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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Secret Origins: How I became a systems administrator

The road of the systems administrator is long and hard and once trodden cannot be left. Many are the ways of joining the road: some were bitten by a radioactive computer bug at a Library Resources Exhibition; others were rocketed to Earth from the planet Emelae; yet others took a mysterious serum that turned them into shield-slinging sentinels of librarianship. This is how it happened to me…

It may be hard to believe now but once I was but a callow youth, barely a stripling, in fact I’d hardly ever even stripled (it was frowned upon in my reform school) selling newspapers on a street corner in the rough side of town. One day I was approached by a strange man in a raincoat who had me follow him to a disused subway station in a part of town I didn’t know. Pausing only to write Max Clifford’s ’phone number on the back of my hand I did as he asked. We entered the station and picked our way down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs was a huge chamber, as unlike any subway station as you could imagine. It was clean and well-lit. Along one wall were statues of the Seven Deadly Sins of Librarianship:

  • Noisy Children;

  • Overdue Books;

  • Reference Enquiries;

  • New Shelving;

  • Automated Reservations; and

  • Accurate Numbers.

We walked the length of the chamber to find an old man sitting on a huge stone throne, a copy of the Ecclesiastae by Erasmus hanging above his head by a thread.

"My name is immaterial", he said. "Fred Immaterial. You have been chosen to receive great gifts my son. Yours will be the gift of Systems Administration!"

At which point there was a flash of lightning which cut the thread and before I could move the old man was crushed by the huge tome. Horrified I rushed over, expecting to find a mangled body and perhaps a wallet and a spare set of teeth. Amazingly, there was nothing there. I stood perplexed for a moment or two and then was startled by a sound at my side. There stood a ghostly representation of the old man. He spoke:

"The gifts of Systems Administration are yours. These are they:

  • "You will spend many years carrying boxes to and fro, packing and unpacking computer equipment. Stacking the boxes up when you receive them. Unstacking them to get the delivery notes and stacking them back up again. Unstacking them and shifting them out of the way of the complaining masses and stacking them back up again in the most inconvenient places imaginable. For this you will need the strength of a Buffalo.

  • "You will also need the wisdom of an Owl. Not least because you’ll be thashing about in the dark most of the time.

  • "For problem-solving you will need the tenacity of the Limpet, especially when you realise that most of your problems will have two legs and be paid more than you are.

  • "Come to that you may as well have the mental acuity of the Limpet as well otherwise you’ll run a mile before taking on the job.

  • "You will need to be able to simultaneously hold the ’phone, write notes with a pen, use a keyboard, unpack a box and clean the gunge off the insides of a mouse, gifts given to you by the Octopus.

  • "Oh, and you may as well have this Xylophone; it’s been cluttering up my attic for years."

There was another flash of lightning and the old man’s words appeared inscribed on the wall before me.

"Go on, Billy, say the word!"

And I said the word. And I am now a systems administrator. And I say the word three or four times every bloody day.

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