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Student-Run IT System Just Makes Sense 170

dustpuppy writes: "This article talks about how volunteer students took over the administration and operation of the IT facilities at a University of Melbourne residential college. I thought the article worthwhile in that it should remind us that very few other industries have the opportunity where young people can step in and make a very real difference. We really are very lucky to live in the age that we do!" The article feels a little "gee-whiz!" and I hope student-run IT systems aren't are rare as this implies, but a positive case study is great to see. Seems like a lot of academic networks become embroiled in exercise-of-authority games instead of cooperation. Anyone with academic-net experiences, please speak up.
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Student-Run IT System Just Makes Sense

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  • Back in highschool me and about 5 other guys were pretty much responsible for the 100 computers and the network in that school, the tech teacher was really cool guy and most of us are friends with him to this day, he was responsible for jump starting our careers and getting us some almost real world experience, if not actual real world experience.. more programs like this should be avaliable to students everywhere, i learned more with this teacher in 1 year then i did in all 4 years previous...
  • by ip4noman ( 263310 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:14AM (#419844) Homepage

    Being a volunteer producer for Public Access Television [], I know the satisfaction of working for motavations other than for personal financial gain. It's a lot of fun, and the stuff that Public Access produces could not be produced any other way.

    But senior professionals do have some merit. Kids come cheap, but old grey-hair wizards have wisdom that only years of experience can provide, and I argue this wisdom has value. So let's think a little before we replace all the senior elders with pimpled geeks.

  • i have mixed feelings about working as a student for the place i study at. i have done that for over 4.5 years; however, recently dumb politics at my college cost me my job and almost my college career.

    i have worked my way up from grunt windows tech guy to a linux sys admin. i designed major parts of the college network, and set up 90% of the servers responsible for almost anything imaginable. i was well trusted by all faculty and administration, with exception of couple power hungry individuals. [actually, some of that experience is described at [] - very messy, but switching from a t1 to a messy telnet.exe on 14.4 is hard]

    anyway, point being - the administrations of colleges/etc have to be careful. my college after i was fired lost their only linux administrator. my leave from the college was not associated with my work in any way, but it left my school in a big mess. try to imagine a comp dept on a tight budget, letting one of their main admins go, with nobody left with any real linux experience. they have been already contacting contracting companies to help them with it.

    point being - if i wouldn't be a student, my college would be secured a bit more - such as i would still have my job, or even i would have a notice of more than just 10 minutes. because of a dumb decision from couple administrative guys, the college is suffering from network congestion, loss of services on a daily basis - just because the people left there do not know linux well enough. and of course - it will cost the college, and students, to hire contracting companies. as a student work study i was much more economic.

    but those are just some of the silly things that administrative people do.

  • Just to give a quick point-of-view perspective: I'm a 16 year old net/sys admin that builds entire networks from the ground up. I'm participating in a contest on networking, and expect to make it to nationals.

    The point behind what I say is that 30 year old that does this and has to live off of it will be both viewing things from the outside (more on that later), and will simply cost more. A student right at the school, however, takes personal interest in the network because he and his friends depend on it. They won't mess it up because then they lose that position they love. And above all, they can't do it for a living because they have school.

    Basically, you've got on-site labor that costs less and (personally) cares more. And since they rely on it, the systems continued success really matters to them - hence the "inside" view.

    Consultant Ruins Student Created Network - It's just as likely you know!

    The problem with capped Karma is it only goes down...

  • Granted, having students run networking can be a good idea. I myself personally am a student in charge of five servers.

    But having students run their own things is like a fox guarding a henhouse. I have to find students to help my run the network, which is not an easy task. Many of the people I have screened I found to be known hackers to other admins. Other students have come up to be asking for more access because they want to run IRC bots and other such items (which are prohibited by school policy). Meanwhile, I am constantly pressured by faculty to bring new students into the "inner circle." Many of these students know little more than HTML.

    Can students run servers? The answer is most definitely yes. But I would not rush to give them root access, control over routing tables, or control over firewalls quite yet.

  • (1) Students have a very limited amount of time in the department. It's like an IT shop with a really high turnover rate.

    Students are in college for at least 4 years. Four years at the same company is a long time in the IT world, at least so far as I have seen.

  • This is partly in response to people who are talking about the privacy implications of letting students work as admins.

    In my secondary school (i.e. high school), they had a teaching network and an office network (Running something crappy from Research Machines []. Unfortunately, they were joined together. Even more unfortunately, the drive which contained the school database was publically mountable. As well as the addresses for every pupil and staff member, there was a whole lot of more confidential stuff accessible to anyone - such as "So and so's parents are divorced, but don't make this information available to students *or* staff".

    This hole had been open and known to various students for months by the time I got the admin to close it. When I informed him, he turned white and looked like he was going to be sick. He'd obviously had no idea.

    My point is this: in a school (i.e. a high school), something which is common knowledge to students may not reach the ears of staff for several months. Wheras students often have a much better idea of what other students are up to. If a student had been involved in running the network, [s]he'd've instantly heard about the hole on the "grapevine", and closed it.

    Disclaimer: I'm not saying which school this was; even so, I don't want to get done for libel, so I have to say this: if you think you know the school I'm talking about, you could well be wrong.

  • I worked for quite a few years at a major state university. And a IT department that is completly student run wouldn't fly. The article talks about a college of 130 students. Not the tens of thousands most universities here are.

    "Residential College" is Australian for "dorm", it's actually a dorm for University of Melbourne. The dorms in Australia are different to those in the US, try to imagine a cross between a co-op, a fratenernity and a dorm.

  • I was the administrator at Currie Hall, a residential college over the road from the University of Western Australia, for the last 18 months. Ever since UTP cable was wired to every room, students have run the show. The network can have up to 220 computers connected. Unfortunately, there aren't enough places on the hubs for every student's room. Each person has to be manually patched into the network. Good for security, but bad when you have to unplug 30kg. of copper at the start of every year. Scarily enough, the method of recruiting the next administrator was like the Sith Lord system. (Always two there are, a master and an apprentice)
  • by startled ( 144833 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @11:41AM (#419852)
    I was at Stanford when they decided to replace their old, ugly web page with a "bigger and better" one. $50,000 later, they had one of the ugliest web pages I'd ever seen. Ugly, no problem-- it was easy to navigate, right? Wrong. Everything useful was buried under 10 or so levels of seemingly irrelevant links.

    The problem? The web page was made by "professionals" who had no idea what the students or faculty needed from their web page. It was a decent advertisement for the school (aside from being really ugly), but the removal of the old site meant students and staff were left stranded for quite some time.

    The entire project was finished in several months-- about the time span of 1-2 quarters. Now imagine instead the learning experience that could have come from a course dedicated to creating the site. HCI would be taught for design; databases, algorithms etc. would be taught for all of the back end. It would have been a great learning experience for all involved, and the end result would have been a web site the students and faculty would have actually used.

    Instead, what eventually happened is they spent more and more money to make a slightly less crappy web page. Now, it's back to pretty much how it was before the whole fiasco, only everything's a little tougher to find.
  • REsidential colleges are basically run by students -- there's administration, and there are "tutors" (usually graduate students) and there are undergraduate students. A committee of undergrad students participates in decision making with the amdinistration. It comes as no surprise that students are running the computing systems, because they are by and large running everything else.

    This is a very different setup to a University in that the university tends to have a much heavier admin sector and the place is most certainly not run by students in any reasonable sense.

  • When I was an undergrad at the University of Chicago, I worked for the School of Social Service Administration IT department. We rocked. There were two full-timers, and about ten part-time student employees. We designed the networks, spec'ed out the equipment, worked with budgets. It worked really well, but only because our manager understood how to make it work.

    The key to making a student work-force put out consistent high-quality IT work is to manage effectively. It is true that the students are among the most gifted technologists you'll find on a university campus. It is further true that the best campus IT managers are gifted technologists, preferably who did student tech work themselves. It is unfortunately also true that technologists do not, by and large, make good managers, especially when they are managing folks who are as talented if not more so then they were/are.

    I had the fortune of working for one who understood what we as human beings, liberal arts majors, and geeks brought to his organization. When he left, we functioned without an IT director for three months, at or exceeding our previous levels of service. This was only possible because he trusted us to run our own show - we then had a vested interest in how things went. If he hadn't given us authority or decision power, we would have been content to get paid above campus average to surf the web and occasionally work on a cool project.

    Under new management, it all fell apart. The new director took all of our power away, and soon thereafter, we graduated. They now have four full-timers, one of whom is shared with another group. From what I have heard, they canned all the open projects and are generally thought to be useless by the faculty. It makes me kind of sad, but since I'm working professionally now for my old manager, we basically shake our heads whenever we hear about the latest SSA IT disaster, and are very glad that we have a view of the lake instead of a cramped and windowless basement office.

    In sum, my point is that it takes effective management and really good recruiting to make student IT work. Also, it is often good to have some liberal arts folks with tech skills in the mix, just because their perspective is often refreshingly different.

