On how I became a VAX cluster system manager by stealth!

Once upon a time I was a tech support chappie in an aerospace company, helping support 3000 people using a Vax cluster (ah, happy mini-computer days!) But a chance 'spot' in the server room promoted me to a viable system manager...

Back in the day, users were users, support people (like me) were 'operators' and could do stuff like resetting passwords, restarting printer queues. Then there were 'system managers', very rarified and usually only one of them. With full system privileges, anything could be set up, anything could be deleted, absolute power, mwhahaha, etc!!

In the server room (air-conditioned, where the Vax mini-computers lived) there was a 'console', hardwired into the master Vax and with attached printer. The idea was that if all the networking went tits-up, one could enter commands there to reboot everything. And the echoing to printer was part of traceability, should the system manager (or operators) need to proof what they did.


One day I was in the server room doing something mundane (plugging in a cable, probably) when I spotted that the system manager had recently been in a hurry logging in and that he'd accidentally entered his super secret password instead of his username. As I say, in a hurry, so he'd entered it all properly and carried on.

But he forgot about the printer echo. So there it was, in black and white, the long master password, hidden amongst reams of paper output, but there all the same. So I memorised it. Ahem.

For the next few months, when an operator wanted something high level done, I'd casually say "Let me log in as system manager and sort that out for you". The staff were a tiny bit surprised, but considering that I reported to the system manager, perhaps assumed that he was grooming me to be his successor anyway (he wasn't, however it turned out).

After a while I logged in as 'system' in front of the system manager and he was taken aback. "How do you..." but he tailed off, not daring to ask how I'd hacked my way in by some means or perhaps had been given some privilege by his superior at department level.

Thereafter, for the next year I was the 'other' system manager and the staff looked up to me as such (hopefully). And then the whole site got moved to the other side of the country and it all became somewhat irrelevant as I chose not to go with the company. 

But I enjoyed my year as system manager without ever having been appointed as such. Fun, fun, fun.

And the lesson learned is watch your logins and if something goes wrong then triple check you haven't typed a password in the wrong field!!

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