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Career Roadmap: Systems admin role isn’t dead

Sharon Florentine | Dec. 13, 2016
Despite dire predictions, the role of the system administrator is far from obsolete. Nick Bush is a prime example of how the role continues to evolve and change while remaining critical to IT.

Robert Scott, director for the center for Engineering Diversity and Outreach and Special counsel to the Dean at University of Michigan, says currently courses that inform DevOps as a discipline span three of the university's colleges; the College of Engineering, the School of Information and the Ross School of Business.

"A lot of academic settings still don't see DevOps as being integrated. They're like many companies in that they're still looking at development and operations as siloed from each other -- and the operations part is where many systems administrators in the past would focus. This is something both industry and academia have to reconcile and catch up with DevOps in the real world, as sysadmin roles evolve," Scott says.

For now, however, courses in computer science and engineering as well as the design and deployment of infrastructure, software, algorithms and tools are important from the technical side. A study of how to manage and maintain structured and unstructured data is important from the information systems side, and a solid knowledge of business fundamentals, strategy, business process development and analytics would be a great foundation for someone looking to get into these areas Scott says.

"I believe that to be good in these roles, you'd need at least five years of experience, sure. But to truly be an expert, you'd need an in-depth knowledge and understanding of all these areas, which could take at least ten years," he says.

As the evolution toward DevOps continues, soft skills will become an increasingly important part of a successful sysadmin or DevOps career, says Hand.

"This evolving role is a lot more collaborative, a lot more focused on empathy and emotional IQ when you're dealing with your users. You literally will not be able to say, 'That's not my problem' anymore, because the whole company owns these services and solutions, so we're all responsible for them," he says.

There are some specific hard skills that can be helpful, too, says Hand; tools like Puppet and Chef that help automate infrastructure and services management, containers like Docker, cloud solutions like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and virtualization technologies are all critical components of a sysadmin's job, Hand says.

So, next time someone tells you that the role of the sysadmin is dead, take it with a huge grain of salt -- because while the role is certainly evolving, it's not going anyway any time soon, Bush says.

"This is a role that is so necessary in every company that uses IT. There still needs to be people to manage and maintain networks, to help spin up and configure infrastructure, to serve customers and to innovate. There may well be fewer of us, sure, but that just makes us even more valuable," he says.


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