  • For a couple of years I worked at my School District. I started out by helping out the system admin who I later found out was incompetent. It was fun, it was hard, but most of all it was a learning experience. I am now working for the organization that took over my functions after I left. I learned so much but still I can see a problem with situations like this. The problem is that a student only stays in a school for an average of less then four years (figuring dropouts and transfers). You need someone that knows the system, can plug right wire and bring the whole thing back up. Knows the quirks, and can work around them. The same goes for programming. It can be good for something's but to center a business or IT department around students is just foolish.
  • I work in IT at a 2-year proprietary school and they have outright dismissed the idea of students working in our environment. I am a student myself at a 4-year university (majoring in Math) but I have experience and knowledge which is beyond the things that I am being asked to do at the 2-year school (e.g. make cat5 cable, burn backup CD's, etc.). These things would be a challenge and valuable knowledge to a beginning student worker.

    To me, it also seems like a faith issue. I honestly don't think that my employer would hire graduates that they turn out; in medical assisting and other fields, maybe but in computers, no. You have to be suspicious of a college that will not hire its own students. It's a very sharp reminder of the fact that they don't believe in what they are doing. What do you expect from a college that splits it academic(NT servers-Win98clients) and corporate(Novell servers-Win95...yes, I said 95...clients)networks AND has their corporate offices in Arkansas...the hot bed of technology?
  • Founded in 1994 in Linux. Win95 was a rumer called Copland and the Internet was a not a household name...but the Carleton Student Engineering Society [] approved funding for The Carleton EngSoc Project []. Hosting the provincial and national engineering websites, email lists, and acting as full blown ISP to all engeering [] students at Carleton University []. Currently 1,700 users, we used to be the Linux system with the largest userbase back in the day.

    All student run, completly funded by students and industry.

    A side note: other engineering socities in Canada get frustrated with us Carleton folk because EngSoc is a computer system at Carleton, not the Student Government. Now that all "" domains point to student governments, this leads to confusion. Why is it like this? Did I mention we gave out email, shell, application and network access as early as 1994 before the evening news ever knew what the internet was?

  • I know a guy who was heavily involved in the Whitley IT committee, and he was a mature, responsible individual. Given that the right individuals were on the committee, and the right privacy policy was in place, and the right oversight from the head of college was performed, I'd have no problem with this.
  • I go to a college in Atlanta, GA, USA... called Oglethorpe University.... it's partly student run... there is a older head admin to co-ordinate, and make those arbitrary decisions, as well as interact with suits.... but the students do all the gruntwork... pretty much all support, some server stuph, etc... whilst the head admin has control over all sensitive material... faculity passwords, sensitive file access... I dunno if this is more like "let's make the students feel like they have control when they are really just doing gruntwork" than a student run network, but I find it works nicely.... as the students smiling faces are the only ones the "support-ed" see.... *chuckle*....
  • by jessh ( 144140 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:16AM (#419860)
    I am currently one of the heads of a group of students at LBJ High School( in Austin,Tx that runs
    our network. Back sometime around 1995 a group of students formed a computer club that quickly grew into much more than just that. Before long this club wanted a decent conection to the internet, since the school district was very against this because they are afraid of students being in control they found funding from other sources and obtained a T1. We now have about 10 servers that run mainly Linux but also include a mix of NT, Novell and AIX. We also maintain about 500 computers. All of this work is done by only students and our network has quickly outgrown the one that the School District installed but is afraid of letting students touch.

    for more information visit and

    Jess Haas
    Senior Network Admin
  • Not much of a challenge to get root [127.0.1] then, is it?
  • by iamriley ( 51622 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:17AM (#419862) Homepage

    The are only a few real problem that I see (and have seen) with a school IT department with a lot of dependence on student workers.

    (1) Students have a very limited amount of time in the department. It's like an IT shop with a really high turnover rate.

    (2) The quality of student workers is very hit and miss. If a really talented student comes in and sets up a few good systems then graduates, other students are not always able to step in a maintain or update the system.

    (3) The actual full-time IT workers become more paranoid and will spend a lot of time securing the network from their own workers. The high turnover along with the inevitable "bad apples" destroys trust between the full-time staff and the student workers.

    That said, I still think that students should definitely have the option (or requirement, even) to work in a school IT department. For many programming students, it could be the only hardware/administration job they ever have, and it will help them understand computers on a different level.

    I found my school's computer center to be a great place to gain experience. Unfortunately, since it was my first hardware tech job and it dealt exclusively with networked computers, I learned nothing about modems. Later, I took a job with a local PC shop doing tech work, and a large portion of the problems that I had to deal with were modem problems. It wasn't a big deal because I picked up on the modem stuff in a short amount of time, but it was a definite weakness after my college IT experience.

  • For 2-3 yeare the Georgia Tech [] Residential Network [] has been run by student voulenteers.
  • by ZahrGnosis ( 66741 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:18AM (#419864) Homepage
    I was at Xavier University when this whole web thing started, and the University's first few web pages were all volunteer-student run. There was NO cooperation from the administration for a while, tho... we had to hack some open source web servers to get around security issues so that people could have personal home pages, and server space was limited to what we could scrounge.

    Eventually the administration cought up, but then they took over, and the result is a far less cutting edge product than could have been realized if students were to continue using the systems for learning and gaining real-world skills.

    Still, schools have all these students that actively want to learn, and are capable of doing the technical stuff. The trick isn't the students; it's getting the administration buy-in. My one piece of advice to anyone wanting to do this is to find a way to make your school's administration let you do this... probably best to get your CS teacher to champion the cause all the way up the chain o' command as part of a "computer club" project. And NEVER let anyone else take over the beurocratic end of things.
  • by devphil ( 51341 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:18AM (#419865) Homepage a student assistant sysop were most excellent.

    • While the money wasn't the absolute greatest, the employers had no problems whatsoever working around my class schedule. Go figure -- my class schedule was the reason I was there!
    • At 3:00 AM when we're all there working on the assignment, and somebody does Something Bad to the central server, it was very helpful to put on the "job" hat, fix it, and then go back to being a student.
    • You'd better fscking believe that my code was portable. Every idea we (student assistants) came up with had to work on over a half dozen flavors of Unix, most of which nobody's ever heard of today. Many of the systems weren't "public&quot machines; they just were there to run small networks. So no cool utilities which happen to hog diskspace or require boatloads of RAM. That meant we had to learn the core common Unix tools well.
    • We weren't allowed to run riot on the heavily-used systems. Basically, any systems on which professors might store data (e.g., final exams), we were by default not given the root password.

    All of this has been to my benefit now that I'm working full-time. Good experience, good training. Even the professors liked it.

    (I wonder if I'll be able to post this, given that /. seems determined to forget who I am...)

  • 1) student at Rose-Hulman. "adults" were the managers that made sure appropriate projects were assigned and timetables met (oh and of course they did the "firing" if necessary). Students handled practically everything else. Either the network/server upgrades, to application roll outs. Generally, we had 1 "adult" manager that had the skill set to handle everything in their "group" but no where near the time, so they gave direction and advice/assistance but didnt have time beyond that really.

    2) Full time staff at Lake Forest College. Similar setup but not as formalized. "adults" managed the students and provided assistance/direction as necessary. when things did go "bad" (short on student workers/time) of course we did the work. But guess what? having been on the student AND staff side, I can't think of a better way to organize an edu computer department w/ a minimal budget.

    Hell, I haven't seen some corporate enterprise IT departments as well organized nor as "happy." Sure, there were staffing issues since students ARE students and they have other priorities (classes and social responsibilities) but the ones that really want to take advantage of the real life experience of being an IT person? They took advantage of it, and you bet your ass they got the best recommendation possible from me.

  • support the aim of giving students some real sysadmin experience. It also deflects a lot of energies that would otherwise be devoted to hacking.

    Edinburgh University's Tardis Project [] gives amateur admins free reign with a bunch of systems which are not used for any critical work. They learn both sysadmin tech and the interpersonal skills of an IT team.
  • As a high school student sys admin I say that it is possible to have an IT department that does work and involves students. Right now another student and I maintain much of our schools network (labs and servers included) and at times work with the district staff on larger issues. However, the key thing I've found with my few years in this area is that it really depends on the people that are involved. We are currently having a hard time bring more people onboard not because of a lack of technical knowledge but of maturity and responsibility. With the amount of trust our organization has gained over the years it's necessary not to always have the technical best but the responsible best. Just one thing to consider on the thread.

  • It's not an entire university. It's a residential college. It's communal housing for about 120-odd students, and a great way to spend your eighteenth and nineteenth year.
  • Not quite true, as I played with C= 64's and Apple ]['s as well, but nothing caught my imagination quite like the Xenix system that ran the library.

    In my position now, I don't think I'd ever let students have as much access to the system as we did (the only reason we had so much access was because the guy in charge of it was a librarian and was happy to have *anyone* who knew how this stuff worked). Even our edited man pages would be reason enough not to let students have too much access. <evil grin>

    I wouldn't automatically give anyone access, but people who show a genuine interest in doing this kind of thing can be an invaluable resource. I'd suggest letting people prove themselves on non-critical or volunteer stuff (my friend is his dorm's ISP) first.

  • You know, like watching all those crusty thirtysomething "I've been working with computers since the TRS80 and I am a god and I know everything" types take mortal offence and cower in fear at the thought that a group of well-organized eighteen to twenty-five year olds can get it together and run their college's networks. Feeling a little threatened?
    Speaking from my own experience attending a small state university, which pays out the big bucks for a disorganized bunch of consultants, only to suffer the slings and arrows of a poorly configured (as if it could be any other way) Novell network. Can you say "Delete my user.dat again?" Personally, I believe that what this university is doing is a terriffic way for its students to get hands-on experience in IT administration, which will give them an almost certain leg up on those of us who are forced to take three terms of Visual Basic and Java before we even have a chance to touch networking.
    Good for them!
  • We sure did! I too am a graduate of the CLDC lab at Howard U. To say that, "The skills I learned there were invaluable" is understating it!! We were working for $5 bucks an hour and doing it because there was always new and exciting stuff to learn. We took it very seriously and still managed to have fun.

