Why formal sysadmin education isn't likely any time soon
July 12, 2012
A while back I ran across Tom Limoncelli's The road to intentional, formal, system administration education. In it Tom put forward the view that system administration should and in fact needs to move to a more formalized system of education and training. Unfortunately I have to take the opposite side of this; I don't believe that such a move is likely any time soon and I don't believe that trying to make such a move would work out.
The fundamental reason I feel this is an economic one. In almost any scenario, sysadmins getting more training than they currently do are going to demand more money in exchange. This is especially so if entry to system administration becomes more restrictive (eg, if in practice it now requires the new training), which would lower the available talent pool and thus drive up prices. If getting the new additional training has no reward (in terms of better pay) it's not clear why most people would bother spending the money on it.
(Some people will always be interested in immersing themselves more deeply in their field, and there will always be some jobs for more advanced experts. However you need more than a few jobs in order to pull any significant number of people into the additional training.)
However now we get to look at the extremely cynical take on DevOps. One corollary of this view of DevOps is that additional money to pay for better trained sysadmins is almost certainly simply not there. Employers are already not paying for sysadmins as it is; they're going to be even less willing to pay more to get basically the same thing. And if employers are not willing to reliably pay extra for better educated sysadmins, sysadmins are not going to get better educated.
(My cynical view is that turning a sysadmin into a 'real' DevOps person as many places mean it implies turning them into a programmer and a developer. I think that's a fine thing to do, but it's very far from more training and education focused on system administration. If you think that this is the future, you might as well focus on a couple of 'development in the real world' courses for programmers.)
The optimistic view is that I am underestimating the improvements that organizations will see by employing properly trained sysadmins. In the face of the extremely cynical take on DevOps I can't bring myself to believe that there is any really big improvement to be had here, because today organizations that want drastically improved results don't seem to be hiring good sysadmins to get them; they do entirely different things.
The extremely pessimistic view is that would-be sysadmins will have no choice but to get this training in the future because the market for sysadmins will shrink drastically and so 'proper training' will become a minimum requirement to get hired at all. Again I find myself unable to believe in this and think that if would-be sysadmins have to get additional training at all, they are just going to go learn how to be developers; it pays better (as far as I can tell).
(There are some people who could have been developers but who chose to be sysadmins instead, myself included, but I don't think it's all that common these days.)
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