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Don MacVittie

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Systems Admins Just Keep Getting Younger


Meet the new SysAdmin

This week, Lori was on the road, so our youngest – a seven year old – and I were on our own. Since he’s not in school, we tend to do a little teaching with him on a daily basis.

Over the weekend, he and I put together the Genius Light from EEME – this blog is not about that experience, I will post a separate blog on that topic at my Ulitzer blog as soon as my queries to EEME have been answered – but it is an example of what I mean about learning.

Thursday morning, about 7:30am, he noticed that one of my work machines (my primary demo machine) had Stacki, the open source bare metal installer on it. He has heard me talk about Stacki over the last couple months while we were getting it ready for launch, so he wanted me to show him how to use it.

So I walked him through installing a (virtual) machine from nothing to a fully functional CentOS server. Since I was taking this as an opportunity to both teach him, and learn about ease of use, I told him what to do and why, and he did it. He named the machine (CocoaMaster357-storage), and I showed him where to get the MAC address since we were using spreadsheet configuration instead of automatic detection.

In all, with instruction, it took him about 15 minutes to do the installation. He then got really excited. He started using vi to create files (one named ILoveStacki.txt), proclaiming himself no longer a n00b, but an installation pro, he asked me to show him what else Stacki could do, when to use it, if it could do “a million servers at once” (Yes, in theory, but we’ve only done thousands at once), and to show him the automatic server detection and install method I’d told him about. He started editing things in /etc, and messed up the machine, so I showed him how easy it was to reinstall once the machine was defined in the Stacki server (we forgot to copy out his files, so he recreated the “ILoveStacki.txt” file). By this time, it’s well into my workday, and he’s still going a mile a minute. I tell him I have to get some work done on that machine, and he’ll have to go do something. About half an hour later he called me out to the living room where my development machine sits. It has a Windows 8.1 VM that we share, and he’s logged into his account and used notepad to create text files in Windows, proclaiming how easy Stacki is.

By this point, the things I have to do for work are weighing on me, so I tell him how smart he is, but he’s going to have to go play. “I want to do more with vi” is the response. So I sent him to his Ubuntu computer that he plays MineCraft on, and told him it has vi too, which he apparently didn’t know.

About an hour later it was almost lunch time and I checked in on him. He had created a bunch of documents talking about Stacki, RedHat, Ubuntu, and how skilled he is. He even opened LibreOffice and made a slide deck (see callout) declaring the goodness of Stacki. When he showed me that presentation (I wasn’t aware that he knew how to get into Impress, let alone how to make slides in it), he informed me that he was “helping me do my job”. Since I’m blogging about it, I suppose he was accurate. I’ll include the Stacki slide in a callout, it’s worth the moment to read.

He also showed me that he had picked up the Python tutorial I’d sent him, and he was now a Python programmer. I assured him he was, with his mastery of print, conditionals, imports, and input. A screenshot of a message he sent to his Mom is below (Note, I’ve blanked his name, he can embarrass himself when he’s old enough to make these choices, I don’t need to do it now). He understands you only use caps when you’re really excited. He meant to yell.

This text made Mom smile.

So he sent that at lunch, after he had shown me all that he’d done, which is more than I’d accomplished on computers that morning, but then he pronounced “I want to learn Java, so I can be a JavaScript pro too.” You can see what a tall order that was, since he didn’t know the difference yet between Java and JavaScript. But I’ve been working on a project in my free time that’s 100% java, and he was enamored of the auto-complete and other features of eclipse, along with the fact that my Java code opened windows and drew graphic objects in them. I told him that if he could figure it out on his own, go for it, otherwise, he’d have to wait until after work.

He tried, and didn’t figure it out. Last night was spent explaining things to him and comparing/contrasting to Python. Now he has proclaimed himself a Java programmer too.

So to recap: On Thursday he declared that he became (a) an expert CentOS/RedHat installer with Stacki, (b) An expert Python programmer, and (c) an expert Java programmer. He showed me how to use vi, pico, gedit, LibreOffice (both Impress and Writer), and showed me that he knows enough to try and edit random files in /etc/ to get XWindows running on a Linux server (yeah, completely wrong, but think about what he did get right to get that far in his thinking). He also wrote notes about what he’d learned (interspersed with gaming references) on Notepad in a Windows 8.1 VM.

In a couple years he’ll have my job.

Considering his oldest brother just graduated with a CS degree, his Mom and I both have our Masters in CS, and all four kids are more computer literate than most, I suppose none of this should surprise me, but it does. His siblings (all three of them) are adults at this point, and none of them had his level of excitement about the topic. Wonder if it will last.

Whether it does or not, I predict Lori and I are in for a fun decade making sure he is not owning the network and bypassing our security controls. With home offices, the last thing we need is some wild virus loose in our (too big) network.

The Seven Year Old’s Stacki Slide:


As mentioned above, I didn’t even know he was aware of Impress on his Ubuntu machine. Though he has read my blogs on www.stackiq.com, perhaps that’s where some of the sentiment came from. And you can tell he doesn’t yet get servers, due to his X Windows complaint (we did modify Stacki to install X Windows in VMs on my Mac over the weekend).





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More Stories By Don MacVittie

Don MacVittie is founder of Ingrained Technology, A technical advocacy and software development consultancy. He has experience in application development, architecture, infrastructure, technical writing,DevOps, and IT management. MacVittie holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Northern Michigan University, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.