The Nature of the Beast: Sysadmins

While I’m in this navel gazing mood (which shouldn’t last very long) I thought I’d say a little bit about the oddness of being a system admin in a corporate environment; it might be the same in academia but I’ve never done that.

Firstly you have the contradictions, in most companies, and heavily so in a small team/company, you are supposed to be open and approachable. But you also have to manage your time, their requests and the sanctity of the live environment. Saying ‘no’ a lot doesn’t make you very popular. It is also this last one that causes the most grief, ensuring the service is running correctly becomes your responsibility. You have to become seriously paranoid, pessimistic and suspicious about any changes that need to be made while also understanding that the system is there for a reason; to be used.

I’ve mostly had this discussion with management and developers, the quality assurance team normally provide some support, once you’ve had a failure and ‘requested’ that whoever wants the change added is present for as long as you are things typically get better. For a while anyway.

Something that also deserves a mention is the sheer agony of joining a new company where not everything is perfect, or as we call it, all of them! You have to be prepared for everything to go wrong. Inconsistent naming, multiple copies of config files (and of course you need to edit the one in the non-standard location), lack of documentation and being expected to work at the same speed as the people that have built the system all add up and combine with the paranoia, pessimism and defensive instinct.

Being a good sysadmin and a well balanced person seem to be mutually exclusive goals. No wonder there are so many social groups for geeks, not only do we need to escape from the server room but we need to socialise with ‘our own kind’ ;)