Some 6 years ago, I left my job as a UNIX application admin at a Major Insurance Provider. I had spent some years there policing development, test and production environments for large groups of programmers, build managers, quality assurance engineers, and users. The platforms were AIX and Solaris, but that’s irrelevant.
A good portion of that time was Hell.
It turns out that living in a busy intersection of computers and power users is like being a traffic cop without a uniform. Half of these people will run you over by accident and the other half will run you over on purpose. They all know enough to be dangerous and many of them know far more than the cops. And they all have the purest of intentions, not to mention deadlines to meet.
Recently I was assigned WordPress admin duties here and set up test and production environments for our designers and editors. Somewhere along the way I forgot how challenging it can be to support power users in their quest to make increasingly cool stuff while not breaking things. I’m even quoted in an email somewhere boasting how ‘darn easy’ WordPress is to administrate. Silly boy! That may be true when you run a single environment blog site, but not so much when you have a creative team trying out various themes and plugins, FTPing everything but the kitchen sink to the servers, and generally exercising their Freedom to Compute across multiple environments. Who can blame them? That’s the job of a creative team.
Without a formal quality assurance department here (hope that’s not a shop secret), admins also become testers and de facto change managers on top of being command line jocks (or on the Windows side, find-the-well-hidden-checkbox jocks). This is a lot to shoulder. Managers here juggle such a number of initiatives and services that they need to operate at a higher level much of the time, and trust their teams… teams which are far leaner than in larger IT shops.
Change management is all about environmental protection. Keep production as sacred as possible without killing productivity. Provide enough freedom in development and test environments not to shackle designers and developers. Keep everyone in the ecosystem informed and happy. Everything old is new again for me, and although I am having occasional flashbacks to Hell, at least I have a small notion of how to stay above the flames.
But ‘darn easy’ it isn’t, and never was.