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A Day in the Life of a SysOp

Novell Cool Solutions: Feature

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Posted: 24 Aug 2004

A Day in the Life of a SysOp

An interview with two of our volunteer Support Forum experts

The Novell Support Forums are widely recognized as some of the best in the industry. What makes them the success that they are? To a large degree, it's the volunteer SysOps who lend to us their time, talents, and long experience with Novell software. Cool Solutions recently chatted with two of them, Nicklas Ekstedt and Peter Kuo. Here's what they had to say about the "life of a SysOp" ...

Cool Solutions: What do you like most about the work you do?

Niclas: The satisfaction of helping others is just great, and the ability to share solutions with the community is unbeatable. The best thing about the forums is that anyone can share solutions. That way, several responders can help a poster quickly - often providing more than one solution for the poster to choose from. The support forums are a very deep well of knowledge - everyone can learn something new by just reading the forums. This is also the major reason for me working as a Sysop. No one human being knows everything. I've come to the conclusion that the more I learn, the more I realize there's even more to learn.

Peter: The ability to share ideas with a wide range of professionals and be able to pass on "battle scars and experiences" to others so they would not have to fall into the same traps. At the same time, users sometimes have the "strangest" requirements, and that gets me thinking in directions that I would otherwise not have taken.

Niclas: The forums help me in my daily work. In the forums I can quickly spot problems with new patches and releases, and find solutions to FAQs. This helps me help my customers more professionally.

Cool Solutions: What are the most challenging aspects of your SysOp job?

Niclas: Since I'm only able to work the forums in my spare time, for me the most challenging part is to be regular. I try to work the forums at least two times per day, morning and evening. There's nothing worse than being the one sitting around waiting for an answer. I've been in that situation myself, so I know the feeling.

Peter: As we tend to have many non-native English-speaking users, trying to understand and intrepret their problems can often make things interesting. And sometimes the user posts too much information (as they are not sure what is relevant and what is not), so trying to weed out the necessary information is challenging. Of course, trying to come up with a workaround for certain (non-standard) requirements can be tough at times.

Niclas: Another challenge is to give the poster a answer that he can understand. For example, if the person asking the question isn't technical in his language, it could be hard for me not to get technical in the reply. If the poster and I don't speak the same language, it can be quite a lot of posts back and forth just trying to explain what I initially said. The forums are open for everyone. We have consultants, engineers, administrators, students and end users posting questions. If, for example, a student or an end user were to ask a question and I were to reply with technical terms and details, the answer might not be of any use, because he or she might not understand what I'm talking about.

Cool Solutions: What suggestions would you give to forum posters so they get the fastest and best answers?

Peter: Some people think "too much" information is better than not enough. However, often times, one would tend to gloss over a long post (or simply skip it) and miss the relavent information. Therefore, whenever possible, it is best to keep a post to no more than 30 lines (at 65 chars per line). The initial post should read more or less like an "Executive Summary" - something to grab one's attention, with sufficient data to illustrate the problem. Perhaps it could include steps that cause the problem, and if any action that has already been tried and the result (error code). For instance, "I get a -601 error. What should I do?" doesn't tell us much. However, "I get a -601 error when I try to modify the Title attribute of a User object using ConsoleOne; the problem doesn't happen if I use NWAdmin." is a lot more helpful in troubleshooting the cause.

Niclas: Try to be brief and not post any "long novels." Try to include as much fact as possible. That keeps us from posting follow-up questions about what versions are being used. Try to include any error messages, error codes, what platform are you running on, what versions are being used, what patches are installed, what solutions have been tried already. Does the problem happen from just one workstation or all. And of course, include any information that can help us trying to reproduce the problem.

Peter: If the posting is about asking for information, ideas, etc., it would be best to not put all the questions in a single posting but group them and then post them separately (with an appropriate subject line for each). This helps to keep all the relavent information in the same thread.

Also, posters should keep in mind that the forums are read by people from all over the world, many of which English is not their native language. Therefore, in keeping the message to "simpler terms" makes it more attractive to a wider readership, plus it also makes the message more understandable, even for English speakers. It is best to post the message in English whenever possible as that appeals to the widest range of people. However, if not, posting in their native language is okay, most of the time -- as there is bound to be users able to understand and help to translate, but it could take longer to have their posting answered.

Cool Solutions: What resources do you commonly use on the job?

Peter: The on-line Knowledgebase is at the top of my list. However, I also keep all old messages. Those of special interest to me personally or topics that pop up often get saved to a separate folder/file so they can be easily referenced. I've known some people that go as far as putting messages in some sort of database, creating their own mini-knowledgebases!

Niclas: There are a lot of support databases like the Novell Support Knowledgebase available on the Internet, and the forums are great resources to find answers. Rarely is a question asked for the first time. There's often someone else who has experienced the same or a similar problem elsewhere.

Peter: Sometimes a resource like (or similar) is good to know about for language translation. Once in a while, we will have error messages posted in non-English (sometimes preferable) and such a translation link is really useful. Because we also have a large number of sysops who speak/read/write different languages, we draw on them to help us translate postings from time to time.

Niclas: I also use my own network and lab here at home. In my lab I try to reproduce problems that posters are experiencing, and try out solutions. The Novell Documentation and the LogicSource are other great resources to use.

Cool Solutions: What are some of your most memorable support moments?

Niclas: For me, the best ones are the replies telling us how successful they were in solving their problems (upgrades, migrations, etc.). This is all because they asked in the forums what to do during the planning phase. Through the responses they put together a step-by-step approach that helped them ensure a smooth operation.

Peter: Often times we would have someone say, "I was going to ask about fixing this issue, but I found a posting from 3 months ago with the exact same problem. That solution addressed my issue". This is the type of "one-to-many" support we are trying to offer.

Cool Solutions: What does the support network look like in terms of personnel -- paid, volunteer, part-time, full-time, etc.?

Niclas: The Sysop network currently consists of about 30 volunteers scattered around the globe. We're just volunteers and not employed by or getting paid by Novell. Call us crazy, but we're here since we love being here ;-) At Novell, there are six persons working full-time as our contacts with Novell. These persons are the ones that we can ask questions of and provide feedback to.

Among the volunteer Sysops there are also several persons actually employed by Novell. These people have reached Sysop status and are working the forums just like us in their spare time. And of course someone has to manage the Support Forums - that's Novell's Kim Groneman.

About the SysOps

You can learn more about Niclas at:

You can learn more about Peter at:

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