Is the SysAdmin role dead? Or just moving with the times?
Tl;dr: The original role fulfilled by a SysAdmin may be dying out but that doesn’t mean their function within an organisation has disappeared. These days, they may just be operating under a different guise.
It wasn’t very long ago that I worked for a company where it felt like all the SysAdmins were going through the five stages of grief. I think this was down to a dawning realisation that their current technology offering was no longer meeting users’ demands.
Although there was a general appreciation among the SysAdmin team that cloud technology had an important role to play in the future of their organisation, there was also a fear their jobs would end up redundant if they fully embraced this approach – so they didn’t.
The new reality of the cloud
The SysAdmins were in the ‘denial’ phase of grief, and were rejecting the new reality. This resulted in the team being very standoffish/dismissive about anything cloud related. Consequently, customers became disgruntled as the technology and progression had
By the time I left the business, the team had moved past the ‘denial’ phase and transitioned to ‘anger’ (nothing to do with me, honest). This was because those end users – who had become so unhappy with the slow turnaround of new services or solutions – had started to bypass the central IT team altogether, and were going directly to third party cloud vendors. In doing so, the end users had discovered they could get almost instant gratification with only minor feature sacrifices.
SysAdmin to Cloud Architect
The company I worked for was known for taking a long time to plan, prepare and execute projects. So much so, that a Windows 7 build was only being rolled out when Windows 10 was being announced. They are not the only organisation to struggle in this regard, but the difference is that the majority have adapted.
Joe Fuller, CIO at Dominion Enterprise, claims roles within his team have been transformed due to user demand. He says: “It was the users in there and us catching up, now we’re trying to get ahead of it. We are trying to change ourselves to cloud architects instead of rack-and-stack administrators. Our goal is to help our business units, because when some of these departments start doing IT, you get a bell curve – some do it great, others not so great.”
By rejecting the cloud, the SysAdmin team in my old company had missed an opportunity. While the cloud would have reduced the tangible environment they managed, the need to provide hands-on assistance and implement new services would also have been reduced. They would have been allowed to focus on other priorities and get ahead of the technology curve.
It would have freed up time to educate clients on important matters – like security and proper resource utilisation. By spending time educating and putting in preventative measures (without imposing an overly controlling environment) it would have improved the users’ experience along with overall safety. Bad things may still have happened, but having users more clued up would mean they would (hopefully) know when something wasn’t right and contact Support sooner.
Moving with the times
A focus on cloud technology isn’t something to be restricted to end users or clients however. There is also an opportunity to work closer with other tech departments within the organisation, and strengthen the services that can be provided. Instead of just reacting to problems, a former SysAdmin should now be involved in designing, developing and engineering systems. They should be willing to evolve and be ready to grow horizontally with various technologies, not just vertically into one. Their role in a business should no longer be only managing systems, but optimising them.
This shift in responsibility and mentality follows the DevOps philosophy of breaking down silos and allowing for a smoother transition of tasks between departments. As this progresses, the idea of departments also starts to become more fluid, helping the overall business to run more efficiently.