    Unknown to us at the time, but we were developing skills that the industry was craving! We were already maintaining mission critical servers, in a fast paced environment and were relative experts with, then complex technology like, sendmail, DNS, networking & perl scripting.

    Unlike a summer internship, you are able to get continous work experience by working while you are in school and break the 'catch 22' of not having adequate work experience.

    I remember getting my first job as a sysadmin at SGI. I couldn't believe they were paying me big buck$ to do exactly the same thing I was doing for $5 per hour. The work seemed so easy, it felt like I was stealing!

    Student run IT systems is a win win for everyone. The school gets readily available and inexpensive labor. The students get work experience and earn a little money for books and beer. The school gets a great rep for putting out quality talent and the big companies keep coming back for more.

  • I've spent most of my career working in Colleges and I've seen (and welcomed) some student help. However, I'd be reticent about wanting such major involvement for two main reasons.
    1. Students move on... so how would you make sure that your system was kept secure and clean of any little backdoors etc. This is especially an issue with some of the more confidential information that must be kept on the system.
    2. Education IT networks need to be run for the benefit of that whole educational community. It's all well and good the IT whizzkids setting up a killer Quake environment.. but folks doing boring stuff like business studies still need to be having their needs met.
    However, I certainly applaud the idea of student involvement. Bass_Wulf
  • It is important to note however, that many of the people running cyberbuzz, including Matt, the head guy are alums, and thus it really isn't completely "student run" and would probably die if it wasn't for Matt.
  • Here I must confess compared to other Uni's UCI has pretty damn cool ResNet. The use policy is a bit draconian (yeah they shut off your port without asking and regulary portscan student computers without their knowledge but nothing a good ipfilter setup won't prevent *grin*) They don't restrict bandwidth (amazing isn't it?) like other UC's and the ResNet admin is pretty knowledgeable albiet one of those ex-military types who believes in policy over practicality and good security but nobodies perfect eh? One of these days I'll need to convince these guys that they need a serious security audit done (and oh god do they ever).
  • To be fair, this is a residental college attached to the University of Melbourne. The records would be in the system of the University and its departments.
  • I used to be first a programmer and then a Sys Admin in a University that should remain nameless in a Latin-american country.

    In the first job we had access as students/workers to the school records of the 300000+ students and who knows how many former students.

    Although there is a conflict of interests, students where always under the supervision of full time senior staff and when something fishy happened (the kind of thing like releasing to the press school records of somebody famous) situations were always clarified and if somebody was guilty of something, that person was dismissed. A full time worker could have done that as well, so I don't see why to be a student should be an impediment.

    In this kind of environment we have a win-win situation: the University (publicly founded) gets higly competent, motivated, curious workers that are not afraid to try new things (I implemented some compression algorithms to save disk space in the then valuable hard disk, saving the Uni many $$$$) and that are cheap, and the students get valuable experience that they would not get otherwise or that they will take longer to acquire.

    After my Uni work I never looked back: the experience I gained leap-frogged me ahead of most of the chaps of my generation and I was doing better, more interesting work far sooner than most of my friends.

    So as you see I thoroughly reccomend it.

  • Students are in college for at least 4 years. Four years at the same company is a long time in the IT world, at least so far as I have seen.

    You've got a point there, but the students don't necessarily work in the computer center the entire four years. At college I attended (a work-study school), it was rare for a freshman to work in the computer center, and most CS students didn't work there until at least their junior year.

  • Hmmm dunno how you know I went there, but I went to more than one secondary school so "maybe, maybe not".
  • by Mawbid ( 3993 )
    We did that at our school!

    The admin wasn't too happy about it, though.

  • And having gone through this - you are now 100% prepared for what lies ahead in the corporate world should you decide to pursue an IT position. Nothing is different.

    I've found that many companies (except perhaps the eCommerce companies that RELY on their IT folks to make $$$) treat IT as a necessary evil, but nothing that would be worth spending serious $$$ on. The politics between camps gets worse. Trust me - I worked for a large telecom/networking company (one that has a decent bond rating :) :) whose R&D labs were HP-UX for development and Macs for Management/Admin tasks. The CEO & CIO decided we had to migrate not just the Macs but also the Unix development stations to PCs. Switched ATM networking was canned in favor of Gigabit Ethernet (we used ATM for many reasons including the fact that we we had multiple subnets in the same building and the admin was killing us plus the switched ATM backbone was a godsend for our data center) The political infighting was a sight and having been on the losing side (notice I said 'worked for') I can tell you it wasn't pretty. I almost lost my job when I put together a white paper (which I published of course) showing how moving from our mainframe based email to Micro$oft Exchange vs a Unix based solution (iPlanet, etc) was going to cost tons of money. But our CEO wanted Microsoft since it would impress Bill Gates (it was a 80+K employee company = mega $$ for Microsquish) since he wanted to partner with Microsoft.

    It goes on and on. But the parallels between what you see in academic life and the corporate world are scary in their similarity.

    I personally think student run IT is something to be looked into and utilized where possible. Give students respect with some oversight and they will probably surprise you.


  • Well, not quite, but as someone who was in one of the other [] of the 13 Melbourne university colleges at the time, I might be able to explain the situation a bit better.

    At the time, many colleges were simply using dialup modems to connect to the university network, one computer at a time. Students in the rooms had no choice but to do the same. Administration of machines was performed, in many of the colleges, by essentially clueless PC-tweaker guys who had never used Unix in their lives and consequently had no idea what CS students wanted and knew was possible. So, around this time, students and a few of the more clued-in staff around the crescent started lobbying their respective administrations, most of whom knew nothing about IT, to start networking their colleges. After *much* butting heads up against heritage-listed stone walls, every college was connected to the wider university network through a very nice fibre-optic link.

    At the same time, many of the colleges realised that their PC-tweaker "consultants" didn't have the skills required, and a different solution was required. Whitley went down the student-administered route. Other colleges did not, including my own. While I did consider pushing for it at the time, there are various issues, some of which are general arguments against student-administered IT systems and covered elsewhere, and others were largely political and specific to my particular college.

    Anyway, Whitley do deserve plaudits for their system, and I'm glad it works for them. They have been somewhat lucky to have talented and dedicated students to fill the IT committee's role, and they'll have to be careful to make sure that continues.

    I still hope that UC kicks their arses in the "chicks footy" (women's Aussie Rules football) tournament this year :)

  • by cowboy junkie ( 35926 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @12:23PM (#419883) Homepage
    It seems like lately I've been seeing story after story that basically says 'look - tech savvy kids are smarter than stupid adults!' Perhaps this is just Slashdot speaking to its target audience (which skews young I'm sure), but I have to wonder if a story like 'Students ruin school network' would ever make it to the front page.
  • You might be surprised to find that at many schools the architecture of their IT divisions fits student based IT nicely. Take the network for example. There is likely a campus wide network group. May not be the best place to have students running the show though it makes a great learning expereince! But each 'school' in the university may have its own IT group, on a more localized level where it is easier to use student resources. I don't think you'll find that students run teh whole show and as long as you manage to get them working with the employees, you'll always have folks available to fix tghe problems (and in teh middle of the night you'd be amazed how often its the students!)


  • by Anonymous Coward
    We have a few student run labs at the school I attend. I work at the client server lab and we have a senior working as the head admin. Everything works out very well and its a great opportunity to make that extra bit of beer money and get some great experience as well.
  • They said 'Students' not 'Stupids' :)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Sir. I find your opinion regarding students to be short sighted. You will find that kids will act more maturely if you treat them with respect and trust them with greater responsibility. As it is, we treat our young people like dirt and we allow companies to exploit them (Been looking at any of the commercials at 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm lately?). No wonder they chafe against adults. Many of the adults are not worthy of respect.
  • The SRC (Student Representative Council, for those unfamiliar with that particular TLA) are hardly going to be helpful - we're dealing with right-wing this year, but they're they're as bad as last year. The same, but different, if you will.

    (For those of you... I am the only guy who gets paid to look after the network on these particular residences, and quite frankly I'd give that up if only accomodation would purchase some decent hardware. At the moment, the web server is a lovely little i486 that used to act as my workstation - and is still owned by me.)

    Yes, there was a justification done up of the costs - a 30 page document; no less. There are still copies floating around. It definitely needs more work.

    Call me the devil's advocate, but I can see a couple of problems with this. First, we're dealing with braindead^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Huninformed administration staff, who only think that we're "out to get them". Secondly, everyone in administration thinks it's everyone else's problem (Accomodation think that everything residence-related is the responsibility of IT services, IT services say "sure, but pay us first!". You see our problem. Students, as a rule, don't care as long as someone, anyone, fixes it). The way I see it, it's black and white - but I'm hardly management material. The other problem is that IT services (some of them, at least) would like to see the network separated completely - and that is something that accomodation won't allow, and that in itself would be a "reason" not to give residents more control. Don't ask about the logic; when I work it all out, I'll submit a story.

    My thought is, as bigdan suggests, to write it all up. Sure, like last time, they'll file it and leave it - but it's worth a shot.

