One of the reoccurring themes commonly seen in
systemtoolbox.com articles is the fact the user education could minimize or
eliminate many issues that perceived as technical problems. Phishing?
Completely a user education issue. User data loss due to workstation crash?
User education problem. User quota issues? User education.
Despite this, both Binary Freedom and
System Toolbox don't touch much on the topic of user education - neither site is
really intended for this, as they focus on well, Binary Freedom and Systems
And yet, this editorial needs to touch on
this. Because, maybe, just maybe, it's not all the user's fault. Now, some
users are just plain ignorant and won't learn despite attempts to teach them.
But there is a flip side to this. Allow me to explain:
Tired with the excess of being a systems
administrator (well Associate Director of IT, formerly a systems administrator)
, website editor and bon vivant, I decided to go back to college full time.
Now, this experience is interesting on many levels - I drink Scotch that is
older than my classmates - but one of the most educational experiences has been
the mis-education of my Computer Science Class.
Now, to level the playing field, understand
that I learned Vi at the age of 9 after being handed a manual by my Dad and left
alone (arguably, this is child abuse - let the Vi / Emacs battles rage...)
Understand that as soon as I left high school I quickly became a System Administrator full time. Understand as well that this was
several decades ago.
So, then you can probably see why:
I did not take IT or Comp Sci as a major.
I did take Comp Sci as a Science option. Easy A. Beats Chemistry,
So, then, you can probably imagine
my complete shock when, in the second class (the first being the syllabus), the
Professor informed the class that your home computer can be hacked even if it's
I guess, maybe, if the hacker has
already compromised another device on your network and your device has PXE boot
configured... Possible? Yes? Likely? Not a chance.
So then, I was asked, "Who
invented the Internet?"
"Well, organizationally, it would have been the Advanced
Research Project. If you're looking for a person, perhaps you mean Vince Cerf?"
"What I mean is da web!" she declared.
"Oh!" I said, "That's an easy one. Tim Berners Lee over
at CERN developed.."
"READ DA TEXTBOOK!" She ordered.
After a few seconds of looking, she
directed me to page 36, and by page 36, she meant page 26. After some discussion
I read the paragraph from the text, which, in its own roundabout way backed up
what I said. Now, we had not been previously reading directly from the text,
but I guess for me, that was the option.
So, I decided at this point that I'd not be
answering any more questions today.
"So, what's a SERVER?" she asked the class. I was afraid
to find out and I was sure as hell not going to respond. After no takers, she
finally explained, "It's what gives ya da token! Every node on da Ethernet
network waits for da token ta come around from da server. Da server gives da
token out clockwise and when ya node gets da token, ya gets to use da server.
Some ethernets have two tokens and day are two times fasta."
I begin to suspect that she was trained
backed in the coaxial days of token ring and what I was hearing was some strange
reinterpretation of this...
"You!" she said, pointing to me, "How does these computers
here get out to da Internet?"
"Umm, well, you're using a 10.x address, so
the traffic is routing on the LAN to a device performing Network Address
Translation or even a proxy server that translates traffic that is then routed
out over what I would guess would be OC3's to your ISP..."
"Wrong!" She declared, "Da server gives da token for going
out the DSL ine."
'Well, Hell', I thought to myself,
'The token, of course. And the DSL. A campus with 30,000 students.
Naturally, a DSL would fit the bill.'
So, then, this brought about an epiphany.
No, not that a sudden realization that a DSL could miraculously handle a network
with 30,000 users. No, what I realized was that although some users are
ignorant despite all assistance to the contrary, there remains some
responsibility for the general ignorance due to what folks are taught. Now,
most reputable technical schools are going to have a highly-effective computer
science curriculum. But I'm back in school for a non-technical advanced
degree. I am not going to a technical school; I am going to a school that
specializes in what my degree program is in. And this comp-sci course is
basically a General Education course that any student can take as a science. I
don't expect that teacher to be a genius. But I would expect that they are
So here's the thing - just like in a
business where IT is not the main objective, education with IT is relegated to a
secondary or tertiary concern at non-IT institutions. Without the attention it
requires, these courses do more harm than good. Basically, these schools take a
half-hearted attempted to cover IT for their students and they hire
half-competent people to teach it. The result being that the students - future
users -are leaving college with a half-baked concept of how IT works. The
problem is that these future users have half an idea of how to use a computer -
and the other half of what they were taught is completely wrong. But, since it
was taught in college, well, it must be right. This explains both the level of
comprehension that most users seem to possess as well as the self-righteous
attitude that many seem to possess even when they're wrong.
So, what can be done to fix this? Sadly,
nothing. IT education needs to be taken seriously; IT is an undeniable facet
in every industry now. To allow teachers like this to continue to poison young
minds is irresponsible. But unless you're in charge of a college, you can't
change this. As system administrators though, I think it's reasonable for you
to look at your users and instead of adopting a
BOFH attitude, try to understand that they've simply been misguided - so be nice and help them find their way...