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The ever-evolving IT job role: system administrator

If you explore multiple iterations of sysadmins in the wild, you may be interested to find that not all 'sysadmin' roles look alike.
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Red multi purpose pocket knife on a table

During my career, I've had many different job titles. Sysadmin, IT consultant, IT project manager, and DevOp to name a few. But are these different jobs or just other names for the same thing? Decide for yourself while reading about my roles in three different kinds of organizations.

Sysadmin

Systems house/computer retailer

My career started in a small systems house with around ten employees. The company sells personal computers to customers ranging from home users to small and larger businesses and runs the IT infrastructure of its customers.

[ You might also like: Sysadmin careers: Is your sysadmin job going away? ]

The customers come from wide-ranging industrial sectors, for example, advertisement, automotive supplier, financial industry, public sector, schools, and education.

In this environment, sysadmin, IT consultant, and jack-of-all-trades operator are pretty much one and the same. It's your job as a sysadmin to run your customers' IT infrastructure, maintain it, consult your customers and engage in their IT projects, as well as support every single IT device there is. Sometimes even every device that has a power plug.

There is no difference between a network administrator, operator, or systems administrator here. You are the one guy for all the jobs that need to get done. Since you support and run the whole stack from hardware to application, some might call you "DevOp." But I consider myself to be a sysadmin. And that's it.

Jack-of-all-trades  

In-house IT department

After some years in a systems house, I joined the IT service crew of another company with around 150 employees. The company's main business was to deliver value-added IT and marketing services for its partners and run a marketplace for purchasing IT hardware and software. It has its own development teams and the IT service crew runs the IT infrastructure and supports everything with a power plug.

In this company, I started as a sysadmin. My tasks were designing, implementing and running the data center infrastructure, our virtualization platform, firewalls, etc. After some time, we joined forces with some of our developers and worked as DevOps. I don't consider myself to be a DevOp. I was just a sysadmin on a DevOps team.

Just because my tools and methods have changed over time, my job hasn't. At that time, I was a sysadmin using tools like Git, Puppet, and Python to get the job done.

The tasks here were similar to my earlier employment. The sysadmins were responsible for backup, network, printers, servers, and storage. And let me tell you, out of all those devices, I despise printers the most.

But I got a second job there that deviate from the role of a sysadmin. IT project manager is an entirely different job, with entirely different tasks, that requires an entirely different skill set. In this role, it's more about plans, timelines, backlogs, etc.

Infrastructure team 

University IT

These days I work in the infrastructure team of our data center at a university. I’m still a sysadmin and operate blade centers, firewalls, load balancers, the virtualization platform, and Linux. Planning, designing, and training are tasks that belong to this job, too.

Tools that I use for my daily work are Ansible, Bash, Git, Thunderbird, Vim, and many more. But that doesn't matter. Still, I consider myself to be a sysadmin. I and the other sysadmins around here take care to keep our services up and running. That is our job and purpose. No matter what our job title might be.

[ New research from HBR Analytic Services - IT talent strategy: New tactics for a new era ]

Bottom line

For me, sysadmin is more than a job title or some role. It's a mindset, a mission, a part of your personality. We are often the unknown heroes who do their work unnoticed by the rest of their colleagues, saving the company's future once or twice every week.

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Topics:   Sysadmin culture   Linux Administration   Career  
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Jörg Kastning

Jörg has been a Sysadmin for over ten years now. His fields of operation include Virtualization (VMware), Linux System Administration and Automation (RHEL), Firewalling (Forcepoint), and Loadbalancing (F5). More about me

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