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Sysadmin careers: Is your sysadmin job going away?

Opinions on the future of sysadmin jobs range from gloom and doom to meteoric growth and everything in between. Let's take a realistic look.
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An industry pundit who claims that system administrator jobs are evaporating or shrinking at an alarming rate either has no idea what they're talking about, or they have something to gain by saying it; in my opinion, it's about a 50-50 split between the two. The short response is no, system administrator jobs are not going away in the foreseeable future, and are likely never going away at all. I've heard many of these gloom and doom predictions for the past 20 years; from the Y2K bug to zero administration packages to automated system administrator suites, someone is always trying to label us extinct. Well, it's not happening in my lifetime, and you can take that to the bank.

[ Check out 5 flourishing and 5 fading IT careers for other viewpoints]

By comparison

How do I know so much about the sysadmin jobs outlook, you ask? It's simple. Technology breaks. Software breaks. Hardware breaks. You need someone to fix those things. That someone is a system administrator. As long as we have things that break, we will need system administrators. The automobile is more than 100 years old, and yet you still have mechanics to fix them because they still break. These magical devices in our hands are so far advanced, yet there are mobile phone repair shops in every city, and they're all very busy. Things break. You need a fixer. System administrators fix things. You need system administrators.

Once in a while, someone will ask me why I don't trust computers. I always say because I know how they break.

          —Glen Newell, Enable Sysadmin Contributor, Sysadmin.

Often, pundits will paint a gloomy picture because they are also consultants who make their livings by performing audits, surveys, and other expensive services that you probably don't need. Those fancy reports and slides look great to the corporate check writers but there's little substance to go with the fluff. 

As long as things break, you'll have a job.

By the numbers

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) predicts a five percent increase in system administrator jobs between 2018 and 2028. That's an increase of more than 18,000 jobs over that ten-year period. That number doesn't include replacement jobs for the more than 383,000 current sysadmin positions. The BLS may not always be at the leading edge of information, but you can count on a modest five percent increase over the next few years. Even by the most conservative estimates, there will be an increase in jobs, not a decrease.

It's unfortunate that gloom and doom sell better and get more notice than real data does. 

[ Readers also like: How to hire the right sysadmin for the job ]

By the buzzword

If I got a dollar every time I heard some know-nothing know-it-all say that cloud computing and automation will eliminate the needs for sysadmins, I'd be able to retire, and you wouldn't have to read my musings. The reality is that many so-called industry experts or insiders are actually neither, and they don't really understand that cloud computing might change what jobs are, but it doesn't eliminate them. Oh sure, they've read about it on Wikipedia and enough tech news stories to use the phrase with impunity, but their understanding of what's underneath is nil. 

To get an idea of automation and jobs, look again at the auto industry. Lots of automation. Lots of auto workers are still employed. By the way, did you know that, since the very early days of automobile manufacture, some sort of automation has been in place? Just look at old photos of the Ford Model T and Model A assembly lines. Still, surprisingly, we have thousands of autoworkers who show up to work every day. If only our brilliant technology pundits had seen that coming.

By the job

I don't think it's a secret that good sysadmins are always looking for the next job. We seem to think it will be better somewhere else. Sure, there's always someone out there who will pay you a bit more to come and deal with their corporate culture, internal idiosyncrasies, and other duties as assigned, but what are you really looking for? Advancement? Meaningful work? A chance to help other people? You can find those positions, but generally speaking, they are few and far between. There are plenty of sysadmin jobs available, but you might have to lower your sights and settle for the income boost, then do some volunteering or a side gig to fulfill your dreams of anything with a broader scope.

There are dozens of jobhunting sites that list sysadmin positions, and you can always hit the careers page of a company website to find a new position. But, the best way to find a new job is through your social and professional connections. Someone always knows someone who needs a "good computer person."

If the BLS prediction of five percent growth isn't enough for you, remember that you can (and should) cross-train yourself in some other aspect of IT such as database administration, network administration, virtualization, cloud, project management, software development, or even management. Don't scoff at management. Your tech skills will earn you automatic respect from your staff, and you'll have a better understanding of what it's like in the trenches. 

[ You might also like: Top 5 job markets for sysadmins, 7 different ways ]

Wrap up

Today's job market for sysadmins is still going strong and growing. Don't allow the naysayers and the conservative growth numbers to discourage you from continuing on your career course. There will be plenty of sysadmin jobs for the next twenty years, just as there were when the pundits said system administration was dying twenty years ago.

There will always be a need for people who can solve software, hardware, system, and network problems. 

[ Want to advance your sysadmin career? Explore free training from Red Hat. ]

Topics:   Career  
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Ken Hess

Ken has used Red Hat Linux since 1996 and has written ebooks, whitepapers, actual books, thousands of exam review questions, and hundreds of articles on open source and other topics. Ken also has 20+ years of experience as an enterprise sysadmin with Unix, Linux, Windows, and Virtualization. More about me

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