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Half-baked thought of the day: job titles

Is the person that hand-crafts a bed out of wood he personally chopped from the forest, designed, and built doing the same job as someone that builds a bed factory that makes 100 beds a day?

I don't think so.

So why do we use the same job title for a person at a 10-person company that maintains 1-2 custom-built, servers, and spends 70% of his or her day answer user questions as the person that maintains a massive 1,000-CPU cluster using Cfengine/Puppet/Chef to orchestrate hundreds of web front-ends, dozens of database servers, and huge numbers of application servers all mass-produced and automated?

Are those even the same job?

The latter has enough repetition that you can develop metrics and make data-driven decisions to constantly improve the quality using science. The former is an art form, and a labor of love and has quality that is not based on metrics and science.

That's my thought of the day.

What do you think?

P.S. I'm about to hop on an airplane. I'll reply to comments in a few days.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli

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6 Comments | Leave a comment

Carpenter vs Factory Manager ?

SysAdmin vs Systems Manager ?

I have been nearly five years at the current gig and in the past few years little of what I have done has been systems administration in the traditional sense, but I can't think of a better title.

I think we just break it into roles. Architect, Engineer, Toolsmith, Problem Analysis, Manager, Mentor, etc. Someone running a small shop could be a Systems Artisan. :)


You mean you can't do both? :-)

Seriously though I ran into the problem a 10 years back. The HR person was trying to decide how much some of us should be paid. They looked up "Network Admin" and "System Admin" and then told us we were already paid above the top of the range listed. We explained that what we did was look after a 100,000 user ISP with racks of servers, multiple pops and network equipment and NOT a 20 user office with 1 exchange server we all got reclassified as "Network architects" or some such dumb workaround.

Having worked around professions where job titles are very important and people get bent out of shape if you call them a the wrong one I find it very petty.

Seriously the non-technical people (including recruiters) aren't going to understand the different between a SysAdmin and a Systems Manager while the technical people are still going to have to ask exactly what you do since every bodies job and definition of the title will be slightly different.

On some level, we're talking automation.

Maybe the question could be clarified to be, "why don't automation systems scale down nicely?" or "why isn't automation the rule, not the exception?".

Most people in the "custom systems" arena would really enjoy the ability to easily scale their efforts on demand, and easily get metrics. In most cases those things aren't implemented because they don't come built in.

Because you need the same skills for both?

I think the title you are looking for is "DevOps Engineer". That separates out the sysadmins doing things manually from the puppet/chef/automation people.

Of course, then you spend a lot of time explaining what DevOps is.....

We can just use 'systems administrator' for hand-builds and 'system administrator' for automators. :)

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