    If anyone - anywhere - has some answers as to how to get through to braindead middle-and-upper management, let me know. I'd be glad to hear from you.

    Iain (who really should be trying to sleep, but gave that up since he's been choking for the past three days, and won't be going to work for a while he guesses).

  • I have been working part time as system administrator at a technical university for almost two years now. There are some important advantages and disadvantages one should consider if looking at such a solutions. 1) Responsibility/Authority: We are authorised to make small investments without asking anyone. In practice we (2 students) are the only people doing any hands-on work with the system. No one else knows shit about how it works. We therefor feel very responsible for its functionality - and sometimes it is very frustration to feel responsibility and not have the proper authority. 2) We have a pure Windows NT network with about 100 computers and the system is quite tweaked in order to work as a multi-user university system. It takes some months to learn the system and get used to most routines. We are supposed to work for at least 2 years so that we can spend most of our employed time improving the system. It is extra important to document everything very well so that the administrator coming after me dont have to decrypt obscure scripts, search in outdated user databases etc. I have much time doing that, and also redesigning things from scratch for different reasons. For these reasons it is very important that someone else (than the students) are making the strategic decisions (even quite operational ones) so that work is not done in vain and redone. 3) Students do this kind of job because they find it interesting, and they will do it their way. They will script/program in their own favourite language and they will try to use their own favourite OS (Linux :) when possible. One administrator might install lots of good applications to the system that will be a pain for the next administrator who dont have a clue what programs are installed, how they are licence, if anyone uses them and how to tweak them. Users dont really like to see features removed. Administrators prefer implementing their own favourite things in their own favourite way rather than mainaining old stuff. 4) As already pointed out in other posts; student operators know the students needs and care about them. 5) It might not be so easy to find new operators when to old ones finish their studies. To sum up: if counting on students for running a university system good management is more important than otherwise. When working with such a complex task for a relatively short time it is hard to handle difficult decistions that will affect the system for several years.
  • According to my experience the so called 'professional' administrators of my university's network are totaly untrustworthy and incompetent. In my school we have this team of volunteer students that administer the three largest servers in the whole of the university - it has been doing so for the past 8-9 years with a budget as miniscule as possible - there was no IT adminstration for the university until 1994-5 and when it formed, it was staffed by beaurocrats and 'professional amateurs'.
    Our systems are under constant attack due to the IRC servers they run - most of the nework segments outside our juristiction are so full of holes that a simple scripted DDoS brings down the main academic (so that's three universities losing their connection) link with the Europe backbone. Ofcourse it all gets blamed on the attacks directed at the IRC servers. It doesn't matter that we have the logs to prove that our systems are running flawlessly, that no system on our segment does packet amplification and our firewall keeps redundant traffic to a minimum, that our spam and security policies are the strictest possible and that our patches are always up-to-date with a delay of at most an hour.
    The 'administrators' see an attack directed at our IP and immediately block all access to it from the outside world to "not cause further problems for the rest of the academic network" - they don't improve their firewalls, they don't clean up the thousand insecure linux boxes that are setup around the university labs, they don't even make sure that the main router for my school has a decent UPS so that it can come back up when the power fails
    There have been times, when a power cut run over an hour, that the router took three days to reboot - their emergency response time is limited to working hours Mo-Fri. If the power fails Friday afternoon we get network on Monday morning.
    The longest time our servers have been offline (I don't mean off the Internet though :( )was when our ancient Hewlett Packard gave up the ghost in 1997 and we moved from HUX to Linux - It was just two days - A day to decide to move to Linux and a day and a night to setup two boxes for users and services (the main administration was running a VAX system then).
    My point is that students who volunteer for IT administration will work their butts off during difficult times - they are smarter, more up-to-date with technology and don't have a 'civil servant' attitude. Not to mention the fact that they gain immense hands-on experience that pays off tremendously (and I'm speaking for myself ofcourse).
    Just me two bits.
  • I think it's just worth pointing out that many people here are laboring under the misconception of what `college' means in this context. This is a residential college, not a university. It's where University of Melbourne students live, and while it might have a tutorial program, it is not a teaching institution. So issues such as access to marks, and essential 24/7 connectivity are not issues here.

    That said, I'm very keen to show this article to the business manager of the college I'm a resident tutor at (another small Melbourne Uni college), as it's something I'd really like to see happen here.
  • I have been to 2 high schools, and college
    In one, the sysadmins were fairly knowlegeable, but knew that there were better compter people with the students. They acceped that and had student tech aides. The students fixed hardware did maintnence, reinstalled windows, reinstalled windows and other things. I gained a lot of experence with wiring networks, and oh how many problems windows has. When we had someone cracking windows boxes and doing nasty things, they had one of the tech aides hunt down who it was.

    The other high school I go to, has an admin who is rather not stupid, but not wise either. He is knowegeable, but there are so many security loopholes in his system, it isn't even funny. He locks out telnet (pissing me off), but not doing anything about viruses, and other harmfull things. (this changed a few days ago, but I saw students ignore "there is a virus" type warnings, by killing the window.) And when I asked him about installing something so I could download a program I am working on, he was rather snobbish. Are you working on it in a class, no, but I am when I don't have college classes, then he proceded with a what educational value does it have line of questioning. My thoughts were "And this is a programming teacher..." This is after offering to help him maintain the schools computers (many x 486,some x P1 4 or so P2s).

    I likely sound like an annoyed person, but the refusal to accept that someone doesn't know everything, and ask for help is asking for trouble. Anyway thanks for reading my probably wasteful post, on to assembly...

  • As a year 12 student at Hawker College (serving year 11 and 12 students in Canberra, AU) I setup the student server project, and it was entirly student-run operation. I also ran the proxy server and incresing large sections of the basic network infrustrucure. I am now a uni student, and I am engaged profesionally to continue my work on the schools collection of Linux based computers (all of which I setup).

    However this could not have been done without the support of the IT staff, and they now do the day-to-day adminstration of the system - But I am the only one with root. Over the 12 months I ran the system as a student I was able to bring incresing numbers of staff on-board, and it is the support of these staff that means that the project lives on. The project will also continue as a 'student server', once the new students settle down, simply to find persons with the applicable talent.

    It is only thought the respect that I had gained as a student and the garantees that I made that my changes would not affect the operation of the existing network that this was able to occour - without these the project could not have got off the ground.

    The main problem with student-run IT is finding the 'right' talent - finding honest, reliable, trustworthy people who also have the applicable talent and the time to use it is harder (at least at my college) than you might think.
  • Just last year our town voted in spending ~35k to have the school and town networks administered by an outside firm. We are a very small town (~5000 people) Northwest of Boston.

    I suggested we let the students of the local high school handle the administrative duties. You would have thought I asked for the town to sponsor the space shuttle.

    It was pretty obvious the powers that be don't have a clue about what is now available for technology. When I mentioned Linux/FreeBSD, they looked like gomer pyle on a qualude (sp?).

    It's really sad because I know many young people would really thrive if given this type of opportunity. Their technical skills are outstanding and could easily handle the small workload of our town.

    Until the 'elders' get their heads out of their a**es, it appears that towns will continue to waste money.

  • Actually, we've managed to do quite well at our dorm []. Ateneo de Manila University [] has the first wired dormitory in the Philippines, and it's all because of student volunteers. We don't get paid anything for it and only the officers get free Net access, but it's a lot of fun.

    We do our own software development, working with PHP, Perl, Java, and a few other cool things. It's a terrific opportunity to develop our skills in network administration and programming. We've even done some outsourced projects.

    We get a lot of volunteers and we do our own training, which usually means that newbies get a quick walkthrough and some pointers about documentation.

    So let's take those points one by one..

    1. Be vindictive to other students in the dorm

      Who, us? Let's see. Occasionally people blatantly break the rules, like when they port-swap or download banned images, but we handle those cases rationally.

      I don't think there has yet been a case of abuse of power around here. If there were, then the other sysads would probably step in and reprimand the person. We're all in the dorm, anyway. It's rather hard to hide, yes? =)

    2. Do something illegal like script kiddying themselves to a DoS

      Okay. Sysadmining is a matter of trust. Only a few people have shell accounts and (naturally) even fewer have root. Script kiddies are dealt with harshly because it's clearly prohibited by our policies. One of the sysads goes over to the script-kiddie's room and has a niiiice, long talk with him/her. People who misbehave even with the warning get taken off the network.

    3. Fill bandwidth with quake and/or MP3's and have other students be completely powerless against loss of bandwidth

      Hmm. Lots of people play Counterstrike over the network, and it does tend to cause a lot of collisions. =) But the network's still pretty fast. We don't shape packets to.. discourage.. these things.

    4. Be very unprofessional and unable to fix problems quickly, and finally

      You give students too little credit. =) Network problems are fixed as soon as the responsible sysad is free (we have people assigned to certain locations). Activating someone's account takes one day. Network troubleshooting - depends on the kind of problem, of course.

      We don't do computer maintenance, since the students are in charge of that. We keep the network up and running, and we look for ways to improve it. We try to avoid problems whenever possible. =)

    5. Not be organized enough because of the high level of turnaround in students (every four years!).

      That's why training is very important. The seniors will be graduating soon, but other people are being trained. We place a lot of emphasis on creating a low-maintainance, hassle-free system that makes it easier for succeeding batches to admin the network.

