[nSLUG] Dealing with a superior who believes they need root

Oliver Doepner odoepner at gmail.com
Sat Nov 4 10:23:49 AST 2006


Let's assume that

1) Employee is more competent than boss.
2) Boss thinks he is more competent than employee.
3) Boss makes mistakes / breaks things.
4) Employee suffers from boss's mistakes.
5) Employee is held responsible for boss's mistakes.
6) Boss's boss is of no help.

If all this was really unchangeable then I would quit the job.

Otherwise a solution depends on which points can be changed:

1) -> Boss becomes more competent.

He has to learn things, potentially from the employee. Problem: Because 
of 2) this has to happen in a very subtle fashion.

2) -> Boss realizes his deficiencies.

Depending on how ignorant he is this can be the most tricky element. 
There are at least two variants: a) Boss actually believes he is more 
competent than employee. b) Boss knows he is less competent but does not 
want to admit it.

This involves psychology. The employee should not act like he knows 
everything much better than the boss. Don't let it turn into a dogmatic 
fight where it's more about ego than getting the work done. The boss has 
to realize that the employee just wants to facilitate sound practices 
and make the systems easily maintainable.

Of course, if 2) was solved then 1) was much more likely.

3) -> Boss stops breaking things.

As long as assumptions 1) and 2) are still true this can only be 
achieved by access control. Obviously there is no control as long as the 
boss has root access.

4) -> Employee plays along and just doesn't care anymore.

This is the "easiest" change for the employee since it doesn't involve 
changing the boss. But it is also the least satisfying solution.

5) -> Each one is held responsible only for his own mistakes.

This is another possible solution if educating the boss is no viable option.

If the boss wants to keep root access then he has to take full 
responsibility for the server.

6) -> Boss's boss understands the situation and steps in.

This will probably require describing the problems in simplified or 
analogue terms. Like

"Someone with root access to a server that you administrate is like 
someone having a key to your office and/or desk and knowing all your 
passwords. Using that access to change important files is like logging 
into your PC and messing around in your "My Documents", Emails, Word 
documents, etc.

Two persons with opposing opinions about Unix administration having root 
access to the same crucial server is certainly a recipe for disaster.

The boss's boss might understand this and assign the admin task 
exclusively to only one of the two persons.




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