How babies are like Unix

You might think that having a baby and taking over management of a Unix system lie at opposite sides of the spectrum, but there are many things that tie them together.


If you've been managing Unix systems for any length of time, you've undoubtedly noticed that the systems you manage develop personalities and start to feel like family. There's a reason for that. Many of the roles you play when working on Unix systems and many of the experiences you will have are strongly correlated to the fine art of parenthood.

To begin, both babies and Unix systems are amazingly well designed. Whether you're booting a system or watching the birth of a child or grandchild, you can't miss how startlingly well the process works. The right things happen at the right time and the end result is a fully functional system.

You start out knowing just the basics. For babies, you learn how to change diapers and prepare bottles and then work your way up to more complex tasks -- like teaching them to drive. With Unix, you start out with basic commands, then start scripting, troubleshooting, installing complex applications and maybe even modifying the kernel.

Initially you have to do everything slowly and carefully. Support the head. Be ready to catch the spit up. But eventually, you can back off and trust them to mostly take care of themselves. With Unix systems, you rely more and more on scripts and other processes that run without you having to take deliberate steps for everything that needs to get done.

In the beginning, you may be very fussy about names, sometimes going to great lengths to find names that reflect your expectations or your favorite characters -- whether family members or TV personalities.

There are always numerous ways to accomplish the same thing. And what works for one problem might not work as well for the next.

You never stop learning. The challenges change, but you're always grappling with a new set of problems and feeling like you're the first one to ever run into them.

No two are alike -- at least not unless you're running a with a data center full of clones or have quintuplets (and, I'd bet, they're all quite different too). Each system and each child you work with is likely to be completely different from all others and have its own challenges.

Far too many people would like to have some hands on time, but you have to watch out for infections. Don't ask me how many kids I would like to pick up and hug every time I go to the supermarket. But both kids and Unix systems can be harmed if they're handled too much.

You don't always get to sleep at night -- whether you're on call or waking up for night feedings.

You end up carrying extra stuff around with you -- whether clean bibs or backups. You need to be prepared for whatever might happen.

Over time, the systems you manage end up looking like you, reflecting your style if not your values. So do most kids.

You only leave them in the care of people you truly trust.

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