    I'm sorry, I think this would be either free labor for the university

    You got that right. But it's fun and it's experience and it's a cool excuse to work with Linux and all sorts of other nifty things. I get to meet other geeks. I like that. =) or a free for all for students who wouldn't care about the users. Well, that part I'd disagree with. Although we're there to keep the network running, our job's really to help people connect.

    I really don't mean to troll nor am I bitter about dorm living, I just haven't met many cool dorm student representitives.

    Ah, don't worry about that. Maybe you're just looking in the wrong place. =)

  • tenure'd professors fear of accessing their home directories and pillaging it for whatever it's worth.
    Which, if it was anything like where I went to school, could be worth quite a lot. The department system was used to hold files containing such sensative material as student grades, upcoming exams, etc, etc.

    Being root means (indirectly) having read (and write!) access to all that. That's a bigger conflict of interest than any student (no matter how honest and well-meaning) should be subject to.


  • For sure.

    Being 16 and proud, this means one thing first: It's easy to exploit your work for money that no professional would work for. You don't think about health care, do you?

    That's OK for ever-money-starfing schools and colleges; but you shoulnd't take that habit to business - it'll destroy you after a very short time.

    Disclaimer: I'm 40, CEO of a consulting company - we're troubleshooters, normally called in when some dumb-ass (both young and old ones :-) ruined a project. I had my shares of both young and old know-it-alls. Previously, they ruined my day. Now, I it earns my money.

  • This was probally well before my time, or possibly not. It very much depends on who the operator on duty is on at the moment. Traning people for all problems is a fun thing, really. But usually we cought AC problems within resonable limits.

    Plus, those SP machines could heat small, third world countries on their own. :)

    (I dont represent anything, but myself.)
  • There are 13 colleges around the University of melbournne and I stay to one close to Whitley called International House [] . When I first came to this college nearly 2 yrs ago, I was surprised to find a network of about 200 computers run by students. I joined the committee then and I have benefitted so much from the experience. One of the best things that has come out from the whole experience is my introduction to the world of Open Source. I was pretty much living in an MS world before that. I still do like my Win 2K system but really love Open Source and all what its stands for. Students running the network here seems to be the most logical thing to me. Our committee is a totally transparent committee and is quite knowlegable and we've provided a much better service than what a professional company could ever hope to acheive. We sit down and talk with the students and when things go wrong at 12 in the night, we're on it immediately . Some of the programs we write are all written by ourselves which is a big advantage for us Software Engineering students. A network run by students is not going to be a success everywhere because it is essential that people who run it are dedicated to the assimilation of knowledge and thankfully in my college there are a few people like that .
  • I agree 100%. Who is responsible when the assets are missing? Who is responsible to the school, the alumni, and the parents of the childern attending the university when a core curriculum is canceled because "Johnny's computer is missing?" Having worked as a student operator/programmer during my 4+ years, students don't have a great grasp of operations, disaster recovery, nor programming procedures to succede. Assuming that someone does acquire the knowledge, the loss of knowledge because of the turn over rate ( every four years? ) would be horrific. From my days, I remember a few renegade staff members who were fired and if they hadn't been graduating in the spring, would have been booted out of the college. Who is to oversee disciplinary actions of students and what will be the consequences? I see this lasting about five or so years at best before it becomes an embarressment.
  • The posts seem to point to a mix of professional and student. Professionals provide a level of expesrience and accountability students don't. But some of the most progressive and cutting edge stuff will probably come from the students. Sounds a lot like the real world to me. Seems like a great way to go to me.

  • Quite true, however this would not be the case if you (and some others) would help him out...

    Which is one of the problems with starting student run IT, and then continuing it past the first generation.

    (I'm one of those alumni admins... :-) )
  • by Erasmus Darwin ( 183180 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:27AM (#419909)
    At Georgia Tech [], the main IT stuff is still handled by professionals []. However, the student organization server, cyberbuzz [], is student run []. Personally, I think this is a good mix -- the Really Important services are handled by people who can afford to have monitoring 24/7 and such, while the less mission critical stuff gives students a chance to do IT stuff.
  • Just my $0.05 worth. For what it's worth, I spent some time working as part of the student-run ISP that the technical college I attended hosted. My experiences there weren't exactly wonderful.

    For starters, there was the old old problem of "boys and their toys" - there were precisely *two* female personnel who were interested in the whole business, and we were both relegated to administrative roles straight off. Secondly, there was very little actual knowledge being circulated - those who knew, knew, and those who didn't, couldn't learn anything by being involved. I eventually wound up giving up in disgust after being given the job of making the whole shebang ISO-9000 compliant, and writing procedures from scratch for them, with absolutely *no* help or assistance from any of the more experienced people.

    Now, I realise that this isn't likely to be the archetypical experience for people involved with a student-run IT facility. I'd make the point that a volunteer facility really *needs* at least one person in charge who can *enforce* co-operation and information circulation - because without that, people who "don't fit" in the opinions of certain members of the group will find themselves frozen out or starved out. That was something that this particular group didn't have. It's worth noting, though, that there has to be the compromise made between idealism, control, opportuity, and common sense.

    Meg Thornton
  • First off, I don't get what you're saying about It's easy to exploit your work for money that no professional would work for. But for health care (insurance for me), I'm a little young to have need it (parentally provided via military).

    Second - That's OK for ever-money-starfing schools and colleges; but you shoulnd't take that habit to business - it'll destroy you after a very short time. You're right!

    Finally - Disclaimer: I'm 40, CEO of a consulting company - we're troubleshooters, normally called in when some dumb-ass (both young and old ones :-) ruined a project. I had my shares of both young and old know-it-alls. Previously, they ruined my day. Now, I it earns my money. You're right again. But the difference is that I know what I know and don't try to make up what I don't!

    The problem with capped Karma is it only goes down...

  • by binarybits ( 11068 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:32AM (#419931) Homepage
    I work for the University of Minnesota computer science department. [] I'm a part time sysadmin/webmaster. The pay and hours are good, and I've gained valuable experience.

    The staff ratio is about 50/50 students to fulltimers. The students handle most of the tech support grunt work and are assigned more in depth jobs as time and ability allows. Recently I've been assigned to do almost entirely web work-- some html writing and a fair amount of CGI scripting.

    I think student-run IT departments are a good thing. We get experience, the U gets cheap labor, and everyone ends up happy. The level of professionalism and the relationship between fulltimers and students has been excellent. Most of the staff are former U students, so things work out quite well.

    I think I'm extremely lucky to have a job that allows me to support myself, take classes, and build my resume all at the same time. Most of my friends make less than I do for tedious grunt work. CS students today really are spoiled.
  • If today's students are anything like I was, I wouldn't give them admin access to a network. My brother and I made a hobby of figuring out how to hack and tap pay phones, jackpot vending machines, and various and sundry illegalities that I hesitate to mention because I suspect someone is still looking for those responsible. If I'd had access to a computer network in those days, I'd have probably installed sniffers, email diverters, and anything else that looked like fun. I've since matured into a responsible adult, but the thought of handing over a network to my then-peers is like letting a teenage boy accompany my daughter on an overnight 'camping' trip.
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:53AM (#419938) Homepage
    In my 10+ years as a IT/IS/Sysadmin. I have seen students with 100 times more talent and ability than any "professional" I have met. (Professional as in a certified whatever) Students can do IT/IS work faster,easier,and more creativly than any of us old hats. But, It's us old hat's that are keeping the student down with the "security" issues, ("you're too young to have that kind of access"," I need accountability for this task","bla bla bla, yadda yadda") which are all just empty excuses to chase that teenager/college student out of the room. If a student shows the ability to handle a security clearance, then give them one! It is too often that we professionals spend more time trying to cover our own asses than doing our jobs.

    I say YES to student run IT. but... never bcome lax on security and clearances... Only an idiot would give root access to the domain to a student that cant keep their mouth shut, or cant help themselves when they come across email/documents/whatever.

    There are trustworthy students out there, as many as "professional" IT's that are trustworthy. (Note: I dont trust many professional IT people I meet. too many are jerks/power freaks. Hell one bragged once how he was posting some user's email to a public forum just for kicks. and this guy was a senior admin!)

    The bad part? some students will get burned bad when something crashes and the administration goes looking for heads.
  • UC Berkeley's dorm networks have been run primarily by student staff for years (I worked there as a sysadmin when I was at Cal). There are two professional staff who act as managers, but all sysadmins, wiring, network monitoring, resident tech support, and training is handled by student staff. Most of them work ~20 hours per week, and maintain full class loads. In our experience, student run IT organizations on campus (of which there were very very few, other than us) reacted more quickly, were more pro-active about security, and generally got the job done in an efficient and professional manner.

    We have a strong privacy policy on whom has access to student data, and the student staff who do have that access take their responsibilities as seriously as any professional staff (and often more seriously when things like network security of private data were concerned)

    Some of the things that helped us was good management (the Rescomp managers were flexible about our hours, and accepted our technical descisions, provided they were justified), and an internal student heirechy (most new hires were hired in their sophmore or freshman year as front-line techs, and then get promoted internally over time, which allowed the Rescomp "corporate culture" to be instilled. Also, some of the student positions were combination tech and managerial, which was also good).

