Cover V05, I04


Editor's Forum

When we started Sys Admin, four or five years ago, we very rarely encountered a full-time administrator. At trade shows like Unix Expo, when I'd ask attendees if they were system administrators, they would almost always answer no. Finally, I got smart and began to ask "Do you ever do any system administration?" That got a positive answer much more often.

Frequently, the answer would be "Yeah, I do all the administration for my office, but my real job is ..." This attitude birthed the message on the back of our t-shirts: "System Administration: it's a dirty job but someone said I have to do it." That line has always gotten a chuckle at shows like Unix Expo.

At the San Diego Usenix technical conference, that same t-shirt drew some irritated groans rather than chuckles. For the first time, I encountered more than one full-timer who found the t-shirt offensive, rather than humorous.

I think this marks an important transition in both system administration and the deployment of UNIX. At least for a significant portion of the Usenix attendees, system administration is their real job. That's good; the job is complex enough to deserve that kind of focus. It's also a sign that UNIX is being deployed in environments where management canOt hide the resource sys admin requirements by relying on the self-preserving behavior of programmers or the cheap labor of grad students.

But, the professional, full-time administrator is still more the exception than the rule. SAGE (the sys admin SIG within USENIX) is particularly concerned with advancing the professionalization of administrators. In particular, they have a nice flyer ("Job Descriptions for System Administrators") that gives job descriptions for sys admins with varying levels of sophistication. This brochure can be a real help to your personnel officer, or to you if you are trying to decide on a logical next step for increasing your skills. You can find parts of this in the SAGE web posting. Start at and follow the links. Check it out. There's a lot of other useful information there.

And ... don't be offended if I still wear my t-shirt. I and a lot of part-time administrators still get a kick out of it.

Sincerely yours,
Robert Ward