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I have been told by colleagues (mainly non-technical) that some of my admin behaviors border on / cross the line between normal and obsessive, which sometimes leads me to wonder how screwed up I really am (read "how screwed up everyone else really is").

What are your obsessive behaviors when it comes to your sysadmin tasks and job functions? What do you do religiously that would make you twitch if you didn't do it or that others just roll their eyes at?

I have reasons for my actions. I want to prove to my coworkers that I'm not alone.


locked by EEAA Dec 6 '15 at 22:08

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closed as too broad by EEAA Dec 5 '15 at 4:27

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15 Answers 15

up vote 33 down vote accepted

There are two levels of obsessive - good obsessive and pointless obsessive.

The guy who defrags three times a day is pointless obsessive, because he's not worrying about things that actually matter. The guy who denies user's permission to change the wallpaper on their workstations via Group Policy is pointless obsessive, using his technological advantage to control others to satisfy some ego issue.


The guy who locks his workstation, enforces a strong password policy, keeps firewall rules tight enough but not insane, audits the infrastructure every so often, etc., is good obsessive.

I'd like to also point out that another term for good obsessive is professional. :)

Edit: Also, good obsessive provides a strong and solid infrastructure while not inhibiting business needs. I think that's a key difference.

+1 Fantastic answer. I'm no longer obsessive, I'm professional :) – squillman Jul 30 '09 at 20:16
I'm just waiting for the "I don't have OCD! I'm just detail-oriented!" t-shirt. – Gerald Combs Jul 30 '09 at 21:01
"Professional and Thorough" might be more accurate :) – Brian Webster Jul 30 '09 at 22:14
The big part is the "business needs" part. A coworker once told me, "I got into computers so that I didn't have to think about business needs." ... and I just stared at him with my jaw hanging open. I mean, what can you say to that?! – Karl Katzke Jul 31 '09 at 2:13
Oh, and Gerald, I have a shirt from thinkgeek that says, "Prefectionist." – Karl Katzke Jul 31 '09 at 2:14

I get really panicked about locking doors and security alarms. I always check critical doors several times to make sure they are locked. I have been known to drive back up to the office at 1 A.M. to check the alarm if I don't remember setting it. I am not alone, right?

Nope, you're alone :-p – RascalKing Jul 30 '09 at 20:16
Yup. Definitely alone. [crickets] – squillman Jul 30 '09 at 20:18
We'll be here all week, folks! Try the veal! [deafening crickets] – osij2is Jul 30 '09 at 20:23
... Play me off Johnny! – RascalKing Jul 30 '09 at 20:27
Neurosis (from the Greek νεύρωσις) refers to a class of functional mental disorder involving distress but not delusions nor hallucinations, where behavior is not outside socially acceptable norms.[1] – Brian Webster Jul 30 '09 at 22:16

It could be suggested that sysadminning is a job that benefits from (or even requires) a level of detail-orientedness that would be considered "obsessive" by societal standards.

(Clearly there's a point where you can become too obsessive, manually defragging the drives multiple times a day instead of doing something more necessary, or spending hours color-coding your CAT6 cables instead of helping users.... haha)

When I first read this, I saw it as "...manually defragging the drives multiple times a day instead of doing something more necessary LIKE spending hours color-coding your CAT6 cables..." – Matt Simmons Jul 30 '09 at 20:04
Wow, me too Matt, and I hadn't read your comment yet either. – jtimberman Jul 30 '09 at 20:57
I had a network engineer once tell a new VP that he could not connect his computer to the network for several days because he'd run out of the patch cables that were the correct color for that department. – BillN Jul 30 '09 at 23:31

$ pwd

$ /usr/dimitri/junk

$ pwd

$ /usr/dimitri/junk

$ rm *

$ pwd

$ /usr/dimitri/junk

i used to do "w" a while ago ;-) – alexus Jul 30 '09 at 20:05
I tend to have that behaviour, but with ls. – Manuel Ferreria Jul 30 '09 at 20:20
PS1='\w \$ ' will save you time here :) – AndrewR Jul 31 '09 at 0:59
add a "whoami" in there somewhere as well. – J.Zimmerman Jul 31 '09 at 17:39
rm -i * That's ok ? Then CTRL-C and rm * – Luc M May 30 '10 at 22:42

Whenever I'm working on a client's computer, I end up running CCleaner and Malwarebytes as well as disk cleanup and defrag.

And as of late,

+1 I'm going to have to start rationing myself. – Kevin M Jul 30 '09 at 20:58

I cannot stand dirty keyboards/mice. I obsessively clean my keyboard/mouse once a week. I use compressed air on it regularly. I wash my hands after touching other people's keyboards and mice.

