Are you SURE you want to be a System Administrator?

Following on from my previous article about how to become a sysadmin I figured it’s time to go a little further and dispel some of the myths about the aforementioned glamorous lifestyles we sysadmins are thought to live. This article may burst some bubbles or rain on your parade but I feel it is my duty to fully inform and even warn those of you out there considering a career as a system administrator before you jump in head first without looking and live to regret it – if the jump doesn’t kill you!

So are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin..

You will spend months or even years learning all sorts of whacky IT stuff and just when you think you’re finally ready to set out on your quest for sysadmin glory, along comes “the cloud” or some other new fangled buzzword burdened malarky and suddenly every job you see advertised is demanding you to be an expert in 20 different versions of “the cloud” even if nobody at the company uses it or even really knows what it is. So back to the drawing board you must go to learn this new magic, or at least enough to bluff your way through the interview.

Companies also like to see you have loads of industry certifications (or “certs” to those of us in the know) because it makes them feel more secure in the knowledge that you may actually know something, which is fair enough even if many certs are not worth the paper they’re not written on. But sadly few such companies are willing to pay for you to go and acquire those fancy certs even though most are priced at levels that few mortals can afford and to make matters worse they tend to expire every few years and you need to pay more to keep them current. If you happen to land a job with a major corporation or a startup blessed with ungodly sums of VC cash then you might get lucky and have them pay for you to go to do all sorts of training which you can then use to go and get an even better job elsewhere – companies love it when you do that! ;)

HOT TIP from – you can win twice by convincing your employer to send you to India for your industry certification training – tell them that not only will you come back weighed down with certificates but they will actually save money even when including costs of flights, hotels, private lessons, partying and hangover cures – all of which is true! So you get to spend a month in Goa or the Himalayas while getting paid your usual salary and you’ll end up qualified and more employable, not to mention massively attractive to the opposite sex (or whatever floats your boat) – how great is that?? Of course it still depends on finding a company with the funds and willingness to spend them on you..

You decided you want to be a Linux admin right? Or maybe a Windows admin? You spent all your time and resources learning everything you can about your chosen platform but needless to say, whenever you go looking for a Linux job they expect you to know Windows as well and if you go for a Windows job they expect you to know Linux and maybe some Unix for good measure! So best go to amazon and invest in a few books on the platform you didn’t choose. If you’re looking for a linux/unix book then you absolutely must get THIS book by the probably late and certainly great Evi Nemeth who is currently “lost at sea” and presumed dead after the yacht she was aboard disappeared in June, 2013. Regardless of which platform you go for or what type of sysadmin you plan to be, you WILL need to get REALLY GOOD at Time Management which this excellent book covers in detail so get it and you wont regret it.

You thought you were finally ready to join the ranks of overpaid crusty bearded sysadmins right? You learned arcane BASH syntax and speak fluent Perl so you can automate all sorts of admin tasks, but unfortunately you were wrong to think you were ready because now its all about DevOps which involves lots of fancy new toys, slick presentations and a clean-shaven hipster image and all the job ads now are demanding you to be a Chef or a Puppet or to have Ansible to communicate across time & space or some such thing – wtf is all that about? Well its something to do with programmers having to be sysadmins or sysadmins having to be programmers and each working in hippy harmony.. personally I think its more to do with sysadmins wanting to have power over troublesome developers who insist on using bleeding edge code libs that wont run on hardware older than a week without serious amounts of voodoo. Either way you’re going to have to get up to speed with DevOps and learn to cook.

You will probably have to learn NAGIOS at some point which is pretty much the industry standard tool for monitoring everything from servers and routers to what your cat had for dinner last night.. no joke – according to Nagios, my cat had exactly nothing to eat last night, mainly because I was stuck in the datacenter fixing some junk.. sorry about that, Tigger, extra Whiskas tonight I promise! (unless Nagios drags me back to the DC) Nagios is great for many of your RMM needs but even better with the commercial versions which have all sorts of ready made goodness to make your job easier and have cool names like “Fusion” – you just have to convince your boss to fork out for it.

Speaking of starving cats and being dragged to the DC at night – that will be your future, should you choose to become a System Administrator. You’re not going to get much sleep, you’re going to be cranky all the time and you will start researching things like polyphasic sleep in the vain hope that it will enable you to fire on all cylinders for 22 hours per day without losing your database.

If all that hasn’t yet dissuaded you, perhaps because you’re thinking of the high salaries and job security that you’ve heard about – after all who can fire the sysadmin when he (or she) is the one who has all the keys to the system? Surely you are irreplaceable right?! Wrong. Remember all those super cheap sysadmin courses in India which I mentioned earlier? You know what else is in India? Sysadmins, thats what. Bazillions of over qualified sysadmins eager to take your job and live like kings in places where money goes much much further. Now you’re probably thinking that it doesn’t matter because they are stuck in India and you are over here (wherever here may be) where the datacenters are and no remote sysadmin can do the work required on site.. well think again! It’s that damn “cloud” again come to ruin your day and rain on your parade, so to speak. When every company in the world is rushing to the cloud and automation and RMM’s are getting better there simply is not as much call for local sysadmins any more. Of course there will need to be some on-site but increasing automation in the datacenter will make even those few local jobs even more scarce – single sysadmin today with the right tools and knowledge can manage vastly more hardware than was ever possible before.. which is kind of cool if you’re that sysadmin. Alternatively you could move to India or some other place with a lower cost of living.

The traditional sysadmin is rapidly going the way of the Dodo. If you really really want to be one (a sysadmin, not a Dodo) you must adapt fast, plan ahead and diversify to ensure your success.. it wont be easy, you will forever be learning new stuff and dodging the grim reaper of jobs (not steve). You might earn good money if you are lucky but your head will explode with all the tech wizardry you must absorb and the stress from worrying about security and critical data loss. There is a very high chance that you will burn out fast if you don’t figure out how to manage it all (hint: DevOps ;) ) before it’s too late. Oh and there’s absolutely no jet-setting or wild parties in the datacenter..

So think long and hard, do you really want to be a sysadmin??


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4 Responses

  1. John says:

    I see. :(

    Is there any career/s that you would recommend in the computing field?

  2. Tom Bean says:

    Wow. Nope, I do not.

    So glad I’m a dev.

  3. Andron Mc says:

    Scary story, bro.
    How will those indians clean out dust, change ventilators, and replace Hardrives that report increasing numbers of reserve sectors used? I charge about 10$ per hour. In my country this is pretty good and fair amount. Some stuff costs less, some costs more, it depends on the difficulty level. Show me those indians who will come to Latvia for that salary! And even less will go back to India alive (we have seasons like winter here, you know). And the companies who would maybe think about hiring indians – are cent fuckers. So – I am not scared at all :D

    • SysOps says:

      You will eventually be replaced by datacenter robots that whiz along the racks replacing hotswap disks and server nodes automatically.. ;)

      Best learn robotics maintenance just in case!