A good network administrator is part librarian. Anyone who thinks he
can learn everything he needs in this profession from a single book,
or even a couple of dozen books, is lost in a fantasy world. This
appendix is designed to get you up to speed quickly, but professional
growth is a never-ending task. I am not attempting to be exhaustive
or definitive here. I'm just trying to give some starting
places that have worked for me. This is a personal overview of my
B.1. Sources of Information
While this appendix is devoted
primarily to books, there is a variety of other obvious resources.
You should already be familiar with most, but the following checklist
may be useful in jogging your memory. It is in no particular order.
There are thousands of these. Finding ones that are helpful can be
painful. Be prepared to subscribe, lurk, and then unsubscribe to a
number of different lists (or visit their archives). Follow a list
for a while before you start posting to the list.
Keep in mind that you may find an answer in related groups. Your
Solaris problem may be answered in a Linux newsgroup posting. A quick
search of Deja News can sometimes be helpful.
Vendor web sites
In networking and telecommunication, a vendor that doesn't
maintain a reasonable web site probably should be avoided. This is
the most obvious way to disseminate information about their products.
Some vendors have excellent problem resolution sites, such as
Microsoft's TechNet. Other sites, like Cisco's, contain
such a staggering amount of information that whatever you want is
there, but it can take forever to find it. Be prepared to spend a lot
of time searching wherever you go.
Software web sites
Don't forget the home pages for software, particularly
operating systems. It is easy to forget about sites like http://www.linux.org and http://www.freebsd.org. And even minor tools
may have a site devoted exclusively to them.
Frankly, I don't have time for chatrooms, but some people find
them useful, particularly those devoted to specific pieces of
This is often an excellent starting point, particularly when you are
installing new software. Keep in mind these may change frequently, so
make sure you are looking at a current list.
In the rush to get things running, many people skip these. If
everything appears to work, they never go back. Don't forget to
look at these even if you don't have a problem.
Comments in makefiles and source code
This is a long shot, but if you are using open source software, there
is an off chance you can find something of value.
For some reason, some timid people seem reluctant to use their
service contracts. If you have paid for a service contract, you
should not be intimidated from placing reasonable calls.
I always try to get an idea of what resources the technicians are
using to answer my questions. I've had technicians send me some
truly remarkable "internal" documents. Before I hang up,
I always try to ask how I could have resolved the question without
calling them. Most technicians seem delighted to answer that
This could be from the vendor or from a third party. This is a big
business, particularly with the recent trend toward certification.
Short courses can be very focused-providing exactly what you need.
Beware, these courses can be quite expensive and what you learn can
become dated very quickly. Some companies, e.g., Microsoft and
Novell, now cancel certification if you don't recertify within
an established time limit.
Formal courses at
colleges and universities tend to be more general and, consequently,
often remain relevant for a much longer period of time. I would
recommend a formal degree over certification any day, but I'm
biased. Some potential employers may have different biases.
Printed and online vendor documentation
The undeniable trend is toward putting as much online as possible.
This reduces costs and allows the user to search the material. With
Unix, online manpages accessible through the man
command are universally available. Recently, there has been a
movement toward alternatives such as info pages,
HOWTOs, AnswerBooks, and web-based documentation. Use whatever is
appropriate to your system, but consider buying printed copies. I
kill a lot of trees printing online documentation. I want something I
can read in comfort and something I can write on. And then when I
can't find what I've printed, I print it again, and
again, and . . . .
This is often provided by the vendor with the initial purchase of
their software or equipment or as downloads from their web site. It
can supply the answer to your question. However, diagnostic software
is often limited in what it can test. A clean bill of health from
diagnostic software does not necessarily mean that there isn't
a problem with the vendor's product.
Keep in mind that many people use these in place of reading the
documentation. The first person you talk to probably won't be
very helpful (unless you didn't read the documentation). With
perseverance, it is usually possible to get your call escalated a
couple of times so that you end up talking to someone who is helpful.
Be prepared to be on the phone for a while. And be polite!
Magazines and journals
For me, these are most useful for tutorials on new topics and for
product reviews. I read NetworkWorld for general
news and NetworkMagazine and IEEE
Computer for articles with a little more depth.
Cisco's Internet Protocol Journal is also
a favorite. I also enjoy Wired. (Just
don't believe everything you read in it.) Don't overlook
business magazines. Knowing what company is about to fold can save
you from making a costly mistake. Both the ACM and IEEE have online
searches for registered users. For less technical information,
Computer Select is an excellent (but expensive)
source of information.
While the first person you're likely to talk to will be a sales
rep, there is probably a technical person lurking somewhere in the
background to help out when the rep discovers she is out of her
depth. This may be your only real chance to meet face-to-face with
someone technically involved in a product.
Friends, colleagues, and teachers
Ask yourself who you know who might be able to help. But remember
this is a two-way street, so be prepared to help others in the
future. Always remember, even the best expert will sometimes provide
Other network managers and administrators
People at similar institutions are often willing to share
information. It's better, of course, to build a network of
contacts before you need them. In particular, your predecessor, if he
left on good terms, can be an ideal contact.
While these might be obvious resources, it is not uncommon to
overlook one or more of them when trying to solve some hairy problem.
You may want to highlight this list and add to it in the margin. Many
of these sources have standards of etiquette that should be observed.
Don't abuse them! Even if you are paying for the call and your
contact can't answer your question, try to remain pleasant.
Save your hostilities for calls from telemarketers.