Back when mice had keyboards, I would take apart any mouse that I touched in order to clean the caked up fuzz that accumulated on the rollers. I feel your pain. – Matt Simmons Jul 30 '09 at 20:03
When did mice have keyboards? – Skaughty Jul 30 '09 at 20:04
and that's a good thing ;-) – alexus Jul 30 '09 at 20:04
@Matt: I still do..... Thank GOD for my laser mouse – squillman Jul 30 '09 at 20:13
@Matt and we used to giggle whenever we cleaned mouse balls. – GregD Jul 30 '09 at 20:16

Probably my most obsessive thing is making sure my workstation is locked. Many people I work with still think it's stupid and a pain. I walk up to their machines while I'm gone and leave them notes in a text editor challenging them to find what I "changed" (which is absolutely nothing...). A couple times doing that usually drives the point home.

Others include (to which I can readily answer to with technical reasons):

  • Making sure my dual screens are perfectly aligned with each other every 45 seconds or so
  • Alphabetizing CDs/DVDs in the rack
  • Unkinking network cables
  • Naming conventions (if I have to explain this one one more time....)
  • NOOO (absolutely none) bends in the spines of my reference books (ok, maybe I can't explain that one)
  • Spinning discs in the case until the label is perfectly straight up (ok, this one either)
  • Cleaning gooped up mouse rollers (Thanks Matt Simmons for the reminder)
That's funny, locking our workstations is mandatory (strictly in-forced ... thanks FISMA) – Mark Robinson Jul 31 '09 at 1:11
"Spinning discs in the case until the label is perfectly straight up" What's wrong with that? Doesn't everybody (apart from my wife) do that? – John Gardeniers Jul 31 '09 at 1:37
Locking workstations should be mandatory. Otherwise, some people might mess up with your system, like I once did with a colleague. He came in, turned on his computer, logged on and went away for a meeting. I then sat behind his system, created a local standard user account on his system and logged out, to log in with the newly created local account (instead of his usual domain account.) Needless to say that when he came back, he was quite shocked to see his "desktop" messed up completely. And when he rebooted, he could not log in again because he didn't check the username in the logon dialog. – Wim ten Brink Jul 31 '09 at 9:57
Yes, I say it like it's not mandatory but it is. Many people around here still don't get it, though... – squillman Jul 31 '09 at 11:21
show them examples of what happens when you don't lock workstations, i bring to your attention exhibit A <>;, now imagine if that was a company wide email compared to photoshop. – p858snake Aug 1 '09 at 4:10

I hate hate hate hate hate a messy (computer) desktop! I spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning my desktop of downloads, shortcuts and docs. When I am helping a user and they have shortcuts and docs spread all over the place, it literally makes me twitch.

This is me! My wife's desktop is a "Modern Art Installation" of documents, links, folders, etc. I am so obsessive, 64bit versions of Vista / 7 annoy me with their additional C:\Program Files(x86) folders. Why? Why? Why? Put them all in C:\Program Files! – Jonathan Bourke Jul 31 '09 at 1:05

I get obsessive about certain things like keeping my money in denominational order in my wallet, but I also keep myself walled off in the network...for example, I work in a network that is 99% Windows, but I manage to use Ubuntu on my workstation with a virtualized Windows VM for those times when I have to interact with Active Directory (or I use the terminal server to access it). I keep my passwords separate, using the AD login just for email.

Basically I obsess about basic security of my system; I have to turn some control of things to other people, but my own workstation doesn't use Windows security so a student would have to hack my specific workstation to get into it. I have separate passwords for certain things that I have more responsibility for; i.e., I primarily administrate the VMWare setup we're testing out, so it has a password that is separate from other accounts. An internal bulletin board system has a separate password from other things.

That way I keep a little "walled garden" while if one password is cracked the attacker doesn't get carte blanche with everything.

I have lots of such quirks though; like obsessed with avoiding people who chew with their mouths open, and certain noises drive me nuts so I don't mind staying in the server room where there's a lot of white noise to drown out other sounds.

Did I mention I'm diagnosed as having Asperger's?

Oh, and I think Joel Spolsky mentioned on a podcast that the Asperger's personality traits are common among technology people, because he and Jeff were discussing a question posed to them about programmers that are "difficult to get along with" in teams. Joel talked about how for them it's often best to just tell them that so-and-so isn't comfortable with said programmer staring at his shoes when talking to them, and the tendency for that personality type is to thank the person for bringing it to their attention; we usually don't get offended by what other people would see as a social faux pas.


I'm not a system administrator but a software engineer, so I tend to be more paranoid than the average system administrator. Basically, I don't like it when colleagues start "fixing" my code and in general I tend to be stubborn so once I've come up with a solution, I will just stick to using it unless another technique has proven itself to be better. (And basically, if someone else tells me I should use another technique because they think it's better, I have to restrain myself to not show them the bird...)

I'm also extremely lazy but then again, that tends to be a very good behaviour for software engineers. It just means that I will use the fastest technique to get the problem solved, and I won't add more code than is required to get the solution working. And of course, I plan ahead so I can stay lazy in the future. To be honest, even my boss knows I'm lazy (I told him) and he also knows why. He's very happy about this because it means projects are finished before the deadline ends and the code is well-maintainable.