    It's probably not something that you want to just jump into immediately (it took Rescomp 6 years to build from a staff of 1 professional staff + 6 students to 2 professional staff members + 44 students), but the payoffs are tremendous. You get a dedicated staff of good people who work for cheap, and are constantly learning new technology and methodology to improve your IT infrastructure. Besides: working with students is a lot of fun. :)

  • Apparently the students at my current college (Sarah Lawrence College) built the original network which was enhanced to be campuswide. Unfortunately, this would explain our drastic ping delays (sometimes approaching 1000ms -- on a T1!), and varying download speeds (anywhere between 100K/s to .5K/s).

    I'm taking building it entirely without routers (hubs only) and using a combination of old WinNT and Linux boxes (like, version 3.0 of Redhat) didn't help.

  • The undergrad computing cluster is a kickass computer lab thats run totally by undergrad students at Caltech. Its one of the better run labs and is the place to be for any hacker and coder. you can check it out at UGCS []
    also, the wallpaper that we did for the lab is impressive to say the least: wall paper []
  • Heidi, you make a good point.

    The College was fortunate in having a 'progressive' Dean who could see the benefits to the students in having a student run operation. However, it went both ways. The IT Committee in College was always very receptive to any concerns the admin had an would quickly outline plans to allay their fears.

    I think the greatest factor that helped this who operation succeed was communication - there was a frequent and constant communication between the IT Committee and the administration. This helped build the confidence of the administration that the IT Committee knew what it was doing (or at least was heading in the right direction :).

  • Spyffe, this is an ongoing concern within the IT Committee at the College and with administration. In many ways, the ITC is more concerned about privacy that admin is!

    We have a variety of servers within the College and the staff and student networks are segregated. While most ITC have access to the student servers that run the webserver, samba shares etc, the email server and staff servers are only accessible by two students in the ITC and they are students who have proven themselves to be trustworthy (ie first year students would definitely not have access).

  • We actually have never had a problem with power struggles in the ITC. We've always had a policy of 'if you want to do something cool, go for it'. Of course, there was the natural understanding that doing a 'rm -rf /' was not a cool thing :)

    There were a couple of 'leaders' in the ITC but only through expertise - and they weren't so much 'leaders' as in authorative figures, but more subject matter experts.

    All in all, we had a very good team of students.

  • Yep, that's about it.
  • by Cyradis ( 71318 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @11:04AM (#419955) Homepage
    I like the idea, but for many Universities it's just not an option. At my University, there are 40,000 students alone, not including all the faculty & support staff required to maintain an institution of this size.

    Keeping all of this up and running requires many full-time network admins, and in some areas round-the-clock support staff. Plus some of the older secretaries mentioned in an earlier post tend to mistrust student employees.

    However, that doesn't mean that there is no room for student involvement. I personally work for the Residential Network (dorms, etc.) and there are opportunities for students in departmental networks (Zoology, etc.), central IT division, and numerous computer labs. Our student web hosting services are also student run. Students fill extremely varied positions, from maintaining large servers to teaching classes on computers through the labs.

    So I salute the universities out there with entirely student-run IT. I just have one question for you. How do you convince older University employees that you're there to fix the computer, not steal it?
  • At my university, the IT department is made up almost entirely of paid professionals. Not only that, the school makes it a point not to hire recent graduates into the IT department. There is a very good reason for this: with students running the IT department, there is far too much room for abuse.

    I am a student myself, so don't start bitching that I'm underestimating students. The potential for abuse is there, and abuse DOES happen in student-run IT departments. What type of abuse, you ask? Well, lets take a look at an example:

    Student A works for the IT department. He has root on various systems across the network, including the mail servers. Student A also has a severe dislike for Student B.

    One day, Student B does something that really annoys Student A. So, Student A decides to get revenge. What does he do? He starts monitoring Student B's email, and starts sniffing packets to see what Student B has been looking at on the web. A few weeks later, he discovers Student B's darkest secret. It really doesn't matter what this secret is. Perhaps Student B is gay, but doesn't want anyone to know. Regardless of what this secret is, now Student A knows about it.

    See the problem here? Students have far too much contact with the people who use the network. They know them. They are their friends, enemies, lovers, and ex-lovers ... and this means that the potential for abuse is enormous. No matter how trustworthy you think they are, the temptation alone should be reason enough not to allow students to run the IT department.

    It is far better policy to hire outside professionals who have little or no connection to the school. They have virtually no contact with the users of the network, and have no reason to abuse their powers. This is not to say they won't abuse their powers; it is only to say that, assuming they aren't a person who abuses power in the first place, they won't abuse that power.

    I will say, however, that having students involved in the IT department is fine. It simply needs to be limited. At my university, students work at the helpdesk and the shop, as well as occasionally help with physical hardware issues (router configuration, wiring, etc). However, no students have priveledged access to servers or the NOC.

    This is as it should be. It is fine to use a university network as a training ground, but only if the proper precautions are taken.
  • I find it rather offensive, that someone would call me and my fellow students something like intellectually challenged.
    If anything, IT-students in my country (Norway) are MORE intelligent than a lot of IT-workers, as quite a few IT-workers are uneducated and perform quite repetitive tasks.
    If you actually were thinking about experience, then I apologize, and you are right.

    Education is of course not always a sign of intelligence, but it is almost NEVER a sign of stupidity.
    I'm also not saying that being uneducated is a sign of stupidity.
  • I worked for quite a few years at a major state university. And a IT department that is completly student run wouldn't fly. The article talks about a college of 130 students. Not the tens of thousands most universities here are.

    One thing that is absolutly fundimental to an IT department at a school is a long-term plan. It would be very difficult to maintain focus if about 1/4 of your staff quit every year. You'd have high and low years for the staff, some years you'd have a couple of geniuses and the next you could have no one who can fill their shoes.

    Another problem is many of the positions in IT departments require the full attention of a person. When you're not only coordnating between many buildings, but quite possibly multiple campuses there's quite a bit of work when it comes to the physcial networking. Sure you could have multiple students, but you need at least one person to guide the entire thing, and this should be a full-time job. Someone has to take responsibility when things go wrong or when the wrong decision was made.

    The right students could probably handle most aspects of a IT department, but should they? Yeah, it would help them learn, but really on-the-job learning isn't what colleges are there for. A student shouldn't have to be called in on the eve before finals to troubleshoot a faulty segment.

    Students should be allowed to be involved in their schools IT department, but there should be some permanent staff in place to provide continuity, and overall vision. At my University, students filled many of the entry-level type positions as student workers. A good number became permanent staff members in time, myself included. A campus wide IT oversight group which included members from the different colleges also had student representation.

    I think students should be involved, but I don't think it makes sense to let them run the show.
  • by Heidi Wall ( 317302 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:02AM (#419963)
    They always like to have professionals to do work like this, because, rightly or wrongly, they want someone who can be held responsible for anything that goes wrong.

    In an ideal world, student run IT systems would be common place, but unfortunately there are too many issues with trust and beurocratic accountability that must be overcome in the eyes of the admins, which is a real pain.

    Still, I suppose that fighting this sort of discrimination and wrong headed beurocracy can result in a greater experience of the ways of the world for these students.

    A good preparation for real life.
    Clarity does not require the absence of impurities,

  • by keesh ( 202812 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:02AM (#419964) Homepage

    It would be nice if this was possible, but for me at least it isn't. You know the amount of trouble there would be for everyone if it went wrong?

    I dread to think what the High Up Authorities would say if they heard "yeah, some student just trashed all our network". It wouldn't happen, but our sysadmin won't risk his job on it anyway.

  • by Spyffe ( 32976 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:04AM (#419968) Homepage
    Student-run IT is discouraged at my college, for the simple reason that we have a very progressive privacy policy (as opposed to the one described earlier []) and access to student or administrative data is limited to paid personnel. Seems reasonable to me.

    Student-run IT system means student root and to my college that's unacceptable.

  • You know, I think it is great that students want to run their own computers. In scientific laboratories, students often run the computer hardware. But, I think in a collage setting in a dorm it would be a VERY BAD IDEA. College students, IMO, would be much more likely to: 1) Be vindictive to other students in the dorm, 2) Do something illegal like script kiddying themselves to a DoS, 3) Fill bandwidth with quake and/or MP3's and have other students be completely powerless against loss of bandwidth, 4) Be very unprofessional and unable to fix problems quickly, and finally, 5) Not be organized enough because of the high level of turnaround in students (every four years!). I'm sorry, I think this would be either free labor for the university or a free for all for students who wouldn't care about the users. I really don't mean to troll nor am I bitter about dorm living, I just haven't met many cool dorm student representitives.

  • While I agree that a completely student-run IT department is probably a bad idea, I take exception with the assertion that "children today" are less trustworthy than they used to be. I'm a student IT worker, and I'm extremely trustworthy.

    Now part of it is that there are full-timers who monitor network activity, and if I were to do something blatantly dishonest or illegal there's a good chance that I'd get caught. But I still have root on all the machines in the CS department, and I could wreak serious havok if I were so inclined. Neither I nor any of my co-workers have done so. As long as there's some "adult" supervision, I don't think it's an issue. Not all of us youngins are irresponsible children.
  • by pz ( 113803 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:46AM (#419975) Journal
    At MIT, the main network in the combined AI Lab and Lab for Computer Science (housed at 545 Tech Square in Cambridge, Mass.) was for many years defacto run by students. Hell, much of it was invented and built by students. (I'd shudder to think about how many meters of cable I've personally run in that building.) For years, each group did it's own IT management, until a central group (CRS, Computational Resources Service) was formed to take care of the more mundane things, like making sure all the printers worked, allocating IP addresses, running cable, and the like.

