Network management advice from an 11-year-old expert

When Victory Baptist School, a small private school in Sherwood, Ark., was struggling to keep its computer network together last year, an 11-year-old student named Jon Penn stepped in as network manager.

Penn is all business when it comes to upgrading the network at his Sherwood, Ark., private school.

Upgrading computers and protecting the environment take priority over accessing applications for personal reasons, he says.

Penn recently talked with Network World Senior Editor Denise Dubie to further explain the reasoning behind his network management decisions and reveal a bit about why he’s drawn to technology.

What can you tell us about your network?

When I came in, the first thing I noticed was that this was a very old system. It was donated to us when I was in first grade so that’s about six years ago. At that time, the computers had already been in use for about three years.

What were your priorities when you realized it was an old network?

Once we took a look at it, we realized we didn’t have any antivirus on it, so our first priority was going to be to get antivirus programs on the computers.

Why was that important for the environment you were working in?

Because a lot of our teachers and students are not extremely tech savvy and do not know the certain measures that you would normally take to avoid getting viruses.

Did you do anything around spam filters?

Yes we did. We actually bought one system that would handle antivirus, spam and content filtering.

What type of controls did you want to put in with spam and content filtering?

With spam, we basically just wanted to get it out because our teachers, some of them, would get up to 300 messages per day. And with content filtering, we just needed to make sure that they could not go to sites that the school does not approve of on our campus.

What sites would some of those be, and who decides that?

Such as MySpace and some of the chat things because some personal information is put there and they don’t want the school held liable for that. Among other things, the photo searches because they eat up a lot of bandwidth.

Were any of your friends against blocking MySpace?

My friends weren’t really, because none of them do MySpace or chat really. But there were several people in the class and actually a lot of the staff that were not really pleased about MySpace being blocked.

What is your take on Windows vs. Linux?

Personally, I like Linux. It’s open source. It generally runs a lot lighter. Although I have noticed that it takes a lot more to install stuff and change settings on Linux than it does Windows.

Why is that?

I believe it’s because there are so many distributions of Linux. They haven’t really set up one standard way to do it. The only way to really standardize things is by the Linux kernel, which involves you doing everything by command line.

What is the next project you are taking on?

One thing we are currently working on or we are trying to get basically a projector and computer on a cart for various media presentations in the classroom.

How are you balancing your school work with your technology work?

My mom is already the librarian up here, so I basically spend the time she spends doing her librarian stuff fixing computers and working on that stuff.

When did you start really start tinkering with computers on your own?

When I was about 7, I started to want to get into the settings of our home computer, and I believe at one point in time I had 11 different Web browsers on my computer. I just started experimenting with stuff.

Now that we’ve wrapped up why you made news, let’s learn a little bit more about the newsmaker. We drafted a standard set of questions that will delve into your taste in technology. What was your first computer?

My first computer, we actually still own it, it was a Dell, I am not quite sure of the model, had 512 megabytes of RAM and a 2-GHz processor and it cost about [US]$2,000. Now you could buy that for about $300.

And you are still working on that one?

No, our family still has that one, and Dad does a lot of his Excel stuff on that because you don’t need a really powerful computer to do Excel and Web browsing. I have a laptop that I do a lot of my testing from because it takes a little more RAM to do virtualization and stuff like that.

What is your favorite gadget? Do you have an iPod or any handheld games?

No.

Is your laptop your favorite gadget?

Yeah.

What is your favorite Web site? Where do you browse to?

I spend a lot of my time on a thing called YouOS, you may have heard of it, it’s an online operating system. You can do many things on there just by the different plug-ins that you install to your account. One of the reasons I like it is because when I am up here at school, I can access it just like I could if I was at home. It has all my documents and such.

If you could invent a new gadget, anything technology related, what would it be?

It would be nice if I could develop a way to be able to remotely access all the computers down to the BIOS of them, and everything at boot-up that you normally can’t get to with remote programs.

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