It's a big difference with colleagues of mine who are less lazy and thus more creative. They need twice the amount of time to fix bugs in their code and tend to have four times more bugs than I do. And, since they're less lazy, they often came up with additional functionality that no one asked for, yet which will introduce a few more bugs.

I have been told multiple times by my boss "you are a lazy bastard, but i can never find a situation your laziness didn't produce a better fix" and you better stay the #@#$ away from my scripts! – Zypher Jul 30 '09 at 21:13
Underlying laziness is a pretty good trait, at its core. It means you will seek out the simplest way of doing things, and reduce tasks down to the essentials, rather than happily plod along with an inefficient process. – Chris Thorpe May 30 '10 at 22:57

I'll add another different answer...

My only really pointless obsessive behavior is going through SharePoint lists or shared files and fixing words that should have been capitalized in titles, or incorrect "technical" terminology that would make absolutely no difference to a user. ;)


I used to obsess over user desktops and such, but then I realized that if I fixed it, they'd be TOTALLY lost. So I stopped. The one thing I am totally anal about is keeping my icons aligned, and my windows properly bisecting/trisecting/quadrisecting my various virtual desktops or monitors. It causes me quite a bit of grief when something decides to open on the wrong monitor or desktop.


OK, my personal OCD traits are:

  • Money in wallet in note value order, all facing the correct direction
  • Keys on keyring in size order, again all facing in the correct direction

My professional / IT related OCD traits are:

  • Spent 18 months, over countless scheduled outages, reorganizing the ASM storage of Oracle 11i / Oracle 10G RAC to ensure that:

    • all Luns sizes were the same (alleviated an early ASM bug concerning rebalancing)
    • all LUN names were in order (arranging snapshots, clones was a pain due to all the different abstractions)
    • all LUNs were on the same SAN frames (allowed simpler Snaps, clones, syncs)
    • all Archive log DG's were on lower order LUNS (typically didn't need to add to that storage at all, wheras the Data DG's were added to constantly)
  • Nearly fought to the death not to use Star War character names for servers for a new Oracle 11i / 10G project. Bearing in mind that this environment ultimately had 72 servers, 100 TB of storage, and 12 different environments.

That's a couple of examples, but there are more. As techies, the tendency exists to get stuck in the weeds of an issue, and make things more complicated than they need to be. There are 2 types of OCD as routeNpingme pointed out here as well, and it's the pointless ones which give us all a bad name.

I remember my first NetBackup install for a major client. My colleague on the job was more concerned that X Windows wasn't working on their key server than focusing on installing NetBackup... Jeez.

I also think the whole "not touching Microsoft / Windows... only using my Free / Guilt Free *nix" obsessiveness does the IT industry a disservice. Because it only confirms and reinforces the perceptions that businesses have about us. Use the right tool for the job, and in some situations, you have to embrace the tools that you are presented with in a particular role.

Bear in mind that this is coming from a Unix system administrator of 13 years.

@ Peter Mortensen - no need to spell-check and grammar-edit someone else's 13-month-old comment. That bumps the old thread back to the top of the front-page. Particularly if one of your edits is to expand "sysadmin" to "system administrator". If you were explicitly doing it as a joke, to highlight obsessive behaviors, then good on you, I award full marks. – mfinni Aug 27 '10 at 17:16
Looking at the edits made, I now realise that my grammar OCD dial doesn't go to 11 like some others! Now if anyone edits this comment to change the spelling of "realise" there will be war. And I prefer "Unix Sysadmin" :-) – Jonathan Bourke Aug 29 '10 at 23:33

I don't know if I have crossed the line or not, but I put distinctive color coded desktops on all the servers I administer. On Windows boxes where the desktops don't come through in RDP I edit the registry so they show up behind the login screen. So every box tells you as soon as you RDP into it the name, IP address, and OS. Multi-server environments get matching color schemes with more subtle differences.

Even my fellow administrators think it's a bit weird. I have noticed the junior administrators starting to follow my lead though. Usually right about the time they inadvertently change/reboot the wrong box.

That's what bginfo is for.. – GregD Jul 30 '09 at 21:14
Check out Sysinteranls bginfo it'll set background info and info even on TS sessions – Zypher Jul 30 '09 at 21:16

I reguarly RDP onto various Windows servers in our network, to find lots of shortcuts and files on the desktop left over from colleagues. The first 5 minutes is spent clearing the desktop and moving onto the drives themselves. I feel calmer once I know everything is in its place.

There's a good principle underlying that though - Run only the absolute bare minimum on a server. I obsessively delete installation packages and other cruft that's left behind on our servers. We have a client environment where this isn't done, and it's a total mess and difficult to administer because you can't see the wood for the trees. – Chris Thorpe May 30 '10 at 23:02
I take screenshots of my rdp session and figure out afterwards what I should remove with a script. I believe that WMIC can run over the network to find out what is installed. – Ape-inago Dec 20 '11 at 1:29

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