Systems Administration as a Career: A Response

Posted on May 11, 2007

I was bummed out when reading How do I get my sysadmin to do anything? by Paul Boutin. Most of the content is fine, sure, but this line bothered me:

No one sets out to be a professional systems administrator — do you ever see kids wearing toy pagers playing sysadmin?

… well, I did, in essence. From high school on I was destine to be an SA. Its what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be. I would draw Slayer, Megadeth, and “Sun Microsystems logo’s on my binders, I inserted Sun midrange data sheets into my Trapper-Keeper. I wanted to work on big computers, Cray’s, Sun’s and Thinking Machines, and be a great sysadmin. To this day thats unchanged.

Paul later says “sysadmin is a career cul-de-sac”, but I don’t see that. I plan to continue being a sysadmin for years to come… this isn’t a pitstop in my youth. Frankly, any career is the same if you choose to see it that way. I plan to follow my career path like any other, gaining more power, influence, and knowledge and climbing that ladder, which for a sysadmin leads from Junior, to Senior, to Lead, to Director, to CTO, and perhaps beyond… it’s all the same really, just with more power and influence and knowledge that are spread further and further across an organization or organizations.

I’ll admit that my approach and view of administration differs from the majority of my peers and onlookers. I see the craft as having a uniquely wide range of functions and roles. For instance, part of an admins job is to make technology decisions and recommendations, taken to that logical end you become a marketer who actively evangelizes a given technology solution… and for me that results in standing in the Sun booth at JavaOne and other conferences sharing the good news. Am I in marketing? No. I’m simply taking part of my role as a sysadmin to its natural and logical end. Another example, solving problems. You find a problem, you research and fix the problem, you apply that research to furthering the thing that you originally set out to fix and ultimately move in one of several direction such as documenting the thing, coding on the thing, or creating a new better thing. Are you now in tech pubs or development? No, you’re simply taking that role as a sysadmin to its natural and logical end.

My point being… administration is a career and a very fulfilling one. A challenging one, yes, but for those of us who have a passion for technology it’s exactly what we want to be doing with our lives and exactly what we plan to keep doing. Whether I’m labeling servers or writing kernel modules, I’m a sysadmin and proud of it.