job, but she stood there with them and watched them do the job, asking questions and absorbing the information until she knew how to do it. When she needed a brick fence later on, she layed the bricks herself (and saved a lot of money, of course). This strikes me as a great model for software developers who work alone or on small teams with skill holes. Just hire somebody to come in and do the job, but learn from them. Chances are you won’t be as good as them at it when they leave, but you’ll be a heck of a lot better than you were before.

I know some companies can afford to have distinctions between/among system admins, database admins, and developers, but I think with software craftsmanship, and smaller teams in general, it’s important for the tech people to be able to get everything done, top to bottom. And for me personally, I love the idea of having the necessary knowledge and skill to produce a great product alone or with a pair.

I can see why people say that demonstrating a task or skill for someone is a great way to learn it, because I’m motivated to get more solid with my sysadmin knowledge, even though I felt like it was almost good enough today. It’s just a matter of prioritizing at this point. My stack of books to read is getting taller and taller, but I can only learn so much at once!

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