    Also, for many years before Project Athena started, there was SIPB, the Student Information Processing Board, which was all student-run, and provided the all-access computational facility for members of the campus. Students also ran many of the large academic computational facilities, such as the fabled EECS system (a PDP-10 which had a nasty habit of thrashing the nights before problem sets were due) used for such courses as Software Engineering, Introduction to Programming, etc.

    And these things all ran well. Why? Because unlike some suit who went home at 5pm, the students had a vested interest in these systems and were available at nearly all hours. Sure there were problems, but there were some very creative answers. And the students running these systems understood the computational needs of the users -- because they had shared experiences. They knew how bad it could be when the main server died during the week before finals. They cared.

    The bad part of this was that being in one of these (only sometimes paid) positions usually carried a hefty price in terms of academic performance. These students were essentially working full-time jobs in addition to taking full loads.

    Is there a better solution? I'm not sure. At MIT, a paid professional staff won't be as talented as the students, won't be as dedicated, and won't be as responsive. But the community won't be taking undue advantage of them, either. For other institutions, a different answer might, naturally, be more appropriate.

    - pz.

  • Uhh... yeah, that's why.

    That's why I got hired by a university to manage their campus network (WAN, LAN, Desktop, LAB, et al) before I even graduated high school, let alone went through college.

    That's why every person in that IT department was under 35. That's why the majority of the IT deparment was under *25*. That's why the network improved 500% when moved in and started fixing things up. That's why they have computers worth working on now, instead of the garbage they were trying to study on before.

    That's why network services lifted the standard bar, and not only that, but continually raised the users expectations, and consistantly met them.

    That's why... because students are stupid.

    And closed minded too, mind you!

  • Having worked in five different universities where a large fraction of the day-to-day sysadmin and networking tasks were done by (paid) students, there is no question that in general this works well for both sides.

    Universities need a great deal of diverse IT support and cannot afford to pay salaries appropriate for trained grown-ups. Competent, curious students with interest can learn a great deal of valuable, marketable things in this setting very quickly, without the "experience" needed for comparable positions in industry. Academic tech support is generally more forgiving for gaps in expertise than the "real world" and is a good place to learn the basic necessities.

    The disadvantage, from the university side, is the regular turnover as students learn enough to get excellent jobs. The disadvantage from the student side is seeing how preposterously screwed up things can be and having to put up with various politics, awful documentation and limited resources. Oh, wait- since things are often like that outside the university, maybe that is an advantage...

    The danger of an entirely-student run network comes from the regular turnover, so perhaps that would be a problem. The better- run academic IT departments that I know have a number of permanent staff who were former students, and who decided that there were some nice things about the academic computing environment (or who just wanted massive bandwith to play with) and stayed around.

  • by Fluffy the Cat ( 29157 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:52AM (#419981) Homepage
    College used to have a cluster of Suns, but they gradually became unmaintained and were removed after they were all hacked. As a result, we ended up with a bunch of Windows machines and no UNIX provision. What we ended up doing was designing a net-booting Linux system that required no access to the local hard drive (documentation here []) and just used that until the COs finally gave up and made it official. At around the same time, people finally gave up with the university's policy regarding undergraduate access to UNIX systems (ie, the only general provision would be access to the mail server running a heavily limited shell designed for the express purpose of reading email and carrying out various mail-related tasks) and set up a university-wide service with some support from the student union. The SRCF [] was the result. Of course, both these could probably have gone very differently if the authorities had taken a different view of things (the SRCF was set up after consultation with the university computing service, and our Linux system happened to coincide with a time when the college COs were too busy fighting with each other to give a damn what we did), but even so if you're unhappy with the computing facilities available to you it is worth attempting to do something about it.
  • At the University of Delaware, I'm willing to hazzard that 90% of our computer technical staff is comprised of students. This includes most of the technitians, maintainance, attendents, receptionists, sales people, etc. All working at minimum wage (higher if they like you). We students like it because we get to do something other than buffing tables, while the administration probably likes the reduced cost. The heads probably like it because they get to tout hands on experience.

    There is definately a sence of control; professional old-guys are the only ones with root access to the central main frames. But of the thousands of computers on campus, root is known by many a student for their day-to-day jobs. Plus it's just cool to have the title "lab-staff" in certain buildings. Freshmen geeks revear you.

    Lab-staff could-have-been
  • At UD, root access is regional. Typically to a single building. Only a small set of people have access to root, and few people are administrators of more than one building. So there is a definate sence of accountibility.

    Among other reasons, I'm not aware of any hacking bing on our student maintained shared systems. Note that our accounting and central email /file-system servers are not maintained by students.

  • I could complain about gatech's OIT all day, but not the student side of it.

    About a year ago I was a student at gatech, living in the dorms. I ran a FTP server (with only legal materials) off of my machine. There was a time when it got a little bigger than at first, and was using quite a bit of the dorm's resources. I got a letter from "JH" in OIT, and responded that I was not in fact serving illegal materials, but that I would tone down the bandwidth. A couple of months later when the bandwidth was back up to a level that OIT didn't like, I noticed that my total bandwidth dropped (I was watching it at the moment that it did). I didn't do anything for a couple of days other than trying out different solutions to see what was wrong, and after that didn't work I filed a trouble ticket.

    "MB," a fella not much older than me, helped out after the ticket was open for a week with no resolution. He even came to my room to see for himself. From the very beginning I said, "I might have gotten my bandwidth capped, I have been running an FTP server." Everybody at the help desk insisted that a cap wasn't the issue, and MB said that it was unlikely.

    Another week went by and after some more complaining to OIT I got an email from JH (a higher-up) saying that there was a cap placed on my account. I promptly replied as courteously as I could, but never got a reply (from that email or from any other email I sent JH). I also promptly sent MB an email apologizing to him because he had wasted his time through the fault of the full time employee. I was furious; partly because my bandwidth had been capped for over two weeks without any explanation, but mostly because of the resources that had been wasted in trying to provide a solution. The students at gatech know what they're doing for the most part, but I think most folks will agree that the same can't be said for full-time staff (I don't think I need to mention the parking situation pre-'99).
  • by pb ( 1020 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:05AM (#419988)
    My school, North Carolina State University, eventually saw the light as well.

    When we had Consultants running the show, they suggested using Windows NT 4.0, and we have a lot of machines running that. However, they are slow and unstable, especially with third-party add-ons for Kerberos and AFS, and they also leak memory like a sieve.

    However, some students working for the University (friends of mine) worked on Linux for the realm. It has its share of problems too, because it hasn't been worked on as much as Solaris, and we don't have a lot of apps compiled in the lockers for it, but it's *far* more stable than NT ever was, and has better support for AFS and Kerberos.

    Incidentally, the original reason for switching to NT was so we could have apps like Word and Excel and Powerpoint. But now we have a cluster running Citrix Metaframe that does that. And for us engineers, it's much more important that we have other apps where we *already* have licenses on the Unix side of things, or sometimes don't need licenses...

    Anyhow, I hope they keep improving the Linux side of things; it's come along decently, and we owe it all to the students.
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • by yolto ( 178256 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:07AM (#419991) Homepage
    At my Maryland High school, the entire school network is run by students. There are several labs in different areas, each with its own Win2K server. Students set up these servers (as far as network setup), configured clients, setup policies and all of the other expected routines. Problems with IP conflicts (the school gets internet access through a Comcast cable modem, who has decided that they will have control over the DHCP server which assigns private IPs) have been handled by students, along with various other problems.

    It's a good system, although most of the work is done by a very small group of students who have done some brown-nosing to get there. I originally wanted to be a part of this team, but I decided the hoops I had to jump through and the unfair hierarchy where unqualified students are given more power wasn't something I wanted to deal with.

    This is one problem with letting students have full control. Power corrupts, and being given this power without necessarily having the maturity to handle it can cause some serious ego trips and other problems.

    Kevin Mitchell
  • From the article, it looks like the students are handling the ISP duties and not the IT duties.

    Would it really be proper to handle IT duties of the school, where such duties would include access to other student's records?

  • by shaunj ( 72350 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:08AM (#419993) Journal
    I've found that in my experience, most of the network is managed by university employees, but most of the grunt work (network administration, tech support, etc) is managed by the students because of the cheap labor they offer. Most of the network planning and implementation is done by the university employees and management though.
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Monday February 19, 2001 @10:09AM (#419994) Homepage Journal
    I was a "network officer" for one University network that shall remain forever nameless. (Ok, it actually has a name, but I just won't UMIST^h^h^h^h^h use it. :)

    My experience: Politics Ruled, first, last and always.

    A typical example. I wanted to run an IPv6 testbed, to gather experience on how to handle such a network. Answer: "No. It might damage our network."

    Stage 2: Write a white paper, outlining how the head of the computer centre could increase the priority of his e-mail, using IPv6. The node was running within a week.

    I could give other examples - there are many - on the infighting (Linux vs. Apple vs. Solaris), the politics (who can run servers? who has access to a secure system?), etc.

    Nor was this the only such place such conflicts have taken place. The University of Glamorgan, at one point, banned the use of Gopher, because they wanted to have absolute central control on what outside connections people could run.

    Fact is, central control of this kind seems to breed a kind of delusional paranoia usually seen in axe-wielding psychopaths.

