Minimizing MacGyver


I’m sure at this point everyone is familiar with (Angus) MacGyver.  David Lee Zlotoff created a character expertly played by Richard Dean Anderson that has become beloved by geeks and nerds the world over.  This mulletted genius was able to solve any problem with a simple application of science and whatever materials he had on hand.  Mac used his brains before his brawn and always before resorting to violence of any kind.  He’s a hero to anyone that has ever had to fix an impossible problem with nothing.  My cell phone ringtone is the Season One theme song to the TV show.  It’s been that way ever since I fixed a fiber-to-Ethernet media converter with a paper clip.  So it is with great reluctance that I must insist that it’s time network rock stars move on from my dear friend MacGyver.

Don’t get me wrong.  There’s something satisfying about fixing a routing loop with a deceptively simple access list.  The elegance of connecting two switches back-to-back with a fiber patch cable that has been rigged between three different SC-to-ST connectors is equally impressive.  However, these are simply parlor tricks.  Last ditch efforts of our stubborn engineer-ish brains to refuse to accept failure at any cost.  I can honestly admit that I’ve been known to say out loud, “I will not allow this project to fail because of a missing patch cable!”.  My reflexes kick in, and before I know it I’m working on a switch connected to the rest of the network by a strange combination of bailing wire and dental floss.  But what has this gained me in the end?

Anyone that has worked in IT knows the pain of doing a project with inadequate resources or insufficient time.  It seems to be a trademark of our profession.  We seem like miracle workers because we can do the impossible from less than nothing.  Honestly though, how many times have we put ourselves into these positions because of hubris or short-sightedness?  How many times have we equivocated to ourselves that a layer 2 switch will work in this design?  Or that a firewall will be more than capable of handling the load we place on it even if we find out later that the traffic is more than triple the original design?  Why do we subject ourselves to these kinds of tribulations knowing that we’ll be unhappy unless we can use chewing gum and duct tape to save the day?

Many times, all it takes is a little planning up front to save the day.  Even MacGyver does it. I always wondered why he carried a roll of duct tape wherever he went.  The MacGyver Super Bowl Commercial from 2009 even lampooned his need for proper preparation.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve added an extra SFP module or fiber patch cable knowing that I would need it when I arrived on site.  These extra steps have saved me headaches and embarrassment.  And it is this prior proper planning that network engine…rock stars must rely on in order to do our jobs to the fullest possible extent.  We must move away from the bailing wire and embrace the bill of materials.  No longer should we carry extra patch cables.  Instead we should remember to place them in the packages before they ship.  Taking things for granted will end in heartache and despair.  And force us to rely less on our brains and more on our reflexes.

Being a Network MacGyver makes me gleam with pride because I’ve done the impossible.  Never putting myself in the position to be MacGyver makes me even more pleased because I don’t have to break out the duct tape.  It means that I’ve done all my thinking up front.  I’m content because my project should just fall into place without hiccups.  The best projects don’t need MacGyver.  They just need a good plan.  I hope that all of you out there will join me in leaving dear Angus behind and instead following a good plan from the start.  We only make ourselves look like miracle workers when we’ve put ourselves in the position to need a miracle.  Instead, we should dedicate ourselves to doing the job right before we even get started.

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4 thoughts on “Minimizing MacGyver

  1. Pingback: Minimizing MacGyver — Networking Exam Academy

  2. My approach when I sit down to draw up a kit list for a project is to add extra by default to everything except the main items (switches, routers etc…). Thinks like patch leads, I had 10% to the quantity for every type I am ordering. This was, I get what I need, I have enough to replace any that are DOA or get damaged, and when the project is finished, I can put the rest in the store room for day-to-day maintenance. Same with things like SFP’s, maybe not 10% (those 10Gb SFP’s can be pricey) but I make sure there are a few extra on the order, yes, if they are DOA or fail, I can get them replaced, but do I have time to wait 4-5 days?

    I should mention that I work within a corporation, rather than for a VAR or reseller, so these are not additional costs I am passing on to customers, I do project and day-to-day work, and like all corporations, I can be hard to get funding for the day-to-day work, so that 10% gives the project the speed and contingency they need, and the business gets its day-to-day work covered.

  3. Tom,

    I cannot agree more! Over the past few weeks I have been reviewing a lot of “config hacks” I have put in place over the years in an effort to document their use and the original intention. Hacks are acceptable at 2am to get you out of the data center and back to bed, but they should not be a long term solution.

    All hacks need an expiry date. Even old Mac’s hacks were temporary!

    Keep the awesome coming,

    Kurt (@networkjanitor)

  4. Pingback: Shadow IT – What Evil Lurks In The Heart Of An Admin? | The Networking Nerd

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