The truth about being a systems administrator

I often dream of a satisfying career that is stress free. One that consistently provides a feeling of achievement. A nine to five work schedule. Rare unplanned travel, long vacations, weekends off. A job where I can work on a project from start to finish, without interruption, change in focus, or it getting scrapped all together. Be employed at a place where I’m not questioned about things I don’t work with or called in for help on something I don’t know anything about. A job where title or description prevents me from being tasked with things that fall in line with another career.

Unfortunately if you work in operations, development, or a combo of both then you already know this does not exist. It’s a pipe dream. A thought better lost in the ether.

Random list of things I do, get asked to do, or questioned about on a daily basis: FreeBSD systems administration, GNU/Linux systems administration, operations manager, devops engineer, network engineer, change management engineer, database administrator, authorization coordinator, software support, help desk technician, technical writer, technical support, customer service representative, on, and on, and on..

Hats. Collect them often. Rotate frequently.

Being a systems administrator is a study in cat herding, fire fighting, heart break, loss, triumph, ownership and learning how to correctly craft google queries. It’s a labor of love for building, maintaining, and tearing down decaying infrastructure. A never ending cycle of problem solving and deep thought over scalability. Tuning a plethora of moving parts to improve quality of service. Learning new things daily just to keep your head above water. We are the ultimate tool jockeys, gaining a working knowledge of most things that make an enterprise click, thud, and whir. We have a love for long term graphed data, open expression on how others are getting the job done, and detailed postmortem reports that teeter on technological masochist pornography. We are the scheduled, dysfunctional, optimized, helpful, cranky, over privileged condescending jerks who have access to most of your companies assets and are compensated to keep resources available.

It’s a career path that does not often include recognition. Especially true if you’re specialized and not part of general corporate information technology. If you’re not running Microsoft Exchange servers or resetting passwords then most co-workers won’t know or understand what you do. If you try and explain that you are managing thousands of *nix boxes that do twenty things spanning thirty different roles, designing a network enclave, enforcing change management through multiple environments, doing a security audit and rolling out patches, their eyes will roll back in their head and this poor person will no longer want to talk to you.  Most people will assume you are technical support, and if you’re doing your job you won’t have enough free time to explain to them that you’re not technical support. Just nod and tell them to file a ticket (provide the correct department, not  If you need your ego stroked, have a problem admitting you’re wrong, or simply do not like hats, this is not the job for you.

For every wizard walking around with gray hair and a wicked unix beard of knowledge, there are numerous fallen systems administrators who couldn’t handle the pressure of being beaten with a rubber hose while not existing. If you enjoy a heavy hat rotation, and can pat yourself on the back when credit is due, please sign up for a career in operations. We have hats to share and could use the hands. Don’t be afraid. There is hope for you. Now drink this kool-aid…