For an industry concerned with communications, we sure do a lousy job of it

How hard do we try to educate users?

I was reading around the site, and came across Mike Morris' latest post. For an industry concerned with communications, we sure do a lousy job of it. I've used that phrase at one job site or another a lot over the past couple of decades. Good jobs, bad jobs and everything in between, it does see to be one of the few constants in my career as a working network admin.  When the user community's applications and data are not responding in an adequate timeframe, (a highly subjective one, as well,) there are inevitable dark mutterings about 'the network's slow'. But you and I know that isn't always, or even mostly, so. There are a multitude of factors that control performance between two endpoints on even a LAN, let alone something the scale of The Internet. And yet, dark mutterings go on. AND WE LET IT.

We (for the rest of this post, 'we' are IT pros who are involved in networking to some degree, 'kay?,) need to start opening up to the users about these resources we manage. We need to start speaking up about why networks perform the way they do, and what is, and is not feasible across them locally and remotely. Networking impacts business, education, entertainment, and a plethora of other aspects of life today in much of the world. Network administrators are the people who keep all of that going 24/7/365 nonstop, despite the trend of “lights-out” administration. There are technical reasons, valid ones, for the things that we do in terms of QOS scheduling, bandwidth provisioning and limitations, etc. But we keep our cards close to the vest, and that has to change in order for communication to really start.

It could be as simple as providing a webpage with MRTG or other bandwidth monitoring graphing. A little explanatory text couldn't hurt. Do we explain things in terms that a nontechnical person could grasp? Maybe a network diagram with 'You Are Here' in realtime, based on ARP cache info? The user community (everyone who's not up to their neck in this daily, that is,) doesn't realize some things, to their detriment and ours. Possibly the most important concept we could get across is that we are not responsible for all networks between the endpoints of the user's workstation and the server. Making local status information available will help reinforce that. In many cases, we are only responsible for the 'last mile' of connectivity used by a session, but how many users are aware of that?

When we drive to work, or take transit, we check on the traffic in order to be able to estimate what our commute is going to be, how long it will take, and other reasons. Most of us do that every workday without fail. Shouldn't the folks who use the networks we admin be able to make informed choices as well? They can't , unless we provide them with the info, and help them understand what it means to them. It'll also make our jobs easier as well, to quote Sy Syms, 'An educated consumer is the best customer.'

What can we do to educate users, to help us make our jobs and their lives better?


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