Childs' play

By stretch | Friday, July 25, 2008 at 4:56 a.m. UTC

The recent fiasco involving a San Francisco network admin has been making headlines for over a week now. Public opinion can be found both in favor of and against Terry Childs, who has been jailed since July 13th for (until recently) holding hostage administrative access to the city's WAN infrastructure. Many sympathize with his situation in dealing with incompetent management, while others assert that he should be prosecuted for treating a metropolitan network as his own. Of course, anyone with experience in the field will immediately realize that both parties are at fault.

In one corner, you have a clearly negligent network admin. Even if his motivations for denying all others control of the network were benevolent -- and this is debatable -- one has to wonder if he considered himself invulnerable to harm. In what position would the city be left if he had an unfortunate encounter with a speeding bus? With no suitable personnel to replace him, and in the apparent absence of any documentation, how did he suppose the network would fare?

In the other corner, the ineptitude of the city's IT management is difficult to ignore. How do they excuse having relied exclusively on a single individual for the operation and maintenance of critical infrastructure? Why weren't these issues addressed before escalating to such a degree? A number of people higher on the chain than Childs should also be looking for a new job.

This conflict isn't so much about demarcation of responsibility as it is about ego, but it does serve as reminder that as networkers, we must mentally decouple our expertise from the networks we maintain. Territorial behavior not only damages the health of a network and the organization which owns it, but can hinder an engineer's ability to adapt to new settings when the time comes.

UPDATE: Roughly two years after the fact, Childs was sentenced to four years in prison, with credit for time served.

About the Author

Jeremy Stretch is a network engineer living in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area. He is known for his blog and cheat sheets here at Packet Life. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.

Posted in Opinion


Derek H (guest)
July 25, 2008 at 6:04 p.m. UTC

It's pretty obvious why San Fran hires people who don't know what the hell they are doing, and most governments for that matter. It's called liberalism.

Ferret999 (guest)
July 25, 2008 at 10:00 p.m. UTC

Derek I would not blame liberalism (Liberalism refers to a broad array of related ideas and theories of government that consider individual liberty to be the most important political goal.) for the San Fran network problem. Rather I would blame it on incompetence which is prevalent in all governments mainly because they are spending other people's money and do not have to justify it. Anyhow I am with stretch is was a f* up by both parties.

Ferret999 (guest)
July 25, 2008 at 10:01 p.m. UTC

By the way stretch just noticed the nice play on words with the title of the article nice :-)

shef (guest)
July 26, 2008 at 2:00 p.m. UTC

I think, this is management fault.

Jon (guest)
July 28, 2008 at 2:27 p.m. UTC

Clearly, this is management incompetence. How do you have ONE person of your entire IT staff manage critical infrastructure. What are the others doing? How much dead wood is in the IT dept that only one person was entrusted with the keys to the kingdom? I'm not defending the guy, but this is a managerial screw up first (on a LOT of levels) and a ego problem second.

Darrin (guest)
July 29, 2008 at 5:40 p.m. UTC

I agreed with most of you that management should have never let this one person hold all of the keys to infrastructure. However, I do feel like management recognized this issue and was attempting to resolve it. This is why they were asking Mr. Childs to provide the passwords. I don't think they had any intentions to muck up his design.

However, Mr. Childs is solely responsible for his own lack of professionalism. It sounds as if his response may have been less than professional and forced the management team to take the course of action they did.

In the end, it would seem that both sides failed to work together on this very important problem and now all are reaping the consequences of their actions. Many lessons to be learned by all.

Chief PowPow (guest)
August 6, 2008 at 2:02 p.m. UTC

I agree that its managements fault. I have been in the position of Childs, where I was totally responsible for a global financial network. Management treated people so poorly that we couldnt keep senior people on staff, and there was constant turnover. I had good junior staff, but totally not capable of holding the "keys to the kingdom". Since I have left that company, junior staff has been put into senior positions, and are running amuck like teenagers with new freedom. Management has turned a blind eye to that.

On the other hand, Childs is at fault. As much as I disliked management when I left. I left a fully functional network in place, and turned over the keys in good order. I also left plenty of documentation.

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