[Gllug] where do older sys admins end up?

David L Neil GLLUG at GetAroundToIt.co.uk
Fri Dec 31 07:56:40 UTC 2010


On 12/29/2010 10:41 PM, john maclean wrote:
> Where do older systems administrators end up? I don't know that many
> programmers in their 50/60 and it suddenly dawned on me that I don't
> know any sys admins in that age range.

I once read that the average length of a career in IT (whatever that 
term might include in a statistical bureaucrat's mind) was at one time a 
mere seven years; as the constant state of change and the stresses of 
'by yesterday' deadlines took their toll. However there are indeed some 
of us who skew the far end of that average - even if, he says (really 
quickly), I'm at the lower end of your demographic.

As someone else said, way-back we didn't use the term: SysAdmin - there 
were "computer operators", who depending upon skill and training may 
have been able to fix a range of technical errors (although most 
programmers didn't like having their faults fixed by someone else - so 
'ego' is nothing new then!). When it came to hooking-up peripherals or 
installing network equipment (such as it was), we'd be expected to call 
in the IBM Systems Engineer (who might be an equally likely progenitor 
of today's SysAdmin).

One of the great things about starting in the mainframe era, was that 
one had the opportunity to smell changes in the wind and adapt, or go on 
to become a 'dinosaur' (which is not to say that there aren't still 
mainframe jobs today - just not so many as an industry percentage).

Accordingly we forsook our JCL (Job Control Language) skills, buried our 
suspicion that "key punching" was 'women's work', and started typing 
code directly onto ASR terminals and VT-52s.

Then there was the introduction of what my mainframe and mini-computing 
colleagues referred to as "toys", which we called "XT" and "AT" until 
the term "PC" became, well, PC*. Still later came the notion that it 
might be more about the network than the individual processor. Indeed 
for those of us who missed-out on "work stations" or the initially 
mainly non-commercial Unix installations, we had to come to Linux as 
something 'new'!

Along the way we have had plenty of time to reflect on "plus ça change, 
plus c'est la même chose"# (it sounds so much better in French) as our 
young upstarts, um, colleagues struggled with such concepts as 
networking devices, configuration decisions, command line, virtual 
storage, virtual machines, even the idea of a (cloud) 'machine room' 
hidden away 'somewhere' gently tended by acolytes with whom mere mortals 
may not communicate...

Oh, and the crack about Chelsea Pensioners - yes there are even some of 
us who not only practised our art, um, science; but did so under-fire. 
We are a tremendously small number, whether wearing red coats or white 
(actually as a mf operator, IIRC my lab coat was blue). I discovered 
that there is also an even smaller group of head-hunters who seek out 
such skills and attributes - and hopefully they've lost my number/email 
address by now.

Over the years the opportunities have also enabled each to change one's 
role - indeed, perhaps more than once. Some have stayed 'close' to the 
computer. Others discovered that programming logical computers is one 
challenge, but 'herding cats', sorry, coordinating teams of people is 
quite another set of (learn-able and challenging) skills. Others have 
moved into management, product specialisation, consulting... (or had the 
good sense to find some other job which allows for sleep, family time, a 
social life...)

Of course there have been others who attend a job interview only to meet 
some 'young pup' of an interviewer who has the temerity to suggest that 
ALL 'old' people are inflexible and thus pathologically unable to adapt 
to 'new things'. Sorry, which of us has the fixed, over-generalised, and 
inflexible views??? In which case an unfortunate interpretation may form 
and encourage the industry veteran to review his future accordingly...

Do you really expect to spend your entire working life as a SysAdmin?

* Personal Computer and "politically correct", respectively
# the more things change, the more they remain the same

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