Sysadmins are an overhead

July 7, 2006

It's important to remember that system administration is pretty much just overhead, much like the janitorial staff (but rather less important; the university can run a lot longer without people tending the machines than without people taking out the trash).

The people who are important are those who are doing the organization's work. The actual work of universities is research and then teaching students, so the people with real power here are professors (especially if they have grant funding) and, paradoxically, students. (Students have a great deal of power because if they go away, so does the university. It's just that it's usually difficult for them to exercise that power directly.)

As a sysadmin, I try to remember what this means: my job is to get out of the way. In fact, my job is to quietly sweep things away, much as the janitors quietly sweep dust out. If I am doing my job right people don't actually notice anything, much like people rarely notice the absence of dust and grime.

For some reason, system administration seems to build a kind of arrogance that makes this difficult. I suspect that a fair part of it is because good system administrators know a great deal about a lot of fairly deep technical issues, and we become annoyed when ignorant outsiders wander by to shove some oars in.

Written on 07 July 2006.
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Last modified: Fri Jul 7 02:01:37 2006
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