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What personality trait most defines a sysadmin?

System administrators are a diverse group of people, but that doesn't stop us from forming mental archetypes about who they are.
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Lots of colors

Which Myers-Briggs type indicator do you think is most common in system administrators?

Choices

When you think of a system administrator, who do you think of?

Chances are, most of us have taken a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test at some point in our careers. For me, my results typically come up as INTJ, and I've always thought the traits associated with that type (introversion, intuition, thinking, judging) have aligned with my interest in technology and the kind of work I enjoy.

But that doesn't mean that those are the only characteristics that make a good sysadmin. Far from it. A successful team is made up of a diversity of skills, viewpoints, and personal characteristics.

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MBTI Types
Myers-Briggs types chart by Jake Beech, via Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 3.0.

And to insert some disclaimer, I think the way most people talk about personality tests, especially MBTI, can be bunk. A personality type doesn't decide how a person is going to behave, any more than a horoscope does. Using a tool as imperfect as a personality test to make important decisions, especially hiring decisions, is probably not a great idea. And there's plenty of valid criticism within the psychology community of whether MBTI personality groupings have any reasonable basis whatsoever.

So why even talk about them?

What personality tests have done has been to bring into the common vernacular some descriptive words for describing the way we think. Without them, many of us may not have the vocabulary down to understand the subtle differences in the ways we and our colleagues perceive the world.

They've created an acknowledgment that neurodiversity (in the broadest sense) is real and that the many types of thinking and problem solving are all valid and have a place at the table. They help us identify how we're thinking about things, and hopefully, that allows us to realize when we need to invite in new viewpoints, to avoid a monoculture of groupthink. As has been examined many times, teams that include cognitive diversity solve problems faster.

That doesn't mean that we don't still stereotype roles. We have in our minds what a sysadmin looks like, even from a personality standpoint, and then can sometimes bring that bias along with us when it's time to find a new team member. It's important to recognize that bias when it occurs and ask ourselves what we're really hoping to get from the hire. It's probably not going to boil down to just four letters.

In fact, identifying strong sysadmin job applicants takes looking at a whole slew of different characteristics, and if you're in the position the be looking for one, here's some great advice.

Topics:   Career   Sysadmin culture  
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Jason Baker

Red Hat Certified Engineer. Linux desktop enthusiast. Map/geospatial nerd. Raspberry Pi tinkerer. Data analysis and visualization geek. Occasional Pythonista. More about me

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