[Gllug] Controversial Joel Spolsky article

Bernard Peek bap at shrdlu.com
Mon Dec 22 16:03:06 UTC 2003

In message <20031222145504.GA13566 at usb.cafod>, itsbruce at uklinux.net 
>On Mon, Dec 22, 2003 at 01:06:34PM +0000, Bernard Peek wrote:
>> That's partly what I was getting at. The traditional sysadmin has
>> already disappeared from most computer sites, because most sites are now
>> a single home user with a single PC.
>Home computers represent only a fraction of worldwide computer use in
>> The jobs that were done by
>> sysadmins are either done by the user, or don't get done at all.
>At home, yes, making home users a special case.  Don't forget, though,
>that most of those home users also use computers at work, where
>conditions are entirely different.

Home computer users are only a fraction of the total number of computers 
but its quite a large fraction. When you throw in all of the one-man 
businesses and road-warriors with their notebooks it might account for 
the majority of all computers. IIRC the average British company has four 

>> Perhaps its a question of terminology. The way I see it if the job has
>> been de-skilled so much as to be almost unrecognisable should it still
>> be called sysadmin? If not then every PC owner is a sysadmin. They
>> manage a cold-boot of the system every day, and quite a lot of them
>> handle backups too. Both of those were once sysadmin jobs.
>Turning a computer on and copying some user files to a zip drive hardly
>represent the sum of an administrator's job.  Besides, most home users
>administer their home computers very badly, home computers absolutely
>*not* having been improved and simplified to the point where unskilled
>users can use them easily and efficiently.

That depends a lot on what you mean by efficiency. Home computers have 
improved to the point where most people can use them reasonably easily 
and reasonably efficiently. The Windows way is to compromise on 
efficiency to make the systems easier to use (and more secure, if you 
believe Bill's latest announcements.)

There are several hundred million sites with one PC, administered by 
people with little or no computer training. They aren't maintaining them 
efficiently but they are maintaining them adequately.

>> I remember hearing of a program called The Last One that claimed to have
>> made programmers obsolete. I didn't believe those claims any more than I
>> believe claims that sysadmins aren't needed any more. But it is
>> definitely true that a lot of programming is now done by people who
>> aren't programmers and a lot of systems administration is done by people
>> who aren't sysadmins.
>Only because the demand for computing services has expanded
>significantly faster than the pool of skilled IT staff.  The fact that
>much IT administration and development is being done by poorly skilled
>staff doesn't mean that it is being done well.

There are two ways around that. One is to hire people with lots of 
computer skills to do the job efficiently. The other is to automate the 
tasks so that someone with a little knowledge can do them reasonably 
well. On a site with lots of computers it pays to hire a sysadmin to 
make them run efficiently. On a small site it pays to have tasks 

The cutover point is changing. In the 1950s if you had one computer you 
needed at least multiple sysadmins. In the 2000s you need a sysadmin if 
you have more than a dozen computers. By the end of the decade nobody 
with less than fifty computers will hire a dedicated sysadmin. That's 
the world that Linux on the desktop will have to fit into.

Bernard Peek
London, UK. DBA, Manager, Trainer & Author. Will work for money.

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