I hate the feeling. Today I took the old sysadmin's workstation and had to sift through it to find anything useful related to our program. I suppose he felt it was pretty secure and he had kind of tried to secure it and hide things in strangely coded partitions and disks (why somebody who was doing nothing wrong would do this is beyond me), but I'm a pretty sneaky guy, so I just wound up going through the slices and trying to mount data until I eventually found the vast majority of "his stuff."
It's like stealing through somebody's house. I felt horrendous. On the one hand, I needed to collect things like host keys and passwords. I wanted to look at weekly reports to see what he had been up to. But along the way I also ran into a huge collection of eclectic pirated software and a strange, incoherent collection of music – I understand having a broad taste in music, but this was just randomly tossed about. Eventually I basically gave up looking for anything useful. The deeper I looked, the more incriminating things got. The guy I replaced was a charlatan. His workstation was sort of a metaphor for a life that was obviously out of control (other details, which I omit here, showed his life was full of minor crises; In a way, I can't shake the feeling that it's a sort of mirror to my own life at the moment), and when I gave a sort of half-hearted inventory to my boss of what was there and what he'd been up to, my boss just nodded and said he had expected as much, and that's the reason he had been let go.
I've had to do this sort of thing a number of times before, and it never feels good. I always feel like I am betraying a member of my trade. Somebody who was really a lot like me, I imagine as I go through their things, and now has some stranger pawing through their stuff.
I'm still a little creeped out by it, hours later, and it will probably take a few weeks to get used to using his machine (I have one identical to it, but require both, so it's a symbolic thing more than any physical getting-used-to). I'd kind of like to apologize to him for having had to go through his stuff, but at the same time I want to ask him why he lied so extensively about what he was doing, why he used the organization's hardware (he was a hoarder, one of those types who finds disks and nics and graphics cards and stuffs them into their chassis for whatever reason) to do the kinds of stuff we all know we're not supposed to do. I have my own laptop for storing music and (I buy my own) software. Why was he such a heel? Maybe he had good intentions or mental illness – I'm certainly willing to entertain the thought....
But I am absolutely meticulous with my data and my computers. I have my "me, mine, personal, not-at-all-for-work" computer, which is also where I write, and I have a laptop (so as to VPN) for the customer I was working at today, and regardless of the fact they have a nannywall, I haven't installed anything on it they haven't given me, and I am positively obsessive about organizing my data on disk such that if, should I be the one fired tomorrow, somebody came along looking for my last weekly report, it would be real easy to find. The same thing with host keys, network diagrams, task lists, contact lists, the whole deal. The assets are protected, but they're protected for the employer, not to hide anything I'm doing that I shouldn't be.
If I never have to forensically dig through another sysadmin's (or consultant's, or developer's) machine it will be too soon. I will make one exception to that, however, and that is in cases where said machine is the object of intelligence gathering.
(huh, I guess I never really realized I had a "switch" I could throw--one moment it's horrible and privacy-encroaching and the next it's intelligence-gathering and My Job. perhaps to ponder…)
And still, charlatan or not, I feel bad because I realize he's probably unemployed at the moment, and I know how much that sucks. And he's not a very good sysadmin, so he's going to have a really hard time finding work unless he changes fields. And I just can't help--even though he was gone weeks before I started--but feel a little responsible. That, and I really do try to seek out and help younger/junior engineers so that they can learn new things and be excited about what they do. This was a guy who was just barely holding his lies in place. Alas.