    It's my honest opinion that computer centers should have mandatory psychological check-ups, every 3-4 months, before the plebs who run them do something really stupid.

  • Ahhh Goonie - I was trying to work out who you are - now I know!!

    Not a chance that UC will beat Whitley in chicks footy. We will run you into the ground! ;-)

    Ben Fon

  • Here at the University of Pittsburgh, students can become "Residential Consultants(ResCons as we call them)," and in exchange for helping other students that live in residence halls with getting set up on our network, and with any PC problem in general, the ResCons are awarded full room and board for the academic year that they serve as a ResCon.
  • by micromoog ( 206608 ) on Monday February 19, 2001 @11:23AM (#420004)
    They always like to have professionals to do work like this, because, rightly or wrongly, they want someone who can be held responsible for anything that goes wrong.

    Very true. They also want people who can be there full-time, who won't have to go to class in the middle of a "network down" fire, and who most likely will be there more than a semester or two.

    Student work is great practice seeing a real network in action. If you want to run the network, don't talk to your university's student employment office, talk to the HR department.

    If you're working part-time with all the laxity and lack of accountability that comes as a benefit of being a student, don't expect a great deal of respect from the experienced full-timers. You can't have both, unless you're willing to make the job Priority #1 and be a student only part-time (or night school).

  • I know this is long and I apologize for that but this article is one that I have enough past experience to give good commentary on this topic.

    While I haven't done exactly this, I have had a lot of past experience which is directly applicable. I worked at reasonably good-sized University (+35k users) as The Mac Guy at our IT Helpdesk for a long time. Before that I held together a school district, while being a student. For most of that time I was a student. We were the front end for the admins in the basement that really didn't have time to answer hordes of basic questions. We did the phone, e-mail, and walk-in tech support. Myself and a few others went the extra mile and did onsite calls for free. Our supervisor was a full-timer who had been there for a long time. Our relationship with him was excellent. He's a great guy (I'm switching tenses because he's still there while I've moved on). Between our admins and the helpdesk it was sometimes another story entirely. Some treated us well and respected the work we did to keep the masses away from their doors. Others thought we were dirt beneath their feet. In fact I recently sent an e-mail too one of their rather fickle admins advising him about two of their hosts send SNMP GetRequests to the broadcast address in the building that houses one of my servers still there. I have yet to hear from him. I'm now working at a peer University not as a student but as the Network & Systems Manager. Apparently the added length to my title isn't enough to get a little respect from him. Back to the helpdesk. From the students/faculty/staff we were usually praised. Occasionally we were on the receiving end of a lot of grief. The powers that be (read: admins in the basement) would elect to do something that affected the campus at large. Did they ask our opinion since we were the ones that actually dealt with the masses and knew them best? No. Never did. That usually promoted many irate people to stop by for a friendly visit or would temporarily double our work load. Another sign that we weren't respected in the least is that we had no budget. None. They also kept cutting the allowed number of students employees on us. During the course of a day, you will probably have 6-8 different student work just to cover the office while working around their schedules. Being the type of person I am, if there wasn't enough people when it was time for me to leave for class, I'd stay. That reflected in my grades. People would forget to show up, leave early, make excuses, blah blah blah and the supervisor and I would have to cover for them. This happened almost daily. No wonder the poor man was so frustrated and in bad need of a vacation. There was also the problem of unprofessionalism among the students. I'm not talking about wearing ties, talking in a perfect proper English accent (it's a joke people), or anything that extreme. Just a general professional conduct among the students workers. Some would argue with the customers, call them names, horse around with customers in the office, stop what they're doing with a customer to AIM their buddy about going out and getting drunk later, wearing clothes with holes in the butt, etc... I'm not perfect by any means but I know when to act like a pro and when I can relax a bit. Some students were so lazy that when a someone called to see if their computer was fixed, they student that would answer the phone would field the question, say they're gonna go check, set the received down, play some Quake for a minute or two, pick up the received and inform the user that it wasn't. They wouldn't even extract their asses from the chair to walk in the back and check. Sometimes they'd answer a question with a blatantly wrong answer. Sometimes it's a question that would have required a little research but they'd never look into it. They'd just guess.

    We also had some really good students work for us; students that you'd actually miss when they left and had trouble finding another student of the same caliber to fill their shoes. They might not have always been on time for their shift. Sometimes they would have their back to the door and get caught telling a dirty joke when some older female faculty member walks in the door. They were honest though. If they didn't know the answer to a question, they'd make an honest effort to find the answer. If they needed some time off for a big test coming up, they'd ask you for the time off because of it or offer to sit in the back and study and come out if you needed some help on the floor. They were knowledgeable about what they did and they learned something new each day. Maybe they took the time to learn something new on their own time. Those are the people that wrote scripts to make everyone's job a little easier; scripts that are still in use today, thank you very much. If some obscure problem cropped up with the network in such and such building, they would feel comfortable calling the campus netadmin and telling them something was wrong and possibly what was wrong. They'd also keep him on the phone for a lengthy conversations and tag along with him on trouble shooting calls (thanks Richard!). Those students could easily go on to a successful career in the IT world. Some would become netadmin such as myself. Those students of today would become tomorrow's admins.

    Now, this doesn't mean that I feel students can completely take over an IT department. Someone earlier in this thread mentioned something about maturity. That's part of it. Some said they don't have the sheer knowledge required to do the job. That's part of it too. Someone else also they just don't have the ability to be profession. That can be true sometimes. If you could find enough students of the highest grade, the top caliber of IT-thinking students, you could possibly do it. The problem is, those people that are usually of the high quality that you need are all leaders. They might not work together in the best manner possible. Too many chiefs arguing over how to do tend to a horse leaves no one to watch the fire in the teepee and it all burns down. They also might not have the experience with large budgets to control such a beast. Suppose they spent $300k upgrading the labs on campus and forgot to set aside some $$ for their I1 leased line. Whoops. Privacy issues come up too. When I worked the helpdesk, to assign a person their userid/passwd we had to see a photo ID, get their birth date, get their last name, and get their SSN. Then we'd write down the userid/passwd on paper and give that to them. What would stop us from using that info maliciously? Honesty. We were employees of the State. We could only see some much info. The rest was reserved for people that actually needed to see it like our supervisor. In an all student environment, who's the supervisor? Some part time student? I hope not. A student-run IT Helpdesk would work if there was a full timer over all of them, helping to coordinate their efforts. Students running servers? Mmmmmmmmaybe. I think back to what I knew about Linux when I lived in the dorms and I shudder. I was such an easy target it isn't even funny. I was a horrible security risk for our campus. Would you want a student like that running your university's mail server? Hell I know full time people I don't trust with something like, let alone a student.

    Another thing to think about is that there is a much higher turnover rate with student than full time people. A student helpdesk worker is only likely to work for the helpdesk for 1-3 years and then leave for an internship or better paying job. A full-timer may be there for years upon years. The knowledgeable staff turn over rate goes down greatly when there are more full-timers. Now this might not hurt in the helpdesk arena but in the server arena it matters a lot!

    What about netadmin positions? Do you really want students having master keys to buildings? To be honest I sure don't. I don't even want them to be able to check out a master key. Temptation is Man's worst enemy. Let's talk about knowledge for a while; network knowledge. Think back to when you were in college. Pretty good with computers, right? What did you know about networking? You know much about routing? How about spanning tree? Understand what switches and hubs really do and how they do it? VLANs? Media selection? How about wiring rules, do's and don'ts? Ever do VPN for specific users within a building? Ever use ATM? I didn't think so. I was lucky. I had early exposure to networking and it made a good impression on me. I liked it and I understood it. That's more than I can say for some of the people I've worked (and work) with. Would you really want a student in that position? Sure you can train them but do you really want to shell out $4k to send them to a class for a week and then have the up and decide to leave a few months later? A position like that requires 24/7 on call availability too. Sometimes you're lucky that a student shows up for work at all. Let me ask ya'll something, how many of you have ever been drunk and done something stupid on your computer--sent and e-mail or something? How many of you have ever been root while drunk? Now would you really want a student to have access to root on your campus mail or auth server when they're drunk? What about during their hangover afterwards (unless they are like myself who's lucky enough to not get hangovers)? I'm not ragging on students. I think something like this has great potential. That former university of mine employed what they called "Student Administrators". Those were students with programming background in their 3rd year of college that had the ability to take on some of those mundane sysadmin tasks. Those student usually went on to great IT jobs or were hired in house. That's excellent. Making every IT position a student position isn't quite so excellent. I think this would be an interesting story to follow up on though.



  • What? Our 400+ node network (at a campus) is completely run by students, and I bet that we're far more secure than the network created by the average MCSE certified nitwit.

    You state that students "aren't equipped with the intellect and maturity needed to have this kind of position". As a student (20 years old, studying Information Technology in the Netherlands), I am now the unofficial security expert at a company that make E-business solutions. You may have bad experience with students, but I guarantee you that the students that are interested in this kind of positions are the ones that have more knowledge of security than the average software developer.

  • Well, its maybe a big deal for you, but for example in Czech Republic there would be not a single campus network if not for students activities. Most of these I know, are designed, projected, installed and operated entirely by students, together with all the legalese and permitions. Just with some help from the admins of local university, through which they get the connection usually. And of course thank to grants... no money, no goodies.. :)

The IQ of the group is the lowest IQ of a member of the group divided by the number of people in the group.