When people refer to "IT," they probably include anyone and everything involved with information and technology. That's a vast umbrella with endless roles and functions underneath it, including architecture, systems administration, engineering, support, DevOps, infrastructure, security, product, user experience, and data. Collaboration among those roles and functions is crucial to a successful IT department.
My love for learning helped me move from a lead sysadmin to a solutions architect. Having been both, I've experienced how these different areas of IT can work together. This article shares some ways operations and architecture teams can collaborate to take advantage of the other's expertise and bring value to the rest of the organization.
What is a typical career progression?
For me, the transition from sysadmin to architect felt natural. However, it's not the usual path and it depends on what you enjoy. Often, sysadmins progress towards DevOps with a focus on continuous integration and continuous development (CI/CD), while others move to site reliability engineering (SRE) roles focusing on monitoring and service-level agreements, indicators, and objectives (SLAs, SLIs, and SLOs). Security is also a popular role for former sysadmins. They can leverage their deep understanding of infrastructure, networking, and configurations to identify weak spots, making them great pen testers or security systems engineers.
How sysadmins and architects can work together
Architects and sysadmins usually work on different parts of an IT solution's lifecycle. Architects typically kick off the project by designing infrastructure, setting up a proof of concept (POC), delivering the minimum viable product (MVP), and producing documentation. Whereas sysadmins usually support existing solutions and improve operations by introducing automation. Sysadmins are consumers of architectural documentation, such as operational manuals.
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Sysadmins can partner with architects to investigate and fix critical production issues. There are many other ways architects and sysadmins can work together, including:
- DevOps: There can be no DevOps without system administration. Developers and engineers can design the workflow around GitOps and the software development life cycle (SDLC), but it's sysadmins who lay the right infrastructure foundation.
- Security: Architects need sysadmins to help configure resilient architectures. A sysadmin's primary responsibilities include proactively detecting major incidents by monitoring core servers and network metrics for applications and infrastructure alerts, as well as ensuring a more observable architecture. These responsibilities entail comprehensive logging.
- Architecture documentation: Good documentation supports sysadmins' work, so they need to collaborate with architects to make sure the documentation is useful.
- Service levels: Sysadmins and good SRE practices go hand-in-hand to generate user-first reliability. To target the correct SLOs, you need to identify the right SLIs, and sysadmins play a crucial role in that.
- Cloud costs: For many organizations, finance pays the bills, and someone in the IT department (maybe a senior sysadmin) helps break down the costs each month. An experienced sysadmin, cloud sysadmin, or a senior sysadmin working alongside a cloud architect can help develop a cloud migration plan that balances cost-effectiveness with delivering applications as quickly as possible without exceeding the cloud budget.
In the real world, the implementation of IT solutions may differ from the architect's blueprint due to technical limitations or the rapid evolution of tools and services, especially in the cloud. In these cases, sysadmins can provide real-time feedback on system implementation and the information in logs, monitoring metrics, and alerts.
While architects and sysadmins have different core duties, both are responsible for the health of the IT system. By collaborating and taking advantage of each other's areas of expertise, architects and sysadmins help protect the overall system, from design to execution.